A Rich Man’s Memory

“A Rich Man’s Memory,” Friend, Oct. 1987, 32

A Rich Man’s Memory

(A fable)

Long ago there was a rich man named Yaacov who did very well selling his wares in the city. His family lived in a big house, rode in fine carriages, and ate the best foods. They lacked nothing that could make them happy and healthy.

One day Yaacov took his finest carriage and drove out into the country to do some business. He was in a great hurry and rode all day without stopping so that he could reach his destination before nightfall. But when darkness came, Yaacov was lost in a wild, unfamiliar country far from his home. “We must find a place for the night, or we will faint from hunger and exhaustion,” he told his horse. The horse whinnied in agreement. Both kept their eyes open for a likely place to stop, but they saw nothing.

Finally Yaacov spied a light in the distance through the trees. He turned his horse toward it, and soon they arrived at a very humble hut. This is not much, Yaacov thought, but maybe the good people inside will give me shelter. He knocked at the door.

A thin man dressed in tattered clothing opened it. When Yaacov explained his need, the man replied, “We have very little, but what we have is yours.”

The inside of the one-room hut was even shabbier than the outside. There was a small fire in the grate, rushes on the floor for beds, and only one chair, which the man offered to Yaacov.

That night the man, his wife, and their little boy treated Yaacov with all the respect and courtesy due a guest in their home. There was little to eat, but the family shared what they had. Yaacov noticed that the man ate very little, leaving him the best of the food. At bedtime they gave him the warmest place by the fire. Yaacov was touched by their kindness and vowed that he would never forget them.

Before he left the next day, Yaacov took the little boy aside, gave him a piece of paper, and said, “Here is my address in the city. If ever your family is in need, call on me.” Then, getting directions from his host, he hurried off to his business destination.

Ten years passed, and Yaacov had become even richer. His family had finer carriages, more expensive furniture, and even costlier food. He had forgotten all about that night when he was lost in the country.

One night while Yaacov and his family were seated at the dinner table, there came a knock on the door. Yaacov was called into the great hall.

“This young man says that he knows you, sir,” said one of the servants.

Puzzled, Yaacov looked the young stranger up and down. Finally, he said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you. Who are you?”

“Once, a long time ago,” replied the young man, “you came to our home in the country. You were lost and hungry, and you spent the night in my parents’ home.”

Yaacov then realized that the young man before him must have been the little boy in the humble hut in the country where Yaacov had been so graciously received. “What can I do for you?” Yaacov asked kindly.

“My father and mother are both very ill, and I have lost my job while trying to care for them. Now we have no more food, and they need medicine. If they do not get help soon, they will surely die and I will have failed in my duties as a son,” answered the young man, adding, “I will work hard for you at any task if you will only help my parents.”

“I will provide for your family, but I will not ask you to work for me,” Yaacov told the young man. “Your parents need you now.”

That very night Yaacov sent a doctor with the young man to attend to his parents’ needs. The next morning Yaacov sent ten wagonloads of food and provisions to the family. Yaacov’s wife and daughter also went to help care for the sick man and woman. Within a month the poor family was happy and healthy and much better off than they had ever been before. Yaacov then found the young man a good job in his business and paid him well for his work.

When asked why he did so much for a family whom he hardly knew, Yaacov replied, “They took food from their mouths to feed me and treated me kindly when I was in need. I am still in their debt, for what is my sacrifice compared to theirs? A kindness should be stored away in a person’s heart and returned with interest when it is needed.”

Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh