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Even More Stories About Hershele Ostropolier

The Stingy Host

In the town of Grodno there lived a rich man who was stingy and cruel. But he was very clever and he usually disguised his deeds by feigning to be kind and good. Many people were not aware of his insidious behavior, even considering him kindhearted. Erev Shabbos he would usually invite some poor traveler to his home, and he would make sure that everyone in the synagogue saw him doing it.

But the poor victim was in for a terrible surprise. The poor traveler would usually be placed at the head of the table as a sign of honor and then the game would begin. The host and his wife would ply the stranger with innumerable questions so that out of politeness he would have to answer them. This, of course, gave him no opportunity to eat.

In the meantime, the host and his wife would take turns eating while the other kept the guest talking. They thought it was a great joke, and to add insult to injury, when there was nothing left on the table, the host would turn to the poor guest and remark, "Why didn't you eat? Now, unfortunately, there is nothing left. You shouldn't talk so much."

The poor man had no choice but to thank his host and go to bed hungry.

Hershel Ostropolier Arrives In Town

One day, Hershel Ostropolier arrived in town and by speaking with various poor people, heard of the vicious ways of this rich man, and how he would trick the poor. He decided to take revenge on him for all the poor unfortunates he had mistreated.

That Friday night Hershel asked the shammas of the synagogue to arrange with the rich man that he be invited to his home for Shabbos.

"Are you crazy?" asked the shammas. "Don't you know that he is a very wicked man and he will cause you a lot of misery?"

The shammas tried to dissuade Hershel, but to no avail. Hershel insisted that he call upon the rich miser and persuade him to accept Hershel as his Shabbos guest.

Invited To The Rich Man's House

The shammas finally agreed and approached the rich man. Arrangements were made for Hershel to eat by the rich man Friday night. That Friday night Hershel was introduced to his Shabbos host. After the services he went home with the rich man. As was his custom, when they sat down to the Shabbos meal, the rich man seated Hershel at the head of the table, in the place of honor, and introduced him to the members of his family.

After they had all recited the Kiddush over the wine, the servant brought in a large pot of fish. Its wonderful aroma made everybody hungry, especially Hershel. The rich man immediately struck his fork into a fine portion of the gefilte fish and put it on his plate. He proceeded to do the same for his wife and children and as if absent-minded, he didn’t put any fish on Hershel's plate.

Instead, he turned to Hershel and asked, "Where do you come from, my good man?"

"From Vishnitz, " Hershel answered, naming a town nearby.

"From Vishnitz? Then surely you must know Berel, the banker. How is he?"

"Berel, the banker?" announced Hershel. "He died."

"What!" exclaimed the host in astonishment, turning to his wife. "Did you hear what he said, Malka? My good friend Berel is dead. Why didn't they let me know?"

Eats the Fish

In the meantime, while the rich man was occupied in discussing this astounding news, Hershel reached across the table and stuck his fork into a large portion of fish, which he put on his plate. He then began to eat with great zest.

Recovering from the initial shock, his host turned to Hershel and asked, "How is Chaim?"

"Which Chaim do you mean?" asked Hershel.

"I am referring to Chaim who owns the inn in Vishnitz."

"Oh, you mean Chaim, the one who owns the hotel? He died too!” said Hershel in a matter of fact voice, while spearing another piece of fish with his fork.

"Chaim died?" shouted the rich man incredulously. "Did you hear that, Malka, Chaim died. Woe is to me. He owes me 500 rubles and now I don t know if I will ever get it."

Composing himself, the host asked, "How is Chaim's partner, Yitzchok? Is he now managing the inn?"

"No!" sighed Hershel, picking up another piece of fish. "He also died!"

"What!" exclaimed the host, visibly shaken and turning white. "Yitzchok is also dead! We are in trouble, Malka. My money is surely gone!"

Continues To Eat

As the rich man continued to rave and get excited, Hershel continued to eat. When he finished the fish from the pot he began to take off the fish from his host's plate. The rich man was too shaken up to notice it.

Turning again to Hershel, the rich man asked, "Tell me, maybe you know Avraham, the dry goods merchant? How is he getting along?"

"Which Avraham do you mean?" innocently asked Hershel, who was now stuffing the white challah into his mouth.

"Don't you know Avraham, the famous dry goods merchant, who lives near the lake in a big mansion? He is one of the richest men in town," said the rich man in a trembling voice, fearing that some misfortune may have also happened to him.

"Oh, you mean Avraham, the rich merchant! Yes, I knew him well," replied Hershel. "He died too!" With that he stuffed another piece of c.hallah in his mouth.

"Are you crazy?" shrieked 'the rich man, jumping out of his chair and hopping around as if he had gone mad. "You don t mean to tell me that everybody in Vishnitz has died?"

Looking at his host in a kind way, Hershel moved back in his chair and stroking his beard, said in a fatherly tone. "My dear friend, when I eat, everybody is as good as dead to me! But my good host, you have been so busy talking that you forgot to eat, and I hate to see anything go to waste, so I ate up your share too. Do you know, you are to be congratulated. Your gefilte fish is the best I have ever eaten anywhere!”

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