Many years ago, in the time when the Holy Temple, the Beit Hamikdosh, stood, there lived in Jerusalem, two storekeepers named Rabbi Elazar Ben Tzadok and Abba Shaul Ben Botnit.
The two men were neighbors and friends and had known each other most of their lives. In addition to being friends, they shared a wonderful and rare character trait – absolute and strict honesty.
It is related in the Talmud that as a favor to their fellow Jews, these two men would prepare stores of wine and oil before every holiday so that the people of Jerusalem would have what they needed to celebrate the holidays properly.
Tens of thousands of Jews would stream into Jerusalem for the holidays and would be welcomed into homes throughout the city. With so many guests, it was no wonder that their gracious hosts would sometimes run out of oil or wine during a festival.
Whenever that happened, they could go to Rabbi Elazar or Abba Shaul and take what they needed. Of course, no money would pass hands on a festival, but there would be no lack of those two necessities to prepare for the festive meals.
Even during the intermediate days of the pilgrimage festivals of Sukkot and Passover, the two generous merchants would prepare in advance and make their goods available to those in need so that they could spend their time studying Torah.
Not only did they practice these deeds of great kindness, but even on regular work days they were outstanding in their adherence to the mitzvah of honesty. When they would finish pouring the contents of one of their containers into a customer’s container, they would sit their container on top of that of the customer and allow the dregs of the jug to drip into the customer’s receptacle. Only then were they sure that they had given the customer everything that was due him.
Despite their stringencies, the two rabbis feared that a bit of oil and wine would still cling to the edges of the jugs. So what did they do? Each man had a special container into which he would pour the last tiny drops. Over many years, they accumulated three hundred barrels of oil and three hundred barrels of wine.
One day, they decided to bring all of these barrels to the Holy temple, the Beit Hamikdosh. After all, they did not consider it their property, yet they could not give it to their customers either. They decided to consecrate it to the Holy Temple, the Beit Hamikdosh. When the porters arrived they were met by the treasures of the Temple.
“What have you brought?” they asked.
“We have brought three hundred barrels of wine and three hundred barrels of oil for use in the Holy Temple. It has taken us many years to accumulate it, allowing it to drip from the sides of our jugs. We did not want to benefit from anything which does not belong to us, and we couldn’t give it to our customers.”
“It was certainly not necessary to collect those small leftovers,” remarked the treasurers. “Your customers understand that tiny drops adhere to the sides of your jugs, and they expect there to be some waste.”
“Nevertheless,” the men continued, “We don’t want anything that is not rightfully ours.”
“Since you wish to keep such a high standard, we will accept your gift. The oil and wine will be used for the good of the community. We will sell them and from the profits we will dig wells for the pilgrims to have water on the festivals. The residents of the city will also be able to use them. So you see, even your own customers will benefit from your offerings, and your own minds can be at ease.”
The two merchants left the precincts of the Holy Temple, the Beit Hamikdosh, with hearts full of joy knowing that they never departed from the manner they conducted themselves with strict honesty and kindness.
Adapted from L’Chaim Newsletter #1630
Based on Gemara Beitza 29A