Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Sivan 5763 - June 11, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Eizek Yekkels' Treasure

by Chaim Walder

Part I

Eizek Yekkels, a Polish young man who lived in Cracow 350 years ago, was a driving and resourceful man. One of his main ambitions was to be happy and rich. However since he was only a young fellow, he didn't differentiate between happiness and wealth. (In Hebrew, the words "happiness" and "wealth" are actually homonyms.)

Truth to tell, in Cracow at that time, even dreams were a bit limited because the only commodity in abundance was poverty.

Eizek Yekkels worked as a peddler in order to support his family. It seemed quite likely that he would end his life as he had begun it, with nary a scrap to his name, except for shrouds, which in any event he would be given when the occasion arose.

But that didn't stop Eizek from dreaming.

Nu, so what's wrong with dreaming? Dreams are fine as long as they are for free. But Eizek's dreams somehow caused the tiny pile of coins and bills hidden under the main beam of his house to shrink, because his dreams demanded investments.

In time, the situation became intolerable, because Eizek Yekkels was more involved in investing than in earning a living. Eventually, his wife pleaded with her father-in-law to persuade Eizek to stop his fruitless investments and, if possible, the dreams which she claimed were responsible for his strange ventures.

Eizek's father, who came from a long line of have-nots, agreed sadly with his daughter-in-law, and on that very same day he stopped by his son's wretched shack. He scolded him for wasting the family's money. But Eizek explained that the opposite was true, and that he was trying to help not only his own family but also his parents, his brothers, and their kinderlach become rich. Then he declaimed how he would marry off cousin ploni and pay for the bris of nephew almoni. His descriptions seemed so realistic that a glimmer of a smile began to cross his destitute father's face, and he even protested that cousin almoni wasn't really that poor.

Eizek's wife realized that her attempt had failed, and that an additional investor -- her father-in-law -- might be swept up by Eizek's fancies. Noticing his daughter-in-law in tears, Eizek's father feared that the already tottering shack might not withstand the oncoming deluge, and resumed his former tone.

"And so, Eizek," his father continued. "I see that you"re following in my grandfather's footsteps. He was a dreamer just like you."

That was a surprise, because Eizek's father had never spoken about any grandfather at all (and not even about his father, Eizek's grandfather). That was because there was either nothing to tell or plenty to tell. Whatever, Eizek's father began to tell:


"Do you know that one of your forebears once nearly became the richest man in the world?"

"No, I never heard that," Eizek declared. "And even if I had, I wouldn't have believed it."

Well, let me tell you all about it. Nearly one hundred years ago, my grandfather Moishy was forcibly drafted into the Polish army. When he was taken away, his parents wept while the entire town laughed. Unlike his parents who were very upset by his leaving, everyone else thought that he would return within an hour. That was because in the entire region there was no one as slow or inert as Moishy Yekkels.

Moishy was an only child whose parents had stuffed him with food. The result was that his parents were as skinny as reeds, while he was as broad and as immobile as an ancient tree stump. The likelihood of his being able to sprint on a battlefield or even to thrust his hand through a sword's handle were the same: zero!

Hardly anyone mourned when he left for the army because everyone knew that he would be released within two or three days and sent packing with a few good kicks from the Polish officers' heavy boots. Some, though, did mourn not because he had left, but precisely because he just might return.

When he arrived at the base, the Polish officers saw exactly what Cracow's residents had seen, and they prepared to kick him out, if only for his having so brashly wasted their time by enlisting.

Moishy, though, didn't like kicks. Actually, he hated them. Even though he had gotten many-a-kick in his life, he had never gotten used to them. But he was also a very experienced kick-dodger who made potential kickers believe that something could be gained by not kicking him. In general, Moishy would say something like: `If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't abuse someone who is able to advise me how to earn a ruble every half hour.'

Such a remark always worked like magic, because during those days most people earned a half a ruble a week, provided that there was work. No one in Cracow would kick someone who had even hinted that so much money could be earned.

At that stage, Moishy would gain a temporary respite. Of course he didn't immediately reveal how to earn that money, but would shlep things out a number of days. In that way he gained time as well as a negligible amount of attention from the potential kicker.

Of course, Moishy had to eventually provide the goods if he didn't want to become Cracow's floor mat. But at least he had all week to devise a way of earning half-a- ruble an hour.

But don't worry! Within the week he would always hit upon an idea, theoretically speaking of course. Practically speaking, his ideas were impossible to implement, surely not by batlonim who, as Cracow's horses knew, were good at only one thing: kicking.

In this case, at the second stage of the usual game the Polish soldiers accepted Moishy's idea, but couldn't implement it. But they blamed themselves for that. Moishy had done his share and was free to go, unless he had another idea.

Whatever, Moishy Yekkels became a top notch idea broker and sometimes even managed to bring in a few rubles, because at that time, dream merchants were in demand all over the world, especially in poverty-stricken Cracow.


Moishy went to secure his release papers and waited for the moment he would be sent home with an extra kick for good measure. But the very thought of that kick caused him to come up with yet another idea.

"If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't rush to hurt a guy who can make all of you even richer than the king of Poland," he ventured.

Wow! That was a whopper. And what's more it saved Moishy from a real hard kick.

"What did you say?"

"Just what you heard. You're about to kick someone who can make all of you into international tycoons."

They of course gathered around him, but he insisted on speaking with the commanding officer in private. The commanding officer invited him into his office politely. Moishy told him that he needed a bit of time in order to formulate the plan in full. He of course was given a deluxe room in the officers' quarters and all of the unfortunate soldiers from Cracow could only eye him jealously.

He then requested a few days in which to tour the military camp undisturbed, so that he could draft his plan. Of course the soldiers didn't dare refuse him. There weren't many people in Poland who could even hint at how to earn two rubles a day, so that such a promise had to be respected.

After two weeks, Moishy unearthed the tip of an idea. He asked for two more weeks, which he was given without any objections.

The idea emerged fully, as usual, a number of hours before the end of the ultimatum.

When the commander and his lieutenant entered the room, Moishy greeted them with a confident, "Did you bring the maps?"

They give him a map of Poland, and he asked them many questions about the war.

As Moishy fully knew, the Polish army was battling a band of rebels which had in time become a veritable army, and which hated the Jews even more than it hated the king.

These rebels conducted pogroms and wherever they went they massacred Jews and plundered their possessions. These pogroms could be halted only by the king, who had ordered his soldiers to quell the rebellion with a harsh hand. However, since the Polish army also hated Jews, both sides harassed them, even though the rebels did so more heatedly.

In general, when the Polish army and the rebels met in a face- to-face battle, a bloody foray would ensue in which all of the rebels as well as quite a number of Polish soldiers were killed. (Actually, for every rebel that was killed, three Polish soldiers lost their lives.)

Moishy had his own cheshbon with both the rebels and the Polish army. The rebels had butchered his uncle's family and most of the Jews of his town and had then stolen their possessions, while the Polish army had killed some of his relatives from another town.

Nearly all of the Jews of Poland at that time had similar cheshbonos. And now, Moishy sat opposite a Polish officer and fired scores of questions. From where do the rebels come? Where are their bases? Who are the commanding officers? Where do they live? Who subsidizes the rebels' activities?

The more complex Moishy's questions, the fewer the answers he received. Actually, the officers weren't exceptionally high- ranking and had never thought of asking their superiors those questions. (Even if they had asked, they wouldn't have received answers.)

They were simple villagers who had become soldiers. They weren't strategists or masterminds, but rather ax and pick men. But now the Jew was bombarding them with questions that they had never thought of previously.

Moishy comported himself in his customary manner. He explained: "The rebels are a virtual army and an army of that size can't function without a lot of money. Your job is to discover where that money is located. The moment you discover the hiding place, three people will have enough money to finance an entire army. Quite a fat sum, no?"

The commanding officer and his lieutenant marveled at Moishy's suggestion. They had never before thought about money, only about blood. "That Jew's idea isn't bad at all," some of them even snickered.

"And who are the three?" the commander interjected.

"You, your lieutenant and me of course," Moishy matter- of- factly replied.

"You?" the commanding officer shouted. "Who ever thought of including you?"

"Well, from now on, you'll have to include me, unless you want to plan the operation yourself," he rejoined.

The commanding officer reached for his sword, but Moishy didn't bat an eyelash. He was very familiar with human nature and knew that when a person is about to earn money, especially a lot of it, he reaches for his sword, but then relents a bit and lets go.

"Okay Jew. You're in. So what's the plan?"

"We still haven't spoken about cuts," Moishy replied.

"What do you mean? We'll divvy up, of course."

"Yeah! I'll take 60 percent, and the two of you will split the remaining 40 percent. Okay? Your sword is at your right, just in case you need it," Moishy jeered.

"60 percent? Nothing doing! 

"Wow, you're a hard nut to crack. Okay, I'll take 50 percent, and the two of you will split the remaining 50 percent."

Moishy didn't even peep at the sword. Instead he laid out the map and presented his plan to the commanding officer, showing him where to place the ambushes. He also told the Polish soldiers that they weren't out to kill, but rather to capture, since the captives would provide the information. He then stressed that he would ask the questions.

From that day on, he began to prepare his secret operation. Of course, no soldier knew what was up. All they knew was that Moishy, the chubby Jew, was in the thick of things.

That gave Moishy power, which he would eventually use for the benefit of his friends, the Jews of Cracow. Well, not the greatest of friends, but Jews for sure.

The ambushes which Moishy planned were successful and quite rapidly more than twenty rebels were taken captive and brought to Moishy, who asked them all sorts of strange questions. Because they were just as dumb as the king's soldiers, they also didn't realize the implications of their answers while Moishy put two and two together.

These answers enabled him to mentally construct the military hierarchy of the rebels, from the simple cook to the ammunition quartermaster. The fighters themselves didn't interest Moishy, because the information which they could provide didn't interest him either. Moishy knew that it doesn't cost money to fight, only blood. Feeding the army and equipping it with ammunition was what cost money and that was why the cook and the ammunition quartermaster could provide the best information.

Quite quickly, the food suppliers and the ammunition quartermaster fell into his hands. Of course, these were people who, though very much beneath his level, at least reached his ankles (while the rebels who had preceded them only came as far as his soles). With such aristocrats Moishy behaved quite differently. He hosted them royally (which annoyed the commanding officer), conversed with them pleasantly, and offered them all sorts of deals to make them believe that he was actually on their side. In that manner, he slowly drew the information out of them.

After the picture has become clear, what do you think Moishy did? He told the commander to attack a fleet of coaches which seemed innocent, but really wasn't. "That fleet is the rebel's money convoy," he explained.

At the same time, he called his friends -- at least the daring among them -- to a secret meeting, and told them that an opportunity to retrieve the plunder the murderers had taken from the Jews had presented itself. He then informed them about the convoy of coaches laden with booty which was supposed to pass on a specific day through a specific forest. He also told them about the surprise attack and the plans to kill the marauders. He then ordered them to wait until the end of the battle, when many of the rebels would have died, and the Polish soldiers would be exhausted. Only then would he inform them from which coach to remove the plunder.

Apparently, the rebels had organized convoys of fifty coaches each and, in order to prevent information leaks, did not specify those in which the money was hidden. The result was that the enemy didn't know where to direct its attacks and had to battle the entire convoy, which had at least 150 fighters. One who knew exactly which coach bore the money wouldn't have to cope with all of the firing, but only with a part of it. And Moishy knew that.

How did he know that? Because he was Moishy! He didn't plan to share that information with the commander and his lieutenant, nor with his own small group of pals. They wouldn't participate in the fighting, but only in the collection of the booty. He himself would go along with them to the grounds, and the moment he saw that the soldiers on both sides were tired, he would tell the soldiers where to go.

From the very start, everything proceeded according to Moishy's plan. The battle was very cruel. Scores of soldiers on both sides were killed. Moishy sat at the side and watched the carnage, and when he spied an abandoned coach whose soldiers had been killed, and which was designated on his map as carrying money, he ordered two of the soldiers from his group to raid it and bring him the chests.

After ten hours of battling, the commanding officer appeared, bleeding and injured. Moishy pointed to five chests he had kept beside him in order to present them as booty from the attack. Quite rapidly, the two begin to divide up the booty, 62.5 percent to Moishy and 37.5 percent to the commanding officer. The lieutenant had been killed in the battle, so that the entire 37.5 percent went to the commander.

The commander was too tired to ask questions. He wasn't very good at arithmetic. All he knew was that he had never before seen so much money at one time. Placing his share in a heavy sack, he quickly left.

Immediately afterward, Moishy's pals gathered around him, in silence. And what do you think he told them if not: "These chests contain 66 percent of the booty. I don't want any of it. Divide it among yourselves. But give me a few rubles so that I can buy something to eat on the way home. I'm starving."

Moishy took a handful of rubles for himself from the chests and then said: "Take the rest and vamoose, before I change my mind!"

Moishy remained at the battlefield half a day longer. Afterwards he chose a few undamaged coaches, hitched them to each other and returned to Cracow. There he married and opened a coach service. His life was peaceful and respectable and he never lacked a ruble, even though he wasn't considered rich. He died at a ripe old age. One of his children is my father, Reb Gershon.


Eizek and his wife were stunned by the story. Eizek though, was the first to notice its cracks. The first concerned the division of the booty to Moishy's pals. No one would have behaved that way, surely not Moishy. Eizek knew him quite well by the end of that story. Feeling that Moishy's blood streamed in his veins, he was certain that something lurked behind it.

"Tell me Tatte," Eizek said, "Did you ever think of checking out that story? Isn't there an inconsistency in the last tale about the division of the booty and the abandoning of the battlefield? Someone like Moishy should have stayed on, and taken more booty."

End of Part I


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