THE MISER OF CRACOW
In the city of Cracow resided an elderly, wealthy Jew, Reb Shimon. His wealth was well known to the people of Cracow; just as well known, however, was his stinginess.
All the days of his life, he did not so much as give one coin to tzedakah. Thus his nickname: "Shimon the Miser."
One day, Reb Shimon passed away. The town's burial society decided to bury him in a disgraceful manner and lay him to rest on the outskirts of the cemetery, a place reserved for the lowly members of the town.
That Friday afternoon, the rabbi of Cracow, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller (author of "Tosafos Yom Tov"), sat in his home engaged in Torah study. Suddenly, he heard a faint knock at the door. "Come in," the rabbi called out. The door opened and in walked Reb Zalman, one of the poor men of Cracow. "Rebbe," said Reb Zalman, "could you please help me? This week, I don't have even one coin in order to buy food for Shabbos."
"What do you mean by, 'this week'?" asked Rabbi Heller. "What did you do until this week?"
"Until this week," answered Reb Zalman, "every Friday morning, I would find an envelope placed under my door containing the amount of money I need to buy food for Shabbos. Yet this morning, I checked under my door and there was no envelope! I am therefore left without any money to buy Shabbos food."
While they were conversing, there was another knock at the door. Another pauper walked in; he, too, came to ask for money for Shabbos. He was followed by another pauper and yet another.... They all had the same request: "Rabbi, please provide us with our Shabbos needs."
The wise rabbi deduced that the man who had passed away that week, an individual who everyone had thought to be a miser, was in reality a hidden tzaddik who had performed the mitzvah of tzedakah with utmost secrecy. Every week, Reb Shimon had apparently provided scores of Cracow's poor with the funds to acquire their Shabbos needs.
The rabbi made a public announcement: "I order the entire community to gather in the shul at once!"
The rabbi, wrapped in his tallis, ascended the podium, opened the ark, and declared, "We, the people of Cracow, are gathered here today in order to beg forgiveness from one of the tzaddikim that lived in our midst. His greatness went unnoticed by us; we denigrated him and called him, 'The Miser.'
"In the name of the entire community," cried the rabbi, "I hereby beg for total forgiveness from Reb Shimon, who was a righteous and holy Jew!"
Years later, when it came time for Rabbi Heller to depart to his Heavenly abode, he requested to be buried next to the tzaddik, Reb Shimon.