Stories We Tell: Honesty's Reward

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. 

Cantor Ellen Dreskin tells the story of a poor man who returned a rich man's money, trusting that because of  honesty and honor he would receive a reward. Things didn't go as planned when the miserly rich man tried to dodge his responsibility - for either of them! Has there been a time when being honest paid off in an unsual way? You can find a version of this story in 101 Jewish Stories.

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[URJ Intro:] Welcome back to "Stories We Tell," a podcast from Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down from one generation to the next. And here each Thursday, we share a new story with you. To carry on that tradition, this week Cantor Ellen Dreskin, a cantor, a storyteller, and educator shares the story of "Honesty's Reward."

[Cantor Ellen:] Never before had such good luck befallen a poor tailor. He was walking with his head bent down along the highway when suddenly, his eyes spotted a wallet half hidden in a bush. To his great joy, the wallet contained 200 gold pieces! But his joy was not to last long. That night, he heard in the local tavern that the richest man in town had lost a wallet full of gold pieces, and he was begging the finder to return the wallet. According to the law, a generous reward would be given.

All the next day, the poor tailor wrestled with his conscience. "He can afford it!" he thought to himself, "and my wife and children are on the verge of starvation!"

"No, no, no, no," he then argued to himself. "The money is not yours, and you know that if a man finds property on the highway which does not belong to him, he must return it to its rightful owner."

With many sighs and groans, the poor tailor knocked at the door of the rich man's house, extended the well-filled wallet to him with shaking and reluctant hands, and said, "Here is your wallet. My need is greater than yours, but I cannot break the law. Take back your money, and give me the reward."

The rich man thought to himself, "What a fool this man is to return such a large sum of money. Such a person deserves no reward. There is no reason for me to keep my promise." So he said, "Reward? You don't deserve any reward. There were three hundred gold pieces in the wallet I lost, and now I count only two hundred. You are a thief! You have already stolen one hundred gold pieces of my property!"

"Is this the reward for my honesty, to be called a thief!" cried out the poor tailor. "You are a greedy miser, and you shall pay the reward, like it or not!"

The next day, the poor tailor brought the protest before the wisest leaders of the community. The two disputants stood before the elders while the rest of the community crowded around to hear the judgment.

"You claim that this wallet contained three hundred gold pieces?" one elder asked the rich man, looking at him with piercing eyes -- for his reputation as a miser was well-known.

"Yes," said the rich man, "and he returned to me a wallet containing only two hundred gold pieces!" shrieked the old miser. "And in addition to stealing a hundred gold pieces, he says he also wants to claim the reward! Some nerve!"

"This wallet cannot be yours," said the elder. "The one you lost contained three hundred gold pieces, and the wallet this poor tailor found contained only two hundred gold pieces. Clearly then, the tailor found another wallet than the one you lost. And according to our law, since the owner cannot be found, the property then reverts to the finder. And so I decree that it goes to the tailor. Case dismissed!"

[URJ Outro:] After hearing the story of "Honesty's Reward," I'm wondering if there's ever been a time in your life when honesty really ended up paying off, even though that's not what you intended? We hope you'll think about it, and if you want to share it with us on social media, you can find us at, and our Twitter handle is @ReformJudaism. Thanks for listening to "Stories We Tell." If you enjoyed this week's story, rate and review us on iTunes. And you can always find new episodes every Thursday on, where you can also go to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, or culture, or holidays, and more. "Stories We Tell" is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

And until next week -- l'hitraot!