Stories We Tell: The Stolen Smell

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. 

Jacob was poor, and had only a piece of bread to eat. Setting out in search of something to put on it, he happened upon a steaming pot of soup in the kitchen of an inn. Though tempted to steal a little, he stopped himself from doing so, and instead enjoyed the wonderful aroma. It was then that the innkeeper caught him and insisted on being paid for the smell. They went to the rabbi to settle the dispute… and his answer may surprise you.

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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 sharing our stories, passing them down orally from one generation to the next, and here, each week, we share a new story with you to carry on that tradition. This week, Fran Uditsky Moss, storyteller, singer, and performing artist, shares the story of "The Stolen Smell."

[Fran:] A single piece of bread… not very much to eat, but that was all that Jacob had. He was a poor, but humble man who survived through the goodwill of his fellow villagers who would share with him bits of food every now and then. That day, someone had given him that single piece of bread, but nothing to put on it. So, hoping to get something to go with the bread, Jacob went to the nearby inn and asked the innkeeper if he could possibly spare a piece of cheese or a slice of meat. Well, the innkeeper -- he told him to leave immediately.

And as soon as Jacob was outside, he smelled something delicious. He followed the scent, which led him to the alley behind the inn, and to an open door which led into the kitchen. There, simmering on the top of the stove, was a huge pot of wonderful chicken soup.

Well, no one was looking. And Jacob thought “Should I dip my bread into the soup and perhaps pick up…? -- No, no, no, no,” he thought, “I've become a beggar. But I am not a thief.” So then he thought “Well, maybe if I hold a piece of bread over the steaming pot, maybe a bit of flavor from the steam might be absorbed by the bread.” It smelled so wonderful! But at that very moment, he felt something grabbing his arm. It was the innkeeper -- and he was accusing Jacob of stealing some of the soup!

“You must pay for that soup,” said the innkeeper.

“I didn't take any soup,” said Jacob. “I was only smelling the wonderful aroma.”

“Well then, you must pay me for the smell,” answered the innkeeper. Poor Jacob. He had no money. “Will you pay me now? Or I will--”

Jacob pleaded and pleaded with the innkeeper. “I'm a poor man, and I'm not a thief!” But the innkeeper didn't care. He wanted his money, and he wanted it now. So he grabbed Jacob by the arm once again, and this time he dragged him to see the rabbi. You see, the rabbi was the one who settled any and all of the disputes of the village. The rabbi asked both men to have a seat and then one at a time, he heard the innkeeper's complaint and Jacob's explanation.

“So,” said the rabbi. “You demand payment for the smell of your soup?” said the rabbi.

“Yes,” insisted the innkeeper.

“Well then, I think you should get paid,” said the rabbi.

“But Rabbi, Rabbi, I don't have any money!” said Jacob.

“Just settle down for a minute,” the rabbi said with a twinkle in his eye. Then he said to the innkeeper, “Is it all right if I pay you for the smell of the soup?”

Jacob jumped up. “Oh, Rabbi, you should not have to pay my debt!”

“Shah, Shah,” said the rabbi as he signaled Jacob to again have a seat, and the rabbi took several coins from his pocket. The innkeeper stood up and waited to be paid. The rabbi then placed the coins in the palm of his own hand, closed his fingers loosely around them, and jiggled them near the innkeeper's ear, and said “It seems only fitting that the price for a smell of soup should be the sound of money.”

[URJ Outro:] After hearing the story of “The Stolen Smell,” I'm wondering if you've ever been tempted to do something you maybe think you shouldn't, either because of need or retribution.

If you want to share that with us, we'd love to hear about it on social media. You can find us at, and on Twitter our handle is Thanks for listening to “Stories We Tell.” If you enjoyed this week's story, rate and review us on iTunes. 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.

Until next week – l’hitraot!