You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.

The Poor Man's Ruble

Published September 15, 2008
Countries: Russia
Age Levels: 9 and up

Many years ago, the Jewish people were forced out of their homeland and were scattered all over the earth.  Wherever they lived, they tried to follow their religious beliefs as called for in their holy book, called the Torah.  The Torah called for following God's laws which were based on the Ten Commandments.  Both the rich and the poor were especially expected to follow the commandment to "Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy."

So it was that many years ago in Russia, a peasant was on his way to Synagogue, or church, on the Sabbath day.  While walking along the village path, he saw something shiny on the ground.  The rules for the Sabbath, or weekly holy day, stated that people should not work, and that the day was to be a day of rest.  But, he didn't think it would be work to investigate and see what caught his eye.  He moved a bit of dirt aside by kicking at it with the bottom of his boot.  Then, he kicked away a rock that covered a bag of gold rubles.

An entire bag of rubles!  He dropped to his knees and picked up one of the coins.  It was covered with layers of dust.  They must be very old.  The fact that the coins had been buried and looked so old made him believe they must have been buried long ago and forgotten by whoever had once owned them.  To him, this meant that he wouldn't be disobeying another commandment that, "Thou Shalt Not Steal," if he took them.

God had been good to reward him for his faith.  Such an amount of rubles could help him become a wealthy man instead of remaining a poor peasant farmer.  He could buy a larger piece of land and hire others to work it for him.  He could buy a new house, build new barns, buy fine clothing for his wife and do so much more.  But - it would be a lot of work to dig the coins up and carry them home, and he was a man of faith.  God obviously had wanted him to have this money.  So, he felt sure it would still be there when the Sabbath day was over.

As hard as it is for most people to understand why he did it, the peasant left the rubles lying next to the path and continued on his way to the Sabbath service.

When the Sabbath day ended (on Saturday night), the peasant hurried with a shovel to dig up the rubles.  Sad and with his spirit crushed, he found only a single ruble remaining when he returned to the special place.  "Is this how God rewards a man for having faith?" he thought to himself.  How cruel it was to one moment feel rich and the next minute be reminded that you are poor.  The peasant held the ruble tightly in his clenched fist and walked angrily home to tell his wife all that had happened.

His wife said, "God rewards people of faith.  Good things will come to you in time for following His commandment to remember the Sabbath.  Her words did very little to comfort the husband.  But, soon he went back to his labors, trying to forget about the single coin that remained of what was supposed to be his fortune!

The wife did not forget the coin, however.  She kept it and looked at it often and prayed that God would use this coin to reward her husband's faith.  Then one day, she took the coin from the special place where she kept it and gave the ruble to a wealthy merchant to invest for her on one of his trips to faraway places.  Certainly, he could buy something that could be sold for a profit to reward the man she loved.

The rich merchant saw many wondrous things on his journey to far away places.  With his own money and the money of investors, he bought siks and oils and spices that would be sold for huge profits.  It was not until he was boarding his ship to return home did he remember the single ruble the woman had given him.  Too late to shop, for the tide was rising to carry his ship away, he looked around to find something to buy and take back to the woman.  At the dock, he saw a man trying, unsuccessfully, to sell three cats.

"How much to buy a cat?" the rich man yelled from the deck of the ship.

"Only a single ruble for all three," answered the man.

Hearing this, the rich man tossed the ruble to the man below and had a crewman lower a rope with a sack tied to it.  The cats were safely hoisted aboard just as the anchor raised and the ship left port for the homeward voyage.

What to do with three cats on a moving ship would be a worry for a later time.  Moments after the ship sailed out of port, the weather turned terrible.  No one even thought about the cats after the merchant put the bag that held them onto his bunk.  The boat pitched and rocked terribly and blew farther and farther off the course that led towards home.  To help keep the ship afloat, the rich man worked side by side with the crew to pump out the sea water that poured into the ship with each high wave.  Just before the winds blew themselves out - one final blast of wind blew the ship onto rocks, tearing a hole in one side of the ship.

Held up by the rocks, the ship stayed above the water.  The crew, including the wealthy merchant, watched eagerly the next morning when small boats pulled along shore.  Their happiness to be rescued changed to fear and uncertainty a short time after when their rescuers forced them into the small boats at weapon point to haul them ashore and lock them into a cold and damp room in the lower parts of a caliph's fortress.  The sack that still held the three cats was thrown into the room with the sailors and the merchant.  Before the door was slammed shut, blocking out all light, the merchant opened the sack and began to pet and comfort the shivering cats.

The caliph ruled ths island with cruelty.  He held a special anger towards strangers.  In his younger and happier days, ships were welcomed to his shores.  This changed when one ship came bringing small creatures that now ran wild all over his kingdom.  The creatures were furry with pointed noses and strong teeth that could gnaw through nearly anything.  They moved fast on their four legs - making it almost impossible to catch them.  They ate all day and all night - and left tracks and messes everywhere.  A loaf of bread couldn't sit on the counter after coming out of the oven for more than a few seconds before the creatures appeared and challenged the cook, trying to tear holes in the food before it could be served to the caliph.

Now it was the caliph's custom to lock uninvited visitors in a room for the creatures to bite and torture.  The creatures were especially horrible in a dark room where the visitors could not see what was crawiling over them.  Those visitors who weren't driven mad by the bites and squeaking sounds of the creatures promised a ransom from their relatives to escape the dark and horrible conditions.

It was in such a room that the wealthy merchant sat with the sailors from the ship and the three cats.

The scurrying of tiny feet could be heard running across the room, followed by the scream of a grown man when one of the creatures crawled over his hand.  At the same time the man screamed, one of the cats hissed loudly and leaped out of the arms of the merchant.  A squeal could be heard from whatever had crawled over the man.  The mysterious furry creature had been killed by the cat.  More scurrying was followed by movement and noises made by the cats.  Throughout the night, the cats feasted, while the men began to relax.  They huddled together to stay warm and sleep while they remained under the protection of the three felines.

The caliph was amazed when his servants opened the doors in the morning.  Though his guests sat hungry and angry about being confined, no one had been bitten.  No one shivered with fear of the creatures that in the light they recognized as rats and mice.  The caliph was happy to see a solution to his problem.  He allowed the sailors to go free with an apology for his poor treatment to them.

The caliph's servants helped repair the storm damage to merchant's ship.  The caliph traded fairly with the merchant.  He helped the merchant make a large profit for himself, his investors and for the crew.  The caliph gave the merchant three bags of gold coins, one for each of the three cats.

Happy to arrive home safely, the merchant went straight to the home of the woman who had given him the ruble to invest.  He told the woman in the presence of her husband how one ruble had brought the investment that had saved his life.

The woman smiled at her husband and said, "You see?  Your faith has saved the life of a kind man!"  Then, she told the story about how her husband found a treasure but lost it when he kept the Sabbath.  Still - she knew that good would come from the one ruble they possessed because God's law was followed.

The peasant - though glad for the merchant was not happy when he was reminded that he had lost a fortune.  That is - until the merchant clapped his hands loudly at the end of the story.  His servants came into the house, carrying the three bags of gold that had been earned by the sale of the cats.

As the peasant touched the coins, his eyes raised up to the heavens, and his lips mouthed thank you.  He knew that, thanks to the help from his wife and an honest merchant, his faith had been rewarded.

But, was it HIS faith that was rewarded?  I wonder!

If you wish to read other folktales and stories as told by Dr. Lockett, The Normal Storyteller, please visit his site at