Once there was a poor laborer who got hired on in a rich man’s estate. He was promised a decent wage at the conclusion of his stint as a laborer. He, therefore, got to work diligently and did his work honorably.
Time passed and it was payday finally. The man came to the door of the manor and asked his boss for his year’s salary. Said the employer, “I am so sorry, my good man, but I do not have a penny.”
“Oh!” said the worker, “In that case, please pay me with some of your artwork or silver.”
“I wish I could,” said the boss, “but I don’t have any silver or artwork.” He said this with a straight face, as beyond him one could see walls of paintings and curios full of precious silver objects de art.
The worker did not budge. “Well then,” he said, “at least pay me for either clothing or linens.”
“Oy, my faithful worker,” said the employer, “even that I don’t have to give to you.”
“Perhaps you can pay me with sheep and cattle?” queried the patient worker.
“Wish I could, but I don’t own any.” This was said with a straight face, even as the view afforded both men a far off pasture full of this man’s flocks and herds.
One last time, the worker tried, “Okay, let’s be reasonable. I don’t mind getting paid in produce or grains.”
“Uh, uh. Also not doable for me now,” said the employee. “I have NOTHING that I can use as payment for your services. However, I do want to pay you. Please leave me an address where you will be going, and when I have what to pay you, I will come travel and pay off the debt I owe you.”
“Fine,” said the worker with a good-natured, and he bid his employer farewell, leaving his forwarding address.
I know, you think the worker was never paid. But this is a true story, and that is not the ending. Some time elapsed and the employer came and paid up in full. He was curious, however, how the worker managed to keep his equanimity when he was refused payment.
“Tell me,” said the former boss, “what were you thinking when you tried giving me different ways I might pay and I kept ruling them out?”
“I made a simple deduction,” said the worker. “I know you have a son you dote on who gives you a hard time when he misbehaves. I assumed you and your son got into some spat, and in a fit of anger, you blurted out a promise. You probably shouted, ‘I will leave you nothing in my will. In fact, I will hereby now dedicate every single thing I own to charity.’ And then I came along and asked to be paid…and you realized that you could not pay me as you had just pledged all to charity…so all those things did not belong to you anymore.”
“Wow,” said the man. “That is exactly what happened. It was only after I went to a Bais Din and had my oath annulled that I was able to come pay you.”
Interesting enough, the worker, who was an unschooled bloke with exemplary character refinement, looked for the possible redeeming factors in what seemed an impossible-to-believe scenario. What happened to him, you might wonder. Well, a special young lady saw that strength of character and believed the impossible. She believed he could become the next great Torah sage of the Jews. For, you see, the man in our story was none other than Rabbi Akiva.