Jewish Lore: The Snuff Box

Jewish Lore: The Snuff Box

This tale begins, as all good stories, with a carefully crafted protagonist. Ours is a wealthy, middle aged merchant whose success may have gone to his yarmulke and compromised his character; let us call him Yaakov. One day our hero, being Hassid, nervously awaits a meeting with his Rebbe. On the verge of tears, Yaakov declares that his existence is in turmoil and his fortune is slipping from his fingers. All he once touched was a success, now all he attempts is for not. "It feels as though I am cursed", said the man of commerce.

Yaakov visits the Rebbe 

The holy man listened silently to Yaakov's many financial laments, then quietly said, "your snuff box". "Snuff box?" replied Yaakov as he patted down his person until he retrieved the ornate container filled with his favorite tobacco delight. "Several months ago,” said the Rebbe, “you were in shul with friends, and  decided to offer them snuff. Then a disparate stranger stood from his nearby seat and reached to take a pinch and you closed the box and turned away. Do you remember?" Perplexed Yaakov listened as the wise man concluded that, "heaven has decided your fortune will be given to the person you offended."

 It was your snuffbox

Yaakov exercised his memory until out of nowhere the recollection of the incident returned. Realizing the misfortune of his actions, he quickly turned to the Rebbe and exclaimed, "it was a curse alright, a curse I have given myself. Is there any way I can..." The Rebbe continued, "the only way you can redeem yourself and stop the dissolution of your fortune, is if you can find the person you offended and reverse the process by offering him a pinch of snuff and receiving the same refusal. In this way, you will retrieve your fortune."


The merchant returned home only to suffer the continued crumbling of his wealth. He loses all his possessions, home and belongings, just as the Rebbe had predicted. Through various inquiries, Yaakov had found the identity of the beggar, let us name him Isaac, who now had acquired a vast fortune by daring investments and had become the darling of the business community. Yaakov also learned that Isaac's daughter was about to be married and great festivities were planned. Yaakov then proceeded to devise a plan of deception and revenge. 


The day of Isaac's daughter's wedding, Yaakov had melded into the vast crowd of attendees . He then waited for the ideal time to request for the pinch of snuff that would bring Isaac's demise. The host was occupied with many guests thanking him for invitations and offering gifts. Yaakov tried to plan the best time for Isaac to neglect his request and therefore regain his fortune. Finding his way to the main table, Yaakov then precipitated himself on his host and said, "Please can I have a pinch of snuff?" Isaac, upon being interrupted, quickly turned his back to the stranger but immediately returned to his unknown guest with an open snuff box offering a taste. Yaakov had a twinge of hope when Isaac turned his back but was smitten with despair upon seeing his return snuff box in hand and fainted on the spot.

 Isaac's daughter gets wed

Yaakov was then taken to an adjacent room and a doctor summoned. A short while later, Isaac appeared inquiring about his guest and was reassured that all was well. Upon seeing Isaac, Yaakov broke down into tears. "Why are you crying? “Asked Isaac. Yaakov decided to recount his story. "I know you do not remember me, but you changed my life several months ago at shul. I was cursed because I foolishly chose the selfish path rather than the charitable one when you asked me for some snuff, I refused. The Rebbe then told me that my only hope was to get you to repeat the same uncaring act to me and my fortune would be reinstated. Alas my attempt has failed." 


Upon hearing the entire story, Mr. Isaac decided to embrace his uninvited guest and said: "If the Rebbe says you are the cause of my sudden fortune then I am in your debt. From now on, I will provide you with home and employment for your remaining days." Shalom everyone and happy snuffing.

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