Teaser: The wayward son has not the sense to use his father's gift of funds to good purpose; he squanders it foolishly on worthless merchandise. But that is not the worst of his shortcomings; he also makes a second purchase that is even more devastating.
Lord Hampton was perplexed. All his life he had looked after his estate and taken pains to keep everything in good condition. In addition, he invested his wealth cautiously and wisely. Blessed with only one son, he had hoped that his heir would follow in his footsteps.
"No one lives forever," Hampton thought to himself. "What shall I do with my property and assets? My son Charles has no head for business, nor for anything else. He is too slow and unintelligent to manage the estate, even ten or twenty years from now. What will become of him? And what will become of my estate?"
Hampton married off Charles and gave him a home on the grounds of his estate. In addition, he set aside a dowry of ten thousand ducats for him. In view of Charles' limitations, he did not allow his son access to the funds. The young couple took their meals with the parents, and lacked for nothing. With no reason to seek employment or try to earn a living, Charles just frittered away his time in empty amusements.
After some time, Hampton could no longer remain silent. "What good is it for you to just sit around all day and stare out the window? Go to the fair, do some business there, and try to earn your own living."
Charles agreed in principle, but protested that he had no money. "Give me the dowry you set aside for me, all ten thousand ducats, so that I can buy merchandise at the fair."
"Ten thousand ducats?" gasped his father. "That's a huge sum of money. You might lose it all. For a start, I'm willing to give you one thousand ducats. That's a substantial sum. You'll be able to buy goods with it, and to start learning how to do business without risking all of your fortune."
"You don't trust me!" pouted Charles. "I won't go with only one thousand ducats. Either you give me the entire ten thousand, or I'm staying home."
Hampton saw that he had no choice. With a shrug of his shoulders, he said, "It's your money; if you lose it, it will be your loss. But one thing I beg of you: Don't invest all of it in one type of merchandise. Divide it in two; that way, if some of the goods you buy are not profitable, at least you will gain from the other kind."
Charles agreed. His bags were packed, the carriage prepared, all was ready for the way. Hampton gave his son the full sum of his dowry – not without misgivings – and watched as the wagon disappeared in the distance. "I hope that is not the last I shall see of his dowry," he thought to himself.
A few days later, Charles was back, accompanied by a heavily loaded cart bearing his new merchandise. With a wide smile, he announced to the anxious father that he had done very well at the fair. "Let me show what I bought!" he exclaimed excitedly. "I'm sure you'll be proud of me."
Hampton was also eager to view the goods, but he was not yet smiling. On the contrary, his heart warned him that all was not well.
Charles went to the second wagon and pried open the cover of one of the large chests loaded on it. "Just look here, Father. I bought six crates of solid gold dishes and trays at a bargain price – only five thousand ducats! Aren't' they beautiful?"
The senior Hampton took one item out and examined it in the light. "Copper!" he declared. "Not a grain of gold in it! Each crate here is worth something like ten ducats; if you have six, that means sixty ducats. A loss of four thousand, nine hundred forty ducats…"
Hampton shook his head in dismay. Why had he ever agreed to give his son so much money?
"Don't worry," Charles tried to comfort his father. "I'll make so much money on the other purchase that it won't even matter.
With a sigh, Hampton asked his son what else he had bought. "Here, I'll show you," answered Charles, somewhat less sure of himself. He reached into his coat pocket and drew out a sheaf of official documents. "They're government bonds, worth a total of twenty thousand ducats, but I managed to buy them for only five thousand for them."
Again, Hampton's heart was filled with dread. He took one of the documents in hand, examined it, and cried out in dismay. "It's counterfeited! Not only have you thrown away all your money, but you no doubt will have the authorities out looking for you! These bonds are not worth the money they are printed on; but even worse, it is illegal even to have them in your possession," concluded Hampton in anguish. "We must get rid of them at once!"
"But why?" Charles protested. "I don't understand."
In frustration, the desperate father tried to explain the situation to his backward son, but Charles could not grasp what was wrong with his purchase.
Hampton was still attempting to make it clear to Charles that he must dispose of the papers immediately, when someone began pounding at the door.
"Open up in the name of the law!" shouted a rough voice. Two detectives from the capital were there, together with the local constable. They had traced the forged bonds to Hampton's door, and were there to arrest anyone found in possession of counterfeit documents.
Hampton could only stand and watch as the authorities placed Charles under arrest and prepared to lead him off to the local court house.
"Oh, my son!" he moaned. "I only wanted to help you, to improve your lot. I wanted you to enjoy my wealth, and to add to it. Just look what you have gone and done! You did not have the sense to invest in goods that would bring you profit, but threw out half of your dowry on cheap copper utensils! Even worse; with the other half, you bought yourself a ticket that will take you straight to prison!"
Just as Hampton intended to benefit Charles by giving him a handsome dowry, so, too, does the Almighty seek to shower His blessings on us. When given prosperity, however, we do not always use it wisely. Before his passing, Moses warned us: "O foolish nation, and not wise!"
"Not only were you not wise enough to use your blessings to acquire knowledge and skills that would help you to serve your Creator, but you squandered the talents and strengths He bestowed on you, the length of days He granted you, and the wealth and resources He put at your disposal, to abandon His ways and to indulge in sin. And now, you will have to suffer the consequences."
It is no wonder that Moses, who devoted his life to the welfare of the Jewish People, bemoans our fate: "O foolish nation, and not wise!"