His troops, led by four of his finest commanders won a great battle for him, and Napoleon Bonaparte was in a generous mood.
“Ask for anything and I’ll give it to you,” he said to the four officers who had distinguished themselves.
“I’ve always wanted a house in Paris,” said one of the men, a German.
“Done!” said Napoleon. “You’ll get a mansion in the city.”
“I’ve always desired to own a hotel,” said the second officer, a Frenchman.
“Done!” said the emperor. “I’ll order a hotel to be given to you.”
“I’ve always wanted a brewery,” said the third man, a Pole.
“Done!” said the emperor. “ I will give you a brewery!”
“And you, sir?” he said, turning to the fourth man. “What will you have?”
“Grant me a fortnight’s leave,” said the man.
“Done!” said the emperor. “Your leave begins from tomorrow!”
Now the fourth man happened to be a Jew, and in those days at least, Jews were supposed to be shrewd and possess great business acumen.
So his colleagues were surprised that he had asked for so little. They felt he had missed a rare opportunity to become rich, and were elated that they themselves had kept their wits about them and asked for worthwhile things.
They asked him about it when they ran into him later that day.
“Why did you ask for so little?” they taunted him. “Did courage fail you?”
“You asked for a lot,” replied the Jew. “But you must remember that the emperor is a busy man. He will order his secretary to fulfill his promises. His secretary too is a busy man. He will pass on the order to his assistant who too is a busy man. So the emperor’s order will go down from subordinate to subordinate and finally in the course of a few months…it’ll get lost!”
“We’ll appeal to the emperor!” shouted the Frenchman.
“The emperor will not know what you’re talking about,” said the Jew. “By then our great victory will have become a dim memory. You should have asked for something that the emperor could give immediately – like I did. Now, if you’ll excuse me gentlemen, I have work to do.”
And leaving the three officers gaping, the Jew went off to arrange for his holiday.