There was once a very poor Jew who lived in Ashkelon. A G-d-fearing individual, he was always the first to arrive in the beit midrash and the very last to depart.
When Eliyahu Hanavi saw this Jew’s suffering, he couldn’t bear it. He asked Hashem’s permission to intercede and make him rich. Hashem agreed, but only on the condition that the man’s newfound prosperity wouldn’t interfere with his learning and davening (praying).
Disguising himself as a stranger, Eliyahu descended into the world and handed the man a shekel. Shekel in hand, the Jew headed out to the market but was intercepted on the way by Eliyahu, this time in the guise of a man holding a used coat. “I will sell you this garment,” he said, “for the price of one shekel.” The transaction was made.
A short time later Eliyahu approached him in the form of a merchant and offered to buy the coat for ten shekels. The poor man gladly agreed. This scenario repeated itself several times in various permutations until the original shekel had turned into an impressive sum. By the end of the day the man was quite wealthy.
This Jew became a successful entrepreneur. He continued to go to the beit midrash each day, but he was too busy attending to business matters to arrive first and leave last. In fact, if he was particularly occupied, he didn’t show up until it was too late to find a minyan, let alone recite Tehillim.
“Look what you did!” Hashem accused Eliyahu Hanavi. “See how his wealth has changed him for the worse! This was a Jew who was dearly beloved, and now you’ve distanced him from Me.” Eliyahu returned to Earth. Approaching the now-wealthy businessman, he asked him to return the original shekel he had given him, which the latter had somehow tracked down and had in his possession. The man refused. “I’ll gladly give you 100 shekels, but not this particular one,” he replied. But Eliyahu Hanavi stood firm, insisting that this was the only shekel he was interested in.
Eventually the man gave in and relinquished it. It didn’t take long until all his wealth had disappeared. The Jew was ultimately left just as poor as he had started out. With nothing to do all day, he was once again the first man to arrive at the beit midrash and the last to depart.
He recited Tehillim with a broken heart, davened with kavanah and begged for mercy from the One Above. Finding the situation intolerable, Eliyahu Hanavi went back to Hashem and asked for permission to intervene. “But this time,” he said, “I promise it won’t have negative repercussions.” Hashem agreed.
Disguised as the person who had given him the original shekel, he approached the man and said, “I want you to know that I am Eliyahu Hanavi. It was I who gave you the shekel that made you rich. But because your wealth only served to distance you from Hashem, it was taken away. “However,” he continued, “if you promise that you will never be late for davening, I will gladly return your shekel and your wealth will be restored.”
The man promised that he would never repeat his mistakes, and the shekel was returned to him. For the second time in his life he became a successful businessman, more prosperous than ever.