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As always, we start off with a little philosophizing from Tevye.
He makes the extremely original comment that when he was poor, no random strangers cared all that much about him—but now that he's got all this money to spend, everyone and his cat has an idea how to spend it.
Yes, you're right, Tevye. It is extremely shocking that people didn't hit you up with money-spending ideas when you were a near-starvation woodcutter.
But, Tevye being Tevye, he rejects all the advice until he runs into the one idiot who is certainly not going to make anything good happen.
One day in Yehupetz, after selling off his dairy stuff and doing some window shopping, Tevye runs into his cousin, Menachem-Mendl, who tells him a long rags-to-riches-back-to-rags story about himself and his adventures in the world of the stock market.
Hey, Shmoopsters—curious about the world of nineteenth-century stock trading? (Gee, who isn't?) Well, this is only a few decades after joint stock companies became legal—before then, you couldn't just have a company owned by a bazillion stockholders, but instead had to have actual partners who could actually be on the hook if the company should go under. After joint stock firms are created, Western literature is immediately flooded with stories of people losing vast amounts of money in all sorts of stock frauds, misjudgments, and just generally terrible choices.)
Anyhoodle, Tevye brings Menachem-Mendl back home, and while Golde plies him with food, he talks Tevye into letting him invest 100 rubles (probably about two month's wages?).
Tevye starts dreaming about all the wonderful things he could do with the money he will undoubtedly earn from this extremely sensible transaction.
(Oh, a little Shmoop brain snack for you: Tevye is really prone to having these daydreams about wealth. The writers of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" turned these flights of fancy into Tevye's "If I Were a Rich Man" lament.)
Do we need a spoiler alert to let you know that nothing good will come of this? Not unless you totally ignored the title of the story.
A few weeks go by with no word from Menachem-Mendl.
Golde thinks the worst—obviously the dude's dead, right? How else could he leave them hanging like this?
But Tevye goes back out to Yehupetz to find the guy, imagining either that he's now so rich that he won't even deign to acknowledge Tevye, or that he's so rich that he will be very generous with him.
Either way, he is definitely rich.
In Yehupetz, Tevye looks for Menachem-Mendl by mentioning that he's a stockbroker.
Evidently, this is an awesome joke, because all the locals laugh hysterically whenever he says that word.
Turns out, the word "broker" is pretty much synonymous with "thief" or "moron."
Finally, Tevye finds Menachem-Mendl, who… is even sadder looking now than before. Of course, he lost all the money. Too bad you can't eat (or wear) guilt.
Tevye ultimately shrugs it off as God's will.
Which, well, okay, way to be zen about it. But maybe some of it is just your own terrible decision making?