Rosh Hashana 5781 Tipping The Scale

The Midrash [Vayikrah 34:12] relates a story; Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was possibly the holiest man that ever lived. Besides authoring the ‘Zohar’, being a master of the oral Torah and a miracle worker, he was one of the few Jews in history who spent every instant of his time learning Torah; no casual conversations, coffee breaks and certainly no vacations—only Torah. So, everyone was surprised when, the day after Rosh Hashanah he showed up at the door of his nephews’ home and began to lecture them about the importance of giving charity to the poor. Although they didn’t really have money to spare and totally didn’t understand the urgency of what he was saying, they listened attentively; when Rabbi Shimon spoke everyone listened. “Give with an open heart,” Rabbi Shimon adjured. “Don’t worry about tomorrow, Hashem will provide. And most importantly: write it all down. Every penny you give, always write it down and carry the list with you. By the end of the year it must be a large sum.” Rabbi Shimon made them promise and he left. The nephews knew there was more to this occurrence than what meet the eyes. Indeed, through the year they wholeheartedly gave large sums of money to charities. Almost a year later they had another strange visit—from a posse of Roman soldiers with an order for their arrest. Someone accused them of selling silk without paying the tax to the government. They began weeping and protesting their innocence but to no avail. Trembling with fear, they were led off to prison where they were given a choice: either pay an outrageous fine of six hundred dinar or produce an even more outrageously priced silk garment for the king, both of which were utterly beyond their means. When Rabbi Shimon heard what had happened, he immediately rushed to the prison and got special permission to visit his relatives. “Where is the account of the charity you gave?” He asked. “How much did you give?” “Here,” they replied as one of them pulled the small parchment from his pocket. Rabbi Shimon took the account and noticed that they had given almost six hundred dinars; they were just six dinar short. “Do you have any money with you?” he asked. They produced six dinar that they had sewn into their garments in case they needed it. Rabbi Shimon took the money, bribed one of the officials, the charges were dropped, and they were released. Rabbi Shimon explained to them what had happened. “This past Rosh Hashanah I dozed off and dreamt that the government would demand of you six hundred dinars. That is why I told you to give charity, to negate the decree.” “Then why didn’t you tell us about that?” they complained. “We would have given the money immediately and spared ourselves a lot of anguish.” “But then,” replied Rabbi Shimon. “You would not have done the Mitzvah for its own sake.” A Mitzva is such that we have no clue of its true worthiness. It may seem unimportant, but it could save the entire nation from bad decrees, turning then in a massive act of Chessed to all Jews. Countless times through history our salvation came from acts of simple Jews as in the next story: Just days before Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev received a letter from his friend Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuzh, penned in an urgent stroke: Heaven disclosed to me that the coming year looms grievously over the Jewish people. Their sins are many and are being put to use by the heavenly prosecutors. We must work together to mitigate them at the earliest opportunity. Immediately after Selichot the next morning, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak began strolling the streets and alleyways of Berditchev, in search of a virtuous deed, unique enough to be presented to the Heavenly Court to perhaps tip the scales in favor of the Jewish people. A faint veil of spiritual light shrouding the decrepit panels of a small wooden house stopped him in his tracks. Its exterior was dilapidated, but Rabbi Levi Yitzchak felt certain something holy rested there. He knocked. A young woman who seemed to carry an air of distressed melancholy opened the door. Not even the sight of the city’s beloved rabbi seemed to dispel it. “May I come inside?” he asked. She nodded and stepped aside. With Rosh Hashanah inching ever closer, it was not uncommon to receive a visit from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak as he did his annual rounds, attempting to rouse the townspeople’s spiritual sensitivity toward the imminent holy days. “Tell me what’s wrong, my child.” “I’ve already repented…” she stammered. Delicately, with reassuring words, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak asked her to share her troubles. Still visibly emotional, the young woman began her story: “My family and I used to live in a village not far from Berditchev. My father worked on a dairy farm, which he leased from a local duke. My father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, closely followed by my mother, who had become overwhelmed with misery. I was left to confront the world alone, lost and isolated. “Once I managed to regain my bearings, I realized I could continue running the farm. After watching my father countless times, I was certain it would be no trouble for me to take over the business, and I decided to appeal to the duke for an extension of my father’s concession.” The young woman paused to take a deep breath, steadying herself for what came next. “He welcomed me into his office like an old friend and listened intently as I spoke. Everything I said was met with an encouraging smile or nod. When the duke responded with a showering of compliments, I hardly believed my good fortune. Though his compliments concluded with confessions of love, I naively ascribed them to his enthusiasm about my idea. “But it soon became clear that the duke was more interested in me than anything I had to say about employment or the dairy farm. He tried to pluck at my heartstrings with syrupy promises. I would know no more hardship, he declared, if I only agreed to live with him. “The more I expressed my stubborn disgust at the prospect, the more he intensified his advances, eventually replacing any pretense of subtlety with explicit persuasions of lust. Beside myself, I turned him down flatly. “The duke then did the unthinkable. Seizing my hair in his fist, he tugged at my beautiful tresses and kissed them. Mind reeling and heart pounding, I fled his office, running blindly through my tears.” Tears pooled in the young woman’s eyes as she spoke, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak gently encouraged her to continue. “I knew I should not blame myself, but the exchange nauseated me. I found some scissors and snipped off the hair he had defiled. “I left the village the next day and never looked back. I worked as a maid for several years until I met my husband. He passed away a year ago, leaving me to wonder what I did to deserve such a bitter fate.” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wiped the tears off his eyes and stood up. He blessed the young woman, showering her with good wishes before he left. The Rosh Hashanah that followed was quite different from the usual. Closely observed by his congregants, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak appeared to be deeply absorbed in prayer for some time. When it came time for Shofar blowing, the Rabbi waited in silence, sighing deeply. Then, pulling the Tallis over his head, he faced heavenward and declared: “Master of the Universe! If we are no longer worthy, and our sins have outweighed our merits, place the young woman’s locks of hair on the other side of the scale and I’m certain they will tip in our favor!” His plea faded and the synagogue filled with hushed anticipation. For several long moments, silence reigned. Then, relief washing over his face, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak relaxed and moved on to the blowing of the shofar. What resulted was a year brimming with blessings and joy for all. Will you be the one this year that who will do an act of Chessed that will tip the scale for the entire Klal Yisrael?

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach

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