Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 12   No. 17

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy zecher Nishmas
Yonah ben Elchonon Moshe z"l.
May he be a meilitz yosher
for his family and for all of Klal Yisroel.

Parshas Yisro

Men of Truth, Who Hate Gain
(A story depicting the unbelievable integrityof R.Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld z.t.l.)

There was a Takanah (regulation) in the Kolel Shomrei ha'Chomos that every member who married off a son or daughter would receive ten golden 'Napoleons', a sum that by the standard of those times, would help considerably to defray the wedding expenses.

It happened that R. Yosef Chayim's son, R. Ya'akov Meir, became engaged to the daughter of the community leader, R. Shmuel Zevil Shpitzer. Despite the fact that R. Yosef Chayim was the head of the Kollel, the Kollel treasurer inexplicably forgot to draw the ten napoleons from the 'Eizer Chasan ve'Kalah' fund, to provide him with the much needed money for the forthcoming wedding.

Weeks passed. The weeks turned into months, and the wedding loomed closer and closer, but the money was not forthcoming. There was not a P'rutah in the Rav's house, but the angel of forgetfulness's hold on the treasurer of Kollel Shomrei ha'Chomos remained firm. R. Yosef Chayim for his part, typically refrained from claiming his due, even though the money was his by right.

Now R. Yosef Chayim made a point of 'never' taking loans. As he once informed R. Moshe Blau, throughout his life, he had avoided doing so at all costs. But Hachnosas Kalah was Hachnosas Kalah, and so, left with no choice, he took out a number of loans to pay for the wedding expenses.

The wedding was fixed for a certain Friday, as was the custom of that time. The Shabbos prior to the wedding, the 'forgetful' treasurer participated in the Ofruf, and was even called up to the Torah, a gesture, it would seem, that was intended to remove any ill-feeling on R. Yosef Chayim's part.

On the following Friday, the day of the wedding, he suddenly realized his omission. He rushed into the Kollel's office in a terrible state of agitation, looking extremely guilty. He immediately summoned the Kollel Shamash, and instructed him to order a special coach forthwith to travel to the Rav's house and hand him the long-overdue money, which he should take from the kitty of the 'Eizer Chasan ve'Kalah'. 'And don't forget', he added, 'to ask the Rav, in my name, for forgiveness for the aggravation that he must have suffered as a result of his laxness. Who knows how much pain and anguish we caused that Tzadik'!

The Shamash did exactly as the treasurer had instructed, and a short while later, he alighted from the wagon at the gate of Batei Machseh, from where he walked briskly the short distance to the Rav's house. Handing him the ten napoleons, he apologized profusely for the error and begged forgiveness for the pain that it must have caused him. Imagine his surprise when R. Yosef Chayim promptly returned the ten napoleons, adding matter-of-factly 'This does not belong to me!'

Noticing the puzzled look on the Shamash's face, he explained that the Takanah specifically stipulated that the money was intended to cover wedding expenses, and nothing else. As far as he was concerned, he pointed out, all the wedding expenses had already been paid for, a fact that was evident by the fact that the wedding would take place that very afternoon. All that was still needed to be paid was the debts incurred on account of the wedding. But there was no clause in the Takanah allowing the money to be used for that.

There is no question, the Chochmas Chayim concludes, that in reality, the money belonged to R. Yosef Chayim by rights. It was owed to him, and it is not because someone forgets to pay a debt when it falls due, that he is absolved from paying! To be sure that is the case, he explains, only R. Yosef Chayim found a good excuse not to accept money from somebody else. And it was on account of this story and others like it, that he acquired for himself, a place among those who have truly earned the title "those who hate gain" - 'who hate their own money in Din', even when it theirs without the slightest shadow of doubt.

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Parshah Pearls

We Accepted the Torah upon Pain of Death

"And Moshe took the people from the camp to meet G-d, and they stood at the foot of the mountain" (19:17).

The Gemara in Shabbos (88b), translating the latter phrase as "And they stood underneath the mountain", learns from here that G-d held the mountain over their heads like a barrel, and said to them 'if you will accept the Torah, all will be well, but if you don't, there you will be buried!'.

The Mishneh la'Melech cites the Mordechai in Perek ha'Nizakin, who rules in the name of the Maharam that if Reuven forces Shimon to sell him a field by suspending him on a tree and threatens to leave him there to die should he not comply, everyone unanimously agrees that the sale is valid, even if the 'purchaser' has not yet paid. And the reason for this is that irrespective of what anyone holds with regard to other onsin (forced circumstances), there is no question that a person who is faced with death agrees to the sale with his whole heart, in order to save his life.

He questions this however, from the same Gemara, which explains that, due to the Chazal that we quoted above, Yisrael were considered o'nes, and therefore not guilty of sinning, until the time of Mordechai in Shushan (almost a thousand years later) when they willingly accepted the Torah. But surely there, asks the Mishneh la'Melech, Yisrael were threatened with the death-penalty, and, according to the Mordechai, when they therefore accepted the Torah, they meant what they said with all their heart, and should no longer have been considered an o'nes?

R. Shmuel Nadash (R. Yosef Chayim's grandfather) answered the question, by citing the Ba'al ha'Itur, who restricts the above Din of the Mordechai to a case where the man was forced to sell his property under threat. It does not extend however, to someone who is forced to buy property under threat. There, the Kinyan is not valid, whatever the threat. This solves the problem beautifully. At Matan Torah, Yisrael were considered purchasers (for so David Hamelech said - "Because I gave you a good purchase, My Torah ... "). In that case, they were o'nes in any case, even under threat of death, as the Gemara in Shabbos explains, and the sale was truly annuled.


Enjoying the Shabbos to the Full

"Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it" (20:8).

The Ramban cites this Pasuk as the source to remember Shabbos starting already from Sunday, as Chazal have said 'From Sunday (start preparing already) for Shabbos'. (Beitzah 12b)

And this was the way of R. Yosef Chayim. That is why he adopted the custom to discard the walking-stick that he used during the week, already on Friday. It was inconvenient for him to walk without his stick, and he felt that to stop using it only from the moment Shabbos came in, would detract from Oneg Shabbos. Stopping a day earlier on the other hand, would enable him to become more accustomed to going without it by the time Shabbos entered, minimizing the inconvenience, and maximizing the Oneg Shabbos.

* * *

And the Deeds That They Shall Do …

…This Refers to Going Beyond the Letter of the Law
(Bava Metzi'a 32)
Here are some stories in this connection, typical of the Tzadik about whom they are written (adapted from the Seifer Chochmas Chayim).

At the Eleventh Hour

Like all true leaders of K'lal Yisrael, R, Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld also served as father of the poor. Widows, orphans, poor brides and bridegrooms, all turned to him in their time of need, the burden falling fairly and squarely on his shoulders. It happened once that a large sum of money meant for the poor of Yerushalayim had somehow been delayed along the way. The time of the year was just before Pesach and a great despondency fell upon many Yerushalmi families, who lacked money with which to purchase even the basics for the forthcoming Yom-Tov.

Erev Pesach morning arrived, and all the sources of Tzedakah had already shut down. The money had still not arrived, and the people, frantic with worry, walked around in a daze, not knowing what to do or where to turn.

Suddenly, there was a cry! The Sheli'ach had arrived with the money - at the eleventh hour, on Erev Pesach before midday! But how does one distribute money to all those who desperately needed it on Erev Pesach afternoon? Who is available at such a time, when everyone is preparing for the Seider, due to begin in a matter of hours?

The Rav had no problem with this! To be sure, the Rebbetzen, like all Yidishe housewives, was busy with the numerous Pesach issues, arranging the Pesach dishes and cooking for the Seider, with the numerous Chumros that accompany these chores, so that Pesach should arrive ke'Das u'ke'Din.

Yet the Rav did not hesitate. He called his wife ('Ishto ke'Gufo'), and after explaining to her that there was really nobody else to send, he asked her sweetly whether she would not volunteer to take on the job. The Rebbetzen did not hesitate either ('Eishes Chaver ke'Chaver'). She took the money and went round the houses of Yerushalayim, distributing it so that the poor should be able to purchase their Pesach needs, a task that took up the remainder of the day, depriving her of the least chance of preparing her own house for Pesach and for the Seider.

But who cared? What mattered was the fact that the people of Yeryshalayim were able to celebrate Yom-Tov!

The simchas Yom-tov in the houses of Yerushalayim that year was immense, but most of all in the home of R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld.


Chesed in the Snow

Someone close to R. Yosef Chayim who lived in the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, once turned to him with a request to speak with Rav Mordechai Leib Rubin, whose assistance he required regarding a certain matter.

The following night, Yerushalayim experienced a heavy snowstorm. When the inhabitants awoke the next morning, they found the city covered in a thick blanket of snow, which covered its roofs and its streets.

The man who had asked R. Yosef Chayim for the favour, wrapped in his winter-coat, was standing by his window taking in the scene. He was looking at the pile of snow in front of the raised stone steps of Yemin Moshe, when suddenly he froze on the spot. An elderly man picking his way through the soft snow caught his eye. Could it be … R. Yosef Chayim. Shocked, he rushed outside, and sure enough, there was the Rav walking in his direction, on his way, he assumed (correctly, as it transpired) towards the Rav whose assistance he required, who lived in Yemin Moshe, too.

Terribly shaken at having troubled the Rav to such a degree, he burst into tears and begged him for forgiveness.

The Rav responded by raising himself to his full height, and looking him straight in the eye, he declared in an authoritative voice 'And do you really think for one moment, that a Yid with a white beard is forbidden to trouble himself over a Mitzvah? Have Chazal not said 'If a Mitzvah comes to hand, to not let it 'turn sour'!' Do it at once!


Bear in mind that R. Yosef Chayim refused to allow others to as much as carry his stick from one place to another (so as not to trouble a Yid).

Here are two examples of this.


Not to Trouble a Child ...

At a wedding of a granddaughter, R. Yosef Chayim was walking to his seat, when he found a little boy sitting sedately on a chair blocking the gangway. The Rav stood patiently waiting for the little boy to get up and let him pass. The child however, seemingly oblivious to the Tzadik's presence, remained seated.

When the little boy's father realized what was happening, the embarrassed man began to berate his son for not getting up to let the Gaon.

But R. Yosef Chayim would have none of it. 'Please don't tell him off,' he said softly with a laugh. 'How can I trouble a child who may yet become the Gadol ha'Dor. I'm afraid that I have missed the opportunity of achieving what he may yet achieve'.


Performing Chesed with the Chevra Kadisha

Once in the last year of his life in 5691, when he felt exceptionally weak, he raised his eyes heavenwards and said 'Ribono shel Olam! I have always accepted whatever You decreed upon me with love, and so I will continue to do. But please, do not torment me in my old age, by forcing me to require other people's services, because that is something that I have never done before'. 'A tzadik decrees and G-d fulfills', because until virtually the last day of his life, he managed without the help of others.

That same summer, R. Yosef Chayim, who went to convalesce as he did in previous years, urged his family to take him home earlier than usual. The doctor and his family however, felt that the air was good for him, and tried to prevail upon him to remain longer. But he stood his ground, insisting that he leave there and then. When they pressed him for a reason, he told them that he felt weak and that he knew that his end was near. Not knowing exactly when that would occur, he was afraid that he would die in the convalescent home, and seeing as in those days, they used to carry the coffin on their shoulders all the way to Har ha'Zeisim, he wanted to spare the Chevra Kadisha the extra burden of carrying him the additional mileage from the convalescent home.


Thinking of Others

One particularly stormy night, R. Yosef Chayim was learning with one of his grandchildren. The rain was pouring and the wind howling, when they thought they heard the sound of a thud coming from the direction of the steps leading towards the Ashpos Gate. Quick as a flash, R. Chayim was out of his seat, had donned his winter coat and had rushed outside to investigate. Imagine his family's surprise, when he returned a short while later, carrying over his shoulders an elderly man who had slipped and fallen down the steps and who looked in a bad way. He took the unconscious man straight to his bedroom, laid him on his bed and worked on him for a long time until he came to. He then called a doctor to see to him.

And the old man remained in R. Yosef Chayim's house until the weather improved and his health was fully restored.


R.Yosef Chayim was always the first in Shul, and the last out, nor could any power on earth keep him away from Shul. Imagine the surprise of the Mispalelim when, one Shabbos morning, in the middle of Shachris, during Pesukei de'Zimrah, the Rav walked out of Shul for no apparent reason. Thinking that perhaps he was feeling ill, they went to search for him in his residence underneath the Shul. When they did not find him there, their surprise turned to worry. Perhaps they thought, the Rav was feeling ill.

They soon found him however, ax in hand, in the process of chopping down the door of a single, childless man, whom he found inside lying on his bed - dead.

This was a man who Davened regularly in the same Minyan as R. Yosef Chayim, and who always stood in the same place in Shul. Having noticed his absence that Shabbos morning, he realized that something must be wrong, and went immediately to investigate.


The rain was coming down in torrents, and a woman from Batei Machseh (where R. Yosef Chayim resided) was standing underneath a protruding roof near Machaneh Yehudah market, baby in arm, when suddenly a horse-drawn carriage stopped beside her. The door of the carriage opened, and out jumped R. Yosef Chayim, who it appears, had just returned from a B'ris in the old Sha'arei Tzedek hospital, and who was at the time, almost eighty. Hopping sprightly on to the seat beside the driver, he bade the woman enter the carriage and take his place. The woman, who felt uncomfortable at ousting the Rav from the carriage in the pouring rain, initially declined his offer, and it was only when he explained to her that having give up his seat for an act of Chesed, there was no way that he would reclaim it, that she gratefully entered the carriage.


No Gifts Please

R. Yosef Chayim never accepted gifts, and rarely loans either (as we noted above). Whenever he discovered a sum of money that someone had placed underneath his table-cloth, with the good intention of improving the Rav's precarious financial situation, he would make the necessary enquiries until he discovered the owner, and return him the money. Failing that, he would hand the money to the Gabai of the public Tzedakah fund to distribute to the poor.

There was only one exception. It happened once at the wedding of one of his sons that he accepted a gift of a sum of money that was handed to him discreetly, because he knew with certainty, that the donor was his Rebbe R. Yehoshua Leib Diskind. We hope to elaborate on this incident in Parshas Tazria.


A Mitzvah Must Be Free of Sin

A Hungarian woman, who was still childless after many years of marriage, once approached the Rav of her city with a request. The woman, whose wealthy husband's business affairs she helped manage, had brought with her four hundred gold pieces as Pidyon Nefesh (an atonement). She wished to donate this sum to a Tzadik to do with as he saw fit, and in return, the Tzadik would Daven for her to give birth to a child. She asked the Rav to take the money and to hand it to the Tzadik of his choice on her behalf.

The Rav named R. Chayim Sonnenfeld in Yerushalayim as the best candidate and took the money from her, which he immediately sent to Yerushalayim.

Three weeks passed, and the woman's husband came to see the Rav, to complain to him about the large donation that his wife had given to Tzedakah without his knowledge. The Rav replied that he had assumed, when accepting the money, that she was acting with his consent. The husband however, demanded that the Rav retrieve the money from R. Yosef Chayim and return it to him. The Rav was naturally reluctant to do so, and offered to return the entire sum out of his own pocket, to be paid in installments, should the husband persist.

Even as they sat discussing the issue, the postman arrived with a special delivery package from Yerushalayim, which he handed to the Rav. The latter opened the package, and to his utter amazement, it contained a letter from R. Yosef Chayim, together with the four hundred gold coins that he had sent him.

Overjoyed, the Rav handed the money to the deeply moved husband, who was curious to know what was written in the letter. This is roughly what R. Yosef Chayim had written ...

'I received your letter together with the money. However, seeing as you wrote that the woman handed you the money, I suspect that she may have done so without her husband's consent. Consequently, I am returning the full amount, with the request that you return it to her as soon as possible.

It goes without saying however, that this has not detered me from praying for the woman's request to be fulfilled. May Hashem accept my Tefilos with mercy'.

The eyes of both men filled with tears.

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