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Shabbos Shuvah

The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shuvah, since the opening words of the holy day's haphtarah are "Shuvah Yisroel" with which the prophet Hoshea reprimands the Jewish Nation and encourages them to return to Hashem. Consequently, we are expected to reflect upon our actions and upon our lifestyle in general, and make the proper amends.

One of the reasons we find it so difficult to devote the proper amount of time to Torah, mitzvahs and even our family is because we are inundated with work. Believing that it is actually we who literally "make a living" for ourselves, we spend almost every moment of our lives totally obsessed with this never ending goal. If only we would believe that our sustenance is decreed on Rosh Hashanah, based on our deeds - good and bad -, we would have a totally different approach to life and, feeling less pressured, we would find the time necessary to deal with our true obligations.

The following story, told by Rabbi Yosef Masas zt"l of Talamsan, is recorded in the sefer Ma'ayan Hamoed on the Holidays and should help us realize that we cannot earn more or less than what was decreed on Rosh Hashanah.

Rabbi Yechiel was the Rabbi of Paris in the 13th Century and is considered one of the Tosefists. In his town lived two goldsmiths: Ya'akov Avudraham and Naftali Azariah. One year, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, they both fasted and begged the Almighty to reveal to them in their dreams how much was allotted to them to earn during the coming year. Their prayers were accepted and Ya'akov dreamed that he would earn 200 gold coins, while Naftali dreamed that he would earn 150 gold coins. They both related their dreams to Rabbi Yechiel who told them to keep track of all of their profits this year so that they could ascertain, next Rosh Hashanah Eve, whether or not the dreams were true. They both recorded their profits meticulously.

One day, the two friends had a disagreement. They had invested jointly in some gold which they sold at a nice profit, but when it came time to split the benefits, they quarreled about the amounts. Ya'akov said that since they were partners, they should split the profits 50% each. However, Naftali retorted that we had invested two thirds of the original cost and, therefore, was entitled to two thirds of the profits. Unable to reach an agreement, they went to Rabbi Yechiel together to rule in the case.

The Rabbi asked if there was any written agreement or witnesses who had heard the terms of their arrangement. The answer was negative. He then asked in whose possession was the money, at the moment. The answer was that the profits of the sale which had yet to be divided were presently by Ya'akov. The Rav explained that the Halacha required that one who wants to excerpt money from one who is in its possession must provide valid proof that it belongs to him. In this situation, the onus of proof lay upon Naftali's shoulders. Since he could not prove his argument, Ya'akov could hold on to half of the profits, according to his claim. However, the Halacha further requires that Ya'akov swear that his claim is true; otherwise he would have to yield to Naftali's contention.

Ya'akov was taken aback. Although he was absolutely sure that he was justified in asking for half of the profits, he knew that the Sages discouraged swearing, even for the truth. Therefore, he agreed to forfeit what he believed was his rightful share to Naftali. The difference between half the amount and the one third which Ya'akov received was 10 gold coins.

Both Ya'akov and Naftali continued to record their daily profits until the next Erev Rosh Hashanah. When they examined their books they found the following: Ya'akov had earned 189 gold coins, and was 11 gold coins short of the 200 gold coins he had dreamed that he would earn this year. On the other hand, Naftali had earned 161 gold coins; 11 gold coins more than he had dreamed about. When they reported their findings to Reb Yechiel, the Rabbi said that it seemed that Ya'akov had been right when he had argued that he deserved half of the profits of that partnership they had quarreled about some time ago. Naftali countered that he had only been given 10 gold coins more; why was the difference between them now 11 gold coins? Ya'akov replied that it had cost him one gold coin to pay the scribe who wrote up the summons to the Rav's court.

Rabbi Yechiel suggested to Naftali that he return the 11 gold coins to Ya'akov, even though according to Halacha he was not required to do so. Nevertheless, it was with his best interest in mind that he encouraged him to abide by the dreams. Naftali scoffed that dreams have no credence and since according to Halacha he was not required to pay Ya'akov he refused to do so. Unable to force Naftali to pay up, Ya'akov shrugged his shoulders and returned to his store which he found to be unusually packed with customers. By midday, Ya'akov had earned 11 gold coins, and he closed for Rosh Hashanah content that he had received the complete amount which he had been granted last year.

Naftali's store, on the other hand, was totally empty all day and, at closing time, he had not earned a thing. On the way home for the holiday, Naftali passed through the market place and tripped right next to a stand of precious glassware which he overthrew as he fell to the ground. The broken glass cut his body from below while the furious owner of the stand dealt blows to him from above. Then the owner dragged Naftali to the local judge who called an appraiser who assessed the damage to be 11 gold coins which Naftali was ordered to pay on the spot.

At home, Naftali's family was concerned. The holiday had already begun and he had not yet arrived. They checked the store and found it closed for Yom Tov, of course, yet Naftali had not come to the synagogue either. After an agonizing hour, Naftali finally arrived home, bruised and depressed, and told his family the amazing Providence of the Almighty. After reciting the Evening Prayer, he immediately went to the Rav's house and asked him forgiveness. The Rabbi forgave him but told him to go to Ya'akov and ask his forgiveness too. Naftali did as he was instructed and Ya'akov forgave him too.

The next morning, before the blowing of the shofar, Rabbi Yechiel told this inspiring story to the entire congregation and beseeched the members to believe, with perfect conviction, the words of the Sages that man's sustenance is decreed on Rosh Hashanah and he will not receive more or less, no matter what he does.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel