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ToldosIn this week's parashah, we learn how our Patriarch Ya'akov outsmarted his evil brother Eisav and rightly received the coveted blessings from his father Yitzchak, who was, mistakenly, going to give them to Eisav, due to his wheelings and dealings.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the last time Ya'akov and his descendants had to outwit Eisav and his descendants who enjoy living "by the sword" and persecuting everyone they can, especially the Jews. Throughout the long Diaspora, Jews often had to think very quickly, and even strain their "Jewish brain," to escape unfair discrimination and harassment.
Reb Shabsi Yudelelevitz z"l used to tell the following cute story to demonstrate how Jews used their unique ingenuity to outsmart their oppressors.
In the days of the Feudal System, the Lords of the Manors were often despots who ruled their Serfs with an iron hand and no mercy at all. They possessed the power of life and death and used it freely. Usually, there was at least one Jew who rented an inn from a Lord and was forced to pay an exorbitant amount of rent for the right to supply the local inhabitants with an ample supply of beer, wine and whiskey. After paying his inflated rent, the Jew was left with a meager amount to support his family with. But woe to the "Moshke" who didn't pay his rent on time. At the least, he could expect to be thrown, together with his entire family, into the deep pit, where they would be fed with dry bread and water. Often they would die there, not being able to pay their debts to their Master.
One such Jew was lucky enough to pay his rent on time for several years in a row. But one year there was a drought and the entire economy was affected. The Gentiles didn't have the money to spend on liquor, and if they came to the inn at all, they drank very little. When the time came to pay the rent, the Jew had far too little. He was at his wits end and did not know what to do. To ignore the debt meant certain death but to forfeit it could be his ticket to the pit; which some held was the lesser of the two evils. Finally, the Jew decided that he had no choice but to pray for a miracle. He would confront his landlord and beg for mercy. Perhaps, the Landlord would extent the due date by a month or two. He couldn't even dare to dream about more than that.
After reciting the Book of Tehillim several times, the Jew went to visit the Lord and explained to him his situation. Times were unusually hard, as the Master surely knew from his own business affairs, and people simply have no money for "the bitter drop." Consequently, he has not the money for the rent.
The Jew braced himself for the wrath of the Lord which would surely come upon him in its full fury but, surprisingly, the miracle occurred. The Lord said to him, "Moshke, you have been with me for several years now and you've always paid the rent on time. I appreciate that. Yes, I know that this year has been unusually bad for all of us, and I hope that next year will be better. I'll tell you what. I am willing to wait an entire year for the rent you owe me. Next year today, you will pay me two year's rent. But I am warning you. If you don't have the entire amount by then…you know what punishment awaits you. I can be patient once, but not twice."
The Jew could not believe his ears. Elated, he returned home and told the good news to his family, who had feared the worst. They all thanked Hashem and prayed that by next year he would have the entire amount to pay.
But next year was not much better, and before they knew it, it was time to pay the rent again. Our poor Jew did not even have one year's rent available; let alone two. As the dreaded day quickly approached, the Jew began to panic. He knew that he could not expect any mercy from his Lord this year. The day before the due date, he decided that he had no choice but to run away with his family and start life over again somewhere else. In the middle of the night, he took his few belongings and his family, loaded his wagon and left his home forever.
But when things go bad, they go bad all the way (Murphy's Law). Just as the Jew entered the road that goes through the thick forest and thought that he was safe, he saw another, fancy wagon coming from the other direction. It didn't take long for him to realize that it was none other than the Master himself, returning home late at night. The Jew began to rack his brain, and soon came up with an idea. Before the Lord noticed him, he took the initiative to flag down his master and greeted him respectfully.
"Where are you and your family going so late at night," asked the Lord.
"Your Honor," responded the Jew, "tomorrow is a Jewish holiday and we are going to celebrate it in the Big City and then return home."
"A Jewish holiday," remarked the Lord in surprise. I happen to know all of your holidays. Let's see, it's not Pesach, nor is it Shavuos nor Sukkos; not even Chanukah or Purim. What Jewish holiday do you have that I don't know about?"
The Jew began to exert his brain feverously. He had never imagined that this Gentile would be such an expert in the Jewish calendar. But without hesitation he answered immediately, "Chag Pleitaseinu" (the festival of our escape).
"Chag Pleitaseinu?" exclaimed the Lord. "That is a new one on me. I must admit I never heard of it." And with that, he took out a pad and jotted down the strange name. "Well, if that's the case, I wish you a happy holiday. Just don't forget when you come home tomorrow to come straight to me with two year's rent. You do have it don't you?"
"Of course, I have it," said the Jew. "And as soon as I return I will be happy to give it to you. But right now I must rush off so that I get there in time. Goodbye my Lord"
"Goodbye, Moshke. See you tomorrow."
The next morning, the Lord returned to the City and expected to see all of the Jews in their Yom Tov apparel with their shops closed. He was very surprised, though, to find business as usual; by the Jews as well as by the Gentiles. He stopped a Jew in the street and asked him, "Isn't today a Jewish holiday? Why are you all working as if it were a regular weekday?"
"Why do you think that today's a Jewish holiday?" asked the Jew, answering a question with a question.
"That's what my Moshke told me last night. Isn't it true?"
"What holiday did he say it is?" asked the Jew, sensing something interesting was going on.
The Lord took out his pad and replied, "Chag Pleitaseinu."
"Oh," said the smart Jew, immediately understanding what had happened. "Of course that is a major Jewish holiday. But it's not celebrated by all of us together at the same time. 'Chag Pleitaseinu' is celebrated by every Jew, individually, when his day comes!"
Shema Yisrael Torah Network