¤ Making a Deference
¤ Benny, the Almost Flying Squirrel - A Parable
¤ A Bit of a Vice
¤ Severus Snape – The Quintessential Ba’al Teshuvah
¤ Missing Home
¤ Shimi the Schnorer
See also the "Rosality Archives" of Rosally's monthly article-letters
Making a Deference
By Rosally Saltsman (First published in Jewish Tribune)
I had two interesting conversations on the same day. The first was when I was speaking to a woman on the telephone about a study group that had caught my interest. She asked my name and when I told her, she said, "Oh, are you the Rosally Saltsman who writes for the Jewish Tribune?" When I told her I was, she complimented me on my articles and was very solicitous.
Later that day, I contacted an editor at a paper I'd like to write for. She asked my name and when I told her, she said that she had never come across my name, never heard of me, who was I again?
I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the limited celebrity I've attained through my writing. Though along with my satisfaction at being recognized and appreciated, there is also a niggling tension that whispers, "Oh, no, what if I do or say something that will disillusion my audience?" I get that way when I'm invited to speak or when someone I'm speaking to recognizes my name. It obligates me to live up to my reputation, whatever that consists of. I of course don't have that problem with people who don't like my writing.
I also experience some discomfort. After all, who am I to merit this attention? My underdeveloped humility muscle gets a workout as it fights with my arrogant yetzer. But all that is par for the course, occupational hazard, noblesse oblige, etc. etc. and so forth.
On the other hand, when I'm not recognized, I am awash with disappointment and world-weariness. I'm disillusioned and insecure. I'm frustrated at the need to once again prove myself, sell myself, show myself, etc. etc, and so forth.
The dichotomy of this particular day caught my attention as I was trying to think up an appropriate article for Lag Ba'Omer. The usual keywords went through my head: fire, celebration, weddings, haircuts, barbecues, bows and arrows, school holiday, a sleepless night, kabbalah, Torah, Romans, smoke, fire.
However, the real point of Lag Ba'Omer is the commemoration of the end of a terrible plague that had struck the students of Rabbi Akivah, the finest Torah scholars of the generation. And this tragedy was brought upon them by their insufficiently honoring one another, doing kindness, showing deference to each other. Now there was obviously no problem with recognizing each one's intrinsic value. They were all Torah scholars, all worthy of honour and respect. But they didn't go the extra mile that should be second nature to a true servant of Hashem: Loving the other person as much as yourself, Rabbi Akiva's creed.
We are all starving for respect and recognition. That accounts for at least part of our motivation for striving for success. We want to be acknowledged and appreciated both for whom we are and what we accomplish.
Despite the potential drawbacks of fame, it is certainly superior to the discomfort of anonymity. We shouldn't pursue honour, certainly, but if we want it, Pirkei Avos tells us that the way to get it is by honouring others regardless of their claims to fame. We, more often than not, do not know to whom we are speaking.
And that is the main message of Lag Ba'Omer. It gets a little bit lost in the smoke but after all spending the night around a campfire with your friends is a bonding ritual, a way to get to know and appreciate others. For those of us who perhaps eschew the flames devouring our old furniture, save for maybe nibbling on a chicken wing, it bears to remember that nurturing people's dignity is one of the greatest kindnesses there is and is a critical attribute of a true ben or bas Torah.
Benny, the Almost Flying Squirrel -- A parable
by Rosally Saltsman (First published in Yated International)
It was a cool night in early September, when the best of summer and the best of fall mingle in a cornucopia of fragrance and color; when the sun shines warmly on the leaves just beginning to burst into rainbows of color and the moon waxes and wanes poetic on gently cooling nights.
It was by the sliver of such a moon, that Sam the squirrel couldn’t sleep. This was Sam’s busiest time of year, as it was for all the squirrels, but a sudden burst of energy towards the end of the day left him too wound-up to sleep. He peered out of his hole in the pine tree to look at the sky and try to gage how long he had been tossing and turning when he spied a light on in the hole beneath him.
“Hmm,” wondered Sam. “What’s Benny doing up at this time of night?”
Sam scurried down the tree to his best friend and neighbor Benny and found him poring over something with a feather in his hand dripping ink.
“Evening, Benny.” Sam ventured casually. “I saw a light on. Everything okay?”
“Oh, hi Sam,” Benny answered distractedly. “Yeah, everything’s fine. Thanks.”
“Then what are you doing up so late? I couldn’t sleep, and I noticed a light on. Say, what is all that?” asked Sam as he looked at the papers in front of Benny.
“Hmm? Oh, an accounting.”
“But there’s still loads of time before hibernation.”
“No, not a nut accounting, a personal accounting.” Sam looked at his friend as if he’d been working too hard and had finally gone off his nut. “You see,” began Benny, “I have here a list of my goals for last year and a list of my goals for this year. I’m checking which of them I’ve achieved and which I want to achieve before next hibernation.
“But why?” Benny asked after a moment of trying to follow.
“Well, “ said Benny conspiratorially, “A couple of years ago I was gathering acorns near the university, between the large sycamore and the willow and I heard this professor talking to a student. “So what are your academic goals for this year?” he asked her. She began telling him a very detailed list of goals and took out a notebook where they were written.
The next day,” Benny continued, “I was at that big synagogue on the corner of Elm street, near that big elm tree. I have sort of a standing business arrangement with a boy who comes there early in the morning. For a month every year, this boy comes to the synagogue while it’s still dark and when he leaves, he gives me some of his snack that his parents give him as a reward for waking up so early every morning.”
“Go on,” urged Sam.
“Well, that morning, I heard one man asking another, what are your spiritual goals for this year?”
Well putting two and two together, I realized that at the time of year when we are busiest, humans decide on goals for the coming year. I figured since humans put such store in achievement, maybe I could take a lesson from them. So I began writing down my goals. See? I heard them saying that it helps to achieve your goals, if you write them down.
Sam peered at the paper. “What are the ticks and xs for? He asked.
“The ticks are what I have achieved, the xs what needs to be changed or transferred to this year’s list and a tick beside the number means the goal was partially achieved.” Benny was clearly warming to his subject. “Do you want to see my list for this year?”
Sam didn’t know why but he was afraid to see the list. “Sure,” he said.
Benny showed him what he had been writing. On the paper was the title “Goals for the Coming Year” and underneath was scrawled:
1. STAY ALIVE
2. GET MORE LEAVES FOR NEST
3. GATHER 40 ACORNS, 30 PEANUTS, 12 PINE CONES BEFORE END OF SUMMER
4. FIND EASIER TO REACH STORAGE PLACE
It was number 5 that caught Sam’s attention.
“I understand numbers 1-4,” began Sam, “but number 5! You’re a squirrel, Benny, not a bird. Squirrels can’t fly.”
“Flying squirrels can,” countered Benny.
“Yes, but you’re not that kind of squirrel. You are a perfectly nice, average gray North American squirrel who cannot fly. “
“But I can learn, I’ve already began practicing.”
“Look,” said Sam becoming impatient. “flying squirrels are built differently than you or I. They don’t learn how to fly or practice flying, they are born instinctively knowing that when they jump and stretch the flaps of skin on their bodies, they will glide through the air and appear to fly. Flying squirrels don’t really fly, flying fish don’t really fly, even airplanes don’t really fly, birds are the only things that fly and you, Benny,” concluded Sam, “are not a bird.”
Sam let out an exasperated sigh as Benny looked at him pityingly.
The next few days, while the squirrels scampered around the green of the buildings and the lawns of the houses playing and gathering nuts, looking adorable for the children so that they would toss some food their way, Benny scampered with them. But towards evening, he would practice flying. He would climb up a tree trunk and tentatively walk as far as he could to the edge of a branch and jump to the branch of the next tree. There was nothing special in that, all squirrels do that but Benny stretched his body out as far as he could, trying to resemble a flying squirrel as he leapt, attempting each time to further his distance.
Sam looked up worriedly as Benny jumped overhead. “You won’t be able to reach goal number one, if you keep that up,” he called over his shoulder.
“Look, Sam,” Benny chattered excitedly to is friend beneath him, “I must have cleared three feet that time.”
“Why do you even want to fly, anyway?” Sam asked.
“Because,” Benny said pausing for breath, “I want to be the best squirrel I can be. I want to extend myself to my fullest potential and reach great heights both literally and figuratively.
“But why?” Sam persevered.
But Benny wasn’t listening, he was still practicing.
Towards the end of the fall, when the first snows were getting ready to fall and the air was crisp and the trees already bare of leaves, all the squirrels were making themselves comfortable in their holes bedding down for the winter. It was just as Benny was falling asleep that he remembered a store of nuts he had not yet taken up to his tree. He scampered down the trunk and quickly scurried to his stash. He was so intent on his work that he didn’t notice he was being watched by a cat who had been particularly annoyed by the fact that she hadn’t caught anything of note in the last two weeks and here was apparently easy prey. She bided her time watching Benny go back and forth. It was at the penultimate trip to the stash, when Benny was carrying a particularly cumbersome acorn that she pounced. She missed Benny by a hairsbreadth. The chase was on. She pursued Benny across the lawn, across the street, to an open field, around an elm, beneath a willow and up a maple tree. Benny, out of habit from his daily flying practice, instead of climbing to the top of the tree where the cat couldn’t follow, raced to the end of a low branch. The cat followed licking her lips.
She tested her weight on the branch and it held. Benny looked around panicked. Then he saw the branch of the next tree. It was further away than he had ever dared jump. He knew the cat couldn’t make if she tried and even if she could, the branch wouldn’t support the weight of her landing. He looked down at the ground beneath him and shuddered. He made a quick reckoning. It was his only chance. Benny took a deep breath, put out his paws, said a silent prayer and leapt. Sam had heard the commotion from across the road and went outside to see, to his horror, Benny trapped in the tree. Then he saw, it couldn’t be, but it looked for all the world like, Benny gliding through the air from one tree to the next. Benny caught a tenuous hold on the branch, lost his grip but quickly recovered. He was down the tree, across the street and beside Sam before the cat realized what had transpired. She started meowing pitifully to alert anyone nearby that she was stuck in the tree and humiliated to boot.
Sam stared at his friend admiringly. “You did it, Benny, you really did it, you flew!”
“Na,” answered Benny modestly, I just jumped real far. But in spite of his sincere humility, Benny was proud of himself.
“No,” Sam replied shaking his head. “You did it, you achieved your goal. And now I understand why you did too. Having goals, even seemingly impossible ones, can come in handy. Congratulations, Ben.”
Benny was truly spent. All he wanted to do was got to sleep. “Thanks,” He beamed. “Have a good winter’s sleep,” he wished his friend. “See you next year.”
“Yeah,” said Sam. “See you next year.”
A Bit of a Vice
By Rosally Saltsman (First published in The Jewish Press)
My mother a"h used to smoke about a pack a day. She smoked all her adult life until she died. Even in the hospital, they let her smoke (it was less politically incorrect at the time and the cancer she had was not related to smoking). As a teenager, when I would exhort her to stop, she would respond that it was her only vice. She didn't drink, she didn't go out much, she couldn't drive (not necessarily a vice but she listed it anyway) because an operation to remove a cyst on her brain when she was pregnant with me had damaged her optic nerve and her once 20:20 vision. She did try cutting down once with a complex method involving cutting her cigarettes in thirds and smoking them through filters. But she claimed that everybody is allowed one vice and with the exception of the time she was pregnant with me and on Yom Kippur, this was hers.
I recall that philosophy every time a well-meaning friend or naturopath or health columnist tells me I have to stop drinking Coca Cola. My mention of my addiction to Coke in an article once prompted a woman to write a letter to the editor vilifying its dangers and suggesting I check into a detox center. I chuckled. How bad can Coke be anyway if Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach always flavored his Torah talks with it?
While I certainly don't want to encourage anyone to smoke, it's horrible and you can find better uses for your lungs, nor imbibe copious quantities of Coca Cola (there may be a shortage), the idea of having a vice may actually help in spiritual growth.
Before anyone contemplates doing anything illegal or immoral, let me elaborate. Many rabbis have spoken of the need to give the Yetzer Harah (the evil inclination) whose job description is to try and sabotage our efforts at doing good and growing closer to God so that we can overcome him, his due. A person is a composite of an animal and a divine being, an angel. He can go either way and that's precisely what we do, constantly vacillating back and forth trying to inch ever higher to spiritual elevation. But when he is unable to thwart us with temptation, the Yetzer Harah appeals to our better nature and tries to make us be as devout as possible or impossible for us at the time. This puts us under tremendous pressure and we burn ourselves out and lose our divine spark.
An example of this manifests itself in what is known in religious circles as Ba'al Teshuva Syndrome. That's when someone who discovers the joys and beauty of Judaism tries to embrace it all too fast. They take on every law, every custom, every stringency and expect to do it perfectly. Pretty soon they've alienated their friends and have become overwhelmed. To emulate Rabbi Carlebach, it's like trying to down a whole bottle of Coca Cola in one go.
There are two fundamental mistakes someone with this mindset makes. The first is the assumption that someone can ever complete the process. Hurrying spiritual growth along is like speeding through space at the speed of light (pun intended) hoping you'll get to the end of the universe faster. Becoming a spiritual person is a life's work and you don't try doing a whole life's work in one day or even one year. A person can't change a whole lifetime of behavior overnight. Another mistake is thinking that you have to be perfect. Many people give up being religious because they feel daunted by the task. They think 'Well, I can't do it all, so why bother?' But that's flawed thinking, God cherishes every mitzvah. Every mitzvah is precious to him and to the Jewish people and every step you take on your spiritual journey gets you closer to the goal of being who you were divinely meant to be.
When God gave Moses the Torah, the angels protested claiming that humans were not worthy of it. Then Moses pointed out that all the laws of the Torah pertain to gaining spiritual mastery of our desires and inclinations, eating, intimacy, greed etc. Since angels have none of these desires, they don't need Torah. We, human beings, do. God knows this and gave us the Torah so we can direct our desires towards serving him.
Serving God is a lifetime enterprise and it takes a while to master the finer points. In the meantime, until we overcome our vices, we can direct them towards serving God as well. My mother found refraining from smoking on Yom Kippur to be much more of an affliction than abstaining from food. Her fast was more meaningful because she couldn't have the coffee or the cigarette. As for me, there's no better ambrosia for honoring the Sabbath than a tall, cold glass of Coca Cola.
As Shlomo said, Torah's still the real thing ant the Torah says to serve God with both your inclinations, good and bad. So who am I to argue?
May any good that comes from this article be for the illui neshama of Chana bat Kalman who's 25th Yahrzeit is this month (Iyar). If anyone uses this article to take up any bad habits let it be solely on my conscious.
Rosally Saltsman is a freelance writer living in Israel with her son who is her greatest inspiration, and a supply of Coke.
Severus Snape – The Quintessential Ba’al Teshuvah
By Rosally Saltsman (First published in Jewsweek)
As June approaches, much of the world is waiting with bated breath for the release of the third movie in the Harry Potter series to be closely followed (we hope) by the sixth of the seven books. The books’ translation into 55 languages attests to the spell J.K. Rowling has cast on the world with her magical creations and her characters seem to have taken on a life of their own. Every one of Rowling’s fans has found a character to identify with, relate to or admire among the denizens of the wizarding world.
My personal favorite is Severus Snape, the mysterious Potions Master at Hogwarts. And I am not alone. The Internet is home to hundreds of sites describing, discussing and lauding Snape and each has hundreds of fans members. One of the reasons for this acclaim may be that Professor Snape is the most complex and paradoxical of all the characters. This makes him more interesting and ultimately more real. While most of the novel’s characters lean heavily towards good or evil, Snape has lurked on both sides. Though his character isn’t likely to be resolved (if at all) until the last book, we see someone who had joined the dark side and against difficult odds, seen the light and is now not only allied with good but is a member of the exclusive and venerable Order of the Phoenix working against the dark side and Voldemort’s (the Dark Lord’s) followers.
Snape’s loyalties are not always clear but when there’s a crisis, Snape, in Dumbledore’s absence is the one to take charge and sort it out. He displays a nobility of character and an inscrutable self-control that lend to his already impressive presence. True, he is far from perfect. I, for one, would not like to find myself on the receiving end of one of his caustic remarks or disdainful sneers. On the other hand, he often demonstrates an insight (Harry often feels he can read minds) an imperviousness to ridicule and an ability to put his feelings aside (at least temporarily) for the greater good.
Many people who have drastically changed their lives or thought about doing so can identify with Snape and his struggle. From the little we know about him, we know that he experienced an unhappy childhood and an alienated adolescence. He joined the dark side then left it, at great danger to himself and now uses the knowledge he acquired to work against its influence. He is a loner and his decisions are not affected by a desire for popularity. In fact, he often has to collude with his personal enemies and even save them in his service of what is virtuous and decent. And like with many people, who have changed direction in life, the sincerity of his motives is always suspect.
The Ba’al Teshuvah, the one who chooses to leave a secular way of life for a more religious one, contends with the same struggles as Snape: a non-conducive past, resistance from his friends and colleagues, doubts and aspersions cast by people who never experienced being in the position to make the choice and internal struggles that present themselves anew with each new conflict of interest. Contrary to popular belief, the Ba’al Tesuvah is not someone who suddenly sees the light, severs all ties with his past life and immediately attains a level of spirituality and conduct that renders them flawless and radiating holiness. The person who chooses the path of Torah sets out on a life journey with many obstacles and detours. The path is never smooth, not always clear and we often veer off it.
Voldemort’s Death Eaters are portrayed more two –dimensionally that those who are fighting for good. The Order of the Phoenix is made up of a wide array of characters whose ultimate goal might be the same, but whose way of serving it is far from unified. Snape often acts in ways that are vile and contemptible, but we forgive him because he has style but more importantly because he ultimately tries to do what’s right, even if he doesn’t always succeed in doing it the right way. We cheer him, feel sympathetic towards him, even admire him because we’ve been there.
Severus Snape is a person whom we vacillate between trusting and doubting, liking and hating who, when the chips are down, demonstrates a righteousness and allegiance greater than that of many who give it a lot of lip-service. We each have a little bit of Snape in ourselves. We all overcome great odds to reach greater heights and no one but us can completely understand or appreciate our struggle. Our failings do not mean that we have not succeeded. Like Dumbledore says, it isn’t our abilities that determine who we are, it is our choices.
It may seem inconsistent to be a religious Jew and an avid Harry Potter fan with a favorite character who, to put it mildly, is less than ideal. Perhaps, however having less than perfection as an ideal may help me get closer to perfection in a paradoxical way because it makes the goal more attainable. Ba’al Teshuvahs also have a great strength: They are able to bridge both worlds, the secular and religious, and bring them together under a spiritual invisibility cloak. I enjoy Harry Potter’s world but because I look at it from a Jewish perspective, I derive Jewish values from it. And one of those values is: If Professor Snape can repent, we all can.
We all struggle with the ramifications of the decisions and circumstances of our pasts and the responsibilities of our presents, the good and bad inside us. Our struggles, like Snape’s are ongoing, the depth of which is rarely revealed by more than a flicker of our expressions.
Professor Snape may be the archetypal hero but he is a hero. He grapples with the darker side of his nature and resists the lure of gratification that would come at the expense of others. It might be difficult for most of us to see ourselves in the role of the sage and altruistic Dumbledore, the brave and gallant Harry Potter or the upright and studious Hermione Granger. But, we can all see ourselves as Severus Snape, a complex individual hidden in the shadows, but drawn upward by the light.
By Rosally Saltsman (First published in The Jewish Press)
My son went to visit his father and his family in California. He was away for over two weeks, 5,000 miles and oceans away. My son till 120 is going to be 14 and we’d only been separated for a few days in all that time. It was difficult (Single mother, only child). I was pining.
Although my son did miss me and home, he was a bit distracted. Disneyland, the pool, Pizza World, Universal Studios diverted his attention from homesickness and, in his own right, he was a celebrity (Son/grandchild/nephew/cousin visiting from Israel).
Although it was difficult for me, I let him go because I knew it would be fun and good for him. That’s the way of the world. You teach your children to fly and then you let them. Of course 5,000 miles is a bit far. Thank God he came back safely and I breathed more freely again.
This was one of those times when my mother’s (a”h) exhortation of “Just wait until you’re a mother,” rang true. I never understood why she made such a big deal when I went away. I do now.
Although we’re not supposed to envision G-d in human form, we are offered a number of analogies regarding our relationship to Him. One of those is a Father or a mother (the Shechina) and child.
When the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, God’s children went into exile (yes, even those of us living in Israel) and now not only is the Shechina without a home, she is bereft and her grief is echoed in the heartrending cries of Rachel for her children.
Of course, we, G-d’s children, long to return both physically to our Homeland, to the Beis Hamikdash, may it be built speedily and soon, and to our Father in heaven. But we tend to get a bit distracted. Most of Today’s Jews live in comfort and affluence in North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Europe. The material level of Jews today is like never before and it sometimes slips our mind while we lounge in our mini sanctuaries that the Shechina is homeless and, while we go about our daily lives, that Hashem is anxious for our return to Him.
God doesn’t begrudge us material comforts or Disneyland but He wants us to remember who we are, why we’re here and Who truly loves us. We shouldn’t get so distracted by the “delights” of our exile that we forget to want to come home.
Tisha B’av and the days leading up to this most solemn day is the time for us to reassess our priorities, redefine our identities and express our desire for closeness with G-d.
When my son returned home, he was bubbling over with his experiences, happy to have had them but, more importantly, happy to be home. I could tell he had missed me too.
Next year, it is quite likely that if he wants to go back for another visit, I would let him and endure the time we are separated waiting for him to come home.
But wouldn’t it be even better if by next year Mashiach has come and every Jew in America will come here, to Israel, and the biggest attraction in the world will be the Beit Mikdash?
Well, maybe if even that comes to pass, G-d Willing, my son would want to go to America. But then, I’d have a place to go offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving when he, bezrat Hashem, came home safely.
Let us all Beszrat Hashem return home safely.
Shimi the Schnorer
By Rosally Saltsman (First published in Yated International)
Rabbi Spiegel was very pleased with himself. He had secured the most sought after Darshan, Rabbi Leib to come speak to his errant flock. If anyone could make them mend their ways, it was he. When Rabbi Leib spoke, sparks flew that could ignite the embers of the coldest heart. And the best part was that it was a surprise. Everyone in the village knew there was to be a derasha on Shabbos Shuva in the main synagogue and with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips, Rabbi Spiegel had promised that this would be derasha to remember but the Rav wouldn’t tell anyone who was scheduled to speak. He was hoping that the added mystery would tempt even the most recalcitrant among them to attend the synagogue, and then Rabbi Spiegel was sure, the rest would be easy.
Rabbi Spiegel was in the Beis Midrash studying alone, which unfortunately was indicative of the priorities of his congregation, when a message arrived from Rabbi Leib that his daughter-in-law had just given birth Baruch Hashem to his first grandson and he was expected to be both the mohel and sandak and that he was sorry he couldn’t come and hoped it wasn’t too late to get someone else.
“Get someone else!” Rabbi Spiegel shouted when he had read the letter. His shout woke the only other person in the Beis Midrash. Shimi the Schnorer, an itinerant beggar who had wandered into town a day earlier was snoozing near the stove which had been lit to dispel the chill of the autumn night. He was saving up his strength before hitting the town up for tzedaka.
“Wha… Wha happened?” Shimi jumped up. “I didn’t do it, ask anyone, I didn’t do a thing.”
The rabbi ignored him. “What am I going to do?” wailed the Rabbi. Tomorrow is Shabbos Shuva.
“Don’t worry Rabbi, God forgives everyone his sins if they repent with a sincere heart.” The beggar put his torn gloved hand on the Rabbi’s shoulder and tried to comfort him.
“What?” the Rabbi turned as if noticing Shimi for the first time. Which he did.
“I’ll tell you,” said Shimi. “I’ve been wandering from town to town for years. Every Shabbos Shuva I hear one of the biggest Darshans speak about doing teshuva. I know their speeches backwards and forwards and they all say the same thing; just repent with a full heart and change your ways and everything will be alright.
While Rabbi Spiegel was trying to comprehend who this vagrant was exactly and what he wanted from him, Shimi’s words penetrated his subconscious and slowly seeped into his consciousness and an idea slowly and painfully took shape in is mind. It was an idea born of desperation but with just a few days before Yom Kippur, he couldn’t afford to have a whole town mad at him.
“You know their drashas backwards and forwards, you say?”
“Yeah,” said Shimi. And like I was telling you…”
“Could you repeat them?” asked the Rabbi hesitantly.
“Like I said, I know them backwards and forwards,” repeated Shimi.
And so, that is how before Mussaf on Shabbos Shuva an expectant crowd of Villagers sat in the Beis Knesset and watched how Shimi, dressed in a modest suit, cleaned up not so badly, ascended the bima to speak. To tell the truth, Shimi hadn’t liked the idea at first but when he saw what a terrible quandary the rabbi was in and after being promised great reward in this world and the next and having seen first for himself the reward of this world, he acquiesced.
Reb Shimshon looked out at his audience. Everyone waited with bated breath. Not least of all the Rabbi who stood in a corner murmering Tehillim with a passion befitting Shabbos Shuva. Shimi spoke, the congregation listened and Rabbi Spiegel prayed for a miracle. And he got it! Perhaps because the congregants were really looking to be inspired to do teshuva or perhaps because Shimi had literally sat at the feet of some of Europe’s greatest Darshanim, he delivered a speech fired with the desire to give Rabbi Spiegel his money’s worth. Rabbi Spiegel was ebullient, his congregation was cheering and crying and hugging each other and clamoring to get near Reb Shimshon. And Shimi, he basked in the glory and felt warmer and more satisfied than he had since someone had given him a bottle of his favorite schnapps the previous Purim.
That would have been it for Shimi’s illustrious but short-lived career as a Darshan but it so happened that Gittel’s cousin’s husband Mottel was visiting Gittel and her husband on his way back from some business in a neighboring town. Mottel lived with his family in a village some thirty miles away. He begged his honor Reb Shimshon the Darshan to please come back with him in his carriage to his town and give the Yom Kippur Derasha. After all, he was the Gabbai of the shul and had the complete trust of the Rabbi in these matters. He begged and cajoled and Rabbi Spiegel couldn’t run interference because he couldn’t get near enough to be heard. Since logic dictated to Shimi that if he had been a world-renowned Darshan in this town, he couldn’t very well go back to being Shimi the Schnorer anywhere near here, he graciously accepted the offer.
To the delight of Mottel and the distress of Rabbi Spiegel who was hoping to secret Shimi out of town, and everyone else in town, who were hoping that Reb Shimshon could stay, Shimi, alias the Darshan Reb Shimshon, and Mottel set out the next morning. The day dawned cool but sunny and the whole town turned out to see them off.
Word spread quickly in Glickberg that Mottel had brought home the world famous, Tzaddik, Talmid Chacham and Darshan Rabbi Shimshon Shlita and to their great fortune the holiest of men would be addressing them on Yom Kippur, the holiest of days.
Though the large synagogue was filled to capacity, you could hear a pin drop as Shimi, wearing a kittel that the Rabbi had insisted on providing him with (since he had expected to be home for Yom Kippur and had not brought one with him) ascended the bima to speak. Again, he spoke with passion, with yearning, with inspiration and with confidence. Shimi might not have been able to do more than follow the prayers in his machzor; He had never even seen a blatt Gemorrah let alone studied one, but he did have a phenomenal memory. And every speech he had ever heard in his life, every sermon, every exhortation to repent before it was too late replayed itself in his efficient memory and his memory fed him his lines with remarkable speed and precision. Even Shimi couldn’t believe what a good job he was doing.
“He sounds just like Reb Fish, the famous Rav from...”
“What are you talking about, he’s like Reb Dov, the Maggid from ….”
The congregants argued back and forth, which great Darshan Shimi most sounded like but all of them agreed, he was the best one they had ever heard.
Reb Shimshon’s fame spread quickly and he didn’t have time to take his leave from one town when he received an invitation from another. In each town he was treated like royalty and he began to like it. In fact, he began to demand it. Now it’s one thing to play the part of a righteous man on stage, but it’s another to live the role. It puzzled people in the towns he stayed in, how so righteous and God-fearing an individual could on the one hand quote Gemorrah page and verse and on the other spend no time learning or discussing anything but the most mundane subjects; How on the one hand he could espouse a life of austerity and on the other eat and drink with such relish not to mention lack of table manners. But the good townspeople chalked it up to the idiosyncrasies of greatness.
Until Shimi arrived in Melk. Melk was a town not too big, not too small. Their Rabbi was an unassuming man who did his job quietly and well and was very happy when news reached him of a great Darshan named Reb Shimshon who would be speaking Shabbos HaGadol in their synagogue.
Shimshon insisted he be given the finest accommodations so that he be properly rested before his Derasha. The months of fine dining had put a few pounds on Shimi and the unassuming ways that are part and parcel of being a beggar were replaced by a rude high-handedness not befitting anyone, least of all a beggar turned fraudulent Darshan. The Rabbi’s servants were quite displeased with the way they were treated. When the Rabbi tried to point out to his guest, that of course he was tired from the long trip but perhaps could be a little gentler with his requests, Shimi looked audaciously at the Rav and said to him, “Do you know who I am?”
The Rav looked at him a minute trying to find the right words that would enter this rather unconventional Darshan’s heart without offending him any further. Then his gaze turned puzzled. Suddenly, the Rabbi’s face cleared and with a smile, he answered, “Of course I know who you are, Reb Shimshon.”
You see, Shimi wasn’t the only one with a sharp memory. The Rav of this particular town had a very keen mind, honed by years of study. He knew Shas practically by heart and he was sure he had seen Shimi before. For the life of him though he couldn’t explain how a beggar he had helped less than a year ago collect tzedaka from some of his less generous gevirs had become a world famous Darshan. He decided he had better make sure and so he asked Reb Shimshon if he wanted to learn a little with him before getting ready for Shabbos. When Shimshon demurred, none too politely the Rav asked him if he followed the school of Hillel or Shamai in the order of which he prepared for Shabbos HaGadol. Shimi, who had never been to any school said that he did what was customary in every town and the Rav, satisfied left him alone.
On Shabbos Hagadol, the Rav ascended the bima. He said that he wanted to say a few words before introducing their distinguished and honored guest. He paused for effect. “I don’t know what our distinguished guest plans to speak about to day but I wanted to ensure that this subject does not go ignored.
“There is one trait that is repulsive to God and that is arrogance. What defeated Egypt was not their cruelty to Bnei Yisrael, not their wanton immorality or their denial of God’s omnipotence, it was their arrogance. It was their audacity in thinking that they could treat other people like dirt, the very people who had helped make Egypt great and because of whom Egypt had enjoyed God’s favor. It was this ungratefulness, this haughtiness, this selfishness and this inability to acknowledge the truth, all of which resulted in arrogance, that led to the mighty Egyptian army being drowned at sea with its empire buried in the sand.
“The Torah was given from the top of the humblest of mountains by the humblest of men to a nation who had not two months earlier been freed from over two centuries of slavery. It is humility not arrogance that makes a man great. And one is most likely to find that the most arrogant of men have the most to feel humble about. And now,” said the Rabbi. We will hear from our distinguished guest, the world renowned Darshan Reb Shimshon.”
The shul fell silent. Everyone waited expectantly. Expectancy turned to bewilderment and then impatience as everyone turned to look for Reb Shimshon. But Reb Shimshon was gone. The congregation waited a few minutes and then, with no other choice, on a cue from the Rabbi, the service continued.
The next morning, the town was still talking about the mysterious disappearance of Reb Shimshon and speculation ranged from him having suddenly taken ill to his being summoned by Eliyahu Hanavi and taken on some Divine mission. Amid the whispers and the preparations for Pessach no one noticed a humbled and dejected beggar quietly slip out of town.