Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Shvat 5772 - February 2, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Ramo — Rabbeinu Moshe Isserles, zt"l

In honor of his yahrtzeit, Lag BaOmer

His very birth was already a jewel in the crown of greatness of his father, Rav Yisroel Isserles.

A textile dealer, Rav Yisroel was going through a difficult period. Business had not been thriving lately, stocks were low and customers had dwindled to a few.

On a Friday morning, a well-to-do gentleman entered his store. He began to choose and measure out fabric, compare prices and set aside large amounts to buy. Naturally, R' Yisroel rejoiced in his heart and thanked Hashem for sending him such a customer in his most difficult time.

The clock ticked on and time was passing. Perceiving that in another half-hour it would be noontime, Rav Yisroel politely asked his client to hurry and make his purchases, for he has a long-standing custom not to buy or sell on Friday after chatzos. "Instead," he explained. "I make sure to prepare myself as befits one who is going to greet the Shabbos queen."

Trying to oblige, the merchant began to hurry, but time was running out. Five minutes before chatzos, R' Yisroel Isserles told his customer in no uncertain terms, "Listen my friend, if you like, we can sort out your goods now so that you can pay and go. But if you tarry any longer, I'm afraid I cannot sell you anything anymore on this erev Shabbos."

Hurt by the poor dealer's adamant stance, the wealthy merchant stormed out in a huff and cancelled his whole order.

Happy and contented that he had not broken his custom and was able to honor the Shabbos, Rav Yisroel hurriedly closed his store and went about his Shabbos preparations.

A great tumult took place in heaven. The rewarding angels all clamored for a reward to be given to a man who had withstood the difficult trial of bolstering his livelihood in exchange for honoring Shabbos. It was decided that a son would be born to him who would illuminate the world with his Torah, like the radiance that Shabbos brings to our world.

That son was the Ramo, in whose brilliance we bask to this very day, as the Chasam Sofer, zt"l, so aptly put it, "Uvnei Yisroel yotz'im beyod romoh" — that the halochoh in Yisroel is as the Ramo set it.

Rav Yisroel called his son Moshe and, seeing that as he grew up he was indeed a born leader and teacher as Moshe Rabbeinu, his father built a beis medrash so that his son would have a yeshiva building in which to teach talmidim.

Not long after, the whole building went up in flames and was completely gutted. Undaunted, Rav Yisroel rebuilt the beis hamedrash, this time a sturdy stone edifice near the old cemetery. There the Ramo spread Torah for many years.

Close to the beis hamedrash lies an empty plot of land surrounded by a fence. The elders of Cracow relate a phenomenal tale regarding this fenced-in area: When the Ramo had risen in greatness and was appointed rov of the great city of Cracow, he made a takonoh for a prevention of chilul Shabbos.

The local custom was to arrange and set up a chuppah on erev Shabbos, before sunset, and the wedding and the wedding feast would take place on Friday night. However, the Ramo saw that the often- delayed preparations were causing a laxity and people unwittingly desecrated Shabbos. He therefore decreed that no weddings take place on Friday. This takonoh was kept in Cracow until the Holocaust, when Jewish life in this holy place was snuffed out.

Once, an insolent couple insisted on their marriage taking place on a Friday, despite the Rov's decree. The father of the groom was a close friend of the local governor and managed to extract from him a command to the Rov to be mesader kiddushin.

Rabbeinu stood his ground and refused to officiate at the chuppah.

All was ready, the canopy stood erect. Chosson, kallah and mechutonim had gathered at the spot and sent a delegation to fetch the Rov. The Ramo, however, would not attend. All at once, the earth underneath the chuppah split open, swallowing the bride, groom and their parents, and sending the participants fleeing in all directions. A trembling and fear of Hashem and his holy servant the Ramo, gripped the city from that day onwards and no one dared to disobey his word. The site of this doomed chuppah was fenced in as a lasting reminder for the generations to come.

Reb Dovid Moshe of Tchortkov, zt"l, a grandson of the Ramo, once received a letter with a request. After reading it, he asked his son Reb Yisroel to go around the town and collect money for a worthy cause. His attendant tried to stop him, saying that it did not befit the Rebbe's dignity that his great son should personally go collecting like a common gabbai tzedokoh. "Perhaps one of us can go and raise the required sum."

"I'll tell you a story of my grandfather, the Ramo," replied R' Dovid Moshe, "and you'll see that he too went personally to the wealthy people of the town to collect charity.

"It was a sight the people of Cracow were familiar with. Every Friday, at about mid-morning, `Yankel the shikker' as he was known, would emerge bleary-eyed from his lodgings. Jingling the money he managed to make that week, he would make his way to the local tavern and spend all his savings on wine and liquor.

"One Friday, as he made his way as usual, a destitute woman sighed and called out bitterly, `There goes Yankel the shikker to buy his drinks and I don't even have money to buy candles for Shabbos!'

"Yankel stopped in his tracks and deliberated for a moment. Then, before he could change his mind, he ran in the direction of the voice, up the two flights of stairs and deposited his money in the hands of the startled woman.

"Yankel returned home empty-handed. His stomach, however, accustomed to its dose of strong drinks and wines, could not take the sudden change and, within a few hours, Yankel the shikker passed away in his home.

"Motzei Shabbos found the Ramo engrossed as usual in his learning, when suddenly he was distracted by the entry of Yankel the shikker, who informed him that he was summoning the Rov to a din Torah.

"Deep in a sugya, the Ramo had no time for what he thought was an erstwhile joke and gently reprimanded Yankel to stop disturbing and leave the room.

"A few moments after Yankel had disappeared, the Ramo realized that the door to the room had been closed throughout. How had Yankel come inside?

"Upon enquiring as to the whereabouts of Yankel, the Rov was told that the drunkard had been niftar this past Friday.

"Realizing this was no simple matter, the Ramo sat in his room waiting for Yankel to return and reiterate his demand.

"Sure enough, Yankel returned and revealed to the Ramo, `Since the Rov only goes to collect tzedokoh from the wealthy people of the town, the poor, ordinary folk are prevented from fulfilling this worthy mitzvah,' he said. He then went on to relate his one act of tzedokoh that took his life and added that since he had done so noble a deed, his reward was to inform the Ramo of his misconduct.

"`I have accepted your rebuke,' replied the Ramo solemnly. `Go and tell them up there that from now on I'll go to all the inhabitants of the city on my rounds for tzedokoh, thereby giving everyone the opportunity to fulfill this great mitzvah.'

"So you see," concluded R' Dovid Moshe, "if fundraising was not too menial a task for my illustrious grandfather the Ramo, surely it is not below the dignity of my son to do it!"


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