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17 Teves 5772 - January 12, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Semichas Chachomim — HaRav Naftoli Katz, zt"l

In honor of his yahrtzeit 24 Teves

HaRav Naftoli zt"l was born in 5410 (1650) in Prague, where his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Hacohen, was Darshan. His mother's name was Eidel.

As a child, Naftoli was captured by the rebelling Tartars, from whose hands he miraculously escaped and returned to his parents' home and to his diligent studies. By the time he was married, he had already learned Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi by heart. With his marriage to the Rabbonis Esther Shaindel, daughter of HaRav Yosef Shmuel Shmelke, zt"l, rov of Ostroa, he began to build a glorious home with his seven sons and four daughters.

After his father-in-law's petiroh on 10 Nissan 5440 (1680), Rav Naftoli was appointed rov in his place. There he also led the large yeshiva, continuing to serve as rov and ram until 5448, when the grandson of the Shloh, rov of Posen, passed away and Rav Naftoli was appointed in his stead.

It was during his rabbonus in Posen that he became one of the leading rabbonim of the Vaad Arba Ha'arotzos.

In the year 5464 (1704), when Rabbi Shmuel zt'l, rov of Frankfurt, was niftar, he was asked to lead this prestigious community and he accepted. He lived a tranquil life, spreading Torah to thousands of talmidim. However, the peace was broken when, on 24 Teves 5471 (1711), a fire broke out in the rabbi's house. All efforts to control it failed and the flames spread, destroying half of the city.

Libelous rumors began to spread that the rov, with powers of Kabboloh, had caused the city's destruction, and Rav Naftoli was arrested and imprisoned. He managed to escape and fled to his birthplace, Prague.

Rav Naftoli was renowned in his battle against the cult of Shabtai Tzvi and particularly against Nechemiah Chayun. The latter at first deceived the gedolei hador, but his ruse was later discovered. Many letters written by Rav Naftoli against Chayun were printed at the time and together with the Chacham Tzvi they managed to oust him from Klal Yisroel.

In his later years, Rav Naftoli returned to Posen as a congregant, not rov, and from there he decided to go up to Eretz Yisroel. However, his dream was not to be fulfilled.

During his travels, while in Constantinople, Rav Naftoli passed away on 24 Teves 5479 (1719).

He was buried in Constantinople, where recently a new matzeivoh was erected on his kever.

His holy last will was publicized and printed many times over and many are the gedolim over the generations who copied part of it in their own tzavo'os.

He wrote many works, notably the one after which he is named and known: Semichas Chachomim on Maseches Brochos.

In recent years HaRav Shlomo Honig of London, together with Machon Ahavat Sholom of Yerushalayim, finally did credit to the great works of Rav Naftoli Katz, working on his written manuscripts and finally printing five volumes of Rav Naftoli Katz's Torah, together with his holy piyutim.


Rabbeinu's power in the wisdom of Kabboloh was well known and many are the miraculous tales concerning the great things he saw and did with his ruach hakodesh.

Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer of Vienna was once told by Rav Naftoli Katz, zt"l that if he ever sees a vision of the latter's face at a time when he is summoned to do a mitzvah, he should carry out that mitzvah immediately, despite any difficulties that may arise.

Rav Shimshon was puzzled by the strange command of his rov, but knowing that Rav Naftoli was a holy person, he took upon himself to agree.

In the upper echelons of Austrian society, everybody knew Rav Shimshon. He was in fact a close confidant of the king, who loved and trusted him implicitly. This invoked the burning jealousy of one of the bishops and from time to time the latter would try his luck at slandering Rav Shimshon to the king. His wicked lies, however, fell on deaf ears, failing to turn the king against his trusted Jewish minister.

One day he turned to the king and slyly remarked, "Behold His Majesty tells all his secrets and confides everything to this Jew. Let me advise you: he is a liar and a cheat!" The king raised his eyebrows in concern.

"That's a serious accusation to make against a minister of the crown. Please explain yourself," he demanded.

"I'm sorry to disappoint His Majesty, but I know for a fact that the Jew is a liar. Why, he will not even reveal to the king the extent of his wealth. Let His majesty ask Shimshon how much he owns, you'll see he'll lie to you," reported the bishop heatedly.

Unswayed, the king knew that it was jealousy, not loyalty, that was burning in the heart of this bishop. However, he agreed to have the loyalty of his Jewish friend tested by asking him the worth of his assets.

"Just one thing," added the bishop. "If the fiendish Jew is found guilty, I want his punishment to be death in the furnace. His Majesty will send him with a code message to those at the furnace: `Has the King's will be done?' and upon hearing the code, they will throw the one delivering it into the furnace."

Chuckling, the bishop himself went to the officer of the fire cauldron and made sure he understood the precise instructions and code. "Don't listen to whatever excuses the victim has. If the code words are said, just get rid of him."

Eager to prove his friend's innocence, the king summoned him and asked him for the sum of his wealth.

Furrowing his forehead, Reb Shimshon concentrated for a few moments making calculations, and then quoted a sum.

The king sent his agents to check Rav Shimshon's accounts and verify his claim and was shocked to discover that the number quoted by the Jewish minister was only a tenth of his true wealth! Truly furious, he wanted to issue a decree that Rav Shimshon indeed be burned to death. However, remembering the instructions of the bishop, the king retained his composure and smilingly asked Rav Shimshon to give over a message to the officer of the furnace. "Please go and ask him if my orders have been carried out," he instructed the unsuspecting Jew.

Mission in mind, Rav Shimshon began to make his way to where the furnace was situated.

On the way, he was met by a Yid who informed him that his son had reached the eighth day and he would like to honor Rav Shimshon with being the mohel.

Hesitating, Rav Shimshon wanted to tell the man that he had a royal mission to carry out first and would then come to do the bris. At that moment, a vision of Rav Naftoli Katz appeared before his eyes. Shaken, Rav Shimshon recalled the promise he had given his rov. He decided to push off his royal duties until later and went to perform the bris, even tarrying at the seudah that followed until the day had almost ended.

Following developments carefully, the bishop rejoiced that his plot was coming to fruition. He watched in glee as Rav Shimshon left the palace grounds on his way to the furnace, and turned home to eat, drink and celebrate.

After a number of hours, he decided to check up on the fate of Rav Shimshon. Nearing the furnace, he saw the king's henchmen sitting outside apparently long finished with their grisly job. "Ah, that Jew is well and truly gone," he muttered to himself.

"So!" He said in mock repetition of the code he had set. "The King's orders have been carried out have they?"

Before he could even laugh his wicked laugh, the henchmen sprang upon him, heaving him towards the furnace. As the heat grew unbearable, he tried to kick, shout and explain the mistake, to no avail. He met his fiery end in place of his arch-enemy Rav Shimshon.

A few minutes later, the well-respected figure of Rav Shimshon appeared. The henchmen stood at attention, waiting for orders.

"Has the king's will been done?" Rav Shimshon asked dutifully. They were quick to reassure the minister that the king's orders had indeed been carried out.

The next morning, the king was astonished to see Rav Shimshon appearing as usual in his chambers. Puzzled, he inquired of him, "Tell me, when did you give over my message to the furnace men?" Seeing his hesitation in telling him that he had been held up on the way, the King reassured him, "Do not fear, just tell me the absolute truth."

Rav Shimshon poured out his whole story, from the command of Rav Naftoli Katz until the death of the bishop.

Visibly moved, the king's astonishment was boundless, but there was still one question he had. "I see that if Heaven was intent on saving your life you are indeed an upright man. But why did you lie to me, reporting to me only a tenth of your wealth?"

"Money is round," replied Rav Shimshon wisely. "It rolls around the world from one person to the next, enriching one and impoverishing another without prior warning.

"Of the money in my possession I have no idea how much will remain mine. I only know that the tithe I give away to charity will eventually be repaid to me by G-d. Only this tenth is truly my own."


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