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20 Shvat 5773 - January 31, 2013 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Taz: Rabbi Dovid ben R' Shmuel Halevi, zt"l, of Ostroa

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 26 Shevat

While in his youth Rabbi Dovid enjoyed a comfortable life, never lacking anything, he was later thrown into dire poverty.

When he was appointed rov of Rave, he was utterly destitute. His father-in-law the Bach once came to visit. Seeing the rundown home his son-in-law lived in, with barely a morsel to place on the table, saddened the Bach deeply. However, being poor himself, he could only promise R' Dovid that when Hashem favors him with a better parnossoh, he would send R' Dovid some support as well.

Meanwhile, during the long winter nights R' Dovid would stay up learning Torah. His bones would become stiff with the cold. On many such nights, the Taz would stop in the middle of learning and make his way to the local tavern, which was open even in the late hours. There he would have some liquor to thaw his frozen body, after which, with renewed vigor, he would return to his gemora.

Often enough he didn't even have the paltry sum needed to pay for that drink, so the gentile owner graciously gave him on credit. He would write the name on the wall and the sum he owed and, once a month, the Rov made sure to pay.

The Taz's short-term relief, however, brought about his further downfall.

As each Jewish community has its outcasts, in Rave too there were those who frequented the neighborhood tavern. How surprised were they to see the name of their esteemed Rov up on the wall.

"Ho-ho," they sneered, "so the Rabbi is also a good customer here." A short conversation with the owner confirmed that the Rov came by often at night.

Only too delighted to have caught such a large fish, these Yidden spread the word around that the Rov spent his nights drinking at the pub.

The city was in an uproar and the roshei Hakahal had no choice but to confront the Rabbi and ask him openly if there was a basis to the rumors. The Turei Zohov admitted that, having no fuel to warm his house, he often was forced to interrupt his late-night studies to buy a drink and revive his body.

The Roshei Hakahal looked on in guilty silence. Their Rov was justified, but the rumors had spread too far. Subsequently the Turei Zohov was dismissed from his post.


HaRav Refoel of Hamburg zt"l related that the Taz's finance were so low that one Friday he found he had no food for Shabbos. He was helped by a nes from Heaven. (R' Refoel does not elaborate on the details of the miracle.)


While living in Lemberg, R' Dovid earned his upkeep by working in the slaughterhouse. Being an expert in nikur, the removal of the forbidden fats, his job was a steady one.

Once there arose a sheiloh concerning the shechitah of an animal. Rabbeinu was asked his opinion and he paskened it kosher. The other workers, however, had their doubts and presented the sheiloh to their rov. When he ruled the animal treif, they reported that R' Dovid had not ruled likewise.

The rov summoned Rabbeinu and reprimanded him harshly for daring to pasken on a matter in which he wasn't certain and then erring. Since his ruling would have caused the public to sin, the rov decided to punish R' Dovid. He was placed in a locked room that had a window overlooking the shul, so all could see the man who was being chastised. (This was a common punishment among the Jewish communities.)

While there, the Turei Zohov saw a child walking past with a chicken in his hand. Through the window he asked the boy about the sheiloh and what the rov had paskened. Upon hearing that the rov had rendered the chicken treif, R' Dovid inspected it carefully. R' Dovid said quietly, "Please tell the rov that I said the chicken is kosher."

Sitting in the beis horo'oh next to the shul, the rov was surprised to see the boy returning. After hearing the message though, the Rov reexamined the fowl and began to have second thoughts. "Perhaps this menaker is a talmid chochom after all."

He summoned R' Dovid and began talking in learning with him. It did not take long for him to realize that he had punished someone who was surely one of the gedolei hador.

The rov apologized profusely, begging Rabbeinu to forgive him. He appointed the Taz head of the beis din. Years later when the rov passed away, Rabbi Dovid Halevi took over his position.


In the sefer Ruach Chaim of R' Chaim of Volozhin, a story is brought.

"A woman came crying hysterically to the Turei Zohov that her son was dying and the Rov should do something to help him. `Am I in G-d's place?' asked the Turei Zohov rhetorically. `What can I do for you?'

"Placing her last hopes before the Rov, the woman replied, `Chazal tell us: "The Torah and the Holy One Blessed Be He are one." If so then I ask you, Rabbeinu, for you have learned the whole Torah.'

"The Taz tried to calm her down. `I hereby donate to your son the Torah that I'm learning now with my talmidim,' the Taz proclaimed, `perhaps he'll live in the merit of the Torah.' Following this, the boy indeed recovered and lived a long, healthy life."


The Turei Zohov's learning was interrupted one afternoon by a sharp knock at his door. He was startled to see one of the town's wealthy Jews standing on the doorstep, wringing his hands and groaning in despair. "The Rebbe must help me," he blurted out. "A strange spirit has gone into my daughter and she's no longer the fine Jewish girl she was. Rebbe, a real ruach shtuss."

Donning his coat, the Taz hurried after the distraught man. As they entered the house, his daughter called out in respect for the Rov, "Boruch Habo," and then turned her back to Rabbeinu. The latter gently asked the girl why she had turned away.

"A wicked person is unable to look a tzaddik in the face," the girl replied, and then began to enumerate the greatness of Rabbeinu and how highly esteemed he was in Heaven by all the mal'ochim.

"If so," replied Rabbeinu, "I hereby decree that in the merit of my having found the pshat to a difficulty in the Tur today, the dybbuk should leave this girl."

As he said these words, the girl's features relaxed and she was once again as she had formerly been.

Her father, unable to express his gratitude in words, grasped Rabbeinu's hands and tried to press him to accept an expensive gift. After Rabbeinu refused to accept it, the oshir ordered special wool to be brought from Turkey and made a beautiful tallis for Rabbeinu.

"True," the Rov said, after admiring the exquisite tallis, "that mine is already worn and old. However, soon I will ascend to Shomayim, wrapped in my tallis. I prefer to arrive with my old tallis, for it can testify that never did I have a single foreign thought during tefilloh!"


The Taz's eyesight began to fail and he was forced to travel to Cracow to see the doctors there. En route he stopped at the home of his father-in-law, the Bach. Before Shabbos, R' Dovid handed his father-in-law his purse containing sixty gold coins, for safekeeping until motzei Shabbos.

During the Shabbos meals, R' Dovid had an uneasy sensation that his parents-in-law were unhappy with him. At first he tried to dismiss the fact as a figment of his imagination, but as the hours went on, the feeling was palpable. On motzei Shabbos, as the Bach handed him back his purse, the Taz ventured to ask if there was anything wrong.

"And from where does a Rov have such an enormous sum — sixty gold coins? Are you sure it's not from bribery, chas vesholom?" asked his father-in-law accusingly.

The Taz reassured the Bach that the money was indeed not his own. His community had raised the sum that was needed for him to pay the professor in Cracow. His mind at rest, the Bach blessed his son-in-law with a refuah shleimoh, and sent him on his way.


In the sefer Haztava'ah of the Smichas Chachomim, HaRav Naftoli Katz, Rabbeinu's custom to recite Kiddush from a siddur is reported.

The Taz gave his "simple" explanation for this custom. "Sometimes an am ho'oretz is my guest for the Shabbos meal or I am a guest in the house of an am ho'oretz. The simple Jew doesn't know the Kiddush by heart, but is ashamed to recite from the siddur. However, if he sees that I too look in the siddur while reciting Kiddush, he can do so without embarrassment. Thus I will have been mezakeh es horabim."


The HaRav Yosef Shaul Nathansohn, rov of Lemberg many years after the Taz, relates that about two hundred years after the petiroh of the Turei Zohov, the government ordered the cemetery to be relocated. When the Taz's kever was opened, he was found wholly intact, his body not having decomposed at all, as is known of the great tzaddikim, that decay has no hold over them.


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