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18 Adar II 5774 - March 20, 2014 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Machatzis Hashekel — HaRav Shmuel Kellin, zt"l

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 1 Nisan (5566)

The widely-acclaimed sefer Machatzis Hashekel, by whose name its author is known, has become part of every Shulchan Oruch. The name itself, however, intrigues us, since it has no connection to its contents.

A grandchild of Rabbi Shmuel Kellin gave the reason as being a result of his humility. Just as the half-shekel given in the midbar was a reminder to each Jew that he is only a fraction and never complete, so Rabbenu indicated that perhaps his sefer wasn't the complete truth, but only part of it.

The holy Chasam Sofer told his talmidim that the name "Machatzis Hashekel" indicates that only half of the sefer is pshat and part of the Toras hanigleh, while the remaining half is al pi Kabboloh.


Rabbenu was known as an ish emes. On no account would he depart from the absolute truth.

The Chasam Sofer related that once in the city of Kellin, a man was found murdered. Lying near the dead body lay a knife covered in blood. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that the knife was from the Rabbi's kitchen. Panic-stricken, the townspeople rushed to inform Rabbenu, while the heads of the community tried to advise him as to his next step. "Run away." "Tell them you have no such knife, not even something similar."

But Rabbenu refused to listen.

The day of the court case arrived and, with great trepidation, the Jews of Kellin davened as their Rabbi stood accused. To the magistrate's question as to whether he recognized the knife, Rabbeinu's reply was unwavering.

"This is my knife, but neither I nor any members of my household have a connection to the murder!"

So astonished was the judge to hear the Rabbi admit that the knife was his, that he accepted his words as true and acquitted him.


A resident of Kellin, R' Kalman Nagel zt"l, related the following interesting episode:

A poverty-stricken Kelliner Jew who struggled hard to make ends meet was walking along the street, when he was overtaken by the post wagon. As it sped by, a bunch of letters and parcels fell off, unnoticed by the wagon- driver, and landing at the poor man's feet. As he scrambled to pick up the envelopes, the man noticed one that looked like it contained a large sum of money. Stuffing that into his pocket, he then ran after the wagon until he caught up and returned the rest of the wayward cargo.

Upon his arrival home with his "gift from heaven," he discovered that his wife did not share his exuberance.

"What have you done to us?" she cried, wringing her hands. "Soon they'll discover the money is missing and you'll be their prime suspect."

However the deed was done and there was no going back. Hurriedly, the woman hid the money under the floorboards.

A few days later, true to her prediction, it was discovered that an envelope of money had disappeared in the post. Suspicion immediately fell upon the poor Jew and two police officers arrived to question him. He vehemently denied taking the money and even the post wagon driver put in a good word, saying that had he taken the money he would not have returned the other goods.

A search through the house gave the officers no clue, but since he was their only suspect, they arrested him in the meantime.

The owner of the money, a wealthy lord, announced that twenty percent of the money would be given as a reward to the one who returned it. No one stepped forward.

Disguising herself as a peasant woman, the wife of the man in jail took the envelope and walked to the beis medrash where the rov, the Machatzis Hashekel, was learning with his talmidim. Surely the wise Rabbi would know what to do with the money!

Inside the beis medrash, the talmidim were distracted a moment from their shiur by the sight of a large envelope flying through the open window and landing with a thud on the floor at the Rabbi's feet. The Machatzis Hashekel caught a fleeting glance of the fleeing figure of a peasant woman. Picking up the envelope, the rov sensed immediately what it was. A sense of unease about a false libel that the Jews had stolen the money rose up, but he pushed these thoughts aside and the envelope into his pocket until after the shiur.

After his talmidim had left, the rov went to a small room where he checked the contents of the package. His suspicions were verified.

The danger looming was serious and Rabbenu knew he had to so something fast. Donning his hat and coat, he stepped out for a walk to ponder his next step. His wandered to the nearby forest where he continued, deep in thought. How could he ensure the Jew's release from prison and the return of the money while averting a vicious libel against all the Jews?

All at once he was shaken out of his reverie by the sight of the city's priest, an older man who highly respected and admired R' Shmuel. "So I see the Rabbi is taking my advice and relaxing a little in the forest," called out the priest, genially extending his hand.

The Rabbi's reply was sober. "I don't always have time to go for pleasure walks, but today a serious matter that requires a relaxed state of mind drew me here."

Pensively, he repeated to the priest how a peasant woman had thrown in the money to him, and together they tried to work out a strategy for action.

After a few long minutes of silence, the Machatzis Hashekel spoke up.

"Listen, I think I have a plan. When someone comes to you for confession, can you keep his identity a secret?"

"Not only can I, but I must. The church may never disclose the identity of a sinner who confesses," replied the priest.

"In that case, you may go to the wealthy lord who owns the money and tell him that someone returned the sum in a confession. In this way no one will question you, the Jew will be released from prison and there will be no accusation against the Jewish community."

The priest was pleased with the brilliant yet straightforward suggestion.

"Just one more question," he asked. "To whom will the twenty percent reward that the owner promised be given?"

"In my opinion," replied the Machatzis Hashekel on the spot, "we should give it to the imprisoned Jew who was falsely incarcerated and suffered in innocence."

The pure logic of the Rabbi's words appealed to the priest and he did as the rov had suggested.

As so the Jews of Kellin and this poor Yid were saved by the ingenuity of the Machatzis Hashekel.


In the year 5690-1930, the beis medrash in Kellin was being renovated. In a dark corner, the Yidden were puzzled to find a broken tombstone lying, forsaken. On it was the name Rabbeinu Shmuel of Kellin with many titles and descriptions and a beautiful inscription about the wonderful life of the Machatzis Hashekel. Their perplexity was confounded by the fact that in the nearby beis hachaim where the Machatzis Hashekel was buried, stood a small headstone with only a simple inscription.

After a little research, the elders of the kehilloh enlightened them. They had heard that before his passing Rabbenu had insisted that an ordinary stone with no extra titles be placed on his grave. After his petiroh, however, the townspeople decided to disregard his request, because true kovod haTorah required a proper matzeivoh with an inscription befitting the godol hador.

They did not reckon with the Rabbi's strength, even after his demise. The night after they had set up the matzeivoh, it broke for no apparent reason. They then understood that Rabbenu's wish must be carried out. The matzeivoh was replaced by a simple stone and the broken pieces left in a corner of the shul.


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