Weekly Chasidic Story #1133 (s5779-51/
25 Menachem-Av, 5779)
The Almost Certain Death Sentence in Tiberias
"It was not a miracle at all; it is a clear verse in the Torah"
insisted Rabbi Yaakov-Shimshon of Shepetovka
Connection: Weekly Reading of Re'ey -- the verse, "Open, you must
open your hand to him [the needy fellow-Jew,]..." (Deut. 15:8) plays a
starring role in the story.
Story in PDF
format for more convenient printing.
The Almost Certain Death Sentence in Tiberias
Rabbi Yaakov-Shimshon of Shepetovka lived the last eight
years of his life in the Holy Land. When he first arrived in 1794, after docking
at the port in Acco, he travelled due east, making a point of visiting all the
known burial places of tzadikim in the Meron-Tsfat('Safed')-Tiverya('Tiberias')
area of northern Israel.
At the end of his journey he settled in Tiverya, where he was immediately appointed
to be the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazic Jewish community, so great was his reputation
that preceded him of being a leading authority in Jewish Law.
In Tiberias itself, when he prayed at the gravesite of the great Rabbi Akiva,
an eyewitness reported that the Rabbi quoted by heart all of the statements
of Rabbi Akiva in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds.
One time, a local Jew quarreled seriously with one of his Arab
neighbors. The Arab summoned him to court, where according to Muslim law it
seemed virtually certain that a death sentence would be decreed upon him. The
terrified Jew didn't know what to do. He hurried to the home of the new Rabbi
of the city and poured out his heart to him.
Rabbi Yaakov-Shimshon advised him to give a pidyon nefesh (soul-redemption
donation) to a fellow-Jew in need. The man did so wholeheartedly, praying that
this good deed would somehow lead to his salvation.
On the day of his trial, the Jew walked with trembling steps to the courthouse
which was located in the lower section of Tiverya, on the west bank of Lake
Kinneret ('Sea of Galilee').
When he was near the entrance, he spotted his Arab neighbor ascending the steps
to the courtroom, accompanied by his lawyer who was carrying a packet of papers,
which the quaking Jew assumed to be incriminating documents.
Suddenly, there was a loud rumbling sound, followed by panicky screams and
a loud splash! The Jew rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Where a broad staircase
had stood a moment earlier, there was now a chaotic pile of rubble. The structure
had collapsed, throwing the two accusers into the water together with all their
papers for the court. [IMHO, it is unlikely that the two Arabs suffered serious
injury. The Kinneret waters are calm, and near the bank they are shallow. But
all the papers were certainly destroyed by the immersion. - Y.T.]
Later that day, the grateful man went with joy to thank Rabbi Yaakov-Shimshon
,and to tell him all about the miracle that had taken place. The Rabbi was not
surprised. "It is not a miracle at all," he said dismissively. "It
is an clear verse in the Torah (Deut. 15:8): 'Ki Paso'ach tiftach es yodecho
lo' -- 'For open, you must open your hand to him [the needy fellow-Jew]...'."
went on to explain to his puzzled but still smiling guest. "The intonation
on the first two words is determined by the trope (cantilation note), `Darga
Tavir' under the 'sof' in 'paso'ach' (the middle letter in
the second (left) word). [The Aramaic name of this tune marker,] `Darga Tavir'
literally means `broken steps.' So there you are. By opening your hand and giving
tzedakah ('charity'), you merited that the steps should break, thereby
saving your life!"
Source: Adapted, rewritten and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from
an article on /charedi.org (Chukas 5775).
Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Shepetovka [? - 3 Sivan 5561 (? - May 1801)],
a descendant of Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropole, was a student of the Maggid of
Mezritch and Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz (two of the three main followers of the
Baal Shem Tov) and a close friend of Rabbi Baruch of Mezibuz (the grandson
of the Besht). As a great authority in Jewish Law, he earned considerable
respect also in rabbinic circles. In 1794 (according to charedi.org), he moved
to Israel and settled in Tiberias, where he is buried.
Connection: Weekly Reading of Re'eh -- the verse, "For open, you
must open your hand to him [the needy fellow-Jew]..." (Deut. 15:8) plays
a starring role in the story.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells
them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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("Under the Full Moon" vol 2 - holiday stories)
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"Saturday Night, Full Moon",
is also available for purchase on
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