IN DEFENSE OF ELIJAH
Rabbi Moshe Alsheich was the head of
a large yeshiva in 16th century Tsfat (Safed). He had received
rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of Shulchan
Aruch [Code of Jewish Law]. He was a wealthy and extremely charitable
man, in addition to being a great Torah scholar.
One Saturday night after Shabbat departed, as he was passing by the
home of a certain poor man, he heard the man joyfully wish his wife
"A good week," and begin to sing the hymn "Eliyahu
HaNavi" ["Elijah the Prophet"]. His wife, however,
interrupted bitterly: "What are you so happy about? You know
that the children have been hungry for many days and there is still
no food in the house, no firewood either; so where is Eliyahu HaNavi
in whose honor you sing?"
Upon his return home, R. Alsheich filled a sack with gold coins. He
then covered his face and quietly retraced his steps, opened the door
of the couple's house, and threw in the sack of money and ran off.
This anonymous generosity raised a great stir in heaven. The Heavenly
Prosecuting Angel, however, said that it was nothing extraordinary,
and that R. Alsheich should not be specially rewarded until he himself
went down to test him.
The next Shabbat, a poor man suddenly appeared in the synagogue and
announced: "I am hungry; who will feed me?" R. Alsheich
immediately invited him for the Shabbat meal. The man devoured all
the food that was set in front of him and then cried out that he was
still hungry. Further helpings also failed to satisfy him. R. Alsheich
was so concerned that he served the man all the food that had been
prepared for himself and his family for the entire Shabbat. The guest
ate everything up at once and again cried out that he was still hungry.
R. Alsheich then ran over to some neighbors and took whatever food
they could give him, but it was not enough to satisfy his ravenous
So it continued all through the Shabbat: the poor man gluttonously
consumed whatever he was given and then cried out that he was still
hungry. In the end R. Alsheich said to him: "Today is Shabbat
and there is nothing more I can do, but with G-d's help, after Shabbat
I shall try to feed you until you are satisfied."
After Shabbat, he sent an ox to be slaughtered, but afterwards it
was found to be treif ["ritually unfit"] and another
ox had to be dispatched. This one also turned out to be unfit.
All told, thirty-nine oxen were slaughtered and all were found to
be treif! This caused R. Alsheich great financial loss, but
he kept insisting that he had to satisfy the hungry man. Finally,
the fortieth ox was declared to be kosher, but before they
could prepare it, the poor man disappeared.
This extraordinary demonstration of kindness caused another great
commotion in the heavenly court. A decree was issued that one of the
seventy faces of the Torah should be revealed to R. Alsheich and an
angel was immediately dispatched to impart the knowledge to him.
At this time, Rabbi Yosef Caro was the chief rabbi of Tsfat. He
arrived at the synagogue the following Shabbat as the service was
about to begin, but when he looked up at R. Alsheich's seat and saw
that it was empty he ordered the congregation to wait, for it had
been revealed to him that Rabbi Alsheich had become very great in
Torah. When it was time for the weekly discourse about the Reading
of the Law which R. Yosef Caro always gave, he asked R. Alsheich to
ascend to the pulpit and speak in his place. R. Alsheich refused at
first, insisting he wasn't capable. Only when R. Yosef Caro finally
ordered him to speak did he agree. R. Alsheich ascended the platform
and delivered a discourse. Everyone was amazed by his profundity.
From that day on, the Alsheich HaKodesh (the "holy Alsheich,"
as he came to be called) was the one who delivered the weekly address
each Shabbat, which became the basis for his famous "Toras
Moshe" commentary on the Torah,
Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from several sources.
Rabbi Moshe Al-Sheich (1522-1570) was the author of many works,
including important analytical explanations of Scriptures, which are
highly regarded even today (and in recent years have become available
in English). He was a student of R. Yosef Caro and member of his Beit