All his adult life, R. Chaim Toledano,
the Rabbi of Sali in Morocco, was careful to make sure that he hosted
guests, or at least one guest, at his table for every Holiday meal.
After all, what is a holiday meal without a guest? - "Merely
a stomach celebration," our sages answered.
So dear was this mitzvah to Rabbi Toledano, who was known
for his piety and holiness, that if a holiday approached and no guest
was expected, he would send his attendant to search the marketplaces
and the outskirts of town. The whole time he would be restless, unable
to relax, until his attendant returned with a poor person in tow or
a traveler from a different city.
One year, Erev Shavuot fell on a pleasant, clear spring day.
The whole morning, the Jews of Sali were busy preparing everything
they needed for the two-day festival. Although he did not yet have
a guest, R. Toledano was confident that G-d Al-mighty would provide
one for him. Noon time arrived, but still there was no guest. As he
usually did in such cases, he requested of his attendant to go out
to search for a traveler in need of hospitality.
The Rabbi's attendant circulated throughout the entire town, but
he was unable to find a single Jew that didn't have a place to be
for the holiday. With upturned palms, he ruefully informed his master
that he had returned empty-handed-there were simply no guests to be
"Go search again, please," R. Chaim commanded. Then he
paused for a moment. "You can even look in the Jewish cemetery,
if you don't succeed elsewhere. Perhaps someone will be wandering
The attendant hurried to do the Rabbi's bidding. When he again was
unable to find anybody appropriate in the streets, he reluctantly
walked over to the cemetery. There, almost immediately he saw a Jewish
man, bearded and wearing a Moroccan-style jalabba, whom he
didn't recognize. The man was sitting on the ground between two graves,
hunched over with his face in his hands, crying bitterly, his whole
body wracked by grief.
The attendant did his best to comfort him, and to invite him to come
to the Rabbi's home, but to no avail. It was if he wasn't even there.
No matter what he said, the man continued to cry uncontrollably, and
never uttered a word in response or even acknowledged his presence.
The attendant rushed back to the Rabbi, and told him about the strange
man he had found in the cemetery, sitting on the ground crying, and
how he refused to say a single word-not to identify himself and not
in explanation of his tears.
Rabbi Toledano immediately rose, put on his white festive cloak,
took his walking cane in hand, and set out at a brisk pace for the
cemetery. Usually, when the townspeople would see him in the street,
they would eagerly dart over to kiss his hand and receive a blessing,
which he was always happy to bestow. This time, seeing he was hurrying
so, they didn't dare to interrupt him.
When he and his attendant reached the cemetery, they found the man
lying on his back next to one of the graves, still crying his heart
out. After much effort, Rabbi Toledano was able to calm him down somewhat,
but when he invited him to be at his house for Shavuot, the man refused.
Out of respect for the Rabbi, who was clearly a holy person, he broke
his silence, but he said he was much too unhappy and upset to be anyone's
guest. R. Chaim pleaded with him to tell what was causing him so much
grief, saying b'ezrat Hashem, he would everything in his power
to help him, but still the forlorn man refused to reveal his thoughts.
In the end, feeling he had no alternative, Rabbi Toledano declared,
"Look, our holy sages of blessed memory have said, 'One must
never despair of G-d's mercy, even if a sword is poised at his throat.'
I swear to you that I will rescue you from whatever terrible plight
has befallen you. Now just get up and come with me to be my guest
for the Shavuot holiday."
The distraught man took encouragement from the Rabbi's sincere concern
and forceful promise. He humbly accepted R. Chaim's invitation and
climbed to his feet. As they walked together, he unburdened himself
of his story to his exalted host.
"I am a resident of Sali, but I left my family here several
years ago in order to go overseas to seek prosperity. After many sea
voyages and struggling in a number of different countries, finally,
with G d's help, I succeeded to amass a very large sum. I put all
my accumulated wealth-gold, silver and assorted jewels-into a small
wooden chest and set sail for home.
"When the ship arrived in the harbor here, a small raft pulled
alongside to ferry the few disembarking passengers through the shallow
water to the shore. As I was transferring my things to the raft, somehow
I lost my grip on the heavy box and it fell into the water. It sank
immediately. All my wealth! Everything that I slaved and suffered
for all of these years! All wasted! Lost in a single moment!
"Truly, I wish I were dead. Anyway, 'a poor person is considered
as dead,' our sages stated. I can't bear the idea of being a pauper
again!" Finishing his sad tale, he broke down once more, burying
his face in his hands and weeping bitterly.
Rabbi Toledano pondered what to do. He thought about turning over
all of his money and everything he possessed to this unfortunate victim
of fate. After all, he had promised to rescue him. But he quickly
realized that even if he were to do so, it wouldn't make up even half
the value of what had disappeared into the ocean's vaults.
He meditated on the matter more, standing deep in thought for many
minutes. At last, he seemed to make up his mind, accepting the extreme
measures necessary to fulfill his word and rescue his cherished guest
from his desperate situation. Turning to his groaning companion, he
said, "Come, my son. Let's go back to the port. There you can
point out to me exactly where your treasure fell into the sea."
When they got to the shore, the guest estimated to the Rabbi where
he thought his box had sunk. Rabbi Toledano girded himself, and uttering
a series of holy names known to masters of Kabbalah, adjured with
a binding oath the heavenly officer appointed over the ocean. After
just a few moments, an assortment of items could be seen floating
on the surface of the water, all things that had been lost at sea.
The waves became stronger-their white frothy crests rising high above
the chilly blue surface-and a huge number of different objects, seemingly
dredged from the ocean bottom, were now riding the powerful current
towards the shore.
Rabbi's features were cast in seriousness. "Don't dare touch
anything that is not yours!" he solemnly warned his guest. The
latter, stood frozen to his spot, too terrified by the vision taking
place in front of his eyes to even think of responding. Suddenly he
saw his precious wooden chest, being pushed by the waxing tide directly
towards him. He snatched it up instinctively, and then hugged it to
him in great joy and excitement.
Turning to Rabbi Toledano, he began to thank him profusely. The Rabbi
himself was very happy that he had been able to keep his promise,
save a Jew in tragic need, and acquire a guest who would be able to
enjoy with him the special Shavuot holiday meals in a proper festive
"Come, my son," he said once more, this time with a wide
smile. Let us hurry home and get ready to receive the Torah."
[Translated and freely adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Echyeh
v'Asaper, pp. 10-13. ]
Rabbi Chaim Toledano (circa. 1700-1783) was the Rabbi of Sali
in Morocco in the generation after the Ohr HaChaim (of
whom some sources say he was the rabbi of this story) left for Israel.
In the book Tehila l'David he is described as being "the
glorious adornment of the sages...pleasing to G-d and man."