[Matchmaking is a major theme in this week's reading. Bi-national,
bi-cultural Jewish marriages are quite common today, but in the 16th
century they were quite rare.]
In Poland four and a half centuries ago lived
a very wealthy man named Moshe. For a long time he had been seeking
an appropriate match for his daughter, without success. This was surprising,
since besides her background of wealth, she was also clever, attractive
and gracious. Numerous proposals had streamed in from all over the
land and outside it, but some fault was found in each of them by either
one of the parents or the girl herself. Finally, a match was proposed
that pleased all of them. Most surprisingly, it came from Egypt!
The young man was a bright Torah scholar, of excellent character,
sensitive, courteous and of pleasant personality. A series of unusual
circumstances had brought him from his distant tropical home to Eastern
Europe, which made possible his involvement in this most excellent
Moshe was promised an extraordinarily large dowry. The wedding itself
took place in Egypt, where it was conducted in great pomp and luxury
in the presence of large crowd of family, friends, and many other
distinguished guests. The bride's family was also well represented,
as a large contingent of relatives made the rigorous journey from
Poland to Egypt to participate in the festivities. After the Seven
Days of formal celebration, the relatives of the bride all returned
home to Europe, while the bride and her new husband remained in the
land of the Nile.
Just months after the joyous celebration, tragedy struck. The young
bride passed away suddenly. Her husband and his parents were overcome
with grief and shock. His loud uncontrollable sobs over the grave
of his tender wife stabbed the hearts of all the local populace, and
no doubt pierced the highest heavens as well.
Several weeks later, the grieving young widower received another
shock. A letter arrived from his dead wife's father in Poland, demanding
back the money of the dowry. He based his claim on the decision of
the renowned Tosfot master, Rabbeinu Tam [1100-1171], grandson
of Rashi, who in the 12th century had ruled that the husband
does not inherit when the wife passes away during the first year of
marriage. Many subsequent major authorities endorsed his ruling and
thus it had been accepted in most Jewish communities, Moshe wrote.
The bereaved husband investigated the matter, and discovered while
this interpretation of the law was indeed accepted in Ashkenazic lands,
that had never been the case in the Mediterranean countries of the
Sephardim. He sent a letter to inform his father-in-law of this, in
which he concluded that as a Jew from Egypt he was under no obligation
whatsoever to return the dowry money, which had come into his possession
honestly and legally. A reply soon came from Poland, expressing the
opinion that the judgment should be according to the law in force
at the source of the money, not at its final location.
Moshe realized that he would have to travel again to Egypt in order
to press his claim. Before he left, he went to several of the greatest
rabbinical authorities in Poland, who put for him in writing their
considered opinion that the money must be returned. One of these was
the world-famous Rabbi Shlomo Luria of Lublin, known as the
After a long exhausting journey, Reb Moshe finally arrived In Egypt.
His first stop was to visit the grave of his daughter. After that
he turned to pursue his financial problem. He arranged meetings with
the leading rabbinical judges of Egypt and showed them his letter
from the sages of Poland. They were not overwhelmed as he thought
they would be, not at all; rather, they coolly insisted that the decisions
of Rabbeinu Tam were not binding to the countries of the Sephardim.
, (Indeed, Egypt had its own great Torah scholars, including Rabbi
David Ben Zimra ("Radbaz"), who was the chief rabbi of Cairo
for forty years, until shortly before the events of this story.**)
One of these sages, Rabbi Montzur, felt deeply the pain of
Reb Moshe. He tried to comfort him and offered him advice. He told
him that a Jew of extraordinary holiness and wisdom, Rabbi Yitzchak
Luria, known as the "Ari," used to be
part of their community until recently, when he had moved to the Holy
Land. Although his mother's family was from Egypt, his father was
of European descent, and he himself signed his letters "the Ashkenazi"
and followed Ashkenazi practices. Surely it would be appropriate for
you to consult with him, the sage concluded.
Reb Moshe agreed, and soon after set out for the Holy Land and all
the way to its north, to Tsfat. He located the modest dwelling
of the Ari and requested an interview. He related to the master
Kabbalist the tragic story of his daughter, and then all the details
of the dispute over the dowry.
The Ari gazed at him intently for a long moment. Then, his
eyes glowing with love and care, he said to him gently, "My advice
to you is to give up your claim to the money."
Reb Moshe gulped, but felt he had no choice but to accept his decision.
However, he could not stop himself from asking for an explanation.
The Ari's expression turned serious. "If you are asked
the reason for my verdict," he said gravely, "you may say
in my name that so it is written in our holy Torah, in the section,
'And these are the judgments'[Ex.21:24]."
The words of the Ari soon spread throughout the land, south
to Egypt, and across the ocean. When the Maharshal (who happened
to be a great-uncle of the Ari) and the other great sages of
Poland who had signed the letter supporting the return of the dowry
heard of the Ari's decision, they were astounded. And outraged.
A rabbinical storm brewed and bubbled.
One day the Ari gathered his closest students explained to
them the meaning behind his words. He told the following story:
Several decades ago, two big-time merchants set sail on a ship for
a distant fair. They were good friends as well as business associates.
Before they reached their final destination, the wallet of one of
them was stolen. This was a great disaster, as the wallet contained
all of his capital, the huge sum of money that had brought along for
purchasing and investment.
His friend did not abandon him. He offered to lend him a significant
amount of money. "Use it for business now so that you can earn
a profit, and when we reach home you can pay me back."
The loan was taken but never repaid. The two men moved to different
areas and they never saw each other again. After many years the lender
passed away, and a short timer thereafter so did the borrower. Their
souls -and the matter of the outstanding loan between them- rose up
to the Heavenly Court.
The court decreed that the two would have to descend to this physical
world again in order to rectify their uncompleted financial transaction.
The soul of the lender became the person who grew up to be the young
husband, while the soul of the borrower became his bride. G-d directed
events so that the girl from Poland would marry the boy from Egypt
in order that the money could be returned to its rightful owner. As
soon as that happened, the mission of the bride's soul in this life
This sequence of events, explained the Ari, is hinted at in
the words, "And these are the judgments." Targum Onkelos
translates: "These are the laws"; Petach Eliyahu*
interprets: "These are mercies"; the holy Zohar explains
"These are the secrets of reincarnation."
* Recited before the Friday afternoon prayer - from Tikunei Zohar
This episode shows how these three seemingly contradictory interpretations
are in fact complementary, he continued. The judgments of the Heavenly
Court are law, but always grounded in mercy, which often manifests
in the opportunity for the soul to return again to the physical world
to accomplish its rectification.
[Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sichat
**Editor's note: Among the students of the Radbaz in Egypt
were Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi ("Shita Mekubetzes") and Rabbi
Yitzchak Luria ("Arizal").
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PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH THIS STORY IN PRINT OR ELECTRONIC FORM WITHOUT
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572), Known as "the holy
Ari," revolutionized the study of Kabbalah and its integration
into mainstream Judaism during the two years he spent in Zefat before
his death at age 38.