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Rabbi Yisrael ben Shabbethai, the Maggid of Kozienice

Harmony And Unity

The gaon, Rabbi Yisrael ben Shabbethai, known as the Maggid of Kozienice was the prototype of Aaron, the high priest. He loved peace. In his time when the dispute arose between the Chassidim and the Misnagdim, he refused to participate in it. When asked to help the cause of Chassidim, he replied: "Not through quarrels or excommunications can Chassidim hope to win but only through showing their strength in the study of Torah, prayers, observing mitzvoth and doing the work of G-d."

He would also state, "It is better to have an insincere peace than a since quarrel." He would always advocate unity and harmony. "If all Israel made peace with each other," he said, "and if they gave a hand to each other and helped each other in true, sincere love, their strength would be so powerful that it would reach to the very throne of G-d."

No Separate Minyan

In one of the congregations near Kozienice, a dispute arose between the Chassidim and the other members in the synagogue. Out of anger, the Chassidim, who were in the minority, decided to resign from the congregation and establish their own synagogue. When Rabbi Yisrael heard of this he became very aggravated and he summoned the Chassidim to his study. He strongly urged them to reconsider and to return to their former congregation.

"There are terrible sins which the Torah warns against, such as idolatry, murder, and adultery," said Reb Yisrael. "The Torah itemizes the various punishments that will accrue to one who commits these sins. But nowhere does the Torah specifically state that we should separate ourselves from these sins. Except in one place where it describes the dispute of Korach who quarreled with Moses as the Torah (Deut. 16:21) states: 'Separate yourselves from among this congregation that I may consume them.' Thus we learn that quarreling is more dangerous than any other sin and we should avoid any person who quarrels."

Thus did the gaon try with all his power to keep the peace in his community.

The Forgotten People

Once a poor woman came to Rabbi Yisrael and cried "Holy rabbi, please help me. My husband hates me and he doesn't t want to live with me anymore. He thinks I am ugly and a boor and now in my old age where can I go? Who will support me?"

"Perhaps you are ugly," said the rabbi to her.

"Oh, Rabbi, how can you say that?" she cried; "When he married me he raved about my beauty and he whispered beautiful things in my ear. All through the years, I worked very hard for him, I cooked, washed his clothes and raised his children and now as my reward he wants to divorce me because he thinks I am old and ugly."

The rabbi summoned the husband to his study and asked him, "Is it true what your wife tells me?"

"It is true," he answered, "what can I do if she disgusts me?"

The rabbi then said, "The din is with your wife. You cannot divorce her and you are required to support her all of her days."

Then turning to the heavens he cried. out, "L-rd of the Universe! Our lot is similar to this woman. We Jews come to You also with an argument, a din Torah.

"When you took us out of Egypt and we stood at Mt. Sinai, we became Your chosen people. When You wed us at Mt. Sinai and we became Your beloved, You promised us everything, this world and the next world. We followed You for over 2;000 years in fire and water. We gave up our lives for Your Holy Name on Kiddush Hashem. The names of our ancestors are inscribed in blood in every generation.

'And now that we have grown old as a nation and as a people, You have forgotten us and want to throw us out. You turn us over to a terrible people to kill and murder us- You have no pity on us. Is that just?

"Therefore, O G-d, L-rd of the Universe, just as I have awarded this case to this woman, please award us with Your kindness and return us again to Your good grace and show us Your loving kindness as of yore."

The husband was so overawed with these powerful words uttered by the rabbi that he turned to his wife and embraced her and asked for her forgiveness.

May we merit the zechus of our Father in Heaven to forgive us and shine his beloved Kindness upon us again.


At Least They'll Know How To Learn

The gaon, Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the inaugurator of the Daf Yomi and Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin, would always make a special effort to enroll the children of Chassidic rebbis in his yeshiva.

When asked why he showed such favoritism to these children more than to the average child, he replied: "I am certain that these children, when they grow up will become rebbis. They will then inherit the mantle of their parents. At least let them know how to learn the Torah."


Money Is More Valuable Than His Life

Once a wealthy man decided to make his home in Israel. He invested in many enterprises but after a while he became ill and decided to leave Israel. Before he left he visited the gaon, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, chief rabbi of Israel, to seek a departing blessing from him.

"Why are you leaving Eretz Yisrael?" the gaon asked him.

"Rabbi," he answered, "it seems that the air doesn't agree with me. However, I have established many businesses here and my money should help to rebuild our Holy Land."

The gaon then answered him: All my life I never understood the expression of our Sages, 'that there are people who value their money more than they do their own lives. How is that possible? However, now you have shown me the answer. Our ancestors, the pious saints, would always desire to be buried in our holy land to benefit both their bodies and their souls. You, however, do not care about your body. For the Talmud tells us (Baba Metzia 29b): He who wants to bury (lose) his money should hire workers and not watch them performing their work."

"If you think you are sick," the sage continued, "the atmosphere of other countries will not help you. The only difference is that in other countries you are not aware that you are ill, while here the air makes you wise enough to know that you are ill. The atmosphere of Israel is good for both the body and the soul."


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