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Rabbi Yosef Shmuel Of Cracow

Those who learn the Talmud are forever indebted to a commentary found on the side of the pages, which enables the student to find the source of a particular law. This commentary, known as Mesoras HaShas, is the work of one of the most brilliant and erudite Talmudic scholars, Rabbi Yosef Shmuel of Cracow.

His greatest fame however, came as the rabbi of the city of Frankfurt, renowned. for having so many great rabbis. How he came to be there is a fascinating and beautiful story.

Three Questions

The chief rabbi of Frankfurt was an old man and became ill. He realized that his end was near, so he called in the leaders of the community.

"I know that I am going the way of all flesh," he said, "and I wish to make sure that the rabbi you choose to follow me will be the right one.

"Therefore, I will now pose to you three extremely difficult Talmudic questions that only a true scholar will be able to answer properly.

"Send out people and if they find a scholar who can answer these questions he is worthy to sit on the seat of the rabbi of Frankfurt"

The Search Begins

Soon after the rabbi told the leaders the three questions, his soul returned to its Maker. Following the period of mourning, the community appointed a group of scholars and gave them the task of finding the proper rabbi for the city.

In those days, few cities possessed as many scholars as the Polish city of Cracow. The delegation, therefore, headed directly there and made their mission known to the leaders of the Jewish congregation. The leaders were delighted to learn of the guests' mission and invited them to search the yeshivas and study halls to their hearts' content.

The Circumcision

It so happened, that the next morning, one of the important leaders in the city had invited his friends and compatriots to take part in the festivities and joy attendant on the circumcision of his child.

The happy event attracted rabbis and scholars as well as communal leaders and, as the guests were seated, the 10-year-old son of the happy father rose and delivered a Torah discourse that had been prepared for him by his teacher.

As the guests from Frankfurt sat in utter amazement, the 10-year-old proceeded to ask the very three questions they had come to hear answered, and gave direct and lucid answers to them.

The Teacher

The guests could not believe their ears. As soon as the youngster finished, they hastened over to the father and asked him, "Where did you son learn this Torah discourse?"

"It was taught to him by his teacher, who teaches all the young children in the area. His name is Rabbi Yosef Shmuel and he is the shamash (sexton) in the old synagogue."

The Frankfurt guests were even more impressed now. A teacher of young children and a shamash in the synagogue who was capable of creating such a Torah discourse! It was amazing.

Tells Them To Wait

Hurrying to the great synagogue where Rabbi Yosef Shmuel worked, they found him sitting and teaching Torah to his young students.

"Excuse us," they said, but we have something very urgent to talk over with you."

Rabbi Yosef Shmuel looked at the guests and said, "I am very sorry, but I am hired to do the holy work of teaching children Torah. I am not allowed to waste even a moment from this work. This evening, when I have finished, I will be glad to see you and talk with you."

Refuses The Position

That evening the guests returned and told Rabbi Yosef Shmuel, “Our late, great Rabbi told us, before he passed on,that we should choose a man who could answer three difficult questions from the Talmud. This morning we heard one of your students give a Torah discourse in which those very questions were asked and brilliantly answered."

Rabbi Yosef Shmuel looked at his guests in wide eyed amazement.

"What? I, a simple teacher of children, should become rabbi of the great and important city of Frankfurt? Impossible. I am not worthy of the honor nor fitted for the position."

They Return Home

No matter how the Frankfurt delegates tried to persuade him, Rabbi Yosef Shmuel would not budge.

"I am only a teacher of children. I am not worthy of being a rabbi for the Jewish people."

The guests were forced to return home, sad and disappointed, having apparently failed in their attempt to find a proper rabbi for Frankfurt.

Falls Ill

Not many days later, suddenly and mysteriously, Rabbi Yosef Shmuel fell ill. The doctors were puzzled. They could not find the source of his sickness. Rabbi Yosef Shmuel, however, understood what had happened. The Almighty wanted him to accept the position and had punished him for refusing to lead a community.

"Sovereign of the universe," he said, "You know that my refusal to become rabbi of Frankfurt was not because of stubbornness or other such reasons.

"I honestly did not believe that I was worthy of holding such an illustrious position. But if you desire that I accept the post I am ready and willing to disregard my own personal feelings and accept Your will."

When Rabbi Yosef Shmuel finished speaking he felt his strength return. When, after a few days, he was better, he sent word to the happy city of Frankfurt that he was finally ready to be their rabbi.


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