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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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The Four Described Deaths


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No one saw him as he approached the gallows and gathered together wood for a pyre directly beneath the gallows. In the midst of the wood he set his sword with the point upwards. He then set a little wall of stones about the wood and climbed up to the gallows. He trembled all over as he suddenly became aware — through the simple words of his uncle — of the magnitude of his evil deeds. “How could I have lived the life I did? I am deserving of not just one — but all four of the prescribed deaths,” he said to himself.

All Four

Putting his head through the noose, he lit the fire below and then plunged to his death by hanging. The fires reared upwards, burning the rope, and breaking it so that the body fell onto the sword and into the fire, sending the stones crashing down on his body.

The people who saw this cried out and at that moment Yosi ben Yoezer fell into a deep sleep. In his sleep he beheld a wonderful vision.

He saw the gates of Gan Eden in all their wonder and through them passing the souls of the great tzaddikim who had passed on. As he lay in his sleep, his face grew radiant and his students who watched knew that he was beholding a wonderful vision.

The First Soul

In his vision, Yosi ben Yoezer suddenly felt his own soul leave his body and rise heavenward. Upward and upward it rose until it was almost at the great gates and was about to enter.

Suddenly, however, another soul, as pure as the day it had been taken and placed on earth came before the gates and he was forced to wait while this soul was allowed entrance first.

As the soul passed into Gan Eden, a heavenly chorus of voices suddenly called out:

“Make Way for Yakum, the holy soul!”

The Awakening

And Yosi awakened and looked at his students:

“Know you that by the actions of a moment, Yakum, my nephew, has preceded me to Gan Eden.

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“The mitzvah of drawing water for the baking of the matzah for the Seder comes only once a year. I do not care to share it with a horse.’’

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“You speak foolishly, daughter, how is it possible for a man who has not eaten for 10 years to live?”

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Bnei Yisrael marched out of Mitzrayim with a mighty hand under their great leader Moshe. This was not, however, their first attempt to escape from Mitzrayim and return to the land that G-d had promised their fathers.

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