The Baal Shem Tov had two grandsons, Rav Moshe Chaim Ephraim and Reb Baruch. Both were pious and well educated in Torah, yet, Rav Moshe lived a frugal and poor life while his brother, Reb Baruch, became very wealthy.
One day Reb Baruch decided to spend Shabbos with his brother. Rebbe Moshe was honored and told his wife to prepare the best of everything in honor of his brother. The poor woman sighed as she counted her few kopeks, but as a dutiful wife she went to the marketplace and borrowed enough money to purchase extra food for Shabbos.
That night, when the two brothers came home from shul, they saw two small candles burning in an earthen dish and a white tablecloth spread out over the table with two small challahs on it. A small bottle of watered-down wine was near the challahs and a wooden bowl with salted herring and onions stood near it.
They made Kiddush and sat down to eat the Shabbos meal. Reb Baruch turned to his brother and sighing said, “Woe is to me, my brother, that I see you in such a poor state. How do you manage to exist in such poverty?”
“Why do you speak this way to me?” Rav Moshe asked. “Is there anything missing here?”
“Everything is missing,” Reb Baruch replied. “In my home we have silver candle holders, beautiful furniture, the wine is poured into silver cups and on the table we have enough food for a king.”
“Where do you get the money to purchase all these ﬁne things?” asked Reb Moshe asked.
“Don’t you know?” replied his brother. “I travel all week from town to town, buying and selling merchandise so I accumulate enough money to buy the ﬁnest things for Shabbos.”
“Then you are worse off than I am,” replied Reb Moshe. “Your gold, silver and money are in your home while you have to wander from town to town as if you are in exile. While my money is in exile, in other people’s hands, still I am at home the entire week enjoying the company of my wife and children and enjoying the study of Torah. Who leads a happier life?”
The Young Genius
When Reb Moshe was a young boy he was known as a genius. Many people who opposed his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, would come with difficult questions hoping to outwit him. The Baal Shem Tov would call upon his little grandson for the answer and to the amazement of all he would always know what to say.
One day a prominent rav visited their home and posed the following question:
“Will the Master be able to answer a question I have on this week’s sedra about Korach? The Mishnah in Gemara Sanhedrin (108a) says that the Jews in the dor hamidbar have no part in the World to Come, for it says (Bamidbar 14:35), ‘In this wilderness they shall be consumed and they shall die.’ Rabi Akiva explains the words, ‘consumed’ and ‘die’ to represent death in both worlds.
“Further on Rabi Akiba states that Korach and his group also suffered the same fate as he expounds the sentence in the Torah (ibid. 16:33) ‘and the earth closed upon them’ as referring to this world. ‘And they perished from among the assembly’ refers to the next world. Now the question arises: Why did Rabi Akiva have to repeat the same remarks about Korach when he already deduced that the dor hamidbar, which included Korach, had no part in the World to Come?”
The Baal Shem Tov smiled as he turned to his young grandson and told him to answer the question.
The child didn’t hesitate a minute as he replied, “The answer is simple. The ﬁrst sentence of ‘in the wilderness they shall be consumed and there they shall die’ was referring to the spies. They were punished for bringing back a bad report. The spies represented every shevet with the exception of Levi. Therefore, shevet Levi was not included in this punishment. Korach was a descendant of shevet Levi; therefore, Rabi Akiva had to reiterate that Korach had no share in the next world only because of his sin of revolting against Moshe and not because of the punishment of the spies.”
Counting Every World In The Portion
On another occasion the eight-year-old genius was asked why at the end Parshas Miketz there is a line denoting that the parsha contains 2,025 words.
The child replied, “The holiday of Chanukah usually falls at the same time of the year when we read Parshas Miketz. On Chanukah we light the candle, ner, eight times. The letters of the word ner numerically represent 250. Eight times this equal 2,000. The ﬁrst candle is lit on the 25th day of Kislev. Add this to the 2,000 and we have 2,025, the number of words in this parsha. This is a hidden prophecy that the holiday of Chanukah would come out during this week.”
Waiting 99 Years To Fulfill A Mitzvah
Once the young genius was asked the following question: The Talmud (Kiddushin 82a) tells us that Avraham observed all the mitzvos of the Torah. If that is the case why did he have to wait until Hashem told him at the age of 99 years, to have a bris milah? Why didn’t he do it in his young years?”
When this same question was put to the Vilna Gaon when he was only a boy of ﬁve, he replied, “Chazal state (Kiddushin 31a) that a person who is told to do something and does it, receives a great reward than one who is not told and does it. Therefore, Avraham waited for this mitzvah until he was told, for he could have redone all the other mitzvos after he was told, but not bris milah. Once performed it can never be repeated.”
However, young Moshe Chaim Ephraim had this answer: “Avraham was able to fulﬁll all of the mitzvos of the Torah, because there was no sin or prohibition attached to their fulfillment. But bris milah would have been a sin if he attempted it before he was told to do so by G-d. For the Gemara (Bava Kama 91b) speciﬁcally prohibits a person from injuring himself. Therefore, unless it was a Divine commandment Avraham was not allowed to circumcise himself.”