Let us take a look at the remarkable origins surrounding the birth of Rashi.
Rabi Yitzchak was a great scholar but never wanted to use the Torah as a means of making a living. Instead, after marrying Leah Miriam, the sister of Rabi Shimon HaGadol, he opened up a store that specialized in precious stones. The years passed and the couple was content, except for one thing. After being married for 10 years, they were not blessed with a child.
Though it was what they wanted more than anything in the whole world, Rabi Yitzchak never complained, continuing to live his life according to the dictates of the Torah. One day, he came into possession of a truly remarkable gem. News of this flawless stone spread throughout the city of Mayence where he lived and finally reached the ears of the bishop of the city.
The bishop wanted the stone so he could have it mounted in a statue in the main cathedral. He sent word to Rabi Yitzchak offering a great sum of money. When Rabi Yitzchak heard this he discussed the matter with his wife.
“I cannot sell any possession of mine knowing that it will be used for a religious purpose contrary to my own.”
Rabi Yitzchak sent a cordial letter of reply to the bishop telling him that his religion forbade him from selling the gem. Though the bishop accepted the answer, some of the more extreme priests hit upon an ugly scheme by which they hoped to force Rabi Yitzchak into selling them the precious stone.
By means of a clever pretext, they succeeded in getting Rabi Yitzhak aboard a ship and sailed it down the river. Then they threatened him with death by drowning unless he handed over the gem. Rabi Yitzhak never hesitated. With a mighty heave he sent the gem, which had cost him a small fortune, into the water, preferring to lose money rather than his principles.
No sooner had the waters swallowed up the gem than a voice from Heaven cried out: “In place of this precious stone, G-d will send you another gem in the form of a son who will illuminate the eyes of Israel with his Torah and wisdom.”
That year, Rabi Yitzhak’s wife gave birth to a son, who was named Shlomo. He was the great Rashi. Because of this wonderful story, one of the families that descended from Rashi named itself “Margolis,” or precious stone.
Wandering In The East
In common with many of the pious men of his time, Rashi chose several years of exile in order that he might understand what it meant to suffer privation and poverty.
While in the Eastern countries, he met a Christian monk who was also learned and well read. They began to discuss theology, belief and philosophy. Rashi’s clear and precise answers amazed and impressed the monk, who came to look forward eagerly to his daily discussion.
One day, however, the monk fell ill with a dangerous sickness. Rashi, who was a student of medicine, ran to his side.
“I will remain here with you until you are better,” he said.
“There is nothing you can do, my friend,” said the monk. “This is an illness that cannot be cured. My days on this earth are numbered.”
“You must never speak this way,” said Rashi sternly. “The mercies of the Almighty are boundless and one must never lose hope.”
Rashi never left the bedside of the sick man. He used all his skills and devotion to bring the man back from the brink of death. At last it was clear that the monk would live.Rabbi Sholom Klass
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