Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, was a deeply learned man who took his sources and admonitions from the Torah.
One day, when a group of chassidim came to him complaining about their bitter lot, he referred them to Pirkei Avot 2:1 where it says: “Know what is above you – a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds are written in a book.”
“The interpretation of this sentence is simple,” he said. “A person may want to know what is above him – what is in store for him. If he is perplexed about life’s problems, then the eyes see. In the dawn of our history, the nation was able to turn to the Urim V’Tumim, and the answers to their questions were shown to them, a guide of laws and rules was set down for them for all future generations to observe and follow.
“In later eras, it was the ear which heard of these miracles and rules. In the era of the Neviim, a heavenly voice would ring out and guide them (Sotah 48b; Sanhedrin
11a). All doubts would be reconciled and all problems and questions answered.
“But, alas, in our generation, when we can neither see or hear anymore and problems arise, what are we to do? All of our deeds are recorded in a book. The miracles and guidelines of the past have been recorded in our Torah, in our Talmud, and holy seforim. Let us look into them and therein we will find our answers.”
Man’s Inhumanity To Man
Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim would constantly preach about being kind to our fellow man.
“Why is it,” he would ask, “that people take precautions and great pain not to swallow a tiny worm, and yet do not hesitate to swallow a human being?
“Therefore Dovid HaMelech said: ‘I am but a worm and not a man’ (Psalms 22:7). He realized that his many enemies would be very careful not to swallow a worm, since they would be violating four or five negative precepts (Pesachim 24a), but given a chance, they wouldn’t hesitate to harm him. Therefore, he pleaded that he at least be considered as a worm!”
Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim continued, “Our Sages teach (Eruvin 19a): ‘Even the sinners of Israel possess as many mitzvos as the seeds of a pomegranate.’ This could also be interpreted to mean that people who possess many mitzvos are still sinners in their treatment of their fellow Jews.”
Once, a wealthy man who was known to be a miser, came to Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim and boasted how he was able to subsist on a piece of black bread, some herring and onions.
Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim became angry and reprimanded him. “You are committing a sin when you eat such a paltry meal,” he said. “A person of your means who was blessed by G-d with great wealth should eat a sumptuous meal every day. You should eat a meal consisting of meat, fish, wine and all delicacies!”
When his disciples heard this, they asked wondered why it mattered what the man ate.
“I am not thinking about him,” Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim replied with a smile. “I am thinking of the poor who have to come to him for alms. If he were accustomed to eating meat and fish every day, he would then realize what it means to go without it. He would have more consideration for the poor and give them bigger donations.”
Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim opposed personal fasting. “Our Sages tell us that he who fasts is considered a sinner” (Nedarim 10). He would say, “Better that a person purify his soul by kindness, good deeds and the study and observance of the Torah, than through fasting.”
One day, he visited a small town in the province of Kishinev and was informed that the community had declared a public fast because of a drought. Upon entering the local inn, Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim ordered the inn keeper to prepare a sumptuous feast for him and his followers. The rav of the community was informed and immediately came to Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim complaining:
“Oh Master, why do you violate our edict? Don’t you know that unless it rains, we are in danger of starvation?”
“Fools,” he replied, “you are seeking a bountiful harvest, and yet you show G-d that you can exist on very little food. You are proving that you can get along without food and water, so why should G-d give you any?
“On the other hand, if you eat well and then pray to G-d, He will have to make it rain to make sure that you continue eating well
“Therefore does our Torah state (Devarim 8:10) ‘And you shall bless the L-rd your G-d.’ So did the prophet declared (Yoel 2:26), ‘You shall eat your fill, be satisfied, and then you shall bless the L-rd your G-d.’”
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