On the twentieth day of Teves we mark the 808th yahrzeit of Rabeinu Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam (Maimonides). The Rambam (Maimonides) lived from 1135 to 1204. His scholarly works are world-renowned and it is about him that we say, “From Moses to Moses there never arose so great a person as Moses.”
There was once a tzaddik from Poland, Reb Velveli, who decided to settle in Eretz Yisrael. The land was poor and inhabited by very few people, but he and his wife had such love for the land that they were willing to suffer privation and hunger just to be one of its citizens.
Once when there was a drought in Eretz Yisrael, the rabbanim approached Rabi Yochanan Ben Zakkai. “Rebbe,” they said, “please pray to Hashem that He send rain before the people perish from thirst and hunger.”
Rav Chaim Soloveichik, the Torah luminary of the city of Brisk, was a legendary figure when it came to charity and good deeds.
Rav Moshe Sofer (The Chasam Sofer), one of the greatest Gaonim in his generation, always preached and practiced charity and kindness towards his fellow man. His door was always open to the poor and to the needy for help and advice.
"Interrogate the witnesses extensively; yet be cautious with your words, lest they learn from them to lie,” the sage and leader of the generation, Rabi Shimon ben Shetach admonished the chief justice, Rabi Yehudah ben Tabai. This was because of a grievous error the chief justice had committed.
When Alexander Yannai, king of Judea, appointed Rabi Shimon ben Shetach as president of the Sanhedrin, peace and tranquility reigned in the land. Prosperity came to the people as they followed in the ways of the Torah.
The piety and good deeds of Rabi Chanina ben Dosa inspired his disciples to follow in his footsteps. Foremost among his good deeds was charity. The following story is told about two of Rabi Chanina's disciples.
“I’ll pay you whether you cure her or kill her,” shouted the loyal husband.
It is very easy to catch a thief when one has clues and evidence. It is a far different matter, however, when one must attempt to find the guilty party through his own wits alone. It is then that we must have a truly wise man- one as wise as, say Shlomo HaMelech.
One of the great gaonim was Rav Yaakov Berlin, the father of the Netziv (Naftali Tzvi Yehuda of Berlin), the rosh yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva and a leader of European Jewry at the close of the 19th century.
The Gaon, Reb Nachum devoted all his time, day and night, to collecting money for charity and helping the poor. The vast majority of the people thought so highly of Reb Nachum that they would deduct a fixed amount of their income every week and give it to him to distribute it to the poor. But there was always the exception, some people just tried to avoid contributing.
Pressing close to the cage, the Ibn Ezra shouted the words, “Shema Yisrael…”
The Gaon, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, one of the most beloved students of the Vilna Gaon, was known to be a genius even as a child.
Many inspiring stories emanate from the Lubavitch chassidic movement. One of the stories published in Di Yiddishe Heim bulletin describes the early years of Rav Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, known as the Tzemach Tzedek. This year marks the 146th anniversary of his passing.
By means of a clever pretext, they succeeded in getting Rabi Yitzhak aboard a ship and sailed it down the river.
It was the night of Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, and the Jews in Jerusalem adhered to the custom of remaining up all night and studying the Torah. Not all, however, could do so, and as the night wore on, a few got up to go home.
Chazal say that on the New Year, the entire amount of a man’s sustenance is fixed, except for what he spends on Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, Rosh Chodesh and sichar limud. In these cases, if one spends more one receives more; if one spends less, one receives less.
But not everyone is destined to taste of the fruit of this world and to enjoy its vintage. Among the inhabitants of this town lived a poor man, Nachumka.
Rabi Pinchas’ piety and honesty were known far and wide. He would often say, “Even though our Sages (Yevamot 65b) declared that to preserve the peace, a person may change his words to ﬁt the situation, I will never utter a false word regardless of the consequences.” If he heard that one of his followers had uttered a false word, he would expel him from his presence.
The following story is told about the Vilna Gaon who was called upon to decide a case of a bill that was due a doctor.
The Jewish people are hardly strangers to persecution and tyranny. When we hear of the complaints of other peoples, we smile bitterly and wonder: What do they know of persecution? What do they know of tragedy and bitterness? We are a people who have experienced oppression for centuries and have drunk deeply of the bitter cup of woe.
“It isn’t the work,” said Eliezer. “I want to learn our holy Torah.”
Rav Naftali was born the day that the Baal Shem Tov passed away, on the holiday of Shavuos, in the year 5520
“Sin between man and G-d, Yom Kippur can forgive, but the sins between man and his fellow man, Yom Kippur cannot forgive until his fellow man forgives and he makes amends (Yomah 85b).
Once, Rav Shabsi HaCohen, the Shach — author of the Sifsei Cohen on the Yoreh De’ah and Choshen Mishpat - had a dispute with a prominent merchant of Vilna. The matter pertained to a monetary transaction, and each claimed loss and damages.
The stories concerning Rav Naftali of Ropshitz are quite numerous and reveal his sharp biting wit. Rav Naftali was often persecuted and sneered at by misnagdim but the sharp mind with which he was blessed always served him in good stead in finding proper answers.
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.
Our sages teach us: “Great is charity and great is its reward.” He who gives charity to the poor, his prayers will be answered; a measure for a measure - midda k’neged midda. He heard the cries of the poor so will G-d hear his prayers when he cries.
The relatives of the 80 witches whom Rabi Shimon ben Shetach brought to the gallows vowed vengeance as they bided their time for an opportune moment to strike back at the Nasi of the Sanhedrin. It was not long afterwards that their chance arrived.