A Lesson For the Children – On the night of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had a dream. In the dream, Rabbi Shimon saw that it was decreed that his sister’s two sons would lose a large sum of six hundred golden Dinars, which they would have to pay to the Roman authorities. Rabbi Shimon wanted to rescue his nephews from this harsh decree. What did he do? He sent a message to them suggesting that they donate a large sum of money to charity. He wrote that they should give a much larger sum than they usually did and that they should keep an accurate record of all their contributions. He gave them a hint of his thoughts by writing, “It will be much better for you to give your money to a hungry Jew than to a satiated Gentile.”
The nephews did not know the real reason for their uncle’s request, but they tried to follow his instructions. They were merchants, and they had always given charity in the past, but now they gave more than usual. And as he had requested, they recorded all their contributions in a notebook.
Almost a year passed, and before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah a Roman legion came to their city. The commander announced that all the Jews in the city were required to pay specific sums of tax, and he demanded six hundred golden Dinars from Rabbi Shimon’s nephews. The brothers refused to pay this unjustified tax, and they were immediately put in prison to force them to pay.
The wives of the nephews ran to Rabbi Shimon and told him what had happened, hoping that he could help them. He asked to see the notebook where the charity given by the brothers was recorded. Rabbi Shimon added up the total that the brothers had given during the year, and he found that it came to five hundred and ninety four Dinars. And Rabbi Shimon said to himself: “What a pity! If only they had given six more Dinars they would not have had this problem!” To the women he said, “Give me six Dinars and I will arrange matters. Your husbands will be set free and they will not have to pay any tax.”
Rabbi Shimon took the six Dinars and went to see the deputy chief of the Roman legion. He said to him, “Don’t you know what your commander does with this money? He takes it all for himself. How long will you put innocent people into prison? And it is all so that this commander will become rich and get fatter and fatter! Here, you take these six Dinars and arrange to set these innocent men free.”
The deputy indeed took the money and arranged for the debt to be erased. The men were indeed released. The same day they returned home unharmed, free of any debt.
And then Rabbi Shimon called his two nephews and told them how they had been set free. He said, “Know, my dear nephews, that there was a very harsh decree against you, and that as of last Rosh Hashanah it was declared that you would lose a sum of six hundred Dinars. The charity that you gave is what redeemed your souls. You were privileged, as I suggested to you, to have your money go to hungry Jews instead of to a satiated Gentile. If you had only given six more Dinars in the first place, none of this would have happened at all.”
And his nephews asked the rabbi, “Please tell us, our dear uncle. If this is the case, why didn’t you tell us about it right away? We would have gladly given the entire sum of money, and even more!”
Rabbi Shimon explained to them: “If you had known about the decree, you would not have given the charity for a holy purpose but only in order to avoid the decree. In that case the charity would not have helped at all. I wanted you to know that it would be worthwhile to give more charity than usual without your knowing about the decree itself. And this should be a lesson for everybody. No man knows how long he will live, and no man knows what has been decreed in heaven about him. But if he improves his ways and uses his money to give charity, if he increases his Torah and prayer – any decrees against him will be softened, and curses will be transformed into blessings. You passed your test, and the Almighty changed the decree against you. Let us pray that you will continue to act in this way, and that you will always be judged for the good!”
Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat BeShabbato please write to email@example.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.