A Lesson For the Children – Rabbi Shabtai HaKohen, one of the most prominent of all our rabbis, lived in the Latvian town of Prinsk. Rabbi Hacohen is known by the name of his famous book, “Siftei Cohen” – lips of the Kohen – abbreviated as Shach. He was still young when he wrote the book, and it led to his having a reputation as a Torah genius. But he was not wealthy at all. His wife was ill, and after a period of pain and suffering, she passed away. Rabbi Shabtai was forced to take care of his six-year-old daughter Esther, who was also quite ill. His only consolation was in the study of Torah.
One day, Rabbi Shabtai heard terrible screams: “The oppressor Chamil has come, and the cruel Cossacks are close behind!” Without hesitation, the rabbi went to his sickly daughter, wrapped her quickly in a warm blanket, took her in his arms and fled from the city.
This happened on Friday afternoon. Rabbi Shabtai did not rest for a moment, running wildly for hours in the frozen snow. And as he ran, he heard the shouts of the murderous Cossacks, coming closer all the time. The mortal danger forced Rabbi Shabtai to run with all his might, until he finally reached a thick forest. In the meanwhile, the day had ended and the time for receiving the Shabbat had arrived. Rabbi Shabtai stood where he was and prayed in order to accept the start of Shabbat, finding a small consolation in his act. All night long Esther burned with fever, and the desperate father was beside himself, because he did not have any medicine or any other treatment for his daughter. As morning came she fell asleep, her breathing eased, and her trembling stopped. When the sun rose, Rabbi Shabtai looked at his daughter, only to be shocked to see that she was no longer alive.
Suddenly, Rabbi Shabtai jumped up. He heard the sound of trumpets followed by galloping horses and barking dogs. In his fear, he fled from the site, leaving his daughter’s body behind, and hid a short distance away. When all was quiet, Rabbi Shabtai returned from his hiding place to where he had left his daughter’s body, in order to give her a proper burial. But he was again shocked to see that her body was not there. He searched all around in the snow, but he could not find anything. Rabbi Shabtai fell to the ground and burst out in deep sobs. My dearest Esther, where are you? Won’t I at least have the privilege of bringing you to a proper Jewish burial? However, quickly, his faith in G-d returned, and he accepted what had happened as Divine judgment. Even if he did not have anything else left, his commitment to G-d and the holy Torah remained. From now on he would consider himself sanctified to G-d and to His Torah.
But for now let us leave Rabbi Shabtai and see what had really happened to Esther.
When Rabbi Shabtai ran away in the morning, it was not Cossacks that he heard but rather the King of Poland, who had come with his entourage to hunt in the forest. The king saw the little girl lying in the snow. He turned to his physician, and asked him to check the girl, to see if she was still alive. The physician said, “The girl is indeed alive. She is simply in a very deep fainting spell. Let the King tell one of his servants to pick her up on his horse, and perhaps we can save this girl`s life.” The king immediately signaled to one of his servants, who picked the child up and quickly took her into the city. And when Esther was put into a bed, she woke up from her deep faint.
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(Source: “A Treasury of Stories”; to be continued). Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.