Acknowledging Good

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28 Feb 2008

A Lesson For the Children – Rabbi Saadia had a reputation in Cairo as a great orator. Perhaps he was not considered the greatest rabbi in terms of his halachic rulings and his writings, but people were always eager to hear his sermons, and large crowds gathered in the synagogues when he spoke. This situation continued for many years. He became more and more famous, and many people came to hear him, hanging onto his every word.

One day, Rabbi Saadia decided to move to Eretz Yisrael. He realized that he would arrive in the land without any money. He did not have any guarantee of finding a livelihood. He did not have a regular Beit Midrash where he would deliver sermons and teach. But Rabbi Saadia did not hesitate. He had always had a deep desire to live in the holy land, and in addition, the anti-Semitic Egyptian multitudes oppressed the Jews and caused them greater and greater suffering. Many people tried to escape from the hostile land, and Rabbi Saadia too decided to leave. As soon as he found an opportunity, he left behind everything that he had – his house and the few possessions that he had managed to gather – and started on his journey. After wandering for a long time, he arrived in Jerusalem.

When the people of Jerusalem heard that Rabbi Saadia had arrived from Cairo, the city was swept by a wave of anticipation. The news that a great rabbi had come from Cairo spread quickly. The community did not delay. Within a few days, Rabbi Saadia was invited to speak in the “Kehal Tzion” synagogue, in the Old City of Jerusalem.

At the appointed time, a large crowd gathered. Many Torah scholars came to hear the sermon. And then, a surprised reaction spread through the crowd. They had been joined by none other than the head of Yeshivat Porat Yosef, Rabbi Ezra Atiya. This was indeed remarkable. Rabbi Atiya was known as one of the greatest men of the generation. Many rabbis would come to seek his advice on various subjects, and his sermons were attended by huge crowds. Why would this prominent rabbi take the trouble to come and hear a sermon by a newcomer?

When Rabbi Saadia entered the synagogue, everybody stood up to show their respect, following the lead of Rabbi Ezra. He sat down in his place, near the Ark and listened with rapt attention to every word of the sermon. At the end, the illustrious rabbi stood up and kissed Rabbi Saadia’s hand and thanked him warmly for the wonderful Torah lesson. The crowd was greatly impressed, and Rabbi Saadia’s reputation grew. Prominent members of the community crowded around to invite him to their homes, the leaders of the different synagogues tried to arrange for him to give them sermons. The despair and the feeling of “starting everything from scratch” disappeared, and Rabbi Saadia began to feel that he could play a prominent role in what for him was a new land.

After the sermon, many people accompanied Rabbi Ezra Atiyah to his home, as a sign of respect. One of the students had the temerity to ask the rabbi about his actions – why did Rabbi Ezra trouble himself to listen to the sermon? Did he really feel as if he were a student of this new rabbi from Cairo? Did the sermon teach the rabbi anything new?

Rabbi Ezra explained his actions: “When I was in Egypt ten years ago, I ate in Rabbi Saadia’s home and he took care of me. He was my host and showed me great respect, and he showed me around the Jewish community of Egypt. Now, when he has arrived in Eretz Yisrael, I felt it my duty to return the favor. It is certainly important for me to hear his sermon, not only for his deep insights, but also in order that the people should recognize his great skill in giving sermons, so that he will quickly return to his proper status and influence. If I was able to succeed in helping him, this in itself will be my reward.”

For reactions and suggestions for stories email Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute ( Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.