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Pesach Gems

We continue with the many stories and legends told about our Gaonim and sages pertaining to the holiday of Pesach.

Humility Is The Greater Merit

Rabbi Samuel Kariver, though very poor, resolved to never ask for help from others, no matter what the situation. His Master, the Lubliner, heard and instructed a rich Chassid to buy good requisites for Pesach and to deliver them to his disciple. So pleased was Rabbi Samuel that the L-rd permitted him to adhere to his resolution to never ask another for help, that he recited the seder service in high spirits. It seemed to him that he had attained a rare state of holiness. However, on the second seder night, Rabbi Samuel was very tired and lay down for a rest before beginning the seder. He fell asleep and awoke a few moments before midnight. He wished to partake of the Afikomen before midnight, and was therefore compelled to recite the service very rapidly. He was very depressed afterwards and wondered whether any other Jew had ever been compelled to perform a seder so hurriedly. When he related what happened to the Lubliner, the Rebbe told him: "Your first seder was of little merit. Your belief that you had flown straight to Heaven was a sign of arrogance. Your second seder, however, was of higher merit, inasmuch as humility and a knowledge of your frailties accompanied it"

Shares In The Embarrassment

Among the famous practitioners of our forefather Abraham's virtue of hospitality, was Rabbi Akiba Eger. Naturally, on Pesach, it was "Let all who are hungry come and eat..." Once, at the seder, one of the poor guests accidentally overturned his cup. As the red wine stained the fine white tablecloth and the guest's face was red with embarrassment, Rabbi Akiba tipped the table slightly so that his own cup was overturned.

The Blood Libel

The "Blood Libel," would usually crop up before Pesach. Even though it was denounced by governments and Popes, and disproved on numerous occasions, it brought tragedy to the Jews for nearly 1,000 years. From the massacre at Cordova in 1013 to the infamous Beilis trial in 1911, the blood of innocent Jews was shed as freely as the blood of the Pesach lamb, in the time of the Holy Temple. May these innocent sacrifices serve as atonement for us today and may G-d in His infinite mercy hasten our redemption.

Even today, in the countries of the former Soviet Union it is still rearing its ugly head from time to time. It is therefore of interest to see how a King of Poland, Stanislas August Poniatowski dealt with such a case nearly 200 years ago.

In 1787, a peasant of Olkusz (near Cracow) found a Christian girl in the forest. She told him that a Jew wanted to kill her. Since it was before Pesach, a ritual murder charge was immediately proferred. A poor tailor, by the name of Mordecai, was arrested and tortured until he confessed. But the local landlord, a certain Stanislas of Wodzicki, was not satisfied. He wanted to have the leaders of the Jewish community tortured.

It was at this point that the Jews of Cracow appealed to the King for help.

"It was after the dance at the cloth-galleries," Wodzicki writes in his Memoirs, 'And I sit in my room, - writing letters. Suddenly my uncle Elias of Wodzicki comes in and says: 'Dress, Sir Stanislas, and come along with me to the King!'

"I replied that I would gladly fulfill the uncle's desire, but I had already been introduced to the King. "

'It is not a matter of introduction, he answered, 'but the devilish affair with the Jews. The King takes an interest in this matter and wants to discuss it with you. '

"I understand and guess something is afoot,"' I say.

"The uncle asks, 'What do you guess?'

"That the Jews have gotten even to the King,"' I reply. The uncle remained silent.

"I dressed and we drove to the palace. We waited a short time and then the door of a small room opened and the King entered and addressed me in this way:

"I did not expect that you, after having learned and studied in foreign countries, should still give credence to such medieval stupidities that the Jews use Christian blood for Easter. it is true that we find such accusations in the history of all countries, and Jews were condemned to terrible punishments. But our enlightened age knows that these victims of superstitions and prejudice were innocent. I would ask you, Sir, not to push this matter in the courts!"'

Frightened at the King's attitude, the landlord dropped the charges and another tragedy was averted.

The Method of Giving Charity

Rabbi Eleizer said, "He who gives charity in a secret manner is considered greater than Moshe Rabbenu" (Baba Basra 9b). The Ari HaKodesh would always make a special effort to seek out poor people and make sure that they had sufficient food for their family. This was always done in a verv discreet manner.

In his city was a pious tzaddik, a poor man who would struggle for his daily bread. And poor as he was, he always shared his meager earnings with other people in his vicinity. A week before Pesach this poor person became ill, and he couldn't go out to earn his living. After pawning their meager possessions his family soon ran out of food. Although his wife and children were practically starving, he wouldn't accept money from charity, for he believed every person should earn his own living and support himself.

When his wife began to cry he consoled her with the words, "Have faith in G-d for he never forsakes his creations."

Disguises Himself

Word of this poor manís poverty reached the Ari HaKodesh. Clothing himself in the garb of a traveler, the Ari visited the poor manís house and knocked on his door.

"Pardon me," he said to the man when he opened the door, "Could you tell me where I can lodge for the coming Passover holiday? I am a stranger in town and I have no place to spend the holidays and hold the seder ceremonies."

"By all means, you are welcome to be with us," answered the tzaddik, although he had nothing in the house to eat.

"Very well," replied the traveler, "here are 100 gold coins to prepare my food and lodging for all the holidays. I have business to do in town and I will be back tomorrow night, Erev Pesach!"

"Before you leave will you please tell me your name?" asked the poor host.

"My name is Rebbi Nissim," answered the Ari.

The tzaddik joyfully reentered his home and gave the money to his wife. Happiness, as never experienced before, reigned throughout the household. The house was scrubbed clean; ornaments were bought, and enough food was secured to feed a regiment. Never had they had so much to eat, and the money was not charity but earned to provide lodging and board to a guest.

Erev Pesach arrived and the entire household waited expectantly for the honored guest to arrive. But he never came. Suddenly the tzaddik reminded himself as to the name of the guest.

"Rebbi Nissim," he said aloud. "Nissim means miracles. Surely, he was no mortal, but he must have been an angel of G-d who performs miracles. G-d must have sent him to us to perform miracles by giving us money to celebrate the Passover holiday."

And until their dying day no one ever knew that the miracle-performing angel was the tzaddik and gaon, the Ari HaKodesh.

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