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A Man's Destiny Is Decreed On the New Year

(EDITOR'S NOTE: "And thou shaft teach it to thy children..." Our sages tell us that it is a mitzvah to teach our children the stories relating to the holidays, again and again, until they know them by heart. Thirty days before the holidays all Israel would gather in the houses of study and review these stories and laws. Therefore, we repeat these holy stories as they are narrated in the Talmud and the Midrash, and in the merit of our reading and studying them, may we all be blessed with a year of health, happiness, and good fortune.)

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai had a dream. He dreamt that his two nephews would be fined 600 dinars by the government. The following morning he visited his nephews and persuaded them to become Gabaim for the community. They would be in charge of dispensing the charity to the poor. Through this method of enabling them to deal in charity, he hoped to avoid the harsh government decree from becoming effective.

"But who will provide us the money to give to the poor of the community?" they asked him.

"You advance the money and keep a record of every penny you lay out. At the end of the year the community will reimburse you," Rabi Shimon answered them.

They agreed and undertook the job. Sometime later, a jealous person complained to the government that these two nephews were dealing in silk and merchandise and not paying the government duty. The following day an elderly tax collector appeared and demanded that they pay the government 600 dinars as a fine for not paying the duty. They protested their innocence, but the tax collector would not listen to them and they were subsequently jailed.

When Rabi Shimon heard of this matter, he visited them in jail.

"Tell me," he asked them, "how much money had you advanced for charity during the last year?"

"You will find it recorded in a book which we keep in our house," they answered him.

Rabi Shimon visited their home and began examining their book. He saw that they had laid out 594 dinars, only six dinars short of 600.

Visiting them again in jail, he said, “Give me six dinars and I will free you from this jail."

"How is that possible?" they asked him. -"The tax collector demands 600 dinars and you only ask for six dinars to free us."

"Regardless," he answered them, "give me the six dinars and I promise to free you today."

They gave him the money and Rabi Shimon then visited the tax collector and bribed him to accept the money and forget about the case.

"They have no money to pay you," he told the collector, "so what will you gain by keeping them in jail? Take these few dinars, free them and drop the case and no one will the wiser."

The tax collector agreed and he freed them.

When they arrived home they asked him, "How did you know that it would only take six dinars to free us? Did you have any inside information on our case?"

"No," he said, "But last Rosh Hashanah night I had a dream that you would be fined 600 dinars. Counting the money you gave to charity, I figured that you were still six dinars short of the 600. Therefore, I knew that the collector would accept the six dinars and he would free you. Great is the power of charity."

"If you had told us about this at that time we would have gladly donated the en-tire 600 to charity," they said, "rather than undergo this aggravating experience and be placed in jail."

"If I had told this to you at that time," said Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. You would never have believed me and you would never have given me any money for charity. Also, I wanted you to really give the money for the sake of charity, not to escape punishment"

The Power Of Prayer And Its Concentration

Our sages considered Israel's greatest weapon its abilitv to pray. With prayer we can move mountains and change the world.

"Fear not, ye worm, O Jacob" (Is. 41:14). Just as a worm has its power only in its mouth as it bores into the trees, so does Israel have its power in its mouth. Through prayer it overcomes all of its enemies.

"Some boast of their chariots, others of the their horses but we boast of the name of the L-rd our G-d. They will fall and be defeated but we will arise and pray to G-d who will hearken to us when we call to Him' (Psalms 20:8-10).

But prayer must be sincere and uninterrupted. Even if a king greets you, you should not answer him. Even if a snake winds itself about you, you must not interrupt your prayers. Our rabbis tell us a story of a pious person who was traveling on the road. When it became dark, he stopped to pray. In the middle of his Shemoneh Esrei, an officer approached and greeted him. The pious person didn't answer him.

The officer waited until he finished his prayers and then said to him, "You fool! Why didn't you return my greeting? Doesn't your Torah advise you to guard your life? Were I in the mood I could have cut off your hands and no one would have known the difference."

The pious man answered: "Permit me to explain my actions. If you were standing before a king and your friend came along and greeted you, would you have returned his greeting?"

"No," replied the officer.

"And if you had responded to his greeting, what would they have done to you?" the pious man asked.

"They would have cut off my head," answered the officer.

"Therefore, by your answer, can you understand my actions?" replied the pious man. "If you are afraid to respond when you stand before a mere mortal king, who is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more so when I stand before the greatest king of all, G-d, the King of Kings, who lives eternally. Is it not proper that I should not respond to your greeting when I pray?"

The officer was very pleased by this clever answer and he escorted the pious man on the road to protect him from any harm.

Therefore, we should learn a lesson and never sneak or hold conversations during our prayers.

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