By: Rav Moshe Weber, Shlita, Editor: Rabbi I. Ido Weber Erlich, Shlita
Eng. Translation: Emanuel Behar, Ari Chester
Portions of the following are included in the collection of tapes: "Shemu ViTachi Nafshechem". To obtain them, call: 02-828284, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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"Hashem is the portion of my inheritance, and of my cup; You guide my fate.... my heart rejoiced, my soul exulted... for You will not abandon my soul to the grave" (Psalms 16).
Two friends would journey together, each year, traveling from town to town, as peddlers. One year, they did not return. Weeks and weeks passed, yet they had disappeared. After weeks, months, even years, their fate remained a mystery. Their families and friends, of course, were quite skeptical as to their fate - "They are gone, we must admit... forever."
Indeed, to the amazement of the whole town, one of the missing men returned, exhausted from weeks of trekking through harsh wilderness, lost and frightened. He told the following story:
While passing from town to town, selling our humble wares, bandits ambushed us. They beat us, robbed us of what little money we possessed, and... and sold us, as slaves, to Arab merchants. We suffered for many months, prisoners, journeying with an Arab caravan through distant, faraway lands. They sold us as slaves, in some Arab nation, where our masters appointed us as shepherds, over their flocks.
I cared for the horses, while my dear friend watched over the sheep. We would meet, occasionally, in the prairies. Secretly, we would assemble, despairing over our misfortune, dreaming of escape, yearning for freedom. But no, we lacked any real hope of freedom. No. Prisoners we were, and so would we remain - slaves, in an alien, strange, faraway land - 'till the end of our days.
One day, sneaking through the prairies, to meet with my friend, I found him... his sheep were missing, and he lay on the ground. Upon closer inspection, he was... he slept. No, he lay on the ground, sprawled out, unconsciousness.... bound in ropes? His body appeared beaten and bruised... maliciously thrashed.
Slowly, he regained consciousness. "What happened to you, dear brother?" He replied, 'Two days ago, a wolf attacked the flock, snagging a sheep, despite my efforts to ward the dreadful beast away... An accursed Arab witnessed the event; but instead of assisting me, of course, he watched, grinning, and reported the event to our master. The master beat me, oh, so terribly. 'If ever this occurs again,' he warned, 'you shall surely die, a dreadful, horrendous death.' And yesterday... yesterday, the wolves returned, again."
Chocking and sobbing, he continued, "I tried to guard the flock, I tried, I tried, oh, so hard! But the wolves attacked from all sides. One of the vicious beasts grabbed one a tender lamb, eagerly devouring the succulent meat - such sharp, piercing teeth.... I screamed for help... and many Arabs came, chasing away the wolves. But, as before, another sheep had been slaughtered. The owner arrived, also, steaming with rage.
"Furious, he beat me, severely. On the verge of death, I collapsed... Here I am, now. The owner returned to the village, but only to procure his sword..." With a blank look, he continued, "whenhe returns, he shall... he shall end my life."
"Please," I begged, "allow me to help. Let me free you." He refused, however, insisting "We won't be able to escape far, for the Arabs will chase us, overcome us... and kill us both, you and myself. Not only will I die... but so will you. Please, promise to me this, just this... that I have a proper Jewish burial, as required by Halacha."
"I returned, at night, finding his body bound, as before. He displayed no signs of life. Tears, streaming from my eyes, I buried him. Some months later, Hashem saved me, miraculously, as I escaped the savage bondage... and here I am."
Now, the Rabbis had to determine the verdict concerning the wife of the deceased. Certainly, he died, for the second friend, who escaped, had buried him. Seemingly, she was a widow, but the Rabbis were nevertheless reluctant to release her from her obligations immediately, allowing her to marry another man.
One day, an honorable and distinguished guest from the Holy Land of Israel, Rabbi Yackov Shimshon of Shpitivkah, arrived in our town. Not long ago had he move to Israel, but, grieved from the stress of the Jews in the Holy Land, he traveled throughout the countries of the West, each year, gathering money for the settlers of Israel. Thus, he came to our city, seeking support for the Jews of Israel.
The Rabbeim of our city decided to consult Rabbi Yackov Shimshon about the Agunah the widow whose former husband, according to the account of his friend, had passed away. Rabbi Yackov Shimshon heard the matter, as the witness told over his story, once again.
"And his face you saw, I suppose?" inquired Rabbi Yackov Shimshon.
"No, not quite. Well, it was dark, nearly midnight," replied the witness, "but, without doubt, this was in the exact same place where I had left him, a few hours earlier, bound in ropes."
Rabbi Yackov Shimshon deliberated, pondering all the details of the case and the laws of the issue. He determined, "Impossible.... No, it is impossible to release the Agunah from her former marriage, on the basis of this testimony. For perhaps her husband had escaped, another man being buried in his place."
The people of the city reacted with many mixed feelings. Most pitied the Agunah, not quite agreeing with Rabbi Yackov Shimshon's verdict, based on improbable possibilities. Why shouldn't she remarry, after all?
Years passed, after this. One day, while awaking from her sleep, as usual, the Agunah noticed someone standing in her doorway... a man... her husband? After so many years... her husband, indeed! She fainted, confused, but so exited, so exhilarated, sobbing from joy! "My husband! After all this time... I had given up hope! Certainly, you were dead, never to return, yet... yet here you are!"
The incident fascinated the whole city. Later, her husband explained, "I lay in the field, awaiting the hour of my passing, and I prayed to Hashem, begging for His help. I prayed and prayed, that He should save me and have mercy on me. While praying, on the verge of despair, I noticed the very same Arab who had informed on me. He approached me, and inquired, 'Why are you bound in these ropes?' And then... Hashem saved me! An idea popped into my head - Yes, now I will escape, without doubt! Here is my chance!
"I told the Arab - 'See, now... I discovered a terribly private secret about my master's daughter. He insisted that I marry her, upon telling him this. But, see, I'm Jewish, and... well, I could never marry a non Jew, Heaven forbid. I tried to explain this to him... but he was enraged. My master beat me, severely, binding me, as you see me now. He left to the city, to fetch his sword... so he could kill me, violently decapitating me... He did offer, though, that I could change my mind. I can inform him, upon returning, if I will concede... and marry his daughter. She is so fair, so beautiful... but a non Jew nonetheless. Never! I shall die, instead of so much as touching her, let alone marrying her! But she is so, so beautiful and charming...'
"The Arab, after hearing my fabricated, fanciful story, asked 'She is charming and gorgeous, you say?' The Arab, after contemplating my story, said, 'Please, let us change places. You tell my the secret, and switch clothes. I want to marry her! Please, let my don your garments, and you shall bind me, in these ropes. Tell me the secret - then you will live... and I will acquire his precious daughter, as a wife! Ha!'
"Smiling, I agreed. 'Okay, I will do this favor for you... if you wish.' I gave the Arab my clothes, bound him in the ropes which, moments ago, bound me to death... until this Arab, sent from Heaven, released me, only to take my place. I invented the most absurd 'secret' conceivable, telling the Arab, after he was bound tight... and beaten, too - just to make sure. I thanked Hashem, for sparing my life. No one pursued me, while escaping. After months journeying, I am here now, alive and well, thanks to Hashem, God of Israel, blessed be He!"
Overwhelmed with joy and compassion, the city welcomed him back, lovingly and enthusiastically. Now, also, they understood the saintly insight of Rabbi Yakov Shimshon, who, amazingly, did not allow the Agunah to remarry... for he knew, somehow, that her husband had not quite passed from this world...
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