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Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid

Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid

(993-1056; 4753-4816)

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Rabbi Samuel Hanagid had been the child of very poor parents. His father Joseph had been a spice-merchant, and there were so many of them in his town, that they "stepped on each other's toes" so to speak, and none of them could make a living.

At that time there lived, not far from Joseph's house, a scribe by the name of Elisaph, who became attracted by the bright lad Samuel, and felt that he could train him in his holy work. He therefore obtained Joseph's consent and taught Samuel the script and languages of Hebrew and Arabic.

Samuel was a zealous pupil and made excellent progress in both languages. He also showed immediately that he was a gifted scribe. It did not take very long and Samuel already had a name as a skillful scribe and copyist. People from near and far came to him with their poems, writings, documents, applications, in fact anything and everything that re­quired careful and expert copying. Samuel became very much sought after, for he had acquired a name for being successful and bringing success to everyone who used his penmanship in their work or petitions.

As Samuel grew to manhood, his wisdom and knowledge increased greatly in the languages he had learned, in Halachah and Agadah, as well as in poetry, and secular sciences. He devoted half the day to his work, and the other half to the study of the Torah.

Habus ben Machsan, the king of Granada, heard about this brilliant young man, and decided to make use of his talents and accomplishments. The king was so delighted with his "find," that he promoted him even higher. First he made him his Scribe and Adviser, then he made him his Prime Minister, and General over his armies.

Rabbi Samuel Hanagid was indeed a great man. All the greatness and honor showered upon him did not in the slightest degree make him forget that first and foremost he was a Jew, and that he must be true to the Torah, and serve G-d and his people.

Despite Rabbi Samuel's wealth, he still devoted his leisure time to his beloved art of penmanship, remembering that it was to this, that he owed his present high position. Many were the poems he wrote in praise of the,\ pen, and in fact he had the following words engraved on his inkwell:

"MAN'S WISDOM IS REFLECTED IN HIS WRITING,

AND HIS INTELLIGENCE IN THE USE OF HIS QUILL;

THUS MAN CAN REACH TO THE ROYAL SCEPTER,

THROUGH HIS PENMANSHIP AND HIS WRITING SKILL."

Rabbi Samuel had a small "Sefer Torah" which he had especially written for himself on a choice roll of parchment. This small "Sefer-Torah" he always carried with him in every battle.

Rabbi Samuel implanted love towards this craftsmanship in the hearts of his children too. At the early age of eight, his son Jehosaf copied his father's poem "Minor T'hillim." His second book "Minor Mishle" was copied by his son Elisaph, at the age of six and a half, whilst his third book "Minor Kohelet" he thought of asking his son Judah to copy. But Judah was a delicate child and his father did not manage to train him to the holy task, when suddenly the poor boy died.

Rabbi Samuel was very grieved, for he loved his son dearly. He then himself copied this work of his and dedicated it to the memory of his dear departed son Judah.

Many were the enemies that attacked Rabbi Samuel, but he fought them all fearlessly and successfully. During one of these battles, he lost his manuscript "Minor Kohelet" and was deeply distressed.

Returning from his conquests, Rabbi Samuel settled down to his books and to a quiet life of peace and study. However, he was not left thus for long. Messages came to him from Torah students everywhere, complaining of the shortage of books of study.

Rabbi Samuel then lost no time in establishing a college of scribes and copyists in his own home. He arranged the seating of the students in a semi-circle with one sitting in front of them, reading out the script, whilst all the students wrote out copies. As you know the printing press bad not been invented as yet, in those days.

Thus it was that very soon copies of the important books of study were made available. Rabbi Samuel saw to it that these holy books were bound in attractive covers which he considered fitting for such worthy books. He then sent them out to all places where Jews were dispersed, bringing light where there had been darkness.

There were so many applicants who came clamoring to Rabbi Samuel Hanagid, begging that he admit them to his school. It was said of Rabbi Samuel that he had only to look at a person's handwriting, and he could at once read that person's character.

One day a man came to Rabbi Samuel and asked to be admitted as a scribe in his college. Rabbi Samuel asked him to show him his handwriting. When he saw it he said to the man: "I see that you are a plagiarist!"

'When the man heard Rabbi Samuel's words, he admitted his guilt. The rabbi then said to him. "I am glad to see that you admit your wrongdoing and I feel sure you can change. If you will promise me never again to do this wickedness, I shall admit you into my school." The man thanked Rabbi Samuel very much and promised faithfully to keep to the straight path in the future.

Many years passed and this reformed student brought a copy of the Tractate Baba-Metzia which he had copied, to Rabbi Samuel. Seeing the script, Rabbi Samuel immediately remarked with pleasure: "I see now quite definitely that you are completely cured of your plague of theft, and that you will never again fall under its temptations."

When the man heard these words he broke down, grasping Rabbi Samuel's hands and kissing them. He then took out of his bag a manuscript which be presented with emotion to Rabbi Samuel. The latter could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes! For it was a complete copy of his precious book "Minor Kohelet." The man then told Rabbi Samuel how, during his association with some of the plagiarists, he had come across a man who had boasted that he had written some wonderful poems and had recited them at great length and repeatedly. Rabbi Samuel's copyist had immediately recognized them as his own master's work and had memorized every line and word and copied the whole book faithfully and painstakingly. And now be brought the manuscript to his teacher whose joy was unbounded! His pupil had triumphed in his fight for good over evil, and he himself now again had all his works in his possession.

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