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Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta

Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta

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Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta was one of the last Tanaim. He was a friend of Rabbi Judah the Prince, the compiler of the Mishnah, who compiled and arranged the 6 volumes of the Mishnah about 1800 years ago, Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta belonged to a family of Torah scholars, who were friendly with the Nassi (Prince). He lived in a village called "Ein Teanah" between Zippory and Tiberias (in Galilee). Rabbi Judah, the Prince, lived in Zippory and later in Tiberias, where he conducted his great Yeshiva. ,Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta used to visit him from time to time, and also studied under him. Previously, Rabbi Shimon had been a pupil of Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Judah, the Prince, showed great honor and love for Rabbi Shimon. Once, as Rabbi Shimon was leaving Rabbi Judah's house, the Nassi sent his son after Rabbi Shimon to ask his blessing. Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta blessed the Prince's son thus: " The Almighty should help you never to shame others and never to be shamed by others".

When Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta grew older, it became difficult for him to visit the Nassi. When he stopped visiting the Nassi, the Nassi asked him: What is the reason for our being unable to greet you any more as my parents used to greet your parents?

Rabbi Shimon replied: "The stones on the way have become higher for me; those who were near to me are now further away; and instead of using two feet, I now have to use three (implying the use of a walking stick)".

Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta was very poor, but he would not accept help from anyone. When the Nassi wanted to help him, he could not do so in a direct manner, as Rabbi Shimon would have refused to accept it. The Nassi therefore, laid out little heaps of groats on the street and made them "Hefker" (free for all), in order that Rabbi Shimon should take them home and have what to eat.

Once, Rabbi Shimon was sitting together with his friend, Rabbi Hiyya, in the Academy of Rabbi Judah HaNassi, in Tiberias, deep in the study of the Torah. It was Yom Tov eve, and in the street there was a commotion that disturbed their studies. Rabbi Shimon asked Rabbi Hiyya: "What is the meaning of this commotion?". Rabbi Hiyya replied: "Today is Yom Tov eve, so everyone who has the means is now on the street buying all the necessities for Yom Tov; and whoever does not have money goes to his master where he works to claim his wages in order to buy whatever he needs for Yom Tov".

Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta remarked: "I will also go to my Master to request money for Yom Tov".

He went out of the Beis HaMidrash (Study Hall) and out of the town to pray to his Master, the Almighty, to provide him with his needs for Yom Tov. Suddenly, a hand appeared, which gave him a pearl. Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta took the pearl to show to Rabbi Judah the Prince. The Prince told him that it is a very precious stone and he should not be hasty in selling it, but should wait until a customer comes along who is willing to pay its full value. Meanwhile, the Nassi lent him money for his Yom Tov expenses. Rabbi Shimon bought everything he needed and returned home.

His wife wondered where he managed to obtain money to buy all those items. Rabbi Shimon told her everything that happened. His wife remarked, "That pearl must surely be from your crown that you will wear in the next world; do you wish to have one pearl missing there?" "What shall I do?" he asked his wife.

"Take back all these bright articles to the stores where you bought them and you will receive back the money you paid; then take back the money to the Nassi and give him the money and take back from him the pearl; then pray to the Almighty that He should take back the pearl just as He gave it".

Rabbi Shimon was once on his way to a "Brith Milah" (Circumcision) wearing his Shabbos clothes. A group of young ruffians surrounded him and refused to allow him to proceed unless he would dance for them. Rabbi Shimon asked them nicely, and then sternly, to leave him alone. When his pleading did not help, he warned them that if they do not go away, the gate of the courtyard nearby would fall down. When the words came out of his mouth, it was too late to retract, so he told the group of ruffians to go and warn the owner of the courtyard of the danger that was imminent. When the owner came out, Rabbi Shimon told him to remove his belongings from the house because the wall would fall in. It happened just as he said.

When he arrived at the Brith, the father of the child greeted him very warmly. Rabbi Shimon said to the father, "Just as the child has entered the covenant (Brith) of our father Abraham, so may he live to go under the canopy, and we will then rejoice just as today".

On his way home from the Brith, Rabbi Shimon met the Angel of Death. Rabbi Shimon asked him where he was going. He replied that he was going to take the soul of the child who's Brith Rabbi Shimon had just attended, Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta shouted at the Angel of Death and forbade him to kill the child, because he had promised to rejoice at the child's wedding, the evil decree was broken.

Another story is told about Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta when he had an orchard and a woodcock made a nest in a chopped down tree and caused Rabbi Shimon a lot of damage. Rabbi Shimon destroyed the nest, but the woodcock rebuilt it. Rabbi Shimon then nailed a plank of wood over the nest. The woodcock brought a certain grass and placed it on the nails and the nails melted so that the plank fell down. When Rabbi Shimon saw this, he cursed the grass so that it should not grow anymore. Otherwise, robbers may find the grass and use it to open up any lock.

Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta had a wide knowledge of nature. We could call him an expert botanist. The Gemara tells us that once a hen of his broke its foot. Rabbi Shimon made an ingenious bandage for it and the hen was saved. Another time when a chicken lost all of its feathers, he found a remedy by means of which the feathers grew once more.

Many laws of Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta are mentioned in the Talmud, but he is especially known for the Agadah and Parables with which he used to explain verses of the Torah.

There is a well-known saying of Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta in the last Mishna of the Tractate Uktzin: "The Almighty does not have any other vessel to keep a blessing, but Peace!" Where there is no peace there cannot be blessing; wherever there is peace, there lies the Divine blessing. This is especially important for Jews, Rabbi Shimon emphasized, as is said in the verse: " The Almighty gives strength (Torah) to His people, the Almighty blesses His people with Peace".

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isaac brooklyn, NY November 16, 2007

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