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Six Hundred Dinars Minus Six

Six Hundred Dinars Minus Six

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Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (who lived in the 2nd century CE in the Holy Land) was possibly the holiest man that ever lived. Besides authoring the 'Zohar', being a master of the oral Torah and a miracle worker, he was one of the few Jews in history who spent every instant of his time learning Torah; no casual conversations, coffee breaks and certainly no vacations--only Torah.

So everyone was surprised when, the day after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year's Day) he showed up at the door of his nephews' home and began to lecture them about the importance of giving charity to the poor.

Although they didn't really have money to spare and totally didn't understand the urgency of what he was saying, they listened attentively; when Rabbi Shimon spoke everyone listened.

"Give with an open hand," Rabbi Shimon adjured. "Don't worry about tomorrow, G‑d will provide. And most important: write it all down. Every penny you give, write it down and carry the list with you at all times. I want to see a big sum at the end of the year."

Rabbi Shimon made them promise and he left.

Almost a year later they had another strange visit--from a posse of Roman soldiers with an order for their arrest. Someone accused them of selling silk without paying the tax to the government. They began weeping and protesting their innocence but to no avail.

Trembling with fear, they were led off to prison where they were given a choice: either pay an outrageous fine of six hundred dinar or produce an even more outrageously priced silk garment for the king, both of which were utterly beyond their means.

When Rabbi Shimon heard what had happened he immediately rushed to the prison and got special permission to visit his relatives.

"Where is the account of the charity you gave?" He asked. "How much did you give?"

"Here," they replied as one of them pulled the small parchment from his pocket.

Rabbi Shimon took the account and noticed that they had given almost six hundred dinar; they were just six dinar short. "Do you have any money with you?" he asked.

They produced six dinar that they had sewn into their garments in case they needed it. Rabbi Shimon took the money, bribed one of the officials, the charges were dropped and they were released.

Rabbi Shimon explained to them what had happened. "This past Rosh Hashanah I dozed off and dreamt that the government would demand of you six hundred dinars. That is why I told you to give charity, to negate the decree."

"Then why didn't you tell us about that?" they complained. "We would have given the money immediately and spared ourselves a lot of anguish."

"But then," replied Rabbi Shimon. "You wouldn't have done the mitzvah for its own sake."

(From Midrash Rabbah, Vayikrah 34:12)

From the Midrash
As told by Tuvia Bolton
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Natasha Kowalski Manchester uk July 8, 2015

For me it means you are going to lose that amount anyway so better give to charity and gain a mitzva than give to an empty cause in this life Reply

Mathieu Ottawa January 8, 2015

This story leaves me with many questions.
Would the official, through G-d's will, have refused the bribe had the nephew's family not given charity? Or would the rabbi have refused to help them outright?
It seems that this story is more about respecting the advice/wishes of the Rabbi, whom, through his extensive study of the Torah, is more knowledgeable than his nephew's family about the Holy Word, than about the value of charity.

Was the charity the nephew's family gave actually a sort of charity given to the Rabbi, in the form of respect for his wishes, which in turn led the Rabbi to help them in their hour of need? Reply

Debby Cary, NC September 8, 2014

It reminds me of "measure for measure." I like the way we can take action for good in the community and not know where or when, if ever, we will see the rewards in this life time. Rabbi Shimon had a prophetic dream and perhaps he did not know how the situation would be solved, except the Torah admonition to "give with an open hand," as we read in the portion Re'eh. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC January 2, 2013

Re: Bribe Important to note is that this was a corrupt government imprisoning him for no valid reason and a potential life and death situation. Reply

Huh September 1, 2017
in response to Yisroel Cotlar:

Still it should not be encouraged right? Reply

Anonymous South africa December 23, 2012

Bribery The story mentions bribery as part of the solution. Is this right and something that should be encouraged? Reply

Anonymous saipanmm, mp August 25, 2011

wow! this is a beautiful story that we all can learn from. G-d surely works very mysteriously! Reply

Anonymous June 2, 2007

Do a mitzvah for it's own sake..In other words a mitzvah doesn't have to make sense. Like keeping kosher. Some have said at different times that we get this benefit or that one one from eating kosher. But as technology and medicine gets better and more advanced these reasons can and often do become obsolote. So the only real reason to do the mitzvah is for G-d because he said so. Though a mitzvah may seem silly to us now, later things they may be made clear to us, then again maybe not. Mitvas don't have to make sense just just do them. Reply

Anonymous May 16, 2006

This is a great piece of Midrash that truly shows Shimon bar Yochai's grasp of the true meaning of tzedakah. Reply

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