Contact Us

Original Ideas

Original Ideas


Rabbi Joseph Caro (author of the Shulchan Aruch, 1488–1575) once encountered an extremely difficult passage in his study of the Talmud. After many days and nights of toil, he finally succeeded in comprehending its meaning.

At a nearby table in the study hall sat a man who would come every evening for an hour or two of study. Although his business consumed the bulk of his day, and his study skills were limited, he diligently pursued his nightly page of Talmud. Rabbi Joseph noticed that this man (who was studying aloud, as is customary in the study of Torah) was approaching the very passage that had given him such difficulty; curious as to how his neighbor would deal with it, Rabbi Joseph listened in. To his great surprise, the businessman mastered the passage without any difficulty, immediately hitting upon the very interpretation which he had himself arrived at only after so much effort.

Rabbi Joseph was greatly distressed by the incident. Obviously, he thought, there is something grievously lacking in my understanding of Torah. Why else would it have taken so much time and toil on my part to see what is so readily obvious to even a part-time, rather unexceptional student of Talmud?

That night, Rabbi Joseph had a dream, in which it was revealed to him the significance of what had occurred. Know, he was told, that from the time that the Torah was given at Sinai, no man had comprehended the particular insight which you have uncovered. This is why you had to labor so strenuously—this facet of the divine wisdom had yet to enter the world of earthly intellect. But your efforts opened the channel by which this truth was revealed. Having opened this channel, you have made this truth readily accessible to every mind that approaches the study of G‑d’s Torah.

© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Yaakov Ny ny August 24, 2017

We all came from Adam and Chava then Noach regardless. Shalom Reply

Levi Berger July 16, 2015

Rabbi Yosef Karo geneaology In regard to the lady who asked about the sefer mentioning the Stein families connection to Rabbi Yosef Karo. I too am related to the Stein family & I have heard the same thing. I found a sefer called Rimon Peretz written by Peretz Tuvia Stein before WW2. You can search for the book at
If you go to page 15 on the bottom left he talks about the Stein family being descended from the bais yosef. He says that the word karo means stone in Arabic, hence the name Stein. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein February 14, 2013

Re: Humility (Scott) For the sake of precision, the way the story is told in its source in the writings of Rabbi Chaim Azulai (Chida), the elusive solution was intuited by a student, not a businessman. Rabbi Yosef Karo also did not resolve his own difficulty, but had it answered by an angel (possibly revealed to him while awake). One can read the angelic visit as an internal process within R' Yosef himself, but that is not the assumption of the story. You are right that there is a certain sensitivity that a man-of-the-world has that is not available to a full-time scholar. As a Chabad rabbi myself, I will admit that my deficiencies in understanding Torah are not due only to a lack of world experience (though that should be qualified) but also to a level of scholarship and insight far inferior to Rabbi Karo's. According to one version, the resolution of R' Caro's difficulty was supplied by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the AriZal, not an angel. Reply

Gilla Nissan February 6, 2013

About Rabbi Joseph Karo's dream What touched me in this story is how new knowledge comes down to earth. How sages work hard to open up channels so that more seffa and wisdom can appear in the consciousness of Man. We know that in different times and places different needs appear, new stages of development of the soul, new readiness. Who would think that there is such mystery to life. Reply

Scott Israel February 6, 2013

I agree with the last poster. I love and respect the chabad rabbis with which I have be blessed to study with and while it does not happen often, I have found instances where the cloistered life they lead limits their ability to truly understand-in my (probably not so) humble opinion- the torah. The torah is a guide for life in the world. The world of regular people. I am certainly no Shabbatean talking about divine sin-there is nothing divine about human transgression and the divine cannot transgress by definition-but their is no merit or holiness in a sinless life achieved by withdrawing from the temptations and trials of the world. Mainly because it is in that world that the light of torah is most needed. Most useful. Most important. It's where we repair the vessel...

The businessman probably had encountered the situations in his life in the real world that allowed him an understanding of much of the text that R. Caro could have never achieved in his fairly cloistered life Reply

Peter Brooklyn February 5, 2013

Chance for humility & equanimity missed The Ba'al Shem Tov used to relate stories of how he achieved great dvekut in nature as opposed to being inside study hall; how the perfect Shabbos was the man who gave all of himself to his guests although he didn't own a Talmud, Torah etc..whilst the worst Shabbos was the man who had all the accoutrements but not the time for the Besht when he stayed there because he was so concerned about keeping the law (eating the menu & not the food). It seems Rabbi Joseph had an opportunity to accept humility (G_d is always near humility) & experience equanimity, two gifts heaven-sent; but chose to operate from his lower self (Mitzrayim), rationalizing in form of a dream why passage apparently came easily to "part-timer". Maybe Rabbi Joseph didn't realize that the "part-timer" struggled greatly in worldly activities, as much as Rabbi Joseph inside, & his apparent ease with comprehending came at a cost of struggle that Rabbi Joseph doesn't know about or can't fathom... Reply

Ken Blumberg Stratford, CT February 5, 2013

nurture, not nature May I disagree with the passage. Perhaps, living a life of study and contemplation, this Rebbi had not had the life experiences the businessman had encountered, struggled with and mastered, if not just comprehended. It's a case of nurture, not inherent nature that one could understand without effort and another struggle for meaning in a sheltered life of constant study and devotion. Reply

David Satnick Ventura February 5, 2013

And this is why when I have understanding and humbled comprehension of the Divine and His Plan that I am forever gratefully for the ones who came before us and studied and contemplated on Torah and Talmud to bring this understanding to our consciousness. I believe the thousand stories told have come around to ONE again:) May the Moshiach bless us with his arrival. Reply

yael jerusalem February 4, 2013

wow that's just beautiful! Reply

Neil D. Chase Bridgeport, CT February 3, 2013

Need for consultation Maybe academics and businessmen should talk more to each other. They can both benefit. Reply

Miriam Grossman Jerusalem, Israel July 10, 2012

Rabbi Yosef Karo geneaology My father is a direct descendant on his mother's side. She was a Stein. There is a sefer that shows the connection between Karo and Stein families and I'm trying to locate it. Can anyone help? My children are anxious to get the information. I have a son named Yehuda Haim and a brother named Shlomo Zelig. Reply

Mr. David Martin October 17, 2010

The Bais Yosef My fathers mother was Sarah Karo born in Poland. My father's brother made a family tree that shows that her father was a son after son descendant from the Bais Yosef. Most descendants today are from the brother of Rabbi Yosef Karo, obm. The tree begins with Rabbi Hainana Zgan Cohanim. I'v lost it & would like to hear from anyone that has traced his descendancy directly from the Bais Yosef. Reply

Mariam bahawalpur, pakistan March 17, 2010

Great, simply great! Reply

Maureen Summerfield Cape Town, SouthAfrica September 2, 2008

rabbi joseph caro my family name was CARO,
my mother was Gertie Caro, her father Harry Louis Caro, both born in London Reply

Related Topics