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Friday, Tammuz 4, 5780 / June 26, 2020


This Shabbat we will recite the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot.  Among the many teachings in the chapter, is the following lesson from the Talmudic sage, Ben Azzai, "Do not be scornful of any person and do not reject anything; for you have no person without his hour and no thing without its place." 


The following parable illustrates this idea: A lion was asleep when a little mouse crawled over and woke him up.  Angry at the chutzpah, he declared, "You deserve to die for waking the king of the animals!"  The little mouse pleaded for her life.  "Please spare my life.  I promise to repay you one day!" the mouse begged. 


The lion roared with laughter, "How can a little mouse ever help me?"  Nevertheless, he let the little mouse go. 


A few days later,  the lion was walking through the forest and he stepped into a hunters' trap.  The lion tried to escape, but it was no use.  The little mouse heard the lion shouting for help, "Now is the time to repay him."  She found the lion and started nibbling at the rope.  Before long, the rope was cut and the lion was free! 


Similarly, the Midrash states that Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua once saw a ship sink.  One man survived by holding onto a plank.  However, by the time he reached the shore, he had lost all his clothes.  "I am your cousin a descendant from Esau, please help me!" the man cried.  But the people who saw him only laughed. 


He asked Rabbi Elazar for help.  The sage gave him one of the robes that he was wearing, brought him into his house and gave him food, drink and 200 dinars.  Rabbi Elazar even had him ride his own donkey and escorted the man to his home. 


Many years later, the man became the Caesar.  He ordered his army to kill all the Jews in the province.  Terrified, the people turned to Rabbi Elazar for help.  "Collect money.  Perhaps I can bribe the Caesar!" he ordered.  The community gave him 4,000 dinars and Rabbi Elazar went to the royal palace. 


Outside the gates, he asked for an audience with the ruler and it was granted. 


When the Caesar saw Rabbi Elazar, he recognized him and exclaimed, "Why did you come?"  


"To seek mercy for the Jews!" Rabbi Elazar replied.  "But they did not have mercy on me!" the Caesar stated. 


Rabbi Elazar agreed, "True, they are guilty, but please accept their gift and forgive them." 


The Caesar replied, "In your merit, I will spare your people.  What's more, I give the 4,000 dinars to you, in exchange for the 200 dinars you gave me!  I will also give you seventy robes for the one you gave me.  Go in peace to your people!"    


Life is compared to a wheel that is constantly turning.  As the wheel of fortune turns, those who have been at the bottom may one day find themselves at the top and vice versa.   One may one day need the help of the very same person whom he rejects today.  Ben Azzai teaches us that by doing good for others, you may in fact be doing good for yourself.




Montrealcandle lighting time: 8:29 / Shabbat ends: 9:45