Rabbeinu Shimshon

Rabbeinu Shimshon

Rabbeinu Shimshon was a tremendous talmid chacham and tzaddik who learned in the yeshiva of the great Rabbeinu Tam. The Rabbeinu Shimshon is quoted many times by the Bais Yosef, Tosafos, and Rabbeinu Tam.

Despite his wealth in Torah, Rabbeinu Shimshon had little money, since he did not want to reap any material benefits from his Torah. Due to his status as a great talmid chacham, he was often offered assistance or discounts, yet he always turned these offers down. As a result, he was extremely poor.

One day, he was approached by his brother Reb Chaim. Reb Chaim was also a talmid chacham, but his path had led him to the business world, where he earned a nice parnasah. “Shimshon,” Reb Chaim said, sitting down next to him. “You’re having a lot of monetary difficulty. I know you don’t want to take money because you don’t want to have benefit from the Torah you learn. However, what about a Yissochar-Zevulan partnership that the Torah discusses? You can’t say there’s something wrong with it, even the Torah established it to be this way. Yissochar learns, Zevulan works, and they share both this world and the next. Why won’t you allow us do the same?”

“I’d prefer not,” Rabbeinu Shimshon responded.

“You’ll be able to learn much better this way!” Reb Chaim pleaded. “All your money pressures and obligations will become mine. Your mind will be totally free for learning Torah.”

But his brother didn’t agree. He wasn’t interested in a partnership.

Reb Chaim didn’t give up. He brought up the subject whenever he could, trying to get his brother to agree with his point of view, until Rabbeinu Shimshon finally relented. Reb Chaim supported his brother generously, and Rabbeinu Shimshon was able to learn with peace of mind. Both sides of the Yissochar-Zevulan partnership were satisfied.

Reb Chaim’s income was sufficient to cover the costs of his own family as well as that of his brother’s. However, he was always on the lookout for ways to earn a few more dollars. When he heard about a horse deal in England, he grew excited. Perhaps this was the opportunity he was waiting for!

Horses were a necessary commodity, and they sold for fine sums. At the time, it was illegal to import horses to France from other countries. This inflated the price of steeds in France. There was a horse breeder in England who owned thousands of stallions. For a fraction of the price in France, an investor could purchase tens of horses from the English breeder, who would provide safe smuggling routes into France. By selling the steeds on the French market, he would earn a handsome return on his investment.

Reb Chaim decided to travel to England to meet with the horse breeder, and suddenly had the idea to bring his brother, Rabbeinu Shimshon, along. As a great and famous rabbi, he hoped Rabbeinu Shimshon would be able to unlock many business opportunities that would otherwise be closed to him.

“Shimshon,” he said, approaching his brother late one evening, after the latter had already returned from a long, fulfilling day at the bais medrash. “I was wondering… perhaps you might be interested in joining me on a trip to London?”

“London?!” Rabbeinu Shimshon looked at him as if he’d grown a second head. “How can I leave on such a long, tiring journey in the middle of the zman? What about my learning?”

“We’ll learn together on the ship,” Reb Chaim suggested. “There’s a promising business opportunity in England, and if you join me, I should hopefully net a huge profit on the deal. I’ll be able to support tens of yeshivos and talmidei chachamim!”

“I’m not a businessman, Chaim,” His brother said. “I belong in the bais medrash teaching Torah, not chasing after money in faraway lands.”

“To the contrary, you’ll be disseminating Torah just as before, maybe more,” Reb Chaim countered. “You’ll be able to meet a new world of talmidei chachamim, and you’ll teach Torah to a new audience.”

Rabbeinu Shimshon tried numerous times to turn him down, but his brother refused to back off. He brought up the topic a few times a day. Being that he was being supported by his brother, and that Reb Chaim was so eager for him to agree, Rabbeinu Shimshon eventually caved. They bought ship tickets, packed their bags, and set off for England.

The weather was nice, and the two brothers spent a lot of time learning together on the deck. One day, when they finished learning, Reb Chaim turned to his brother. “I’m curious to hear your opinion on the deal I’d like to invest in when we get to London,” he began. “I’m planning on purchasing a large amount of horses cheaply and smuggling them into France. It’s illegal, but there are safe—”

“Chaim, you are planning to do what?!” Rabbeinu Shimshon asked, agitated. “You dragged me along to be part of an illegal scheme?” He lowered his voice. “Don’t you realize, Chaim, that the non-Jews are waiting for excuses to start pogroms against us? Don’t you realize the danger you are putting our brethren into? There are no safe ways to do this. When they find us, our fellow Jews will suffer greatly. How can you do something so irresponsible?!”

“We won’t be caught,” Reb Chaim said impatiently. “I know what I’m talking about. There are plenty of ways to do this successfully.”

“Chaim, it’s assur!” his brother cried. “It’s forbidden to put others in danger like that!”

“I don’t understand why you are being so pessimistic,” Reb Chaim protested. “Hashem will help us! Your Torah will protect us!”

Rabbeinu Shimshon stood up, his face flaming. “You’re relying on the protection of my Torah? My Torah?!” He pounded his fist on the table between them and declared, “This ship should never make it to England!”

Reb Chaim was stunned into silence.

Immediately, the beautiful sky grew overcast. The winds were not long in coming, followed by heavy rain. The waves began crashing higher and higher, and the ship was tossed about like a ball at play.

For two days, the ship was tossed haplessly about. The captain fought tirelessly to keep it upright and the sailors sweated to keep the water off the deck. By the time the sky cleared two days later, they had lost all sense of direction. The ship had veered far off course, and they did not know where they were. Being that it was morning, there were no stars to guide them. They would have to wait for night to fall, when the ship’s navigator would be able to try to locate its position.

Suddenly, the quiet sea was disturbed by the crashing of waves caused by fast-moving pirate ships heading directly toward them. The crew and passengers watched in terror as fiery arrows flew out of the pirate ships onto their cruiser. The ship was completely surrounded by enemies, and it would not take long for the wooden vessel to catch fire from the flaming arrows.

Continuing to resist meant certain death. Therefore, for lack of alternative, the captain ordered the sailors to hang a white sheet from the ship’s mast in surrender. The fiery arrows stopped, and the pirate ships pulled up adjacent to the cruiser. Putting down large planks to bridge the two ships, menacing-looking sea bandits began filing onto the ship they had just pirated.

All the passengers were ordered onto the deck as the pirates went through the cabins and cargo, plundering everything of value. They were then subjected to a ruthless body search and stripped of their jewelry and cash. After the pirates determined that there was no more booty to plunder, they forced the passengers to don slave garments and cross the plank to the pirate ship. Then they set the cruiser on fire and watched it sink to the ocean depths.

Standing on the pirate ship, dressed as a slave and trembling in fear, Reb Chaim turned to his brother. “Shimshon! This is all because of you!” he accused quietly. “It is because of your words that this happened!”

Rabbeinu Shimshon shook his head. “No, Chaim, it was because of the terrible chilul Hashem your actions would have caused. It was because of the danger klal Yisroel would have found itself in had you been able to proceed with your business deal.”

“I’m telling you, we would not have been caught,” Reb Chaim muttered. “I knew just how to do it.”

They journeyed at sea for three days. It was a Friday afternoon when the pirate ship finally docked at a bustling port. They had no idea which country they had reached, since the pirates didn’t bother to inform them of this small detail.

The port where they docked was home to an active slave market. The fresh slaves were led off the ship and displayed on the market, bound hand and foot. Soon, Rabbeinu Shimshon and his brother saw some Jews walking around among the captives. These askonim would frequent the slave market to find Jewish captives, which they would redeem with money raised for this purpose.

It did not take long for them to notice the two Jews amongst the slaves. Since it was late Friday afternoon, they were already dressed for Shabbos and were not carrying any money.

“You can take them,” the leader of the pirates told the askonim when they explained their predicament. “Take the slaves, try them out, and if you are satisfied, you’ll pay us after your Sabbath.”

“Thank you, sir,” the Jews replied. “How much are you asking for them?”

“Just take them!” the pirate roared impatiently.

“We’ll negotiate the price when you bring the money.” The pirate network had a long arm and would know exactly how to find the askonim if they dared not to return after Shabbos with the money. There was little risk in releasing the two slaves on the word of the Jews.

Within a few moments, the pirates removed the shackles binding the hands and feet of Rabbeinu Shimshon and Reb Chaim. The newly-freed captives were taken to the home of a community leader, where they quickly prepared for Shabbos. After an uplifting davening in shul on Friday night followed by a delicious meal, both exhausted men fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.

In the morning, before davening, Reb Chaim told his host the saga that had led to their capture as slaves. “My brother is one of the gedolei hador,” he confided. “He would never tell you, but he is a tremendous gaon in Torah.”

“Really!” their host exclaimed excitedly. “He must address us in shul today, then!”

“Wait,” Reb Chaim cried, tugging at his sleeve. “My brother despises honor and would not appreciate if he suddenly received esteem and accolade because I told you who he was.”

“How about if we ask him to say a dvar Torah after Shacharis?” the other man asked. “He’ll speak, and if he’s really as great as you say, it will become obvious to everyone.” Reb Chaim agreed.

When they got to shul, their host explained the situation to the rov, who approached Rabbeinu Shimshon. “Shalom aleichem,” he began. “I see you are a guest here. Would you be willing to honor us with a dvar Torah after Shacharis?”

“What kind of dvar Torah do you want me to give over?” Rabbeinu Shimshon inquired.

“Something new, a Torah thought that you originated,” the rov said. “Is that something you would be willing to do for us?”

“Yes, I can speak,” Rabbeinu Shimshon agreed.

After krias hatorah, the rov banged on the bimah and called the guest up to speak. A buzz rose and fell as people quieted down in respect for the guest’s words. Rabbeinu Shimshon began to speak, and the rov was blown away.  This is no ordinary individual, he thought, his eyes never leaving Rabbeinu Shimshon’s face as he carefully listened to the diamonds emerging from his mouth. This man is a giant in Torah!

Rabbeinu Shimshon preferred to remain anonymous, which was why he avoided revealing who he truly was, but as he delved excitedly into his address, he gave himself away. “I disagree with my brother-in-law, the Smag, on this halachah,” he said in the midst of his speech, citing mind-blowing proofs to back up his position. “As I’ve heard from my rebbi, the Rabbeinu Tam…

Soon, the more learned in attendance realized that the person addressing them was Rabbeinu Shimshon himself. Word quickly spread to the other congregants, and when the speech was over, the entire shul stood up in deference to the gadol hador. The rov vacated his seat at the front of the shul and insisted that Rabbeinu Shimshon occupy it in his stead. For the rest of Shabbos, the two brothers were treated with tremendous respect as the community savored the privilege of having such a giant in their midst.

On motzai Shabbos, the rov and community leaders gathered, determined to redeem their illustrious guests at all costs. A committee was established and the entire Jewish community was drafted, in record time, to donate money toward the cause. An exorbitant sum was raised that night.

In the morning, a few community leaders returned to the slave dealers with thick wads of cash. “Here’s the money to redeem the two Jews,” they explained, handing over the sum they had raised.

The pirate leaned back and began counting the bills. He looked up at them when he finished. “This is enough for one of them,” he said shortly, taking a puff on his pipe. “If you want both men, you need double this amount.”

The askonim looked at each other, aghast. They had already squeezed every possible coin out of the community. There was no way they could raise another dollar. “It’s a substantial sum, more than enough to pay for both of them,” one of them tried to reason with the pirate.

The man took another long puff and let out the smoke slowly. “Listen here,” he drawled with exaggerated patience. “I say that this amount is only enough for one slave. You want both? You pay for both. Otherwise, this ship is leaving here very soon. I’m more than happy to take the other one along with me and sell him somewhere else.”

“We’ll be back,” the askonim told him, hurrying back to the rov. They explained the situation in worried tones.

“We have no choice,” the rov finally responded. “If they’re insisting that the fortune we raised is enough for only one, there is simply no money to redeem both. In this case, there is no choice other than to redeem the greater talmid chacham of the two, Rabbeinu Shimshon.”

Hearing his words, Reb Chaim turned to his brother and began to plead. “Shimshon, how can you do this to me?” he wailed. “You are a gaon, a tzaddik. Anywhere you’ll go, the Jews will be thrilled to redeem you. I’m just a simple businessman. Who would part with their savings to secure my freedom? It’ll be so much easier for you to earn your freedom later on. As for me, this may be my final chance!

“Besides, you have so many merits! You have so much Torah to guard you and protect you, Shimshon, while what do I have?” Reb Chaim continued, sounding more desperate. He broke down completely, tears streaming from his eyes. “Remember, Shimshon! Who supported you all these years? If not for my generosity, you and your family would have suffered terrible poverty. Shimshon! I promise that if you let me be redeemed now, I will take care of your family and support them for the rest of my life.”

“Reb Chaim,” the rov cut in gently. “You must realize that this money was taken out of the mouths of our community. The people want their hard earned money to free the gadol hador. It isn’t fair of you to shortchange them like this.”

The askonim in the room began echoing the rov’s words. Reb Chaim’s sobs grew louder and more intense.

Rabbeinu Shimshon looked around and then spoke up decisively. “I want Reb Chaim to be redeemed.”

“But—” the rov and community leaders tried to argue.

“Please,” Rabbeinu Shimshon said. “This is my desire. If you really wish to fulfill my will, then redeem my brother and leave me with the pirates.”

Everyone in the room began crying, realizing that they were losing the gadol hador to a group of rouge slave dealers. When time ran out, a huge crowd escorted Rabbeinu Shimshon back to the port. They watched as he was chained, as he was led away, as the ship lifted anchor and departed from the shore. They watched until there was nothing left to see, and then they turned, brokenly, away from the port.

Reb Chaim borrowed money to pay for the journey back home, and after many weeks, was finally reunited with his family. When Rabbeinu Shimshon’s family learned what had happened to him, they were beside themselves with grief. True to his word, Reb Chaim took his brother’s family under his wings and cared for them as if they were his own. Thoughts of Rabbeinu Shimshon were never far from his loving relatives, who constantly davened for his release and safe homecoming.

Hundreds of miles away, the pirate ship docked at a port in the Arabian Sea where the slaves were unloaded and displayed for purchase. Soon, a wealthy Arab sheikh dressed in white approached and bought Rabbeinu Shimshon from the selection of slaves.  His name was Saad, and he brought Rabbeinu Shimshon to his palace, where he treated him decently. In turn, the fresh slave served his master faithfully.

The weeks and months, and eventually years, passed. Rabbeinu Shimshon was valued in Saad’s palace for his wisdom and loyalty, and he worked hard to retain his belief that Hashem had placed him in this position for a purpose.

This took place during the time of King Richard of England, who was swallowing up country after Arab country in his quest to conquer Eretz Yisroel. The war was bloody, with plenty of Arab casualties, and a seething Saad schemed of ways to halt Richard’s army in its relentless conquest of the Middle East.

Saad soon came up with an idea to work as a double agent. As a wealthy and influential sheikh, he was granted an audience with King Richard, and he offered to serve as a spy for England. Wary of the Arab’s offer, Richard waved him off at first, but eventually, as their relationship developed, he warmed to the idea.

Saad made sure to feed King Richard some valuable information that enabled him to win a few battles. This solidified the English king’s trust in his Arab spy, and he began to pay close attention to the information Saad brought him.

Richard continued making inroads into Arab territory, utilizing his exceptional army, his brilliant war strategy, and his well-positioned spy Saad. The war was going his way, and he was confident that Eretz Yisroel would shortly be in his hands.

When they reached Lebanon, Saad was ready to put his plan into action. At this point, King Richard trusted him implicitly, and accepted his advice to make establish a specific Lebanese city as his stronghold. With the rest of his army positioned miles away, Richard and his thirty most brilliant strategists gathered in their new stronghold to plan their takeover of the rest of the Middle East.

It was the perfect moment. The entire upper echelon of the English army was stationed within one palace. All it would take to wipe them out was a strong group of Arab soldiers who would enter and surprise them. With their king, generals, and commanders eliminated, the entire English army would disintegrate, and the threat it posed would disappear along with it.

Saad gathered a group of experienced snipers and explained the plan. They were to disguise themselves as palace employees- cleaners, kitchen workers, waiters. They would conceal their weapons beneath their uniforms and when the time came, pick off each commander and general, one by one.

Present at the meeting, standing unobtrusively in the sidelines waiting to serve his master, was Saad’s faithful slave, Rabbeinu Shimshon. While neither Arabic or English was his native tongue, he was well-versed in many languages and had no problem understanding that his master was planning a revolt against the English king.

Hashem placed me here for a reason, he thought to himself, just as he had so many times previously when he felt his spirits flagging. This time, however, his thoughts continued. Maybe this is the reason? Perhaps I was put here to save the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel! If I save King Richard’s life, he will undoubtedly treat the Jews kindly.

Rabbeninu Shimshon treaded silently away from the assembled group listening intently to Saad and penned a letter to the king of England, warning him on the impending danger.  He attached the letter to a stone and slipped out of the building.

Stealthily approaching the palace, he circled until he reached the window of King Richard’s planning chamber, where the king was gathered with his thirty advisors. Lifting his arm, he pitched the rock directly at the window, hoping it wouldn’t injure an important dignitary inside.

The stone flew in a perfect arch, crashed through the window, and sliced into the forehead of the king’s bodyguard. The king’s ever-present security detail took up their emergency positions, ready to deal with the threat against the king while someone hurried to summon the doctor to care for the bleeding guard.

“There’s a note on the stone!” One of the security guards cried, snatching up the rock from the floor, where it lay, bloody and abandoned. He disconnected the paper from the stone and handed it to the king to read.

King Richard opened the letter and carefully perused its contents before passing it on to his lead security advisor.  While they feared the danger of the group set to ambush them, they were grateful to have a friend, someone in on the plot who was ready to assist them. Immediately, the strategy session disbanded as the men moved into emergency mode. Following the instructions of the head of security, the king’s advisors took up positions around the palace to avoid being surrounded as a group. They were all heavily armed, ready to defend themselves and their king.

From various palace entrances, men dressed as cleaners and butlers, chefs and waiters streamed inside, slinking through the snaking corridors to assess the situation and the position of the advisory council within. However, King Richard’s men were ready for them, and before they could realize what was happening, the Arabs were subdued and shackled.

The Arabs were questioned before they were slaughtered. From the interrogations, it emerged that Saad was behind the nefarious plot. Saad was intercepted at his residence just down the block from the king’s headquarters. He was tortured and killed just moments later.

King Richard wanted to discover the identity of his savior, but how would he find the anonymous rock-thrower? He ordered his soldiers to round up all the palace workers as well as anyone outside in the immediate vicinity of the palace. They were brought before him, one at a time, and questioned. Finally, Rabbeinu Shimshon was brought before the king for questioning and admitted that it was he who had pitched the stone through the palace window to warn the king and ultimately save his life.

“What’s your name?” King Richard asked him gratefully. “Who are you? How did you get here?”

“My name is Shimshon and I am a Jew,” Rabbeinu Shimshon responded. He launched into the story of the failed business trip and the events that had led him to where he was.

The king listened intently to every word. “Tell me some more about yourself,” he requested when Rabbeinu Shimshon grew silent.

“I’m a rabbi,” Rabbeinu Shimshon told him. “I teach students Torah.”

The two conversed for a long time, and Richard was impressed with the noble Jew standing before him. “I want you to return with me to England,” he said to Rabbeinu Shimshon. “I would love to have someone like you amongst my advisors.”

“I thank Your Majesty for the honor,” Rabbeinu Shimshon said, bowing deeply. “However, I would like to humbly request that I be sent back home to my family. We’ve been separated for so many years, and they don’t know whether I am dead or alive. Please, in return for saving your life, please grant me this request!”

“My dear Shimshon,” King Richard said. “As much as I would appreciate having you as an advisor, it would pain me to keep you away from your family. I will grant your request.”

The king ordered his treasurer to supply Rabbeinu Shimshon with a vast sum of money as a reward for saving his life and chartered a private ship to bring him home. Just as suddenly as Rabbeinu Shimshon had found himself in captivity, he now found himself reunited with his beloved family.

His bitachon in Hashem’s salvation had never wavered, and indeed, the salvation came to be in a most incredible fashion.

Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

This story is taken from tape # A388