The Megaleh Amukos Puzzling Hanhaga

The Taz was the son-in-law of the Bach, and both were tremendous talmidei chachamim, the gedolim of the generation. They lived far from one another, as they served as poskim in their respective communities, and they were esteemed far and wide.

On one occasion, when the Bach was already in his old age, the Taz decided to take his family to the Bach’s hometown for a visit. It had been many years since his family had last seen their illustrious grandfather, and they eagerly prepared for the long journey.

The community was informed that their beloved leader would be taking a temporary leave of absence, and a huge crowd showed up to escort him from the city. The rabbonim of the city came forward to request his blessing, followed by a long line of townspeople. After the lengthy farewell process, the Taz and his family took leave of the city. 

The trip was long and treacherous, but the Taz utilized every moment, rarely lifting his eyes from his seforim. The wagon bumped along the dirt paths, through forests and towns, for ten days, stopping only for a few hours each night, and the Taz learned through it all.

When they neared the city where the Bach resided, the Taz and his family stopped off to rest so that they would be able to greet the gadol hador with renewed energy. Someone hurried ahead to the city to inform the Bach of the Taz’s impending arrival.

When the wagon bearing the Taz and his family pulled into the city, it was greeted by throngs of people who had all come out to welcome him. They bore torches and wore their Shabbos finery, singing joyously. The Taz disembarked from the wagon, and the Bach came forward to greet him. The two gedolim embraced emotionally; they had not seen each other in many years. They walked to the Bach’s home together, the two great Torah leaders, surrounded by the singing crowd.

At Mincha that day, all shops were shuttered and all business was put on hold. Everyone wanted to participate in the minyan with the two famous gedolim, to glimpse them standing together and perhaps merit to shake the Taz’s hand. Hundreds of men crammed into the main bais medrash for the minyan.

When davening was over, a commotion erupted as they each vied for the privilege of greeting the Taz from up close. Afraid of a stampede, the Bach instructed his gabbai to organize the crowd into a long line, so that each man would get to shake the Taz’s hand in an orderly fashion. One by one, the excited Jews came before the visiting tzaddik to offer their shalom aleichem and receive his blessing in return.

Present in the minyan that day was the Megalah Amukos. The Megaleh Amukos was a tremendous talmid chacham, proficient in both the revealed and hidden parts of the Torah, and his greatness was known throughout the city. In fact, he served as posek of the city together with the Bach; his jurisdiction was the Yorah Deah segment of the Shulchan Aruch, while the Bach ruled on questions regarding Choshen Mishpat. It was well-known that the Megaleh Amukos possessed ruach hakodesh.

The Megaleh Amukos was a humble individual who shied away from honor. Although he should have rightfully occupied a seat at the eastern wall of the bais medrash, he preferred to daven in a quiet spot at the side of the room. He finished davening Mincha and put away his siddur, seemingly oblivious to the ruckus in the shul as the men lined up to greet the Taz.

Suddenly, the Megaleh Amukos was noticed, and out of esteem for him, the line of waiting men split instantly to usher him ahead. An open path to the Taz lay before him, and the crowd waited expectantly for him to rush forward to greet the illustrious visitor.

Instead, the Megaleh Amukos turned and walked out of the bais medrash. 

The Taz looked up and saw how the crowd parted for the Megaleh Amukos. He saw how the Megaleh Amukos had walked away without coming forward to greet him. He exchanged glances with his father-in-law, who had also witnessed the Megaleh Amukos’s actions, and they both shrugged. Perhaps the Megaleh Amukos had been engrossed in his thoughts, thinking about some Zohar, that he had not noticed them?

At Maariv, however, the same thing occurred.  While all the congregants swarmed the Taz, the Megaleh Amukos ignored him, and when the crowd eagerly made way for the two gedolim to greet each other, the Megaleh Amukos walked out.  His complete lack of acknowledgement of the visitor was very conspicuous, and the men present in the shul began whispering between themselves about it.

After Maariv, a group of the distinguished rabbonim visited the Taz in his father-in-law’s home, where they spent an enjoyable few hours engrossed in heated Talmudic debate around the table. When they left, it was late, and the Taz went to sleep.

The following day at Shacharis, when the Bach and the Taz passed the Megaleh Amukos on their way to the mizrach wall to daven, the Megaleh Amukos averted his gaze, staring pointedly in his siddur and refusing to acknowledge the esteemed visitor. The same happened for the rest of the day, and on the next day, and on the next.

The Taz was very bothered by the Megaleh Amukos’s distance. It seemed that the great baal ruach hakodesh was angry at him, and he had no idea why. “The Megaleh Amukos still did not come over to me,” he whispered to his father-in-law after nearly a week had passed. “Do you think I should go over to him? Is he upset at me?”

“No,” the Bach replied. “You are my guest. I am the rov here, and the Megaleh Amukos should come to me. He must come to welcome you, not the other way around.”

And yet the Megaleh Amukos continued to ignore the Taz.

The days continued to pass, one week, ten days, twelve days. It was nearly two weeks since the Taz had arrived in town, and the Megaleh Amukos still refused to honor him with a greeting. The gossip in the city during those weeks revolved almost exclusively around the two gedolim and whether or not the Megaleh Amukos had agreed to acknowledge the Taz yet.

Eventually, the Bach had enough. He felt that the Megaleh Amukos’s actions were an affront to the Taz. By publically ignoring him, he was declaring that there was something wrong with the Taz, thereby shaming a great talmid chacham, one of the gedolei hador. He decided to give the Megaleh Amukos one final chance to acknowledge his son-in-law, but if he passed up the opportunity, the Bach would convene a bais din to put him into cheirem.

It was Friday afternoon, Mincha, and sure enough, the Megaleh Amukos conspicuously refused to acknowledge the Taz. True to his decision, the Bach convened the bais din and asked them to write up a document excommunicating the Megaleh Amukos.

The dayanim were shocked by this request. “The Megaleh Amukos is practically in shomayim!” they tried to protest. “How can we do such a thing to such a holy person?”

“He’s degrading my son-in-law, the Taz,” the Bach replied firmly. “He’s continuously embarrassing a talmid chacham in public. He deserves to be put into cheirem.”

“But the Megaleh Amukos!” someone tried again, yet the Bach wouldn’t hear him.

“It’s a terrible thing, to publically degrade a talmid chacham,” the Bach said firmly, banging on the table. “You must put him into cheirim!”

The members of the bais din exchanged glances, frightened by the Bach’s tone. They knew that they needed to comply, and yet they were very reluctant to do so. “It’s almost Shabbos,” one of the dayanim said, trying to stall for time. “It’s hectic, we’re busy getting ready for Shabbos. A cheirim needs to be done calmly. Why don’t we wait until Motzai Shabbos, when things are calmer?”

The Bach conceded, and all those present hoped that something would change over Shabbos. Perhaps the Megaleh Amukos would show a friendlier face to the Taz, negating the need for such  harsh punishment.

To their immense disappointment, nothing changed on Shabbos. The Megaleh Amukos continued to studiously ignore the Taz. The minyan was abuzz with speculation, and the Taz felt discomfited and helpless.

Every week, the Megaleh Amukos would host ten of his closest talmidim, all mekubalim, for the third Shabbos meal. His usual practice was to make a very long seudah and then daven Maariv well after Shabbos was over, so as to prolong Shabbos. This would ensure that the risha’im, who are given temporary reprieve from Gehinnom over Shabbos, would have another few hours of respite.

However, this Shabbos, the Megaleh Amukos ate a quick shalosh seudos and davened Maariv seventy-two minutes after shkiya. Through ruach hakodesh, he was very much aware of the plans of the Bach, which he knew were supposed to be executed that very night. He paced the length of his home, his forehead creased, his fists clenched. He was afraid.

Excommunication is no joking matter; it is of the harshest sentences to befall a Jew. The Megaleh Amukos’s pacing increased its intensity. Yes, he was a great kabbalist, and he was most certainly a holy and pious tzaddik, yet even he could not handle cheirim. What would be?

A sharp knock on the door startled him from his thoughts. Shaking his head to clear it, he opened the door. There were three shochtim standing at his doorstep, clad in bloodstained aprons, their muscular arms full of heavy animal organs.

“We’ve brought lungs for the rov to check,” they explained, stepping over the threshold and following the Megaleh Amukos into the house.

The Megaleh Amukos looked from the men to the loads they were carrying and back again. He closed his eyes for a moment and exhaled. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I’m feeling very… I’m not having yishuv hadas right now. It’s impossible for me to pasken now, when my mind isn’t clear.”

“Of course,” the slaughterers responded agreeably, turning to go. “Would tomorrow morning be a better time?”

The Megaleh Amukos didn’t respond. “You know what?” he suddenly said, looking the three up and down. “You are shochtim, strong and powerfully built. Please go straight from my house to the home of the Bach. You’ll see that he’s holding a piece of paper, which I’m telling you has something terrible written about me on it. Grab the paper from his hands, and before he has time to react, throw it into the fireplace.”

The shochtim’s mouths dropped open, in unison. “Honored rov,” the bravest amongst them said slowly. “How can we pull a paper out of the Bach’s hands? We can’t do that!”

“You must,” the Megaleh Amukos responded, his tone firm.  “I hereby rule, according to Halacha, that you are obligated to obey me, to take the paper from the Bach’s hands and burn it immediately. If not…” he let his voice trail off.

The shochtim shivered. “We’ll go!” they said shakily. Dumping the animal organs down on the floor, they walked briskly out of the house.

When they reached the Bach’s home, they knocked loudly on the door and waited.

“I’m sorry, but we aren’t available,” a stern voice called from inside. “Nobody can come in right now.”

One of the slaughterers put his mouth to the door. “What’s going on in there?” he shouted back.

“We’re in an important meeting. Please come back later.”

“Who’s at the meeting?” the shochet asked.

“The members of the beis din, together with the Bach.” By now the voice was tinted slightly with impatience. “No one can come in right now. You can come back tomorrow morning.”

The boldest and most broad-shouldered of the three leaned his muscular arm against the wooden door and pushed hard. The wood groaned, then split, and finally gave way. The shochtim walked into the house cautiously.

“What’s going on?” the Bach asked the intruders.

“Why are you here?”

The three shochtim glanced at each other, hesitant. Then one of them walked over to the Bach and snatched the paper he was holding out of his hands. With a few deft motions, he tore the document to shreds and tossed the pieces into the roaring flames of the nearby furnace. “I’m sorry,” he said apologetically to the stunned dayanim.  “This is what the Megaleh Amukos ruled that I must do.”

The Bach realized that the Megaleh Amukos knew, through his ruach hakodesh, exactly what they had planned on doing to him. However, this meant that he also knew that the Bach was bothered by his refusal to acknowledge the Taz. Now that he was aware of the problem, surely he would take the time to correct it! Grateful at the opportunity to have the situation corrected without having to resort to cheirim, the beis din disbanded.

When morning arrived, the Bach and his son-in-law entered the shul for Shacharis. The Megaleh Amukos was sitting in his usual seat, and they eyed him expectantly as they passed. There was zero acknowledgement. The Bach was certain that once davening was over, the Megaleh Amukos would come over to them to greet the Taz, but once again, he was disappointed. When Shacharis was over, the Megaleh Amukos deliberately left the shul.

Both the Bach and the Taz were broken by the Megaleh Amukos’s inaction. They knew he was aware that they were upset, and yet he was continuing to ignore the Taz! They were left with a bitter taste in their mouths; why was the holy Megaleh Amukos ignoring him?

Another two weeks passed in the same fashion.

It happened one day, seemingly out of nowhere. The Taz finished Shacharis and was preparing to leave the bais medrash when the Megaleh Amukos finally, finally, came over. “Shalom aleichem, rebbi umori!” he cried joyfully, taking the Taz’s hands and kissing them.

The Taz pulled away. “I don’t want to talk to you,” he responded coldly.

“Why, what did I do?” the Megaleh Amukos asked, a question in his voice.

“What did you do? What did you do?!” the Taz echoed, looking at him incredulously. “Today is the thirtieth day that I am here. Thirty days, and not once did you come over to welcome me! Do you think I did not notice? Do you think the whole town didn’t notice? You shamed me in front of the entire city!” He took a breath and lowered his voice. “I can’t be mochel you. It’s not my own honor that I can’t overlook, but that of my father-in-law, the Bach. By ignoring me, you shamed my father-in-law, and I can’t forgive you for that.”

“I’m not the one who did something wrong,” the Megaleh Amukos protested softly. “You are the one who did something wrong!”

“Me?” the Taz was taken aback. “What did I do wrong?”

“Don’t you remember, a few weeks back, when you were leaving your hometown to start out on your journey here?” the Megaleh Amukos prodded. “Don’t you recall the crowds who came to escort you, the lines of people waiting to receive your blessing?”

“I do,” the Taz replied, still puzzled.

“And what did you do after that?” the Megaleh Amukos queried.

The Taz looked at him searchingly. “I boarded the wagon, and we drove off.”

“Were you aware of the widow at the edge of the crowd, sobbing bitterly as she watched you depart?” the Megalah Amukos asked quietly. “Did you notice her, the widow that you personally support? As she watched you take leave of the crowd, she was overburdened by a terrible fear. How would she feed her family in your absence? How would they survive without your support? She was too embarrassed to push through the crowds to reach you, but how she hoped you would notice her tears.”

“I didn’t see her standing there,” the Taz admitted.

“For the terrible sin of causing this almanah to cry, you were excommunicated for thirty days in shomayim,” the Megaleh Amukos continued. “How could I come over to greet a person that shomayim has placed in cheirim? I was forced to ignore you until the cheirim was lifted.”

“But I arranged for someone to take care of her in my stead!” the Taz exclaimed. “I assigned someone to bring her money every week until I return!”

“Yes, but did you inform her about this fact?” the Megaleh Amukos chided. “She wasn’t aware that you arranged for someone else to look after her, and she worried that she and her family would be abandoned. And for that, you were excommunicated.”

“And now?” the Taz whispered shakily.

The Megaleh Amukos smiled. “Now the cheirim has been lifted, and I would therefore like to welcome you to our city.”

The Taz began crying bitterly, realizing just how grave the almanah’s groundless worries were considered in shomyaim. He finally understood the true depths of the Megaleh Amukos’s astounding greatness; which included a complete familiarity with the going-ons in Heaven.

The Bach, too, was awed by the Megaleh Amukos’s explanation and by his extraordinary gadlus. He immediately begged him forgiveness for doubting him, and the gedolim all graciously forgave each other. For the rest of the Taz’s visit, the three Torah giants enjoyed their time and discussions together.

Shortly after the Taz and his family returned home, the Bach finished writing his lifelong work, a commentary on the Tur. He approached the printer with his manuscript, intending to publish it into a sefer.

The printer accepted the job and was ready to begin immediately. Before he could even begin setting the type into the printing press, however, he received an urgent message from the Megaleh Amukos, warning him not to print the sefer under any circumstances. He dropped the note and rushed out of his small shop, heading straight to the Megaleh Amukos.

Rebbi,” he exclaimed when the Megaleh Amukos opened the door. “The Bach asked me to publish his commentary as soon as possible. My press is free at the moment, and I am ready to lay the type. He’s the gadol hador! How can I not print his sefer?”

“Delay it,” the Megaleh Amukos said. “Push him off as much as possible. I don’t want that sefer to be printed.”

The printer felt torn. How could he obey the Megelah Amukos if it meant disobeying the Bach? And yet how could he obey the Bach and disobey the Megaleh Amukos? The Megaleh Amukos’s proficiency in kabbalah was well known, and the printer was afraid to disregard his directive. He had no idea what to do, and so he did nothing.

A week passed, and the Bach sent a messenger to ascertain the status of his manuscript. Was it typeset and ready for print?

“No,” the distraught printer hesitantly responded. He bit his lip and stammered, “The press is broken. I’m working on getting it repaired.”

Another week passed, and the Bach sent another inquiry after his long-awaited sefer.

“I’m sorry,” the printer stammered. “I need to replace one of the parts of the machine. I should be getting it in within two months.”

Two months went by, then three. The printer, trapped between the conflicting requests of the two gedolim, became very creative with his responses.

“I’m missing some of the letters. It’ll take up to three weeks to make new ones.”

“I ran out of ink. I should be getting a new supply in ten weeks or so.”

“I was out sick for the past three weeks.”

Eighteen months passed in this fashion. A full year and a half went by, and the Bach grew frustrated. “That’s it!” he exclaimed, glancing around the small printing shop that had caused him so much trouble. “If you can’t get this printed in the next few weeks, I’ll—.”

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” the printer jumped in, frightened by the Bach’s tone. He had delayed the printing long enough and was too afraid to push it off any longer. With a defeated air, he began laying the type. He worked quickly. Within a few days, the sefer was print-ready.

With his sefer nearing completion at last, the Bach approached the Megaleh Amukos to request a letter of approbation to include in the volume.

“A haskamah?” the Megaleh Amukos asked slowly, wrinkling his brow. “How can I write a haskamah on the sefer of the gadol hador?”

“I want you to write it,” the Bach insisted.

The Megaleh Amukos was quiet for a moment. “I need to think about it,” he finally said. “I’ll let you know next week.”

In actuality, however, the Megaleh Amukos had no intentions of delivering the haskamah the following week. He stalled and stalled, pushing the Bach off with one excuse after the next.

By now, the Bach became upset. The printing had been delayed for well over a year, and now the Megaleh Amukos was dragging out the process even longer. He had invested his heart and soul into his life’s work, and he wanted to see the Bach in print at last.

The Megaleh Amukos succeeded in stalling the printing for another few weeks. Suddenly, however, his son became dangerously ill. Through his ruach hakodesh, the Megaleh Amukos learned that his son was destined to die since the Bach was angry. The only way to save his son’s life was to be completely honest and up front with the Bach.

“I am the one who held up the printing for so many months,” the Megaleh Amukos admitted to the Bach. “I instructed the printer to delay your sefer for as long as he could. I did it for a purpose, the very same reason why I am withholding the haskamah from you.

“I see that your mission in this world is to write the Bach,” the Megaleh Amukos continued. “Once you publish the work, your mission will be complete, and you will be taken from us. I don’t want you to pass away. We need you here! That’s why I delayed the printing, why I refuse to give you a haskamah. I want to delay your death as much as possible!”

“No,” the Bach said. “I don’t allow this. I want to print my sefer. If this is my mission, then I will fulfill it, and if I die afterward, then I’ll die. Please, you must give me a haskamah!”

Seeing how adamant the Bach was, the Megaleh Amukos complied.

The Bach was printed, and immediately thereafter, its author took to his sickbed. The Bach was joyously moser nefesh so that klal Yisroel for generations would benefit from his halachic commentary.

While he was lying on his deathbed, a din Torah took place in the city. A moneylender took another Jew to beis din, alleging that he owed him eight-hundred silver coins. The lender had a contract to prove his position, along with witnesses who testified that the contract was valid. The borrower, however, vehemently denied the charges and insisted that the contract was forged.

The beis din ruled that the document and witnesses were sufficient evidence that he owed the money, and they ordered the borrower to pay.

The Bach was deathly ill and very weak, but when he heard about the din Torah, he summoned the dayanim to his room. “You should know that the contract the lender brought is a forgery,” he rasped. “It’s fake and has no validity.”

“How does the rov know?” the dayanim asked.

“I just know,” the Bach responded weakly. “I feel in my heart that it is a fake.”

“But… we can’t pasken according to feelings,” one of the dayanim said respectfully. “We need to follow the laws of the Shulchan Aruch. There are witnesses, there is a document, and that means the lender’s allegations are true.”

The Bach coughed feebly. “Send in the lender, privately, please.”

A few minutes later, the lender arrived.

“Is the document showing that the borrower owes you money real?” the Bach asked quietly, looking into the lender’s eyes. “Is it true?”

“Yes, honored rov. It is one hundred percent accurate. I have witnesses to prove it,” the man replied.

The Bach narrowed his eyes. “I’m promising you a share in olam habah if you admit the truth,” he said slowly.

The lender squirmed. Looked away. Looked around. “I admit it,” he said at last. “You’re right. It was forged.”

“Thank you for having the courage to admit the truth,” the Bach told him. “I want you to repeat what you just told me to the entire beis din.”

The man’s face reddened, but he agreed to do as the Bach instructed, and the ‘borrower’ was acquitted of the charge.

The Bach began to cry. He felt this was a sign from shomayim that just as he had been given siyata dishmaya to sniff out the forgery, so too, he was given divine assistance to ensure that everything he wrote in the Bach was accurate. This gave him tremendous joy.

Amidst his tears, he recited shema and passed away shortly thereafter. 

From this story, we learn just how careful we must be with the feelings of widows and orphans. Even the Taz, the gadol hador, was made to pay a very steep price for the worry –unfounded worry – that he caused a widow.

In addition, we see just how great the Bach’s love for Torah was. Although he was clearly warned by the Megaleh Amukos that the publishing of his sefer would lead to his death, he was determined to print it anyway, ready to sacrifice his life for Hashem and for Torah. Through the publishing of his life’s work, he succeeded in fulfilling the mitzvah of v’ahavtah es Hashem… bechol nafshecha.

Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

This story is taken from tape # A387