The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 3, Mishnah 19) states: “Everything is foreseen and permission is granted.” The Rambam explains this to mean that everything is foreseen by Hashem, Who can foresee everything until the end of all generations. The Tanna then proceeds to teach us that one should not think that since Hashem already knows whatever is bound to happen, an individual has no free choice. This is truly not the case; rather, a man has free choice to do whatever he pleases. Rashi explains likewise in his commentary on Masechet Niddah (16b) where he writes: “All of an individual’s happenings and occurrences are the result of a Heavenly decree besides for fear of Heaven which is mandated by the individual’s own free choice.”
An incident once occurred to Hagaon Harav Yoel Sirkish, the author of “Bayit Chadash,” who was the head of the rabbinical court in Cracow, Poland. In his times, the Catholic Church had tremendous power and influence and the pope would control kings and ministers all over the world.
Once, the pope thought to himself that since he was frequently visited by many respected kings and ministers, a palace should be built for him where he would be able to greet his guest royally. He thus called before him two of the highest members of the church and handed them a letter of approbation signed by himself and commanded them to travel from city to city and from country to country and meet with the cardinal in every location so that he may escort them to the dignified and affluent members of the community in order to collect funds for the building of this palace. These two priests accepted the pope’s mission and they began to travel from place to place and their mission was quite successful. The traded all of their money for monetary notes which were much lighter and hid them in special hidden pockets sewn on the insides of their clothing.
They arrived in the city of Cracow very late at night and very tired from their long and arduous trek. While the entire city was fast asleep, they saw a single light emanating from one house. They knocked on the door and found inside a gracious young widow who had an oven and ran a modest inn and restaurant from which she earned a living. She told them that she had had several rooms available with beds and adequate furnishings inside and would be able to prepare a room and a meal for them within the hour. The priests replied, “There is a river not too far from here; we will go get washed up and return in an hour. In the meantime, please prepare all of our accommodations.” The inn-keeper agreed.
The priests went to the river and left their clothing on the edge of the river in order to bathe themselves. While inside, they were caught in a massive whirlpool and they could not reach safety in time and had thus met their demise. Meanwhile, the inn-keeper had prepared them a fresh meal and waited patiently for her guests to arrive. After seeing that they had not arrived after two hours, she went to look for them at the river. When she saw their garments on the river’s edge, she began to call out for them but to no avail. It then dawned on her that a terrible tragedy had occurred at which point she returned home.
Several days later, she decided to check their clothing and she realized that they were extremely heavy. She took a pair of scissors and cut the stitching on the inside of the clothing and found cash bills amounting to enormous; she was now a rich woman. She dug a hole in the floor of her house and hid the bills there after which she covered it up with some tiles so that no one would realize anything.
As all this was unfolding, a wealthy business man who happened to be a student of the Bayit Chadash had lost his young wife. A matchmaker suggested the aforementioned young widow as a perspective second wife for this man. After they met with one another and found each other to be suitable, they were wed. The businessman could not believe his eyes when he saw all of his new wife’s great affluence and requested that she tell him how she amassed all this wealth. Eventually, after asking her profusely, she revealed her secret. The man was taken aback and feared that it may be prohibited to use this money which belonged to the drowned priests. He therefore requested that his wife accompany him to pose this question to his rebbi, the Bayit Chadash.
When they entered the rabbi’s study, they told him that they wish to ask an extremely confidential question and asked if everyone besides the rabbi would please exit the room. The rabbi acquiesced and told everyone to leave besides for one of his students whom he claimed was a tremendous genius and their secret was safe with him.
They then posed their question to the rabbi and he ruled that the money may be used; however, he also ruled that they must donate funds for building synagogues, houses of study, Mikvaot, supporting Torah scholars, and assisting the needy.
They fulfilled the rabbi’s command and they merited living peacefully amid much wealth for many years. However, as time passed, it happened that the very student who was present in the room of the Bayit Chadash strayed far from the path of Torah and eventually converted to Christianity. Since he was such a genius, he rose from level to level in his Christian studies until he reached one of the highest positions in the Church. When he recalled the incident he saw, he decided to raise himself above the rest of the priests. He sent out an urgent message that a great secret was revealed to him from Heaven; he then invited all of the kings and ministers affiliated with the Church and told them to gather at a certain place where he would reveal this interesting secret which no one else in the world knew about. He also invited the rabbi and this couple to be present at this event.
When everyone arrived at the great event, the woman immediately recognized the great priest, who was indeed the very student in the rabbi’s study; she understood that he was here to disclose her secret and was about to cause a terrible calamity to occur. The woman began to tremble and she told her husband that they were surely lost as a result of her revealing the secret of her wealth. The Bayit Chadash heard her words and told her, “Do not fear! Surely, in the merit of all of the charity and good deeds you have performed in the past several years, no harm shall befall you. Wait and see Hashem’s salvation!”
The priest ascended the podium and called out: “Is the rabbi of the Jews here?” The audience replied that he was and the priest called him up to the podium. He then called on the Jewish couple to come up to the podium as well. The rabbi came up to the priest, concentrated on some holy names, and raised his voice and told the priest: “Say what you wish to say!” As soon as the rabbi said this, the angel of forgetfulness took hold of the priest and he forgot the entire incident. The priest was then terribly ashamed, for he had seemingly gathered all of these honored guests for no reason at all. All of the respected guests were extremely angered by this and he was then dismissed from his post amid much scorn and disgrace.
The great Bayit Chadash and the couple thus returned home joyfully and continued their charity and good deeds.
We see clearly that one can never rely completely on an individual’s integrity and believability, for one never knows what one day can bring, whether or not he will remain true and honest or, G-d-forbid, stray from the path of truth. (Based on Maran zt”l’s Anaf Etz Avot)
Halacha Yomit: Candles, decorations, adornments and the like which were made to decorate churches or adorn trees for pagan holidays and the like may be purchased and used for other purposes, for the manufacturers intention that they be designated for idolatry does not make them forbidden for use.