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The Tiferet Shlomo of Radomsk: Resurrecting the Dead with a Joke

Rabbi Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowitz of Radomsk was born in 5561 (1801) to Rabbi David Tzvi Hakohen and his wife, Frumette. Both were of a noble lineage of families who opposed Chasidut. In his childhood, Rabbi Shlomo studied Torah in Piotrków, Poland, under the tutelage of Rabbi Avraham Tzvi, author of the “Responsa Brit Avraham” and Rabbi David Harif, author of the “Beit David.” Both were disciples of “the Holy Jew.” In Piotrków Rabbi Shlomo was drawn to Chasidut, and also wrote his own Torah innovations. Rabbi Shlomo married Gittel, the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel of Barzilov. After his wedding, the couple went to live with the groom’s father in Przedbórz, where he served as a teacher until 5594 (1834). During this period Rabbi Shlomo became very close with the holy Sabba of Radoschitz, who became the Rabbi of Radomsk. In 5703 (1843), the Rebbe of Radoschitz passed away and most of his chasidim accepted Rebbe Shlomo as their new rebbe. Rebbe Shlomo himself became close at that time to Rebbe Moshe of Lelov, until the latter made aliyah to the Land of Israel in 5611 (1851).  Rebbe Shlomo became known as a prayer leader and wondrous composer. It is told that after the passing of the Chiddushei HaRim of Gur on 23 Adar 5626 (1866), he said that he understood that when the tzaddik of the generation would pass away, he would be called from heaven to lead the Shabbat Eve prayers. Indeed, on that Friday night,  29 Adar, Rebbe Shlomo passed away. His son, Rabbi Tzvi Meir inherited his position as Rabbi of Radomsk, while his second son, Rabbi Avraham Yissachar Ber, was appointed to be the Rebbe and successor of the Radomsk chasidic dynasty.

The grandson of the Tiferet Shlomo related:

Once a chasid and Torah scholar came to my grandfather, the Tiferet Shlomo. He told the Rebbe that he had a daughter of marriageable age, but absolutely no money for a dowry or wedding expenses. As was customary, the chasid gave the Rebbe a note that stated the problem with the relevant names.  He wrote that he was “poor.” When Rebbe Shlomo read the note, he said, “What? What? A poor person??? A poor person is considered dead! Get out of my house!! I am a Kohen and cannot be exposed to the impurity of the dead!!! Leave immediately!!!”

Extremely agitated, the poor chasid ran outside as fast as his legs would carry him. Then Rebbe Shlomo called after him, “Please, come in, come in. Surely you are a met mitzvah (a dead person who has no one to attend to his funeral) and a Kohen is allowed to become impure to help him.” They both laughed.

“Before you worry about funds for the wedding,” Rebbe Shlomo asked on a more serious note, “do you have bread to eat?”

The chasid began to stammer and said, “We don’t really have bread, either.”

“But you make the Hamotzi blessing (on bread) every day. From where do you have bread to make the Hamotzi blessing?” Rebbe Shlomo continued his queries.

The chasid replied that the primary way that he attained bread was from the meager profits that his wife made.

“Well, well,” said the tzaddik. “His wife gives him sustenance! We already saw how well that worked when Eve gave Adam to eat. And you are telling me that your wife gives you sustenance??? And where does she make her profit?”

“My wife goes to the courtyards (chatzerot in Hebrew) of the wealthy masters and sells them vegetables and the like,” the chasid explained.

“If so,” said Rebbe Shlomo, “V’Chatzerot v’Di Zahav (Literally, the Biblical names of places along the journey of the Children of Israel in the desert). If she goes into chatzerot (courtyards), there is surely Di Zahav (enough gold) there. Journey back to your home and God will help, so that your wife will be successful with Di Zahav (enough gold).

Somewhat beside himself, the chasid traveled home. “What did you bring from the Rebbe?” his wife asked. The chasid did not know what to answer. But amazingly, after a short time, his wife came home and said to her husband, “Look what I found in a courtyard today. A mud covered bundle of rags.” They opened the bundle and were shocked. Inside were three hundred golden coins. The chasid set aside 150 golden coins for a dowry and wedding expenses for his daughter and with the rest, he did some trading, built up a business and was successful for the rest of his life.

Until after the passing of the Tiferet Shlomo, the chasid kept his story a secret. After the tzaddik passed away, he came to his son, the Chesed L’Avraham, and related the entire chain of events. “What can we say about our holy and righteous father?” said the Chesed L’Avraham. “He was a man of wonders. He would bring all of his ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) and wonders into reality by means of verses, so that nobody would realize that it was actually a miracle.”

Why did Rebbe Shlomo scare the poor chasid and chase him out of his home? If all that he wanted to do was to conceal the fact that he had ruach hakodesh, couldn’t he have used a less upsetting strategy?

We can say that to transform the mazal of the poor chasid into good, Rebbe Shlomo had to nullify his previous essence. He accomplished this by declaring that he was dead and driving him out of his home. Then, after the chasid became a “met mitzvah” he returned to a new life. (For it is written about the mitzvot “they are our lives”). In this way, the Rebbe was able to draw salvation down for the chasid and change his entire situation.

The strange garb in which this miracle was clothed also had another role: It is written in the Talmud[1] that before the Talmudic sage Rabbah would begin teaching his class, he would open with a joke. Rabbah did this to arouse his students and broaden their faculty of knowledge. In this manner, Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk inspired his met mitzvah with new life. As opposed to Rabbah, however, who after the joke would sit in trepidation of God and relay his Torah teachings, Rebbe Shlomo reversed the order. First fear and then laughter, creating a process of Pachad Yitzchak (in the Torah, a reference to “the God of Isaac, which can also mean “Fear will laugh”). In this process, the fear is sweetened and turned into relieved laughter.  We can also say that Rebbe Shlomo’s special talent to create holy laughter came to him specifically because he was a Kohen, associated with the attribute of chesed (loving kindness).

Another allusion in Rebbe Shlomo’s holy joke reveals a rectification of the sin of Adam, who brought death (and poverty…) to the world. The sin took place by means of the woman, who gave her husband fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Here, however, the woman supports her scholarly, pious husband in holiness. And it is specifically in her merit that the salvation comes.

Image: Great Synagogue of Radomsk


[1] Shabbat 30b.

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