People that haven’t tasted the delight of the Yerushalmi Talmud don’t know what they’re missing. For your enjoyment, here’s a very poignant story from the Yerushalmi (tractate Taanit, 5b), which took place in Roman-controlled ancient Israel of about 1800 years ago:
The Land of Israel was undergoing a severe drought. Rabbi Abahu, one of the country's most pious sages, had a dream. A voice from Heaven told him, "If you ask Pentakika to pray, then rain will fall." The next morning, Rabbi Abahu sent emissaries to locate and summon Pentakika immediately.
They searched all over town, but no one knew anyone named “Pentatika.” They finally went to the slum neighborhood, doubtful that the great and holy Rabbi Abahu would be summoning anyone from that side of town. They finally met a person of questionable repute who directed them to the local brothel: “There, you’ll find Pentatika. He’s the caretaker…”
Within a short while, Pentakika came to Rabbi Abahu. "Tell me about yourself," the rabbi requested.
"I'm not much," replied Pentakika. "In fact, you'd probably consider me a lowlife; I'm the custodian of a brothel, and when I'm not cleaning the place up or taking their clothes to and from the bath house, I appear with the hookers on stage and play a drum while they dance and perform. When I'm not doing that, I just entertain them."
"Pentakika," the rabbi urged, "there's more to you than that, isn't there? Are you sure that you never did some very special deed?"
Pentakika scratched the stubble on his face, and pondered Rabbi Abahu's question for a moment. "You know rabbi, there is something I remember: Not long ago, a young Israelite woman came backstage on the brothel theater, crying her eyes out. I asked her why she was so distressed. She told me that the Romans jailed her husband, and that she needed money to gain his release. The young lady barely had money for bread and water; the only way she imagined to raise money for her husband's release was by selling herself to prostitution. I saw that she was an innocent young wife from a good home, so I wouldn't allow her to entertain such a thought. I therefore sold my bed, my mattress, and my pillow, and gave her the money. She arranged her husband's release the same day..."
"Aha," said Rabbi Abahu, "you are surely worthy of having your prayers answered, for your deeds are purest altruism."
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Oftentimes, society turns its nose up at what it considers to be 2nd and 3rd class citizens. Kids on the street jeer and throw banana peels at down-and-outers, and their parents merely snicker.
This year during Rosh Hashana in Uman, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting some very special new BTs (baalei teshuva – Jews new to observant Judaism). Some still have earrings in their ears and brand new beards – sort of an appearance “changing-of-the guards” - and many have tattoos all over their body testifying to the past they’re now leaving behind. It’s so moving to see these spiritually thirsty young men with tears streaming down their faces during N’tane Tokef. No, these aren’t the Ivy-league Yuppie types. They’re not med-school grads nor do they own a Bentley. Yet, their dedication to Torah observance and their sacrifices along their personal road to finding Hashem – including making the long and expensive pilgrimage to Uman - are no less than remarkable.
More and more people are seeking Hashem on both sides of the ocean. Be careful, though – if a new face arrives in your synagogue dressed slightly different than everyone else, don’t turn your nose up at him. Neither the Baal Shem Tov nor Rebbe Nachman of Breslev ever turned a simple-looking Jew away.
Careful, though, you never know - Mr. Bo Jangles the hobo could be a tzaddik nistar, a righteous saint in disguise. The Talmud therefore warns us to never hold another human in disdain; no one can know the true inner value of a person.
Don't ever forget that Mr. Bo Jangles also has a divine soul that's a tiny spark of The Creator. That in itself is sufficient reason to treat him - and every other human - with dignity.
Rebbe Nachman teaches us that there are 600,000 Jewish soul roots that correspond to the 600,000 letters of the Torah. One who culls another Jew is like one who culls a letter of the Torah. If one letter of the Torah is rendered unkosher, then according to Jewish law, the entire Torah scroll is unkosher. Therefore, a person who disdains another Jew is like a person that learns from an unkosher Torah.
This year, which we hope will be a year of Jewish unity and Geula, let’s all learn from a kosher Torah scroll. We can do that only when we recognize that each Jew has his or her own special value, like a letter of the Torah. The whole depends on each tiny part. May everyone have an easy fast and a Gmar Chatima Tova for a wonderful New Year 5772!
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