Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5760 - May 17, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Full Cycle

by S. Yud


According to R' Efraim's family tradition, his ancestral roots went all the way back to the exiles of the Bayis Sheini. That same tradition claimed that his ancestors were among the first settlers in Mogdor, Morocco. The Jews of the city, who knew R' Efraim's illustrious family, were proud of their famous neighbor, who was also distinguished in his own right. R' Efraim, the hero of our story was, first of all, a G-d fearing Jew of the genuine genre; his piety was reflected in everything he did: how he prayed and how he dealt in business. His integrity was inherent in his genes. And second, he was renowned for the wealth he had acquired through the labor of his own hands.

Most wondrous was the fact that riches had not ruined R' Efraim in the least and he remained an aristocratic, prestigious figure, the pride of Mogdor. He had not always been rich; in fact, he had begun his adult life along the same lines as his forerunners, in arduous Torah study. Necessity had forced him to seek a means of livelihood and he had begun dealing modestly in fabrics.

Over the years, his business swelled to a vast chain of stores that spread over many cities and huge warehouses. The many agents who were fortunate to be included among R' Efraim's employees knew that their boss would grant them a generous wage and treat them fairly. Consequently, he gained their trust and affection to such a degree that no one, not even the lowliest of them, would have dreamed of stealing from their master, for had they tried none of the other workers would have covered up for him. Almost all of his employees were Jews, and R' Efraim would occasionally gather them together and deliver a shiur or lecture, which raised his esteem in their eyes to the very skies. They instinctively knew that he was a G-d-fearing person, through and through.

Just as everyone knew R' Efraim, so did the townspeople know Dovid, the youth whom R' Efraim had taken into his home as a penniless orphan. He lavished love and affection upon the boy and turned him into his right-hand man. The wages Dovid received, together with the prestige of his office, were a source of comfort to the young man who had suffered so much in his short lifetime and he tried to justify R' Efraim's faith in him and to repay him for his boundless kindness. He learned to intuitively divine what R' Efraim wanted or needed, and the latter never had to state a request in so many words.

He revered his benefactor and tried to emulate his piety in prayer and study as well. But in his heart, he knew that R' Efraim was an exalted person, thoroughly and perfectly, and hoped and prayed that success would continue to always shine upon him.

Hassan also knew R' Efraim the Jew and hated him bitterly. Their acquaintance had begun when they were both boys. Hassan, unruly and rebellious, was the very antitheses of the genteel Efraim, and he was always jealous of him. When he matured, he decided to try his hand in the same business, fabrics, and had accrued a huge fortune, as well. He wielded tremendous power and would strut about, imposing his fear upon one and all. But rich as he was, his wealth did not approach that of his rival, nor did his esteem begin to equal the true respect everyone had towards the Jew. Hassan nursed the hope that someday he would be able to show the Jew who was the better man in every way.

It was one sunny winter's day when Hassan's aide entered the office, knowing in advance that he was in for his daily acerbic tongue lashing. "What do you want?" hissed Hassan.

"A big merchant approached me yesterday and asked if I would be interested in buying up a large lot of damaged goods."


"Yes," replied the aide. "It is a material whose weave was faulty and the threads do not lie smooth but give the fabric a nobby look."

"Send him to me at once," Hassan spat the words. "What else?"

"I-I heard . . . "

"What did you hear?" asked Hassan, suddenly alert.

"I heard a rumor that Efraim is being considered for appointment as special economic consultant to the king. He will, apparently, remain here in Mogdor and advise the king how to expand commerce in the entire southern area of the land."

Hassan seethed and roiled. The very mention of Efraim's name made him turn beet-red, but when he heard of the great honor awaiting his arch-rival, he seized a costly crystal ashtray on his desk and hurled it at the opposite wall with all his strength, where it shattered. This act was accompanied by a stream of curses that did not let up for a good half-hour. Hassan's aide cringed in a corner, waiting for the opportune moment when he could slink out and not become the inadvertent object of the unleashed fury.

Suddenly, Hassan stopped short and looked at his trembling assistant. A strange glint danced in his evil eyes. "Repeat what you just told me before."

"E-E-Efraim . . . " stuttered the man.

"Stupid donkey, not that. What you told me before."

"Er, er, I said that a certain merchant had offered to sell us a large quantity of damaged goods."

"How much?"

"He didn't say exactly, but it's a tremendous amount."

"How much does he want for it?"

"Pennies, hardly more than the value of the raw wool itself. He is interested in getting rid of it at all cost, even if he stands to lose. I told him that you never deal in damaged goods."

"Tell him that I'll buy up his entire lot," barked Hassan.

"But . . . "

"Shut up and listen. We are going to buy up the entire amount, but only on condition that no one knows about this deal. Tell him that I don't want a soul to know that I bought faulty material and that I intend to use it for stuffing and rags, in any case."

"But why?" the helper dared ask.

"I have my plans. I intend to transfer it all to our good friend, the king's royal financial advisor, heh, heh. And he will pay good money for it, in the bargain, thinking that it is high quality stuff."

"But how will you swing that?"

"Trust Hassan!" he said, sparks shooting from his eyes. "This time the Jew will fall!"


At that very moment, R' Efraim was seated in his office, reviewing his accounts together with his trusted aide, R' Dovid, when there was a knock on the door. Not waiting for an invitation, the guard poked his head in and announced that two very distinguished looking men had come from the capital and wished to speak with R' Efraim. R' Efraim nodded and the guard showed them in; he recognized them from a past encounter.

They quickly verified the rumor that had already spread throughout the city, that the King had sent them. The King had previously met with some of the major businessmen in the country, including R' Efraim, and had been impressed by the excellent reputation the latter enjoyed universally. They had been sent to appoint him as a special financial advisor to the King. "But don't worry," one of them hastened to reassure him. "You will not be required to move away from Mogdor. On the contrary, the king is interested in developing commerce in this area of the country and wants someone he can trust. He promised to grant you extensive authority and the status of a royal advisor. The mayor has already been notified of your appointment and, in fact, he was one of your ardent supporters. The King is convinced that you will not refuse and that you will represent his interests and the interests of your homeland, Morocco, to the best of your ability."

R' Efraim sat there bewildered. He had never dreamed of such an honor. Becoming a royal advisor would grant him tremendous power and stature, but would it not also be a possible spiritual danger? Should he accept such great responsibility at such huge risk? He knew he could not make the decision alone, but would have to turn to a distinguished rov. But how could he stall these important messengers for the meanwhile?

"Listen," he said after a pause. "I am deeply moved by the King's expression of esteem. I am extremely grateful but I must have a little time to think it over . . . "

The two must have anticipated such an answer, because one of them replied, "It seems that you really have no choice in the matter."

"What do you mean?" asked R' Efraim in consternation.

He took out a sheet of paper, spread it open on the desk, and explained, "The King imagined that you might not want to take such a decisive step without consulting the wise men of your city, and so he sent us to them before coming here. Not only did they agree to your appointment, but they even heartily endorsed it and almost obligated you forcibly to accept the King's request."

R' Efraim took the paper and read it in amazement. All of the rabbis of the city, its wise men and judges, had signed the paper permitting and urging R' Efraim to accept the appointment as royal advisor. The paper was not forged, he could tell, for he was familiar with the sages of Mogdor and knew their signatures well. He also knew that they had signed it willingly, for they would not be swayed against their own good judgment even for fear of the King. The only motivation that guided them was fear of the A-mighty King. The messenger before him was right -- he had no choice but to accept the honor.

"We have come prepared with an official document of instatement, a ksav hachtora," the two added, "which we will deliver to you in a few hours' time in the home of the governor."

R' Efraim looked at them in disbelief. This pair had come extremely well-prepared for every contingency.

"The elders of the city and its distinguished men have already been invited to the ceremony and we are convinced that you will execute your new position in the best possible manner," they added warmly, leaving R' Efraim deeply moved, but still bewildered. How had all this happened so quickly -- to suddenly find himself the new `special royal advisor' to the king?

It was like a dream. Within the hour, the entire city knew about the appointment as a certainty. The Jews, proud of their fellow compatriot, made arrangements for a grand ceremony, and even all the non- Jewish businessmen wanted to partake in this momentous event. They knew that hereon in, R' Efraim would control local commerce and their fortunes would rise or fall accordingly. It was crucial for them to show their solidarity and support.

This appointment was the talk of the entire town -- all except for two men who were preoccupied with other important matters. One of them was R' Efraim, himself, who was ensconced in his study, absorbed in heartfelt prayer to Hashem that he do justice to this new honor and not fail or stumble in any way. The second was Hassan, who sat in his private office, scheming and planning his future activities, step by step.

That very day, the defective merchandise was transferred to Hassan's warehouses. The nominal fee which he finally paid for it, itself, was also the result of exhausting haggling. The news of the ceremony taking place reached his ears and propelled him with increased energy to give his personal attention to the crates of fabric that had just come into his possession. His secret plot began to take on more specific shape and form. Hassan did not dare absent himself from the public event and even shook hands with the Jewish businessman, though his heart seethed with the fire of anger and revenge.

"May G-d grant you success in your new office," he mouthed his blessing to R' Efraim, while inwardly gloating, "Just you wait . . . I have a big surprise planned for you . . . "

All the dignitaries of the city, its functionaries and educated men, both Jew and gentile, made their appearance to pay tribute to their old friend, the new royal advisor. They applauded his warm words loudly as he told them all how dear they were to him. He promised to represent their best interests as well as the general interests of his country and he thanked Hashem for the kindness He had shown him and his city. Everyone, with an exception or two, identified closely with his fervent words.

The lights burned all night, that night, in Hassan's warehouse. A group of laborers toiled silently, opening crate after crate, laying a layer or two of fine fabric in careful folds on top, and then sealing them again. The damaged goods remained underneath, carefully camouflaged.

Within several hours all was ready, the labels duly altered to denote excellent quality goods contained inside. Anyone opening them would have been easily misled as to their real contents. Only a thorough shakeout of the entire crate would have revealed the inner layers of defective material whose warp, that is, the vertical threads, were thicker than the woof, the horizontal ones, creating an uneven, bumpy design that was unpleasant to the touch or the eye, material that was virtually worthless, having no utility of any kind.

@BIG LET BODY = Hassan was the first visitor in R' Efraim's office on the following day, the arduous previous night behind him leaving its mark upon his face. He looked taut and strained, which was the very impression he wished to make. As he made his way to R' Efraim, he reviewed the story he had prepared.

He tapped lightly on the door and appeared more subdued than usual. R' Efraim, familiar with his Arab `friend,' was most surprised at this new air. In fact, he had never seen Hassan so submissive. Apparently, thought R' Efraim, his new office as royal advisor had intimidated the Arab into putting on this servile mien.

"And what has brought you to me this morning, Hassan?" he inquired, pouring a steaming demitasse of aromatic Turkish coffee for his guest.

"I will tell you in due time, but I beg you to promise me to keep this a secret," Hassan pleaded in a low voice.

"Rest assured. There is no one here but us two and I will surely keep the matter between us. What is that you have to divulge?"

Tears sprang to Hassan's eyes as he skillfully spun a story about his son, a wild youth, who had tried his hand at trade and failed. He told R' Efraim how he had become entangled in huge debts. "My whole reputation, the family honor and my entire fortune, now hangs in the balance," he wailed, "and I am in great need of a large sum of money to bail us out."

R' Efraim studied the man before him. "Does he think he can borrow a large amount of cash from me?" he asked himself.

Hassan must have read his thoughts, or anticipated them, for he continued, "I am not asking for charity or even for a loan. But I do beg of you to remember our childhood friendship and to do me a great favor."

"What is it that you want of me?"

"I have in my possession a large quantity of superior goods which I cannot find an immediate customer for. If I sold out, I know I would have to settle for less than its true value, even less than the cost price. I am pressed for cash, but even more, for time, because if I don't pay back my son's debts by tomorrow, I am lost. My son and I will find ourselves behind bars. Please, R' Efraim, help me out of this terrible predicament! I don't know what to do! Perhaps you can buy me out and provide me with the cash I so desperately need!"

"No!" exclaimed Dovid in a surprisingly uncharacteristic outburst. "Don't believe him! He's a scoundrel!"

Hassan trembled, afraid that his secret had been discovered, but R' Efraim attributed the shaking to fear for his skin if he could not produce the cash.

"Don't mix in, Dovid. Give me a moment to think this through on my own." He recalled his own financial difficulties of the past when he, too, had been pressed for liquidity. The man before him was not known for his love towards Jews, but who knows? Perhaps a favor in his time of need might turn him from foe to friend. "Is this not a perfect example of casting bread upon the waters?" he asked himself. It might turn out to be an excellent investment in human relations. He offered up a silent prayer to Hashem to put the right counsel into his head and, after a few moments of thought, raised his eyes to Hassan and said, "I would like to see the merchandise."

Hassan exulted. The fish was swimming into his net. He attempted to conceal his joy, but when a laugh escaped from behind his mustache involuntarily, he quickly coughed and began sobbing and pouring out a stream of profuse thanks. He heaped blessings upon the Jew and his progeny forever more and promised that he would never, ever, forget this great kindness.

The crates were examined from the outside and several of them were opened at random to reveal exquisite, high quality goods truly worth a fortune. The sum Hassan was asking for was high but R' Efraim felt he would be able to make a profit when the right customer came along. Hassan needed the money in cash, but R' Efraim could manage that with skillful maneuvering here and there, and he felt he could not disappoint the Arab by refusing this favor.

Dovid, his loyal aide, stood on the sidelines, confused and irate. He had a gut feeling that something about this deal was not quite right, that the Arab was misleading them in some way, but could not put his finger on it. It was like a sixth sense which he could not substantiate in any way. Still, he felt very uneasy about the transaction.

That very day, the entire shipment was transferred to R' Efraim's storerooms. "Tomorrow I would like you to unpack the goods and put them in place," R' Efraim said to Dovid. The money, however, was duly handed over to Hassan that very day, in hard cash. The latter lavered R' Efraim's hand with kisses and showered him with blessings and thanks that he live a long life and enjoy prosperity forever more. He repeatedly told him that he was virtually saving his life and reputation.

The lights remained burning that night, too, in Hassan's home. He and his assistants were celebrating their success with a lavish feast. Hassan gloated over the details of the swindle and how R' Efraim had naively fallen into his trap. "In a day or two he will discover that he has lost most of his money. We will see then how the new royal advisor continues to function . . . " chuckled Hassan into his mustache repeatedly.


For the first time in his life, Dovid opened the door to R' Efraim's office without knocking first. He looked alarmed. His face was flushed and his hair disheveled. A guttural cry emerged hoarsely from his throat. R' Efraim leaped up at the sight.

"What happened?"

Some more guttural sounds forced their way from Dovid's throat before he could make an intelligible reply. Finally, he exclaimed, "The thief, the liar, the scoundrel! Hassan cheated you! The goods are all damaged! Worthless!"

"Sit down and calm down," R' Efraim shouted at the hysterical young man, for the first time in his life, hoping to shake him back to his senses.

"He robbed you!" Dovid finally said. "All of the crates were filled with damaged goods covered over by a top layer of expensive material. The contents are completely worthless! I had the feeling something like this would happen! And I warned you, too!"

R' Efraim turned white. Suddenly, the room seemed to revolve. He steadied himself and then made his way to his warehouses to see the disaster with his own eyes. "What happened to me?" he asked himself in wonder. "How did I manage to lose almost all of my money in one deal?" He was overcome with helplessness and defeat.

But after a moment he rallied, and all he had ever believed in rushed to his mind. "This is from Hashem," he heard himself declaring. "Everything comes from Hashem, both the good and the bad, both the punishing rod and the supporting staff."

The two men walked back slowly to the office. For the next hour they sat there together, bewildered, perplexed, dispirited, trying to console one another. They decided to attempt to meet with Hassan, but a visit to his home convinced them that there was nothing to talk about. The servant at the door told them emphatically that his master was busy at the moment. They realized that there was little hope of their ever getting their money back from him. Hassan was no fool; he had succeeded in duping the royal advisor and nothing would be able to pry a cent from him.

They trudged home, side by side, and returned to the office. R' Efraim murmured, half to himself, half to Dovid, that there was justice in the world. There was a supreme Judge; everything in the world had a reason. Everything emanated directly from Hashem. Better that He vent His justice upon R' Efraim's money than upon his health or family, G-d forbid. If this was ordained, so be it. A Jew must thank Hashem and bless Him for misfortune just as for good fortune.

A knock interrupted their conversation. A servant entered. "A military messenger has arrived," he announced.

"Tell him that R' Efraim is not available at the moment," said Dovid.

"Wait a minute. What does he want?"

"He says he has something very important to tell you."

"Show him in," said R' Efraim wearily. He turned to his aide, "Dovid, you must remember that I am duty bound to fulfill the demands of my office regardless of our great misfortune."

The military representative entered. R' Efraim knew him; he was a native of Mogdor who had gone on to fill one of the highest positions in the country's defense establishment. Lately, so rumor had it, he had even been appointed as deputy quartermaster, responsible for military supplies. But what could he possibly want from R' Efraim? Was this another form of trouble in the offing?

"I need your help," he began. R' Efraim cringed at the words that echoed so closely the words Hassan had uttered not long ago . . . His heart began pounding.

"The supreme commander of the armed forces has visited some friendly countries recently and discovered that their uniforms are made from a new kind of material. He has decided that this suits our purposes better than the kind we are currently using and I have been sent to purchase this very type. I am afraid that my entire future hinges on this assignment and have come to you to help me secure this particular product. Can you, at least, guide me in the right direction?"

As he spoke, the officer took out a swatch of knobby material whose vertical threads were thicker than the horizontal ones, lending the finished product an unusually knobby look, as if it were defective . . .

"Don't you feel good?" he suddenly asked, seeing the two men turning pale and shaking their heads in utter bewilderment.

David burst into semi-hysterical laughter and exclaimed, "Done! We have this very product, lots and lots of it!"

"Could you be so good as to show it to me?" asked the officer.

R' Efraim replied in a strangely subdued voice, "Dovid, go and show him the goods in our warehouse and conclude the deal as you see fit."

"He doesn't feel well," whispered Dovid to the officer after they had left the office, to explain R' Efraim's strange manner. And what could you expect, Dovid added to himself, after what he had gone through these past three days! He hardly dared believe this open miracle that was taking place right now.

The fabric was exactly according to his specification and the transaction was consummated on the spot. Its terms stipulated that the army would take the entire consignment, for which it would pay generously, and the officer would explain to the soldiers why this particular fabric was best suited for their needs. Dovid was certain that it was R' Efraim's devoutness and goodness that had stood him through this terrible trial and granted him this extraordinary miracle.

As he walked back to the office, alone, he calculated the profit his master stood to gain from this exchange; R' Efraim would easily double, if not treble his original fortune! Eager to report the good news to R' Efraim he entered the office, only to find the latter dissolved in a paroxysm of tears. He knew his master well and recognized these tears not to be those of relief, but of genuine sorrow and pain.

He couldn't believe his eyes. Had R' Efraim lost his senses? Did he not realize what had just taken place? The evil schemer's plot had turned out to a blessing in disguise, for his extreme good, and the misfortune had become great fortune! Hashem had come to his rescue!

He tried to explain the situation to R' Efraim, to ask him why he was sobbing so bitterly and reassure him that everything was rosier than ever, but R' Efraim refused to be consoled. His tears were tears of sorrow and pain, not jubilation, and he would not explain why.


Life returned to its usual routine very quickly. Few people knew what had transpired in the short period from the time of his royal appointment until the great transaction that had doubled his wealth. Hassan heard the news and died of apoplexy on the spot when he realized what precious goods he had let slip between his fingers. And worse -- into the very hands of the man he hated and envied most. R' Efraim continued in his new office as royal advisor. Only Dovid, his trusted assistant, noted that the light had gone out of his master's eyes, leaving in its wake the opaque shadow of an unspecified anxiety.

All went well in the succeeding month. Feverish activities took place in anticipation of the upcoming trade fair where huge deals were transacted involving vast sums of money. Later on, Dovid would recall that the surprising announcement had come shortly before they had left for the fair. The entire country was struck by shock when their young king suddenly died.

A solemn messenger who came to the city delivered a royal sealed letter to R' Efraim just as he was about to set forth. It stated, briefly and dryly, that the new king had decided to remove the Jew from his office, surely the result of advice given by antisemitic elements in the government. R' Efraim received the news with equanimity and postponed taking any measures until his return from the fair.

That fair, Dovid would later recall, was the greatest financial disaster his master had ever known. Every single transaction they made turned foul and even the return trip, with the unnecessary goods, was fraught with pitfalls. It started with bad weather and ended with bandits on the road who stripped them of their goods. The two returned home with their searing failure engraved upon their hearts.

From that trip on, everything was downhill. Everything that could possibly go wrong -- did. Things seemed to be out of their control. Misfortunes, disaster, losses, sickness -- all visited R' Efraim's home.

It took some time for people to realize the fact that R' Efraim had lost all of his fortune, and with it the honor and glory that had accompanied it. In time, R' Efraim had to sell his mansion and move to a squalid house.

His fortune continued to dwindle very rapidly. R' Efraim was not getting any younger and the day came when he took Dovid aside and said, "My dear, trusted aide. You can judge the situation for yourself. I have nothing more to offer you; I can no longer pay you any wages. The time has come, I believe, for you to strike off on your own, much as I regret it. You have served me truly and well and it pains me to do this to you, but it is for our mutual benefit."

"You need not pay me a cent, R' Efraim. I will gladly remain by your side even without wages, and continue to serve you as I have always done."

The master refused to hear of it. "Here, Dovid, I have set aside a sum of money for you which I never touched. It is yours, well earned. Take it, before we lose that too. Go forth to seek your own fortune. Make yourself a new life, and may Hashem grant you success. Remember always, that everything comes from Hashem, the good and the bad. Never remove the fear of G-d from your heart. Everything is in His hands; only He can enrich and impoverish, raise on high or cast to the dust."

Dovid wept bitter tears over the good man who had been so kind to him throughout the years, who had raised him from childhood and who was now forced to send him away out of necessity. Common sense told him that this was the right thing to do, that they must part ways, but his heart ached for this upright, righteous man who was so willingly resigned to his misfortune, who continued to love Hashem in harsh times as he had in the good times.


R' Efraim's condition continued to plummet downwards. He found consolation in prayer and Torah study. He was aware that everything he did was doomed to failure, but he persisted in making small business transactions with people who had not known him in his heyday, and he managed to eke out a meager pittance. Here and there, his old acquaintances tried to help him in a more dignified manner, but R' Efraim shunned these transparent gestures; he was resigned to his status as a pauper.

The year came when R' Efraim faced the sad fact that he would be forced to accept kimcha dePischa charity. He -- and many others -- still recalled the huge amounts of kosher flour and sums of money which he had distributed to the poor. This time, he was at the receiving end, embarrassed and confused by the turn of his fortune -- having to take instead of give.

Days, weeks and months passed, and he found himself on the verge of starvation. R' Efraim faced the bitter reality that he must resort to begging to stay alive. But not in Mogdor, where people knew him, where the homes of the wealthy were familiar to him from the inside . . . He could not bring himself to stretch out his hand for alms there and decided to go to neighboring towns, to venture beyond, to ply good Jews who did not know him. Hashem would have pity on him and they would provide him with his basic needs until times got better.

If R' Efraim thought he knew the meaning of poverty, he was in for a surprise. The life of a wandering beggar was far worse than the indignity he had experienced in his home town. His senses became dulled to hardship, and the very hand that had clasped the hands of ministers and magnates was now stretched out for crusts of bread. A penny to stave off death from starvation.

Everything became a blur to him; pain and degradation distorted his senses as life became one arduous bout for survival. Day merged into night, pangs of hunger came and went, assuaged temporarily by a morsel here and there, reminding him that he must press on to beg now, so that he could live tomorrow.

The one thing that remained stark and vivid was his faith in Hashem and the knowledge that everything emanated from Him: only He could grant him respite, if He so willed.

A long period passed in this twilight state. R' Efraim continued to wander, with no particular destination. He traversed all of Morocco and even reached bordering Algeria, going from one Jewish community to another. Ever so often, someone would stop and stare at him intently, perhaps wondering if this Jew was familiar. But very quickly, he would shake his head and say to himself, "No, it couldn't be. It was just a passing notion."


Dovid left his master and decided to strike out on his own. With the money he had, he decided to engage in business, but not in Mogdor, not near R' Efraim. He did not want to sow salt upon the good man's raw wounds. Dovid went to Tunis and settled in its thriving Jewish community. He began trading at a modest level, and soon expanded his affairs very successfully. He got married and established a family and before long had earned himself a very distinguished position in the community.

Like his former master and teacher, he was good, kind, sensitive, aristocratic in spirit. His early experiences left a strong impression on him and he never forgot the lesson which R' Efraim had engraved upon his heart: everything comes from Hashem be it success or failure, and he was grateful to Hashem for the wealth and honor that came his way. R' Dovid's house was always open to the poor, literally so; they knew that they could always walk in and get a warm meal, as well as a generous sum from the benevolent master of the house.

R' Efraim linked up with a group of beggars, mostly younger than he, who traveled together from place to place and made their living from the handouts of kindly Jews wherever. On one particular Shabbos, he was placed with a family who happened to mention, during the meal, that there was a rich man in Tunis, a R' Dovid, who never turned a poor man away. His hospitality and generosity were legend.

The name struck a chord in R' Efraim's heart, and his curiosity was aroused, much against his better judgment. "What is he like, this R' Dovid? What does he look like?" he asked weakly from the far end of the table. The description and details seemed to tally. He had come, originally, from Mogdor . . .

R' Efraim's pulse quickened. It was his friend from the past.

"Where does he live?"

"You don't need a street and number to find R' Dovid, my dear man. All you need do is go to Tunis and ask for him. Everyone can direct you to his home. But if you really wish to know, he lives at this address . . . "

Throughout that Shabbos, wild thoughts danced around in R' Efraim's head. Happy and sad memories, voices, conversations, events, all seemed so vivid.

That motzei Shabbos, R' Efraim sent off a letter to Tunis. The reply came in due time, to the home of a good Jew who agreed to be his go-between. It was warm, enthusiastic, and contained a sum of money. "Please come to me, my dearest father and master. My home is your home; everything I own is at your disposal."

It went on and on, in hearty terms, begging R' Efraim to set out at once. "Come and spend the Pesach with me and then I will see what I can do to establish you once again, and repay, in small measure, all that you did for me in the past."

The journey was the longest he had taken in his life. Would this mark the end of his suffering, wondered R' Efraim, or were there still more hardships in store for him? Every moment seemed like an eternity; he was tense with anticipation and hoped that he would indeed reach his destination before Pesach.

It was precisely erev Pesach by the time he arrived in Tunis. He rid himself of the few meager crumbs still in his possession. He was as ready as possible now for the coming festival. Oh, how he longed to celebrate it as a "free" man, liberated from the heavy burden of suffering he had borne for these many years.

He stopped a Jewish passerby and whispered weakly, "Greetings. Would you be so kind as to direct me to the home of R' Dovid?"

The man pointed a finger in the right direction, eyebrows lifted that at this late hour someone was still in need of food and alms before the festival.

He made his way to the address indicated and knocked on the door of the mansion. The servant who answered said that he could not see his master at present. "Go to that small building where you will find something to eat and a place to rest. You'll be able to see R' Dovid in the evening, at the seder table. And by the way, it wouldn't hurt you to wash up a bit."

"But I must see the master of the house," insisted the strange traveler. The servant, a youth whom R' Dovid had taken into his employ a short while before out of sympathy, was brash and impatient. "You can't see the master now, I said. Don't bother me any more."

R' Efraim explained that he had a letter from R' Dovid inviting him to his home. "He's nothing but a liar!" thought the hotheaded youth. Since when did his master send special invitations to beggars by post? He refused to comply with the request, but R' Efraim, for his part, continued to press. The argument grew heated and the hour was getting late.

Disgusted with this interchange, the youth grabbed hold of the elderly man, forcibly hoisted him onto his shoulders and said, "I'll teach you a lesson to disturb people right before a festival!"

He carried his `burden' into the well-tended garden, produced a length of rope and proceeded to tie the poor man from a tree, head down, after having removed most of his dusty clothing from him. "There!" he said when the job was done. "That'll show you not to pester decent folk when time is so short. And that includes me, too!"

It must be said that the guard really had no intention of keeping the stranger hanging there for more than several moments, but in his haste to finish his preparations for yom tov, he forgot the pauper and left him hanging there, tied to the tree, head down.

R' Dovid waited for his expected guest and was sorely distressed that he had not come. He felt pangs of guilt. Perhaps he had not done enough to make sure he came. Perhaps R' Efraim had never received his letter! From the very day he had gotten R' Efraim's letter, he had been uneasy. How distressed he was to hear of his desperate situation. Perhaps he had received the letter, but some misfortune had overtaken him on the road. He was beset by worry and guilt.

At the end of the prayers that evening, R' Dovid made his way home together with the many guests who would join him at his seder table: poor Torah scholars along with numerous simple homeless beggars. Everyone gathered around the table that sparkled with gleaming silver and crystal utensils on the backdrop of a snowy white tablecloth of the finest linen. The aroma of delicious food wafting in from the kitchen completed the festive scene of purple wine in crystal bottles and matzos covered with embroidered satin covers, a table that did credit to R' Dovid's wealth and stature.

R' Dovid took his place at the head of the table and rose to recite the Kiddush, his face glowing with holiness.

Suddenly, a voice was heard from the outside. "Hodu laShem ki tov . . . " it sang exuberantly. All eyes turned to the window.

They were taken aback by shock. On the nearby tree was suspended a human figure, hanging upside down! He seemed as jubilant as a bridegroom on his wedding day! The strange figure, with barely any clothes on his body, continued to sing the Hallel as if he had not a care in the world, as if this were the happiest moment in his life!

R' Dovid, who had rushed to the window to examine the curiosity, almost had a fit. He recognized R' Efraim, even in this state, and noted how exhilarated he seemed. Had he completely lost his senses and become mad? What was he doing there, in any case?

@BIG LET BODY = Mere minutes later, R' Efraim was inside the large room, seated at the head of the table alongside his host. His body was encased in a white kittel, and a high white satin kipah adorned his head.

The other guests could not fathom what had happened. They winked at one another, as if to signify that this strange guest, still beaming with unexplained joy, must have run away from some insane asylum.

Even more perplexing, their host, R' Dovid, mirrored his joy. He, too, radiated smiles and relief, now that he saw that R' Efraim still had his wits about him. He knew R' Efraim better than anyone, and had always been able to anticipate his thoughts. He saw him alive and well, and the burden of guilt he had borne for years for having left his benefactor, was now removed from his heart.

The seder proceeded, with the two men at the head of the table, both exhibiting unusual joy.

They sat all that night, arms entwined, engaged in retelling the many miracles of the exodus from Egypt and thanking Hashem for His kindness towards His people.

To be sure, R' Efraim enjoyed his host's lavish hospitality throughout the festival. Upon its conclusion, R' Dovid turned to R' Efraim and said, "It goes without saying that everything I own is at your disposal. What is mine is yours! I shall care for all of your needs from hereon in and consider it the greatest privilege and pleasure. You will begin a new life, here, one of comfort and ease. Just one thing I ask: explain to me something that has perplexed me all these years."

"Certainly," said R' Efraim, a twinkle in his eyes. "Pesach is, after all, the festival of questions. Now what is it you wish to know?"

"Many years ago, back in Mogdor, when the evil Hassan succeeded in selling you the damaged goods which you turned into a huge profit that very day, you burst into tears, bitter tears and not tears of joy as one would have expected. And now, when I discovered you suspended upside down from a tree, when your situation was the worst it had ever been and you had been degraded in the worst possible manner -- you were genuinely happy and sang from pure joy. What, I would like to know, is the explanation for your sorrow at the peak of your success, and the joy at the nadir of your fortune?"

"Look here, my friend," began R' Efraim, his face glowing. "In the nature of things, fortunes come and go, like a revolving wheel with its ups and downs. In those days, I was at the very peak of success. What more could I have asked for? I had tremendous wealth, and tremendous honor as the royal advisor. Not only that, but Providence had caused me to transform what should have been a disaster to a source of increased wealth.

"All the while, I was poignantly aware that I was at the peak of my fortune; it was as if everything I did turned to gold. Even when Hassan swindled me, I felt that no harm would come to me. I was on the winning side and could not even lose money if I tried.

"I realized then that if the wheel of fortune was at its uppermost point, the only direction it could take was downward. It was this realization that made me weep so bitterly. And it turned out that I was right; my fortune turned sour and everything that could possibly go wrong -- did. I lost my money, my home, my prestige, and was reduced to begging for survival. I reached my lowest point when I shed my last crumbs and all I had to my name was the clothing on my back, and my freedom.

"Then, even this was taken from me. I found myself, at the onset of the Festival of Liberation, bound to a tree, practically naked, at the very end of my tether.

"At this very point I realized that this was the worst possible situation. My fortune could plummet no more -- it had nowhere to go. The wheel had made its final revolution and reached its lowermost point. The only direction it could take now -- was upward. This knowledge caused me to rejoice, as you found me."

From that time onward, the two friends lived in Tunis, with success shining down upon them. Once a year, they would sit together at R' Dovid's seder table, reminiscing the intricate ways of divine Providence and Hashem's great and marvelous goodness.

"For in a man's own power lie neither his life nor his death, his illness or his health. Similarly, he is not the master of his livelihood, his sustenance, nourishment, clothing and the rest of his corporal needs" (Chovos Halevovos).


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