Stories 4 Kids

                              A PAIR OF PEARS     By Allen S. Maller

There was a king who had a daughter who was very ill. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her. She just seemed miserable and cried often.

One night the princess dreamed that if she ate a pair of very special pears she would get well. In order to learn what would make the pears so special, she would have to meet with each person who brought pears to her. Her mother the queen, decreed that whoever brought in the very special pears that healed the princess, would have the opportunity to marry the princess, if she wanted to marry him.

Hundreds of young men brought baskets of pears to the princess. She talked for a long time to each of the young men, and ate their pears, but none of them made her feel better.

One farmer who had very sweet and juicy pears as well as three sons told his eldest son, the most handsome of the three, to take a basket of pears to the princess. On the way to the princess the handsome son met a dwarf who related how hungry he was. The dwarf saw the basket and said, “You must be taking pears to heal the princess. Please give me a few pears so I will not starve.”

The handsome son didn’t want to give away even one pear, especially to a dwarf. He was afraid that any pear given away might turn out to be the special one of the pair that would heal the princess. Then he would lose the chance to marry her.

So he said to the hungry man, “The only pears I have in this basket are pairs of pig’s feet.” The hungry man, who was really the prophet Elijah in disguise, replied, “Amen! So shall it be.” Then he walked away.

When the handsome son was brought to the princess, he opened his basket to show her his pears, and it was filled with pairs of pig’s feet. The princess fainted. The king ordered the eldest son to be thrown out into the street.

When the handsome son returned home he didn’t want to tell anybody what had happened so he just said that the pears didn’t work. The farmer then decided to send his middle son, the one who was tall, strong and had lovely blond hair, to bring the farmer’s best pears to the princess.

On the road to the castle the tall blond son also met Elijah, who was disguised this time as a poor beggar who was deaf in one ear. The blond son also didn’t want to help the beggar, even though he seemed very hungry.

The tall blond son said, “I can’t help you. The only pears I have in this basket are pairs of pig’s ears.” “Amen!” said Elijah, “so shall it be.”

When the tall blond son was brought to the princess he opened his basket and it was filled to the top with pairs of pig’s ears. The princess became nauseous and threw up. The king had the blond son thrown out the window into the street. When the middle son returned home he also didn’t tell anybody what happened.

The youngest son wasn’t very handsome, and he wasn’t tall or blond, but he was very kind and considerate. He begged his father to let him go because he wanted to help the princess, although he didn’t think she would want to marry him. On the road to the princess he also met Elijah disguised as a beggar with ugly sores and scabs all over his face and arms.

He felt sorry for the ugly beggar, and even before the beggar asked, he offered half of the pears in the basket to the man saying, “I pray these pears are good for you.” Elijah took them and replied, “Amen! So shall it be good for you.”

When the youngest son opened his basket before the princess she asked why it was only half filled with pears. He told her about offering half the basket of pears to the beggar who was covered with sores and scabs. The princess began to cry. The youngest son apologized for making her cry, but to his surprise she suddenly hugged him. They spent the whole day talking and the princess felt better and better. By the next day she was feeling great. A month later she told the youngest son she wanted to marry him, and that is what she did.

The boy’s father could never figure out what was special about the pears that the youngest son brought to the princess.

                               A Synagogue with Five Shules    by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Today there are 12 synagogues for the 13,000 Jews living in the city of Rome, but about 450 years ago there were only five synagogues for a much smaller Jewish population. Still, the Pope who ruled the city of Rome in those days thought there were to many synagogues in Rome. In the year 1,555 the Pope ordered all the Jews in the city to live in just one area. He also decreed that the Jews should have only one synagogue for the whole community. (In those days, and for over 100 years after, Catholics and Protestants fought several wars against one another.)

Those Jews who did not already live in the Jewish area had to sell their homes and move into the newly formed Ghetto (a place where a group of people are forced to live). Although many Jews did not want to sell their homes, they had to do it, so they did it. But they did resist the decree to have only one synagogue. The members of each synagogue decided to hold services in the home of the member with the largest room. But when the police learned of their plan, the Pope ordered that all the Roman Jews should only pray in one building with only one entrance.

What should the Jewish people do. Some said the Jews should obey the Pope's order just as they had obeyed the order that all Jews must live in the Ghetto. But most Jews disagreed. Two of the synagogues in Rome were Sephardi (Jews from Spain and North Africa), and two were Ashkenazi (Jews from Germany and the North of Italy. The fifth congregation followed the tradition that Roman Jews had followed for more than 17 centuries (the Roman Jewish community had existed for 200 years before the first Christians even came to Rome).

We say the same prayers they all agreed, but we sing the prayers with different melodies.

We all say some of the same prayers they all agreed, but some have added extra poems and prayers.

Some have longer services and some have shorter services they all agreed.

Some pray with more joy and some pray with more intensity.

Some would rather pray at home than go to a different synagogue they all agreed. So what should they do?

The rabbis discussed the problem. One of them said, "We all know that the difference between a human king and God, who is the King of Kings, is that when a human ruler stamps his image on a coin (like a Lincoln penny) every coin has the same image on it. But when God creates humans in God's image we all look different. God wants diversity, not uniformity. God wants pluralism, not universalism. We can all live together in harmony, but we cannot all think, feel or behave the same way.” All the Roman Rabbis agreed.

So they decided to buy a big three story building, with only one doorway. On the first floor there were two synagogues. On the second floor there were two synagogues. On the third floor was the fifth synagogue. Everyone agreed to refer to the one building as “the” synagogue, and to call the five synagogues; schools, “scolas” in Italian or “Shules” in Yiddish. This solution worked for over 300 years, until the Pope lost his power over Rome and the Italian government took over.

If five different Orthodox Jewish groups could share one synagogue building in a time of religious warfare, all the different Jewish groups today should be able to live together in a time of much greater freedom. If many different kinds of Jews can learn to live together in harmony, then the different sects of every religion can learn to live together in harmony. And if all religions can live in harmony with their own heretics, maybe they can live in harmony with each other.


                            HOW TO WIN A JEWISH PRINCESS    By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Once upon a time a young man was walking in a forest when he heard a bird singing a Jewish melody. Curious, he walked toward the sound until he found the bird. The bird said to him, “I am a Jewish princess who has been enchanted by an evil witch. If you free me from her spell I will marry you.”

The boy had always dreamed of marring a Jewish princess so he eagerly said,” I am ready to fight evil witches or even dragons to set you free”

"Oh it is not so hard,” said the bird, “all you have to do is go to a castle deep in the forest. At 11 in the evening I will fly to the window and if you feed me one crumb I will be free of the spell and become your princess. But you must have self-restraint. The people in the castle will offer you delicious food and lots of drinks. You must refuse to eat or drink what they offer you, for if you eat or drink, you will feel tired and fall asleep. If you are asleep when I fly by you cannot help me. I can only fly by twice in a year.”

The boy agreed to do it. He went to the castle. When they offered him all kinds of delicious foods, he turned them down. When they offered him all kinds of drinks, he said no. But after a few hours he became hungry. He thought that just a little wouldn’t hurt. Then he had a little more. When the bird flew by the window he was fast asleep.

When he awoke it was morning. He realized that he had failed to rescue the princess due to his lack of self-restraint. He vowed that he wouldn’t fail again. The next day he refused to eat or drink until almost 10 o’clock. But by then he was very hungry and thirsty. He thought that just one glass of soda and just one dish of food couldn’t hurt. It would keep up his strength. It would get rid of his headache. He would have just one and no more.

When the bird flew by at 11 o’clock the boy was asleep. She cried many tears. Then she left him a note that she could not come back for one year. She begged him to study Torah so he would learn the importance of self-restraint and self-control. Then he would be able to transform her into his princess.

When the boy awoke in the morning he realized that he had failed again to help the Jewish princess. He was very angry with himself. Then he found the note the princess had written to him. He was puzzled. How could the study of Torah help him transform the Jewish princess? He wasn’t even Jewish.

He went to a Rabbi and asked him what to do. The Rabbi told him he could study Torah even if he was not Jewish. Torah study helps anyone to gain wisdom and self-restraint. The boy studied with the Rabbi for many months. He decided he wanted to become Jewish. Even after he became Jewish he continued to study Torah. He also did many Mitsvot in the Synagogue and for the people in the community. He celebrated every Shabbat and all the Holy days. He learned to think more about others and less about himself. When a whole year had passed he went back to the castle.

Again he was offered delicious foods and tempting drinks. This time he remembered how he had not eaten any bread, cake or pizza all the days of Passover; and how he had fasted for 24 hours on Yom Kippur. He knew that he did have the will power to go without food or drink all day. When he was tempted to eat or drink just a little bit, he began to say the Sh’ma. That helped him resist temptation. Then he sang Hebrew songs to himself. That helped the time go by.

When the bird flew by that night at 11 o’clock he was wide-awake singing Adon Olam. As soon as he saw the bird fly to the windowsill he fed her some crumbs of Hallah and she was transformed into a Jewish princess.

After many months of getting to know each other they decided to get married. After all he had transformed her into a Jewish princess; while she and Torah study had transformed him into a Jewish prince. They lived happily ever after and always taught their children the importance of Torah study and self-control.

                        HOW DO RABBIS FIGHT?                    By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

People in different cultures fight in different ways. Samurai use swords and Vikings use battle-axes. Knights in armor fought with lances and American Indians fought with bows and arrows. Kung Fu masters used their feet and Rabbis used their words. A story in the Talmud is a good illustration of rabbinical warfare.

A wealthy and arrogant man from the city of Nehardea entered a butcher shop in the city of Pumbetita and demanded, “Give me a big steak.” The butcher said, “I am serving Rabbi Judah bar Ezekial’s servant now, please wait until I finish with his order and then I will serve you.” “I wait for no servant,” said the wealthy man, “I want to be served right now. No servant of a Rabbi has precedence over me.”

When they told Rabbi Judah what had happened he was upset. They also told Rabbi Judah that this man habitually treated people like they were his slaves. Rabbi Judah was outraged and he announced to his congregation that the man from Nehardea was himself enslaved by his arrogant haughtiness and should be avoided. When the man heard what Rabbi Judah had said he summoned Rabbi Judah to a lawsuit before Rabbi Nahman, the chief rabbi of the city of Nehardea.

When Rabbi Judah arrived at Rabbi Nahman’s house in Nehardea he saw Rabbi Nahman building a safety handrail around his roof in fulfillment of a Mitsvah (Deuteronomy 22:8). Judah asked him why he didn’t follow the tradition that when one became head of a community one should not do any manual labor in public because it was below his dignity. Rabbi Nahman answered that doing a Mitsvah always raised a person’s dignity. Also it wasn’t real manual labor because it was just a balustrade. Rabbi Judah said that he would call it a parapet.

Rabbi Nahman asked Rabbi Judah to join him in the living room and then invited him to sit down on a divan. Rabbi Judah said, I would call it a settee.”

Rabbi Nahman asked if Rabbi Judah would like some wine in a goblet. Rabbi Judah replied that he would prefer wine in a chalice.

Rabbi Nahman’s wife heard the conversation and whispered to her husband, “Stop this battle of wits. Hear his case now and get rid of him before he makes you out to be a pompous fool.”

Rabbi Nahman asked why Rabbi Judah had come all the way to Nehardea. Rabbi Judah replied that he came to answer Rabbi Nahman’s summons in a lawsuit and explained what had happened. Rabbi Nahman said that the wealthy man was indeed very arrogant but he was also very powerful in Nehardea, and so everybody let him get his way. “You called him a slave in public and that is slander. I will have to fine you.”

You can’t fine me because I spoke words of truth,” said Rabbi Judah, “My teachers taught me that anyone who publicly declares others to be unfit is himself unfit.” Rabbi Nahman replied, “But that refers morally to his mind. Legally he isn’t a slave. In fact, that man claims to be Royalty, a descendant of the Maccabeean Kings”

If he speaks the truth then he really is a slave” said Rabbi Judah, “because the only descendants of the Maccabee Kings are from King Herod the Great, and Herod was truly a political slave of the Romans. I will proclaim this throughout Nehardea.”

Don’t do that, said Rabbi Nahman. “I know that what you say is true. If people find out no one will want to marry into his family. I will order him to drop the suit; pay damages to the butcher and your servant; stop treating people like they were his slaves; and to never set foot in Pumbedita again. You have won your battle.” Adapted from the Talmud: Kidushin 70a-b

                     AS-SAMIRI AND THE GOLDEN CALF     By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Everyone was worried that something bad happened to Moses. He had gone up on Mount Sinai more than three weeks ago. He had not yet returned. Each day when Prophet Moses didn’t return more people worried and got more upset. Aaron and Miriam urged people not to worry. Moses would surely return in a few days. But as the days passed and Moses didn’t return, many people became scared and afraid. They felt they had been left all alone in the desert. They felt abandoned by God. Their fears began to spread to the majority of the children of Israel.

There was an Egyptian magician named As-Samiri, who along with many other non-Jews had left Egypt with the Jewish people. He started telling people that they should make an image of a God to lead them, since no one knew what had happened to that old man Moses. At first very few people listened to As-Samiri. But after Moses had been gone for over four weeks, more and more people began to agree with him. As-Samiri told people that in addition to the God of Abraham who no one could see, people need another God that they could see. “In Sumaria where my family came from, and in Egypt where we all lived, there are paintings and statues of many different Gods both big and small. When you see a picture or a statue of God then you can feel God is close to you” As-Samiri said.

When Miriam the Prophet, the older sister of Moses and Aaron, heard what the Egyptian magician was saying she objected strongly. “The Ten Commandments forbid the Jewish people to make any statues or paintings of God. The Ten Commandments forbid us to have any God other than the One God of the world who freed us from slavery in Egypt. Don’t even think about making an image of our God, or of any other God. There is no other God and no one can be associated with the One God.”

One day a large crowd of people gathered around Aaron and demanded that he either tell them when Moses would return, or make an image for them to revere. At first Prophet Aaron warned the Israelites that the delay in Moses’ return was only a test of their trust in God. But this did not reassure many of them. Aaron was worried that if he openly refused to make the image, the children of Israel would split into groups who would fight with each other. That could lead to a civil war, something that must be avoided. If he rebuked them as directly as Miriam the Prophet had, they might rebel and follow the lead of As-Samiri and make a statue, and so disobey both God and His prophets. So Aaron decided to outwit them. He asked the people, “Which God shall we select for our image?”

One man who had come to Egypt from the distant country of India said they should make an image of Krishna who was a very handsome young man with blue eyes and blue skin. Another man who had come to Egypt from Greece said they should make an image of Apollo who was the divine son of the God Zeus. Most of the people who had lived all their lives in Egypt wanted an Egyptian God. But when Aaron asked them which God they wanted for their image, they began to argue among themselves. Some wanted to make an image of Bastet the cat Goddess, while others wanted Amon the ram God. Some wanted to worship Osiris the God of the underworld, some wanted his sister Isis the Goddess of magic and others wanted their son Horus who appeared as a hawk and was the ancestor of all the Pharaohs.

They argued with each other for many days while Aaron kept hoping that Moses would soon return. Finally, As-Samiri said they should worship the cow Goddess Hathor who was the Goddess of music, dancing, fertility and childbirth. Hathor would save them from dying in the desert. Many of the people were very insecure because Moses had been gone for more than five weeks now, so they decided to follow As-Samiri’s direction.

When they told Aaron they were going to make an image of Hathor, the cow Goddess, Aaron again tried to outwit them. Aaron told them that the image would have to be made out of gold, and since a cow was very big they would need lots of gold. They would have to collect all the gold earrings from all the men, all the women and all the children in the camp so they would have enough gold to make a statue of a cow. Aaron was sure that most of the people would refuse to give up their gold earrings.

Three days later, a dozen baskets filled with gold rings were brought in. Aaron was very surprised and saddened. Now Aaron was trapped by his own words. He asked Miriam for advice. She told him to tell the people that there was not enough gold to make a cow. There was not even enough gold to make a calf, or even half a calf. They should make a statue of Bastet, the cat goddess because they did have enough gold to make a cat. Perhaps they would realize how stupid it was to select which God to worship based on how big a statue they could make.

Aaron did not want to say this so he told the people they could make a small calf and place it on top of a big stone base. He hoped this would discourage them. But As-Samiri, the Egyptian magician, cast the gold in a fire and formed it as the cow Goddess Hathor. He formed it hollow so it would look very big. Then As-Samiri secretly made hundreds of tiny pinholes in a line from its nose to its tail. He could see the tiny holes but no one else could. As-Samiri knew that when the wind blew, the holes in the calf would make a mooing sound, and the people would be very impressed. When the golden colored calf was done, Aaron decided to stall for one more day by saying they would celebrate with the calf the next day which would be the 40 day since Moses first went up the left side of Mount Sinai. Aaron was sure Moses would return in time to stop the terrible thing that As-Samiri and some of the Children of Israel were going to do.

Early the next morning three thousand people came to eat, drink, dance and even worship the golden colored calf. As they stood around watching to see what would happen, the wind blew and the calf made a mooing sound. “This is your God O Israel who brought you out of Egypt” shouted As-Samiri. “Bow down and worship Hathor.”

Don’t do it!” shouted Aaron and his sister Miriam the Prophet, “This stupid statue is an idol.” Miriam stepped forward and punched the calf on its nose. The calf split in half.

Half a calf is better than that dead man Moses,” said As-Samiri. “Moses is never coming back and his God has abandoned all of you.”

Just then Moses and his assistant Joshua appeared on a cliff above them. Moses told them that by listening to As-Samiri and making an idol of a calf they had only wronged themselves. If they turned in repentance to the Holy One, and got rid of those who had been responsible for this great offense, they would purify themselves and God would surely accept their repentance and pardon them. They should always remember that God would never abandon those who believe in Him. Sometimes they would have to wait patiently without losing faith, but God would never abandon the children of Abraham.

The promise of God lasts much longer than a statue of gold or silver. Their children’s children would read about this calf for more than 120 generations. Long after Hathor and all the other Gods of Egypt were forgotten; Jews, Christians and Muslims all around the world would read about Moses and the golden calf. They would learn the lesson that faithfulness requires both trust and patience, because God will never abandon those who are faithful to Him.

(This story is told using both the Torah and the Qur'an as sources)

                         GOOD ROMANS AND BAD ROMANS          By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Rabbi Judah was a great sage, a wealthy man, and the leader of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel. He was admired and respected by everyone. But when Rabbi Judah was a little baby he had come very close to being killed. This is how it happened.

Rabbi Judah was born not long after Rabbi Akiba was put to death for teaching the Torah. The Romans were angry with the Jews because they had revolted against Roman rule, so the government decreed that it be forbidden to teach the Torah or to circumcise newborns.

When Rabbi Judah was born his mother and father decided to defy the Roman decree and circumcise him as the Torah commands. When the mayor of the city heard what had happened he summoned Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel and asked him why he had violated the Emperor’s decree by circumcising his son.

Rabban Simeon replied that he was not anti Roman, but commandments from God come first. The mayor said that while he had great respect for Rabban Simeon as the head of the Jews he could not allow a Roman decree to be violated. “I will send the baby with his mother Aviva bat Malkah to the governor’s palace and the Governor will do what he wishes”

You could just look the other way and save my son’s life” said Rabban Simeon. “I don’t want to take a chance of getting in trouble with Romans,” said the mayor, “I just follow orders. You are the one who disobeyed.”

The mayor arrested Rabban Simeon and put him in prison. The next day the mayor took the baby as evidence, along with its mother Aviva bat Malkah, to the governor’s palace in Cesarea.

They traveled all day. In the evening the mayor ordered everyone to stop for the night at an inn owned by a non-Jewish man named Antoninus. While she was at the inn Rabbi Judah’s mother Aviva bat Malkah began talking to the innkeeper’s daughter, relating to her the great danger that she and her son faced. Now it happened that the daughter of Antoninus the innkeeper had also recently given birth to a boy and it turned out that both babies were born on the exact same day.

Although the innkeeper’s daughter was not Jewish she was very upset that a Jewish mother and her baby were in danger because of the Roman decree. “I must do something,” she thought, “I cannot stand by and do nothing when somebody else is in danger.” She thought of an idea. She would exchange her baby for Rabbi Judah. They were both the same size. The mayor and the Roman guards would never notice the switch. When Rabbi Judah's mother Aviva bat Malkah showed the baby to the governor there would be no evidence of a circumcision. On her way back from the governor’s palace they would switch babies again and everything would be all right.

Aviva bat Malkah agreed and they switched babies. When the Governor examined the baby the next day he found no evidence of circumcision. He fired the mayor and sent Aviva bat Malkah and her baby away in peace.

When the two returned to the inn of Antoninus Aviva bat Malkah blessed the non-Jewish woman who had saved her child. Antoninus’s daughter replied, “Since God had wrought a miracle for you through me, and for your son through my son, let us and our sons be friends forever.”

And so it was. The non-Jewish woman’s son was named Marcus Aurelius. Many years later when Rabbi Judah had become a great sage and the leader of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus became the emperor of Rome. (161-180 c.e.) adapted from Tosafot on Avodah Zarah 10b

                     A FAST FIT FOR A KING    by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Once upon a time a king went out to hunt on a very warm day in the Fall of 2007*. After a few hours he felt very hot and tired, so he decided to stop for lunch. His servants unpacked a large picnic basket they had brought with them and set up a table.

Now the king didn’t want to eat together with his servants, nor did he want to eat alone. The king told one of his servants to find someone to come and eat lunch with the king. The servant walked to a nearby road, saw two 13-year-old boys walking along, and told them that the king wanted to see them.

The boys were very surprised, and a little frightened, but they went with the king’s servant. When they arrived at the picnic, the table was set with all kinds of wonderful foods and drinks. The king told the boys to sit down next to him and eat. The boys sat down next to the king, but they did not eat.

After a few minutes the king said, “Why are you not eating? My food is prepared by the best cook in the kingdom. It is the best tasting food in the country. Doesn’t it look good to you”

It looks great, and I am sure it is the best food I will ever taste,” answered one boy, “but I can’t eat it.”

Did you just finish eating lunch? If so you do not have to eat a whole meal, just have some of these great deserts” said the king.

The other boy replied, “Actually we did not eat lunch today, but we cannot eat anything, not even one of those really good looking chocolate covered candies.”

The king was surprised and asked, “Are you sick? Is that why you have lost your appetite?”

No,” said the boys, “We are not sick and we haven’t lost our appetites.”

Then why are you not hungry?” asked the king.

But we are hungry” said one boy, and his friend added, “Neither of us ate lunch, and I did not eat breakfast. We are very, very hungry.”

The king looked bewildered and shouted, “Then why don’t you eat since both of you are hungry and the food is delicious?”

Because this month is Ramadan and I am a Muslim” said one boy. The other boy nodded and said, “And today is Yom Kippur and I am Jewish.”

The king was astonished and said, “Why shouldn’t you enjoy yourselves? This is the best tasting food you will ever eat and you are hungry.”

That is true, but that makes it even more important for us to fast,” answered the boys. “It is easy not to eat food you do not like. The test of a person’s self-control is best when the temptation is greatest.”

Do you think God cares if you eat or not? Go ahead and eat, I will not tell anyone, especially your parents.”

Both boys said, “No thanks. Even if you don’t tell anyone else, we will know that we failed to live up to our religious duties to God.”

The king thought for a moment and then asked the Muslim boy why the Muslim God made Muslims fast for a whole month while the Jewish God only required one day of fasting.

The Muslim boy answered, “Muslims fast on Ramadan because that is the month that Prophet Muhammad received the first verses of the Holy Qur'an. Fasting brings us closer to God and stimulates us to give charity to the hungry. Jews fast for one day because that is what the Torah requires of them. There is only one God. Jews and Muslims obey the same God, but God asks each religious community to do different things. God judges us according to how good we are in our own religion, not according to somebody else’s religion. The Holy Qur'an in surah 5 says, “If Allah had so willed, He could have made humans a single people, but He tests you in what He has revealed to you, so strive to compete in all virtues.” My father says that this is one of the most important teachings of the Qur'an for both Muslims and everyone else in todays world. Muslims fast everyday for the whole month of Ramadan, but only from sunrise to sunset. We can eat dinner after sunset and breakfast before sunrise. Jews have to go without food or drink for a full 24 hours on Yom Kippur. Each community must be faithful to its own religion.”

The king asked the Jewish boy, “What is Yom Kippur?”

Yom Kippur teaches us that we must improve ourselves each year by changing some of our bad habits or behavior. We must admit we have done bad things and hurt people. We have to go face the people we hurt and make peace with them. This is not easy to do. My father says that to improve oneself takes lots of self-discipline. Fasting is good training in one of the most basic and difficult self-disciplines; dieting. It is easy to eat food that tastes good. But to limit yourself by restricting your diet every day, and not eating at all on Yom Kippur, is real challenge and helps Jews improve their self-control and spiritual self-discipline. All faithful Jews who are 13 years or older, are commanded by God to fast on Yom Kippur, so I have not eaten since dinner last night. I knew fasting 24 hours on Yom Kippur would be a test of my will power, and my commitment to be a faithful Jew, but I never thought I’d be challenged by being tempted to eat a meal fit for a king.”

The king was very impressed by what the boys said. He was even more impressed by the boys’ self-discipline and commitment to be faithful to their own religious teachings. So the king told the boys to come to the palace the next evening, along with their entire family, and have dinner with the king and the queen. And that is what they did. The two families became friendly with the king and continued to eat dinner at the palace, each year.

One year, the king also tried to fast on Yom Kippur, but he was only able to fast until 3 pm when he gave up, saying “I couldn’t do it for even one day. I guess if you don’t start when you are young it is a lot harder than it looks.”

(In every generation Yom Kippur and Ramadan coincide at least 2-3 times. 2007 was the third year in a row that Yom Kippur ( 9/22/07) coincided with Ramadan.)

How Vashti Became Jewish                  by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

When Queen Vashti married King Ahasuerus, she, like all Persian wives, promised to love, honor and obey. Yet, when her husband commanded Vashti to dance before his drunken guests wearing only her royal crown, Vashti refused. How did she get the idea that a wife could and should refuse to follow her husband's instructions when they were disrespectful and stupid?

Vashti overheard a young woman named Hadassah giving advice to her much older cousin, Mordechai, a successful merchant and a leader of the Jewish community. Vashti was amazed that Mordechai would listen to and indeed follow the advice of a younger woman. Vashti asked them about their relationship. Mordechai replied, "We are Jews, descendants of Abraham and Sarah. God told our ancestor Abraham that 'whatever Sarah tells you to do - do as she says.' (Genesis 21:12) Thus it is a mitzvah for Jewish husbands to follow the advice of their Jewish wives, especially concerning family and personal matters."

Vashti asked Hadassah, "Don't Jewish brides promise to obey their husbands?"

"Of course not," answered Hadassah, "Jewish husbands and wives are partners who are consecrated to each other according to the rules of Moses (the Jewish religion) and the people of Israel (the Jewish community). Jewish women never promise to obey their husbands. Jewish spouses should love and respect each other, but no one should blindly obey anyone else, even the King."

Vashti was so impressed by what Mordechai and Hadassah had told her, that she began studying Torah with them and later with other Jewish teachers. After a year of study, Vashti decided to become Jewish. She did not tell Ahasuerus that she had become Jewish because when she told him that she was studying the Torah, he was uninterested. Ahasuerus never paid any attention to Vashti's opinions or ideas, relying only on his seven advisors, especially Memucan whom everyone called Haman.

Vashti had noticed how Hamanoften manipulated the King to increase Haman's power. Now that she was Jewish, Vashti felt more self-confident and empowered, so she tried to warn Ahasuerus about Haman's devious plots against people Haman thought were his rivals, and his tendency to avoid solving problems by finding scapegoats.

Haman noticed Vashti wasn't the submissive wife she had been, and decided to get rid of her. He succeeded in having her banished when she refused to dance naked before the King's drunken guests. But Haman outsmarted himself because Vashti's replacement as Queen turned out to be Hadassah, (who used her Persian name Esther while at the court) and she was the one who brought about Haman's downfall.

Vashti was divorced and banished from Shushan, the capitol of the Persian empire to a small town in Southern Syria where she married the King of Massa, one of the local towns. Her son Lemuel always remembered how his mother, Queen Vashti, admonished him that wine is not for kings since it impairs their judgment, and that the most important thing in life is to marry a woman of valor and respect her capabilities. Vashti's words were incorporated as the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs which speaks about the virtues of a strong, active Jewish wife. The reference to a Torah of kindness being on her tongue (Proverbs 31:26) refers to the many good teachings that Vashti learned from Hadassah and that Vashti passed on to her son Lemuel.

Vashti was not the only non-Jew who became Jewish in that generation. According to the Book of Esther (8:17) "There were many from among the peoples of the land who became Jewish." Why was there such widespread conversion to Judaism? The text says, "Because the pachad of the Jews fell upon them." Pachad is usually translated as "fear." But why would people fear the Jews who had just recently escaped being plundered and looted? Perhaps the sudden reversal of Jewish fate filled many sensitive non-Jews with awe for the God of the Jews. The Hebrew word pachad, really means "awesome." It indicates the stunning and overwhelming experience of the Divine, and the stupefying and daunting reaction sensitive mortals have to a Divine eruption. Indeed, Jacob twice refers to the God who protects him as Pachad Yitzchak-the awesome one of Isaac. (Genesis 31:42 + 53) Thus Pachad is a name for the awesome God.

In our own day, many more non-Jews have become Jewish in the half century following the Shoah and the recreation of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel than in the whole century that preceded these events. Many of these converts to Judaism had their interest in Judaism sparked by the Shoah or the rebirth of the State of Israel. Some have been attracted to children of survivors, while others have been drawn to Orthodoxy and Aliyah. The commitment of converts to Judaism with the Jewish people in times of woe as well as times of wonder is why the Book of Esther explicitly states that Jews, their descendants, and all the converts who had joined themselves to the Jewish people, took upon themselves to celebrate Purim. (9:27)

One such person was Agur, King of Massa. Agur had received orders from Haman to permit the followers of Haman to blame the Jews for being different, and then plunder the Jews and drive them out of town. Agur felt sorry for the Jews, but was prepared to follow orders. As the fateful day approached, Agur's conscience bothered him more and more and he began to warn the Jews about the planned pogrom. When Agur heard that Haman had been hung and that the Jews were commanded to fight back against their enemies, he ordered his soldiers to kill everyone in Haman's party who attacked Jews.

The faithfulness of the Jewish people to Judaism impressed Agur and he began to study Judaism. A year later, he became Jewish and the following year he met Queen Vashti and they fell in love and were married under a Chuppa. Vashti was proud that as a Jewish wife, she would not have to promise to obey her husband, and Agur was proud that he had not obeyed Haman's orders and now he had become the Jewish husband of a woman of valor. Agur's advice to the children of his previous marriage is found in Chapter 30 of the Book of Proverbs right next to the words of Vashti (Chapter 31) as taught by their son Lemuel.

In later centuries, Vashti's conversion to Judaism was forgotten. That she was the Jewish mother that Lemuel referred to was also forgotten. It is my honor to restore Vashti's contribution to the Book of Proverbs.


                                   AN HONEST TO GOODNESS MIRACLE    By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

There was a Jewish man who made his living chopping wood so the people of his village could heat their ovens. One Friday afternoon he went into the forest to cut some wood for people to use to cook their Sabbath dinner. He was chopping wood near a small lake when suddenly the ax head flew off the ax handle. and fell into the nearby lake. The man began to cry.

An old man passed by and asked him why he was crying. The woodcutter replied, “Because I am very poor and I can not afford to buy another ax. Without the ax I can’t chop wood to make money to feed my wife and children.”

The old man, who was really Elijah the Prophet said, “I have a special magnet that can bring things up from the bottom of a lake. I will recover your ax head for you.” The old man tied the magnet to a long branch, waved it over the water, and up came an ax head made of gold.

Is this your lost ax?” the old man asked.

The woodcutter knew he could sell an ax made of gold for a lot of money. He also knew that gold is very soft and can not cut wood. He could sell the golden ax and buy a new iron ax and lots of other things, but that would take many days, and the people who depended on him for firewood to cook their Sabbath dinner would go hungry. He told the old man, “That is not my ax. I need an ax that will cut wood.”

The old man threw the golden ax back into the lake and waved the branch with the magnet over the water again. This time a silver ax rose to the surface. “Is this your lost ax?” asked the old man.

The woodcutter knew that he could cut firewood for Shabbat dinners with the silver ax because the silver ax could cut wood, although not as well as an iron ax. He also knew that he could sell the ax for much more than the cost of a new iron ax so it would smart to say the ax was his. But he realized if he said the ax was his ax he would be lying. He knew our Torah teaches us not to lie. He shook his head no.

Elijah threw the silver ax back into the lake and waved the long branch with the magnet over the water for a third time, and an iron ax head rose to the surface. “That is my ax head” said the woodcutter joyfully. He thanked the old man, attached the ax head to the ax handle and went back to work.

Elijah was very proud of how faithful the woodcutter was to the Mitsvah of Shabbat responsibility and to the Mitsvah of honesty. While the woodcutter was chopping wood, Elijah raised up the gold and silver ax heads and left them for him. When the woodcutter returned home he told everyone about the miracle that had happened and showed them the gold and the silver ax heads.

One of his neighbors thought, “I will find the old man with the magic magnet and get a gold ax for myself.” He ran to the same place and threw his iron ax into the lake and then pretended to cry very loudly. Elijah came by disguised as an old man and offered to retrieve his ax for him. When the gold ax rose to the surface Elijah asked the man if it was his lost ax, and the man said that it definitely was his. Elijah knew that the man was lying so he let the golden ax sink to the bottom of the lake and walked away.

Now the man really started crying because both the golden ax and his own ax were lost at the bottom of the lake. He returned home and told his wife what happened. She told him he lost his iron ax because he thought he could fool Elijah, and he lost the gold ax because he lied. All this was was due to his greed. Our Torah teaches us not to turn a miracle into magic for our own advantage. Miracles can happen to honest, faithful people because they don’t try to trick or test God. The man listened carefully to everything that his wife said and stopped being greedy.

Now that was a real honest to goodness miracle.