Firing and Hiring
After 1880, when he was appointed chief rabbinical judge and head of the main yeshivah in Hebron, Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini became famous as one of the most brilliant Sephardic rabbis of his generation.
born, educated and married in Jerusalem, and already famous for his Torah scholarship,
Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini was forced to leave the Holy Land as a young
man after his wealthy father-in-law died, in order to support his wife, Rivka,
his infant children, mother and sisters.
For a certain period in his 20's he lived in Buchara. The town had a kolel (advanced Torah studies program for married men), patronized by a wealthy Jew who supported the young married students while they learned Torah.
Although the kolel had set times for learning, Rabbi Medini, who loved to learn Torah, would come early in the morning and leave late at night. Because of this dedication and his great accomplishments in his study, the wealthy patron was fond of him and would show him special favor.
Another member of the kolel became extremely jealous, believing that Rabbi Medini was receiving more money than the other students. And so he devised a wicked plan against him. He bribed the gentile housemaid who cleaned the wealthy man's house and the beit midrash (the study hall for the kolel) to tell people that Rabbi Medini had tried to seduce her.
Early one morning, when Rabbi Medini came to the kolel, the housemaid, who had been cleaning the beit midrash, ran screaming hysterically into the street, claiming that Rabbi Medini had tried to seduce her.
Many people came running into the beit midrash, including the jealous man who had plotted the whole thing, and they began to shout at Rabbi Medini, asking him how he dared do such a terrible thing. The jealous man then convinced the angry crowd to go to the wealthy man's house and demand that he dismiss Rabbi Medini from the kolel.
After they had told him what happened, the wealthy man instructed them to return to the beit midrash and promised that he would verify the truth of their accusations. Reluctantly they consented.
Throughout the entire incident Rabbi Chizkiya Medini had continued his learning without interruption and did not even take the time to reply to their accusations. He knew that his denial would go unheeded and perhaps would enflame his opponents even more. He felt very bad that the slander against him, a recognized Torah scholar, was causing such a terrible chilul Hashem (desecration of God's Name).
The wealthy man arrived at the beit midrash and watched him for half an hour, during which time Rabbi Medini continued learning. Finally the wealthy man announced that Rabbi Medini was a holy man and anyone who dared slander him would not be allowed to enter the beit midrash again. He also fired the housemaid. No one dared to disobey him and the whole matter was put to rest.
A few days later, early in the morning, when Rabbi Chizkiya Medini was learning as usual alone in the beit midrash, the housemaid approached him. She burst into tears and said to him, "You know the truth, that I falsely slandered you. But it is not my fault. So-and-so bribed me and I did what he told me to. But what have I gained from all this? The money he gave me is gone and now I am without a job. Therefore I wish to make a public confession that you are innocent and that he was the culprit who initiated the whole affair."
Rabbi Medini considered the matter. His first thoughts were that the housemaid's public confession would be of great benefit to him, since it would convince everyone that he had been framed and had not done anything wrong, and this would halt the chilul Hashem.
But then he realized that another, similar chilul Hashem would result from such a public confession. People would find out how wicked the man was who was willing to ruin Rabbi Medini's reputation and had tried to deprive him of his livelihood out of jealousy. He decided that even though he would personally benefit from a public confession, he must prevent this second chilul Hashem.
"I have a better idea," he told the housemaid. "Why go through such a public embarrassment? I will find a new job for you. Then there is no need for you to confess your role in what happened" She readily agreed, since this served her purposes better than a confession, which would not only leave her penniless, but would also show her in a bad light. Rabbi Medini kept his promise and convinced another member of the community to hire her.
Rabbi Medini later recalled that after this incident he gained great clarity in learning Torah, such as he had never before experienced, and he felt as though he had been given the entire Torah as a reward. From then on, he saw phenomenal blessing in his learning. He continued to grow and became known as one of the greatest Torah luminaries of his generation.
Many years later - perhaps even after he became the head of the rabbinical court and main yeshiva in Hebron in 1880 -- Rabbi Medini was sitting in his study. Deeply engrossed in thought, the rabbi did not notice a student of his, standing before him observing him. Suddenly, the rabbi broke into a big smile. Upon getting his great rabbi's attention, the student asked him if he may know why he had smiled. The rabbi said that he had suddenly remembered an incident in his youth which was vitally instrumental in his success in learning. He then related to him the entire episode.
student subsequently told others, and that is how we know this inspiring story.
Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini [1832 - 24 Kislev 1904] was born and raised in Jerusalem. After many years in Turkey, Buchara and the Crimea, he returned to the Holy Land in 1878 and became the head of the rabbinical court and main yeshiva in Hebron in 1880, where he successfully revitalized the Jewish educational and social institutions. He is best known for his monumental, universally-acclaimed 18-volume Talmudic and halachic encyclopedia, S'dei Chemed (the only non-Chabad book ever published by the official Chabad publishing company). A beloved leader everywhere he served, he dedicated his life to the dissemination of Torah study and deeds of kindness. As a result of his influence, many attacks on Hebron's Jews were averted, and a number of heavy fines and taxes were revoked. Even the Arab inhabitants of Hebron accepted him as a holy man. After his burial they tried to steal his body and bury him in a mosque, but were unsuccessful.
[Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Nehora.com, ShmaYisrael.co.il, and FamousRabbis.com]
Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.
A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.
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