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  Parashas Masei from
More Shabbos Stories
Inspirational stories arranged according to the weekly Torah reading

By Rabbi Shimon Finkelman 

Parashas Masei

The cities that you shall give to the Levites: the six cities of refuge that you shall provide for a murderer to flee there (Bamidbar 35:6).

    The Torah mandates that one who murders unintentionally must flee to one of the cities of refuge, where he is to remain until the death of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). It is not coincidental that these were Levite cities.

    Though the murderer did not act willfully, his crime could have been prevented had he exercised proper caution. As the Talmud makes clear, his act requires atonement and that is the purpose of his exile.

    The Levites were teachers of their people and served in the Beis HaMikdash. Their cities were permeated with an atmosphere of Torah and heightened spirituality. Such a place would surely make an impact upon the murderer so that he would eventually leave as a better, more refined individual (based on Oznaim L’Torah).

* * *

    A distinguished talmid chacham once presented the following question to R'Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav, during his years in Jerusalem:

    He was a member of a small Torah community in an Israeli city, whose girls attended a Bais Yaakov school in a neighboring city which had a much larger religious population. There was no pressing need to open a Bais Yaakov school in his area, since all the obserbant girls had a school nearby and the secular population had no interest in a Bais Yaakov. On the other hand, if this community were to open their own Bais Yaakov, perhaps a few secular families would also enroll their daughters there.

    The Brisker Rav responded with a story:

    In Brisk, the Bais Yaakov school was situated in a predominantly secular neighborhood. Near the school lived a secular couple who enrolled their daughter there merely as a matter of convenience. The girl was profoundly influenced by her Bais Yaakov experience.

    It happened that her father and mother had to go away for the weekend. They left their daughter in charge of their hardware store and warned her that the store was to be open on Shabbos as usual. The girl was afraid to totally disobey her parents but she was determined to do everything possible to avoid engaging in any transaction on Shabbos.

    Shabbos day, a gentile entered the store, pointed to a small decorative item in the store window and asked its price. “One hundred zlotes!,” the girl replied confidently. The gentile stormed out of the store in fury, for he knew that the item was worth only one half-zlota.

    A short while later, the gentile returned. “I really shouldn’t offer you another zlota,” he said, “but I’m willing to raise my offer to five zlotes.” “I’m sorry,” the girl replied firmly, “one hundred zlotes and not a zlota less.”

    Throughout the day, the gentile returned time and again, each time raising his offer a bit more, and each time he left empyt-handed as the girl stood her ground. After Shabbos had ended, the gentile returned again. “Okay,” he said grudgingly, “I’m willing to pay your price.” He placed one hundred zlotes on the table. “Let me explain why I’m doing this: I recently redecorated my entire home. Everything looks beautiful, but I need one small item to make it complete. When I passed by your store and saw this item in the window, I knew that this was the item I need. I know that I'm overpaying by a lot, but it’s worth it to me to be able to have this item displayed in my dining room.”

    When the girl’s parents returned home, she told them the entire story. So impressed were they by their daughter’s steadfastness and by the result of her refusal to desecrate Shabbos, that they began to show interest in Jewish tradition and eventually became fully observant.

    “And so,” concluded the Brisker Rav, “it is obvious that having a Bais Yaakov in one’s city can have a very positive effect!” (Peninei HaGriz).

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