The Twelve Golden Calves – A Jewish Story from China

In the city of Kaifeng, there lived a Jewish craftsman whose name was Shi Ziyu, who was known by his Hebrew name of Yehudah. He worked his loom in a small workshop. He wove beautiful silk, satin, and brocade with intricate designs. Everyone who saw his fine work wanted to buy them and with such a demand for his beautiful silks, satins and brocades he wanted to ex­pand his workshop, so that he could produce more. Next to his workshop there was an abandoned yard. Yehudah would have liked to purchase it, but even though it wasn’t expensive, he still could not afford it.

Kaifeng Jews

One night Yehudah had a dream in which he saw twelve golden calves danc­ing outside his workshop. In the dream he was puzzled about why they were there. When he went outside, they all looked at him, and ran away. He followed after them and they led him to the abandoned yard nearby. There they played happily and even did somersaults. Then they all ran to one corner of that yard and disappeared. That is when Yehudah awoke. He wondered about this strange dream, but didn’t pay much attention to it.

Then it happened that the dream repeated itself the next night, and the next. After it recurred the third time, Yehudah started to wonder what it meant. He told his wife about the dream, but she dismissed it, saying “Dreams are of no effect either one way or the other.” (Gittin 52a) Yehudah thought about what his wife said for some time and he decided to seek the advice from a wise and venerable wise man who lived in Kaifeng, who was known for interpreting dreams. The wise man said: “The place where the calves led you must be a good place, and may good fortune come to you.”

Yehudah was struck by the words of the wise man, and he felt it was a sign that he should risk all his savings and purchase that yard. He did so, but even after he owned the land, he was too poor to build a silk mill.

One rainy day Yehudah walked through the yard, thinking about his dream of the golden calves. In every dream they had run into one corner of the yard and disappeared. He went to that corner and noticed that the land dipped and saw that the rainwater was flowing into it. Yehudah went over to the growing hole and it caved in and he discovered a cavern. Yehudah reached in and touched something hard. He quickly uncovered it, and pulled out a beauti­ful gold-plated treasure box. When he opened it, he couldn’t believe his eyes—inside were twelve gold ingots bearing the stamp of calves.

Yehudah picked up the box and showed it to his wife, and the two of them thanked the Holy One, blessed be He and celebrated their good fortune. Now Yehudah was able to build the silk mill he so desired. When the mill was completed, it produced some of the most beautiful satin tapestry in all of China. Even the emperor purchased twelve bolts of the finest brocade. He was so pleased with it, that he decreed that Yehudah’s silk mill was the in the world. After that the brocade made in Yehudah’s silk mill became more precious than gold, Yehudah gave thanks to G-d every day for his abundant blessings.

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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A Father’s Wish and a Secret Note

The Western Wall (Kosel haMa’aravi) is the remaining wall of the Beis haMikdash (Holy Temple) from 2,000 years ago. When Shlomo haMelech (King Solomon) dedicated the First Jewish Temple, Hashem said His eyes and heart would always be there.

According to the Torah, Holy writings and mystical teachings, the Western Wall in Jerusalem is the holiest place on earth and currently the best place to send prayers because the divine presence of the Holy One, blessed be He (the Shechina) dwells there.

That is why the Western Wall (Kosel haMa’aravi) is very famous for Jewish people and people of many other faiths to come and pray and to put requests even in writing to the Hoy One, blessed be He, and this is a tradition for thousands and thousands of years.

Western Wall

An old man called his children to him and told them, “I always wanted to travel to Yerushalayim Ir haKodesh (Jerusalem the Holy City), but now I am too old. Promise me that you will one day go there and pray by the Kosel haMa’aravi (Western Wall).” Not long after, the old man went onto the World of Truth.

The years went by and the old man’s son became a successful merchant and was always busy. Many times his sister asked him to travel with her to the Hoy City, but her brother always told her he could not leave his business. One day she asked her brother if she could travel on one of his ships to the port of Yafo and from there she would travel by foot to Yerushalayim.

Seeing how determined his sister was to make the long journey, he made arrangements for her to travel on one of his merchant ships and he told her that he instructed all the ship hands saying, “I have ordered the young men not to bother you.” (Ruth 2:9) The wealthy merchant then blessed his sister: “May God in heaven bring you safely there and return you in good health to me; and may his angel, my son, accompany you both for your safety.” (Tobit 5:17)

The young woman left the ship and immediately set out to fulfill her father’s request on the ancient road, which was reasonably paved, through the orchards of the Plain of Sharon, the towns of Lydda, Ramle, the Ayalon valley, Bab-el-Wad and Abu Gosh to the outskirts of Jerusalem and through the Jaffa Gate. This journey took her a day.

She trembled as she walked the ancient streets and the winding alleyways to the holy Kosel haMa’aravi (Western Wall) and gazed up at the ancient stones before her. She had dreamed of this day, when she would be able to stand and pray before the Kosel in Yerushalayim and fulfill the wishes of her father.

She slowly prepared to pray when she noticed a woman approaching, carrying a patched sack. The woman held her hand out and looked at the young woman with sad eyes, and she understood that she penniless pilgrim, completely dependent on the goodwill of other travelers. The young woman reached into her purse and gave the poor women some gold coins, which she accepted with a smile as she continued on her way.

The time for afternoon prayer came, and the young woman decided to daven Minchah (afternoon prayer). Shortly after she began, the young woman noticed that the poor woman had also begun to daven Minchah. When she had finished praying the afternoon prayer, the young woman stood there for a few moments, watching the poor woman, who was just completing her prayer.

The poor woman searched through her sack and took out a small piece of charcoal. She then ripped a page out of her prayer book and began to write. After finishing, she folded the paper and wedged into a small crevice between the holy stones of the Kosel.

Western Wall Kvitl

As the poor woman turned to go, the page she had wedged in the wall fell out onto the ground. The young woman saw the folded page fall, and she bent down to put it back. As she held it in her hand and lifted it towards the stones, the paper suddenly unfolded.

The young woman stared. The handwriting was shaky and ill-formed, but what shocked her the most were the words on the page. This poor, penniless woman, who owned almost nothing, had scrawled on the paper, “Hashem, I love you.”

She may have had very little in the way of material possessions, but she was nevertheless completely content in her relationship with Hashem.

The young woman stood there in the shadow of the Kosel and realized that she had honoured her father, merited to do the mitzvah of tzedakkah (charity) and shared a blessing with a stranger. All this she did in the merit of her father.  She stood there for some time as the sun set on the Kosel, smiled and said, “I love you taty” (Father/Papa)

 That note was meant to be read.

 

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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Alexander the Great and a Fair Judgment

Alexander the Great set out across the Mountains of Darkness led by a certain pearl which gave light before him. Now the king of the lands to be found there came to meet Alexander and honored him greatly and did whatever he desired. One day as the two kings sat together with their crowns on their heads, two men appeared before the king. And one of them said to him: “By your leave, my lord, I purchased a certain piece of land from this man and wished to erect a building on it. When I began digging, I found a very great treasure hidden there. So I said to him: ‘Take you the treasure because I only purchased the land from you, but the treasure I did not buy.’ “

Alexander the Great in Synagogue Mosaic

Then the other said to the king: “By your leave, my lord, when I sold my land I sold him all that was to be found therein from the nethermost deeps to the heights of the sky. And just as he does not wish to rob or steal, so I too do not wish to rob or steal.”

Then the king said to one of them: “Have you a son?” “Yes, my lord,” said he. And he asked the other: “Have you a daughter?” And he answered: “Yes, my lord.”

Then the king said: “Give your son to his daughter, and give the whole treasure to both of them!” And so they did.

Alexander laughed, for it seemed strange to him. “Why are you laughing?” the king asked him. “Have I not judged well? Have I not done well?” Then Alexander answered: “You have judged well and done well. But in my kingdom I would not have judged in that way.” “And how would you have judged?” asked the king; and Alexander said: “If it had happened in my kingdom, the king would have slain them both and taken all the money.”

Then the king of those lands said to him in astonishment: “Does the sun shine in your kingdom?” “Yes,” said he. And the king asked again: “Do you have cattle and sheep and goats in your kingdom?” “Yes,” said he. Then the king said to him: “It is only because of the cattle that the people live and find sustenance.” Just as it is written: “Man and beast the L-rd will aid” (Ps. 36:7).

 Based on Sefer Alexander haMokdoni

Y. Bava Metzia II 8c and Bava Metzia 32b

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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A Sandwich at the Seder

The holy rabbi welcomed everyone and seemed to be able to talk to anyone. He took time to hear what each person had to say. No matter what anyone did, he would always find something positive to say. He believed in treating everyone kindly, no matter how much his patience was tested.

A merchant came to the holy rabbi because his son no longer wanted to follow Jewish customs, traditions or rituals. One year, during the Seder, as the family recited:

Korech Passover Seder

And the family was about to make a sandwich of matzah and maror for korech. To everyone’s surprise, the boy pulled from his pocket two slices of bread and some meat, and made himself a sandwich. His father started to cry: “How dare you bring bread to my Seder?”

“I’m hungry after reading the Haggadah, besides what difference does it make if I eat bread or matzah? I’m sure the holy rabbi wouldn’t mind.  the boy answered. The father in his anger, jumped up from the table and grabbed his son. “Oh that’s what you think. Let’s go ask him.” The whole family marched to the holy rabbi’s house, the father leading the boy by the ear. “Rabbi,” the man said, “even you would not tolerate what my son just did. He ate bread at our Seder. I have four sons, rabbi, and I don’t have to tell you which one he is.”

Everyone room was shocked; everyone, that is, except for the holy rabbi. He smiled at the boy and asked if it was true.

“Of course, rabbi. I was hungry so I made myself a sandwich.”

“Don’t you know that on Pesach Jewish people don’t eat bread,” asked the holy rabbi. “Well, rabbi,” the boy responded, “to be totally honest, I don’t really believe in all this Seder stuff. What difference could it possibly make if I eat bread or matzah?”

The entire room was silent. Only the boy’s mother could be heard crying in the doorway. “Please come here,” the holy rabbi invited. The boy walked slowly, afraid that this time he had gone too far. As he approached the table, the rabbi hugged him. “Such a fine boy,” he said to the father, “and so honest too,” he added to the mother.

“Come here my boy and have a seat by me at the Seder table”, the holy rabbi instructed as the surprised parents watched. “He’s ready to admit what he did and he’s acting according to his beliefs. Such a fine, honest boy must sit with me at my Seder. I have so much to learn from him! Just one thing though.” The rabbi turned to the boy and said, “There’ll be no sandwiches at this Seder table – unless you make them with matzah.”

The shocked merchant, lost for words, asked, “Why?” The holy rabbi closed his eyes for a moment and answered, “The Torah speaks of four children, including your son. The Holy One, blessed be He spoke to all the Jewish people at Sinai, when He said: ‘I am the L‑rd Your G‑d.’ Those words were inscribed into the depths of the soul. In other words, in spite of your son’s distance, the Torah considers him connected to the Jewish people.”

“We learn in our holy writings that a Jewish person cannot lose their Jewishness. (Sanhedrin 44a) Regardless of the degree of his disengagement from Judaism, the Jewish spark lives on within him.”

In today’s day and age, there is almost no such thing as a renegade Jewish person! Those who do not observe Jewish practices and the like, cannot be faulted, since many of them never really experienced Judaism. In the past, there were those who had a choice and chose to rebel…. But too many children were never told about Jewish traditions and rituals in such a manner that would translate into observance. They cannot be blamed for their disinterest…

The yetzias Mitzraim (Egyptian Exodus) was incomplete. It will only be fully realized in the time of Moshiach (Messiah), a time that will be ushered in by uniting all Jewish people — including those who seem most distant—and revealing their inherent connection to the Holy One, blessed be He, their inner “wise child.”

Chag Kasher vSameach Passover

Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:3)

 

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The First Question and the Captive Prince

Passover is coming fast. It is a time filled with questions and the reading of the Haggadah. Too many times within the questions and the retelling of the journey from slavery to freedom we become lost in the yearly ritual.

The prominence of science and technology has weakened faith throughout the community. Sadly, this has led to many to go through the motions of faith by conducting rituals by rote.

During this season of Pesach (Passover) maybe we need to ask, “What is the first question in the Torah (Scriptures)?

Before man was created, there were no questions. The first occurs in the Garden of Eden. The man and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. G-d calls out to them, “Ayecha?” “Where are you?” (Genesis 3.9)

How can that be? Does G-d not know where the man and Eve are? For centuries, the Jewish people have recognized that this question has a deeper meaning. G-d is not seeking to find the man and Eve. That is why they do not answer, “We are over here!” Instead, it is a question of spiritual geography. The man, understanding the importance of G-d’s question, and answers that he was frightened, so he has been hiding.

Man has seen, enjoyed and explored the wonders and mysteries of creation, yet still questions faith. People become lost as they question everything, many times using science and technology to define “what is real(ality).” It is easy for many to separate the “religious” from the “spiritual” to those who are simply “unbelievers.”

It is hard to understand, but easy to accept and follow what others say, and so we come back to that first question, “Where are you?” This simple question leads to many many more. “I have not lived according to my religion so I can’t be special or holy” “Why should I believe in this religious stuff that has so many rules and restrictions?” “It too hard to believe in something that cannot be proven?”

It once happened that there was a king had two strong and brave sons. The sons loved their father very much and tried to honour him in all they did. One day the kingdom was attacked by a powerful enemy that wanted to destroy the king and prey on the people and lands of the kingdom.

The king went into battle with his sons to stop this powerful enemy. His two sons were  commanders in the army. Each son led his soldiers into battle and fought with much strength and bravery, but the enemy was able to surround one of the sons. The battle raged on, but at the end he was taken captive by the enemy.

The enemy commander ordered, “Put this fellow in prison, and feed him on reduced rations of bread and water.” (1 Kings 22:27) The king’s son suffered in the enemy prison, starving and deprived. He asked many times, “What wrong have I done to you or your servants or this people, that you have put me in prison?“ (Jeremiah 37:18) But he never received an answer. After being in the enemy prison for a full year, he finally succeeded in digging a tunnel so that he could escape.

The prince journeyed at night, crossing over rivers and lakes, and trekking through forests and over mountains. After a while, he finally returned to his father’s home. How great was the happiness and joy in the king’s palace upon the prince’s return. Large celebrations were held in his honor, and the king sat him to his right and showered him with gifts. Without a doubt, this son’s joy is ten times greater than a son who had never left his father’s home.

This is the identical happiness that a person feels when they rediscover and explore their faith in our Father in Heaven. A person’s joy is ten times greater than one who has never questioned their beliefs and faith, for only once a person has returned and strengthens themselves in faith can they truly perceive the taste of “captivity.”

The RaMbaM (Rabbeinu Mosheh ben Maimon –  Maimonides) wrote, “The Children of Israel believed in our teacher Moses not because of the miracles he performed. If one believes in something because of miracles, he may suspect that they were performed through sleight of hand or sorcery. All the miracles that Moses did in the desert were performed for the needs of the moment, not in order to prove his prophecy to them” (Yesodei HaTorah 8:1).

The question ““Where are you?” is not only the first question; it is also the eternal question. At each moment in our lives, this question is addressed to us: Where are you? Where are you spiritually? Where are you morally? What have you done with your life, and what are you doing with it now? Are you proud of your conduct in the garden?

We say at the beginning of the Seder:

 

This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat.

As we become more and more involved with the trends of society, we are afflicted by the urges to abandon our traditions and beliefs. Too many have been lost and enslaved by the impulse to blindly follow others or assimilation. Let’s invite those at the Seder who are hungry for spirituality and searching for meaning to their beliefs to “come and eat” because “today we are slaves” to all types of distractions and confusion, but “next year may we be free men” able to grow in faith.

The first question is a single word, whose echoes are endless. “Ayecha?”

 Where are you?

Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:3)

 

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Burning the Chametz

Holy Rabbi once asked, “how do you burn the chametz? With the fire of your heart, with the fire of serving the Holy One, blessed be He.” And the fire goes one burning all through Pesach.

The holy Rabbi continued, “I once learned how to serve Holy One, blessed be He from the knights that serve the king, especially in the cold winter. I was once passing by a training camp filled with squires and young knights when I saw a number of the young knights beating one of their own as a punishment. I asked them, ‘what terrible thing did this knight do that he deserved such punishment?’ One of the young knights stepped forward and answered, ‘last night he was standing guard, and in the morning we found him half frozen.’ I thought this was strange and said that the knight who stood guard should be given honor and respect, since despite the cold he stood by his post. The young knights laughed and said, ‘you don’t understand! If you’re really serving the king, everything you do gets done with so much fire, it keeps you warm.’ “

We learn that “The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d” (Proverbs 20:27).  In today’s society that is dominated by science and technology it is easy to forget that man is a very complex mixture of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, fire and wick. Like the lamp, man, too, is comprised of three elements which determine the direction of his actions. The candle’s wick, flame and oil resemble man – mind body and soul – the very source of Torah and its mitzvos.

As we prepare for Pesach/Passover would look forward to conducting the Seder. Just as Passover represents freedom – of body and soul – so it is today that we must remember that slavery is more than just physical bondage. The lessons and messages we share at the Passover Seder remind us of yesterday and today and prepares us for tomorrow. The stories eternal, just as the Jewish spirit has endured through the ages.

As we look into the holiday candles and see the flames dance as we recite the story of the leaving of Egypt we become the everlasting light. We know this because it is written in the Torah, “A continuous fire shall remain on the altar; it shall not be extinguished” (Lev. 6:9).

As we gather around the Seder table that is filled with meaning and holiness let us allow it to fill our hearts to strive to the beauty and wonder that happened so many years ago and is still happening today to give us the strength to turn away from the glowing screens of cell phones and computers and focus when the fires of our souls there ignited during the Passover Seder. Let us allow ourselves to remember the miracles that brought us from Egypt to this very day and remember that the “… Fire will renew the righteous….(Saadia Gaon, Emmunos v’Deos 9:3)

Bedikas Chometz Story Tour

So on Pesach we are really serving the Holy One, blessed be He, once we found the chametz and burned it in our hearts on fire.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach

 

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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The Blessing of the Tree

“So shall your seed be” (Gen. 15:5).

A man set out on a journey and traveled through the wilderness a day, two days, three days, ten days, without finding any town, wayside inn, or tree or water or any living creature. After traveling ten days, he saw a magnificent tree in the distance and thought: that there may be water under it. When he reached the tree, he found that it stood over a spring. He saw how beautiful the tree was and the delicious fruit that hung from its branches. The tree was tall with graceful branches that provided wonderful shade.

The man, being tired, sat down and cooled himself in the tree’s shade, ate some of its fruit and drank from the spring. He sat under the tree for a long time until he was well rested and refreshed. When he rose to go, he turned to the tree and said: “Tree, O tree, what blessing can I bestow upon you, and what parting word shall I offer you?”

“That your wood may be fine?

            It is already fine.

That your shade be pleasant?

            It is already pleasant.

That your branches be graceful?

            They are beautiful and graceful.”

“That your fruit be delicious?

         Your fruit is delicious and tasty.

That a spring issue from beneath your roots?

        A spring already flows with sweet refreshing water from beneath your roots.

That you stand in an attractive spot?

       You already stand in such a pleasing place”

Blessing of the Tree

“The prophets spoke and said: ‘And by the stream, upon its bank, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for food, whose leaf shall not wither, nor shall its fruit fail; it shall bring forth fresh fruit every month, because the waters for them flow from the sanctuary; and their fruit shall be for food, and their leaves for healing.’ (Ezekiel 47: 12) ‘ ”

“The sweet singer of Israel Spoke and said: ‘They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1:3)’ “

“Did not the wise men of old say: ‘Trees were created for man’s companionship.’” (Genesis Rabbah 13:2)

“How then shall I bless you?”

“There is one thing with which I can bless you: May it be the will of the Holy One, blessed be He that all the trees planted from your seed should be like you…”

Based on Taanis 5b and Numbers Rabbah 2:12

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:3)

 

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Purim Stories

A Freilechen Purim

While we can’t give everyone shalach monos, we can give you some Purim stories

Another Purim?,  http://projectshalom2.org/StoryTour/?p=2054

Purim by the Clock, http://projectshalom2.org/StoryTour/?p=1711

Purim: A Time of Joy, http://projectshalom2.org/StoryTour/?p=151

Read them, enjoy them share them, “like” them and share your thoughts and comments

Fair Wages

She stretches out her hand to the poor; yea, she reaches her hands to the needy. (Proverbs 31:20)

The wife of a holy rabbi once gave a beautiful piece of cloth to a tailor so that he might sew her a dress. When the tailor finished the dress, he carried it to the holy rabbi’s wife, set it down and sighed deeply.

“What’s the matter?” the the holy woman asked. “Why are you so unhappy with the dress? It is truly beautiful and a credit to your skills”

In great pain, the tailor answered, “My daughter has become engaged to a fine young man. One day, seeing me sewing such a beautiful dress, the young man thought that it was for his bride. Learning that it would not be hers has filled him with sorrow.”

Women's Stories

The holy woman was filled with care and kindness that she picked up the dress and handed it to the tailor. “This is a present for your daughter, the kallah (bride), for are we not taught, ‘Lift up your eyes round about and see; all these gather together and come to you. As I live, says the L-rd, you shall surely clothe yourself with them all as with an ornament and bind them on yourself like a bride. (Isaiah 49:18) ‘” she said warmly.

The tailor was speechless and gathered up the dress and thanked the holy woman for her gift. He was about to leave when the holy woman called him back as she took out her purse and handed the tailor 5 gold coins.

The confused tailor looked at her and asked, “What is this? You have graciously given my daughter this beautiful dress and her heart will be filled with joy.” The holy woman looked at the surprised tailor and answered, “You worked hard for a full week making this fine dress for me, and not for your daughter. With tired eyes and strained fingers you worked hard so that you might earn a little money for your family. Now I ask you, what will you and your family eat? Just because I gave you a gift for your daughter, does that mean that you should not be paid a fair wage for your work?”

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:3) Please share this story with family and friends and let us know what you feel about the stories in a comment or two. Like us on Facebook  or tweet us on Twitter

 

The Cracked Bucket

In a small village there was a widow that supported herself and her children by carrying water from the nearby river to the Jewish homes. She had two water buckets which were attached to a sturdy yoke. Each day she would wake up early say a prayer to the Holy One, blessed be He, bless her children before she sent them off to learn the Holy Writings, then put the heavy yoke over her shoulders and went down to the river. At the river she would let down the yoke and filled her buckets with water. Once the buckets were filled she would lift the heavy yoke upon her shoulders and walk back to the village.

Everyday bucket on the right side of the yoke was fine and sturdy always filled when she returned to the village, but the bucket on the left had a small crack in it and by the time the woman arrived back in the village, a lot of the water was usually gone.

The cracked water bucket always felt very bad and was ashamed that it was cracked and wasn’t pulling its weight. One day the cracked bucket turned to the woman and apologized for being cracked. The woman smiled gently and said, “Did you think I didn’t know that you had a crack, and water dripped from you? We learn, “Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall have abundant water” (Numbers 24:7)

Cracked Bucket

Look at the path from the river to the village. Do you see all the beautiful flowers that are growing on the side of the path? Those are the flowers that I planted there, that you watered every day as I walked from the river to the village. How many students have stopped and said a blessing over the beauty of the flowers? How many of those flowers brightened the Shabbos (Sabbath) or Yom Tov (holiday) table? How many words of Torah were said as holy men walked along the path?”

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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