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Ma’asei Hashem: A Story

The 22nd of Kislev is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Eliezer (or Elazar) Ashkenazi, author of Ma’asei Hashem (1512-1585). Born in Turkey, he studied with Rav Yosef Taitatzak (1465-1546) in Salonica.

He was the chavrusa of Rabbi Sholomo Halevi Alkabetz, the author of “Lecha Dodi.” He served as a rabbi in Egypt from 1538 to 1561. For unknown reasons, he was compelled to leave, serve in Famagusta, Cyprus, then to Venice, Italy.

Due to a disagreement with Rav Shmuel Yehudah Katzenellengogen, he moved to Prague, where he helped develop the chevra kadisha, on which others are based. After a year, he moved back to Italy and lived in Cremona. In 1578, he moved to Posen, Poland and took his final post. He retired to Cracow, where he lived his last few years.

He taught how one has only to open his eyes to Hashem present in all of Creation to develop awareness, love and awe. He shares the following story:

“Rabbi Chizkia was traveling a certain road together with Rabbi Yossi bar Chalafta. They were walking after midnight, when Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Chizkia, “We have not acted properly for we have violated the Mishna that teaches that a person should always leave after light had begun to break.”

“It is not a Mishna, but a Beraita.”

“They heard a beautiful and sweet voice singing the verse, “And God will dwell forever.”

Rabbi Chizkia asked Rabbi Yossi, “My son, do you hear what I hear?”

“Yes. I hear the voices of the High Angels singing verses in praise of God.”

“My son, do you know which Angels are singing?” “No.”

“Please listen, my son. There are actually ten stations of Angels in the heavens, although we group them into three Mishmarot – Watches.”

Rabbi Chizkia continued to reveal to Rabbi Yossi what each group of Angels sand and why. They talked until the sun began to rise.

“So too will be the redemption,” said Rabbi Chizkia. “The light ill begin to shine, and then Israel will suffer terrible things until God will directly redeem us.”

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