The S’Dei Chemed: A Story: Thinking Of God’s Will
The 24th of Kislev is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini, the S’dei Chemed (1832-1904). Rav Chaim was born in Yerushalayim and was married at 18. After his father was niftar two years later, Rav Chaim’s cousins in Constantinople offered to support his learning if he moved there.
After 13 years in Turkey, he took a position of Rav in the small city of Karasubazar in Crimea. He served there for 33 years, fighting the forces of the Kariites, before moving back to Yerushalayim.
He lived there for 2 years, and then moved to Chevron, where he was appointed Rav of the city in 1880. His S’dei Chemed is a monumental, universally acclaimed 18-volume Talmudic and halachic encyclopedia.
Rav Chaim was visiting Odessa and asked a cobbler to repair his shoes. The man returned with the rabbi’s shoes late in the evening and charged five kopeks. Rav Chaim had only a five-ruble note with him, and all the stores and banks were closed. He couldn’t find anyone with change.
He turned to Rabbi Yehuda Leib Fishman, then a very young rabbi, and said, “How can I send him home with empty hands? The verse explicitly states, “Do not keep a worker’s wages overnight.” (Leviticus 19:13) In addition, our Sages (Bava Metziah 11a) taught, “One who does not immediately pay a hired worker breaks five negative commandments and one positive!”
The young rabbi said, “The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 339:10) rules that this only applies if the worker is demanding his wages and the person actually has the money but refuses to pay. The cobbler doesn’t even want the Rabbi to pay him, and is certainly willing to wait until tomorrow!”
“First of all,” answered the Rabbi, “a person such as you, who has studied under such great rabbis, should not refer to me as ‘the rabbi.’ Secondly, if you look at the Pitchei Teshuva, he says in the name of the Ari HaKadosh that a person striving to achieve Chassidut – piety – should borrow the money. Thirdly, I do not qualify as one who does not have money. I have the money, but it is too large a denomination. Are you still sure that I can wait until tomorrow to pay him?”
At that moment, one of the people in the long line waiting to see Rav Chaim stepped forward and handed him the change for five rubles.