Rabbi Shemuel Halevi Klein Zatzal

Rabbi Shemuel Halevi Klein, who passed away on Adar 28, 1827, was the author of Machatzit HaShekel.

The following relates the story of a “theft” in the night.

It was already late in the night. Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the main student of Rabbi Nathan Adler (Rabbi of the city of Boskovice in Moravia), was studying Torah in the attic of his teacher’s home, separated by a simple partition from a small synagogue that was housed entirely in the attic. All of a sudden, in the silence of the night, a strange murmur was heard in the synagogue. After a moment, Rabbi Moshe could make out the sound of bells. These were the bells found on the crown covering the Torah scrolls housed in the holy Ark. This particular crown was possessed of rare beauty, made entirely from pure gold, and which his teacher had brought with him to Boskovice. It was his only possession, having inherited it from his ancestors.

Rabbi Moshe Sofer feared coming too abruptly into the synagogue, lest he be attacked by the intruder. So he decided to remain where he was and to wait silently, his eyes fixed on the synagogue’s door. In this way he hoped to determine the thief’s identity.

After a moment, the sound of muffled footsteps could be heard coming closer to the door. The first thing that could be seen was a hand holding a large sack. Even with the crown in the bag, one could clearly distinguish the sound of its bells. Immediately after, there appeared the silhouette of the thief himself, who quickly escaped by the staircase that led to the outside. The eyes of Rabbi Moshe Sofer almost jumped out of their sockets when he saw him, and he collapsed into a chair lest his remaining strength leave him.

It had been only several months earlier that Rabbi Nathan Adler had been named as Rabbi of the city. As was his custom, he came to Boskovice humbly and silently, and the dignitaries of the town only learned of his arrival once he had already been in town. That same day, the townspeople welcomed him with a show of great honor, then everyone accompanied him to the main Beit Midrash. There, Rabbi Nathan met an elderly man who was bent over his books and completely absorbed in his study, to the point that he was not at all aware of the new Rabbi’s entry or his entourage. Without saying a word, Rabbi Nathan approached the elderly man, extended his hand to greet him, and after a few minutes the two were plunged into a lively Torah discussion. The new Rabbi discovered that before him was a genius, a great scholar in all areas of Torah. During the course of their discussion, the elderly man expressed an interesting idea, and Rabbi Nathan replied to his listener, “Excuse me, but I’ve found the exact same thing in Machatzit HaShekel.” The elderly man smiled slightly and responded, “Actually, I noted this opinion in my Machatzit HaShekel on page [such and such].”

“Are you the famous Gaon Rabbi Shemuel Klein?” a surprised Rabbi Nathan asked, as he again shook the hand of the elderly man whose identity he had just discovered. Since that time, they developed a profound friendship.

Returning to our story, the “thief” who was stealthily distancing himself from the synagogue with the golden Torah crown in his sack was none other than Rabbi Shemuel Klein himself, author of Machatzit HaShekel!

Rabbi Moshe Sofer did not know what to do, so embarrassed he was of what he had just witnessed. He decided to wait until morning in order to properly reflect on the situation. The sun had barely risen when forceful knocks could be heard on the door of Rabbi Nathan Adler’s home. Armed policemen excused themselves for interrupting so early in the morning, and explained that according to information that they had received, the Rabbi had been hiding objects of great value in the house, and the law obliged them to verify this immediately.

At that time, all citizens had to give the valuable objects that they possessed over to the state. This was because the country was at war with France, and keeping gems or precious objects at home was considered a crime that was severely punishable. The residents of the house, who in the meantime had been awakened, knew very well of the existence of the golden crown, and thus had very good reason to be worried. When the policemen climbed into the attic, the residents began to tremble. Only Rabbi Moshe Sofer, who began to make the connection between everything that had happened, knew that in fact there was no reason to be worried. He now perfectly understood that the elderly Rabbi Shemuel Klein had saved his teacher from a severe punishment by his “theft” of the night before. Despite everything, there was still one mystery that remained, even for him. When the policemen opened the door of the holy Ark and did not find anything there either, the stunned residents began to breath a great sigh of relief. Yet once the policemen left, that great question remained, well capable of raising concern: Where had the crown gone?

Bewildered, Rabbi Nathan Adler and his family heard from Rabbi Moshe Sofer’s own mouth the partial solution to the mystery.

Less than an hour later, Rabbi Shemuel Klein himself appeared at the door. He held in his hand the sack that contained the crown and thus returned the “stolen” object to its owners with a great smile on the lips. Everyone now understood the whole mystery. It happened that the existence of this crown of rare beauty, known by many, had been brought to the attention of one of the town’s citizens. That person had informed the police of this precious object. Fortunately, the night earlier, well into the morning, Rabbi Shemuel Klein had heard of this development from a personal friend who was close to the police. On one hand, he did not want to frighten the Rav and his family, yet on the other hand he feared that any delay would prove fatal. He therefore decided to act alone and as quickly as possible. His suspicions proved correct, and his courage and rapid action had saved the Rav from a serious breach of the law.




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