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Rebbe Tarfon and the beggars


Yesterday, my wife and I and two friends made a pilgrimage to the tzion (resting place) of Rebbe Tarfon. It is in the mountains of the Galilee between Tzfat and Meron, surrounded by a grove of olive trees.

If you remember the Haggadah, Rebbe Tarfon was one of the five rabbis discussing leaving Egypt in B’nai Brak. 

Rebbe Tarfon was a Cohen and was reputedly to be quite wealthy. The Gemara tells about the time he was out walking and a beggar came up to him and asked him for a shekel.

Rebbe Tarfon asked him, “Do you already have a shekel?” The beggar answered, “No.”

“Then I shall not give you one,” said Rebbe Tarfon, and walked on.

A few minutes later, another beggar came up to him and asked for a shekel.

“Do you already have a shekel?” asked Rebbe Tarfon.

“Yes,” answered the beggar.

“Then I shall give you one,” said Rebbe Tarfon and he gave the man a shekel.

The story is a moshol (parable). It explains a deep teaching in Kabbalah. If the vessel contains no light, it cannot accept light. This is a very important principle that governs the spiritual world.

This principle can be partially explained by another moshol. There is a popular expression that goes, “Money goes to money.”

Wealthy people tend to fraternize with other wealthy people. Wealthy people also tend to marry other wealthy people. It is not so much because they want to remain among the ranks of the wealthy as because they trust other wealthy people to befriend them sincerely, and not because they want something from them.

It is similar with respect to spiritual light. Light abhors darkness and darkness abhors light, so they tend to avoid each other as if in two separate realms. But there is a place where light and darkness serve Hashem equally, as it says (Psalms 139:12), “Even the darkness conceals nothing from You, but the night shines as day, the darkness is as the light.” That is the level of Olam HaRachamim, the World of Mercy where there is no judgment, only mercy. That is Geulah, the Final Redemption. It is completely different from Galut, the Final Exile. 

Only one thing can raise us to that level – the Bet HaMikdash, the place where G-d chooses for His Name to reside. And that is precisely why no one is interested in the Third Temple. We are all swine. And swine have no place in the Third Temple. If we can find in ourselves some little place of refinement where we can place the Third Temple, we will have become vessels to receive the light. Until then, oink oink.

Chaim Clorfene