Source: Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
Even as a child, people could see that the gaon Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz was destined to become a great figure in Israel. Originally from the Polish city of Krakow, the name “Eibeshutz” comes from the city where his father, Rabbi Nathan Neta, served as Rav.
Rabbi Yehonatan had an extraordinary memory and an extremely sharp mind. Well-educated and possessing deep insight, these two attributes supported him during complex discussions in every field of Torah. Witnessing to this fact are his halachic works Kereti OuPeleti [on the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah] and Urim VeTummim [on the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat]. In his thought-provoking works Ya’arot Devash, Ahavat Yehonatan, and Keshet Yehonatan, he reveals himself to be a commentator who “draws closer with his arm those who are far.”
The gaon Rabbi Yechezkel Landau Zatzal, author of Noda B’Yehuda, said of him: “Who in his generation knows how to reprimand like him?” His reprimands addressed the weaknesses of the generation. He protested against Lashon Harah, coarse language, frivolity, praying without concentration, shaving the beard, and immorality.
|Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz|
He combined gematriot and allusions in his sermons, and in his book Tiferet Yehonatan on the haphtarot, he reprimanded those who shaved. He wrote that the cry of the Prophet Isaiah, “Am zu [This people] which I have fashioned for Myself, yesaperu [they shall declare] My praise” [Isaiah 43:21] pertains to them. In other words: The people for whom I created zu [numerical value: 13] rows of hair in the beard, so that the beard may be My glory, it is what will declare [yesaperu, which also means “to shave”].
Nevertheless, despite these harsh reprimands, he expressed great admiration for the Jewish people, “Israel, in whom I glory” [Isaiah 49:3]. “The Children of Israel are above the wings of the Shechinah, and they shine in exile. In darkness we have seen a light. The idol-worshippers humiliate them, and this holy people accords no importance to their faith. He who is wise of heart, let him open his eyes to fully understand their unity, for the Children of Israel are alert, even in times of trouble, and therefore absolute unity is the truth.”
Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz was a prolific writer. He left behind 98 works, most of which are still in manuscript form and can be found in various libraries around the world.
Besides his greatness in Torah, Rabbi Yehonatan was also versed in the sciences and respected by prominent non-Jews for his riddles, vast intelligence, and great insight.
The Jewish People Live Forever
Numerous communities had the chance of having him as their Rav. In each place that he served as Rav, Rabbi Yehonatan elevated the Torah and encouraged those who were faithful to Torah and mitzvot. Thus for example, it is said that a Bishop once enacted a decree expelling Jews from the city of Metz. When Rabbi Yehonatan learned of it, he went to find the Bishop and asked him to annul the decree. The Bishop read a phrase from a non-Jewish book to him, and said that he would not annul the decree unless the Rav gave him the correct answers to the following questions:
“How many words are in the phrase that I just read to you?”
“Seventeen words,” replied the Rav, “the same number of letters as in the saying: ‘The Jewish people live forever.’ ”
Stunned by this response, the Bishop continued:
“How many Jews live in this city?”
“Forty-five thousand, seven hundred, and sixty.”
The Bishop lowered his head and said, “You are known for your amazing amulets. Take some parchment paper, the size of that found in a mezuzah at the entrance of your homes. On it, write the expression that you just mentioned the same number of times as the Jews who live in this city. If you show me this parchment within the hour, I will annul the decree!”
Rabbi Yehonatan answered him with certitude: “The G-d of Israel can do anything! The number of letters in this expression is also 17!”
In fact Rabbi Yehonatan left, and within an hour he brought the Bishop a parchment the size of a mezuzah. On it was the expression, “The Jewish people live forever.”
For several minutes, the Bishop carefully thought about what was written, and then he rescinded his expulsion order. It is said that for an entire year, he described the number of ways to read “the Jewish people live forever” on the amulet, to the point that he believed that Rabbi Yehonatan was right!
Three Great Communities
After tremendous activity in the city of Metz for nine years, Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz was appointed as the Av Beit Din of the three great communities of Altona, Wandsbek, and Hamburg. These three cities were considered as a single community, to the point that people applied the following verse to them: “For Hashem has chosen Zion; He desired [avah] it for His habitation” [Tehillim 132:13] – avah being formed by the initials of the three cities.
During the time that he served as the Rav of Prague, a prohibition was enacted against the printing of the Talmud. It also prohibited the importing of the Talmud from abroad. It once happened that a certain Jew was caught secretly bringing in eight Gemaras with the commentary of the Rif. The books were ordered burned, and the man was sentenced to clean the streets of the city for an entire year, all while in chains. Since the honor of Rabbi Yehonatan was dear to all the civil and religious leaders of Prague, he succeeded in obtaining permission to print the Talmud, something that wasn’t easy to do. In his wisdom, he dismissed the numerous arguments of the Bishops against the Talmud. The Bishops, however, placed a condition on the printing of the Talmud, namely that every teaching it contained which shamed their religious should be suppressed, and that the name “Talmud” should not appear in it. Thus tractate Berachot was printed under the name of “Hilchot Berachot” along with the Rosh, the Maharshal and the Maharsha, and the commentaries of the Rambam [Prague 5477]. These deletions were authorized by Beit Din of Prague, which was headed by Rabbi David Oppenheim.
Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz lived until the age of 74, passing away on Elul 21.