Everything, say Chazal (our Sages), is alluded to in the holy words and letters of the Torah (see Ta’anis 9a; Ramban introduction to the Torah). Even minute, day-to-day occurrences—they are all found somewhere in the Torah, writes the Gaon of Vilna (Sifra Di’tzniusa ch.1). Most of the time, we don’t have the insight to see how life plays itself out within the Torah’s mysterious words and phrases. But every once in a while, we have the privilege of seeing it happen. Perhaps, then, we realize how much there must be that we usually overlook.
One day about two-hundred years ago, for reasons unknown, the son of a wealthy, Egyptian magnate disappeared from his lavish abode, leaving behind his father, mother, and two brothers. There was some speculation that he had been kidnapped, but no ransom note was ever delivered. Others were sure he had been murdered, yet his body was never found. Still others thought he felt cramped by his family’s lifestyle, and had gone to seek his own fortune, but he was never sighted by anyone anywhere.
The story was popular conversation for many years, but as is often the case, eventually grew old, and was more-or-less forgotten. At least until the father died, leaving behind a substantial inheritance for his remaining sons. It was not long after his death that a youngish man appeared, claiming to be the man’s long-lost son. Of course, he felt he was entitled to his portion of the inheritance. Astonishingly, he was able to answer exceptionally detailed questions about the appearance of his childhood home, his ‘parents’ and ‘siblings’, and his upbringing. Try as they might, they were simply unable to stump him.
He claimed to have been wandering for the past thirty years, which he said explained why he no longer looked even remotely similar to what everyone remembered, including his ‘brothers.’ Hearing that his parents had passed away, it was natural that he would come to claim his part of the family riches. Despite his inexplicably intimate knowledge about the most minute details of their family life and history, the other two brothers were adamant in their protestations—this man was not their brother! They offered him a tidy sum of money just to be rid of him, but he stubbornly refused. He was their brother, he said, and he wanted no less than his portion of the inheritance.
Eventually, word of their feud reached the Sultan of Egypt. Seeing as they could not reach an agreement, the Sultan himself consented to listen to both side’s claims in his private court, and render judgement. The two brothers and the claimant agreed that the Sultan’s word would be binding and final.
“Tell me something,” the Sultan asked, “where were you for thirty years, that you never even sent a letter to your parents telling them of your whereabouts?”
He was not ill-prepared. He claimed to have been taken captive in India. His captors did not allow him to have any communication with the outside world, and thus it was not possible for him to make contact.
For many days, the Sultan tried to get to the bottom of things—to find a hole either in the claim of the brothers, or in the testimony and memories of the ‘long-lost brother.’ In the end, he threw up his arms in frustration, unable to render a ruling. “Most exalted master,” the vice- Sultan chimed in, “far be it from me to intercede, but in the annals of our history, in such circumstances, it has been the way of your predecessors to engage the services of a Jew. The Jews are a wise nation, and have often been instrumental in helping to bring some of the most difficult cases to a satisfactory conclusion.”
The Sultan was intrigued. “Which Jew do you suggest I use?”
“That’s the strange thing. Protocol says you just send out a clerk to bring the first Jew he finds on the street, no matter who it is. If precedent is to be trusted, he will somehow help the Sultan to render judgement.”
“If that’s so,” ordered the Sultan, “go find me a Jew!”
Aaron Perdo was a quiet, Jewish, Egyptian goldsmith. For half-a-day he would practice his trade; the rest of his day was spent studying Torah in the local Beis Ha-midrash. This morning, he had awoken remembering the strangest dream. In his dream, he found himself in the most spectacular shul, the likes of which he had never seen. It was furnished as richly and as lavishly as a king would a palace. The shul was packed with people, and the Torah was being read. Aaron was called to the Torah, and ascended the bimah. He found the sefer Torah open to parshas Terumah. The chazzan began reading: “Be-tab’os aharon yi’hiyu ha-badim, The sticks must be in the rings of the Ark,” but instead of reading ha-aron/the Ark, the chazzan read aaron, which sounds like the name Aaron.
R’ Aaron (Perdo) corrected the chazzan. He read the verse again, but again he read it, Aaron. This was the end of R’ Aaron’s enigmatic dream; he had no idea what it meant.
His dream gave him no rest: he thought about his dream during prayer, and was still thinking about it as he arrived at his jeweller’s shop, where an old woman sat impatiently waiting for him to open. Her tattered clothing bespoke poverty—not the type of woman that usually frequented his place. When it became clear she was eyeing the most expensive rings, R’ Aaron felt he had to ask: “The rings you are looking at are very expensive,” he said. “Are you sure you have the money to pay for them?”
“I don’t today,” she confessed, “but tomorrow I will. Tomorrow I will become a wealthy woman. Right now, my dear son is in the midst of a very important court case. Tomorrow, he promised me, the case will be decided in his favour. And he said that to celebrate, I can buy myself any ring I want!”
R’ Aaron was less than enchanted with her tall tale. He was glad when she finished browsing and left. Soon after, a wealthy man came in the store and asked if R’ Aaron could bring some rings to his home for his wife to choose from. It was on the way to the rich man’s home that R’ Aaron was stopped by the court clerk, and ordered in the name of the Sultan to appear in the Sultan’s palace.
As R’ Aaron ascended the polished marble stairs and got his first glimpse of the palace, it hit him: this had been the spectacular building that was the shul in his dream. It was just that in the place where the bimah had been, the Sultan sat on his magnificent throne.
In measured words, the Sultan conveyed the main arguments of both sides, and why he was having an impossible time bringing the case to resolution. “So, R’ Aaron—can you solve the mystery?”
Though he trembled inside, R’ Aaron knew he could. He turned to the claimed ‘missing son.’ “Tell me—you claim to be the missing son, but isn’t your last name really such-and-such? Isn’t your mother still alive? In fact, I’ll even describe how she looks…” R’ Aaron began describing the pauper woman who had come to his store than morning. His shock at R’ Aaron’s words, and the confidence with which they were spoken, caused the man to collapse on the spot. It was obvious to the Sultan, and to everyone present, that he had just been caught as his ruse. He was dealt with accordingly, after which everyone’s attention turned to R’ Aaron and his brilliant and instantaneous resolution which caught them all so off-guard. How did he know that woman was his mother, they asked?
R’ Aaron told them about the dream he had that night. “As soon as you told me about the man’s claims,” he said, “I understood the meaning of the misread verse. Be-tab’os Aaron—in Aaron’s rings, that’s me, yi’hiyu ha- badim—the badim, or liars (badim in Hebrew can mean poles but it can also mean liars) will be found. I thought about the woman who came into my store looking for a ring—a gift from her soon-to-be-rich son, and realized right away who the liar was!”
“With a Torah like that,” the Sultan was heard to remark as R’ Aaron too his leave, “it’s no wonder the Jews are so smart!”