Rabbi Moshe Galante and the Secret Mission
By Dovid Rossoff
Rabbi Moshe Galante, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem,
left his beloved city for Damascus on a mission for the community.
While it is not known conclusively when he departed on this journey
- since he traveled to Damascus several times - it might have
been the one he is recorded as having taken in 1667.
While in Damascus, Rabbi Galante - known as the Rabbi
HaMagen - heard of an Arab sheik who was said to possess miraculous
healing powers. Like Rabbi Chaninah ben Dosa, the sheik would
say, "This one will live, this one will die," and his
words came true. More than this, the sheik was said to be proficient
in the so-called seven branches of worldly wisdom. Rabbi HaMagen,
who was also well versed in the known branches of wisdom, was
not phased by the sheik's grasp of worldly knowledge. However,
he was intrigued by the sheik's seeming ability to decree
something which was not in the realm of human hands with such
certainty. Our Sages tell us that the key of life and death is
not handed over to anyone - not even an angel; God retains that
key for Himself alone. Even Rabbi Chaninah ben Dosa could merely
sense whether or not an ill person would recover, but the actual
key always remained in God's hands.
"Is this gentile so holy," Rabbi Moshe
pondered, "that he is privileged to have the Book of Life
and Death revealed to him? I serve God, study Torah, and fulfill
mitzvot all the time; why am I not granted this same privilege?"
Rabbi HaMagen's curiosity grew and grew. Determined
to arrange a meeting, he sent the most influential Jew in Damascus,
called the parnas, to tell the sheik that a very wise Jew
from Jerusalem would like to meet with him.
The sheik, having previously heard of Rabbi Galante,
was delighted to grant him an audience.
They met in the sheik's villa. Known throughout the
city as a virtuous and pious man, the sheik rarely left
the confines of his sumptuous residence. It comprised several
courtyards, myriad rooms, and magnificent gardens.
The Rabbi 's host quickly turned the conversation
to the central issue. "I have heard that you are a wise man,"
said the sheik. "Is it true that you are knowledgeable in
such-and-such a wisdom?"
"Yes, the Lord has granted me a little knowledge
of this wisdom," Rabbi Galante answered.
In order to test him, the sheik commenced
to ask Rabbi Galante a series of difficult questions. Rabbi Moshe
answered each query in depth and to the point. The sheik was amazed
to find him in complete command of such wisdom. Until now, the
sheik had assumed that he alone had total grasp of this knowledge.
Now he had found a comrade with whom he could relate as an equal.
"My beloved friend," smiled the sheik.
"I have enjoyed your company immensely. I would be very pleased
if you could come again, say once a week. I see that we have much
Two days later, the sheik sent two of his servants
to the Rabbi's residence, with an invitation for another audience
with him. They escorted the Rabbi on horseback to the sheik's
"Peace be with you!" said the sheik, embracing
his dear friend. "Since you left here, I have been thinking
a lot about our conversation. I could not wait any longer to see
you again and therefore I sent for you now."
They sat down on cushioned pillows in one of the
sheik's opulent lounge rooms. Again the sheik asked Rabbi Galante
if he was versed in another one of the seven branches of worldly
wisdom. And again he began to ask Rabbi HaMagen questions. Once
again, he was astonished by the Rabbi 's breadth of knowledge.
As the conversation drew to a close, the sheik asked
his friend, "If I have found favor in your eyes, would you
please come every other day to me?" Rabbi Galante agreed
to his request.
With each new meeting, they discussed another one
of the seven branches of wisdom. Each time, the sheik felt a greater
bond with the Rabbi . He had never met any other person who possessed
as much understanding as Rabbi HaMagen.
At last, the sheik confided in his companion. "To
be truthful, my friend, I am lacking certain preparatory details
concerning the last branch of wisdom. Without these, I am unable
to fully grasp and use this branch. Do you have a comprehensive
understanding of it?"
Falling at his feet, the sheik pleaded with Rabbi
Galante to teach him everything he knew. He would pay any price
to have Rabbi Moshe reveal to him this wisdom.
"Heaven forbid," Rabbi Galante responded.
"This is not a salable item. However, I am willing to teach
you, on condition that you teach me concerning another body of
The sheik was dumbfounded. "What do you mean?
You are wiser than me. How can there be a branch of wisdom that
you are not proficient in?"
"There is a wondrous body of wisdom that you
know, of which I am wholly ignorant: you can pray for a sick person
and see into the Book of Life and Death. I lack this wisdom.
"Therefore," concluded Rabbi HaMagen, "if
you will reveal to me this wisdom, I shall teach you what you
want to know."
The sheik returned slowly to his seat. "Your
request is impossible to fulfill. It is forbidden for me to reveal
it to any human being."
"Likewise," responded Rabbi HaMagen, "I
cannot reveal what you so much desire to know other than by an
exchange of wisdom."
After a silence, the sheik spoke. "My dear friend,
the reason that I cannot reveal it to you is because I have sworn
to my forefathers not to divulge the secret to anyone."
"I am also sworn not to teach this wisdom I
possess to anyone else," replied Rabbi HaMagen. "Yet,
I reckon that since it is of great benefit for me to acquire this
new knowledge, it is permissible to do so and does not abrogate
my oath. You should feel the same; remember, you are not selling
it for money; you are exchanging and sharing wisdom. With this
new knowledge you will be enlightened and have total command of
all the seven branches of worldly wisdom."
Rabbi Galante's words were spoken with complete sincerity.
The sheik sat quietly for several minutes, gazing out the window
into the garden.
"I agree," he said softly. "But I
am afraid, my friend, that the risks are too great for you."
Rabbi Galante's face shone. "I am prepared to
do whatever you ask of me, no matter how difficult."
"In that case, listen carefully to me. Return
to your abode. When the sun is about to set, take a vow to fast
for two consecutive days. At your last meal, be sure not to eat
meat or drink wine. After eating, immerse in a pool of water and
dress in fine garments. Throughout the two days, meditate on repentance
and immerse often. Then, on the third day, return to me."
"I agree to everything you say," answered
"Go in peace." The sheik bid him farewell.
Rabbi HaMagen returned home and followed all of the
conditions laid out by the sheik to the letter. At the beginning
of the third night, Rabbi Galante decided to refrain from breaking
his fast. He wanted to experience this secret wisdom in a true
state of humility.
When Rabbi Galante appeared before him the next morning,
the sheik immediately noticed how weak and feeble he looked. "I
see you have fulfilled everything I requested."
"Yes," answered Rabbi HaMagen. "I
am still fasting now."
The sheik then led his guest to a locked room to
which no one but he alone had the key. After they entered, the
sheik locked the door behind them.
From there they came to a second locked door. This
one opened into a magnificent garden. In the middle of the garden
was a spring of fresh water. Butterflies danced in the air. The
spring flowed into a pool before continuing along a narrow channel.
Next to the spring was a bench with two white cloaks on it.
Ancient Woodcut of Public Garden in Damascus
"We must first immerse here before dressing
in these white garments," whispered the sheik.
Silently they immersed and donned the new garments.
The sheik then led the rav through the garden. Rabbi Galante's
curiosity was at its peak.
Finally, hidden behind a grove, they came to an edifice
of exquisite beauty. The double doors of the structure were made
of pure silver, with marvelous engravings on them.
"Beware," the sheik said in a hushed voice.
"Follow afterme with utter fear and trepidation."
The sheik opened the silve. Upon beholding the extraordinary
beauty inside, Rabbi Galante was spellbound. The fragrance was
otherworldly. Before them was a chamber. In the entrance to the
chamber hung a curtain with precious stones sewn in it. The sheik
bowed on the floor seven times before the curtain.
Rabbi HaMagen froze in his place. Was there an idol
inside? The sheik motioned for him to bow. His head began to swim.
He closed his eyes, and as if in a stupor fell on
the floor and whispered, "I shall place God before me always."
He had never felt such a state of awe in his life.
"Now," whispered the sheik, "you may
enter, and there you will find the secret you seek."
Rabbi Galante stood up and pushed aside the curtain
and entered the chamber. On the walls hung tapestries of gold
and silver. On the wall facing the curtain hung an exquisite tablet
with an engraving of a candelabrum. Above the menorah were four
("I shall place God before me always.") The Ineffable
Name of God was spelled out in large, bold letters.
Rabbi HaMagen was overjoyed to see this. He had not
bowed in vain! He bowed again and retraced his footsteps into
Outside in the garden, Rabbi Galante inquired of
the sheik, "You told me that inside the chamber I would find
the answer. But more than what my eyes saw was not revealed to
"My dear friend, let me explain. The four large
letters you saw in the tablet are the name of the Creator of the
world. When I am asked to pray for a sick person, I immerse in
the pool and enter into the chamber. Before opening the curtain,
I pray wholeheartedly. When I open it and gaze at the tablet,
I see one of two things. Either the four-letter Name is glittering
and sparks of light seem to emanate from it, or it is dark and
unclear. If it is shining, I know the sick person will live, and
if it is cloudy I know he will die.
"With this, I have now revealed to you a secret
that no other human being knows."
When Rabbi HaMagen returned to his residence, he
wept and cried. "Woe unto us on the Day of Judgment,"
he lamented. "Look at this gentile - because he honors the
Name of the Creator to such an extent, he is privileged to have
such Heavenly secrets revealed to him. But we, the Jewish people,
what can we answer? We are even more qualified to have God reveal
this to us. Yet, look at us and how we approach the Name of our
from theNovember 1998Edition of the Jewish Magazine