Rabbi Shemuel Laniado and the pearls beneath the fish

Rabbi Shemuel Laniado and the pearls beneath the fish

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Rabbi Shemuel Laniado belonged to an ancient and prestigious family that descended from Spain. His paternal grandfather, who bore the same name, escaped from Spain at the time of the expulsion of 1492. After a long journey, full of dangers, he reached the city of Adrianople (nowadays Edirne) in Turkey. From Adrianople the Laniado family moved to Aleppo (Aram Tsoba), the second most important city in Syria, which had a significant Jewish local population. To these local Jews were being added more and more Jews who came as refugees from Spain. We have an interesting testimony of a famous Spanish traveler, Captain Domingo de Toral (1598-1640), who wrote in his memoirs “Relation of the life of Captain Domingo de Toral y Valdés” that visited Aleppo in the year 1634 and that to his surprise, he found there “more than 800 families of Jews who spoke Castilian (Spanish)”.
Rabbi Shemuel Laniado was born in Aleppo, around 1530. His father was Rabbi Abraham Laniado who was already known in Aleppo as a great Tora scholar and religious leader.
In 1537 the family of Rabbi Shemuel emigrated to Yerushalayim, but the situation of the Yehudim who were there at the time was very difficult. From Yerushalayim they arrived at Tsefat, where a very prestigious rabbinic community had been established, under the leadership of the famous Rabbi Ya’aqob Berab. It was in this privileged setting where Rabbi Laniado flourished. He studied with the best teachers: in the first place, with Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulhan Arukh. According to his own account he was able to learn from Rabbi Moshe Cordobero, a great Qabbalist, philosopher, and the head of the Portuguese Yeshiba of Tsefat. In Tsefat, Rabbi Laniado also studied with other giants of Tora and Qabbala such as Rabbi Moshe Alshekh haQadosh and Rabbi Hayim Vital, the famous disciple of the Ari haQadosh.
Around the year 1570 the Jews of Aleppo sent a letter to Rabbi Yosef Caro asking him to send them a Rabbi who could serve in the congregation. They needed a rabbi who understands the local Jews and also the Spanish immigrants. And that has enough knowledge to be respected by both sides. Rabbi Yosef Caro did not hesitate and wrote to them that he would send them איש אשר כמוני “A man just like me”. What he meant was that he would send a rabbi of “his own stature.”, which gives us a sense of the greatness and prestige of Rabbi Laniado, who became by the recommendation of Maran the chief rabbi of the Aleppo Jewish community.
Rabbi Laniado wrote numerous books, all of them Bible commentaries. Many of these books were never published and still remain in manuscripts.
There are three published books of Rabbi Laniado: the most famous one is called Keli Hemda, which is a commentary on the Five Books of the Tora. Here is an example of his commentary on the pasuq in Vayiqra 18:19, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am HaShem.”
Two things are explained here. First, that all souls are “part” of God [as to their origin], and since the soul of a man and the soul of his neighbor surged both from the same Celestial Throne, therefore “to love your neighbor as yourself “means literally, that he is like you. Since I, God, am the one who created your soul and the soul of your neighbor, he is like you [in the same way that there is a “brotherhood of blood”, from a spiritual point of view human beings form a  “brotherhood of soul” ]. And, secondly, “I am HaShem,” if your love for your neighbor resembles the love you have for yourself, … your love for your neighbor will then be considered as a reflection of your love for Me. As if I, God, would have received your love. “
Another of his books is “Keli Yaqar”, this is a commentary on the first prophetic books (Yehoshua, Shofetim, Shemuel, Melakhim). And finally,  the book “Keli Faz”, a commentary on the book of Yesha’ayahu.
Many wonder why his books, those published and those that were not published (Keli Gola, Kelim miKelim shonim, etc.), are all called “Keli …” which means “vessel” or “barrels”. Rabbinical authors generally choose titles for their books that relate to their names, but in the case of Rabbi Laniado, a very special event justified calling them “keli” (and that he himself Know it as “ba’al hakelim”). While of the boat, during his journey to Syria, Rabbi Laniado befriended a merchant who carried several barrels of salted fish. The merchant, unexpectedly, died during the voyage. The captain of the ship offered to sell the fish and Rabbi Laniado bought them. Once in Aleppo, when he opened the barrels he discovered that beneath the fish the merchant had hidden a great quantity of pearls and precious stones. Thus, when he arrived in the community of Aleppo, rather than needing the support of the Community he was able to support himself and assist many of his needy brothers.
Rabbi Laniado died in 1610 (there are those who say: 1605) and his son, Abraham as well as many of his descendants were distinguished rabbis in the community of Aleppo, Syria.