Baruch Hashem

Please print these Stories before Shabbos, so you can read them on Shabbos!

 

Help We Need A Bris Too

 Lorraine Hershon with baby Elias.

Lorraine Hershon with baby Elias

Northumberland, England - A mohel walked three miles through blizzards and nine inches of snow to reach a family stranded in their Northumberland farmhouse to perform the circumcision on their newborn son.

Lorraine and Daniel Hershon and their four children have been unable to leave their home in the remote hamlet of Unthank, near Haltwhistle, since December 28. The oil reserves for their heating system ran out after a few days and an oil tanker had to turn back three times because of the treacherous roads.

“It was like our very own Chanukah story — we were eking out the oil to survive,” Mr Hershon said. Help was only forthcoming after his wheelchair-bound wife rang Radio 2, where presenter Jeremy Vine made an on-air appeal for help. A Carlisle man delivered oil in his 4x4.

The worsening weather conditions had forced the Newcastle Reform congregants to postpone the bris of their son Elias on four occasions.

“We were getting desperate,” Mrs Hershon said. But mohel Selwyn Goldthorpe and his wife Gillian came to the couple’s rescue. Travelling from Merseyside, they drove as close as they could to the farmhouse. Donning survival gear, they trekked three miles along a snow-covered single track to complete the journey — and they made a return trek after the ceremony to reach their vehicle before nightfall.

“The baby is getting bigger and they’ve had to wait so we just wanted to get on with it before he was ready for his barmitzvah,” Dr Goldthorpe joked. “We stocked up the car with sleeping bags, spades and walking gear. We got as close as we could and then had to abandon the car and walk the rest of the way. They live in the middle of nowhere so the snow was really thick and pristine.

“We were very pleased to help out because they would have been stuck otherwise. It was definitely worth it because Elias had his bris and we had a nice day out.”

A Short Story about a Long Life

The man was totally depressed.

He was standing by the side of the road speaking through the open window of my car. His wife had left him. He had no job. Each day was a burden, and worse yet, he was a burden to the world. In his words, he was "totally useless."

I tried to cheer him up with some words of hope, but he was firm in his belief. I left him with some optimistic thought and darted into a U-turn, happy to go on to something more cheerful.

Suddenly he screamed, "Stop!" I slammed on the brakes just in time to see an extremely fast moving car whiz by. I said to him: "If you hadn't called out, I would have been dead now. A few seconds ago you felt useless without purpose, and now you have saved my life! From this moment on, every good deed I do will also be credited to your account." His face lit up, as the many months of depression fell away.

There is a dawn, and even the darkest nights do pass. No one knows what the next moment holds and to deny hope is to deny the constantly demonstrated fact that, "This too will pass."

 

What Jews Do

By Hanna B. Geshelin

The route of every Jew who becomes observant is unique. One of the turning points on my journey occurred at a large Iowa university with a minuscule Jewish population, where during my freshman year of 1963-64, I was the only undergraduate female who identified herself as Jewish.

Among my roommates during my first term was a junior taking a child development class on cultures. She decided to join the committee researching the Jewish culture because she had a ready-made resource to interview - me. As a fourth-generation American descendent of Reform Jews who emigrated from Germany before the U.S. Civil War, I didn't know much about Judaism, but I did my best to answer her questions. The relief that I felt when she finished questioning me was short-lived, however. Every term after that, the child development professor gave my name to the committee studying Judaism. To meet this challenge, I would have to learn something about my heritage.

The college library had two shelves of books on Judaism. I started at one end of the upper shelf and began reading. They gave me basic information about Jewish history, tradition and beliefs. With the help of the books I managed to get through the questions during the winter term. Then, in the spring of my freshman year, I met Janet.

Janet was a Southern Baptist from a small town in Iowa. Like many students at college, she came from a family for whom church was a major focus. Her beliefs guided her behavior in all aspects of her life.

I was the first Jewish person she'd ever met. She told me that she had chosen to write about the Jewish culture because she wanted to learn about the origins of her faith. Could she come with me to synagogue?

The town had a small Reform congregation that met Friday evenings in the parlor of one of the churches. I agreed to take her, and as we strolled through the quiet streets she asked me about my religious life. "Where do you eat?" she asked suddenly.

Mystified, I gave the name of the dorm dining hall.

"How do you manage?" she asked.

"What do you mean? I just eat."

With an edge to her voice she said, "How can you 'just eat?' We get ham, pork or shellfish three or four nights a week, and most of the rest of the time there's meat and milk at the same meal."

"Oh," I said confidently, "You mean kosher. I'm Reform, and we don't keep kosher."

"You don't keep kosher? But from everything I've read, kosher is one of the cornerstones of Judaism. Why don't you keep it?"

I shrugged. "I don't know, we just don't."

Janet stopped and turned to face me, hands on her hips. I can still picture her standing there in the light of a street lamp, dressed the way she would for church in a navy suit, a small white hat and white gloves. She looked me up and down as though I were a bug on a pin. Then she said words that still reverberate through my mind: "If my church told me to do something, I'd do it."

In the long silence that followed, I rolled the words over and over through my mind. And I wondered, why did the Reform movement say keeping kosher wasn't important? I decided to find out.

The next day I found, on one of those shelves of Jewish books, a history of the Reform movement. Breaking bread with others, said the book, is a universal gesture of friendship and goodwill. Keeping kosher prevents Jews and non-Jews from breaking bread together; thus it prevents casual communion between "us" and "them." When Jews stop keeping kosher and eat non-kosher with their neighbors, anti-Semitism will end and Jews will be fully accepted into mainstream society.

I thought of the Jewish history I'd been reading, of Moses Mendelsohn and the Emancipation; of my mother's family, which hadn't kept kosher in at least four generations; and I thought of the Holocaust, which began in Mendelsohn's and my great-great-grandparent's home-land, Germany. I turned to the title page of the book and saw that originally the book had been published in German in Berlin in 1928.

Maybe in 1928 German Jews could say that eating with non-Jews would end anti-Semitism. But they were about to be proved disastrously wrong. Could I continue to eat in a non-Jewish fashion, when the reasoning for permitting Jews to eat non-kosher was based on a complete fallacy?

"If my church told me to do something, I'd do it." Janet's words took one end of my Yiddishe neshama (Jewish soul) and the book's glaring fallacy took the other end, and they shook me until I had to sit down, right there on the floor beside the library stacks. When I stopped shaking, I knew that until I could find a good reason, a true reason, to not keep kosher, I had no choice. I was a Jew, and the Jews kept kosher. It was that simple.

My complete transformation from a secular to a Torah observant Jew took many years and many more lessons in faith. But my first big step began that Shabbat night, when a Christian girl challenged me to stand up and act like a Jew.

 

It Drove Him Crazy

 

Many ask, why didn't G‑d just take the Jews out of Egypt? Why all the plagues? One of the answers given, was that G‑d wanted to reveal how evil Egypt really was. Here is a story which might explain this.

 

About two hundred and fifty years ago In the city of Shpala, in the heart of the Ukraine, lived a simple Jew who we will call Avraham who was a Chassid (follower) of the great Tzadik the Shpaleh Zaide (the Grandfather from Shpaleh).

This simple Jew made his living by selling small trinkets in the marketplace; needles, buttons and anything that he thought might sell and didn't cost him too much to buy.

One day a large company of some two hundred soldiers came into town on leave and began spreading out through the marketplace. One of them approached Abraham's stand, began looking at his trinkets, casually reached behind the counter, took the cashbox and walked away.

It was only a few seconds until Abraham realized what had happened but by then the soldier was gone into the crowd.

He didn't know what to do. He had heard that such things happened but never dreamed it would happen to him, now that it did he was confused.

When his friend in the stall next to his saw him distraught he asked what happened and when he heard the answer he told poor Avraham that in his opinion he had two choices: either pray to HaShem for the money back or go to the commander of the soldiers and complain - and then pray to HaShem for the money.  

Avhaham decided on the second option; It was all the money he had for the next month! He had to get it back!

He put his wife behind the counter and went looking for the commander; asking soldiers for directions. Meanwhile he learned that his man was as a cruel person as they come and a rabid anti-Semite to boot. 

He was just considering forgetting the whole thing when suddenly he heard a booming voice behind him. "You! Jew! You look for me?!" the commander came out of a restaurant.  Someone must have told him.

He looked at Avraham as he would a rotten piece of meat and scornfully sneered  "Talk, Jew!"

Avraham was really scared now. He blurted out, "One of your soldiers took my money and I want it back. I sell here in the market and it's all I have for the next month. Food, rent, wood for the oven, I have children to feed. Please I need my money back."  Avraham was trembling. 

"One of my men? Ha! Stole from you? A measly Jew? Heh! Feh!! Who would even touch your filthy few coins. Not my men! That's for sure!! My men are soldiers!!  Listen Jew! If you are so sure then tell me which of my men did it! What's your name anyway?"

Avraham showed him his papers and the commander had someone write them down.


"Okay Jew. You point out the thief and if he really is the thief, I'll
return your money.  But if not, then I'll have you beaten!" He took out a cigar, bit off a piece from the end and spit it on the ground. And as he was putting it in his mouth and preparing to light it said menacingly, "You have till tomorrow."

Now Avraham was really in trouble. He would never recognize the soldier, all of them looked the same and he really hadn't taken notice. He would be beaten to death! What would be with his wife and children?! His only recourse was the Rebbe; the Shpaleh Zaide. 

Avraham wasted no time and in just moments he was standing before the holy man explaining the frightening series of events.

"It's nothing to be worried about" explained the Tzadik calmly. "Just tell the commander that in the morning when all the men line up for roll call that you want to look each soldier in the face. The soldier that looks at you with hatred in his eyes and grits his teeth is the thief."

Avraham thanked the Rebbe profusely and returned to look for the commander again and tell him what the Rebbe said. But he was still very scared. 

Sure enough the next morning when all the soldiers were standing at
attention and Avraham and the commander were perusing each of them one soldier glared hatefully and began gritting his teeth menacingly.  "This is the man!" Avraham yelled out pointing with his finger. "He stole my money!"

The commander faced the soldier and ordered him point blank to give the money back. He was certain that the soldier would just deny the whole thing and he could give the order to have Avraham beaten. But instead he answered indignantly.

"But, General, Why?! A filthy Jew! Why should I return the money? He's only a Jew!"

The commander became red with anger and ordered the man flogged with no mercy and, of course, to return the money.

But now he wanted revenge; Avraham had bested him.

"How did you know?!" he turned and hissed at Avraham putting his face into his, "How could you possibly recognize a man you only saw for a few minutes? What, are you some sort of a witch or sorcerer?"

Poor Avraham became so confused and frightened, especially with the screams of the thief receiving lashes in the background, that instead of just saying it was a lucky guess he just told the truth.

"It was the Shpaleh Zeide" he sputtered in fear. "He's a holy Jew that can see everything - he told me how to recognize the thief."

"Aha!" spouted the commander "A holy Jew ehh??" suddenly a sadistic smile spread across his face. "Bring him here! We'll see how holy he is!! If not I'll kill you and him as well. I'll give you till tonight."

Poor Avraham wanted to slap himself on the forehead. Why didn't he just say he recognized the thief? Why did he have to tell the truth all time?!Now he got the Rebbe in trouble as well. All this was becoming too much for him.

He ran to the Rebbe as fast as his legs would carry him and told him what happened. But the Rebbe was not at all surprised or even the least bit worried. He calmed Avraham down and told him to return immediately and tell the commander: First, that the Rebbe refuses to come and second, that if he wants to know what is happening he should check in his own pocket.

Avraham left the Rebbe's house shaking. He thought he was going mad. He was like two people; when he thought of the commander he became petrified with fear and wanted to run away, but when he thought of the Rebbe he was filled with bold confidence.

Finally he made it to the commander and gave him the Rebbe's message. But before he could finish the commander became red with anger and began shaking with fury. Soldiers gathered around until there was quite a crowd but Avraham continued, "And the Rebbe said if you want to know the truth check your pockets."

At this point the commander went berserk with rage. He began screaming, "Who is your Rabbi!? I'll show you what's in my pocket, I'll shoot you and your Rabbi too!! You dirty..."  and put his hand on his gun....

But for some reason he hesitated, thought a moment, stuck his other hand in his pocket, pulled out an envelope that was there, looked at it and turned pale. He gave it another quick glance, looked furtively up and down, pulled the gun from its holster, put it to his head and shot himself!!

The soldiers looked at horror at Avraham as their commander fell to the ground and ran in all directions. Avraham was alone, it happened so brutally fast that he barely had time to think.

He ran to back to the Shpaleh Zedie and when he finished telling him what happened the Rebbe explained.

"The commander was a truly evil man. He spilled a lot of innocent blood and was planning to spill more. He was conspiring with a group of revolutionaries to murder the Czar, usurp the throne and who knows what he would do if he was in power. But he fell in his own trap. 

This morning he had two letters in his pocket; one to the Czar pretending to be his loyal and faithful servant which he sent off earlier in the day and a second to his fellow conspirators with the details of their next step which he was planning to deliver personally this evening.

But when he saw that the letter to the Czar was still in his pocket and that this morning he sent the wrong one his world collapsed; the defeat, humiliation and torture awaiting him drove him crazy!

 

So to in this story, the real evil of this commander had to be revealed, and only through the lengthy steps of events could this happen.

 

The Dream Team
by Esther Kosofsky


Did you hear the one about the Chabad Rebbetzin, the Muslim cleric and the Buddhist monk? No, this is not a new joke; it is a true story that happened to me.

I was contacted by the Southwick, Massachusetts, middle school and asked to participate in a religious diversity day when the students would be exposed to a variety of religions.

Realizing that I had been handed an irresistible opportunity, I agreed to attend, rather relieved to find out that the students would be split up and rotate from room to room to hear each representative individually.

As the day approached, my apprehension grew and I wondered what could I say that would impact the students, not just give them the answers they needed to fill out the charts the teachers had prepared. These charts asked the typical questions about special foods, places of worship, holidays, significant books, and of course politically correct questions.

Southwick is a blue-collar town with very few Jews, so how could I reach out to them? The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became. 

How could I leave the students with any meaningful information beyond terms such as synagogue, rabbi, gefilte fish and matza? How could I move them and inspire them to live more meaningful lives? I finally hit upon one of the great equalizers, sports and for this time of year, football.

The first group of students shuffled into the room clutching their important papers and pencils, eager to fill in the blanks under the "Jewish" column. While I certainly did not look like the religious leader they expected, they were not sure how to relate to a Jewish woman. They looked relieved that I did not have an accent, but they truly were not prepared for what I was about to describe.

"Imagine that you are a football coach" I began. Southwick is New England Patriots football country and the Patriots won two Super Bowls in the past three years, so when I saw some eyes light up and kids seemed to be paying attention, I knew it was a good beginning.

"Imagine," I continued, "you are the Patriots coach, coming off two world championships in two years. You are looking for a new challenge and are being offered two new options for coaching. Option A is to coach a team of hand picked all stars, players with instant name recognition. I am sure this team would include some famous players from the past - like Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Johnny Unitas and Earl Campbell - and several current ones.

"With this team you could sit back and watch the players work together in harmony. All you would have to do is plan the Super Bowl victory party; the rest would be done for you. Just agree and you will go down in history as the coach of the best team of football players ever assembled. You will not only be the coach of the year, you might well be the considered the best coach ever.

"Option B would be to coach a team of, shall we say, misfits. This group of athletes is not quite in their prime, not quite as skilled and certainly not as talented as the first team. These players want to play but can't seem to get it together. These players have name recognition only with their mothers. They know the rules, but somehow come up short in execution. These are the players who might catch the ball and run towards the wrong goal and think they are actually scoring for their team.

"But do you know what qualities these players have? They have heart and they have the drive to win. With hard work and constant practice, with coaxing, convincing, and consistent leadership, there is a chance that these players might be able to be groomed into a winning team. If you can teach them the fundamentals, if you are committed to working with them and will give them a clear and attainable goal, it would be the greatest challenge but you might just surprise the world.

"So you have a choice, Option A, the dream team or Option B, the not ready for prime time players. And now," I asked the students, "which team would you rather coach?"

The overwhelming response was Option B and the reasons given were obvious: this team presented a challenge for the coach. If you are going to invest time and effort into a project, you want to know that you helped make a difference. If you believe in your squad and are willing to put up with them as they follow their learning curve, there is a slim possibility that you will see amazing results.

As I scanned the room and saw that the students were with me to this point, I was ready to help them make the leap into the next part of our discussion.

"Imagine you are G‑d, and you want to coach a team, or in G‑d's terms, you want to create a world.  You already have a dream team; they are called angels. Angels don't fight, they don't get sick and they don't die. Angels listen to the word of G‑d and carry out His request without question; in other words, they are perfect. But G‑d wanted more.

"There is no challenge in 'coaching' angels. So what did G‑d do? G‑d created humankind, He created you and me and gave us a game plan, a guidebook that teaches us how to live a champion life. We might not get all the plays right, sometimes we think we are doing the right thing but then realize that we were confused and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. We often stumble. Yet when we manage to overcome all of the setbacks and touch the divine within us, when we commit ourselves to a life of love and light, this causes the greatest satisfaction to G‑d, the Creator of the universe."

While I may not have covered all the facts in my 30 minutes with each class, hopefully I gave them something to think about the next Sunday during kickoff: that we can all do something not only for ourselves and the world, but also for 
G‑d.

 

The Passing of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi


From the writings & talks of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch
 

In 1812, Napoleon's Grande Armée invaded Russia, with the self-proclaimed "liberator's" aim to bring the whole of Europe under his hegemony.

Around that time, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi wrote to one of his disciples:

If Bonaparte will be victorious, Jewish wealth will increase and prestige of the Jewish people will be raised; but their hearts will disintegrate and be distanced from their Father in Heaven. But if A[lexandar] will be victorious, although Israel's poverty will increase and their prestige will be lowered, their hearts will be joined, bound and unified with their Father in Heaven. And this shall be your sign: in the near time, the apple of your eyes will be taken from you...1

The chassid to whom this letter was addressed, Rabbi Moshe Miezlish of Vilna, was no mere bystander to these events. At Rabbi Schneur Zalman's behest, Reb Moshe served as a spy for the Russians, passing on information he picked up in the French general command, where he worked as an interpreter, to the Czar's generals.2

 

When Napoleon's advancing armies approached Rabbi Schneur Zalman's hometown of Liadi, the Rebbe was forced to flee. The Rebbe left Liadi with sixty wagons carrying his extended family and many of his Chassidim, escorted by a troupe of soldiers attached to the convoy by express order from the Czar.

A few miles out of Liadi, the Rebbe suddenly requested from the officers accompanying the convoy that they provide him with a light carriage, two good horses, and two armed drivers. Taking along of his own people, the Rebbe rushed back to Liadi. Arriving back at his own home, he instructed that a careful search be made to see if any of his personal items had been left behind. After a thorough search, a pair of worn-out slippers, a rolling pin and a kneading bowl were found in the attic. The Rebbe instructed that these be taken along, and that the house be set on fire. He then blessed the inhabitants of the town and quickly departed.

No sooner did the Rebbe leave the town that the first scouts of the French army entered Liadi from the other side. Shortly thereafter, Napoleon himself, accompanied by his generals, arrived at the Rebbe's residence, only to find the house engulfed in flames. A proclamation was issued throughout the town and the surrounding villages promising a generous reward in golden coins to anyone who could produce an object belonging to the Jewish rabbi, or a coin he received from the Rebbe's hand. But nothing was found.

 

For more than five months, as Napoleon advanced across Russia, took Moscow, and then embarked on his disastrous retreat, the Rebbe's entourage wandered from town to town and from village to village, only narrowly avoiding the swath of carnage cut by the French army as it moved through the country.

 

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, winter of 1812-1813

The Rebbe rode in the third wagon. In the first wagon sat the Rebbe's grandson, Rabbi Nachum, with two military officers. Whenever they would arrive at a crossroads, the entire procession would halt while Rabbi Nachum walked to the third wagon to asked Rabbi Schneur Zalman which way to proceed. At times, the Rebbe would reply without moving from his seat; other times, he would walk to the crossroads, lean himself on his staff, and meditate for a while before issuing his directive.

On one occasion, Rabbi Nachum erred in his understanding of the Rebbe's instruction, and the convoy took the opposite turn. When the error was revealed, Rabbi Schneur Zalman instructed that they continue along the road already taken, but said with great regret in his voice: "How fortunate it is when the grandson follows the grandfather; how unfortunate it is when the grandfather must follow the lead of the grandson."

Many trials and tribulations followed that wrong turn in the road, culminating in their arrival in the town of P'yene.

 

The Rebbe's convoy arrived in P'yene in the dead of winter, on the 8th day of Tevet, 5573 (December 1812). P'yene was a good-sized town, consisting of some three hundred large houses and courtyards, many of which were empty as the men were away at war. The generous townspeople provided housing and kindling free of charge to the refugees.

Ten days later the Rebbe fell ill. On Tevet 24, Motzaei Shabbat (Saturday night) following Shabbat Parshat Shemot, at 10:30 in the evening, after reciting the havdallah prayer marking the close of the holy Shabbat, he returned his soul to its Maker.

Shortly before his passing (by one account, "after havdallah, several minutes before giving up his soul in purity to G‑d") the Rebbe penned a short discourse titled, "The Humble Soul."

"For the truly humble soul," Rabbi Schneur Zalman wrote, "its mission in life lies in the pragmatic aspect of Torah, both in studying it for himself and explaining it to others, and in doing acts of material kindness in lending an empathizing mind and counsel from afar regarding household concerns, though the majority, if not all, of these concern things of falsehood.... For although the divine attribute of Truth argued that man should not be created, since he is full of lies, the divine attribute of Kindness argued that he should be created, for he is full of kindnesses... And the world is built upon kindness."

 

FOOTNOTES

1.

Igrot Kodesh Admur HaZaken, letter #64. For more of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's support of the Czar against Napoleon, see Is Judaism a Theocracy?

2.

See Bonoparte and the Chassid.