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Shabbos Stories for Parshas V'eschanon

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Deathbed Confession

In Spain, the king’s advisor learns the meaning of “Hear O Israel.”

Deathbed Confession

 

 

“Water!” the invalid rasped in a whispery voice. The astounded doctors, who had given up the unconscious man for dead, were shocked to hear his voice again. The priest, who had taken his final confession, turned pale. Had a miracle taken place?

The doctors quickly initiated treatment. For hours they attended at his bedside. Finally, they saw clear signs of a positive change in his condition. By evening they were able to declare that his situation was no longer critical. He was out of danger.

For another several weeks the man, named Bagalo, continued to be very weak, and the doctors prohibited him from engaging in any of his regular activities. Finally, however, he regained his strength completely. Every trace of the disease had completely disappeared!

The king considered Bagalo to be a financial wizard, and was not slow to express his appreciation . . .

All of Spain breathed a collective sigh of relief at Bagalo’s recovery. He was one of the king’s most trusted advisors, with a strong reputation for honesty and intelligence. The king loved to consult with him so much that he had risen to be one of the most important personalities in the royal court.

His advice was especially valued by the monarch in economic affairs. More than once, his suggestions had directly resulted in great fiscal gain for the kingdom and concurrent improvements in the daily life of the people. The king considered Bagalo to be a financial wizard, and was not slow to express his appreciation, as he showered upon him wealth and valuable gifts.

Although everyone was aware of Bagalo’s great wisdom and praised him for it, no one had yet realized that he was really a Jew. This was his great secret. He was from a family that had been coerced to convert, an anous (meaning “forced”), a “Marrano.” As far as he was concerned, his Catholic status was for appearances only. He conducted himself outwardly as he had to, while he continued to observe all of the commandments secretly, in hiding.

At moments when he was alone, a heavy sigh would push through his lips . . .

Lately, though, he hadn’t had much to hide. Whereas previously he had set aside time for mitzvah observance, and even for Torah study and thought, his new prominent position in court consumed virtually all of his waking hours. He no longer had time to pray or to study, or even to perform the commandments. His Judaism remained only in his core beliefs, his strong inner faith in his G‑d and His people.

From time to time, at moments when he was alone, a heavy sigh would push through his lips. How he longed for Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, indeed for all of the mitzvot. How had he allowed himself to become so distant?

But such thoughts could only be indulged for a few moments. Then the heavy pressure of his workload would again take over his time and his thoughts. Thus he conducted his life until he fell critically ill.

The most competent of the royal physicians had been summoned to care for him. They gave him the finest medicines and treatments at the king’s order, sparing no expense, but nothing helped. He became weaker and weaker, until finally the doctors felt they had no choice but to declare that his case was hopeless. An important priest was summoned.

Then came his miraculous recovery. After a while, no one recalled that he had been so sick. No one but he, that is. He remembered very well what had happened; he knew and kept to himself what even the most expert of the physicians could not know.

One day, Bagalo summoned the priest who had taken his confession . . .

One day, Bagalo summoned the priest who had taken his confession. He led him to a private room, locked the door behind them and closed the curtains. He sat opposite the priest and looked him straight in the eyes. “I remember everything you said to me when we thought I was dying. At the end, after all the prayers, you muttered a few words that I didn’t understand. Those words are engraved in my memory. What do they mean?”

The priest visibly trembled. His face changed colors. He tried to stammer a reply, but his teeth were rattling too hard.

Seeing that the other’s distress had rendered him unable to speak, Bagalo continued. “The words were: ‘Shema Yisrael Ado-nai Elo-heinu Ado-nai Echad.’ Isn’t that a Jewish prayer?”

The priest’s whole body quivered, but no words were forthcoming. “So, you are a Jew?” Bagalo pushed on.

The priest sat frozen, his face registering shock and terror that his secret had been uncovered by the king’s advisor.

“Don’t be afraid; I won’t inform on you,” Bagalo said gently. “Just give me your word of honor that you will be wholehearted in the word of our savior, and you will put aside these Hebrew incantations.”

I am prepared to die, but as a Jew . . .

“No!” roared the priest. “I prefer to die as a Jew. Enough of this double life. This is the moment of truth.” Now that he had recovered himself, the words were quickly tumbling from his mouth. “I am prepared to die, but as a Jew.”

“My brother!” Bagalo cried out, and fiercely embraced his co-religionist. “I too am Jewish. And now I know that you are truly attached to the faith of our fathers. We are one!”

Their shared secret drew the two men to become close friends. They revealed to each other about their secret lives. The priest explained that he had entered the clergy for one reason only: to be able to whisper “Shema Yisrael” in the ear of Marrano Jews on their deathbed, so that their souls would exit in purity.

The king’s advisor related that when he had been at death’s door, he had wanted to at least say the Shema. To his distress, he found that he couldn’t remember exactly how it went. Then, suddenly, he heard the holy words being said in his ear! It was as if a gentle breeze had wafted him up and reinvigorated him with new life.

Falling into a deep sleep, he began to dream. He saw an old man, who smiled warmly and spoke. His voice was gentle and melodious. “I am your grandfather. You shall recover from this illness and you shall live, but only on a condition. You must return to a full Jewish life. Therefore, you shall leave this country. Move to the Land of Israel. Upon your departure, take with you the bones of your father and give them a Jewish burial there.”

The two friends planned their escape. They decided that Bagalo should tell the king that during his critical illness he had vowed that if he recovered, he would make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The king would probably not be able to refuse such a request. He would likely even help him to fulfill it. The priest would arrange for the disinterment of the remains of Bagalo’s father, for the church cemetery was under his supervision.

Thus, the pair was able to abandon Spain. After a series of difficult journeys, the two baalei teshuvah (those returning to Jewish observance) reached the holy city of Safed. There they dedicated themselves to lives of total mitzvah observance, Torah study and prayer. When in the course of time they passed away, both of them were complete in their return.

(Translated and adapted from Sichat HaShavua #144)  

The Cheerleader Goes Jewish 
by Sandy Wolshin Mendlowitz 

Cheerleader.jpgMid-September at the Los Angeles Coliseum. A scorching 85 degrees. Dallas is leading, 14-7, late in the fourth quarter. The Raiders have the ball, fourth and goal from the 3-yard line. The Raiderette cheerleaders prepare to launch into a sideline routine. I pick up my pom-poms and hear the quarterback make the call:

"East, near left, 94 in flair zero on two."

He's going to run it!

Whamm!

The sound of bones cracking, and a scream.

Was that his leg breaking? Uh-oh, the music's starting. Time to dance. Five, six, seven, eight?

I was a cheerleader for the LA Raiders for five years. I danced and moon-walked in high-heel go-go boots for four hours straight in front of 60,000 adoring fans. Everything was great — the attention, the autographs. I cheered for a TV audience of one billion when the Raiders went to the Super Bowl. I was living the All-American girl's dream.

I never planned to be a professional cheerleader. Sure, I cheered in high school and college. But my parents encouraged me to stay more focused on my studies — I majored in Foreign Language at UCLA and performed my final project by playing the castanets while reciting in Spanish.

For cheerleading, I was more than a little overweight. At the time my best friend convinced me to try out for the NFL, I weighed 170 pounds. I didn't make the squad and I didn't understand why. Weren't they looking for good cheerleaders?! I was devastated. Then I looked over at all the finalists, and saw that none of them were heavy. Now I got the concept! So I made a commitment, lost weight, and tried out again. I made it!

The attention, the autographs. I was living the All-American girl's dream.

For an NFL cheerleader, there is tremendous pressure to be physically beautiful. I was surrounded by 47 gorgeous girls, each one prettier than the next. To survive, I figured out some tricks to the trade. For glamorous eyes, we'd use false eyelashes, although we'd cut them in half to avoid looking too artificial.

For me, the hardest part about being a cheerleader was the world famous Raiderette Calendar. With 12 months in a year, only 12 of the 48 cheerleaders got a full-page photo. The rest got small pictures. I took it personally. To me, a big picture meant "I'm pretty," and a small picture meant, "I'm ugly." In the regular world I was looking good, but in Raiderette land I was failing. I had a small picture every year.

Eventually, I decided to leave the cheerleading squad. What triggered it? Maybe it was the ruthless carnage on the football field that didn't seem right to me. Or the lingering sense that I was somehow contributing to the objectification of women. Or the empty feeling inside as I danced my heart out on the field, but wanting to use my talents for something more fulfilling.

Most likely it was the strong hand of my mother reasserting itself. Growing up, I wasn't allowed to look in the mirror and would get spanked for putting on makeup. I remember my mother's lectures about how looks were superficial, and how important it is to develop one's character. My mother wanted me to be strong on the inside. Her fear was that people would place so much emphasis on my looks, that I'd come to rely on that at the expense of developing myself in other areas.

My mother's message was a good one, even though her Russian style may have seemed too stern growing up.

So I left cheerleading and became a standup comedienne. (I got that talent from my father, who had an act in the Borsht Belt.) I performed on TV, in film, live at The Improv, and overseas for American troops.

I had no tools to deal with the feelings that food had suppressed all those years.

But I still felt an emptiness. My struggle with overeating kept coming back to haunt me. (Like in many Jewish families, food represented love.) Externally, my life was great — exciting career, limousines, stylish clothes. But I didn't have any tools to deal with the feelings that food had suppressed all those years. I was overlooking my spiritual side. That's the emptiness I was trying to fill with food. And at some point the food took over.

So I joined a self-help program to help with the weight loss. I learned that it's not what you're eating; it's what's eating you. A byproduct of that effort was that I became more aware of the spiritual spark inside me. I shifted my priorities — I wanted a home, a soul mate and a stable, secure life.

I found a quiet 9-to-5 job, and began meeting Jewish men. As I dated successful professionals, I came to realize that what I was truly seeking was a spiritual soul mate. So how was I going to meet the right one?

I turned to the one voice I knew I could trust: I prayed to God for direction. The reply I received was: "Why not become the type of person you'd want to marry?" So I asked God to help me be the best woman I could be — spiritually, emotionally and physically — so that my soul mate may recognize me.

I figured if I wanted to marry a Jewish man, I had a lot of work to do. Because my knowledge of Judaism consisted primarily of bagels 'n cream cheese, and Yiddish songs. But no spiritual component. So I started studying Judaism at various locations, and looked for a shul that I felt comfortable in. I fell in love with Judaism.

I started wearing more modest clothing — a long way from go-go boots and pom-poms. Matchmakers would approach me at synagogue and ask tons of questions. "Excuse me, are you single? I think I may have someone for you. May I have your phone number?" People were investing time and effort to try to "match me up" with the right guy. This "blind date" way of meeting men was so different, yet so refreshing.

I was new to Judaism and the transition was not always easy. I recall going to shul and seeing people standing outside the bathroom near the drinking fountain, moving their lips and saying something in Hebrew. I didn't know they were saying the blessing after using the bathroom; I thought they were all blessing the holy water fountain!

I often think back to my life as a cheerleader. At the time I felt it was such a great career. We would get a lot of fan mail, people would send us bouquets of flowers to our practices, we'd sign autographs at the games. Like the other women on the squad, I was taught that cheerleading is wholesome and All-American — just like mom, baseball and apple pie. The women I cheered with were sweet, good girls who would volunteer to help the elderly and went to church on Sunday.

But I never thought about what my job really stood for. I actually thought the Raiders had cheerleaders to help the team win! Now I get it what it's all about. I was so naive.

Being valued for one's external traits contributes to low self-esteem.

As a NFL cheerleader I was more valued for my external traits, not the person inside. Now I realize how that contributes to low self-esteem. (Wasn't that my mother's message all along?)

I'm still in touch with the cheerleaders and they're thrilled for me. Sometimes they call and ask questions, particularly about the way I dated and my new modest wardrobe. I'm finding that all women are craving modesty. Our society spends billions of dollars pulling the country in the opposite direction. But I think we're seeing a backlash against this and that modesty is the wave of the future. That's why it's so important to have a strong sense of community and religion to show another way.

I'm still on my path to becoming closer to God, which I know will be a lifelong journey. I now serve as a theater director at various religious girls' schools in LA, directing the end-of-year shows. A little Torah, a little Tap — it's perfect! I also had the privilege of teaching a class to Bat Mitzvah girls. (And when they found out I was a former cheerleader, I relented and taught them some cheers in the last five minutes of class, which was fun for me as well.)

My main project now is as a dating coach for marriage-minded women, using my life experiences to help others attain their relationship goals.

Through all this growth and change, it helps to have an extraordinary husband who loves the part of my soul that reaches out for more.

Yes, I used to be a Raiderette.

As for now, I still do cheers around the house:

"2,4,6,8 — Shabbos is coming, don't be late!"

 

Thank You for Your Protection

A Story from the 2006 war Israel vs Hezbollah in Lebenon

This morning as the sun rose over Jerusalem, my wife Leah gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at the Hadassah Medical center. A few hours later I drove to the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Malachi where my wife's parents live.

After packing several personal items that my wife will need for her hospital stay, I set out to drive back to Jerusalem. As I passed the central bus station in Kiryat Malachi, I saw an Israeli soldier waiting to get a ride. I rolled down the window and asked him where he needed to go. He said his base is near Jericho, but if I can take him to Jerusalem that would be great help.

I was in a particularly upbeat mood today—after all, we were blessed with our fourth child and third daughter—but the reality around me in the holy land is down and worrisome. Israel is being attacked by its neighbors and we are fighting a war to defend ourselves.

As fighter jets from the nearby air force base roared overhead, we cruised down the highway, and I get acquainted with Shachaf Raviv of Beer Sheva. His story gives a face to and direct association with the soldiers fighting for our land and people today.

Shachaf, 21 years old, is a medic in the IDF. He tells me that yesterday his senior officer sent him home for one night to spend with his family because today he and his unit will be leaving their base near Jericho and heading up north to the battlefield on the border of Lebanon to be part of a team of doctors and medics who will be giving critical first aid to the wounded soldiers and civilians.

His officer said he will not have any weekend breaks for a while and therefore sent him to bid farewell to his family.

Shachaf told me of the feeling in his house last night, "no one slept, they surrounded me with love and care for hours. My father immigrated to Israel from Portugal in the late sixties and fought in the Yom Kippur War and my mother came from Tunisia to the promised land around the same time. They spoke of their dreams for themselves and our future.

"I am the third of four children and currently the only son in the army. My parents named me Shachaf which means "seagull" in Hebrew but this morning when my mother said goodbye she held me for a long time and was crying, she kept calling me Rachamim—the Jewish name they gave me at my Brit ceremony, which in Hebrew means ‘mercy’ and ‘compassion.’ She cried and said ‘Rachamim today you will need G‑d’s compassion and protection—We all need G‑d’s rachamim.’”

As we continued to drive I encouraged Shachaf and spoke to him about the great role he has in protecting the land of Israel and the Jewish people in Israel and ultimately Jews all over the world.

At 12:00 PM I turned on the radio to the headline news. "Eight troops from Golani's 51st Battalion," the announcer said, "lost their lives on Wednesday during heavy fighting with Hezbollah terrorists in the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbail. Another officer was killed in a clash at Maron a-Ras. Over twenty soldiers are wounded..."

Shachaf asked me to turn the radio off and give him spiritual inspiration instead before he heads to the front lines.

I shared with him thoughts that I heard and learned from my Rebbe and teacher, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. During past conflicts in the Land of Israel, and during times of danger for the Jewish people, the Rebbe made practical suggestions of good deeds, mitzvot, that would elicit G‑d's blessings and protection. I quoted him from the Torah that speaks of G‑d protecting the land and we discussed the need for us to understand the deeper truths as to why we have our permanent homeland specifically in Israel, as promised to us in the Torah.

Shachaf was very grateful to hear how Jews and non Jews all over the world are praying for them and thinking of them every day now and wishing for their success and G‑d’s protection.

When we came to Jerusalem I opened my briefcase. I had a new Mezuzuah in a plastic case and I gave it to Shachaf. I told him, “I am giving this to you for protection, but you must return it to me when you come back and I will go to Beer Sheva and put it up in your bedroom.”

Shachaf liked the idea. I said, “It says in the Torah ‘Emissaries of a good deeds are not harmed.’ You have a Mezuza—it will protect you.” Shachaf put the mezuza in his front left pocket and promised me he would leave it there until he comes back, he will also tell the story of our meeting to his fellow medic soldiers and tell them they have added protection.

I then pulled out an envelope with $500 that a member of my community gave me yesterday to give to distressed Jews in the north, and asked Shachaf to be my personal emissary to distribute these funds to wounded soldiers and civilians.

At first he refused to take it, but after we exchanged e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers he agreed and promised to report to me exactly how he gave the funds to people who really need it.

We only met an hour before, but we suddenly were deeply connected to each other. We embraced, the Mezuzah protruding from his pocket and his rifle strapped across his chest. I looked at him with tears in my eyes and said, “Rachamim, thank you for your protection”; and he looked me back in the eye while placing his hand over the mezuzah I gave him, and said “Avraham, thank you for your protection.”

I am writing this article on my laptop while sitting in the room at Hadassah Hospital while my wife rests. I look at the beautiful face of our little newborn daughter and thank G‑d for His blessings and pray for His protection for my child and all the rest of His children.

As the Jewish world will pray this Shabbat for the protection of the soldiers of Israel, I will have in mind Rachamim Raviv. Please think of him and thousands of more like him who need G‑d’s rachamim, mercy, and full protection.

 
Red Feather
 
As told to Chana Besser
It was the beginning of a long, hot summer in San Diego. We had left Israel for a few years so that we could return soon with a way to earn a living. Rachel, my wife, was in a nursing program and working. I, Mordechai, was looking for work. Money was tight and nerves were frayed. It was semester break, and we knew we needed to get away for a bit.

Leaving the kids with a sitter, we set off in our little, dilapidated car for a drive in the desert mountains near Jamul. In the middle of the desert, alongside the road, we saw a fruit and vegetable stand and stopped for some peaches. A crazy bright green and orange jalopy drove up and stopped, too, bad music blasting as two rowdy young men jumped out.

One of them wore his hair in dreadlocks, long, matted twists of hair, while his companion chose the other extreme. He looked as if he had shaved off all his hair with a Swiss army knife. The dreadlocks didn't look so strange to me. I remembered when I had worn dreadlocks myself not that many years before. So I was the first to reach out. A casual remark about vegetables opened the conversation, and soon we were all talking together about organic produce and other things.

Their car had come up from the south, where there was nothing but a bare expanse of desert reaching to the Mexican border. Where could they be coming from? The guy with dreadlocks explained that they had spent a few days on the Mexican side of the border as part of a "seed group" helping to set up a Native American spiritual gathering. People were coming from as far away as Canada for a three-day happening. The big attraction was a young Indian chief who was a famous healer and spiritual leader. He invited us to the gathering.

No matter how much we told them we couldn't go, the two insisted on drawing us a map. On a napkin they sketched back roads that would take us out to the middle of nowhere on the Mexican side of the border. "By tomorrow hundreds of people will be coming," they assured us. "You shouldn't miss it." Then they hopped back into their bright green and orange jalopy and took off.

Driving home, Rachel and I shared our thoughts. Why did we meet these two men? And why did they insist on drawing us a map after we repeatedly told them we weren't interested? And why was this unusual invitation presented to us just when we most needed to get away from our daily pressures? By the time we arrived home, we had agreed to go to the Indian gathering to see if there was some hidden divine plan awaiting us there.

We packed the car and bought plenty of food. The next day, after Morning prayers, we set off with our kids and our tent. We drove southeast from San Diego through Tecate, the border town. Poverty…lots of dogs…lots of garbage…We followed the marks on the napkin along lonely dirt roads that seemed to stretch out endlessly through the desert. Finally, after many hours, we came to a clearing and saw a group assembling for a major gathering. Many tepees and sweat lodges were already set up. About thirty people were there ahead of us, a mixture of Native Americans and Mexicans with a smattering of adventures Anglos looking for the unusual. We heard more Spanish than English. Inside a large tent four women were banging rhythms on a drum as big as a dining room table. The drumming went on for hours.

We pitched out tent far away, in a remote, beautiful spot, and I walked up to a nearby mountaintop to daven mincha. Then we started a fire, cooked our dinner, and ate under a full moon. The children began to nod off. We tucked them into their sleeping bags and sat near the fire enjoying a quiet cup of coffee under the brilliants stars of the desert sky.

A middle-aged, heavyset woman in a beaded leather dress entered our campsite. "I'm Minna," she introduced herself in American-accented English. She had seen our campfire and wanted to make sure we had lit it safely. We let her inspect it and she gave us her approval, adding, "You'd be surprised how many people don't know how to built a safe campfire." Despite her long, salt-and-pepper braids, her face, illuminated by the glow of the fire, didn't look Indian.

We talked for a few minutes, and then Minna said, "Oh, you don't know that I'm Red Feather's mother. Red Feather is in charge of this gathering."

Rachel and I were both thinking the same thing. It is that intuition that Jews have when they meet another Jew. Finally we asked her.

"Yes, I'm Jewish," she said. "And you are, too."

Minna was friendly and open. She had grown up as a young girl living on the streets. Then she had fallen in love with a Native American, married him, and joined his tribe. After many years her husband had died, and her son, Red Feather, had grown up to be the new Indian chief and medicine man. He had healing powers and a way of communicating with the spiritual.

"Does Red Feather know he's Jewish?" we asked.

"Yes," Minna replied. "He knows."

"Does he know anything at all about being Jewish?"

"No, I never taught him anything," she answered. "I don't know much myself."

My wife and I exchanged glances. Perhaps this was the divine plan. "Can we meet Red Feather?"

"I can't promise," Minna said doubtfully. "He's very busy. But I'll try to connect you."

Red Feather had had a recent dream that he considered a prophecy, Minna told us. In his dream, he had seen a twenty-pointed star and he was told to gather many, many people together in this place in the Mexican desert. Right now he was down in the center of the clearing, setting up a large replica of that star on the ground. In the morning, the Native American healing rituals would begin under his direction.

Minna stayed a while longer and talked to us by the light of our campfire. She told us about the Native American calendar and we told her about the Jewish calendar. After Minna said good night, I went down to the gathering to find Red Feather.

I found him marking off a large circle about twenty meters in diameter. It was surrounded by twenty-eight two meter-high branches, whittled down very straight and smooth. Beside each branch was a pole stuck in the ground with a little sack of tobacco tied on top of it. The poles were connected to each other by a string decorated with feathers. Inside the circle, cornmeal was spread over the hard earth with designs drawn in it. The fragrance of burning sage was everywhere.

Red Feather was deep in concentration, reconstructing his vision of the twenty-eight-pointed star. I guessed he was in his thirties, a short, very intense man with long, braided, dusty-blond hair. He didn't look Indian either, except in his dress.

I walked into his line of vision, knowing not to get too close, and watched him silently. I knew Indians. I had taught them in the Alaskan bush. Indians don't like idle talk. I watched him work and waited for him to be the first to speak.

"This star came to me in a vision," Red Feather said at last.

I replied in tight-jawed, sparse, Indian-style English. "Met your mother," He nodded. "She's Jewish." Again he nodded. "You're Jewish."

"Yes," he answered.

"Do you know Shema Yisrael?" I asked.

"No."

"Do you know the Hebrew letters?"

"No."

"Do you know who Abraham is?"

"No."

"Moses?"

"No. I just know a little about the Merkava. I think the star in my vision is like it."

He was speaking about the holy chariot seen in a vision by the prophet Yechezkel thousands of years ago. The Merkava is understood only by the greatest Jewish Kabbalists. It rides in worlds that we cannot enter while we are on this earth, and its secrets are among the deepest mysteries that will be revealed to all with the coming of Mashiach.

I saw that Red Feather liked to work with his hands. He liked to bring the spiritual down into the physical. While he worked, I talked to him about the mitzvot a man like him would appreciate. I told him about the spirituality of tefillin, tzitzit, talit, the city of Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple. He listened intently. He wanted to put on my tefillin and was disappointed to hear that it could only be done in the daytime.

"Tomorrow there will be a big medicine dance," he said. "We break at noon for fifteen minutes. Is that enough time?"

"Yes," I answered, "if there is a quiet place nearby where no one will disturb us."

Early in the morning before the others woke up, I prayed shacharit. Then we packed up our car. Hundreds of people were awake by then, drumming and dancing to a mind-numbing beat. We heard they'd be sacrificing buffalo hearts on an altar and doing who knows what other idol worship. We needed to get out of there, but I had made my promise to Red Feather. So we kept our children close to the tent and stayed far away from the dangerous, dark rituals.

At twelve o'clock noon I walked to our meeting place by the star. Red Feather was there.

"It's time. Come," I said, tight jawed.

Red Feather took the lead and led me down a dusty trail to a secluded area out of view and far enough away to soften the pounding of the incessant drumming.

I took the talit and draped it over his head. He repeated the blessing after me. I spoke to him about the ten sefirot, the ten Kabbalistic spheres. Then I took the tefilin out and told him about chesed (kindness), gevura (strength), and tiferet (splendor). Red Feather repeated the Hebrew blessings after me and I tightened the black leather straps on his left hand. Placing the head tefillin on his brow, I told him about chochma (wisdom), bina (understanding), daat (knowledge), and malchut (kingship).

Then the young Indian chief, wrapped in my talit and tefillin, sat with me on a long rock and we said Shema. I suggested some powerful images for him to keep in mind while he meditated. Then I walked off into the brush, leaving him alone to pray to his Creator as a Jew for the first time. Ten minutes later, Red Feather was still motionless. I gave him another ten minutes.

Meanwhile, back at my family's campsite, Rachel could hear people calling for Red Feather. Everyone was looking for him. She chuckled. If only they knew what Red Feather was doing right then.

I checked on Red Feather again, He was still deep in meditation. Quietly, I sat down beside him. After a few minutes, I began to hum a niggun, a spiritual Jewish melody. Then I recited a psalm. He didn’t move. I told a story about the Baal Shem Tov. He still didn't move.

Finally Red Feather spoke. He was very shaken. "My ancestors were calling me," he said. "I saw a vision of a woman with her hair covered. I have to learn more! Please stay after all the people leave and teach me more about my people and our way of prayer."

"I can't stay," I said softly. "The rituals done here are not the ways of the Torah. I must take my wife and children away. Our Creator has brought us together. How are we to know when His plan for us has been completed? Maybe we have accomplished our purpose in each other's lives. I must go."

Red Feather broke into tears and hugged me. I let him cry for some time. Then I gently took the talit and tefillin off him. We walked back to the gathering together and said our good-byes. I made sure to give him my pone number.

As we were pulling out, we asked about the two men who had sent us to the gathering, one with dreadlocks and the other with a shaved head. We described them to the people who had been there from the beginning. No one had ever seen them.

We drove back on the same road where we had met the two men in their green and orange jalopy. There was no fruit and vegetable stand in sight.

Red Feather never called. Later we moved and our phone number changed. But I know that just as G‑d sent me to Red Feather at that moment in his life, so too will G‑d provide Red Feather with all the help he needs to come back to his people and his heritage.

Editor’s note:
All names in the story are fictitious; all the details really happened. The narrator of the story is a resident of Tsfat (Safed) who is associated with Ascent. The writer, Chana Besser, is also a Tsfat resident.
 
The Rebbe's Father
 
In the upcoming weeks falls the 20th of Av, the yahrzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rav Levi Yitzchak was a great sage and scholar, an awesome reservoir of Talmudic and Kabalistic knowledge. But perhaps the most unique dimension of his character was his unflinching commitment to Judaism and the total lack of fear with which he expressed that commitment.

One night in 1935, in the midst of the fiercest Stalinist oppression, a
woman knocked on his door. "I've come from a distant city whose name I cannot mention. In approximately one hour, my daughter and her fiance will also arrive. They both hold high government positions and so their coming here is fraught with danger. They have agreed to be married according to Jewish law, provided you would perform the wedding in your home."

Rav Levi Yitzchak consented and set about gathering together a minyan for the wedding. Within half an hour, he had brought eight other men into his home. But the tenth man was lacking. On the bottom floor of the apartment house where Rav Levi Yitzchak lived a young Jewish man who had been hired by the Communist authorities to spy on the goings on in Rav Levi Yitzchak's home. Rav Levi Yitzchak was well aware of who this  person was and how he was employed. Yet when the tenth man was lacking, he sent for him.

"We need a tenth man for a minyan so that a Jewish couple can marry," he told his neighbor.

"And so you sent for me?!" the neighbor responded in utter amazement. And yet he consented to participate in the minyan and did not inform about the ceremony.

Years later, the Rebbe said: "From my father I learned never to be
afraid."

                          From Keeping in Touch, by Rabbi E. Touger

                                *  *  *

One year, before Passover, the Government required each citizen to complete a questionnaire, as part of a general population census. One of the questions was, "Do you believe in G‑d?"

Certain Jews who did believe, nevertheless responded in the negative because they were afraid of losing their jobs. When Rav Levi Yitzchak became aware of this, he stood up and proclaimed before a large audience in the synagogue, that for a Jew to deny his belief in G‑d is considered heresy and therefore it is absolutely prohibited for any Jew to give a negative answer to this question, no matter what the consequences.

This ruling of Rabbi Lev Yitzchak was brought to the attention of the
authorities by an agent who had been planted in the shul in order to observe the rabbi's manner of conducting himself and to determine the extent of his influence upon the congregation.

At a later date, after Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had been arrested and was
being interrogated about this speech, he defended himself. He explained that the Government certainly expected truthful answers to all of its questions, and it being the case that so many Jews were ready to respond falsely to this particular question out of fear of losing their jobs, he had felt it his duty as a loyal citizen to urge them to answer each question honestly!

From the diary of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, wife of Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak, published in A mother in Israel, Kehot Publications Ozar Wienikursky told of the traumatic time when he was about to be
drafted into the Russian Communist army. He came to Rav Levi Yitzchak to ask for his blessing that he should secure a deferment. The Rav did  not simply bless him. He gave Ozar extremely detailed instructions; he specified the exact date and hour at which he should report to the draft office, which route to take on the way there, the chapters of Psalms  that he should say beforehand, and exactly how many coins he should give to charity.

He also prescribed that when Ozar stood at the entrance to the building, he should stop and envisage in his mind the holy four-letter name of  G‑d. The Rav then blessed him and promised that nothing bad would befall him. He concluded by requesting that the young man return afterwards with a detailed report of all that had transpired.

Wienikursky carefully followed all of the Rav's instructions. When he
arrived at the draft office, he was sent into a large room with many
tables. At each table sat a doctor with a particular specialty who had
the responsibility of examining each candidate that passed before him, but only in his area of expertise. Each draftee had to go before all of the doctors to determine the true state of his health and eliminate any possibility of deception.

"I passed along the row of tables and was examined by each doctor,"
related Ozar. "Each one recorded his opinion in turn. Finally, I reached
the desk of the clerk who notified the draftees of the board's decision.

The man looked at me pityingly and exclaimed, "What is going on with you? You poor man! Each doctor found something wrong with you and each one's diagnosis describes you as suffering from a different disease!"

He left safely with a complete exemption from the army.
 
G‑d Is Everywhere!

 

The Russian revolution was a bloodbath; the 'Red' communists were determined
to destroy the 'old order' and overthrow the Czar at all costs, while the
'White' loyalists were determined to kill all the communists.

Fighting raged in the streets and, of course, the Jews suffered the most;
especially at the hands of the 'Whites'. There were a large number of Jews
high in the communist ranks (the saying was 'if you weren't a communist you
were never young') and the whites decided to kill them all.

But the biggest anti-Semites were the Cossacks.

The Cossacks besides being fierce 'White' loyalist devoted to the Czar, they
were devout Russian Orthodox Catholics and blood thirsty murderers - while
the Jews were none of the above.

It's no surprise that one of the favorite Cossack 'pastimes' were 'Pogroms',
namely attacking Jewish towns and villages and killing everyone there. Tens
of thousands of Jews found their savage deaths in this way.

It was in this atmosphere that the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Shalom
DovBer (called the Rebbe RaShaB for short) called a young Chassid by the
name of Rabbi Laizar Nanas (who later survived twenty years of hard labor in
Siberia) into his office and asked him to deliver an important envelope to
the Rabbi of Y'kat'rinoslav, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, which meant an
eighteen hour train ride!

Early the next morning Rabbi Laizar went to the station and bought a ticket.
As he did so the full meaning of what he was doing hit him.  For a Chassid
to go into the streets was dangerous, how much more so on a train for so
many hours! He was sure to be seen. And almost as sure to be killed! There
were Cossacks everywhere, especially now that the Rebbe moved his
headquarters southward from 'Lubavitch' to 'Rostov' where Cossacks
flourished.

But a Rebbe never makes mistakes - that is what a Rebbe is; a leader, prophet and teacher who is always right .


So Reb Nanas whispered a prayer, bought a first class ticket (Cossacks NEVER
traveled first class) and returned to the Rebbe for a final blessing.  But
try as he did he couldn't conceal his fear.

"Rebbe" he almost cried, "I'm traveling alone and the trip will be very
dangerous."

"What?" said the Rebbe calmly, "A young man that learns Torah in Tomchei
T'mimim (name of Chabad-Lubavitch Yeshivot) says that he is traveling
alone?! "Alone?

"Why G‑d is with you all the time and in every place; the entire world is
full of His glory."

But Reb Nanas was living in the 'real' world, and he was scared,

"Rebbe, the Cossacks are everywhere and they murder Jews!" he tried not to
whimper.

But the Rebbe stood firm, "When the Torah says that G‑d fills the entire
world it means even the Cossacks!"

Encouraged a bit by the Rebbe's words and his own cleverness for buying a
first-class seat, he forced a smile and headed for the train.  But when he
boarded and opened the door to his 'first class' car his world blackened
before him; it was FULL of drunken Cossacks! Maybe twenty of them!!

At first he considered just going back but it was too late, the doors locked
and the train began to move so he tried to ignore his surrounding, thought
of the Rebbe's blessing, entered, found a corner and sat down.

The train moved slowly (in the end the trip would take seventy two hours
instead of eighteen!) but Reb Nanas just tried to read a Torah book he
brought along until he fell asleep and be calm. And it worked! No one
bothered him!  

The next morning he woke at the crack of dawn with the hope that none of his
traveling companions would awaken from their stupors while he prayed, but he
was in for a bitter surprise.

He was a few minutes into the Morning Prayer wearing his Tallit and Tefillin
(prayer shawl and phylacteries) when one of the sleeping Cossacks opened one
eye and shot a blood curdling look at him.

He tried to not think about it and pretend he saw nothing but it was done.

The Cossack got out of bed, left the room and returned a few moments later,
face dripping with water, clutching a freshly opened bottle of vodka in his
hand.

"Friends! Wake up!!" he yelled "Here I have a bottle of Vodka in one hand
and a dead Jew in the other!"  As he said this he reached into his bag and
pulled out a rifle.  Come, wake up and drink to our roommate the dead Jew!"

He took another swig from the bottle and passed it to the first one who sat
up in bed.  Then, when his hand was free, he shouldered the gun and pointed
it at Rab Laizer yelling to his friends, "Come, wake up fellows!! I'm
waiting for you to pull the trigger! "

"Ehh!!"  Yelled another Cossack who had sat up in bed and realized what was
happening, "What are you doing?! Are you crazy? You want to waste a bullet
on that scum, and dirty the place with blood while you're at it. I have a
better idea. First, pass the bottle!"

He took a long swig and he continued; now all of them were in various stages
of waking up and were listening. "Let's throw him out the window and see how
he hits the rocks!" 

Another joined in, "Hey! Good idea!! Ha Ha Ha!!  Here, see? We're going
uphill. Soon we will be on the top and we'll have some fun! Give me some
vodka. Grab him!!"  He motioned with his hand as he drank.

One of them opened the window and a freezing, snow-filled air blasted into
the car while two others stood up from their beds and went to grab our hero.


There was no where to run and fighting was out of the question, each one of
them was at least twice his size, Reb Nanas realized that this was the end.
"I probably wasn't worthy of the Rebbe's blessing" he thought to himself. 

Then suddenly an older Cossack with a long handle-bar mustache and only one
leg propped himself up with his crutch from his mattress on the floor, and
yelled out; 

"Helloo! Listen fellow soldiers!! Listen to me! I want to say something.
Stop for a minute and listen!" When he got their attention he continued.

"I live in Rostov and opposite my house lives a Rabbi that thousands of Jews
like this one here follow every world that comes form his mouth. Now you
know that our enemy is the cursed Communists and many of the Communists are
Jews.  But they aren't like this Jew here. In fact, the Communist Jews hate
that Rabbi and his followers even more than they hate us. 

"Nothing would make those dirty Communist rats happier than if we killed
this boy.  Do you understand?  Do you want to make the Communists happy?  My
advice is just forget it and leave him alone!" 

And they listened!

The rest of the trip was like a dream.  Just as the Rebbe said, "G‑d fills
the world, even the Cossacks.'



                            MOSHIACH MATTERS
The First Holy Temple was characterized by a higher degree of G‑dliness than was in the Second Temple. This is reflected in the fact that five elements of holiness including the Ark were present in the First Temple and were not present in the Second. On the other hand, the Second Temple possessed an advantage over the first. It was larger and endured for a longer time; i.e., in time and space, the qualities which characterize our material world, it surpassed the First Temple. The Third Temple will possess both these advantages, plus a unique dimension reflected in the fusion of these two.