Baruch Hashem

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

            The Three Fingers                   (One of my Favorite all time stories!)

This story takes place in the 'Soldiers Synagogue' in a small town somewhere in Czarist Russia around a hundred years ago on Simchat Torah.

There were several Synagogues in this town but the best place to be on Simchat Torah, especially the children, was in this one where the Cantonists danced.

No one rejoiced like the Cantonists.

Cantonists were Jews that had been torn from their parents at an early age and forcefully inducted in the army as a plan to 'convince' them to leave Judaism. It didn't work, as we will see. Very few children actually converted, many more died and those that survived were marred for life.

[Czarist Russia was possibly the most religious nation that ever existed; virtually everyone was insanely Russian Orthodox. except for the Jews]

The dancing and singing were at a wild pace, the men spun, lifted their feet and legs to the rhythm of their own voices as they grasped large cloth- covered Torah Scrolls. They were hoarse from singing, their eyes were closed in ecstatic joy and sweat covered their faces and drenched their jackets and shirts as they danced and sang faster and faster. especially one, who we will call Shimon.

He was perhaps fifty years old and he was jumping and spinning more than anyone else non-stop for a half-hour singing, over the din of the other voices, 'Torah, Torah, I love you so! I love you so!"

Finally, out of breath and exhausted, he handed the scroll he was carrying to someone else and sat down. His shirt had torn in the revelry and, unbeknownst to him, it exposed deep scars on his chest that the children immediately noticed.

They gathered around him as he was trying to catch his breath.. a huge smile on his glistening face. and asked him how he got the scars.

"Ahh! These?" He replied "These are my medals of honor!! Ha haa!!"

When he saw that they really wanted to know he became a bit more serious and began, still with a twinkle in his eye, looking from child to child.

"When I was eight years old, something like you children, there was a big meeting of all the Jews in the town in my house that lasted into the night.

My father, of blessed memory, was the Rabbi of the town and he led the meeting. I listened from behind my door which was opened a bit and heard everything.

"It seems that the Czar's soldiers had come earlier that day and demanded that the town produce twenty young men for the army or they would induct everyone, and no one wanted it to be their son.

"The rich people said they would give money, big money to the community if their sons were exempted while the others, my father included, insisted on a fair and equal lottery. It was really serious, there was yelling, even crying and lasted most of the night but finally the lottery idea won.

"I fell asleep after a few hours of their arguing, but suddenly I was awakened by a scream. I knew it was my mother and I understood immediately what had happened. I was one of those chosen!

"My mother came into my room, crying and weeping almost uncontrollably, hugging me and kissing me with no words.

"But I told her, 'Mommy, you don't have to cry. I'll come back . I promise.

You'll see!' But she answered, "Shimon, my beloved son, your soul is more in danger than your body!"

"But I answered, "Mommy, I swear I will always remain a Jew!"

"The next day my father spoke to me for an hour and although he didn't cry at all, I knew that his soul was shattered. And, in fact, he died just a few weeks later, a young man, from a broken heart.

"But a few days later two 'snatchers' came into town and began taking children forcefully from their parents. It seems that the rich people couldn't stand the pain of losing their children and hired them. All the parents tried to hide their children but it didn't work. My mother also hid me in a barrel but they burst into our house, beat my mother and when I jumped out to protect her they took me as well.

"The next day there was a wagon full of us, hands tied to one another like animals with armed guards on horseback around us. But somehow my mother managed to break through, toss me a bag (which I later discovered contained Tefillin and a prayer book and said 'Don't forget the day of your Bar-Mitzva'. Those were the last words I ever heard her say.

"Three years later I was still a year away from my Bar-Mitzva and I had succeeded in keeping my promise to my mother I did not give in to them. But I knew I couldn't hold out much longer. The tortures and punishments they subjected me to were indescribable. I was a leader and an example to the others so they decided that they would put all their efforts in me. I was beaten, starved, deprived of sleep, warm clothing and kept in solitary confinement and as time went on it got worse.

"That's how I got these my 'medals'." He said, touching his chest and continued his story.

"After they had tortured me intensively for several weeks they made a proposition. The general himself was going to visit the camp and if I converted before him they would give me rights, warm bed, good food, a high rank in the army and even let me see my parents again (my father had already passed away, but I didn't know).

"I told them to give me three days to think.

"In those three days they kept up the tortures and didn't let up on me even a bit. Just that the officials kept visiting and promising me, they wanted to be sure that I wasn't going to let them down.

"That night I had a dream. I dreamt that I was in my home town by a river. I was very thirsty and jumped into the river to cool off and to drink when suddenly the current began to draw me down. I fought with all my might but it was a losing battle, I felt that in one second all would be lost. Then, suddenly, I saw a small branch floating on the water and, in desperation I reached for it. As soon as I grabbed it it became the last link of a long chain attached that was to a tree on the dry land. Each link had a Hebrew name on it, on the closest to the tree was written 'Avraham', the one after it, 'Yitzchak' Thousands of links until the one before the one I was holding my father's name, Shlomo and the one in my hand, was written .. My name!

But mine was beginning to . crack!!

"NO, NO, NO!!" I screamed hysterically and woke in a sweat.

When the day came, soldiers came for me, dressed me up and took me, with themselves as an 'honor' guard to the ceremony. There sat the general with royal escorts on all sides.. everyone was smiling.

They presented me as the boy who saw the light and was willing to leave Judaism for the church. All eyes were on me.

I noticed, when they took me on the stage, that the walls were decorated with several pairs of large crossed swords with two smaller swords beneath them.

I reached behind me, pulled one of the smaller swords with its sheath from the wall, drew it from its sheath and declared.

"In the name of his glorious majesty the Czar, this is for the three days I said I would consider changing, G‑d forbid, my religion! I am a Jew and I will always be a Jew!! SHEMA YISROEL!! "

"And before they knew what was happening I put the pinky, ring finger and index finger of my left hand on the table before me (careful to hide my middle, Tefillin finger) and, in one powerful move, chopped them off with the sword and held them up for all to see!! I was spraying blood on the pure white uniforms of the officials!

"The crowd let out a gasp. The officials left the room in confusion.. they had suffered a clear defeat by a Jewish boy.

"I don't know how but I didn't die. The bleeding stopped, I got better and even served ten more years in the army until they discharged me. But they

never talked to me about religion again.

"I didn't know it at the time but I wasn't the only such story, But I heard that when the Czar Nicholas, may his name be cursed forever, heard what I had done it was the last straw. They knew they were defeated and the entire Cantonist plan was dropped. Thank G‑d! NOW. It's Simchas Torah tonight!!

Let's dance!!"

And saying this he leaped up and began dancing again and singing "Sisu V'Shimchu B'Simchas Torah!!"


"This Is My Torah Scroll"

Henryk was very young in 1945, when the War ended and solitary survivors tried frantically to trace their relatives. He had spent what seemed to be most of his life with his nanny, who had hidden him away from the Nazis at his father's request. There was great personal risk involved, but the woman had readily taken it, as she loved the boy.

All the Jews were being killed, and Henryk's nanny did not think for a moment that the father, Joseph Foxman, would survive the infamous destruction of the Vilna Ghetto. He would surely have been transferred to Auschwitz -— and everyone knew that nobody ever came back from Auschwitz. She therefore had no scruples about adopting the boy, having him baptized into the Catholic Church and taught catechism by the local priest.

It was Simchat Torah when his father came to take him. The heartbroken nanny had packed all his clothing and his small catechism book, stressing to the father that the boy had become a good Catholic. Joseph Foxman took his son by the hand and led him directly to the Great Synagogue of Vilna. On the way, he told his son that he was a Jew and that his name was Avraham.

Not far from the house, they passed the church and the boy reverently crossed himself, causing his father great anguish. Just then, a priest emerged who knew the boy, and when Henryk rushed over to kiss his hand, the priest spoke to him, reminding him of his Catholic faith.

Everything inside of Joseph wanted to drag his son away from the priest and from the church. But he knew that this was not the way to do things. He nodded to the priest, holding his son more closely. After all, these people had harbored his child and saved the child's life. He had to show his son Judaism, living Judaism, and in this way all these foreign beliefs would be naturally abandoned and forgotten.

They entered the Great Synagogue of Vilna, now a remnant of a past, vibrant Jewish era. There they found some Jewish survivors from Auschwitz who had made their way back to Vilna and were now rebuilding their lives and their Jewish spirits. Amid the stark reality of their suffering and terrible loss, in much diminished numbers, they were singing and dancing with real joy while celebrating Simchat Torah.

Avraham stared wide-eyed around him and picked up a tattered prayer book with a touch of affection. Something deep inside of him responded to the atmosphere, and he was happy to be there with the father he barely knew. He held back, though, from joining the dancing.

A Jewish man wearing a Soviet Army uniform could not take his eyes off the boy, and he came over to Joseph. "Is this child... Jewish?" he asked, a touch of awe in his voice.

The father answered that the boy was Jewish and introduced his son. As the soldier stared at Henryk-Avraham, he fought to hold back tears. "Over these four terrible years, I have traveled thousands of miles, and this is the first live Jewish child I have come across in all this time. Would you like to dance with me on my shoulders?" he asked the boy, who was staring back at him, fascinated.

The father nodded permission, and the soldier hoisted the boy high onto his shoulders. With tears now coursing down his cheeks and a heart full of real joy, the soldier joined in the dancing.

"This is my Torah scroll," he cried.

Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League — the Avraham in our story — remembers this as his first conscious feeling of a connection with Judaism and of being a Jew.

Dancing With the Torah

I was first called for an aliyah to the Torah at the age of thirty-six. I was in a Chabad house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a stranger to the group of regulars filling the room, save for Rabbi Yosef Samuels, who had invited me. It was a short walk from my seat to the reading table. But in that brief period of time I became very anxious about what would be expected of me.

I recalled the synagogue that I attended infrequently as a boy, where the Ark stood in front of a large, sterile room, and only the richest, most influential members were called to recite the blessings before the Torah. In my boyhood, Judaism was very formal and distant, surrounded by ceremony void to me of meaning or substance. The Torah in the synagogue of my youth was a thing removed, without relevance to my and to my family's daily life. Never before, in my 36 years of life, had I seen the inside of a Torah scroll.

I was not expecting to be called to the Torah this Shabbat morning in Milwaukee's Chabad House. I hesitatingly approached the group of men surrounding the reading table. I could see only their backs draped in white tallitot (prayer shawls). I expected grim, serious faces to be peering out from beneath the white cloth pulled up over their foreheads. But when I approached the Torah, they turned to greet me with warm smiles. One of them, a person with whom I had briefly spoken before the prayers began, gave me a gentle nudge of greeting with his shoulder. The others were chatting while the reader found the place to begin. I was told to touch the Torah with my tallit and and then bring the cloth to my lips and kiss the spot that had touched the parchment and letters. I stumbled through the English transliteration of the blessings, and then stood nervously while the Torah was read. I recited the second blessing and was gently moved to the side of the reading table while a mi shebeirach was said in my honor. The man I had met briefly put his arm around me while this was happening and joked with me a bit while we stood waiting for the next reading to begin.

There was an atmosphere of informality and intimacy with the Torah that astonished me.

"The Torah is no stranger," Rabbi Samuels explained. "We live with it every day."

In the following months and years, I learned just how intimate the Torah could become, both in the lives of the Lubavitchers I came to know so well, and in my own life. I went through several Jewish yearly cycles, experiencing times of awe and veneration for the Torah, and times of familiarity bordering on irreverence. To drunkenly hug and dance with the holy scrolls on Simchat Torah! Who could have ever imagined!

But just as I was to become intimate with the Torah, so it was to become intimate with me. As I began to study, I discovered the Torah's relevance in every area of my life. As its deeper meanings were laid open to me through the study of Chassidic teaching, I found that I could turn to the Torah for guidance in every circumstance. Regardless of my mood or frame of mind, I could approach the Torah and find it waiting for me. Even in times of anger or rebellion, the Torah showed forgiveness and guidance. In times of sadness and depression, I would find hope and encouragement. In times of joy and celebration, I would find words of thanksgiving and praise for the One who provides all goodness. There was not an aspect of my life that the Torah did not enter. Slowly it penetrated my inner life, my career, my relationship with my children and parents, my marriage. When first introduced to the Torah, I felt I was coming to know a distant relative of whom I was aware but had never before met; with the passing of years I began to feel that my learning and observance revealed that the Torah had always existed within me. The Torah became deeply embedded into my life, part of the weave and warp of my being.

Now, when I rushed forward in the synagogue to kiss the Torah, it was with much affection and familiarity. When on Simchat Torah I danced with the holy scrolls, my inhibitions and emotions loosened, I would close my eyes and hug the Torah close, spinning in circles, enjoying a physical intimacy with the soft velvet cloth and the sacred writings it covered.

Without losing its place as my revered teacher and guide, the Torah had become my familiar companion. Today, I continue to marvel that the most holy of G‑d's creations allows itself to be embraced by me.

To Be A Chassid (Follower) of the Rebbe?

Dr. David Weiss has achieved world renown for his work in cancer research. Although he came from an observant home, his involvement in American culture presented him with many challenges. His encounters with the chassidim and the philosophy of Lubavitch helped him overcome these hurdles.

Once while at yechidus with the Rebbe, he asked him if he could consider himself a chassid. "I am attracted to the chassidic way of life," he explained, "but can never see myself donning a black hat or chassidic garb. Does this disqualify me?"

The Rebbe responded, "When a Jew endeavors to take a step forward in the service of G‑d and the love of his fellow man every day, I am happy to consider him my chassid."