Baruch Hashem

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The Ultimate Rebellion


The author with her father
The author with her father

The story of the rebellious child has actually happened. Don’t believe me? Just ask my parents.

My parents, thank G‑d, did a fantastic job raising my sister and me. We lived in a modest home in a great neighborhood in one of the top areas of South Florida. I went to the best elementary, middle and high schools in the state. My parents taught me self-confidence, self-motivation and self-worth. I excelled at whatever I chose to do, and graduated high school with a full-ride offer to not one, but dozens of different colleges. I knew that within ten years of graduating high school I would be making six figures, and be well on my way to becoming a CEO of a Fortune 500 tech company.

I went away to university, and things were right on track. My grades were great, I had incredible internships with some of the top engineering companies in the world, and life was good. Little did I know that a crazy rabbi dressed in a penguin suit, along with his wife, were about to turn my life completely upside down . . .

A little bit of background first. When I started college, I was a “devout” atheist. I preached atheism. I was 100 percent convinced that science had a perfectly reasonable and logical explanation for everything. It came with the territory: I was an industrial engineer by trade, with the small side hobby of quantum physics. Yet my Jewish soul was still alive and kicking, after all those years of being suppressed once I had given up my Judaism after leining (chanting) this very Torah portion on my thirteenth birthday. Yes, my bat mitzvah was on my thirteenth birthday instead of my twelfth. Yes, I leined. Anyway, once I got to college I began looking for Jewish groups on campus. Not for the “religious” aspect of it, of course. I just missed the synagogue’s social scene. (At least, that’s what my subconscious tricked my evil inclination into thinking.) And so I tried the one Jewish student group at UCF, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for. At the time there were no other options, and so I decided that it wasn’t meant to be, and dove headfirst into the engineering and honors clubs instead. For the next year, Judaism was again pushed to the back of my mind.

This was my mental state when the Lipskiers moved to Orlando during my second year of college. Now, I’m not sure how he did it, but Rabbi Lipskier, being totally in tune with the times, somehow found a way to get the e-mail address of every Jew on campus, and proceeded to spam us constantly. From the second they moved into town, I had at least three event invitations in my inbox every week. Shabbat, a class, a barbecue, you name it. He even went onto campus a few days a week to hunt us down. Now, for a while, I managed to successfully ignore their blatant attempts at attracting students to their events, but eventually they wore me down. And so one day, I called my mom.

“Oh my G‑d, Kabad?! DON’T GO!”“Sooo there’s this new Jewish group on campus and they’ve been spamming me with invites to stuff nonstop for a few weeks so I’m thinking about just going to check it out . . .”

She was so excited that I actually wanted to do something reminiscent of my childhood days in Temple Sunday School. “Really? That’s great! What’s the group called?”

And so I told her: “I dunno, Cha-bad or something.”

And her response? “Oh my G‑d, Kabad?! DON’T GO!”

She then proceeded to spend the next seven and half minutes lecturing to me about how “Kabad” is that group of crazy people that walk on Saturdays and they brainwash people and they oppress women because they’re so old-fashioned and that under no circumstances whatsoever should I set foot anywhere near this so-called Jewish group.

But, like the rebellious son, I could only listen to my parents for so long, and so started the “downward spiral.” About three weeks after that conversation (and to be totally honest, I’m surprised it actually took three weeks), I decided to go check out “Cha-bad” anyways. And so I called up Rabbi Lipskier at about 4:30 PM on a Friday afternoon (which we all know is just about the worst time ever to call a rabbi) and proceeded to explain at length how I kind of wanted to come check out this event thing he was doing that night . . . but I didn’t know what it was, and I hadn’t been to Temple in about six years, and I didn’t know how to pray, and I didn’t know what to wear, and, and, and . . . And so the rabbi cut me off mid-sentence and told me to stop worrying, wear whatever I was wearing, and just show up at such-and-such address in three hours. And so, three hours later, I showed up to the Lipskiers’ house wearing jeans, a tank top and a pair of flip-flops. For Shabbat, my very first one.

Of course, like any Chabad family would do, Rabbi and Rivkie took me in with open arms, despite my completely-underdressed-for-the-occasion attire. It was warm, the food was delicious, the people were friendly and the conversation was relaxed. And somewhere deep inside, my little spark of G‑dliness—my Jewish soul—was having a ball. And so I went back the next week. And the week after that. Rapidly it became my weekly pre-game before Friday frat parties and clubbing. I mean, who wouldn’t want a four-course meal and several glasses of wine before meeting up for a night on the town?

After about a month, I think I finally told my oh-so-pleased mother. And after a few more weeks, I started going to the Tuesday night “Kabbalah and Kabobs” barbecues also. And then I started going over on Thursdays to help Rivkie cook for Shabbat. And eventually I started going on Sunday for the infamous “BLT” (Bagels, Lox and Tefillin) event, even though I wasn’t exactly putting on tefillin. Before long, I added in Wednesday women’s programs, Monday night classes, and even gave up my hung-over Saturday mornings for some quality “family” time at the Chabad house. It was an addiction; I was out of control. I was losing myself . . . thank G‑d.

It was an addiction; I was out of control. I was losing myself . . . thank G‑dThat summer, my rabbi convinced me to go on Birthright to Israel with the Mayanot program. I went. It was the most incredible experience of my life, and I loved it so much that I extended my trip and backpacked around Israel with six total strangers. One of them was the guide from my trip, a modern-Orthodox-ish college student from FIU. So even though the rest of us weren’t at all observant, we were respectful. The result was that when I got back to the states, I was keeping Shabbat(ish), kosher(ish), and was even dressing more tzniut(ish). I wasn’t observant by any means, but turning off my phone on Friday nights and lighting Shabbat candles, paired with giving up pork, and on top of that, always covering my knees and shoulders (even if it was with a t-shirt and jeans), was a huge deal for someone who was raised as Reform as it gets. And so, when I got home, my mom broke down and cried. Literally, on the floor, pleading with me not to be crazy because she would never see her grandchildren because she wasn’t Jewish enough for me. It was ridiculous, and it was all my fault . . . all a result of my rebellion.

Just as things were starting to get better and my family was getting used to my unruly behavior, I went with the Lipskiers to Crown Heights for my first Chabad Shabbaton. It was like a different planet . . . a whole city of penguin-looking rabbis and women wearing way too much clothing. I was overwhelmed, but something about it was entrancing. The modesty, the confidence, the respect people had for each other . . . it was enticing to someone who grew up in a culture of “bare all or be nothing.” I was hooked.

Before I even realized what was happening to me, it started getting more serious . . . All of a sudden I was demanding to have special (kosher) red meat on Fridays and Saturdays . . . and I was drinking more wine than normal (making my own kiddush when I was at home with the parents) . . . I started talking more about G‑d than about my plans for taking over the tech world. I spent more time reading Chabad.org than the latest articles about the Big Bang. I stopped wearing all the nice clothes that my mom had bought me, and started buying a whole new wardrobe full of “frumpy” skirts. And worst of all, I expected my parents to fund all of my crazy new habits. I had to have been the epitome of the rebellious child in the eyes of my family. Why couldn’t I just be normal?! But no matter what they did, no matter what they said, I refused to turn my life back around.

I’m sure there were times that my parents would have dragged me off to the rabbinical court, if they had remembered the “wayward son” I had read about all those years ago. Fortunately, they didn’t. Not that it would have mattered, since keeping Torah and its commandments wouldn’t have seemed so rebellious in the rabbinical court’s eyes anyway. But still, it was a cause of much strife in my family.

My grandfather was really the only one at the beginning who was okay with everything that was going on. Grandpa’s acceptance was a start, and before I knew it, things were getting better. It wasn’t long before my family was making glatt kosher Christmas dinners so that I could come home for the holidays (oh, the irony) and adjusting to my incessant need to dress like it’s midwinter outside. I wouldn’t say that they were quite happy, but they were no longer ready to disown me.

I wouldn’t say that they were quite happy, but they were no longer ready to disown meI kept finding new ways to push my limits, to stoke the fire of rebellion just a little more. Eight days in the Florida Keys with a hundred Jewish girls for Bais Chana’s Snorkel and Study program. A few more college Shabbatons in Crown Heights. The Sinai Scholars class on campus. Random plane trips to New York, to visit the grave of a man I never met but whom I felt like I had known my whole life. Lavish five-star JLI retreats every summer, to listen to Jewish topics that no one else in my family cared about. But no matter how many curveballs I threw, my family adapted with ease.

Left with no other choice, I did something totally insane. You’re adjusting to my rebelliousness? Well then, that’s no longer rebelling! I’ll push you even further! And so, almost exactly a year ago, I turned down a full-time engineering position making $65K a year to go be dirt-broke in a yeshivah somewhere in the middle of Israel. Surely, that would push any parent completely over the edge . . . and they lost it. Again.

My sense of social responsibility was completely out the door. I had no regard for the economic welfare of myself or those closest to me, and I had clearly given up on the idea of ever using my brain. I had effectively reduced myself to a life of “sitting in the kitchen and popping out babies,” as my sister so eloquently put it.

Hardly discouraged, I spent the year living life to the fullest. I was soaking up information like a sponge, trying desperately to bring my pathetic childhood Jewish education up to par with my college degree in engineering in the span of ten months in a yeshivah. I was taking trips to places that could be found nowhere else on earth. I was walking on the same stones that my ancestors walked on thousands of years ago, when the Temple still stood. I was tired, I was poor, and I was loving every single minute of my time at Mayanot.

A few weeks after I got to Israel, my dad got a camera and Skype. We talked face-to-face for the first time in a little over a month. He had a beaming smile on his face the whole time, a novelty for my emotionally gray father. When I asked why he was in such a good mood, he answered, “I wish you could see your face. I’ve never seen you so happy in my life.”

That was it. That was the turning point. I was happy, truly happy, and my family could finally see it. I guess distance really does make the heart grow fonder. Within a few months, my dad was more supportive than he had been since he was my softball coach when I was twelve years old. My mom and I were racking up triple-digit phone bills again. My little sister was over the fact that she had a freak for a sibling. My grandpa started reading articles and watching videos on Chabad.org and Torah Café, and my grandma started lighting Shabbat candles again for the first time in decades. The tables had turned . . . The rebellion had spread. We’re all rebelling now, rebelling against the status quo, rebelling against this materialistic world with its fake morals and pathetic value system. We’re rebelling against the idea that money buys happiness. We’re looking for more out of this life, and I’m no longer the only one finding what I’m looking for in the letters of Torah.



Home For Shabbat

As I settled into my seat on Flight 1272 bound for Chicago, I glanced at the passengers filing down the aisle. My Jew-radar immediately went off; in addition to the business travelers toting their laptops and briefcases and the pleasure travelers wearing shorts and Walkmans, I spied several suede kippot, a striemel and ankle-length skirts.

Despite our shared heritage, I didn't bother acknowledging them. They were strangers. And I live in New York, where strangers seldom exchange greetings, even if they recite the same prayers.

The plane rolled toward the runway and I waited for takeoff. No such luck. The pilot announced the flight was being delayed three hours due to stormy weather conditions in Chicago. I glanced at my watch nervously. Usually, I avoid flying Friday afternoons for fear I won't arrive in time, but on summer weekends when Shabbat doesn't begin until 8 p.m., I figured I'd be safe. I figured wrong.

But I calculated that I could just make it if I didn't claim my luggage and jumped into a taxi. I turned around to check on my co-religionists. Two kippot were examining their watches. The chasid was on the airphone.

A half-hour before arrival, the pilot announced O'Hare Airport was shut down and we were landing in Milwaukee until we could continue on. My stomach sunk. Candelighting was an hour away. I'd never make it on time. Like most religious Jews who work in the secular world, I'd experienced my share of close calls. But I never knowingly violated the Sabbath. Now, I was stuck.

By now, the kippot and long skirts were huddled in the back of the plane. They had been joined by others. Shabbat was bringing strangers together.

It was time to introduce myself. We're going to get off in Milwaukee, a young man told me. The chasid had called Milwaukee's Chabad rabbi, who offered to host any stranded passengers for Shabbat. Come with us, he urged. I nodded with relief but returned to my seat crestfallen since I had planned this weekend with my family for months.

My non-Jewish seatmate, noticing my despair, inquired what was wrong. When I told him the story, his jaw dropped.

"Let me get this straight," he said, "You're getting off the plane in a town where you've never been with people you don't know to stay overnight with complete strangers? "

For the first time that day, it occurred to me just how lucky I was.

When the plane landed, the pilot announced we were disembarking for religious reasons. Passengers stared at us, dumbfounded. My seatmate bid me farewell as if he didn't think I'd survive.

But I quickly realized I was among friends. As I attempted to carry my bags off the plane, a woman insisted on helping me. When we crowded into cabs to take us to the rabbi's house, the chasid insisted on paying for me. And when the cabs pulled up at the home of the rabbi and rebbetzin, they ran outside to greet us as if we were long lost relatives.

The sun set on Milwaukee as they ushered us into their home, where a long table was set for Shabbat with a white tablecloth, china and gleaming kiddush cups. When I lit the Shabbat candles, a wave of peace washed over me. With all that had transpired, I was warmed by the notion that the world stops with the first flicker of Sabbath light.

Over a traditional Shabbat feast, the rabbi enchanted us with tales of the Baal Shem Tov and informed us that our re-route to Milwaukee was due not to the world of weather but of Divine providence.

We lingered over our meal, enjoying our spiritual sanctuary in time after the stressful day. Zemirot (Shabbat songs) filled the room. We shared disappointments about our unexpected stopover. Most of the group was traveling to Chicago for their friend's aufruf ("calling up" the groom to the Torah on the Shabbat before a wedding) and wedding and were missing the aufruf. The chasid and his wife were missing a bar mitzvah.

We pondered the meaning of the departure from our journey and marveled at the coincidences. I had attended camp with my roommate, a couple had conducted business with my father, a man had studied in yeshiva with my cousin, the chasid used to work in my hometown of Aurora, Ill., and I had once spent Purim in Crown Heights with my hosts' son.

Exhausted as we were, everyone was hesitant to leave the table to go to sleep.

The next morning, a lively tefillah was followed by a leisurely meal where we exchanged stories about our loves, careers and dreams. We nicknamed ourselves the Milwaukee 15 and wondered if future generations would retell the story of the flight that didn't make it in time for candlelighting.

Saturday night, we made a regretful journey to the everyday world. But before we began the final leg of our journey, I called my husband to tell him all that had transpired.

"Who did you spend Shabbat with?" he asked worriedly.

I pondered how to explain who these former strangers were who had given me object lessons in Shabbat hospitality and in the power of Shabbat in bringing Jews together.

And, then as swiftly as a 747 can leave the tarmac on a clear day, I realized the truth: miles away from my parents, husband and home, I had accomplished what I set out to do when I booked my ticket: I had spent Shabbat with family.

The Rebbe Came To Me

Mister Yirmiahu (Jerry) Yarden was an American businessman on the way up. His business was doing well, his social life was fine, he had friends, a nice house and everything a man could desire - until the pain began.

At first he just took a few aspirins and thought everything would be fine. But when it didn't go away he went to a doctor who suspected something serious and sent him to be x-rayed. The x-rays ended his American dream.

It was about as bad a disease as they come but Jerry wasn't going to go down without a fight. He went to the best doctors in the best private hospital, spared no money and it paid off; the operation was a success. He was free from disease and pain for a few months.

The pains returned and his new x-rays showed that so had the disease. He immediately returned to the same hospital and requested the same excellent doctors. But that surgeon happened to out of the country. He would return only in two weeks and all the experts that saw the x-rays agreed that the operation couldn't wait.

Jerry even sent the x-rays special delivery to the surgeon to get his opinion, but he too agreed that they must not delay.

A well known professor was chosen to operate in his place and the operation was set for the next day.

Jerry was wheeled into the operating room half sedated and when the anesthetist gave him a larger injection and he lost conscious, the operation began.

Jerry relates:

"Suddenly in the middle of the operation I woke up. I felt myself and my body, I was clearly conscious but I didn't feel any pain. I looked around and even sort of sat up and saw the doctors standing around my body operating on me.

"But then I noticed that standing at the foot of the bed was someone that didn't belong in the operating room...it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe! I thought that for sure it was a dream and would change in a second or two, but it didn't. The Rebbe looked warmly into my eyes, smiled and said, 'Tell the professor who is operating on you that if he puts on Tefillin every day his daughter will recover from her disease.'

"I said I would try to pass on the message and....poof! The vision disappeared.

"The nurse heard me mumble a few words, probably those that I said to the Rebbe, and frantically informed the doctor that she thinks the anesthesia is wearing off. The doctor told her to give me another shot because if I wake I won't be able to stand the pain and it will be dangerous.

"The nurse approached with another syringe full of anesthetic but I refused. I said I had a message to give over to the professor and wanted to talk to him.

"The operating staff was astounded. There I was laying on the operating table cut open like a fish holding a conversation like it was my birthday party.

The doctor, who couldn't believe his eyes asked me a few questions to see if I was conscious and coherent and as he saw I was, his eyes widened like saucers; he had never seen or even heard of such a thing in his life.

"That is when I got up my courage and asked him if he had ever heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He replied that he had but what does it have to do with the operation?

"I told him that a few seconds ago the Rebbe was here and told me to tell the doctor that if he puts on Tefillin every day his daughter will get better. I breathed deeply and the next thing I remember is waking up early the next morning in the recovery room with no memory of the conversation.

"But the Doctor reminded me. He came to visit me, held my hand and with tears in his eyes said that I changed his life.

"He began weeping and telling me of his young daughter that had a disease that none of the doctors could heal. Even he himself the great professor that could heal everyone was helpless. In fact he felt so helpless that today he woke in the morning and did something he hadn't done since his Bar-Mitzva almost forty years ago, he prayed. He actually begged G‑d, who till today he wasn't sure even existed, to save his daughter and to send a sign that his prayer had been accepted.

"'You are the sign!' the professor said, 'I don't know how you got here or how the Lubavitcher Rebbe got involved but for sure It's a sign that my daughter will live'.

"Sure enough, the professor bought a pair of Tefillin that very day and began putting them on each morning until his daughter began feeling better."

The end of the story is happy. Both the girl and Jerry recovered completely and the professor recovered his Judaism.

Carry This Book Everywhere

Rabbi Pinchas Teitz was one of the few Jews that were allowed to enter and travel in Russia with no problems from the government. In the 'seventies' and 'eighties' he made tens of such trips meeting and speaking to people. And almost each time the Lubavitcher Rebbe somehow knew about it and sent him a parcel of books, Tefillin and other Jewish objects before he left with orders on how to distribute them. Most often he was told to just leave them in a certain place to be clandestinely picked up by Chabad Chassidim afterwards.

Most of what happened to Rab Teitz there was forbidden to publicize. But one story he had to tell, one that changed his whole view of the Rebbe.

One time just as he was preparing for another secret trip there was a knock on his door and a Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe appeared with the usual package.

Although it had happened tens of times previously, he never ceased to be amazed of how the Rebbe knew exactly when he was going.

But this time there was something new.

"The Rebbe wants you to carry this book with you at all times in Russia." The Chassid said as he handed him a small book with a Hebrew title. "It's a pocket-sized edition of 'The Tanya' (the basic book of Chabad) the Rebbe asked if you would take it with you and carry it at all times in Russia".

His gut reaction was to refuse. First of all he was not a Chabad Chassid and was not a Chassid at all. Second, he wasn't in the mood for taking mysterious orders from mysterious 'Rebbes'. Not only that but who knows what trouble this book could bring him. The other things he was able to hide in his suitcase, and he didn't have to carry them around, but to carry a Chabad book with him at all times? What if they recognized it? It could jeopardize all the things that he had accomplished! He had heard about how the previous Rebbe of Chabad sat in prison for defying the Communists and he didn't want to do the same.

But on the other hand he had been doing a little research and this Lubavitcher Rebbe never seemed to make a mistake! And the things he gave always got miraculously through the Russian customs with no problems. Not only that. how he knew about each trip and his worry for Russian Jews was simply uncanny!!

So Rabbi Teitz in addition to the Rebbe's package of Judaica put the Tanya in his pocket and the next day stepped off the plane in Russia.

In the evening he left the package in the usual drop off place but as he was walking away something happened.

He had just turned to walk down a dark deserted street when two men walking briskly toward him suddenly grabbed him, covered his mouth so he couldn't scream, pushed him into a nearby car and drove off.

The Rabbi was petrified! Could it be a kidnapping? Perhaps it was the fearsome KGB secret police? Could this be the end? Would they murder him!?

Suddenly one of his captors turned to him and said in Hebrew.

"We are sorry. Please excuse us; we are Jews, Chabad Chassidim. We are the ones that receive and distribute the packages you bring. There was no other way to do it than this, otherwise we would be noticed. We must speak with you desperately! "

They drove around for a while till they were sure they weren't being followed, then finally stopped before an apartment house, got out of the car and entered. Once in the apartment they locked the door, sat down at a table and one of them began talking.

"First of all, are you all right? We're so sorry we had to grab you but we have no other choice. We have urgent questions to ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe and you are the only one that can help. You see, we are afraid to telephone or send a fax. Don't write anything down! Just remember our names and call the Rebbe's office when you get to Israel"

He gave the Rabbi their names and began his story.

"My problem is like this. I live in Moscow and I do a lot of what the government calls, 'illegal' things here. My main crime is that I teach Torah to children, in fact I have many teachers here that help me, we teach hundreds of children every day, but everything is in secret. Or so I thought.

"Yesterday someone told me that the KGB is after me. I know it's only a matter of time. The only solution is to move to another city and hope they will forget about me. But if I leave Moscow all my work will fall apart. I want you to ask the Rebbe if I should run away to another city or not."

"And my friend has a similar problem. He wants to apply to the Russian government for a visa to go to Israel, but as soon as he does he will lose his job as the head of an important physics project."

The other Chassid continued.

"If they refuse to issue the visa, which is very probable, I will be stuck here with no source of income and no future. I want to know if I should take the chance."

The other Chassid resumed, "Here, we have told you everything. Will you do this for us? Please, we are very desperate; it is a matter of days maybe less."

Suddenly Rabbi Teitz remembered the Tanya in his pocket and took it out saying. "Look, here is something your Rebbe gave me to carry around in Russia."

They stared open-mouthed in wide-eyed amazement at the book. It was as though they were suddenly shown the door to another world.

"Oy! A Tanya! The Rebbe actually touched that Tanya? He actually gave it to you? Can we hold it? Please, just for a few seconds! I promise we will return it."

The Rabbi held out the Tanya and they both took hold, pressing it to their cheeks and weeping.

Now it was Rabbi Teitz's turn to be wide eyed and open mouthed; watching two intelligent, grown men that had been risking their lives every moment to spread Judaism weeping over a book just because it was touched by another person! He had never seen anything even vaguely like it in his life!! 

"Look!! LOOK!" one of them exclaimed (the one that worried about the KGB in Moscow). "One of the pages is folded over!" He opened the book to page 162 (Kuv Samech Bais) and the top line on the page screamed out at him:

"One who is desperate and it is impossible for him to wait at all"

The Rebbe had folded that page! It was an answer his desperate question! It is impossible to wait! He must leave Moscow as soon as possible!

"Look!" The other Chassid exclaimed, "There is another one! The Rebbe folded another page!!!"

He opened it. This time it opened page Lamed Ches where the top line read:

"To enter the land (of Israel)" !

Rabbi Teitz was witnessing a miracle before his very eyes! How could the Rebbe possibly know of their questions? How could the he possibly know the Tanya would fall into their hands? How did he know exactly what to answer?

The only explanation he could think of was a saying he once heard: 'A Rebbe is a person who feels the pain of every Jew in the world'.

The Chassidim asked if they could keep the Tanya but Rabbi Teitz reminded them that the Rebbe told him to hold on to it; suddenly it became precious!

When he returned to Israel he immediately called the Rebbe's office and his answer from the Rebbe was soon in coming:

"Received! Thank you for the pleasing news, and CERTAINLY you won't advertise this story or any similar ones at this time" 

 

My Grandfather's Tefilin
by Mishulem Laib Drapkin


I always felt a connection to Judaism because of my grandfather. We often spent the Jewish holidays with my grandparents and were always greeted by the warmth of my grandmother's cooking, and my grandfather's sure, but soft handshake with a hearty "Gut Yontiff!" I didn't really know what "Gut Yontiff" meant, but I knew that we always greeted each other with it at happy times.

Often when we came to visit on Sundays, my grandfather took us kids to a small amusement park. He bought us tickets for the rides, watching us scream with delight. He got such pleasure from his grandchildren. He even went on the Ferris wheel with us, his arm wrapped protectively behind us as the car soared up into the sky.

One Rosh Hashana, I asked my mother where my grandfather was. She said he was at services all day. I asked why, and she replied, "He goes to an Orthodox synagogue. They pray all day." I imagined my grandfather in a synagogue full of other grandfathers, all wearing dark suits and yarmulkes. I thought to myself that if my grandfather went there, it must be serious Judaism!

When I was older, I attended Hebrew School at our local Conservative Synagogue. I didn't much care for it. It cut into my after-public school play time. Like many children of my time, I couldn't see the relevance of Hebrew School when none of what we studied was practiced in our "regular" lives.

Although my experiences seemed to be pushing me farther from Judaism, there was one notable exception: my Bar Mitzva. I enjoyed learning how to read my Torah portion. My tutor, an elderly Orthodox rabbi teaching at our synagogue, really inspired me. I also immensely enjoyed the singing and chanting.

My Bar Mitzva was an unqualified success. I was proud of what I did, and was gratified when my mother said, "I wish that your grandfather was still alive to see your Bar Mitzva. He would have been so proud of you."

By the time I went away to college, I had little or nothing to do with Judaism. The fact that I was living far away from family and friends and the heritage I grew up with didn't bother me most of the time, except during the December holidays. Then, I became intensely aware of being a minority in a country where someone else's religion is assumed to be part of everyone's heritage.

My Jewish identity remained at an ebb for many years until a close family friend became an observant Rabbi. When his mother passed away, some local Lubavitchers volunteered to help with the necessary arrangements. After the funeral, I chanced to talk to the Lubavitcher rabbi, who to my great surprise was a really nice guy! He in turn, gave me the number of my local Chabad rabbi who also turned out to be really terrific.

He was my age, with a background like mine, and was not only observant, but seemingly fulfilled and happy with his world and existence. My preconceptions about Judaism were blown away. What an amazing world I had discovered, where people actually lived what they learned. I was overwhelmed by the vast storehouse of knowledge that I had not only discovered, but belonged to me by birthright!

I began to study more about Judaism, and one Sunday, my new found friend from Lubavitch announced a class called "Lox, Bagels, Cream Cheese and Tefilin." I eagerly went down to shul with my grandfather's tefilin which my father had recently given me, only to discover that I was the only one who showed up.

We chatted for a while, which helped to calm my jitters about something that seemed so foreign. The rabbi explained the workings of tefilin, and then told me to get them out. I was completely unprepared for what I found.

I took the tefilin out, and laid them on top of the bag. I was struck by how carefully and lovingly they had been wrapped. Although they were last touched by my grandfather over 25 years ago, it was as though I was seeing his hands carefully wrapping them and holding them right in front of me. This conscious act of his had transcended the decades since he had last used them.

The memories of my grandfather came back in a flood, and when I had his tefilin wrapped around me, I felt myself surrounded by his love, strength, and kindness. Later, I related the story to my wife and wept.

On the High Holy Days this past year when I was praying, I remembered the image of my grandfather going off to daven in his synagogue on Rosh Hashana. This was the first time that I was attending observant services in their entirety, from beginning to end! In a moment of reflection, I wished that I could be next to my grandfather, together, chanting the prayers that were such a natural part of his life. He would see them becoming a part of my own life, and I know that he would have beamed with pride.

Recently, I told one of my new, observant friends that my tefilin were my grandfather's. I told him the story of how they hadn't been used for over twenty five years, and when my local Lubavitcher rabbi had them checked that they were still "kosher." With a twinkle in his eye he said, "You know, your grandfather knows that you are wearing them." Shrugging his shoulders he concluded, "Don't ask me how, but he knows."

The Shalom-Bayit Kugel

A husband and wife came to Rabbi Israel of Kosnitz (the "Kosnitzer Maggid," 1737-1814). They'd had a big fight and wanted a divorce.

"My wife," complained the man, "every week she makes for Shabbat a delicious kugel. I love that kugel! All week I work and shlep, just for that kugel! When I just think of that kugel, my mouth starts watering... But what does this foolish woman do to me? She torments me! After I recite the kiddush, do I get the kugel? No-o-o-o. First she serves the gefilte fish. Then the soup. Then the chicken. And the potatoes. Then a couple of other dishes, and then I'm full, I can't possibly take one more bite, then she brings in the kugel! Now shouldn't I divorce her?" And he said a lot more that people normally don't say in front of a rabbi.

The wife explained that in her parents' home it was always done this way. She wouldn't budge.

So the Kosnitzer Maggid decided that from now on she should make two kugels. One to be eaten right after kiddush, and one to serve after the fish and the soup and the chicken and the potatoes. The couple left reconciled.

From that day on, the Kosnitzer Maggid always had two kugels at his Shabbat table—one right after kiddush and another one after the main course. They called it the Shalom Bayit Kugel ("harmony in the home kugel").

 

It Once Happened

During the Turkish rule, there lived in Israel a poor Jewish woodchopper.

Although he worked hard day after day, his livelihood remained meager. His unfortunate wife was beside herself, watching helplessly as their small children cried from hunger. With six children and the seventh on the way, the husband became desperate.

Out of sheer hopelessness, the husband decided to take his own life. He set out for the forest with his wood-chopping knife and recited the final confession.

Suddenly a gray-bearded old man ran up to him. "What are you doing, old man? I have enough troubles without your interference!" he cried.

The old man sat patiently with the distraught husband and calmed his nerves. He revealed that he was none other than Elijah the Prophet, and he would entreat G‑d to bring the poor man success in his livelihood. The poor man wept tears of relief and joy.

"How soon can I expect help?" the man inquired. "In about two months," Elijah replied.

The poor man went home and related the happening to his wife, and the two of them waited expectantly for their luck to change.

After two months Elijah appeared to him again, and told him that in Heaven it was determined that for their situation to improve, they must move to a different city.

The family moved at once from Jerusalem to Jaffa, fulfilling the prophet's instruction. Upon arriving in a beautiful park in Jaffa, they saw a crowd of people near a great palace. The man walked over to see what was happening. An Arab was accepting bids on the palace which was for sale.

"Who will bid more than ten thousand pounds?" he asked. The poor man spoke up and said, "Ten thousand one hundred"

The Arab auctioneer looked at the ragged beggar who had interrupted him, and with one kick, sent him rolling on the ground.

Later that night the Arab happened to look out of the window of the palace and he saw the man he had kicked and his pregnant wife and bedraggled children all sitting and shivering from cold.

He took pity on them and brought them into the palace. "Come inside. There is one small room you may use, but only until my master returns."

It was almost midnight when the woman roused her husband to announce that she was about to give birth. After the baby was born, the man went out to find some water to clean the child.

As he groped in the garden searching for a stream of water, he stumbled on a metal ring. He pulled on it and suddenly the ground below opened, revealing a subterranean staircase.

The man descended into a treasure house filled with gems and gold coins. The man's eyes were drawn to pearls which lay in a chest.

He filled his pocket with precious pearls and then carefully left and returned to the palace.

The following day, he approached the Arab again saying that he wanted to buy the palace. This time the Arab laughed.

"Don't laugh, my friend, for I have very valuable pearls which I intend to sell." He took out a pearl and showed it to the Arab.

"If you are so rich, why are you all wearing rags?" the Arab asked.

"If I dressed in rich clothing, I would only attract robbers. This way my family and I are safe."

"You are a wise man," said the Arab, admiringly.

The poor man then took one pearl and instructed the Arab to go around to the local pearl merchants and see what kind of price the pearl would fetch.

The Arab did as he was asked, and to his surprise, the first merchant refused to buy the pearl, saying, "It is far too expensive for me, but go to so-and-so and he will certainly purchase it from you."

The pearl fetched 1,600 pounds and the Arab ran back to the Jew to announce the sale. A deed to the palace was soon drawn up, and the Jew was the new owner. The man never disclosed the source of his wealth.

The newly rich man inquired locally what would be a good investment. He was told to buy up all the skins from the slaughterhouses for a year.

This he did, establishing great tanneries, employing many Jews in his work, and paying them a fine wage. He become one of the wealthiest men in the city, dispensing charity with an open hand.

One day as he was strolling through the streets, he saw Elijah the Prophet and ran to him. "Don't you recognize me?" the man asked, but the prophet didn't. The man reminded him of how he had wanted to take his own life and was stopped by the prophet.

He continued telling him how he had changed his place, according to the prophet's instruction.

"From your appearance I see that your fortune has changed and you are indeed a wealthy man. I want you to know that your change in fortune was certainly influenced by your move to a different city, for as it is said, 'When one changes his place, he changes his luck.'

But the main reason your luck changed was the birth of your seventh child, for every child brings with him into this world his own unique mazal [good fortune], and this is the mazal of this child." 

Moshiach Matters

 

Every generation has its goal.
Ours is to hasten and ensure the coming of Moshiach.


(The Rebbe, 5741—1981)