Baruch Hashem

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

 

Finding Warmth

One winter day, a man discovered a thick layer of frost on his window. He started painstakingly scraping it off.

"What are you doing?" inquired a curious rabbi.

"Removing the frost from my window," answered the man, "so I can see outside."

His 'friend' saw that the labor was tedious and advised him, "Light a fire in your home – the frost will disappear by itself!"



          
 
The Shpola Zaide & the Dancing Bears

It was a beautiful autumn day in the Ukraine. The open fields were in blossom, the warm sun was illuminating the distant mountains, the winter was still weeks away, and the weather was perfect for a stroll or a picnic.

But Shlomo the innkeeper was preparing to die.

Tomorrow night they would take him out of his one-man dungeon and hundreds of drunken barbarians would stab him to death when he fell down in the ‘Dance of the Bears’.

He was so sick and depressed he wished it were over right now, that he would just die in his sleep tonight. “Oy, Hashem” he whispered to himself “Please do something, please help me!”

For almost a year, since he had been thrown into the pit for not paying his rent, he’d been saying the same prayer in a hundred different variations, but now he understood that it must be that G‑d wants another martyr.

He thought about his wife and six children, what would become of them? And he began crying again for the thousandth time. “Oy! Rebono-Shel-Olom, help me!! Ratavet! (Save me) Have mercy!” But the only reply he heard were the crickets outside and the drunken guard singing near the hole above him in the still night.

“They will come down to get me tomorrow night from that hole.” He thought to himself and he shuddered from cold fear, huddled up on his straw and tried to close his eyes.

Maybe he slept, suddenly he heard someone open the lock above him, slide away the bars covering the hole, throw down the rope ladder and begin to descend. He noticed that the singing had stopped, and his eyes were glued to the man descending.

Gevalt!!! It was a Jew! Maybe it was an angel! It was an old Jew, maybe sixty, maybe ninety years old, with a long white beard and a shining face climbing down the ladder!

When he had finally descended he brushed himself off saying, “Don’t worry, the guard is good and drunk! I told him it was my birthday and wanted to drink with him, after two bottles and all the singing and dancing he did, he’ll sleep soundly for a while.”

Shlomo’s heart was pounding with excitement, he recognized the old man! It was none other than the great Tzadik, the Shpola Zaide (Grandpa of Shpola). They say that this holy man received a blessing from the Baal Shem Tov when he was just days old for warmth and enthusiasm in serving G‑d and to be “A Grandfather (Zaide) in Israel”. From then on he was called “Zaide” and was renowned for his wisdom and Joy.

He was also famous for his dancing and sometimes on Motze Shabbos (Saturday night) he would call the musicians and dance for hours. (Some said that with each step and graceful turn he was really fighting spiritual battles and fixing unseen problems, all according to deep Kabalistic secrets.)

“Now,” continued the Tzadik to poor Shlomo “I’ve come here tonight to come to teach you how to dance. Tomorrow night they will take you out, dress you in a bearskin and force you to dance in a contest against a strong Cossack.

Whoever doesn’t perform gets jabbed with pins, and whoever falls, dies. I tried to collect money to get you out, but there is no money, as you well know.

Your only chance is to be brave, and dance as well as you can. You have to try or you are lost, and I’m here to help you. If you run away they will just take another Jew or maybe even more, in your place. So let’s begin, don’t worry I can teach you, you will win, DON’T WORRY.”

But poor Shlomo was so weak and sick that try as he would, he could barely move his feet. And after a futile half-hour the Tzadik realized that he had to think fast.

“Nu, Shlomo. Put on my coat! Good! Now take this money, climb up the ladder and run home! Take your family to Shpole the people there will care for you. Go!!! Go home!! Just remember, when you climb out of the hole, pull up the ladder and, oh yes, here is the key, pull the bars back over the hole, lock the lock and put the key in the guard’s pocket, and RUN!!!”

The bewildered man did as he was told and in minutes the Tzadik was alone. Twenty-four hours later, the next night at midnight, he was lifted out of the pit, dressed in a bearskin and lead to a macabre, torch-lit, makeshift arena. There, facing him was a huge Cossack also in a bearskin and surrounding them were several hundred noisy, drunken, red-eyed townspeople sitting on improvised stands, with the eerie flickering torchlight flashing off their knife blades and gold teeth.

They began to sing and stamp their feet with the tune. It was a known Cossack song that began slowly and gradually built up, little by little, finally reaching a maddening speed with the words “Hup Cossack! Hup Cossack!!!”

After just a few minutes it was hard for the crowd to discern who was who. The Jew moved and danced with such agility that they were sure that it was their Cossack inside, so they randomly jabbed whichever ‘bear’ was slowest with long needles and roared with laughter when he screamed and quickened his pace. “Hup Cossack! Hup Cossack!” they all chanted, clapping their hands faster and faster, and the pace of the dance increased furiously from minute to minute. The Tzaddik began spinning and his opponent had to keep up with him. He jumped agilely from foot to foot, twisted, and leapt in the air faster and faster, five minutes, ten minutes, now fifteen. “HUP

COSSACK!!!! HUP COSSACK!!!” The crowd was screaming, clapping, on their feet; their eyes were bulging with excitement! “HUP COSSACK!!! HUP COSSACK!!!!”

Suddenly one bear stopped…. He was dizzy, exhausted, confused and…. He fell!

OOOUUUUPPPAAAA!!!!! Screamed the crowd as they ran into the circle and pushed their knives into the fallen dancer while the other contestant, still dressed in his bearskin, made a silent, unnoticed getaway. Imagine their disappointment when they removed the bear head and revealed …. poor Yorik.

The Tzadik had saved the Jew, himself, put awe in the hearts of the gentiles and won a bearskin to boot.

The Shabbos Candle Mitzvah Campaign
 
In the 1970s, the branch of the Lubavitch Women's Organization dedicated to spreading the practice of kindling Shabbos candles, organized a series of radio ads encouraging women and girls to fulfill this mitzvah. Because federal law required that every ad have a commercial aspect, the notices mentioned that if the listeners sent one dollar to the Candlelighting Division of the Lubavitch Women's Organization at 770 Eastern Parkway, they would be sent a special set of Shabbos candle holders.

Thousands of these holders were distributed. At times, people would err, and instead of addressing their letters to the Lubavitch Women's Organization, they would send them to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

On one occasion, a woman living on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn wrote to ask for the Shabbos candle holders. She too erred, and addressed her letter to the Rebbe. The Rebbe received the letter in the Friday mail. On Friday afternoon, he had his secretary, Rabbi Binyomin Klein, call Mrs. Esther Sternberg (who ran the Shabbos candle campaign) and ask her to see to it that this woman had the opportunity to light Shabbos candles that Friday.

Mrs. Sternberg is not one to take a request from the Rebbe lightly. With 45 minutes left before Shabbos started, she tried to get the woman's phone number, but was told it was unlisted. Then, noting that the woman's address was not far away, she resolved to deliver the candle holders personally. If the woman was not home, she would leave it with a neighbor.

Taking two of her daughters along, Mrs. Sternberg drove (flew!) to the woman's apartment. She rang the bell and knocked several times, but there was no answer. She tried several of the neighbors' apartments, but they too did not answer. Finally, a woman from an apartment down the hall replied that, yes, she knew the woman who had asked for the candle holders. She was an elderly lady, said the neighbor, and hard of hearing. That's probably why she had not answered her bell; she hadn't heard it ringing!

And so Mrs. Sternberg, her two daughters, and the neighbor all knocked hard on the woman's door. Eventually, an elderly Jewish lady answered. She was grateful to see visitors, and even more grateful when she found that she would be able to light Shabbos candles that week.

Mrs. Sternberg was happy to give the woman the candle holders, but couldn't help wondering: The woman seemed sincerely committed to the mitzvah; why then hadn't she lit candles before? "Don't you have candle holders of your own?" she asked.

"Of course I have Shabbos candles," the woman told Mrs. Sternberg, taking her into her kitchen and showing her a large silver candelabra on top of one of the cabinets. "But when my children moved me here," she explained, "they put my candelabra up there. Neither I nor any of my neighbors can reach it! That's why I haven't been able to light." (Apparently, this woman, as do many others, mistakenly felt that Shabbos candles had to be lit in a ritual candelabra.)

One of Mrs. Sternberg's daughters climbed up and brought down the woman's candlesticks. And so, thanks to the Rebbe's concern and Mrs. Sternberg's commitment, the woman was able to light candles in her own candelabra that Shabbos.

On another occasion, the Rebbe received a letter from a man from Bowie, Maryland, asking that Shabbos candle holders be sent to his daughter. Again, the letter arrived on Friday, and again, the Rebbe had his secretary ask Mrs. Sternberg to see to it that the girl lit candles that Friday.

This time, it was only 20 minutes before Shabbos when Mrs. Sternberg was contacted. She immediately phoned one of the shluchim in Maryland and asked if he could deliver candles to the girl. But the shliach replied that Bowie was over two hours away; he had no way of delivering the candles in time.

Not seeing any alternative, Mrs. Sternberg located the family's phone number. The mother answered the phone. Yes, her husband had asked for the candleholders. She didn't light candles herself, but thought that it was a good idea for her daughter to light.

Mrs. Sternberg told her that she would be mailing the candle holders, but meantime, she would instruct her on how to make candle holders from aluminum foil so that her daughter would be able to light that Shabbos. And with no more than a drop of convincing, the mother agreed to join her daughter and light candles herself.

She listened diligently to Mrs. Sternberg's instructions, and wrote down the transliteration of the blessing word for word.

As they were talking, Mrs. Sternberg asked the woman if her daughter had any other friends who would like candle holders. The woman mentioned that there were several girls in her daughter's Hebrew School class who would probably appreciate such a gift. And in her own Chavurah group, she could think of a few women, and she had some other friends....

All in all, when Mrs. Sternberg prepared the package of candle holders to send to Bowie, it contained more than 40!

On the following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg received another call from the Rebbe's office. "The Rebbe wants to know what's happening with the girl in Bowie," the secretary told her.

Mrs. Sternberg again called the woman. Yes, her daughter had lit candles the previous Shabbos, and they had received the candle holders in the mail. Everyone was overwhelmed. Women were talking about it all over town.

"Could you send more?" she wanted to know. "My daughter has other friends... and I have other friends...."

And so, the following week, Mrs. Sternberg sent an even larger order of candle holders to Bowie.

The following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg did not wait for a call from the Rebbe's office. Instead, she phoned her new friend in Bowie herself. Yes, the candle holders had arrived and the women were very happy. What's more, the woman's friends and neighbors wanted to meet some of the ladies who had reached out and brought Shabbos light into their homes.

A Shabbaton was arranged. Women and girls from Crown Heights came and shared a Shabbos encounter with the community.

So it was that a few words from the Rebbe snowballed into an ongoing positive Jewish experience.

              The Refugee Girl 

She was still a teenager when she became a destitute, homeless refugee. That was in the tragic year, 5408 (1648), when the bloodthirsty cossacks, led by Bogdan Chmelnicki, marched through Eastern Europe, heaping death and destruction on countless Jews and Jewish communities in their path.

When these hordes were nearing the small Polish town where this young girl lived with her widowed mother and other small children, most of the Jews fled in terror.

In the terrible upheaval, the girl was separated from her family, and continued her flight with other Jewish refugees from her town. Eventually, she found herself in the midst of a group of beggars who wandered from town to town, doing odd jobs wherever they could find them, but most of the time begging for food.

In due course, this group came to Wilno.

Here the community maintained a shelter for refugees, wayfarers and beggars, providing them with a temporary roof over their heads and one hot meal a day, until they moved on to make room for others.

The wife of the shelter-keeper immediately took a liking to the poor girl. She did not fail to notice the girl's refined facial features and her modesty and shyness. Always ready to help an elderly person in some way, she kept to herself the rest of the time; nor did she make the rounds begging. Obviously, this girl did not belong in that group of beggars.

The keeper's wife befriended the girl. She tried to find out from her about her family; her parents, brothers and sisters. The girl couldn't tell her much. She hardly knew her father, who passed away when she was still a child.

She remembered, vaguely, an older brother who left home after his bar-mitzvah to go to a yeshivah, and that he later married a girl from a distant town where he settled down. He was the pride of the family. After her father died, her mother had a hard time taking care of the orphans. Then came that dreadful day when they fled for their lives, and she was "orphaned" again, for she lost all her family and had not seen them again after they had been separated. That was her whole story. Now she was wandering about, hoping that she might find them somewhere.

When the group of beggars with whom she came prepared to leave Wilno, the keeper's wife persuaded her to stay on.

"Wilno is a big city, and streams of refugees keep coming or passing through this city. You have a better chance to meet any of your family here than wandering about in the world. I'll try to find you a job in a nice family as a mother's helper and you will not feel so lonely here," the good woman said to her.


True to her word, the keeper's wife went around offering some of the well-to-do ballebostes the service of a nice girl to help in the house. While everyone she talked to sympathized with the poor girl, no one was in need of, or could afford, domestic help.

But just as she was about to give up, her last stop proved successful.

The lady told her that she really needed no help in the house, but because of the very favorable recommendation, she would take the girl into her home. However, there was only one kind of service the girl would have to render. "Bring the girl, I'll talk to her, and if she makes as good an impression as you say, I will give her the job."

The shelter-keeper's wife lost no time, and soon returned with the girl. The lady of the house interviewed her and was indeed favorably impressed.

She told the girl: "I do not need any domestic help at this time; your only duties will be as follows: My son-in-law is a great Talmid-chacham and spends all his time studying Torah. Except for meals, he studies till about midnight. Your duty will be to sit outside his study and wait. The moment he stops learning, you will know it by the silence in the study, you will go into the kitchen where his supper will be warming, and you will place it on the table in the dining room. Then you can retire to your room. My daughter and I have been doing this in turn; we regard it as a privilege and honor. But it has become a little difficult for us to stay up so late. So now it will be your duty and privilege. Are you willing to accept the job?"

The girl was only too happy and grateful to accept it. It was certainly not too difficult for her to stay up late, and whatever sleep she lost, she made up by taking a nap during the day. The lady of the house was kind to her, as were all the members of the family. Soon she felt as one of the family. Needless to say, she faithfully carried out her duties.

One thing, however, disturbed her. As she sat the first evening behind the door of the study and listened to the enchanting sing- song and melodious voice of the learner, it seemed to her as though she was listening to her father!

She distinctly remembered how, as a young child, she sat enchanted listening to her father, of blessed memory, learning in exactly the same way, with the same melodious voice!

The thought of her late father revived memories of her mother, brothers and sisters, and the painful anxiety over how they were and where they were. She missed them so, and felt so sad. Her eyes welled up, and she could not hold back her tears; she began to sob quietly.

Presently the door opened slightly and she heard the somewhat irritated voice of the young man saying, without looking at her: "Please stop crying; you are disturbing my learning."

The door shut again. She immediately stopped crying. Her fear of losing her job drained her eyes and helped drive her sad thoughts out of her mind.


The following night, as she returned to her duties, she again listened spellbound to the familiar voice and sing-song learning. Gradually her sad memories returned to her and once again she could not hold back her tears and sobs. This time the young man realized there must be something more serious about her crying than just a passing mood. He opened the door wide, and began to question her why she was crying again, and was she going to weep behind his door every night?

The girl told him that his voice and manner of learning reminded her vividly of her late father of blessed memory, and that it brought to her mind other sad memories and thoughts, so she could not hold back her tears. She hastened to promise, however, that she would try to overcome this feeling.

He asked her what her father's name was, and where she came from, and more questions about her family. She told him that her father's name was Meir, and that he was a great Torah scholar and rabbi. She remembered him well, though she was a young child when he died. She also told him that they lived in a small Polish town, and how they had to flee for their lives when the cossack hordes were coming; how they all fled together, except for her older brother Shabetai, who had left home soon after his bar-mitzvah to go to a Yeshivah, and she had never seen him since; and how in the confusion of the escape, she had become separated from the rest of the family, and finally came to Wilno, hoping to find here some member of her family.

Little did she know that she was talking to her own brother!

The young man, Rabbi Shabetai Cohen (the famed ShaCh, after the initials of his great Halachic work Sifsei-Cohen), showed no outward sign that he had discovered his long lost sister. He had his reasons for keeping the wonderful news from his sister and his in-laws for the time being. She, of course, did not recognize him, for the last time she saw her brother, he was a young boy, and now he was a bearded young man. Neither would he have recognized his sister, had she not told him her story, for the last time he saw her she was but a little girl, and now she was a mature young woman.

Rabbi Shabetai returned to his study and continued his learning till midnight, as usual.

The following day he told his wife that for reasons, which he would reveal in due course, he did not want the new girl to wait outside his study and attend to his supper; and that the wife should ask her mother to relieve the girl of her duties. She should, however, remain in the house and continue to be treated as a member of the family. The wife conveyed her husband's wishes to her mother, to whom every wish of her saintly son-in-law was like a special mitzvah.

Relieved of her nightly duty, which had been such a strain on her, the girl was now happier than she had been for a long time. The lady of the house gave her other light duties, which she carried out cheerfully. She had ample time, and many books, at her disposal, and she made good use of both. Everyone became very fond of her.

Some months later, the lady of the house became ill and was confined to her bed. The girl attended to her with great devotion, while taking over the management of the household. In this, too, she proved herself very capable.

After a long illness, the lady of the house passed away, sadly mourned by all the family.


No sooner did the seven days' mourning pass than marriage brokers began to sound out the wealthy widower about a shidduch, quoting the well known Scriptural verse, "It is not good for a man to be alone." Some of them came up with specific suggestions, a choice of highly worthy helpmates of noble character and descent, with considerable wealth in their own right.

The widower consulted his learned son-in-law whether he should consider marrying again, and, if so, which suggestions should be explored first. Rabbi Shabetai replied that it was too early to talk about a shidduch, since there was no urgency. He advised him to wait the passage of the Three Festivals. Following this advice, the widower told the shadchanim that he would not be ready to discuss the matter of a shidduch until after the next Three Festivals.

When that period passed, the shadchanim returned, and the widower again consulted with his son-in-law. Rabbi Shabetai replied as follows: "If you seek my advice and are prepared to accept it, disregard all the suggestions of the shadchanim, for your best and most suitable shidduch is right here, the young lady you have `adopted' and made part of your family. She has all the desirable qualities to be your worthy wife. I am certain that she will gladly accept your marriage proposal. Set the earliest possible date for the marriage, and your daughter and I will accompany her to the chuppah. After the chuppah, I will tell you who this young lady is."

Rabbi Shabetai's father-in-law gladly followed his advice.

The young lady was only too happy to accept the marriage proposition, and the marriage was celebrated in the fullest accord with "the Laws of Moshe and Yisrael."

Rabbi Shabetai told his father-in-law that he now became also his brother-in-law, for he married none other than his long lost sister!

He added: "As a wedding gift, I promise you that HaShem will bless you with a son. You will name him Meir, after my father of saintly memory; and true to his name he will enlighten the Jewish world with his Torah knowledge and wisdom."

The ShaCh's blessing came true, for his newborn nephew Meir grew up to become an outstanding Torah authority, namely, the famous author of the Halachic work, Shaalot uTeshuvot Panim Me'irot.