Baruch Hashem

Print these stories before Shabbos, so you can enjoy them on Shabbos!

Mind Over Heart - Saved His Life
 
Reb Moshe Meisels was a loyal Chasid of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, and was ever ready to undertake any mission the Rebbe would assign to him.

In the year 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia, Reb Moshe received a secret letter from the Alter Rebbe. In the letter, the Rebbe informed his trusted Chasid that it was most important for the spiritual well-being of the Jews that Czar Alexander win the war against Napoleon.

When Napoleon's armies reached the gates of Vilna, Reb Moshe "found himself" in the occupied zone. He became friendly with the French officers who were impressed with his wide knowledge of languages and general education. When an interpreter was needed to question captured soldiers and officers, or to deal with the local populace, or to issue public notices and proclamations, Reb Moshe was much in demand to help carry out these tasks. It did not take long before Reb Moshe enjoyed the fullest confidence of the French general staff.

Thus, Reb Moshe was able to learn many important military secrets, and through his connection with other Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, he was able to transmit important information to the Russian generals on the battlefront.

Once, when Reb Moshe happened to be in the French Generals Headquarters, the generals were making plans about their next attack. Huge maps were spread out on the table, and the generals debated heatedly about the various possibilities of distributing their military forces on the battlefront in order to give the Russians an unexpected blow.

Reb Moshe pretended not to hear or see what was going on, and the generals paid no attention to him.

Suddenly the door burst open and in came Napoleon. The generals sprang to their feet and stood at attention. With one glance Napoleon took in the whole scene.

"What is this stranger doing here?" he demanded, pointing to Reb Moshe. Without waiting for a reply, Napoleon rushed up to him, exclaiming, "You are a spy!" Saying which, he pressed his hand to Reb Moshe's chest to feel if his heart was beating rapidly at having been unmasked.

But Reb Moshe's heart was not pounding and his face did not pale, as he calmly replied in perfect French:

"Your Majesty, your generals appointed me to be their interpreter, and I await their orders."

His cool manner and calm voice completely disarmed Napoleon, and his suspicions were immediately dispelled. Reb Moshe was saved from certain death.

When Reb Moshe related the episode of his encounter with Napoleon, he declared that the "alef-beit" (most basic teachings) of Chasidut had saved his life at that particular moment. He explained:

"The Rebbe has taught us that the 'alef' of Chasidut is that a Jew has to use his natural powers for the service of G‑d. One of these natural powers is that the brain rules the heart. In other words, according to the nature which G‑d created in man, reason is basically stronger than feeling; a person has the power to control his emotions. However, it is not enough for a man to know this; he must persistently train himself to exercise this power in his daily life and conduct, until it becomes a natural habit with him. In actual practice this simply means that whenever one feels a strong desire for something, one should say to oneself, 'I can do without it.' The exercise of such self-control is the 'alef' of Chasidut and having mastered this 'alef' one can steadily advance further.

"Thus I have schooled myself to achieve absolute self-control, so that in everything I think, speak, and do, I let my mind rule my heart. And where it is important for the heart to express its feelings, the mind, too, must have its say, to make sure that the feelings do not get out of control.

"And so I trained myself to control my feelings, not to get excited under any circumstances, and not to be overwhelmed by anyone or anybody.

"And this 'alef' of Chasidut saved my life."

My Road Map Back to Judaism

Shabbos! How G‑d loves for us to keep Shabbos. And so He is ever willing to do whatever it takes to help make the arrangements for us to fulfill this all important Mitzvah.

I remember many years ago when I first began to keep Shabbos. At the time I was new to Jewish observance. I had been hitchhiking around the country, and living on the streets for a few years, searching deeply for answers and ways in which I could become closer to G‑d. I was fortunate enough to come into contact with the Chabad House in Berkeley, CA, where I met Rabbi Yehuda Ferris. Such a special Jew, so loving and non-judgmental, he turned me on to Shabbos. After some months of living there it was time to move on, and I took on the commitment of keeping Shabbos. I made it very clear to G‑d that even though I was hitchhiking, and even if I should be on the side of the road once Shabbos came in, I would simply stay there with my pack till after Shabbos.

So I began my journey. I arrived in Boulder, Colorado, on a Friday afternoon. Not to worry though, I would go to the local Chabad House. I found the address and directions, and proceeded to walk the few miles necessary. I figured I still had a good three to four hours and that I was ok for time.

When I finally arrived at the address I did not find a Chabad house, but a huge office building. At this point I was a little worried. I went inside and saw that the Chabad office was on the third floor. Of course it was already closed for Shabbos. Now what to do? I should mention my appearance: I had long dreadlocks (matted hair) with a Tibetan bell attached, a scraggly beard, tattered, painted pants and a very exotic shirt from India, which had Sanskrit written all over it. I definitely was not your average looking Jew, or even human.

I noticed that there was a financial firm of some sort next door to the office, with a glass door through which I could see an elderly lady sitting at a desk and looking at me. I asked if she might let me use the phone. I was getting a little nervous because it was almost Shabbos. She asked me in quite a surprised and curious tone, "Are you one of those religious Jews?" She had seen me knocking on the Chabad door, but was confused by my appearance. I told that I was Jewish and trying to be religious. "Oh, that's wonderful," she exclaimed. "I'm a born-again Christian and I think you Jews are the greatest!" She invited me in and I called the Chabad House in Denver. They told me that there was nothing they could do as Shabbos was so soon and they knew no one who could help me in Boulder. I proceeded to call all the synagogues in the phone book. This was many years ago when there were almost no observant Jews there. Now, B"H, that is not the case. The synagogues simply laughed at me.

My problem was not that I needed a place to stay, but rather a place to leave my backpack, because you cannot carry outside on Shabbos. I had lived on the streets for a few years and knew how to take care of myself. My main concern was to not break Shabbos. I traveled with candles and grape juice for this very purpose. Finally I spoke to one person who told me that I could leave my pack if the janitor was there.

The lady had been listening and offered to drive me to the Synagogue. I was greatly relieved, because there was only an hour to Shabbos. We went in her new cadillac to the Synagogue, only to find it locked, and no one there. At this point I decided to forget it, throw my pack in the bushes and retrieve it after Shabbos.The woman would not hear of it, and offered to allow me to celebrate Shabbos at her home. I was amazed by her kindness, and saw no reason not to take up her wonderful offer. I told her yes but we had to hurry.

Not a moment too soon we arrived at her house, which I might add was quite nice and in one of the ritzier areas of town. Her husband came out and she introduced me as a religious Jew who had come to celebrate the Sabbath. He was overjoyed, and invited me in with nothing but graciousness. I immediately lit candles and then davened (prayed). Afterwards they put some food together for me - I was a vegetarian and wasn't that concerned with kashrut at the time. After I had eaten they tried to explain to me about their Messiah and so on and so forth. They spent about five minutes talking about it. I said that he sounds like a great guy but that I was just starting to get into my Jewishness. "Absolutely you should learn about being Jewish and what it means. That is the most important thing."

After this they informed me that the folowing morning they were going to visit their daughter, who lives in North Carolina, for a week, and were leaving at 6:30am. I asked them to let me put my backpack in their backyard, and I'd retrieve it on Saturday night. "No, No," they exclaimed. "We wouldn't hear of it. We want you to stay, here are the keys, stay as long as you like. The house is yours. It is our honor to be able to serve a Jew and help him in any way."

How clear I was that this was a miracle. Here I was, coming into a town I had never been to before, on Erev Shabbos. I didn't know anyone. I looked like a complete freak, and this wealthy, elderly, non-Jewish couple asked me into their home. Not only did they take me in, but they basically gave it to me! And they really didn't try to convert me, but encouraged me to learn more about being Jewish, and the importance of keeping Shabbos. What more could I ask of G‑d? He showed me what He is willing to do to help me keep Shabbos, if I am willing to make the commitment too.

We have to know that G‑d is not far away from us. He is very close and involved in every aspect of our lives. If we will simply let Him in, and be a part of our life, He will do things for us which are far beyond our imagination.

May we all be blessed to constantly see the miracles that are manifest in our lives at every moment.

THE KNIFE

[The Tenth of Tevet, the fast day (which falls out during this past week) commemorating the siege of Jerusalem which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple, has also become the occasion for reciting Kaddish for those souls of the six million martyrs of the Holocaust for whem we don’t know the exact dates of their deaths. –ed.] 

The following story was told by Rabbi Israel Spira, the Rebbe of Bluzhov, who witnessed it in the Janowska Concentration Camp:

Each morning at dawn, the Germans would lead us out of the camp for a day of hard labor that ended only at nightfall. Each pair of workers was given a huge saw and expected to cut its quota of logs. Because of the horrendous conditions in the camp and the starvation rations on which we were supposed to subsist, most of us could barely stand on our feet. But we sawed away, knowing that our lives depended upon it; anyone collapsing on the job or failing to meet his daily quota was killed on the spot, G‑d forbid.

One day, as I pulled and pushed the heavy saw with my partner, I was approached by a young woman from our work detail. The pallor of her face showed her to be in an extremely weak physical state. "Rebbe," she whispered to me, "do you have a knife?"

I immediately understood her intention and felt the great responsibility that rested upon me. "My daughter," I begged, concentrating all the love and conviction in my heart in the effort to dissuade her from her intended deed. "Do not take your own life. I know that your life is now a living hell, from which death seems a blessed release. But we must never lose hope. With G‑d's help, we will survive this ordeal and see better days."

But the woman seemed oblivious to my words. "A knife," she repeated. "I must have a knife. Now. Before it is too late."

At that moment, one of the German guards noticed our whispered conversation and approached us. "What did she say to you?" He demanded of me.

We both froze. Conversing during work was a grave transgression. Many a camp inmate had been shot on the spot for far lesser crimes.

The woman was first to recover. "I asked him for a knife," she said. To my horror, she then addressed her request to the guard: "Give me a knife!"

The German, too, guessed her intention, and a devilish smile flickered on his lips. Doubtless he had seen the bodies of those who, out of desperation, threw themselves during the night on the electrified fence that surrounded the camp; but this would be a novel sight for him. Still smiling, he reached into his pocket and handed her a small knife.

Taking the knife, she hurried back to her work station and bent over a small bundle of rags that she had placed on a log. Quickly unraveling the bundle, she took out a tiny infant. Before our astonished eyes, she swiftly and skillfully circumcised the week-old boy.

"Blessed are You, G‑d our G‑d, King of the Universe," she recited in a clear voice, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the covenant of Abraham our Father."

Cradling the child in her arms, she soothed his cries. Then, she addressed the heavens: "Master of the Universe! Eight days ago you gave me a child. I know that neither I nor he will long survive in this accursed place. But now, when you take him back, you will receive him as a complete Jew."

"Your knife," she said, handing the holy object back to the German. "Thank you."
 

A Minority View

About 300 years ago, the chief Rabbi of Prague was the great Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshetz. Legend has it that when he was just three years old, he was so famous for his wisdom, that the King of Poland, being a bit bored and even more inquisitive, heard about him, and decided he wanted to see the child prodigy for himself and put him to a royal test.

The king sent a message to little Yonatan's father saying that he'd heard about the child's wisdom, and was interested to see if he was smart enough to find his way, unassisted, from his home, several miles away, through the confusing streets of the city, to the royal palace.

Of course Yonatan's father had little choice but to comply. The next day he dressed the boy in his best Shabbat clothes, blessed him, and sent him off, hoping for the best.

It was a unique sight to see such a small child, smartly dressed striding with certain steps through the city streets, as though he had done it a hundred times before. After several hours of walking he actually arrived at the palace!

The guards couldn't believe their eyes and ears when the tot presented himself proudly before them, and announced in a high-pitched voice that he had come to see the king.

Minutes later the entire king's court was marveling at the precocious lad. The king called for silence, motioned the child to approach and asked, "Tell me, my boy, how did you find your way to the palace?"

"Well, your majesty," he answered, "whenever I had a doubt I just asked anyone that happened to be nearby, and it seems that G‑d helped."

Everyone chuckled. The King raised his hand very slightly for silence and continued, "But didn't it ever occur to you that two people might say opposite things? What if one said go to the right and the other to the left? What would you have done then?"

The boy paused, thought for a moment and answered, "Your Majesty, in the Torah it says that when faced with differing opinions, one should follow the majority. That's what I would have done — I'd have asked a third person and followed the majority opinion."

The King smiled and the room became filled with chattering laughter. Suddenly the Kings face became serious, the room fell silent, he moved forward in his throne, gazed piercingly at the boy and said, "Young man, you should listen to what you yourself just said! If in your Bible it says you must follow the majority, then certainly you should forsake Judaism and believe as we do, as we are the majority!"

The audience smiled, laughed, even clapped their hands, at the royal wisdom. But when the noise died down, little Yonatan cleared his throat and spoke.

"Pardon me, your Royal Highness. When I said that I would follow the majority, I meant when I was far from the castle and uncertain of the location. But now that I'm in the castle and I see the King seated before me, even if all the king's ministers tell me I'm in the wrong place, I will certainly not listen to them.

"The G‑d of Israel is everywhere, and no place is empty of Him. It is like being in the palace with the king. Even if the entire world disagrees with me, I certainly have no reason to listen to them!"

 

Shimon the Levi

Shimon the Levi was born and raised in London.

He was a product of his time and as such he reached into everything available to his generation; cults, drugs, ear-shattering music, the "mystical East", the "Hippie" West and then the "Wild West." Finally, here in the Wild West he found what he was looking for.

It was billed as the largest gathering of Tribal Brothers ever to have taken place in England. The meadow was leased and the campsites were prepared. The major attraction was a genuine American Indian Chief, brought over to guide all of the "brothers" in the natural art of living on the land: survival as it was and could be while simply living in a meadow.

The brothers gathered, wearing buckskin loincloths and head bands. They all had the official braids of hair running down their backs, bright feathers and tomahawks in their belts. Peace pipes were passed around most of the day. The chief stood, arms crossed, overseeing his vast array of white red-men.

Shimon stood next to the Chief hanging on to his every word. "You see all these men?" The Chief asked. Shimon nodded, expecting to hear something profound. "They are all lost!" Shimon's face dropped. The Chief continued: "They don't know what tribe they come from!"

Shimon was completely confused. Had he heard these words from his parents or a rabbi, he would have been able to dismiss them, but coming from the Chief himself, he was left totally defenseless. The Chief looked Shimon in the eye and asked, "Do you know what tribe you come from?" Shimon was taken aback, but then he remembered, "My father is a Levite! He is from the tribe of Levi, so I also am a Levite. I know my tribe, I am a Levi!"

He turned at that very moment and began his journey to Jerusalem where he now studies Talmud with side-locks instead of braids, a tallit instead of a loincloth, a kippah instead of a feather and singing in Hebrew instead of Sioux or Cherokee. He says he is a very fortunate man.