Baruch Hashem

Shabbos Stories for Parshas Mishpotim
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Only on Earth

There is a story is told of two souls that floated past each other in heaven.

One was on the way "down" to get born in the world, and the other on its way "up" after finishing its earthly stay.

The one descending said. "Hey! Hello there! Tell me, are you just coming from the world?"

"Yes!" the rising one answered.

"Could you tell me what is it like? I mean, what is there for a soul to do down there? I mean, in heaven it was ideal! Why am I descending?"

"That's an easy one!" The ascending soul answered. "Down there, there are Mitzvahs!"

"Ahhh yes!" The descending soul said excitedly. "Right! Now I remember! Up in heaven they talk about them. Even the angels go wild when someone does one. But I've never seen one. What are they?"

"What are they!?" exclaimed the rising one as the distance between them widened. "They are the inner will of G‑d Almighty. And you can get them by just giving the right person a few pieces of paper called "Money"."

"Wow! This is really exciting!" yelled the descending soul as the distance between them widened. "Just a few pieces of paper! That's great! I can't wait!"

"Oh, but just one thing I didn't tell you" yelled the ascending soul who in a few seconds would be too far away to be heard, "Until you get those pieces of paper...your soul can go out!"

Coma

After sustaining a severe heart attack in 1973, my grandmother sank into a deep coma and was placed on life support systems in the hospital. Her EEG was totally flat, indicating zero brain activity. She was hooked up both to a pacemaker that made her heart beat artificially and a respirator that made her lungs breathe artificially. But technically, as the doctors told me privately, she was basically as good as dead. "She'll never come out of the coma," they said, "and she's better off this way. If she did, her life would be meaningless. She'd exist in a purely vegetative state.

Even though she was in her mid-seventies and had lived a full life, I refused to believe that my beloved grandmother could simply slip away like this. She was too feisty, too vital to just disappear into a coma. My instincts told me to start talking to her and keep chatting away. I stayed at her bedside day and night, and that's precisely what I did. I spoke to her all the time about my husband and our two small children, about other relatives, about her own life. I told her all the news that was circulating in Australia at the time. Anything and everything was grist for the mill. I also kept urging her to keep clinging to life, not to give up. "Don't you dare leave us!" I exhorted. "I need you, Mom needs you, your grandchildren need you. They're just beginning to get to know you. It's too soon for you to go!"

It was hard for me to do battle for my grandmother's life, alone as I was. During the time that she fell ill, I was her only relative in Sydney. Her daughter (my mother) was away overseas on a trip, and my only sibling — a brother — lived in Israel. My husband was home caring for our children so that I could take my post at her bedside. I stood a solitary vigil, but that was not what placed such tremendous pressure on me. What was enormously difficult was being asked to make decisions alone. The emotional burden was huge.

When four days passed with no signs of life flickering in either my grandmother's eyes or her hands, and no change recorded by the EEG, the doctors advised me to authorize the papers that would turn off the life support systems. I trembled to think that I held the power of consigning my grandmother to an early grave. "But she's really already dead," the doctors argued. "She's just being kept artificially alive by the pacemaker and the respirator. Keeping her hooked up to these machines is just a waste."

"Well, listen," I said. "It's Thursday afternoon, and in the Jewish religion we bury people right away. My parents are overseas — practically two days away — and they would certainly want to be here for the funeral. But we don't do funerals on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. The earliest we could do the funeral would be on Sunday. So let me call my parents to get ready to fly home, and I'll sign the papers on Sunday." It was all very cold and calculating, but deep inside, my heart was aching.

Meanwhile, I didn't let up. I kept talking up a storm, discussing weighty matters, babbling about the mundane. "Guess what, Grandma?" I gossiped. "You won't believe who ended up being your roommate here in the hospital! Stringfellow! Your next door neighbor at home, Mrs. Stringfellow, was just brought in with a serious condition. Isn't that a coincidence? She lives next door to you in Sydney and now she's your roommate here in the hospital!"

On Saturday, I was at my usual post at my grandmother's bedside, getting ready to start a round of tearful goodbyes, when I thought I noticed her eyes blinking. I called a nurse and told her what I had seen. "It's just your imagination, dearie," the nurse said compassionately. "Why don't you go downstairs for some coffee, and I'll stay with her until you come back?"

But when I returned, the nurse was brimming over with excitement herself. "You know," she said, "I think you may be right. I've been sitting here watching your grandmother, and I could swear I saw her blinking, too."

A few hours later, my grandmother's eyelids flew open. She stared at me and then craned her neck to look at the empty bed on the other side of the room. "Hey," she yelled, "what happened to Stringfellow?"

By the time my mother arrived at the hospital the next day, my grandmother was sitting up in bed, conversing cheerfully with the hospital staff, and looking perfectly normal. My mother glared at me, annoyed, sure I had exaggerated my grandmother's condition. "For this, I had to schlep all the way home?" she asked.

Later, my grandmother told me that while she was in the "coma" she had heard every single word that was said to her and about her. She repeated all the conversations to me, and her retention was remarkable.

"I kept shouting to you," she said, "but somehow you didn't hear me. I kept on trying to tell you, 'Don't bury me yet.'"

After she was discharged from the hospital, my grandmother's quality of life remained excellent. She lived on her own as a self-sufficient, independent, and high-spirited lady and continued to live in this manner until her death sixteen years after I almost pulled the plug.

 

Jury Duty

As a creature of habit, I hate change. I live a very orderly life. When I leave for work I repeat the same routine each and every day. I kiss my wife Linda goodbye, pet Louie the wonder dog, get in the car, turn on the same jazz radio station, back out of the driveway and go to work. Coming home, I stop at the mailbox in my complex to get the mail.

Recently, I noticed an official-looking letter addressed to me from the Marion County Court House. To my chagrin it summoned me to appear for jury duty. The subpoena indicated that this was going to be a serious case, and if selected, I would be out for 2-3 weeks.

Arriving in court, I found 400 other "candidates" in the room. I exhaled a sigh of relief, figuring I had a better chance of getting on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' than getting selected for this jury. Two days later I found out this was not to be.

Of the 400 potential jury members, I had the good fortune to be the twelfth and final one selected. The judge, a serious and intimidating woman, looked down at us from the bench and informed us that we'd begin each day "PROMPTLY" at 8:30 am, break for lunch "PROMPTLY" at noon, start "PROMPTLY" again at 1:15 pm and adjourn for the day, you guessed it, "PROMPTLY" at 5 pm.

Visions of showing up late and being held in contempt of court flowed through my mind. But I regard jury duty as a serious responsibility, so I rearranged my schedule to make all the judge's deadlines. The trial began at 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. True to her word, the judge ran her courtroom by the clock. Each day for the first three days we were in at 8:30 a.m. and out at 5:00 p.m.

As I walked out of the courthouse Thursday night, a little voice inside me asked, "What about Shabbos?"

"What about Shabbos?" I thought. My wife Linda would light the Shabbos candles, I'd make Kiddush, say Motzi over the two Challas, have a wonderful dinner, enjoy a little l'chaim as alwa ys. Suddenly I panicked. I realized that if we adjourned on Friday 5:00 pm, I wouldn't be home before the start of Shabbos.

I never thought about Shabbos. I was so caught up in the excitement of the trial that I hadn't considered what time we'd get done on Friday. My pulse began to race! I knew what I should do, but I couldn't muster the courage to do it. The little voice kept telling me, "Go talk to the judge, she'll understand."

Understand?! Hey, there are more Elk in Oregon than Jews. A New York judge might understand. A Los Angeles judge might understand. But in Salem, Oregon, no way was a judge going to understand Shabbos!

Before I continue I have to tell you that of all the lessons I've learned, and all the holidays I've celebrated since discovering Chabad, I've grown to love Shabbos the most. I love everything about it. The traditions, the smells, the kugel, the l'chaim, the davening, the Fabrenging, the rest and relaxation. I love Shabbos!

I walked into the courtroom Friday morning with a heavy heart. I knew what I should do, but was afraid of the severe-looking judge with the tight bun sitting behind the bench. I just couldn't muster the courage.

I kept thinking how Rabbi Vogel encouraged me to tell my boss in Delaware that I had to take a few days off for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuos, Simchas Torah and Succos. The first year it was hard to approach my boss, but as my confidence grew and time passed it became easier, or as we say in Delaware, it was "A piece of Kugel!" But this situation seemed more intimidating.

As the day progressed I listened intently to the testimony but I tortured myself during the recesses. The voice kept telling me to go see the judge, but I was too embarrassed. Finally about 2:30 the judge ordered a 15 minute recess. The jury filed off to our little room for coffee and small talk. After a few minutes the judge's bailiff came into the room and asked if she could get us anything.

I rose from my chair and asked her to see if the judge would consider a request. Nervously, I asked her to tell the judge that I was Jewish and Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath, starts at sundown and I was wondering if she could let us go an hour early so I could get home before sundown.

The bailiff eyed me with confusion. "Shoebus?" she said. "No Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath," I said. She told me she'd ask, but didn't think the judge would let us out early because she always sticks to schedule.

The minutes clicked by until the bailiff came back and told us the judge was ready to reconvene. We went back to the jury box and sat down. The judge looked at the jury and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we will continue for another seventy five minutes and then 'Promptly' adjourn for the day at 4:00 pm." She said one of our jury members has to get home by sundown for religious reasons. She went on to tell us that the individual in question should remind her next week too, in case she forgot.

The next seventy five minutes were filled with objections, posturing and lengthy discussions between the two attorneys and the judge. When the clock struck four the judge promptly stopped the proceedings, told us to report back on Monday "Promptly" at 8:30 a.m. and dismissed us.

As I walked by the judge's bench she looked down, smiled and whispered, "Good Shabbos, Mr. Hyatt."

Good Shabbos indeed! The kugel was mighty tasty that night!

 
The Carnation of the Baal Shem Tov
 
In the year 5333 (1573), there lived a humble, unlearned Jew in the holy city of Tsfat (Safed) in the north of Israel. This guileless man did not know how to study Torah, he could read only well enough to manage the prayer.

One night, after he had just completed reciting  the midnight prayer of the pious lamenting the destroyed Holy Temple — he heard a knock on the door. He asked who was there, and the reply he heard was none other than, "It is Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah, the prophet)." He quickly opened the door and as Eliyahu entered, the room suddenly shone with light and joy.

Eliyahu gazed at him for a moment and said, "I have come to divulge to you the wondrous secret of when Mashiach will come. But only on the condition that you first reveal to me what was the special meritorious act you did on the day of your Bar Mitzvah, for that is what moved the Heavenly Court to rule that you are worthy of hearing the revelation of this most hidden mystery."

The man answered simply, "What I did, I did only in honor of G‑d. Therefore, it is not proper that I reveal it to others. If this means that you too will not divulge to me the secret of redemption, then I forgo that privilege. I shall remain true to my belief that a man's deeds should be solely for the glory of G‑d."

As soon as the Tsfat man completed what he had to say, Eliyahu disappeared. In Heaven there was a great commotion, caused by the simple yet profound and sincere response of the Jew, indicating his devotion to G‑d, even at the cost of losing the chance to learn one of the most important secrets of Heaven.

The Heavenly Court finally ruled that Eliyahu should anyway again appear to the man and teach him Torah and its secrets. After some time, this simple man became unique in his generation, but as he modestly wished, no one knew of his greatness. His deeds and achievements were solely for the glory of G‑d.

When the time came for him to pass away, his pure soul came before the Heavenly Court. They pondered his case. In the end they decided that his reward would be to descend again to the physical world and be reborn. This time he would be forced to reveal his greatness, and his holy soul would contain the potential to initiate a new path in the service of G‑d, infusing the world with holiness and purity. Thus would he glorify the Holy Name, fill the earth with wisdom and thereby hasten the ultimate redemption.

It was this soul of the simple sincere Jew of Tsfat that was reborn in Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov.
 
 
Reincarnation - Fixing the Past

This week’s section deals in great detail with one of the most mundane topics in the Torah; the laws of property damages. Surprisingly the Zohar explains that these monetary laws contain one of the deepest mystical secrets of all; the mystery of ‘gilgulim’ … reincarnation!  Here is a ‘Baal Shem Tov’ story that will help us to understand the connection between the two.

One beautiful summer day a fancy carriage stopped in front of the synagogue which served as the ‘headquarters’ of the Baal Shem Tov (Besh’t for short). The driver opened the door and a wealthy-looking religious Jew stepped out of the carriage, entered the simple building and asked if he could have a private audience with the Tzaddik.

A meeting was arranged and when they were sitting face to face the rich man looked at the Besh’t and wasn’t very impressed. The only reason he came was to see who is this Holy Man that everyone was talking about him, and, frankly, he looked like every other Jew, it was obvious that he had come all the way to Mezibuz for nothing.

“Well,” said the Besh’t “ Would like to hear a story? I have a very good story to tell you.”

“Alright, said the visitor looking at his pocket watch, but I do have a long ride ahead of me.”

“Good!” he said “I’ll make it short.


“Once, in the city of Warsaw, Poland there were two close friends, who were both religious Jews. They had grown up together, bought houses next to each other, went into business together and, when their business succeeded, become multi-millionaires together. Their friendship was so strong that they were like brothers.”

He paused, looked up and asked his guest, “Are you listening?” When he nodded ‘yes’ the Besh’t continued.

“After several years they decided to open a branch in Paris with the idea that one of them would move there to manage the new endeavor.


“Everything went smoothly. They traveled to Paris together, made the necessary connections, opened the business, bought merchandise and only after being sure that everything was running smoothly they parted.


“At first they wrote to each other twice a week, but as time went by they corresponded less and less frequently until ten years later they were writing only to wish each other happy holidays.


“Then one year the partner in Poland ran into some bad luck, suffered some major losses, and suddenly found himself without a penny, in fact a debtor. With no other choice he used his last money to travel to France with the hope that his friend would help with a loan.

“However when he arrived at his friend’s home and suggested the idea, his friend replied in amazement. ‘What! A loan? I should give you a loan!? Why that is ridiculous!!! I’m not giving you any loan! We are brothers!! Half of what I own is yours! Take one million dollars!!! Here!!’

“They embraced and wept on one another’s shoulders, renewed their friendship and a week later the poor partner returned a new man with renewed hope to Warsaw, reinvested his freshly acquired funds and in a year’s time regained his wealth.


“But, just as before, in a few years time they had both returned to their busy schedules and remembered to write only occasionally. “The years passed and about ten years later the wheel of fortune again took a bad turn, but this time for the partner in Paris. He too lost all his money in a series of unlucky business deals and with no alternative he decided to visit his partner in Warsaw. He wasn’t a young man anymore, and he was a bit broken from the strain of his financial fall, but he had no other choice and he knew he could always depend on his friend in a time of need.

But he was in for a bitter surprise.

“When his friend in Warsaw happened to glance out the window of his mansion that day and saw his partner approaching, a strange thought entered his mind. ‘Oh no!!! It’s him!’ he thought, ‘Why did he have to come now!! If he wants his money I’ll lose that big merger that I’ve been working at for years!’ He paced back and forth in his warm plush room, poured himself a brandy, made a blessing, drank it down, loosened his collar, and called his servants.

“Well, you can imagine the disappointment of the poor man when one of the servants came to the gate and informed him that the owner was away for an indefinite amount of time.

“It was already evening and he was so very tired from the trip. He sat down at the gate to rest for a few minutes and drowsed off to sleep. It must have been an unusually cold night that night, or perhaps he was not feeling well, but whatever the reason, the next morning they found him huddled up at the gate… dead.

“The poor partner’s soul went up to the heavenly court and when he was informed, after a very short trial, that he would go to heaven, he immediately asked about his partner. ‘Your partner’s selfish callousness was responsible for your death.’ Was the answer,’ his spiritual future is black.’ ‘If so,’ the poor man’s soul replied ‘I shall not enter heaven until he be given another chance.’

“So the court decided, after long deliberation, that the only solution would be that both partners would have to return to the world after their deaths. The stingy partner would be reincarnated to a rich man and the kind one would have to be reincarnated to a poor man who would collect charity from him. Only after the rich one paid all his debt would he be eligible for heaven.


“The soul of the departed man agreed and eventually they were both reincarnated.” The Baal Shem Tov paused, looked at his incredulous guest and continued.

“The bad partner grew up to be rich and his poor friend came every day to ask him for a handout. This went on for years until one day the rich man was in a bad mood and when the poor man knocked at his door a bit too loudly, the rich man lost his temper, opened the door, struck the poor man over the head with his cane and …. unintentionally killed him! (Of course he didn’t realize that it was the second time he’d killed the same man and that he just ruined his only chance for clearing his past.) The rich man felt terrible, he had killed a man! But then he realized that he was in big trouble; he was guilty of murder! He looked about him desperately and seeing that no one was around, dragged the body to a side of his huge garden, dug a hole and buried him. And that’s the end of the story! Have a safe journey back home!”

The visitor did not move. He was sitting motionless … stunned as though he’d just received devastating news.

“Are you all right?” asked the Besh’t. “Can I bring you a cup of water?” Tears were streaming down his face and his body was shaking, he was weeping uncontrollably.

“That was me!” he whispered, “ I killed that man!!! I buried him in my garden.”

With these words he slid off the chair onto his knees and then rolled up into a ball on the floor and wept like a baby. “My G‑d … My soul is destroyed!”

“No” answered the Besh’t “I didn’t tell you your story for nothing. There is always hope! G‑d is merciful, even for you. Your must give away all your money and wander for the rest of your life helping others. If you are sincere, G‑d will forgive you.”

The book ‘The Tanya’ tells us that the reason for reincarnation of a soul into a new body is in order that it physically fulfill the service of G‑d that was overlooked or lacking in the last body.

The Soul of a Prince

A woman once came to the Baal Shem Tov (BeShT) and begged him to bless her with a child. The Besht was unwilling at first, but when pressed, he finally assured her that within a year she would bear a son. A son was born to the woman and her husband and was a source of great joy to them.

When he was just two, the child suddenly died. The woman sadly returned to the Besht who told her, "Listen carefully to a story.

"A childless king once asked his wisest advisor how he could solve the dilemma of not having an heir.

"'No one can help you but the Jews,' said the advisor. 'You must tell the Jews that if, within a year, your wife does not give birth, they will be expelled from your kingdom. They will then pray that you beget a son.'

"The king issued the advisor's decree. The Jews gathered to pray, recite Psalms and fast. They entreated G‑d to save them from this decree and their voices reached the heavens.

"A very lofty soul in heaven heard the outcry and told the Alm-ghty that he would be willing to be sent to the world below and live as the king's son. In this way he would save the Jewish people of that land.

"Within the year, the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. At a young age the prince's genius was evident. Everything that he was taught he grasped immediately.

"One day, the prince told his father, 'I have learned all I can from the teachers in this kingdom. Find me a teacher with whom I can study something in which I can delight!'

"Soon after that, a wise and ancient looking scholar approached the king and offered to teach the prince. 'I have only one condition,' demanded the scholar. 'When I am alone in my study no one, not even the prince, is allowed to enter.' The King readily agreed, caring only to please his beloved son.


"The prince was enchanted with his new teacher. Day and night he studied with the scholar, always thirsting for more. The prince was only separated from his teacher while he slept, and at those times that his teacher insisted on being alone in his study.

"One day the prince succumbed to his curiosity and entered his teacher's quarters. He opened the study door and was astounded to see his teacher swaying back and forth, covered with a white and black cloth, and leather straps around his arm. He gasped and the teacher turned to see his shocked disciple. 'You were not to enter,' he said firmly. The prince just nodded mutely.

"'Now that you know my secret, I must leave the kingdom,' said the scholar sadly.

"'But I know nothing,' cried the prince, for he had never seen a Jew in talit and tefilin.

'"I am a Jew,' explained the scholar.

"'Then I too, will be a Jew,' said the prince.

"Try as he did, to dissuade the prince, the scholar was unsuccessful. Finally he agreed to teach the prince Torah. As soon as they began studying, the prince realized that he had found that which had seemed to elude him all these years. Years flew by, with the prince always at the scholar's side. He drank in the words of Torah, never tiring of it.

"'It is time for me to become a Jew,' said the prince, now a young man, to his teacher.

"'You could not remain prince if you were to become a Jew,' warned the scholar. 'You would have to move away from the king to a distant land where he will not find you. Is it not better for you to stay here?'

"The prince was adamant, and so they told the king that the prince needed to learn firsthand about his father's vast country. With the king's reluctant permission, the prince and scholar traveled away from the palace toward the border of the kingdom. The prince crossed the border, converted, and settled down to a life of studying the Torah.

"When the prince died, his soul ascended to the World Above and not a single count could be charged against him. What could be said about a soul who had had such tremendous sacrifice to descend to the world in order to save the Jews from a terrible decree, and who had rejected the royal crow to become a Jew?

"But then, one angel said, 'For his first two years he was nursed by a non-Jew.' It was decreed that this soul, being so lofty, would need to descend into this World once again and be nursed by a Jewish woman."

The Besht then looked at the woman. "You need not be sad that you merited, for two years, to raise this lofty soul."


                            MOSHIACH MATTERS
It is incumbent to await the coming of Moshiach every single day, and all day long... It is not enough to believe in the coming of Moshiach, but each day one must await his coming.. Furthermore, it is not enough to await his coming every day, but it is to be in the manner of our prayer, "we await Your salvation all the day," that is, to await and expect it every day, and all day long, literally every moment!

                                         (Chafetz Chaim al Hatorah)