Baruch Hashem

Shabbos Stories for Shmeenee
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The Blanket

When I was in Israel, I went to Me'ah She'arim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there. I had never heard of him and didn’t know anything about him. We went into his study and waited ten to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.

What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn’t want to embarrass him.

We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now.” Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, “I have only a few minutes for you because I know you’re all busy American businessmen.” You know, just a little dig there.

Then he asked, “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?" He called on one guy, who didn’t know what to do — it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, “We will never, ever forget…" And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away — you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander."

The rabbi said, “You guys just don’t get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.

“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.

“After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?’”

And Rabbi Finkel says, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”

And with that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”


Monotheism in Rostov

In the summer of 1920 I was summoned to the Tcheka - the name GPU was not yet in use at the time - of Rostov-on-the-Don. The summons was carried out by the Judaism-hating "Jewish section" of the communist party, the infamous Yevsektzia.

The summons was typical to the manner of the Tcheka. I had not yet concluded the morning prayers (I was leading the prayers myself, for it was within the year of mourning after my holy father's passing) when the three emissaries from the court of death entered the room - dressed in their uniforms of red and black, rifles in hand, their belts filled with bullets and hung with a pair of revolvers and another pair of Cossack knives, with helmets of brass and their faces aflame. They approached me and said: "You are summoned to immediately accompany us to the offices of the Tcheka."

Two of the messengers were from the Yevsektzia and the third a non-Jew. The two Jews wished to strip me of my tallit and tefillin on the spot. When I told them that I must first finish my prayers - we were at the Monday supplement Vehu Rachum - and the study of mishnayot which follows, they let loose a barrage of curses and yelled at me to remove my tallit and tefillin immediately. (Incidentally, one of them was a refugee from the city of Shavel who had come to me for assistance. I had arranged a position for him at a cigarette business and later I had loaned him money to establish a business of his own. For the next three years - up until the revolution - he earned a respectable living.) Were it not for the intervention of their non-Jewish colleague, they would have forcefully interrupted my prayers.

When I finished reciting the final kaddish which follows the study of mishnayot, I removed my tallit and tefillin and went along with my armed guardians. One walked on my right, a second on my left, and a third behind me - in the manner that those accused of treason against the regime are led.

When we arrived at the courtyard of death, they led me to a large chamber in which some fifteen persons sat along both sides of a long table. At the head of the table sat another two, and I was seated opposite them at the foot of the table. My three guards sat behind me, left, right, and center.

One of those seated at the head of the table addressed me: "We are the members of the Party's Committee to Investigate Religions, now occupied in investigating the Jewish religion. We have various questions. We have already summoned Rabbi Berman and Rabbi Goldenberg - we asked what we asked and they answered what they answered. Now we have summoned Rabbi Schneerson to resolve certain issues pertaining to Kabbalah and Chassidism."

All this was said in the Russian language.

I answered in Yiddish: "I have already made it clear on the two former occasions on which I was summoned to the Tcheka that I will not budge from my principles. There is yet to be born and never will there be born, the man or demon who will move me in the slightest degree from my principles..."

Before I finished my words I was interrupted by a "committee member" seated on the right side of the table. He lifted the revolver which lay on the table - in addition to the arms which they all wore on their belts, a revolver lay on the table before each of the assembled - and pointed it at me, saying: "This toy does away with 'principles.' Fear of it has opened many a mouth. Also the dumb have become talkative before it."

"You are utterly mistaken," I replied. "This toy impresses only the cowardly atheist, who has but a single world and many gods (ein velt un asach getter) - every hedonist has his many gods. But as for us, who have but a single G‑d and believe in two worlds, the toy which you are brandishing not only fails to frighten, it makes no impression whatsoever."


Connecting the Dots
By Rishe Deitsch

South African emigration was at its peak and the Cohen family decided to leave as well, to make a fresh start in Israel. Mr. and Mrs. Cohen, and their only child, Batya, rented a townhouse in a heavily South African community in Israel, with its own community shul (synagogue).

Batya had just graduated high school so the timing for their move provided the opportunity for an exciting new beginning for her as well. Their joy was short lived when it was discovered that the headaches Batya was complaining about were due to a serious inoperable brain tumor. Within a short time she was gone, an only child, just 18 years

Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Cohen was diagnosed with leukemia. Still
devastated from Batya's death, the situation seemed hopeless. Rabbi
Levy, the rabbi serving the South African community in Israel, knew of my friend Esther and her work with energy healing, and he asked her if she would be willing to see Mrs. Cohen. Of course, she agreed.

Mrs. Cohen had been told that her only hope was a bone marrow transplant, but so far no match had been found. The best chance is a close blood relative, but Mrs. Cohen had none alive.

After working with her, Esther took her leave. She called Rabbi Levy and said that she felt that somehow, somewhere, there was a door remaining to be opened, but she didn't know what.

As soon as she hung up from Rabbi Levy, her cell phone rang. It was a friend who was in labor wanting to know if Esther could come be with her. Luckily, the birthing center was right near the hospital where Esther had just visited Mrs. Cohen.

Esther had attended many births in this center, and so she was very
friendly with the people who worked there. As she walked toward the
nurses' station, she suddenly stopped. She saw a young pregnant woman, who said her name was Sara,  checking in. Esther was taken aback by Sara's strong resemblance to Mrs. Cohen.

It crossed Esther's mind that perhaps this young woman might be a suitable bone marrow match and that maybe it was worth exploring after she finished helping her friend give birth.

The birth went smoothly, thank G‑d. Afterwards, Esther asked about Sara. She was told that the couple had recently moved to Israel from South Africa. Esther asked the nurse to find out if they would mind if she approached Sara after the birth, about being a possible bone marrow donor for someone. The nurse came back saying they would not mind at all.

 A few hours later, Sara gave birth to a baby girl. Soon after, Esther introduced herself to Sara and her husband and explained the bone marrow donation procedure. The young woman agreed to have the blood test, although she had just given birth!

The blood test was administered. Now late at night, on Esther's way home at last after a long day, her cell phone rang again. This time it was the blood technician who was excited to report a perfect match! "A match like this is usually only an immediate blood relative," he said in wonderment. Elated, Esther immediately called Mr. Cohen with the great news. That very night, procedures were begun for the transplant to take place.

A little while later, Sara called Esther to invite her to her daughter's baby naming. It would take place on Thursday morning in the South
African community shul.

During the conversation, Esther discovered that Sara had recently lost both her parents in a road accident in South Afirca, and this was one of the main reasons they had left. She was an only child and the memories in South Africa were too much for her. So they had moved to Israel. New country, new life, and now a new baby. Later that day, Esther met Mr. Cohen and told him about the baby naming.

Thursday morning both Esther and Mr. Cohen went to the baby naming. They were both taken aback when the baby's name was announced. Batya! As Mr. Cohen turned pale from the shock of hearing the baby's name, Sara stood up to explain to the assembled guests why they had named her that.

"I was adopted," said Sara. "I have always known it. I have always felt gratitude to my birth mother for giving me up for adoption instead of ending the pregnancy. My adoptive mother, who could not conceive a child, often told me that I was a gift from G‑d. Now that I have my own child, I realize that all children are gifts from G‑d. So we named our daughter Batya, "daughter of G‑d." May G‑d help us raise her to serve Him with all her heart."

The transplant was a complete success. Now the question begged to be answered. Who was this perfect match? Mrs. Cohen knew the answer. When she was a young girl of 16, before she was Torah observant, she had become pregnant. Over her parents' objections, she had wanted to have the baby and give it up for adoption to a Jewish couple.

At that time, an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe had arrived in town. He was looking for students to come to his new seminary for girls with little Torah background. When he heard about the situation, he suggested that she study at the seminary while carrying her baby to term there. He also knew of a couple who desperately wanted to adopt a child.

Sara was this child, none other than Mrs. Cohen's own first child whom she had never seen before. Now this daughter had returned the gift of life to her own mother.

The family was now reunited and became very close. Sara recalls how she had worried that her baby would grow up without the love of grandparents. Mrs. Cohen recalls how she was sure that she would never experience the joy of holding a grandchild.

I call this story "Connecting the Dots" because it is a perfect example
of how, though mostly we are unable to see the whole picture, sometimes G‑d shows us that He is behind every detail. Nothing proves G‑d's love for each of us like Divine Providence.
On Being Chosen
Because he was a great and famous figure, eventually the king invited Rabbi Yonasan Eibeshitz for a private audience.

The king held himself to also be an intellectual and in wasn't long before he began peppering the Rabbi with difficult questions comparing Judaism to the other religions, trying to trip him up.

Of course in such cases it was as dangerous to win as it was to lose.  One word against the king's religion could result in disaster as could an insufficient reply.

Finally the king asked the most difficult question of all; what does it mean when the Bible calls the Jews G‑d's chosen people? How do we see they are different from any other people or religion?  Exactly the opposite!  They are outnumbered and belittled by all the other nations!  Obviously the 'Old Testament' is speaking about days of old, but not now!

Rabbi Eibeshitz thought for a moment and answered.

"I can show your majesty the difference, but only on the condition that I have your majesty's word that no harm will come to the Jews from anything your majesty sees today."

The king promised, the Rabbi asked him to disguise himself as a common citizen so as not to be recognized and to follow him to the synagogue.

It happened to be in the middle of the holiday of Passover. Rabbi Eibeshitz stood on the podium and announced that after the evening prayer he wanted to make an announcement. The word spread like wildfire and in just moments the entire place was packed.

"You all know," The Rabbi said as the room fell silent. "That it is
forbidden by Royal decree to be in the possession of silk.  Well I want
everyone to run home and bring all the silk he has hidden." (The Jews sold the silk to tailors or to other merchants to keep them from poverty).

In moments the room was empty and minutes later it was full again. Each man produced a roll or two of silk hidden under his coat. The Rabbi looked briefly at the rolls of cloth and then announced.

"Fine! Now I want everyone to take your silks back and appear back here as soon as possible with all the Chametz (unleavened bread and cakes, forbidden on Passover) you have in your homes."

The people looked at each other and then at the Rabbi in horror.  "But Rabbi!" they blurted out "That is impossible. No one has Chametz! G‑d forbid! No one would even dream of having Chametz on Passover! G‑d forbid!! Where could we possibly get Chametz from??"

"Very good!" Said the Rabbi "That is what I wanted to hear.  Have a good holiday, all of you! G‑d bless you all!!" And the people filed by the Rabbi, shook his hand and soon the Rabbi and the King were alone in the synagogue.

"Do you see?" the Rabbi said. Your majesty has soldiers and police everywhere and anyone caught in the possession of silk will be heavily fined and even imprisoned.  And nevertheless you see that some of the Jews do possess silk

But no one of those people ever saw G‑d and He has no soldiers or police. In fact today a Jew can, G‑d forbid, transgress all of the commandments and receive no fine, no imprisonment, not even a slap on the hand; no punishment what-so-ever!  But despite all this, none would think to own Chametz.

That is why the Jews are 'chosen', not because G‑d necessarily favors them (although we believe that soon Moshiach will make G‑d, His Torah and His people precious to the entire world) but because WE favor G‑d. above all logic and reason!"