Baruch Hashem

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I need Medicine for my Son
An amazing Story

Some sixty or seventy years ago in New York lived a poor Jewish family. The father, who had been a Rabbi, suddenly passed away just a year or so after the birth of his first son leaving his wife alone to provide for the baby.

She managed to make ends meet by cleaning houses and somehow scraped together enough each week to provide for herself and her son and to even put a bit of money aside but then tragedy struck.

The boy became ill and the standard treatments that their family doctor prescribed didn't help. He referred them to the hospital where, after extensive testing and probing, they also admitted that they couldn't diagnose the disease but it looked fatal.

She had spent her meager savings but she certainly did not give up and after frantic searching and inquiring someone mentioned the name of a great professor. Sparing no time she got his phone number, called his office, requested that he make a house call and declared that money was not an obstacle.

When the professor arrived at the run-down apartment building he began having serious doubts and when he knocked on her door, entered and saw that poverty was screaming from every corner he had an urge to just turn around and go home.

But something inside of him told him to accept it with equanimity and see the patient.

He examined the boy, went to the sink to wash his hands, turned to the boy's mother and said. "Your son has a rare disease. I know what it is, I know what the cure is and I know where you can get the medicine. It's in a large drug store about three miles from here. They are the only ones that can make it. But there's a problem. It will be very expensive; probably several thousand dollars. I'm willing to forget about my payment, but do you have money to pay for the medicine? They won't give it to you for free, that's for sure. What are you going to do?"

The woman, tears of gratitude filling her eyes, thanked the Professor profusely and firmly stated that as far as the money goes she was sure that … G‑d would help.

He packed up his instruments, wrote out the prescription, she thanked him again and again and as soon as he left she ran outside, caught a taxi, entered the pharmacy, approached the counter and handed the prescription to the pharmacist.

The pharmacist took the prescription and as he examined it his brow raised in wonder and he glanced at her several times. Finally he leaned forward, narrowed his eyes and said to her skeptically, "This will cost a few thousand dollars. Have you got the money?"

She stood straight, stared him back in the eyes and replied that she was willing to promise, even to sign an agreement that she would come in and clean the drugstore every evening after she finished work until she covered the bill. But she needed the medicine to save her son's life.

The pharmacist relaxed a bit and replied that, in fact she was in good luck because their cleaning woman just quit and they needed a replacement. But it would only be for two hours a day and at that rate it would take ….. he took out a pencil and paper, began calculating and when he finished looked up … one year and eight months to pay off the debt!

She immediately agreed, signed a paper obligating herself to work until she had paid for the cure and in one half hour was on her way out the door with several bottles of medicine in her purse.

But when she looked in her pocket book she realized that she had spent her last dime on the taxi and now didn't even have money for a bus. So she began walking; walking as quickly as possible, home.

It was cold outside but she was sweating. It was over an hour's walk to her house and by the time she had walked one hour it was already dark. There was no one around, she was alone, it was getting really cold and she was passing through a bad neighborhood. She put her purse under her coat so as not to draw unwanted attention, quickened her gait, said a few prayers, looked down at the pavement in front of her and walked as fast as possible, careful not to look up.

But it didn't work.

Suddenly she felt someone grab her by the shoulders from the front, push her against a wall and say almost sarcastically, 'Whatchu got there under that coat?" She looked up to see a massive man who had wrested her purse from her and was opening it. A freezing wind blew. No one was around.

"Please" she pleaded "I have no money. All I have is medicine for my sick son, he's dying. Please … please let me go!" But that didn't work either.

"Medicine!?" he smiled! "Let'see the medicine. Maybe it's something good!" He opened one of the bottles, took a big smell and waited for something to happen. "Achhhh! It's terrible! It smells like puke!!" he yelled out as he opened the rest and poured their contents all over her head and coat. Then he pushed her again against the wall, slapped her face knocking her down to the pavement, threw the empty bottles at her and left, spitting and cursing as he went."

Without hesitating she stood, brushed herself off, picked up one of the bottles, returned it to her purse, buttoned up her coat and began walking back, whimpering silently from the trauma, limping a bit, to the drug store, as fast as possible, hoping it was still open. And an hour later she arrived to find…. It was!!!

She again entered, approached the counter and when the pharmacist appeared from the back room and saw her he gasped "My G‑d, what happened?! What happened to you!? What is that smell? Your face is all swollen? Please, sit down. I'll get you some water. What is that smell?!"

She refused the water, said she was all right and explained quickly. "I got beaten and robbed. Thank G‑d I'm alive. But it's not really important. The main thing is that right now I don't have the medicine and right now I still need the medicine. Please, give me the paper I signed and I'll sign for another year eight months. Please, I must have that medicine for my son."

The pharmacist stared at her and began to tremble in fear. "Tell me, that smell and that stain on your coat… that's the medicine?"

"Yes." She answered as she took the empty bottle from her purse and handed it to him. "But it's not important what happened to me. I need…."

The pharmacist cut her short, took the bottle, read the label, put his hand over his face and almost fell over backwards as he repeated to himself "No! No! I don't believe it! It can't be! no!!".

As he removed his hand and looked again at the bottle his eyes filled with tears. He gazed at her as though she was a ghost and kept repeating "I don't believe it. I just don't ….. believe it!"

After a few minutes he came to himself and said almost in a whisper, "Listen! I made a mistake! A terrible mistake! …… I gave you …… the wrong medicine! The wrong bottles! If your son would have taken what I gave you it would have killed him! Do you understand? I would have killed him!! He'd be dead. It's crazy but… it was a miracle that that you got robbed!"

He wiped his brow, leaned forward, lowered his voice and said. "Listen lady, don't tell anyone about this. No one! If you tell people I could lose my license. Look…. I'll give you the right medicine. Just wait here." He disappeared into the back room and in a minute returned with several bottles identical to the first.

"Here, take the medicine for free and, and here, see?" He took the contract she signed and ripped it up. Then he took out his wallet and gave her a bill, "here, take a hundred dollars. Take it! This time, take a cab home, don't walk! And the rest, use for your son. And here," He put some gauze pads and ointments in a bag. "Here is something for that swelling on your face. Just please, just don't tell anyone til I retire say, in ten years or so. Okay? You want more money?"

She shook her head no and tried to give the hundred dollars back as well but he insisted she it for her son. He even escorted her outside and hailed a cab.

The medicine worked and her son not only lived but grew to be a Rabbi of great stature; Rabbi Moshe Sharar. He became the Nasi (President) of Agudat Yisroel in the U.S.A. He would tell this story every year on the anniversary of his mother's passing. 

Her Own Child

Editor's note: Some of the names of the characters in this true life story have been changed to protect their privacy

Even before war clouds thickened over eastern Europe in the pre-Nazi years, it became common for Jews in the besieged countries — tired of pogroms, poverty, and despair —to send children to the United States, where opportunities for a better life beckoned.

From the early 1900s on, parents scrimped their rubles to pay for the long and arduous voyage of their sons and daughters, who traveled alone aboard unseaworthy vessels that offered inhuman conditions and an uncertain fate. Since tickets for each treacherous journey cost a small fortune and exacted a heavy toll on the destitute families, parents often chose to ship their children to America one by one rather than sending them all at once. But it was always their hope and dream that all the children would eventually reach the American haven, where they would be joined later by their parents. In the interim, they would stay with relatives who would care for them and help them wait, sometimes for months or years. And sometimes the longed-for reunions never took place at all.

Anya Gold was the chosen one in her family. She was the eldest of eight, and in 1930 her Polish parents told her it was time to go. They had saved just enough money for one ticket, and had decided that Anya would be the first child to leave. They would all soon join her, they said.

Growing up in Baltimore under the sheltering wing of an affectionate aunt, Anya waited for her family to arrive. But they never did.

It took years for the family to accumulate enough money for another fare, and by then they had been caught in Hitler's web. In Baltimore, over the years, Anya had received the occasional letter from Poland recounting family news and milestones — her siblings' bar mitzvahs, their marriages, the births of grandchildren. She awaited these letters eagerly and savored each one. And then the letters came no more.

Anya feared the worst, but it was only after the war that she was able to conclusively determine her family's fate. A few stray survivors from her hometown in Poland who trickled into Baltimore in the late 1940s brought the news she had both known and dreaded to hear: Her entire family had been wiped out. They had all perished in the camps.

It was hard to go on afterwards, but even the survivors began to rebuild their lives. Her family's memory burned in her mind, heart, and soul, but Anya knew that the best way for her to commemorate their legacy was by creating one herself. She would marry and have many children, she vowed. And each would carry one of her siblings' names.

Anya did indeed marry a wonderful man named Sol, and their life together was almost idyllic. They were truly soul mates, and their love ran deep. They longed for children — flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood — but in this one area, they were thwarted. It was the only thorn in their otherwise perfect union. They were childless.

After many years of trying, of seeking help from specialists the world over, Anya and Sol confronted the reality of their situation. "Would you want to adopt?" Anya asked Sol one day in a tentative voice.

Anya had considered this option for a long time, but inwardly she had rebelled. She didn't want to raise someone else's children. She wanted to cradle her own newborn in her arms. She couldn't imagine that she would feel the same way about an adopted child. Still, there seemed no other recourse. They were never going to have children of their own, the doctors had pronounced — a death knell to their hopes and dreams.

Her husband was more certain. "Yes, let's adopt," he urged.

They contacted a Jewish agency in New York and were told that an infant had just been given up for adoption by its teenage mother. They traveled to New York with growing excitement, but when they arrived their hopes were dashed. The flustered agency official stammered an apology. "I'm so sorry," she said, "but the grandmother has decided to raise the baby, after all."

Had their trip to New York been a total waste? "You know," the agency official remarked, "I do have a wonderful little girl named Miriam who is in desperate need of a home."

Miriam was adorable and endearing, but she was already eight years old. Although Anya and Sol reluctantly agreed to meet the child, and were captivated by her sweet appeal, they couldn't quite come to terms with her age. "I really wanted a child young enough to know me as its only mother," Anya explained. "I want a newborn to cradle in my arms."

"I understand," the agency official said. "But Miriam has really been through a lot in her short lifetime, and could really use a loving home."

"Sorry, but no," Anya said, with regret.

A year passed with no prospects. Anya had contacted many agencies across the United States, but an infant was increasingly difficult to find. All the while, Anya's intense longing for a child consumed her being — a hungry and hollow ache.

"You know," she mused to her husband one day, "maybe we were too quick to dismiss adopting Miriam. She was really an exceptionally appealing child. Something about her actually tugged at my heartstrings in a special way."

Sol looked at her thoughtfully. "It's been a full year," he said. "Do you think she's still available?"

She was, the agency official told them over the phone. "Not too many people want a nine-year-old," she explained mournfully, "So, yes, she's still available...

"But there's a complication," she added. "Her little brother has been found in Europe and has joined her in our Home for War Orphans. The siblings are inseparable, and we've promised them that they'll be adopted together. Would you consider two?"

Back in New York, Anya and Sol met the siblings and once again, Anya felt drawn to Miriam's sweet demeanor. Her six-year-old brother Moishe was adorable, too.

Anya and Sol looked at each other silently, telegraphing their mental agreement. Let's do it! Their eyes said.

Back in Baltimore, Anya shepherded the two children across the threshold into their new home, and they glanced at the furnishings with eyes of wonder. Little Moishe was shy and restrained, but Miriam was adventurous and curious, and she moved around the living room excitedly, touching the knickknacks and curios that adorned the mantels and tables. Suddenly, she stopped short in front of the piano and her face went white. She pointed to a photograph. In a tight and strained voice, Miriam asked, "Why do you have a picture of my bubbe (grandmother) on your piano?"

"What?" Anya asked, confused.

"My babbe. Why is my bubbe's picture on your piano?"

Anya stared at the portrait of her deceased mother. What in heaven's name was the little girl talking about?

Miriam ran to the lone piece of luggage she had brought with her from the orphanage. From a battered pouch, she retrieved a faded photo and brought it to Anya's side. "See," she said, pointing. "I have the same picture, too. My bubbe."

"My mother," Anya whispered almost inaudibly.

"Do you want to see a picture of my mommy? " Miriam asked. She raced to the luggage to retrieve another photograph. "Do you want to see what she looked like?" She handed Anya a picture of someone she knew very well.

"Sarah!" Anya screamed, as her knees buckled beneath her.

"How do you know my mother's name?" the child asked in confusion.

Unknowingly, Anya had adopted the two orphaned children of her dead sister, Sarah.

They were flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood. They were... her own.

A Slice of Life

by Susan Handelman

I grew up in suburban Chicago in the 1950's, a typical third- generation assimilated American. Like many of my generation I fled from Sunday School and the Temple to which my family belonged, and could see nothing true or compelling in what seemed to be the hollow rituals that most of the congregants hardly understood.

Being Jewish in that milieu was a vaguely uncomfortable and perplexing experience, but not any obstacle to full immersion in the non-Jewish culture which surrounded us and swept us along with it.

What power took me out of the deep exile in which I lived — not just geographically, but intellectually, spiritually and emotionally?

Of course, the Torah promises that ultimately each and every Jew will be returned from exile and redeemed. But it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who could not wait placidly for that redemption, who reached out to every Jew wherever she or he was found... to the furthest corner of the globe.

Among other reasons this was — I believe — because the Rebbe felt the pain of every Jew and of the Jewish people in every second of exile. And because the Rebbe also saw the sparks of the divine everywhere, waiting to be uncovered.

And so, eventually, the Rebbe reached me, and helped take me out of my exile too.

In the late 60's, when many of my generation rebelled in extreme ways, the Rebbe understood us, he sensed that our restlessness came from a spiritual discontent.

Instead of chastising us, he sent us his best Chasidim to found Chabad Houses, to teach us, to live with us, to love us.

I think that was what was really behind the development under the Rebbe's leadership of the extraordinary international network of Chabad institutions from Hong Kong to Paris to Katmandu.

He felt our pain, he intuited our yearning. And he saw us not just as products of late twentieth century America, but under the light of Jewish eternity. We were princes and prophets and sages, each Jew was royalty; each Jew was precious; each Jew was the emissary and reflection of G‑d in the world.

I first encountered the Rebbe through his emissaries at the Chabad House at the State University of New York at Buffalo where I was attending graduate school.

I then spent six months living in the Lubavitch center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in close proximity to the Rebbe. By the time I came to Crown Heights in 1976, private audiences with the Rebbe had become very restricted. When he had been younger, he would meet with people all through the night. In my time, he was in his late 70's and would meet with people "only" until midnight or one o'clock a.m.

I never had an extended private audience with him, but I had many small encounters, and received answers to the letters I wrote, and comments about essays I published.

Everyone speaks about the Rebbe's eyes, the depth and penetration of his gaze. In his presence one felt immediately purer, truer, closer to G‑d. One knew what mattered and what was important in life.

When my mother came to visit me in Brooklyn, perturbed about my affiliation with this group of Chasidim, I took her to the alcove by the Rebbe's office on the day she was to leave.

People who were going on a trip would stand there and as the Rebbe would emerge to pray the afternoon prayer with the yeshiva students, he would give blessings to the travelers. He turned and looked at my mother and said softly in Yiddish, in his mellifluous voice: "Fohr gezunterheit" — "travel safely."

All of a sudden my mother was crying, tears streaming down her face. "I don't know why... I don't know why I am crying" she said. "I'm not sad." Something in his glance and voice had penetrated to the depths of her soul.

Another friend came with me to one of the Rebbe's special gatherings for women — a secular, radical feminist. She passed closely by the Rebbe, and tears, too, came into her eyes, from some unknown depth. "He looks like what I imagine Moses must have looked like," she said.

When I first came to study in Crown Heights, I struggled very hard with the issues of Judaism and feminism. To work these conflicts out, I wrote an article called "The Jewish Woman: Three Steps Behind?" and gave it to the editor of one of the Lubavitch women's magazines called Di Yiddishe Heim — The Jewish Home, which is a modest Yiddish-English publication. Before the article was published, I had occasion to write to the Rebbe for a blessing for a sick uncle.

The Rebbe could receive — and personally read and answered — around 400 letters day. And probably equally as many telephone calls with questions and requests for blessings would come in each day from around the world. How, I wondered, did he find time and energy for all this especially amidst all his other responsibilities?

The Rebbe's secretary called me back to read me the response the Rebbe had written on my letter. The Rebbe promised to say a special prayer for my uncle, and the Rebbe added the words, "I enjoyed your article in the forthcoming Yiddishe Heim."

I was surprised; how did the Rebbe know about an article which had not even been published? The editor told me that the Rebbe had such a deep desire to support the efforts of Lubavitch women, that he personally took the time to read and make his own notes and corrections on all the manuscripts for this journal.

I subsequently wrote several articles for the magazine, and as a favor, the editor gave me back my typescripts with the Rebbe's notes and corrections.

As an English professor who has taught college writing I was amazed at the Rebbe's editing of my English. He not only deepened the Torah concepts, he took out excess words, amended punctuation, spelling, syntax with careful attention to each detail. I wish I could give the same attention to correcting my own student's papers as he did to my manuscripts.

The Rebbe was a great supporter of Jewish women and had a special relationship to them. He spoke often of the greatness of the Jewish woman; he held special gatherings to address them; he advocated depth and breadth in their Torah study; he sent them on missions around the world; he initiated several campaigns to encourage Jewish women to perform the special mitzvot pertaining to them.

He created a stir in the Jewish world when he urged all women, even those who were not married, and all girls over the age of three, to light the Sabbath and Yom Tov candles.

As a woman engaged in intellectual and academic work, I received the greatest encouragement from the Rebbe — blessings to continue my Ph.D. in English, advice about possible dissertation topics, advice about how to negotiate the politics within the University (the Rebbe himself had attended the Sorbonne and University of Berlin).

I sensed that he wanted me to employ to the fullest all my intellectual capacities, and all the secular knowledge I attained from my Ivy League education... to elevate all this and use it in the service of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

From the Rebbe's own personal example, I learned that there was nothing in the world a Jew need fear; that every place and every action and every moment called for a Jew to bring G‑dliness in the world; and that no obstacle would ultimately stand in the face of a Jew's will to do so; that to be a Jew was the highest calling, a privilege and immense responsibility.

Growing up in suburban Chicago in the 1950's and '60's, we Jews had kept a low profile. From the Rebbe, I learned not to be ashamed, not to be afraid that the world, in fact, was yearning for the light of Torah.

In an article for Di Yiddishe Heim, which I based on one of the Rebbe's talks, I compared the thoughts found in secular philosophy and science, to those of Torah. The Rebbe had discussed the ways in which secular forms of knowledge are all limited; yet these very limitations also give a person a sense of satisfaction because one can grasp a body of secular knowledge; "master a field." Torah, however, is unlimited and infinite, and I wrote the sentence, "Thus one can never contain Torah, master it."

In editing this manuscript, the Rebbe amended the sentence to read, "Thus one can never contain all the content of even one dvar (sentence of) Torah, master it."

Yet, if there was a master of Torah in our generation, it was also surely the Rebbe. I remember standing at farbrengens, the public gatherings the Rebbe would hold.

The large synagogue in Brooklyn would be packed with a thousand or more people. If it were a weekday, the Rebbe would start to speak at around 9 p.m. and often give several sichot (talks), each lasting about 40 minutes. Without a note, he would speak into the early hours of the morning, for five or more hours, citing liberally from memory the whole corpus of Jewish literature — Bible, Midrash, Talmud, the classic commentaries, Kabbalah, Jewish law, Chasidic philosophy.

He would discuss the needs of the Jewish people, the political situation in Israel, and in between talks, the Chasidim would sing and drink l'chaim.

When he spoke Torah, it was not just another lecture, a flow of words; there was something magnetic about the Rebbe's presence.

Each talk was complex but beautifully structured and full of startling insights. There are now about 40 volumes of these edited talks and scores more volumes of his letters. Yet indeed, in that emendation he made to my sentence, one also sees his great humility. "One can never contain the content of even a sentence of Torah."

There was a regality and elegance about the Rebbe, and yet there was also his great humility.

In the few years before he became ill, when he was in his 90's, he would stand in the alcove by his office every Sunday to speak for a few moments personally and face-to-face with anyone who wanted to see him, and give out dollars to each person to be given for charity.

How could a 90-year-old man stand on his feet for hours and hours without talking a moment's rest, or a drink? And how could he focus so intently and exclusively on each and every person who came through the line of thousands of people which stretched for blocks outside his office?

I heard that when he had been urged to sit during these long sessions, he responded by asking how could he sit when people were coming to him with their problems and needs and pains?

And despite the crush of the crowds, and the pressure of all his responsibilities, the Rebbe never seemed to be in a hurry. But he also never wasted a moment; every movement of his body was exact and yet fluid—like a maestro conducting a symphony. There was a combination of intense energy and intense calm about him.

Watching and listening to the Rebbe at his public gatherings, time and space dissolved.

I would catch myself and think — "I am standing in the midst of some of the worst slums of New York City; how can it be that in the `heart of darkness' there is so much light?"

I said to a friend once, "It is so paradoxical to find this great tzadik in the midst of all the violence and squalor and despair of this broken-down part of Brooklyn." And my friend responded, "And where else do you think you would find him; where else does he belong... the Plaza Hotel?"

The Rebbe refused to abandon Crown Heights when the neighborhood changed. It was consistent with his refusal to abandon any Jew, to leave anybody behind. And it was consistent with his refusal to give in to fear. It was also consistent with the principle of mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice for love of the Jewish people that he embodied and that he taught his followers.

And it was an affirmation of one of the great principles of Chasidic philosophy that "every descent is for the purpose of an ascent"... that from overcoming the darkness ultimately comes the greatest light.

As the Rebbe often said, we live in an era of "doubled and redoubled darkness — that is, a darkness so deep we do not even know it is darkness any more. He was the light in that darkness, and he remains so even after his passing.

Susan Handleman is A professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park.

A Visit to Paris

No one knew what lay behind it all: Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the Maharash, simply said that he had to make the journey to Paris. In addition to his two regular attendants, he was accompanied as well by two wealthy chasidim, Reb Monye Monisohn and Reb Yeshayahu Berlin.

When they arrived at the city  and Reb Yeshayahu asked the rebbe where they were going to lodge, he answered: "In the Alexander Hotel."

Now this was one of the most prestigious hotels in the city, frequented by visiting ministers of state and members of the nobility.

The rebbe went on: "Since you do not speak French, I will speak to the people there."

At the desk the rebbe asked for a good suite, and when he was offered one for 200 francs a day, seemingly quite an exorbitant tariff, he surprisingly asked for a better one. In fact, he requested a suite on the same floor as the gambling rooms. He was warned that the one remaining three-room suite there was even more expensive, but he took it all the same, while his two wealthy chasidim took rooms in a different hotel, because of the prohibitive cost.

A few hours later Rabbi Shmuel went to the betting parlor! There he took a seat next to a young man who was playing cards and refreshing himself from time to time with a sip of wine.

The rebbe rested his hand on the card player's shoulder and said: "Young man! It is forbidden to drink non-kosher wine,"

A few moments later he added: "Non-kosher wine dulls the spiritual sensitivity of the mind and the heart. Behave like a Jew!"

Then, saying Shalom, he left the room.

Some hours later the young man came around to enquire after the person who had spoken to him earlier. He was shown into the rebbe's room, where he stayed for a long time. And the very next day the rebbe set out on the return journey back to Lubavitch in northern Russia.

On his return the rebbe said: "A soul as pure as his has not descended to This World for quite some generations  but unfortunately it fell into the depths of impurity."

In the course of time that young man became a ba'al teshuva (returned to Judaism) with all his being, and eventually became the head of a G‑d-fearing family of good name.

Biographic Note
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (2 Iyar 1834-13 Tishrei 1882), the fourth Lubavitch Rebbe, known as "the Rebbe Maharash," was the seventh and youngest son of his predecessor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, "the Tsemach Tsedek
Salty Words
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Hacohen, 1838-1933) readily agreed when another prominent rabbi requested his help with a communal matter in another city in Poland. The participation of the renowned Chofetz Chaim was sure to add considerably to the success of the mission because of his high standing in the eyes of all his co-religionists.

In the course of their trip the two rabbis stopped at a roadside inn to partake of a meal. They were happy to eat at this establishment as a Jewish woman who was well respected for her high standards of kashrut ran it. The two rabbis were seated at a special table and accorded every mark of honor.

After they had finished the meal the proprietress came to their table to inquire how they had enjoyed the food.

The Chofetz Chaim smiled politely and replied: "It was very tasty, and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you."

The other rabbi answered: "The meal was very good, thank you. Only, if I might say, the soup might have used a bit more salt."

Then the owner left the table the Chofetz Chaim turned to his companion, and in an anguished voice said:

"Unbelievable! All my life I have avoided speaking or listening to
lashon hara (slander about a fellow Jew), and here I am, going on a trip to perform a mitzva (commandment), and I have been put into a situation of having to hear you speak lashon hara! I deeply regret my involvement in this mission, for it cannot be a true mitzva. If it were, such a terrible thing would never have happened to me!"

The other rabbi was shocked and upset by the Chofetz Chaim's reaction. To him it seemed to be a perfectly innocent remark. "What was so terrible about my comment? I only mentioned that a little salt would help the food, which was otherwise very good."

The Chofetz Chaim began to explain himself. "You certainly don't understand the power that words possess! Just see what a chain reaction your words have set off: I'm sure that the woman who owns the inn doesn't do her own cooking; she probably employs some poor person to do it, maybe even a widow who depends upon this job for her living.

"Because of your thoughtless comment the employee will be reprimanded for not adding enough salt to the food. She will try to defend herself before replying that she certainly did put in enough salt, which will be a lie. Then the owner will accuse her of lying, since she will certainly take your word over that of the poor cook. This exchange will lead to an argument and the owner will, in her anger, fire the poor cook, who will then have no income with which to support herself and her family.

"And just think how many sins have been caused by one off-handed remark: You spoke lashon hara and caused others to hear it; you caused the owner of the inn to repeat the lashon hara; the poor cook was prompted to tell a lie; the owner caused pain to a poor person; your remark caused an argument. All of these are violations of the Torah!"

The rabbi, who had listened closely to the Chofetz Chaim's explanation, replied respectfully: "Reb Yisrael Meir, I simply can't help but feel that you are overreacting to the whole incident. My few casual words couldn't have created all that damage. I think that your scenario just isn't realistic."

The Chofetz Chaim rose from his seat, still in an agitated state, and said: "If you don't believe me, then follow me into the kitchen and you will see with your own eyes what has happened!"

The two rabbis quietly entered the kitchen, and a sorry sight met their eyes. The proprietress was standing before an elderly woman and giving her a sharp tongue-lashing; while the woman stood there with tears streaming down her face. The shocked rabbi ran up to the cook and begged her to forgive him for all the pain she was suffering. He then turned to the owner of the inn and pleaded with her to forgive him and to forget that he had ever made a comment. He had never intended that it be taken so seriously.

The proprietress of the inn, who was really a kind person by nature, had never actually intended to dismiss her elderly employee and was happy to accede to the rabbi's request. She explained that she had merely wanted to impress upon the cook her responsibility to be more careful in the future. She assured the rabbi that the woman's job was secured and he had no grounds for worry.

The rabbi turned to the Chofetz Chaim with an understanding look. He had certainly acquired a new profound respect for the awesome power of words.