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The World's Only Chabad Pilot

Photo: Lubavitch.com

Meet David Price, 47, who has the distinction of being the only Chabad commercial pilot in the world. (from Lubavitch.com)

In the cockpit of an Air France Airbus 330, about an hour after takeoff, on a flight from Paris to Senegal, with the plane safely on auto-pilot, the pilot finishes studying the two daily portions of Chumash and Tanya. He then keys his mike: “Good morning! This is your Captain speaking. I hope you are enjoying your flight . . .”

Meet David Price, 47, who has the distinction of being the only Chabad commercial pilot in the world.

A native of Paris, Price’s initiation into the world of aviation began when he was just a child. Late one night, his father woke the six-year-old David to watch the first manned lunar landing. For years, the boy dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

Price’s initiation into the world of traditional Judaism happened later. He was eleven years old the first time he set foot in a synagogue. The year was 1974, and the Yom Kippur War was raging in the Middle East. The chilling news reports inspired Jews around the world, like Price’s mother, to show their solidarity with the Jewish people in Israel. Soon enough, the boy’s mother (his parents had divorced some years prior) began taking on an observant lifestyle, and decided to give her son a Jewish education, which she did, with the help of Chabad of Paris.

Price visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe twice as a young boy, first with his mother, and later as part of a group of teenagers traveling to the Rebbe. The visits were both memorable experiences, and made deep impressions on the young Price.

After graduating high school, David enrolled in flight school in Toulouse. Five years later he became a co-pilot, and ten years later – with two thousand hours of flying time under his belt – he earned his pilot's wings.

For the last ten years Price has been a transatlantic commercial pilot, flying long routes, which give him, in his own words, “plenty of time to marvel at Hashem's creation.”

A father of three, Price often takes his wife and daughters on trips to the U.S., and his family enjoys seeing him seated at the controls.

It’s not always easy to be an observant pilot, says Price, who admits he must constantly struggle for his religious rights. French law gives pilots many days off and Price uses to them all for Shabbos and Jewish holidays. Even so, he is always careful to check and make sure his isn’t mistakenly assigned a flight that runs into Shabbos. He also takes care to avoid flight assignments that are scheduled for take-off before ten o'clock in the morning, freeing him up to conduct his morning prayers on the ground.

His is not a practical, or ideal choice of a career for an observant Jew, he concedes. But spending much of his time in the skies, he has plenty of opportunity to ponder matters spiritual and existential.

Interviewed during the worst travel disruptions when the volcanic ash cloud recently paralyzed European air travel, the Chasidic pilot says the situation served as a useful reminder to him:

“An eruption of this magnitude has not occurred for many tens of years,” he said.“I have no doubt that this is a sign from Heaven, to teach us not to take the fact that the skies are open to us for granted.”

“Besides, an amazing thing happened as a result of the volcano,” the Shabbos-observant pilot says, unable to resist the thought. “Thousands of Jews did not fly on Shabbos . . .”

 

What Jews Do



The route of every Jew who becomes observant is unique. One of the turning points on my journey occurred at a large Iowa university with a minuscule Jewish population, where during my freshman year of 1963-64, I was the only undergraduate female who identified herself as Jewish.

Among my roommates during my first term was a junior taking a child development class on cultures. She decided to join the committee researching the Jewish culture because she had a ready-made resource to interview - me. As a fourth-generation American descendent of Reform Jews who emigrated from Germany before the U.S. Civil War, I didn't know much about Judaism, but I did my best to answer her questions. The relief that I felt when she finished questioning me was short-lived, however. Every term after that, the child development professor gave my name to the committee studying Judaism. To meet this challenge, I would have to learn something about my heritage.

The college library had two shelves of books on Judaism. I started at one end of the upper shelf and began reading. They gave me basic information about Jewish history, tradition and beliefs. With the help of the books I managed to get through the questions during the winter term. Then, in the spring of my freshman year, I met Janet.

Janet was a Southern Baptist from a small town in Iowa. Like many students at college, she came from a family for whom church was a major focus. Her beliefs guided her behavior in all aspects of her life.

I was the first Jewish person she'd ever met. She told me that she had chosen to write about the Jewish culture because she wanted to learn about the origins of her faith. Could she come with me to synagogue?

The town had a small Reform congregation that met Friday evenings in the parlor of one of the churches. I agreed to take her, and as we strolled through the quiet streets she asked me about my religious life. "Where do you eat?" she asked suddenly.

Mystified, I gave the name of the dorm dining hall.

"How do you manage?" she asked.

"What do you mean? I just eat."

With an edge to her voice she said, "How can you 'just eat?' We get ham, pork or shellfish three or four nights a week, and most of the rest of the time there's meat and milk at the same meal."

"Oh," I said confidently, "You mean kosher. I'm Reform, and we don't keep kosher."

"You don't keep kosher? But from everything I've read, kosher is one of the cornerstones of Judaism. Why don't you keep it?"

I shrugged. "I don't know, we just don't."

Janet stopped and turned to face me, hands on her hips. I can still picture her standing there in the light of a street lamp, dressed the way she would for church in a navy suit, a small white hat and white gloves. She looked me up and down as though I were a bug on a pin. Then she said words that still reverberate through my mind: "If my church told me to do something, I'd do it."

In the long silence that followed, I rolled the words over and over through my mind. And I wondered, why did the Reform movement say keeping kosher wasn't important? I decided to find out.

The next day I found, on one of those shelves of Jewish books, a history of the Reform movement. Breaking bread with others, said the book, is a universal gesture of friendship and goodwill. Keeping kosher prevents Jews and non-Jews from breaking bread together; thus it prevents casual communion between "us" and "them." When Jews stop keeping kosher and eat non-kosher with their neighbors, anti-Semitism will end and Jews will be fully accepted into mainstream society.

I thought of the Jewish history I'd been reading, of Moses Mendelsohn and the Emancipation; of my mother's family, which hadn't kept kosher in at least four generations; and I thought of the Holocaust, which began in Mendelsohn's and my great-great-grandparent's home-land, Germany. I turned to the title page of the book and saw that originally the book had been published in German in Berlin in 1928.

Maybe in 1928 German Jews could say that eating with non-Jews would end anti-Semitism. But they were about to be proved disastrously wrong. Could I continue to eat in a non-Jewish fashion, when the reasoning for permitting Jews to eat non-kosher was based on a complete fallacy?

"If my church told me to do something, I'd do it." Janet's words took one end of my Yiddishe neshama (Jewish soul) and the book's glaring fallacy took the other end, and they shook me until I had to sit down, right there on the floor beside the library stacks. When I stopped shaking, I knew that until I could find a good reason, a true reason, to not keep kosher, I had no choice. I was a Jew, and the Jews kept kosher. It was that simple.

My complete transformation from a secular to a Torah observant Jew took many years and many more lessons in faith. But my first big step began that Shabbat night, when a Christian girl challenged me to stand up and act like a Jew.

A Death Bed Confession
 
"Water!" the invalid rasped in a whispery voice. The astounded doctors, who had given up the unconscious man for dead, were shocked to hear his voice again. The priest, who had taken his final confession, turned pale. Had a miracle taken place?

The doctors quickly initiated treatment. For hours they attended at his bedside. Finally, they saw clear signs of a positive change in his condition. By evening they were able to declare that his situation was no longer critical; he was out of danger.

For another several weeks Bagalo continued to be very weak, and the doctors prohibited him to engage in any of his regular activities. Finally, however, he regained his strength completely. Every trace of the disease had completely disappeared!

All of Spain breathed a collective sigh of relief at Bagalo's recovery. He was one of the King's most trusted advisors, with a strong reputation for honesty and intelligence. The king loved to consult with him so much that he had risen to be one of the most important personalities in the royal court.

His advice was especially valued by the monarch in economic affairs. More than once his suggestions had directly resulted in great fiscal gain for the kingdom, and concurrent improvements in the daily life of the people. The king considered Bagalo to be a financial wizard, and was not slow to express his appreciation, as he showered upon him wealth and valuable gifts.

Although everyone was aware of Bagalo's great wisdom and praised him for it, no one had yet realized that he was really a Jew. This was his great secret. He was an anus ['forced'-a Marrano], of a family that had been coerced to convert. As far as he was concerned, his Catholic status was for appearances only. He conducted himself outwardly as he had to, while he continued to observe all of the commandments secretly, in hiding.

Lately, though, he hadn't had much to hide. Whereas previously he had set aside time for mitzvah observance and even for Torah study and thought, his new prominent position in court consumed virtually all of his waking hours. He no longer had time to pray or to study, or even to perform the commandments. His Judaism remained only in his core beliefs, his strong inner faith in his G‑d and His people.

From time to time, at moments when he was alone, a heavy sigh would push through his lips. How he longed for Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, for all of the mitzvot. How had he allowed himself to become so distant?

But such thoughts could only be indulged for a few moments. Than the heavy pressure of his workload would again take over his time and his thoughts. Thus he conducted his life until he fell critically ill.

The most competent of the royal physicians had been summoned to care for him. They gave him the finest medicines and treatments, at the king's order sparing no expense, but nothing helped. He became weaker and weaker until finally the doctors felt they had no choice but to declare that his case was hopeless. An important priest was summoned.

Then came his miraculous recovery. After a while, no one recalled that he had been so sick. No one but him, that is. He remembered very well what had happened; he knew and kept to himself what even the most expert of the physicians could not know.

One day Bagalo summoned the priest who had taken his confession. He led him to a private room, locked the door behind them and lowered the window shades. He sat opposite the priest and looked him straight in the eyes. "I remember everything you said to me when we thought I was dying. At the end, after all the prayers, you muttered a few words that I didn't understand. Those words are engraved in my memory. What do they mean?"

The priest visibly trembled. His face changed colors. He tried to stammer a reply but his teeth were rattling too hard.

Seeing that the other's distress had rendered him unable to speak, Bagalo continued. "The words were: 'Shma Yisrael A—noy E—heinu A—noy Echad.' Isn't that a Jewish prayer?"

The priest's whole body quivered, but no words were forthcoming. "So, you are a Jew?" Bagalo pushed on.

The priest sat frozen, his face registering shock and terror that his secret had been uncovered by the king's advisor.

"Don't be afraid; I won't inform on you," Bagalo said gently. "Just give me your word of honor that you will be wholehearted in the word of Jesus and you will put aside these Hebrew incantations."

"No!" roared the priest. "I prefer to die as a Jew. Enough of this double life. This is the moment of truth." Now that he had recovered himself, the words were quickly tumbling from his mouth. "I am prepared to die, but as a Jew."

"My brother!" Bagalo cried out, and fiercely embraced his co-religionist. "I too am Jewish. And now I know that you are truly attached to the faith of our fathers. We are one!"

Their shared secret drew the two men to become close friends. They revealed to each other their secret lives. The priest explained that he had entered the clergy for one reason only: to be able to whisper "Shma Yisroel..." in the ear of Marrano Jews on their death-bed, so that their souls would exit in purity.

The king's advisor related that when he had been at death's door he had wanted to at least say the Shma. To his distress, he found that he couldn't remember exactly how it went. Then, suddenly, he heard the holy words being said in his ear! It was as if a gentle breeze had wafted him up and re-invigorated him with new life.

Falling into a deep sleep, he began to dream. He saw an old man, who smiled warmly and spoke. His voice was gentle and melodious. "I am your grandfather. You shall recover from this illness and you shall live, but only on a condition. You must return to a full Jewish life. Therefore, you shall leave this country. Move to the Land of Israel. Upon your departure, take with you the bones of your father and give them a Jewish burial there."

The two friends planned their escape. They decided that Bagalo should tell the king that during his critical illness he had vowed that if he recovered he would make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The king would probably not be able to refuse such a request. He would likely even help him to fulfill it. The priest would arrange for the disinterment of the remains of Bagalo's father, for the church cemetery was under his supervision.

Thus, the pair was able to abandon Spain. After a series of difficult journeys, the two baalei tshuvah (returnees to Jewish observance) reached the holy city of Tsfat (Safed). There they dedicated themselves to lives of total mitzvah observance, Torah-study and prayer. When, in the course of time, they passed away, both of them were complete tzadikim (perfectly righteous).

 
The Blessing of Writing a Torah
Alex Beim
by Tzvi Jacobs

About 250 years ago, a Jewish community in Russia was suffering from a devastating epidemic. The Baal Shem Tov advised the people to write a Sefer Torah (a handwritten scroll). They wrote the Torah and the plague stopped.

Salek and Chaya Beim of Morristown, New Jersey, commissioned a sofer, a Jewish scribe, to write a Sefer Torah in the merit that their two daughters, who suffered from a severe Lupus condition, should each have a complete recovery.

On September 11, 1992, six months after the sofer started this year-long project, the Beim's son, Danny, became the proud father of a six-pound, twelve-ounce baby boy.

As an obstetrician, Danny had seen many newborns, and his bright- faced, blonde-haired baby boy looked quite healthy. Danny's wife, Pam, needed a couple of days to rest up, but she looked forward to going home with her baby and taking an extended break from her work as a dentist.

Two days after the birth, a nurse went to get the Beim baby from the hospital nursery and noticed that he was barely breathing.

She rushed him into the intensive care unit. The doctors could not find the cause. After two days of testing, they believed that the faulty breathing stemmed from a congenital metabolic disorder which, in turn, was affecting the heart.

The doctors did an EEG on the baby. "Neurologically, it doesn't look good," the neurologist told Danny and his parents. He explained that the heart apparently was not pumping enough oxygen-rich blood, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the baby's brain.

"The EEG indicated extensive brain damage. He will never walk, talk..." the neurologist said.

Later, the neonatologist advised Danny and Pam to forget about surgery and let nature take its course. "If we fix the heart, your baby may survive, but he will be institutionalized for the rest of his life," the doctor said.

That evening Danny's sister Betty called and asked to speak to Pam. Betty worked for El Al.

"I'm going to get you a bracha," Betty said. "What does that mean?" asked Pam.

"A bracha? A blessing. There's a rabbi who works in the El Al terminal at Kennedy Airport who knows a rabbi who can pray for your baby. His name is Rabbi Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe." Betty had recently met Rabbi Yekutiel 'Kuti' Rapp, the Lubavitch emissary in Kennedy Airport.

Rabbi Rapp called to report, "The Rebbe's answer is that the baby's brain will be okay; just fix his heart."

With this needed encouragement, the parents transferred their baby to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, famous for its advanced work in neonatology. The doctors there discovered that the trunks of the two main arteries leaving the baby's heart, the pulmonary and the aorta, were fused together.

The "old" and the "new" blood were mixing together, resulting in a severe lack of oxygen reaching the brain. Many risky operations had to be performed to fix this rare defect, termed persistent trunchus arteriosus, before the baby would be able to use his own heart.

In the meantime, Danny and Pam became co-sponsors in the writing of the Sefer Torah, in the merit that their son would live and be healthy.

So with the baby also in mind, the sofer continued inscribing letters in the Torah Scroll.

The baby had been in Columbia-Presbyterian for three weeks while the doctors evaluated his condition. "This is the worst case I have seen in 22 years of practice," said the neonatologist. "You have a very sick baby. I am very sorry, but you will never be able to take him home."

"I guess I just want a miracle for my son," Pam cried.

Hanging onto the Rebbe's blessing, Danny and Pam decided to transfer their baby to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. There, a team of doctors, headed by a Dr. Norwood, specialized in operating on babies with truncus.

The doctors at CHOP scheduled surgery on the baby's tiny heart. The delicate surgery involved dividing the arterial trunk: taking tissue from the baby's lung, and creating a wall between the divided trunks of the two arteries. This procedure had been developed only four years earlier and there were only 25 doctors in the world who were skilled at doing this type of heart surgery.

The Beim's baby was not strong—he weighed less than 10 pounds— so the surgery was doubly risky, but the Beim's gave the go ahead with it.

The sofer dipped his quill in the black bottle of ink, day after day, month after month. Then, on July 4, 1993, under an open tent on the lawn of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Morristown, New Jersey, the final 250 letters of the Torah Scroll were filled in by many friends of the Beim family.

Salek Beim filled in the last letter of the Torah, and exuberant singing erupted. The Torah was rolled up and covered with a velvet mantle, and everyone danced the Torah down Sussex Avenue to the Rabbinical College of America campus.

A robust, ten-month old boy, held in the arms of his smiling father, leaned over and gave the Torah a kiss. This healthy, bright boy was Avrohom Chaim "Alex" Beim.

"What can I say? You saw my baby today," said Danny, at the dinner following the Torah dedication ceremony. "I attribute Alex's miraculous recovery to the Rebbe's blessings and guidance. The Rebbe is proof that there is a G‑d in this world.

Please Invite Me to the Wedding

Dr. Avraham Goldenski was an Israeli success story. Despite his being semi-crippled after a severe auto accident he managed to acquire a doctorate in the humanities and be appointed as a representative of the Israeli ministry of transportation to the U.S.A.

In the true Israeli leftist (Mapa'i party) tradition he was as far from being an observant Jew as possible but he had an open mind and heart to Judaism and anything new. So when his term of service had ended and he was preparing to return to Israel it wasn't surprising that when one of his friends suggested that he visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn before he left, he agreed.

The next day an audience was arranged, something which usually takes weeks or even months, and before he knew it he was entering the Rebbe's office.

Due to his difficulty in walking The Rebbe stood and helped him to sit down and the conversation began.

Doctor Goldenski thought that he would be there for a few minutes, receive a few blessings and possibly discuss religion, and that would be it, but he was in for a very pleasant surprise.

The Rebbe took a great interest in his work and his other interests, asked deep questions and made accurate and deep comments. The conversation was lively and the Doctor enjoyed it immensely but then about a half an hour later the Rebbe suddenly became serious.

"Ah ha! Here's the pitch about religion;" the Doctor thought to himself" This is what he's been setting me up for." But it wasn't so.

The Rebbe looked into his eyes and said, "I understand that you will be leaving for Israel tomorrow but I think that you should consider delaying your return in order to see a neurologist (and the Rebbe named a professor). He's a friend of mine and it won't cost you anything; I will pay the bill. Please think about it."

Then, as Dr. Goldenski was about to get up, the Rebbe said, "And I have one more request. Please send me an invitation to your daughter's wedding."

The Doctor sat back down, looked at the Rebbe strangely and corrected him. "Heh, heh! Wedding? Excuse me Rebbe, but my daughter is only fifteen years old! She's not going to get married so soon."

"Certainly" the Rebbe answered "But when she does please don't forget to send me an invitation."

Once outside of the Rebbe's office Dr. Goldenski could not calm himself down; he was really impressed. He had never met anyone that both knew so much and was so interested in his welfare. Something told him that he should take the Rebbe's offer seriously.

So the next day Dr. Goldenski was sitting in the professor's office after being examined, and was listening to the diagnosis.

"My friend, you are very fortunate that the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent you here." The professor said seriously. He held up some the x-rays and explained. "See here? This is your spinal chord. Because of the structure of your body there is pressure here and, well, it's not good. In a few weeks the cord will almost certainly break which means crippled for life ... or worse. But now that we caught it in time it can be stopped. You said you are returning to Israel, right? Well you can go to Haddasa Ain Kerem hospital in Jerusalem. They have an excellent staff. I'll be in touch with them! I'm sure you'll last till then."

Goldenski left in a daze and immediately took the first cab to the Rebbe's headquarters to thank him.

He was admitted almost immediately and when the Rebbe heard the news he smiled, said he was happy to help, reminded him again to send an invitation to his daughter's wedding and finally made a strange request. He asked him to stay in Crown Heights for Shabbat.

The Doctor, as unreligious as he was, actually accepted the invitation. That evening he returned for Shabbat and the next afternoon stood with hundreds of Chassidim at the Rebbe's public talk.

But after the Rebbe finished his first speech, the Doctor approached him and thanked him again, whereupon the Rebbe shook his hand, reminded him a third time about sending the wedding invitation and they parted.

Dr. Goldenski returned to Israel and the treatments in Ain Kerem saved his spinal chord. He even brought a Chabad Rabbi to give a class in Chassidut in his house to some friends once a week. But despite all this, he did not move even one iota closer to observing the commandments

But he didn't forget the Rebbe's request. Three years later his daughter became engaged and he sent the Rebbe an invitation but, strangely, he received no reply.

Then just days before the wedding as he was in the middle of his afternoon meal, suddenly he clutched his chest in pain, lost his breath and fell to the ground unconsciousness. It was diagnosed as a severe heart attack and he was hospitalized in serious condition. The very next day a long letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe arrived in the mail!

It was over three pages long but the Doctor asked that it be read to him. It was filled with positive and encouraging ideas about actually fulfilling commandments and near the end the Rebbe wrote:

"When I came to know you and saw your courage and fortitude that, despite your state of health you were not only able to withstand all difficulties but to even to overcome them and surpass those around you (and even more importantly, in a pleasant and refined way) there is no doubt in my mind that if you truly decide to make an effort to encourage your daughter live a true Jewish life, at least from the day of her marriage (including you being a living example to her), that you will also succeed."

The Rebbe closed by saying, "Please pardon me for taking the liberty of entering into your personal affairs and your private life but I feel that the topic is so important and serious that I don't have the right to keep my thoughts and hopes to myself."

Dr. Goldenski silently read and re-read the letter and an hour later turned to those around his bedside and said seriously …. "It's necessary to fulfill everything written here."

These were his last words on earth. Moments later he closed his eyes and returned his soul to the Creator. The Rebbe foresaw that just before his daughter's wedding he would be willing to become a new person; a living example of true Judaism.

Misfire

 
The chassidim accompanying the Rebbe stared out the window of the carriage in shock. A fierce looking man had run out of the house when they approached his property, his eyes burning with murderous rage at the coach full of Jews. In his hand he carried a revolver. At his heels, his favorite pet, a massive black dog, yelped and snapped at the carriage.
 
Before they could react, the angry householder drew his gun and began to shoot at the coach. The gun clicked… but no bullets emerged. Again and again he pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.
Just then, a calm, holy face appeared at the window of the carriage. With a fascinated stare, the angry man lowered the gun and pulled the trigger. A bullet spewed forth and struck the black dog, killing it instantly.

At the holy passenger's request, one of the travelers approached the householder. "Sir, we are chassidim traveling with the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev," he stammered. "It is time for our evening prayers and we would like to ask your kind permission to pray in your house."

"The Holy Rabbi of Berditchev? Why yes, of course, you have my permission," said the man, as if in a dream. With that, he turned and strode into his house without a backward glance at his beloved dog.

His servants and friends were puzzled. They expected to enjoy the massacre of the Jews — these Jews who seemed not to know or care that no Jew dared step onto this property since the owner's murderous reputation had become known. The disciples of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak were perplexed, too. Why had their Rebbe asked them to accompany him to this unknown place, leaving Berditchev very early, traveling quickly and stopping only once along the way to say Psalms? And the homeowner himself was also confused. "I know the gun was in perfect order, and yet it would not shoot when I pointed at the carriage. It must be the power of that holy Rabbi," he muttered to his friends.
 
News of the arrival of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and the estate owner's seeming change of heart reached the Jews living nearby. They began gathering at the estate to see Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and to pray with him. Many non-Jews also joined the gathering since Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's holiness was known by the entire countryside.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak led the evening prayers himself. Before saying the opening words, "And He is merciful, He forgives sin, and will not destroy. He turns back His anger many times and does not arouse his wrath," the Rebbe began to sing a moving melody. It was sad and poignant and had a haunting effect on all who listened. It turned everyone's thoughts to their own private world, contemplating past regrets and the evil and folly of a person's actions. Each heart was full of despair and bitter regret. The disciples understood the melody to depict the suffering of the pure and holy soul, forced to leave the beautiful heavens, and come to this evil, false world.

"Oh G‑d, please save. The King will answer us on the day we call," were sung in a joyful tune, stirring everyone to confidence and hope. But, before the Rebbe had sung the last of the sad notes, the host cried out hysterically and fell to the ground in a faint.

Everyone was mystified by the events. The chassidim now understood that the purpose of the journey had to do with their host. But what were the redeeming qualities of this Jew-hater that he merited the special attention of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak?

A few hours later, the Chasidim saw the host emerge, his eyes red and his face tear-stained. In broken Yiddish, the host stammered, "I am a Jew. I, too, am a Jew." In wonder, they listened to his story:
"I was born in Germany to Jewish parents. As a young man I joined the Kaiser's army. The higher I rose in rank, the looser my ties to Judaism became. By the time I was a personal guard of the Kaiser, I had totally disassociated myself from Judaism. Finally, I became a Jew-hater and relished every opportunity I had to persecute Jews.

"Now, with you and your Rebbe here, I remember that I am a Jew. I want to be a Jew again. Please, I beg of you, ask your holy Rebbe to teach me how to be a Jew again!"

The next morning, prayers were conducted with a festive atmosphere. The host joined the Jewish villagers. He borrowed a talit and tefilin and asked to be shown how to use them. After prayers, he was closeted with the Rebbe for several hours, their conversation remaining a secret.

A short time later, the former Kaiser's guard sold his estate and disappeared. Around the same time, a stranger came to live and study in Berditchev. He became a close disciple of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and the father of one of the finest Jewish families.
 
 
L'Chayim to Save A Jewish Life in Heaven
Once the Besht (short for Baal Shem Tov) took ten of his best pupils, loaded them into his carriage, and told his driver to release the reins. It seems that the Besht's holiness affected even his horses because they knew exactly where to go.

They sped down roads, open fields, over hills, and through valleys with tremendous determination for several hours until they suddenly stopped near a brook at the edge of a forest in the middle of nowhere.

The Besht ordered everyone to get out and to take food and a bottle of vodka. They got out and ritually washed their hands before eating bread and at the end of their modest meal, the Besht dug a small hole in the loose ground near them, filled his cup with vodka, and told the others to do the same.

"L'chaim!" he yelled joyously over the chirping of the birds and the
bubbling brook and the rustling of the grasses around them. They all replied "L'chaim!" and, to the amazement of the others while they drank, the Besht poured the contents of his cup into the hole and told them to get ready to leave.

Once back home the Besht explained the incident with a tragic tale:

"Several years ago there lived a well-off Torah scholar with a beautiful, intelligent daughter of marriageable age. He spared no money or effort to find her a suitable match and finally his efforts paid off. He found a wonderful, intelligent, G‑d-fearing young man — the best pupil in one of the best yeshivot, a real find!

"After the wedding the young couple lived a life of heaven on earth. All their needs were taken care of. He spent all his time learning Torah while his wife managed the business. When his father-in-law passed away, he inherited it all.

"But he had one small character flaw that burst the entire balloon. He was an egotist.

"At every opportunity he felt he had to show off his superior knowledge until it became hard to bear. But the one who took the most notice was the local priest.

"This priest was clever, dedicated, wealthy, and ruthless, and he knew an easy catch when he saw one. He began frequenting one of the shops run by the young scholar's wife, making friendly comments, turning on the charm, and buying things he didn't even need in order to gain her trust.

"And it worked. One day when she mentioned that her husband was ill, the priest requested and was granted permission to visit him...and from then on it was easy pickings.

"It wasn't long before the priest won the young scholar's friendship with attention and praises and convinced him to recuperate at his estate in the country where the air was clear. The young man could even bring along his own cook so the food would be kosher. He could stay, free of cost, until he was well. The only payment the priest requested in return was to converse with the young scholar daily - "to drink from his unending Torah wisdom."

"But once there, the priest heavily bribed the cook to turn the other way while he put non-kosher food into the menu (he knew that non kosher food affects the Jewish soul) and within a week the young man was thinking differently about Judaism.

"One thing led to another. The young man became so infatuated with the attention he received that, little by little, he stopped fulfilling the commandments. After only a few months he decided to change his religion!

"And so it was. He wrote home informing his wife he would never return. He changed religions and the priest gave him his daughter as a new wife.

"The young man rose quickly in the ranks of the church until he too became as wealthy and powerful as his new "father-in-law." But then his world turned over again.

The Baal Shem continued: "It so happened that one day, as he went for a stroll in one of the orchards on the massive church grounds, the young man heard a strange wailing and weeping coming from the hut where the watchman of the orchard lived.

"He went to the hut, knocked on the door, and entered to see the guard, an older man perhaps in his sixties, sitting in a chair and weeping uncontrollably.

"He stood there for a while watching him and finally asked what happened.

"'I'm a Jew!' moaned the guard, eyes puffed and red from crying. 'That is, I was before I changed my religion. And today is the Jewish Day of Atonement called Yom Kippur. I'm crying because I'm thinking of how far I've gone from the G‑d of Israel! Oy! Oy!' And he began crying once more.

"When the young priest heard this it broke his heart. Before he knew it, he ran from the guard's hut deep into the orchard and began weeping uncontrollably himself. It only took him a few minutes to regret everything he had done and a few minutes more to decide to leave the church and return to Judaism no matter what the cost.

"The next day, when he didn't return, his wife began to search for him until it became clear that the last person to see him was the guard and when the guard related their conversation, the priest's wife realized what had happened.

"The matter touched her deeply; if her husband was willing to lose so much — his position, wife, and riches to return to Judaism, then there must be a very good reason. A few days later she too decided to run away and convert to Judaism.

"Over a year later the news got back to the guard and he began thinking. He realized that he had caused two people to be Jewish while he himself was stuck in the church. He decided that he too had to try to return to Judaism before it was too late.

"He packed a small suitcase and set off with plans to find a Rabbi who would help him to repent, but on the way, in the very spot we that we ate that meal, he fell ill, died, and was buried by passers-by.

"Just now he was being judged in Heaven," the Baal Shem Tov related. "The prosecuting angels brought all his sins and pointed out that he never actually repented while the defending angels argued that his change of heart was sufficient. That is why we went there today.

"Our Blessings, and Lchayim's were enough to uplift his Soul to a proper verdict."

Moshiach Matters

Shavuot marks the day when the Jewish people (the bride) was married to G‑d; Mount Sinai was the chupa, the Torah was the ketuba (marriage document), etc. But the consummation of the marriage will take place when Moshiach comes.