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A Three Month Old Hamantash

Shortly before the Six-Day war the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced to his Chassidim that, since every Jew is essentially holy and that the commandment of Tefillin not only brings out this holiness but also puts fear into the heart of our enemies, therefore they should see to it that every Jew in the world, especially those in Israel and more especially the Israeli soldiers should put on Tefillin.

The idea worked; his Chassidim went into action and hundreds of thousands of Jews in Israel and elsewhere put on Tefillin, many for the first time in their lives. The rest is history; the ridiculously outnumbered Israelis miraculously destroyed all their enemies and a clear sign was given to the entire world that G‑d is with us and wants us to inhabit the Holy Land.

But after the war the Rebbe told his followers to continue with the Tefillin campaign.

Our story begins shortly after the Six-Day war. A young Chassid from Australia came to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his headquarters and Yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

The students there implemented the Campaign by going out with Tefillin every Friday for a few hours to unaffiliated Jews. The Australian fellow, who we will call Avraham, announced that he would buy some refreshments for the road. He ran to the nearby grocery store, bought some Kosher cookies, fruit and drinks and jumped into the car with a bunch of fellows that were going to a nearby hospital and they were off.

No one had eaten breakfast so he began pulling out food from his bag. But to his chagrin one thing he bought; a small box of Hamantashin (triangular cookies filled with chocolate that are traditionally eaten on Purim) was avoided by everyone. Purim had passed almost three months ago!

Needless to say no one even opened the box and the Hamantashin were left behind in the car untouched while they went to do the work of the Rebbe.

They met with much success; many of Jews in the hospital agreed to put on Tefillin, some for the first time in years, andsome for the first time since they had left concentration camps in Poland.

But then they came up against Max.

Max must have been close to ninety and as soon as they entered his room he shouted, "What do you want here? Get out! Go jump in the lake!!" They explained that they were only asking people to put on Tefilin ....."

But he didn't let them finish. "I'm just as close to G‑d as you! I don't need your boxes and your rituals!! I have my own commandments. Now get out!!" And he rolled over with his back to them."

The young Chassidim didn't want to leave on such a bad note so one of them held out some of the fruit the Australian had bought and said in the most friendly way he could muster up, "Hey, no hard feelings. We're leaving, we're leaving! Okay? But maybe you'd like a piece of fruit before we leave?"

"Fruit?" The old man turned to them and scoffed. "What, you think they don't have fruit here? Why don't you bring me something good? You know what? You want me to put on Tefillin? Well then" he said mockingly, "bring me a Hamantash!! I haven't had a Hamatash for forty years!! That's right! A Hamantash from Purim."

He was sure that the last thing they would have was a three month old cookie.

All the fellows stared silently and unbelievingly at Avraham who got the hint and ran from the room like a jet. Less than five minutes later he returned, out of breath, with the box of old Purim cookies that he had almost thrown into the garbage.

The old man couldn't believe his eyes as Avraham opened the box and handed him a Hamantash. He took it, examined it, sniffedit (it was still edible!) and even took a small bite (the fellows reminded him which blessing to make beforehand) and, for the first time in forty years, actually began to smile... !

The Chassidim broke out in a Purim song and danced.

"Nu?" The old fellow said as he rolled up his sleeve. "I don't know where you got that hamantashin but you got me in a corner! Where are the Tefillin?"

It was the beginning of a long friendship. Chassidim came to visit him every day thereafter until he announced that he bought a pair of Tefillin for himself.

A Joker's Shabbat

''Tantz'' by Chassidic artist <a href=''/article.asp?aid=243679'' target=''_blank''>Shoshannah Brombacher</a> © 2004
"Tantz" by Chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher © 2004

Hershel didn't just tell jokes. He breathed them. Certainly it seemed to the people in his native village of Mosayov in the Marmorash province that he had never drawn a single serious breath in his life. Nothing was too sacred or out of bounds to be the butt of Hershel's hilarity. "Fear of G‑d"? The very notion was laughable to Hershel.

As might be expected, Hershel soon became the most popular guy in Mosayov among the idle, the crude, the silly and the drinkers. Whenever there was a crowd of people on the street or in the village tavern laughing hilariously, one was sure to find Hershel at its epicenter, perfecting his craft.

Hershel himself made a nice living as a seller of livestock. As his business took him to all the neighboring towns and villages, his reputation as a joker spread throughout the Marmorash region.

Each year, he would travel to the great annual livestock fair in Tchernowitz. Another person who consistently attended the fair was the rabbi of that city, the well known tzaddik and scholarly author, Rabbi Chaim of Tchernowitz. Rabbi Chaim would circulate among the merchants and accord them the opportunity to contribute to the many worthy causes that he was involved in for helping needy people and supporting educational institutions.

And so it came to pass that Rabbi Chaim was making his rounds of the stalls at the Tchernowitz fair when he suddenly came upon a large group of fair-goers laughing raucously, slapping their thighs and winking at each other. No doubt about it — Hershel Mosayover must be in the midst of them. And in top form too.

Rabbi Chaim thought to slip around them inconspicuously. He knew that from these crude, empty-headed types he could not expect much "business" anyway. But Hershel was quicker than he. "Hey! Holy Rebbe! Shalom aleichem" he called out, still grinning from the last joke he had successfully cracked.

"Aleichem shalom, my fellow Jews," responded the rabbi warmly. The die was cast. Now he could no longer turn away. "Perhaps you gentlemen would care to take a share in the great mitzvah of charity?"

"And what, exactly, is this charity for?" asked Hershel, still smirking.

"For pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives), called the greatest mitzvah of all," the rabbi responded promptly. "There is a poor, unfortunate Jew who has a large debt of fifteen hundred zelotys to his local poritz (nobleman landowner). Now he is languishing in the nobleman's dungeon, until the debt is paid."

Hershel's companions were all grinning in anticipation. They waited eagerly for their friend's witty riposte in the rabbi-jester dialogue.

Hershel put his hand in his pocket and took out 1,500 zelotys — all the money he had brought with him to replenish his stock. "Here you are, Rabbi," he said quietly, with a strange look on his face. "Here is the entire sum you need to ransom the unfortunate Jew."

All the onlookers were startled for a moment, but then they realized this must be one of Hershel's clever jests. The rabbi would put out his hand for the money, and Hershel would pretend to start to give it to him and then at the last moment he would snatch it back, making a fool of the naïve Torah scholar.

But the tzaddik was not so naive after all. He held back, and simply gazed at Hershel thoughtfully.

"No, No," exclaimed Hershel, as his face took on a fully serious expression. "I really mean it. No joke. Please. Take the money." As he spoke the words, pressed the bulging purse he had drawn out of his pocket into Rabbi Chaim's hand.

The astonished rabbi felt himself overwhelmed with emotion — excitement and relief at being able to secure the release of the poor imprisoned Jew, amazement that such a supposedly lowly soul could ascend to the highest of peaks in the briefest of moments. His cheeks were flushed; warm tears pooled at the corner of his eyes.

Hershel himself was stunned. He couldn't understand what he had just done. It had been a spontaneous impulse that had overcome him, but why had it been so irresistible?

The tzaddik wished to bless his donor appropriately, but wasn't sure how. For Rabbi Chaim, life turned on one hinge: Shabbat. He had even written a unique book, Siduro Shel Shabbat, explaining the exaltedness and holiness of the Seventh Day according to mystical principles of the Kabbalah. But how was that relevant to the loutish man that stood before him? Nevertheless, he thought to himself, such a deed deserves the greatest blessing of all. Still brimming with enthusiasm, he exclaimed:

"I bless you that, in the merit of this great mitzvah that you have done, you will experience the true taste of Shabbat."

Hershel was still numb. He nodded his head as if he understood what the tzaddik was talking about and answered, "Amen."

That very day Hershel returned to Mosayov. Since he had no money, there was no reason to remain in Tchernowitz. Still, he remained his cheerful, joking self.

As the week progressed, however, he began to feel a strange feeling welling up inside him: a spirit of holiness, something he had never felt before in his life. When Friday dawned and the feeling was even more intense, he realized that it must be connected to the oncoming Shabbat, and that this Shabbat would definitely be like no other he had ever experienced.

He went shopping to purchase Shabbat's special foods, and he could barely control his trembling. As the hours went by his inner upheaval grew stronger and stronger.

All those who encountered Hershel that Shabbat could hardly recognize him. Was that really him singing, dancing, studying, praying with ecstasy? Hershel could barely recognize himself! His entire being was bursting with the sacred pleasure of Shabbat.

It was the talk of the town. The idea that Hershel the clown could be caught up in a tzaddik-type intense love of Shabbat cracked up everyone who heard about it even more than Hershel's intentional jests. They even entertained the possibility that he had gone insane.

But then the news spread of what had happened at the livestock fair in Tchernowitz — the incongruous charitable deed that Hershel had done and the extraordinary blessing of the tzaddik of Tchernowitz. People began to consider the issue more seriously.

After that Shabbat, Hershel returned to his customary light-hearted, joking manner. But by the following Shabbat he was again overwhelmed by the same spirit of holiness. It was as if there were two Hershels: the weekday persona and the Shabbat one.

Weeks went by, and months, without change in his situation. Hershel felt himself cracking under the strain of his dual personality. He decided to travel back to Tchernowitz to discuss his situation with the tzaddik who had blessed him.

Rabbi Chaim told him that in order to absorb the taste of Shabbat without spiritual and psychological damage, he would have to refine his weekday behavior. Hershel decided to stay on in Tchernowitz in order to learn more from his new mentor. Soon his daily lifestyle was slowly but steadily shifting to become harmonious with his weekly Shabbat elevation.

In the early 1800's, Rabbi Chaim of Tchernowitz moved to the Land of Israel, and his faithful disciple Hershel accompanied him. They lived in the holy city of Tsfat. Today, nearly two centuries later, their burial sites are well known.

Serving G‑d Purely

The Baal Shem Tov (Besh’t) was once sitting with his pupils when suddenly he went ‘blank’. His eyes stared at a corner of the ceiling, but he was obviously seeing something else.

The pupils were used to this; their master lived in a world unobstructed by creation; past and future, physical and spiritual, were like one to him.

Suddenly the ‘Besh’t’ stood up and began to dance with ecstatic joy, arms outstretched, spinning, singing joyously. In seconds, all his pupils were dancing with him until they couldn’t dance any more.

The Baal Shem sat down, caught his breath and explained the reason for his sudden outburst.

“Yesterday a woman came in to see me and she was weeping; she wanted children. I saw in heaven that it was decreed that she was to be barren. But I decided that I would pray for her anyway. Prayer can transform even the harshest decrees especially prayer with self-sacrifice.

I said, ‘G‑d, You can do what you want with me, but I demand that You give this woman children!’ And it worked! The decree was annulled and it was announced in heaven that she would have offspring.

But that was yesterday. Just now I received a summons to appear before the Heavenly court and after a short trial they decided that I must pay dearly for my importunity; I will lose my place in heaven and will receive no spiritual rewards after I pass away!

And that is why I am so happy,” concluded the Besh’t. Now I can serve G‑d without any interference from ulterior motives!!”