Baruch Hashem

Shabbos Stories for Tazria
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Airport Mystery

The Leifer family of Ashdod, Israel was flying to Antwerp, Belgium to attend a wedding.

When the plane was about three hundred miles from Antwerp, the pilot announced that the plane was low on fuel and they would have to make an unscheduled stop. They landed at a nearby small airport.

Everyone deplaned during the refueling, and the Leifers began looking around for a quiet, secluded place where they could pray the evening service. Having only nine men in their group meant that they were one short of a Minyan, but they still wanted to pray individually with dignity.

The men approached an airport attendant standing nearby, and asked him if he could possibly open up a meeting room for them where they could pray in privacy.

On hearing their request, the attendant's face suddenly turned white with fear. He stared at them in shocked disbelief, paused and then said, "I will be happy to grant your request... but you must allow me to recite the Kaddish prayer for my father."

"You mean that you too are Jewish?" they asked in bewilderment. The man nodded, "Yes."

"Really?" asked Rabbi Abraham Leifer. "I would never have expected to meet any Jews in this part of Belgium! What Divine Providence , you are exactly the tenth man for our Minyan! Tell me, what brings you here... just now when we needed you?"

The man rejoined, "Tell me, better yet... what are you doing of all days just when I needed you?"

Still shaking, the man opened the door of the private room, and said: "Let me tell you something incredible. You may find this very difficult to believe, but I promise it's true!"

"I come from a religious Jewish family, but I broke away from my family a while ago and have not been religious for decades. In fact, I haven't even recited the Kaddish for my late father for many, many years.

"Last night I had a very strange dream in which my father came to me and said: 'Yankele, tomorrow is my Yartzeit, and I want you to say the Kaddish for me!'

'But father," I protested in the dream, "I'll need to have a minyan in order to say the Kaddish, and it happens that I'm the only Jew in this village. I could never find a minyan here!'

'Yankele,' my father answered, ' if you promise me you'll say the Kaddish, I promise you that I'll send you a minyan!'

"When I awoke from the dream," the man continued, "I was trembling and in shock. But I soon dismissed it as being only a dream, and reassured myself that it had no significance. It was ridiculous, really! How would a minyan ever find it's way to a such remote Belgian farming village where no other Jews reside?"

Rabbi Leifer draped his arm around the man's shoulders and said gently, "It was all meant to be. Come my friends, let us all pray together now!!"

–From "Small Miracles,"

by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal
A Touching Moment

You never know what can impress a child. When my son Adam became Bar Mitzvah, my daughter Jessica was only seven years old. For months, it seemed as though everything in the household focused on Adam, his studies and party preparations. I worried that Jessica might feel slighted or jealous.

There were times that Jessica seemed to fray around the edges, but for the most part, she appeared to enjoy her role as sister of the Bar Mitzvah boy. She enjoyed going to the mailbox each day to collect the response cards and she nudged her brother to write his thank you notes.

Finally, the day that my son was to enter the adult Jewish community arrived. We were all dressed in our finest. Adam looked so handsome in his new navy blue suit and red tie with his black hair slicked back. Jessica was wearing a puffy new pink confection with a huge bow in her hair and shiny patent leather shoes. It was a 'kvelling' occasion.

The Bar Mitzvah morning went smoothly as my son led the services in a voice that was just beginning to change from a boy to a man. Occasionally, it would crack as he sang, and Jessica and I would look at each other and smile.

Then it was time for the Holy Ark to be opened, the Torah was taken out in full regalia for the procession through the aisles.

Since we attend synagogue regularly, Jessica had witnessed the Torah procession many times before. But on this particular Shabbat morning, she apparently took notice for the first time. As the Torah was being gently lifted from its place by her grandfather and handed to Adam to symbolize passing it from one generation to another, Jessica had a look of awe on her tiny face. As Adam and the other men walked around carrying the Torah, Jessica stopped playing with her Barbie dolls (her usual synagogue companions) and stretched out her little hand out to touch the soft, royal blue velvet. She lovingly held her hand there a little longer than usual, seemingly lost in the warm and soft feeling of the Torah mantle. As her brother read the ancient words, she didn't move a muscle. Her eyes never left him.

Before long the service was over. We had a lovely kiddush lunch of chicken and chulent and kugel, and reveled in the good wishes of friends and family. We walked home, took and nap and when Shabbat was over, changed into our party duds. No one was more excited to be dressed up than Jessica.

She twirled around the house in her party dress, clearly feeling as adorable as she looked. Without a shy bone in her body, she was anxious to socialize with friends and relatives from near and far.

I have to admit I went overboard with the party for my oldest son. There was too much rich food, too many elaborate decorations and too much loud music. I was caught up in the thrill and pride of my oldest reaching this milestone. Jessica was delighted by everything at the party. She loved the party favors that glow in the dark, the cotton candy machine and the hot dog cart. She was delighted to stay up late dancing with every uncle and cousin. Truly, she was the belle of the ballí a natural party girl.

At about two a.m. the party began to break up. The videographer pulled me aside and asked me if Jessica could say a few words of congratulations to her brother "for the record." I held my breath, worrying about what my little comedian might be caught saying for posterity.

The videograher said to her, "Jessica, it's been a long weekend. I just want to know...what was your favorite part of the bar mitzvah?" She batted her long eyelashes at him (and the camera) and seemed to be putting much thought into her answer. Then my baby replied, "I liked the part when Adam carried the beautiful Torah."

It was as if on that day my little girl was transformed as well. As her brother was entering adulthood, Jessica began her own spiritual journey.

Torah is Better than Gold
Over 1600 years ago, lived this great Sage, Rabbi Abba, had great love for his people and traveled around encouraging them to study the Holy Torah. One day he arrived in a small town where there were no Torah scholars. In fact, most of the townspeople there were ignorant. Rabbi Abba felt sorry for them and decided on a plan by which he could increase their Torah learning.

One morning he came into the local synagogue and made an announcement: "Whoever would like to have great wealth and be granted life in the next world should come and learn Torah with me!" He managed to stir up a lot of interest amongst the local people and many came to study with him. Through his kind demeanor and clear method of teaching he developed a circle of eager and steady Torah learners.

One day a new face showed up at the study session. It was an intelligent-looking young man who approached Rabbi Abba, saying: "I heard about your promise of riches if one studies Torah and I would like to begin my study so that I may be able to receive them."

"Very well," replied the rabbi. Of course, Rabbi Abba hadn't meant that his students would receive actual physical gold, but spiritual riches when they learned Torah. He was sure, though, that the young man would soon come to that conclusion himself when he had developed a true appreciation of Torah. "Who are you, what is your name?" the rabbi inquired.

"I live in this town and my name is Yosay," the young man answered.

"Well, Yosay, you are welcome to join our group. From this day on your name will be Yosay the Rich!" Yosay's face lit up when he heard these words, as visions of gold shone in his eyes. Yosay came to study with Rabbi Abba every morning without fail. He grasped the material easily and Rabbi Abba saw in this young man the potential for greatness.

One day Yosay wasn't his usual self. He sat listlessly looking out of the window throughout the entire study period. When it ended Rabbi Abba approached him and asked, "Yosay, my son, what is bothering you today? I missed your questions. Today you seem to be somewhere else."

"Rabbi, I have been studying diligently for weeks and yet I haven't received any of the riches you promised me," said Yosay in an accusatory tone. Rabbi Abba was saddened to hear him speak in such a fashion, for he had hoped that by now, Yosay would have begun to love Torah study for its own sake. Nevertheless, he didn't want to dissuade him from his learning and so he answered, "My son, you are doing very well. Just be patient and continue. I have no doubt that one day you will be rich."

After hearing his teacher's encouraging words Yosay felt better and continued to study as before, but Rabbi Abba was worried about him. Would he continue to study long enough to reach his great potential, or would he give up because of his expectation of receiving a material reward?

One afternoon as Rabbi Abba was sitting alone and poring over his parchments, a strange, well-dressed gentleman approached him. "Are you Rabbi Abba?" the man inquired. "Yes, how may I help you?"

"Rabbi, I have heard that you are a great scholar and I'm hoping that you will be able to help me. I am a very wealthy man, but I never had the opportunity to study Torah. Now I am very busy and I don't have the time or ability to begin studying at this late stage in my life. Therefore, I would like to pay someone else to learn in my place. Here, I have a solid gold goblet. It is worth a great deal of money, and I have eleven more cups just like this. I am willing to give a golden cup to whomever will 'sell' me a share in his Torah learning."

Rabbi Abba jumped at the offer. Losing not a moment he called Yosay over and introduced him to the wealthy gentleman. He explained the arrangement, and Yosay was, of course, more than happy to agree. Both parties were satisfied. Yosay devoted himself to his studies more and more diligently, until he could hardly tear himself away from the holy texts. He barely ever thought about the gold.

One evening, Rabbi Abba was alarmed to hear weeping coming from Yosay's corner of the study hall. "What happened? Why are you weeping?" he asked, fearing that his student had received bad news. "Rabbi, I can't stand it any more! I hate the thought that I am learning G‑d's Torah for a monetary reward. At first, the money was my sole motivation, but now that I understand much more, I see that my actual reward is the knowledge itself. I have gained so much and feel a great difference in myself. Now I feel like a thief taking gold in return for my beloved spiritual labors. I was foolish to make a deal like this and I just wish I could get out of it."

Rabbi Abba blinked back tears of joy, for he saw that his prize student had truly matured in his learning. His greed for riches had disappeared and been replaced with a genuine love of Torah. Rabbi Abba summoned the rich man and said, "You have reaped great rewards in Torah and mitzvot from your bargain with Yosay, but now it is time for you to share your wealth with another poor student. I will help you find a new partner. Meanwhile, know that you have succeeded greatly in this 'deal.' "

When Yosay heard what his rabbi and teacher had done for him, he couldn't contain his happiness. Yosay continued to study Torah for the rest of his long life and taught Torah to his children and grandchildren. He became known as "Yosay the Golden" because he had exchanged his rewards of gold for the study of Torah.

My First Postwar Passover

I  served in 1945 as the Jewish chaplain of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, an area that included the German cities of Kassel, Fulda and Marburg.

I was called to a General Staff meeting and shown orders from ETO HQ (European Theater of Operations, headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower) alerting all commanders to enable Jewish personnel to celebrate Passover. This involved granting leaves, providing special food, housing and facilities and I was asked to implement those orders in our division.

Someone said that the seder would be held in Kassel. “But the city is all bombed out,” I remarked.

I was told that one underground bunker, a huge area that could seat hundreds of people, was still operational. I began listing the special foods, wine and hagadot we would need, but was told that those were already stipulated in an order from Headquarters.

Before the staff meeting ended, I asked permission to invite Jewish survivors to take part in the seder. The general smiled and said, “If you invite me, you may invite them.”

Within a week of that meeting, Passover staples began to arrive in two-and-a-half-ton trucks. The drivers fondly called the operation “the Matzah Ball Express.” Matzah by the ton, wine by the gallon, gefilte fish by the truckload, hagadot by the case, nuts and apples by the bushel, and festival candles began to arrive in my tiny office in Bad Wildungen, to transship to Kassel.

Transportation and housing were arranged for 300 Jewish personnel, and I invited about a hundred survivors to join our seder. I asked if they wanted to sit separately or together with the military men, but since language was an obstacle, they opted to sit by themselves.

The seder was to be a full-dress affair - dark green jackets and pink pants for the officers and dress uniforms for the enlisted men, and “Shabbas clothes” for the survivors.

All day April 15, trucks rolled in bringing Jewish personnel from far-flung German cities. The Kassel bunker with its special lighting and decorations looked like an elegant hotel banquet hall.

The brass, led by the general, sat at the head table with several survivors. We even managed a brief evening service that set the tone for the evening.

Things went well as we began the kiddush. Some joined the traditional tune, but every one belted out the final “Shehecheyanu”: “Blessed are you, L-rd…who kept us alive to reach this season.” I then introduced the general, who addressed the gathering, welcoming both the military and civilian guests. His warm greetings were followed by one of the survivors who led us in reciting “Ha Lachma Anya;” “This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.”

He had us in tears as he recounted the afflictions he and his fellow survivors suffered under the Nazis. He concluded by expressing his gratitude at being able to celebrate the first seder after five tortuous years. Finishing his remarks, he toasted the general and shook hands with him, and then embraced me with tears in his eyes.

The response was spontaneous. GIs and officers walked over to the survivors' tables, embracing and kissing them. The delightful scene lasted a while.

Unfortunately, I lost everyone’s attention by the Four Questions. I couldn’t get them to quiet down to sing, “Avadim hayeenu lefaro bemitsrayim - Slaves were we to Pharaoh in Egypt.” They didn’t heed my repeated attempts to describe the Four Sons, or the maror and charoset. They continued toasting, talking, and enjoying each other rather than following the Haggadah and the rest of the Seder.

The problem was that the waiters left the wine bottles on the tables!

This was the first time in years the survivors had wine, and the soldiers, too, liked the wine….

Either because of the wine or because of the moving Shehecheyanu prayer, seats were switched. Overcoming language and cultural barriers, the participants sang, talked and enjoyed one another like long lost relatives. They surely observed the law as prescribed, drinking four, maybe more, cups of wine.

Realizing my distress at not being able to conduct a “proper” seder with the Haggadah readings, the General put his arm over my shoulder and his other arm over my chest.

“Son, don't worry,” the general said. “You never conducted a better seder before, and you'll never conduct a better seder in the future.”