Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Adar II 5763 - March 12, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Saving a Jewish Life

by C. Ofek

A wintry frost enveloped the Ein Shemer camp (maabara) near Chadera and caused the recently- arrived Yemenite immigrants to shiver.

The wind whistled with verve, and beat at the immigrants' canvas tents. The rain pelted steadily, transforming the paths into mud patches.

The raging storm did not rest. It broke through the flaps of one of the tents and in a split second lifted it and overturned it. That was the tent of Mori Tzadok, the Yemenite immigrants' rav.

With that, a dreadful sight was bared. Sa'ida, the rav's wife, was seated on a wooden crate, a five-month- old infant in her arms.

The rav was seated on another crate, poring over his Torah studies. This time though, his traditional Yemenite trill did not comfort his wife as it had always done. Zecharia, her infant, was very ill. He coughed heavily, barely breathed, and burned with fever.

"Under such wretched conditions, how can he not be sick?" Sa'ida cried.

But now, they didn't even have a covering over their heads. The heavy rains drenched them and struck their heads. The threadbare blanket in which Zecharia was wrapped was soaking.

The infant's coughing intensified. Sa'ida felt that the baby was growing sicker. The coughs were rasping and intense and she was afraid that he would choke.

"He needs a doctor urgently," she entreated. "We have to summon one right now."

"A doctor?" Mori Tzadok cried out in shock.

"Yes. It's pikuach nefesh," the mother replied in a trembling voice. She saw how the infant struggled for each breath, and feared that any moment, he might, chas vesholom, close his eyes for good.

Mori Tzadok knew that his wife would never disturb his learning without a good reason. When their oldest and precious son Shalom had been taken away, she didn't tell her husband until he had returned from his nightly shiur. Therefore, when his wife said that the infant's life was at stake, he knew that he had to act quickly. Closing his large gemora, he took his wife and infant into a neighbor's tent and ran to fetch a doctor.

"But where should I go?" Mori Tzadok asked as he lifted his eyes toward Shomayim. His eyes were moist with tears and his heart ached. The image of his little Shalom -- the precious child who was no longer with them -- passed before his eyes.

"He was only three years old," the bereft and aching father reminisced, clearly recalling the thin and frail child who would hop mischievously along the maabara's paths. Shalom's innocent and childish laughter still rang in his ears.

"He was taken from us one night, never to return," Mori Tzadok recalled, as a hot tear of longing rolled down his cheeks. "Shalom was a little boy, but in certain ways, he was quite mature for his age. He was only three then and his payos rolled down his cheeks with special and pure Jewish chen. He had clever eyes, too. Ai! Ai! I still remember how he watched me with interest as I lay down on Eretz Yisroel's sacred earth and kissed it. Then he imitated me so earnestly. Suddenly, his perpetual smile froze. With his small hand, he pointed to a group of Sabra youth counselors who had passed by. Innocently, he asked: `Abba, why are there goyim in Eretz Yisrael?'

"I remained silent. I didn't know what to answer. I didn't want to paint the camps' counselors as bad. Shalom understood the reason for my somber silence, and once more said: `I don't like goyim Abba. I don't like them.' "

When the family got to the maabara, Shalom would cling to the tent. He was afraid to go outside and to encounter strangers. With his black eyes, he would watch his mother knead pitta dough as his father pored over his Torah. Sweetly, he would repeat parts of the parsha which Mori Tzadok had taught him.

One day, a stranger entered the tent, a fawning smile plastered on his face. The man didn't have payos. He didn't wear tzitzis or a yarmulke. Shalom clung to his father in fear, and whispered: "Abba, I don't like goyim."

"You're cute," the stranger said as he tried to pat Shalom's cheek. But Shalom pushed the man's hand away.

The stranger, a Jewish Agency (Sochnut) representative, suggested that Mori Tzadok enroll Shalom in the kindergarten in the nearby city, "He'll have playmates there and will receive nourishing meals," said.

Mori Tzadok was aghast. Why should I let them take my son? Why should I entrust him to people who have cast off Torah's yoke? Very sternly, he voiced his objections, leaving no doubt as to how he felt on that point.

Disappointed, the Sochnut agent turned around and left the house.

As Mori Tzadok now trudged through the muddy puddles which covered the gravel paths in Ein Shemer and headed toward nearby Chadera, he recalled that the sorry affair hadn't ended with that.

The water seeped through his torn shoes, but he didn't pay attention to that. How could such trivia bother him when his heart was torn to bits?

One day, little Shalom began to vomit and to burn with fever. Sa'ida, his dedicated mother, realized that he was losing fluids as he became lethargic. Very worried, she went to the camp's office and reported on Shalom's condition.

Shortly afterward, a nurse in a white uniform came to the tent. Without even saying "hello," she tried to wrap Shalom in the thin woolen blanket she was carrying and to pick him up.

Sa'ida firmly protested, but the nurse explained that it was impossible to treat the child in the camp and that she had to transfer him to a nearby clinic or hospital.

Sa'ida was powerless to object. With deep concern, she watched them take her sick baby away, but consoled herself with the thought that he would soon return, strong and healthy.

The hope that Shalom would return home was futile. That was the last time Shalom was seen by his parents. He was taken forever.

All efforts to locate Shalom ended up in stalemates. The tremendous pain his father, Mori Tzadok, felt at that time is indescribable. The laconic manner in which the director of the camp's office had read the official notice which stated that Shalom had died in the hospital cut through Mori Tzadok's heart.

Mori Tzadok demanded to know the cause of death. Perhaps the doctors had been negligent or had used a new type of treatment which still hadn't been approved. But his efforts to ascertain those points met up with a blank wall, and the camp's staff related to him like an irksome mosquito.

Sa'ida continued to demand her son back. But she was sternly told: "Forget about him. He's dead."

As parents, Mori Tzadok and Sa'ida insisted that they had the right to know what had happened to their son and where he was buried. The Sochnut agents showed them a gray monument and said: "He's buried here."

"Sa'ida is certain that if the nurse hadn't take Shalom while he was sick, and that if he had remained in the tent under her strict motherly supervision, we wouldn't have had been forced to part with him forever," Tzadok continued to muse, as tormenting thoughts raced through his mind.

"Now we have to call the camp doctor again for Zecharia, the baby. I don't know why, but all of the children that doctor examines, die, Hashem yishmor. We're not the only family which suffered such a misfortune. The Machpud, Tsan'ani, Levi and Mish'ali families also lost their small children. What's interesting is that their children's lives weren't in danger. Suddenly, after the camp doctor examined them, their situations grew worse, and they died. That's certainly food for thought.

"Whatever, I don't want that doctor to examine Zecharia. I'll try and find him a better doctor in Chadera," Mori Tzadok resolutely decided.

Mori Tzadok arrived in Chadera drenched, only to find the streets desolate. In such stormy weather, the residents were tucked away in their houses. Nonetheless, Mori Tzadok didn't despair. He knocked on the door of one of the homes, which had a large mezuza, and asked where he could find a doctor.

Compassionate Jews went outside with him, and took him to the home of Dr. Harel, a young, kindhearted and successful doctor.

Mori Tzadok was filled with emotion. Tearfully, he told the kindly doctor why he had come, and how he had lost his oldest son. "This baby is much sicker than Shalom was at that time," he added.

Afterward, he removed a golden bracelet which was studded with lovely jewels, and pleadingly told the doctor: "I don't have even a prutoh to pay for my son's treatment. But take my wife's bracelet. It's about all we brought with us from Yemen. Please help us."

The doctor pitied Mori Tzadok and rejected the offer. Quickly, he zippered his satchel and motioned to Mori Tzadok to enter his car. Then, he drove off to the maabara in Ein Shemer.

The car's motor grumbled. The roads were muddy. The frost penetrated the car's cracked windows. But the two continued on -- the father, fearing for his son, and the doctor eager to fulfill his mission.

The moment they reached the maabara, they were surrounded by a number of Mori Tzadok's students. With terrified expressions, they cried out: "The baby! The baby! Help."

Dr. Harel ran after them at breakneck pace, outstripping Mori Tzadok. He burst into the tent where Zecharia was lying and began to administer artificial respiration.

Everyone was tense. The mother had no more strength to cry. In a weak voice, she repeatedly entreated; "Please, Hashem let my Zecharia live. I want to see him become a gadol beTorah."

The doctor worked hard as he tried to revive the child. The doctor's expression was tense. His silence indicated that a critical point was imminent.

A few moments passed, terrible moments of tremendous stress. At last, the doctor straightened his back and heaved a sigh: "He's OK. Don't worry Ima, your baby will live."

To the great joy of his parents, Zecharia was alive and kicking. Mori Tzadok warmly thanked the doctor who had treated the baby without a fee and had even given the family medications. From that day on the parents keep a good watch over Zecharia. They realized that a great miracle had occurred.

Zecharia grew. His father dedicated precious hours to teaching him gemora. His parents' sole aspiration was to see him become a godol beTorah and they made every effort to achieve that aim.

The clever Zecharia had a keen grasp and when his parents moved to Yerushalayim, they registered him in one of its finest yeshivos.

Zecharia, who was a "bor sud she'eino me'abed tipa," quickly became the yeshiva's top student and many other students approached him with their questions and problems.

Over the years, Zecharia became "Rebbe Zecharia," and a mashgiach in a prominent and large yeshiva.

Dr. Harel, who had saved Zecharia, advanced in his profession. Over the years, he became Professor Harel and was offered a position as head of the Internal Medicine Department in one of Yerushalayim's famous hospitals.

One day, the director of one of the city's chesed organizations called Dr. Harel and said that a young rav, with many students, was about to arrive in the department. "The rav is a tzaddik, with many followers. Please try to give him the best treatment and service possible."

"Fine," Professor Harel replied. "I'll do my best. I may not be religious. I may not wear a yarmulke or tzitzis. But I have a warm spot in my heart for lomdei Torah. and mitzvah-observant Jews."

A day later, the young rav was brought into the Internal Medicine Department, which Professor Harel headed.

The results of the tests conducted on the rav weren't encouraging. Many of his inner organs had been irreparably damaged. The veins in his esophagus were swollen and bleeding. His intestines were impaired, and his liver barely functioned.

He had to undergo fluid drainage, and Professor Harel assigned that task to the department's best doctors.

The room teemed with visitors. All looked at the rav with questioning glances. They had come to consult him; they had come for guidance.

Even though the rav was sick, he replied to each and every one of his visitors, encouraging and strengthening them in a soothing voice.

Dr. Caspi, a member of Dr. Harel's department, wanted to scold the visitors. He wanted to say that the rav had been brought to the hospital because he was very sick, and that if he had been up to answering questions, he wouldn't have required hospitalization.

Dr. Ivgi, another staff member, was also angry. He didn't understand why the young students disturbed their rav. He had also never seen a patient surrounded by so many visitors.

But Professor Harel silenced the members of his staff and asked them to restrain themselves. He realized that the young rav's students weren't a burden to the rav. "He'll be here for a long time, and we'll have to get used to this sight," he told his subordinates

Professor Harel was at least twenty-five years older than the rav on the bed. But it was clear to him that he had a lot to learn from him. "It's amazing how warmly and with how much concern he answers each question posed to him. See the seriousness with which he weighs every issue. It's no wonder that his students are so attached to him. They regard him as a source of support and encouragement," Dr. Harel mused.

The visits finally ended. The students wished their rav a refuah shleima and left the room. The doctors prepared to begin the treatment.

Suddenly, an enterprising young man burst into the room: "Wait a minute. We need the rav," he said as he panted heavily.

"We need his eitza," two others came into the room and confirmed.

The rav smiled at them with understanding, and his eyes seemed to say: "Ask, my sons. Ask."

They asked: "Kevod HaRav, its almost bein hazmanim and the boys in the yeshiva will soon have free time. We want to volunteer to do something for the community for the sake of the refuah shleima of the rav. What does kevod HaRav suggest? Should we administer first aid to the sick, or should we help out in our neighborhood's free kitchen? All of the bochurim feel that their chesed will contribute to your recovery."

The doctors' anger subsided a bit at such a question. They realized that their patient was a very interesting person, and that his advice was very much in demand.

The rav paused for a moment. Then he said: "Let me tell you an interesting story. When I was only five months old, I became very ill. At that time, we lived in a maabara in substandard conditions. My parents were afraid to report my condition to the camp's director, because many of the sick children in the camp examined by him had been taken to hospitals or clinics from which they never returned. My older brother, my parents told me, was a case in point. My parents didn't want that to happen to me and, despite the seriousness of my illness, insisted that I remain with them, under their care. But my situation grew so bad, that I could barely breathe.

"On a stormy and rainy night, Abba went to Chadera to search for a doctor for me. Abba had no money, only a golden bracelet which my mother had brought from Yemen. He offered it to a certain young doctor and pleaded with him to help me. The doctor refused the gift. In his kindness, he rushed to the camp and saved me at the last minute."

The ailing rav fell silent for a moment. It was obvious that he had overtaxed himself.

"If only I could meet that doctor and thank him," he feebly mumbled.

His students understood the answer to their question. Their rav had been saved by a young doctor and they concluded that he thought that administering first aid was the best thing they could do. As they were about to leave the room, Professor Harel turned to them and in an emotion-filled voice said:

"Wait a minute. I want to complete that story."

The rav's eyes lit up, when the professor pointed to him and, in a voice filled with satisfaction, said:

"Now I know who I saved. That sick baby was none other than kevod HaRav. I am the doctor from Chadera."

The circle had closed. The students' conviction was reaffirmed. They had heard a true story about the merit of one who rescues one Jewish life. That summer vacation they would volunteer to help the sick, with the hope that in the merit of their mitzvah, their beloved rav, R' Zecharia ben Sa'ida, would speedily recover.


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