From the Editor
Children as Black as Coal
In the words of Moshe Rabbeinu, one of the unique traits of
our Nation is that we are "stiff-necked" to an unusual
degree. This trait has stood us in good stead throughout our
troubled history. . . . Because this wonderful stubbornness
is so deeply embedded in our fabric, it has helped us to
remain strong in the face of all sorts of attempts to make us
compromise our faith, so that we have always kept ourselves
focused on our goals and responsibilities. . . . The
following story provides an amazing example of the great
benefit of this important trait.
Zundel came from a simple family of farmers. He was eighteen
when he left home, setting his sights on the land of his
dreams. His mother was crying when she bid him farewell. His
father's last encouraging slap on the back shook his entire
frame. As Zundel departed, he turned to take one last look at
the chicken coop, perhaps out of habit, for earlier that
morning, as every morning, he had gathered eggs from there.
Afterwards, he headed for the big city. Now, thirty-two years
later, a great financial success and overflowing with self-
assurance, these are the last memories he has of the place.
He had boarded a train for the first time in his life, and
the train took him to the sea, where he boarded a passenger
boat that seemed be ready to sink. After many days, peering
out from the window of his third-class cabin, he finally saw
what he waiting for. In the distance, standing tall and proud
was the Statue of Liberty, beckoning to him.
It was a cold, windy day. He thought back to the day when he
had picked up a newspaper and read about America the first
time. "The Land of Opportunity." Immediately, he disdained
farm life, and decided to leave the barn and the chicken coop
far behind him. He would travel to America, make a fortune,
and then go back and bring his family back with him, and they
would join him in living "the better life."
Zundel was very resourceful. He made his first dollar almost
as soon as he got off the boat. Two elderly passengers were
struggling with their luggage, and he convinced them to pay
him for his help.
Before a week had passed, he landed a job in a big fabric
factory, and the money purse that his mother had pressed into
his hand began to bulge with green American money. However,
he soon learned something that the newspaper article about
America had neglected to mention. He could not believe it,
but in America employers make you work even on Shabbos!
Zundel, who had limitless energy, would have been able to
make bundles of money working seven days a week, but a
believing Jew true to the heritage of his fathers would not
think to desecrate the Holy Shabbos.
Much had happened during the past thirty-two years. Despite
the hardships, Zundel had eventually become a wealthy
businessman in charge of enterprises all over the world.
However, he never forgot the trials of his climb upwards.
Occasionally, he would command his employees to not bother
him no matter what, and he would lock himself in his office,
sit in his thick cushioned chair, stretch out his legs, close
his eyes and think back to those difficult days when he began
It happened on a cold, gray and routine evening, like all
those that Zundel weathered until the children were all
asleep. Now he had been married for seven and a half years --
to an upright Jewish woman who had agreed to his one
condition, before they were married according to the halacha:
"Never will I ever take work that involves desecration of the
Shabbos!" Zundel supported his family through temporary jobs
that usually would last for a day or two, until the Merciful
One would show pity on them and send Zundel more temporary
His Father in Heaven helped him. A friend had told him of a
high-rise apartment building whose tenants were looking for
someone to take responsibility for keeping the building
clean, and for that purpose he would live on the premises in
the basement apartment, rent-free. Zundel submitted his
application and the building's board accepted it, thereby
solving his housing problems.
That evening, as Zundel sat in his basement dwelling, he
looked up at the slit of the window near its ceiling and saw
a shining pair of elegant shoes and the bottoms of the legs
of a man's pair of trousers. Outside in the lot above, four
of his children were happily playing, their shouts of joy
reaching Zundel's ears and filling his heart with joy. In the
hot, stuffy apartment below, Zundel surmised that the man
wearing this fine apparel had stopped to watch the children
at play. "Nu," he mused, "Someone else who can't believe that
one family has so many children. If he only would bend down
he'd see two more in their basement apartment!" Suddenly,
though, the man's voice was heard, and his words made Zundel
spring to his feet.
"Psshhh, Negros with payos! I never saw such a thing
all my days!" Immediately, Zundel took the newborn into his
arms, wrapped in a blanket, and then lifted up the one-year
old in his other arm and climbed the stairs out of the
basement. "You are sorely mistaken, my friend!" The surprised
man stood speechless as he heard Zundel say, "My children are
not blacks! They are members of the Chosen Nation! The
payos that grace the sides of their faces are payos
of holy and pure Jewish children!"
The stranger looked upon the storminess of Zundel's facial
expression, and then his gaze rested upon the two tiny
children in his arms. Then he looked at the other four
children who had heard and stopped their playing, standing by
with their curious faces -- black as coal. "The basement
apartment where I have lived fifteen months now is the
building's storage place for coal, and the coal dust is
smeared on my children's faces so that by the end of the day
their faces are black. But you should know, this tiny black
room where we live is a palace -- where the Shabbos is kept
faithfully every week. Only because I and my wife preserve
the holiness of the Shabbos have we wound up in such a
Having concluded his speech, Zundel gave the newborn to his
oldest son, and lightly placed his hand on the back of the
stranger's shoulder, saying, "And what, may I ask, is your
The answer came back, "George."
Zundel, realizing that the man was Jewish, pressed further,
"And what is your real name?"
The man was silent for a moment, so Zundel added, "It's
obvious. It's obvious. Who can hide it?"
Bewildered, "George" answered, "Benyamin," and then asked,
with great curiosity, "Are all these six children yours?"
Nodding in the affirmative, Zundel turned and took his
children down the stairs, displaying a broad smile that
Benyamin-George could not miss. Little did Benyamin-George
know how this short meeting would change his life.
That night, "George" returned home and told his wife what had
happened, expressing wonder over how and why a Jew clung so
tightly to the religion of his fathers, when his stubbornness
had led him to such dire straits. His wife came out of the
kitchen and pointed an accusing finger at him. "Don't you
dare make fun of them," she said. "You don't remember,
George, what you said when we first started out our lives
together here in America? Oh, you do remember! `I will work
on Shabbos just for while, until we build a financial
foundation for ourselves and we can make ends meet. Then we
will be independent enough to go back to normal and keep the
Shabbos.' Today, though, look at us, how comfortable we are,
and you still are working on Shabbos! You should take this
Zundel as an example, and don't laugh at what he is doing!"
At that moment, he and his wife resolved that from then on
they would keep the Shabbos, and return with a full heart to
the Jewish heritage and lifestyle. In order to repent the
many times they had desecrated the Shabbos, they decided to
give a large sum to charity -- specifically to Zundel, who
had inspired their return to their roots. They planned to
tell Zundel that with this money, they wanted him to rent a
nice, comfortable flat.
The next day, Benyamin-George made his way back to Zundel's
humble abode, where again, he met the four children playing
outside. The children led him downstairs to their surprised
father, who was even more astounded when his guest presented
him with all that money. With great delicacy, Zundel said,
"Dear Benyamin. The sacrifices that my wife and I make for
the Shabbos have no price, for the mitzvah of Shabbos is more
valuable than all the money in the world. However, I will not
refuse your generous gift without first asking my wife, may
she live and be well, for maybe our living conditions have
reached a point where she just can't tolerate them anymore,
and she is willing to take help in reward for our keeping the
Zundel went to the other room and closed its door behind him.
After a minute or so he came out. He approached Benyamin and
said, with a broad smile on face, "Boruch Hashem, my
wife, too, does not want to accept reward in this world for
keeping the Shabbos."
The emotional impact of this experience was almost too much
for Benyamin to bear. Never had he met a man of such pure and
noble principles. Within a few days, he hired Zundel to work
in one of his factories. It was not long before his new
worker earned a promotion. Steadily, Zundel moved up to
positions of greater and greater responsibility, until he
eventually became one of the top executives in Benyamin's
gigantic firm. Eventually, Zundel spread his wings and became
independent, starting his own enterprises, which became great
successes. This had always been his dream, to succeed on his
own merits, through the work of his hands.
With the blessings of the Torah, The Editor