Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Ellul 5760 - September 6, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"Meoros HaDaf HaYomi" Insights into the Week's Learning: Stories, Mussar, Practical Halacha (Tractate Nedarim Daf 46-52) (Vol. 67)

From the Sochatchov "Beis Medrash of Teachers of the Daf HaYomi" Bnei Brak

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 his career.

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 work.

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 situation!"

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 honor's name?"

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 Shabbos."

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

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