Sunday, October 25, 2020 -
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Unexpected results

JACOB Tessler, who lived in Jerusalem, had a large family — 10 children. However, he lived in a very small apartment of two bedrooms, one for him and his wife and one all for his children, who also occupied the living room and every other available space. It was maddening for both parents and children.

Tessler applied for a government-backed mortgage for a larger apartment. All the necessary paperwork took time. Meanwhile, since he was a Gerrer chasid, he went to his sweet and wise rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, called the Lev Simcha, “Heart of Joy,” to bless his application for the government mortgage. The rebbe happily did so and gave Tessler an apple — it was his custom to give an apple to all who came to him for help.

Tessler returned home uplifted. The rebbe had blessed his efforts! And, he had an apple from the rebbe to share with his family.

He gathered all 10 children and his wife around the table and began cutting the apple into small pieces, one for each person. Just at that moment, a government inspector knocked on the door. He had come to verify that Tessler had a family as big as he said he did, and an apartment as small as he said he had.

He gazed at the scene and decided on the spot: Tessler gets his mortgage! A family that needs to divide a single apple among 10 children is truly poor enough to deserve this mortgage!

Ah! . . . the potency of a blessing from the Gerrer Rebbe.

SARAH Joffen lived approximately one century, 1884-1984. Her life began when the locomotive had just begun to pass near the hamlet in Eastern Europe where she was born. At the time, only a few thousand Jews populated an Ottoman-controlled Jerusalem. Her life ended after man had traveled to the moon and the Ottoman Empire no longer existed — as she lived in an independent, Jewish Jerusalem.

She survived the Bolsheviks and the Nazis, tasted freedom in the United States, then uprooted her life at age 80, this time moving from Brooklyn to the Holy City. Her husband died five years later.

Perhaps her greatest challenge of all was old age.

She spent her last years in bed. She had shrunk to a little over four feet tall. One could be forgiven for looking on and saying she lacked “quality of life.”

But she did have a history.

Her father was the legendary defier of the Bolsheviks, the Alter of Novorodock. He opened yeshivas while the Bolsheviks were busy closing them down, at gunpoint.

I wanted my little girls, then about five and six, to look into Mrs. Joffen’s eyes. I wanted them to be able to say, when they grew up, that they had looked into the eyes of someone who had looked into the eyes of the Alter of Novorodock (who himself had looked into the eyes of Rabbi Israel Salanter).

I wanted to connect my children to history — to the generations.

Old Mrs. Joffen would surely appreciate our visit. She was all but forgotten, so we came.

We met a woman whose fiery eyes gazed up at us. With a will of iron, she knew her own mind: “Do not visit here! You should spend your time studying Torah.

“And don’t be insulted. I tell my great-grandchildren the same thing.”

Ah! . . . internal rhythms, however old, steady as the atomic clock.

MR. Engleberg was used to being called “Mister.” His wealth was prodigious — once you’re past $1 billion, who can count precisely?

He had donated a new Torah scroll to the minyan of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the Jerusalem sage who himself is about 100, and who — surely this is some kind of record — still delivers a Talmud lecture each day.

He lives as he has always lived, extremely modestly, in a ramshackle apartment at the edge of Meah Shearim.

A few years ago he could no longer walk the 100 yards to the synagogue his father had founded, so a makeshift synagogue, a “caravan,” was set up next to his residence.

On the day the Torah scroll was finished, Mr. Engleberg was in a good mood. The last lines of the Torah were being inscribed; the dancing and music were set to begin. He asked Rabbi Eliashiv: “Anything the rav wants me to give — just name it.”

This is not the first time the esteemed rabbi has been offered a blank check for a new home or for anything else he might want.

“You want to do me a big favor?” asks the rabbi.

Mr. Engleberg couldn’t wait for the opportunity to shower his resources on Rabbi Eliashiv.

“Yes!” he said, eagerly.

“Cut the music a little bit. Make the dancing a bit shorter — so I can get back to my Torah studies.”

End, Part I.

Some 10 years ago I came to pray with Rabbi Eliashiv’s minyan. I was approached and asked whether I would donate 150 shekels for a new clock. The rabbi found it hard to see the small clock on the back wall, and wanted a larger one, placed within his line of sight.

Having heard about the failure of the likes of Mr. Engleberg to give the rabbi anything, I said to myself: “I don’t have a billion dollars, but I have a chance to benefit the rav!” I jumped at the opportunity and handed over 150 shekels on the spot.

The next day, the clock was on the wall. Inwardly, I was very pleased.

And on the next day, I should not have been surprised by the emet, or truth, that permeates Rabbi Eliashiv’s ambience. The same man who had approached me for the new clock now handed me a 50 shekel note. “Actually,” he said, “the clock only cost 100 shekels. Here’s your change.”

Ah! . . . no request for a re-donation of funds already given.

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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