The world is built on kindness. This Shabbat we are honored to be part of history as the Jewish world is taking part in the Shabbat Project. Our fellow brethren will extend themselves spiritually by observing Shabbat as it was meant to be. It will be a day of commitment; it will be a day of unity; it will be a day of kindness. One of my favorite and memorable stories on kindness, which I often repeat whenever I get the opportunity to speak is one which I read from one of Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s books. The prime character in the story happens to be none other than Rabbi Krohn’s uncle – Rabbi Yehuda Ackerman.
A Dance for the Ages’
This following story is one of the most remarkable I have ever heard. It was told to me by one of the central characters in the episode, my uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Ackerman, a Stoliner chassid now living in the city of Bnei Brak, Israel. The love and concern for a fellow Jew portrayed here are so genuinely touching that the story inspires all who hear it.
A number of years ago a wealthy individual came to Israel with his family for a few weeks’ vacation. He was just staying in the famous Central Hotel on Rechov Pines in Jerusalem, and that is where he had most of his meals.
One Friday night, after the seudas Shabbos, the gentleman was strolling back and forth outside the hotel where he noticed two chassidic boys rushing somewhere. “Where are you boys off to?” he asked, as they sped by.
“We’re on our way to the Stoliner Rebbe’s tish.” (The word “tish,” literally translated as “table,” is a term used for a gathering of chassidim around their Rebbe’s table.) The gentleman thought that it might be interesting to observe a tish and so he asked, as he hurried to catch up with them, “Do you mind if I come along?”
“No, of course not. But you must walk quickly,” they added, “because it is starting soon.”
The three of them rushed down Rechov Pines, made a right turn on Rechov Malchei Yisrael, and headed into the tiny streets of Meah Shearim toward the Stoliner shul.
The shul was packed with hundreds of people who had already gathered to sing and bask in the Rebbe’s presence. The gentleman now detached himself from the two boys, shouldered his way through the crowd, found some room for himself in the back of the synagogue and stood there unobtrusively observing the scene.
My uncle, a fervent Stoliner chassid for decades, had come that week to Jerusalem to be with his Rebbe. He, too, was at the tish and was sitting close to the front. As he looked around the synagogue he searched for faces that were not among the “regulars.” It was then that he noticed the wealthy man in the back.
My uncle, aside from being a devout chassid of the Rebbe, is the founder and fundraiser of the Stoliner Yeshivah in Bnei Brak. Before Shabbos the Rebbe had told him that he must not leave Jerusalem before raising twenty-five thousand dollars for the benefit of the yeshivah, because the melamdim (teachers) were owed a great deal of back pay. Therefore, when my uncle saw the wealthy gentleman, he figured that he might be a good man to talk to.
Throughout the evening my uncle kept an eye on the man in the back of the shul. When he realized that the tish was about to end, he made his way towards him. My uncle, a jovial and robust individual, extended his hand and, with the broadest of smiles, said, “Gut Shabbos, Reb Yid. Welcome to Stolin. I believe I recognize you.”
My uncle knew quite well that this man had a reputation of being a philanthropist who supported many Jewish causes. He was hoping he could get him involved with his own cause.
The man looked at my uncle and replied, “Gut Shabbos. I believe I recognize you too.”
The two men spoke for a while and then my uncle asked, “Where are you staying, and how long will you be here in town?”
I’m staying at the Central and I’m leaving on Tuesday,” came the reply.
“May I bring some of my friends to you tomorrow night at the Central, and we will make a little Melaveh Malkah (festive meal held Saturday night)? We’ll sing a little, dance a little, tell some stories, have some good food. It will be beautiful.”
The philanthropist understood quite well what my uncle’s intention was, but still he smiled and said, “Fine. Come with your friends tomorrow night.”
The next evening, a little while after Shabbos ended, my uncle and three of his friends went to the Central Hotel and up to the gentleman’s room. They knocked on the door and waited, pacing back and forth as they worried that perhaps the gentleman had forgotten about the Melaveh Malkah or that something else had came up. After a few moments, however, the gentleman came to the door and invited them in.
For more than two hours they sang, told stories and relished the ambience of the evening. Finally the gentleman turned to my uncle and said, “Ackerman, what do you want from me? I know you didn’t just come here to sing and dance.”
My uncle smiled sheepishly and said, “You know something? You are so right. I didn’t just come to sing and dance. I came for a very important reason.” He then went on to explain the financial plight of the Stoliner Yeshivah and how, because of the economic hardships in Israel, the yeshivah was almost totally dependent on support from friends in America. “I need your help,” my uncle said seriously. “The Rebbe told me that I must raise twenty-five thousand dollars.”
Everyone in the room was quiet. The gentleman was deep in thought, his eyes closed as he reflected on the words my uncle had just spoken. “I’ll tell you what, Ackerman,” he said. “I’ll give you a donation now, and if you raise ten thousand dollars by tomorrow night, I will match it and give you another ten!”
My uncle and his friends could not believe their ears. It had never occurred to them that the gentleman would make such a gracious offer. They shook hands on the “deal” and a few moments later my uncle left the hotel to begin his efforts to raise the ten thousand dollars.
For much of the night and all of the next day my uncle ran from person to person, telling them that he had a golden opportunity to relieve Stoliner Yeshivah of a good deal of its financial burden if only they would help him. He collected cash, personal checks, money orders and traveler’s checks. He hardly rested for a moment, and by Sunday evening he was close to his goal.
Late Sunday night he made his way to the Central Hotel, went directly to the gentleman’s room and began piling all the money he raised on the table. They counted it, and sure enough – my uncle had met the goal! He had raised ten thousand dollars! The philanthropist promptly took out his checkbook and wrote a check to the Stoliner Yeshivah for ten thousand dollars. My uncle simply could not believe what was happening. For the first time in many years he was speechless.
As he began to thank the gentleman profusely for what he had just done, the gentleman said, “Aren’t you wondering why I did this?”
“Wondering?” my uncle blurted out. “To me this is a miracle. It’s like man min hashamayim (the food that fell miraculously from Heaven for the Jews in the desert.)”
“Sit down,” the gentleman said. “Let me tell you a story and then you will understand.”
“It was twenty-five years ago.” The gentleman began, “on the afternoon of my wedding day. I was so poor that my parents could not even afford to buy me a hat to wear to my chuppah. I lived in Williamsburg (an Orthdox neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York) at the time, so I walked to Broadway where there was a famous Jewish
hat store. I went in and told the owner, “I’m getting married tonight, but my parents are poverty stricken and can’t afford to buy me a hat. Could you please do me a favor and give me a hat? I promise you that tomorrow morning I will come in and pay you with some of the money that I hope to get tonight as wedding presents.”
“The man behind the counter looked me over and then answered, ‘You look like an honest yeshivah bachur (student). I’ll give you the hat.’
“I was so happy and grateful to him, “continued the gentleman. “I walked outside and a few stores down was a liquor store, also owned by a Jewish man. I knew very well that my parents couldn’t afford any liquor for the wedding, so I went in and said to the man behind the counter, ‘I’m getting married tonight and my parents do not have money to buy any liquor. Would you be so kind as to give me a few bottles for the wedding? I promise that tomorrow morning I will come in and pay you from the money that I hope to get as wedding gifts.’
Here, too, the man looked me over and said the same thing the fellow in the hat store has said. ‘You look like an honest yeshivah bachur, I’ll give you the liquor.’
“He gave me the liquor and I walked out of the store with the hat in my right hand and the liquor in my left. I felt like a million dollars. I was ecstatic. I took just a few steps outside the store and there you were, Mr. Ackerman.
[My uncle, R’ Yehuda Ackerman, was known at the time as the most extraordinary dancer at Jewish weddings. Whenever he made his way into the middle of the circle where everyone was dancing, He became the focal point of frolic around which everything centered. Everyone in the hall would stop whatever they were doing just to watch him perform for the chassan and kallah. His body movements were elegant; his balancing acts; entertaining; his radiant smile ebullient, and his body’s comical coordination with the music the band was playing was incredible and legendary. Somehow he managed to become the physical embodiment of the musical notes emanating from the violin, clarinet and cordovox, which were popular at the time.]
“I saw,” the gentleman said, “that Hashem was so good to me in helping me get the hat and the liquor, so I figured that I would take my chances just one more time. I walked over to you and said, ‘Mr. Ackerman, I know you don’t know who I am, but I am getting married tonight. Would you mind coming to dance at my wedding?’
“You said that you couldn’t promise anything, but you took down my name and the name and address of the wedding hall. And that night, right in the middle of the wedding, you came running into the center of the circle where everyone was dancing and you danced so magnificently. The people loved it! You made everyone so happy and you helped make it the greatest night of my life. When it was over that evening, I swore to myself that someday I would repay you.”
Now, transversing all the years in between, the gentleman concluded. “Last night, when I saw you at the Stoliner Rebbe’s tish, I suddenly remembered what I had said to myself back then on my wedding night. I realized that now was the time to pay you back. That’s why I gave you the money.”
My uncle sat there astounded. He hasn’t remembered the wedding. He hadn’t remembered the wedding from so long ago, but he would never forget this Shabbos night in Jerusalem.
The story, however, did not end there. The next time my uncle was in the city where this generous gentleman lived, he heard that the man’s son was getting married. He waited until the middle of the wedding and then as he had done so many years earlier, he ran into the center of the circle where everyone was dancing, and he danced as he had, all those years before.
And as he did, he turned and saw the gentleman standing off on the side with a great smile across his face, and tears rolling down his cheeks. He ran over to the man and, as they embraced, the man said to my uncle, “How can I ever thank you? You’ve made me relive the greatest night of my life.”
The Gemara (Yoma 9b) teaches that the Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, uncalled-for and unreasonable hatred. Here, though, was an instance of poignant ahavas chinam, a talented individual dancing at the wedding of a young man whom he didn’t even know and never thought he would see again only because there was love…love of one Jew for another with no motive or incentive other than that they were both Jewish. May we all learn from this incredible story and merit together to see the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash.
Reproduced from “Footsteps of the Maggid,” by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
Devastating! the destruction of the world occurred. The water was chosen to be the weapon of mass destruction; it rose and wiped out civilization. The only survivors in this extinction was a mere wooden ark navigated by the lone tzadic of his generation, Noach. Many are puzzled by the story of Noach. Strangely, Noach and his family – a mere crew of eight – spent virtually every hour of every day for over a year tending to the needs of tens of thousands of animals, each and every one according to its own schedule and diet. This unparalleled selfless kindness was the spiritual lifeblood of the ark. And if but once in the hundreds of thousands of feedings and cleanups, Noach would be tardy, the results could be devastating. Indeed, the lion lashed out when Noach was once late, rendering him maimed for life.
Why was Noach and his family subjugated to such abnormal servitude? Furthermore, why did the destruction have to come through water? Also, why was the devastation so widespread, everything and everybody was wiped out? Strange, it seemed like nothing was spared but the ark and its inhabitants.
Rabbi Baruch Dopelt brings an interesting parallel from the commentary the Bet HaLevi:
There was a king who decided to habitat the palace with commoners as a sign of kindness and good will. He gathered an assortment of deaf mutes and very low intelligent people to reside in his castle. After a short time, these individuals, in their own way, showed a tremendous amount of gratitude to the King for the hospitality. At every opportunity they would screech or clap their hands awkwardly with a happy grin to show their appreciation.
The King thought if these deaf mutes and assortments show such affection, I’m sure highly intelligent-cream of the crop would greatly show appreciation to the highest degree. So he replaced the commoners with smart people.
As time passed, though, these smart people began to rebel against the King and forced him out of the palace.
The smart society underestimated the power of the king. He easily regained power and kicked out all the intelligent derelicts and replaced them with the commoners.
The waters occupied the world before the creation of man. We read in the Friday evening Shabbat prayers (MIZMOR SHIR LE’YOM HASHABBAT) MIKOLOT MAYIM RABIM-the voice, singing, praise of the waters is great. They exalted G-d in a tremendous way. G-d said if the waters can praise me and show such affection to such an extent, can one imagine what an intelligent being like man can do? So in essence the waters response initiated the creation of man. The upper and lower waters that were united were then separated to inhabit man on dry land.
However, man rebelled and sinned against G-d proclaiming “there is no room for G-d in our lives”. G-d then brought back the commoners – the waters. This was the entity that appreciated G-d the way it should have been. The waters went back to their original territory which was encompassing the entire globe and destroyed mankind. What remained was Noach and the selected few.
Why destroy the world?
The Torah hints through the scriptures that man had such an influence on nature whether during Noach’s time or even now. We learn that the animals, during that generation, behaved in a degenerate way like the humans. The animals were cross breeding with other animals similarly like man’ decadent lifestyle. For this reason the animals had to be destroyed along with mankind. So it seems man can influence in a drastic level; he can bring an abundance of goodness to the world as well as evil. Instead of emulating G-d and showing kindness to their fellow man, they did the opposite. Stealing and the anti-unity was the trend.
The ark was a place where the actions of mankind had to rectified. It was to show extreme behavior the other way. The couples in the ark had to abstain from physical contact in contrast to “everything permissible” attitude they had been accustomed to before.
Man’s interpersonal relationships was deeply degenerated before the flood. Concerns for others was not tolerated; every man for himself. Life in the ark, though, was different; Noach and his children had to perform the ultimate kindness to the lower form of creation, the animals. This act was extreme!! nevertheless the cleansing process had to be performed.
“Olam chesed yibaneh” – the world will be built upon chesed-kindness. There is no reason why this had to be. G-d could have chosen one of His other characteristics, and spun a world revolving around it. He chose chesed because it is closest to His Will. Similarly, when we are instructed to imitate His character (as fulfillment of the imperative “You shall walk in His ways”), the Sages limit this obligation to the character of chesed, but none other. It is through chesed alone that we attach ourselves to Him.