empty Stories Of Greatness

Wasted Wine

Pharaoh asked Moshe to pray to G-d to remove the frogs. Moshe Rabbeinu prayed and the frogs went...

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On May 3, 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin hobbled into a crowded Knesset chamber, tense with expectancy. He was in pain, recovering from a severe hip injury, and it was with heavy, purposeful steps that he arrived to deliver his El Al speech. He began quietly, factually, declaring that the government had finally decided to halt all El Al flights on Shabbos and festivals – a revelation that sent leftist eyes glaring and hatred flashing in the public gallery where the El Al union men sat.

Over centuries, the Jewish community in Spain had flourished and grown in numbers and influence, though anti-Semitism had surfaced from time to time. During the reign of Henry III (1390-1406), Jews faced increased persecution and were pressured to convert to Christianity. Many Jews were killed, and those who adopted Christian beliefs – the conversos (Spanish: “converted”) – faced continued suspicion and prejudice. In addition, there remained a significant population of Jews who had professed conversion but continued to practice their faith in secret. Known as Marranos, those nominal converts from Judaism were perceived to be an even greater threat to the social order than those who had rejected forced conversion. After Aragon and Castile were united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella (1469), the Marranos were denounced as a danger to the existence of Christian Spain and a formal Inquisition was established to deal with them.

One of the most outstanding stories of escape from Auschwitz-Birknau is the story of Alfred Wetzler and Rudolph Vrba-Rosenberg. It took place on April 7, 1944. According to the opinions of several historians, the Vrba-Wetzler Report, often referred to as the Auschwitz Protocol, one of the most famous documents in the free world at that period, was a major contributing factor in multitudes of Hungarian Jews not being sent to Auschwitz.

Toward the latter half of the 19th century, two of the greatest chasidic rebbes were also the greatest of friends. As youngsters, R’ Avraham Twersky, zt”l, (Maggid of Trisk), son of R’ Mordechai (Mottel) of Chernobyl, zt”l, and R’ Menachem Mendel Kalish, zt”l, son of R’ Yitzchok of Vorka, zt”l, formed a pact of friendship that was to last a lifetime; indeed, they died just a few months apart. As the two boys grew older and eventually inherited their respective chasidic dynasties, maintaining contact became all the more difficult. R’ Mendel lived in Vorka, Poland, while R’ Avraham lived in Trisk, Ukraine. The distance between the two was a half-day’s wagon ride and it often took weeks for letters to reach one another. R’ Mendel’s personal attendant, a caring young man by the name of Moishele, saw his Rebbe’s distress and offered to travel every week back and forth to deliver correspondence between the two.

The problems facing a fellow Jew are our problems, and the tears streaming down their faces are just as real to us as they are to them. If we are looking for ways to repent our sins with a complete t’shuvah and herald the holy day of Yom Kippur when we reunite with our Father in Heaven, this is where we must begin. We reach upwards by reaching outwards.

The gaon R’ Yaakov Krantz, zt”l, known throughout the world as the Dubno Maggid, was a brilliant scholar and an unrivaled orator. Possessed of great eloquence, he illustrated his sermons with unique stories taken from human life. With such parables, he illuminated the most difficult passages in the Torah and Talmud and answered numerous questions in rabbinical law. He was also an eminent rabbinical scholar, and on many occasions was consulted as a halachic authority.