Shabbos in the Tears: A Story

In this letter, I will share with you a story about a great sage and the "heliger Shabbos" holy Shabbos. The letter will open with a brief description of the spiritual goals and accomplishments of this great sage.
 
Dear Friends,
 
The Chofetz Chaim - Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan Hakohen - was a beloved and respected sage who served as one of the major spiritual leaders of our people during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became a leading scholar of "halacha" the required steps on the Torah path; moreover, a major focus of his writings are the halachos regarding ethical speech, ethical business practices, sharing our resources with those in need, and acts of lovingkindness. He was a living example of what he taught, and even those Jews who had abandoned the Torah path greatly respected him. The Chofetz Chaim stressed that human beings are created in the Divine image with the capacity and responsibility to emulate the Divine compassion and benevolence. He was therefore greatly troubled by secular trends which denied the sacred origin of the human being, and which viewed the human being as the owner and sovereign of the world. To counter the negative effects of this trend, the Chofetz Chaim would lovingly urge our people to rededicate ourselves to mitzvos which remind us that we are committed to the higher Divine purpose, and among the examples he cited are Torah study, prayer, and the keeping of Shabbos. He lived for nearly one hundred years in the small and poor town of Radin, Poland, and he passed away in 1933.
 
Over four decades later, on the occasion of the Chofetz Chaim's yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing), a rabbi visiting Miami, Florida gave a lecture on the life and accomplishments of the Chofetz Chaim. He mentioned the many books that the Chofetz Chaim had authored, and he told numerous stories which depicted the Chofetz Chaim's deep love and concern for others. There was one story the rabbi wanted to tell, but he hesitated, for he only knew part of it. As he stood at the lectern, he thought for a moment and then decided that he would tell it anyway. He rationalized that even an unfinished story about the Chofetz Chaim would have a meaningful message.
 
He began to relate an incident about a teenage boy in the Chofetz Chaim's yeshiva who was found smoking a cigarette on Shabbos. The faculty and students were shocked, and some of the faculty felt that the boy should be expelled. When the Chofetz Chaim, however, heard the story, he asked that the boy be brought to his home.
 
At this point, the rabbi recounting the story interrupted the narrative and said, "I don't know what the Chofetz Chaim said to the boy. I only know that they were together for a few minutes; yet, I would give anything to know what he said to this student, for I am told that the boy never desecrated the Shabbos again. How wonderful it would be if we could relay that message - whatever it was - to others, in order to encourage them in their observance of Shabbos. The rabbi then continued with his lecture.
 
After his talk, the hall emptied of everyone except for one elderly man, who remained in his seat, alone with his thoughts. From the distance, it seemed he was trembling, as if he was either crying or suffering from chills. The rabbi walked over to the elderly man and asked him, "Is anything wrong?"
The man responded, "How did you know that story of the cigarette on Shabbos?" He did not look up and was still shaken. "I really don't know", answered the rabbi. "I heard it a while ago and I don't even remember who told it to me." The man looked up at the rabbi and said softly, "I was that boy." He then asked the rabbi to go outside, and as the two walked together, he told the rabbi the following story:
 
"This incident occurred in the 1920's when the Chofetz Chaim was in his eighties. I was terrified to have to go into his house and face him. But when I did go into his home, I looked around with disbelief at the poverty in which he lived. It was unimaginable to me that a man of his stature would be satisfied to live in such surroundings. Suddenly he was in the room where I was waiting. He was remarkably short. At that time I was a teenager and he only came up to my shoulders. He took my hand and clasped it tenderly in both of his. He brought my hand in his own clasped hands up to his face, and when I looked into his soft face, his eyes were closed for a moment. When he opened them, they were filled with tears. He then said to me in a hushed voice full of pain and astonishment, 'Shabbos!' And he started to cry. He was still holding both my hands in his, and while he was crying he repeated with astonishment, 'Shabbos, heliger Shabbos!' My heart started pounding and I became more frightened than I had been before. Tears streamed down his face and one of them rolled onto my hand. I thought it would bore a hole right through my skin. When I think of those tears today, I can still feel their heat. I can't describe how awful it felt to know that I had made the great tzadik cry. But in his rebuke - which consisted only of those few words - I felt that he was not angry, but rather sad and disappointed with me. He seemed frightened at the consequences of my actions."
 
The elderly man then caressed the hand that bore the invisible scar of a precious tear. It had become his permanent reminder to observe the "heliger Shabbos" for the rest of his life.
 
As I reflect on the above story, I am reminded of the searching Jewish men and women of our generation who are rediscovering the "heliger Shabbos" with tears of joy. Each of them has a special story to tell about their journey to Shabbos.
 
Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
 
Related Comments:
 
1. The heartfelt teachings of the Chofetz Chaim reveal that his soul heard the "symphony" of Shabbos; moreover, his teachings help us to realize that each Shabbos halacha is a note in this symphony.
 
2. I first heard the above story from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, when he was serving as the Rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan in the late 1970's. I later found the story in the book "Around the Maggid's Table" by Rabbi Paysach Krohn. This book is an anthology of true stories and wise parables, and it is published by ArtScroll: : http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/home  . Rabbi Krohn has also written other anthologies of fascinating and uplifting true stories. Rabbi Krohn is helping to revive the ancient Jewish art of storytelling, and he travels to Jewish communities all over the world.
 
 

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