by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
There was a successful person, whose business was doing quite well, yet his happiness was marred from the fact that he and his wife, although married for many years were not blessed with a child.
Their friends joined them in their suffering and prayed on their behalf, but they remained childless. Finally a few of their friends approached them and said, “We heard that in a city not too far from here, lives a very righteous Jew whose blessings are known to be fulfilled. Our advice is, go visit him and plead with him that he blesses you.”
The couple immediately prepared to make this journey and they set out early the following morning. Arriving at this tzaddik’s home, they poured out their hearts, pleading that Hashem fulfills their wish to have a healthy child.
While the tzaddik spoke to them he did not bless them with a child. So as sad as they were before, now they were devastated. It was evident and clear as the sun that this great tzaddik saw that their plight is sealed, and there is no way for him to alter Hashem’s harsh decree against them.
Coming home, they didn’t have to say anything for their friends to see that it didn’t turn out as they hoped; their happiness of life was gone from them. They were like “vegetables”, they were just going through the motions.
After a while seeing them suffering so badly, their friends coaxed them to return to the tzaddik and plead and beseech him until he relents and blesses them. Having lost all hope and having nothing to lose, they decided to do so.
Entering his room the couple broke out in a cry, saying what is the purpose of life without a child. After a while the tzaddik said, Hashem has heard your cry, you will have a son. However, I must inform you, you are going to have a problem, as he is going to be a Ganav (thief).
The couple left with mixed feelings, on one hand they were elated, yet they were nervous of what will be with him. If the tzaddik said he will be a thief, that is what is decreed and there is nothing that could be done about it. While the husband was wondering is the shame and hurt worth the blessing, the wife comforted him saying, Boruch Hashem we are quite well off and we will give our son everything he needs and desires so there will be no need for him to steal. You will see everything will work out for the good.
Although he was skeptical, the husband allowed himself to be convinced that everything would be good, and a spark of life entered him. A few months later when she informed her husband that she is carrying a child, their hearts rejoiced, and the husband increased saying some tehillim, that they succeed in overcoming the child’s inherent temptation for stealing.
When she gave birth to their son, the entire town joined in their happiness. By the bris the couple opened the doors for everyone, after announcing that there will be food for hundreds of people. And the townspeople came and celebrated. The parents named Yehudah, as Yehudah means, to give thanks to Hashem, while it also has all four letters of Hashem’s name in it.
When they were cleaning up after the bris, one of the house helpers came over and informed them that an expensive piece of silver is missing, saying, evidently one of our guests couldn’t contain themselves.
The wife said to her husband, “You see this wasn’t stolen by our precious son. So perhaps he is destined to be the victim of numerous robberies, but not that he will be the thief.”
Not wanting to dampen her enthusiasm, he nodded his head in agreement, however, deep down, his heart was throbbing. This shows how strong this trait is on our child that it even affects others. So he intensified his prayers that it doesn’t become his sons’ nature at least for a very long time.
However, when he was already five, the parents began noticing that things are missing. The mother began spoiling him even more, informing him that he shouldn’t be hesitant to ask for anything, as everything they own is destined for him anyways. She hoped that this way there wouldn’t be any reason for him to steal.
However, she too began feeling uneasy as more and more items were missing. Initially she wanted to blame it on their house help, but after a while she saw the sad truth. One day a large wad of money was missing from her husbands’ study. The only one allowed there was their son, yet he denied seeing it. However, when she helped him prepare to go to sleep, she found the wad in one of his pants pocket.
When she asked him, why he said he didn’t see it, when it was in his pocket, the boy replied with tears in his eyes. “Mommy, I don’t know why I take all these things as I have no use for them; you and father give me everything one needs. There in those few boxes, you will find every single item that is missing. As much as I know it is wrong, I can’t control myself.
Opening the boxes, she saw that indeed there were all the missing items. The mother cried and pleaded with him to stop. Yehudah replied, mother dear, I would love to as I feel terrible every time I do it, but there is nothing I can do, I can’t control myself.
The parents hired the tutor to be with their son the entire day, but that didn’t help, he was so quick that the tutor didn’t notice a thing. Desperate to help their son, they went to a renowned Rov and asked him to help them.
After hearing the entire story, he replied, I know of an excellent teacher, whose succeeds with all of his students. My advice is that you hire him.
The parents went over to this individual and informed him of their dilemma and said, if you can cure our precious son from this illness, we will give you half of our possessions.
The teacher accepted the challenge and their son really enjoyed learning with him. He then described the reward in gan eden for one that acts properly and the boy was truly excited. Yet a few weeks later, the teacher one day couldn’t find his eye glasses. The mother confronted her son and he immediately admitted that he had the glasses as well as other items of his wonderful teacher, that the teacher wasn’t even aware that it was missing, and returned them.
The tutor continued teaching, hoping that after a few weeks and especially after a half year, Yehudah would begin to change. But a half year and then a year and another year went by, and while the youngster made tremendous strides in his learning and told his parents, that this is the best tutor one can have, his disease remained as strong as before. He couldn’t control himself and refrain from taking something that belongs to someone else.
After two years, the teacher sadly informed the parents that he has met his match and sees that he won’t be successful. Your son Yehudah, is a wonderful young man in every aspect besides this; it is as if he is possessed and I am sorry I can’t help.
Knowing that it wasn’t the teachers fault, they paid him extremely generously for the time he was with them and suffered in silence. Yehudah saw how it was affecting his parents and he too tried to control himself and stop, but to no avail.
Shortly after his bar mitzvah, the boy approached his parents and said, “Staying here is not going to help me, however, I must be helped. I heard that in a different city there is a great Yeshiva and maybe the Rosh Yeshiva (the dean), who is known to be something special can help me.
Not knowing what else they can do, especially as their son’s antics were becoming the talk of the town, they sent him off.
The young man arrived and told the Rosh Yeshiva the entire story of his birth and everything that transpired since then and said, I came here for you to heal me.
The Rosh Yeshiva replied, Yehudah, being that the tzaddik said you will be a deceiving individual who robs and tricks others, there is no way to heal it, without you first becoming aware of all the ways of deception. Now, you are just a small player in this field.
The young man was astounded at these words, he was a master in this field and he is being told his knowledge is minimal. Furthermore the Rosh Yeshiva isn’t afraid to accept him even with these deficiencies. So he replied, thank you for accepting me, and here is your wallet that I took out of your pocket.
The Rosh Yeshiva smiled and said, yes you are good in what you know, but there is so much more for you to learn. Go into the study and learn with Avigdor.
He thanked the Rosh Yeshiva and entered the study hall where the other students greeted him warmly, offering to become his study partner (chavroosa).
Yehudah thanked them for their offer, but replied, The Rosh Yeshiva instructed me to learn with Avigdor.
The other students looked at him incredulously, “There is Avigdor. He sleeps the entire day by the furnace, besides when it comes to eat. Unless maybe you are a miracle worker, and Avigdor will be willing to finally do something proper. We can’t figure out why he is allowed to remain in the Yeshiva, he sleeps and doesn’t learn or even daven!
Sure enough when everyone went to eat, Avigdor woke up and Yehudah went to greet him. When Avigdor heard that the young man wanted to be his chavroosa he said out loud, sorry but there is only enough room for one person to sleep on top of the furnace find a different place. The other students tried to control their laughter and looked aside. Seeing that no one was looking at them, Avigdor quietly said, shortly after midnight.
Yehudah understood the message and when everyone went to sleep he remained in the beis hamidrash to see what will happen.
Sure enough, a few minutes after midnight, Avigdor opened his eyes, looked around and saw that the Beis Hamidrash was empty. He then climbed down from his place and began davenning maariv. Yehudah was astounded; he had never seen or heard of a young man daven with so much feeling as this person. The davenning took over a half hour and he was just enthralled by listening.
When Avigdor finished davenning he called him over and began learning with him. They learned non-stop until dawn, when Avigdor began davenning Shacharis. Watching in amazement, Yehudah didn’t know what to think. Evidently, Avigdor is extremely learned and careful in every aspect of halachah, so why does he sleep the entire day?
As Avigdor climbed back to his place, he said, please not a word to anyone and went back to sleep.
The next morning everyone saw that Yehudah was sleeping on the bench and they good naturedly said, So Avigdor taught you well, he taught you how to sleep.
Yehudah was in a bind, he didn’t know what to reply. Knowing that he had to keep Avigdor’s secret, he just replied, I waited for a few hours, and must have dozed off.
They replied, if you want a bed, you can use one of ours during the day. Yehudah thanked them, but replied, I must try at least for a few weeks to obey the instructions of the Rosh Yeshiva, I will remain here day and night, until I am able to speak properly with Avigdor.
As they continued learning during the midnight through dawn hours, Yehudah’s admiration and bewilderment of Avigdor grew. Why is he acting in such a strange way? On night, he asked him to explain it.
Avigdor replied, only because the Rosh Yeshiva instructed me to learn with you, will I reveal to you the truth. However, for the next many years you must keep it quiet.
He then said, the truth is I do not sleep throughout the day and night. During the day, most of the time I lay on the oven, my back faces them and my face faces the wall. No one notices that I am busy reviewing the entire shas (Talmud) by heart. And as you see I understand it well. Someone with knowledge or wealth doesn’t have to publicize it. Let the other students think and say whatever they want about me. Call me a cheat and liar for deceiving them. But better to deceive them this way than to become boastful of something that Hashem granted you,
A wealthy person: is it his accomplishment that he is wealthy or is it a blessing from Hashem that he succeeds or that his ancestors succeeded. My ability to memorize and understand things deeply are blessings from Hashem, so what is there for me to boast about.
Yehudah realized that Avigdor was right but he was still puzzled. He said, Avigdor, you are so connected to Hashem, so careful in every detail of Jewish law, so why did the Rosh Yeshiva tell me to learn with you and you will teach me ways of thievery that I never knew.
Avigdor smiled and said, you have a talent of being able to place your hand into someone’s pocket without them realizing it. You are an excellent at that. But there is where your thievery ability should end. Place your hand into other peoples pockets, and place a coin in their pocket without them realizing that it was you. You will still be deceitful, but this time instead of taking something from them, give them something and help them. I am a master at deception and perhaps that is what the Rosh Hayeshiva was advising you to do.
Yehudah contemplated on this lesson and realized this is a wonderful way to heal himself of his illness. He will remain a ganav (a thief and master of deception). But now he will be gonev daas habrious (A master deceptor, fooling everyone) but now for positive purposes.
Sure enough from then on every few days another student or two would suddenly discover coins or bills in a jacket or pocket and no one knew where it came from.
After becoming a true expert at hiding his noble actions and progress in learning Yehudah returned home a healed person.
I chose to post this story taken from the book Hu’Ach that was published by Tomchei Tmimim over a hundred years ago, because during the past few weeks we all have been learning the Maamar of Basi L’Gani that the Frierdike Rebbe gave out a few days before his histalkus on Yud Shevet 1950. And I thought that perhaps this story can help us explain to our children one of the main points of the maamar.
I am referring to the point in the maamar that states; that our task is to make this physical world a dwelling place for Hashem. He then explains that the way we can accomplish this is by learning from the Mishkan that Moshe Rabeinu built. The walls of the Mishkan were made from “Shetim” wood and the reason why we had to use that specific wood and no other is because the purpose of the Mishkan is change the world to good.
He explains, Our sages inform us that no person will sin if they see the glory of Hashem in front of them. However, the person is fooled into believing that the “small” infraction / aveira that they are doing isn’t such a terrible thing. In other words a spirit of shi’tus overcame them. So we change that shi’tus to shetim.
Therefore the boards of the mishkan were called KeReSh which is comprised of the three letters Koof, Reish and Shin, which also spells the word SheKeR (lie and falsehood). As our task is, to transform everything into holiness.
So while it retains the same letters and perhaps meaning, you are utilizing it in a lofty and beautiful manner. May we all merit to witness speedily in our days Hashem returning to his beautiful garden, with the coming of Moshiach.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech in the United Lubavitch Yeshiva Ocean Parkway and is the author of numerous books, including the acclaimed Rebbeim Biography series as well as the Early Chassidic Personalities Series. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.