Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

22 Adar 5759 - March 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Power of Mishloach Manos

by Moshe Schapiro

It all began when my nine-year-old daughter came home from school one day carrying a decorated nylon bag and a gaily colored, stenciled letter embellished with a picture of a clown. She gave me the scoop before I even had a chance to glance at the stationery. "Our teacher asked us to ask our parents if it would be okay to return the bags with mishloach manos stuff in it," she explained in a flurry. "It's for people who are becoming frum. Can we, Tatti? Please?"

Having given my consent and marveled at the speed with which my daughter was out of the kitchen and wrist-deep in bristol board and magic markers, I picked up the discarded sheet and deciphered the crumpled Hebrew letters:

Dear Parents,

Purim is fast approaching, and for thousands of families who have been contacted by Peylim/Lev L'Achim in the past year, this will be their first opportunity to grasp the true significance of this holy day and rejoice in the spirit of Torah. On the day of Purim, over two thousand volunteers will personally bring to every one of these families mishloach manos, along with the light of Torah and mitzvos. We request your assistance in this campaign. Together we can promote ahavas Yisroel and bring our fellow Jews closer to the ways of the Torah.

With heartfelt blessings,

Lev L'Achim.

Aha! I thought. Lev L'Achim strikes again. I should have known.

Frankly, at the time I did not quite understand the campaign's purpose. Of course I agreed that it would be a nice gesture to hand out mishloach manos to anyone who is beginning to show an interest in Yiddishkeit, but was it really worth all that trouble? If the nylon bags had been distributed in my daughter's Bais Yaakov school in Jerusalem, then in all likelihood they had been handed out in other schools and talmudei Torah throughout the country. The sheer logistics of distributing the bags to the schools and retrieving them seemed staggering enough; but come Purim, they would have to be delivered to thousands of families, from Metulla all the way to Eilat. Did the potential benefits justify the Herculean effort involved in orchestrating this task?

Later that same day I ran into Rabbi Tuvia Levinstein, an old friend of mine who currently serves as Lev L'Achim's southern district regional coordinator. He had just finished giving a shiur in a beis medrash near my home. I took advantage of the opportunity to query him on this point.

"Look, I could tell you about the new impetus that this small gesture engenders," he began, "and I could even show you charts and graphs which clearly demonstrate the positive impact that these mishloach manos have had on our people in previous campaigns. But I won't. I'll just tell you about something that took place in Pisgat Ze'ev, a neighborhood barely five minutes away from here, and then I'll ask you to judge for yourself whether the campaign is worthwhile."

The Chazans live in a three-room apartment in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, Rav Levinstein told me. Ronny Chazan was born and raised in a Shomer Hatza'ir kibbutz. He commutes daily to Tel Aviv, where he works as the general-manager of a major software company. His wife, Daniella, grew up in Ramat Gan. She is an elementary school teacher and a mother of two.

Daniella's three brothers rediscovered their religious roots in the early `90s, one after the other in quick succession. Their experiences touched a chord in her and, some two years ago, she began to reanalyze her own views on religion. Her metaphysical ruminations irritated Ronny, who had been conditioned in his kibbutz to see religion as primitive and religious people as social parasites. He reacted by ridiculing and lashing out emotionally at Daniella. "What's wrong with you?" he would chide her. "Next thing you know, you'll begin covering you hair and baking challot!"

One day on her way home from work she happened to notice a sign announcing a public lecture by Rabbi Uri Zohar. Since the topic of religion had become taboo in their home, Daniella did not inform her husband that she would be attending the lecture.

Rav Zohar's words penetrated to the depths of her soul, and then and there Daniella Chazan felt ready to make a commitment to a Torah way of life. Nevertheless, she realized that a unilateral decision to embrace the laws of the Torah would likely lead to the end of her marriage. She was in a quandary.

"Immediately after the lecture she approached me and asked my advice," Rav Levinstein recalls. "I offered to knock on their door and introduce myself as an activist in Lev L'Achim's Door-To-Door Program. I was hoping that Ronny would invite me in and, after discussing religion together in a sensible way, he would become more amenable to Daniella's renewed interest in her roots. Unfortunately, things didn't work out according to plan."

When Rav Levinstein and his partner knocked on the Chazans' front door, Ronny peered through the peephole, took one look at the beards and black jackets, and saw red. "Get lost, buddy!" he hissed through the locked door. "Don't you ever come back here! Understand? Beat it!"

The message came across loud and clear, and Rav Levinstein retreated. Hardly discouraged though, he and every other Door- To-Door activist in the North Jerusalem area kept coming back to Ronny's door for the next year and a half. "Daniella pleaded for help. We couldn't just abandon her," he explains.

Time and again, their efforts met with the same humbling and disappointing results. The phrase "Ronny's door" became a byword among Lev L'Achim's Door-To-Door activists in the North Jerusalem area. "We started taking new volunteers there to give them combat experience," Rav Levinstein recalls with a chuckle. "A single visit to Ronny's door could train an activist to keep his cool in the worst of all possible scenarios."

As Divine Providence would have it, this heavy kiruv traffic had an unanticipated result, named Shimon Ben Ami -- Ronny's next-door neighbor. Unlike Ronny, Shimon opened his door to Rabbi Levinstein the very first time he knocked, although he laid down the ground rules of their relationship at the outset: "Look, I've been to a weekend seminar and done that trip, and I have no intentions of becoming religious, so don't waste your breath. Still, I wouldn't mind learning a little gemora once in a while."

A young activist named Yosef Beyfus, who learns in the Mirrer Yeshiva, was called in to handle the case. He began learning Perek Merube with Shimon twice a week. "They hit it off right from the start," Rav Levinstein recalls. "In their first session they started arguing over a Rashi so vociferously that the neighbors, convinced that they were hearing some violent crime in progress, called in the police."

Aware that his friend had begun dabbling in gemora, Ronny warned Shimon repeatedly that he was playing with fire. "Watch out," he would say to him, "they're going to get you. You'll find yourself in some yeshiva before you know what hit you."

Shimon remained unperturbed. "Don't you worry about me," he would assure Ronny. "I can take care of myself just fine."

Yosef Beyfus continued learning with Shimon for three full months but could detect no indication whatsoever of a growing commitment to Yiddishkeit. He began to lose hope, and wondered whether there was any point to his learning gemora with Shimon. He took his question to HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, who answered: "Keep at it and show him the geshmak of Torah learning. I guarantee that he'll come around within six months."

HaRav Wolbe's words recharged Yosef's spiritual batteries, and the learning sessions grew even more vociferous.

The turnaround came last Purim, when the first mishloach manos campaign was launched. Rabbi Tuvia Levinstein knocked on Ronny's door for the umpteenth time, but this time he preempted the verbal barrage by declaring, "I only came to bring you a gift. The least you can do is open the door and accept it. I won't say a word -- promise!"

Ronny opened the door a crack, warily extended his hand, took the mishloach manos and, as usual, slammed the door in Rabbi Levinstein's face. After about twenty seconds he opened the door again. This time, his face flushed with embarrassment, he invited Rav Levinstein to come in for a lechaim. "Thank you very much," Ronny said with moist eyes, "I don't remember the last time I received a gift from someone other than my wife. That's really very sweet of you guys."

As everyone knows, on Purim one lechaim brings nine, and soon Ronny and Rav Levinstein were having a jolly good time. Singing at the top of their lungs, they traipsed over to Shimon's place, infused him with some Purim "spirit," and flipped open the gemoras. Ronny had such fun learning Perek Merube that he pledged to attend the regular gemora shiurim held in Shimon's home. (The following day Ronny had no recollection of having made such a pledge, but both Rav Levinstein and Shimon insisted that he had.)

On motzei Pesach -- five weeks later -- Rav Levinstein received an urgent call from Shimon. "Come over here, quick. I have a big surprise for you." Shimon and Ronny were waiting for him with big smiles on their faces -- and they were both wearing yarmulkes and tzitzis.

"That's it, Tuvia -- we've decided enough is enough," Shimon said. "We both realize that the time has come to make this move, and our wives are completely behind us."

Today both families are fully observant. Their children study in Chinuch Atzmai schools; Ronny Chazan and Shimon Ben Ami learn daf yomi in Lev L'Achim's Pisgat Ze'ev community kollel; and Daniella is an eishes chayil.

And all because of one mishloach manos.

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