Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Kislev 5760 - December 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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False Identity
by P. Chovav


They called him Leibel'e Leibidiker.

That's what they called him, but that wasn't his name. Not only was that not his name, but his entire essence was the antitheses of the joy of life that the name expresses. A cloud of fear and worry always hung over his face. His eyes were perpetually unmoving, and it was quite possible to assume that his lips opened widely only when he took out and put in his false teeth.

That was Leibel'e Leibidiker: happy with his lot, but somewhat sad. Pleasant, but dejected. Genial, but inert and dry. None of the bnei yeshiva had ever heard Leibel'e Leibidiker raise his voice in anger or seen him scowl at someone.

Not that he didn't have enough reasons to get angry. He had more than enough. He was especially angry at the bochurim -- too spoiled for his taste -- for leaving the food he had prepared for them on the table, and going out to eat. But then, he spent most of his day in silence. He was as silent as the dry codfish or the tasteless omelets he prepared for the bochurim.

Leibel'e Leibidiker had been the yeshiva's cook nearly since its inception. Actually, behind the scenes, his wife Leitz'o and his daughter Brocho helped him in as much as he allowed them to. But the criticism wasn't thrown behind the curtains. Leibel'e was the one who personally got all of the "compliments," because he was the one who seasoned the food, in accordance with his mood. Leibel'e was the one who made certain that there wouldn't be too much food on the table, in order to avoid bal tashchis. Leibel'e was the one who reminded the boys that during the Holocaust, there had been nothing to eat and that the Jews, then, never discarded the remains of dry bread nor, needless to say, fruit or vegetables which, with a bit of good will, could be saved from total spoilage.

He loved the boys. But even more than he loved the boys, he loved the spiritual strands he managed to weave into his job as a cook. "What do you have against that bakala," Leibel'e once asked a boy who was caught glaring angrily at the dry fish stretched out on the plate before him.

"What do I have against the bakala?" the boy answered matter-of-factly. "Chas vesholom, I have nothing against the fish. It's not to blame for what they did to it. Poor thing."

But Leibel'e shot back. "Who's unfortunate? The fish? It's not the unfortunate one. It's happy that it merited to be placed on the table of a yeshiva student in Yerushalayim."

The yeshiva -- one of the most prominent ones for baalei teshuva in Jerusalem -- had often thought of replacing Leibel'e with someone worthy of being called a cook. But Leibel'e didn't let them replace him. When the Rosh Yeshiva would try to persuade him to find a job in another field, a strange fear would overtake Leibel'e and, as if pleading for his life, he would say: "Oy rachmonus. Anything but that. You can deduct from my salary, and I won't say a thing. But please, don't throw me out of the yeshiva. I have nowhere to go. I have no choice. I'll even cook for the boys for free."

Having no choice, the administration would lower his already meager salary, with the hope that the financial distress would drive him somewhere else. But all of the attempts to replace him without insulting him, were of no avail, and no one ever dreamed of insulting him.

Leibel'e was an integral part of the yeshiva. During the hours when he wasn't "cooking," he would enter the yeshiva's study hall, retreat to his permanent corner and study with a pleasant melody, until falling into a deep and sonorous sleep. After a few minutes, he would awake in a fright, and rush to the kitchen to make certain that Leitz'o and Brocho were OK. He was always frightened and worried. He wasn't tranquil and calm, even during his deepest sleep.

The years passed, and the Leibidiker family, such as it was known became an integral part of the yeshiva. There was no bochur who didn't know and like the reserved and unassuming cook.

The years passed, and so did the years of his only daughter, Brocho. Here and there shadchonim asked Leibel'e what kind of boy he wanted for his only daughter, and what he was prepared to give her.

He would answer the first question in great detail. There was no good attribute or quality which he didn't enumerate among his list of demands of the intended chosson. He had to be yirei Shomayim, a talmid chochom with good character traits, and even a baal tzedoko..

"What will he get in return?"

"In return? In return he'll get a wife who has all'e mailos, and lacks nothing."

"But how will they establish their home?"

"Don't worry. They'll build an outstanding home which won't lack a thing."


"What do you mean by "How?" Just like an outstanding home is built!"

"But how can a pauper like you give an outstanding home?" the more persistent ones asked

"She'll establish an outstanding home, one which won't lack a thing. Just because she's the daughter of a pauper like me doesn't mean that she'll lack anything."

It was impossible to extract anything more than promising declarations of that sort from Leibel'e. The fact that he, with his meager salary, lived a life of penury did not, in his opinion, imply a thing about the size of the dowry he would give his daughter. "The rich men of Yerushalayim will yet be jealous of her home," he told the shadchonim of the city a number of times. This remark not only failed to bring in additional proposals, but actually caused the shadchonim to avoid him. One of them, a shadchan named Sholom'ke known in Yerushalayim as an expert in his field, fully admitted that this was a hard nut to crack.

One time, the Rosh Yeshiva tried to propose a match and Leibel'e still hadn't budged from the "spiritual dowry" he promised his daughter. All the shadchonim were familiar with the special qualities Brocho's father enumerated. Her school friends who had, over the years, become mothers of large families, recalled her as a fine girl who was filled with ahavas Torah, yiras Shomayim, and had many good character traits. But that wasn't enough.

"How is it possible to make a shidduch without making it absolutely clear how large a dowry the kallah will receive, if at all?" people would angrily tell him.

But he would insist: "What do you mean, `How is it possible?' Is anything impossible for Hakodosh Boruch Hu, cholila? When her zivug is found, you'll see that it's possible."

"Leibel'e, Hakodosh Boruch Hu runs the world in a natural manner."

"True, and He will find my daughter the zivug she deserves in a natural manner."

Go talk to a wall.

* * *

Another stifling and simmering Yerushalmi summer nearly passed for the Leibidiker family, without their encountering even the shadow of a shadchan. Suddenly, Sholom'ke the shadchan passed by the family's residence. And suddenly, instead of turning his head aside and continuing up the street, as was his wont, he turned to the other side, and no, it wasn't a mistake -- straight over to the door which bore the worn sign, "Leibidiker Family."

He knocked and at the same time asked: "May I come in?"

"What a question?" the surprised baal habayis replied.

Sholom'ke entered. He sat down on the most central chair, and wiped the dry Yerushalmi perspiration from his brow. He remained silent for a brief moment simply in order to increase the tension, scanned the four walls of the room as if he had never in his life seen an unpainted wall, stretched out on the arms of the armchair, grabbed the cup before him. "Shehakol nihiyeh bidevoro."

"Omen," Leibel'e replied with kavono, without removing his gaze from Sholom'ke the shadchan.

Sholom'ke slowly sipped the soda, sip by sip, as if Leibel'e wasn't seated before him, waiting impatiently for Sholom'ke to speak.

When the cup had emptied, Sholom'ke continued to remain silent. Quietly, he hummed chasunah songs, tapped his finger on the table ever so lightly, but remained silent.

"Ach. Such strong soda. A-mechaye," he finally opened his mouth to say.

Leibel'e's heart skipped a beat, and he quickly tried to come to his senses.

"Strong soda on a summer day is like . . . like . . . like . . . It's like a kos brocho at a wedding. Nu, how are you, Reb Sholom'ke?"

After a brief let up, when it was clear beyond a doubt that the silence had achieved its aim, Sholom'ke began politely: "Hast a tsigar?"

After receiving what he wanted, he removed a box of matches from his pocket, lit the cigarette himself, inhaled two or three puffs of fresh smoke, and got down to business: "Nu, can we get down to business?"

"Of course, Of course."

He then got down to business like an expert like he was knows how to get down to a business in which he is an expert.

"He's a fine Yerushalmi boy who is a big yirei Shomayim. Except for money, he doesn't lack a thing."

Leibel'e as usual pushes aside the entire issue of money, and promises to find out all about the destitute boy.

"True, he doesn't have a thing, but he doesn't demand anything either," Sholom'ke summed up the situation as it was.

"Doesn't have, does have. What's the difference? If he's the boy I'm looking for, he'll have. Oh-ho -- he'll have."

A day passed and then two, and a glimmer of happiness began to appear on Leibel'e's face. The information which he received about the intended one was perfect. The boy had all'e mailos: he was yirei Shomayim, kindhearted, studious, modest and humble. True, his gait was a bit strange -- he skipped a bit. But a good boy has to sit and learn and not to waste time taking walks.

Leibel'e's excitement was infectious. "Perhaps, perhaps, who knows? Tefillos never return empty," he whispered to his wife, while their eyes, which were filled with hopeful tears looked in the direction of all'e mailos who was huddled in her permanent corner in the house and was completing a sefer of Tehillim, as she does every day.

After a brief conversation between the parents and the daughter, the decision is made: "Let them meet."

Nu. No sooner said than done. "What about the dowry?" Sholom'ke casually asks. "Dowry? Don't worry. There's no problem at all. Everything is there. Set a date."

The first meeting was defined as successful. The second was even more successful. In time for the third one, the shadchan told the paupers on the side of the intended chosson: "If the third meeting is good, we'll sum up the obligations of the sides."

The third date wasn't only a good one. It was excellent. But when the parents of the boy sat down in the home of the Leibidiker family and heard the intended mechutan stubbornly insist on not obligating himself to more than a promise that "they won't lack a thing," it became very clear that there would be no more meetings.

The following day, Reb Sholom'ke the shadchan tried to mend the tear and to persuade Leibel'e to finally announce how much he would give his daughter, especially since the other side had no demands and were truly prepared to suffice with the bare minimum. But Leibel'e persisted: "Minimum, shminimum. When the right time comes, he'll get the maximum, not the minimum."

"But Leibel'e, dear Reb Leibel'e," the shadchan said with an angry glare in his eyes, grabbing him by his collar and shaking him vigorously. "Have pity on your daughter, Leibel'e. You can't marry off children with words. You have to translate your words into cash. Do you hear me?"

Leibel'e did not even try to brush off Sholom'ke's firm clutch. He shifted back and forth in time to the beat which the irate Sholom'ke dictated, and calmly replied: "Excuse me Sholom'ke, I don't owe a thing. Whoever wants my daughter because of my money isn't worthy of her. Do you understand?"

"Do I understand?" Sholom'ke let up, and turned to leave dejectedly. "Oy, if only you would understand."

Sholom'ke left quickly, but returned immediately and in a friendly manner asked, "Reb Leibel'e, hast a tsigar?"

* * *

Yom Kippur sweeps all of the students of the yeshiva into an exalted spiritual mood. Young men who had until a number of years ago not even known that there is a Creator of the world, shed oceans of tears before Him. The aspiration to merit to become a genuine baal teshuva was the strongest feeling that burned within them that day.

The yeshiva's study hall during davening was unearthly. The young men absorbed each and every one of the words of the Machzor avidly, and wept like small children. Tears flowed like water -- tears, of beseeching and tears of joy intermingled. Pleas that their teshuva be acceptable, and joy over the fact that they had reached a Yom Kippur of teshuva and atonement for their sins. Is there any greater joy than that?

Amidst that exalted mood which enveloped the entire yeshiva, the unusual image of a relatively older boy named Mike was conspicuous. Although it was Mike's first Yom Kippur in the yeshiva, whoever wanted to arouse himself to teshuva and tefilla had merely to look at Mike weeping into his Machzor. His entire body shook from his heart-rending cries. It was impossible not to be stirred by his warm prayers. He had been in the yeshiva only half a year, yet that had sufficed for him to make a drastic change.

The one who had caused this drastic change in Mike's life was none other than Leibel'e Leibidiker.

Mike had arrived in Eretz Yisroel on an erev Pesach as a tourist. He knew that he was Jewish, but didn't know a thing about his Yiddishkeit. He rented a car, and roamed the country, according to the agenda he had from the travel agent who had sold him the tour package.

On one of his tours near Mea Shearim, Mike parked his rented car on the sidewalk under one of the porches, and took a walking tour of the neighborhood in order to get as much as possible out of the experience. He walked about the neighborhood, examined its commercial life, and even visited a matzo factory whose special atmosphere made a deep impression on him. The matzo which he bought added quite a bit to his experience.

He wandered about the neighborhood for an entire day, and absorbed all that was necessary in order to satiate the curiosity of the average tourist. But he related to all that he saw with total detachment. He didn't feel even the slightest affinity for the chareidi Jews he had observed for an entire day.

However, his feeling of estrangement from the Jewish surroundings which he was touring totally vanished a few minutes after he had finished his interesting tour and reached his car. It was then that the big story began.

The moment he took out his car keys in order to enter his rented car, a Yerushalmi who stood nearby approached him and hesitantly said: "Excuse me mister, is that your car?"

The tourist looked at him, and didn't understand a word.

"Ah, you're a tourist. Listen to what happened," the Yerushalmi began now in English. "Your car is parked directly under my house. In the press of Pesach cleaning, we put some objects on the window sill and accidentally a flower pot fell and shattered on the roof of your car. I went downstairs immediately, of course, and carefully washed the car. But to my dismay, not everything came off with the water. The roof has a bit of a dent, and you'll have to take it to a shop to fix it."

Mike's glance wavered from the Jew in front of him to the roof of the car. The dent was barely visible. Impatiently he replied, "It's OK. It's not my car. It's rented. It's just a slight dent and I hope the company won't notice it. Forget it."

"Oy vey! If that's the case, the situation is far worse than I thought," the Jew said with a sigh. "It's mamesh gezel. You can't forgive me in someone else's name. I'll pay you, bli neder, for all of the damage. Tell me how much you think it is and I'll bring you the money.

Mike began to like that business. He hadn't expected such a strange tourist experience.

"Look Mister, I don't know how much it costs," Mike tried to intimidate the poor Yerushalmi before him, who was obviously a pauper. "Could be that it's less then a thousand dollars. But it could be that the company will want to replace the whole roof, and that's a serious matter," he answered in a grave tone.

The answer hit the Yerushalmi like a thunderbolt. He pleaded and began to stutter: "Ah . . . sir . . . now, that means, at this moment . . . I mean . . . ah . . . I don't have such sums in cash. Perhaps you'll come upstairs with me for a drink of soda and in the meantime I'll ask my rav what to do."

"Fine, why not," the tourist answered jovially.

The two went upstairs quickly. The guest was led to the central room of the home, a living room the likes of which he had never seen in his life and was seated on -- or in -- an "armchair" which, to his amazement, did not fall apart when he sank down in it.

"No doubt a pleasant experience awaits me," the guest thought to himself.

"Leitz'o," the baal habayis called out to his wife in Yiddish. "Leitz'o, I've brought a bareheaded guest home. I think that we can offer him something to drink and be mezakeh him with a shehakol."

A moment latter the lady of the house entered the room with a tray of cold drinks in her hand. "Nu, now let us hear your brocho," the baal habayis said in a soft and genial tone while he poured him a cup of soda.

"Brocho? What's a brocho?"


Shehakol -- what?"

"What do you mean shehakol what? Shehakol nihiyeh bidevoro. One has to thank Hashem before one drinks, otherwise it's robbery, theft. You'd be robbing from the Ribono shel Olom, Heaven forbid."

The guest, startled by the strange words, put down his cup and decided to call an end to what had until then been a strange and fascinating diversion. He got up from the armchair and said: "Listen Mister. I've heard too many strange things from you. Let's end this affair on a pleasant note. The damage to the car is nothing; it's barely a scratch. They won't notice it. And if they do, I'll pay for it myself. I have no problem with money. Let's say good-bye nicely and just go our own ways. I still want to see a number of things in Israel before I fly home."

"No, no, impossible," the baal habayis shouted in what seemed to be genuine terror. "I'll get the money to fix the car right away!"

Slowly, the guest began to like the baal habayis.

"But you don't have to. I'm telling you, it's barely noticeable."

"What do you mean by `barely noticeable,'" the baal habayis changed his soft tone for one of strict rebuke. "You can't cheat the insurance company. That's theft. If one doesn't know the meaning of shehakol, then he doesn't know the meaning of theft. In our community every small child knows that -- and you don't know?"

Those simple words -- which were said so sincerely, so naturally -- made a tremendous impression on the guest. He threw himself back down onto the armchair and fell silent. After a brief while, he thrust his head backward, shut his eyes, and began to breath heavily. Suddenly his eyes widened and in a choked voice he said: "Theft -- I don't know what that is. Shehakol -- I don't know what that is. A Jew -- I don't know what that is. I'm a Jew, but I don't know what that means."

A tense and prolonged silence prevailed.

The baal habayis placed a soft hand on his guest's shoulder and, in a conciliatory tone, said: "You'll yet know. If you only wish to, you'll know all that a Jew has to know."

The guest appeared shaken. He stared at an undefined point in the center of the room, and thought for a long time.

"When do you have to go home?" the baal habayis cut short Mike's thoughts.

"On the tenth of the month. Why?"

"The tenth of the month? Wait a minute. Just a minute," the baal habayis removed a small calendar from his pocket, leafed through the pages, and happily announced: "Excellent. The tenth of the month is in the middle of chol hamoed Pesach. You'll spend Pesach with us and by the time you're ready to go home, you'll know what a Jew is. I promise you, Reb Yid. Actually, what's your name?"

"Mike. Mike Davis."

My name is Leibel Leibidiker. But that's not my name."

"What do you mean?"

"That doesn't matter," Leibel'e replied with a smile.

* * *

Leil haseder arrived and for the first time in his life, Mike heard the story of yetzias Mitzrayim. He sat at the table -- a white yarmulke fastened to his head with two bobby pins nestling temporarily in his mess of hair -- and listened with much interest to the Haggodo and its interpretations. Leibel'e, wrapped in a spanking white kittel, sat at the head of the table and explained at length, and ever so sweetly, the story of the redemption of the Jewish Nation, beginning with its enslavement in Egypt until the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai.

Mike and the other members of the household sat around the table until the wee hours of the night, engrossed in the story of the Exodus from slavery to freedom. Mike, who was filled with emotion, drank in every word. The bare room in which he sat with the members of the family seemed to him the happiest place on earth. When he held the cup in his hand and sipped from it, while reclining on his left side like a free man, tears of happiness fell from his eyes -- happiness he had never before known.

The next morning he was overcome again. He went to shul, saw the happiness in the eyes of the worshipers during the reciting of Hallel, heard the voices, and his heart pounded: "I belong here."

For the first time in his life, his Judaism began to take on meaning for him. He became acquainted with concepts he had never before known existed. He was elated by the knowledge that he belonged to a nation with a glorious history that he had just begun to learn. Suddenly, a spark flashed in his mind, revealing to him that there is a Creator of the World and a purpose to Creation, and that the entire world was created only for the Jewish Nation so that it should do the will of its Maker. The deep feelings which enveloped him and the yearning to know and to learn more and more were invincible.

"I have decided to postpone my flight by a couple of days," he told his host. "I want to learn a bit more about what it means to be a Jew."

* * *

A day passed. Two days, a week, two weeks, and Mike came to the yeshiva every day, as he said, "to get an impression" -- just to get an impression -- of what they do there. In time, he found a chavrusa and began to study. "I just want to get an idea of what they learn here," he said. He participated in the davening in the yeshiva, "only out of curiosity." Of course.

The days passed and each day another opening the size of a needle's eye opened in Mike's heart. Slowly, the American tourist who had been scheduled to go back home a month before became part of the landscape in the yeshiva for baalei teshuva. He took an interest in everything, studied gemora, the halochos, the meaning of the tefillos, and thirstily imbibed the mashgiach's special discourses on emunah.

Once he got that far, the decision to join the yeshiva as a regular student was easy. Although he was over ten years older than the other students in the yeshiva, the age gap didn't prevent him from drawing close to them, talking with them, and wanting to be like them. He began to study with tremendous diligence, from the early hours of the morning until the wee hours of the night, as if he were hoping to make up for all the lost hours of his life.

The Rosh Yeshiva didn't stop raving about his new student. He had never encountered such an oved in the yeshiva. He observed every step that Mike took and the more he saw, the more amazed he was over the speed with which Mike had been able to peel off his past and to become a genuine yeshiva student who has nothing else in his world but Torah, teshuva and tefillah. The Rosh Yeshiva became attached to Mike with strong bonds of love, and he began to take a personal interest in him, as if Mike were his son.

Mike, for his part, truly loved the Rosh Yeshiva. However, for some reason, he didn't let this closeness go beyond a certain point. Whenever he understood that the Rosh Yeshiva wanted to hear more details about his past, Mike would withdraw and refrain, as much as possible, from telling about himself. All that he agreed to reveal was that he was a bachelor, an only child of very wealthy, divorced parents. His father suffered from an undefined illness, and his mother had remarried. Since then his connection with her had nearly been severed.

Despite his wealth, and perhaps because of it, he hadn't known one day of happiness in all of his 33 years. His parents had grown up in Orthodox homes but had left the Torah way when they were still young. They had given him all that wealthy parents are capable of giving, but a yearning for spiritual happiness had always burned within him -- happiness that he had never known until that erev Pesach.

"Reb Leibel'e," the Rosh Yeshiva turned to his devoted cook. "What do you think of our Mike?"

"Mike? Oh-ho! How can one not be jealous of him? Such mesirus, such love of Torah, such yiras Shomayim. Where baalei teshuva stand . . . "


"What nu? I don't understand."

"Reb Leibel'e. Perhaps he's the shidduch you're looking for."

Leibel'e lowered his eyes. "What do you mean. Mike for my Brocho? You mean, Mike? In other words . . . the Rosh Yeshiva is suggesting that Mike marry my daughter?"

The Rosh Yeshiva was puzzled by the strange reaction. "Yes. Mike for your Brocho. What's wrong? Mike is an outstanding young man. We never had a student like him in the yeshiva. He has a very lofty soul. What do you have against him?"

"Against him? Chas vecholila!" Leibel'e cried out. "Quite the opposite. To tell you the truth since Yom Kippur, when I saw him daven in the yeshiva, I've thought of nearly nothing but him. The picture of him stands before my eyes day and night. I see him, and my heart gives me no rest. I don't know what happened to me."

"Now to the point," Leibel'e added after a brief respite. "It's hard for me to believe that a young man like that, with so vast a fortune awaiting him in America, would agree to make a match with so simple and poor a family as ours. How can I propose such an unusual match at home, when it makes no sense to think that the young man will accept it? How can I once again cause my daughter disappointment?"

"Ai, Reb Leibel'e, Reb Leibel'e. Where's your emunah. On the contrary. Precisely because he is so rich, he's searching for a girl like your Brocho: a modest and pious girl who is all yiras Shomayim and middos tovos. What did you once tell me? Don't worry, whoever merits my daughter will have an outstanding home, where nothing will be lacking. Nu, Reb Leibel'e? Nu-nu."

"Reb Leibel'e, do you know what?" the Rosh Yeshiva said as he bent his head toward Leibel'e, as if wishing to let him in on a secret. "I'm not imagining things. I already proposed the match to Mike and he agreed. Please, Reb Leibel'e, I beg you, consider the proposal seriously."

Leibel'e, quite beside himself with excitement, left without even saying sholom and ran straight home. Huffing and puffing, he called Leitz'o and Brocho in order to tell them the exciting news.

The first meeting was held on the first night of Sukkos.

The second meeting was held a day later on motzei yom tov rishon.

At the end of the third meeting, when Mike was about to leave, his eyes met Leibel'e's for a brief moment and that was enough. The fleeting gaze said everything. The good news hovered in the air. Mike stood for a moment beside the entrance of the house, and with a broad smile of happiness said: "Before Pesach I didn't know a thing. I didn't know what shehakol meant, what gezel was and what it meant to be a Jew. Now I even know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu makes matches."

Leibel'e turned, retreated to his room in a tempest, shaking from excitement. "Oy, Ribono shel Oilom," he burst out into tears, and raised his hands toward Shomayim. "Ribono shel Oilom, I plead with you, if this is Brocho's true match, please may it be without anguish. Without anguish! Ai . . . ai . . . ai. We've already suffered enough. How much more can this young girl bear? Ribono shel Oilom, what does she want out of life? To establish a Jewish home, a home of Torah, a home of yiras Shomayim. Ribono shel Oilom, Ribono shel Oilom."

Before the fourth meeting, Reb Leibel'e visited the Sukkah of the Rosh Yeshiva in order to exchange a few words with him.

"As far as I understand, " Reb Leibel'e said with a broad and mysterious smile, the likes of which had never before crossed his face, "I have the feeling that the Rosh Yeshiva will have to go to the trouble of coming to our home tonight in order to wish me mazel tov."

The rosh yeshiva nearly leaped to the ceiling from joy. "Oy, chassdei Hashem. I prayed so for this moment!"

End of Part I

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