Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Repaying a Debt
by Chedva Ofek

Part II

Synopsis: Mrs. Bloom and Mrs. Rivka Rabinowitz's mother, Rachel, were friends from before the Holocaust. Upon the celebration of her friend's retirement, Mrs. Bloom comes and makes a devastating confession.

A short while before Rachel was about to catch her train to safety, Mrs. Bloom detained her friend, demanding repayment of a debt.

Mrs. Rachel would have been ready with all her heart to pay the debt. She was an honest woman who didn't owe even a shoelace to anyone. How had she forgotten the money? The problem was, that all her money had been sent with a trusted messenger for deposit in an anonymous account in Switzerland. The money she had left herself was only enough for the expenses of the journey. Mrs. Rachel began to apologize to the neighbor while promising her that she would send her the money by trusted messenger when she reached Israel. But the neighbor argued and wouldn't give up.

Precious moments were being wasted and Mrs. Rachel was afraid they'd miss the train. She began begging her neighbor to leave her alone but the neighbor persisted. She argued with Mrs. Rachel for a long time. Only when Rachel burst into tears did the neighbor relent and leave. Mrs. Rachel hurried to the waiting carriage filled with her young children. The suitcases were loaded on as well and the small retinue went on its way.

When they arrived at the train station, the noise was terrible. For long hours they stood in the long line that inched forwards. Towards the afternoon, when the family was only a few meters from the long-awaited train, the doors closed. A loud, long whistle, pierced the air and the train departed, leaving behind it a long trail of soot, smoke and curling steam.

Rachel and her family had to retrace their steps and return home after saying goodbye to it forever. They still deluded themselves into believing that their plans to make aliyah were still viable.

After a few days, they heard that that train had been the last one to leave Poland. They had missed the chance literally of a lifetime. The sad and painful part of the story was that a few months later, the Jewish Ghetto was erected in Warsaw. All the Jews of Warsaw were told to go and live in the Ghetto. Life was too difficult to bear. The Germans tortured them and fatal shootings were routine. Every day, many fell among them, Rachel's husband was murdered. A year later, they were exiled to work camps, mostly to the Treblinka death camp. Mrs. Rachel and her children were hurried off to Treblinka and stood in line for Selection.


"I stood behind them," Mrs. Bloom confessed in a sad voice, "I saw how the enemy looked at them. He wasn't impressed by Rachel's short stature or gaunt look. Certainly not by her children. And so he told everyone to go left except for you. You, Rivka, were a young energetic girl and only you were told to go right. My heart was heavy. Although none of us knew what the significance was of going left or right, my sixth sense whispered to me that something terrible was going to happen. When it was my turn, the enemy looked at me and told me to go right.

"I've endured difficult days since then. I only found out after the war that Rachel and her family were killed in the gas chambers. " Here, Mrs. Bloom heaved a heartbreaking sigh, a sigh that could break someone in half. "Oy, Oy, it's all my fault. I caused it to happen. If I hadn't detained them for the 60 miserable zloty, your mother, Mrs. Rachel, would have been living with us today. Her and her dear children. Woe is me what have I done? Why was I so adamant about 60 zloty?"

Mrs. Rabinovitch's sighs joined her own. Only now did she understand what had caused the solicitous concern of her older friend who had been with her for many years — pangs of conscience. With great effort, she was able to restrain the anger in her heart. It's true that she was full of faith that everything is from Hashem and that a debt is paid by someone who owes one, but it was difficult for her to deal with the fact that the woman in front of her had detained her family for a paltry debt.

"I'm wondering how my parents, Hy'd, weren't resentful and didn't blame you when they were suffering in the valley of death; I, for one, didn't hear anything of the terrible injustice until this minute," Mrs. Rabinovitch wondered and then she had the answer. Her righteous parents abstained from gossip. Extraneous speech was never heard in their home. Who were they to complain about an injustice done to them? The world is governed by Divine Providence and if they were detained from leaving Poland, it was Hashem's will.

Suddenly, she felt the urge to emulate them. How would my parents want me to act now? she asked herself with a sense of commitment. With restraint! With real courage, she held her tongue silently. She slowly bent her head to escape Mrs. Bloom's look of remorse. Mrs. Bloom didn't feel comfortable. It would have been better if Rivka had said some piercing words rather than remaining silent. And this silence spoke more loudly than any words. Hesitantly, Mrs. Blum examined Rivka Rabinovitch, weighing her words. Was this finally the right time to tell her?

"Look, I'm a suffering, sick woman. Regret fills me day and night, without giving me rest," Mrs. Bloom confessed in a wavering voice. "I've decided to dedicate a sefer Torah to the memory of your perished family." Rabinovitch's breath stopped. A sefer Torah is a merit for the souls of the deceased. Her generosity would be a balm to her riddled conscience. "The ceremony will take place two days before Shavuos in the Central Synagogue," Mrs. Bloom reported and urged her to take care of the technical arrangements.

In Rivka's heart a war of conflict of interests was raging. Why should she prepare and work for the simchah? Her heart was not yet free to accommodate a simchah of this type. The kind of injustice of the proportions that she heard today from Bloom would paralyze her for at least a few weeks. It's true, the sefer Torah was dedicated to her family. But whoever was responsible for the damage should fix it.

Mrs. Bloom has two daughters. Let her volunteer them to make up for the guilt of the sin. And she herself had better take care of the important errands she had planned for the next week.

Mrs. Bloom examined her, eyes sunken in their sockets. Who knew how much she tortured herself for her crime? Who knew how much inner strength it had taken for her to come and tell her of her sin, how she saved up penny after penny from her meager pension for the spiritual challenge she had taken upon herself?

"The deeds of the fathers are signs to their children." Mrs. Rabinovitch overcame her reservations. The image of her stoic mother flashed before her eyes. "I'll bring the refreshments," she stammered. "Anyway, there's a whole supply of baked goods left over."

Mrs. Bloom couldn't hide her relief. More than enlisting Rivka for the task, it was important for her to attain her forgiveness.

"Fortunate is the mother who bore you," she told her.

Two days before Shavuos, in a hallowed atmosphere, the Hachnassas Sefer Torah took place at the Central Shul. Rivka Rabinovitch didn't stop wiping her eyes and her lips murmured, "My dear parents, I'm sure that you are watching me from Heaven and are happy with me. Your whole lives were a shining example of true acceptance of the Torah and I will cling to your ways." Her face shone as she watched the parade of glowing torches and her heart swelled.

The respect for the Torah is not just superficial, it is deep and enduring, a life order, a compass and guide from which one must not veer.


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