Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nisan 5766 - April 4, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Bi'ur Chometz

By R. Chadshai


Ever since Gershon was five, he had lacked a father figure. One bitter day, his father, Reb Shaul Eisenberg went on a business trip out of Poland and was never heard from again. Little Gershon keenly felt the trauma of his mother Gittel, who in an instant had been transformed from a young woman with a promising future into a suffering agunah who could barely cope with raising her only child. At first, Gershon became introverted, withdrawing into himself and barely speaking. Afterwards, he grew angry at the entire world.

His mother was busy trying to locate her husband and keeping abreast of the efforts of her brother Reb Noach, who sent letters all over the world, in which he fruitlessly tried to trace his brother-in-law's footsteps.

It is no wonder that she was bitter and aggrieved, a factor which surely didn't contribute to her son's mood. From a financial standpoint, she had no problems, because her brother wasn't poor and he supported her. She never lacked food or clothing. However, as a result of her husband's disappearance, she couldn't give her son the emotional support and warmth he required. She was totally overwhelmed by the misfortune which had occurred to her, and even though she was still young, she was thoroughly crushed and devastated.

Gershon's melamed noticed that since the calamity, the child looked like a wilting flower, whose situation grew worse from day to day. At first Gershon was only introverted. However, after a short while during which his father didn't return, Gershon's behavior about-faced and he became aggressive. Not a day passed without his pushing, hitting or harming one of his friends.

The child who suffered most from him was Eliyahu Berger, who came from a good and warm family. His father was a simple and G-d-fearing tailor, and his mother was an eishes chayil, who raised wonderful children despite her difficult financial situation.

Apparently, it wasn't happenstance that the complex-ridden Gershon had chosen to pick on the unperturbed and cheerful Eliyahu Berger. In addition to being a good student, Eliyahu was also very good-natured and tried not to complain about Gershon to the melamed. However, if Gershon had picked on him only once in a while the story would have been different. But Gershon did not forgo any opportunity to degrade and hurt him.

Above all, Gershon was jealous of Eliyahu's excellent relationship with his father. It was no secret that every erev Shabbos when Eliyahu accompanied his father to shul, the latter would take an interest in Eliyahu's studies and chat with him about all sorts of subjects. Seeing them on their way to shul, Gershon would feel resentful. True, his uncle, Reb Noach, would try to compensate for Gershon's lack of a father. But he had ten children of his own and couldn't pay Gershon sufficient attention.

The majority of his efforts on Gershon's behalf involved financial support and buying him new clothing every now and then. Gershon never had to wear clothing that was too small for him because when he outgrew it, his mother would pack it up and distribute it to the needy. She would also send him a fresh and juicy piece of fruit and a tasty sandwich in his lunch box every day, something other children his age rarely received.

But Gershon didn't know how to appreciate this. These treats were not what the needed. He needed emotional support and felt that he had been orphaned of both his mother and his father. He particularly lacked a father figure and there was no replacement for that.

One day, Gershon noticed that Yonah Berger, Eliyahu's little brother, was wearing a "new" sweater that had once belonged to Gershon. At that moment, his darkest inclinations were aroused. Yonah not only had a good family but was also benefiting from the sweater that had once been his!

That was too much for Gershon to bear and, unable to control himself, he offended Yonah in front of his friends in Eliyahu's presence. If the insults had been directed to Eliyahu alone he would have borne them in silence. However, he was very touched by his brother's pain and could not overlook the incident. Stormily, he returned home and tearfully told his parents:

"I can't take it anymore. He makes my life miserable."

His parents calmed him and explained that Gershon was a bitter and unfortunate child, and that if Gershon had gone to such extremes apparently he hadn't been able to control himself. Instead of being angry at him, he should be pitied.

The warm and understanding attitude of Eliyahu's parents helped him overcome his feelings and enabled him to relate to Gershon with pity. However, when Gershon saw that Eliyahu continued to behave as if nothing had happened he searched for more ways to pick on him.

As Gershon grew older, it became more difficult to cope with him. The melamed reproved him day and night, but his words fell on deaf ears.

"Know that whatever a person does, he does to himself," the melamed would tell him, sometimes gently and at other times sternly. "Don't think that you can harm anyone by means of your behavior. True you are only a shaliach. However, you will one day be punished for what you have done."

But the melamed's words seemed to go in one ear and out the other.

His mother, Gittel, who suffered doubly, was even more worried about her son's unrestrained behavior than about her problems as an agunah and she gently tried to convince him to improve.

"Gershon," she would say. "You're nearly twelve and will soon have to accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. It's time for you to behave maturely and to take yourself in hand. Don't add to my suffering. I'm going through enough as is."

But despite all of her pleas he did not change, and continued to think that the world had to compensate him for his lacks, and that he could do whatever he wanted.

His intolerable behavior and his negative influence on the other children made his teachers decide that they couldn't keep him in the Talmud Torah any longer. After a warning, which didn't help, he was expelled — at first for two days, then for an entire week. But after that, he himself didn't want to return, and preferred to wander the streets aimlessly, venting his anger on trees and stones and sometimes animals.

From there, the way to joining a gang of hooligans, who welcomed him with open arms, was brief. Together they would devise various pranks, such as hiding the pails of the water- carrier, stealing apples from the meager wares of Baila the widow, or placing a large vat in front of the home of the elderly shammash so that when he tried to leave his house in the morning to wake up the townsmen for davening, he would encounter a high wall of snow which blocked his door.

However Gershon's greatest delight was to afflict the cheder children, whom he envied because their lot was better than his.

One day, when Eliyahu was returning home with a merit certificate praising his diligence and his success on a test, he bumped into Gershon.

"What are you holding?" Gershon asked in a foreboding voice, as he waved a stick.

"Nothing special. I mean . . . just a merit certificate," Eliyahu stammered in fear.

"Just a merit certificate," Gershon repeated in mockery, and then he grabbed the certificate away from Eliyahu, tearing it to bits and throwing the pieces of paper in all directions.

"Rosho merusho, what did you do?" Eliyahu, who was deeply hurt by Gershon's malevolence, shouted. "I never did anything bad to you!"

"Ha, ha, ha," Gershon laughed. "You think that you have to do something in order to feel the brunt of my strong arm?"

Gershon couldn't tell Eliyahu how he had hurt him — unwittingly of course. He couldn't say: "I hate you because you come from a warm and good home, and because you are a good student and give both your parents and teachers nachas, while I have no father and my mother is bitter and too weak to set limits for me. I hate you because everyone is angry at me, and rejects me."

But that's the way he felt and it was no wonder that he wandered about the streets doing nothing and searching for ways to let out his frustrations.

"Listen, Eliyahu," Gershon continued in a threatening voice, "you didn't only call me a rosho, but also a rosho merusho and I won't let that pass. Tonight I'll go home, and tomorrow me and my pals will lie in wait for you, somewhere along the way after you finish cheder. We'll make certain to meet up with you and to beat you up. If you dare tattle on us, your end will be bitter. Remember, I warned you."

Eliyahu heard Gershon's warning and remained glued to his place, thunderstruck. "Gershon torments me even without threatening me," he mused. "Who knows what he'll do now? Who knows what he's scheming? I had better think carefully about what I should do and to whom to turn."

Even if Eliyahu had tried to conceal the harrowing experience from his parents, he didn't succeed. Their sharp eyes immediately discerned that their son was frightened and worried. When they once again heard that Gershon was causing him trouble, Eliyahu's father said: "Listen Eliyahu, Gershon may have ripped your report card, but it's only a piece of paper. But he can't tear your true excellence and your parents' and teachers' high regard for you, or your diligence, your toil in Torah and your yiras Shomayim and good middos. One can never take such things away from a person, because they are written on the tablets of his heart."

Then his mother said: "Perhaps Gershon thinks that he is a tough guy whom all have to fear. But know Eliyahu, that the true hero is he who controls his inclinations. Besides, you should constantly tell yourself that a person can't harm his fellow unless Hashem so wills it, and that all that one does — he does to himself."

"And as far as tomorrow is concerned," his father added, "we'll pray that Hashem will help us and in the evening before you go to bed we'll devise a plan of action."

The following day, Gershon and Eliyahu indeed met, but under totally different circumstances.


Who knows how badly the situation between Gershon and Eliyahu would have deteriorated, if not for the war which broke out suddenly and changed the entire order of the world wherever it reached. The Germans invaded the Polish town without any advance warning and ordered all of the Jews to assemble in the main square where, with a wave of the hand they determined each one's lot — whether to here or to there.

Eliyahu and Gershon stood beside each other in the square without saying a word. Gershon lowered his head, while Eliyahu didn't even look at him. Instead, he wryly thought of how Gershon's threat of the previous day had seemed like the worst thing in the world, while today he realized that there were even much worse tsorres. He saw his father standing there helplessly and his mother weeping, and he longed for his daily routine.

Eliyahu recalled what he had recently learned in Devorim, on the verse in Parshas Hatochechoh: "Baboker tomar mi yitein erev," on which Rashi says: "The night referred to is the one which precedes the `morning' mentioned earlier in this verse and not the one after it, because the troubles so increase as the day passes that a person longs for the previous night."

Within an hour, all of the Jews in the square parted, no one knowing what had happened to his fellow. Even parents didn't know what had become of their children. Heart-rending screams, among them those of Gittel the agunah from who they had mercilessly taken her only son Gershon, pierced the skies.

Eliyahu, who was only twelve at the time, was taken to a work camp where he suffered greatly. The forced labor and the tyranny of the Nazis gave him no time to even think about his terrible situation or to express his feelings. The difficult events forced him to struggle for his existence, and under such circumstances thinking about one's feelings was a luxury no one could permit himself.

Only at night, when he lay down on his cot, did the words his parents told him the evening before they parted ring in his ears and strengthen him a bit: "Whatever a person does, he does for himself." With all his heart, he felt that this would be the case with the Germans and that Hashem would repay them for what they had done.

"There are things one can never take away from a person," his father had often told him, and those words also echoed in Eliyahu's ears like a pleasant melody. He would tell himself: "The Germans took away everything from me: my warm family, my belongings, my physical freedom. But they can't take away my faith, my values. They can torment and persecute me. But they can't take away my spiritual assets. These will always remain with me."

Eliyahu was terrifyingly thin and looked like a walking skeleton. However, his main objective at that time was to beseech Hashem to let him live, and to try and pass those difficult years without damaging his spirit. That would be the best vengeance he could wreak on the Germans.

He was willing to suffer humiliation and to eat the watery soup and the dry bread, not for the sake of his body, but for the sake of his neshomoh. Shabbos and other mitzvah observances, which he did with mesiras nefesh, helped him survive.

Days, months — and then years passed. However, like everything, even the terrible war came to an end, leaving behind small numbers of survivors, embers saved from the ruins, the gas chambers and the infernos, and barely able to preserve the wicks of their lives in their tortured bodies.

Eliyahu thanked Hashem for having saved him and prayed that he would merit to rebuild himself. He joined a group of survivors who wanted to immigrate to America. After receiving the necessary certificates, they set sail to the United States, where they hoped that their fortunes would improve, along with their change of place.

When they stepped on the distant continent their ways parted, and each one tried to establish himself in a different place. However, the hardships they encountered were not simple. Eliyahu began to search for work, but most of the places, among them stores and factories to which he applied, stipulated that they would hire him only if he agreed to work on Shabbos too.

Eliyahu was frightened by the idea. The only factor that had given him the strength to survive during those difficult years was the spiritual one, and his dedication and observance of Shabbos and yom tov. Now they were asking him to forgo all that in an instant and willingly.

"No!" he told himself. "I won't give in."

Many of his acquaintances told him that they had broken down and yielded to the demands of their employers. But Eliyahu wouldn't yield, even when he seemed to have no other option. He slept in the meantime in stairwells and in order to support himself he bought all sorts of candies and cigarettes on credit and sold them on the street to passersby. Slowly he put aside pennies at a time and, when he paid his debts he would buy more merchandise, until he was able to rent a small cellar room for himself.

It was very hard for him in the beginning. At times, he would fall prey to the antics of juvenile delinquents who would pilfer his merchandise and then, with rolling laughter which reverberated in the streets, make fun of him. Yet despite all this, over a number of years he still managed to amass a sizable sum.

Throughout that difficult period he didn't stop searching for his parents and the remainder of his family. But one day, he sadly learned that they were among the six million kedoshim who had perished al kiddush Hashem in the Holocaust. All this only spurred him to try his utmost to cause nachas to their neshomos, and he would tell himself: "If Hashem left only me alive, I must thank Him for that and do all in my ability to be worthy of that."

In America, he moved into a Jewish community, davening in its local shul, and attending shiurim at night.

In time, he was offered a shidduch and he soon established a home with the daughter of one of the members of the community. Over the years, he had saved up quite a nice sum of money, and everyone tried to advise him how to invest it. In the end, he decided to consult the community's rov, who told him to open a bakery because there was no kosher bakery in the area.


Shortly afterwards, Eliyahu rented a small store on the community's main street, purchased updated machinery, and hung a sign outside, which simply said: "Berger's Bakery."

The local community blessed his initiative and many began to buy their daily bread there. The good name of the bakery as well as Eliyahu's honesty became well known, as did his attempts to hire Jewish workers, who needed parnossoh.

One day when Eliyahu stepped outside of the bakery for a moment, he noticed someone familiar passing by.

"Who is he?" he wondered, as he stretched his memory. "That's Gershon! But where is his yarmulke? I am sorry to have seen him that way."

But then he mused: "Who am I to judge him? After all he had a very difficult childhood. Perhaps his bitterness caused him to forsake his religion."

Then he remembered his childhood days and the pranks Gershon played on him. But with typical optimism, he said to himself: "I'm sure he's outgrown all that."

Suddenly the stranger turned around and looked at Eliyahu, who had seemed familiar to him too. Then he retraced has footsteps and gave Eliyahu a second look. Extending his hand to him, the excited Eliyahu called out: "Is that you Gershon? Boruch mechayeh meisim. I'm so happy to see that you survived the terrible days of wrath."

Gershon though, responded rather coldly and, with a bitter smile, said: "I barely recognized you. You've changed since then."

"Nu, we parted as kids and many difficult years which have left their marks on both of us have passed since then," Eliyahu replied.

"And what are you doing today? How are you managing?" Gershon asked.

"Hashem helped me. I came here penniless, and now have established a home. I have two children, a boy and a girl, who are named after my parents. As you see, I opened a bakery here. What are you doing?"

"I'm still searching for my fortune," he answered shortly. "I work in Mr. Brown's factory but I'm not happy there. The work is too hard. I'm looking for something else."

Eliyahu understood that if Gershon was working in Mr. Brown's factory, that meant that he worked on Shabbos too. Now he understood what happened to the yarmulke and his heart ached over his former friend's spiritual state.

"Do you want a job in my bakery?" Eliyahu offered, hoping that this would enable Gershon to keep Shabbos and perhaps to slowly return to mitzvah observance. However, Eliyahu didn't realize how far Gershon had fallen and how much bitterness had accrued in his heart until he finally cast off religion.

"That's not necessary," Gershon replied as appalled as if someone had suggested that he commit suicide.

"I'm sorry, you don't have to . . . I just asked . . . I just wanted to help . . . " Eliyahu innocently replied.

As Gershon turned around, Eliyahu called out: "If you change your mind and still would like to work here, I'll give you good terms."

Little did he know that Gershon was making plans of a different sort at that time.


After the selectzia was conducted, Gershon was placed on a train whose destination was unknown. But with Hashem's help, he managed to jump off it without being discovered. Soon he reached the door of a childless farmer and promised to help him in exchange for room and board. The farmer pitied him and took him in, but asked him to disguise himself as a gentile. For that he had to remove his yarmulke. But along with that many other Jewish values were removed from his heart.

The farmer told his neighbors that the boy was his nephew Stephen, who had come from a distant city in order to help him. This was a difficult period for Gershon, who constantly feared that someone might realize that he was Jewish and inform on him. The work at the farmer's home was very difficult, but in order to survive Gershon, who wasn't accustomed to hard work, was compelled to do whatever chores the farmer assigned him — and his heart continued to fill with bitterness.

At the end of the war, he somehow arrived in America and searched for work. He had already abandoned Torah and mitzvos during the Holocaust, and found it relatively easy to find a job in a factory where he had to work on Shabbos too. Mr. Brown, the boss who rejected many Jews who insisted on keeping Shabbos, was happy to hire a Jew who was willing to desecrate Shabbos, and pinned many hopes on him.

However, Mr. Brown did not get much satisfaction from his new worker — who in the meantime had changed his name to Jerry. This was because Jerry was very bitter and disgruntled, constantly griping and complaining. He would cause tension and dissatisfaction among his fellow workers, behave rudely towards them, pester them, and threaten them for no evident reason. According to Gershon/Jerry the entire world had to pay the price for what he lacked in life.

He was nearly fired a number of times, but at the last moment he would always promise to improve (which he didn't).


But then, after the meeting with Eliyahu, Gershon's blood pressure rose, and envy began to burn in his heart like fire. That was too much: Not only had Eliyahu survived the terrible Holocaust, but he had also established a happy family and had a good livelihood.

"What's more," Gershon remonstrated, "he offered me a job! He suggested that I work for him, and that he, Eliyahu, be my boss, while I would be a simple worker, his subordinate. What chutzpah! I'll teach him a lesson!"

Then he resolved to inflict as much harm as possible on Eliyahu. His first plan was to open a bakery directly opposite Eliyahu's, so that Eliyahu would see it all the time and be hurt. That would be his sweet revenge.

And from thought to deed, took very little time. One of his friends who lived near the bakery helped him rent a store precisely opposite Eliyahu's. Jerry withdrew all of his savings with which he bought baking equipment and acquired fresh merchandise from another bakery. Then he posted a huge, colored sign above his store which read: "Fresh baked goods every day."

On the day the store opened, Eliyahu arrived at work as usual. Then when he looked out, he saw the huge sign. At first he was stunned. But after the initial shock had subsided, he told himself: "Parnossoh is from Shomayim."

That same day he consulted his rov and tensely awaited his answer, resolving to do whatever the rov advised. After deep thought, his rov told him: "You know that Chazal say, that no one can touch what is prepared for his fellow. What I suggest at this point is to cool Gershon's jealousy a bit by removing the sign on your store."

"Did I hear correctly?" Eliyahu wondered.

"But kevod HaRav, the period between Purim and Pesach is prime time in my business. Even people who usually bake at home all year round and rarely buy store-bought cakes or challos, do so on erev Pesach when they are busy cleaning for the holiday. If I remove the sign, that might mean the end of my business. People will think that we've closed and will naturally be drawn to the store opposite me."

The rov, who noticed Eliyahu's bewilderment, replied: "Don't worry. Hashem will send you what you deserve.

"Do what I said, at this point, and we will see how things develop," the rov said, without elaborating.


The following day when Jerry-Gershon saw that the sign had been removed from Berger's bakery, he was thrilled. If there had been no customers in his store, he would have danced for joy. It seemed to as if success was finally beginning to shine on him.

But he still hadn't finished his plans for revenge on Eliyahu, because even if he had closed that bakery he could open another one somewhere else. He had to harm him in a way from which he wouldn't recover so quickly.

That night, when he got into bed he couldn't sleep. He tried to devise ways to get even with his competitor, undercover. One by one, each scheme fell by the wayside, until he finally hit on an idea. Only then did he calm down and fall asleep, a satisfied smile on his lips.

That night, he saw himself in a dream as a child in Poland, energetically digging a ditch and laughing at the tears of his petrified classmates. Suddenly, the melamed appeared and, opening a sefer Tehillim, pointed to the verse, "Bor korah vayachpereihu, vayipol bashachas yif'al" (Tehillim 7:16). When he awoke, the dream was still fresh before his eyes and for a moment he thought that he should reconsider his plans. But the desire for revenge which burned within him, did not leave him much room for contemplation.

Shortly afterwards he went outside, and asked someone who looked like a thug to come into his home.

Jerry then waved a fat wallet at him and told him. "Do you want this wallet with everything that's in it? You can have it if you do me a small favor.

The thug eyed the wallet greedily and then listened to what Jerry whispered:.

"Tonight," Jerry said, "at 2:30 in the morning, go to my bakery on 24 Main Street. Break into the back window and throw a burning torch inside it. When you are certain that the merchandise and the machinery are burning, run away before neighbors smell the fire and suspect you. If you are caught and blame me, woe to you."

"Okay," the thug said with a smile. "Such work is not only a snap for me, but I actually enjoy it. I know exactly what to do."

The thug went to the address Jerry had given him and looked for a bakery at 24 Main Street. But all he saw at that address was a closed shutter. There was no sign indicating that it was a bakery. At last he said, "I must have made a mistake. There's a bakery across the street at 25 Main Street. I guess that's what Jerry meant. There's a large sign there too, which says: "Fresh Baked Goods Daily."

After breaking the glass of the back door he threw a burning torch inside the bakery and, when he was sure that all of the equipment and merchandise was on fire, he ran away. Then he headed to Jerry's apartment for the money.


Jerry didn't sleep all that night, but waited impatiently for the thug. When the thug arrived, Jerry paid him and then went to bed. But he was too excited to fall asleep.

True he was tired — but he was happy. Excitedly, he counted the hours until morning when he would see the results of his plan and Eliyahu Berger's reaction.

As he neared the area the next morning, the smell of the fire tickled his nostrils and made him very happy.

Suddenly, he heard a familiar voice calling out, "Jerry? Jerry? Where are you? Everyone is looking for you!"

"What happened?" he asked, his heart foreboding bad tidings. "Who knows, maybe the thug informed on me."

"What happened to your store?" his friend who lived near the bakery asked the moment he saw Jerry. "Early this morning I woke up to the smell of fire. Confused, I went outside and saw heavy smoke pouring out of your store. There was nothing to save. All of the merchandise and machinery were burned to a cinder. Do you know who did it? Perhaps we should call the police."

"No," Jerry, who now understood the terrible mistake which had occurred, replied in a trembling voice. "I want to see the extent of the damage myself and then I'll decide what to do. Thank you. If I need your help, I'll tell you. In the meantime be well."

Jerry neared the store and saw firemen still struggling with the last of the flames which had ravenously consumed all of the contents of his store. He remained riveted to his place, deep in thought, torn between the penetrating dream of that night and the tremendous shock incurred by the fire.

"That melamed was so right," he mused. "It's a pity I learned the message in such a hard way. Indeed, a person causes himself more damage than even his worst enemy."

Unable to bear the bitter reality, he fainted. Everyone pitied him and thought that he had fainted due to the loss of his assets. When he awoke, he saw a large crowd of worried Jews who had just come home from shul surrounding him, their tallis and tefillin bags still tucked under their arms. Among them was Eliyahu Berger who bent over him, rubbing Jerry's temples and wetting his lips with cold water.

"He's trying to say something," Eliyahu then said, as he strained to listen to him.

"My chometz, my chometz," Jerry/Gershon said in a whisper, as tears flowed freely from his eyes.

"Yes, your chometz was truly burned, my friend," Eliyahu tried to calm him. "But please, don't take it too hard. Money comes and money goes. You have to take care of your health."

"Bi'ur chometz," Gershon murmured.

"Bi'ur chometz? Erev Pesach is next week. That's when we burn our chometz," the worried people around him chimed in, as they cast meaningful glances at each other, assuming that the trauma had caused him to lose his mind.

Jerry/Gershon was too weak to explain that he wasn't hallucinating and that his mind was clear. For him, that was the best possible bi'ur chometz. The fire had helped him not only to burn the chometz he owned, but also the yetzer hora, which is called "chometz of the heart."

For him, a blessed process of bi'ur chometz lemehadrin had begun.


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