A while after World War II, my father shlita, as an expert mohel, was in Vienna for a bris. There he met a Jew who had a folder filled with various documents, manuscripts and even handwritten kisvei kodosh, including one of the Chasam Sofer zt"l. The package had belonged to my grandfather R' Shlomo Stern zt"l , and was mislaid due to the confusion of the war. Somehow it had made its way there and my father was eager to honor his father by reclaiming the lost folder, even if it meant "buying" it back.
The other Yid, however, was unsure what to do. Should he return the folder or sell it back, or perhaps just keep such a valuable find.
Since the Kapishnitzer Rebbe zt"l was in Vienna at the time, they decided to present him with the shailoh.
HaRav Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel listened intently to the case. Turning to my father, he asked, "Are you sure this folder is the one that belonged to your father?"
He was sure.
"Do you believe him?" he then asked Mr. V. Again the reply was in the affirmative.
"Then don't you see," continued the Rebbe, "that all your doubts are only the work of the yetzer hora. An opportunity to perform the great mitzvoh of hashovas aveidoh has presented itself to you and the evil inclination is trying to confuse you by suggesting that perhaps it's zuto shel yam (something that was found floating in the sea and according to halacha may be kept even if the owner is known). Overcome the yetzer and return the folder."
With tears of remorse and gratitude in his eyes, Mr. V. handed over the precious find to my father immediately. "Rebbe, you sensed the battle that was going on inside me," he exclaimed, joyful that he was doing the correct thing with peace of mind.
After he had left, the Rebbe turned to my father and humbly confessed, "When you presented the shailoh to me, I had no idea what to answer, but Hakodosh Boruch Hu placed the correct reasoning in my mouth. Clearly "meiHashem ma'aneh loshon."
The Rebbe at that point recalled another incident that occurred to him not so long before in the USA, where he felt that Heaven sent him the right words.
"A woman came to my house in Boro Park crying hysterically for help. Her son had fallen into bad company some years earlier and was swiftly descending into the abyss of a G-dless life. Now he had brought home a gentile girl and declared his intention to marry her. I asked her what she thought I could do. `Talk to him, Rebbe,' was her desperate plea. `Perhaps it'll help.'
"I had no choice but to agree that she send her son to me and to daven that Hashem should give me what to say.
"Some days later I answered a knock at the door to see a tall boy with an arrogant look on his face and not the slightest trace of Jewishness in his appearance. To my questioning expression, he explained that his mother had sent him, for the Rebbe wishes to speak to him.
"Remembering the woman who had come, I realized this must be her son. I welcomed him in, still unclear of what I was to tell him. And Hashem placed the following story into my mouth:
"Following the annexation of Austria by the Nazi regime, many Jews were picked off the streets of Vienna and taken to the Gestapo headquarters for interrogation. There they were tortured systematically and often never returned to their families.
"One day it was my turn. I was thrown unceremoniously into the dark cellar of the Gestapo building. It took a few moments for my eyes to accustom themselves to the darkness so I could see where I was. I found myself in a large room filled with the broken moans and bodies of tortured Jews. Suddenly I noticed in the far corner a man who was banging his head against the wall without mercy. His battered body was covered with bruises and welts, but the fellow would not stop hitting his head with tremendous force, as though he wished, G-d forbid, to kill himself. I made my way between the people until I reached him.
" `Haven't you been tortured enough?' I asked him gently. `Why are you hurting yourself?'
" `I deserve even worse than this,' was the man's bitter reply. His story soon followed.
"Many years earlier he had strayed from the Jewish path and had married a goy. All the cries and pleas of his parents fell on deaf ears and they were left to sit shivah and mourn their lost son in grief. Now, after forty years of a happy marriage with this gentile girl, she had reported to the Gestapo that her husband was Jewish. `Do I not deserve the worst punishments for not heeding my parents cries?' he ended wretchedly.
The Rebbe continued his narrative. "I turned to this young American boy who had reached a crossroads identical to the man in the cellar.
" `Believe me,' I told him, `that when this man married his shikse, he loved her and she loved him. They lived in harmony together. Yet after 40 years she betrayed him! Now you can go and marry your shikse!'
"The tough-looking boy's facade crumbled and he broke down crying.
"Subsequently, his mother came to thank me, informing me that he had indeed returned. She had a hard time getting him to come to me at all, and in the end she accomplished it by telling his friends that he was no strong man; he was even afraid to talk to a young rabbi. After his friends teased him, he relented just to prove his worth.
" `Boruch Hashem, the words of the Rebbe penetrated his heart and he is restarting a Yiddishe life.'"
Just as the above is a story within a story, the chain of events goes even further.
My father was once delayed in the airport in Belgium due to bad weather and, looking for company to pass the time, he found among his fellow passengers HaRav Yaakov Galinsky, shlita. During the course of their conversation, my father told him the above story.
A few years later, R' Yaakov Galinsky related to my father the sequel. He had been called by a distraught volunteer of Yad L'Achim who had told him that a young girl from a frum family had run away and was about to marry an Arab. All the pleas of her parents and various rabbonim had no effect. R' Yaakov traveled to the remote Arab village where he found the girl alone in a house.
Tearfully, he told her the Kapishnitzer's story and the rest is history. The girl packed her bags and returned with him, back to Yerushalayim and back to Yiddishkeit.
To end, it is worth quoting the dvar Torah that the Kapishnitzer Rebbe zt"l said on his first Rosh Hashanah after settling in Boro Park.
"On Rosh Hashonoh, we pray and invoke the merit of the Akeidoh. Many have wondered what is the great nisoyon. Wouldn't anyone obey a command coming directly from Hashem? Perhaps the following can explain.
"When Hashem tells a person to slaughter himself, he surely does so with love, but to slaughter his son — that is a much greater test. To allow others to suffer is an even more difficult trial."
He then added a personal note. "When the Nazi rosho took me to the Gestapo to torture me, I went happily, accepting Hashem's decree. But when I saw and heard other Jews being taken and hurt — that was too much to bear."