Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Tishrei 5760 - September 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
by Chaim Walder

It was an unusually hot and sticky summer night. The small fans in the dingy dining hall only seemed capable of cooling off the hovering flies. The Bar Mitzva boy sitting next to the Rabbonim was totally encased in his new suit with his hat perched stiffly on his head. The guests were still busy with the complicated task of drinking and eating while wiping their brows when Shalom-to-you-Moshe came walking in. He quickly went over to the head table, greeting everyone on the way over with a hearty "Mazal Tov." His overall appearance caused quite an upheaval -- not because of his exuberant manner which people were quite used to, but because of his attire. On a hot stifling night like this, in Bnei Brak, no less, he was dressed in a heavy overcoat, a sweater and a woolen scarf wound several times around his throat. On his feet he wore a pair of heavy boots. Shalom-to-you-Moshe washed for bread and sat down to eat with gusto.

Actually Moshe had started his life as Moshe Bernstein or some similar family name. Had you seen him in his younger years, you wouldn't have noticed anything special about him -- he was a quiet, timid, not particularly sociable child, who would rather die of thirst than ask for permission to leave class.

Somehow, young Moshe reached Bar Mitzva age and the reception changed his life forever. His father's cousin, a very famous rov and mussar personality by the name of R' Shalom, attended and at the end of the evening turned to Moshe and said to him, "Since you are now Bar Mitzva, you probably want to advance in your spiritual endeavors. Well, I have an idea as to how you can do this."

Moshe stood there wondering and worrying about the heavy task about to befall him, but to his surprise, R' Shalom said to him, "At this point in life, you should take upon yourself some small custom, practice or good deed, even something easy, and stick to it throughout your life, no matter what." Moshe pondered but, as usual, couldn't think of a suitable answer. Suddenly he glanced up at R' Shalom and an idea entered his head. "I take it upon myself to be the first one to say `Shalom' to each person I meet," he piped up. "Just like the tana in Pirkei Ovos." R' Shalom was thoughtful for a moment, and then declared, "Very good, from this moment on you must be the first to greet each person. But don't take it lightly -- it's a serious undertaking."

If Moshe thought that the last words were made in jest, he saw soon enough that he was mistaken. He came to class and quietly started saying `Shalom' to all his friends. Having just enjoyed themselves at Moshe's Bar Mitzva the day before, they answered him in a friendly tone. It was harder though with those outside his class and with neighbors to whom he had never spoken a word. To everyone he whispered `Shalom.' To his brother's friends, to his relatives, to members of the Shul where he davened.

Everyone felt the difference. What a surprise to see the young introverted boy greeting them first! But it seems that people are never annoyed to hear the word `Shalom' addressed to them; on the contrary, they all found it pleasant -- all except for Moshe who was still a bit ill at ease with his newfound custom.

By the year's end, when the older boys left to go their separate ways, each boy in the cheder somehow felt a pang of sorrow at parting from Moshe. In yeshiva he strengthened his practice and greeted everyone first, including the older boys. And if they, in the beginning, were annoyed at the young boy who spoke to them in such a familiar manner, they soon became used to his friendly greetings and took it as a personal compliment.

In shiur beis and shiur gimmel, Moshe was the most popular and sociable boy in the yeshiva -- he was everyone's friend. The younger boys saw in him an older buddy who was ready to lend them support, while the older boys considered him as a peer who had mistakenly landed in a lower shiur. His fellow classmates regularly confided in him and asked his advice concerning personal problems.

That's also when the appellation `Shalom-to-you' began to stick. The amazing thing is that it took so long for the nickname to come into use. Ever since his Bar-Mitzva, Moshe had been greeting people with "Shalom to you -- how are you feeling today -- is everything OK?" coupled with a wave of the hand, the wink of an eye or the famous `V' sign, in an effort to distinguish himself from those who offered a plain `Shalom.' A new boy who came from another Yeshiva was so impressed by the theatrics involved in Moshe's greetings that he named him `Shalom-to-you,' a title which was immediately adopted by the rest of the boys.

In Yeshiva Gedola, Moshe was considered the best loved student. He earned great affection among the rabbonim and the other boys who appreciated his beaming countenance and caring personality. Suffice it to say that he was offered a wonderful shidduch. The only difficulty involved was in `checking him out' since practically no one had heard of Moshe Bernstein a.k.a. Shalom-to-you-Moshe.

For about 20 years Moshe learned in Kollel, after which he studied shechita and subsequently spent about two months a year abroad as a Kashrus supervisor. This earned him a respectable living and allowed him to continue learning Torah during the rest of the year.

The Bar Mitzva we find him attending at the beginning of our story takes place during a period when he was supposed to be in Europe. His appearance causes much speculation and amazement - all the more so since, as we mentioned, he is wrapped up in a warm overcoat together with scarf and gloves. Unperturbed, without taking off his outer clothing, Moshe waves, winks and smiles `Shalom' to all present and proceeds to eat his meal with relish. Suddenly, the father of the Bar Mitzva calls out jocularly, "It's hot enough as it is, and you're making us even hotter." Moshe, seeing the look of amazement on everyone's face, stands up and begins to explain.

"My get-up makes you all uncomfortable, I see. Let me, then, tell you a story which will explain exactly why I'm wearing all this clothing:


It all started about two months ago when one of my friends invited me to Norway. He had rented the premises of a big factory for the purpose of slaughtering and processing large amounts of meat. Several shochtim had already been hired and I was engaged as Chief Mashgiach.

We land in Norway and I realize soon enough that they speak a different language here -- my greetings of `Shalom' are met by looks of surprise and embarrassment. We arrive at the factory to examine the premises. I am awed by our assembly line, which is brand new and so long that it takes nearly an hour and a half to go from one end to the other! It is manned by about 10,000 workers and the whole work area is tremendous. Our group includes 250 shochtim and ten mashgichim. I gather all the shochtim to give them their instructions, give them a blessing and wish them success. I then divide them into groups of ten, each headed by one of them. My friend who rented the assembly line warns us not to become too friendly with the workers who don't like Jews in general, and who feel that we are encroaching on their jobs. I realize this must be true when, the next morning, I greet the guard at the gate and he averts his gaze.

The work starts. Anyone who has never seen an assembly line of this size, never saw anything awesome or frightening in his life. The first step is shechita al pi halocha. After that the cow is hauled onto the line and from then on everything is done automatically. All parts are cut, numbered and washed thoroughly and then sent through a tunnel where they are quick-frozen. After that they pass through a longer tunnel where they are deep-frozen. There, thousands of frozen pieces wait to be sent to Jewish communities around the world.

Two months of busy activity go by. We arrive early every morning and leave late in the evening. One day I look at my notebook and see that I have to check a certain animal on which there was a question. I call up one of the mashgichim and together with one of the non-Jewish workers, we enter the special `cold tunnel' of the factory. After punching the computer code, the racks start to move and together we wait for the animal in question to arrive.

In the background we hear an announcement being made in Norwegian which we, of course, don't understand. We look questioningly at the worker with us who, it seems, hasn't heard it. Without giving it another thought, we continue waiting for some time in the frigid room. Although we've been here before for shorter spells, the intense frost seems to reach now into our very bones. Suddenly the lights go out and we're enveloped in total darkness. The Norwegian worker starts to shout and scream and feel his way towards the door. We ask him in broken Norwegian what happened. He tells us that everything is closed down and that we are stuck in the room until morning. Immediately we understand the seriousness of the situation and join him in trying to find the way out. When we finally reach the door we realize with a shock that it is automatically shut and that there is no way to open it from the inside. Our only hope is the alarm button which must be somewhere on one of the walls. Seized by panic, our bodies gradually freezing, we quickly start to explore the walls for the button.

After an hour we still haven't found it and I feel I'm about to pass out and die of the intense cold. I glance at the Norwegian worker who is covered with a layer of frost and who is still searching for the button... This reminds me that our salvation lies with our Creator and I begin to pray with feeling. I ask the mashgiach to join me but he doesn't react -- his eyes are glazed and he is totally apathetic. In the meantime the racks of meat are slowly moving by and I'm afraid that we might get hit by one of them and end up on the hooks like one of the animals. My prayers intensify and as my body hardens from frost I start to say the vidui and the Shema. The mashgiach suddenly falls and lies there inert and I realize in anguish that before long I will be joining him. I glance at my watch and can make out that four hours have already passed. The Norwegian worker is sitting on a crate, head in hands, without moving, a pitiful expression on his face.

Another hour passes by and suddenly the light goes on. Barely conscious, I crawl slowly to the door and bang feebly - as if this could help! But in a few seconds, I hear the sounds of a large lock being turned and the heavy steel door is pushed open. I don't remember anything after that, because I lost consciousness. It seems that someone opened the door, pulled out the three of us, and turned on the heater to revive us while calling for help.

We were all brought to the nearest hospital, suffering from severe cold burns and other medical problems, but alive. It takes several days for us to regain consciousness, and after gratefully thanking Hashem for saving us, I ask the doctors how someone managed to find us five hours after the factory had closed! The doctors themselves don't know but tell me that every day a certain person comes by to see how we're faring; perhaps he has something to do with it. Several hours later, who comes by if not the guard who turned his head away the first time I said `Shalom' to him. Together with him is the Jewish man who rented the factory and the managers of the factory. When I ask them how they reached us, they speak to the guard in Norwegian and he points to me while explaining.

My Jewish friend then translates for me: For the past 35 years the guard has been working at the factory during the morning and evening shifts. In the afternoon, between shifts, he rests. Throughout the years, not one among the thousands of workers ever spoke to him in a personal manner. Only occasionally did anyone address him concerning a technical problem or a dispute with other employees. For the past two months, he says, a man dressed like a Jewish rabbi has been greeting him every day, morning and evening, with a friendly smile and a word that sounds like `hello.' That fateful morning, the Jewish man said `hello' as usual. But in the evening, after the thousands of workers had left and the guard locked the gate, something bothered him. The Jewish man had not greeted him on the way out. At first he dismissed the thought -- the man didn't owe him even a half a greeting! But an hour later, the thought came back to haunt him. Another hour passed and he couldn't put it out of his mind - maybe something had happened!

As fast as possible, he ran to the factory to call the Jew whose name he didn't even know. `Jew', `Jew', he called at the top of his voice, hoping that this wouldn't insult the rabbi. Suddenly the thought entered his mind that the man might be stuck in the cold room. He hurriedly rushed there, turned on the light, listened and heard a noise. With one hand he opened the door while pressing the alarm button with the other. `And that's how you arrived here,' my friend said.


Moshe-Shalom-to-you glances at the audience -- they are rooted to their chairs and it seems that the story made them forget the intense heat in the room. But then as the message of the story slowly sinks in, their hearts are warmed once again, and they perspire freely. Moshe finishes his tale: "I glanced at the guard and hesitated a moment, wondering what to do, and then I smiled at him warmly and said `Shalom to you!'"

Moshe took a deep breath and concluded, "I am deeply grateful to the Creator for saving me and sending me, throughout my life, messengers to help me. My life was saved in the merit of the special practice that the great tzaddik R' Shalom encouraged me to take on at the time of my Bar Mitzva!"


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