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"And Hashem G-d caused to sprout from the ground every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food; also the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad" (Bereishis 2:9).
I once heard the following moving story from Reb Shalom Shvadron zt"l which he heard from Harav Segal zt"l.
During World War I, the Chofetz Chaim ztvk"l had to run away from his hometown and live deep in Russia. At the end of the war he returned home and Rav Segal spent the last Shabbos with him there. Towards the end of the holy day, the Chofetz Chaim was walking home to eat Shalosh Seudos (the third Sabbath meal), accompanied by his son, Reb Aryeh Leib, and Harav Segal, when they suddenly saw Moshe the Bolshevik coming towards them. This fellow had been a prisoner, but at the time of the Communist Revolution the Bolsheviks freed him and appointed him the mayor of the city! Standing face to face, the Chofetz Chaim greeted him cordially and said, "Gut Shabbos to you Moshe." Surprisingly, Moshe answered politely, "Gut Shabbos to you, Rabbi."
"Perhaps you will come and join us for Shalosh Seudos," suggested the Chofetz Chaim.
Grinning widely, Moshe answered, "I already ate Shalosh Seudos!"
"Even so," persisted the Chofetz Chaim.
"Nu," responded Moshe, "If the Rabbi wants, I'll come with him." And with that he turned around and joined the Chofetz Chaim and his companions.
At the place of the meal, the Chofetz Chaim suggested to Moshe that he wash his hands before bread together with them. Moshe replied sarcastically, "I am already washed."
"Even so," said the Chofetz Chaim.
After the first bite of challah, the Chofetz Chaim said, "Moshe, I want to tell you something." Reb Aryeh Leib and Harav Segal realized that the Chofetz Chaim wanted to speak to Moshe privately so they got up to leave and the Chofetz Chaim nodded to them in appreciation that they had understood the hint. They both waited outside. However, since they really wanted to hear what was about to transpire, they left the door open just enough to eavesdrop.
"Moshe," said the Rabbi, "I want to tell you a Torah vort."
"Rabbi," Moshe complained, "I don't know any Torah. What do you want from me?"
"Even so," persisted the Chofetz Chaim.
"Nu, Nu," replied the Bolshevik. "If you want to say Torah then go ahead."
The Chofetz Chaim then asked, "It says in Bereishis that the Tree of Life was situated in the midst of the Garden of Eden. Why does the Torah bother to tell us exactly where it was positioned? What difference does it make if it was in the middle or on the side? The main thing is that there was and is a Tree of Life somewhere in the Garden, wherever it happens to be."
Moshe was silent, of course, and didn't know what to answer.
"I'll tell you," continued the Sage. "If the tree were not in the middle, then it would be further to get to from those standing at one end of the Garden of Eden than from those standing at the other. That wouldn't be fair. But since the Almighty placed it exactly in the middle, it is equally close to all of them from all sides."
"Nu, Nu, Nu," exclaimed Moshe, beginning to get a bit fidgety. "So what exactly does the Rabbi want from me?"
"I'll tell you, Moshe," replied the Chofetz Chaim. "You Bolsheviks said that you would make the world content. Everyone would have what to eat and everyone would be happy. In reality, you took over the towns and grabbed all of the wheat for yourselves, leaving everyone else to starve. So what did I do? I have forty families whom I support and take care of!
"But this week I'm returning home. Who will feed them and see to it that they don't die of starvation, G-d forbid? The truth of the matter is that you owe them a debt since you promised them that they would all have what to eat and then took away their bread. Consequently, you have to pay them back.
"So listen to me, Moshe," continued the Chofetz Chaim. "If you take it upon yourself to personally support these forty families, then this is your path to the Tree of Life; because everyone has his path, no matter where he is situated, and this road is yours."
Moshe immediately responded, "Rabbi, it's a deal."
Then Moshe got up and left. At the door he met the two who were standing there and listening. He turned to them and said, "If everyone were like your Rabbi, we wouldn't need Bolsheviks in the world!"
May we all find our paths to the Tree of Life and walk down them to eternal bliss in this world and the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network