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Chayei Sarah

"And Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who controlled all that was his - 'Place now your hand under my thigh. And I will have you swear by Hashem, G-d of heaven and G-d of earth, that you not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. Rather, to my land and to my kindred shall you go and take a wife for my son for Yitzchak'" (Bereishis 24:2-4).

In this week's parashah, we learn how Avraham, the first Jew, forged the path that his children only marry "within the fold" and do not intermarry with the Gentiles of the other nations. Throughout the generations, this has been considered, even by non-observant Jews, the uncrossable line. Families would actually sit shiv'ah (observe the week long period of mourning for one who died) for a member who married a non-Jew, G-d forbid. Unfortunately, in today's liberal, confused world, after almost two thousand years of exile, the percentage of assimilation between Jews and Gentiles is alarmingly high.

The following, moving story was once told to me by Rabbi Zyshe Heshel zt"l about his venerable father, the old Kapishnitzer Rebbe ztvk"l, who was known for his outstanding love and acts of kindness towards all Jews, regardless of their affiliations and their commitment, or non-commitment, to the Torah way of life.

One day, after the Rebbe had migrated to New York, a distressed mother came to him and told him that her son was engaged to intermarry with a Gentile girl. As much as she had tried to dissuade him, she had failed miserably, and was now at her wits' end with no more ideas to try. The Rebbe was very moved by her plight, and wanted with all of his heart to help out the tormented family.

The Rebbe asked her if there were any chance that she could persuade her son to come and speak to him. She said that she was quite sure that it was too late for that, for her son would obstinately refuse to listen to any more words of Torah rebuke. The Rebbe then asked her to try as hard as she could to convince her son to come and visit him, and he instructed her to tell him that the Rebbe had promised that he would not tell him even one word of rebuke, but that he merely wished to tell him a story. The mother promised to try her best and despondently returned home, not at all confident neither that the boy would consent to come to the Rebbe, nor that the Rebbe could successfully dissuade him at all, and certainly not by means of a story.

As expected, the son was quite reluctant to visit the Rebbe, whom he suspected was trying to lure him into a trap in order to lash out against him with the fire and brimstone of Hell. Finally, though, he yielded to his mother's coercion and consented to make a short visit, while warning that if the Rebbe so much as attempts to rebuke him in any way, he will immediately and abruptly walk out on him.

When the young man appeared at the Rebbe's door, the Rabbi greeted him with genuine warmth, as he did every Jew, religious or not, and invited him into his study where he offered him a seat. The young man was a bit shaken by the Rebbe's cordial reception and began to bolster his defenses.

"I only came," he declared, "because I was promised that I would not be given a Torah lecture."

The Rebbe smiled at him with compassion. "I didn't mention a word about Torah," he responded, "so why should you be the one to bring up the topic? I merely want to tell you a story."

"I suppose it's about some miracle-working Chassidic Rabbi," snapped the young man defiantly.

"The Rabbi involved happens to be me," said the Rebbe, with a smile that could penetrate even the hardest of hearts, "and everyone knows that I am no miracle-worker," he added modestly. "Please don't be afraid of me. I merely want to relate to you a scene I once witnessed, and then you'll be absolutely free to leave and to do as your own wisdom advises you."

The fellow felt himself melting from the Rebbe's sincere warmth, and so, against his will, he sat down to listen.

"When I was arrested by the Nazis," began the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, "for absolutely no crime, except that I was a Jew, I was taken to a prison where many others like me were detained. You can very well imagine how sad and scared all of us were, having been snatched, suddenly, from our families, and our future looking quite glum. I looked around me, and saw some people sitting in despair, some crying, and some praying. And then I noticed one young prisoner, who was carrying on much, much more than the rest. He looked like a madman, crying hysterically and banging his head against the wall.

"I wondered to myself why this fellow was finding it so much more difficult to accept his lot than we all were. Was he from some rich, prominent family, or did he have some special treasures taken from him that he seemed to be inconsolable?

"I couldn't bear to see such suffering, so I approached the young man and begged him to tell me what was distressing him so much. With all of his remaining strength he composed himself a bit and told me his horrendous story. This young fellow was married to a Gentile woman. His parents, Rabbis and friends had all tried hard to dissuade him, explaining to him that a Gentile could not possibly really love a Jew. However, he had laughed at them all, calling them old-fashioned and prejudiced. He had told them that they suffered from a 'ghetto-attitude,' which was responsible for all of our persecutions through the long years of dispersion. This 'Galus mentality,' he had said, is not the result but the cause of our suffering. In modern times, he had argued, Jews must behave in a modern, civilized manner, and they will be respected, even loved by their Gentile neighbors. His sweetheart's love was proof of his philosophy, and he would surely marry her and they would definitely live happily ever after.

"They were married, and they did live very nicely with each other in what appeared to be true, young love, seemingly disproving all of the faulty advice his well-wishers had offered him. All this was in peacetime, however.

"When Hitler came to power," continued the Rebbe, as his listener began to fidget uncomfortably in his seat, "this young man felt very safe, smart and lucky. What a good choice he had made! While other Jews whom he knew very well were being arrested daily, he was secure in the haven he had entered. Having a Gentile wife and a prominent goyisher father-in-law was certainly the best protection imaginable from this Satanic, Jew-bloodthirsty regime.

"When he was arrested along with his other Jewish friends, he was terribly disillusioned and disappointed. 'Could it be that his surefire life-insurance policy had failed,' he had wondered. 'No doubt, there must be some mistake,' he had thought to himself. 'When I get to the police station and tell them what family I belong to, they will surely free me with their apologies.'

"However," concluded the Rebbe, in a tone indicating pain as well as compassion, "when he told his story to the SS policemen, they laughed in his face and told him, to his astonishment, that, until the day before, they hadn't even known that he was Jewish and had had no intention of arresting him. However, his wife had reported him to the authorities!!!

"Now he sat with us in prison," the Rebbe continued, "and he just could not forgive himself for what he had done. He cried uncontrollably, non-stop, both by day and by night, cursing himself and often hitting himself and banging his head against the wall. He would mumble over and over again, 'They were right! They were right! I can't believe that they were right. A Gentile's love for a Jew cannot be real!'

"I've finished my story," the Rebbe announced to the trembling young man before him. "I thank you for hearing me out so politely. Now you may go and do as your heart and your intelligence dictate to you. I wish you only the best in life. But please remember, not always what we think is best for us turns out to be so in the end."

The boy left the Rebbe's house, disappointed but wiser, disillusioned but strong in his convictions, and he knew for sure what he had to do. Before he returned home, he visited his fiance and broke off their engagement.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel