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“And Ya’akov gave Eisav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, got up and left; thus, Eisav spurned the birthright” (Bereishis 25:34).
In this particular incident, Eisav lost everything because of the food he so much lusted. But sometimes one can save another’s life by means of sincere friendship and a good, hearty meal. The following true, moving story appears in this week’s edition of the fabulous pamphlet Ish Lerei’eihi.
“I am a young man from a Chassidic family. Because of personal problems, both family and business, I accumulated a lot of debts. As I became deeper and deeper in debt my family members began to get more and more upset with me. Even friends whom I had helped in the past avoided me. I had no one to talk to; everyone who had been close to me suddenly seemed very distant. I did not feel like discussing my situation with my Rebbe. I came to the point that I was fed up with Judaism, and specifically with the Chassidic way of life.
“I became deeply depressed and fell into despair. I didn’t have the opportunity, or perhaps the desire and the strength, to get out of my complicated situation. Most of all, I lacked faith in Hashem. I decided to leave Israel, not for good, but just for some time to think about life. I told my wife that I want to try to find employment in the religious section of Europe, and she was the only one who knew that I had boarded a plane to Amsterdam.
“It’s very difficult for me to describe the terrible things I did in Amsterdam. I ate non kosher food and violated many commandments of the Torah. I wandered the streets looking and acting like a Gentile. But that didn’t make me happy either. On the contrary, after five days I was disgusted with this way of life but I didn’t have the courage to return to Israel; nor did I really have any reason to go back. I simply did not know what to do.
“One pleasant afternoon, I sat outside of a coffee shop near the train station, a bottle of drink in my hand, and I contemplated life in general and mine in particular. I observed the passersby; I remembered my children and I missed them terribly. I thought about my dear wife, and the house I had abandoned in Israel. I even missed the Chassidic warmth I had once experienced; but all of these were behind me now. I was completely broken and dejected and in my heart I said to Hashem, ‘Either You help me now to get out of my terrible situation somehow, or else what reason do I have to live?’
“And just then, the unbelievable occurred!
“I never really believed much in Hashgacha Peratis (Divine Providence), but from that very second my life changed drastically. Since then, I know and feel that there is a Creator Who listens to a person in his moment of need.
“Just after I had those thoughts of despair and immediately after I completed my ‘prayer’ in my heart, a Chassidic young man with a long beard passed by me. He was dressed in complete Chassidic garb, including long socks and short pants. Believe me, it is easier to find snow in Bnei Brak than to find a Jew dressed like this near a coffee shop in Amsterdam. Apparently he was headed for the train station. I glanced at him and he nodded his head to me in greeting.
“He couldn’t possibly have imagined how much his simple nod of the head meant to me. ‘Shoolem aleichem’ (greetings), I shouted to him with deep Chassidic pronunciation. He approached me and shook my hand. We spoke for a few moments and then he asked me, very politely, if he could sit and chat with me for a while. We sat together for an hour or two and spoke. He quickly understood me and my situation and empathized with me. As we spoke, he succeeded to reawaken the warmth of Chassidus within me. I felt that this was the first time in my life that I sat with someone who really listened to me, understood me and cared for me. I felt that I was sitting before a wise, caring Jew. As I told him my story, tears flowed from his eyes!
“The Gentiles around me thought that I was nuts – sitting with this Jewish Rabbi and crying like a baby. I was afraid they would make us leave, so I bought some drinks – but this time it was kosher soda only. After about two hours, the fellow suggested that we tour historical Amsterdam. I quickly agreed but I asked him if he is not in hurry to go somewhere else. ‘Of course not,’ he replied.
“I wanted very much to go around with him, but, at the same time, I felt very embarrassed. Here I was, a Jew from Israel, dressed liked a Gentile; and he, a European Jew, was dressed completely Chassidic. I don’t know if he read my mind, but before we began to tour he asked me to take him to my hotel room so that he could leave his suitcase and his Chassidic hat there. I felt somewhat relieved.
“We went around all day and then he surprised me with the news: ‘I already spoke to my wife,’ he said, ‘and I told her that we have a guest for supper.’ We returned to my hotel, I checked out, and we took the train to Antwerp. I was very impressed to watch him recite the afternoon prayers on the train in front of all the passengers with not the slightest feeling of embarrassment.
“We arrived at his home and we continued shmoozing. I told him that I was a descendant of two great Chassidic leaders. To my amazement, he didn’t stop telling me stories about them – many of which I didn’t even know. He took me into his library, which contained thousands of books, and told me about my pedigree. I realized then that my host was a Torah scholar who knew a lot. But when I mentioned that, he denied it and claimed that he is merely a simple man who likes to buy a lot of books. Eventually though, I ascertained that he was indeed a practicing Rabbi. No doubt that he is a wise and modest person.
“If I want to pinpoint the time that I returned to my roots, it was during that supper in his home. After the meal, he handed me the phone and said, “Call your wife. Tell her that you are in Antwerp and that everything is fine.” At that moment I did not yet know that he had already spoken to her and prepared her for this conversation. Although it was a bit late, I called. We spoke and cried together for over an hour. On the other end of the line, in my house, was a broken soul; but one that was good and very honest. This had a tremendous influence upon me.
“That night, I recited the Shema on my bed with thoughts of repentance – for the first time in two years. I shed lots of tears in the process.
“My stay in Amsterdam, especially the exorbitant price of the hotel, impoverished me completely. My cash was almost gone and my credit card refused to grant me any more withdrawals. But my new friend promised to cover all of my expenses – including a ticket back home! However, he asked me to stay a few more days ‘on vacation.’ Oh, how much I needed that vacation. Every time he wanted to talk to me he said, ‘Let’s take a little walk. It’s good for my health’; as if it were he who was bored. I realized that he was extremely busy; yet he never showed the slightest sign of impatience with me.
“When the ‘vacation’ was over he gave me a few hundred dollars to buy presents for my family members and so that I should not return home without a penny. He escorted me to the airport where we cried as we separated from each other. But this time they were tears of excitement. In the meantime, he had called some business people he knew in Israel in order to arrange my debts.
“This great tzaddik saved my life. He pulled me out of a bottomless pit, ‘washed’ my soul and salvaged me, spiritually and materialistically at the same time.”
Shema Yisrael Torah Network