Shana Tova & I hope you had an uplifting start of 5783!
In terms of Daf Yomi, over Rosh Hashanah we studied Ketubot 82-83, with Ketubot 82a beginning by quoting a Beraita stating that if someone claims money from their friend (חבירו), while their friend has a claim on a further friend (חבירו בחבירו), then the original debt can be taken directly from the friend’s friend. Then, during its discussion of the claims of marital property, the Mishna (Ketubot 9:1) in Ketubot 83a makes reference both to fruit (פירות), as well as produce of the produce (פירי פירות).
Reflecting on these two expressions – ‘friend of friend’ (חבירו בחבירו) and ‘produce of produce’ (פירי פירות) – it made me think of how we are all connected, and also, how our deeds can prompt future deeds.
In terms of the former, it often only takes a few minutes for two Jews to play what is commonly known as ‘Jewish Geography’ to find out that they have a mutual friend or some other connection, and in terms of the latter, we are taught (Avot 4:2) that just as one aveira can inspire another, so too, one mitzvah can inspire another. So though we often only consciously focus on the friends whom we know and the deeds that we perform, we should remember that we have friends of friends, and that our deeds can – like a domino effect – inspire further deeds.
On this theme, and to inspire each of us as we proceed through the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah, I’d like to share a story told by Rabbi Paysach Krohn and found in his ‘Echoes of the Maggid’ pp. 132-134 (which I have slightly abridged):
“In 1983, Rabbi Aryeh Rodin assumed the spiritual leadership of the newly formed Young Israel of Dallas, Texas. One day he was sitting in his small office when a gentleman he had never seen walked in. “Rabbi,” he said in a deep Texan drawl, “My name is Leonard Fruhman and I would like to make a contribution to your synagogue.”
Rabbi Rodin was stunned. People do not usually walk into a shul and give money without being asked. Moreover, while he expected to receive a check for something like $100, he was astounded when Mr. Fruhman told him the check would be for $2000.
“Unfortunately I don’t have any checks with me” said Leonard with an easy smile, “but I will be back next week. You can count on that, Rabbi.”
Rabbi Rodin returned the smile and wished Leonard well. In his heart, though, Rabbi Rodin was convinced that Leonard would not be back. He had no synagogue affiliation or commitment to Orthodox Judaism, and $2000 was a substantial amount of money for a first-time donation. Rabbi Rodin thought that Leonard would probably rethink his pledge; no one gives that amount to a shul with which he is unfamiliar.
To Rabbi Rodin’s surprise Leonard returned, but the check was for $3000! “I thought about our conversation throughout the week, Rabbi, and I liked what you told me, so I increased the amount I am giving.”
Rabbi Rodin was speechless. When he regained his composure, he asked Leonard jokingly, “Perhaps you’d like to come back next week?”
That first donation began a long relationship between the Fruhmans and Rabbi Rodin. When the rabbi moved to Far North Dallas in 1986 to establish Congregation Ohev Shalom, Leonard came along.
Leonard passed away tragically at the untimely age of 49, and shortly afterwards his mother and family made substantial donations to rebuild and renovate the Ohev Shalom synagogue in his memory. At Leonard’s shloshim, Rabbi Rodin, in a moving eulogy, told the following remarkable story.
In 1983 Leonard made his first trip ever to Israel. He was determined to “see all the sights.” One morning he went to the Kotel where he closed his eyes in silent prayer and expressed to God his innermost yearnings.
After a while Leonard became aware of a Yerushalmi Jew standing to his right who was totally immersed in prayer. Wrapped in a tallit, the fellow was swaying gently to and fro, his eyes glued to the worn pages of his Tehillim. Every once in a while, the Yerushalmi Jew would close his eyes, raise his hands to Heaven, and sigh.
As Leonard observed him, he noticed the rhapsody on his face, the peaceful bliss of a man connected to his Maker. Leonard was overcome by a sense of spirituality he had never experienced before. He wished he could sense that bond between mankind and his Creator. If only he could touch it, feel it, or bottle it.
Leonard left the Kotel uplifted and strengthened, but, in a sense, empty. Suddenly the Judaism he hadn’t been close to meant more to him now than ever before. The noble experience stayed with him for the remainder of his trip in the Holy Land.
When he returned to Dallas, Leonard went to the Jewish bakery to meet his friend, the owner, Mr. Abe Preizler. He told Mr. Preizler about his trip to Israel and then he described his emotional experience at the Kotel. “Tell me,” Leonard said earnestly, “what synagogue in town do you think that man at the wall would feel comfortable praying in?”
The reply came quickly, “In Rabbi Rodin’s synagogue.”
“And that is how Leonard’s friendship with the Orthodox community began,” said Rabbi Rodin. “And from then on, Leonard and his family grew in their commitment to Judaism.”
Rabbi Rodin paused and then said with an emphasis. “Imagine, for a moment, the scene when that Yerushalmi gentleman who was davening at the Kotel comes to heaven after his prescribed years in this world are complete. Hashem will tell him that he is about to be rewarded for being instrumental in maintaining and refurbishing a shul in Dallas. The fellow probably never heard of Dallas! Yet, because he davened the way he did, where he did, it turns out that we in this community owe him so much. And his reward in the Olam HaEmet (World of Truth) will be immense.”
Rabbi Rodin directed everyone to reflect on this thought. “Consider the responsibility we have for each of our actions. Could the Yerushalmi at the Kotel ever imagine that donations to charity would be made only because of him? We should all be careful with anything and everything we do, for there are always people watching us, even if we are not aware of it. Our actions may influence their actions, for the good, or Heaven forbid, otherwise. It is one of our greatest obligations.”