Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeilech-Shabbos Shuva 5777
Repentance is a State of Joy
This week is referred to as Shabbos Shuva, Shabbos of Repentance. What is the association between Shabbos and repentance? It is said that the word Shabbos is derived from the word shav, return. Thus, on Shabbos, everything returns to its source. Yet, one must wonder, how this idea is connected to repentance?
Prohibition of reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos
The halacha is that we do not recite the prayer of Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos. The Pinei Menachem cites one reason for this prohibition is that on Shabbos we do not supplicate HaShem for mundane matters such as sustenance. The difficulty with this interpretation is that on Shabbos we recite the supplication of bisefer chaim, where we request from HaShem to be inscribed in the Book of Repentance. For this reason the Levush writes that the text of Avinu Malkeinu is based on the middle blessings of Shemone Esrei which are related to mundane matters. Thus, when one of the Ten Days of Repentance occurs on Shabbos and we only recite seven blessings, we do not recite Avinu Malkeinu. The Pinei Menachem finds a difficulty with this interpretation as the halacha is that we do not recite Avinu Malkeinu in the Friday Mincha Shemone Esrei, and in that Shemone Esrei we recite even the blessings that pertain to mundane matters. The Pinei Menachem suggests an esoteric answer which is beyond the scope of this essay.
Crying on Shabbos for the purpose of Teshuva
Perhaps we can suggest an answer to this question based on an incident regarding the Chiddushei HaRim. A person was once crying on Shabbos and the Chiddushei HaRrim remarked that it is permitted for one to cry on Shabbos for the purpose of repentance. The Chiddushei HaRim cited as proof to this halacha that we find that removing the covering of the heart is referred to as milah, circumcision, and the mitzvah of milah, circumcising a male child on the eighth day overrides the prohibitions of Shabbos. Thus, removing the covering of the heart, i.e. repentance, is also permitted on Shabbos.
The distinction between crying and reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos
The permit to cry on Shabbos would seem to be in direct contradiction to the Halacha that we do not recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos. Yet, upon further examination, we can see a distinction between the two halachos. One is normally forbidden to cry on Shabbos because this makes a person despondent, and on Shabbos one is required to be joyous. Thus, when the crying is for the purpose of repentance, it is understood that it is permitted because one who repents from his sins feels elated. The requests of Avinu Malkeinu, however, contain a sense of despondence. Examples of this are the requests to remember those who were martyred for the Name of HaShem and the request that HaShem favor us as we are lacking merits. The Halacha mandates that one should not feel despondent on Shabbos, and for that reason one is prohibited to recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos.
The Shabbos connection
Bases on this distinction between the permit to cry on Shabbos for the purpose of Teshuva and the prohibition to recite Avinu Malkeinu, we can better understand why this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Shuva. On Shabbos one should be joyful when he is cognizant of HaShem’s Kingship. One who cries and is inspired to Teshuva will feel the requisite joy. Shabbos Shuva is essentially synonymous with Shabbos Simcha, a Shabbos of joy. HaShem should allow us to be inspired to true repentance and we, together with the entire Jewish People, should merit a Gmar Chasima Tova, to be sealed in HaShem’s Book of Life.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
The composer was Dunash ben Librat, the famed medieval grammarian and paytan who lived from 4680-4750 (920990 C.E.). He was born in Baghdad and, except for twenty years in Fez, lived there his entire life. He was a nephew and disciple of Rabbeinu Saadiah Gaon and was acquainted with many of the Sages of his time. Rashi and Ibn Ezra quote him extensively. His name appears four times as the acrostic of the stiches in stanzas 1,2,3, and 6. This zemer is a prayer to HaShem to protect the Jewish People, destroy its tormentors, and bring the Nation peace and redemption.
וְנַרְחִיב פֶּה וּנְמַלְּאֶנָה. לְשׁוֹנֵנוּ לְךָ רִנָּה, may we open our mouth and fill it, our tongue sing Your joyful song. It is noteworthy that the words לְשׁוֹנֵנוּ הרִנָּה, our tongue [the] joy, equals in gematria the word שבת, as Shabbos is an ideal time to praise HaShem with song.
There’s more to Yom Kippur than earning a livelihood
Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: The Shemen HaTov tells of the following incident, which involved the grandfather of the present Belzer Rebbe. It was Yom Kippur in Belz. They had finished the Mincha prayer early, and the Chassidim went to take a rest or a walk before they began the Neilah prayer, the final prayer of Yom Kippur. Everyone left the Beis HaMedrash [Study Hall]. Like many others, one of the honorable and wealthy Chassidim left his Shtreimel [fur hat worn by Chassidim] at his seat. When he returned before Neilah, the Shtreimel was missing. Someone stole a Shtreimel from the Beis HaMedrash in Belz on Yom Kippur!
There was a great commotion. Who could do such a thing?! The Rebbe (unaware of what had happened) went to begin Neilah as scheduled. After Yom Kippur the Rebbe called over the Chassidim and asked them, “What was the big commotion before Neilah?” They told him, “Someone stole a Shtreimel.” The Rebbe told them to all to go and break their fast. Later, the Rebbe asked to see a certain chassid.
The chassid came to the Rebbe and the Rebbe told him, “You stole the Shtreimel.” The fellow denied it. The Rebbe persisted in the charge until finally the chassid broke down and confessed.
The next day in Belz, “For the Jews there was Light” [Esther 8:16]. Everyone proclaimed a miracle: “the Rebbe has Ruach HaKodesh [Divine Spirit].” However, the Rebbe explained that “It was not Ruach HaKodesh. The way that I knew who stole the Shtreimel was as follows. Before Yom Kippur, all of my Chassidim gave me a kvittel (a small written note with their prayer requests). Everyone had needs. This one asked to see nachas from his children, this one asked to marry off a daughter, all sorts of requests. One Chassid, however, asked only for Parnassah (livelihood). A Jew who can only think of Parnassah before Yom Kippur is the type of person who would steal a Shtreimel on Yom Kippur.” That is how the Rebbe knew.
If this is what Judaism is all about, I wish to be a part of it
Rabbi Frand tells a story that he heard from a Rabbi in Dallas, Texas.
One day a man walked into the office of his orthodox shul in Dallas. The man was obviously not an observant Jew. In fact, the Rabbi never saw him in the synagogue before.
“Rabbi,” he said, “I’d like to make a contribution.” He proceeded to hand over a check for ten thousand dollars.
The rabbi was flabbergasted. He did not know this man, nor had the man ever seen the Rabbi. Yet, he just handed over a tremendous gift to the synagogue. “Please,” said the rabbi. “There must be a reason. After all, you are giving this donation to a rabbi whom you do not know and to a shul in which you do not participate. Please tell me the reason.”
The man answered very simply. “Not long ago I was in Israel. I went to the Wall. There I saw a man. He was obviously a very observant Jew. He was praying with such fervor, with unparalleled enthusiasm and feeling. I just stood there and listened. I heard his pleas and supplications, I saw him sway with all his might, I saw his outpouring of faith, love, and devotion all harmoniously blending as an offering to G-d. From the day I saw that man pray, I could not get him out of my mind. If this is Judaism, I want to be part of it. I want to help perpetuate it.” (www.Torah.org)
These are G-d’s children, let them rejoice
A story is told about Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. It was Kol Nidrei night and the people of Berditchev had gathered together to daven. Behind them was a year of hunger, privation, and torture. The Maggid of the city was invited to preach. This Maggid, as was the custom in those days, lashed out at the congregants, yelling at them for their sins and telling them the terrible punishments that they were going to be given.
As you can imagine, the people started crying and wailing. At that moment, R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev ascended the pulpit in anger, pushed aside the Maggid, called for silence, and shouted: “Stop your scolding. These are God’s holy children. This is a time for rejoicing.” He then ordered the Torahs to be taken from the Ark and he and his Hasidim danced with joy.
Shabbos and Yom Kippur even more so
Rebbe Shalom of Belz used to say the following on the eve of Yom Kippur: The Talmud says, (Shabbos 34a) “Three things a person must ask in his house the eve before Shabbos as it begins to get dark. 1. Asartem, did you take tithes? 2. Aravtem, did you make an Eruv? 3. hidlaktem as haNeros, did you light the Shabbos lights? If it is true that we should do this on the eve of Shabbos, then even more so on the eve of the Shabbos of Shabbasos [a reference to Yom Kippur] that we should say these three things.
Therefore, continued the Belzer Rebbe, ‘asartem?’ in a short amount of time the 10, eser, days of repentance will have passed. Aravtem? also the eve, erev, of Yom Kippur is ending. Hidlaktem, did you light the Shabbos lights? The lights of Yom Kippur are already lit, and still we have not returned, done teshuvah before HaShem.
The Rebbe used to add before Kol Nidrei in the big shul in Belz in a loud voice. ‘Oy, we have erred, we have wronged, and we have sinned.’ When the people heard this, they were all struck with fear and they started to become inspired to teshuvah. (Sefer Yerach HaAysanim, teachings of the Rebbes of Belz page 61)
Mother and Child
One Yom Kippur eve, when Chassidic master Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel of Kriminitz was granting the traditional blessing to his children, he noticed that one of his daughters, overcome by the emotion of the moment, was weeping softly. The young child in her arms was also crying.
“Why are you crying, my child,” asked the Rebbe of the tot.
“My mother is crying,” answered the child, “so I am also crying.”
In the synagogue that evening, the Rebbe ascended the podium and related what his young grandchild had said to him. Bursting into tears, he then said:
“A child who sees his mother weeping, weeps as well, even if he cannot comprehend the reason for her tears. Our mother, too, is weeping. Our sages tell us that the Shechinah ‘keens like a dove and cries: “Woe is to My children, that because of their sins I have destroyed My home, set fire to My sanctuary, and have exiled them among the nations.”’ “So even if we ourselves have become inured to the pain of the exile,” wept Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel, “at least we should cry because our mother is crying.”
Prayer by Example
In a small village in the backwoods of Eastern Europe, many hours’ journey from the nearest Jewish community, lived a Jewish family. Once a year, for the holy day of Yom Kippur, they would make the long trip to town in order to pray together with their fellow Jews.
One year, the villager woke bright and early on the day before Yom Kippur and readied himself for the journey. His sons, however, not quite as industrious as he, had slept in. Impatient to get on his way, he said to his family: “Listen, I’m going to set out on foot while you get yourselves together. I’ll wait for you at the large oak at the crossroads.”
Walking swiftly, the villager soon reached the tree and lay down in its shade to wait for the family wagon. Exhausted from several days of backbreaking labor, he fell asleep. Meanwhile, his family loaded up the wagon and set out. But in the excitement of the journey, they forgot all about their old father and drove right by the sleeping figure at the crossroads.
When the villager woke, evening had already fallen. Many miles away, the Kol Nidrei prayers were getting underway in the town’s synagogue. Lifting his eyes to the heavens, the old man cried:
“Master of the Universe! My children have forgotten me. But they are my children, so I forgive them. You, too, should do the same for those of Your children who have abandoned You….”
“He’s Already There”
Those who arrived early at the village synagogue on Yom Kippur eve could not but notice the man sleeping in a corner. His soiled clothes, and the strong scent of alcohol that hovered about him, attested to the cause of his slumber at this early hour. A Jew drunk on the eve of the Holy Day? Several of the congregants even suggested that the man be expelled from the synagogue.
Soon the room filled to overflowing, mercifully concealing the sleeping drunk from all but those who stood in his immediate vicinity. As the sun made to dip below the horizon, a hush descended upon the crowd: the Rebbe entered the room and made his way to his place at the eastern wall. At a signal from the Rebbe, the ark was opened, and the gabbai began taking out the Torah scrolls in preparation for the Kol Nidrei service.
This was the moment that the drunk chose to rise from his slumber, climb the steps to the raised reading platform in the center of the room, pound on the reading table, and announce: “Ne’um attah horeissa!” The scene—the crowded room, Torah scrolls being carried out of the open ark—seen through a drunken haze, appeared to the man as the beginning of hakkafos on Simchas Torah! The drunk was confusing the most solemn and awesome moment of the year with its most joyous and high-spirited occasion.
The scandalized crowd was about to eject the man from the room when the Rebbe turned from the wall and said: “Let him be. For him, it’s already time for hakkafot. He’s there already.”
On the following evening, as the Rebbe sat with his chassidim at the festive meal that follows the fast, he related to them the story of Reb Shmuel, the Kol Nidrei drunk.
On the morning of the eve of the Holy Day, Reb Shmuel had heard of a Jew who, together with his wife and six small children, had been imprisoned for failing to pay the rent on the establishment he held on lease from the local nobleman. Reb Shmuel went to the nobleman to plead for their release, but the nobleman was adamant in his refusal. “Until I see every penny that is owed to me,” he swore, “the Jew and his family stay where they are. Now get out of here before I unleash my dogs on you.”
“I cannot allow a Jewish family to languish in a dungeon on Yom Kippur,” resolved Reb Shmuel and set out to raise the required sum, determined to achieve their release before sunset.
All day, he went from door to door. People gave generously to a fellow Jew in need, but by late afternoon Reb Shmuel was still 300 rubles short of the required sum. Where would he find such a large sum of money at this late hour? Then he passed a tavern and saw a group of well-dressed young men sitting and drinking. A card-game was underway, and a sizable pile of banknotes and gold and silver coins had already accumulated on the table.
At first he hesitated to approach them at all: what could one expect from Jews who spend the eve of the Holy Day drinking and gambling in a tavern? But realizing that they were his only hope, he approached their table and told them of the plight of the imprisoned family.
They were about to send him off empty-handed, when one of them had a jolly idea: wouldn’t it be great fun to get a pious Jew drunk on Yom Kippur? Signaling to a waiter, the man ordered a large glass of vodka. “Drink this down in one gulp,” he said to the Reb Shmuel, “and I’ll give you 100 rubles.”
Reb Shmuel looked from the glass that had been set before him to the sheaf of banknotes that the man held under his nose. Other than a sip of l’chayim on Shabbos and at weddings, Reb Shmuel drank only twice a year—on Purim and Simchas Torah, when every chassid fuels the holy joy of these days with generous helpings of inebriating drink so that the body should rejoice along with the soul. And the amount of vodka in this glass—actually, it more resembled a pitcher than a glass—was more than he would consume on both those occasions combined. Reb Shmuel lifted the glass and drank down its contents.
“Bravo!” cried the man, and handed him the 100 rubles. “But this is not enough,” said Reb Shmuel, his head already reeling from the strong drink. “I need another 200 rubles to get the poor family out of prison!”
“A deal’s a deal!” cried the merrymakers. “One hundred rubles per glass! Waiter! Please refill this glass for our drinking buddy!”
Two liters and two hundred rubles later, Reb Shmuel staggered out of the tavern. His alcohol-fogged mind was oblivious to all—the stares of his fellow villagers rushing about in their final preparations for the Holy Day, the ferocious barking of the nobleman’s dogs, the joyous tears and profusions of gratitude of the ransomed family—except to the task of handing over the money to the nobleman and finding his way to the synagogue. For he knew that if he first went home for something to eat before the fast, he would never make it to shul for Kol Nidrei.
“On Rosh HaShanah,” the Rebbe concluded his story, “we submitted to the sovereignty of Heaven and proclaimed G-d king of the universe. Today, we fasted, prayed and repented, laboring to translate our commitment to G-d into a refined past and an improved future. Now we are heading towards Sukkos, in which we actualize and rejoice over the attainments of the ‘Days of Awe’ through the special mitzvos of the festival—a joy that reaches its climax in the hakkafos of Simchas Torah. But Reb Shmuel is already there. When he announced the beginning of hakkafos at Kol Nidrei last night, this was no ‘mistake.’ For us, Yom Kippur was just beginning; for him, it was already Simchas Torah….”
Shabbos in Halacha
Wringing and Laundering
Two melachos that pertain to washing dishes and cleaning spills on Shabbos are סחיטה; wringing, and כיבוס: laundering. Previously we discussed sechita as it applies to extracting juice from fruits. Here we will discuss the halachos of wringing liquid from an absorbent fabric. We will also briefly discuss the laws of laundering as applied to common situations.
- Wringing Liquid from a Fabric
Saturating a Fabric
The Sages forbade saturating any fabric that one might be inclined to wring out, i.e. a sponge, a mop or a garment. This decree does not apply to rags and similar articles, i.e. paper towels, which people generally do not wring out.
Additionally, the Decree only applies to truly absorbent materials that are subject to the Torah Prohibition of sechitah. Materials that merely trap water, though subject to sechitah by Rabbinic Decree, were not included in the decree against saturating.
It is forbidden to wring out any absorbent material, whether to save the liquid, to cleanse the fabric, or for no specific purpose. The prohibition applies to natural, truly absorbent materials and to materials that tarp water between their fibers.
Additionally, one is prohibited from saturating and truly absorbent fabric that one may be inclined to wring out.
Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vayeilech-Shabbos Shuva 5777
Is sponsored לזכר נשמת האשה החשובה מרת חיה אסתר בת ר’ משה צבי הלוי אוקוליקא ע”ה ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.and as a zechus לרפואה שלימה חיה דינה חביבה בת שושנה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.
Have a Wonderful Shabbos, a Gut Gebentched Yohr, and a Gemar Chasima Tova!
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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New Stories Vayeilech-Shabbos Shuva 5777
In a legendary hotel in the wilds of Chile, I discovered an amazing story.
by Sara Yoheved Rigler
A Czech Jewish couple who marry in a church. A legendary hotel in the wilds of Chile. A Magen Dovid pendant deposited with the mayor’s wife as its owner is taken off to Auschwitz. This story has all the components of an adventure novel. Except that it’s true.
My husband Leib Yaacov and I were invited to Chile, for Leib to give a concert and me to give workshops and lectures to the Jewish community of Santiago. As long as we were travelling to the other side of the world from our home in Israel, we decided to extend our trip by a few days to see the natural beauty of Chile.
We wrote to Galia, the secretary at Aish Chile, who was arranging our trip, and asked her for suggestions of beautiful sites. She replied with three possibilities: one in the north of Chile and two in the south. Leib researched all three places on the Internet and chose Pucón, an area of lakes and lush greenery in the shadow of a volcano in the foothills of the Andes, 789 kilometers south of Santiago. Exquisitely remote, Pucon could be reached only by a small plane to Temuco and then an hour and a half’s car ride to Pucon.
Looking further for where we should stay in Pucon, Leib discovered Antumalal, a boutique hotel set in acres of private gardens, perched on the edge of Lake Villarrica. The photos on their website of scenic vistas, charming rooms, each with a fireplace, flowers and small waterfalls in abundance, and a terrace that overhung the lake made both of us pine to stay there. Leib made a reservation for Wednesday and Thursday nights. We would bring our own kosher food, of course, and have to return to Santiago for Shabbos, since we couldn’t stay in an unkosher hotel for Shabbos.
Antumalal, with only fifteen rooms, was a legendary hotel.
The very next day we received an email from Galia. It had totally slipped her mind, but there was a kosher place to stay near Pucon. Roberto and Sonia Neiman, Orthodox Jews from Santiago, had built their dream home in a beautiful natural setting. On the second floor, they had made two suites for guests. We could stay there, at “Kosher Lodge,” for Wednesday, Thursday, and also Shabbos, with food cooked by Sonia.
Leib and I were thrilled, but also disappointed. We were enchanted by Antumalal and had already made reservations to stay there. We decided to spend one night at Antumalal, then move to Kosher Lodge that Thursday.
After a week in Santiago fulfilling what we thought was the main purpose of our visit to Chile, we embarked on our sightseeing trip to Pucon. Soon we would realize that Santiago was just the prelude to the real reason God had brought us to Chile.
Antumalal, with only fifteen rooms, was a legendary hotel. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip of England had stayed there, as had the Queen of Belgium, the astronaut Neil Armstrong, and the actor Jimmy Stewart. The entrance area displayed enlarged black and white photographs of these celebrities during their stays at Antumalal.
When we arrived, Sonia and Roberto met us with a basket of kosher food to last us for the next twenty-four hours. The Neimans knew the owners. In fact, they startled us by disclosing that the owners of Antumalal were Jews.
Sonia proceeded to fill us in on their history. Guillermo and Catalina Pollak were Czech Jews who, in the late 1930s, converted to Catholicism. They were married in a church. Soon afterwards they emigrated to South America. In 1938, after a brief stay in Argentina, they arrived in Chile. They soon fell in love with the natural paradise of Pucon, far from civilization. Though they no doubt did not care, it was hundreds of kilometers distant from any Jews. They built their boutique hotel, considered an architectural jewel in the Bauhaus style, in the early 1950s.
“They are lining up the students according to religion. Which religion are we?”
The Pollaks had four children—three sons and a daughter. They raised them with no religion whatsoever. When their daughter Rony (short for Veronica) began prep school in Santiago, she called her parents on the first Sunday morning, and asked, “They are lining up the students according to religion. One line for Catholics, one line for Protestants. Which religion are we?”
Her father responded, “This is a Catholic country. Get into the Catholic line.”
Not surprisingly, all four children married non-Jews.
Shortly after our arrival at Antumalal, Sonia introduced us to Rony Pollak. Rony, now divorced, had inherited the hotel, which was being run by her only son, Andrew. Rony, a beautiful woman with short gray hair, greeted us warmly. Because we were friends of the Neimans, she gave us a free upgrade to a two-room suite.
Leib and I settled in, gazing every couple minutes at the view out our picture window—the lake surrounded by mountains. We felt like we had happened into a magical domain, suspended in time, shimmering with natural beauty.
A short time later, we were standing in the entranceway looking at the photographs of the visiting celebrities interspersed with family photos of Guillermo and Catalina Pollak with their four children. I was wondering how Jews could so divorce themselves from Judaism as to convert to Christianity when we were greeted by a handsome young man. He introduced himself as Andrew, our host. This was Rony’s son. As the son of a Jewish mother, he was the only Jew among his generation of the Pollak family, the last strand of a rope that had survived a hundred generations since our forefather Abraham, now frayed and at the breaking point.
Yet, when I looked at him, I was surprised by his visage. A purity and light emanated from his face. We started to converse with him. We told him we were from Israel, that we had come to Chile to teach about Judaism. I asked him if he realized that he was Jewish.
Indeed he did. In the summer season, when Pucon is crowded with tourists, a Chabad center opens in town. He has a Chabad friend who gave him a book. Every day he reads from it.
“That’s wonderful,” we told him. “We’re spending this Shabbos with Roberto and Sonia Neiman. Would you like to join us?”
Andrew shook his head. Weekends are their busiest time. He has a big group coming on Friday night. It’s impossible. Andrew excused himself and went back to work.
Thursday morning I prayed the morning service in the living room of our suite. Leib, wearing his tallis and tefillin, went outside to pray on a grassy patch overlooking the lake. At some point it occurred to me: Andrew can’t do Shabbos, but he could do the mitzvah of tefillin. When Leib returned, I told him my idea, that he could teach Andrew how to lay tefillin.
Minutes later we ran into Andrew in the hall. Leib asked him if he would like to put on tefillin. He replied, “That’s strange. A short while ago I was driving our electric cart on the grounds and I saw you wearing your tefillin, and I thought, I would like to put on tefillin.”
Leib told him he would have to cover his head to say the blessings. Having no kippa, Andrew ran to his car to get a baseball cap. Then Leib led him into our living room, and as he showed him how to wrap the tefillin on his arm and his head, he explained to him the spiritual power of tefillin, how it connects the wearer to God. Andrew imbibed every word, like a famished soul who has not eaten in three generations.
That afternoon, Roberto and Sonia picked us up and took us to their Kosher Lodge. On Friday morning, Sonia mentioned that Rony’s brother and sister-in-law Enrique and Alicia, who lived nearby, would be joining us for Shabbos dinner. The Neimans had bought their property from them, and enjoyed a warm relationship with them. I asked, “Why don’t you invite Rony, too?”
“It’s already Friday,” Sonia demurred. “It’s late to invite her.”
I asked her to try. She did, and a half hour later let me know that Rony would be coming with her boyfriend, the first Jewish boyfriend she’d ever had.
That night, sitting around the Shabbos table, I was surprised to notice a Magen David hanging from Rony’s neck. I commented on it. Rony and her brother exchanged glances. She nodded at him, and he began to narrate a story.
“If we don’t come back, promise me you will get this Jewish star to my son in South America.”
Their father’s parents had lived in Mcely, a small town northeast of Prague. Their grandmother Berta Cohen Pollak was a good friend of the wife of the town’s mayor. When the Nazis took over and started rounding up the Jews to deport them to Auschwitz, Berta took this Magen David to the mayor’s wife and beseeched her, “If we don’t come back, promise me you will get this Jewish star to my son in South America.”
The mayor’s wife accepted the charge. Her friend never returned, but how was she to find Pollak in South America? The post-war years were chaotic. So much destruction, so many displaced persons. Years passed. Before the mayor’s wife died, she passed on the Jewish star and the mission to find “Pollak in South America” to her daughter.
Decades later the Czech ambassador to Chile decided to vacation in the fabled hotel Antumalal. Guillermo and Catalina Pollak happily shared with him that they were originally from Czechoslovakia, from Mcely. When the ambassador returned home for a routine visit, he mentioned to a friend from Mcely that he had stayed in a legendary hotel in southern Chile owned by a Czech family named Pollak from Mcely. His friend, who was none other than the former mayor’s daughter, froze. A few questions proved that this Pollak was the son of her mother’s Jewish friend Berta, who had died in the Holocaust. When the ambassador returned to Chile, he carried with him the Mogen David.
As soon as he reached Santiago, he called Enrique Pollak and told him about the precious object he had brought him. Enrique and Alicia, who lived in Santiago, had just returned from Pucon the day before. They usually made the long trip only once every couple months, but both Enrique and Alicia considered the Jewish star from his grandmother to be something so significant, so precious, that they decided to fly back to Temuco and travel from there to Pucon that very day in order to deliver the heirloom to Guillermo.
At that point in the story, Alicia, a non-practicing Catholic, interjected. “My parents lived in Temuco. The day we brought the star back to my in-laws, my father had a heart attack. Since I was in Pucon, I was able to reach the hospital in Temuco in time to see my father before he died. That only happened because of the Jewish star.”
I gazed at the Magen David. A Jewish woman whose son had defected from Judaism was on her way to Auschwitz, and left, as a final message to her only child who would survive, this Magen David, this symbol of Judaism. Decades later, it miraculously found its way to the Pollaks in Pucon. Now, against all odds, her great-grandson Andrew was starting to study Judaism, and yesterday he had put on tefillin. What was the power behind this Magen David?
When we returned to Jerusalem, I connected Andrew to a rabbi in Santiago who helped him buy his own tefillin. Recently, I received this email from Andrew:
I am doing very well, thank God. My spiritual journey has been wonderful, and my day to day is blessed each morning with tallis, tefillin, and shacharit. I am very interested in going to a yeshiva at some point.
Thinking of Andrew, I wonder: Had we gone nine thousand miles to Chile and had God led us to the remote Antumalal for the sake of this one precious Jewish soul?
Excerpted from Sara Yoheved Rigler’s new book, Heavenprints (www.aish.com)