By Daniel Keren
Rabbi Yechiel Spero, world renowned educator and author of the popular ArtScroll “Touched by a Story” series of inspirational books came to Flatbush recently to speak at the Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin shul on the topic of “Kedushas Bais HaKnesses: Touched by its Sancityt!” The program was a special Sefirah Gathering orchestrated by Hakhel in conjunction with Va’ad LeMishmeres HaTefillah. The special Sefirah Event was dedicated to the refuah shelaimah of cholei Yisroel and in memory of Reb Avraham Moshe ben Eliezer, zatzal.
Introductory Remarks by Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff
The Flatbush program began with introductory remarks by Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, shlita, the Mora D’Asra of the host shul who told of a story about an aged Torah scholar in Bnei Brak. A younger Kollel man would always walk with the zaken on his way home from shul.
One day, the elder man began crying uncontrollably. The young man asked what was wrong and was told a very strange story. Recently two men had entered the older man’s apartment. Apparently he had not closed the door when coming into his residence.
Intruders Criticizing the Resident’s Children and Offspring
The resident was in an inner room but was able to hear what the intruders were saying to each other. The two strangers began talking out loud, saying how it was such a shame that the man whose apartment they had entered was completely unaware of how his own children and grandchildren were off the derech and completely not doing important mitzvahs properly. One of the intruders actually took the phone in the outer room and called another party and spoke of how shabbily the resident’s offspring were behaving.
The elderly man in tears said to the younger man walking with him, “How would you feel if in your home strangers would just barge and start speaking badly about your children and grandchildren?”
The younger man said, “That is outrageous! I’ll stop it, just tell me who were those strangers.”
Speaking Badly of Hakodesh Baruch Hu’s Children
The elderly man said, “You yourself are party to this travesty! How can you bear for strangers to enter the home (the beis knesses) of Hakodesh Baruch Hu and speak badly of His children? How do you tolerate lashon hora [in the shul?] If somebody comes into your home and starts stabling you in the leg, would you remain quiet?
Rabbi Spero admitted that the topic of the evening that he was asked to speak about was one that he had never before lectured on. “It is always a privilege to learn about the topic of which you are speaking,” he declared.
He began by recalling a story he heard from Rav Yeshaya Cheshin that took place in the town of Ostra. A terrible plague had broken out and struck down many families with illnesses that the doctors were unable to cure and the toll of those who died was very high and still increasing without any hope to the terrified residents.
Suspicion Fell on One Particular Individual
The Rav of the town asked some of the shul officials to keep a look out for strange actions of any of the town’s people that might offer an explanation for this inexplicable catastrophe. The suspicion fell on one particular individual in the town whom they noticed acted very strangely at night after most people had gone to bed. And to add fuel to their suspicions, this individual never came to shul to daven.
The shul officials were instructed by the Rav to follow the individual at night and contact the Rav immeidately when they saw him doing anything strange. Late at night they followed this man as he started walking into the forest. At first they were frightened as they thought that perhaps he was planning a scheduled meeting with robbers or other dangerous men of ill repute who would be the only ones to travel into the forest at night when beasts of prey abound.
Reciting an Inspiring Tikun Chatzos
They immediately contacted the Rav and he quickly joined them as they followed the suspicious townsman. But just a short distance into the forest, the Rav and shul officials saw this strange Jew from their community sit on a stump and start reciting with incredible concentration, the “Tikun Chatzos” that mourns the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. They were overwhelmed by his sincerity, but also struck by the fact that it seemed as though a second voice was also reciting with heartfelt kavanah the Tikun Chatzos.
Afterwards when the man started returning to his home in town, the Rav and the shul officials confronted him. The Rav asked “Who was that second voice we heard reciting Tikun Chatzos?” The answer was that because of the townsman’s sincerity, he had the merit to be joined by the heavenly voice of Yirimiyahu Hanavi.
The Rav was Greatly Impressed
Greatly impressed, the Rav asked “Why is that you don’t come and join us in shul for communal davening?” The man said that he would come for the Shachris services and everything would be explained.
That morning a few minutes after everyone was in shul, the strange townsman entered wearing his tefillin. Almost immediately as many turned to stare at him, numerous mispallilim began collapsing to the floor in a feint. The Rav rushed over to the man and asked for an explanation of what he was doing to the members of the shul.
The man answered that he never davened in shul because he couldn’t tolerate the talking during prayers and how too many people spoke terrible lashon hora about others. Now when he came into daven in the shul, these type of people who spoke during services would automatically collapse from the fright they had when seeing him wearing his tefillin with purity. And that was why he never could not come to shul to daven.
Immediately the Plague was Stopped
The Rav immediately gave instructions that everyone in the community was to stop speaking in shul and talking lashon hora. Immediately the plague stopped and those still ill recovered.
After completing the story, Rabbi Spero asked in a pained voice, “I ask you who doesn’t know of megafas (plagues) striking people we know who are need of refuahs, who are in need of shidduchim, who are in need of decent parnassah, who are in need of blessings for children or even from the pain of loneliness.” He told of hearing from a mother who spoke of her daughter who had not yet received a phone call regarding shidduchim in almost two years. He challenged those in the audience to take it upon themselves to stop talking during davening in shul.
Amazed that People Live to Ripe Old Ages in Bavel
The Gemara tells a certain sage in Eretz Yisroel who was told that there are old people in Bavel. He was amazed and asked how it was possible for people in Bavel to reach ripe old ages? It was explained to him that these were individuals who go to the beis knesses early in the morning and they stay late at night. The Maharal on this Gemara said that with this explanation, the sage was able to understand and agree that those individuals in Bavel were indeed truly worthy of long life.
Why is it, Rabbi Spero asked, that there are people who when they see others in shul get extremely excited and start giving Shalom Aleichem, even in the middle of davening to all they see. Yet, these same people when out on the street, completely ignore those same people who they interrupt their davening to greet.
We all want to be closer to Hakodesh Baruch Hu. Yet what do we do during Chazoras Hashas? If we are good, we are studying Torah (and thus not talking, but also ignoring the shaliach tzibbur.) And if we are bad, Rabbi Spero noted, we are talking to others and speaking lashon hora.
A Teaching from Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus
He quoted from Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus that unfortunately when we are davening, we have no idea of what we can accomplish [in this physical world] if we truly appreciated what the prayers mean [and the spiritual powers they would afford us.
Rav Spero told of an inspiring story he heard about in the Otis Federal Penitentiary in upstate New York that occurred this past June. For the past two years Sholom Rubashkin who was convicted in a controversial trial that many legal experts saying was seriously flawed and had strong overtones of anti-Semitism in how the judge conducted the proceeding has been serving his sentence in the Otis Penitentiary.
A Special Sefer Torah for Sholom Rubashkin
A special Sefer Torah had been written in honor of Mr. Rubashkin and permission was obtained for a group of slightly more than 10 Yidden to come into the federal prison with the Sefer Torah and hold a Hachnosas Sefer Torah celebration for a few hours with Sholom Rubashkin. The group was told that the affair had to end exactly at 3:30 P.M. and all those visiting the prisoner had to leave at that time with their Sefer Torah.
For a couple of hours everyone including Sholom Rubashkin were dancing ecstatically rejoicing over the new Sefer Torah as if they were not in a prison. The guest of honor occasionally looked at his watch as he continued to dance as though he was a chasan at his own wedding. Then all of a sudden at 3:15 P.M., he called out for everyone to please stop dancing.
A Precious Opportunity to Daven with a Minyan
The chevra called back that they had permission to dance until 3:30 and that was another 15 minutes. To which Sholom Rubashkin answered that this was the first time in all of the two years he had been incarcerated at the Otis Prison that he had a minyan of frum Jews who could daven Mincha. It was such a precious opportunity that he didn’t want to lose it and he begged them to stop the dancing as at 3:30 P.M. the prison officials would force them out and who knew when he would again have a chance to daven with a minion.
The dancing stopped and Sholom Rubashkin led the davening with incredible kavanah. As you can imagine nobody talked during that special and unforgettable Mincha minyan.
Perhaps the inspiration of that unique Minyan might inspire all of us not to take our davening for granted and to try and utilize the great potential it offers us to change our lives and those around us for the better.