Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Scar On Shloimele's Arm

Little Shloimeleh was the youngest of the family's nine children. He had a quick smile and intelligent eyes. Shloimeleh's favorite time was Friday afternoon, when his mother lit the Shabbat candles. He loved to watch them burn in their polished candlesticks.
But one Shabbat eve, when his mother had closed her eyes to recite the blessing, one of the candles fell on Shloimeleh's arm, badly burning him.
Time passed, and the burn eventually healed. But little Shloimeleh was left with an ugly scar on his forearm as a reminder of the incident.
Then WWII broke out, and Poland was invaded by the Germans. As part of the "final solution," all the Jews in Shloimeleh's town were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Reb Avraham, Shloimeleh's father, was forcibly separated from the rest of his family. It was the last time he would see his wife and children. Reb Avraham was later interred in a labor camp. Miraculously he survived the Holocaust, and eventually found himself in Russia.
Reb Avraham was now alone in the world. Physically exhausted and consumed with grief, he tried to lessen his pain by learning, praying, and teaching Torah and mitzvot (commandments) to Jewish children, many of whom had never been exposed to Judaism. Aside from organizing a secret yeshiva, he also served as a mohel (ritual circumciser). But of all his religious achievements, the tiny synagogue he established was closest to his heart.
Needless to say, Reb Avraham's activities were completely illegal; time and again he was cautioned by the Communist authorities. But Reb Avraham felt he had nothing to lose. After going through everything he had, what else could they do to him? He continued to spread Torah and mitzvot, and spent even more time in his little shul.
The most persistent of Reb Avraham's tormentors was a young Communist named Natishka. Reb Avraham could hardly take a step without being followed by him. Natishka repeatedly warned him that he would end up before a firing squad if he didn't shape up.
Around this time Reb Avraham decided to apply for an exit visa to Israel. He was very surprised when his request was approved. In truth, Reb Avraham had mixed feelings about leaving Russia. On the one hand, he was grateful for the opportunity to spend the rest of his days in the Holy Land. Yet on the other, he worried about the fate of his brethren. Who would keep the embers of Judaism burning after he was gone?
As the date of his departure grew near, Reb Avraham spent most of his time in his beloved synagogue. Emboldened by the prospect of imminent freedom, he abandoned some of his usual precautions.
One evening Reb Avraham entered the shul and lit several memorial candles in remembrance of his family. His eyes filled with tears as he recalled their faces. In a voice choked with emotion he began to recite Psalms, and the sound carried out into the street...
At that moment, Natishka happened to pass by and decided to investigate. When he saw what the Jew was up to he became incensed.
"When will you ever learn?" he screamed at him. "When will you finally give up your obsolete practices?" Once and for all, he would teach the Jew a lesson. He began to roll up his sleeves...
Reb Avraham remained tranquil. Having already been beaten many times, there was nothing new about the prospect of physical violence. "Shema Yisrael!" ("Hear O Israel"), he called out in a clear if somewhat trembling voice. "The L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!"
It was then that he looked up and noticed Natishka's bare forearm, poised to strike. A long scar, evidence of an old burn, wound its way down his arm in a very familiar pattern...
"Shloimeleh!" Reb Avraham cried out. "Is that you, my son?"
The young Communist's face drained of color as his hand froze in midair. Inexplicably, his eyes were drawn to the candles' flames, as if they reminded him of something long hidden and repressed... A cry erupted from his throat as his eyes filled with tears. He embraced the elderly Jew and began to weep like a small child.
"Tatteh (father)!" he wailed inconsolably. "Tatteh, forgive me!"

Father and son marveled at how Divine Providence had brought them together. Not long afterward they both emigrated to Israel. And each week thereafter, as they gazed into the Shabbat candles, they pondered their indebtedness to them for their reunion.

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