Friday, May 19, 2006

My brother's (and sister's) keeper

A true story told by Rav Yissachar Frand:

In Russia (in what's now called Belorus), a former yeshiva student from Brisk had become a secular anarchist and gone so far as to burn the Czar in effigy. Needless to say, this was not only an illegal form of expression, it was in fact a capital crime.

When Rav Chaim of Brisk (1853-1918) heard about the plight of his former student, he told the community leaders that they would have to ransom the youth. However, there was a great deal of reluctance to get involved. After all, hadn't this young man put himself into this particular pickle? Hadn't he thrown off his Judaism? Hadn't he intentionally and recklessly provoked the authorities? Did he not deserve whatever he had coming?

We do this all the time. We see someone who overspends on their credit card, they live beyond their means, and then when they're bankrupt and impoverished, who wants to bail them out? "He should suffer! Look at how reckless he has been!"

But this is not the Jewish way. When Yom Kippur came and the community still had not rallied to this young man's rescue and his sentence was soon to be carried out, Rav Chaim did not arrive in shul for the Yom Kippur service. Someone went to his home to check on him and he declared, "I refuse to come to shul until you ransom that young man!"

And so the community leaders had to go door to door - on Yom Kippur itself - to collect the thousands of dollars required to save the life of a Jew who had dug his own grave.

How do we create a society of Rav Chaim's - people who care so much for each other that they help each other even without deserving it?

Shabbat Shalom.

(To read more on the life of Rav Chaim, click here.)