When Harav Avraham Chaim, author of Orach L’Chaim, served as Rav of Zlotchov, he suffered from the deeds of the local Jewish butcher, so when this butcher decided to move to Brody, Rav Avraham Chaim was greatly relieved.
During a visit to his Rebbe, Rav Moshe Leib of Sassov, Rav Avraham Chaim was chagrined to meet the butcher, who was also visiting the Rebbe. To the surprise of Rav Avraham Chaim, Rav Moshe Leib greeted the butcher with great warmth and affection. Rav Avraham Chaim overheard the butcher telling the Rebbe that his move to Brody was unsuccessful, and he wished to return to Zlotchov. Much to the dismay of Rav Avaham Chaim, Rav Moshe Leib gave the butcher his brachah that he should return to Zlotchov and be matzliach there.
Rav Avraham Chaim could not control himself; he approached his Rebbe and inquired why a person who had caused him grief was so well-treated in his Rebbe’s court. Even more, why was he being encouraged to return to Zlotchov?
Rav Moshe Leib responded, “To me, no Jew is superfluous.”
Rav Avraham Chaim returned to Zlotchov, and the butcher moved back as well.
During this period in Russia, government authorities kidnapped young Jewish boys, ostensibly to train them for the army, but really to sever any connection between these children and the Torah. On the night of Yom Kippur, police officers burst into the shul in Zlotchov in a brazen kidnapping attempt. Desperate to save the neshamos of their children, the mispallelim tried to fend off the officers, grabbing anything they could lay their hands on and throwing it at the kidnappers. Shtenders and chairs began flying, and several officers were injured.
When a large contingent of backup police arrived, they arrested Rav Avraham Chaim, the town’s shochet, and a large number of the community leaders. According to the distorted anti-Semitic justice system of the time, all faced the death penalty, Rachmana litzlan.
The town butcher — the very one who had persecuted Rav Avraham Chaim in the past — went to the mayor and made a startling announcement.
“Look at the rabbi and the community leaders you arrested. They are frail, weak men who could not possibly have had the strength to injure police officers. Now look at me,” the butcher continued, showing the mayor his large, powerful hands. “It was I who attacked your officers. I am the guilty party!”
The mayor ordered the butcher arrested, at the same time freeing Rav Avraham Chaim, the shochet and all the other community leaders. The butcher was killed al kiddush Hashem, giving up his life in order to save the lives of other Jews.
When Rav Avraham Chaim next visited Rav Moshe Leib, the Rebbe turned to him and exclaimed, “Now you see that for me no Jew is superfluous.”
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Among the numerous mitzvos this week’s parashah teaches us is hashavas aveidah:
“You shall not see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, and ignore them.”
Those of us who live in residential areas far from farmlands don’t normally come across wandering livestock. Instead, we perform the mitzvah with inert objects, such as the “garment” the passuk later mentions, or a lost wallet.
The Chasam Sofer explains these words homiletically:
All around us are Jews who have drifted from the proper path. Some of them still seem to have a tenuous connection with their glorious legacy; but others seem to have cut all ties with their roots. Other than the most devoted kiruv workers, many assume that these latter souls are beyond hope; that they have passed the point of no return.
The Torah warns us against this erroneous assumption.
“Your brother’s ox or sheep straying,” the Chasam Sofer says, refers to your brother’s soul which has strayed. We must never give up on his doing teshuvah and returning to the fold.
Even “If your brother is not near you…and you do not know,” for he has fallen very far, still, the Torah instructs, “gather it inside your house,” bring him close to Hashem, as Rabi Yochanan drew Reish Lakish to a life of Torah; “until your brother seeks it out,” and he himself asks you to teach him the ways of teshuvah.
* * *
It isn’t only strangers who have fallen far that we should never give up on. We must not give up on ourselves, either. Even if we have tried to increase our own level of closeness to Hashem a thousand times in the past, and each time we were unsuccessful, we dare not give up hope. We must try again and again.
For no Jew is superfluous.