One recent morning, after the conclusion of Shacharis in a shul in London, England, a mispallel, still wearing tallis and tefillin, joined his daily Daf Yomi shiur. In the middle, he needed to step out, and so he took off his tallis and tefillin in one of the side rooms of the shul and placed them on a table.
When he returned minutes later, he was horrified to discover that the tefillin were no longer where he had left them. He began a frantic search, and after he asked the others present whether they had perhaps seen what had happened to the tefillin, they too joined in the search.
It then occurred to one of the searchers that perhaps the individual who cleaned the shul took them. When approached, the janitor at first didn’t know what they were referring to, but after they showed him a different pair of tefillin, he recalled noticing such an object on a table right near some used cups. Not realizing what they were, he had swept everything into the garbage, which he had already taken outside.
Shaken to the core, the owner of the tefillin rushed outside to where the garbage was kept, only to find the sanitation truck driving away. He tied to run after it, but he was no match for the fast-moving vehicle that was already on the way to the main garbage dump.
The Yid quickly climbed into his own car and set off for the garbage dump. When he drove up to the entrance, a worker blocked access.
The Yid pleaded with him to let him in so he could find his tefillin — spending some 15 minutes just trying to explain to him what tefillin meant.
“I am truly sorry,” the worker finally said. “But entry is permitted only to employees, and I don’t have permission to allow anyone else in.”
Desperate, the Yid offered him a sizable sum of money, and the worker agreed to look for it himself. After verifying in which area that particular truck had dumped that day’s refuse, the worker began the daunting task of sifting through the mountain of garbage.
Hours later, his clothing covered by foul-smelling garbage, the worker returned to the Yid, and much to the latter’s delight he was holding the tefillin in his hand.
“I don’t want any money,” the worker informed the Yid. “I want a different favor instead.”
The worker proceeded to reveal that although he wasn’t Jewish himself, he was married to a Jewish woman, whose father had died a year earlier.
“For the past month,” the worker related, “my father-in-law has been coming to my wife in a dream, asking her to find Jews who will learn Torah in his memory and arrange for Kaddish to be recited on his behalf. My wife asked me to take care of it, and I have been pushing her off with various excuses. This morning she asked me again.”
Harav Mordechai Zev Wosner, Rav of Khal Machze Avrohom in Kensington, related this powerful story in a shiur, stressing the importance of public Torah study. Torah study is an enormous merit for the soul of the deceased, but its crucial importance to the soul of a living person cannot possibly be overestimated.
In this week’s parashah, the Torah teaches us that when “your brother becomes impoverished, and his means falter … you shall strengthen him …” This passuk refers to when a Yid encounters financial struggles, and Rashi tells us that the Torah is instructing us to do all we can to prevent a Yid from “falling” and suffering financial collapse.
Along with our obligation to aid our fellow Yidden in all temporal matters, we also have a sacred obligation to his spiritual needs and concerns.
Gedolei Yisrael have often bemoaned the pain of the Ribbono shel Olam over the fact that so many of His precious children have virtually no knowledge of the ways of the Torah. The Jews of our generation who are estranged from Yiddishkeit are tinokos sh’nishbu; they have the halachic equivalence of children captured and raised by the enemy. Millions of Jews have never tasted the glorious spiritual utopia of a Shabbos or the sweetness of learning a blatt Gemara. They know virtually nothing of their roots, nor of the inherent calling of their neshamos and, even worse, they do not realize what they are missing.
It is incumbent upon all of us — each in his or her own way — to do all we can to help these Yidden find their way back to the Ribbono shel Olam and His Torah. In addition to the valiant efforts of kiruv organizations and activists, every single Torah-observant Jew is essentially an “ambassador” for Yiddishkeit. In many cases, it is the refined middos of a Torah Jew, the visible tranquility of living a meaningful, purpose-filled life, that suffices to bring a tinok sh’nishba back to his roots.
But this concept is hardly limited to those who are spiritually estranged. In virtually every kehillah there are members who are thirsty for chizuk in avodas Hashem, who are eager to obtain a learning partner or to be encouraged to join a shiur. Helping them achieve these goals is one of the greatest forms of chessed imaginable.