A Penance for the Sinner

Rabbi Akiva once saw an unclothed man who was as dark as coal, carrying a load heavy enough for ten men on his head, while running as fast as a horse. He commanded the man to stop, and asked him, “Why are you performing such difficult labor? If you are a slave, and your master forces you to work like this, then I will redeem you from him. If you are poor, I will make you wealthy.” The man replied, “Please do not delay me, because I am afraid that my masters will get angry with me.”

Rabbi Akiva asked, “What is this, and what do you do?”

He responded, “I am really a dead man, and every day they send me [from the next world] to cut trees. They then proceed to burn me in them.”

Rabbi Akiva asked, “What did you do in this world?”

He answered,” I was a tax collector, a leader of men. I favored the rich, and killed the poor.”

Rabbi Akiva said, “Did you ever find out if there is a way to rectify your judgment (tikkun)?”
He replied, “Please don’t delay me, for I am afraid that the deliverers of punishment (ba’alei pur’aniyos) will be angered; I have no means of rectification (tikkun). I heard from them that it is impossible in my situation. But if I had a son who would say the Bor’chu or Kaddish prayer in a quorum of ten men, and the quorum would respond, then I would be released from this punishment. However, I left no sons in this world. I departed from my wife while she was still pregnant; I was unaware if she had a son. In any case, who would teach him? Nobody likes me in this world!”

Rabbi Akiva accepted upon himself to investigate if a son was born to this man, so that he could teach him Torah, and get him to lead the prayers.

Rabbi Akiva asked, “What is your name?”

He responded, “Akiva.”

“And your wife’s name?”

“Shushbeena.”

“Your city?”

“Ludkiya.”

When Rabbi Akiva reached the city, and asked about this man, he was told, “May the bones of that wicked man be pulverized!”

When he asked about the man’s wife, he was told, “May her name be obliterated from this world!”

When he asked about the son, they said, “He is uncircumcised, and he never made sure to circumcise himself!”

Immediately, Rabbi Akiva circumcised the son and fasted for forty days, to enable himself to teach him Torah. At the end of the forty days, a heavenly voice declared, “Go teach him Torah!”

Rabbi Akiva taught the son Torah and other prayers, placed him in front of a quorum where he recited the Bor’chu and Kaddish prayers, and the quorum responded accordingly.

Soon thereafter, the dead man was released from his tortures. He came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream and said, “May it be the will of G-d that you shall have a great reward in the next world, for you saved me from my afflictions of Gehinnom (Purgatory).

(Ohr Zarua, Second Part, Laws of Sabbath, 50, Menoras HaMaor, First Candle, 1:2:1)


The Most Precious Gift

A pious Jew passed away, leaving behind a young five year old son. The boy felt embarrassed to recite the Kaddish prayer, and could not be induced to recite it by any means.

The young orphan was brought to Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon.

With great compassion, Rabbi Kanievsky said to the boy, “Do you know how much your father wants your Kaddish? This is the greatest act that you can do for your father!”

Rabbi Kanievsky then related the above-mentioned story about Rabbi Akiva to the boy.

The next day, the boy willingly recited Kaddish in his father’s merit, and continued to do so every day for the entire year of mourning.

(L’Iluy Neshamah, p.127)


A Debt Repaid

The following story is told regarding Rabbi Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, the famous rabbi of old Jerusalem. The story occurred while Rabbi Sonnenfeld, then referred to as Chayim, was still a young man in Europe.

While in Pressburg, Chayim once played a role in an amazing story involving kindness. A certain couple in Pressburg operated a successful business and contributed generously to the yeshivah. The wife founded a fund specifically to pay students of the yeshivah to recite Kaddish for people who had died without leaving behind anyone to say the prayer for them.

After many years, the husband died and the business began to decline rapidly. His widow was soon completely bankrupt with no means of support. To make matters worse, her two daughters had reached marriageable age and she did not have a penny with which to make their weddings.

The broken-hearted woman went to the K’sav Sofer (Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer) and told him of her sad plight. She said that as far as her own needs were concerned, she had faith that G-d would provide her with money to support her family and marry off her daughters. She was concerned, however, that the saying of Kaddish, for which she had always paid the students, would be discontinued because she was penniless. She tearfully pleaded with the K’sav Sofer to continue to fund the practice and she promised to repay the money when her situation improved. The K’sav Sofer was greatly moved by this noble woman’s request and he readily agreed to do as she had asked.

The woman left the office with a smile on her face. As she walked home, she was startled by the sudden appearance of a very dignified elderly gentleman with a long white beard, walking slowly across her path. Since the man was a total stranger, she was surprised when he struck up a friendly conversation with her, politely inquiring as to how she was managing financially. When she told him of her sad situation, he asked her how much she needed to marry off her daughters. Bewildered by the entire conversation, the woman delineated the large sum. The man drew out his checkbook, wrote a check for the full amount, and told her that it could be cashed at the local bank. The man suggested, though, that he sign the check in the presence of two witnesses, since the sum was quite large, and the bank might accuse the woman of forging the check.

The two then went to the Pressburg Yeshivah where they asked Chayim and a friend to serve as witnesses. The man signed the check in their presence, gave the boys another slip of paper bearing his signature as an added assurance, and then hurried on his way.

Wondering whether the whole incident was a miracle or a cruel hoax, the dazed woman went to the bank and asked that the check be cashed. Seeing how large the sum was, the teller asked her to wait while he spoke with the owner of the bank. The bank owner took one look at the bank check and collapsed in a faint. After being revived, the shaken banker asked that the woman be brought into his office. There, he asked her if she could identify the man who had written the check. The woman answered that she could, and added that there are two students of the yeshivah who had seen the man. The banker withdrew several photographs from a drawer, one of which the woman immediately identified as that of the man who had given her the check. The banker then ordered the teller to give the woman the money.

In a trembling voice the banker said, “The man who gave you the check was my father who has been dead for ten years! Last night, my father appeared to me in a dream and said, ’I want you to know that from the day you departed from the path of Torah and married a gentile woman and stopped saying Kaddish for me, my soul knew no rest. Then a certain woman arranged to have Kaddish said for me by a student of the yeshivah, and my soul finally found peace. Tomorrow, this woman will come to your bank with a check that I am going to give her to cover the wedding expenses for her two daughters.’

“When I awoke this morning, I was shaken by my dream. I told it to my wife, who calmed me and assured me that it was pure nonsense. But when the woman presented the check, the dream came true before my eyes.”

The banker returned to the path of Torah, becoming a complete ba’al teshuvah (repentant sinner). His wife became a sincere convert, and together they raised a fine religious family.

(Reproduced from The Story of Reb Yosef Chaim by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, pp. 34 – 36. With permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)


Long-distance Kaddish

The late Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, accompanied by eight of his students, was on his way to the wedding of a student at his yeshivah. The groom had arranged a flight for the group that was scheduled to arrive with plenty of time before the wedding.

Despite their planning, fierce storms at the airport of their destination made it impossible for the plane to land. The plane was forced to detour to a distant airport in a different location entirely. Dismayed at the turn of events, Rabbi Gifter and his students realized that they would be missing the wedding completely. They would not even be able to recite the Minchah prayers with the requisite forum of ten men; their party of nine was just one man short.

The group approached a supervisor at the airport, requesting a quiet place in which to pray. The supervisor directed them to a side room, and then quietly watched from the doorway as the Minchah service unfolded.

When the group had completed their prayers, the supervisor asked them, “Why didn’t you say Kaddish?”

Surprised at the question, the students explained that they were missing the tenth man for the quorum.

The supervisor retorted in Yiddish, “And am I not a Jew, too?”

The clearly overwhelmed man explained that he was by no means religious; he never prayed at all. But this day was a day like no other.

“Today is the day of my late father’s yahrtzeit,” the supervisor said.

“Last night, my father appeared to me in a dream. He told me that today is his yahrtzeit, and he demanded that I say Kaddish in his merit. I told my father that I never pray; and even if I would want to say Kaddish, from where would I find a minyan (quorum of ten men)?

“My father replied in the dream, ‘I will make sure that there is a minyan for you. You just be sure to recite Kaddish.’

“When I woke up this morning, I thought to myself, ‘There is no way that I will say Kaddish!’ But now, when I see how my father’s words came true, and nine Jews from far away came straight to me, I can’t ignore my father’s words.”

With that, the airport supervisor emotionally recited the Kaddish prayer.

(Otzros Acharis HaYamim, Vol. IV, p. 130)


Unfathomable Comfort

Anna Preisand was a single woman from Atlanta, Georgia. For many years, Anna devotedly cared for her ill sister. After her sister passed away, Anna approached Rabbi C., the principal of her local day school, requesting that he arrange Mishnah study in her sister’s merit.

Rabbi C. turned to a teacher in the school, who agreed to undertake a course of Mishnah study in the deceased woman’s merit.

Sometime later, Anna Preisand disappointedly asked Rabbi C. why the Mishnah study was not being completed. Nonplussed, the principal spoke to the teacher.

“How did you know?” the teacher asked in astonishment. “The truth is, lately I’ve been lax in studying the Mishnayos for Ms. Preisand’s sister.”

Rabbi C. then asked Rabbi Y. to stand in for the teacher. Rabbi Y. agreed gladly, and once again Mishnayos were studied in the merit of Ms. Preisand’s sister. Each time Rabbi Y. met Anna Preisand, she thanked him from the bottom of her heart, saying, “You don’t know how much I owe you for studying Mishnayos for the sake of Heaven.”

One day, Rabbi Y. curiously asked Anna, “How did you know that the teacher had stopped studying the Mishnah for your sister? And how are you so sure that it is being completed now?”

Anna replied, “At the time that the Mishnah study was discontinued, my sister appeared to me in a dream. She was dressed in grotesque clothing, and her expression was grim.

“‘I depended on you for the Mishnayos,’ my sister told me, ‘and it’s not being done.’

“After Rabbi C. arranged that you would resume the Mishnah study where the teacher left off, my sister once again appeared to me in a dream. This time her face was radiant.

“‘You have no idea what a comfort this is for me,’ my sister said.

“And that is how I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Mishnah is being studied properly in my sister’s merit,” Anna concluded.

(As heard from Rabbi Y., Atlanta, Georgia.)


Right Time, Right Place

Mr. Jeff Borell of Highland Park, New Jersey had only recently become observant when his father passed away in January, 1994. Sadly, his father was cremated. Although the custom for a son of the deceased is to recite Kaddish daily for the entire first year, as well as on every subsequent yahrtzeit, Mr. Borell was under the impression that he could say Kaddish, but he was not obligated. For the next few years, Mr. Borell would only occasionally recite Kaddish and eventually stopped saying Kaddish altogether.

Due to the circumstances of his profession, Mr. Borell is not always able to make it to a daily minyan (prayer quorum). As a result, several yahrtzeits of his father passed, without Mr. Borell reciting the Kaddish.

One winter morning in 2005, Mr. Borell inexplicably woke up at 4:30 AM. Though he twisted and turned, he was unable to fall back asleep. Exhaustion notwithstanding, Mr. Borell told himself, “This morning, I have no excuse to miss praying with a minyan. I can’t sleep anyway.”

In due time, Mr. Borell arrived at the synagogue. He noted with curiosity that some of the men were busy setting out food and fruit for after the services. In reply to his query, the men told him that the unaccustomed collation was in honor of the fifteenth day of Shevat, New Year for the trees.
The fifteenth of Shevat?! Mr. Borell was stunned—the fifteenth of Shevat was the day of his father’s yahrtzeit.

Some messages can’t be ignored. Following an emotional Kaddish, Mr. Borell took upon himself a renewed commitment to recite Kaddish for his father on the fifteenth day of Shevat, every year thereafter.
(As heard from Mr. Jeff Borell, Highland Park, NJ)


Peace of Mind

When the mother of an Israeli family passed away, her irreligious children did not have Kaddish recited for her merit. Although one daughter was observant, she too did not provide her mother with this source of merit.

One year after her passing, the mother came to her daughter in a dream. The mother told her daughter sadly, “They give me no peace here, because Kaddish was not recited for my merit.”
The next morning, the daughter immediately commissioned a Torah scholar to recite Kaddish and study Mishnah in the merit of her mother’s soul.

One month later, the mother once again appeared to her daughter in a dream. This time, the mother said happily, “You have given me peace of mind.”

(Tuv’cha Yabiyu Vol. I, page 262)


A Chapter a Day

A great sage once related that a dying man requested that the sage study one chapter of Mishnah on a daily basis, for one year following his passing. The Rabbi acceded to his request. One hectic day, the rabbi’s numerous responsibilities caused him to forget his regimen of Mishnah study. Soon before sundown, the deceased man appeared to the sage and said, “Please study the chapter of Mishnah, for the day is almost up!” Of course, the rabbi did so right away.

(L’iluy Neshamah, page 127)


In Memory of Sima

I was carrying the financial burden of our kollel in Williamsburg. It was my job to obtain money to support the students, and therefore I spent lots of tome on the road, visiting contributors. One day, on the 9th of Shevat, I went to a friend’s store to discuss a new fundraising idea: to find donors who would support one entire day of learning in the kollel. On that day, learning would be dedicated to the benefactor with prayers, or perhaps success in business or maybe for the iluy neshamah of one of his relatives.

As we spoke, Morris, a Russian Jew I knew, came to the store and walked over to me. He gave me a fifty dollar bill and told me that he too, wanted to contribute to the kollel and have us pray for the soul of his mother, Sima bas Chaim, who had died years before on January 27th.

I thanked Morris for his generous contribution and wished him well. I then explained to him that a Gregorian date was useless for our purposes and that we needed to know the Hebrew date of his mother’s death. Unfortunately, Morris had not merited a Jewish education, so he didn’t really understand what I was asking for. He just kept repeating “January 27, 1980”, and how important it was to him that someone should pray for his mother’s soul.

Then I had a brainstorm. I remembered that one of the kollel members had a computer program with a multi-year Hebrew / English calendar. I found the fellow and we looked up the date – and I could not believe my eyes: The Hebrew date of the yahrtzeit was the 9th of Shevat, that very day!

Nearly thirty years have passed since Morris’ mother had died. Who knew if anyone in all those years had ever said Kaddish for her, if anyone had learned one Mishnah in her memory – and here was our opportunity to do so. We immediately lit a yahrtzeit candle for her memory, and sat down to learn Mishnayos. Her name was announced in the kollel, and we said Kaddish and gave tzedakah in her name.

Who among us can understand Hashem’s ways that ensure that a Jewish soul will never be forgotten.

(There is no such thing as coincidence, Vol. II, pp 12, 13)