A freezing Central European winter's night, roads, trees and houses blanketed by snow and laced with ice, penetrating the bones and spirits of the men of Luntzitz, the small town illuminated by the wisdom of Rabbi Chaim Auerbach. All were now sheltered in the warmth of their homes. Still abed, Rabbi Auerbach concluded "Shema Israel" when he heard a tapping at his front door. Dressing quickly, Rabbi Chaim hurried to the call. In his doorway he shook the frozen hand of a man so pale that the good Rabbi hardly recognized him, so wan was the expression on the plain, honest face of the poor shoemaker. The Rabbi immediately hustled his visitor to sit near the heat of his fireplace to hear his words of sorrow:
"Reb Chaim: I urgently need your help. My wife, blessed be God, has just given birth..." but anxiety left him unable to continue.
Rabbi Auerbach gently wiped away the tears of despair streaming down that poor man's cheeks.
"Reb Chaim, for two months I have had almost no work. Our situation is so desperate that we have no money even to buy wood to warm our home. We fear for the life of our infant son."
Wordlessly, Rabbi Chaim rose, donned his coat, linked arms with the shoemaker, and out they went together into the icy nighttime in search of tzedakah from a wealthy neighbor. Disdaining the lateness of the hour, Rabbi Chaim knocked on the rich man's bedroom window panes. Though surprised by the sight of his famous Rabbi, the man invited him into the comfort of his house. Extraordinarily, the Rabbi declined, motioning instead for the neighbor to join him in the street for a talk. Somewhat irritated, the rich man put on the first cloak he found and went outdoors.
The cold was now worse, throbbing on the local magnate's cheeks. Again he insisted, almost begged, his Rabbi to enter his home, but again he was refused. Perplexed, he asked why Rabbi Chaim preferred the cold instead of the luxurious warmth of his living room. The resolute Rabbi explained: "This poor man, his wife and the newborn given them by the Holy One, Blessed Be He suffer the bitter cold of this night because they have no money to buy even a few logs. You ask why I tell you this out here, not in the warmth of your grand house? Out here, you too now feel the penetrating cold of this freezing night; now you suffer the same affliction as this poor shoemaker and his family, now you can feel upon your own flesh their anguish for the life of their tiny son. This being so, will you help to relieve him to solve his anguish situation?"
And the wealthy man understood. Home he went, to gather up an armful of logs and a generous wad of cash to bestow upon the poor shoemaker, who returned to his humble abode with hope renewed.
In these days of Elul - days of reflection, introspection, evaluation - when we prepare in our hearts for the great encounter with God and His Light, we too need renewed hope - spiritual firewood to warm our souls - unconditional support as we face the cold challenges and anxieties in our lives.
The start of this New Year confronts us with the rapid passage of time, and how precarious are our hopes and plans. We recognize our situation, and in the true spirit of teshuvah - repentance, introspection and evaluation - we delve into the individual and collective future of our lives. Grateful for everything that makes us happy, fills us with satisfaction and brings good to ourselves and our own, we too recognize our need for firewood to comfort our loneliness, our anxieties over money, emotional concerns, pain at the loss of loved ones, the fragility of our health. We all need solidarity, affection, understanding, love and empathy of those around us. We need others to leave our cold night to join us, to help us, to extend a warm gesture, lend a helping hand...
Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days remind us all that every day we live is a unique and unrepeatable gift, that those we love and need are here today, in this world, and they too hope that we feel for them, listen to their troubles, and if we can share with them some logs of our own warmth. Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days invite us all to renew our spirit of solidarity and our aspiration to escort, help, and assist those who need us in their pain and anguish, and their need for our warmth.
May remembrance of the joys in our past lead us to improve our present and future, to recover our delight in every day, every hour, every moment of our lives;
May God grant that we relieve the cold that grips others with the sun
in the warm embrace of our understanding and sincere empathy.
May God grant us continuing joy this New Year in the enormous pleasure that arises from the strength of our profound meetings with those around us;
May God inspire us to begin or renew sustained commitment to the fate of our community, of our Maccabi Movement, of the society in which we invest the best of ourselves, of our People, in the commitment that decides the paths of our life;
And may God grant us the continued joy of seeing
the development, growth and strengthening of everything we hold dear and value,
the State, the People of Israel, and our Maccabim all over the world.
With best wishes,
LeShanah Tovah ticatevu vetechatemu!
May you and yours be inscribed for a Good Year!
RABBI CARLOS TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
MACCABI WORLD UNION