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The Last Goodbye; The First Hello

Thursday, 25 August, 2016 - 7:00 pm

 

Opening his front door, the rabbi found himself face to face with the local priest. "Rabbi, may I have a few words with you?" asked the priest.

"Of course, Father," the rabbi replied nervously.

"As you know," began the priest, "this town is plagued by thieves. Almost daily, one of my flock comes to me bemoaning that his house was broken into. However, the thieves do not bother you Jews nearly as much."

"Father, you are correct."

"Yes, rabbi, but why is that?" inquired the priest.

"This little box on the side of my door post is called a Mezuzah," said the rabbi. "We Jews believe that when we put on at the entrances to our houses, the Holy One, blessed be He, protects both us and our property."

"In that case," replied the priest, "I must have one!"

Not wishing to be the cause of an incipient pogrom, the rabbi reluctantly handed over a Mezuzah to the priest.

Two weeks later the rabbi was awakened by pounding on his door. Dressing hastily, he went downstairs.

"Who's there?" the rabbi asked tremulously.

"Open the door! Open the door!" screamed a voice.Leaving the chain on, the rabbi opened the door wide enough to see the priest, his eyes wild and distraught.

"What happened?" asked the terrified rabbi. "Were you not protected from robbers?"

"I was! But these people can drive you crazier than robbers!" said the priest.

"Who?" asked the rabbi. "The beggars coming to your door every five minutes!”

In this week's Torah portion, Eikev, is a strange Mitzvah. Most of the Mitzvot of the Torah involve the human. We give charity; we study Torah; we pray; we wrap Tefillin; we celebrate Shabbat; we light Shabbat candles; we teach our children Torah; we recite grace after meals; we honor our parents. There is only one Mitzvah that does not involve the person: Mezuzah.

The Mezuzah, placed on doorways in Jewish homes, holds a piece of parchment containing two biblical verses. The first is the Shema, which expresses the oneness of G‑d; the second is the second portion of the Shema, the injunction to keep G-d’s mitzvot. Outside of the parchment, G-d’s name—Shad-ai—is written.

What is the point of having something stationary at the door of our home? What’s the objective of this Mitzvah?

Maimonides writes: A person needs to be very careful in his or her observance of Mezuzah, for it is incumbent on every individual and during the entire day and night. Every time a Jew enters or leaves the house, he is faced with the Name of G-d, with the proclamation of the Unity of G-d; he reminds himself of his love for Him.

What is the point of Mezuzah? Even if it on your doorpost, it does nothing to or for you. The Mezuzah may be on your door, but it has no impact on your soul. It is there because it was designated to serve as a catalyst for meditation whenever you leave or enter your home.

The Mezuzah is the last one to say goodbye when you exit your home. Life can get stressful, overwhelming, and strenuous. Don’t allow temporary heartaches to distract you from that which is true, stable, and eternal. When you return home after a long, hard day, before you enter the home and encounter your spouse and children, the Torah says, you first must meet the Mezuzah who gives us the first “Shalom” and “welcome home” greetings.

It was 1985. Chaya Rivka, the oldest daughter of Rabbi Grossman, Chief Rabbi of Migdal HaEmek in northern Israel, was 16 years old. One Friday, when she returned home for Shabbat from her High School in Tzfat, her parents noticed that her right eye was swollen. She told them it was also painful.

At first her parents assumed it was a minor infection that would soon go away, but the swelling continued to increase, and her eye started to drip blood and ooze pus. They rushed her to the emergency room and subsequently to the local eye doctor, but no one was able to diagnose the cause. They were referred to more expert doctors in the nearest large city, Haifa, but the doctors there were also stumped, and sent them to a medical center in Tel Aviv. Weeks later, they went to Israel's leading hospital, Hadassah in the Ein Kerem district of Jerusalem, but there, too, no solution was found. Meanwhile, her eye steadily worsened.

For seven months the girl suffered from severe pain, and the whole time her eye continued to deteriorate. Several of the specialists offered conflicting explanations. They could only agree that the damage was very serious and that she would probably lose all vision in that eye.

Soon after, Rabbi Grossman flew to the USA on behalf of his educational institutions and charitable organizations. When he shared the pain of his daughter's situation with one of his friends in New York, the latter recommended that he seek a consultation with Dr. Albert Hornblass, a Jewish doctor in New Jersey who was an internationally known ophthalmologist of good reputation, and chairman of the Ophthalmologic Surgery department at New York's Eye, Ear and Throat hospital.

Rabbi Grossman made an appointment and told the doctor the background of his daughter's eye problem. He showed him copies of the medical records from Hadassah-Ein Kerem which he had brought from Israel. The specialist was warm but explained he couldn't provide a diagnosis without seeing the eye itself, so the rabbi immediately purchased a ticket for his daughter. The next morning she landed at JFK International Airport.

When her father met her, after exchanging greetings, she requested to immediately go see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. They hurried to 770 Eastern Parkway which houses the Rebbe's office and Lubavitch International Headquarters. They arrived only a few minutes before the Rebbe was due to appear for the morning prayer service.

They were not alone. Both sides of the lane leading to the entrance were packed with people anticipating the opportunity to see the Rebbe at close range, and maybe even be noticed. The Grossmans joined the crowd.

Finally the car chauffeured by one of the secretaries parked, and the Rebbe stepped out. Rabbi Grossman was determined to request the Rebbe's blessing, even though this was not a time or occasion when the Rebbe interacted with his Chassidim or other visitors. As the Rebbe approached the entrance, Rabbi Grossman brazenly jumped in front of him and blocked the path! "What won't a father do for his daughter?" he shrugged in retrospect.

"Rebbe!" he cried out with great emotion. He gestured with his hand. "Here is my daughter. The one I wrote to you about with the eye problem. She desperately needs the Rebbe's blessing for a complete healing."

The Rebbe already knew about Chaya Rivka's eye problem. He had been mailed several reports and blessing requests over the course of the year. He looked over at her and briefly glanced at her damaged eye. He turned back to Rabbi Grossman and said, "Immediately do a Mezuzah check, and may she have an immediate complete recovery. May you merit to raise her to a life of Torah, Jewish marriage and good deeds."

Rabbi Grossman responded, "Amen v'Amen!" As soon as the Rebbe was out of sight, he ran for the nearest public phone. He told his wife what the Rebbe had said, and asked her to summon the expert scribe they used to minutely examine all their Mezuzahs right away.

Rabbi Grossman returned to 770 to pray in the Rebbe's Minyan. Meanwhile, his wife contacted the scribe and explained to him the urgency of an immediate visit.

The problem was quickly discovered. An entire word was blotted out from one of the Mezuzahs! Which word? "Ainecha"-"your eyes." The scribe immediately replaced the defective Mezuzah with a high-quality one that he had brought with him, just in case.

After the prayers, Rabbi Grossman went to meet his daughter at a nearby restaurant. "Abba (Dad)," she said excitedly, "what is going on with my eye?"

"What do you mean?" he worried.

"I sense something happening. The pain is lessening."

Rabbi Grossman, who did not yet know the results of the scribal inspection, looked at her eye, but couldn't see any change. He suggested that she rest from her journey, and told her they would see the doctor that afternoon.

After a long nap, she reported that her eye no longer hurt. Rabbi Grossman looked, and indeed the swelling was almost gone. Chaya Rivka suggested they not travel to the doctor, but her father insisted they still go.

In the doctor's office, Rabbi Grossman presented Chaya Rivka to Dr. Hornblass and handed him the folder of her medical records, which now included the results of the most recent examinations, which she had brought with her. The doctor looked at her eye and at the contents of the thick folder. Then he looked at both again, even more carefully. "I can't understand this," he said wonderingly. The condition of her eye as I see it now is pretty much normal. It does not match at all the descriptions in this folder. Yet there are CAT scan results here that are dated just a few days ago, showing swelling, bleeding and pus. How can that be?"

Rabbi Grossman, who had heard about the invalid Mezuzah at home by then, related the Rebbe's blessing and the Mezuzah checking. The doctor's eyes bulged. "We have witnessed a miracle!" he exclaimed.

Chaya Rivka's eye continued to improve. She returned to Israel, and her father remained in the USA. Weeks passed. At a Chasidic gathering with the Rebbe, during an intermission between talks, while the crowd was singing soulful Chassidic tunes with great passion, Rabbi Grossman asked the Rebbe for a blessing that he should be successful in his mission in America.

"Amen!" The Rebbe added, "Is your daughter alright?"

"Much, much better," said the happy father, and asked for a blessing for her, too.

"She should get even better," responded the Rebbe. "Completely better."

18 years later, in 2003, Rabbi Grossman was in New Jersey as the Guest of Honor at a local Jewish community event. When he entered the synagogue on Shabbat Day, one congregant jumped from his seat, hugged and kissed him enthusiastically, and started crying. Rabbi Grossman was a bit embarrassed because, hard as he tried, he couldn't place this man, although he did seem familiar.

The man noticed his confusion and explained, "I am Dr. Hornblass, the doctor who saw with my own eyes the miracle that occurred for your daughter through the Rebbe's blessing. Since then I am continually aware and know that there is G-d and that every Jew needs a Mezuzah on every door of one's home and office.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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