Neilah 5776

October 8, 2015

I doubt about the truth of the story I am going to tell you but I strongly believe it is worthy to be shared with you.

The brand new Rabbi and his wife had been assigned to their first congregation to reopen a shul in suburban Brooklyn. They had arrived in early February excited about their opportunities. However, when they saw the condition of the premises, they were deeply disappointed. It was very much run down and needed lots of work. They had set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Erev Purim, the 13th of the month of Adar, February 22nd. They worked hard; repairing aged pews, plastering walls, painting, etc, and on the 8th of Adar (February 17th) they were ahead of schedule and had just about finished.

On February 19, a terrible snowstorm hit the area and lasted for two days. On the 21st, the Rabbi went over to inspect the shul. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had  leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary, just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high. The Rabbi cleaned up the mess on the floor, and, realizing that he would have to postpone the Erev Purim service, headed for home.

On the way, he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth, with fine colors and a Mogen Dovid embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the shul. By this time, it had started to snow again. An older woman, running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. But she missed it.

The Rabbi invited her to wait in the warm shul for 45 minutes, until the next bus was scheduled to arrive. She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the Rabbi while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The Rabbi could hardly believe how beautiful it looked; covering up the entire problem area.

Then the Rabbi noticed the woman walking down the center (ail) aisle. Her face was as white as a sheet. “Rabbi,” she asked, “where did you get that tablecloth?” The Rabbi explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials EBG were crocheted there. He checked and discovered that they were. The shocked woman told him that they were her initials, and that she had made this tablecloth in Poland, 35 years before.

The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Poland. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. However, he was captured and sent to a camp and she never saw her husband or her home again. The Rabbi wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made him keep it for the shul. The Rabbi insisted on driving her home. He felt that that was the least he could do.

What a wonderful service they had on Erev Purim. The shul was almost full and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. At the end of the service, the Rabbi and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. However, one older man, whom the Rabbi recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare. The Rabbi wondered why he wasn’t leaving. The man asked him where he had gotten the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they had lived in Poland, before the war. He wondered how there could be two tablecloths so very similar. He told the Rabbi how the Nazis had come, how he had forced his wife to flee for her safety and that he was supposed to follow her. But he had been arrested and placed in a camp. 35 years had passed since then, and he had never seen his wife or his home again.

The Rabbi asked the old man if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to the same house where the Rabbi had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb to the woman’s apartment, knocked on the door, and was privileged to observe the greatest Erev Purim reunion he could have ever imagined!

Again I do not know if this is a real story but I believe it was worthy to share it with you. We all know by now how important it is to place the tablecloth on the right position.

In a couple of minutes we are going to meet again with the real world. In a couple of minutes the gates of heaven will close and a regular common day will start for the Jewish people.

In a couple of minutes we will realize that our tablecloth is short again and cannot bet stretched any longer.

But we still have some time left.

It is a short time that we want to stretch it as much as possible. We want this fast to finish soon but we also want to stay a little bit more influenced by the holiness of Yom Kippur.

Life, said Rabbi Salanter, is a short tablecloth. Whichever way you pull something will be uncovered. Choose wisely what to leave undone. You already know that.

We have the last minutes of Yom Kippur to think about our actions and how they affect us, and how they affect others.

We have these minutes left to choose, to decide how this year is going to be and what parts of the table we will leave uncovered.

While we stand in front of the open ark it is holy opportunity we have to make the right decisions.

Before we do that, before we take advantage of these last minutes of Yom Kippur let me share with you one of my favorite stories. I promise it the last story for this Yom Kippur.

Back in the thirties, the Labor party in Israel was struggling over the question of whether to be in favor of partitioning the land of Israel or not.  If there was a partition, there would be a Jewish state. But on the other hand, if there was a partition, they would have to give up some of the most precious and sacred parts of the land of Israel. And so many people in the Labor Party were torn. Should they be in favor of partition, because it might (lid) lead to peace, and because it would enable them to rescue some of the Jews of Europe, who had nowhere else to go? Or should they be against partition, because it meant giving up part of the land of Israel forever?

Ben Gurion himself was divided on this question. And so he went to Yosef Tabenkin, who was one of the elder statesmen of the Labor Party, and who had always been his mentor, and he asked him how he should vote.  Tabenkin said: Give me twenty four hours, and I will tell you what I think you should do, because, before I give you my advice, I need to consult with two people.

Tabenkin came back the next day, and said: I think you should vote for partition.  Ben Gurion thanked him for his advice, and then he said: Would you mind telling me who were the two people whom you had to consult with before you made your decision?

Tebenkin said: I asked my grandfather, who is no longer alive, and I asked my grandchild who is not yet born. And only after I thought about what they would say, and about what would be best in their eyes, could I make my decision.

I would respectfully suggest that this is what we all ought to do when we are faced with a serious moral question—whatever it is. We ought to ask ourselves: What would my parents and my grandparents say I should do, even if they are no longer alive, and we ought to ask ourselves: how will this decision that I am about to make affect my grandchildren, who are not yet born? Only after we have answered these two questions, should we make our decision.

It is time to decide what part of the table we are going to cover.