Yaakov’s Torah

Yaakov’s Torah

Wow, it is so warm & toasty in here; I have been waiting for this warmth so long it makes me sad. Yes, sad. You see; I am special. I am nothing ordinary, far from it. People turn to me for solace, comfort, guidance and direction. I am a veritable director for meaningful life.

Take Yaakov for example. I have been watching that fellow since he was a little kid. Ok, not completely true, some of what I know about him, I heard firsthand from some of my “colleagues.” You see, I have traveled a bit. Though my routes begin in other places, before I met Yaakov, rarely has anyone paid the kind of attention that I feel I deserve, if not for me personally, at least “whom” or should I say “what” I represent.

Please don’t judge me just yet, let me have a chance to say my story before you sentence me. Oy, where do I begin my story? In Rhode Island I suppose. Once upon a time the neighborhood I lived in, was born in, raised for my formidable years in, was a thriving bustling community, full of observant Jews who cared for all elements of Jewish Life.

They came to Shul, which is where I lived, and where I got to know people was just down the block from the kosher butcher, one of a few. Over time sadly, the “neighborhood changed” and soon there were less and less Jews, much less practicing ones, to the point that our Shul was left with no choice but to merge with another. “Lech Li’cho, m’artzecho, umimoladeticho, u’mebais, avicho… “Go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your fathers house. The move will be good for you the Torah promises Abraham, and so too was I promised, and so I did it. I wanted to continue to hang out with my “colleagues” anyway.

Our new Shul was great. Simply magnificent; It is there that I met Yaakov for one, but it was more than that. There I was introduced to one of the most magnificent edifices I had ever seen as a Shul. I mean this place was absolutely grand. The Shul was so beautiful I had only imagined such places exist. There was the huge main sanctuary, where they prayed on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and the small Shul behind the Rabbi’s place and the holy ark for weekdays. The Hebrew school facilities were in the back, and upstairs. The women’s balcony was splendid in its own rite. They even installed a full proper clean and kosher Mikvah (ritual bathhouse) in the rear of the building with it’s own private and special entrance. I should mention the full kosher commercial kitchen… I could go on but I guess you just need to have been there to fully appreciate it.

I think what impressed me even more though, was the community. There was just such an interesting array of people. There were the old and rigid, the young and fresh, those that wanted every child silent, because that is the “way it ought to be,” those who were more flexible. And then there was Yaakov.

e loved the Shul so, he loved his father, he loved to watch the comings and going in hustle and bustle of the place. You see the Shul was his other home, that, was his fun. Watching the old man pray and then grab a schnapps after morning services, perhaps a few too many after a Shabbat Kiddush, this little kid, just soaked it all in. He cared for me, and for the place.

As time passed, and some of the older folks, passed on or were no longer able to perform some of the basic duties, this young man, Yaakov, assumed the responsibility upon himself to take care of my “colleagues” and I, and also to look after some Shul maintenance, security and basic accounting. Even, as he grew up, moved, married and had kids of his own, continued to take an active interest in our home and me.

I watched as Yaakov’s dear father grew old, from a young man taking L’chaim shots after minyan to an adult who sadly became an angry alcoholic. I saw his mood swings, yet even in his temper tantrums there was the essence of a man in love. He was never physically violent, G-d forbid, perhaps out of respect for me, but his addiction caused his family pain. I saw the tears that would form at the corners of Yaakov’s eyes and times they even overflowed in my presence. Yet the indomitable spirit could not be erased. This was a tragedy waiting to be overcome. Fortunately, Yaakov’s dad had the strength to finally accept his addiction and seek treatment, however, there were many years lost years of forsaken joy.

I watched and I cried with him during his challenges and I laughed with him during his successes. I was there when he married and tended to his ailing sick father, and got reports of his failing marriage and his fathers immanent meeting with death. I watched with frustration yet awareness that while Yaakov struggled this was part of the master plan and I knew in my heart that Yaakov would prevail.

I know everything, and I know that even my time will one day come when I am “retired” from the service. Indeed that time came awfully close recently. Again, thanks to Yaakov I got a new lease on life.

Our new Shul of very many years now, was also growing old, the neighborhood again was going to pieces. Attendance at minyan was down to three days a year, the High Holidays, and even that was with people traveling great distances to make that mini-minyan happen. A pipe burst back in the former Hebrew School area too expensive to fix properly, a patch up job would have to do, the Shul’s roof sprung a leak, much too expensive to fix,. Rain storm after rainstorm finally took it’s toll: shingles had fallen off the roof and the Shul was filled with wet carpets and it smelled musty filled with mold and asbestos.

Meanwhile some months back, perhaps a year or more, Yaakov had connected with a fledgling new organization called Chabad in his now native city of Peabody. He knew as they met for Shabbat at the home of the Rabbi and at Hotels and other meeting venues for holidays and family programs that they were in need of a Torah scroll. Being a member of the board of his beloved other shul he was now in a position to do something about this.

Clearly, as had laid his father to rest in the last year, and ultimately it was good & provided closure for all involved, similarly, it would soon be time to help the now ailing Shul come to a it’s final rest by closing its doors after one last High Holiday service and then a healthy merger to bolster another shul in the vicinity.

But what would be of me? Again displaced, without a home? How could this be right and fair? That is when Yaakov let me in on his plan; He let me know about this young and growing new Shul in his neighborhood that was, by his description, similar to where I had first begun many moons ago. A shtiebel of sorts; except this one had a twist, they focused on outreach and other good activities, however, they did do prayer services and were actually kid friendly and other virtues that were new to me and would be novel to me. I would be moving there, by myself this time, without my “colleagues” to do my part and assist them. I was a little nervous at first, but after being transported respectfully as would be due for me, my stature and all, I actually began to find it warm and inviting.

After so many years of being in a Shul where I was being less and less used and visited, I was relegated to the “other Shul” some twenty years back, I had trouble remembering that last time someone had actually looked at me, much less spoken to me, save little Yaakov of course. This new home however was feeling nice. I was missing my “colleagues” who remained behind. However It was very special to be seen & heard on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, and almost every Shabbat. It was like old times… I felt reborn. I felt like I now had a more meaningful purpose. It didn’t hurt that I now saw Yaakov more regularly than I had in a long while, while living in my previous home. He still looks at me lovingly as he did when was still that little kid in my old shul. And I will add, little Yaakov doesn’t either hurt as much when he thinks back to his youth, his family and his shul, though they were intertwined, there seems to be something that I keep pure for him. I would like to think that I play a little part of that.

You see I am Sefer Torah, and Yaakov is my friend.

This true story happened aprox. 12 years ago and this was written up then.

My Esrog Moment

Today’s already long day came to a crashing end. Literally. During the Covid-19 pandemic every day is a long day when the kids are at home. Trying to squeeze some productivity in the busy holiday season with everyone at home will test the best of us and our patience.

I was getting ready to leave for my weekly Torah Class (on zoom these days) when I heard the bang. Unsure what it was, I heard one of my children – who shall remain nameless – mutter to herself, “uh oh!”

Not a good sign.

Then I heard another child say to this unnamed child, “oh man, you broke it! Tatty is gonna kill you.”

Definitely not a good sign.

Then I heard my wife say to me gently, “you are not going to be happy.”

It was now sealed in my mind, something bad happened.

And then I saw it. My child had knocked over my guitar and broke it. Literally broke the entire head off, it was now being dragged by the still-connected strings.

Now, I am not a super sentimental person, but this was my first guitar I ever owned, gifted to me by a friend and a gifted guitarist and the person who inspired me to learn to play and this was my little escape when I needed music of my soul to be louder than the noise of the world. Not a very expensive piece but valuable enough that the replacement would hurt a bit.

As my daughter – the culprit- came into the room, with her shoulders hunched, my blood pressure was peaking and the lava was starting to erupt out of my internal volcano. I was about to let loose a string of words not fitting for a rabbi at a tone not fitting for anyone.

And then I realized, this is my Esrog Moment.

They tell a story (I’ve heard many variations of this story, this is just one version) of a Chassid that struggled with extreme poverty back in the shtetl. He had few positions, much less possessions of value. There was however one piece of religious Judaica (Tefillin or a Candle stick) that had been bequeathed to him from an ancestor who was a Rebbe and whose Chassidim would pay top dollar for that item.

The wife of this Chossid badgered him endlessly to sell the heirloom and make a small fortune to alleviate their poverty somewhat. He would not hear of it. It’s value far exceeded some temporary financial relief. This was a religious item that had deep spiritual value and he couldn’t fathom exchanging it for mere money.

One day, this wife of this chassid came into her husband’s study and saw a most beautiful Esrog sitting on the shelf. They could not afford even the least expensive Esrog much less such a big and beautiful Esrog; Where had her husband gotten the money?

She noticed that the religious heirloom was nowhere to be found. She did a basic deduction and determined that her holy husband wouldn’t depart with his family relic for some cash, but he would do so to observe a mitzvah in the holiest manner possible. She could not contain her rage and she took the Esrog off the shelf and bit into it, ripping the pitum (stem that sticks out of one of the sides of the citron) off rendering passul (unfit for use).

Her husband the holy chassid came home and immediately saw the damage. He saw his wife and her tears and put two and two together. Rather than lose his temper, he simply turned his head to the heavens and said, “Ribbono Shel Oilam, Master of the universe, if it is Your will that I should not have an esrog to recite the blessing upon for this Sukkos holiday, then I accept it with love!”

An incredible lesson in patience and perspective. That was the story the fell into my head as I started to lose control over my broken guitar.

I told my daughter to come over to me. She walked over afraid and unsure of what reaction I was going to have. I simply took her head in my hands and gave her head a kiss.

She said, “I thought you were going to be angry with me?”

“Did you break it out of anger or on purpose?” I asked,


“In that case, mistakes happen, try to be more careful next time” I concluded.

We all have our Esrog moments. I have many Esrog moments. I don’t always rise to the occasion. This time I am thankful that I did. I am certain that she will long remember that kiss instead of whatever fury I might have unleashed on her.

This holiday, as Covid keeps us in close quarters we will all have many more Esrog moments.

Will we step up to the challenge and have the right reaction?