Weekly Chasidic Story #1007 (s5777-25 / 22 Adar 5777)

The Power of a Promise

Although he was 100% Shabbat-observant, the Chofetz Chaim gave him a stern look and asked him to promise that he would never violate Shabbat.

Connection: Weekly Reading of Vayakhel--Ex. 35:1-3 ("Do not work on Shabbat")


The Power of a Promise


Baruch was a young man learning in the Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim in Radin, where he excelled and became an accomplished Torah scholar. It reached a point where his parents felt he should leave the Yeshiva to come home and seek a wife.

Baruch went to the Chofetz Chaim's house to say goodbye, and get a blessing before he departed. After hearing his student's plans, the Chofetz Chaim gave him a stern look, and asked Baruch to promise that he would never violate the laws of Shabbos.

Baruch didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He had never transgressed a Shabbos prohibition in his life. Perhaps his Rebbe saw him do something questionable once? He promised the Chofetz Chaim that he would never desecrate Shabbos. To his surprise, his teacher did not relax his stern look and, extending his hand, said, "Shake my hand and guarantee me that you will never, under any circumstance, break Shabbos."

Baruch felt like crying; obviously his Rebbe suspected him. Solemnly, Baruch shook the Chofetz Chaim's hand and made the promise. But he left feeling dejected instead of uplifted.

At home, Baruch met Rachel. They married and started building a family. In what seemed like no time at all, they had four children. Baruch learned in the Kollel (yeshiva arrangement for married men) and worked a few hours a week in the local grocery. Somehow they made ends meet.

Everything changed when World War I broke out. Baruch and Rachel made the difficult decision to leave for America. This meant to change everything they had ever known in their life, including saying goodbye to their family, not knowing if they would ever see them again.

It was not long after they sailed to America that they realized the streets were not 'paved with gold,' and it certainly wasn't the land of opportunity, especially for an observant Jew. Baruch obtained a job in the textile industry for a low wage, regretting that he didn't have time to learn much anymore since he was focusing on bringing home food for his family.

He became known as a reliable, hard worker and worked his way up in the company. But shortly thereafter, the Great Depression set in, and his meager salary was cut, making things even more difficult.

One day, Baruch came to work and received notice that his boss wanted to see him. He had always been on good terms with Mr. Mark, but this time his boss told him that the company was not doing as well in the poor economy and they would be forcing all employees to work seven days a week. He said gently that he understood Baruch was a religious Jew and that this would be hard on him. Nevertheless, he wanted him to be one of the first to know.

Baruch finished work and made his way home at the end of the day and broke the terrible news to his wife. Because he refused to work on Shabbos, he would have to quit his job. He already knew many people who were out of work as it was, and looking to be off on Saturdays made it more difficult. A few people were able to start new jobs on Sunday, but were fired the next Sunday when they didn't show up to work on Shabbos.

How was he going to find work? Slowly, their small meals became even smaller and most nights the children went to sleep starving. Day after day Baruch went on interviews, but with all the same result: no job unless you work on Shabbos.

One night, Baruch and Rachel made the wrenching decision for Baruch to go to work on Shabbos; they simply could not survive anymore. They rationalized that this was a case of pikuach nefesh (risk of life) because the children were suffering so much, and could even starve to death (G-d forbid). The next morning, Baruch got on a train to go find a job where he would work on Shabbos.

Suddenly he burst into tears and his hands began to tremble. He had forgotten about his promise to the Chofetz Chaim! How could he possibly break his commitment to his great rabbi!

Baruch got off the train at the next stop, crossed to the other side of the tracks, got on the next train headed back, and went home. Through tears, he told his wife of his promise, so many years earlier. Rachel started to cry herself, and said how much she regretted her part in the decision, saying that the suffering of the children affected her.

They were sitting at the table thinking of what they could possibly do to somehow make ends meet, when there was a knock at the door. Baruch opened his door and was surprised to see Mr. Mark, his old boss, standing there. They invited him in.

He said he came to apologize, explaining that he had a partner who didn't like religious Jews very much. He claims that the most important thing to a Jew is money, and if put under a little pressure, their religion would be tossed out the window. Mr. Mark disagreed, whereupon they made a bet. They picked Baruch to be the Jew they would test, because he had grown in the company and he stood to lose more than all the others.

Mr. Mark said to Baruch: "Thanks to you I won the bet. You didn't give in to the pressure and agree to work on your Shabbos." He then took out an envelope from his briefcase and gave it to Baruch. It was inscribed for $1,000, a fortune in those years. He also gave Baruch a promotion to be the manager of his branch in the company.

After Mr. Mark left, Baruch and Rachel cried tears of joy, astounded at how close they had come to transgressing Shabbos. Baruch attributed their fortitude to his Rebbe, the Chofetz Chaim, and the hand shake from so many years ago. Such is the power of influence that a tzadik (holy Jew) can have.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a "Shabbos Stories for the Parsha" emailing (keren18@juno.com), reprinted from a "Torah U'Tefilah" emailing from Rabbi Yehuda Winzelberg.

Connection: Weekly Reading of Vayakhel-Ex. 35:1

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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