Weekly Chasidic Story #1027(s5777-46) 22 Menachem-Av 5777
From the desk of Yerachmiel Tilles: editor@ascentofsafed.com

"Rabbi Shlomo Poupko of Johannesburg sent a telegram to the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, asking him to pray on the boy's behalf."

The Funeral on Monday

The Funeral on Monday

The woman tried to control her tears as she knocked on the door of Rabbi Shloima Poupko (1928-2003) one Friday morning. Originally from New York, Rabbi Poupko had joined the Johannesburg community in the 1950's, where he served as the Chief Rabbi and also as the pulpit rabbi of the Sydenham Highlands North Synagogue.

The woman, a neighbor of Rabbi Poupko, knew that he was willing to help everyone in the Jewish community in South Africa. Rabbi Poupko opened the door. One look at his visitor told him that something was very wrong. "I need your help. It's ... it's my nephew. David Kauder. He's just four years old, and the doctors say he's going to die on Monday."

The woman took a deep breath, then explained. "David was hit by a car six months ago. He's been in an irreversible coma ever since. Today, the doctor came in and told us that his funeral would be on Monday."

Rabbi Poupko was taken aback. How could the doctor have spoken in such a manner? I've never heard of anyone, let alone a doctor, speaking like that. It's barbaric to say such a thing!"

"Can you help us?" the woman begged. There was no time to spare. Rabbi Poupko grabbed his jacket, ran outside, and asked his driver to take him to the Florence Nightingale Nursing Home, where David was being treated.

Less than ten minutes later, he was striding down the corridor, searching for the room that held the gravely ill David Kauder and his family. Rabbi Poupko found a grim scenario as he peeked around the door. The boy lay motionless in bed, only the faintest rising of his chest giving any indication that he was still alive. His parents stood nearby, looking helplessly at their son.

Rabbi Poupko greeted the nurse, then quietly asked about the boy's status. The nurse slowly shook her head. "It's not good. The doctor says his funeral will be on Monday."

Once again, Rabbi Poupko was shocked by these callous words. He gave a quick glance at David, lying silently on the bed. There was a good chance that the young boy-though appearing unaware of his surroundings-could actually hear every word. How could the doctor have spoken in this way?

"Please give that doctor a message from me," Rabbi Poupko declared. "Tell him that no one only G-d knows whose funeral will take place when on Monday!"

Rabbi Poupko returned home to find David's aunt anxiously awaiting his return. He invited her into his office. "Please sit down for a few minutes. I'll be right with you."

Rabbi Poupko had decided to send a telegram to the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, asking him to pray on the boy's behalf. There wasn't enough time before Shabbos to write a detailed explanation, so Rabbi Poupko simply wrote the boy's name and his mother's name, and urged the Rebbe to pray immediately for the child's recovery.

That task done, Rabbi Poupko returned to the aunt and told her to invite the entire family-many of whom were not religious-to come to his house for kiddush and the Shabbos meal that Friday night. "Let them know that they won't be able to drive back. They'll either have to walk, or if it's too far, we'll be happy to arrange accommodations for the night."

That Friday night, over forty Kauder family members showed up at Rabbi Poupko's house-uncles, aunts and cousins. After making kiddush, Rabbi Poupko spoke to them about the significance of kashrus, Shabbos, family purity and Jewish education. "We all want David to have a full recovery," Rabbi Poupko declared, "but we have to do something to arouse Divine Mercy for the One Above to reverse the Heavenly decree."

The family members unanimously agreed to accept these mitzvos upon themselves. "It's not that hard," they reassured each other. "We can do it-for David's sake." Early Sunday morning, Rabbi Poupko was awakened with a call from the nursing home.

"I can't give any details on the phone," the nurse said breathlessly. "Could you please come down to the nursing home right away?" Rabbi Poupko sat frozen, trying to fight down the surge of panic and despair that had welled up at the nurse's words. He couldn't help imagining the worst.

Forcing himself to stand up, he immediately set out for the nursing home, ready to face whatever was coming. Rabbi Poupko walked cautiously into David's room-to be greeted by a room full of people, including a beaming Mr. and Mrs. Kauder and a bewildered array of doctors and nurses. The source of their bewilderment was right in front of them. Little David was awake and out of bed, pulling the tubes out of his mouth and crying, "Mama, Mama!"

One of the assisting doctors, the disbelief evident upon his face, turned to Rabbi Poupko and exclaimed, "This is an absolute impossibility!"

Like the doctors, Rabbi Poupko could hardly believe his eyes. Yet he knew what he had to do. He immediately gave praise and thanks to Creator for performing this open miracle for the Kauder family.

One year after David's miraculous recovery, Rabbi Poupko received an unexpected letter from the Satmar. "You should know that the souls of the family made a strong impression in Heaven," the Rebbe wrote. "Since you encouraged them to return and accept the mitzvos, the Heavenly Judgment was changed and their child was spared."

Rabbi Poupko was astonished. There had been no time to tell the Rav anything about the Kauder family on that hectic Friday-no time, in fact, to do much more than write David Kauder's name. Yet the Satmar Rav had known it all.

Editor's note: At first I thought to omit this part of the original article (before the paragraph beginning "One year after"). In the end I decided that's not fair, so I include it here as a P.S.:

One person was absent from the scene of the miracle. David's doctor-the one who had predicted the boy's funeral for Monday-happened to have the day off. He was tinkering with his car in front of his house, changing a tire, when a truck parked further up the hill suddenly came rolling down. The doctor didn't see it coming-until it smashed into his car a moment later. He never had a chance. His funeral was on Monday morning.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "Shabbos Stories for the Parsha" (Noach 5772), as posted from an email of "Good Shabbos Everyone," where it was taken from "Visions of Greatness" by Reb Y. Weiss (Volume VII)

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum [of blessed memory: 5648 - 26 Av 5739 (1888 - August 1979 C.E.)], was part of an extraordinary escape from Bergen-Belsen in 1944, after which he went to the Holy Land. In 1947 he moved to the USA, where he established himself as the Satmar Rebbe, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, doing extensive work in establishing Torah education networks. Famed as the leader of Hungarian Jewry and the largest Chassidic group in the world, and as the spiritual leader of the opposition to a secular-based Jewish government in Israel, he was also one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation.

Connection: Seasonal-the 38th yahrzeit of "Reb Yoelish."


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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