#146 (s5760-46/1 Av)   

Slaps Of Love

He had heard that it would be worthwhile for him to meet Rabbi Moshe Weber


Slaps Of Love

[This story came to me from two, not-always-convergent, perspectives. The regular typeface is Ido, speaking first-person; the italic is Sara, referring to herself in third-person.]


Two Americans are visiting Israel. It is Jan. 1988, just after the beginning of the Intifada. They had met as secular people, business people, working in the same city. Their relationship had developed over a year's time to include concerts, restaurants, lectures, and an ever-intensifying discussion concerning religion. Although nontraditional in almost every way you can imagine, they were trying to sort out their lives, and just beginning to learn about Torah-Judaism.

The elder, an American businessman in his 49th year, arrived in Jerusalem in November and began taking classes at different beginners' yeshivas for English-speakers. The woman, in her late twenties at the time, arrived January 1. She had just quite her job suddenly, sold most of her belongings, and stored the rest. She felt she was embarking on a whole new path on her life's journey. Her intent was to meet up with this man, see some of Israel with him and discuss her decision about Judaism.

One afternoon, a tour guide took them to see Mea Shaarim; the weather was very cold and wet-a virtual deluge. The narrow streets were dark and full of water runoff. The guide showed them the basics and then, with a wink, announced that he had "a brilliant idea, something off the beaten track." As he led them through slippery alleys, occasionally cutting between ramshackle buildings, he explained that he was taking them to visit an old friend -these two would not have known a tzaddik unless hit between the eyes with one...which is what happened next!

Rabbi Moshe Weber and I were about to leave his house to go to the shul where he conducted a daily class in Daf Yomi [a two-sided page of Talmud per day]. Unexpectedly, there was a knock at the door of his small apartment in the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem. A man and woman came in. He appeared to be in his forties, while she seemed much younger. Both were obviously Americans. The man said he had heard that it would be worthwhile for him to meet Rabbi Weber.

Knocking on a little door, they were met by a very tall, broad-shouldered, red-haired young man and a very short, bent, frail-looking older man, apparently on their way out. Both were dressed in traditional Chassidic costume. The young man motioned them in. The Rabbi greeted them in what the man recognized as Yiddish; he had heard his grandmother speak the language many, many years before. She had no clue what was going on, but the look of kindness on the little old man's face and the intensity of his eyes made her knees weak and her heart open. Introductions are made. The young man was Ido Erhlich, close disciple and constant companion to the elder one, Rabbi Moshe Weber.

Not knowing English, Rabbi Weber held the man's right hand affectionately between both of his for a number of moments, and then motioned for the two of them to sit down at the table. He started to speak to them excitedly about Israel, Torah and mitzvot. They couldn't understand a word, but nevertheless glowed at the obvious warmth and caring that was expressed in the tone of his voice and his kind sparkling eyes. Fortunately, I was present and able to act as a translator.

There, in the tiny, dim, eight by eight room, the visiting couple's lives were transformed before the light of one tiny candle on the small gray formica table.

After a few minutes, the man revealed that the woman accompanying him was not Jewish and that it was his intention to marry her. When he said that, I was sure that Rabbi Weber would either yell at him for daring to bring a non-Jewish woman into his house and for brazenly announcing his plans to intermarry, or more simply, immediately ask the two of them to leave.

Rabbi Weber did neither. He continued to speak to the man in warm friendly tones.

Although she had grown up "orthodox" Protestant, she had found Judaism at the end of her college career. Her apartment was lined with books, including translations of biblical texts and a tome on Jewish Halacha. The real truth was that she knew more about Judaism than he had from Day 1!

When he left for Israel to learn, they had parted ways but expected to remain friends. Three weeks into the separation, she was picking up the phone to call his daughter and get a telephone number to reach him when the phone rang. When she heard his voice again, she knew. She would go to Israel. What happened after that was up to G-d. Little did she know!

Rabbi Weber conversed with the man in a heartfelt manner, stressing the beauty and fulfillment in a life based on mitzvah observance. Within minutes, the truth of the expression "words that emerge from the heart enter the heart" was visible to all. The visitor was obviously affected by the warmth and love with which Rabbi Weber was speaking to him. He declared that he was ready* to commit himself to putting on tefilin every weekday and to keeping Shabbat.
*Of course, his intense four days at Ascent in Zefat helped prepare him for this. -ed.

Rabbi Weber seated them at the table, asked if they would like something to drink or eat and sent Ido for some cookies. After gently instructing him to say the proper blessings, Rabbi Weber took the hands of the gentleman between his and spoke calmly but urgently to him; every once and a while he would gently slap one of the man's cheeks. Apparently he was suggesting that his guest discontinue the use of his razor-if he had to shave, buy an electric shaver when he returned to the U.S.

Once or twice the Rabbi looked into the eyes of the woman, conferred with Ido and the guide, then suggested that she consider candle lighting--not that she should actually light...yet, but that she should consider the light of the Shabbat candles. At this time, Mrs. Weber was very ill, but she was ushered in to her, introduced, and given a seat next to her bedside. Of course neither one could speak the other's language, but they managed to communicate on some level.

"Very good," replied Rabbi Weber, "but that is not sufficient. You must know that it is forbidden for you to be with this woman!"

Actually, no one had said outright what was the relationship between the two. Still, it was obvious the rabbi had sized the situation up very quickly.

The man quickly responded that it was her intention to convert, and had been so even before she had met him, and for a long time. Rabbi Weber answered him that if was indeed her desire to join the Jewish people and accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvot, she would have to do so under the auspices of an Orthodox rabbi in the city where she lived in the USA.

They promised that was exactly what would happen. The man parted from Rabbi Weber with a warm hug, and a promise that he would do precisely as Rabbi Weber had instructed him.

After that wet evening, when the sun came out the next morning, everything looked different. They were amazed that Rav Weber had taken the time to speak with two such misfit unknowns, help the man make blessings, and urge him toward more mitzvot: tefilin, prayer, Shabbat. A whole shul packed with his students was kept waiting on account of these two. They felt humbled, honored, confused, and elated all at once as if a vision of their whole future-together-had just unrolled before them.

She had made the commitment to an orthodox conversion long before, but he had not been sure as to what that would mean for him and the necessity for his parallel commitment to a Torah life: Shabbos, mikveh, kashrut-you know, the whole 613. Now it was clear; they were to lead an observant life together, even with 22 years between their chronological ages, even with her 20 years of diabetes behind her and an uncertain future ahead.

A half-year went by. One day, we received an overseas phone call. It was that same American Jew. He said that the woman had undergone a strictly kosher conversion, and that he had increased his personal level of observance as he had promised Rabbi Weber. He then announced that they were planning to marry soon, and they both deeply wished that Rabbi Weber would accept their invitation to attend their wedding in Pittsburgh, which they would send formally as soon as the date was set.

Rabbi Weber explained to him that such a long trip would be impossible for him, as his wife was seriously ill and bedridden, and he had to be available to care for her. "But Reb Moshe," the man exclaimed, "You must come. We both desperately want you to be there. We need you to come."

Just before they left Israel, they had visited once more. Rabbi Weber, thru Ido, had asked the man to please make sure the woman did her learning with Chabad, and to be sure to invite him to speak at the wedding! The gentleman had marveled at this, but now he has a much better appreciation of the tzadik and if Rav Weber asked him to do something he will do it!

That summer, Mrs. Weber was admitted to a special rehabilitation home-for which she had been on a waiting list for many months!-and the Rav was able to go. I, too, went with him.

The date for the wedding suddenly had to be advanced. The father of the kallah had become very ill. It was rescheduled for Chai Elul, a special day among the Chassidim]. With very little notice, invitations were quickly designed, calligraphy-addressed, and mailed. There were to be eighty friends and family around the Chupah.

Ido telephoned. The invitation took only 4 days to arrive at the Webers-from the U.S. to Eretz Yisrael, to Mea Shaarim in just four days! A miracle. "We can come. Special care for the Rebbetzin has just recently been arranged." Another miracle!

The joy of that unique wedding was extraordinary. Rabbi Weber danced with the chatan for a long time. Everyone present was enthralled and delighted by the special guest from Jerusalem. More than a decade later, and they still speak about it.

Hashem provides in abundance! Not only were Ido and Rav Weber able to come to the wedding, they spent all of the holidays from Rosh HaShanah through Simchas Torah with the Lubavitcher Rebbe -- the first time in thirty years Rabbi Weber had left Eretz Yisrael!

Today, twelve years after they first came to us, the couple dwells in San Diego, California. They have three sons, all of whom study in fine Torah institutions. Every Shabbat, they invite many guests, some of whom they help draw closer to Torah-true Judaism. During the week they also host observant Jews from different communities who are visiting their city.

Rueven and Sara-Chana Morrow visited Rabbi Weber again with their infant son during Sukkos of the year following the wedding. They continued to be supporters of his work and spoke with Ido frequently, exchanging messages with the Rabbi. He served as a guiding vision in their lives until his passing. They hold their memories of Rav Weber dear to their hearts, and keep his memory alive as they teach their three sons, aged 10, 8 and 7, the many lessons they learned at that little table by the light of that one tiny candle -- light that illuminated a world full of Torah, kindness to others, effervescent joy, and considerate behavior.

Who knows? Perhaps the reason Rabbi Weber was so patient with them at their first encounter, at his house, was simply an outcome of his kind and caring nature. Or perhaps, as I often think, it was because he saw with true vision the potential for the fine Jewish home that would emerge from their union.

May the blessed memory of Rabbi Moshe Weber continue to kindle the hearts and minds of all his students and the lives he touched at his home and at the Kotel until the coming of Moshiach, may it be soon.

[Translated and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles from an article in Shemu V'techi Nafshechem (#309) by R.Yitzchak Ido Weber-Erhlich, and supplemented by the translator, based on personal acquaintance with all the characters mentioned, and on a detailed letter from Mrs. Morrow. The many italicized inserts are adapted from that letter.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Moshe Weber [5 Kislev 1914 - 18 Adar I 2000] was a central and beloved figure in Jerusalem's religious community. Nearly every day he went to the Western Wall from his home in Meah Shearim to pray and to help visitors wrap tefilin. Less publicly, he distributed enormous sums of tzedakah to the city's poor. It is known that, decades ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe said of him that he is one of the holiest and kindest people in the world. He published several volumes of Torah insights in Yarim Moshe. There is an ongoing periodical of his teachings distributed weekly called Shemu V'Techi Nafshechem, which also offers for sale his audio recordings.

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

back to Top   back to Index   Stories home page
Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION