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Sunday, 19 October 2014

G-d Repays His Debts

Daf Yomi Yevamos 16

When Grandpa “Poppa” Friedman returned home to Kosice from the death camps, he, like many other survivors, found their houses occupied by their neighbours.  Realizing that he wasn’t going to get into the home he’d grown up in, he told them that he just had to get access to the backyard.  But that too was denied him by the new occupants.

So off he went to the police to get assistance.  You see, before being carted off to Auschwitz, Poppa had buried the family treasures in the yard, including the house title documents.  Sure enough, however, by the time he returned, the wicked occupants had figured out what he was looking for and beat him to it.  All that remained was some freshly-shoveled dirt.

Now, Poppa was left with nobody and nothing.  All alone in the world.  You can imagine how forsaken he must have felt by the Hands of G-d at that moment.

King David writes in Psalms, “I was young and I also grew old, and I never saw a righteous man forsaken such that his offspring would need to ask for bread.”

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani quoted Rabbi Jonathan: This verse was said by the ministering angel of the world, for who else could have said it?  If you suggest it was said by the Holy One blessed be He, is there a concept of growing old by Him?  And if you want to suggest that King David was speaking of himself, was he ever even that old? (He died at age seventy.)  Rather, we therefore derive that the ministering angel of the world said it.

Poppa didn’t give up hope.  He said to himself, ‘What is the one thing that every Jew needs right now?’  His answer: Headstones!  While they could not bury their dead – most of whom, had been cremated in the death camps – the survivors at least wanted to erect monuments in memory of their loved ones.  Poppa taught himself stonemasonry and began to set up matzevos (headstones) for the murdered Jews.  In fact, that’s how he met Nanna – he was commissioned by the family to set up her parents’ memorial stones! 

Life still wasn’t easy.  Poppa and Nanna managed to scrape together some money to emigrate from Czechoslovakia, making their way eventually to Australia, where they worked hard to make ends meet for themselves and their ten children.   They started out cleaning hotels; Poppa ultimately became a cobbler and Nanna, a furrier.  Incredibly, however, thank G-d by the end of their lives they had built up enough wealth to become quite the philanthropists – giving generously to tzedakah (charity), including the donation of not one, but two Torah scrolls to the Sydney Russian Shul, F.R.E.E. (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe)! 

The Almighty does not forsake the righteous.  He promises that their children will not go hungry.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime or even longer to see this promise fulfilled.  Indeed, the Talmud says that King David’s seventy-year lifespan was not sufficient time to witness the guaranteed fulfilment of the blessing.  And so the Talmud concludes that only the ministering angel of the world who has seen one generation pass to the next could attest to the fulfilment of the Almighty’s promise.  It’s a guarantee.  It’s a promise.  And G-d never reneges on His promises.

You might feel that G-d hasn’t given you what you deserve.  You’ve worked hard, physically and spiritually and He hasn’t repaid you.  Think about Poppa and the horrors he endured, only to find that G-d had completely taken everything away from him.  And yet he didn’t lose hope.  Because G-d promises that the children of the righteous won’t go hungry. 

Keep believing the promise.  The fulfilment might not come tomorrow.  It might not even come next year.  But guaranteed, if you maintain your righteousness, G-d never leaves His debts unpaid.  You and your offspring will eat and be satisfied.  Just keep the faith.