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A moment of Faith Holds Long-lost Loves Together

Friday, 26 December, 2014 - 12:26 am

The Communists rose to power when Naphtali, Tolchik to his friends, was young. His father didn't like the smell of it all and told Tolchik to become a shochet: to master the intricate, exacting practice of kosher butchering - the training takes years and the pay is lousy. "Become a shochet," said Tolchik's father, "if you'll be a shochet, you'll stay a Jew." 
 
Tolchik the shochet and his wife raised their children under the Soviets. By the early 1950's all had escaped, most of them with false passports. Except for their grown son Meir and his growing family. 
 
Their other son Berel had escaped with Chana Shneerson, posing as her son. Upon arrival to New York, Berel became a masterful diamond cutter, and (the grey Soviet's silver-lining) maintained his filial status with Chana (he had the keys to her apartment) and developed a warm relationship with her son, the Rebbe of Lubavitch. Tolchik and his wife, together with their daughter, settled in Montreal, his son Dovid was in Antwerp and Tolchik was happy, but for Meir's being held by the Soviets. 
 
There is a custom to receive matzah from one's Rebbe before Passover. Naturally, Berel would be doing so.
"When you receive matzah from the Rebbe," Tolchik told his son Berel, "mention to him your brother Meir." 
"But do not ask for a bracha, a blessing," continued Tolchik, "ask for a havtacha -- ask for the Rebbe's assurance -- that my Meir will make it out alive."
 
Berel never pushed anyone into doing something they did not want to do. And a chassid does not demand of his Rebbe. But Berel never refused his father. 
 
The Rebbe handed matzah to Berel. Berel mentioned his brother Meir and the Rebbe gave his bracha. "My father requests your assurance that Meir will come out."
 
The Rebbe's face grew dark and his hand shook. "Shlep mir nisht beim tzung!" (Don't wrench words out of me that I cannot say) the Rebbe answered with rare sting, and added, "My father-in-law accomplished greater things than this." 
 
Berel saw tears in the Rebbe's eyes begin to fall. The Rebbe gave Berel another piece of matzah. "You will give this to your brother."
 
"My brother Dovid in Belgium?" Berel asked. 
 
"No. Meir. Not necessarily in America but somewhere close by." 
 
A few years later the family got word that Meir had plans to spirit his family across the border with forged passports. He failed. More years passed. Berel held the matzah for his brother. Eighteen years he held onto that matzah: matzah, the Kabala calls it the bread of faith. 
 
Then they heard. Meir is free! With his wife! With his sons! With his daughter! They received visas to Canada (not necessarily America, but close by) and Berel got himself to Montreal just as fast as he could. Berel hadn't seen his brother in over twenty years. He ran towards his brother. His brother ran towards him. He gave his brother the piece of matza. And then they fell into each other's arms. 
 
Berel's story explains Jacob of our parsha. Jacob mourned his lost son Joseph as dead for over twenty years. He finally saw him -- a miracle! - but Jacob did not kiss him; he was saying the Shema. . . a jaw-dropping breach of human emotion. Berel demonstrates that a moment of faith does not separate between long-lost loves. It holds them together.
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