A hundred thousand words ago, at the beginning of this blog, I promised to tell some Rav Leon stories. New readers can learn about how I met this saintly Tzaddik and Kabbalist from a former article
. Rebbe Nachman taught that at the time just before the Mashiach arrives, the spiritual darkness will be so great that only stories about the Tzaddikim will have the power to awaken people from their spiritual slumber. So here goes….
This time we will concentrate, not so much on the miracles performed through the Rabbi, as on the connection between our deeds and our fate. We know that the First Temple was destroyed because of idol worship, sexual transgression, and murder. The Second Temple was destroyed because of reasonless hate. So too, in our personal lives, there is no suffering without sin (Shabbat 55A). Nothing is the product of nature or a natural course of events, whether on an individual or a national scale.
One morning, a few years ago, there was a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. A suicide bomber blew up a bus crowded with passengers. Among the wounded was a newborn infant. With dozens of other wounded people, the baby was whisked to the nearby emergency room at the Yichalov Medical Center.
The situation was critical. While doctors worked to save the baby’s life in the intensive care unit, the parents jumped into a taxi and speeded to Rav Leon’s synagogue in Bnei Brak, just ten minutes away. Generally, the Rabbi’s visiting hours are only on Thursdays, but in light of the emergency, the young couple was ushered into his study room. Choked with sobs, the wife was unable to speak. The husband uttered a few words to explain what had happened. Rav Leon said that he was sorry, but that he saw that the child had already passed on to a better world. With the mother screaming hysterically, the husband called family at the hospital and they confirmed that the infant indeed had died.
“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” the wife cried out, again and again. “How could Hashem do this? What did the child ever do to deserve this. How awful. How cruel. What kind of G-d is this?”
The husband tried to calm her, but she was hysterical from anguish. The Rabbi sat quietly. The wife continued crying and screaming, then turned to the Rabbi and shouted at him and at G-d for the unjustified cruelty that had robbed her of her child. Gradually, her anger lessened and she sobbed tearfully in her husband’s embrace. “How could He do this? How could He do this?” she continued to ask.
“Do you want to hear the truth?” the Rabbi asked them.
At first neither responded, then the husband said yes.
“What about your wife?” the Rabbi asked.
“Do you want the Rav to tell us?” the husband asked her gently.
Sobbing, she shook her head, yes.
“They are showing me a very tiny child up in Heaven,” he told them. “Not the one who was killed on the bus. Another boy who is covered in blood. Does this mean anything to you,” he asked them.
They both silently shook their heads, no.
“This child is standing before the Heavenly Court accusing you both," the Rabbi continued. "Just as his life was taken unfairly, the Court has taken away his brother in punishment.”
The couple remained speechless.
“Maybe you aborted a child in the past?” Rav Leon asked them.
The wife shook her head no. “No, no!” she insisted.
“We can’t lie to the Rav,” the husband said. Then he admitted that a few years before, they had indeed aborted their first pregnancy because for a variety of reasons they felt they weren’t ready to be parents. Once again, the wife broke into tears. Her husband embraced her.
“It will be all right,” the Rabbi told them. “You acted out of foolishness. You didn’t know better. You didn’t do it because you are bad people. You thought you were doing the right thing, that it was still early enough in the pregnancy. It will be all right.”
Before they left the synagogue, Rav Leon told them that in addition to heartfelt remorse for their error, in order to rectify their wrongdoing they should meet with couples who were debating whether or not to have abortions. He said that there was an organization (Efrat) that dealt with the dilemma, and that they could volunteer with them and reach people that way.
It certainly wasn’t easy for the couple after the tragedy. Their suffering was immense. They followed the Rabbi’s advice and met with dozens of couples. On many occasions they succeeded in convincing pregnant women them to let their pregnancies come to fruition. Several years later, they had another baby of their own. They brought the baby to Rav Leon for a blessing and regularly keep in touch to seek his advice on the questions and decisions that they face in their life.
There are so many miraculous Rav Leon stories, it is difficult to decide which to tell. On one occasion, two middle-aged sisters came to see the Rabbi. In their youth, they had immigrated to Israel from Morocco with their family. One of the sisters did all the talking, while the other sat in quiet despondence. The past year, their mother had met with a tragic death. While the one sister related the story, the Rabbi took a pencil from his desk and drew a diagram on the back of an envelope, as he does quite often. Then he turned the envelope over face down and continued to listen. One evening, the mother of the two sisters had complained of pains in her chest and a shortness of breath. So an ambulance was called and the medic who came hooked the mother up to an oxygen mask. On the ride to the hospital, the mother turned blue. She died before reaching the emergency room. It turned out that the medic had forgotten to turn on the oxygen and the woman had needlessly suffocated. If that wasn’t injustice enough, now the silent sister was sick with a cancer.
“How can G-d act this way?” the irritated sister asked.
Rav Leon turned over the envelope and pushed the diagram he had drawn across his desk toward the women. It was a rough sketch of a head with a thick dark scribble on the right side of the brain.
“Where is the tumor?” he asked.
“In my head,” the sick sister answered.
“Which side?” the Rabbi asked.
“The right,” she answered.
“Where did I mark it on the drawing?”
“The right side,” the other sister confirmed.
“You are very fortunate,” Rav Leon said. “It is just the beginning. It hasn’t started to spread, G-d forbid.”
“It isn’t fair,” the irritated sister proclaimed.
The Rabbi told them that it isn’t the bite of the snake that kills, it is the transgression behind it. If the sister did t’shuva, then everything would be all right, as it says, “Return and you will be healed.”
“T’shuva for what?” the sick sister asked.
“There must be something,” the Rabbi said.
The sisters looked at each with blank expressions, as if they couldn’t possibly think of a single wrongdoing in all of their lives.
“Do you want me to have a look?” the Rabbi asked them.
When they both nodded yes, Rav Leon made a gesture for them to be patient and then started to quietly read some Tehillim. After a long minute or two, he looked up and said, “There is a decree in the Heavenly Court above. They are showing me that the Tzaddikim are angry, as if you have offended a Torah scholar.”
The sick sister shook her head, no. “Never. Not me. It isn’t true.”
That’s what they are telling me,” the Rabbi said.
“No. I wouldn’t do such a thing. It isn’t true.”
The Rabbi said that he would look again. He lowered head and went into a deep meditation. After ten seconds he said, “That’s what I’m being shown.”
“Oh my G-d!” the sick sister exclaimed. Her face reddened with embarrassment. “It can’t be. Oh no.”
Everyone waited. Her sister stared at her expectantly.
“The night that Emma died. When we got home, I was so angry
, I pulled down all of the pictures of the Tzaddikim that we had on the walls. I was so furious. How could G-d have done such a thing to our mother? I pulled down all the pictures and threw them into the garbage as if I didn’t believe anymore.”
“Now I remember,” the other sister said.
“G-d forgive,” the sick sister said. “How could I have done such a thing?”
The holy Tzaddik, Baba Sali. His picture hangs in many homes.
It was obvious that she felt true remorse. In many religious and traditional homes throughout Israel, Sefardi and Ashkenazi alike, people hang pictures of holy Tzaddikim on their walls, as a gesture of reverence for Judaism and the Sages of the Torah.
“It will be all right,” Rav Leon said. “You didn’t really mean it.”
He told her to go, buy new pictures, and put them back on the walls. If she had three pictures of Tzaddikim before, let her buy six. He also told her to light a candle every day in honor of one of the Sages, recite Tehillim, and ask forgiveness for her anger and momentary disbelief. In a month, he said, G-d willing, the next X-ray she took would be clean.
A month later, she came back to thank him with a big bouquet of flowers in her hands. With tears in her eyes, she said that the latest x-ray had not revealed any trace of a tumor.
Since this blog is getting long, and since I am always being warned to write things that are short and sweet, I will mention just a few more condensed stories.
One week, a young attractive woman showed up on Thursday morning along with the other people who had succeeded in making appointments to talk with the Rabbi. Since she was wearing an immodest top with a low neckline and no sleeves, the Rabbi’s assistant gave her a shawl to wrap over her shoulders. Since the Rabbi usually first sees the people with serious medical problems, and since he spends from thirty minutes to two hours with each one, the young woman had to wait several hours. When she was finally ushered into the synagogue study, where the Rabbi meets with people, she kept the shawl wrapped tightly around her. She explained that she had come on aliyah from France two years ago. A few months after moving in to her apartment, rats had appeared and refused to go away. So she moved to a new apartment, and once again, rats started showing up in her kitchen and bedroom. So she abandoned the apartment for a third one, and the rats followed her there too! She said she felt like she was going crazy and didn’t know who to turn to for help.
Like a kind, patient father, Rav Leon delicately explained the cause of her problem. He said that she dated a lot of men without having any serious intention of marriage. Even though she didn’t mean any harm, because she dressed immodestly, she led the guys on and cause them to fantasize about her at night
. Because of this, they spilled semen in vain, and the souls that were brought into the world were entrapped by evil spiritual forces known as kelipot. These kelipot found their way into rats, and the rats tracked her down, since she was their spiritual mother.
Needless to say, the young woman was aghast. The Rabbi told her to dress modestly in the future and get married as soon as she could. If she did that, the rats would go away. I don’t know what happened afterwards, but I am quite sure that after her encounter with the Kabbalist, she surely changed her ways.
One morning after Shacharit prayers at the yeshiva, Rav Leon was giving his daily Halacha class to students when the phone rang outside in the hallway. Usually, the phone only rings on Tuesday mornings when people call to make appointments to for Thursday’s “Kabbalat Kahal.” When a student rose to answer the phone, the Rabbi told him, “Not now. It’s a call from Los Angeles. He will call back after the shiur.”
Sure enough, a few minutes after the class ended, the phone rang again. This time when the student rose to answer, Rav Leon said, “Tell him that the problem with his blood will go away if he gives up his shicksa mistress, puts on Tefillin every day, and gives as much Tzedaka as he can.”
A few months later, a stranger showed up at the yeshiva after morning prayers. It was the man from Los Angeles. He had come all of the way to Israel to thank the Rav personally. His ailment had vanished, he had stopped all of his extra-marital affairs, he was putting on Tefillin every day, and he wanted to make a generous donation to the yeshiva. Today, he is a complete baal t’shuva, religious in every way.
And what about the very religious woman who had developed a cancer? She was always doing acts of kindness, and she was accustomed to read Tehillim for two hours each and every Shabbat. Why in the Name of Heaven should someone like her get sick? Rav Leon listened and said that she was truly a righteous Tzadekes. But after saying Tehillim, she would go over to her sister’s home and speak lashon hora nonstop until seudah shlishee, and this speaking badly about people was not only evil in itself, it was also a desecration of the holy Shabbat. So was it any wonder that she was sick? Just as she polluted the “Malchut” of Shabbat, she polluted the “Malchut” of her very own being. This was the source of her cancer.
Similarly, not long ago, a religious man came to the Rabbi, suffering from the same illness. Rav Leon asked him if he desecrates the Shabbat? The man adamantly answered, no. When the Rabbi insisted that that was the problem, the man was dumbfounded. It was out of the question. Desecrate the Sabbath? Never!
“Perhaps, you fight with your wife on Shabbat?” the Rabbi suggested.
“That, yes,” the man admitted. “We have terrible arguments. They start on Friday when we are trying to get everything ready, but I never desecrate the Shabbat because of it.”
Rav Leon then explained that according to the Kaballah, a man’s wife is an aspect of Shabbat, sharing the same Divine sefirah of Malchut. By abusing his wife on Shabbat, he was abusing the Shabbat itself. In addition, because they were angry at one another, they didn’t engage in marital relations on Sabbath night, thus withholding spiritual pleasure from the Shechinah, also an aspect of Malchut. Spiritually, his illness could be understood as the Shechinah’s revenge. Fortunately, the man accepted what he heard and with deep shame and contrition, promised to turn over a new leaf with his wife.
Blee nader, sometime soon, we will tell a few more stories of the miracles of the Almighty, and the wonders of our Tzaddikim. In the meantime, it pays to remember what our Sages have taught:
All of our deeds are recorded
“Rabbi Akiva used to say, ‘Everything is given on pledge, and a net is spread over all the living; the store is open, the shopkeeper gives credit, the ledger lies open, and the hand writes, and all who want to borrow may come and borrow, but the collectors regularly go about their rounds every day and exact payment from man, with his consent or without his consent, and they have on what to rely, and the judgment is a verdict of truth’” (Wisdom of the Fathers, 3:16).
During these three weeks of tribulation, may the Almighty accept our t’shuva, forgive our transgressions, gather our scattered exiles to Zion, and rebuild the Beit HaMikdash soon. Amen.