Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

Of Latkes And Boots: A Selfless Choice

A Story of the Oheiv Yisroel, Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev Erev Chanukah. Outside is silent and dark, The small village cloaked in darkness and cold. Only the holy Rebbe is still awake. Learning, davening, serving Hashem, His avodah never grows old. But wait…something is amiss. Gone is the Rebbe's usual equanimity and bliss.

The holy Berditchever, the Oheiv Yisroel,

Is pacing in his study, back and forth.

Back and forth, and back again…

What can be disturbing him this late at night?

Why is the Rebbe so uptight?


It’s Erev Chanukah, the Yom Tov of Ohr,

A time of teshuvah, of auspicious return.

Of ‘limud zechus’ for his beloved brothers,

For the geulah sheleimah, oh, how he yearns!


The first rays of dawn appear on the horizon,

The early risers stir once in their sleep.

Still the Rebbe is searching for merits, for zechuyos,

Preparing to go beyond the surface, to dig deep.


After Shacharis the Rebbe makes his rounds,

Visiting the elderly, the infirm, and the poor;

Those who society may have forgotten in their haste,

The Rebbe remembers to knock on their door.


The Berditchever stops at the door of a small hovel,

A shanty, with a leaky roof and mildewed walls.

These orphaned children know the meaning of hunger.

Oh, how they yearn for a coarse loaf of bread!

For Chanukah candles there is nothing left–

Their small cupboard bare and bereft.


“Good morning, kinderlach!”

The children open the door, let the Rebbe in.

On a rickety table the menorah is waiting,

A simple frame of metal and tin.

The Berditchever takes in the scene with a glance,

Warmth and sympathy reflected in his eyes.

The children are elated at his arrival,

What a beautiful, pleasant surprise!


Kinderlach, do you have enough candles,

Some olive oil with which to light?

How about fresh latkes and dreidels?

Don’t forget, it’s Chanukah tonight.”


“But of course,” the eldest child replies.

“We know it’s Chanukah,” he says with pride.

“Here’s our menorah, all ready to light,

We rolled the wicks by hand, late last night.”


“And have you had breakfast today?”

The Rebbe asks in a whisper, discreet.

Their widowed mother has gone to the market stall.

The children’s pinched faces tell all.

Their larder is empty. There’s nothing to eat.


The Oheiv Yisroel reaches into his pocket,

Withdrawing a few golden coins.

“Here, kinderlach, take this Chanukah gift,

And go buy a thick loaf of bread.

With the change, get some sugar candies and kuchen,

Or dry wood for the fire, instead.”


The tired faces light up at this offer,

And the youngest gives a happy squeal;

It has been so long, far too long,

Since they enjoyed a nourishing hot meal.


“I have an idea,” says little Yossi,

He appears to be about nine years old,

His thin frame shaking from malnutrition and cold.

“Let’s use the change to buy a pair of  boots,

Strong, fur-lined, and very warm.

A gift for our friend Chaim, whose shoes are torn.

He hobbles on his broken soles every morn.”


“Yes, but of course Chaim needs boots!”

All the children agree to the decision, in one voice.

The Oheiv Yisroel turns to leave, aglow with emotion,

At the hungry childrens’ unanimous, selfless choice.


Ribono Shel Olam, Look at Your nation,

Where orphaned children can be so pure,

Ready to give away their precious Chanukah gelt

To a little boy who they feel needs it more.”


Now the Rebbe was ready to light the menorah,

For he’d found a limud zechus like none other.

Can there be a greater nachas ruach in Shomayim,

Than the devotion of one Yid to another?



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