Neglecting The Shul
Once a regiment of Austrian soldiers visited the city of Rimanov. Lacking proper facilities to house the troops, the commanding officer decided to use the main shul in the city for their quarters.
When the Jews of the city were notified they became frightened. Their only house of worship would now be desecrated. The officials of the congregation pleaded with the officer, but to no avail.
In desperation they ran to their rav, the pious saint, Rav Mandl, to intercede for them. While they were discussing the mater with him, one of the balebatim remarked, “There is yet a chance that the army will not use the shul.” They turned towards him and asked, “why?”
“They would be foolish if they do,” he replied. “The walls are shaky, the roof is leaking and the whole appearance of the shul is drab and dirty.”
When the rav heard this he jumped up in anguish and exclaimed: “Now I know why Hashem punished us with this frightful confiscation of our shul. If we, ourselves, have no consideration for Hashem’s house, if we do not respect it enough to keep it clean and tidy and in good order, then why should Hashem have consideration for us? He decided to turn it over to the army, for they may take better care of it.
“This I advise to do immediately,” continued the rav. “Hire carpenters and laborers to repair the shul. Beautify it until it becomes the holy place it was supposed to be.”
The elders of the congregation rushed away immediately and engaged workers to repair and beautify the shul. They worked continuously, day and night, until the shul was once again a beautiful place to behold.
A few days later, the general of the army arrived to inspect the shul and to put his final approval upon it. He spent many hours examining and measuring. Finally, he announced that the shul was too small to be used. In asmuch as there was no larger hall in Rimanov, they decided to move to the next town where there were larger quarters for the entire regiment.
Foretells The Future
Reb Shaul, son of Reb Yisrael Shlomo of Slobodka tells the following story of the Baal Shem Tov:
A count who was noted for his anti-Semitism, heard that the Baal Shem Tov was visiting one of the towns in his province. Having heard that the Baal Shem Tov was able to predict the future and because of it he attracted a multitude of followers, the count ordered his servants to bring the Baal Shem Tov to him, by force, if necessary.
When he was brought before the count he was asked, “Is it true that you are able to see the future? For many of my subjects swear by you.”
The Baal Shem Tov had little choice but to say, “Yes.”
Drawing out his sword, the count said, “If that be the case, then tell me when will you die?”
The Baal Shem Tov realized the count intended to harm him. If he responded by saying that he would live a long time, the count would kill him immediately to show the Baal Shem Tov was a liar; and if he said that he would die today or tomorrow, he would intentionally let him live so as to prove him a liar and a charlatan.
With a prayer in his heart the Baal Shem Tov answered: “My lord, G-d will never reveal the day of death of any mortal. But this I know, the one day following my death, my lord, the count will also die.”
The count was amazed at this profound answer. He was afraid to kill the Baal Shem Tov for fear that his prophecy would come true and he would die the following day. The Baal Shem Tov left for home in peace.
Being Kind To Other People
The Chofetz Chaim (Rav Yisrael Meir HaCohen of Radin) would always point out that gemilas chesed doesn’t only involve giving money to the needy, but it also meant being kind to others. It meant inviting guests to your home, escorting them home when it was dark, arranging the wedding of a poor bride and groom, visiting the sick and the bereaved and all the little things in life which makes the other persons happier.
Once, during a long winter night in Shevat, after praying Maariv, the Chofetz Chaim sat down to learn and review the Gemara. As was his custom, he placed the bottom of his long frock alongside of him, not wishing to sit on it and crease it. The Gaon became so engrossed in his studies that he didn’t notice an elderly man stretch out on the bench alongside of him and place his head on his frock. The poor man was homeless and tired and he soon fell asleep.