Printed from ChabadColumbus.com

When there is nothing left to lose

When there is nothing left to lose

 Email

In this week’s Torah portion it says that the tribe of Levi have no portion of the land of Israel because G‑d is their inheritance. That sounds lofty, holy and actually remarkably difficult. Have you ever walked into a store and when asked for payment, replied “G‑d is picking up the tab – please put the bill on his divine credit, after all, I’m from the tribe of Levi.”


Perhaps the following story told by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin can best answer this question. In 1970, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory asked Rabbi Riskin, to help fellow Jews trapped in the former Soviet Union.

Rabbi Riskin relates that he “filled his luggage with siddurim (prayer books), tallitot (prayer shawls), tefillin, and other holy objects for the Jews suffering behind the Iron Curtain, and flew, via Vienna, to the lion’s den. During his two-week mission, he surreptitiously distributed these holy items to Jews in Moscow and Leningrad, before arriving in Riga, where Rabbi Riskin spent Shabbat.

On Friday night, he met a gentleman named Velvel in the city’s main synagogue. During a long conversation after dinner, Velvel told him with deep sincerity that there was nothing in the world he wanted more than a new tallit, since the tallit that he had received when he turned Bar Mitzvah was in tatters. Armed with his remaining supply of Judaica, he gave one to him discreetly, which brought an ear-to-ear smile to his otherwise forlorn face.

The next day, during Shabbat morning services at the synagogue, Velvel entered the sanctuary proud as a peacock in his brand-new, sparkling blue and white tallit. He was mortified, as the KGB agents who had accompanied him to the synagogue would surely surmise that he, the outside agitator, was the source of this tallit.

As the cantor led the Torah processional through the mostly empty sanctuary, Velvel drew near, and lifted the tzitzit (ritual fringes) of the tallit, in order to touch them to the Torah scroll and then kiss them.

The cantor, seeing Velvel, dramatically stopped the procession. A frosty silence overcame the sanctuary. Time seemed to freeze. Velvel’s arm, outstretched in the direction of the Torah scroll, hung in mid-air suspended. The cantor stared at Velvel with disdain. Velvel reciprocated, keeping his arm extended in the direction of the Torah scroll.

The minute-long staring match went on for what seemed forever, with neither the cantor (who it turns out was also a KGB agent) nor Velvel giving an inch. Abruptly, Velvel screamed at the cantor in Yiddish:

“Ich hob nit kein moyreh!” (I am not afraid!) You’ve already taken everything that you can take away from me! When I began to come to shul and I lost my job as a result, my wife left me and she took the children with her. I have no job; I have no family. The only thing I have is my Jewish tradition. The only thing I have is this tallit. Ich hob nit kein moyreh. I am not afraid!”

The cantor, lowering his eyes in acknowledgment of Velvel’s position, resumed the procession. Slowly and triumphantly, Velvel touched the Torah with the tzitzit and delicately kissed them. He had made a profound statement to everyone present: ultimately, we have nothing in life except for G‑d, His Torah, and His commandments. Nothing else truly matters.”

Of course we live in a real world that demands more for payment than a spiritual assurance that G‑d is the ultimate source of all of our success and our resources. However, when there are too many distractions and after a barrage of pressures at work, it is sometimes difficult to remember where our success in reality truly originates.

Comes along a pure Velvel and reminds us why we were put into the world in the first place. Thank G‑d we live in an era where we are blessed with unprecedented freedom and great blessing. However, we can’t forget our mission which is real and definite – to connect to G‑d through his Torah and Mitzvot. We all need to at least aspire to be from the tribe of Levi or a modern day undiluted Velvel that has no fear or anxiety because his Jewish identity is so well pronounced.


 Email