Weekly Chasidic Story #803 (s5773-32 / 5 Iyar 5773)
The Versatile Mezuza
“Tonight we all go home to spend time with family. Tomorrow our unit is the one that will enter deepest into Lebanon. So I go not just to spend time off but to take leave of them and say Good Bye. Just in case…”
Connection: Seasonal–Israel Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers
by Nechama Frank
A friend of mine once traveled to visit family in Israel. He had brought with him from the USA a mezuzah in a beautiful silver cover as a gift for his relatives.
Upon arrival, he rented a car and began his journey from the airport to the Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem where his relatives lived. Not far outside the airport he saw a group of Israeli soldiers walking. Feeling sorry for them in the 105 degree heat, he pulled over and asked if any were going in the direction of Har Nof and if they would they like a ride.
As his Hebrew was by no means fluent, it took a moment as the soldiers struggled with the meaning, until one young man stepped forward and said he was on his way to Har Nof and would greatly appreciate a ride. He got into the car, and introduced himself as Menachem.
As they journeyed they spoke in halting Hebrew and got to know each other a bit. The soldier shared with my friend the purpose of his visit to Har Nof. “Our sergeant informed us that tonight we are all to go home and spend time with family. Tomorrow we will become part of the ground offensive, our unit being the one that will enter deepest into Lebanon and we will not know how long it will be before we see them again or even if in fact we ever will. So I go home not just to spend time off with family but to take leave of them and say ‘goodbye’…. Just in case….”
By this point they had successfully reached Har Nof and the soldier gave my friend directions to his home. As it turned out, Menachem’s family lived just down the road from my friend’s relatives.
Stopping beside his house, the soldier began to bid my friend farewell, but my friend said, “Wait! I have something for you.”
Carefully drawing the mezuzah exquisitely encased in silver from his carry-on luggage, he unwrapped it and gave it to the boy, whose eyes opened in wonder. “I want you to have it. Do you know what it is?” my friend asked earnestly.
The boy responded, “That’s a mezuzah! At the home where we first lived in Tel Aviv we had them on every door of the house. It was my brother who was in the army at the time and we lost him during an ill fated raid on a suspected terrorist stronghold. He was the only one killed. My parents, not able to live with the ghost of my brother in every room, decided shortly after to move us from Tel Aviv to Har Nof. They left all the mezuzahs behind, saying that’s what you do when a Jew buys your home.
“After we had moved I waited for them to purchase new mezuzahs to place around our new home as it had none, but days turned into weeks and I finally asked why they hadn’t put any up yet. My father said in a voice I’d never heard him use before that G-d had forsaken us.
Seeing my confusion and fear, my mother pulled on his arm, telling him that was enough. But he continued, “No Ettela, the boy should know the way of the world.” Turning to me he said, “It is true. We were G-d fearing Jews our entire lives — your mother and I. And what did we get in return? G-d took our first born son! Some day you too will be forced to go into the army and who knows what will be?”
I remember being terrified, thinking that if G-d had truly forsaken us how would we continue to go on? These are still questions I ask and now the time for me to go to battle has come.” **
My friend handed him the mezuzah and said, “I want you to take this and place it in your shirt pocket. The Torah teaches that a mezuzah has the power to protect the home and those living in the home. And it also is said anyone on their way to perform a mitzvah will be provided with special protection. Do not go into battle without it. When you return from the war you and I will put this up on your home together.”
The soldier thanked him for the gift, saying, “I am named Menachem, which means comfort, yet it is you who has brought me comfort.” They embraced and the boy turned one last time to wave before entering his home. My friend continued on to his relatives’ home where he recounted the story of the soldier named Menachem whom he had been blessed to meet on the way from Tel Aviv.
As the days passed, my friend became more and more concerned with the fate of the boy he had encountered on the way from the airport. For some reason, their journey together made him feel deeply connected to this young man. He listened avidly to the radio for updates, hearing of the Israeli soldiers killed during the ongoing war.
Then came the day he had so dreaded. His relatives returned from the shuk (market place) to find him seated at the table, tears streaming down his face, his arm draped over the radio still clutching the “off” knob. They knew at once what must have happened and rushed to console him.
For days he was unable to leave the house, although he realized he must visit the home of the boy to pay his respects to the parents while they sat Shiva (seven days of mourning at home) for a second son, their last child. As he walked down the road leading to the boy’s home, it were as if his feet were made of lead, and with each step his heart beat faster and seemed to need to work harder in order to carry him the short distance to his destination.
As he neared the house, he thought he heard laughter and singing. Believing he had the wrong home, he backtracked and approached again from the other side, following the direction he had been traveling the night he came from the airport.
Again he found himself at the same house and now distinctly heard the laughter and singing coming from the windows which stood open.
Hesitantly, as is the custom during Shiva, he entered the house without knocking. He was amazed by what he saw. Everywhere people were laughing and hugging. Several children were singing songs he recognized, songs of thanksgiving. Everywhere he looked food was heaped on platters, and banners were gently swaying in the breeze coming through the opened windows. No one sat on footstools, and all the mirrors remained uncovered, not a normal sight in a Jewish house of mourning.
Confused, he looked for a couple who might be the boy’s family. Thinking perhaps they were in another room, he began to make his way through the house. A middle aged man came up to him, introduced himself as the father of the boy and asked if he was a friend of Menachem’s.
Taken aback by all he had witnessed, he could barely stutter a “Yes”. Before he could get out the traditional words offered to mourners, the man broke into a huge smile, slapped him on the back and said something he surely couldn’t have understood right. It sounded like “You must come and see him then”.
“But Jews don’t display the dead,” he thought, greatly disturbed by the possibility. But then again, this father had appeared quite mad, smiling with the death of his last child. He dutifully followed the man down a hallway. At the end of the hall was a doorway, standing slightly ajar. The man pushed it open fully, and gestured my friend inside.
Reticently, he entered, finally turning his head to see what was in the room. To his great shock and utter bewilderment, there lay the boy. Alive!
His leg was in a cast but he looked otherwise unharmed and healthy.
“What is this?” he cried. “I, I heard your name read with the rest of the names of the dead on the radio just three days ago.”
“I’m sorry I was responsible for causing you such anguish,” the boy began. “There was a mistake, as I had been unconscious and originally they took me for dead, notifying my family and announcing my name before realizing the mistake. You can imagine the astonishment of my parents when I was transported home later that evening. But there is more to the story than that, my friend, and it is a tale you must hear, for you play the major role within it.
“We entered Lebanon as scheduled at nightfall, taking up our positions by midnight. When the word was given, we began to attack but soon came to realize we had been given faulty information and there were far more Hezbollah fighters in the area than we had been lead to believe, and they were heavily armed. We had fallen into an ambush. I was out in front. Suddenly, screams sounding like banshee warriors broke the silence and bullets were everywhere.
“The rest had to be told to me as this is all I remember. We miraculously won the battle, turning back the Hezbollah fighters though they must have outnumbered us 3 to 1.”
“It was my Menachem who was the miracle,” said his father proudly. “The way they tell it, Menachem, as a function of being out in front, drew all the initial gunfire. His fellow soldiers saw him fall but the distraction let them take down many of the Hezbollah fighters and the remainder, when they saw the turning of their luck, retreated in haste, leaving the rest of the unit entirely untouched.
“When they first told my wife and I that our son had died, it was like reliving what happened with his older brother. I railed against G-d for taking our second son exactly the same way as He had taken our first.”
“As it turns out I had been shot in the leg and through the heart.” Menachem continued.
“Through the heart! You mean near the heart, don’t you” my friend asked.
“No,” the boy replied, “It was dead on.”
“So what happened?” he asked.
Silently, Menachem took something out from his shirt pocket. As he opened his hand, my friend saw the silverMezuzah case he had given him only days before. Embedded in it was a single bullet.
“Do you remember your promise?” Menachem asked.
“Yes, of course.”
Assuring him that the scroll was still intact, Menachem hobbled to the front of the house and opened the door. Watched by those celebrating within as well as by neighbors arriving from without, he held the mezuzah in place and said the blessing, as my friend hammered the nails to affix it to the doorpost.
Taking his hand away when they were done he kissed it reverently, as tears coursed down not only his cheeks but those of his father’s, who stood beside him. The bullet from the terrorist’s gun, meant for Menachem’s heart, remains a part of this special mezuzah that helped save one hero’s life, to this day.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. The author, Nechama Frank, Ph.D. serves as the Head Psychologist at Greenhaven Home for Boys, and is an adjunct professor of psychology at Central Connecticut State University and Western Connecticut State University.
** Editor’s note: In the Israeli army, an inductee whose parents have lost a brother in army duty cannot join a combat unit without written permission from his parents.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.