Weekly Chasidic Story #796 (s5773-25 / 16 Adar 5773)
When Rabbi Moshe Weber was diagnosed with serious heart illness, money was raised to fly the tzadik from Jerusalem to the well-known heart specialists in South Africa.
Connection: Seasonal–13th yahrzeit of Rabbi Moshe Weber
When Mordechai Abraham from Toronto started becoming more religious, he decided to go to Israel and study in Yeshiva. During his time there in 1980 he became quite close to Rabbi Moshe Weber, one of the most beloved and holy inhabitants of Jerusalem. Whenever he could he went to visit him, to imbibe of his wisdom, his warmth and his exemplary personality traits. For several months he even had an extraordinary arrangement with him on Shabbat mornings. Mordechai would get up at 5 am in order to be at Reb Moshe’s house by 5:30. They would study the weekly reading with the commentaries of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch and the Alter Rebbe of Chabad for two hours, and after walk to the Western Wall and pray the Morning Prayers for another 3-4 hours. Then they would leave the Wall and walk hand-in-hand back to Reb Moshe’s house for the Shabbat Day meal.
After his year in Israel culminating in receiving rabbinical ordination, he continued his studies in the USA. In 1982 he married a young woman from New York and a year later accepted a job offer from the Jewish community in Johannesburg, South Africa. The entire time he maintained his connection with Rabbi Weber through phone calls and letters.
In the early 1990’s Reb Moshe was diagnosed with a serious heart illness. Rabbi Abraham took it upon himself to raise the money to fly the tzadik from Jerusalem to South Africa to receive medical treatment from the well-known heart specialists there. Both the fund-raising and the surgery by Professor Kinsley were successful.
After the surgery, Reb Moshe stayed with the Abrahams for a month, recuperating. One day, while he was resting, his young rabbi host decided to ask him a question. He loved playing basketball with Israelis in the community, and felt it afforded him the opportunity to get needed exercise and have fun, as well as the hope to be a positive Jewish influence upon them, but he wasn’t sure if this was proper behavior for a rabbi.
Reb Moshe, a long-time resident of Meah Shearim, a very strictly religious neighborhood in Jerusalem, appeared skeptical. “How do you dress?” he questioned. [Many religious boys in Israel remove their dress shirt, tzitzis and kippahwhen playing sports. -ed.]
“I play dressed just as you see me now,” replied Rabbi Abraham; “I don’t even wear short-sleeved shirts.”
“But what is the point of it anyway? Reb Moshe pursued. “What good comes out of it?”
Just at that moment-really, no exaggeration, right then!-they heard a knock on the door. In came Avi Ovadia, an Israeli who had first come to South Africa many years ago as a security bodyguard for someone important in the South African government, and later decided to settle there and go into business. He announced that he wished to receive a blessing from the tzadik Rav Moshe Weber, for his most recent economic venture had lost a fortune.
“Tell me about yourself,” Reb Moshe queried, in Hebrew.
“I’m a Baal Teshuva” (a Jewish returnee to Torah observance).”
“Did someone influence you?” asked Reb Moshe.
“Rabbi Mordechai Abraham, your host!”
“And how did you get involved with him?”
Avi’s innocent reply to this query was: “From playing basketball together.”
Divine Providence strikes again!
But the story does not end there.
While Rabbi Abraham was raising the money to help Rabbi Weber, the main Lubavitch-Chabad educational institution in all of South Africa, the Torah Academy in Johannesburg, was in the midst of a vital fundraising campaign. The administrators were quite annoyed with Mordechai for his “competition” on behalf of a “foreign” cause.
Part of their campaign was a large raffle, in which first-prize was an expensive luxury car, a Daimler, that lists for around $50,000. Avi Ovadia, a short time before he received a whole-hearted blessing from Reb Moshe, bought a ticket in this raffle.
He won the grand prize, the Daimler!
Rabbi Abraham came home one night to find an envelope marked “Tzedaka” (charity) with a cash check inside for 18,750 rand. He understood that this was maaser, 10% of the proceeds from the sale of the car.
He donated it right back to the Torah Academy!
So, with the R18,750 from the sale, together with all the income from the lottery tickets, the school ended up with a much more successful fund-raising campaign than they had dared to anticipate…thanks to the “competition”!
And yes, in case you are wondering, Rabbi Mordechai Abraham is still playing basketball–twice a week with Jews half his age.
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First heard from Rabbi Mordechai Abraham’s son Dovi (DovBer) during his visit to Israel in 5772/2012, at the Shushan Purim celebration at my son Yehuda’s home, then in Old city Jerusalem (where he had a salaried position working 4-6 hours a day at the Chabad “Tefillin Stand” on the men’s side at the Western Wall, which was started by Rabbi Moshe Weber after the Six Day War in 1967, and maintained by him nearly single-handedly for almost 20 years!). This stretched into Shabbat, which took us to only two days before Reb Moshe’s yahrzeit! Now, I can’t vouch for my sobriety at the time, or Dovi’s, but recently I was able to check the details with Rabbi Mordechai by telephone and email and amend my notes accordingly.
Rabbi Moshe Weber [5 Kislev 1914 – 18 Adar A 5700/2000] was a central and beloved figure in Jerusalem’s religious community. Nearly every day he went to the Western Wall from his home in Meah Shearim to pray and to help visitors wrap tefillin. Less publicly, he distributed enormous sums of tzedakah to the city’s poor. It is known that, decades ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe said of him that he is one of the holiest and kindest people in the world. He published several volumes of Torah insights in Yarim Moshe. There is an ongoing periodical of his teachings distributed weekly called Shemu V’Techi Nafshechem, which also offers for sale his audio recordings.
Rabbi Mordechai Abraham of Johannesburg works with Jewish Addicts , psychiatric patients and is a hospital chaplain. He learns Talmud and jewish law in depth and teaches Gemorrah and Chassidus. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or +27-83 288-4568
Rabbi Weber was “sandek sheini” and guest speaker at the brit mila of my youngest son in 5748/1988. Yosef repaid him by having his first child on 18 Adar A 5771/2011. She is a petite, pretty girl so they could not name her Moshe! (see dedication above)
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.