The Human Side of the Story

For the week ending 10 January 2004 / 16 Tevet 5764

The Tombstone's Tale

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Among the thousands of tombstones in the graveyard in the Israeli city of Holon, there is one that stands out in its beauty. It was placed there by a monument maker who did it not for profit but for a special reason. Following is the story behind this stone.

A monument maker who was running a successful business was approached by some drug dealers who offered him a lot of money if he would consent to have a substantial quantity of the illegal substance smuggled into the country in a shipment of his marble material. Unable to resist the temptation to make some easy money he succumbed. Before the shipment arrived, however, there was a feud among the gangsters and one of them reported the smuggling plan to the police. A sentence of 10 years in prison was the result of his foolish mistake.

During his prison term his mother passed away and he appeared one day in a local synagogue on leave from jail to say kaddish for her. Although he had hardly been observant before entering prison, his fall into such tragic circumstances moved him to become more serious about his faith. His lack of familiarity with observance was, however, still evident to the worshippers who saw him clumsily turning pages in his prayer book. One Jew, the unofficial spiritual leader of the congregation, came over to him and patiently guided him in what he had to say and do. He even told him that he would arrange, at his own expense, a memorial gathering in the synagogue when the thirty-day mourning period ended and he wanted him to join it and say kaddish.

The convicts happy surprise at such consideration was surpassed only by the good news he received a few weeks later from the prison warden that, in deference to the request of a very respected Jew, he was being granted a leave to attend that memorial gathering. Upon his arrival there he profusely thanked his benefactor and promised to become his devoted disciple when he would be released.

Not only did he keep his promise but went on to become a lecturer on the subject of returning to religion and gained fame as the "drug dealer who repented". When the man who got him started on this new path in life passed away he showed his appreciation in a manner recalling his old trade. He arranged that the grave of his benefactor and mentor be honored with a most beautiful tombstone.

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