The Human Side of the Story

For the week ending 18 July 2009 / 25 Tammuz 5769

Merit of a Mother

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Library Library Library

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Sarah's was renowned as an extraordinary tzaddik. Two fascinating stories revolve around his unusual name.

His father Rabbi Yosef was widowed a few years after his marriage. He would come daily to the tavern that a Jew rented from the local gentile landlord of the village and served as the teacher and shochet of the area.

One day the son of the landlord announced that he intended to marry the 15-year old daughter of the Jewish tavern-keeper and threatened to kill her if this was denied to him. The girl, her parents and Rabbi Yosef anxiously discussed how to avert this tragedy and came up with a solution. If they could find a Jew to marry the girl her gentile suitor would realize that he missed the boat. But where in such a tiny village could a spouse be found so quickly?

Rabbi Yosef came to the rescue and announced that he was prepared to save her by marrying her despite the considerable difference in age. A wedding was quickly arranged and from this marriage was born Arye Leib, who paid tribute to his mother's piety in marrying someone so much older by calling himself by her name.

Many years later he arrived at a small village on the day before Yom Kippur and was distressed to learn that together with him there were only nine Jews available for the services on the upcoming holy day. The only possible candidate for completing the required minyan quorum was the local landlord who had married a gentile and converted to Christianity many years before. Ignoring the fears of the villagers he decided to go to the landlord's palace. Upon arrival he pushed open the door and shouted at this converted Jew: "My mother married an old widower in order to avoid marrying a gentile and you married one!" He continued to reprove him and pointed out that since his gentile wife was no longer alive and had not borne him any children he had an opportunity to achieve repentance by completing the local minyan on Yom Kippur.

The villagers were surprised to see the arrival of this much-feared landlord at the synagogue and quickly supplied him with a talit and kittel. Throughout the holy day he fervently prayed and wept profusely over his sins. At the conclusion of the final prayer of N'eilah he shouted "Shma Yisrael" together with the rest of the worshippers, stuck his head into the open Holy Ark and returned his soul to his Maker as a genuine Ba’al Teshuva.

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