The mitzvah of sounding the shofar is very special. It is a once-a-year mitzvah, which has so many symbolic meanings. The shofar is an arousal call to teshuvah, it is a proclamation of the sovereignty of G-d, and it is a reminder of the total devotion of the patriarch Avrohom, who was ready to bring his beloved son Yitzchak as an offering, if that was the Divine will. Many people say additional portions of Tehillim before the sounding of the shofar, others read appropriate passages of the Zohar, others immerse themselves in the mikvah, and yet others do all of the above. Rabbi Yeshayah of Kerestier used to seclude himself in his study before the shofar blowing, and one of his chassidim, curious to see how the Rebbe prepared himself for the mitzvah, looked through the keyhole. He was surprised to see that the Rebbe was cutting up the cake so that the worshipers could refresh themselves after the long services were over! The Rebbe’s concern to satiate the hunger of the worshipers took precedence even over reading from the Zohar. What is the relevance of preparing cake to the mitzvah of shofar? The Rebbe was fulfilling the ahavas yisrael component of the mitzvah. Sounding the shofar without doing something to make others feel good would be an incomplete mitzvah.
Rabbi Yeshayah’s hospitality was legendary. The hungry knew that they were always welcome for a meal, and not only were they served to satiation, but the Rebbe and his wife often personally served the food. When Rabbi Yeshayah died, thousands came to his funeral, and he was eulogized by prominent rabbis. At one point the local postmaster arose and said, “All of you who have come from far away to pay your respects to Father Shyka, (which is how the local non-Jewish residents referred to the Rebbe) have no idea who he really was. I personally handled his mail, and can tell you that he constantly dispensed his money to hundreds of poor families throughout the country.”
Rabbi Yeshayah followed in the footsteps of the great tzaddikim. The chassidic master, Rabbi Dovid of Lelov, was famous for his unparalleled ahavas yisrael, which had manifested itself when he was yet a child. When Dovid was seven, his father — a man of meager means — saved up enough money to buy the child a warm coat for the winter. The first day at cheder (Hebrew school) young Dovid noticed that another child was shabbily dressed and shivering in the cold and he promptly gave his new coat to this child.
When Dovid returned home without the new coat, his mother asked him where he had left it. “I did not leave it anywhere,” Dovid said. “I gave it to a poor child who had none.”
“Quickly run and retrieve the coat before your father comes home,” the mother said. “You know how long he has been saving to buy you that coat. When he sees you have given it away, he will become angry and may even punish you.”
Dovid responded, “I can bear the pain of a punishment much easier than the pain of seeing another child suffer from the cold.”
Reprinted from Not Just Stories
Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., is an associate professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is the founder and medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, a not-for-profit drug and alcohol treatment system. He is the author of nearly twenty books in both the secular and Jewish fields.