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  A Distant Relative? from
Stories My Grandfather Told Me Volume 4 -- Bamidbar
Memorable Tales based on the Weekly Sidrah

By Zev Greenwald  Libby Lazewnik  Tova Katz 



A Distant Relative?

Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to their fathers’ house (Bamidbar 1:2).

R’ Yosef Zundel of Salant’s devotion to the poor and oppressed knew no limits. He did not refrain from trying to solve anyone’s problem, nor did he rest until his labor bore fruit. No obstacle was able to stand in his way for long when he was determined to help his fellow man.

Though R’ Yosef Zundel himself lived in poverty, his home was open to any person who came for help. No one left his house empty-handed. R’ Yosef Zundel would constantly squeeze his own household’s limited budget in order to give money to the poor. And if he had no money at all on hand, he would try to get some from others, pushing on until he was able to help the person in need.

There was a certain Torah scholar in Salant whose daughter had reached marriageable age, but he had no funds with which to marry her off. In distress, he turned to R’ Yosef Zundel.

“My daughter is of marriageable age,” he said, “but I have nothing. I don’t know where I’ll find the money to marry her off! I do have a relative in Kovno -- a wealthy and G-d-fearing Jew. But he has turned his back on me, having no desire to give me the money I need. Again and again I’ve sent him letters asking for help, but he never answers me!”

R’ Yosef Zundel asked for the relative’s name, then asked the talmid chacham to wait several days.

“I mustn’t delay even for a moment,” R’ Yosef Zundel told himself. “Our Sages, may their memories be blessed, said, ‘When a mitzvah is at hand, don’t put it off!’”

Immediately, he put on his overcoat and set out for Kovno.

Upon his arrival in the town, he went immediately to the rich man’s home. He spoke pleasantly to him, asking him persuasively not to turn his back on his relative, but to help him so that he might marry off his daughter.

“That man in Salant is a distant relative,” the rich man objected. “It’s been years since we met. I see no need to help him with such generous financial support!”

“Forgive me if I ask a question,” R’ Yosef Zundel said. “But are you careful to davenevery day?”

Astonished and affronted, the man asked, “Do you think I don’t daven every day?”

“Heaven forbid that I should suspect you!” replied R’ Yosef Zundel placatingly. “So, please, do me a favor. Tell me how the Shemoneh Esrei begins.”

The rich man’s curiosity was piqued. Eager to learn the point of R’ Yosef Zundel’s questions, he said, “Every child knows that the Shemoneh Esrei starts with the words, ‘Baruch attah Hashem Elokeinu v’Elokei avoseinu, Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v’Elokei Yaakov --’”

R’ Yosef Zundel stopped him. “Can your honor tell me how much time has passed since the days of our patriarchs?”

“Yes,” the other man said impatiently. “Since the days of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, about three thousand years have passed.”

“Three thousand years -- And, despite all that time, you refer to them three times a day and ask Hakadosh Baruch Hu, in the merit of these ‘distant relatives,’ to crown your efforts with success, to give you children, wealth, and all good things. But when I come to ask you for help for your relative, who is still alive today, you say that he is only a ‘distant relative.’”

R’ Yosef Zundel’s simple but eloquent words pierced the rich man’s heart. He promised to offer his Salant relative the aid he needed to marry off his daughter.

 
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