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Friday, September 29, 2023 - 14 Tishrei 5784
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Friday, 29 Sep 2023
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The Sweetness of Life

The guest stood hesitantly in the entrance of the London synagogue, unsure of where to sit. Most of the congregation was already seated in their regular place, and the cantor had already started the prayers. He hated those awkward moments, entering a strange place where he didn’t know a soul. Suddenly he noticed a smiling man surrounded by children, handing out lollipops. The man’s open, friendly expression was an open invitation to the guest, who seated himself next to him.

Throughout the prayer, the guest kept casting sidelong glances at his seatmate. The man’s friendly, smiling expression could not hide the deep pain in his eyes, and the guest was sure that there was a fascinating story behind it all.

As soon as the prayer ended, the man turned to the newcomer in shul and greeted him with a warm “sholom Aleichem.” Unable to contain himself, the guest asked him to explain. What was behind his decision to give out candy to the children?

With a sigh, the man shared his story.

“My name is Chaim. I am a ‘brand rescued from the fire,’ a Holocaust survivor. I lost my parents as well as my wife and children. I was saved in body, but like many other Jews in my situation, my soul remained wounded. The great losses I suffered left their mark on me. Inside I felt empty and cold, depressed, lacking any interest in life. I did not believe I could go on living my life after the terrible blows I had suffered. I mourned the loss of my loved ones every moment of every day. My tears would not cease. I went through the motions of life – eating, working, sleeping – but everything I did triggered memories of my family. The pain was especially strong around the Jewish holidays.

“This was the state I was in when I came to New York to meet with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I was in the United States for business and decided to use the opportunity to see the Rebbe. I hoped that this visit would enable me to find some solace.

“I went in to the Rebbe’s office for a private audience. I had already heard a great deal about people’s amazing experiences with the Rebbe, and I was not disappointed. The piercing glance, the complete, focused attention, the caring – all this allowed me to release the heavy load I had been carrying since the war. I expressed to the Rebbe my doubts about my ability to get married again and be a husband and father once more. Was there hope for me to become the joyous, generous person I once was?

“The Rebbe looked at me lovingly and asked, ‘Why, indeed, is it so hard for you to recover? What is it that is holding you back?’

“I thought for a moment and answered that the great love I had for my murdered family does not allow me to move on. I feel a constant longing for them that cannot be extinguished. Their memory is constantly on my mind, imploring me never to forget.

The Rebbe looked at me again and said, ‘You have within you a great treasure of love and giving. Take it, the love that right now prevents you from feeling any joy, and transform it into something productive. Use that joy to restore your life and rebuild a new family and a new future.’

“On the surface, nice words, no more and no less. But as I left the Rebbe’s presence I felt a powerful change inside me. The Rebbe’s words caused a revolution inside my injured soul. I felt that my great love, which until now was a source of pain, had been transformed into a source of strength to rebuild.

“The first Shabbat that I returned home to London, I felt a strong desire to do something to express the love in my heart. I prepared a bag of candies and decided to distribute them to the children. I wanted to reclaim some of that joy and love I used to be known for.

“The first candy I gave to a child felt like a heavy weight in my hand. Each child who lined up to receive a treat reminded me of one of my children who was no more. But as time went on it became easier and easier. The love that burned in my heart finally started to warm me instead of destroying me from within.

Chaim concluded, “The love that ignited in me the will to live became a powerful force. I married again and more children were born to me. I built a new, beloved family. And distributing candies in shul – the very act that brought me back to life – is something I will never give up.”


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