6 Cheshvan 5781 / Saturday, October 24, 2020 | Torah Reading: Noach
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The Jerusalem Shofar    

The Jerusalem Shofar

"I have something on my conscience that has been bothering me for years," he told them. "I'd like to get it off my chest once and for all...


The shofar blowing of Reb Yoel Chaim Weissfinger was legendary among the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem. Every year on Rosh Hashana, hundreds of people would flock to his synagogue for the unique experience of hearing him sound the shofar. It was also rumored that the ancient ram's horn had a long and colorful history.
When Reb Yoel Chaim passed away a few days after Yom Kippur in 5674 (1913) he left behind two sons, Shimon and Leibel. But which one should inherit their father's shofar, and along with it, the honor of blowing it in shul? In the end a compromise was reached: Shimon, the eldest son, inherited the small grocery store his father had owned, while Leibel, the younger brother, who was also a Torah scholar, inherited the prized shofar.
Several years later Shimon sold the grocery store and emigrated to America, where he started his own business. The business flourished, and soon Shimon was a wealthy man.
In the meantime, a war broke out between the English and the Ottoman Turks in the Holy Land. One day Leibel, who was an English citizen, was walking in the street when he was captured by Turkish soldiers, thrown into jail, and deported to Egypt. The only possession he took along was his father's shofar.
Not long afterward, a ship arrived in the Holy Land with a cargo of food donated by American Jews for their less fortunate brethren. Among the passengers was a Mr. Sam White, one of the directors of the aid committee. Before he anglicized his name, Mr. White had been known as Shimon Weissfinger.
When Sam learned what had happened to his brother he immediately set sail for Egypt and, with G-d's help, he managed to locate him. Sam gave Leibel a large sum of money, which enabled him to return home and get back on his feet.
On the day Sam was to leave for America, Leibel, overcome by emotion, presented his older brother with their father's shofar as a token of his gratitude. Sam was very touched, and the whole way home kept the treasured object in full sight. Indeed, the shofar was the only thing he talked about upon his arrival. But when he went to show it to his friends and family he almost fainted: it was nowhere to be found! The ancient shofar had somehow disappeared.
Years passed, and the financial circumstances of the Jews of Jerusalem deteriorated even further. Leibel and his family emigrated to Poland, where he found a position as Rabbi in a small village. Perhaps, he hoped and prayed, his worries were over.
But such was not to be, as the Second World War soon erupted. The Germans, may their names be erased, invaded Poland. Over the next few years Leibel endured the tortures of the Holocaust, but miraculously survived. When the War ended he spent several years wandering from one D.P. camp to the next, hoping to eventually return to Israel.
One Rosh Hashana eve the group of Jewish refugees with whom he was traveling arrived at the home of a kindly Italian farmer who agreed to let the group stay over Yom Tov. The refugees were saddened by the fact that they had no shofar, but grateful for the opportunity to pray together.
Rosh Hashana came and went. Leibel and his friends were about to depart when the Italian farmer asked them to sit down for a minute. "I have something on my conscience that has been bothering me for years," he told them. "I'd like to get it off my chest once and for all...
"Many years ago I was a seaman on a ship that sailed from Palestine to America. One of the passengers was a wealthy American Jew, who held on to a package the whole time as if guarding a great treasure. When the ship docked in America it was a tumultuous scene, and I'm ashamed to say that I seized the opportunity to steal it. But I was very disappointed when I opened it up, because all it contained was this strange-looking thing..." The farmer then withdrew a very old shofar from its case.
"I know that this is some kind of Jewish object, and for years I've been hoping to meet some Jews so I could give it back. Please take it."
Dismayed that the farmer hadn't mentioned it before Rosh Hashana, no one noticed that Leibel Weissfinger had paled. Indeed, he was white as a ghost - for it was none other than his father's shofar!
When he had recovered enough to speak, Leibel told everyone the amazing story of the shofar, whereupon it was their turn to be speechless.
Leibel eventually returned to Jerusalem, where he was reunited with his brother. (In the wake of the Holocaust, Sam had sold his business in America and returned to the Holy Land; he had also reverted to the name of Shimon Weissfinger.)
The reunion was particularly emotional, especially when Leibel showed his elder brother the long-lost shofar and told him how it had come to him. And everyone marveled over the mysterious ways of Divine Providence.
[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition on www.lchaimweekly.org (#638).]
Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles, originally from the Bronx and now a veteran resident of Tsfat, is co-founder of the famed "ASCENT of Safed" retreat center, hotel and hostel in Safed,  the managing editor of KabbalaOnline.org and ascentofsafed.com, and an internationally acclaimed storyteller whose weekly email storylist is in its 23rd year. To receive the story each Wednesday, subscribe here  (free). 

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