Monday, May 3, 2021

Pirkey Avos, Chapter 5

This sample from the Breslov Pirkey Avot corresponds to the chapter to be studied this coming Shabbos, parshas Behar-Bechokosai.

This is also dedicated to the memory of a beloved friend and teacher, Rabbi Akiva Greenberg, zal, who passed away last Shabbos.

Chapter V
Mishnah 13

There are four types of almsgivers: One who agrees to give, but does not allow others to give - his eye is evil toward that which applies to others. One who allows others to give, but he does not give - his eye is evil toward that which applies to him. One who gives and allows others to give - he is a chassid. One who does not give and does not allow others to give - he is an evil man.

One who gives and allows others to give

The legendary Polish Breslover Chassid and tzaddik, Rabbi Ben Zion Apter, lost his wife, children, and his entire family during the Holocaust. But he somehow survived the war and immigrated to Israel, where he was a favorite guest in the courts of many great Chassidic Rebbes. During his later years, would go to weddings and other celebrations to collect money for the poor
 - although he lived in dire poverty himself. A skilled badchan (wedding entertainer), Reb Ben Zion would sing and dance, invent rhymes in Yiddish, and pretend to play the violin, holding an invisible bow across his outstretched beard. Once he entertained a wedding party that included David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel. Ben-Gurion laughed at the old Chassid's antics until the tears came to his eyes.

"For me, a good laugh is a rare and precious thing," the Prime Minister confessed. "How can I repay you for this?"

"Ich hohb tzuris mit di tzeyner - I have troubles with my teeth!" the badchan answered, gesturing comically at his poorly fitting false teeth to indicate the legitimacy of his request.

Ben-Gurion immediately gave Reb Ben Zion his dentist's business card, and promised to make all the necessary arrangements right away.

Sometime later, after receiving the finest dentures available, Reb Ben Zion incorporated this, too, into his routine. "Look!" he would tell everyone, pointing to his mouth. "These are Ben-Gurion's teeth!" (heard from Rabbi Akiva Greenberg, who as a young yeshivah student attended Rabbi Ben Zion Apter)

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