Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Rav Kenig’s Pidyon Nefesh

In commemoration of my revered teacher Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig zatzal’s first yahrtzeit, which is 23 Teves, we are posting this story. The greatest “wonders” associated with Rav Kenig are his wisdom and kindness and spiritual refinement. But a story like this is easier to tell. If I made any factual mistakes, I apologize in advance. This is how I remember what took place.

On the last day of Passover in 1989, in the early hours of the morning, our friend Rabbi Moshe Grinberger’s wife woke up to the crying of their infant son. “Moshe,” she called, “I’m so tired! Would you please take care of the baby?” He immediately washed his hands and went to the baby’s room.

There he witnessed a scene that we pray Hashem should spare us all. The baby was shrieking hysterically, flailing his tiny arms, as a giant rat sat on top of him, ripping away the flesh of one arm with his teeth. Reb Moshe immediately chased away the rat, wrapped up his injured child, and called Hatzolah, the Orthodox Jewish volunteer ambulance service. Within minutes, Shauli Pearlstein, an old friend of the family and Hatzolah EMT, was at the door; he packed the Grinbergers and their child into his car, and sped off to Maimonides Hospital less than a mile away.

On Motza’ei Yom Tov, as soon as the time when it is permissible to perform weekday work arrived, Reb Moshe called Rabbi Elazar Kenig zatzal in Tsfat to ask him to make a pidyon nefesh (a kabbalistic method of heavenly intercession) on behalf of his son. The baby had nine deep bites, and the arm did not respond to stimuli. He also could not move his fingers. The doctors tried to be encouraging but feared that the baby would never regain use of the limb. Yet Reb Moshe, who had hosted Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig zatzal in his home for many months, had seen Reb Gedaliah perform miracles by making a pidyon nefesh, and Reb Moshe knew that he had given over his traditions to his son, Reb Elazar. His faith in the tzaddikim did not falter. He immediately made the phone call to Tsfas.

“I suppose that you have not heard the news from Eretz Yisrael,” Reb Elazar replied. “Reb Shmuel Shapira zatzal (one of the prominent figures in the Jerusalem Breslov community) passed away on the Seventh Day of Passover, and the funeral is tonight in Jerusalem. I am just leaving the house and must be there in three hours, or it will appear disrespectful. Please call me at my Mother’s house in five hours.”

Reb Moshe agreed. In exactly five hours he made the call to Reb Gedaliah’s widow, Rebbetzin Esther Yehudis Kenig. However, she said that her son had never arrived.

What should I do?” asked Reb Moshe.

“Try calling him in Tsfat!”

Reb Moshe did so and was surprised to hear the Rav’s voice on the other end. “Reb Elazar!” he exclaimed. “How did you go to Jerusalem and back so fast?”

“I never went,” he replied. “I decided that it was more important to make a pidyon for your baby.”

“And what did they say [meaning the Heavenly Court]?” asked Reb Moshe.          

“They said that the baby is going to have a refuah sheleimah, a complete healing—so quickly that the doctors will call it a miracle. He will start moving his fingers soon, and the arm will be completely usable within two weeks. Not only that. The scars will heal completely and not even a trace of any injury will remain…”

 Reb Moshe thanked the Rav profusely and sped back to the hospital to tell his wife the good news. As he walked down the corridor and neared the intensive care unit, he suddenly heard loud voices from the baby’s room. “Look! Look! He’s moving his fingers!” Everyone clustered around the baby’s bed to view the happy sight.

Just as Rav Kenig had predicted, during the next two weeks the baby’s condition rapidly improved. Soon his arm was fully usable, and the memory of the nightmare began to fade. A year or so later, Mrs. Malkie Zeitlin, wife our mutual friend Reb Dovid Zeitlin, began to supplement the family’s income by babysitting in her home. One of the children she cared for was this Grinberger baby. Reb Dovid told me that one day his wife was changing the child, when she remembered the story of the rat and observed the formerly injured arm. Not one scar remained.

May the merit of the tzaddikim shield us, and may their neshamos continue to reach ever greater heights in the world above. 

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