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"And the Band Played On!"

08/19/2020 05:44:57 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

With the advent of the month of Elul we begin reciting Psalm 27 as directed by the Mishnah Berurah: “The custom in our countries is to say from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Shemini Atzeret every day after the end of prayer services morning and evening “By David, HaShem is my light and my salvation….[Psalm 27]” (Mishnah Berurah 581:2)  We recite this particular Psalm during this penitential month as a special request to Hashem that He accept our prayers.  It is during the month of Elul that we ask Hashem not to push us away in spite of our many shortcomings.  It is at this time that we earnestly seek H-s Divine Presence.  But there is one verse in this Psalm that seems out of place.  Why? Because it makes a request of HaShem: “One thing I ask of HaShem, only this do I desire: Let me live in the House of HaShem all the days of my life, let me gaze upon the beauty of Hashem, and let me frequent H-s Sanctuary.”  (Tehillim 27:4) At first glance, this is obviously not a single request; it is three requests.  So why does David speak of “one thing?”  Perhaps the following parable will add some clarity.

Reuven Dovid was the richest man in all of Nemirov owning ships in the port of Odessa, warehouses in the city of Berditchev, and grain stores in Uman.  Although he was very careful with his money, he nonetheless supported both the poor and the scholars of Torah by opening his home to guests with no one ever leaving without a smile and a full stomach.  Because of this, Reuven Dovid was beloved in all of Nemirov.  As such, the entire town eagerly anticipated the wedding of Reuven Dovid’s daughter, for each person felt like this was his or her own family’s celebration.

One month before the wedding, Reuven Dovid summoned Mendel the Litvak.  Mendel Litvak was a Breslover Chasid and a musician of the best repute in all of Podolia Province.  Mendel’s klezmer band could turn a “routine” wedding into an unforgettable experience.  People in the Podolia Province of central Ukraine used to say that Mendel Litvak’s fiddle had made more people do teshuva than all the preachers in the province combined.  Reuven Dovid personally loved Mendel Litvak’s music and was eager to hire him for his daughter’s wedding.  To his delight, Mendel Litvak and his band were available on the designated night of the wedding.  All that remained was for an agreement to be made on the price.

“How much do you charge for Klezmer?asked Reuven Dovid.  “Two hundred rubles per musician,” came Mendel Litvak’s reply.  Because Reuven Dovid was so eager to “seal the deal,” all he heard was “two hundred rubles.”  This seemed to him to be a tremendous bargain for such a prominent klezmer band.  Not hearing the words “per musician,” he shook Mendel Litvak’s hand and declared, “It’s a deal!”

Needless-to-say, Reuven Dovid’s daughter’s wedding was the best the town of Nemirov had ever known.  The tables were overflowing with delicacies that most of the townspeople had never seen, much less tasted, in their lives.  Mendel Litvak together with his drummer, his clarinet player, and his bass fiddler played up a storm carrying the celebrants on the holy fervor of the songs’ melodies from joy to tears and back again.  After the wedding was over, people exclaimed that whenever Mendel Litvak plays, you have to bring with you an extra set of shoes so that if the pair you came in falls apart, you will have a replacement pair you can put on in order to keep on dancing.

As the guests were filing out, Reuven Dovid came up to Mendel Litvak and hugged him and embraced him and thanked him and gave him…two hundred rubles.  “What’s this?” Mendel Litvak demanded to know.  “It’s your earnings, “replied Reuven Dovid.  “You said the price was two hundred rubles….”  “Per musician,” Mendel Litvak interjected.  “You owe me another six hundred rubles!”  “Eight hundred rubles?” Reuven Dovid chokingly replied.  “Whatever for?”  Mendel Litvak was toe-to-toe with Reuven Dovid as he replied: “Do you expect my clarinetist, my drummer, and my bass fiddle player to work for free?  My fiddle is nothing without their accompaniment.  When you hire Mendel Litvak, you have to pay for the Klezmer!”

        The Malbim explains the verse I quoted from Psalm 27 saying that King David’s one aspiration included all his desires.  In the same way that the story tells of the price of Mendel Litvak’s klezmer band including all four musicians, the Malbim tells us that King David aspired to serve HaShem, to understand HaShem’s ways, and to spend all of his days in the House of HaShem praying and learning Torah.  In this month of Elul, the final month of the year 5780, may we have our own aspirations, maybe not as great as King David’s but aspirations nonetheless.  May each of us aspire to become a little better than we were a week ago, a month ago, even a year ago.  May we remember what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught: Because entire spiritual worlds are illuminated by every tiny good deed, Hashem derives gratification from all of us completing any mitzvah no matter how small it may be.  May we seek Hashem’s help to fulfill our aspirations resulting in a healthy and happy 5781.  Amen!  

Thu, April 22 2021 10 Iyyar 5781