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Of Song and Scroll   

Five tales of hachnassas sefer Torahs — and the stories behind them

The Torah Protects and Shields

Donor: Rabbi Avraham Gutterman ztz”l, in the zechus of a refuah for his son, Rav Chaim Michoel Gutterman
Location: Denmark

Rav Chaim Michoel Gutterman is the executive director of Shuvu, an organization founded by Rav Avraham Pam ztz”l, which runs a network of schools in Eretz Yisrael for underprivileged or immigrant children.

Twenty four years ago, his life was hanging by a thread, and “Chaim” was added to his name. His wife, Mrs. Elisheva Gutterman, tells the story.

“My husband came down with hepatitis. For a week he lay in bed, growing progressively weaker, until it became clear that his condition was very serious, and we took him to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. There, they diagnosed that he had severe damage to his liver and kidneys, and that he needed dialysis.”

Elisheva notes that it was Thursday night. She had left her eight young children behind while in the midst of her preparations for Shabbos.

The worst was yet to come.

“On Friday morning, the department director called me into his office and said, ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this, but your husband’s vital systems are beginning to fail, and he’ll probably fall into a coma in the next few hours, and then he won’t have long to live. There’s nothing to do to fight this, because his liver is no longer working and neither are his kidneys. The only option is a liver transplant. We don’t do such transplants here, but I understand that you’re European, so maybe you’ll be able to fly him out to Europe for treatment.”

When Elisheva left the doctor’s office, she was sure the worst of all was about to happen. “I went into my husband’s room, intending to take leave of him. He was actually pretty alert, and asked how I was getting organized for Shabbos. He couldn’t understand why I was in such a state. The doctors tried to explain the severity of his condition to him, but they weren’t able to get the message across.

“I called my father to find out how to say Vidui and ask him what the exact nusach is,” Elisheva recalls. “But my father refused to tell me, he just asked to me daven that everything should be okay and promised to contact whoever he could for help. Within five minutes, Benny Fisher, chairman of Magen L’Choleh, called me and asked two questions: If we had private medical insurance and if we had European passports. Baruch Hashem, we had both. Rabbi Fisher told us he was arranging a flight to Belgium, where there is a large hospital that specializes in liver transplants.

“Meanwhile, I returned home and saw my eight children standing outside waiting for me. I didn’t know what to tell them. I said the first thing that came to my mind: ‘Abba is very sick, and we have to fly to Europe for treatment. Your job is to daven for him, to ask HaKadosh Baruch Hu to watch over him and send him a refuah sheleimah.’ Then I packed a suitcase, gathered up our passports and medical documents, and one of my neighbors drove me back to the hospital. I left the children, including a little baby, not knowing who would look after them.

“When I arrived at the hospital, an ambulance was waiting for us, and it took us to the airport, where we boarded a private plane that took off just a short time before Shabbos began. I remember thinking as we took off that all over the country, people were lighting Shabbos candles, while I was sitting on a plane. Before we left, someone had placed two rolls into my hands, and as we flew, we made Kiddush on them, and I ate lechem mishneh. That was my Shabbos meal.

“At that time, I didn’t know that my parents, who live in London, and my husband’s parents, who lived in Denmark, had been updated that we were en route to Belgium and had set out to get there as well. While we were still flying from Israel, they were already in the parking lot of the Belgian hospital, checking every ambulance that came to see if we were inside. Only later did I find out that while they were waiting in that parking lot, panic stricken, my father-in-law ztz”l pledged to donate a sefer Torah in my husband’s zechus.

“After a nerve-racking wait, our ambulance finally pulled up at the hospital, and our parents fell upon us, weeping. At that point, my husband was no longer conscious. The team at the hospital immediately took him for testing, and then called me in to explain that the situation was critical, and we needed to decide if we wanted to put him on the transplant list. I asked to hear about the process, and as they explained it to me, I became pessimistic. I realized that it wasn’t certain at all that a liver would be found, and even if it would, there was no way to know if the transplant would succeed. Additionally, even if his body would take to the transplanted liver, life with a transplanted organ isn’t great quality.

“At the last second, the professor said, ‘Let’s try to save him without the transplant.’ He pointed out that some of the numbers had begun to go up a bit, and said, ‘We’ll give his body another 12 hours to improve those numbers, and then we’ll make a decision.’

“Twelve hours later, the professor noted a slight rise in the numbers and requested six more hours. Then another six hours. On Motzaei Shabbos, the professor told us that the situation was slightly better — it looked like it was going in the right direction, and he’d like to wait a few more days.

“I kept davening and waiting for a miracle to happen. Meanwhile, I received reports from Israel that my sister had come from London to take care of my children, who all turned out to have hepatitis as well and had to be quarantined. Every phone call home was very long, because I had to speak to each of the kids individually to reassure them that im yirtzeh Hashem everything would be okay.

“One day, when I was in the middle of one of those calls home, the doctor came out of my husband’s room and said to me, ‘Drop everything and come.’ I realized there must have been big news. When I entered my husband’s room, I was in for a surprise: My husband’s eyes were open. He couldn’t speak, because of the respirator he was attached to, but I saw there was fear in his face, which was a very good sign. If he understood that something was happening, it meant he hadn’t suffered brain damage from the ordeal. I explained to him that he was in a hospital in Belgium, and he whispered something in response. Only when we got closer did I realize he was asking: ‘Is the shvigger here?’

“His recovery was gradual, but it was clear that everything that had happened was l’maalah min hateva.”

The Guttermans returned to Israel, and Rav Gutterman underwent more testing. The doctors couldn’t believe it when they saw that his liver had returned to full function. “I called Rav Pam to tell him,” Rav Gutterman says. “I wanted to thank him for all the tefillos that were offered on my behalf all over the world. Rav Pam’s reaction was: ‘It’s in the merit of the children of Shuvu.’ ”

Meanwhile, in Denmark, Rav Gutterman’s father began the process of writing a sefer Torah, planning to give it to the Machzikei Hadass community in Copenhagen. When the sefer Torah was ready, Rav Gutterman and his wife traveled from Israel to Denmark to participate in the event. All those in attendance commented that Denmark had never seen such a hachnassas sefer Torah, and even the non-Jewish local media picked up on the miraculous story and reported the event. It generated a tremendous kiddush Hashem.

“Throughout the year between his recovery and the hachnassas sefer Torah, I walked around with this sense that I had to do something major to express my hakaras hatov to Hashem,” says Elisheva. “At the hachnassas sefer Torah, I was overcome with emotion. We’d experienced something truly remarkable, and after we accompanied the sefer Torah to the aron kodesh, I burst out crying. I said to my husband, ‘This is exactly what we had to do. Only through donating a Torah could we thank Hashem properly and publicize this unbelievable miracle.’ ”


An Unconditional Gift

Donors: Steven and Marnie Grossman
Location: Beit Hayeled at Sheba Hospital, Tel Aviv

“This was the first sefer Torah in the world written as a zechus for children with cancer,” says Chani Farkash. Chani and her husband Reb Dudi Farkash, Chabad chassidim based in Monsey, are known as the “angels of New York” for their endless chesed work. They host anyone who needs a place to stay, from politicians to the simplest Yid. A large number of their guests are oncology patients from Israel who come to New York for treatment, and they are welcomed with open arms.

Reb Dudi owns a large finance company, and a short time before Covid hit, he was brokering a deal with a Jewish activist, Steven Grossman, who wanted to buy out some of the company. “As a Chabad chassid, my first question was to ask him if he puts on tefillin,” Reb Dudi relates. “Steven told me that he hadn’t put on tefillin since his bar mitzvah. That same day, I arranged a pair of tefillin for him. Then I asked a second question: ‘Have you ever visited Israel?’ The reply was negative. I was amazed. ‘How could it be that you are a Jew and you’ve never been to Israel?’

“Steven promised that if I closed the deal with him, he’d travel with me to Israel. But I said, ‘First we go to Israel, then we sign the deal. Jews need to go to Israel unconditionally.’

“So we took a trip together. My wife and Steven’s wife Marnie joined us. We visited the Kosel, and in the plaza there, I showed Steven the sifrei Torah. He was very moved.

“I took the Grossmans on tours of other initiatives that I’m a partner to in Israel, such as the Shluvot project, in memory of my sister Riki a”h, who had special needs, and Rachashei Lev, a non-profit supporting children with cancer in Israel, especially those hospitalized in Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv.

“When Steven saw the shul in the children’s house in the pediatric oncology ward, he asked, ‘Why isn’t there a sefer Torah here, like at the Kosel?’

He promised, right then and there, that he’d donate a sefer Torah to the shul. Then we returned to America and signed our deal, and Steven began the sefer Torah project.

The hachnassas sefer Torah was a VIP event. “We traveled to Israel with Steven and his wife,” says Chani Farkash. We began the procession at the Kosel, where the rav of the Kosel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Jerusalem Police Commissioner Doron Turgeman, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, waited for us. They all wrote a letter in the sefer Torah.

“Then we continued onto Sheba. There, the procession was accompanied by the children hospitalized there. They marched with their IV poles, some of them in wheelchairs. Alongside them walked the CEO of the hospital Yitshak Kreiss, who also wrote a letter in the sefer Torah. One of the children was holding his hand. There were also department directors and many family members of the sick kids, and they all danced and cried together. It was very, very moving.”


A Gift for Omer

Donors: Bochurim of Yeshivas Nachalas Yisrael, and Hundreds of Others
Location: Moshav Elyakim

“MY story is very painful, but is also full of hope,” says Tali Tabib, the mother of Omer Tabib Hashem yikom damo, the only soldier who was killed in Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021.

“Omer was our oldest son. For twenty-one years, we merited to have a child filled with simchas hachayim and love, a child who honored his parents and had so much derech eretz. We always knew that Omer was a special boy. We’re a traditional family who are careful to keep Shabbat, and that was very important to Omer.

“When Omer finished twelfth grade, he enlisted in the IDF and served in some significant roles. Those weren’t easy days for me. I was very worried about his safety. Just a month before he was supposed to finish his army service, Operation Guardian of the Walls broke out. From that moment, I didn’t sleep at night. I just wanted the weeks to go by until he would be discharged from the army.

“And then that dreadful day came.”

When Tali speaks, it’s obvious that every word is loaded with pain. “A quarter of an hour before the tragedy, I was still communicating with Omer. I sent him a message: Can I talk to you? And he answered, No, I’m going out on a mission. We’ll talk when I get back. I haven’t spoken to him since….

“Omer was my light. He’s the one who made me a mother. We waited six years until we were blessed with him, and he was born on the first day of Adar I, the happiest month of the year, and was taken from us in the most tragic way.”

Omer was killed on Erev Shavuos two years ago. “We had a short shivah, because of the chag,” Tali recalls. “And then came the hardest days, when we had to learn to live life without Omer.”

Amid the oceans of pain, there was a figure who tried to provide some light: Rav Schneur Katz, Rosh Yeshivas Nachalas Yisrael in Migdal Ha’emek.

“I heard that Omer Tabib had fallen in action and wondered what I could do to be menachem his family,” Rav Katz relates. “I decided to go and visit them on the Friday right after Omer was killed. The Tabibs were shattered. I had no words, so I just sat quietly. On the following Friday, I also came and sat, almost without speaking. I continued to come each week. Later, my brother, Rav Meir, joined me. We would sit with the family and tell over sippurei tzaddikim, trying to give them some chizuk.

“A few months later, we had an idea. We told the Tabibs that we wanted to write a sefer Torah in Omer’s memory. We emphasized that we weren’t asking for any financial assistance, we only wanted to honor their son. They were very happy, and we launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the sefer Torah by recycling bottles. The bochurim in our yeshivah got involved and established dozens of drop-off points around the country and took responsibility for collecting them from the drop-off points. The Tabibs also placed huge bottle receptacles near their home.

“As we got near to the amount of money we’d need to commission the sefer Torah, we publicized that we were nearing the end of the project and still needed some help. The number of people who reached out after that stunned us. People from across the spectrum of Israeli society galvanized in a remarkable way, seeking to be partners in this sefer Torah. Exactly a year after Omer fell in battle, the sefer Torah was ready to go.

It was written by Rav Giat of Kiryat Ata. Omer’s mother and grandmother sewed the yerios, and it was brought to the Yemenite shul in Elyakim, the moshav where the Tabibs live.

“This was a special hachnassas sefer Torah,” Tali says emotionally. “The whole moshav came, as did Omer’s friends from the army. All the people who were with us in those difficult days after his death came to rejoice and to help us rejoice. They showed us that they hadn’t forgotten Omer. Moreover, there were so many people who wanted to help and donate their services for the event — a photographer came over and said, ‘I want to photograph the event for free,’ and the owner of a bakery insisted that, ‘The refreshments are on me.’

“We walked together in a procession from our home to the shul, and everyone sang and danced the whole way. For me, it was a powerful source of chizuk in emunah, especially considering that after the tragedy, I had lots of questions and challenging emotions. It’s not that the pain has passed, it’s still there. The questions weren’t resolved either. But we felt that in the merit of the sefer Torah, we got new energy to continue to choose life.”


Eternal Commemoration

Donor: An Anonymous Jew
Location: Afula

“Sixteen years ago, we sat shivah for our daughter Rivky, who was murdered along with her husband Gabi in the horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai, India,” relates Mrs. Yehudis Rosenberg. “We were deeply in grief, and all of Am Yisrael came to comfort us. One of the many people who came was a Chabad chassid from Rishon Letzion. He sat for a long while, and it was apparent that the pain touched him personally. Finally, he said to us: ‘I want to write a sefer Torah l’illui nishmas of Gabi and Rivky.’

“At that moment our heads snapped up. We were so shattered, but his words were a ray of light in the darkness of grief. This tzaddik told us that we would be the ones to decide where to donate the sefer Torah to.”

“Right after we got up from shivah, there was a ceremony to begin writing the sefer Torah in the yard of our home, and all of our family and many friends took part,” Yehudis remembers. “Thus, we began a new chapter in our lives without Gabi and Rivky, but with a sefer Torah written in their memory.”

It took an entire year to write the sefer Torah, and when it was ready, Yehudis and her husband began to plan the event. “We were already planning to established a Beis Maasim Tovim in Afula in memory of Gabi and Rivky, and we wanted the sefer Torah to go there. But we realized that it would take time until this dream would actually come true. In the meantime, we put the sefer Torah in the Chabad shul in the city, in an emotional procession that set out exactly one year after the attack.

“I felt a maelstrom of emotions, an inner turmoil I can’t describe. It was very difficult. We hadn’t yet recovered from our loss, and the pain was immense. At the same time, our grandson Moishy, Gabi and Rivky’s son, was already living with us. He was just about to turn three. When we left the house for the hachnassas sefer Torah, our tears a mix of sadness and joy, we felt that Gabi and Rivky were there, they were walking with us, escorting the sefer Torah.

“Masses of people took part in the procession, and we all worked together along the route from our house to the shul. We felt such a strong sense that Mashiach was just around the corner. Moishy was the star of the event — people carried him on their shoulders all the way, and he sang and danced with us. A day later, we celebrated his third birthday and cut his hair. It was a moving conclusion to this unforgettable hachnassas sefer Torah.”


Light in the Frost

Donor: The Kokoashvili Family
Location: Poland

ON Erev Chanukah 2022, many Jews gathered in the Nozyk shul in Warsaw, a prewar relic, to take part in a ceremony of finishing to write a sefer Torah that would be given to Jewish soldiers in the Ukrainian army. Outside, it was bone-chillingly cold, but in the shul, the atmosphere was warm and fiery. There were masses of people, and after the writing was finished, the crowd broke into spirited dancing around the sefer Torah. Some of the participants included rabbanim from Germany and Poland, as well as Ukrainian representatives.

Katya, a Jewish woman who serves in the Ukrainian army, participated at the event. She relates: “I always knew that I was Jewish, because my grandmother — my mother’s mother — is Jewish. But until the war started, I wasn’t at all connected to religion and the Jewish community.

“I’m an expert in dealing with hazardous materials, dangerous leaks, and am responsible for preventing catastrophes like that. There are only a few specialists like me in the army.”

Due to the war, and her encounter with Torah-observant soldiers who know Rabbi Hillel Cohen, a rabbi who helps Jewish soldiers in the Ukrainian army, a connection to the Jewish community was made. “They invited me to the event to finish writing the letters in the sefer Torah, and it was simply amazing,” Katya says. “It was the first time in my life that I saw a sefer Torah, and as everyone danced around it, I couldn’t stop crying. Their joy was so great, and I felt that it was genuine, that it came from the deepest place. I won’t be exaggerating if I say it was the most moving event I’ve seen in my whole life.

“At the same time, I heard for the first time that every Jew needs to write a sefer Torah in his lifetime, and that this is one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah. I didn’t know anything about it. Rabbi Hillel Cohen also told me that every Jew is like a letter in the sefer Torah, and if there is one letter missing, the sefer Torah is passul. That really connected me to the whole thing.”

A family named Kokoashvili had donated the sefer Torah in memory of their father. “It’s a very small sefer Torah, which is good, because this way it’s easier to move it from place to place,” says Katya. “I saw that they built a special mobile aron kodesh for it, and it has a special bulletproof case. I have no doubt that it watches over us, and in its merit, we’re experiencing Divine protection.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 897)

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