Rabbi Benzion Klatzko| September 14, 2021
For the first time in my life, I was really down. I didn’t know how we’d move on from the fire and rebuild what we’d lost
Rabbi Benzion Klatzko
Senior Manager and Director of Educator Training, Olami; founder Shabbat.com; director, Akiva Trips
Less than a year ago, in November 2020, our house burned down in a fire. This was actually the second fire we suffered in 15 years — this one in the house we had custom-built to accommodate our many guests.
This fire was so hot and so fast, it melted the silver menorah I received from my father-in-law as a chassan. One of the firefighters explained what that meant: most house fires reach a heat of 1100 degrees Fahrenheit; silver melts at 1763 degrees Fahrenheit.
The menorah became our symbol. We comforted our kids by telling them that, baruch Hashem, we were safe, and it was only our possessions that were destroyed. Even the menorah, we said, was just a menorah. We still had the mitzvah of Chanukah — you could make a menorah out of tea lights if you must, and you’d still be doing the mitzvah. And we thanked Hashem that our children were able to absorb the message. We had each other. Stuff was stuff.
But we were homeless. We lived in one place for two weeks, but it wasn’t feasible long term. A friend who lives in Williamsburg and summers in Monsey offered us their home, and we moved in. But it wasn’t our home, and we missed the comforts of having our own place and our mitzvah — hachnasas orchim.
Then we discovered that our insurance didn’t want to pay for the fire. They said they hadn’t known we’d have so many people on the premises. Had they known about our guests, they claimed, they would have set us up under another policy.
In the midst of all this, I contracted COVID, and it affected my heart.
For the first time in my life, I was really down. I didn’t know how we’d move on from the fire and rebuild what we’d lost. I didn’t know where we’d live and how we’d get our mitzvah back.
My wonderful children wanted to be mesameach me. They decided they’d all come for Shabbos Chanukah, which was just about a month after the fire. We weren’t in our regular house, and this one wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone, including the marrieds and their kids, but everyone decided to come anyway.
It was the first night of Chanukah. We set up the little tin menorahs we’d bought in the Judaica store. I couldn’t help but remember the beautiful silver menorah I’d lit all these years, but I looked around at my kids and grandkids — even my son in Eretz Yisrael stayed up late to dial in at the time of lighting so he could participate in the family gathering. At least we’re all here, I thought. And I was grateful.
Just as I was about to make the brachos, my youngest son tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to him and noticed the gleam in his eye — and the smile and glow on everyone else’s faces.
My children presented me with a box, and yes, you guessed it; there was a beautiful silver menorah inside. They’d all chipped in to purchase this gift.
“You spread light to so many people,” my kids explained. “We wanted to spread some light to you.”
In my line of work, I’m constantly speaking, whether in shiurim, seminars, or just answering questions at my Shabbos table. This time, I was speechless.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 760)
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