By Sichat Hashavua
Rabbi Moshe Heber, a maggid shiur of the Chabad Yeshiva in Kiryat Gat, Israel, is accustomed to bochurim walking over with a Gemara in their hands to ask a question in their studies.
This time was different.
The bochurim Levi Ben-Maas and Mendy Solomon presented him with a question about something that was literally found in the Gemara – $1000 worth of bills hidden between its pages.
Rabbi Heber, wanting to find the owner, looked inside the front cover of the Gemara and saw the name Eliaz – Beer Sheva. He started asking around and heard from a colleague that the Gemara was part of a set donated by a resident of a nearby village.
After some research, Rabbi Heber found the number of Mr. Yosef Eliaz and called him to inquire about the Gemara. “I used to keep money in the Gemara, but I don’t remember losing this amount.”
In a discussion with the bochurim, Rabbi Heber said that it wasn’t clear whether the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida applies to this case. He nevertheless recommended that they return the money to its owner. The bochurim immediately agreed.
The 3 then took a 24-minute drive down south to the affluent village of Lehavim. Eliaz warmly welcomed them and offered to wear a yarmulka in their honor. They said it was his choice and sat together for an hour and a half conversation.
Eliaz told them that he was born in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, in 1939. His father Rabbi Eliezer Levin was murdered at the beginning of the Nazi occupation.
His mother Hadassah Levin wandered with him in the ghettos suffering from terrible conditions. Without much choice, she entrusted him to the care of nuns in a monastery.
Miraculously, his mother survived the Holocaust while living in the forests. With the conclusion of the Second World War, she returned to the monastery to have her son returned but she was refused.
“She put up a brave fight and was eventually successful. She really wanted to immigrate to Eretz Yisroel with me, her only son, but her strength didn’t last and she passed away,” Eliaz said. In her last moments, Hadassah Levin recited a tearful and emotional Shema Yisroel with her son.
Yosef was able to reach the Holy Land thanks to the Youth Aliyah that rescued thousands of Jewish children from the Nazis during the Third Reich. He first learned in Jerusalem, then in Yavneh and Kfar Haroeh and changed his surname to Eliaz (meaning, my Hashem is strong). He served as a judge and has since retired.
His Lubavitch guests were moved by his tale and then offered him to put on Tefillin. Eliaz happily agreed. “His davening was very moving,” Rabbi Heber said. “We felt like we are standing during a Yom Kippur davening.”
The judge later commented that he was surprised by the gesture of the bochurim. “They could have certainly kept the money that they found. From my understanding, they acted ‘lifnim mishurat hadin‘ (beyond the letter of the law), and I thanked them for it.”
The encounter was shared with others, including the central Israeli village of Mikhmoret, where one of the bochurim lives. On Motzoei Shabbos, a guest who spent Shabbos in the village and heard about the story knocked on the door of the Ben-Maas family. He said he was inspired by the story and handed over $1000 as a gift to the 2 bochurim…