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Sunday
Aug042013

A GLUTEN-FREE MIRACLE

Dozens of young army officers partake in weekly Shabbos meals at the home of shliach Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Ben-Ari and his wife Sima. One of them saw the revealed finger of G-d, when she wanted a special dish and promised to change her way of life if it would be served at the Shabbos table. Exactly how many miles did the quinoa travel to get from the Negev to the Ben-Aris’ house in Tzfas? A clear case of Divine Providence.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

The mitzvah of hachnasas orchim and the Ben-Ari family of Tzfas have been synonymous for many years. The head of the household, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Ben-Ari, serves as a shliach of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach on hundreds of kibbutzim from Eilat in the south to Kibbutz Dan along the slopes of Mt. Hermon. He works day and night as he visits kibbutz families, offering important spiritual advice, making birthday farbrengens for local residents, affixing mezuzos, organizing bar-mitzvah celebrations, and more.

Thousands of kibbutznikim know him personally, and he has been their only significant source of information in all matters Jewish for more than twenty years. However, if you thought that after such intensive and tiring work he would seek a little rest at the end of the week, you are quite mistaken. “Shabbos is the cherry on top,” Rabbi Ben-Ari told us with a smile. Each week, he invites dozens of guests to his home to participate in the Shabbos meals.

The division of labor is quite clear. Rabbi Ben-Ari is in charge of content, telling stories and relating concepts from the weekly Torah portion. His wife Sima, a true woman of valor, prepares an abundance of tasty dishes, while the children set the table and organize the house.

THE FEMALE ARMY OFFICER DECLARED: I’M DOING T’SHUVA

“Some amazing stories have come our way on these Shabbasos, as in the saying of our Sages of righteous memory, ‘Great [in importance] is the mouthful [of food given to wayfarers] that draws near those who are distant,’” Rabbi Ben-Ari noted as he began his unique narrative. “In addition to the kibbutznikim and other friends who come to our table for Shabbos meals, we also regularly host soldiers and officers from the Israel Defense Forces who come for a Shabbaton at the Ascent Institute in the Old City of Tzfas. They participate in special Jewish educational programs, sleep over in the hostel, and go for Friday night meals in the homes of local Chabad families to get a close-up experience of a real Chassidic Shabbos.

“Last year, just two weeks before the High Holiday season, we hosted a large group of IDF officers. On that Friday, when we received word of their impending arrival, I was returning with my young son from a full week of traveling around the kibbutzim throughout the Negev and the Arava in southern Eretz Yisroel, where I distributed jars of honey, apples, and informational Rosh Hashanah brochures to our kibbutz friends. While I was tired and exhausted, there could be no compromising on the Shabbos meals, and the preparations went into high gear.

“When we came home from shul that night, the table was already set as always, cups and plates spread on a white tablecloth covered with my wife’s homemade salads. The shy young female officers had arrived, and for many of them, this would be the first really authentic Shabbos they had ever experienced.

“After the preliminaries, we sat down for the Shabbos meal. Everything proceeded according to our longstanding ritual of many years. Between the fish and soup courses, I retold my experiences on the kibbutzim that week with our guests, gave over a D’var Torah on the weekly parsha, and shared a few pearls of wisdom from the Rebbe’s teachings. As is customary at our Shabbos table, I then asked the guests to tell us a little something about themselves.

“There were those who took the opportunity to ask questions, the standard ones that every shliach encounters regularly on his shlichus. Others fondly recalled Jewish memories from their grandparents’ home or some other Jewish experience that suddenly came back to them.

“At the end of the roundtable discussion, one of the officers bashfully got up and asked to say something. ‘Look,’ she said to me directly, ‘when I leave this house, I’ll have to go and become a baalas t’shuva.’ Her declaration stunned not only me, but all her fellow officers as well. Was one Shabbos meal enough to make her want to do t’shuva? She then proceeded to explain her perplexing statement. We all listened eagerly, as our curiosity had truly been aroused.

“I’m a vegetarian,” she began. “However, I don’t just refrain from eating meat and fish. I also don’t eat food containing gluten due to digestive problems. Every time I eat at the home of one of my friends, I tell her in advance that if she wants me to come, these are the rules. On the army base, the cook already knows to prepare special foods for me. The truth is that the dish I like the most is quinoa. So whenever friends ask me, ‘What should we make for you? You don’t eat anything,’ I tell them, ‘Make some quinoa. It’s both delicious and easy to prepare.’

“As I was walking to your house, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to update my hosts about the quinoa, and I was certain that I would leave the table starving. What chance was there that an ultra-Orthodox home in Tzfas would prepare quinoa? In general, I look upon chareidim as people who like to eat a lot of bread and meat.

“Just as I was about to enter the house, I said something totally ridiculous. I told the officer walking with me, ‘If I see quinoa on the table, I’ll know that it’s a sign from Heaven that I have to do t’shuva. I was so certain that there was no chance of getting any quinoa. As soon as I walked through the door, I saw a large bowl of quinoa on the table. I was stunned. My walking partner and I looked at one another. At that moment, I realized that I had received a message from the Creator.’”

THE STORY OF THE QUINOA

“I was positively thunderstruck as I heard her story. As soon as she finished, I began to tell her and the other guests about the quinoa on the table.

“‘My wife and I have been married for thirty years,’ I told them, ‘and we never had quinoa before – not on Shabbos or on weekdays. My wife didn’t even know how to make it until today.’

“Everyone listened most attentively as I continued to explain about the mysterious dish.

“‘As I mentioned before, I had just returned from a week-long journey through the kibbutzim of the Negev and the Arava. I spend several hours in each kibbutz, meeting with friends, asking how they’re doing, taking an interest in what’s happening in their lives, and giving them a material and spiritual taste of the approaching Rosh HaShana holiday. My host during that entire week was Rabbi Moshe Blau, the Rebbe’s shliach in the Arava, a very dear Chassid who fulfills an amazing shlichus in the region. I felt quite at home with his family, as he and his wife bestowed their characteristic warmth and hospitality.

“‘One evening when I was very hungry, after everyone in the house had already gone to sleep, I opened the refrigerator to find something to eat. I looked inside and saw a peculiar dish that looked rice mixed with assorted vegetables.

“‘I filled a plate for myself, and found to be very tasty. The next morning, Rabbi Blau told me that the dish I had eaten was called quinoa, a healthy grain filled with natural proteins. Since it was both delicious and healthy, I helped myself to another plate. I then decided that I would ask my wife to prepare some for next Shabbos.

“‘When I returned to Tzfas, I told my wife about this special dish. However, since she didn’t know what it was or how to make it, she tried to get me to forget the whole thing. Yet, I was determined to have it on our table that Shabbos.

“‘I called Rabbi Blau, and he told me that one of their neighbors had made the quinoa. I got in touch with her, and she happily gave my wife the recipe for preparing this delicious and healthy dish.

“‘We quickly sent our young son to the grocery store, and my wife proceeded to make quinoa for the very first time.’

“I then turned to the young soldier, sitting positively dumbfounded, and told her, ‘Look, G-d has been thinking about you since the beginning of the week. He knew that you would be our guest for Shabbos, and He also knew that you like quinoa, how important it was for your nutrition, and He especially arranged for you to have some…’

“Everyone at the table was in a state of shock. No one could fail to be overcome by this clear demonstration of Divine Providence.

“‘The stories of the Torah are truly beautiful,’ I told them. ‘However, if we just open our eyes, we can see how Alm-ghty G-d and His Divine Providence create miracles and wonders every moment of every day. You have now had an opportunity to experience this for yourselves.’”

* * *

“I’m sure you’re interested to know what’s happening with that young officer today,” said Rabbi Ben-Ari with a chuckle, as he concluded his story.

“The fact is that she hasn’t become a baalas t’shuva yet, and she still serves in the army. However, in a conversation we had about a week ago, she told me that since her visit to our home, she has been very careful about lighting Shabbos candles.

“I explained to her about the importance of lighting Shabbos candles according to the teachings of Chassidus and the Rebbe’s sichos. We agreed to speak again in another few months.

“I am absolutely certain that after such a clear case of Divine Providence, she will eventually find the courage and resolve to fulfill her promise.”

 

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