When Your Life Hangs by a String
Illustration: Tallit (Image credit: Wix)
Rabbi Schneur Zalman said, "Do you see? This is a tallit. The tallit expresses the level of Transcendent Light, and the Transcendent Light blinds all forces of evil." Rabbi Dov Ber, upon hearing this, kissed his father’s tzizit.
—Once Upon a Chassid, by Yanky Tauber
If it was a fair fight, there would not be the slightest question who would win. Yerachmiel's exceptional physical strength had earned him the nickname "The Orthodox Jewish Atlas," and even in his middle age, he could have easily overcome his attacker. Except for one little detail. His attacker had a gun pointed directly at Yerachmiel's temple, and his hand was shaking with nervous tension. It was obvious to Yerachmiel that if he made the slightest movement, his attacker might shoot out of sheer nervousness. With all his physical prowess, Yerachmiel was completely helpless. It seemed like it was time to say his final prayers. With his free hand, the attacker dug in Yerachmiel’s pockets, searching for his wallet. It was in the victim’s pockets that the attacker unraveled "the strings." In the midst of this life-and death encounter, the attacker was possessed to ask Yerachmiel, "What are those strings?" How does one explain to a jittery attacker who seems to be teetering out of control what those strings are? It was curious that he even asked. Yerachmiel replied, "They are holy strings." The attacker, who moments ago seemed to be collapsing from nerves, transformed before Yerachmiel’s eyes. He was suddenly overtaken by a strange calm. He took Yerachmiel's wallet, told him to lay down on the floor, and ran away, leaving Yerachmiel shaken to the core but alive. Years later, when Yerachmiel told this story, he said that at the time of the attack, he was still strong enough to bust a metal door frame with his fists. But despite his exceptional strength, he was powerless to save himself. His rescue came from the nearly weightless strings. The attacker could not have possibly known that the strings were tzitzit, and certainly he could have no conscious notion of their power. But it impacted him nevertheless. Decades before this incident occurred, Yerachmiel was in the habit of applying decals of Davy Crockett, a popular children's hero at that time, onto tztzit so that children would be happy to wear them. Might this seemingly irreverent attempt to endear the mitzvah of tzitzit to children have been a factor in Yerachmiel's life being saved by his "strings"? Who can comprehend the cosmic power of a mitzvah? Every time you smile at others, every time you help others, your mitzvah is creating the heavenly “strings” that you might need when your life is being rocked by threatening waves. The unseen radiance of a mitzvah can pierce the most oppressive reality and literally save a life, even when it is hanging by a string.
This article, reprinted with permission of the author, first appeared as Stone, Darla Chavkin. "When Your Life Hangs by a String." Chabad.org. August 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3396745/jewish/When-Your-Life-Hangs-by-a-String.htm.