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At the Shabbat Table

The Shot Not Heard


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Av 5 5780
Golden rays of late afternoon sunlight shone through the windows, casting a glow on the pages of the well-worn siddurim. The complexities and obligations of a busy workday fell away, as the men carefully took three steps backward, and then another three in the direction of the Aron Kodesh at the front of the room. Although the congregants might have found it challenging, under ordinary circumstances, to break free from their daily routines, the presence of none other than the great Baba Sali, engaged in fervent prayer, was enough to awaken the hearts of the assembled, and inspire them to focus on the words of the siddurim in front of them.
Suddenly, the tranquil, unearthly scene was shattered! Bullet shots rang throughout the room, as unseen enemy soldiers fired at the men, through the open windows! In seconds, the men were on the floor, hearts pounding wildly, as the bullets continued to whiz over their heads. After an endless minute, the shooting stopped. The men cautiously raised their heads. One of the men saw the soldiers running away, and began to chase after him. Two other men raced to neighboring buildings, in an attempt to find a phone with which to call the police.
The men waited tensely, reciting Tehillim, and waiting for the drama to be over. Within a few minutes, the police arrived. A policeman took careful notes, as the men described the terrifying scene of just a few minutes ago. They were about to leave the synagogue, when they saw the Baba Sali walking toward them.
"Where did everyone go?" the venerated rabbi asked.
The policemen stood there, taking in the Baba Sali’s words, while surveying the walls riddled with fresh bullet holes. "What do you mean?" they stammered.
The Baba Sali answered simply "I finished my prayers, and turned around, and saw that everyone was gone."
"Rabbi, everyone left, because of the shooting!" one of the policemen exclaimed.
The Baba Sali turned in the direction of the policeman’s outstretched finger, and observed the scene before him..
"Rabbi!" the policeman gasped. "Look at your cloak! A bullet went through your cloak, right next to your head! Somehow, you didn’t hear it, even though it was right next to your ear! You must have been really absorbed in your prayer!"
(This story was heard from the Rishon Letzion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, zt"l, and is recorded in the book Avihem Shel Yisrael, page 15.)
Should the congregants have interrupted the Baba Sali in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei, in order to tell him that a shooting was taking place?
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita:
The congregants were obligated to interrupt the Baba Sali from his prayer, because of the laws of pikuach nefesh (saving a life). Even a great tzadik cannot know with certainty that he will be saved. We see this from the fact that many great tzadikim were killed in the Holocaust. (See Kidushin 29b, which relates that Abayei endangered Rav Acha, with the understanding that Rav Acha’s righteousness would protect him. Rav Acha was miraculously saved, but criticized Abayei for potentially endangering him.)
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