Difficult (but right) decision

Shabbat Kodesh Parashat Bó

Friday, the 5th of Shevat is my father Rav Pinchas Biberfeld’s זצ”ל  Yahrzeit. 

Every Friday night, when we walked back from Shul (in Tel Aviv), we met with one particular person, also coming back from Shul. This man used to greet my father by first name, saying “Good Shabbos Pinchas”. My father used to say “Good Shabbos Elakana” – it seemed that they knew each other well, as very few people would refer to Rav Biberfeld by his first name. However, I noticed also that besides greeting each other – they did not speak at all. 

Once, I asked my father – you seem to be very close to this “Elkana’, as he calls you by first name, so how come you never speak with him at all beyond this short “Good Shabbos”? 

My father replied: “This man was one of my close friends when we grew up in Berlin.  In 1938, I became a representative of Agudat Yisrael, assisting people to leave Germany by providing them with “Certificates” – Visas issued by Great Britain, allowing them to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael.  The number of Certificates was very limited, and in the spring of 1939 I was left with only ONE last certificate. However – I had TWO young applicants asking for this precious document, one of them – was this man, Elkana, my close friend. The other applicant was a man I hardly knew. I had a huge dilemma. Who do I choose?

My first thought was of course – “give the Visa to the friend”.  On reflection however, I had a different conclusion. I knew that my friend Elkana was a very capable person, and it is very likely that he will find one way or another to escape Nazi Germany. The other person – seemed a little “Shlemazel” and if I did not give him the visa, who knows what would be his fate. 

I had to make this matter of life and death decision very quickly, and decided to give the visa to the other person! I was obviously right. Both men survived. 

However, my friend Elkana, (who in his heart knew that I made the right decision), could never bring himself to renew our friendship. All he could was to greet me every Shabbos…

Shabbat Shalom and warm regards

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld