by Rabbi Yechiel Spero
To witness it was so sad. Every day the elderly blind man would sit at the corner with pastries in his cart. As he waited there shivering, some cruel passerby would secretly sneak up to the tray, grab a donut and run away. A few moments later, another would do the same, and before long the blind beggar's tray would be empty.
The wagon drivers on their route would stop to purchase a bit of food, and the beggar would gladly attempt to hand them a pastry, happy to be finally earning some money. But alas the drivers would look at the tray and tell the old man that there was nothing left. The dispirited old man would shuffle back home, cold, broken and penniless.
This sad routine repeated itself over and over; several kind people offered to give the blind man some money to get by, but he was too proud and refused their handouts.
One day, all that changed.
The rabbi in Prague, Rabbi Yeshaya Muskat, was known for his warmth and concern. Passing by the pastry cart one day, he witnessed the thievery. He looked around and realized that while others were standing nearby and had likewise seen the wrongdoing, no one reacted. He succeeded in chasing one thief away, but Rabbi Yeshaya could not understand why no one had done anything to help the victim of the crime. He approached the blind old man and after some casual conversation paid him for a slice of cake and walked home.
The next morning Rabbi Yeshaya was at the street corner, bright and early, well before any of the sneaky thieves had a chance to pounce on their innocent prey. Rabbi Yeshaya informed his new friend that he had so enjoyed the cake that he wanted to purchase the entire tray. The surprised old man was thrilled to have succeeded in selling the whole tray of goodies before he even had a chance to become chilled. This routine repeated itself day after day, week after week. As for Rabbi Yeshaya, he would distribute the pastries to needy poor people throughout the city.
One of the people who noticed the charade approached Rabbi Yeshaya and asked him why he went through the trouble of walking through the cold, coming to the market every day early in the morning, and making the blind old man bring out his cart -- when it would have been much easier if he would just tell the man not to bother coming out, and send him the money every week.
Rabbi Yeshaya responded in a most sensitive manner... "It is bad enough that the man cannot see, but do I have to take away his remaining joy in living?"
Rabbi Yeshaya realized that when one does a kindness for another, it must be done with sensitivity, compassion and understanding. He knew that maintaining a person's dignity takes priority over other forms of kindness.
Rabbi Yeshaya continued this charade until the day came when the old man was no longer there. He had passed away the night before, certain that he was indeed a successful businessman, not just another beggar.
J.J. Gross works as an advertising executive at one of the top marketing agencies in the New York area. Among his many clients are some members of the Lubavitch community. One day an inspirational thought crossed J.J.'s mind. What if the most prestigious paper in the world, The New York Times, ran a ticker across the bottom of the front page every Friday -- listing candlelighting time? Who knows whom this tidbit of information might reach? Just imagine the possible effects!
The suggestion was proposed by J.J. to some of the more influential members within the Lubavitch organization, and before long a generous donation of $1,800 per week was proffered to sponsor the ticker.
There were times when the production manager of The Times would contact Mr. Gross at the eleventh hour, desperately trying to find out what time candlelighting was on that particular Friday evening. The man was of Irish Catholic descent and he was concerned that the paper would go to print before the time for candlelighting was listed!
From the mid-1990s until June 1999 the ticker ran each and every week across the bottom of the front page. But then the philanthropist who had been sponsoring the ad cut back on his pledges, the candlelighting ad among them... And that was the last time it appeared. Or so he thought.
For a special Millennium issue, The New York Times ran three different front pages. One was from January 1, 1900. The second was from January 1, 2000, and a third projected future events for the beginning of the 22nd century -- January 1, 2100. Among the news stories in this fictional issue was the establishment of the fifty-first state of the USA: Cuba. Another article covered the question of whether robots should be allowed to vote, and so on.
Although the candlelighting ticker did not appear in the other two front pages, surprisingly it did turn up on the front page of the January 1, 2100 Friday newspaper.
This odd inclusion piqued the curiosity of many individuals. When the production manager of The Times was questioned about the inclusion, his response was astounding. "We don't know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain -- that in the year 2100, Jewish women will be lighting Shabbos candles!"
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet.org and excerpted from "TOUCHED BY A STORY 2." Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.