It was the first night of Chanukah and Rabbi Yaakov Haber, with his wife, Bayle, at his side, was about to light the menorah. The Habers, who lived in the Unsdorf section of Jerusalem, were expecting their first child. They were delighted to begin their married life in Israel.
There was a knock on the front door. The Habers were not expecting anyone and their surprise turned to astonishment when they opened the door and saw a bedraggled, disheveled middle-aged man. His hat was turned askew, his clothes were filthy and his face unshaven. His right eye seemed locked shut, making him look like a pirate who misplaced his eye patch.
"Do you think you might have a meal for me?" he asked politely.
The Habers looked at each other and then back to their visitor. It was Chanukah, God had blessed them with much good, and they could only imagine how lonely the fellow must feel. He didn't look dangerous, just sad. Why not share their bounty with others?
"Yes, come in," said Rabbi Haber. "We're going to eat after I light the menorah. Please join us."
The man tried to smile but his effort failed. He seemed to grimace as he thanked them softly. As he walked past the Habers into the dining area, they could smell the stench of his clothes that probably hadn't been washed in weeks. They would not go back on their word. He could stay for the meal and they would endure it.
He said his name was Beinish, and he seemed pleasant, though he didn't talk much about his personal life. He did mention that he lived alone and had fallen on hard times. The meal went by uneventfully as Rabbi Haber discussed some spiritual aspects of the festival. However before Beinish left, he asked the Habers if he could come back again. They assured him he could.
Over the next few weeks Beinish began coming with increased frequency, and soon the Habers found themselves hosting him on Shabbos and a few times in the middle of the week. Mrs. Haber didn't mind washing the soiled clothes that Beinish would bring her every few days... and he came and went as he pleased.
The Haber's were scheduled to move to the Romemah neighborhood, where apartments were more affordable. They wondered if they were obliged to tell Beinish when and where they were moving (since they were beginning to feel his presence was burdensome). Rabbi Haber asked a religious ruling, and was told that he need not reveal his new address or even tell Beinish that he was moving. So they moved to Romemah and didn't hear from Beinish again.
The Habers settled into their new quarters and had their first child. A few weeks later, Rabbi Haber noticed a scorpion sprinting across his dining room floor. He caught up with it and made sure it would never come back.
There are 1,300 species of scorpions worldwide, and some of the most dangerous are in the Middle East. Only one species in United States and almost 20 others worldwide have venom potent enough to be dangerous to humans. Israel is home to the most deadly of all scorpions, the Palestine yellow scorpion, who's sting can be fatal to children. Rabbi Haber wasn't taking any chances.
A few days later a number of scorpions scooted across the floor. Rabbi and Mrs. Haber were frightened. Scorpions could be lethal. Soon, scorpions came every day, so the Habers placed blankets over their infant's crib to prevent them from crawling in. They called an exterminator, who made two visits. But eventually he announced, "There is nothing more I can do here."
The Habers were devastated. If the exterminator couldn't eliminate scorpions, how could they? The strange thing was that no one else on the block had this problem.
The final straw came one Shabbos morning. Rabbi Haber awoke to his wife's screams. She was standing on a chair pointing to a corner of the room where scorpions ran alongside the baseboard...
After that harrowing Shabbos, Rabbi Haber went to see his mentor, Rabbi Chaim Pinchus Scheinberg. "Rebbi," he began, "my wife and I have been going through this terrible experience with scorpions roaming our apartment. It is frightening and dangerous. Have we done anything wrong? How should view this spiritually? Why is this happening?"
Rabbi Scheinberg is a world famous rabbinic authority to thousands of students in Israel and the United States. Rabbi Scheinberg referred to "Perek Shira," an ancient book whose theme is that everything in creation has a role to play in God's plan, from huge mountains to tiny ants. The book is a very ancient. Some say it was composed by King David, some say by King Solomon, and some say by Rabbi Judah the Prince.
Rabbi Scheinberg turned to Chapter 6, which contains the "psalms" of creeping creatures, such as the snake, snail and ant. He pointed to the entry on scorpions, which quotes a verse from Psalms (145:9): "The scorpion says: God is good to all, and His mercy is upon all His handiwork."
Rabbi Scheinberg turned to Rabbi Haber and said, "We don't know the purpose of scorpions in this world. Even though some of them are lethal, God has compassion on scorpions and supplies them with food and with what they need to survive. Perhaps you failed to show compassion to someone. The scorpion's song is one of mercy and that's what we must adapt in our lives."
Rabbi Haber was stunned! Suddenly the picture was becoming clear. In a sense he had abandoned Beinish, the poor man who had been relying on him and his wife. As he left Rabbi Scheinberg, he knew he had to find Beinish somehow, somewhere.
Beinish had said he lived somewhere in Jerusalem's Geulah neighborhood. Rabbi Haber walked through the legendary streets named after biblical prophets... but Beinish was nowhere to be found. Days went by and Rabbi Haber felt anxious. He couldn't spend so much time searching for Beinish -- he had come to Israel to study -- but the scorpions were still invading his apartment.
One day as he was on a bus, he spotted Beinish. He quickly got off the bus and ran over to the destitute man who seemed to be walking aimlessly. "Beinish, we miss you and we need you! When can you come again?"
Beinish smiled and said, "I miss you, too. Tell me when and where I should come."
Rabbi Haber gave Beinish his new address, and that night Beinish came for supper. That was just the start; once again he began coming regularly. Beinish was the Haber's frequent guest, but the scorpions were gone. Not one returned!