A man owned a printing press in Jerusalem. Once a year, he was called upon for reserve military duty in the Israeli Defense Forces. He never tried to avoid his service when called upon. His army job was that of watchman, which allowed him to spend many hours learning Torah.
Then came the day when he found a notice in his mailbox: reserve duty for three weeks. The service would fall out in the month of Nissan. Making a rapid calculation, the man realized that he would be gone from home on the night of the Passover Seder, as well as all the remaining days of the holiday. At the prospect, a shadow fell across his face.
The notice arrived on a Friday. "I haven't had such a Friday in a long time," he thought. His spirits plummeted sharply.
That night, he ate his Shabbat meal, sunk in gloomy thought. He pictured his family's Seder table, minus his presence. Who would be there to answer his sons' Four Questions? And what would he himself eat during all the days of Passover?
Friday evenings usually found the printer in the Zichron Moshe Shul, listening to Rabbi Sholom Schwadron speak. On this gray night, however, he decided to diverge from his custom and take a walk instead. After a long stroll in the company of his melancholy thoughts, he found his legs carrying him, as though by habit, to the shul. He hesitated at the door, then went in.
Zichron Moshe has a book-lined foyer at the entrance, from which one enters the main sanctuary of the shul. The printer stood in this foyer, listening to Rabbi Sholom's clear voice roll out to reach his ears:
"I just remembered a story," Rabbi Sholom was saying, "and when that happens, you already know what we must do. The story has nothing to do with our topic, but..." Rabbi Sholom embarked on his tale:
In the early 20th century, when yeshiva students would visit the saintly Chafetz Chaim to discuss the problem of the Polish military draft, he would return a variety of answers. There is a wealth of stories concerning these amazing responses, and the divine guidance that often prompted them. If the Chafetz Chaim placed a copy of the book "Machaneh Yisrael" (regarding the laws of Jewish military behavior) in the student's hand, then he knew nothing would avail him; he would be drafted.
But if the Chafetz Chaim's response was to say, "Whoever accepts the burden of Torah is released from the burden of the government and livelihood," then the young man knew he must not spare any exertion in Torah -- and his freedom from the draft would be assured.
"Whoever accepts the burden of Torah!" Rabbi Sholom's voice rang out. "Whoever accepts that burden -- whatever happens!" He continued to relate two examples of men who undertook the burden of Torah and were spared the draft. When he was finished, he asked where they had been up to before he began his story, and resumed the thread of his original topic.
"My heart was pounding very hard," the printer told us much later. "My whole body was covered with a cold sweat. I had never before felt such a personal divine intervention. Rabbi Sholom remembered the story at the very instant that my feet crossed the shul's threshold, and everything he said was directed at my own difficult situation. As he returned to the original subject of his talk, I saw that it really had no bearing at all on 'whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah.' In other words, the thing had not come about through natural means, one topic leading naturally into the next.
"But apart from any considerations of divine intervention, I was greatly encouraged by what Rabbi Sholom had said. I decided at once to add an hour of Torah learning to my regular schedule -- one extra hour every day. I didn't wait for Sunday, or even for Shabbat morning. Immediately after the lecture ended, I went into the study hall and learned for an hour. I believed with a powerful faith in the words of our Sages, 'Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah ...' All my worry fell away. "On Sunday, I told my partner at the printing press that I had some news for him, and a request. The news was that I had received a draft notice for the month of Nissan. And the request was that we close up shop an hour early each day, so that I would be able to use it for the study of Torah."
A week passed, then two. One morning, the man's partner walked in with his own startling announcement. "Rabbi Yaakov, I've also received a notice for reserve duty in the month of Nissan!"
The army rule is that two business partners do not have to serve at the same time. In such a case, one of them is released from duty. "The two of us took all our papers and went down to the army office," the printer relates. "A few days later, the letter came: I was released! I would be home for Passover with my family. Unfortunately, to my distress, my partner was still required to serve his time.
"I was grateful to the Almighty for helping me, in a natural way, to be free of my army duty. But it soon became clear that we had not yet come to the end of this marvelous episode. My letter of release was only the first stage in the story.
"On the day my partner left for his reserve duty, I parted painfully from him. None knew better than I what he must be feeling at such a time."
The next morning, the printer walked to his printing shop as usual, and placed his key in the lock. To his surprise, the door wasn't locked! Slowly he twisted the knob and opened the door, then stepped instead, hesitant and afraid. A few steps into the room, he saw something amazing. There was his partner, working busily away!
"Shalom aleichem! Good morning!" the man greeted his partner, in open astonishment.
"What happened? Have you gone AWOL?" the printer asked.
The partner smiled. "I arrived at the base yesterday," he said, "and an hour later, they sent me right back home! The supervisor came over and told me, 'There's been a mistake -- some sort of misunderstanding. Your draft notice was for two months from now, and was sent to your address by accident.' I was dumbfounded. Such a thing had never happened to me before. But the supervisor apologized and sent me respectfully home, saying, 'Sorry about this mistake. You are released!'"
When he had finished telling his story, the partner stood up and cried out emotionally, "We have just seen, with our own eyes, the amazing results of following the words of the Sages, 'Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah is exempt from burdens.' In order for you to be released from your duty, I received a draft notice by mistake."
The printer himself adds a final note to this story. "When we took financial inventory several months later, it turned out that, from the time we began closing up shop an hour early each day, our income had increased greatly." Raising his voice with great feeling, he concludes, "Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah...!"
Excerpted with permission from "VOICE OF TRUTH" - The life and eloquence of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, the unforgettable Maggid of Jerusalem.