Many years ago a nobleman from an important Polish family converted to Judaism. Valentin Pototzki became Avraham ben Avraham, and he found himself a corner in a Bais Medrash where he sat shteiging [learning Torah diligently], Tachas Kanfei HaShechina. In those days, the church had incredible power, and with the help of some evil prattler from within the Jewish community, the church tracked down Avraham ben Avraham and had him arrested for being a proselyte. The choice given the righteous convert was either convert back to Christianity or be killed. Avraham ben Avraham chose death.
Poles from all over gathered to watch the killing of Avraham ben Avraham. It was to take place in a section of Vilna where no Jews were allowed. As the thousands of non-Jewish Polish fanatics, blood-thirsty and wanting to see a Jew killed, began filling up the plaza, one Jew, Rav Alexander Zuskind, blended in among them, trying to avoid notice. He found a large tree near where they were soon to bring Avraham ben Avraham and hid behind it. What was Rav Zuskind thinking by coming here? Why risk his life to watch the execution of the righteous convert?
Avraham ben Avraham was brought by a carriage and the crowd watched as he was pushed and pulled to the front, where a huge fire awaited. The church officials were going to burn Avraham ben Abraham; but once more, in public, they gave him the same choice – last chance, he can say he doesn’t want to be a Jew and his life would be spared. With a strong voice, Avraham ben Avraham said his Shema and then, clearly, loudly, with utmost concentration, Avraham ben Avraham said the special blessing which is recited by one who is to die Al Kiddush Hashem [for the sanctification of G-d].
And from behind a tree, from the throat of Rabbi Zuskind came the answer “Amen” completing the blessing.
Blessings we say are complete when someone else acknowledges it with an Amen. We Jewish people have the concept that when we join together, Agudah Achas, to glorify G-d, that is what makes the glorification complete. None of us are able to operate alone.
We need to realize how we need each other, that we need to hear others express their closeness to G-d and spirituality, and we need to be able to respond an Amen to someone else’s spiritual quests. We need to share the experience.
If Rabbi Zuskind was willing to risk his life to enable a righteous convert’s blessing be complete, shouldn’t we, who don’t have to risk our lives, do everything we can to make our friends’, neighbors’, families’ blessings complete by listening to it and responding Amen? Shouldn’t we realize that acknowledging and respecting another person’s attempt at spirituality is what brings glory to our Creator and the best way of serving Him? So, my friends, look around at anyone trying to grow in spirituality, and complete their work by acknowledging it. V’Imru Amen.
To read more about Avraham ben Avraham you can go here: http://www.shemayisrael.com/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/avbenav.htm
This account of what happened with Rabbi Zuskind was brought to my attention through the wonderful book about the power of Amen.