The Sefer that Was Rescued Right on Time

After trying for 8 years to rescue a sefer being used in a display window of a Chinese cosmetic shop, two shluchim managed to rescue it in a most unexpected manner. When they realized the significance of the date, they got another surprise…

By Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, Shliach to Beijing, China

We arrived in Chengdu and were very warmly received by Rabbi Dovi and Sarah Henig. They are celebrating their son Mendel‘s Opshernish tomorrow and we came to spend this special occasion with them.

In the afternoon both of our families went to the famous gigantic Global Mall which has an Intercontinental Hotel and indoor BEACH along with a water park and many different entertainment facilities for kids.

While walking in the mall, Rabbi Dovi mentioned to me that there is a French cosmetic store that has a single volume of Shulchan Aruch – the code of Jewish law – written by Harav Yoseph Karo in Hebrew and French as part of their display design since the Mall opened July 1st, 2013.

He further told me that he had tried a number of times to persuade them to give it to him, but was unsuccessful. They very politely and respectfully told him that they belong to a French international chain called KIEHL’S and the store’s display is sent to them from headquarters including this book.

Hearing this I turned round to Dovi and said, “please take me to the store I would like to try”.

We all came into the store and it was truly a magnificent display with multiple books on Jewish literature (not holy books) and then the lonesome book of the code of Jewish law. My heart sank as I saw this holy book sitting under a porcelain bowl of dried slices lemons. As I stared at the Shulchan Aruch, the lady at the counter started making her way over to me. I turned towards her and asked her in Chinese if she had a business card (thinking I would contact the boss to ask if I could have the book), she responded we don’t have a business card but if you want I can give you our store WeChat.

After scanning my code she sent me a message in Chinese asking what I wanted. I explained that I am Jewish and the Rabbi of the Beijing Jewish community, this book is one of our holiest books and its very hard for me to see it as a display piece and unused. I went on to offer to pay for it.

She looked at me and said “if I give it to you, what will you do with it?”

I said “I will learn and teach from it”.

She then said “is this for you?”

I said, “no, it’s for the Jewish community of Beijing”.

With both hands she took the sefer from under the bowl and handed it to me.

I said to her “how much do you want for it?”

She said “nothing it’s a gift for your community”.

I thanked her profusely and then suggested to my wife that we should buy something as hakaras hatov (show of appreciation). It’s the most expensive single-volume sefer – Torah book I’ve ever bought, but it has now become my favorite!

After leaving the store I turned around to Rabbi Henig and exclaimed “what hashgacha protis (divine providence)!”

He looked puzzled and asked me what I was referring to. I had just remembered the significance of today’s date in Jewish history.

In 1509, Emperor Maximilian of Germany ordered that all Jewish books in the cities of Cologne and Frankfurt am Main be destroyed. This followed the request of Pfefferkorn, a baptized Jew, who claimed that Jewish literature was insulting to Christianity. The Jews appealed to the Emperor to reconsider this edict, and Maximilian agreed to investigate the matter. He appointed Johann Reuchlin, a famed German scholar, to conduct the investigation. The report issued by Reuchlin was very positive.

Reuchlin demonstrated that the books openly insulting to Christianity were very few and viewed as worthless by most Jews themselves. The other books were needed for Jewish worship, and contained much value in the areas of theology and science.

On the 14th of Sivan, 1510, the Emperor rescinded his edict…

From Tzfat (where the code of Jewish law was written), to France (where this volume was printed), to Chengdu (where it was sent as a display piece), it will finally find a home in Beijing and be learned from.

Thank you Rabbi and Rebetzen Henig for this opportunity. May your incredible Chabad House and community thrive and continue to be an outstanding oasis for Jews and Judaism in Chengdu China.

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