jews of kaifeng

Jews of Kaifeng

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe exhorted the Jews to write Torah, read it, learn it, review it, love it and keep it. Without it, Jews fall to the wayside and become one of the many other people of the world.

First, we will visit the history of the Jews of Kaifeng, China, not in great detail, but just look at how they fell away from our nation. At one point, the Jews in Kaifeng had many Torahs and rabbis who could teach it. However, with an open environment and a society that accepted them fully, the Chinese Jews found their way into mainstream Chinese education, not setting time to give their attention to Torah. It took not much time before there was no one left in their jewish community who could even read the Torah scrolls they had from their glorious past. Pained by this lack of knowledge, the Kaifeng Jews put a Sefer Torah on display, along with an advertisement posted alongside that said the Jews of Kaifeng would pay a reward to anyone who could translate it for them. Alas, for their community, no one was left who knew how to teach.

Without anyone to explain to them their glorious heritage, the Kaifeng Jews eventually sold off their Torah scrolls, deserted their synagogue that fell into disrepair and slowly disappeared into intermarriage.

A Chassidic tale, now, to shore up what you deduced already from studying the failure of Kaifeng’s Jews to keep their Judaism and Torah alive. A Chassid moved away from his rebbe and peers to a far-flung town. There wasn’t much of Torah learning going on there, but the Chassid felt sure of himself, sure he could keep that fiery “bren”, that burning desire to serve G-d alive even in far-off and alone places.

His rebbe took him to a fireplace. The fire crackled merrily and all the coals and logs glowed with fire. The rebbe then took the poker and pulled out one coal that was just as fiery red as the others. Sure enough, after just a small while, the red began to die down, and soon the coal turned from glowing red to smoldering white, and then went cool.

The Chassid understood. For the fire of Torah to stay within, one must be immersed in, surrounded by, constantly in the midst of, the fiery truth of Torah. The minute we fall away and tear ourselves away from the study, is the moment we step towards the fate of the Kaifeng community.

May we have the wisdom to attach ourselves to communities full of Torah learning so that the light of our soul does not lose its Torah glow.