One of the yeshiva students, a short fellow with glasses and a black hat pushed all the way to the back of his head, leaped onto a table and a hush fell over the audience. "As you now know," the boy began without any formal introduction, "the story of Chanukah teaches how a few God-fearing Jews were able to defeat the mighty Greek-Syrian armies. But at the very heart of the story is a little jug of oil that brought joy not only to the Jews who presided over the rededication of the Temple, but to Jews in every generation ever since...
"Likewise, tonight's event is brought to you by the help of God and, "he lifted up for everyone to see, "a little can of Diet Coke."
Instantly, the students began to cheer and applaud wildly.
You must wonder, dear Reader, how a simple aluminum can of soda could bring about such a gala event. Well, it's a long story, one that began a few months before Chanukah in the mythical kingdom of Riets.
The subjects of the kingdom were by and large a decent sort. They learned Torah and observed its precepts faithfully, they performed acts of lovingkindness and gave charity, and thrice daily they repaired to the sanctuary to worship their Creator. One day, however, their peaceful kingdom was invaded by a mighty army of deliverymen and technicians who left in their wake a device that came to dominate the hallowed halls of the Riets dormitory: it was called Soda Machine.
Soon, the young citizens of the kingdom began to make frequent pilgrimages to Soda Machine, offering monetary contributions in exchange for sweet libations. Soda Machine became such an irresistible temptation that the faithful often exceeded their normal tithe of pocket money allowances and even went into debt to acquire more and more of Soda Machine's heady elixir.
Yet the students' ardent offerings did not always find favor in Soda Machine's eyes. From time to time, it merely accepted the monetary offering but presented no sweet libation. On such occasions, pilgrims could become quite enraged, pounding, kicking, and even shaking Soda Machine with all their might.
On the whole, however, the device was treated with great respect. In fact, the people of Riets could no longer remember a time when Soda Machine had not been a part of their lives. Although they still learned Torah and worshipped their Creator, many were also so faithful to Soda Machine that the coins they regularly fed into the device were no longer available for charitable causes. The mitzvah of giving tzedakah was nearly forgotten... Until Izzy Wolf came along, a modern-day "redeemer" — in more ways than one.
Our hero was not a man of means but he wanted to contribute tzedakah in a meaningful way and, although he hadn't actually planned it at the time, to help protect the environment as well. Now, everyone knows that empty aluminum soda cans may be redeemed for cash at the local supermarket. Everyone also knows that few people bother to take advantage of this offer.
Izzy Wolf viewed the redemption option as an opportunity to involve his somewhat wayward fellow denizens of the Riets Yeshivah in a tzedakah project — one that would literally cost them nothing. Accordingly, right after Rosh HaShanah, Izzy came up with a "redemption offer" of his own. He hauled a large, empty carton out of the trash and affixed a sign to it that read: "DUMP YOUR SODA CANS HERE. ALL PROCEEDS TO TZEDAKAH."
The next morning he awoke to find the carton filled to overflowing with soda cans. At six-and-a-half cents per, the twenty-seven cans didn't amount to much, but then again, the project was just a few hours old. By the end of the week, which not coincidentally happened to be Asseres Yemei Teshuvah, $20 had been raised.
Izzy's roommate Abie, a born businessman, realized immediately that if the project were to spread to every floor of the dormitory and every corner of the yeshiva, the "take" for tzedakah would dwarf the initial $20 figure.
The Best of StoryLines is the latest volume of stories written by that veteran master of story-telling, Hanoch Teller. StoryLines was a triannual “story-letter” and this volume presents a selection of stories from it (as well as some of the cartoons that have appeared in it). Any reader will enjoy the stories in this volume.
All of these stories teach middos, trust in God, kindness to others, and many other lessons we would do well to take to heart. One sincerely hopes that Rabbi Teller will make sure to keep these volumes coming, to please and enrich all his readers, young and old.
Reviewed in The Jewish Observer
Words of Praise
|“A new book by Rabbi Hanoch Teller is always worthy of a hearty Shehechiyanu but The Best of StoryLines deserves a special welcome. There is a singular kind of timelessness to this beautiful work, which alternates stories of long ago with events as fresh as today’s sunrise. It is an impossible book. Impossible to put down, impossible to read without becoming a better person, impossible not to smile, impossible not to yearn for more. Utterly impossible. As The Best of StoryLines transports us to different times and places, we slowly begin to get the message. It is not the When or Where which counts, but the What and How. What was done to improve someone else’s lot? How did one triumph over adversity and the powers of evil. These are questions of our lives and Rabbi Teller answers them – as always, with humor, with compassion and with the strongest of literary tools, with love.”|
Rabbi Yaakov Feitman,
|“Rabbi Hanoch Teller manages to shine the bright light of Judaism and refract the glimmer of pure characteristics with all of his works. Each and every one of his books has reached every corner of the earth and has spread this light on those shrouded in darkness. His style is engaging, emanating from a warm heart that encourages his readers to be inspired to strive for spiritual heights and improve themselves. Rabbi Teller’s involvement in the teshuva process is beyond estimation, and I personally see the results that his books have upon their unquenchable audience. StoryLines will be one more powerful weapon in the arsenal of emboldening literature which Rabbi Teller has graced to our people.”|
Rabbi Aharon Chodosh
|“In our day and age, when civilization progressively loses its ability to communicate, stories are one of the few remaining vehicles which we may utilize to reach those who are non-communicative and essentially unreachable. Hanoch Teller, the master storyteller of Orthodox Judaism today, not only reaches the unreachable, but touches them profoundly. And for those of us who are thankfully in the fold, his stories leave us nothing less than transformed.”|
Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, Director,