Friends of Belz, you might be wondering why the Belz Jewish community sets out to create new housing opportunities for families across the world. Whether a Kehillah in Israel or the push to bring families to affordable housing in Lakewood, NJ, Belz tries to ensure community members can live with dignity in clean, safe and spacious homes for a reasonable rent. Affordable housing is a need of all times. This week’s spark will hopefully stir the hearts of landlords, wherever they may be, to do the right thing and allow families to live in dignity with income left to spare for the needs of their family.
‘Twas the Summer of 1809 and France and Austria were in the throes of war. On each side of the war was a proud dictator, not willing to negotiate and budge an inch. The war raged on and swept into its midst the city of Pressburg, where the holy Chasam Sofer resided.
The Pressburg Jewish community, with its holy leader in charge, had many miracles happen during the siege; but that isn’t the focus of our story today. We turn to the tragic instance of one young man mortally wounded during one of the bombardments. The man’s name was Wolf Kammern, and he was but 30 years old. A bullet hit the mark, shattering his thigh bone and shredding the muscle in that region of his body.
Wolf was carried off to a hospital. For eleven days he writhed in pain, while the doctors kept hacking away at his decaying flesh. They were hoping to save him by sawing off the gangrenous parts, but the method wasn’t working. Remember, this was the times before folks were put to sleep for surgery. Eight people had to hold the pain-laden man down as the doctors performed the surgery day after day.
When nothing seemed to work to heal the festering wounds, Wolf realized his end was near. It was at that point that he began asking for forgiveness…from the Chasam Sofer and the community.
What had happened that he felt brought upon this excruciating suffering and early death? As a young man, Wolf landed a great job. He was hired by a Jewish landlady to oversee her vast real estate holdings. The two of them, the greedy landlady and her ambitious property manager, had colluded and raised the rents sky-high. With such a large share of the housing market and with such exorbitant rents set, it made for a landlord’s real estate market. Low-income families were left with no reasonable place to live. A housing shortage ensued for those who needed the housing desperately.
After some time, matters came to a head. There was a communal outcry, and the Chasam Sofer spoke out forcefully against greedy landlords who squeezed tenants out of every dime and left many with no homes to speak of.
With no sense of mission other than gaining another fistful of money, the landlady felt thwarted by the Chasam Sofer. With her protégé Wolf under her spell, she devised a way to bring charges in civil court against the great Chasam Sofer. It was “payback” for protesting against her greed. And Wolf Kammern, young and ambitious, to the point where he allowed dreams of becoming the next Rothschild cloud his sense of right and wrong, went along with the plan and brought those charges in court.
Now, as he neared what he knew was his end, the brave young man confessed to his mistaken quest. He begged forgiveness from those he had wronged.
The Chasam Sofer, in his recounting of those days in his book Sefer Zikaron, testifies that Wolf died a full Baal Teshuva, a fully repentant person worthy of praise. The Chasam Sofer then tells his readers to remember that for sins against G-d, G-d is patient with the sinner. However, warns the Chasam Sofer, when it comes to wronging your fellow man, Hashem is quicker to punish.
May we all merit to treat each other with respect and fairness. And may every landlord be responsible in his dealings with his tenants. For if you provide a place of shelter for a Jewish family, don’t you think you will find shelter in the radiance of G-d?