When the Elder Chassidim Played Soccer

Reb Bentche was blessed with a wonderful ability to depict things in a way that they came alive, an ability he would put to use for educational purposes. One time, he entered the yard while we were in the middle of a lively game of soccer. We were children aged eight to ten, and were so involved in the sport that we didn’t notice R. Bentcha’s entrance. For a man of Reb Bentcha’s lofty ideals, it is difficult to overstate the pettiness of something like soccer. He simply couldn’t bear to see how invested we were in the sport. He stood in the center of the yard, grasping his head with his hands, until we noticed him. We suspected that the incident would not go by unaddressed. Embarrassed, we sat down to learn, but he said that before we started to learn he wanted to tell us something interesting. We were curious, and paid close attention to his story:

“On my way here I saw a strange sight. R. Eliyahu Paritcher, Yerachmiel der alter, the elder, and R. Boruch the ritual slaughterer were all playing soccer.”

These three ball-players, namely, R. Eliyahu Levin, Yeracmiel Chodosh, and Boruch Duchman, were three of the most senior, and revered, Chassidim living in Samarkand at the time. The thought of these venerable personages kicking a soccer ball around was clearly absurd, and as we began to understand what he was getting at, we started to giggle. But R’ Bentcha said sternly, “What are you laughing about? Listen to what I am telling you! Boruch the shochet kicked the ball and Yerachmiel ran to catch it, but the ball hit Eliyahu Paritcher on the head…”

He told the story with such enthusiasm that we couldn’t help it and started laughing. He said to us, “Why are you laughing? Just a few minutes ago I saw you playing in the same manner. What’s the difference between elder Chassidim and you? You are also boys who sit and learn Torah. If it’s not appropriate for them, it’s not appropriate for you either!”

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