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Jewish Thinking

The Buddhist Monk Who Put On Tefilin

Published on Sunday September 26th, 2021

A father told his son’s story to Torah-Box. It proves once again how the Jewish soul is connected to the Creator of the world, even in the most extreme and unexpected situations. "My son, Rav Shlomo,” he started “is the rabbi of Sri Lanka, off the Indian coast. About a year ago, we came to Sri Lanka to celebrate the “Upsherin” (haircut according to the tradition at the age of 3) of our grandson Levi who had turned 3 years old. On a walk in the city, my son Shlomo called me to meet a friend of his.

To my great astonishment, I saw Shlomo speaking to an elderly Buddhist monk, wearing a traditional orange robe. It turned out that this Buddhist was a Jew named Moshe. As a child, he lived in Indonesia, where the Japanese killed his father and all his brothers. His Jewish mother fled with him to Holland, but the Nazis arrived and killed his mother’s entire family. As a young child, he was sent to Sri Lanka, where he has been living for more than 50 years in a convent, in the jungles located in the south of the country.

The many years in the Buddhist convent didn’t extinguish the Jewish spark instilled in Moshe’s heart. During a moving discussion between us, Moshe remembered the prayers in the synagogue in which he participated during his youth, and even knew how to hum the harmony of "Avinu Malkeinu" ("Our Father, our King"). He also told us that his mother (who married a non-Jew) never agreed to eat meat that was cooked by others. He also remembered his mother ‘washed all the utensils once a year’ (could this be seen as a reference to Pesach?).

We were in the middle of the city and Shlomo put Tefillin on him. My son had already met Moshe before and had given him a few books on Judaism. In his convent in the middle of the jungle, Moshe read the book "Navi Mikirbecha" translated into English, and was very moved.

An extraordinary divine providence made us meet a second time. During the short period before sunset, Shlomo put Tefillin on Moshe again, and read “Shema Israel" with him.

Who can evaluate the soul of a Jew? As I stood there in the middle of the street with tears of emotion flowing from my eyes, I was trying to understand what it was that moved Moshe, after more than 50 years at the head of a Buddhist convent, to raise his sleeve and put on Tefillin? The local inhabitants around us were watching him in awe. What was their "saint" doing with those strangely dressed people?

This story reminded me of the holy words of the great Baal Shem Tov who said that ‘it is worth living 70 or 80 years in order to do even one benefaction to a Jew, materially or spiritually’."

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