Of Curses, Seforim & Kareem Abdul-Jabaar!
A little over a month ago I wrote about a reported meeting between Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This post went viral and was even cited in this article on ESPN.com. I have received emails from many readers around the globe who have responded to this story. One reader in particular shared the following story with me and was even so kind as to photocopy the following story that appears in a sefer entitled Birkas Abba Yaakov. This sefer was released in tribute to Rabbi Abba Yaakov Liff zt”l and shares many stories and vignettes about his life and passion for all things Torah. While he passed away now over 23 years ago, he will forever be remembered as one of the original students of Ner Israel Rabbinical College as well as the name behind the Yeshiva known as: Ner Yaakov.
On page 50 footnote 37 Birkas Abba Yaakov documents that the Rabbi was ill for several years before succumbing to his illness. On one occasion, the Rabbi had to fly to Cleveland to have an operation. And so, he took not one but two cases of seforim which were with him the entire stay. On his return flight back to Baltimore, passengers were up in arms that there was a famous basketball star on the airplane by the name of none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabaar! This name didn’t really register to Rabbi Liff until he returned home with all the suitcases and the two cartons of seforim; instead, there was a television and other electronics that belonged to none other than Kareem! The Rabbi quickly surmised that the airline must have mixed up the box with the seforim and this box (this was clearly in the days prior to the TSA!).
Indeed, when Rabbi Liff called the airline to alert them to the mix up he was told that Mr. Jabaar had already called requesting his electronics, but he denied that he had seen the seforim . In the interest of being the upstanding citizen that he was, Rabbi Liff sent him the box with the electronics but was visibly shaken by the loss of some of his favorite seforim.
A number of days passed and out of the blue an unaffiliated Jew called Rabbi Liff from of all places Washington. He told the Rabbi that he had found seforim with Rabbi Liff’s name and address inscribed in them in the middle of the highway between Baltimore and Washington! Rabbi Liff could only assume that the young basketball star threw the box out of his car window when he realized that it didn’t contain his electronics. Regardless of who actually treated his holy seforim this way, Rabbi Liff remarked then and there that whoever defiled his seforim in such a manner deserved to be cursed for having them be literally strewn onto the highway. After all, if not for a good Samaritan who happened to read some Hebrew—they would have been lost forever!
Within a few days, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar broke his right hand while playing a basketball game. It was such a hard hit that it broke the backboard as well as his hand. Reports of his injury were all over the media, and it took him months to recover. However, Rabbi Liff believed that the reason why his hand in particular was punished with this career altering injury was because it was this very hand that carelessly disgraced the Torah by throwing out the seforim of Rabbi Liff.
This is not the first report of a Rabbi cursing a public figure. There are alleged reports all across the Jewish world and perhaps even snopes.com as to which Rabbi supposedly cursed Joseph Kennedy, damning him and all his male offspring to tragic fates because of his resistance to help Jews flee the Holocaust. I am not here to debate the accuracy of either “The Kennedy Curse” or “The Jabaar Curse” that has only recently come to my attention. The take away that I believe we can all learn from these instances is that we never know who we may meet—even ever so casually—who will forever alter our life. We must treat every person, every human life, and the belongings of everyone with the greatest of respect! We never know what may come back to haunt us down the road or days later. By truly working this message into every aspect of our life (and not just from 9 to 5) we will show a great amount of honor to the Torah and the ways of Hashem.
UPDATE: I received the following from Rabbi Yechiel Liff (Rabbi Liff’s son). Despite the Sefer printing that Rabbi Liff was going to Cleveland, he son told me that he traveled to Milwaukee to have open heart by pass surgery. Indeed, this sits better with the overall story as the first city that Mr. Jabaar played basketball in was Milwaukee.
UPDATE 2: Kareem did not break a backboard. During the 1974 preseason, Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand after punching the basket support stanchion following a hard foul. On the play, Abdul-Jabbar scratched his eye and he would wear protective goggles for the rest of his playing career. The broken hand sidelined Abdul-Jabbar for the first 16 games of the 1974-75 season. With (Oscar) Robertson retired, the Bucks went 38-44 and missed the playoffs for the first time since Abdul-Jabbar was drafted (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/bio/_/id/4145/kareem-abdul-jabbar).