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A Prince Among Men
Memories of the Bobover Rebbe on his Eighth Yahrtzeit
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: The Jewish Press

  Rated by 9 users   |   Viewed 10188 times since 8/4/08   |   12 Comments
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8/4/08

The story is told of an individual who asked a son-in-law of the Chafetz Chaim to relate some mofsim (miraculous occurrences) that he had personally witnessed in the company of his shver (father-in-law). He replied that the greatest mofes he had seen throughout all the years, was that his shver kept every seif katan of Shulchan Aruch (that he meticulously observed all Torah laws).

I was raised in Belle Harbor, Queens, in the 1960’s and 70’s, where I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with some of the leading Chassidic Rebbes of our generation; among them the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel; the Bobover Rebbi, Reb Shlome; and the Stichiner Rebbe, Zichronom Tzaddikim Livracha. As this past Shabbos marked the eighth yahrtzeit of Reb Shlome Halberstam, the Bobover Rebbe zt”l, I'd like to share a mofes that I had the privilege of personally witnessing in the company of the Rebbe more than thirty years ago.

The Bobover Rebbe would spend several weeks each year in our community – usually in the days immediately following the Yomim Tovim of Pesach and Succos. Living as he did, with round-the-clock involvement in his kehila, he would have been well within his rights to make minimal contact with the local residents during his “down time.” Nevertheless, he conducted himself with the same regal bearing and nobility of spirit that he did year-round – taking the time to greet people with dignity, and converse with them as if they were the only people that mattered to him.

An incident that took place early one Shabbos morning stands out in my mind above all the others. Knowing that the Rebbe was in town, I came to shul early and sat in the back row reviewing the parsha (Torah portion of the week). At that time there were only three people present; the Rebbe, an individual who was tidying up the shul, and me. The man, not recognizing the Rebbe, nor appreciating the fact that he was the spiritual leader of thousands, approached him, introduced himself, and greeted him with a cheery “Gut Shabbos, Rabbi,” in a polite-but-folksy manner that was, shall we say, less than befitting a person of the Rebbe’s stature.

Unfazed, the Rebbe stood up, gave him his trademark 100-watt smile and said, “Gut Shabbos a Yid. I am Shlome Halberstam, how are you?” and inquired about his background and the welfare of his family members. The Rebbi then complimented him on his efforts in preparing the shul. He asked him if he properly appreciated the fact that as a result of his efforts, he would now merit a portion in the tefilos of all the shul members. He spoke movingly about how his own saintly grandfather would personally attend to the preparation of his shul for davening each week.

I had the great pleasure of observing the Rebbe zt”l over the years, in public settings, surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of his admirers. The last such occasion was when he danced a 'mitzvah tanz' at the wedding of our close friends, Reb Yitzi and Suri Twerski. It was a remarkable and inspiring experience watching this elderly tzaddik dance like a teenager, with kedusha and simcha exuding from his every move.

I am not a Bobover chassid and spent very little time in his presence over the years, so I have no stories to relate of how the Rebbe's tefilos were answered. But, whenever I think of the Rebbe, what immediately comes to mind is his remarkable blend of nobility and humility, and his unabashed love for Jews of all backgrounds. So each year, on the yahrtzeit that he shares with Aharon HaKohein, in whose path he so humbly walked, I replay this great mofes over and over again in my mind's eye -- the time that he made a simple, unlearned Jew feel like a million dollars one Shabbos morning before Davening.

Yehi Zichro Baruch. May his memory be blessed.



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1.     8/5/08 - 1:26 AM
Joseph - Passaic, NJ

>The man, not recognizing the Rebbe, nor appreciating the fact that he was the spiritual leader of thousands, approached him, introduced himself, and greeted him with a cheery “Gut Shabbos, Rabbi,” in a polite-but-folksy manner that was, shall we say, less than befitting a person of the Rebbe’s stature.<

That's a lot more than I ever got in practically any Boro Park shul for many years. Besides, a true spiritual leader wouldn't expect or want anything more IMHO.


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2. Memories     8/5/08 - 4:12 PM
Simcha

Although I did not live in Belle Harbour, I made a practice of spending many Shabbosim there - especially when the Satmar Rebbe Ztz"l would be there - it was an opportunity to be in the presence and to spend Shabbos with a great Zadik in a way unavailable in Brooklyn. Your title is perfect - the Bobover Rebbe ztz"l was the personification of the warmth and ahavas yisroel which is Sanz. I am thankful to Hashem that I was born in a time when I could still spend time in the presence of these "shaeris hapleito" zadikim.


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3. More Memories     8/5/08 - 8:33 PM
Benzion Twerski

I must chime in and share several comments. My grandmother, Milwaukee Rebbetzin A”H was the Bobover Rebbe’s oldest sister. In her role, she knew so much about the family of earlier generations, as well as remembering her grandfather R’ Shlomo of Bobov, after whom the Rebbe ZT”L was named. I had the privilege of seeing the Rebbe together with her several times, and these interactions were amazing. Not everything can be put into words.

It is interesting to note that the Rebbe remained in close communication with her since the time she left Bobov, in about 1922 (about a year after getting married). There were numerous letters and telegrams, and only some of these managed to become publicized. My Zaide ZT”L sent money and documents to rescue the entire family, but these documents were confiscated at some point and destroyed. When the Rebbe arrived in USA in 1946, he first went to Milwaukee where he remained for several weeks, including Pesach. There were so many inside “jokes” that only they understood, that even their younger siblings never knew. Even being two generations younger, I had the zchiya of getting a glimpse of this.

One remarkable observation, which I have from my grandmother A”H was the type of life that they had as youngsters. My grandmother was “melumedes bi’nissim”, where there were events that were nothing short of supernatural that were everyday occurrences. We only read stories about them, or can relate a single such event or two. I also gained the insight, both from my grandmother A”H and from the Rebbe ZT”L that their father, Reb Benzion of Bobov ZT”L HY”D, was a different personality completely. The Rebbe ZT”L held incredible awe and respect for his father, but his character was completely different. The Rebbe learned much from his father, but he was also original in much of the way his personality became his manner of leadership.

I developed a closeness to the Rebbe ZT”L, and living away from New York for several years, maintained a correspondence. The kiruv I had from him when visiting was amazing, and this did not stop when I moved here. I always knew that he had a special place for me, and it was often that I saw it, felt it, and I have documents and photos to prove it. When I shared that with someone in the Bobov community, I discovered that there were not just a few others with the same experience. There were literally thousands who experienced this “chibah yesairoh”. Knowing the Rebbe ZT”L, my discovery did not disappoint me. When we feel the love of a parent, we do not typically envy a sibling, as they can claim the right to feel the same love. That was something that the Rebbe took to limits that were incredible.

From time to time, many of us share our memories of our relationship with him, and the brilliant things he would tell us. It would take shelves full of books to record a fraction of what is remembered today. This article, while it brought tears to my eyes, is so microscopic in what deserves to be publicized.

May his zikaron be a zechus for all of us. May we all be zocheh to emulate his midos and avodas Hashem.


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4. a class act     8/6/08 - 11:50 PM
Tzvi - lakewood

Once when I was helping chaperon some boys from NCSY that ware in Boro Park for Shabbos. We would always go to the Bobov tish and each boy would get a chance to say good Shabbos to the Rebbe. The way it worked was each boy would pass buy give shalom and the Rebbe would ask their name and the Rebbe would respond with a brocha and his smile that would penetrate each and every one of them. One boy coming from a very polite family, when the Rebbe asked him his name he said my name is Sammy and what’s yours, the Rebbe without batting an eyelash responded with "my name is Shlome Halberstam" and continued with the regular brocha

What a special person


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5. letting go of time     8/7/08 - 3:00 AM
Sarit - Ramat Bet Shemesh

Nevertheless, he conducted himself with the same regal bearing and nobility of spirit that he did year-round – taking the time to greet people with dignity, and converse with them as if they were the only people that mattered to him.

Rav Horowitz, can you please share some words as to how parents can acquire this attitude - starting with immediate family? Seems us common folk can easily get so busy nowadays that we're just rushing around from one task or event to the next, and ultimately shortchanging all the people we do it for.

Thank you!


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6. Being real     8/7/08 - 9:11 AM
Benzion Twerski

I am jumping in to respond to a question that was asked of Rabbi Horowitz. I hope nobody minds.

Every individual has his/her status and role. I may occupy a position of authority and power when I am presenting to an audience, writing, conducting a session or consultation, or sometimes when I am being introduced in a crowd. These experiences feed ego gluttonously. The challenge is to overcome this, get down to earth, and be real. In the long run, HKB”H needs someone else as much as He needs me, and my valuing myself as better than the next person is fraudulent, even comical when viewed from the perspective of the global picture. Seforim refer to the Klal of Yisroel as a single body composed of billions of cells. Each and every cell is needed and serves an important purpose. Some cells may be located in more honorable places of the anatomy, and may be involved in more “respectable” functions. But when a single cell goes bad in a less respectable place, it affects the function of the entire body. So it is foolish to get carried away with our status, and the ego trip will just become part of an existential comedy.

The Bobover Rebbe ZT”L never got carried away with his position. He was ever conscious of his obligations, and he remained a loving father to so many thousands of people. While having the privilege of having known him well due to the family connection, I am constantly amazed at the stories, vignettes, and wisdom that I hear from countless others.

I have watched the Rebbe cry with someone else’s suffering, and I watched him rejoice with simcha at another’s simcha (chasuna, bris, etc.), unable to tell whether this was his own simcha or another’s.

We tend to get stuck making the observations, as richly portrayed in the commonly published photos of tzaddikim, of how they recited birchas ilanos, burned the chometz, baked matzos, recited kiddush levana or havdala, danced at a chasuna, or held the lulav on Hoshana Rabah. The obvious gap is the range of midos tovos that were the mainstay of their lives. I recall a photo that circulated many years ago of Rav Eliyahu Lopian feeding a dish of milk to a cat. I was extremely impressed by that. I wish we had more glimpses into “regular life” ways of these tzaddikim that we can emulate – sort of a photographic version of sifrei mussar.


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7.     8/7/08 - 7:07 PM
Anonymous

dr. sorotzkin as always u write very well; but how did u answer the question [# 5] "all too busy...." ?


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8.     8/7/08 - 7:13 PM
Anonymous

sorry "so busy nowadays..."


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9. to busy isn't too haughty     8/10/08 - 10:31 PM
Sarit - Ramat Bet Shemesh

Thank you Rabbi Twerski for your comments. You're right perhaps these comments of the Bobover Rebbe more reflect that he didn't get too haughty from his position, and perhaps my question is not so relevant with regard to someone in a high position.

But the idea of giving each individual time resonated with me for a different reason: I am not in a very high (public) position, I am a simple Jewish mother. And sometimes my time is pulled in many (lowly) directions, with no personal entourage to delegate to. And I was lamenting that sometimes I feel so busy that I find it outright difficult to pay proper attention to the people in my life (including myself).

Many of us "common folk" have heard shmuessen about how we too have holy roles and need to set priorities correctly, but that doesn't necessarily give me the tools to do much better in the situation.

(There are some helpful practical solutions for some individuals, but I'm looking for a more universal "big picture.")

Regards, Sarit


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10. To Sarit     8/11/08 - 9:10 AM
Benzion Twerski

Sarit:

I read your comment a few times, and I hope I understood it correctly.

My initial reaction to your words is that what you are doing is actually holy work. And you should credit yourself for that. It would be irresponsible to say that saying Tehilim or davening is unimportant. Going to a shiur is great. There are many things women can do that are truly important pieces of avodas Hashem. But the major responsibility of raising children is one of the loftiest. Neglecting others is not really neglect, it is prioritizing your children that HKB”H entrusted to you. To the degree that you “neglect” yourself, you might benefit from someone to converse with to obtain some ideas to engage in some self-indulgence. This will ultimately benefit your children as well. You will not be held responsible for the outcome. There is bitachon for that. You must invest the effort. As you noted, there are practical solutions for some, and you need to reach out to find yours. The “big picture” is great for discussion, and you might try it on a restful Shabbos afternoon. Your life will be impacted far greater with the practical guidance and suggestions that are tailored for your own matzav. I hope this is helpful.


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11. too busy     8/11/08 - 10:25 AM
RG

Sometimes we are really too busy, but if we have a sense of peace about what we are doing, we don't really care if we are really busy. The problem arises when we feel angry or resentful. Why should I have to do so much? Why should I feel swept away as by a wave? Why donj't I have anyone to delegate to? We may blame husbands, society, Torah leaders, Hashem, our parents, our kids, etc. The only solution I can recommend is to be very real, and then try EFT on your very real feelings. You may find that after you acknowledge what's going on for you emotionally, you either feel happier about what you are doing, or you somehow do make significant changes to make your life easier, or a combination of both, like setting aside times for yourself once a week, while stressing out terribly until then if that's what suits you!

EFT and other forms of energy work are tremendously helpful for strong feelings, or overwhelm, etc. and can really help you in ways you couldn't believe. If this letter is not helpful for you, please don't be offended but just disregard it. Best wishes and Hatzlocho Rabbo.


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12. To Sarit     8/11/08 - 12:40 PM
Anonymous

A number of Miriam Adahan's books speak directly to your challenge--shared by so many women. She gives very insightful, practical suggestions on actions and thought processes you might take on to respond to your challenges in a way that promotes spiritual growth, internal peace, and a sense of empowerment and self-esteem based on real, Torah values.

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