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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