There was almost a surreal feeling in the nearly deserted Ballroom of the New York Hilton as Rabbi Shmuel Bloom met with the staff of Agudas Yisroel after the 76th Annual Dinner to plan for the levaya of Rabbi Sherer. Exhausted from the demands of the dinner, and emotionally drained from the crushing blow of Rabbi Sherer’s petira only hours earlier, the staff set aside their emotions and focused on the countless details necessary to insure that the proper kavod acharon would be given.
The staff. For the past few months, I have been privileged to be part of this illustrious group of multi-talented men and women handpicked by Rabbi Sherer to serve the klal in such a dignified manner. I sat quietly throughout the meeting, watching as every one of the myriad details of the levaya was discussed. How ironic it was that the well-oiled machine that – under the watchful eye of Rabbi Sherer - produced so many events that created such kevod shomayim, would now be engaged to provide the kavod acharon for him.
Throughout the meeting, I watched as members of the staff would pause for a moment, as if to step back and reflect on the petira of Rabbi Sherer. A soft krechtz would escape, and then the thought, “we have a job to do” would clearly come to mind, and the person would plunge back to the work at hand.
Although most of the others had spent decades with Rabbi Sherer, and quite literally felt as if their father had passed away, I felt a different sense of loss. I was envious of the others for having had the shimush from Rabbi Sherer that was so evident in everything that they do. Having been recently appointed to head a new endeavor that is rich with so much promise and fraught with so much danger, I felt almost cheated at the thought of not having his guidance.
A story I had heard years ago came to mind.
Approximately forty years ago, an esteemed member of the Yerushalmi kehila was on his deathbed. His entire extended family surrounded him as the end came closer. Knowing that he had moments to live, he turned to his children and remarked that there are many thoughts that he would like to share with them, but, “Eich hub moriah fun p’neyos.” (He was concerned that it would be a smattering of boastfulness for him to assume that he was in a position to give direction to others). He recited the S’hema, and passed from this world without sharing his thoughts with anyone.
His children were inconsolable at their lost opportunity to hear the thoughts and guidance that their father had initially wanted to share with them. When Reb Shmuel Shapiro Z’tl, one of the elders of the kehila, came to be menachem avel, one of the sons expressed his feelings of grief to Reb Shmuel. Reb Shmuel was silent for a moment. He then softly said in Yiddish, “But he did give you hadrocha. He taught you the importance of conducting yourself with tzniyus and humility.
I had received my guidance all right. I wasn’t paying enough attention.
My training began on my first day in 84 WilliamStreet with a two-hour meeting with Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, as he – with great passion – outlined the ideals and goals of Agudas Yisroel. “People don’t fully understand the goal of Reb Meir Shapiro with the Daf Hayomi. It was not just a program to spread limud hatorah. It was the best way to unite Klal Yisroel. That is the mission of Agudas Yisroel.”
Rabbi Sherer dropped in for a few minutes to wish me mazel. He returned a few moments later with a beautifully-inscribed copy of Against all Odds . “Read it carefully Reb Yakov” he said. “And learn about Agudas Yisroel.” He spoke to me for a few moments. As he stood up to leave the room, he placed a hand on my shoulder, and said, “As a rebbi, you were able to touch 25 lives a year – perhaps 1000 lives over your teaching career. Working for Agudas Yisroel, you can help all of Klal Yisroel. I trust that you can meet that challenge.”
Throughout my first few months with Agudas Yisroel, I was initiated into the philosophy of The Agudah movement – commitment to helping fellow yidden, fidelity to Gedolei Torah, and the incredible sense of achdus and backing from the balei batim – the lay people who are the backbone of the organization.
My personal tzavoah would come several months later.
Two weeks before the petira of Rabbi Sherer, I got a call from his personal secretary regarding an ad for the Project Y.E.S. parenting workshops that appeared in the Yated Ne’eman that week. “Rabbi Sherer asked you to please make the following corrections to the ad before you run it again,” she said.
1) “You did not include cross streets in the ad. (It read that the sessions will be conducted at Rabbi Reisman’s shul – 2122 Ave S.) It should include the cross streets (i.e. between E. 21st and E. 22nd streets). People who don’t live in Flatbush, may not know exactly where the shul is located.”
2) The ad read - Rabbi Horowitz has been conducting parenting sessions …over the past few years. “Rabbi Sherer said that if his memory is correct, you first spoke at the 1996 (Agudas Yisroel National) Convention.” That means you probably weren’t doing much public speaking until then.
“Take out the word few – it should say over the past years.”
3) At the bottom of the ad there was a note stating that “all proceeds (there was an entrance fee of $10- per couple) will benefit Project Y.E.S.”
“Add the word exclusively. Since all the money is going to the Agudah, it should state that fact clearly.
She paused for a moment, and added, “Rabbi Sherer asked me to tell you that Agudas Yisroel is the organization that it is, because he personally checked every ad and every letter that we sent out for the past fifty years.”
In one minute, I got my orders that would have to last for a lifetime. Guide people as much as you possibly can. Examine every word you speak or write for absolute honesty. And above all, be forthright about every perutah of momon hekdesh.
My first reaction was one of great simcha. Having heard how deathly ill Rabbi Sherer was, I mistakenly took that phone call to be a sign that he was feeling better. I turned on my computer, typed a short memo, and faxed it to Rabbi Sherer’s home. I thanked him for the corrections, and then added a postscript. “Let me join Klal Yisroel in wishing you a Refuah Shelaima. May we be zoicha to have your eina pekicha (watchful eye) biz a hundret un tzvontzik”
Loi zochinu. Loi zochinu.
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