April 20, 2024
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April 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

With the majestic golden sun setting beyond the horizon and the soul stirring words of “Mizmor L’Dovid” marking the waning moments of Shabbos, I began to tell the story of the Bobover Rebbe, zt”l.

In the immediate post-war years that saw the once dominant Bobov chasidim decimated by the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, the Bobover Rebbe settled on Manhattan’s Upper West Side accompanied by the few remaining family members and chasidim who survived. That painful maiden Upper West Side Friday saw the newly formed Bobov Shteibel struggle mightily to scratch together a Shabbos minyan for their rebbe.

Realizing they were one short, a couple of young chasidim stood outside the shtiebel eyeing each passerby in the hope of finding one Jew. Dressed in weekday garb, an eventual passerby caught the attention of the young chasidim as they inquired in Yiddish if he was a Yid willing to help. Slowing his pace, the passerby responded that he lived through the destruction of the Holocaust and was done with God. The young chasidim pleaded for help so as to avoid the embarrassment of the rebbe not having a Shabbos minyan.

Introducing himself simply as “Moishele,” the passerby relented on condition that he would be given the amud to be the baal tefillah. Informed of the predicament, the rebbe warmly thanked Moishele and invited him to lead. Moishele’s davening inspired before he returned to the cold night leaving the warmth of Shabbos behind. This process repeated itself for numerous weeks before eventually Moishele failed to show.

With the shtiebel’s minyan now having grown, there was no longer a need for Moishele. Nevertheless the rebbe refused to begin without “Moishele the baal tefilla” and summoned his young chasidim to find him.

Following a brief search the chasidim found Moishele sitting on a nearby park bench smoking a cigarette on Shabbos. The chasidim relayed their discovery to the rebbe, who wouldn’t relent, sending his young chasidim back to convince Moishele. Discovering Moishele still smoking, the chasidim implored him to return, to no avail.

The rebbe painfully explained that it was impossible for Moshe to be smoking on Shabbos; rather it was the “Deitschen,” the Germans who were smoking.

The ensuing decades saw a miraculous resurgence as the house of Bobov was restored to its pre-war glory with tens of thousands of chasidim and a royal court now stationed in the heart of Borough Park. On a cold winter night in 1990, the Bobover Rebbe radiated simcha as he was presiding over the massive wedding of his granddaughter.

Amidst the euphoria, the gabbaim allowed an elderly man to approach the rebbe. “Do you remember me?” asked the man decked out in full chasidic garb. “I am Moishele the baal tefillah, from the old shtiebel on the West Side. I have over a hundred eineklach (grandchildren) and they are all shomrei Torah and mitzvos.” With tears streaming down his face Moshe said, “you know why? Because it was the Deitschen (the Germans) smoking, it wasn’t me.”

I first heard this story from Rav Moshe Weinberger, who followed it up with a remarkable story relayed to him by his own father who survived the horrors of Mauthausen.

Rav Weinberger’s father told him about a Jew from his hometown of Ungvar who spitefully sat on the steps of the main shul each Shabbos while demonstratively smoking a cigarette. The more he was asked to respect the sanctity of Shabbos, the more this self-hating Jew continued to smoke. Rav Weinberger’s father relayed that many years later that very same Jew died right in Rav Weinberger’s father’s arms in Mauthausen while emotionally screaming the words to Shema Yisrael!

More than directly impacting our own religious faith, soul stirring stories like these further awaken our faithfulness to the internal faith and truth we have long known.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz explained that the word emunah is often incorrectly translated as faith, when in reality it really means faithfulness. A Jew is born with inherent faith (Judaism is the only religion that claims that God revealed himself while giving us the Torah in public, in front of millions of people, while other major religions claim a single person had a private “revelation,” requiring others to take a “leap of faith”) that does not require any “leaps.” Rather, our challenge is developing our emunah, our faithfulness to the truth that we already know.

This lends new insight into brilliant questions asked by the Nesivos Shalom on the pasuk in Beshalach (perek 14, pasuk 31) that we say every morning regarding the astounding miracles that Hashem performed at Kriyas Yam Suf: “When Bnei Yisrael saw the awesome power that Hashem wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared Hashem, they had faith in Hashem and in Moshe his servant.”

The Nesivos Shalom points out that faith is only required in the absence of absolute knowledge of a being or event’s reality. If the Jewish people witnessed these wondrous miracles with their own eyes, what was the purpose of needing faith?

The Nesivos Shalom further inquires why the Jewish people first needed to see Hashem’s wondrous miracles before developing their faith. We have been taught that Bnai Yisrael merited the miracles of being taken out of Egypt on account of the faith that they already possessed. He beautifully explains that there are three levels of faith; intellectual faith, faith of the heart and faith of the limbs. A person can possess intellectual knowledge of something while not yet “living” with that knowledge (a smoker knows the extreme health risks of smoking, as an unhealthy eater knows the health impact of poor dietary choices).

While Bnai Yisrael possessed intellectual faith while still in Egypt, witnessing the wondrous miracles drove their unshakable faith deep into every fiber of their bodies. The life-changing miracles of Kriyas Yam Suf cemented the Jewish people’s ability to faithfully live with the truth they already knew.

Recalling the Jews of yesteryear who spontaneously sang the Shira to Hashem, we gazed at the final sunset of Shabbos while faithfully returning to the words of Mizmor L’Dovid. “Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not lack. I shall dwell in the house of Hashem for the length of my days.”


Daniel Gibber is a longtime resident of Teaneck and is a VP of Sales at Deb El Food Products. In addition to learning as much Torah as he can, he is also privileged to speak periodically on the topic of emunah and be involved in Jewish outreach through Olami Manhattan. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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