May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

By Rabbi Judah Mischel

In the second half of the 20th century, Rav Eliyahu Roth, zt”l, was one of the great talmidei chachamim and holy men living in Yerushalayim. A confidant and right-hand to the tzaddik, Reb Shloimke Zhviller, zt”l, he was widely respected as a brilliant and insightful educator, as well as a trusted baal eitza and wiseman in his own right. “Rav Elya” was an eved Hashem—through and through—who suffered poverty and personal loss, but always maintained his faith and joyous disposition.

During the war-torn, pre-state days in the Holy City, the Jewish population sustained incessant bombing from the Jordanians, and many close to the border sought shelter out of the line of fire. Rav Elya, too, temporarily left his home in Batei Ungarin, on the north-east of the Old City, to find refuge in Katamon. A group of Breslover chasidim—led by Reb Avraham Sternheartz, zt”l—were also exiled from the Jewish Quarter and relocated to Katamon. There, they gathered together in a small shtiebel. This Breslover shul in Katamon became the spiritual hub of the community and remained open all night for learning, davening and tikkun chatzos, the midnight lament over the destruction of the Temple and our exile. Rav Elya settled in among the Breslover chevra, and found respite and comfort in their company.

Having brought his own personal samovar to Katamon, Rav Elya made sure that there was always hot water and a supply of coffee, tea and sugar for everyone in the shteibel. One of the members asked the respected elder sage if, perhaps, stocking coffee, tea and sugar might be a job more appropriate for a gabbai or perhaps, someone of lesser stature.

Rav Elya answered with an anecdote: “When I was a child, I was walking home late one freezing night, and passed by a shul in Yerushalayim. Suddenly, a torrent of cold rain poured down, and I stopped under the awning for a moment to catch my breath. Despite the roar of the rain pounding the tin roof, I heard a deep sigh coming from inside the shul. Peeking into the door of the shul, I saw an elderly Jew sitting in the darkened sanctuary—sipping a hot drink—the steam wafting upward. ‘Ahhh,’ he sighed again to himself, ‘meshivas nafesh, it revives the soul!’ I’ll never forget the smile on that Jew’s face; and when he noticed me in the doorway and said, ‘Believe me, there is a special place in Gan Eden for whoever shtelt (put out) this coffee … ’”

“Since that day so long ago, I’ve made it my business to make sure that wherever Yidden are, they should be able to have a hot drink to revive them, baderech, along the way … ”

~

אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל …

“These are the journeys of the children of Israel … ” (33:1)

Our sedra reviews all of the locations where we camped in the desert, providing a terse recap that alludes to many of the challenges and miracles we experienced throughout sefer Bamidbar. Through its narration of decades of traversing the unpopulated, desolate wilderness, the Torah points out numerous episodes revolving around water. At Eitam, Tzin, Shur and Refidim, we lacked water; at Marah and Kadesh, we witnessed miraculous transformations and appearances of water; we were tested by a lack of water at Refidim and Mei Meriva, and encountered an abundance of water at the oasis of Eilim.

Rashi comments on the Torah’s list of encampments:

לָמָּה נִכְתְּבוּ הַמַּסָּעוֹת הַלָּלוּ? לְהוֹדִיעַ חֲסָדָיו שֶׁל מָקוֹם, שֶׁאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁגָּזַר עֲלֵיהֶם לְטַלְטְלַם וְלַהֲנִיעָם בַּמִּדְבָּר, לֹא תֹאמַר שֶׁהָיוּ נָעִים וּמְטֻלְטָלִים מִמַּסָּע לְמַסָּע כָּל אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה וְלֹא הָיְתָה

לָהֶם מְנוּחָה

“Why were these journeys recorded? To inform us of the kind deeds of the Omnipresent, for although He issued a decree to move them around (from place-to-place) and make them wander in the desert, you should not say that they were moving about and wandering from station to station for all 40 years and had no rest …”

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim, III:50) notes that the Torah is mentioning names of places that represent the miracles through which Hashem sustained us in the midbar. This part of our sedra is thus a celebration of the chasadim that Hashem performed for us on our journeys.

~

During the summer months, the center of Jewish life in the New York Metropolitan area shifts “upstate” to the Catskill mountains. Countless Jews have the zechus and privilege to pass through the iconic Woodbourne shul, where around the clock—throughout the summer—Jews of all types and stripes make their way to daven and learn, make a “pit-stop,” have a bite to eat and get a little rest baderech. This holy place of prayer and gathering is maintained by one of the great men of our generation, Rav Mordechai Jungreis—the Nikolsburg rebbe, shlita. The Nikolsburger is a humble melamed, overflowing with ahavas Yisrael, wonderful and righteous through and through. Day in and day out, he can be found shuffling around the shul, pouring people drinks, serving food, sweeping up, greeting everyone with a huge smile and hug, and always with patience, kindness and a niggun on his lips.

I once came upon the Nikolsberger while he was re-stocking the fridge and carrying seltzer bottles to refresh the masses and I offered a hand: “Rebbe, please don’t strain yourself, I’ll get it,” I said, moving toward the cases of bottles. “Ah, but this is my zechus and my pleasure,” he smiled, “What’s better than to give a thirsty Yid something to drink?”

May the culmination of sefer Bamidbar this week, mark the end of our journey through exile on our way to the promised land. And until then, may Am Yisrael be blessed with an abundance of beverages, refreshed with a good drink, enlivened with a hot coffee—and a glimpse of the chasadim that Hashem is performing for us through the humble tzaddikim all around us. And thus, may we be revived, and blessed with the strength, to continue onward to our destination: גאולה האמיתית והשלימה—the full and true redemption!


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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