June 21, 2024
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Stories of Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman of Migdal Haemek

Excerpting: ‘Living Legend: Rabbi Grossman of Migdal Haemek’ by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer. Artscroll Mesorah Publications. 2021. English. Hardcover. 484 pages. ISBN #: 9781422628089.

(Courtesy of Artscroll) As millions of viewers watched, the rabbi with the shining face, long peyos and beard stepped up to receive the prize. It was obvious to anyone watching the proceedings that every one of the politicians on the stage, from the prime minister down, had profound respect for the unapologetically religious Jew whom they were welcoming with handshakes and warm smiles. They respected the fact that he had never compromised on who he was. And they loved him for his care and concern for every member of klal Yisrael, no matter who they were, how religious they were, or where they placed themselves politically.

To the rabbi from Migdal HaEmek, every Jew was worthy of unconditional love, and the country loved him right back.

Two weeks after the ceremony, Rav Grossman was driven to the airport, in an attempt to raise the funds he needed for the new buildings for which he had signed a contract. As someone who travels abroad on a frequent basis, Rav Yitzchak Dovid was a familiar face at the El Al counter and lounge, and he was immediately recognized by the staff. They greeted him warmly, congratulating him on having been chosen as the winner of the Israel Prize for that year.

“On behalf of El Al,” one of the staffers said, “we would like to thank you for all the hard work you do for the children of Israel, and to express our appreciation by offering you a free upgrade to first class for your flight to America.”

Until that point Rav Yitzchak Dovid had rarely flown first class, reasoning that since his journey to the States was in order to raise funds, it would be wrong for him to use the money to sit in the first-class section of the plane. In addition to not wanting to use tzedaka money for personal benefit, Rav Grossman was also uncomfortable with people judging him for having the temerity to sit in first class while fundraising. He therefore made a point of staying out of first class even if people who had paid for him to attend their simchahs offered him a first-class ticket. But here it was El Al that was offering him a free upgrade, and he decided to make an exception to his long-standing policy.

He didn’t really understand why he was choosing to do this — after all, he had turned down so many first-class trips. But something intangible pushed him to accept, and he thanked the staff and took them up on their gracious offer.

So it was that Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman boarded the plane to the United States, taking his seat in the almost empty first-class section.

There were six seats in first class. Rav Grossman was seated in one of the seats on the side of the cabin. At first it seemed that he was going to have the entire section to himself for the flight, but a few minutes before takeoff a couple entered the cabin and took the center seats. The plane was cleared for takeoff not long after.

At first the rabbi kept to himself, but after the “fasten seatbelt” light was turned off, he had an idea, which he considered quite inspired. Since they were going to be together for the duration of the flight, and since the man and his wife had nowhere to go, Rav Yitzchak Dovid decided that now would be the perfect time to show the couple the brand-new DVD clip that his staff at Migdal Ohr had put together for him to show prospective donors in the States.

Carrying the portable DVD player in his hand, he approached the couple. Sticking out his hand to the man, he said in his accented, yet completely understandable and even somewhat charming English, “Hello, my name is Rabbi Grossman. They used to call me the ‘Disco Rabbi,’ since I have done a lot of work with many young people in the discos and jails.”

“What type of work do you do, Rabbi?”

“I work with children from broken homes — many of whom are orphans. Perhaps I can interest you in watching a short video presentation about my organization. This will give you a better idea of what we are all about.”

With hours of flight time ahead of them and nothing that important to fill the time with, the couple agreed to watch the DVD. They were also unquestionably intrigued by the fascinating rabbi whom “fate” had chosen as their travel partner for the next 11 hours.

Rav Yitzchak Dovid handed them a pair of earphones to use and pressed the play button. He then returned to his seat as the husband and wife grew immersed in the magical world of Migdal Ohr. Having seen the clip numerous times, Rav Yitzchak Dovid waited until he recognized the final scene heralding the conclusion of the short film. When it was over he rose from his seat and returned to the couple, figuring that he would take back the DVD player and hear their impressions.

The next 20 seconds, however, did not play out in any way that he could ever have imagined.

Without much experience in first-class travel, what the rabbi didn’t know was that there was a button in the armrest of the first-class seat which, when pressed, transformed it from a seat into a bed in a matter of seconds. As he stood over the man, Rav Yitzchak Dovid reached over and took hold of the DVD player with his right hand, not realizing that he had unwittingly placed his left hand on the seat-shifting button. The button immediately responded to his pressure and laid the seat down full length, sending the unsuspecting passenger into a supine position with no warning whatsoever!

As Rav Yitzchak Dovid watched in stupefied horror, the man who had just graciously consented to watch his DVD went from sitting up to lying down, shocked beyond all words by the sudden shift, not grasping why he was suddenly horizontal. And it was all the rabbi’s fault!

Standing beside his fellow passenger and mortified beyond all measure by what had just occurred, Rav Yitzchak Dovid tried to figure out what he could do to fix the situation he’d created. Without thinking too deeply into his next action, only trying to make amends, Rav Yitzchak Dovid leaned down over the man and gave him a kiss on his forehead—as if to apologize for the uncomfortable situation he had put him in, saying, “Excuse me, excuse me—please forgive me!”

He didn’t know what had come over him. He felt completely discombobulated and unsure of himself, as if he were operating in the middle of a fog. Taking the time to lift the seat back into an upright position, the rabbi hastened back to his own chair, where he sat down and immediately began castigating himself. Not only had he sent the unsuspecting stranger into this embarrassing position, but then he’d kissed him on the forehead, no doubt adding insult to injury!

“Itche Duvid,” he said to himself, “how could you have done such a thing?! Who does this? Who acts this way? Why couldn’t you have just stayed in your seat and left those people alone? You’re on a plane—you didn’t have to show them the DVD. You could have spent your time doing the things you need to do and left them alone to spend their time as they pleased! Instead, look what you did! You shamed your fellow passenger, and then instead of apologizing and returning to your seat, you went and kissed him on his forehead. He probably thinks you’re a crazy person!”

So it went, with Rav Grossman castigating himself, asking himself over and over why he had felt the need to act in such an outlandish fashion…

A few minutes later the couple rose from their seats and made their way over to their cabin-mate, who was still smarting from the shame of what had just transpired.

“Rabbi,” the man began, “I want to tell you something.”

Rav Yitzchak Dovid sat straight up in his chair, prepared for the worst.

“My wife and I came to Israel with a very large sum of charity funds which we earmarked for dispersion,” the man continued. “Although there are many worthy organizations in the country, we have always been interested in helping out children from dysfunctional families or who are orphans, and we were hoping to be introduced to such an organization, with the intent of making a serious contribution.

“I am a good friend of Bibi Netanyahu and Ze’ev Bielsky, the head of the Jewish Agency, and the two of them told me about many different organizations who deal with this type of cause. For some reason, though, none of them spoke to me. All of them seemed to be worthy causes, yet I didn’t connect with any of them—and I didn’t end up making a contribution. This meant that we found ourselves leaving the country with all the charity funds with which we arrived. Seeing that I hadn’t succeeded in accomplishing what I had planned on doing, I had a conversation with God.”

Here Rav Yitzchak Dovid leaned forward, very interested and, to be honest, relieved that he wasn’t getting a tongue lashing.

“This is what I said to God: ‘If a person will introduce himself to me—a person who works with these kinds of children—and he will give me a kiss on the forehead, this will be a sign that this is the person to whom I need to give the charity money. I don’t have to tell you, Rabbi, that you fit all the criteria. You run Migdal Ohr, which I see changes countless lives every year for the better, and you gave me a kiss on the forehead!”

Rav Yitzchak Dovid was blown away by what the man was telling him. Hashem had made it happen, using the most incredible turn of events to bring him to kiss a complete stranger—who had been specifically waiting for that exact thing to happen! The whole chain of events boggled the imagination. El Al offering him a free upgrade, his decision to show his fellow passengers the DVD, making a mistake and “helping” the man lie down—all leading up to the kiss and the outcome of the most extraordinary deal he had ever heard of.

Over the next two years, the couple he met on the plane donated over $4 million to the Migdal Ohr institutions.

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