Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Not Off Script


I cannot say that it was exactly congruous, but during the indescribable Adirei HaTorah event, a thought passed through my mind.

I was sitting together with 25,000 others – some talmidim, some alumni, some tomchim of Bais Medrash Govoah, some rabbonim, some simple Jews who knew that they had to be part of this massive outpouring of love and kavod for the Torah, and, in the words of the Paterson rosh yeshiva, those who are clothed in the Torah and become its corporeal existence through their learning.

We were inspired together by the words of roshei yeshiva and gedolei Yisroel who graced us with their presence. We sang together, we danced together, and we connected as one.

But when Rav Meir Tzvi Bergman spoke, something crossed my mind. Having learned in Ponovezh close to fifty years ago, I remember the rosh yeshiva and his children, as they were so often in the proximity of Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach. When I sat shivah for my father zt”l, he came to our home to be menachem avel our family.  His divrei Torah and chiddushim are so enlightening, and the mere sight of him at the event made an indelible roshem upon me.

When he spoke about the concept of yedidim, and how the bnei Torah and the tomchim personify the beloved moniker that the Torah bestowed upon their forebears, I felt uplifted.

And then, the rosh yeshiva suddenly shifted gears. It showed his endless commitment to Klal Yisroel as a whole, as the pain in his heart flooded the entire room and pierced the hearts of the more than 25,000 gathered to raise the keren haTorah.

And when he started speaking what seemed totally off topic, my mind switched gears as well. I thought of a scene I had watched originally in a museum in New York many years ago. I’ll describe it: It was the Yiddishe wedding of the century: The daughter of Rav Chaim Elazar Shapira, the illustrious Munkatcher Rebbe, was to marry the son of the Rebbe of Partzov. Both Chassidic dynasties were royal, aristocratic, and majestic. And the ceremony was to be equally regal. The chosson and kallah would ride in opulent carriages, drawn by four white horses. The wedding meal was so large that every needy member of the community would be allowed to partake. It was the Jewish event of the century!

I have to assume that in its day, the event, although celebrating a personal simcha, was something akin to the glory and majesty of the Adirei HaTorah event.

There was no or Yeshiva World back then, but there was so much excitement that an actual secular news crew came to film the wedding. The footage would be incorporated as part of the pre-feature newsreels shown at American movie theaters across the Atlantic. “Imagine!” thought the reporters. “This would attract hundreds of Jewish people who had roots in Europe into the theater!” The difficult part was to convince the Munkatcher Rebbe to speak for the cameras. The rebbe vehemently opposed the frivolities and wanton ideas of the cinema, and would not participate in a film. The producer assured the rebbe that only his voice, not his face, would be presented to the large audiences.

Rebbe, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to talk about the Chassidic court of Munkatch! Imagine how many Jews would be fascinated by your life’s work. It would also be a wonderful opportunity to send personal wishes to all your followers who have left Europe to come to America.”

Finally, the rebbe consented. He would speak, but not be filmed.  But the producer lied and we have the film of the rebbe speaking before the microphones and the camera that was obscured from his view. He was very brief. He did not sound buoyant, but the producers probably had no idea what he said. In fact, he seemed pained. Tearfully, he repeated his message a few times and then turned his head and stopped talking.

The American crew was excited. They were going to present the wedding with its entire mystique and majesty to American audiences. They would get the official tearful “Mazel tov, thank you for coming,” that they believed the rebbe had said.

However, when the wedding film was shown in American theaters, the scene of the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony was a stark contrast to the interview with the rebbe. They did not see a jubilant rebbe toasting the large audience upon the joyous occasion. Instead, they saw the rebbe pleading tearfully on the silver screen, “Yidden, heet der Shabbos! Jewish brothers, keep the Shabbos!” Those were the only words he said. Then he turned his face and wept. Those were the only words that the rebbe chose to speak.

I know that Rav Meir Tzvi spoke more than just the ending words, but when he turned his attention, in front of thousands of yeshivaleit and bochurim, and spoke about the pain of those who are looking for their zivug, and for those girls who are not yet zocheh to be “natri l’guvrayhu d’asi m’bai rabbonon, to wait for their husbands who return home from the bais medrash,” I was in awe. The rosh yeshiva pained himself to repeat in English the segulah that was transmitted from Rav Shach, to bentch every word from a siddur or bentcher and not say the words by heart.

I heard the pain cry out, the same way the Munkatcher Rebbe cried about Shabbos. He may not have screamed it aloud, but it reverberated just as powerfully to every person in the room and the tens of thousands watching on video.

Gedolei Yisroel throughout the generations go off script for Klal Yisroel. Rav Aharon Kotler would cry for Chinuch Atzmai during Lakewood Yeshiva events.  Rav Pam would cry for Shuvu even at gatherings that were not apropos for the occasion. Rav Elya Svei would cry for the Russian talmidim and Sinai Academy even at Philadelphia Yeshiva parlor meetings.

There is no script. There is no one occasion. There is Klal Yisroel, Kudsha Brich Hu, and the Torah. It is all one. And every element of them, from Klal Yisroel’s growth, physically, spiritually or familially, is all the same. It is the script of gedolei Yisroel. There is nothing beneath them and there is no language barrier. It is all kavod haTorah. It is all Adirei HaTorah.




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