On the night of Sunday, December 31, over two million people went out in freezing temperatures to watch the ball drop in Times Square and celebrate the start of 2018. On this same night, many others went to Beth Gavriel in Forest Hills to hear Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser and Rabbi Paysach Krohn deliver chizuk and divrei Torah.
Rabbi Goldwasser implored everyone to do kiruv. The famous Amora, Rabbi Zeira, spent countless hours with unaffiliated Jews who knew nothing about Torah. He was ridiculed by the masses for spending time with them; they thought such a thing was beneath the dignity of a tzadik like Rabbi Zeira. But it didn’t stop him. He didn’t lose sight of his goal of doing kiruv, and didn’t get caught up in machlokes; rather, he davened for the people who ridiculed him. And he was extremely successful in doing kiruv.
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was another tzadik who spent a lot of time with non-frum Jews and was mocked for it. One man even had the gall to ask him, “Rebbe, why are you spending time with these people? What are they even worth?” Rav Levi took a deep breath and asked the man inquisitively: “What do you do for a living?” “I sell diamonds,” the man replied. Rav Levi asked him to show him one. Upon seeing it, Rav Levi told the man that the diamond was worthless. The man was taken aback: “What do you mean Rebbe? This diamond is worth millions!” The Berditchever Rav quickly and adroitly replied, “Are you sure, how would you know?” “I am a top expert in the diamond industry,” the man answered. You may not know if one stone is valuable or not, but I do. “Aha” said Rav Levi. This is true. But I am an expert in souls. You may not know if a soul is valuable or not, but I do!
He finished with another breathtaking story. There was a chashuve wagon driver who would say T’hilim all day (and kept his eyes on the road). His son wasn’t so holy, and went off the derech. Despite this, when his father put in his will that his son should say Kaddish for him, the son went from shul to shul trying to find a minyan that would let him say Kaddish there for his father. He was thrown out of every single one! They said they were worried his presence would make them tamei. Finally, he found the Breslov shul, which welcomed him in. Mitzvah goreres mitzvah, and the man began to put on t’filin and keep Shabbos, and he became a frum Jew like his father. When the town mikvah was closed, they needed someone handy to help build a secret mikvah. The now-frum, wagon driver’s son was a master handyman and built a beautiful mikvah for the whole town so they could purify themselves. The irony was that the man they were worried would make them tamei with his mere presence in shul was the one who helped everyone in town become tahor.
Rabbi Goldwasser said we can conclude from these stories that sometimes you have to do what’s right even if the entire world you live in is doing the opposite. If it’s the right thing to do, you must do it!
Rabbi Krohn praised the audience for coming on this especially cold night to learn Torah, a night when others run to drink and party. The tefilah we say after learning Gemara is that we have hakaras ha’tov that we were stirred to learn, like the people who came to the Garber house on freezing December 31. The goyim are stirred to drink, the Jews to learn Torah! Look at the differences in how we celebrate the new year! On Rosh HaShanah, we daven, it’s a day of holiness, a day of judgment; for many in the non-Jewish world, New Year’s Day is just another big chance to party. Mi K’amcha Yisrael!
Rabbi Krohn continued by emphasizing the difference one Jew can make. He went to Ukraine this past summer, the land where many chasidic masters grew up: the Baal Shem Tov, Rav Levi of Berditchev, and Rabbi Nachman of Uman. He met with Rabbi Arush, who told him how when he was younger he was a non-religious helicopter pilot for the IDF. He fought in the Yom Kippur War and five of his friends were killed, and it bothered him tremendously and it posed the question to him of what’s the whole purpose of this world? How do I explain all of this travesty that has befallen my friends and for all their families? He found the answer in Judaism and frumkeit and wrote his inspirational sefer, Garden of Emunah, that’s helped so many other Jews become frum. Rav Yehuda Zev Segal (the Manchester Rav) and Michael Rothschild started the Sh’miras HaLashon movement that is widespread around the world. The Daf Yomi movement, started by Rav Shapiro zt”l, is another worldwide tremendous success. Over 100,000 Jews were at the MetLife Siyum HaShas! The difference one Jew can make!
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt”l asked why Yosef got punished for asking the butler to remember him to Pharaoh. Wasn’t he doing his hishtadlus to get himself out of prison? He answers that Yosef worded it with the wrong intention: He didn’t say, “Remember me to Pharaoh and Hashem will take me out (of prison).” He said, “Remember me to Pharaoh and Pharaoh will take me out. This teaches us to always involve Hashem in everything in our lives. Everything! Say “b’ezras Hashem” and make it part of our teva (nature) to thank Hashem for all good things that happen to us, even the minutiae. Emunah by definition is our constant awareness that Hashem is there every second. Notice moments of hashgachah pratis in your lives and tell stories of hashgachah pratis to others: It increases your individual awareness of Hashem in your lives and spreads that awareness to others. Of course, the bad things are also hashgachah pratis; we just don’t always understand the reason, because we are only human. It’s all for our good.
Rabbi Krohn finished with a brachah to the crowd that we should all be able to fulfill our own unique tafkid (task) to the fullest, and be the best Jew that Hashem wants us to be.
By Susie Garber