This past weekend, our family enjoyed a wonderful Shabbos at my parents’ home in the Forshay section of Monsey.
Shabbos morning was very cold, with a biting wind making it feel even colder. At about 7:20 a.m., I left my parents’ house to daven at the hashkamah minyan nearby. When I arrived at Forshay Road, a busy thoroughfare, there were groups of chasidim with sons hurrying past me. As far as my eyes could see, there were groups of chasidim approaching from the same direction.
I had heard that the Gerrer Rebbe was in Forshay. His wife had needed surgery a few weeks back, and afterwards had to stay in New York for a few weeks for rehab. The Rebbe had accompanied her and they were staying nearby. When I asked one of the chasidim if he was heading to the Gerrer Rebbe, and he answered that he was, without having much time to think about it, I joined him.
The fellow I walked with is a Gerrer chasid who lived in Staten Island. His parents live in central Monsey where he was staying for Shabbos, and he had walked a great distance in the cold to have the opportunity to daven with his Rebbe. He explained to me that davening was from 8 a.m. until about 9:30 a.m. There was no kiddush or tish, just davening. He also told me that at the minyan in the main Gerrer Shul in Yerushalayim, there is a one-hour break in the middle of davening for learning, but as the davening was held in a large heated tent, there was no break last week.
Ger is not known for externalities. They are known for punctilious adherence to halachah, but without fanfare. At exactly 7:59 a.m., the Rebbe emerged from the house and took his place at the shtender prepared for him, and the chazan began davening.
After Musaf, there was a bris milah. The Rebbe sat down in the seat that was brought in a minute before, and the baby was immediately brought in. Within five minutes, the bris milah was over, the final Kaddish was recited, the Rebbe wished everyone a Good Shabbos, and by 9:45 he returned to the house.
It wasn’t easy standing on bleachers throughout the davening, holding a siddur and chumash, with a couple of hundred people packed into a tent. But there are always people and things that are distinguished enough to us that we will endure some discomfort just to be in their presence. People wait outside all night before Black Friday for significant monetary bargains; others wait for hours after a game or will arrive extremely early before a game just to get an autograph from a professional player.
The people and things that excite us, and for which we are willing to sacrifice for, have a deep effect on us.
Our former neighbor, Yoni Halper, who recently made aliyah, presented at the Torah Umesorah Presidents Conference last winter. Yoni related that on Motza’ei Shabbos of the conference, he saw Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky walking with his Rebbetzin. He approached them and told him that a couple of decades earlier, when he was a young boy, he had met Rav Shmuel and asked him to autograph the “Gadol card” he had of Rav Shmuel. Yoni told Rav Shmuel that it made a deep impression on him and he was very grateful when Rav Shmuel agreed to do it. Yoni reported that Rav Shmuel and his Rebbetzin had a good laugh.
When Yoni told me that he still had the card, I told him that I had to see it. It took him a few weeks to find it, but he did show it to me. It may be the only autographed copy of Reb Shmuel’s Gadol card in the world.
Our society glamorizes celebrities, sports icons, and the rich and famous. There may not be anything wrong with trying to imitate the way a player excels, the way a singer sings, or the way an actor acts. But somehow it seems to go far beyond that. People who know how to play ball or are great actors don’t have any greater insight to life, politics, or relationships. In fact, it’s often au contraire!
It’s important that we stress that our true role models in life are people who are selfless, loving, and devote themselves to bettering themselves and others. Those are people worth emulating and watching how they conduct themselves, even if there’s no kiddush afterwards.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at email@example.com. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.