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Tuesday
Oct152019

Rabbi Abba Brenenson of Kfar Chabad

By Mendy Dickstein  •

Over a period of thirty-five years, Rabbi Abba Brenenson of Kfar Chabad has been involved in the holy work of a scribe, writing strictly kosher tefillin, mezuzos, and Torah scrolls, and the demand for his merchandise is extremely high. People customarily place orders for his tefillin five years prior to their sons’ bar-mitzvah to ensure that they can immediately have the merit of davening with tefillin written with R’ Abba’s unique style in comparison to other Chassidic sofrim. As we will learn in his life story now presented in this article, this demand started even before he had written a single letter in his first megillah… He attributes this to the merit of the special bracha he received from the Rebbe in an unforgettable yechidus, around 5741, together with his family. However, before we come to the story of that special yechidus in general and the bracha in particular, we will provide some brief introductory background.

Rabbi Abba Brenenson is one of the longstanding personalities of Kfar Chabad. Over a period of about thirty-five years, many people have come to ask him to write tefillin for their children, as he is known for his fine expert writing skills. However, not many people know that this quiet and modest chassid has a most fascinating life story, during which he was also privileged to receive personal guidance from the Rebbe.

Recently, I came to his home in order to hear his story, and I was surprised by the thrilling life’s adventure he had experienced. We now give the floor to Rabbi Brenenson:

“I was born in Queens, New York, raised by a unique Jewish American family united with love and closeness. Among my parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there has been a very strong connection for decades.

“In religious matters, our home could best be classified as traditional. We observed a few mitzvos, and even those not completely. For example, on Shabbos, we went to synagogue, but we traveled there by car and turned on lights. We observed the more basic laws of kashrus, separating milk from meat and buying food only from kosher stores. However, outside the home, we ate everything.

“My parents preferred to belong to the Conservative synagogue, but it was several miles away from our house. On the other hand, located near our home were two others: an Orthodox ‘Young Israel’ shul and a Reform temple. As I have mentioned, my parents didn’t keep Torah and mitzvos completely, but since their parents were stronger in matters of Yiddishkeit, they felt that the gap between Reform Judaism and traditional Yiddishkeit was far too wide. By Divine Providence, we found ourselves belonging to the Orthodox shul.

“I spent my early years like any other normal American boy. I went to public school, and on Wednesdays, the law permitted every student to leave school early and learn about the religion of his choice. During that hour, I participated in a Jewish studies program that took place in our synagogue (‘Mitvach Hour’ sponsored by the Shelah Organization), but I failed to reveal any interest in Judaism.

“In general, I was a very good student with natural inclinations towards tangible subjects, such as mathematics and science. I really didn’t like the more humanistic subjects like history, literature, grammar, etc., and all religious studies were a burden to me; I simply couldn’t connect to them. It’s safe to say that I participated in them only as a family obligation, to make my parents and grandparents happy.

“It’s not hard to understand that before my bar mitzvah, I hardly paid attention to the classes and explanations of the shul’s rabbi. For me, the bar mitzvah was a date devoid of all significance, and when it passed, I felt a great sense of relief and release that I wouldn’t have to deal with religious matters any longer. I considered them to be merely superficial and ceremonial, lacking depth, content, and meaning.

“In essence, my entire outlook on the world was comparable to my view of Judaism. It seemed to me that people were very external in nature; all they wanted was to eat, drink, and be merry. Their preoccupation revolved around these objectives, to the point that they were prepared to trample and ‘consume’ one another to acquire greater wealth, power, and honor.

“With such an outlook on life, I didn’t really have any motivation to go out and work or do something in the world. Even school and everything they taught to make me ready for this kind of life seemed totally empty to me.

“As in Rashi’s well-known commentary that if there’s no water, then there are snakes and scorpions, so too it has been in my life as well. With the passage of time, I was drawn to a negative lifestyle, and I quickly began to experiment with dangerous substances as part of my desire to try to find some essential meaning and significance to my life in this world. I hoped that these drugs would give me ‘another look’ at life.”

SEEKING ESCAPE AT AN EARLY AGE

“Around this time, my elder brother, Reuven a”h, was starting to get closer to Yiddishkeit with the help of rabbis at our local synagogue and at a summer camp sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America. Due to his getting closer to Yiddishkeit, he took a temporary leave of absence from his university studies during his junior year to increase his knowledge in Torah subjects.

“Around this same time, an annual exhibition took place in New York City dealing with world predictions for the coming years. Sara, Reuven’s kallah, who was also a student at the university where he learned, came together with him to view the exhibition. While wandering among the various booths and counters, they came across the ‘World of Education’ stand, manned by Chassidim promoting their ‘merchandise.’ One of these Chassidim was Rabbi Yosef Boruch Spielman, and he extended them an invitation to be his guests for Shabbos, which they gladly accepted.

“It was here that their kiruv process really began. Sara went back to college, while Reuven started coming to Crown Heights each Sunday to learn in Hadar Hatorah. When Sara completed her university studies, they got married with a proper and kosher Jewish wedding. After the birth of their eldest son Aryeh, they moved to Crown Heights to get stronger in their Yiddishkeit.

“Over the years, Reuven tried to influence me, his brother, about ten years his junior, to experience the light of Torah. However, the truth of the matter is that I wanted no connection with the ‘goods’ he was trying to offer me.

“The age of eighteen is usually a time of a crossroads in life. Young people finish high school and prepare to continue their studies in university, but I had no such plans. It seemed quite strange to me that at such a young age, a person is expected to choose a career for the rest of his life. I felt that if I would work or study and I eventually didn’t like my chosen path, it would prove to be a colossal waste of time and resources. Such thoughts, together with the knowledge that people are willing to ‘consume one another’ out in the real world to achieve progress and greater wealth, merely deepened the negative thoughts I had about life.

“In addition, this was a time when the war in Vietnam continued to rage with full force. There was a compulsory military draft in effect, and I too received a letter of ‘Greetings’ from the President of the United States. Many young American boys lost their lives in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia fighting a battle not theirs. The feeling that they had been killed so easily for a useless cause compelled me to start some heavy soul searching. As I mentioned earlier, I found no place that would provide answers to my questions, and so I went looking for them among the religions of the Far East. I started making inquiries about everything the region had to offer. I tried all different kinds of faith, meditation, and spiritual teachings, but I couldn’t seem to find peace for my soul in any of them.

“One day, I was immersed in my thoughts, smoking a variety of weeds. Then, at a very personal and profound moment, I suddenly burst out with a piercing cry from the depths of my heart, ‘Shma Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!’ This scream surprised me very much. While I knew this pasuk from my visits to synagogue, I had never given it much thought. As a result of this outburst, I thought to myself: Perhaps after all, Judaism possesses more than I had previously imagined.

“At this point, I took the step that I never believed I would ever take: I turned to my brother Reuven and asked him to provide me with answers to my critically important questions about our world and the purpose of man. The answers he gave me were in complete contradiction to everything I had believed about the Jewish religion until then. They were very insightful and aroused much contemplation on my part.

“I now felt a strong need to detach myself from everything, carefully consider my brother’s answers, and make a decision whether this is the path I wanted to take.

“I returned home, quickly packed a bag with some personal belongings, and traveled to the secluded snowy peaked mountains of New Hampshire. I sat there all by myself and contemplated on what my brother had told me, trying to awaken something deep within my consciousness. While I knew that he had joined the Chabad movement and even lived in its main community in Crown Heights, until that fateful conversation with him, I knew nothing about Chabad and its outlook on life. The things I heard from him opened a window to an amazing and fascinating world.

“Following about two weeks of absolute solitude, I decided to try and learn the way of life my brother had chosen and find out for myself through this learning whether I wanted to choose this lifestyle as well. With this decision, I packed my things and made my way to the highway to find a ride in the direction of New York. At that very moment, I bore witness to a display of literal Divine Providence in support of my decision, on the level of ‘he who comes to purify himself, is assisted in doing so.’ The first driver that stopped for me asked where I was heading. It turned out that he was traveling to Brooklyn… With one ride, I made the long eight-hour journey crossing several states.

“After another trip on the subway, I reached Crown Heights bearing a most atypical appearance for this neighborhood. I had long hair flowing down my shoulders, wore old denim jeans and boots, and carried a large backpack and walking stick. As I left the Kingston Avenue station, I asked someone passing by where I could go to learn about Judaism, and he directed me to the nearby Hadar Hatorah yeshiva. I remember sitting in the waiting room and a brief while later, a short elderly man with a long white beard and wearing a long black coat came in with a smile on his lips that melted my heart. He was Rabbi Yisroel Jacobson, of blessed memory, rosh yeshiva and founder of Hadar Hatorah for English-speaking ba’alei teshuva.

“Rabbi Jacobson was pleased by the ‘kosher fish’ he had landed, and he gave me guidance on going to learn in yeshiva. Thus, from that moment in late 5731 until his passing in Sivan 5735, he had a tremendous influence upon me through his Chassidic warmth and goodhearted nature. He served as my first teacher and mentor in Yiddishkeit and Chassidus.

“Then, at the end of the summer of 5731, I was eighteen years old. I moved into the yeshiva dormitory and resolved to conduct myself according to local Chabad custom with the utmost sincerity.”

A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER

“At this stage, a new period of my life had begun. I quickly realized that it would no longer be appropriate to continue my usage of dangerous substances. The six years I used them did not provide me with the ‘other view’ I had wanted and contributed nothing to my life. In addition to the ‘turn away from evil’, I immediately began to ‘do good’ – with the fulfillment of practical mitzvos together with Torah study, davening three times a day, putting on tefillin, and observing the holy Shabbos. However, my external appearance remained as it was.

“I also began changing my actions according to my new world outlook. For example, before I came to yeshiva, I ate neither meat nor fish since I didn’t know whether it was ethical to take control of animals and eat them. However, once I accepted the sovereignty of Alm-ghty G-d, Who said that not only is it permissible, but when we eat according to the laws and principles of kashrus, we bring these animals to the fulfillment of the purpose of their creation, I changed my entire outlook accordingly.”

AND THEN THE REBBE ENTERED…

“To this very day, I remember the experience of entering 770 for the first time. It was on the first Shabbos after my arrival in yeshiva. During those initial moments, I felt a deep sense of aversion. There was a great deal of mess and disorder, the commotion of the bachurim, and the large stacks of sefarim on the old tables, and the appearance of the stark unvarnished benches. I didn’t find this scene particularly uplifting, to say the least. However, a few minutes later, the Rebbe entered, and in an instant, everything shifted one hundred and eighty degrees.

“Total silence reigned, and the atmosphere immediately became very holy and awe-inspiring, making a powerful impression upon me. I didn’t know then and even now I can’t explain exactly what happened at that moment. However, I felt that there was something truly special here and I wanted to connect with it. While I had plenty of questions, I somehow believed that I would find the answers here.

“At the time, I had a hard time reading Hebrew. While I had learned the Alef-Beis during those ‘Mitvach Hours’, and I even read Hebrew then and at my bar mitzvah, it was simply reading without understanding the meaning of the words. During the years that passed since then, I had forgotten how to read Hebrew as well. Never in my life would I have imagined that I would know another language besides English. Because I had such negative feelings about the secular educational system, I made no serious academic efforts during those years. This is the reason why most of my yeshiva studies proved very difficult for me. I considered it a virtually insurmountable challenge.

“In contrast, I enjoyed the Rebbe’s farbrengen very much. While I didn’t understand a word of Yiddish, I was drawn to the farbrengens like a moth to light. I stood there from start to finish, even when the farbrengen lasted five or six hours, going from half past one in the afternoon until Mincha, followed by Ma’ariv for Motzaei Shabbos.

“One Shabbos during Elul 5731, shortly after I started learning in yeshiva, I came to 770 for a farbrengen. The Rebbe entered as usual at half past one, and I stood at the end of the line on one side of the path that opened for the Rebbe. As the Rebbe came in, he looked directly at me with a piercing gaze that went right through my heart and soul. He didn’t take his eyes off me even as he got closer. To my great surprise, even after the Rebbe passed by and continued walking, he kept looking at me, turning his face over his shoulder. I was stunned and couldn’t move a muscle. I felt as if I was made of clear glass, and the Rebbe studied me with his gaze, reviewing everything I had gone through from the moment I was born until that very moment.

“If until then, I had doubts about the whole concept of a ‘soul’, they had all been removed in an instant. I felt that the Rebbe was looking deep into my soul and could see everything.

“The Rebbe sat in his place, made Kiddush, and began the farbrengen. At this point, I was unable to contain myself any longer. As soon as the Rebbe looked in the other direction, I left 770 and began roaming the streets of Crown Heights as I tried to calm down from what I had just experienced. I walked around and around until I found myself standing at the door of my brother Reuven’s house.

“He was then living in a rental apartment on the second floor of Rabbi Leibel Groner’s house, on President Street between Schenectady and Utica Avenues. I came into his house in a state of emotional turmoil, and I found him at the conclusion of a hurried Shabbos meal as he prepared to go to the Rebbe’s farbrengen. I asked him to sit down, and I told him about the Rebbe’s piercing look that accompanied me the entire time he walked to his place in shul and the disquieting feeling it left within me. I told him that I feel that the Rebbe wants something from me, but I don’t know what. Then, in the flicker of moment without pausing to think first, I told my brother that I would get a haircut on Motzaei Shabbos and do so with the utmost stringency. In other words, shaving my head completely and leaving long peyos on the sides on my head…

“My brother listened most attentively to my story and the conclusion I had drawn. He told me that in his opinion, I should get a haircut like all the other bachurim in 770, regarding both the length of my hair and the length of my peyos. If after a period of time, I wanted to be a bit more stringent about it, I could then do what I felt was right. He explained that if I conducted myself now in a far more extreme manner than I had previously been accustomed to do, it might break me and put the whole kiruv process into reverse. Looking back, this was a uniquely wise piece of advice on his part.”

THE REBBE PUTS MY LIFE IN ORDER

“A few months later, in Teves, leading up to my nineteenth birthday, I was privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe.

“Leading up to the yechidus, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, detailing all my questions and requests. Among other things, I asked the Rebbe to help me correct what I had defined as ‘my black past.’ After several months of Torah study, davening, and farbrengens with the Rebbe, I felt that Yiddishkeit was truly the place for me. I wanted to clean up and rise above my past, and move forward in my spiritual avoda. I asked the Rebbe for a proper form of tikkun.

“The Rebbe’s reply to this request was quite interesting. ‘If you are such an egoist, use this trait as a ‘lever’ against yourself. For example, if you see someone learning better than you do, you should say to yourself: I am surely willing to learn better than him. Then, go and do just that…’ Afterwards, the Rebbe explained that when my yetzer ha’ra realizes that I’m using my ego for good rather than bad, he will leave me alone.’

“While the yechidus only lasted about two minutes, I felt during those sublime moments as if there was no one else in the whole universe except the Rebbe and myself. It seemed that the Rebbe realized exactly what the proper objective should be in dealing with my spiritual problems.

“You have to know that every word the Rebbe utters comes straight from the heart, and they made a deep impression upon me. When the Rebbe mentioned the yetzer ha’ra, I literally trembled. ‘Wow, this isn’t just in sefarim, the yetzer ha’ra really exists, and it’s a part of me!’ Thus, when the Rebbe said, ‘If you are such an egoist…’, I said to myself: Oy vey, you’re one big ‘yesh’! Since a chassid’s first yechidus is according to his essence, I realized that if I am an egoist filled with arrogance and haughtiness, I must do something about it. From that day forward, I tried to work on my middos and continue to do so today.

“There is the well-known saying of our Sages of righteous memory: ‘A person does not come to understand thoroughly the knowledge of his teacher until forty years.’ While I cannot deceive myself into thinking that I could reach the depths of the Rebbe’s kavanos, nevertheless, forty years after that yechidus, I think there is something even more profound that I failed to realize in the past. Back then, I was just a young ‘hippie’ from the street. It’s hard to believe that the Rebbe is some ‘ba’al mussar’nik’, who when he finds a bachur coming from afar, he waves his finger at him and says, ‘Nu, nu, nu, stop being so haughty!’ (In truth, what did I have to be haughty about? I hardly knew Alef-Beis!…) Yet, suddenly, forty years later, I thought to myself that the Rebbe wanted to bring me – as a young man at the start of his journey along the path of Yiddishkeit – to an outlook and approach based in Chassidus. In other words, G-d is the ultimate good, and since everything is from G-d, there is nothing black or bad. Everything you experience, even something that seems negative, including your improper attributes, are merely opportunities and means to reach heights you couldn’t attain without them.

“After I had learned in yeshiva for a number of years, I again went in for yechidus in honor of my birthday. Before entering, I wrote a personal letter to the Rebbe, revealing my desire to share with others the revolutionary viewpoint I had discovered regarding G-d, the Torah, and the world, and to help them ‘see the light’ I had found for myself. To my deep sadness and disappointment, as much as I tried, I failed to convey the message. Good people with whom I spoke, including family members and old friends, reacted as if the whole issue was completely foreign to them. They weren’t even willing to consider the matter. I had a bad feeling that I simply couldn’t help those closest to me on this subject. I asked the Rebbe for his advice and blessing on how to answer the questions asked by people in such a way that it would remove all their doubts and help them to come closer to G-d and His Torah with true joy.

“During the yechidus, the Rebbe read my letter and told me, ‘After every change in life, a person has to show patience, particularly after such a great and significant change as becoming frum.’

“As I noted earlier, this was several years after I had become a yeshiva bachur. Yet, the Rebbe still classified me as someone who had ‘just now’ endured some great and significant changes, and he said that I have to be patient, particularly towards myself.

“As the yechidus continued, the Rebbe mentioned the words of Rashi, who sometimes writes ‘I do not know what this teaches us.’ Why, the Rebbe asked, does Rashi apparently have to go to the trouble to write this? Clearly, Rashi doesn’t do this to show us how humble he is; everything Rashi writes is designed to teach us something. We learn from this that if we don’t know the answer, we can say, ‘I don’t know’ – and this would be the best and most honest answer we could give.”

THE WAY OF LIFE THE REBBE TAUGHT ME

“The passing of Rabbi Jacobson a”h in the summer of 5735 left me with a sense of genuine loss.

“In general, I love the quiet life outside the raucous city, the sights of a forest and flowing stream did me much good in a material sense. In those days in early Elul 5735, the yeshiva returned from its tranquil and peaceful study program in the cool mountains to steamy and noisy New York City. It’s no wonder that I felt so suffocated. I wanted a change in atmosphere after four years of studying in the yeshiva. I had a longing to learn in Eretz Yisroel, and one of the reasons for this desire came from my chavrusa at the time, Rabbi Aryeh Dovid HaLevi Turkoff (still my close friend today, he lives in Tzfas and serves as the head mashpia at Machon Alte).

“Prior to coming to learn to Hadar Hatorah, Dovid had studied in a Litvishe yeshiva in Yerushalayim, and I was enthralled by his stories about the quiet and serene holy city of those days. The teachers in the yeshiva there impressed upon their students the message of ‘Here we learn how to learn.’ This saying pecked away at my mind.

“For these two reasons, the desire to know how to learn and the desire to learn in a quiet and tranquil location, we decided to go and try to learn there. Naturally, we did not intend to abandon the path of Chabad or the study of Chassidus, however, we considered changing the atmosphere and trying a different style of learning. On the other hand, we were concerned that this might be a trick of the yetzer ha’ra, and our confusion was great.

“As Tishrei 5736 approached, the chassid R’ Berke Chein, of blessed memory, came to 770, and we decided to seek his advice in this matter. He said that this really was a big question, and we must ask the Rebbe what to do.

“As we started writing our letter, we again had doubts regarding how to word it. We didn’t want to ask the Rebbe’s bracha for something we wanted to do, rather we wanted the Rebbe to tell us what he wanted us to do.

“We eventually went in together to Rabbi Chadakov a”h’s small and austere office at the end of the hallway, and sought his advice on how to phrase our question. In addition to our joint question, Rabbi Turkoff had a personal question, and Rabbi Chadakov advised that each of us should write his own letter. They should be placed in the same envelope, brought to the mazkirus, and at the bottom of the envelope, we should write, ‘ATT: Rabbi Chadakov.’ He promised to deal with the letters personally and submit them to the Rebbe as soon as possible. We wrote the letters on Erev Sukkos 5736. As it turned out, we received a joint answer: ‘They should do according to the saying of our Sages, of blessed memory: ‘A person should always learn in a place where his heart wants.’

“We went with our answer to Rabbi Yaakov Goldberg, rosh yeshiva of Hadar Hatorah. The truth is that Rabbi Goldberg didn’t like the idea of our leaving. He noted to us that the Rebbe made a significant change to the original language of Chazal, which states that ‘a person should always learn in a place where his heart desires’. He then proceeded to explain the difference between ‘chafetz’ (desires) and ‘rotzeh’ (wants): According to Chassidus, ‘chafetz’ represents the inner desire, whereas ‘rotzeh’ is the more external aspect. As he understood it, the Rebbe was telling us to go to the place where we think we will learn better, regardless of whether the yeshiva’s philosophy was according to our inner desire, i.e., Chabad Chassidus.

“Before traveling to Eretz Yisroel, we went in for ‘yechidus’ with the Rebbe. As we left, we realized from what the Rebbe told us that our journey to Eretz HaKodesh to learn in a Litvishe yeshiva would be for six months. Afterwards, we would learn for another six months in the yeshiva of Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gafni in Kfar Chabad. Only then would we decide what to do.

“After the Tishrei holidays, we arrived at the ‘Shapell’s’ yeshiva in Yerushalayim’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood. This was a yeshiva designed for English-speaking ba’alei teshuva and sponsored by the ‘Itri’ educational institutions. In truth, we never heard a single word of contempt against the path of Chabad. For our part, we stringently and devoutly adhered to Chabad custom, as we had learned in yeshiva. We went to the mikveh every day, tried to daven fervently and in Nusach Ari, and we learned Chassidus together with the other bachurim there.

“Time passed, and while I felt that we were learning well, listening to interesting classes, etc., there was still something missing… The soul wasn’t getting what it used to get in the past.

“As part of the Chassidic customs we had accepted upon ourselves, we would travel every Shabbos Mevorchim to Kfar Chabad. The reason was simple: We knew of no minyan for Shacharis on Shabbos in Yerushalayim starting later than nine o’clock. The two of us, who were both American ba’alei teshuva, needed several hours to recite the entire Tehillim before Shacharis on Shabbos Mevorchim in accordance with Chabad custom. Thus, if we remained in Yerushalayim for Shabbos Mevorchim, this would force us to daven without a minyan (davening before saying Tehillim and finishing it afterwards was unthinkable to us). Therefore, the best and easiest solution for us was to come to Kfar Chabad, get up early in the morning, finish Tehillim by ten o’clock, and then join one of the minyanim for Shacharis.

“Since the rosh yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Rabbi Gafni, lived in Bnei Brak, he would hold the Shabbos Mevorchim farbrengen with the yeshiva bachurim on Thursday night. As a result, it became a well-rooted custom to arrive in Kfar Chabad on Thursday afternoon, participate in the farbrengen with Rabbi Gafni, and go out for ‘mivtzaim’ on Friday in Tel Aviv. Then, as mentioned earlier, we stayed in Kfar Chabad for Shabbos to say Tehillim early in the morning and daven in a minyan.

“Once, after the farbrengen with Rabbi Gafni, I went over to him and told him what had been bothering me: I learn Chassidus, go to the mikveh, etc, but I still feel that there’s something missing. Rabbi Gafni listened to me most attentively and then said, ‘My son, not everything can be learned in a sefer, you also need the Chassidic freshness.’ He suggested that I spend as much time as possible with the famed mashpia from Yerushalayim, Rabbi Moshe Weber, of blessed memory, simply to go to him and be at his side, without asking him any questions in Chassidus or listening to any of his Torah ‘verter.’

“Rabbi Gafni’s advice proved to be uniquely successful. I became a virtual ‘ben-bayis’ in Rabbi Weber’s home, spending Shabbosim with him, and utilizing all my free time to be as close to him as possible.

“After the six months we set aside for studying in ‘Shapell’s’ in Yerushalayim, we made an orderly transfer to the yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. My feeling then was ‘For the people had fled’ – literally. It seemed that the Rebbe’s advice to stay and learn there for six months had done its part. During the time we were there, my appreciation for the Chabad approach grew more than ever before. It seemed that the Rebbe, Chassidus, the davening, and the Chabad community had provided me with a special relationship towards G-d, never encountered by me anywhere else. In Kfar Chabad, I felt this even more, and this is the reason why I loved Kfar Chabad from my very first moment there, and I wanted to live there my whole life.

“In addition, I was very close in Kfar Chabad to Rabbi Gafni, who was unique in his devotion to the bachurim in his yeshiva and his Avodas Hashem. Even his classes in nigleh were like a warm and lively farbrengen. For me, it was literally heaven on earth.”

A SHIDDUCH FROM “MEAH SHEARIM”

“My chavrusa in Kfar Chabad was Rabbi Dovid Glaser (Rabbi Turkoff had gotten married and began learning in kollel). One Shabbos, he traveled to Meah Shearim to stay with Rabbi Weber, and when he returned to the yeshiva on Motzaei Shabbos, he told me that Rebbetzin Weber wanted me to come and see her as urgently as possible. Naturally, I immediately made my way to Yerushalayim and went straight to her house. Rabbi Weber told me that his wife had a good shidduch suggestion for me, and wanted me to meet the young lady at his home.

“It turned out that the girl in question was named Ilana, an American ba’alas teshuva who lived in the home of the Weber family’s neighbors, the Dirnfelds. As a result of living so close to one another, Rebbetzin Weber had become acquainted with Ilana. Ilana couldn’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish, and Rebbetzin Weber could not speak English. However, the heart-to-heart connection between them was warm and friendly. It was then that Rebbetzin Weber decided that she was suitable for me.

“The first meeting between us was very positive. After the second meeting, I consulted with Rabbi Weber about continuing with the shidduch. He told me that if I feel that ‘this is it’, then there’s no need to let the process go longer than it should. Instead, someone should check to see what the girl thinks. It turned out that she also felt that we were compatible, and together we wrote to the Rebbe and requested his bracha for the shidduch.

“In those days, the custom was that if the Rebbe gave a positive answer, in addition to a letter being sent via regular mail, the secretary would also call the couple and update them regarding the Rebbe’s reply. For some reason, while the letter for our shidduch had been sent in the mail, we had yet to receive the traditional telephone call. For several long weeks, I was very confused and under tremendous pressure because of the delay with the Rebbe’s answer.

“About a month and a half later, when I was in Rabbi Gafni’s house helping with Pesach holiday preparations, the daughter of Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim rosh yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Katz came in and announced that they had just received a telephone call with the long awaited bracha from the Rebbe for our shidduch. During Chol HaMoed Pesach, we celebrated our ‘vort’ in the Gafni home.

“In 5738, we were married in a good and auspicious hour, and the following year, our eldest daughter, Sara Henya, was born.”

A BRACHA TO LAST A LIFETIME

“About a year after the birth, we experienced the tragedy of a stillbirth during my wife’s seventh month of pregnancy. Despite the fact that everything had been normal until then, without any apparent health reason, the fetus’ heart stopped beating. The anguish and disappointment was incalculable.

“As Tishrei 5741 approached, we were privileged to travel to the Rebbe and go into Gan Eden HaElyon as a family for a yechidus. Before entering, I had written to the Rebbe about the sad story we had recently endured. In addition, I asked the Rebbe for his advice and a bracha that my work as a scribe would be done with the utmost precision and stringency.

“After the Rebbe read the letter with unique concentration, he raised his holy eyes, gave us a very special look, and then said very gently (in English): ‘Maybe, probably you made some mistake in Taharas HaMishpacha. Even if you learned the Halachos, you should learn them again, and again, and again… G-d Alm-ghty will bless you with healthy children.’

“As soon as we returned to Eretz Yisroel, we founded a class for women in the Laws of Family Purity with the Rebbetzin. When she covered all the learning material, we started a new shiur with a different instructor, etc. I personally organized a class in Taharas Mishpacha for avreichim. Thank G-d, since then, the Rebbe’s promise for healthy children was fulfilled in every detail.

“In connection with the second issue, learning the halachos for becoming a sofer STaM and working in the field, the Rebbe did not respond directly. Instead, he gave us a bracha for parnassa, and with that, the yechidus ended and we left the room.

“When I left the yechidus, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, we had received a direct answer regarding that painful ‘stillbirth’, and the Rebbe even gave us guidance regarding what to do on the matter. On the other hand, I was dejected, for as I understood it, I had not received a clear answer whether I should engage in the holy work of a Torah scribe. However, Rabbi Gafni explained to me that since the Rebbe had blessed us with parnassa in response to a question whether I should become a sofer STaM, not only had the Rebbe agreed that I work in this field, he had also given me a bracha for success in my new profession.

“After our wedding, I learned in the Kfar Chabad kollel avreichim, headed by Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Hersh Cohen a”h. Upon my return to Eretz HaKodesh, I informed him that I had to conclude my kollel studies, since I had an instruction from the Rebbe to learn to be a sofer STaM. Rabbi Cohen smiled at me and said that there would be no problem if I learned the halachos as part of the kollel program.

“As I progressed further in my studies and began practical application, I told him that I had now moved on to actual writing and was compelled to leave the kollel. For his part, Rabbi Cohen happily announced that I could remain in kollel and acquire my practical knowledge there. Even before I began writing my first Megillas Ester, he asked if I would sell it to him. The truth was that I had dreamt about sending my first megillah to the Rebbe as a gift, and I said this to Rabbi Cohen in reply. Therefore, he placed an order to buy my second megillah, and I happily agreed. Thus, even before I had written a single word, I already had an order on my second megillah.

“When I shared with my brother Reuven about my desire to give my first megillah to the Rebbe, he replied, ‘The Rebbe has plenty of megillos; it would be better if you gave your first megillah to our father.’ I realized that he was right, and thank G-d, this megillah significantly strengthened my parents’ closer connection to Yiddishkeit and to us as a family. Over a period of several years, Rabbi Casriel Brusowankin, the Rebbe’s shliach in Aventura, Florida, would read from this megillah for my parents each Purim before taking it out on mivtzaim to read several more times…

“Even with my work as a scribe, the Rebbe’s bracha to me was completely fulfilled within me. By nature, I am a very slow person. In addition, for me, all matters pertaining to time are limited to recommendations only. These are two very bad characteristics for anyone who wants to work in the field of safrus. Nevertheless, the bracha took hold in this matter, and I managed to learn the relevant halachos in detail very quickly. In contrast to my nature, I have kept up with the rigid schedule, more or less, of tefillin orders almost until the recent period of my involvement in the field.”

A LIVING AND ETERNAL CONNECTION

“In conclusion, I want to go back for a moment to my first yechidus. From the powerful spiritual influence that yechidus had upon me over the years, I learned that every connection you have with the Rebbe, whether in yechidus, from learning one of his ma’amarim, or listening to a story about him – is a living and eternal connection. In contrast to a picture that always stays in the same place, the personal connection with the Rebbe is a living one – growing, developing, and accompanying you at every stage of your life.

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