Monday, November 26, 2007

The Rebbe "How Many People Will You Affect, 20 or 30?"

"From all over the world his followers come--to consult the new "Rabbi of Lubavitch" on matters of faith, health, family, and finance. They seek him out on social issues and psychological problems--on everything which might affect their spiritual, physical and material well-being, and make no vital move without him"

-Charles Haddock

I would like to present Part one of Rabbi Nachman Meir Bernhard, former Rabbi of the prestigious Oxford Synagogue in Johannesburg, South Africa. Fascinating encounter's that he experienced with the Rebbe in Yechidus in regards to his work as Rabbi and the future of Judaism in South Africa. Also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe (part 87 in the series)

"I received my Rabbinic ordination in 1958 and left for my first position in Wichita, Kansas. Once, Rabbi Yosef Wineberg came to Wichita on the behest of the Rebbe. I met him but I had no idea he was a Lubavitcher.

We left Wichita five years later and returned to New York when our eldest daughter was of school age. The Orthodox Union asked me to be their New York director. I accepted the position. Within a few months I was asked to become Rabbi of the largest synagogue in South Africa.

Not feeling drawn to the Rabbinate and wanting to pursue my studies, I declined. But they insisted that I at least come and see the place.

After my visit, I read a friend's report about a lecture tour to South Africa. The report mentioned Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. The name rang a bell and I thought maybe it was worthwhile to hear his opinion about the proposed position.

I met with Rabbi Wineberg and told him my hesitations. He firmly insisted that I go there. "They need a young, dynamic rabbi like you," he said. Rabbi Wineberg didn't give up easily and suggested that I ask the Rebbe. "I would if you arranged it," I told him.

It was after 1 a.m. when I entered the Rebbe's office and saw the Rebbe for the first time in my life.

The yechidut [personal audience] lasted for over an hour. I felt as if the whole world around us had disappeared and it was only the Rebbe and I.

This yechidus took place a year after I had left both the Rabbinate and the Orthodox Union; I had devoted myself to learning full time.

In the yechidus, the Rebbe told me that Jewish life today is being devastated, as if by a fire, and whoever can extinguish the fire, must do so.

The Rebbe pointed his finger at me: "You have no right to sit and become a talmid chacham [scholar]." I said that I could fulfill my obligation by giving a class, but the Rebbe responded, "How many people will you affect, 20 or 30?"

I mentioned I was offered a Principal's position.

The Rebbe said again, "You will only influence 200 or 400 children in a big school. Hashem has given you the skills and strength to lead an entire community." He urged me to utilize my potential to the fullest.

I still resisted.

"I have already left an important position for the sake of my children's education. What will happen to them in South Africa?" By then, I had three daughters.

The Rebbe answered that the children of every Jew who devotes himself to communal work receive Divine protection.

The Rebbe didn't exactly tell me "go," but he calmed my fears about going to South Africa.

When I went out of the Rebbe's room I said to myself, "I may not yet be a Lubavitcher Chasid, but from now on I am the Rebbe's Chasid."

We arrived in South Africa in 1966, a few weeks before Rosh Hashana. Whenever I was offered exciting positions in other parts of the world, I asked the Rebbe.

The Rebbe always answered me that South Africa was my proper place, that I was there by Divine Providence, that my situation was improving, and that G-d would help.

After three years, the government wanted to throw me out because of my opposition to apartheid. I didn't call for an open rebellion. I just spoke from the Jewish heart and conscience. I said that we should work to bring about change legally and within the system. But the prospect of deportation did not upset me at all. The Rebbe had wanted me to be there, so I was. But if I was deported, I would be able to move to Israel.

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007