Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 119

July 22, 2022 (23 Tammuz 5782)

One Yid at a Time

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and “enjoying” the heat of the summer! We look forward to welcoming you this Shabbat at 10:30am for services, which will take place in our beautiful sanctuary and will also be available on our congregations’ regular zoom prayer link.

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a Chabad colleague in Erie, Pennsylvania. Two years ago, during the height of Covid, Reb Dovie had moved from Crown Heights into a small house in Erie to start his Shlichut work of beginning to rebuild and revitalize a small and modest Jewish community. Erie, in fact, has a specific neighborhood, which is acknowledged as the poorest community in the United States.

In a strange confluence of events, the house that Reb Dovie purchased was the house in which a friend of mine, Scott, grew up. So, when Scott and I visited the Chabad House, he found himself sitting in his old living room (now converted into a shul)!

Reb Dovie and I first connected through Scott, who is a parent at the Leffell School, where I teach. After being introduced, Reb Dovie and I spent last summer “Zoom-learning” from the Tanya. The Tanya is an early work of Hasidic philosophy, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, first published in 1796. Its formal title is Likkutei Amarim, but it is more commonly known by its opening word, Tanya, which means "it was taught in a "Beraita" (teachings "outside" of the six orders of the Mishnah). For the followers of Lubavitch, the Tanya is considered a “how-to” life manual. During those months of study, I became deeply impressed by Reb Dovie’s passion, commitment, and scholarship. I also wondered to myself, how one could move from Brooklyn, with its high concentration of religious Jews, to a remote location with only a small potential of growth.

While visiting, Scott and I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the nature and impact of Reb Dovie’s work. Each day, the Chabad House was filled with a steady stream of visitors, as meals and snacks were constantly offered. Leading into Tisha B’Av, we also spent a solid two hours studying a selection from Tanya, which examined the meaning behind a section of the Talmud from Messechet Makkot, which described the reaction of Rabbi Akiva and other first century Rabbis to the destruction of the Temple.

On the last night of our visit, I asked Reb Dovie what he would consider to be his greatest accomplishment of the last two years of his service.

Reb Dovie told me about a three-week summer camp that he and his wife Mushkie had run from his house. He had found an eight-year-old girl, who was Jewish yet knew nothing about Judaism. They convinced the mother to sign the daughter up for camp, and by the end of camp experience, the girl would never miss the opportunity to kiss the Mezuzah as she traversed from one room to the other. Mushkie and Dovie explained to me that while they may never build up a “statistically large” congregation, the Rebbe taught them that each and every Yid is important and needs to be connected to HaShem. Instead of looking at traditional benchmarks of success, Mushkie and Dovie inspire, teach, connect, and enthuse one Jew at a time.

As we enter Shabbat, I pray that we can learn from Reb Dovie and Mushkie’s example of trying to inspire one person at a time. Perhaps our kind words, actions of lovingkindness or mitzvah of Tzedaka can help one person and can make even one Yid feel closer to God and community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
201 562 5277

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