Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein relates about the previous Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam*, that he was a wellspring of sensitivity for all Jews.
He was able to overcome any feelings of anger and hurt in order to pursue peace. His activities during and after World War II saved many Jews, both physically and spiritually. However, as it goes with great people, they will inevitably have detractors- people who are filled with envy and seek glory.
Shortly after the Bobover Rebbe came to America, a local rabbi who felt threatened by the Bobover Rebbe’s activities on behalf of world Jewry, strongly criticized the Rebbe, and personally attacked his character. The Bobover Rebbe did not respond to the attack.
Eventually, the slanderous remarks became humiliating. The Rebbe summoned all of his Chassidim to assemble in his Bais Medrash (study hall and synagogue). The large shul was filled to capacity; everyone had crammed in to hear the Rebbe’s response to the insults that had been launched at him.
The Bobover Rebbe entered the Bais Medrash, ascended to the front of the Holy Ark where the Torah scrolls are kept, and after kissing the outer curtain, turned to the people gathered there. He said:
“I am declaring to everyone assembled here, as I stand in front of the Holy Ark, that I absolutely forbid anyone from battling on my behalf! My honor is my honor, and it will remain my honor, but only if everyone acts appropriately and does not take sides. Whoever does not obey me has no place in my Bais Medrash!”
Having spoken for a total of fifteen seconds, the Rebbe descended the podium and left the shul.
A few hours later, the Rebbe asked his attendant to take him to the attacking rabbi’s home. By then, word of the Rebbe’s response had already spread throughout the community. The Rebbe arrived at the rabbi’s house and knocked on the door.
The rabbi answered the door, and when he realized who was standing before him, his face turned white. The Bobover Rebbe understood that words were not necessary — it was action that was needed. He took the rabbi in both his arms, hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
Then he said:
“Dear rabbi, you may go to any one of my Chassidim and they will attest to the fact that I have no bad feelings towards you at all. Just as we were once friends, we will continue to remain friends!”
The rabbi was a changed person as a result of that encounter, and the attacks stopped. The Bobover Rebbe corrected the situation by expressing his love for a fellow Jew instead of responding with anger, even though there was great reason for him to get angry.
By Yerachmiel Tilles adapted from “Shabbos Stories for the Parsha” Shemos 5777 Rabbi Yehuda Winzelberg
*Rabbi Shlomo (ben Benzion) Halberstam of Bobov, (5667 – 1 Av 5760 / November 1907 – August 2000) survived the Holocaust along with only 300 Chassidim, succeeding his father who was among those martyred. Settling in Manhattan and then different locations in Brooklyn, he served as the third Rebbe in the Bobover dynasty for over fifty years, rebuilding Bobov to many thousands. In addition to being wise and pious, he was noted for his commitment in not taking sides in disputes. He passed away on Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av (which occurs this week, Wednesday, July 22nd). Interestingly, this is the same exact Hebrew date as Aharon, Moses’ brother, and the first High Priest, who was known for “loving peace and pursuing peace”! (see Avot 1:12).
Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam didn’t want to become a Rebbe. He wanted to lead a private quiet life after the personal and communal devastation he experienced during the war. Chaim Dalfin, a Chabad historian, shares that after the war, when Rabbi Shlomo came to America, he went to see the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Y.Y. Schneerson, zt’l who encouraged him to take upon himself the mantle of leadership and rebuild the Bobov dynasty. He listened to the Rebbe and did so, inspiring a new generation of Bobov Chassidim.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of KabbalaOnline.org. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.