Monday, November 5, 2007
Warm all over
I was recently - Erev Sukkos to be exact - presented with a copy of Yisroel Besser's magnum opus (until now) Warmed by Their Fire, published by who else? Artscroll. (I wish I knew what people see in them.) I read Yisroel's articles in the English Mishpachah and know that he can write, and him being Reb Chatzkel's grandson only helps his case as far as I'm concerned. At first I thought "Another collection of ho-hum stories about Gedolim that I'll just roll my eyes at." But this one's different. This book aims - and succeeds for the most part - at bringing out a different, more "human" angle of the Rebbes, Roshei Yeshivah, and Rabbonim that are portrayed there. While most of these type of books usually don't allow for more than five minutes of reading before the reader is put to sleep against his will, WBTF is the complete opposite, it simply cannot be put down until the short biography is over. Then you feel the need to continue reading. I also get the feeling that the editorial board was asleep at the wheel, since there's mention of Rav Hutner's connection to the Rebbe, and RMBW's strong connection to the Frierdige Rebbe.
I chose the following four personalities and read the portryals, mesmerized and riveted. Reb Elchonon Wasserman Hy"D and his love of teaching Torah, recounted by his Talmid Rav Niznik z"l the Rosh Beis Din of Montreal. The Bais Yisroel of Ger and his concern for the new generation, but also crying for the old, as told to the author by his Zeide Reb Chazkel Besser TL"Y who was intimately involved with some of the stories told. The late Tolner Rebbe of Bayit Vegan, where the Montreal chapter of his life is told. His concern for every Yid, and his selfless devotion to new immigrants. I was happy to see that the author had the good fortune of spending time with the venerable Mashpia of Montreal Reb Volf Greenglass TL"Y, who was the beneficiary of the Tolner's hospitality upon arriving in Montreal in 5702/1942, when he and a group of 9 Bochurim arrived from Shanghai and used his Beis HaMedrish to start the Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Montreal.
Being that it is an Artscroll I guess the author felt compelled to write something about the late Ponovizher Rosh Yeshivah, REMMS. The story is another one of those that makes you scratch your head and say: "What was the point of that story?!" The Rosh Yeshivah was once in his advanced age invited to lecture for a childrens' Siyum Mishnayes in Bnei Beraq, but he declined to his frail health. His Meshamesh asked him to reconsider, and told him how his FIL would tell him of the time he saw the Chofetz Chaim as a child. His father took him to where he was appearing (a Knessiah Gedolah possibly) and lifted him up high so that he could see the holy Tzurah of the CC. He remembered that sight for the rest of his life. Today's children also need that, says the Meshamesh, they need to be able to see the Rosh Yeshivah so that it'll accompany them for the rest of their lives. The Rosh Yeshivah listened, then donned his hat and frock......