A FRIEND OF LIFE
Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
You are reading the early morning mail, your eye is accosted with words that strike a chord which throws your mind back to your childhood. When you come to my age, the velocity of that ‘throw’ has to be stronger, after all it has to reach further back. These particular words conveyed a sadness tinged with heartfelt thanks.
The year was 1958, and the little bar mitzvah boy found himself in Crown Heights Brooklyn for the second days of Pesach. He lived in a Queens NY which was then considered a bulwark for Conservative and Reform Judaism. The youngster’s family belonged to a small orthodox synagogue and his teacher had introduced him to his Rav, the Bobover Rebbe – HaRav Shlomo Ztl. The Tzadik spoke privately to the boy, a difficult task seeing that he barely spoke English and the American born child didn’t speak any Yiddish. The upshot of this meeting was the Rebbe extending a personal invitation for the boy to be his guest for the second days of Pesach. For logistical purposes he would be sleeping in the home of the Rebbe’s nephew Rav Chaim Tzvi (Hershela) Halberstam. His host’s family were staying by their grandfather in the Bronx but Reb Chaim Hershela wanted to be by his holy uncle for the final days of the holidays, so he had an empty apartment. The boy and his host ate all their meals by the Rebbe, and the two became very close. On the seventh night of Pesach, there was a minhag wherein the Rebbe and the Chasidim danced to a special nigun that celebrated the Jews going through the Red Sea. It was a leibidka lilting melody, one that would never leave the youngsters heart. The Rav danced, his eloquence was breathtaking, The young kid from Queens watched enthralled as the Rov’s eyes swept the heavens, his feet barely touching the ground. All lives sea’s split and this diverse crowd of Sheiris Hapleitah mixed with a sprinkling of American Yeshiva students, experienced true holy freedom. The hopes for a Torah tomorrow felt safe with the Rebbe’s dynamic warm leadership.
The tish ended at about three in the morning, the olam glided home, as did the young guest with his host. Sleep dared not approach, not while the nigun held his young ears in its warm embrace. The two neshomahs sat side by side, looking out over the Brooklyn streets as the sun rose. They hummed the nigun, Reb Chaim Hershel whispered, “It’s a nice song no?” The boy shook his head in assent, as the song traveled through his soul. American kid and Galitziana survivor were bonded with a subliminal contract to share a Torah future. Reb Chaim Hershel took the lad under his wing, and throughout the boys years in Yeshiva he knew he had a special friend in the Yied who shared the Pesach nigun.
The boy grew up to be Rabbi Y Reuven Rubin, the scribbler of these worlds, and that kind and warm Jew, Rav Chaim Hershel Halberstam, was one of the unique forces that helped me become whatever I am.
This sweet Yied was niftar this past Shabbos, and although thousands of miles separated us, and many years have intervened between our seeing one another, as I read of his petira, I was sharply stricken by my loss. As my eyes skimmed the words, I was reminded of the debt I owe for his warm welcome all those years ago.
Those were days when klall Yisroel were rebuilding. The bricks and mortar used were forged with memories of tragedy and an obstinate hope for the future. Rav Chaim Hershele Zt”l had no idea what that Pesach meant for that boys future, nor where those moments would lead.
So, I speak from the here and now, ‘Rav Chaim Hershela, you gave me more than I could ever repay. My Hakoras Hatov has no bounds.’
As life goes on I am constantly reminded of how it is the small moments of shared chizuk that often have the power to change the lives of those around us. Being aware of the power of kindness is paramount for Avodas Hashem, and it was this lesson that Rav Chaim Hershela bestowed upon me.
I am certain the Sharei Shomayim have sprung open for my dear mentor, and I share my heartfelt condolences to his Rebbetzin and children, together with all the many neshomos he touched along his path of life. His was a soul shaped in the fires of the Churban only to bring illumination to a new world thirsty for Toras Emes.
May all those who were granted the merit to find themselves in this special Yied’s orbit of light bring ever greater nachas to his hieliga neshoma and may he be a gutta ousbeiter for all those who bathed in his warmth and Bren whilst he treaded through this material realm Yehi Zichro Boruch.