PURIM IN THE HEART
Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
Purim has always been one of the most complicated of days of our calendar. It’s a weekday, yet filled with observances unique to the period. We have a seudah, special davening, yet use all the tools of the weekday to enhance our celebrations. It is very much representative of our golus, all the shades of light and the various shadows of darkness that our life incurs.
This year Purim brings with it a whole new raft of the meaning of living in golus. Houses isolated, fears of illness, bereavement soaking through so much of the community, all this and so much more. It is difficult to remind ourselves that just a year ago things were considered ‘normal’ although those Purim celebrations would become for many the starting point of the pandemic that has choked us all ever since. So how do we celebrate this Yom Tov one year later? Which way can we allow simcha into our fear weary hearts? Let me share some aspects of the life of one Giants of the Spirit who by his example can give us all needed chizuk.
I speak of the previous Bobover Rebbe Rav Naftali Halberstam ZTL who was an angel that passed through this mortal world with the aura of complete holiness.
When I was a youngster I had the merit to share many hours with this saintly soul. I won’t say I understood him, because he was a master in hiding behind a facade of simplicity. Many of us were fooled into thinking this Tzadik was just like the rest of us, but that was his secret because in fact his was a level far beyond anything we could even dream about.
Born to the Royalty of pre-Churban Bobov, he basked in the sunlight of his holy grandfather the Bobover Rebbe Rav Ben Zion Ztl and for a small period of time was allowed to aspire to the tranquil holiness that was part of his heritage. Then the hammer struck Klal Yisroel and nothing ever could be the same. He stood with his Holy Father, The Rebbe, Rav Shlomo ZTL and together they went through all the degrees of hell our enemies prepared for us. His Bar mitzvah was celebrated in that hell, and his familial losses were huge. It’s not my purpose to write a biography here; I just want to set the stage for what was to come. Out of all this darkness came Reb Naftul’che, as he was called, a slight figure with a calm elegance that radiated friendship. When I came to the Bobover Yeshiva it was still in Crown Heights and the community was in its infancy. The Rav Ztl worked tirelessly for his kehillah, and at his side was his special son, Reb Naftul’che who had been forged in the fires of our enemies so as to bring light to future generations.
I was a Yankee-born student, and so had the ability to speak English fluently. This stood me in good stead because Reb Naftul’che needed an English- speaking helper for many of his projects. In those times the yeshiva stood on a very rocky foundation. Money was extremely scarce and no one was willing to carry the burdens of such an enterprise, except the one holy soul who was prepared to give up his position, to abandon what was deservedly his in terms of expectations, and offer his entirety to the klall. This was Reb Naftul’che Ztl and his yahrzeit falls just a few days before Purim.
The Bobover Rav, Rav Shlomo was a remarkable story teller, and when he shared personal memories with the olam, one could feel oneself being swept up into the events. It is well known that the Rav worked tirelessly during the height of the war in saving others. He would get forged papers and smuggle Yidden over the border into countries not yet engulfed in the fighting. On one such excursion the Rav was caught together with Rav Naftul’che who was then a child. The Nazi’s took the two into a prison cellar and told them that they must divulge the names of those that were giving these Jews false papers which were allowing them to get over the borders. Obviously the Rav wouldn’t say, and so they told him that in the morning he and the boy would be shot by a firing squad in the courtyard of the gestapo building. That night The Rav held his young son close and told him, “ Tomorrow they are going to shoot us, don’t be frightened, they can only take our physical body away from us, and that is only a mere covering. Our true being is our neshomah and that they can’t touch.” This took place on a Friday night, so the Rav added, “we need not make kiddush tonight because we are going to be mekadesh Hashem with our bodies in the morning. Naftul’che, don’t be scared, just think of all the wonderful yomim tovim we have shared. The Sedorim by the Zeida, the Simchas Torah dancing, the wonder of the Purim Tish, all this and so much more.” At day break the two heroes were taken out in front of the soldiers, prepared to die al kiddush Hashem. The Eibishter had different plans for these two holy souls. Just at that critical moment a hiemisha Yied, passed by and saw what was happening and quickly payed off a guard to stop the execution and send the two prisoners to Bochnia where they were ‘wanted for questioning’. With that another miraculous chapter opened up which led to the Rav and his son surviving the Churban. That youngster grew up to be a warm leader of Klall Yisroel, his simchas hachiam sparkled in his eyes, and never more so than on Purim. He rarely spoke of his exploits during that dark time, but his love for Yiddishkiet was embedded at what was the darkest moment for Klall Yisroel.
We now face a challenging time, and although boruch Hashem, no one is shooting at us, we are all being asked to curtail our Purim activities for the sake of helping one another stay safe. We too must remember the good times, the joyful moments that Torah Yiddishkiet has given us. Let those reminisces of simcha serve as fuel during this Purim, so that although we wont be able to celebrate as usual, we will still be uplifted with the simchas Hachaim that Hashem has offered us.
May we see a miraculous venshapachu, and experience a total turnaround, soon and in good health. Meanwhile hold on to the good and cherish memories made of the gold of Yiddisha celebration. May we, with Hashem’s help, soon share this new chapter with our children’s children and speak of how we persevered and grew.