Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.
But this move paled next to the slap he was dealt when he was barred from the daily shiurim that routinely followed morning prayers and of which he had been a longtime devotee.
Those who did not view R. Menashe Ber’s “wrongdoing” as catastrophic were few in number. Their argument that his son-in-law could be a fine and good Jew despite his pursuit of a secular education was lost on the majority. Even children passing him in the street took to mocking him.
Since the rav hadn’t been well during this time, he’d missed out on the maelstrom of resentment and subsequent fallout – until R. Menashe Ber himself, unable to withstand the emotional assault, came to him in tears to ask if his sin was indeed so grave as to justify the suffering and endless shame he was made to endure at every turn of his daily existence.
R. Menashe Ber explained how he could not afford the dowry that would have rendered his daughter a viable shidduch candidate among his peers, and that when an out-of-town shidduch was proffered for his daughter, one who perceived her worthiness and imposed no specific dowry demand, he had made inquiries that verified the young man as shomer Torah and mitzvos and agreed to the match.
Rabbi Assad commiserated with R. Menashe Ber and made every attempt to sway the people close to him into recognizing that the poor man’s “folly” was not as ghastly as they would have it be – and conceding that they never would have consented to taking his daughter for any of their boys had it meant forgoing a dowry.
As the month of Elul approached, the rav lectured one and all about the need to ask for forgiveness and the importance of resolving the man-to-man conflicts for which Yom Kippur would not atone. The reaction was an incredulous, “What? He should forgive us?”
Elul went by, as did Shabbos Teshuvah. Erev Yom Kippur was upon them and one could count less than a handful of the locals who bothered wishing R. Menashe Ber a g’mar chasimah tovah.
Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Assad was beside himself with agitation. How could those who chose to ignore their brokenhearted brother expect Hashem to forgive their own sins?
That is when it dawned on the rabbi to switch roles: he would daven Kol Nidre and the ba’al tefillah would lead the closing service of Yom Kippur.
His voice tore through the air as he began, “Ohr zarua la’tzaddik u’leyishrei lev simcha” – “Light is sewn for the righteous, and for the straight of heart joy” – and then the haunting liturgy of Kol Nidre, three times over. When it came time for “Selach na la’avon ha’am hazeh” – “Please pardon the sins of this nation” – the rabbi became mute; he uttered not a sound, alarming the congregants.
The one standing closest to the rav saw tears beginning to flow from his eyes. When asked if he was feeling ill, the rav simply shook his head and pointed to the words “Selach na ”
Reb Sholom was a sharp-witted talmid chacham and caught on immediately, the Rav’s tears instantly dissolving the anger he had harbored in his heart for R. Menashe Ber – to whom he quickly strode over and said, loud enough for everyone to hear: “Reb Menashe Ber, here and now in this holy place, I beg your forgiveness for everything I have done to you and for having waited this long ”
Reb Sholom’s moving act inspired others to follow suit. Slowly, those who had snubbed and rebuffed the poor man made their way to him to ask mechilah.
Benevolently, R. Menashe Ber replied that he forgave them all and that he asked Hashem to forgive them.
The rav’s tears did not let up, but they were now tears of joy and he had no trouble enunciating: “Please pardon the sins of your nation ” A loud chorus of voices rose to a crescendo as the answer came thrice in succession, “Va’yomer Hashem salachti kidvarecha” – “And Hashem said, I forgive you according to your word.”
* * * * *
A chassid once approached the Chozeh of Lublin and asked for advice on how to do teshuvah.
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Why has his death been treated by some as an invitation for an emotional “autopsy”?
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