In January1989, Rabbi Besser was in Washington as Agudah’s representative at the inauguration of the first President Bush. As he sat on the dais reserved for dignitaries, quietly studying his small volume of Talmud, he was approached by two cardinals from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who greeted him cordially.
When he returned their blessings, the cardinals asked if they might ask the rabbi a question. He quickly turned his eyes heavenward. “Please, Lord, help me with this one,” Rabbi Besser implored the Master of the Universe.
“What is that you are studying, rabbi?” the cardinals asked.
“The Talmud,” he replied.
“We thought so. Tell us, it is said that the Talmud contains everything in the human experience, is that so?”
Again, a quickly uttered plea for divine intervention. “Yes, that’s so,” said the rabbi.
“If so, does the Talmud discuss today’s inauguration?” they queried, with a note of triumph.
Rabbi Besser’s prayers were answered. “Well, I am in the midst of studying the tractate Rosh Hashanah right now,” he said. “It discusses four beginnings of the year – and one of those is Tu B’Shevat, the new year for trees. So you see, your eminences, if the Jewish people observe a holiday for trees, surely that includes Bushes, too!”
Rabbi Chaskel Besser – mentor, role model, teacher, unparalleled storyteller, friend – passed away a few days short of his 87th birthday. I miss him dearly, and I think I always will.
About the Author:Rabbi Yossel Kanofsky is the spiritual leader of Kehillat Shaarei Torah in Toronto.
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Anyone – Jew or non-Jew, religious or secular, chassidic or yeshivish, man or woman – who encountered or exchanged words with Rabbi Chaskel Besser came away with a smile, feeling a little more pleasantly disposed about the topic at hand or the world at large.