A friend of mine recently told me that he held the door for a famous speaker who also happens to be a rabbi. Unbelievably, not only did the rabbi not say thank you; he didn’t even acknowledge the person.
When my friend mentioned the incident to a congregant, he was told, “Oh, it’s nothing personal. He’s in his own world. He didn’t realize.” My friend replied, “If his largest donor had held the door open for him, might he then have realized?”
When my own grandmother (a shul member for 40 years) was sick for two years, the rav of her shul never called – let alone visited – until the day she died. At that point he was obligated to “do his job.”
A lady once told me that she didn’t like her rabbi because he only said hello to her around half the times he saw her. How could that possibly be? Last I checked, common decency dictates that when a person says hello, writes you a letter, or leaves you a message or text, you respond in kind. I vividly recall my father – a very busy attorney and the mayor of Miami Beach – always returning every single call he received. And this was before texting, which is a lot easier than making a phone call.
Perhaps rabbis don’t realize that they can teach, motivate, and influence many more people outside the classroom by simply interacting with them in a sincere and genuine way. I can personally attest to the fact that when I get a text from my high school rebbe, it makes me appreciate Hashem for allowing me to have one of his holy emissaries check up on me. And that brings me closer to Hashem.
Everyone agrees that the revered Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, was a Torah giant and gadol hador of unparalleled greatness. Yet, what’s most recalled about him is his holy character, unparalleled kindness, and sensitivity. There’s no question that rabbanim have a tough gig, but sometimes a simple hello without an ulterior motive can go a long way.
It’s a well known that Rav Shlomo Carlbach, z”l, would ask random people he met for their phone numbers and call them when inspired. People from all over the world would get a call from their brother Shlomo saying he was thinking about them. One night, Reb Shlomo opened his Chumash and found a phone number that he’d written down a year before of a random person. He decided to call him. When the man answered, he blurted out, “Just as the phone rang, I was preparing to hang myself. Your call literally just saved my life!”
When my son was diagnosed with brain tumors, I encountered different reactions from people. Desperate, I called many rabbanim all over the world to help me. It was a real eye opener to beg rabbis for help finding anything, anyone, any prayer, or any segulah to save my sons life, and have 50 percent of them respond, “Oy, that’s terrible. May he have a refuah.” They couldn’t even ask for his Hebrew name? They couldn’t even offer to say Tehillim? What if it had been their child?
But I also thankfully have experienced the opposite. Rabbanim and regular people have reached out to me and given me chizuk. One holy Jew personally brings my son’s name to Reb Chaim for a berachah for a refuah. I also remember walking into a shul in Baltimore and the rav immediately asking me for my son’s name and putting it in his pocket. (And I hadn’t yet even met him, let alone signed up as a member.)
A lady once told me she loved her rabbi so much because of the following story: After the shiva for her mother, she received a knock at the door. It was the rabbi. Confused, she explained that the shiva was over and, besides, he’d already seen her at the shiva. His response? “I know that, but I felt we didn’t have enough time last week.” And he spent a few hours with beside the stairs, speaking with this woman, making her feel whole again.
There is no doubt that the job of rebbe or rav is tough beyond words. Many times, it’s a thankless job. Yet, every rav and rebbe possesses enormous potential to help people by reaching out to the klal. It’s where their greatest strengths lie.
It’s been said that you don’t remember what people said to you in life, but you always remember how they made you feel. In a similar vein, we can say that words of Torah from a rebbe are golden, but no less important is a golden heart.