The Rebbe and the General – Yom Kippur Remembrances
By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
V’heyei brachah…. And you shall be a blessing.”
Rashi, in expounding upon this possuk, explains that HaShem was telling Avraham Avinu “Habrachos nesunim b’yadechah, the ability to bless others (which until then had been exclusive to HaShem) is now given over to you.”
We, descendants of Avraham, are a people that understand and appreciate the meaning of a brachah. A people that want to share words of blessing with others, and at the same time are grateful to be the recipients of a brachah.
Erev Yom Kippur, September 1945, the Feldafing Displaced Persons Camp. The Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam zt”l, who miraculously survived the war, was preparing for the holiest day of the year. The Rebbe endured much pain and suffering during the war, having tragically lost his wife and 11 children at the hands of the Nazis.
Alone with his thoughts and prayers, there was a knock on his door. It was a teary-eyed young girl.
“Rebbe, it is Erev Yom Kippur. Every year, my father would bentch me. I no longer have a father… could the Rebbe bentch me?”
The Rebbe felt the pain of the young girl, and like a loving father, placed his hands above her head, whispering words of blessing.
That Erev Yom Kippur, no less than eighty-five knocks came to the Rebbe’s door. Eighty-five young girls left without mothers, without fathers – eighty-five girls asking for the Rebbe’s brachah.
The Rebbe, who lost so much, mustered the inner strength to give words of blessing to others. Blessings that gave the young girls comfort and consolation. Blessings that gave them the fortitude to rebuild their lives.
That very same year, on Yom Kippur, General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the Feldafing DP camp. Seeing the holy, saintly Rebbe, the General himself asked for a blessing.
The Rebbe thanked General Eisenhower for his role in helping liberate the Jewish captives, and blessed him, “to merit to ascend to the highest leadership position in America”. (As told by Maxwell Raab, President Eisenhower’s Cabinet Secretary). Indeed, General Eisenhower merited to become the 34th President of the United States.
The Rebbe was on one of the infamous Nazi Death Marches. These were forced transfers of prisoners from one Nazi camp to another, which involved walking long distances resulting in numerous deaths of weakened people. He turned to the Heavens above, and made a pledge. A pledge that if HaShem grants him the strength to survive, he will build a hospital in Israel where every man, woman and child will receive loving care.
On June 21, 1976, the Rebbe’s dream became a reality. Laniado hospital in Netanya opened its doors.
The hospital rapidly grew and expanded, adding building after building. Today, Laniado is a thriving, teaching hospital. It has emerged as a modern and highly advanced medical center. Its doors are open to all – just as the Rebbe pledged.
V’heyei berachah. Be a blessing. HaShem’s message to Avraham is for all generations. The Rebbe not only found the strength to bless others, but brought blessing and healing into the world through the hospital he built.
Erev Yom Kippur is a most propitious time to give and receive blessings.
My parents were the rabbi and rebbetzin of a growing congregation, and Erev Yom Kippur was always a hectic day. But they were never too busy to take the family to our grandparents, Mama and Zeide for brachos.
Zeide would bentch us, we felt the love emanating from his heart. We saw the tears rolling down his face. We felt the sanctity and holiness of the day. We would then kiss Zeide’s hand, a Hungarian custom, and thank him for the brachah. We shared our own words of blessings, that Zeide should be with us at all our simchos, be with us until 120.
We then went to Mama, our grandmother, who was always busy in the kitchen. Mama also gave us a brachah, accompanied by fresh, hot honey cookies, straight out of the oven. Enough to munch on then, and plenty more to take home.
Memories from over fifty years ago, but memories that remain close to my heart to this day.
We were truly blessed in more ways than one. We grew up with brachos. With grandparents and parents who gave us their love and their blessings.
Years later, at the Hineni High Holidays program, it was my turn to bring our children and grandchildren to my mother, the Rebbetzin, and receive Erev Yom Kippur brachos.
As the children lined up for their brachos, the line got longer and longer, with the Rebbetzin’s many “Hineni children” joining the queue. They too wanted a brachah.
V’heyei berachah – you shall be a blessing. We are a nation that finds strength and comfort in a blessing.
Erev Yom Kippur will soon be upon us. We can all use blessing in our lives. If we are sincere in the brachos we give others, we will merit HaShem’s blessings in return.
There is a beautiful story about Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Shortly before the last Rosh HaShanah of his life, he was asked what one’s thoughts should be while davening. Rav Finkel’s answer was two simple words, “Someone else.” Think of someone else. Pray for someone else, and HaShem will answer your personal prayers.
Every one of us has the power of blessing. Let’s use HaShem’s incredible gift to us, and bless our families, our children. Even if you can’t bentch them in person, call them, and let them know how much you love and care for them, how much you want their new year to be full of good health, happiness, success, and nachas.
Show that you care, and you too will be blessed.
Wishing all my readers an easy and meaningful fast. May 5783 be a year of blessing for all.
Shabbat Shalom and a G’mar Chasimah Tovah!
Chaya Sora can reached at email@example.com
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l