Don't Be a Wise Guy

Friday, 23 June, 2023 - 12:15 pm

My maternal grandfather passed away over 22 years ago. Just this week a cousin shared a video of a talk he gave in 1987 at a Farbrengen (gathering) in Brooklyn commemorating the date of the Rebbe’s arrival in the USA. Although it was a video of a talk from 35 years ago, there was a story there that I had never heard before. I love that technology has allowed me to continue being inspired by my grandfather all these years later.

(It recalls something that someone, who was not a friend of Chabad, said in 1994 about the Rebbe. “A video accessible Rebbe does not fade easily.” JEM (Jewish Educational Media) has been working on preserving the thousands of hours of audio and video of the Rebbe, along with myriads of photographs. The video, audio, and photo files are a treasured resource to all for whom the Rebbe is a source of inspiration.)

The story that he shared took place in the Spring of 1940. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe came to the US shortly before Purim. A suitable place for a Shul and living quarters was being sought. In the meantime, the Previous Rebbe and his family were staying at the Greystone Hotel in New York City. For Passover, a family in New Jersey placed their spacious home at the Rebbe’s disposal. When he got there the community organized a welcome. One of the speakers was a community leader who was somewhat duplicitous in his support for the Rebbe’s activities in the USA. Using flowery language, he compared the Rebbe to a Torah scroll that is revered by all.

(Some background information: According to Jewish law, if a question arises during Torah reading about the validity of a letter in the Torah, we call a child to tell us what letter he sees. For example, say the leg of a yud appears to be longer than usual, making it similar to a vav, we would call a child and ask him to tell us what he sees. That would determine whether the letter is valid. There is a caveat. The child should be neither foolish nor clever. Meaning, he must be sophisticated enough to identify the letters properly, but not knowledgeable enough to know what letter is contextually supposed to be there.)

Back to the story: The Previous Rebbe replied to the man’s seemingly complimentary speech, “To give an opinion about a Torah scroll, one must be neither too foolish nor too clever.”

My grandfather explained this to mean, that when one seeks to appreciate the role of a Rebbe and the Rebbe’s guidance in one’s life, one should not be too much of a “wise guy.” We must have the “intelligence” to recognize the value, while not allowing our “sophistication” to inject cynicism or skepticism into the equation. When we do what we are supposed to do with a sense of devotion, this opens channels of blessing into our lives.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

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