One of the first Jewish books that I ever received was Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s ‘The Maggid Speaks’ which was first published in 1987. Since then, a further 10 volumes have been published in the Maggid Series, and over this period of time, Rabbi Krohn has become renowned as a Maggid in his own right.
The most recent volume in this series, titled ‘Illuminations of the Maggid’, returns to the format of a mix of stories and insights (in contrast to the previous two volumes, ‘Perspective of the Maggid’ and ‘The Maggid at the Podium’, which were summaries of lectures delivered by Rabbi Krohn) and it contains 98 exquisite stories, divided into 5 categories, with each providing wisdom, warmth & inspiration. Moreover, like the previous volumes, ‘Illuminations of the Maggid’ contains a comprehensive index of the entire Maggid Series which itself is invaluable for educators who may be looking to find a story on a particular topic or text.
Within ‘Illuminations of the Maggid’ you will find a stunning tribute to Dafna Meir z’l, powerful insights from the Chida, inspirational stories about tefillah, untold events about life in the Holocaust and amazing examples of educators who have impacted the lives of others. It, along with all the others in my collection, is a book that I will refer to again and again, and like the other volumes in the series, I regard books such as this as spiritual medicine which I read whenever I need chizuk (strengthening) or whenever I need to be mechazek (strengthen) others.
Given that I cannot do justice to all 98 stories, I’d like to reproduce one story called ‘Indaba Inspiration’ because it’s the one that hit me the most. It is a story that concluded in South Africa which recalls a talk in Chicago describing a meeting in Rome and connected to events in Nazi Europe. It’s ending made one young man shudder, and it made me think very seriously about how I use my time. I hope you find it as powerful as I did:
“Over the last few years, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, has hosted a conference called Sinai Indaba, for thousands of Jews…In June 2013, I was invited to participate in the Sinai Indaba… [but] before I arrived Rabbi Goldstein called with a special request. In collaboration with Rabbi Berel Wein, he had written ‘Legacy’, a book about the Lithuanian yeshivos and the gedolim who taught them. Rabbi Goldstein asked me to interview him and Rabbi Wein… I told him I would be honoured.
I met Rabbi Wein a few days before the Indaba and asked if there were any questions he would want me to ask him at the book session. He replied with a confident smile, ‘Ask anything you want.’ And that is exactly what I did. For the first 35 minutes of the 40-minute session I asked both rabbis about their book. I saved my special question for the end of the session [and] when a ‘flagman’ held up a huge sign, ‘5 minutes left’, my moment had come.
I said to Rabbi Wein, ‘… In forty years you have single-handedly produced more material than some large companies have. How do you do it? Don’t you ever get tired? Don’t you ever stop?’
Rabbi Wein’s expression became very serious and then he told an astounding story:
I was raised in Chicago. I am a ben yachid, an only child. One day in 1946 – I was eleven years old – my father said, ‘Berel, we’re going to the airport.’ I asked why. He told me that a great tzaddik was coming to town, and that all the rabbis were going to greet him and escort him to the shul where he would speak. I asked who the tzaddik was; and he told me it was Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael. So I went with my father.
In the shul, not only were the rabbanim present, but all the yeshivah bachurim of Chicago and Skokie were there as well. At that time, there were about 200 yeshivah boys, from elementary school and from the mesivta in Skokie. Many baalei batim were there too.
Rav Herzog gave a shiur and when it was over he said, ‘And now, I want to talk to all of you, especially the bachurim. I just returned from Rome, where I went to visit Pope Pius. I had with me the names of 10,000 Jewish boys and girls, many whose parents had placed them with Catholic families and institutions to save them from the Nazis. I said to him, ‘Give me back these children! These are our children and you know it! I have the names of 10,000 Jewish boys and girls. Many of them were kidnapped by your people. And in truth many of our people gave you their children because they didn’t think any of them would survive the war otherwise. But you have them now, and we want them back. They are our Jewish children!’.
‘And the pope said, ‘I can’t give you even one child.’ I pleaded with him, but he said, ‘We have a rule that if a child is baptized, we can never return him to another religion – and all these children were baptized.’ I pleaded with him to return them, but he refused.
And then, suddenly, Rabbi Herzog started to cry. He put his head down on the podium and he wept! I was never so frightened in my life. Everyone in the shul was silent, listening to him cry.
When he raised his head again, his face was red and he looked like a lion. He called out to all of us, ‘I cannot do anything for those 10,000 children, but what are you going to do for the children of Klal Yisrael? You have the responsibility to help raise the future children of Klal Yisrael – what are you going to do about it? Are you going to remember that? Are you going to forget what I said?’ He repeated himself with emphasis, ‘What are you going to do for the children of Klal Yisrael? Are you going to remember that? Don’t ever forget what I said!’
Rabbi Herzog stopped. Then all the boys got up and marched forward, to shake his hand. When he took my hand he looked me straight in the eye, and asked, ‘Are you going to forget what I said? Will you remember what I said? What are you going to do for the children of Klal Yisrael?’
Rabbi Wein paused for a moment; then he said, ‘Every time I am tired, every time I want to put my pen down, I am haunted by those words, ‘What are you going to do for the children of Klal Yisrael?’
The people in the audience were awestruck by the story. For me, it was the most memorable moment of the Indaba. What motivation, what inspiration, what incredible greatness there was in the reaction to Rabbi Herzog then, and ever since – the productivity of Rabbi Berel Wein and his continuing service to our people. It is indeed a question that we must all consider: What are you doing for their children of Klal Yisrael? Their future is in our hands.”