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Disco Rabbi Stories


"Darkness is not chased away with sticks, not even with cannons. One simply lights a small candle, and the darkness flees before it" (Chafetz Chaim zt"l, as quoted by Reb Elchanan Wasserman ztvk"l in his Letter to Young Israel, 1939, printed in Kovetz Ma'amarim, p. 68).

We need not look far to find that "darkness." It exists mostly in man's hearts and minds and it is often as palpable as choshech Mitzrayim. "Sticks" are equally abundant. But go find a "small candle" - it's not so easy when we're groping around in the darkness and sticks are strewn in our path like stumbling blocks.

If only we knew that there are small candles everywhere, that all we have to do is reach out and grasp one, we might banish the darkness forever. The trick is in understanding what constitutes a "small candle." Some, like Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, have mastered this trick. He knows that a small candle might take the form of a kind word or a warm gesture, a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on, or even...a piece of kugel.

Yisrael will only be redeemed through teshuvah (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5). But no one can be forced to do teshuvah. Throwing stones may be a way to chase the Sabbath desecrator from our neighborhoods and thereby prevent our young children's minds from being polluted by the sight of chillul Shabbos, but it does nothing to draw the offender closer to yiddishkeit. On the contrary, it alienates him even more. He may flee before our stones, but the darkness of his mind surely will not.

We all know that before Moshiach finally arrives to redeem us, Eliyahu Hanavi will come to help us do teshuvah properly. And he will return the heart of the parents unto their children, and the heart of the children unto their parents (Malachi 3:24). Anyone who is familiar with the hard-heartedness of many of our estranged and often even assimilated brethren may rightly wonder, "How in the world will Eliyahu succeed in penetrating their hearts of stone? What pedagogical methods will he use which will make his efforts successful?"

The answer is in the Rashi on the verse quoted above. He will tell the children in a manner of love and acceptance "Go and speak to your parents [urging them] to embrace the ways of Hashem," and in the same manner, the heart of the children unto their parents.

My Rebbe, Hagaon Harav Ya'akov Kaminecki zt"l, once remarked that many think that the mitzvah of tochachah, to rebuke the sinner, and the precept of all of Yisrael are responsible for one another (Shevuos 39a), imply that we should form a "vigilante committee" to protect Hashem's honor, the assumption being that by insuring that another Jew is religious, we have executed one of our obligations to Hashem and have fulfilled a mitzvah bein adam laMakom, between man and G-d.

But this, Reb Ya'akov explained, is not at all what was intended. The sources of these mitzvos are the commandments of ve'ahavta l're'acha kamocha, love your fellow man as yourself (Vayikra 19:18), and lo sa'amod al dam re'echa, do not stand idly by over your fellow man's blood (ibid.,16) and they fall under the category of mitzvos shebain adam lechavero, between man and his fellow man. In other words, just as one seeing that a friend is about to invest his money unwisely, in a manner which will surely cause him great financial loss, will feel motivated out of concern for his friend to warn him of the potential consequences, and just as a person seeing someone drowning in a lake will, out of concern for the fellow's life, jump in to rescue him, so much more should we, upon seeing a fellow Jew whose very soul is in danger of eternal loss, feel impelled by our love for him to try and save him (see Minchas Chinnuch, Positive Commandment 239, paragraph 4).

As a matter of fact, Reb Ya'akov concluded, if the non-religious fellow senses that we are merely trying to gain a nice piece of Gan Eden for ourselves by influencing him, and are merely using him as one might use an esrog or a pair of tefillin to achieve our own spiritual gain, he will be resentful and not at all receptive to our overtures. However, if he feels that our concern is for him and his welfare, and that we approach him out of compassion and in a manner of love and acceptance, then even if he does not yet agree with our views, he will appreciate our concern and interest in him, will not react with hostility and eventually will see the truth and pleasantness in Hashem's ways.

A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness (Tzedah Ladarech). Love and acceptance are the light that dispel even the greatest darkness and penetrate even the hardest heart as it is written, In the light of the King's countenance there is life (Mishlei 16:15). In our own generation, just before the coming of Eliyahu Hanavi and Mashiach ben David, Klal Yisrael has been blessed with some dynamic leaders who are the vanguards of the Redemption. In a manner of love and acceptance, they help parents and children return to the Source of all life. As a result of their efforts, we are witnessing the astonishing mass teshuvah movement which the Torah assured us would come before the final Geulah (Devarim 30:1-10).

One of the most distinguished among these leaders is Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman shlita, of Migdal Haemek. He is the founder and director of Migdal Ohr, which is truly a tower of light illuminating the Galil. Known as "the Disco Rabbi," he is able to banish even the gloomiest darkness with his manner of love and acceptance. He has helped even those most distant from "home" to find their way back, whether they were student dropouts, hardened criminals, prisoners or their children, or even murderers. Thousands of individuals and families, from every imaginable background and in all kinds of predicaments, have been rescued by this outstanding Jew.

Rav Grossman began lighting his small candles in the Galil in 1969; today over 3,000 students - boys and girls, teenagers and adults, from every ethnic group and walk of life - attend classes in Migdal Haemek. Through Torah education and job training, countless "lost cases" have been given a new lease on life. One of them was "Roni." This is his story.

Reb Moishe Mordcheh Biderman zt"l, the Lelever Rebbe, had a custom of spending Shabbos Parashas Beha'alosecha in Meron at the site of the tomb of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. As is customary in chassidic circles, when the Rebbe travelled so did his chassidim. Consequently, the throng at the Rebbe's tisch in Meron that Shabbos was overwhelming, with well over a thousand people crowded into close quarters. Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman was among them, and being an honored guest, was seated near the Rebbe.

One of the highlights of a tisch is the custom of distributing shirayim, the precious leftovers of the food which the Rebbe has eaten or tasted with all of the proper kavanos. Since there is usually not enough to go around, the crowd often becomes unruly, sometimes even violent, as everyone tries to get at least a morsel of the blessed food with its spiritual implications. Many a bench and table have been broken beyond repair, and many a chassid has been trampled and bruised when the coveted shirayim began its journey around the tisch.

Sometimes, the Rebbe's gabbai or shamash will discipline an especially aggressive "shirayim chapper" and will even resort to physical abuse when necessary to control a particularly unruly participant. And so, when a young fellow with long, wild hair, and obviously non-religious, dressed in an IDF uniform, tried to grab a rather large piece of kugel, he was slapped by the Lelever Rebbe's gabbai who for good measure scolded the fellow for his lack of derech eretz. Embarrassed and insulted, the young man fled the tisch to find refuge on the stairs leading to the upper chambers of the holy site.

Although practically everyone had witnessed the incident, no one seemed to give it a second thought; apparently they all felt that the impudent fellow had gotten what he deserved. All except Rav Grossman, that is.

Reb Yitzchak Dovid immediately took an extra-large portion of kugel, knowing that no gabbai would dare stop him, and went to look for the young man. When he found him on the stairs, Rav Grossman handed him the kugel and returned to his seat near the Rebbe. Several times throughout the tisch, Reb Yitzchak Dovid repeated this action, bringing the fellow large helpings of food and drink.

Finally, the young man asked him, "Are you Rav Grossman the Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha'Emek?" The Rabbi nodded affirmatively. "Then I must speak to you," the young man said, "privately."

The fellow then began to pour out his horrifying story. The son of a prominent shochet near Migdal Ha'Emek, "Roni" was trained as a locksmith, and he had used his expertise to help his friends rob a bank in Ramat Gan. They were all captured and arrested, but they succeeded in breaking out of their cells. Roni's two friends were recaptured at the Yarkon, but he had come up north and had hidden in a cave in the wadi between the gravesites of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai.

Afraid to show himself by day, Roni would come out of the cave only late at night, make his way to Meron to collect the leftover scraps of those who came to pray at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Eliezer, and bring them back to his cave to eat. He had been there for six weeks and his name and picture had appeared in all of the Israeli newspapers, in which he was identified as a much wanted criminal. Now he longed to make amends, but he was stuck in his present situation.

Rav Grossman promised to try and help him. On Motzaei Shabbos, Reb Yitzchak Dovid spoke to the Lelever Rebbe about the young fugitive and they immediately worked out a plan of action. First, they appointed some local residents to bring Roni food twice a day so that he would not have to endanger himself by leaving the cave. Second, they brought him tefillin and a siddur so that he could get closer to Hashem. Roni was to have a regular supply of food for both his body and his soul.

A week later, the chassidim brought Roni the striped chassidic garb worn by the ultra-Charedi of Yerushalayim. Disguised as a Yerushalmi chassid, he was escorted to a yeshiva in Jerusalem where he began to learn how a Jew is supposed to behave. When the police intercepted a phone call of his to his father, his newfound friends moved him to a yeshiva in another location.

Roni continued learning for eight years, excelling in his studies, until he was ready to get married and start life anew. Now it was of utmost importance that the darkness of his past be erased because it threatened to dim the bright light of his future.

Rav Grossman met with the Israeli Chief of Police and with a Chief Justice and revealed to them that the criminal of yore no longer existed. Instead of "doing time" in a prison where he might have learned to perform more serious crimes from prisoners who were more "professional" than he, Reb Yitzchak Dovid explained, Roni had "done time" in the halls of the yeshiva where he had been totally rehabilitated and was ready to become a productive member of society. He only needed the cooperation of the police and the courts to make his transformation complete.

The judge and the police chief said that they wanted to meet with Roni, and upon doing so were amazed at what they saw. A dignified scholar of the highest caliber stood before them, a far cry from the fugitive they had known and sought for years. He was brought to trial, given a four-year suspended sentence and released on probation.

Today "Roni" is the head of a prominent religious family in Israel, following in the ways of the Torah and leading his fine children in the same path. And it all began with a little bit of light...and a piece of kugel.