Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org
The following was written by Mr. Zalman Jaffe after Reb Bentzion Shemtov’s passing on this day in 5735/1975.
Rabbi Shemtov was an extraordinary person, an outstanding example of a true Lubavitcher chossid. He was a devoted and loyal soldier who carried out the Rebbe’s orders unhesitatingly and without question, with courage, gladness and self-sacrifice.
He came to England over 27 years ago – accompanied by his devoted wife and their children – directly from the jails and prison camps in Siberia where he had been banished for teaching Judaism to children.
He immediately started the first UK Lubavitch Institution in London: a “school” with an enrollment of three pupils that operated out of his personal residence. That humble beginning was the foundation of the Lubavitch Empire in Great Britain today. He based all his work on love, consideration and tolerance, but mainly on personal perseverance and self-sacrifice, always guided by his beloved Rebbe.
He was the Rebbe’s “roving” ambassador abroad and represented Lubavitch with enormous and good effect. His exemplary conduct, determination and mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice) for Jews everywhere enhanced his reputation but, even more so, enhanced the entire Lubavitch movement, too.
He could only see good in people. He emphasized and praised their virtues and disregarded their weaknesses. The Orthodox admired and respected him. The not-yet Orthodox loved him. All over the world he only had friends.
His toes were frostbitten because of the severe Siberian cold: he had to wear specially made boots. This did not stop him walking thousands of miles on the Rebbe’s business and he was, nevertheless, always cheerful and constantly saw the bright side of things. For example, his daughter Frieda (Sudak) was once criticizing his Siberian exile, denouncing the Soviet authorities for their cruelty. Rabbi Shemtov rebuked her. He pointed out that the cold weather was good for his asthma! In any case, he continued, Siberia was preferable to being called up to serve in the Russian Army.
His late wife, Golda, was a wonderful person, who voluntarily accompanied her husband into exile. She was a woman of great and simple faith.
On one occasion we visited her in London and she insisted on baking us a cake. She took a baking tin and filled it with flour, eggs, sugar and so forth – and placed it in the oven. In due course, the cake was ready. It was absolutely delicious! Roselyn asked for the recipe. “Oh,” said Mrs. Shemtov, “I don’t bother with recipes. I just pour the stuff into a bowl, mix it well and put it in the oven. I then sit down and say Tehillim!”
Shemmy, as we affectionately called him, referred to my office as his “Manchester HQ.” He always found plenty of work for me to do. He drove me crazy with wild and preposterous schemes which somehow, in retrospect, always turned out to be such wonderful and inspired notions.
One perfect example is the time in 5721/1961 when he arrived at my office with an idea that ended up with my phoning a company to charter a flight to New York. This flight ultimately enabled 118 passengers to visit the Rebbe for a ridiculously low price.
A “charter flight” was almost unknown in those days, so at first I thought Shemmy was joking; he often did make jokes. However, since he persisted, I thought I would satisfy him and my conscience and I phoned the airline for him.
Yes, we were lucky they had one date available. Yes, the plane would have four propellers, too! The date? During the Three Weeks and Nine Days of national mourning! Shemmy said take it – quickly – so I did.
We now had the flight. All we needed was 118 people wanting to travel to New York for three weeks during those dates.
The cost was only £35 for the round-trip journey – including meals on the flights – a great price even in those days.
Later when I questioned Shemmy about traveling to the Rebbe in such a sad period, he was quick to reply that when one visited the Rebbe it was a happy time, a yom tov. All I had to do was explain to any potential passengers how the days of mourning were being relieved this year with simcha and joy; we were going to see the Rebbe!
The novelty and uniqueness of this chartered flight was readily apparent to the 118 men, women and children when, upon arrival at 770 at 3:30 in the morning, the Rebbe – who had been waiting for our safe arrival – received the guests at a specially organized pre-dawn farbrengen.
On a subsequent chartered flight, I took Rabbi Shemtov with our group to Brooklyn. The Rebbe had not given him specific permission to leave England then and showed his displeasure by ignoring him. At Roselyn’s and my yechidus, I begged the Rebbe to forgive Shemmy, as it was entirely my fault.
“Ah,” said the Rebbe with a smile, “now I have two people to shout at!”
Rabbi Shemtov personally introduced Roselyn and me to the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin. As far as we are concerned, that was his greatest achievement. We shall forever feel indebted to him for that.
He had been a wonderful friend of ours over the years, only interested in our welfare and looking after Avrohomand Hindy as if they were his own children. He wrote a personal letter to me – one of his rare letters and handwritten by him in English – when Hindy was engaged to Shmuel Lew, sharing how happy he was that they decided to marry.
Rabbi Shemtov died on active service, doing the Rebbe’s work for klal Yisroel (the Jewish people). He suffered no pain and no long illness. He was not a burden to anyone. That is what Rabbi Shemtov preferred. He died in the Land of Israel and was buried in the Holy City of Yerushalayim.
The Rebbe has lost a staunch soldier.
May the mention of his memory be for a blessing.