As a bochur, “Shlomo Simcha” Sufrin struggled, and was advised to attend the yeshiva of R’ Asher Freund. His parents refused to send him outside of Chabad, but the Rebbe sent secret messengers to ensure he received the care he needed.
By Rabbi Akiva Wagner – Rosh Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto
The following personal story was shared by the baal hamaaseh, Reb Shlomo Sufrin (a.k.a. Shlomo Simcha). Many thanks to him for sharing, zechus horabim toluy bo! I am giving it over in the first person, as I heard it from him:
“As a young bochur, I was learning in the Lubavitch mechina in London. At that time, I was going through personal struggles, and was troubled by questions and doubts in emuna. My father a”h was very troubled by my questions and situation, and he wrote to the Rebbe for guidance.
The Rebbe replied that he should consult with yedidim mevinim.
My father was very close with Reb Nosson (Bobby) Vogel, and he discussed my situation with him. Rabbi Vogel urged my father to send me to Eretz Yisroel, to Reb Asher Freund. (This was before the term “children at risk” had been coined, but Rabbi Freund had much success, through his unique approach, in reaching and influencing youth who were struggling in conventional mosdos).
My father was scandalized by the suggestion! He, who had shown such mesirus nefesh for years for the Rebbe’s mosdos, should send his own child to a non-Lubavitch mosad?! (In fact, he used to tease Bobby Vogel during farbrengens about his great admiration and reverence to Rabbi Freund, telling him a Lubavitcher can only have one Rebbe). He was absolutely certain that the Rebbe would never condone such a move!
A few months went by, and my situation did not improve, and my father, in desperation, wrote to the Rebbe again. Following that second letter, he received a call from Rabbi Leibel Groner, telling him that he went into the Rebbe, and the Rebbe said (regarding this letter) that he had already replied to this question. My father explained that the advice that he received from the yedidim mevinim was one that he couldn’t possibly follow, but Rabbi Groner said that that was the answer for him.
Eventually my father sent me to Eretz Yisroel, and I joined Rabbi Freund’s program. In fact, I received many yesodos there that hadn’t been addressed earlier. I spent some time there, and then returned to London.
A few decades passed, and about 3 years ago I was in Lakewood, where I had been brought to sing at a chasuna. Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Hertz, the rosh yeshiva from London was there as well. We met, and he commented to me ‘So you’re Shlomo Sufrin, the Rebbe spoke to me about you during a yechidus for between a half hour and 45 minutes’
I was shocked. What did the Rebbe have to speak with Rabbi Hertz about, regarding me?! But when I questioned him, he changed the subject, saying that it was better not to speak about it.
Understandably, I wouldn’t relent, and finally, he shared the details: During his yechidus the Rebbe urged him to convince my father to send me to Reb Asher Freund’s program! The Rebbe devoted all that time to explain to Rabbi Hertz the advantages of the methods and philosophy of Rabbi Freund and why they would be beneficial for me, so that he would have convincing arguments to present to my father. The Rebbe said ‘Let him get the yesodos there, Chassidus will come afterward’ (which is exactly what happened). Of course, he would need to accomplish this without using the Rebbe’s name.
I was flabbergasted at this bombshell from Rabbi Hertz. This personal attention that the Rebbe had given to my situation had been previously completely unbeknownst to me. I contacted my mother to ask her about any part Rabbi Hertz had played in the decision to send me to Eretz Yisroel.
When I told her what he had told me, she reacted with surprise. ‘Now I understand what happened’ she exclaimed. ‘There was one Shabbos afternoon, that Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hertz suddenly knocked on our door. They said they were out for a walk and were just passing by. Of course, we invited them in. We got into a long conversation, during which Rabbi Hertz asked about how Shlomie is doing, and spoke at length about why Rabbi Freund’s program would be very beneficial for him. Eventually, we were convinced’.
Undoubtedly, one amazing aspect of the story is the personal care and attention that the Rebbe gave behind the scenes for a young bochur, to the point of devoting over a half hour (and we all know how every moment of the Rebbe was so precious), during a yechidus with a communal leader, to the welfare of the individual bochur!
But there is another amazing lesson from this story:
Imagine you had a pressing question and you wrote to the Rebbe, and the Rebbe answered כעצת ידידים מביננם. Firstly, you would – most probably – be disappointed. You were hoping for an answer from the Rebbe himself, an answer that you could have absolute confidence and trust in. You may feel that being sent to yedidim mevinim is a letdown.
And if you actually consult them, you will never be fully sure about the answer. Did I choose the right yedidim mevinim? Does he know what he’s talking about? How can I entrust such a person with such a weighty problem?!
Of course, you understand that there is a rationale behind consulting yedidim mevinim. They know you, and care about you, and – as mevinim – they are able to analyze the issue well. But, still, they’re only human. What if they get it wrong, aren’t they capable of erring?
But, in this story there is something that is made very clear (that we may sometimes hear, but is rarely so evident). The Rebbe did not send Rabbi Sufrin to yedidim mevinim in lieu of answering himself, because the Rebbe chose not to answer. On the contrary, the Rebbe had a very specific answer that he wanted Rabbi Sufrin to receive, an answer that the Rebbe subsequently spent over a half hour of Rabbi Hertz’s yechidus, explaining to him how to convince Rabbi Sufrin of the merits of that answer.
But – for whatever reason – the Rebbe wanted that answer to come not from him directly, but from the yedidim mevinim. The Rebbe himself was answering, but via the yedidim mevinim!
And, thus, when the yedid gave an answer that seemed scandalous to Rabbi Sufrin (and seemed to be a reflection of the differences of outlook between him and Rabbi Vogel, and an indication that, perhaps, he made a bad choice of yedidim mevinim), it turned out that – amazingly – the answer given was exactly the answer that the Rebbe wanted given, and that the Rebbe subsequently spent so much time explaining.
When the Rebbe sends us to yedidim mevinim (or a rofeh yedid, or a rov etc. etc.), he is not abstaining from answer us, but rather designating them to be the conduit for his answer to us.
This is, perhaps, also the idea contained in the beginning of this week’s Parsha: When Yisro saw that Moshe Rabenu was teaching all of the Yidden himself, he objected. נבול תבול, he told him, לא תוכל עשוהו לבדיך. He suggested delegating the job of teaching Yidden to שרי אלפים etc., with only the most difficult questions being presented to Moshe Rabenu himself.
The suggestion was backed by the Eibishter Himself, and the new system was implemented. Which raises the question – where does that leave the Yidden? Were they supposed to be satisfied with learning from some sorei alofim or meios, some local orthodox Rabbi, the yedidim mevinim or Rav, as a substitute for learning from Moshe himself? Could they be expected to have the same confidence in the ruling of some newly-appointed mashpia or communal leader as they would have in the word of G-d being conveyed directly by His servant Moshe?! And this new arrangement was meant to be for the benefit of the Yidden?!
The question is stronger based on what the Rebbe explains in a sicha, that when learning directly from Moshe the Yidden were indeed elevated to a higher level. But, the fact that they would, years later, enter Eretz Yisroel without Moshe Rabenu, necessitated their being taught at their own level, and not at the level to which Moshe Rabenu would elevate them.
Which seems even more puzzling. Is it fair that for the benefit of other Yidden, decades later, this generation would have to lose out on the tremendous benefits and privileges of learning directly from Moshe Rabenu the dvar Hashem?!
It must be that – like we see in the story – the chidush of Yisro, the יתר פרשה אחת בתורה, was that Moshe Rabenu would imbue all the rabbis and teachers under him with that koach that when they teach Yidden it has all of the advantages of learning directly from Moshe Rabenu himself. It is the same לדרוש את אלקים. But it also has the added advantage of this teaching being grasped by them at their own level.
This is, perhaps, also the repeated emphasis by Yisro on המלך בגבורה, on consulting with the Eibishter (because, is it not obvious that Moshe Rabenu, the eved ne’eman of Hashem, would not do anything without being told by the Eibishter?). It is because this required a special empowerment from the Eibishter, a special נתינת כח from Above. This is the יתר פרשה אחת בתורה, this is a completely new inyan in Torah; – that they are learning through their own teachers, and they are simultaneously being taught by Moshe Rabbenu himself!
This lesson is very relevant to us in many areas, and one very important one is regarding aseh lecho rav. One mivtza of the Rebbe that many people have a very difficult time with is aseh lecho rav. It is uncomfortable, it is awkward and can seem unpleasant. And, some of us, at best, go through the motions of speaking with a rav, with kabolas ol, so that we can mark it off on our checklist.
It’s not that we don’t have questions or issues. On the contrary, we have numerous dilemmas, countless thorny problems and quandaries for which we are desperately in need of advice and guidance. We would do anything to get some direction from the Rebbe in these issues, and we would follow it unquestionably.
But a rav? Can we possibly find a rav that we can have enough confidence in? The rav is after all a mere human being, how can I know that he is not erring? What does he really understand about me? (And, if we’re going to really be honest, the truth is that I’m probably much smarter than my rav (and everybody else’s rav), so what’s the point of asking him).
But the real truth is – in addition to all the rational explanations that the Rebbe gave us for this mivtza – when we follow the Rebbe’s directives, whether it is in turning to a rav or a rofeh yedid or yedididim mevinim or a chassidishe rov etc., then it is not their intellect that I am depending on, but, rather, it is the Rebbe himself who is answering me through them.
[Another glaring example of this – at the risk of being accused of being self-serving – is hanholos of yeshivos. For a bochur, the Rebbe expected him to refer all of his questions to the hanholoh and follow their decisions. The bochur will think, how can I be confident in my hanholo’s decision (especially being that I know them, and I know how little they understand about me or about the situation….). If I had the hanholoh of a hundred years ago, that I read about, that would be something else, but my hanholoh, of today?!
Most notably, this is when a bochur wants to leave yeshiva and change yeshivos. Usually part of the reason is because he in some way didn’t “click” with his current hanholoh, and probably feels that they don’t really understand him or relate with him. Moreover, it is almost inconceivable that his current hanholoh should be impartial to such a question. Either they have reasons to want him to stay, that cloud their judgement about what is best for him, or the opposite… How can they possibly be the ones to make such a decision?!
And yet, the Rebbe would be unequivocal that the move to a new yeshiva would need to approved by that current hanholoh! The only explanation is that the bochur needs to know that if he follows the hanholoh, according to the directives of the Rebbe, regardless of what they do or don’t understand, it is the Rebbe himself who is guiding him through them!].
If we knew that we were getting guidance directly from the Rebbe about any issue, then we would disregard any discomfort or inconvenience, and no advice would be too difficult to follow. We need to know that that is indeed to the case. Whether it’s via a rofeh yedid, yedidim mevinim, our aseh lecho rav or a chassidishe Rov, we have the greatest zechus and achrayus to receive and follow the guidance we are getting directly from the Rebbe.
Let us follow the guidance of our Rebbe, and he will surely guide us swiftly and confidently on the path to the complete and ultimate geulah now!
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This is only the tip of the iceberg, this story shows us what a true leader is.
Shlomo Simcha’s wonderful story was of course one-of-a-kind. Thank you for sharing.
Speaking as someone who received the answer “k’atzas yedidim mevinim” and “k’atzas rav moreh halacha” from the Rebbe at least 5-6 times in the Lameds and Mems, it became clear to me pretty quickly each time after consulting with these Rabbonim and friends (as hard as it was to do at the time) that their answers were precisely on-target B”H. I wish everyone the strength to reach out, and much clarity.
In a similar vein, a friend of mine told me lately, more than 40 years after the story, what happened to him:
The time came to change Yeshivos, the Bochur wrote to the Rebbe, and the Rebbe answered, to ask the Hanholoh of his (present, outgoing) Yeshiva. The Hanholoh gave their opinion, which in the end was rejected by the Bochur and his father, on the grounds that the Hanholoh’s answer was politically motivated, (and I do agree with him). Nevertheless, in hindsight, the Bochur saw that he was unsuccessful in the Yeshiva where he was told not to go to, and later was forced to change Yeshivos. Now he tells me: though the Hanholoh were wrong, in my opinion, nevertheless the Hatzlocho and Brocho was only received by obeying the Hanholoh.