The huge turnout for the funeral exceeded almost everyone’s expectations. It was indeed larger than other great Rebbes’ funerals from the past generation. The question begs – Why? What did people see or feel, that brought forth this outpouring of grief, taking from their time to come to pay their last respects? To be honest, in his lifetime, The Skulener Rebbe did not have this level of commitment from Chassidim, nor did he have people flocking to his Tish or his Simchas. His Bais Hamedrish in Boro Park had five isles/sections of seats. While attending a Tish one Friday night, having a chance to look over the chart of the seating, one would immediately notice that three of the isles are reserved for the family of the Rebbe. Only two isles of about 50 seats each, were for Chassidim or regular Mispalilim. The Rebbe was known to daven late during the weekdays, preparing himself for Tiffila, (which is Avodah Sh’blev) for a long time beforehand. At the actual davening, at many times there was not much more than a bare minyan. This is the fact of reality in the Rebbe’s life. Many people not associated with Chassidim, who never even heard of the Rebbe before, are asking and wondering: Who was this Rebbe? Who was this man that half the community was closed off for the massive crowds attending his funeral?!
A small sampling of his greatness is in order to understand who we lost. Both, the Rebbe and his father (previous Rebbe), survived the Holocaust, moved back to Bucharest, Romania and worked tirelessly to help other survivors re-establish their lives. They mainly worked with orphans that had no other support and were terribly dejected after the camps, some were ready to give up Yiddishkeit altogether. Even with little means of income, Father and Son worked hard and tirelessly to save as many orphans as they could. They opened their homes to many and basically gave the bread from their mouths to others. Romania, after the war, turned communist, and the Government was not exactly pleased about them trying to re-establish Yiddishkeit. Against all the problems and warnings thrown their way, they did not deter and continued their holy work. Eventually, Father and Son were arrested and spent long months in a horrible communist jail. After they got out, at the first opportunity they escaped to America. Without missing a beat, they continued their good work establishing Chesed L’Avrohom to help Jewish orphans. There were no better people to run such an organization, it was perfect!
Of the many stories of self -sacrifice, one stands out. While on the face of it, it seems simple and trivial, it does show who the Rebbe truly was.
One evening while the Rebbe was giving some Tish in Boro Park, at a different location then his usual shul, some youngsters were standing outside and catching the fresh air. An old man, clean shaven with a snap hat and a heavy accent, walks by and inquires what is happening inside. They explain to him that the Skulener Rebbe is conducting his Tish. The old man exclaims in awe: “The Skulener Rebbe!” As though he is familiar with the Rebbe. He then asks the youngsters why are they would come to listen to a “Liar.” Utterly shocked, the boys gather around him as he asked again, “Why would you listen to someone who lies?”
Some boys are starting to get a bit unsettled, someone was accusing the holy Rebbe of lying. However, before they reacted, the man says that he could prove that the Rebbe lied and proceeds to tell them the following story:
When the man was a young boy and before the war, his father passed away and his mother could not take care of him. He ended up at the Skulener home which was open to all. There were many boys like him living with them. He was placed in a group with boys his age and since there was not enough room for a bed for each boy, the Rebbe got hold of one of those huge, old beds and on it slept several boys in that age group. At the time, the Skulener Rebbe was that same age and slept with the man on the same bed.
To the Skulener Rebbe’s father, there was difference between his kids and the other children; he loved and treated them all equally. One morning, they discovered that someone wet the bed during the previous night, and as the previous Rebbe became aware of this, it was upsetting for him. In addition to all the work he had to do (preparing food and learning with the children, among other things) he now had to deal with this issue as well (at that age children should not be wetting the bed)! Father called the boys over and asked who was responsible. Everyone stood still and silent, since whoever did it was too embarrassed and frightened. Again, the Father demanded to know who the bed wetter was, and again, no one came forward. The Father said he will investigate and WILL find out who did it. All of a sudden, the hand of the Father’s own son shot up into the air, and with a bent head, he tells his father, “I was the one that wet the bed.” His father scolded him a bit, the son was extremely embarrassed and lost some sort of treat or cake for lunch and other perks he would have been able to receive.
It was at this point that the old man asked the boys again, “How do I know that the Rebbe is a liar?! Because I was the boy who wet the bed!” He exclaimed while pointing towards himself. “Now you see why I say the Rebbe is a liar!” With that, he turned away and disappeared into the darkness of the street.
This small story shows what kind of Rebbe we lost. At only seven years old, he knew that some kid will get punished because they were terrified and ashamed to admit what they did. The Rebbe took the burden on himself and saved another child from the embarrassment and scolding. Later in life, after the Rebbe was arrested by the communist regime and they were beating another Yid for some infraction, he begged and pleaded with the officer to be whipped instead. When he did this, he was 30 years old, but it was already ingrained in him when he was just seven! he was ready to accept another Jew’s hurt. People say he once showed strap marks on his legs, that he said he took for other Yidden. All his life he remained selfless and was devoted to any other Yid. There are no “mofsim” (miracle stories) circulating about him nor did people come to him in droves for “Eitzes” (sagely advice). [Do not worry, there will be no shortage of books written of imagined miracles and half-stories about him!] People came to him, like simply coming to a father to share a burden, and mainly for his holy and warm blessings. When seeking a blessing, always seek out someone that is doing more than you. Look for the one that is giving his total being for K’lal Yisroel, stays up nights helping others, even if is just to hold a person’s hand or offer a deep heartfelt blessing. Do not look for designer names or huge crowds jumping around a person – leave that for your shoes and shirts or for your colorful socks! Seek out an erlicher, honest man that is willing to give away his life for others; then you will be truly blessed!
So why did so many feel the need to come and give him their last respects, even though most who came had not much or anything to do with the holy Rebbe? However, in their minds they wanted their children to see a True Eved Hashem. For themselves, they knew the truth: the Rebbe was a person who stayed above politics, avoided fights with anyone at all cost, had zero enemies. All he wanted was to serve Hashem and to be there for Hashem’s children. The chasidim understand this is the last of those, “NOT seeking kovid, NOT desiring mansions, NOT looking for swirling cherry lights on their motorcade, NOT being jealous if more people came to another Rebbe, etc.” type of Rebbe!
He was certainly the last of his kind!
This is who this Rebbe was, a simple man with a goal, and one goal only: To seek out and fulfill Hashem’s will. For the Rebbe, it was Biltey Hashem Livadoh. Nothing was done for “show” or to keep people interested. This is the end of an era, it is all over! May Hashem bless us that we should still have the zichus to merit more like the Rebbe zt’l.
May his memory and good deeds be a blessing for us all.