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Shoftim"When you go out to the battle against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot -- a people more numerous than you -- you shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d, is with you, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt:" (Devarim 20:1). Commentators explain this verse as an illusion to one's battle with his Yetzer Hara - the Evil Inclination. One should not be afraid of the battle, though it is a treacherous one, because Hashem is at his side, helping him to be victorious. This is especially pertinent today as we begin the month of Elul and start going down the path of teshuvah (repentance) as the terrifying High Holy Days approach quickly. There are various customs practiced during these days to help us be triumphant in this spiritual battle. Ashkenazi Jews blow the shofar every morning and begin reciting Selichos (special prayers of penitence) only a few days before Rosh Hashanah. Sefaradim, however, start saying Selichos from the very beginning of the month.
But have you ever heard of anyone saying selichos on Chanukah? How do you think the reaction would be in Heaven? Would they laugh or would they be impressed? Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, shlita, founder and dean of Migdal Ohr, once led a group of young men in Selichos on this most festive of Jewish holidays. You can decide for yourself how they must have looked upon it up Above.
It was Chanukah in London. The weather was, as usual, cold and rainy, and one could barely see another through the "pea soup" fog. But one person walked the gloomy streets of London who could see everyone around him, despite the enveloping "darkness." He could even see into the hearts of those who seemed to others to have no hearts worth considering, for he carried a beacon of light with him wherever he went. This beacon of light - Migdal Ohr - was not only an institution he had founded and directed; it was an internal part of Rav Grossman, who imparted this blessed light to all who were fortunate enough to cross his path.
Walking down the wet and foggy street, Rabbi Grossman saw a crowd of young people walking arm in arm, not an uncommon sight in any country. What was unusual was that they were speaking Hebrew. When any Israeli in the Diaspora hears the sweet sound of his mother tongue being spoken, it arouses his interest. Rav Yitzchak Dovid approached the group, and one of them greeted him immediately: "Shalom! Aren't you Harav Grossman from Migdal Ha'Emek, the 'Disco Rabbi?' I've seen you on Israeli T.V."
"I am Yitzchak Dovid Grossman," came the modest reply.
"I have a she'loh (a Halachic question) for the Rav," said the young man in mock sincerity.
"What is your she'loh?" asked the Rav.
"The girl I am embracing," he replied, "is Catholic. Since I intend to marry her, I wonder if the Rav could help me get her converted once I return to Israel!"
Surprised at the young man's arrogance, Reb Yitzchak Dovid said to him, "You know, something bothers me about what you're saying. I'm familiar with lots of Jews who are not observant. But you don't seem at all embarrassed about it. You act as if you expect me to give you a kiss and wish you a warm mazal tov."
"Do you think I'm the only one?" he retorted. "You see this crowd of Israelis with me? None of the girls with us are Jewish!"
Shocked by what he heard, Rav Grossman asked, "What have you all done? Set up a group for intermarriage in London?"
"No," answered the young man. "Nothing that extreme. It's just that all the Israelis hang out at Discotheque Hanegev, on Finchly Road, and there we meet non-Jewish girls - they're all very nice, and we have a good time."
For the "Disco Rabbi" this was a very important piece of information. Reb Yitzchak Dovid wasted no time. He bid them "Shalom," and upon returning to the home where he was staying, he asked his host's son to accompany him.
"Where to?" asked the young man.
"To the Discotheque Hanegev," came the reply.
"What?!!" exclaimed the shocked boy. "You can't be serious. Why, we're afraid to even walk near that block, because of the dangerous crowd that hangs out there. How can you, the way you look in your Chassidic garb, even think of entering such a place? It could be very dangerous."
"Come along," said the Rav, "and don't be afraid. I assure you you'll see something very interesting tonight."
With a menorah in his hand, Rav Grossman and his escort started out for Discotheque Hanegev.
The blasting, cacophonous "music" could be heard up and down the street. Inside, the disco was packed with gyrating young people. Multi-colored lights were flashing from all sides. Suddenly, the big glass doors opened and in walked a tall, slender chassid in traditional garb, a long beard and payos framing his face, together with his trembling escort.
"Erev tov, Chanukah Same'ach (good evening, happy Chanukah)!" announced the uninvited "guest," whom everyone thought must have just landed from Mars. "Do you know that tonight is Chanukah?" he continued. "I've come to light the Chanukah candles with you. Who among you knows how to recite the berachos (blessings) over the menorah?" As the initial shock subsided, several young men raised their hand.
"Come right over here," smiled Rav Grossman, offering each one of them a kippah as they approached. Loudly and clearly, the young Israelis recited the first two blessings for kindling the Chanukah lights. When they came to the third blessing, the whole crowd spontaneously covered their heads with their hands and recited together: "shehecheyanu, v'kiyimanu, v'higiyanu la-ziman ha-zeh." And instinctively, they all began to sing "Ma oz Tzur yeshuati...."
As the crowd warmed up to their new visitor, Reb Yitzchak Dovid said to them, "Listen, chevrah (friends). I want to farbreng (spend some time) a little with you. Since I'm on a special visit from Israel, honor me with your presence. I see there's a big room downstairs for ping-pong - let's all go down there for a while, but please, tell all your girl friends to wait for you up here."
The young men thought that they had stumbled upon some character whom they could ridicule and have a little "fun" with, so they all ran down the stairs eagerly, with whoops and cries, leaving their bewildered girl friends behind them.
Once downstairs, Reb Yitzchak Dovid began to speak, warmly and emotionally, yet firmly. "Chevrah," he began, "I travel all around the world trying to influence Jews in Exile not to assimilate with their non-Jewish neighbors. But you, of all people, children of the Land of Israel, who have served in the army, risking your lives in defense of our Holy Land and our Holy People - how could you possibly even consider intermarriage with Gentiles? And not only Gentiles, but girls whom even the Gentiles are embarrassed to be with! Immoral, immodest riffraff, the lowest of the low."
"We don't see any difference between Jews and non-Jews!" shouted one youth defiantly.
"Who are you?" asked the Rav of the self-appointed spokesman of the group. "Where are you from?"
"I'm from Ohr Akiva," replied the young man.
"Who is your father?"
The boy took his wallet out of his pocket and displayed a picture of a Moroccan Jew with a long beard and payos.
Overwhelmed by what he saw, and with tears in his eyes, Reb Yitzchak Dovid exclaimed, "How can you, the son of such a devotedly pious Jew, tell me that you don't differentiate between Jews and non-Jews?!! How did you get so estranged from Judaism?"
"Do you think it happened in London?" responded another boy. "No, sir. We got ruined in Israel! We have no feelings left at all for Israel, Jews or anything Jewish!"
At this, Reb Yitzchak Dovid began to speak, from a heart full of compassion and pity for these misguided youths, about the holiness and sanctity of every Jew; a member of the Chosen People. He explained to his captive audience how, through two thousand years of wandering in Exile, Jews were careful to keep their distance from the people of the nations they were dispersed among; not to be integrated among them, but to stand out as "a rose among thorns." Neither the missionary's glib tongue nor the executioner's torturous sword could get the Jew to forsake his heritage. Especially the Sefaradim, Reb Yitzchak Dovid stressed, had always brought up their children to be extremely pious and observant. Some of the greatest Torah luminaries, such as the Rambam, the Beis Yosef and many Kabbalists were products of that elite society.
"You are all well aware," continued the Rav, "that during the month of Elul, when Ashkenazi Jews begin to recite the selichos only a few days before Rosh Hashanah, you Sefaradim start from the very beginning of the month, rising early before dawn to recompense for any transgressions committed throughout the year."
With this Reb Yitzchak Dovid began to sing the first few words of a Sefaradi selichah to the tune they were all familiar with: "Adon Ha-selichot, Bochen Ha-levavot...." Instinctively, all of the boys put their hands over their bare heads and joined in, "Chatanu lifanecha, rachem aleinu."
The mood had changed completely now. The group was one with its leader. Together they sang and danced and begged Rav Grossman to talk more and more. They had long forgotten about their girl friends upstairs, who eventually got tired of waiting and left for home by themselves. All they wanted was more of the warmth and the light this magnificent person was imparting to them. At 5 A.M., the "Disco Rabbi" left Discotheque Hanegev to return to his sleeping quarters, thoroughly drenched and drained.
Two fellows ran after Rav Grossman and begged to speak with him alone. The rabbi explained that he could not stay any longer since he was totally exhausted, but they persisted and asked if they could at least accompany him home. And so they escorted him all the way to Stamford Hill, telling him their sad story.
They had come to London looking for a good time and some quick money, they told him, and all too soon they got involved with members of the underworld. It didn't take long before they became big drug dealers, and by now they were in deep trouble, with the police on their trail. Despite all this, they explained, they were so moved by the night's events with the rabbi, that they wanted to become real ba'alei teshuvah (penitents).
Fatigued though he was, Reb Yitzchak Dovid knew that this hisorerus - Jewish awakening - must be dealt with immediately, without delay. He spoke to them kindly but firmly.
"If you are serious about taking this step, then you must act upon it at once. Today you must purchase tickets and fly to France and enroll in Yeshivat Ohr Yosef near Paris. I will free myself of all of my obligations and commitments and see to it that you are accepted. Only if you escape from your present environment can you succeed in keeping your resolve."
At first the young men tried to argue that they had business and social ties in London which would take time to be severed, but Reb Yitzchak Dovid was adamant in his insistence that they would only be successful if they made the move immediately. It didn't take long for them to feel the sincerity and the wisdom of the Rav's words, since words spoken from the heart penetrate other hearts. That very day, they flew to Paris and joined the Yeshiva of Rabbeinu Gershon Liebman ztvk"l. They developed into two fine young men, who today head devout Jewish families. One of them even organized his own group of ba'alei teshuvah in Ohr Akiva.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network