“I have seen a true Ohev Yisroel!” is the title of a letter we received from one of our readers, who wishes to share with the community the kindness he experienced from a modern-day Baal Shem Tov in our community:
Not long ago I was driving in another part of the city, when I was pulled over by two (enthusiastic) cops undoubtedly looking out for “public safety.” before I had a chance to process what was happening, I was ordered to step out of the vehicle and was promptly arrested (my first ever such experience – I’m almost 40 years old).
The cause for arrest was a driver’s license technicality. (Tip: periodically be on top of your license, registration and paperwork etc.; routinely double-check that all is ok and up to date)
I was handcuffed, driven to the local precinct and processed. I was only permitted to make three phone calls. The first call was to my wife, then I called my boss to let him know I would be late; the third call I made was to a Jew I hardly knew personally, but whom my wife suggested I contact – Reb Yisroel Shemtov.
Rabbi Shemtov dropped everything and rushed down to the precinct (which is not in Crown Heights) to help advocate for a fellow Jew in trouble. He did not even know who I was; all he knew was that there is a fellow Yid in need, Period.
Thanks to his quick intervention and demonstration of concern, I got to put on Tefilin and a clean respectable private room to Daven in. I also noticed a shift in the attitude of the officers; they realized, here is someone with a strong network of loyal friends who are looking after him. Needless to say, the obvious shift correlated directly with Reb Yisroel’s intervention and was the fruit of his efforts.
I’ve never written an Op-Ed or any public article in my life, however, I feel compelled to not only be Makir Tov for an exemplary Jew who does Chesed for strangers all the time, but to celebrate what in my view represents an underappreciated central tenet of Chasidus, namely: the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that a single act of Ahavas Yisroel is infinitely greater than a lifetime of scholarship.
Unfortunately, many schools in our ‘system’ have somewhat fallen out of sync with the basic principles of authentic Chasidic values and teachings: too much emphases on academic achievement, and too little on the Heart and Soul of Judaism: Middos Tovos, Derech Eretz and Gemilus Chasodim. Learning is great, but Hamaaseh Hu Ha’ikar; Middos and Maasim Tovim are – according to our Rebbeim – the main part of Chinuch, and indeed the main purpose of all study.
Scholarly achievements are nice and wonderful, but as the Baal Shem Tov taught us what really matters most to Hashem is our Middos, our Heart and our simple sincere Maasim Tovim. In fact, our Rebbe emphasized that increasing in acts of Goodness and kindness will hasten the Geula!
So let us celebrate the real exemplars of Chasidus in action, the true heroes of Chasidus – those who live it, and apply it a very real and literal way to their daily lives. By highlighting and celebrating such examples, we take a big step towards getting the right message to our children – that the main aspect of being a chossid is not how many Maamorim you can memorize, but how you absorb its teachings and internalize it so that it translates into humility, kindness, and Avodas Hashem.
Thank you Rabbi Shemtov. May many learn from you and your example of applied Chasidus!