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From R’ Yisroel Baal Shem Tov to R’ Yisroel Shemtov

“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!

69 Comments

  • 4. Very well said! wrote:

    The community should honor this yid for the sake of teaching our children what the system fails to emphasize enough!

    ” 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”

    Reply
  • 5. Eli Ostrozynski wrote:

    Just recently my family celebrated the Chasunah of my youngest brother. My father, may he live and be well, isn’t in the best of health and in the months before the chasunah was in and out of the hospital 3 or 4 times and couldn’t get measured for a new kapotta. R’ Yisroel literally a week before the chasunah visited my father in the hospital and had him fitted for a new kapotta that was miraculously ready the day of the chasunah.

    Kudos to R’ Yisroel and thank you for all the loving acts of kindness that you do for our community. You are truly one of the unsong heroes of our community and deserve all the credit and accolades for all that you do. May the Almighty continue to bless you and your family for many years to come!

    Reply
  • 7. Agree wrote:

    Yisroel was the one to pull over and insist my brother get a ride with him when he noticed him limping when he hurt his ankle.
    Most drivers don’t even notice those crossing directly in front of them…

    Reply
  • 8. Yossi wrote:

    About 25 years ago I was walking home 12:00 at night
    and I saw Rabbi Shemtov spreading salt at the intersection of Montgomery and Albany Ave. because there was an icy patch and cars were skidding, I was amazed.

    Reply
  • 9. Not the !st story & definitely not the last wrote:

    May Yisroel sh’ continue to do Chessed with Gezunt & Nachas!

    Reply
  • 10. john wrote:

    Thank you for sharing.
    Thank you Rabbi Shemtov may you be bentched with many more gezunter yoren

    Reply
  • 11. Yossi Z wrote:

    I can add my personal experience. I travelled to France, to my friends wedding, a nephew of R’ Yisroel Shemtov. We were (with others) placed in a room that was short of beds.
    R’ Yisroel refused to use the bed and insisted that I who was a 22,year old Bochur (while he was @ 50, it was 20 years ago), sleep on the bed while he slept ON THE FLOOR!
    He didn’t know me at all at the time.

    Reply
  • 12. True baal Chessed wrote:

    Rabbi Shemtov deserves a lot of credit and recognition for all he does. I once got a call from him to my cell phone that my car was being towed and he was holding them from taking the car so i can come down and pay the dues. I don’t know how he got my # but he found a way to find it out. I knew it wasn’t my car but found out quickly it was my brother inlaws car. Turns out he wasn’t around the neighborhood to give a check and so Rabbi Y. Shemtov said he would lay out the money with out knowing who we are and that he would get paid back. Not too many people would go to great lengths to save another person the aggravation of having their car towed.

    Reply
  • 13. proud to have been his neighbor wrote:

    Rabbi Shemtov is a true chossid and a great friend and neighbor. May Hashem bless him and his whole family with long healthy wealthy happy years.
    An admirer

    Reply
  • 14. one in a million! wrote:

    Yes, to al of the above. Rabbi shemtov is a true chossid. In every detail of his existence…how to help another. Most if his stories have never been publicized. And that’s exactly how he wants it. The rebbe loved him dearly and alluded many times to his boundless love for ALL hidden.

    I hope someone actually sits down with rabbi shemtov and writes a book with his incredible stories. This would be the easiest book on chassidus to learn from.

    hamaase hi haiker.

    many,many years of gezunt, chassidishe nachas for you and your entire family.

    Reply
  • 15. Rabbi Shemtov helped me! wrote:

    We are from Canada, a small town. We were in Crown Heights and I and my 8 year old daughter were walking down Crown St, schlepping heavy suitcases.
    Rabbi Shemtov stops his car, backs up, runs out of the car, doesn’t even ask if we need help. He opens his trunk, and lifts the HEAVY suitcases by himself into the trunk and then says get in the car!
    He gives us a ride and then helps us take out our suitcases.
    He is definitely an OHEiV YISROEL, and yes, I agree there should be a book written about him.

    Why do we have to buy Artscroll and all ‘Litvishe Gedolim’…why can’t KEHOT start publishing books about great people such as Rabbi Shemtov, who exemplify what a Chasid should strive to be.

    Thank you Rabbi Shemtov for making our trip to Crown Heights!

    Reply
  • 16. Beautiful wrote:

    Beautiful story, and one that it repeated by Reb Yisroel every day.

    However……

    Had you omitted paragraph #7 (starts with “unfortunately”), this letter would’ve been perfect, now you tainted it with a blanket statement condemning our Chinuch system with a wide dirty brush.

    As a father of 10, all of which grew up and were educated in our ‘system’, I must protest and say plain and simple: NOT TRUE!

    Inasmuch as one may find faults in anything, this paragraph of yours is just plain and simple not true, the system as such does teach Midos Tovos and emphasizes their importance quite strongly.

    My children (and most of their classmates) are proof.

    I implore you – as someone who appreciates Midos Tovos – to practice what you preach, respectfully apologize for these ill advised words.

    Reply
    • 17. to those who think that ITS NOT TRUE that some educators in our 'system' have somewhat drifted away from the propper balance and emphases of MIddos over Academics wrote:

      Here is Paragraph 7:

      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.

    • 18. unfortunately "Some" not all in the chinuch 'system' are not in sync with the disproportionate emphases on Middos demanded by Chasidus wrote:

      this paragraph is sadly quite accurate!
      “Unfortunately, many (not all) schools in our ‘system’ have somewhat fallen out of sync with the basic principles of authentic Chasidic values and teachings: yo emphasize Middos Tovos, Derech Eretz and Gemilus Chasodim, above Academic memorization.

  • 19. thank you wrote:

    Thank you all for sharing. R’ Yisroel and people like him should be the ones honored at events and the like. THIS will set an example for the younger generation.

    Reply
  • 21. Very nice and positive piece! Thank you for posting wrote:

    Thank You whoever wrote submitted this letter of appreciation!

    it is nice to see such gratitude and i especially enjoyed how you correctly pointed out what many miss about “authentic” applied chasidus!

    what true chasidus applied looks like!

    Hammaseh hu Haikar!

    Thankyou!

    Reply
  • 22. Aussie aussie aussie wrote:

    I am australian and I was with my father once in ch and we got into a car accident. Reb Yisroel happened to see it and started screaming loudly how it was the other guys fault and that we are innocent. A true breath of fresh air for us australians who would have easily just given in to any demands because we wouldn’t have known better! Thank You Reb Yisroel!

    Reply
  • 23. to those who think that our some educators in our system havent drifted away from the propper balance and emphases of MIddos over Academics wrote:

    halveai it were true that there isnt a disproportionate emphases on Academics! Halevai!
    Halevai more of what calls itself Chabad schools, actually lived up to, and implemented its values and teachings!
    Halevai!

    Many parts of our system lack “applied chasidus: in its authenticity and beauty!

    Reply
    • 24. unfortunately "Some" not all in the chinuch 'system' are not in sync with the disproportionate emphases on Middos demanded by Chasidus wrote:

      agreed!

  • 25. Reb yiaroel! wrote:

    such a yid is hard to find? why? we should all follow his example! I think teachers in all schools should tell a story of reb yisroel’s ahavas yisroel at the end of everyday! this is what our shilden should go home with and share with their families!

    Reply
  • 26. thank you for this positive story wrote:

    we need more such stories celebrated

    Chasidus is Chesed, with Hashemand with our fellow man

    Reply
    • 28. Its all about applying forgotten parts of chasidus wrote:

      Sheves Achim Gam Yochad
      Ahavas Achim
      Chasidim Ain Mishpacha

      etc etc

      We must learn from this yid and from all those who put into practice the teachings and minhagim of chasidus

  • 29. Maamer "Klollei chinuch" wrote:

    most of our chinuch system does not follow the principles of Klallei Chinuch VeHadracha, written by The Rashab and Edited by the Frierdiker Rebbeh

    there the point is made very clear that Middos Tovos, Character development and Derech Eretz is more important than the academics of a child.

    Bullying, Social hierarchi reinforced by some corrupt mechanchim are rampant in our ‘system’

    our system is in many ways at odds with the Rebbe’s teachings and guidance!

    More emphases on Respect, Discipline and Decorum (Middos and Maasim tovim) is needed.

    instead of getting defensive, if you are part of the chinuch system, talk to your mashpia on how to be a dugma chaya of refined character and avodah, “working on yourself”

    Reply
  • 30. yehuda wrote:

    Many years ago I made a right turn onto the Brooklyn bridge where to me the arrow looked yellow which I took to mean that I can make the turn. The cop thought otherwise & stopped me. R’ Yisroel happened to pass by. He stopped & tried to convince the cop for 10 minutes not to give me a ticket. A real ohev Yisroel

    Reply
  • 31. an Emeser Chosid! wrote:

    True!! Reb Yisroel is a true Ohev yisroel and goes above and beyond tohn a toiva a yidden!

    Reply
  • 33. Mrs. mogilevsky wrote:

    Thank you so much for submitting such a well articulated, to the point and warm story. Well said.

    Reply
  • 35. Also very thankful wrote:

    This is not just a one off story
    i had a identical story 15 years ago
    Reb Yisroel Shemtov was there fighting for me

    This is on amazing Tzadik.

    and i’m sure i am not only one a few,

    Reply
  • 37. London visitor wrote:

    Why do many people in Crownheights find it
    difficult to enjoy a compliment and turn to be
    upset about something or other.

    There are so many wonderful experiences that
    are happening every day and where ever you
    go. Open your eyes and see the good.
    Take the example of Yisroel Shemtov. You too
    have Ahavas Yisroel Just use it. The rest will
    follow Crownheights will shine with goodness

    Reply
  • 38. Same happened to me wrote:

    It was pouring rain, and I was walking home, when I hear a honk, I turn around and rabbi she tog in his car begging me to come in and he will drive me the rest of my walk. ( I was 2 houses away) ..but I was shocked. Instead of zooming past me and splashing everyone on the side walk, he stopped and offered me a lift. You don’t know me, but that didn’t matter. A real mensch! Thank you again.

    Reply
  • 39. Friend wrote:

    I was on shlichus about three years, getting a badly needed kapota, he offered to accept payment for the in small instalments.
    When I came to take the kapota and gave him the first instalmment, he asks me who I “work for/with” on shlichus.
    He picked up the phone and after a few minutes hands me back the cash I had given him in payment.
    He says my head shliach (and relative) is paying for it the whole thing….

    Reply
  • 40. Rabbi Shmuli wrote:

    Powerful. I love it. Yet I have one issue. Ahavas Yisroel and Gemilas Chassodim are powerful, yet why put down limud HaTorah?! In fact Chassidus tells us that one cannot have genuine kindness if it is not based on Torah.

    Reply
    • 41. To accentuaate Middos Tovos is not Ch"V to denigrate Torah! wrote:

      in Klollei chinuch vehadracha, we see that the most important aspect of chinuch is the character development of the child.
      Yiras Shomayim,
      Ahavas Hashem
      Ahavas Yisroel
      Respect for authority
      Respect for humanity
      Kindness
      Patients
      Humility

      More important than Scholarlyness is Middos and Maasim Toivim

      whom do you want your daughter to marry?
      a big Talmid chochom or a Man with Yiras Shomayim and Middos Tovos?
      what matters most to be happy and successful in (family and work) life, is Character and adherence to Halacha aka Yiras Shomayim.

  • 42. a witness wrote:

    It was pouring rain and rabbi shemtov offered me a ride. As we were driving, he noticed the streets were flooded and the waters weren’t being drained. Every corner had 15-20feet wide puddles. Rabbi Shemtov stopped at every corner with a broom stick and poked holes through the leaves so the water could drain and people would be able to cross the streets. While doing so he was singing “tu a toiva a yidden fun dem iz di rebbe shtark tzufriden, klein oder groyse, es macht nisht ois , veil fun a kleine toiva vos mi tut a yidden, ken men nisht vissen viful mi ken genissen.”

    Reply
  • 43. Anonymous wrote:

    i once asked reb isroel why he does all this chessed?
    he said that the only things that one truly remembers in life are the acts of kindness that one does.

    Reply
  • 45. my story wrote:

    I was 10 years old walking to OT on a cold bone chilling morning that I missed the bus. I was on troy av, reb yisroel stops his car and says get in. It doesent stop there: on the way we pass by a business of a older yid, you can see the gate had been tampered and a theft probably occurred there during the night, reb yisroel gets out and pushes the gate to not look tampered with.. he explained to me that he did not want the older yid to get a shock when he showed up for work that day… left a big impression on me. This is just a tip of the iceberg!

    Reply
  • 46. Newly married wrote:

    Many years I was newly married and we just rented a place a few doors down on Carroll st from Reb Yisroel As I was cleaning up our new place, out popped a mouse,and I started to panic. Being a out of towner not used to having mice , I ran out side franticically and there was Reb Yisroel. He asked ” nu what’s the matter ” a mouse it screamed I didn’t grow living with mice. He said ” don’t worry ” he picked up the cat who just happened to be around , went upstairs to my apartment threw him in and said , this will do the job just wait and see , and ps he added this cat is our neighbor friend ! A story over 30 yrs ago and still remember his act of kindness! Moshiach now!

    Reply
  • 47. Reyim Ahuvim wrote:

    Don’t forget the other things that he does. R Yisroel reminds everyone to say Kerias Shema ontime and stands for along time in at the Mikvah reminding everyone. He also wishes a Refuah shelaima to all the sick people in shul all the time.

    Reply
  • 50. Enjoys doing for another wrote:

    Reb Yisroel

    Toled me that he enjoys helping another Yid,he said the more you help other Yiden,the more you enjoy it,theres hayom yom about this,anyone which day ?

    We could all do the same,and the more we learn the Rebbes Torah the more one is inspired to do so

    Reply
  • 52. thank you ta! wrote:

    Our tatte, zul zayn gezunt un shtark, has been doing this chessed ever since he was a child and raised in the legendary home of Zaide bentzion and Bubbe Golde. There are so many stories of our bubby and zaide and this is just the obvious result of bring brought up in this kind of atmosphere.

    i believe if everyone would live with this motto: To do a favour for another….every single minute…imagine what a world this would be…people begging to give rides, to save a yid from a ticket. giving everyone a smile and a sholom aleichem, helping with the grocery bags…this is your legacy. No one is too great, distinguished, important or brilliant to do this for another.

    Mommy and Tatte, we are so proud to be your hildren and we hope to continue devoting our life to others…this is how we were raised every single day.

    Reply
  • 53. As a child i recall Reb Yisroel feeding meters on Kingston ave wrote:

    much to the dismay of a ticket officer “they are all my cars”

    may we all learn from his ahavas yisroel

    this is what chasidus is supposed to look like

    i love the ending of this letter:

    :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!”

    Reply
  • 54. True Chossid wrote:

    Reb Yisroel also fights behind the scenes for Tznius in the community and that bochurim should dress like chasidim

    Reply
  • 58. Anonymous wrote:

    I grew up in crown hights and I’ve seen rabbi Shemtove on many different occasions acting heroically and giving over himself and even risking his welfare to protect and to do favors for other people
    He’s a true example and has a very unique and amazing personality

    Reply
  • 59. Poor article wrote:

    No need to bash schools when trying to mail le a positive point.

    Your article would have went a lot further with just the compliment to yisroel shemtov.

    Stop venting where u get no results

    Reply
    • 60. I saw no venting wrote:

      I see a positive point being made
      Seems to me the point being made is that a central tennat of chasidis is underemphasized

      And one big step forward to emphasizing it is by “celebrating exemplars of it”

      A valid and timely point

      If you are feeling deffensive, then think about where that might be comming from within yourself…
      Perhaps explore that with your mashpia etc
      Especially if your in chinuch

  • 62. bashing? wrote:

    Sounds to me like the auther has a ligit observation and a constructive -not venting- solution, namely to highlight and show our children living examples of “applied chasidut” so that they realize that actions middos are the most important goal in learning

    Reply
  • 63. Rebecca wrote:

    Yisrol, you’re always there to come up with solution.
    May you have many many more years of true Ahavas Yisroel. I am proud to be your sister-in-law.

    Reply
  • 65. from close relative wrote:

    so proud of your wife
    she gets most of the credit
    99% may you enjoy life together for 120 years gzunterheit, and freilicheheit, with lots of chasidishe naches from all your family, and Moshiach should come today!!!!!

    Reply
  • 67. just a few weeks ago wrote:

    the morning after the last snowstorm, i was trying to get my car out of the snow when a car pulls up. out pos R’ Yisroel and says let me take over…less than 5 mins later I was on my way giving me enough time to make it out of state before shabbos.
    he told me the reason he had been driving down my block was because he had an extra hour so he said..”let my drive around town and see if anyone needs help getting out of the snow”

    seems there’s a good reason why hes always around when you need him…

    Reply
  • 68. admirer wrote:

    Reb yisroel has helped me numerous times and I am just ankther bochur jn crown heights. as well as his son Nota who follows his fathers example.

    Reply
  • 69. A Mayanot Alum wrote:

    One of the few chassidim (his son Kasriel – director of Mayanot – being another rare example) from whom I have personally experienced true ahavas yisroel, genuine concern for the affairs and wellbeing of another yid, and who shows what it means to be a proud and simchadik Yid!

    Reply

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