A Farbrengen is a Chassidic gathering in which the participants inspire each other to lead an exemplary Jewish life. In the spirit of true Ahavas Yisroel (love for one’s fellow Jew), the participants encourage each other to study Torah diligently, to fulfil Mitzvos in the best possible manner, to improve one’s character-traits, and to spread Judaism to others. These messages are all shared through a unique blend of Torah explanations, stories and Chassidic melodies; at times poignant and at times exuberant. No wonder that "What a Hasidic farbrengen can achieve, even the angel Michoel cannot achieve!"

Shevat 5772 - February 2012

Rabbi Gordon.jpg

Rabbi Yossi Gordon is the founder and director of Chabad of Tasmania, a teacher in Yeshivah College, and an active community member. At a recent Farbrengen at the Rabbinical College, Rabbi Gordon shared the following: 

In 5734 (1974), shortly after Pesach, I had a Yechidus (private audience) with the Rebbe. The Rebbe told me that success in Shlichus and outreach stems from being a true living example. The biggest impact one has is not through what he preaches, but through the way he acts. In the words of the psalmist (71:7): “I was an example for the multitude.”

On another occasion, at a Farbrengen during Tishrei 5739 (1978), the Rebbe expressed the idea this way: “Not only is the time of learning and Davening part of the Shlichus, but even the time during which one eats and sleeps, as well as family time.”

My father, Rabbi Sholom B. Gordon, of blessed memory, exemplified this. I would like to share with you a number of stories about him:

My father was originally a Rov in Newark (New Jersey), but the Shule eventually moved to nearby Maplewood. Initially, there was no men’s Mikvah in Maplewood. [This ultimately changed when my father built a men's Mikvah in his own basement.] On certain Shabbos and Yom-Tov mornings, my father would make the long six-kilometre trek to the closest men’s Mikvah, which was situated in Newark. He would leave at 5:00 in the morning, in order to be back in time for the Shabbos morning Shiur, at 8:00.

On the last day of his first Pesach in Maplewood, shortly after the Yom-Tov meal, my father announced that he was making another round-trip journey to Newark, despite already having done so in the morning. My father explained that there was a bakery under the Kashrus supervision of the local Vaad Harabonim (council of rabbis)  which he was a member of, and he felt a personal responsibility to ensure that the bakery was closed for the entire duration of Pesach, as required. In previous years, when my father still lived in Newark, the baker would not have dared to start baking Chometz on Pesach. But now, with my father living many kilometres away, there was the concern that the baker might take the chance.

Obviously, it would have been a lot more convenient for my father to assume that the baker was not up to any trouble. In fact, my father's position with the Vaad Harabonim did not even require him to be personally involved with matters of Kashrus. However, Kashrus was of paramount importance to him, and he was ready to greatly inconvenience himself in order to ensure that all was as it should be.

My father set out for the bakery. Unfortunately, his worst suspicions were confirmed. The baker had not been able to withstand the temptation, and was hard at work in the bakery. Surprised at being caught red-handed, he tried to rationalize with my father that Pesach really ends right after Yizkor. Obviously, my father stood firm. He removed the Vaad Harabonim's stamp of approval until the bakery agreed to hire a permanent on-site supervisor.

My father began displaying signs of illness about a year before he ultimately passed away. The extent of his illness could not be fully determined without surgery, which was scheduled to take place in the Newark Beth Israel Hospital, where he had served as the Jewish Chaplain for some forty years.

On the day before his operation, my father arrived at the hospital quite early, and made his usual hospital rounds, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He went from room to room, bringing cheer and comfort to many people. He put on Tefilin with a number of patients, visitors and doctors. Finally, towards the end of the day, he presented himself to the admissions nurse. Well known and deeply beloved and respected by the staff at Beth Israel, he was treated like a VIP every step of the way.

Prior to the operation, the family met the surgeon, Dr. Donald Brief, Chief Surgeon of Newark Beth Israel. He and my father had been very good friends and professional colleagues for many years. Dr. Brief advised us to hope for a long drawn out surgery. “The longer the procedure, the greater the indication that things are going well,” he told us. A quick operation would suggest that the disease was inoperable.

Unfortunately, the procedure was very short, and it wasn’t long before Dr. Brief emerged from the operating theatre. He shook his head as his eyes welled up with tears. “I am sorry. I am just so, so sorry.” The tumor was inoperable. Chemotherapy and radiation would be tried, but there was little hope for success.

The entire medical team joined my family in the recovery room. Dr. Brief turned to my father and said very softly: “Sholom, I am so very sorry. If there is anything I can do – anything at all – to help you through these trying days, please ask it of me. I am here for you.”

My father looked up, and in a very calm and measured tone of voice, said to Dr. Brief, “If you really want to do something to help me, I have been asking you for about twenty-five years to put on Tefilin. You have consistently declined. If you are serious and truly wish to help me, I will ask my son to put on the Tefilin with you in my merit.”

With tears streaming down his cheeks, Dr. Brief said, “Of course I will put on Tefilin, my dear friend, Sholom.” With the tears continuing to flow, he performed the mitzvah.

Even after hearing about the terrible prognosis, and the slow but steady decline in his health, my father faithfully continued serving as the hospital chaplain for two area hospitals, Newark Beth Israel Hospital and S. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston. He visited these hospitals almost every day, making the most of his opportunity to assist and comfort the patients, and to help them connect with Torah and Mitzvos.

Due to his illness, there were times that my father was a hospital patient as well. One time, my father asked my brother to bring something to the hospital for him. It was already late at night, and when my brother arrived, the security guard refused entry, citing hospital policy. My brother directs Chabad of the Valley (California), and this position brings him into contact with famous political leaders. So, my brother began producing pictures of himself with the President of the United States and the Governor of the State of California, but the guard remained unimpressed.

Eventually, my brother named the patient he was trying to gain access to: Rabbi Sholom Gordon. All of a sudden, the guard’s demeanour changed completely. The guard said, “Rabbi Gordon? You came to deliver something for Rabbi Gordon? Of course, you can come in – you can come in 24 hours a day! You see, when Rabbi Gordon comes to the hospital every day to make his rounds, he always notices me. He always greets me with a ‘Good morning’ when he arrives, and a ‘Good evening’ when he leaves”.

My father’s simple and sincere gesture went a long way in touching this security guard.

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