Face-to-face with the Rav

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Face-to-face with the Rav

There are so many stories told from when Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita, used to spend days and weeks at a time going from house to house, trying to bring Am Yisrael closer to Hashem and to observant Judaism.

The following is excerpted from One in a Generation, the forthcoming biography of Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita:

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Few things have caused Rav Berland more problems with the established frum community — or brought him more joy — than his work to bring people back to God and Yiddishkeit. From the moment that the Rav learned that kiruv rechokim, or outreach, was a key factor in the authentic Breslov path, he threw himself into reaching out and returning Jews to the path of Torah and mitzvos.

With his characteristic dedication to all matters of holiness, Rav Berland wasn’t content with waiting for these “lost souls” to come and find him; he decided that he was going to find them.

One of his students from that time recalls:

“In the earliest years when they started to organize Shabbasos and other events for people who were beginning to become interested in returning to their Jewish roots, the Rav wasn’t one of those who sat there and waited for people to come to him — he went to them!” he says.

“He went to some of the lowest places imaginable, like anti-religious kibbutzim, and moshavim that didn’t have any Jewish character at all, and those streets in Tel Aviv where the worst sorts of things used to happen.

“The Rav didn’t skip any place, and he went without an invitation. He would just go, stand in some corner, close his eyes and start talking words of Torah in such a fiery way that he started to light up his listeners. People would initially come over to listen to him out of pure curiosity, and in this way he brought literally thousands of people closer to Judaism, and transformed them into servants of Hashem.

“The Rav wasn’t just speaking to intelligent people or nice people; he went out of his way to talk to the people society had rejected, and to the difficult individuals who were deeply sunk in the gates of impurity.”

RETURNEES TO RELIGION

Rav Yehoshua Dov Rubinstein recalls when the Rav was a very new arrival to Breslov and had just started learning at the Breslov Yeshivah in Bnei Brak. He says: “He would go with his tallis and tefillin[1] to Tel Aviv, to the lowest places there like the bars and the discos, and he’d go and talk to people with long hair, piercings and tattoos, and he’d bring them closer, one after another, and bring them back to Bnei Brak.”

Rav Rubinstein explains that at that point in time, long before any formal baal teshuvah movement had been started in the Jewish world, many of the people in Bnei Brak didn’t really know how to handle all these baalei teshuvah. “They’d never seen people like this before in their lives!” he says. “But Rav Berland would explain how these people were coming closer to Yiddishkeit, and how they were starting to learn more.”

[1] The Rav followed the tradition of the Gr”a from the time he moved to Bnei Brak and always wore his tallis and tefillin, while being very careful to ensure he didn’t have hesech hadaas.

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Few people believed that the Rav would return to this arduous, time-consuming way of inspiring Am Yisrael to make teshuva by going from house to house….

And yet, over the last few weeks that Rav has been doing precisely this. Unperturbed by his ill health and his increasingly advanced age, the Rav’s love for Am Yisrael is motivating him to begin his house to house visits across the country again.

In this clip, (playing time just over 1 minute) you can see the Rav at work meeting Am Yisrael face-to-face, on one of his recent cross country trips.

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