What the Gabbai saw: An interview with Rav Yosef Assulin
Rav Yosef Assulin served as Rav Eliezer Berland’s gabbai for many, many years. In another segment of his interview with Shuvu Banim International (which you can see for yourself in the original Hebrew, above – 27 mins playing time) Rav Assulin describes more of the amazing things that he witnessed during his time as Rav Berland’s right-hand man.
“When the Rav says something, he stands by his words 100%,” begins Rav Assulin. “In 5761 (just before Rosh Hashana, 2001) we got to Moranu Rav Berland’s apartment in Uman, and the Rav entered his room and told me that he was just going to pray mincha. In my innocence, I thought that after all the travelling around and the flight to Uman, that the Rav would pray quickly.
“After two hours, when I went to check on him he was still deep in his prayers. The hours continued to pass, and I continued to wait for the Rav to finish praying mincha. In the end, after eight hours the Rav finished praying. After eight hours of mincha, Moranu Rav Berland straight away requested that we should pray ma’ariv (the evening prayers) – and he stood praying for another hour and a half.”
Rav Assulin continues:
“I really didn’t understand the reason for all these lengthy prayers, until when we were at the annual kibbutz (gathering) in Uman on Rosh Hashana (5762), the Rav met someone there and told them: ‘I prayed for you for eight hours, that you would be able to come to the kibbutz.’ And not only he came; that Jew showed up to Uman Rosh Hashana with all of his family!
“Afterwards, I managed to catch up with this same Jew, to clarify what the Rav had really meant. He told me: ‘Yosef, you can’t imagine the miracles I’ve experienced. The whole United States’ airspace was shutdown (we’re talking about the time the Twin Towers were attacked), when I suddenly got the idea in my head to try to go to Canada. Afterwards, I found out that thousands of other people also had the same idea to travel to Canada.
“’Miraculously, the only tickets the travel agent had left were for Uman. I really have no idea how that happened,’ he told me. But I knew it was from the Rav’s eight hours of prayer.
The Rav faints in Uman
“To get to the mikva in Uman you had to go down a steep incline. On the night after the chag, we took the Rav to immerse there before he went in to visit Rabbenu’s Tziyon. After the mikva, me and Kosovski (another one of the Rav’s attendants) climbed back up with the Rav towards the Tziyon when suddenly, the Rav went limp in our arms, and he stopped breathing.
“We stopped and waited for the Rav to come back to us, and then immediately after that happened, we flew back home to Israel. Back in Israel, the Rav was scheduled to be the sandek at the brit of Rav Pinchas Bik’s son, but the Rav sent Kosovski to give him a message that he should ask his saintly father-in-law, Rav Shabtai Horvitz, z’tl to be the sandek instead.
“The Rav also told Kosovski that we should travel to Tzfat, and that we should arrange a place for him to stay there. Kosovski pointed out a house to me in Kfar Canaan [that he thought we should try], but I didn’t listen to him. It was only after we’d gone round the whole of Kfar Canaan unsuccessfully looking for a place that we ended up right back at that first house that he’d first pointed out, and which the Rav and the Rabbanit ended up staying at.
“This was all happening during the 10 days of teshuva. We went back to Jerusalem and we packed up whole cupboards full of books from Rav Berland’s house, in order to take them up to Kfar Canaan.
In the right place, at the right time
“During this time, the Rav used to walk around his garden there, sunk in thought. The landlord’s son happened to see him there, and came down to talk to him, because he was interested in finding out why a Jew from Jerusalem was visiting Kfar Canaan. The Rav told him that he’d come to the North because he wasn’t feeling well, and that he’d come to relax a little.
“This Jew told him: ‘You don’t feel well? I’m a doctor at Shaarei Tzedek! Let me give you a short check-up, and we’ll see if we can help you!’ And that’s what happened. After a short examination, he discovered that the Rav had a heart problem, and he immediately arranged for him to get a particular treatment by a heart specialist at Shaarei Tzedek who happened to be his friend.
“That’s how it was, and in the merit of the Rav’s prayers, he ended up in the place where his salvation ended up sprouting. The Rav received the right medication, and was completely healed,” concludes former gabbai Rav Yosef Assulin.