About Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky
Raphael Blumberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I have just published, through Urim Publishers, a 270 page book
about Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky, son of Shmuel Milikowsky and Malke Dickenstein, who
was born and raised in Vishnevo. The Book is called, "They called him Rebbe: The
Life and Good Works of Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky."
The first sixty pages are about his life in Europe -- his childhood
in Vishnevo, his experiences in the yeshivot of Radin, Baranovitz and the
Mir, the arrival in Vishnevo of the Russians, the arrival of the Nazis, and
finally, his escape, with the Mir Yeshiva to Shanghai, China.
The remaining 200 pages are about his success as an educator of
American students over the course of a forty year career in the Talmudical
Academy of Baltimore, Maryland.
Some of my source material necessarily came from this and other
relevant Internet sites, but some of it came from long interviews with members
of Rabbi Milikowsky's family, including Mrs. Minna Podeberesky, wife of Noah and
sister of Rabbi Milikowsky.
The book is for sale already in the Pomerantz bookstore in
Jerusalem. In a few weeks it will be reaching the shores (and stores) of the United
States and other English speaking countries, wherever "Urim" books are sold.
Raphael Blumberg’s They Called Him Rebbe: The Life and Good Works of Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky (Urim Publications) brings to life a personality who had a profound influence on many hundreds of students during his 40-year career at Talmudical Academy. And, after reading about his kindness and wisdom in dealing with teenage boys and, of course, his brilliance in Torah and in teaching Torah, one can only say, “I wish I had known him in person.” But isn’t that the point of a good biography? Print may be second best, but Mr. Blumberg does an outstanding job of introducing us to Rabbi Milikowsky through this inspiring yet credible portrait.
Like other figures who built Baltimore’s institutions of learning, Rabbi Milikowsky was a direct link to the great
pre-War European yeshivos. He was a “Litvak,” born in 1913 as the oldest child of a prosperous business family. Although the family was strictly religious and the children were raised to love Jewish practice, it was not a family of rabbis and scholars. When Boruch finished the traditional cheder in town, it was his own decision – influenced by his talmid chacham great-grandfather – to attend a yeshiva. He studied at the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin from age 12 to 21, taking off half a year at age 17 to experience Rav Elchonon Wasserman’s yeshiva in Baranovitz. In 1934, Rabbi Milikowsky moved on to the elite Mir Yeshiva, where he was accepted despite his young age.
From this point, Rabbi Milikowsky became part of the miraculous story of the Mir, and the author of the book describes the fascinating historical details, including the escape to Shanghai and the life of the yeshiva students there. Rabbi Milikowsky distinguished himself in Shanghai not only as a talmid chacham but also as a baal chesed. At the end of the War, he traveled to the United States with the Yeshiva and continued learning in the Mir in New York. Altogether, he learned in yeshiva for 22 years!
Rabbi Milikowsky began teaching at T.A. in 1947. Many of us in 21st century Baltimore don’t know that T.A. sponsored many Torah scholars who were Holocaust survivors, bringing them to America and giving them teaching jobs in the elementary school or the newly-established high school. The language of instruction in limudei kodesh was Yiddish at that time, so English was not a problem. What was a problem was handling American children and controlling the classroom. Some of the men were too scarred from their experiences to teach or relate to the boys, and soon dropped out. (One T.A. boy recalls his class going through seven or eight rebbeim in one year.) Adding to the teaching challenge was the fact that the student population of T.A. was composed of two very different groups, requiring different approaches: boys who were highly motivated and accomplished in learning and boys from nonobservant families whose parents only wanted them to maintain their Jewish identity.
Rabbi Milikowsky made it. Despite his accented English, he managed to “get through” to the sometimes brash American teenagers in his charge. As one boy remembers, “We were not an easy bunch. Of course he was a European, and he didn’t know the ways of the Americans yet, and we tried to pull the wool over his eyes. Yet gradually, gradually, he got us to learn! He learned how to control us! I remember. We saw that he was very kind. Sometimes he had to shout, but he was very good.”
After teaching the eighth and ninth grades, Rabbi Milikowsky moved up to the tenth grade, where he remained for the rest of his career. Gradually, Rabbi Samson, the Rosh Yeshiva, realized that his warm rapport with the students also made him suitable for the job of mashgiach for the dormitory boys. In fact, he was already doing aspects of the job informally. (Interestingly, T.A.’s first dorm mashgiach was the then-unmarried Rabbi Hirsch Diskind.)
So, Rabbi Milikowsky became the mashgiach, and it was soon clear that this was his essence, that everything he was and had experienced until then – including his innate qualities of insight and understanding, his tragic personal losses in the Holocaust, and his contact with the great mashgichim of Europe – had prepared him for this task. “More than anything else, it was his role as mashgiach that earned Rabbi Milikowsky the title ‘Rebbe.’”
Excerpts from the Book
Appendicitis, Take 1
It was twelve o’clock midnight in the home of Rabbi Chaim Samson, Rosh Yeshiva of the Talmudical Academy, and all was quiet. The Samsons prided themselves on running a tight and orderly ship. There was a curfew for all the T.A. dormitory boys that applied in the Samson home as well for the boys who stayed with them each year. That year, as usual, there were two boys sleeping in one of the bedrooms on the second floor. One was an eleventh-grader from Atlanta and the other a ninth-grader from Washington.
Suddenly, the younger boy, Yaakov, began to awaken from his sleep. He was feeling severe stomach pains. At first, in a still dormant state, he wanted to go and wake up his parents. As his mind cleared, he realized that his parents were 40 miles away and this was not an option.
For a few minutes he lay in silence, trying to gauge just what he was experiencing. Finally, when he decided he could not deal with it alone, he woke up his older roommate, Gedalya.
“What’s the matter?” asked Gedalya.
“My stomach hurts real bad!”“Did you eat too many potato chips tonight or something like that?”
“It’s not that kind of thing! Aaiiggghhh!”
“Oh, my G-d! That sounds awful! We’ve got to be careful, Yaakov. I’ve got a feeling this could be an appendicitis attack. Let’s go downstairs and call Rebbe.”
“Yeah! Good idea.”
Two out-of-town boys, in the middle of the night, 14 and 17 years old, living in the home of the Rosh Yeshiva. The younger one was having an appendicitis attack. Whom do they call? Rabbi Milikowsky, obviously! It was just natural that they should call him. They couldn’t bother Rabbi Samson, of course. They lived in his home, and the boys had been told that in an emergency they should wake up their hosts, but Rabbi Samson was the Rosh Yeshiva! How could you bother the Rosh Yeshiva! And they didn’t think of calling an ambulance either. Anyway, what ambulance would take a 14-year-old boy to the hospital without an adult supervising?
So they called Rabbi Milikowsky without hesitating for a single instant! Someone had to get Yaakov to a doctor, or to the hospital. Rabbi Milikowsky would handle it. He would do it!
Downstairs, mostly dressed, they called Rabbi Milikowsky.
“Shalom!” sang out Rebbe’s voice, as if a call in the middle of the night was the most natural thing in the world.
“Hello, Rebbe? This is Gedalya Stanislovki”
“Gedalya! What can I do for you?”
“Well, my roommate, here, Yaakov, is having terrible stomach pains, and they won’t go away, you see.”
“Gedalya, you and Yaakov get dressed! I’ll be there in 10 minutes!”
Very soon, Rabbi Milikowsky arrived in his beaten-up, old green Ford. In the meantime, Yaakov’s pains had worsened. Rabbi Milikowsky and Gedalya helped Yaakov out to the car. Before Gedalya left the house, he made sure to bring along a garbage pail so that Yaakov, who was looking more and more like the original color of Rebbe’s car, wouldn’t ruin what remained of the Ford’s upholstery.
Rabbi Milikowsky brought the boys to Sinai Hospital at one o’clock in the morning. Sure enough, Yaakov’s appendix had almost burst. What would the boys have done without him? Half asleep, in the middle of the night, two teenage boys knew that in a pinch they could count on their Rebbe, and they felt comfortable enough to call him.
It Is Not Good for Man to Be Alone
Alan Messer’s* parents liked Rabbi Milikowsky very much, and Rebbe liked them in return. Impressed by the conscientious way that he had taken care of their son during his years at T.A., they became personal friends of the rabbi and stayed in touch after Alan graduated. Of course, Rabbi Milikowsky attended Alan’s wedding, and to this very day, Alan’s parents visit Rabbi Milikowsky’s daughter, Malke Bina, whenver they come to Israel. Anyway, this story relates what happened the week after Alan and his classmates graduated from T.A.
The years of yeshiva high school were over and the graduating dormitory boys were heading back to their hometowns. Naturally, Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky, who knew everything there was to know about his boys, also knew that Alan Messer was going back to his parents’ home in Washington and that he was going to be working for the government during the summer. Somehow, Rabbi Milikowsky also knew that Alan’s parents were going to be away from home that first week following graduation. Alan had not mentioned this little fact to Rebbe, but perhaps Alan’s parents had.
Picture the scene. Alan was going to be home, alone. He was a high-school graduate. He was not a baby. He had all his friends in Washington. And he was looking forward to it. His parents were gone, he had the car, and he thought to himself, “You know, maybe now would be a good time to sow some wild oats…”
Two days after he arrived home from T.A., he was standing in his living room. It was five or six in the afternoon and he had just come home from work,when all of a sudden there was a knock on the door. It was Rebbe!
“Rebbe! Rebbe! What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I know your parents aren’t here! I thought you might be feeling lonely. I’ve come to keep you company!”
Alan wasn’t fooled. He knew very well that Rabbi Milikowsky was not afraid of his being lonely! Quite the opposite was the case.
Rebbe came for three days and stayed with Alan in his home. At night, Alan had all the guys over, and they sat around and shmuessed and sang and ate and went visiting. In short, they had a ball! The way things worked out, Alan had no time to do anything he might later be ashamed of. And shortly after Rebbe’s departure, Alan’s parents returned.
- * *
Conscientious yeshiva rebbeim do a lot of behind-the-scenes work before the beginning of each new year. They consult with the previous year’s rebbeim for general information about the academic level of the class, the class’s social cohesion, and perhaps are also interested in finding out something about each student in particular. If a student is a newcomer to the school, they may consult with the office to see the boy’s entrance examinations and record.
Rabbi Milikowsky raised this level of conscientiousness and preparedness to new heights, as the following story will illustrate.
One class in T.A. included a group of boys who were far from Torah Judaism. Their Jewish knowledge was very lacking, to put it mildly, and perhaps because they despaired of succeeding in their Torah learning, these boys would try to find other ways of passing the time of day or at least the part of the day that they had to spend in T.A. Some would try to devour rebbeim, especially older rebbeim with grayish beards, who often seemed more than ready to play Jacob to their Esau (with no Rebecca to protect them). Thus, when the boys came into Rabbi Milikowsky’s class on the first day of the year, they sized him up as an easy mark, based on his appearance. One boy was even heard saying to the others, “Oh, boy! This is going to be fun!” – not meaning the words in the innocent way that they are usually meant.
But Rabbi Milikowsky was well prepared. At the end of the first morning, with about a half-hour left, he told the boys to close their books. He looked at them in silence for a moment. They were waiting. Then he said, “Boys! I want you to know that I know everything that is going on with every one of you!” Some of the boys started laughing, and one boy called out, “Rebbe! You don’t even know my name!” Rebbe stared back at him and said, “Oh, yes, I do!”
He knew every boy’s name, and he went around the room and proved it.
One of the wild group, his fingers now somewhat burnt, still managed to blurt out, “Oh, yeah? Well, you don’t know ‘everything’ about us. That’s impossible!”
Rabbi Milikowsky now proceeded to go around the room a second time, this time providing a personal detail about each boy, and in the case of some of the boys, he provided the names of girls that the boys were dating.
Nobody ever figured out how Rebbe was able to do all of this, and however much we know about Rabbi Milikowsky’s phenomenal memory, a tremendous amount of toil and research must still have been involved. Anyway, for the rest of the year, the whole class all assumed that Rabbi Milikowsky had ruach hakodesh (prophetic intuition). As the boys went to lunch, one thing was absolutely clear. This year, it was not going to be so easy to put anything over on their rebbe.
- * *
No Subject Was Taboo
The fact that Rabbi Milikowsky’s talks tended to deal more with people getting along together does not mean that other more philosophical topics were avoided. Here follow the comments of Henry Lazarus, ’59:
“There was many a Shabbos that Rabbi Milikowsky did not even walk home, even though his home was only a block or a block-and-a-half away. He constantly spoke to us, no matter what meal it was. It was always a mussar shmuess, something that we should get out of the conversation.
“No subject was taboo. Whether it had to do with religion, whether it had to do with things that we should expect to encounter as we grow up, or with what’s going on in the world around us. Environment-wise, how we were different from other people. All the way through explaining what man is and analyzing his desires and his lusts. You will recall that he was addressing young boys between the ages of 13 and 17. Everybody took something out of those speeches. Half of the time, you know, at that age, you thought he was talking to the fellow behind you or in front of you but never to you, but looking back in retrospect, I don’t think there was ever an area of life that he did not cover.”
- * *
As Isaac Kinek recalls, “When he raised an idea that was new to us, we would think about it and sometimes discuss it. Rabbi Milikowsky encouraged discussion. Other rebbeim might say, “Freg nicht kein kashasDon’t ask any questions. He, by contrast, would say, “Okay, let’s talk about it,” and we would. Sometimes even after school, we would discuss certain issues of the day. Religious issues. For example, should a boy belong to Young Israel? It had boys and girls. We, of course, always said you should, because it wasn’t like today, when religious boys and girls constitute two different worlds. We were teenagers.
“We would ask, ‘How about dating? Should dating only be for marriage?’ We presented our concerns of that time. He would listen and we had a lot of good discussions. He wasn’t an extremist. He was open-minded. He would listen to us, and he wouldn’t always agree with us, but he would understand us. He understood that we were teenagers, and where we were coming from. And he would tell us what we could and what we couldn’t do. We had frank discussions about that. That’s besides the learning and discussing Rashi. We talked about life. That’s why I liked him. He was a real mensch!”
- * *
Rebbe as a Rebbe
Jay Pomrenze, ’66:“Rabbi Milikowsky was a phenomenal rebbe, and I really developed a love of learning because of him. In tenth grade I got there, and we learned Gittin. I have to say he had a tremendous influence on me. I’m giving you all the things about how we fooled around a lot, but I really loved learning. I had extra night seders at night. And I was in the bais midrash fairly late. I’m trying to remember…. There was a short period of time when I had an extra night seder with Calman Weinreb, who is a rebbe at Ner Israel now. And I think a few times I had an opportunity to learn with Yisrael Neuman, who is now the Rosh Yeshiva at Lakewood. He was older.
“Rabbi Milikowsky was a phenomenal rebbe. I really enjoyed him as a rebbe. Because of Rebbe, I was selected to go into Rabbi Bobrovsky’s twefth-grade shiur. He had to pick you for you to get in. He used to come in and farher us, test us, in tenth grade. Rabbi Bobrovsky would come in and then decide whom he was going to take from tenth grade into twelfth grade. I was jumped. That was because of Rebbe’s influence on my learning. The shiur was a mixture, whoever he picked from tenth, eleventh, and twelfth. So I don’t want to give the impression that Rebbe was all fun and games. There was a real learning relationship as well.”
- * *
First Son of the South
Rabbi Yaakov Spivak grew up in a religious home in Atlanta, Georgia. The problem was that when Yaakov was a boy, during the early 1950s, there was no Jewish day school in Atlanta, so he went to the Orthodox afternoon Hebrew school founded and run by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. Yaakov’s father, who had learned in Torah V’Daas as a boy, gave him such a good education at home that he was more advanced than most of the kids in the Hebrew school. Mornings he would go to public school, and there were long periods of time when he would wear a yarmulke there. For an elementary school boy to wear a yarmulke in an Atlanta public school 15 years before the Six Day War took the courage displayed by the Patriarch Abraham when he smashed the idols in his father’s store. It tells us something about his home, about the influence exerted by Rabbi Feldman, and about Yaakov’s own strong will.
As Yaakov approached the end of elementary school, his father began to see that the time was right for him to go somewhere to yeshiva. In the meantime, Yaakov was becoming a discipline problem in Rabbi Feldman’s class, because he “knew everything” and was bored. Rabbi Feldman said, “I’m tired of putting you outside the class! We’ve got to send you away to yeshiva.” So in 1956, Yaakov was sent to the Talmudical Academy, where Rabbi Feldman and his two brothers, born and raised in Baltimore, had themselves studied. Yaakov suddenly went from being the most advanced student to being the kid who knew nothing. He was the first of many boys to be sent to T.A. by Rabbi Feldman.
When Yaakov came to T.A., he was 12 years old. He had a southern drawl. He was the tallest boy in T.A.’s seventh-grade class, and due to his low level, they could only put him in the fifth-grade Hebrew class. Imagine how embarrassing it must have been for Yaakov to be in this situation! He walked into the fifth-grade Hebrew class, and when his “fellow classmates” saw him they laughed their little heads off. He felt terrible. He phoned his father and then he went to Rabbi Milikowsky, who was responsible for him.
“Rebbe!” said Yaakov, almost in tears. “I can’t stay here!”
“Why not, Yankele?”
“I open up the Chumash, and Moshe speaks in Hebrew and I don’t understand him. And I open up the gemara, and Abaye speaks in Aramaic and I don’t understand him. And then in the class, the rebbe speaks in Yiddish and I don’t understand him. And then in the dormitory, my roommate is from Brooklyn and he speaks in English but don’t I understand him either!”
Rabbi Milikowsky sat there, puffing on a cigarette, sizing up the boy before him. He had done his homework, and he knew that this Yaakov was a tough cookie.
He said, “Yankev! Yankele! ‘Zos hatorah. Adam ki yamus be’ohel! – such is the Torah: When a man dies in a tent…’(Numbers 19:14) The Rabbis said that one cannot acquire Torah learning unless one first kills himself over it! You’ll see! You’ll go back to the fifth grade and you will be better! You will understand and you will learn the Torah portion of Shemos. Okay!”
Yaakov cried and cried.
The next day he walked into the fifth grade class and again the kids were laughing. He turned to them and said, “The day will come when you will not laugh.”
Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, today a Rosh Kollel in Monsey, New York, and a popular Jewish writer and radio personality, concludes this story as follows:
“Rabbi Milikowsky saw me through it all. That’s how I came to T.A. I was one month in the fifth grade and one month in the sixth grade, and after that I was in the seventh grade.
“When I graduated T.A., I won the award for the best student in Tanach (Bible) and Hebrew at the school. And even though I have Yoreh Yoreh, Yodin Yodin from some of the top roshei yeshivos, the top diploma in my office is the Zushi and Bessie Cohen Memorial Award for excellence in Tanach and Hebrew. And I have that above Yodin Yodin. Because that was the one that hurt the most, and that was the sweetest of all victories.”
Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky
Memories of My Rebbe
© By Eli W. Schlossberg
Toot! Toot! Toot!
Who can forget the beautiful, meaningful, and moving delivery of Rabbi Boruch Milikowsky’s holy words of mussar. It was a real zechus to have him as a rebbe. How I cherish his kind, soft words of encouragement. When he gave his talmid mussar, the talmid went away with a good feeling. He made you feel very special, even when you did something wrong. He always gave positive reinforcement and spoke directly to the problem, speaking openly to you as his talmid and also as his friend. He had a very warm relationship with each dorm boy, especially, acting as a father in many a way. I was a Baltimore resident, and I knew Rebbe as both a talmid and as a neighbor. His experiences in Europe, the Shoah, and Shanghai were transmitted to us, his talmidim, with the deep roots of his past Torah life, with his beautiful and unforgettable mussar words, and his very warm friendship.
The 1960s was a difficult era for teenagers in America, but Rebbe understood and listened to each talmid. He was very much in tune with the turbulent, topsy-turvy hippie culture of the Sixties. With his thick accent and his style of speech, he spoke our language, and we listened. He spoke with love and care, and through his talks and his listening to his TA boys, his Torah and mussar were absorbed by his hundreds and hundreds of students. His advice and counsel have guided us all, in all of our different walks of life.
Much of what I have accomplished in my own life I attribute to my wonderful parents; our Rav, Rabbi Mendel Feldman; my elementary school rebbe, Mr. Kurt Flamm, zt”l; my high school rebbe, Rabbi Milikowsky, zt”l; and my very special principal, mentor, and dear friend, Dr. Gershon Kranzler, zt”l. It is interesting that each of these mechanchim taught at TA during the 1960s. Each gave me an important perspective of kavod hatorah, ahavas Torah, ahavas Hashem, ahavas Yisrael, and respect for all of mankind. Rabbi Milikowsky was part of an old, rich Judaic world, a world destroyed by horror, and he survived, baruch Hashem, to transmit to us the rich European Jewish culture he inherited. He so meticulously bridged his life to ours in the modern world, with his love and charm and keen intuition. He reached his boys with a warm smile and a very special chein that endeared him to all.
Most memorable was Rebbe’s ingenious way of expressing his masterful words of mussar. My favorite mussar was the toot-toot-toot story, which I have repeated time and time again to Pirchei groups, Camp Agudah and Camp Munk groups, NCSY kids, my own children and, iy”H, to my grandchildren, in the very near future. The story will always be the same, but the delivery... No, only Rebbe could do it the way Rebbe did it – so simple, so sweet, and so perfect. Singing it in his rich warm voice, eyes rolling back, so that only the whites were visible, swaying back and forth. We were entranced, completely fixated. No one could deliver mussar in a more beautiful and meaningful way. So, here is Rebbe’s story of toot, toot, toot.
- * *
Rebbe entered the classroom and turned off the lights. He then closed the door and told us to close our sefer for now, for today our learning would begin a little differently; today Rebbe had a story to tell us. He sat at his desk with his head in his hands, and he began to chant a sweet, sad melody of old. “Ay ya yei, ay ya yei,” singing it over and over again. He chanted, “My dear talmidim, I have a story to tell all of you. Listen, listen carefully to the story, because there is so much we can learn from this beautiful story.
“There was a captain who had a ship, and he went to the townspeople to make them a proposition: ‘I know of a place, I know of a very beautiful place, an island where all the sand and stones on the island are made from diamonds. You are free to gather up all the stones you can carry and load them up on my ship to take home to your families. This wonderful place I can take you to, but there is one important thing each of you must remember. When it is time to leave, I will sound the ship’s horn on three occasions. The first time is a warning toot-toot. A little later, the second toot-toot means you had better come aboard at once. And the third toot-toot is my final call. Once that final toot-toot sounds, the ship will leave the port moments later and return you to your town and your homes. So remember the rules and take heed of the horn.’ The townspeople were excited, and all agreed to the rules. The ship left port on the way to the beautiful island.
“Ay ya yei, ay ya yei,” over and over Rebbe sang and swayed. And we were absolutely transfixed. Each talmid was on that ship. We were going to wherever Rebbe would take us.
“From the ship, after many weeks of travel, a lookout perched high in the rafters and sails of the ship saw a sparkle far, far away. He called out to the people ‘Land ahoy! I see the sparkle of the diamonds.’ They got brighter and brighter as the ship approached the shore. Excitement was building, and the captain called together all the crew and passengers to reiterate the rules one more time, so all clearly understood. ‘Remember the three toot-toots and never forget the rules and our agreement.’
“As the ship docked everyone ran excited onto the diamond-covered island. They could not believe their eyes. It was just as the captain had told them: diamonds, diamonds everywhere. The people scattered across the island, each gathering diamonds wherever he could. After many days, the captain knew the time had come to go back to sea and return to home. As he blew the first horn – ‘toot-toot’ – the people took heed. The cautious ones took their diamonds and, satisfied with their lot, boarded the ship.
“But you know, but you know,” Rebbe would say, “many people said, ‘All these diamonds are left; we can wait for the second toot-toot, and there is still plenty of time.’ And so it was, a day later, that the captain sounded the second horn: ‘toot-toot.’ By now, the anxious crowd streamed hastily to the ship. After all, the instructions were quite clear, and there would be just one more warning.
“But you know, but you know,” Rebbe would say, “there were those people who could not leave a single diamond on the ground. They said, ‘How can we leave these precious stones here. We will wait to the very last minute and run back, just before the ship leaves port.’ And so it was, hours went by, and the captain, realizing that foolish people were still on the island, gave the final toot-toot. Minutes later, the captain raised anchor, and the ship began to leave the port. Frantically, some stragglers jumped into the water to board the ship. With the help of those on the ship, they climbed aboard, cold, wet, and frightened from a near disaster.
“But you know, but you know, my precious talmidim, that there were those very foolish people whose greed kept them away from even the final toot-toot. Gazing down to the ocean, they finally realized the ship had set sail, and as they helplessly ran to the shore, it was of course much too late. Soon after, a severe winter set in, and they all perished.
“Ay ya yei, ay ya yei, what good were their diamonds to them now?” By now, Rebbe had everyone spellbound and completely entranced. He continued his melodious chant. “And who, my talmidim, is the captain? Why of course, my dear boys, the captain is Hakadosh Baruch Hu. And who are the passengers? Of course, it is we, we, His dear children.
“Hashem takes us to a world of gashmius, filled with sparkling, tempting diamonds. But we have an agreement, and the agreement – it is our Torah. Hashem allows us to gather much physical wealth, the abundant diamonds, but he never wants us to forget our agreement, and to always live by the rules. And he gives us warnings. So many, many times, we have the opportunity to return to the Torah and not to get caught up in our greed.
“Some do teshuva at the first toot-toot. But not all return. Some of us need a second chance to return to the Torah, and we only return at the second toot-toot. Ay ya yei, but you know how very foolish some of us are. We can’t; oh, we can’t pull ourselves out of greed. We mamash wait till the very last second, and then, only with help from others are we finally pulled aboard the ship. Our teshuva is late, very late, yet Hashem accepts our last minute teshuva.
“But nebech, oh nebech, some either don’t hear or just don’t want to hear the final toot-toot. They will have to meet with Hashem empty-handed in both gashmius and in ruchnius. They never, never did return. My dear Boys, you, my wonderful talmidim, please, please always react immediately to the toot-toot. It’s Hashem’s way of telling us that He loves us, and we must all eventually one day return home. You see, the real home is the olam ha’emes, the world to come. Don’t get caught up your whole life looking for the diamonds. Always take heed of our Torah and the agreement we have with Hashem. Listen carefully to each toot-toot. Hashem is waiting for us all to come home. Please listen for the toot-toot!!!”
The room was totally still, and a hush was upon the entire class. Rebbe finally opened his eyes, with a glimmer of a smile and a reassuring nod. That day, we learned very, very well, and we davened with a great deal of kavana. And while they didn’t always last too long, the kavana and the special learning, ever since that day, all 25 of those talmidim are listening very carefully to the toot-toot of Hashem.