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Right Place Right Time

Yisroel Besser

He grew up with Torah royalty on the Lower East Side, dined with US presidents, and for the last 40-plus years has led a major kehillah in Montreal. Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel Kaufman’s secret to success? Always see the good.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Tarnopoler Rav, Rav Yosef Babad, was sitting shivah. The home was filled with visitors who had come to comfort the beloved rav. The Divrei Chaim of Sanz, a brother-in-law of the mourner, entered and approached Rav Yosef. “Is anything left?” “Nothing significant,” sighed Rav Yosef. The fire that had consumed his life’s work — notebooks filled with Torah insights — had left the rav bereaved; his chiddushim were gone. “What remains?” the Sanzer Rav prodded, and the Tarnopoler Rav replied that a single booklet had been saved, a collection of glosses on the Sefer Hachinuch. “Publish those notes,” the Divrei Chaim directed. The sefer, sole survivor of the blaze, was printed; it illuminated the world. The Minchas Chinuch would become a classic, stimulating for teenagers entering the world of lomdus and equally awe-inspiring to accomplished scholars. Today, all rabbanim own a copy of the Minchas Chinuch, but few keep the sefer the way Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel Kaufman does. It sits securely in a closed box on a shelf. The sefer is old and tattered, a survivor of the destruction and upheaval of World War II. It comes from Tarnopol, the town made famous by its rav and author of the sefer. The last rav of Tarnopol, Rav Yehoshua Heschel Babad, a great-grandson of the Minchas Chinuch, learned from the sefer. Rav Yehoshua Heschel’s son-in-law, Rav Uri Kaufman, was a brilliant talmid chacham. Following the advice of Reb Yissachar Dov of Belz, he immigrated to America in search of a rabbinic position and took the sefer along. His eldest son, Yehoshua Heschel, named for his grandfather — the last Tarnopoler Rav — was six years old when the family made the passage: the sefer and the young boy from Tarnopol, two remnants of an old world. So the sefer gracing the desk of the rabbi of Young Israel of Montreal is more than décor; it’s an old, cherished friend.

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