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Master of Soul-Speak

Yisroel Besser

Rabbi YY Jacobson has a message that can ignite the genuine seeker inside us all. Listen and you’ll hear notes of chassidim huddled around the oven at the Russian inn, sharing vodka and wonder stories; but you’ll also hear the quiet hum of the scholar draped in his tallis as his mind soars far beyond the confines of his room. Words and visions of hope and healing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Interview enough talented people and you notice how they all seem to answer questions from a preassembled box of answers: the counterman at a fast-food joint serving up a burger, spicy fries, and large Coke from the fountain.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson is more like a chef creating a fresh dish, sampling ingredients and spices, rethinking measurements, adjusting and fine-tuning: the answers are different every time, uniquely his. He owns them. It’s evident in the way he grows excited at the more challenging questions, his expression that of a cleanup hitter eyeing a slow-moving curveball.

His conversation, like his formal lectures, fuses intellectualism — he offers copious and detailed sources for each idea  — with kumzitz-style banter, jokes, chassidic tales. Even notes of song creep in.

He can do a lot of things, maybe because he is a lot of things  — an Ashkenazi who’s really a Sephardi, a master of the mussar works who’s really a chassid; he can explain a shtickel Reb Chaim with the same eloquence as a piece of Tanya. His calendar is dotted with appearances in Lakewood,KiryatJoel, and Yeshiva University. It’s a paradox hinted to by his surname.

Jacobson doesn’t sound like a Sephardic surname, because it’s not — but it’s also not really his name.

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