It was part chesed, part joke, part social experiment. 

The Zlotchover Rebbe, Rav Mordechai Meir Mechlowitz, was a sweet Jew. His father, Reb Mecha’le, had a small, devoted group of chassidim in Netanya and Monsey, and when he passed away, his son assumed his title of Zlotchover Rebbe. 

Rebbe Mordechai Meir of Bnei Brak wasn’t considered successful by today’s gauge. After years of waiting, he and the Rebbetzin were finally blessed with a child, but the boy was ill, and until this day, he lives in a special facility in Emanuel. The chassidus never really took off: The mosdos he tried valiantly to launch were faced with bureaucratic obstacles and financial impediments, poor timing, or the wrong location. When the Rebbetzin passed away, it was just the Rebbe and his tiny shul. 

And then the media stepped in. Motivated by kindness, perhaps a trace of mirth mixed in, they started to treat the Rebbe like one of the celebrated admorim. The chareidi newspapers, picture magazines and websites were suddenly swamped with images and videos of the Rebbe, who seemed a willing participant. The “joke” spiraled out of control, as dispatches were sent forth from “Malchus Beis Zlotchov,” prominent personalities referred to as “yedid Beis Zlotchov.” 

I met the Rebbe. He oozed sweetness and warmth, but he seemed genuinely clueless about the noise, seeing himself not as a media experiment but as a Rebbe, and the chassidim were finally coming. The lines of good taste were crossed, at times, like when exuberant bochurim, excited at being part of this gag, would dance around him in the street, singing “Ohr Zarua Latzaddik,” or kissing his hand. The Rebbe was hosted on the radio, teased and respected at once. 

The general sentiment seemed to be that it was win/win all around: The lonely Rebbe was getting notice while the media was having fun with this fresh means of entertainment. Some justified it as a profound social statement, kind of a parody of the superficiality of today’s generation, where the Rebbe’s purchase of a new car or beketshe becomes news. Look, they were saying, here’s a good Jew, with fine yichus and a good heart, and we, the media, will re-invent him as “Rabbeinu Hagadol.” Watch us work our magic. 

But to others, it looked like they were mocking an old man. 

Then, a strange thing happened. A few weeks ago, on his visit to his son, the Rebbe took his hand and said, “The travel is getting very difficult for me. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep coming, but know that I love you very, very much.” That Erev Shabbos, the Rebbe went to the mikveh and purified himself. He purchased challos for Shabbos, along with some food and treats for poor families in his building. As he walked home, his expression serene as he schlepped the large shopping bags, people snapped photos on their phones. You know, just for fun. 

And minutes later, in his lonely apartment, the Zlotchover Rebbe passed away. 

And suddenly, the joke wasn’t funny. The little game was over. 

And an unsettling feeling began to spread. Maybe the Rebbe was really the one who was laughing? Maybe he was the real tzaddik here, not the ones who patronized him with cameras and giggled requests for brachos? Maybe this baal yissurim was smiling about his secret? 

Maybe the little, lonely man in the silk beketshe was running a legitimate Baal Shem Tov–style operation in his sorry little shtiebel? 

Vatis’chak l’yom acharon. Maybe the Zlotchover Rebbe was laughing at them all, knowing that when the final day would come, the joke would give them pause. 

The final day has come. The Rebbe is gone, and this might be his enduring lesson. Don’t be so quick to laugh — because the joke might well be on you.

I Know It’s My Father

In the winter, when icy, difficult mountain roads make the small yeshivah community in South Fallsburg feel like the end of the world, there is nowhere in America to better sense the stillness and serenity of Shabbos. 

The rosh yeshivah, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, is a radiant man. When he speaks at Seudah Shlishis, floodgates are opened. 

One winter Shabbos, I had the privilege to be there as the Rosh Yeshivah described the emunah of generations past, the visceral, instinctive faith of those Jews who’d rebuilt Yiddishkeit after the Second World War. The Rosh Yeshivah maintained that, rather than a rational, proof-based faith, it’s the innate emunah within every Jew that is the surest means of being able to transmit Yiddishkeit and keep it alive. 

He shared a memory from the time he learned in Lakewood, when Rav Aharon Kotler asked the revered visiting mashgiach, Rav Elya Lopian, to say a shmuess. 

Rav Elya told a story about a father and son, cruelly torn apart by war. Both are devastated, the father longing to embrace his sweet son, the child desperate for his father’s protection, guidance, and reassuring presence. The years pass, the pain of separation only increasing — until finally, the war ends. Each learns that the other has survived, and they make arrangements to reunite. 

The moment comes: the father appears on the horizon, the son races toward him. 

Would it ever occur, Rav Elya asked, for the son to wonder at that moment: V’dilma lav oviv hu (the Gemara’s observation that paternity is established by statistical probability, rather than actual evidence) — perhaps this isn’t his father? Of course not, Rav Elya said, because at that moment, sheer love and yearning are carrying him to a place beyond reason. He knows it’s his father because. . . he knows it’s his father. 

That, Rav Elya Lopian said, is emunah. That certainty, that instinctive sense of Hashem’s presence. 

I remembered the story when I picked up a new book, The Heart of Emunah (Israel Book Shop). (Full disclosure: I have no financial interest in this book. I didn’t write or edit or translate it. ) 

The book is special, because it’s that emunah. The ta’am, the special flavor of that Shalosh Seudos in South Fallsburg, is felt on every page, the authenticity and pride and conviction. 

It’s like a hammer on your heart, reminding you of everything you already know, making you nostalgic for the most elevated moments you’ve ever experienced. It empowers you to look your children in the eye and tell them who they are, who we are. 

So it came as no surprise that the author, Rabbi Ruven Schmelczer, is a talmid of Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, among other great men. (Rabbi Schmelczer is also a close talmid of Rav Moshe Shapira, whose Torah he’s disseminated in other seforim, while this new book was written at the request of Rav Mattisyahu Solomon. ) 

This magazine doesn’t do book reviews, but I can’t not share my feelings: after all, if there’s one common feature between every reader — the ones in Teaneck and in Meah Shearim, in Deal and in Stamford Hill — it’s that they stood at Har Sinai. 

This book is like a family album — words that makes you say, “Remember?” 

It’s our family album.