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Eyes Wide Open

Yisroel Besser

Reb Mota Frank greets every Jew as a brother, looking past the challenges and failures to the neshamah beneath. The popular Breslov mashpia’s simple message has attracted a worldwide audience

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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NUMBER ONE “Don’t I know, ooyyy, don’t I know how much Mota Number Two has sinned, how he’s fallen so low. But I don’t get depressed about it, because I know that Mota Number One is pure and holy” (Photos: JDN)

Iremember the moment. Sunday morning at the Agudah convention, the culmination of several days of discussion and inspiration. The speaker was Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff of Flatbush, the session devoted to the OTD phenomenon, the plague of kids at risk.

The rav, a popular, talented speaker, shared a thought.

For centuries, the tefillah recited by women at the moment of hadlakas neiros was known only to them: words whispered and sent Heavenward.

Then, thanks to Reb Baruch Levine, a nation learned the words to “V’zakeini l’gadel banim,” sung by fathers and sons, roshei yeshivah, and talmidim. Why now? Why did Hashgachah allow this private, mystical prayer to go public specifically today, hundreds of years after it was composed? The answer, said Rabbi Lieff, is that it expresses the desperate hope of Jewish parents for children who will illuminate the world baTorah, uv’maasim tovim, uv’chol meleches avodas haBorei — in all manners of Divine service.

Today, we’ve adjusted our thinking: parents ask for children to light up the world through Torah. But what if the child doesn’t succeed in learning? What if it doesn’t work? He or she can illuminate the world through maasim tovim as well. He can help others, impact others, do so much good. But what if that doesn’t work out? What if the child doesn’t appear to be cut out for learning or great works? Then, said Rabbi Lieff, he or she can illuminate the world another way. How? B’chol meleches avodas haBorei, through any and all manner of serving the Creator. Hashgachah arranged for our generation to be exposed to this teaching: even that child is also illuminating the world.

Rabbi Lieff delivered the vort with his customary passion, giving credit to its source: Reb Mota Frank.

And I remember looking around — the tasteful ballroom, the typical American balabatim and their wives, and thinking, Wow, Reb Mota Frank quoted at the Agudah convention… he’s been mainstreamed! Then I had another thought: And not a moment too soon.

Reb Mota, or Mota as he prefers to be called, welcomes me to his home, exuding the charm and appeal of every authentic Yerushalmi you’ve ever known: the easy sense of humor, the self-deprecating jokes, the laughing, mischievous eyes, and a voice that seems laced with the dust of narrow alleyways. You might not peg him as the center of a movement, but Be’er Basadeh, the shul where he leads Seudah Shlishis and the occasional gathering, has become a magnet for many. His daily shiurim at Kollel Nekuda Tova draw listeners from all over Jerusalem; others tune in online or at Kol Halashon. His home seemingly expands each week to welcome searching souls — many who’ve been frum since the day they were born — eager to reconnect to the beauty of Shabbos.

“I had hundreds of thousands of dollars in chovos from the yeshivah — I still have a significant part of it to pay — but those trips had given me a new mission”

But it’s the man himself as much as his message of mending broken hearts. Reb Nachman of Breslov said, “My way is a new path, which is really old.” Reb Mota has figured out a new way to unlock neshamos — but his method is really as old as life itself. His newly released sefer is a breath of fresh, positive, nourishing air blowing softly across the frum landscape.

“Reb Mota touches the cases that no one else will,” a veteran askan tells me, “and the reason they respond to him is because he’s able to convey a certain ‘one of the guys’ air. He’s humble and kind and a genuine listener, so they open up to him, but he can also be empathetic and still not agree with them. He loves the system, but he can validate those for whom it didn’t work out. And most of all, he has a message that resonates.”

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