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The Man From Kelm

Rabbi Yaakov Feitman

Dignity. Serenity. In thinking about Rabbi Nachum Zev Dessler, ztz”l, these past few days, the words recur like the chorus of a symphony. You could not help but straighten your tie and adjust your jacket when passing Rabbi Dessler, even for a moment. In his later years, although it was difficult for him, he would don his kapote just to greet a visitor. Rabbi Dessler carried himself with the serenity of one who was constantly at peace with himself, with the world, and most importantly, with his Creator.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Dessler speak at many bar mitzvahs. A favorite vort of his resonated deeply with his own Kelmer personality. At the end of Parshas Vayeishev, Yosef is in prison with the king’s butler and baker, and notices that they are in a foul mood. He inquires about their condition, they recite their now-famous dreams, Yosef interprets them, and the rest is both history and Torah. Rabbi Dessler took note of what Yosef’s own mental state should have been at the time. He was an abandoned youth, alone and in prison in a frightening and alien land. Yet his antennae were so attuned to two strangers’ sorrow that he sought to assuage their grief.

Rabbi Dessler’s message to several generations of thirteen-year-olds was minted in Kelm and printed in Cleveland, but its wisdom is for the ages: Never ignore the plight of another. No matter how intense your own pain may be, you might be able to help someone else. And then you must.

Rabbi Dessler lived this ideal. Let us try to do the same.


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