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Friday, May 04, 2012

Reb Simcha (Acharei Mos)

Many people will remember Rav Simcha Schustal as one of the most pleasant and joyful people that they have encountered. I will remember him yelling at his Chavrusa.

It happened on the day that Rav Simcha disagreed with Rav Shach’s approach to a Gemara. The teenaged bochur who was his chavrusa was quoting Rav Shach’s Avi Ezri, but Rav Simcha refused to give in. Rav Simcha stood up and got in the young man’s face. He backed the boy against the wall. He questioned his logic. He debated his reasoning. He broke a sweat and, possibly, broke the sound barrier.

Later in the afternoon, the teenaged bochur came across a newer edition of Rav Shach’s Avi Ezri. It seems that Rav Shach had eventually retracted from his position. Rav Simcha had been right.

That was Rav Simcha Schustal: He smiled, he was kind, and he was easygoing. He was respectful of all people and he never said a hurtful word. He was also extraordinarily strong on his principals and shockingly unyielding in his opinions.

Whether he was disagreeing with Rav Shach on a Rambam or staying out of the limelight by taking an unpopular stance, Rav Simcha managed to be both respectful and opinionated. He would apologize profusely to his study partners while not budging an inch on the proper interpretation of the Gemara.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (68a) finds Rabi Akiva mourning the loss of Rabi Elazar. The Talmud tells us that he wept to the point of self-flagellation. He hit himself in agony until blood dripped to the ground.

Is this the Rabi Akiva that we know? Is this the Rabi Akiva that was able to laugh as he watched a fox enter the ruins of the Holy of Holies? Is the Rabi Akiva who was able to profess his love for Hashem even as the Romans tore his flesh with hot pieces of iron?

Tosfos explains that even Rabi Akiva knew when to cry. Rabi Elazar had been a man who held strong opinions and was singularly unwavering in his beliefs. Rabi Akiva cried because Rabi Elazar’s unique stance had been lost forever. Important questions would remain unasked and and unanswered. Rabi Elazar’s Torah would never be replaced.

Rabi Akiva could see the silver lining in every tragedy, but he could not smile at the loss of Rabi Elazar’s Torah. (Of course, self-flagellation is never recommended).

The Ibn Ezra (Devarim 29:18) writes that we often often resist change because we rely on the merit of righteous people to outweigh our sins. We figure that the world will survive because there are enough righteous people around. When a righteous person passes away, we are forced to step up to the plate and generate our own merit. Their death forces us to take responsibility for our actions.This is one of the reasons why the death of the righteous atonement for the actions of the living.

In Parshas Acharei Mos, the death of the sons of Aharon is followed by a rendering of the laws of Yom Kippur. The Medrash derives from this juxtaposition that the death of any righteous person should force us to observe a personal Yom Kippur. Our losses force us to reassess who we are, who we can be, and the role that we are obligated to fill.

We need to develop the Rav Simcha Schustal that lies within each one of us.

(Based in part on the Lev Shalom, by Rav Shalom Schwadron)

Posted on 05/04 at 10:52 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at