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Friday, January 07, 2011

The Blissfully Ignorant

I often try to identify the matriarchs and patriarchs who can claim responsibility for entire clans of religious, scholarly and respected Jews. Last week, I attended a Simcha where such a clan was in attendance. The grandfather spoke about his father and traced the birth of the dynasty to the day that his father joined Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s shul almost fifty years ago. Rabbi Miller was an accomplished Talmid Chacham on the staff at Chaim Berlin and a star student of Slobodka. He later became one of the leading Orthodox Rabbis in the United States. The people in his shul were not all as illustrious as he. One day, Rabbi Miller announced that he would be giving a new class with only one pre-requisite: ignorance. He told the students to come to the class prepared with blank note paper and empty heads. They were also told to bring pencils. Several middle-aged men attended and before long those blank papers became treasured documents. As the students grew wiser, their attitudes toward Jewish education grew firmer. They raised their children as scholars and today tens of Yeshivos are staffed by progeny of Rabbi Miller’s class for Amei Ha’aretz.

Rabbi Miller was a Talmid of Rav Isaac Sher of Slobodka. He finished Shas at least once a year and never let a day pass without a session in Mussar. He never veered from his daily schedule and measured every word that he uttered. Yet, Rabbi Miller wasn’t to great or busy to make himself the inaugural teacher of the class for the ignorant.

I remember reading about Rabbi Miller’s most spiritual moment. One would have thought the spiritual peak in his life would come from Torah, a Tefila, or perhaps an act of self control. The truth, according to Rabbi Miller himself, was very different. Rabbi Miller’s epiphany came to him in the Lithuanian country side. He noticed a flower beginning to blossom and sat down to marvel at it’s beauty and design. He gazed at it for over an hour. Beholding that simple beauty brought him closer to Hashem than any of his hours in study or his ninety years of intense Tefilla.

Rav Avigdor Miller had an appreciation for simple things.

Sometimes I wish that I could be ignorant. I wish I could take my blank papers and my pencils and get excited about a new topic that I will never excel in. It won’t earn me money, convenience, or glory, but it will shape my attitude toward life and show my children where my heart is.

Posted on 01/07 at 06:58 AM • 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