Friday, July 8, 2011

Balak: Invisible to Some, Obvious to Others. Reb Chaim Stein

I was in Cleveland this week to be menachem aveil the family of Reb Chaim Stein.  He was very close to my family.  Besides the time in Samarkahnd when he was with my parents, he and his Rebbitzen were the Unterfirers for my parents when they got married, and Reb Chaim was one of the Eidim on my parents' Kesuva.  When my parents first came to America, they first went to Cleveland, and my father learned with Reb Chaim be'chavrusa, until my father decided that Cleveland was not the place to be unless you were related to the family of the founders of the yeshiva.  My father and Reb Chaim remained very close until their last years, with my father calling Reb Chaim on the telephone whenever he had a good he'ara on the Gemara.  I remember many times, hearing my father and his chavrusa arguing, until finally I heard the "Ich gei callen Reb Chaim!  Erleidikt!"  (Finished!  I'm going to call Reb Chaim.")

While I was there, I heard two interesting things.  They were said by Rabbi Shmuel Kaufman, who personally witnessed the first event, and heard the second from an individual that was present.

1. The Satmerer Rov once came to Cleveland.  When he was at the train station, and the yeshiva came to see him, he said he was not going to leave Cleveland before he got a bracha from Reb Chaim Stein.

2. The Rimnitzer Rebbe, a man who was sought out for brachos from the four corners of the world, also once said that he wanted to get a bracha from Reb Chaim.

The odd thing is that these people were not close to Reb Chaim.  If they ever saw him, it was at a wedding, or at a meeting.  But their eyes were not like my eyes or your eyes.  When most people would see Reb Chaim, they saw a refined and scholarly gentleman, a man with kind eyes and a dignified but approachable mein, a man with the energy and curiosity of youth even in his old age.  When the Satmerer Rov and the Rimnitzer Rebbe looked at Reb Chaim, they saw a Malach, a man of purity and towering spiritual grandeur.  As the Satmerer is quoted as having said, Reb Chaim never tasted the flavor of sin, lo to'am ta'am chet.

When Bilam's donkey shuddered and turned away, Bilam was angry.  What are you doing?  What's wrong with you?  Finally the donkey told Bilam that if he weren't so stupid, if he saw what the donkey saw, he would have run away screaming.    When Avraham and Yitzchak saw the Shechina atop the mountain, he asked Eliezer and Yishmael, what do  you see?  They said, we see a mountain, but nothing else.  Avraham said, now you stay here with the donkey, שבו לכם פה עם החמור, from which we derive the expression  עם הדומה לחמור.   You have spent all of these years in my house, and all you see is a mountain?  Then as far as spiritual sensitivity, you're like donkeys.  Not only like a chamor, but not even like Bilam's chamor.  At least Bilam's chamor could see!  Unfortunately, our physical eyes are blind to much that is in front of us, and our objective empirical conclusions are worthless without siyata dishmaya.  אמר רבי בנימין הכל בחזקת סומין עד שהקדוש ברוך הוא מאיר את עיניהם.  (Breishis Rabba 53:14)


  1. I've always wondered whether the english word "interfere" had anything to do with "Unterfirers".

  2. and here I thought it was connected to 'undertakers.'

  3. They undertake to interfere :)