By Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro
I would like to share with you, in writing, an amazing surprise ending to last week’s Historic Treasures program, which was posted on COLlive.com this past Thursday night, Erev Shabbos Parshas Nitzovim.
The program last week was devoted mainly to the importance of dressing as a Jew – the “levush of a Yid.” A Jew should always take pride in being a Jew, in behaving like a Jew and in looking like a Jew.
Even during the harshest of times – during our bitter slavery in Egypt – we kept our Jewish dress, we looked like Jews, and in that merit, we were redeemed from Egypt. A Jew portrays the image G-d, so his appearance should certainly be G-dly. It is especially the wearing of a beard that distinguishes a Jew and gives him this “tzelem Elokimím,” a G-dly image.
During the painful years of the Holocaust – the Nazis yemach shemam took delight in documenting with photographs two atrocities which they were particularly proud of: the desecrating and tearing of Sifrei Torah and the tearing out and cutting off of beards. It is these two tragic images that have been seared into our collective memory.
We know how much the Rebbes of Chabad, as well as many other gedolim, such as the Chofetz Chaim, emphasized and wrote about the great importance of this “Tzelem Elokim”, this G-dly image, a beard. The Frierdiker Rebbe said that we should not eat from the shechita of a Chabad shochet who has no beard – as this is an indication of lack of yiras shomayim (fear of Heaven). But a non-Chabad shochet, whose custom is not to wear a beard and who is a yire Shmayim – his shechita is permissible.
The Rebbe mentions in a letter that he wrote to an individual whom he noticed had trimmed his beard, that a beard reflects the 13 vessels of rachamim/compassion that open up the channels to sustenance.
A detail which I didn’t end up mentioning on the program was that during the beginning years of his leadership in the 1950’s and early ‘60’s, the Rebbe would often officiate at weddings – but he would do so on condition that the groom wears a beard and the bride, a sheitel/wig.
NOW, THE REST OF THE STORY….
The program was posted on COLlive.com last Thursday night sometime around 11:00 PM Eastern Time.
Less than 18 hours later, a couple of hours before candle lighting on Friday, I received a call from a chasidisher lady (not Chabad) who lives in a large Jewish community near New York City. In a somewhat emotional voice she tells me the following:
“Rabbi Schapiro, I need to tell you what just happened. Our family just finished listening to your program of this week, and we were extremely moved by it – the subject matter spoke to our heart! We are Chasidim and we take pride in our Jewishness and our Jewish customs and appearance, especially wearing a beard. It is a tradition in both my family and my husband’s family for generations.
“Our daughter – whom we are very proud of – recently became engaged to a very good young man – he isn’t from a chasidisher family and does not wear a beard. We like him very much and appreciate his fine qualities – yet we were not comfortable with the fact that he has no beard.
“And this is why I am calling, Rabbi Schapiro. Today we were all listening to your program with great interest, including the chosson. It caught our attention to such an extent – that we listened to it yet a second time! After a long moment of silence – the chosson got up and said “I made up my mind, I will be’ezras hashem grow a beard.”
“You have no idea what your program did – we are in awe of what a few words can do – the turn of event this Erev Shabbos has brought us such joy. Not only are we all happy – but especially the kallah is overjoyed that her family tradition will continue and her future husband will radiate the image of G-d. You have truly fulfilled the mitzvah of bringing joy to a kallah! Thank you.”
We can all imagine how much nachas this gives the Rebbe.
And now you know the rest of the story.