Their work has influenced countless others. They lead lives that are an inspiration to aspiring askanim, entrepreneurs, mechanchim and writers around the Jewish world. But who inspired their own journey?
Mishpacha Magazine recently featured 7 leading personalities of the frum Jewish world penning letters to their mentors, the people who have led them on their life’s path.
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, a Chabad Shliach and rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue since 1993, was asked to write to his late and illustrious father, Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Schochet, of blessed memory.
Here is the letter:
The outside world knew you as a communal Rov in Toronto for more than fifty years; a professor at three universities, an author of thirty-five books and an international lecturer. But to me, you were my mentor, and my go-to-person all through life, just as you were to countless others.
Ever since I was a little boy I was in awe of your unique communication skills – inspiring audiences across the world. I always told myself “I want to be able to do that one day.” I listened to your speeches in Shul every Shabbos, and you would make me repeat them back to you on the walk home. I was too young to appreciate it then, but I know now that you were honing my skills so that one day I’d be able to copy your example.
When I contemplated other options you gently encouraged me to follow in the “family business” of communal Rabbonus – to be another link in an unbroken chain of more than two centuries of Rabbonim. You were so proud on the day of my hachtara (induction). The moving letter you wrote me that day still hangs proudly in my office.
When I finished high school in Ner Yisroel I was at a crossroads. I wanted to pursue studies in the famous Philly Yeshiva but while you appreciated my choice, you were adamant that I continue my learning in Chabad. That advice would dramatically alter the course of my life. The exposure to Chassidus in general and the opportunity to spend much time in the “daled amos” of the Rebbe in particular, instilled within me the drive to reach out to Jews from all walks of life and to broaden my horizons in inspiring souls. It’s what led me to my current position of Rabbonus and Shlichus in London.
Wherever I trek, you still seem to be there. In the summer of 1977 you took us along on a speaking tour in Los Angeles. Somewhere mid tour, you were asked to give an impromptu lecture in San Diego. It was a much longer ride than expected and the audience was particularly small. Needless to say, you were not pleased. One of the few in the audience was a college kid named Jay who was struggling in his Jewish life, like many of that era. He engaged with you and when the hour was late, you insisted you had to head back to Los Angeles. Jay said: “I don’t know much about Jewish learning but I do know it says, ‘whoever saves one Jewish life it is as if he has saved an entire world.”‘ You acquiesced and talked till 2 AM.
The following year you were back in San Diego for a properly organized, well-attended lecture. At the end of your talk, you were introduced to the same college kid, Jay, who had turned his life around and found his way back to his traditional roots.
You often retold that story to emphasize to us the important lesson you learned. “It’s never about the number, it’s always about the substance!” From that day, you insisted, you were never bothered again about how big or small the audience, “because you never know the impact you can have on even one soul in the crowd.”
Fast forward to this past summer of 2017. I am on route to San Diego to deliver a lecture. The Rabbi expressed to me his concern about audience attendance, it being a mid-week, mid-summer etc. I repeated to him, as I had done to numerous others before him, your story and message. In the end, there was a full house. But it was the gentleman who approached me at the end of my talk that brought tears to my eyes and made my soul brim over. “Hi, my name is Jay….”
Forty years on, he married off all his children to Jewish spouses. “I don’t normally come out to events, but I needed to come here tonight to tell you about the fruits of your father’s labor.” We had an emotional embrace and he said: “Your Dad is looking down right now, and he’s smiling!” And I stood there thinking: “You never know the impact you can have on even one soul in the crowd.”
A timely message as I write this before Yom Kippur, when I know you will be looking down once more, still gently guiding me. And I hope that I still give you cause to smile as I endeavor to continue giving you nachas.
Es bincha asher ahavta,