Mar 8, 2019
How My Teacher Solved the Chinuch Crisis
Rabbi Zalman Baras in October of 2018*Courtesy of Lubavitch Archives

Mendy Karp writes about his beloved teacher, Rabbi Zalman Baras: "I remember the first time I spoke to him as a shy 8th grader, he reacted like I had just made his day by gracing him with my presence."

By Mendy Karp

There is truly too much to say about Rabbi Baras. Never can I remember a man who so deeply touched the lives of those who met him, whether they knew him for years, had the privilege of being his students, or even people who met him only once. I keep seeing messages today of people who barely knew him, and yet remembered so clearly how touched they were by his warmth, his unusual emmeskeit which shone through in his very demeanor, his beautiful smile which he gave to each and every person he met.

I remember the first time I spoke to him as a shy 8th grader, he reacted like I had just made his day by gracing him with my presence.

Its really foolish and futile to try to describe him. So many have expressed the same sentiment, he was truly a gift from Hashem to us, for the years in which we were so lucky to know him. Hashem decided to package a bit of his infinite goodness and put it on this earth.

It was almost like his neshama never quite fit in this world. Sheker just couldnt sit with him, he just didnt have the keilim for so much of the cynicism and coldness of this world. He looked at the world with different eyes, and when he looked at you, you felt he found your best self, your purer self.

There is no point in extolling him. He wouldnt appreciate that, and for everyone who knew him even slightly, there is no need. He was Rabbi Baras, and thats the only true description.

What I do want to share is something which I hope will be a useful for us to continue his life. There is so much discussion these days about chinuch, everyone believes we have a huge problem, and everyone has a thousand solutions, and so many of them are valid and necessary.

But I want to discuss how for me and so many others, Rabbi Baras solved the chinuch crisis.

When I entered mesivta, I was coming from a day school. In my mind, (and mouth as well, as I was not shy in sharing my views with others), Yeshiva was a prison in which they attempted to brainwash you into accepting a old restrictive way of life. I told my modern orthodox friend in all sincerity that I wished I could go with him to high school, since they had a playstation and a competitive basketball team.

I entered yeshiva determined to challenge everything I was taught. I refused to be a mindless sheep following the crowd of ancient conformity. I recall telling at least one of my teachers openly that I expected to be in college in a few years, perhaps frum. (Years later another teacher related to me that he had said to Rabbi Avtzon privately, what does Mendy have against the Alter Rebbe? What did the Alter Rebbe do to him?)

There was someone I didnt account for in my plan, and that was Rabbi Baras. I cant say he changed my life right away, but from the first day when he put a bunch of nervous 9th graders at ease with his smile and caring, it just made it harder be antagonistic. As a close friend with a similar journey told me, I saw Rabbi Baras and I realized if thats a chossid, I want to be a chossid.

He showed us, better than any speech or even farbrengen, that being a chossid means to be someone who truly lives a life of kindness and heilikeit. We simply saw his devotion. We sensed even before we found out, the hours and hours he would put into each gemoro lesson, going over it again and again so he we would be able to explain it to us in a way we could grasp. Its hard to put a finger on exactly what happened, but when you have emes standing in front of you every day, a Yid who you knew had no personal agenda whatsoever, and just wanted and would do anything with all of his heart and soul for you to learn a little bit more, or to feel a little happier, it slowly melted any cynicism you had.

Yet for a long time, the change he affected was subtle and under the surface. I was still not ready to buy in fully. He showed my heart that chassidus is warmth, kindness, and light, I saw that a chossid is happy and truly alive, and yet in my mind, I was still very unsure if this wasnt a big elaborate cult I was stuck in.

Then came shiur beis. By now I was earnestly searching to find out what was the real truth. Every day in his Tanya shiur, I would vigorously challenge almost anything he said. In my mind I was I was searching for the truth as well as fighting a noble battle of defending my classmates from eternal culthood.

Yet not only did he not lose his cool or get defensive, he would encourage me with a smile, accept any challenge, and answer to the point, showing us time again the beauty and depth of chassidus. I think maybe the turning point came when a very chassidish friend of mine confronted me once saying Why do you have to attack everything he says? Its really not good!

Well, I thought perhaps he had a point, maybe it was not fair to Rabbi Baras and everyone else in the class. So I asked Rabbi Baras after the next class about it. His response? Though I dont remember his exact words, Ill never forget his message and how it affected me. Mendel, Farkert! You liven up the class, you make it real. This is what makes it interesting and exciting, its a genuine search for answers.

But Rabbi Baras, are you sure? Others are telling me

Now he looked at me almost sternly, Let me decide that. Im telling you, you must continue.

Well what could I say? I imagine in so many yeshivas I would have been made to feel rebellious, a nuisance, or a threat. Who could have blamed him if he wouldve said, Please at least keep it till after class.

Instead I felt valued, cherished. He wanted me there. He needed me and my questions. And he wasnt afraid or threatened, he knows he has the emes and he can stand up to anything.

For the first time in my life I couldnt wait to bounce out of bed in the morning and head to class. I tried to follow his instructions and continue to attack, but somehow it got harder and harder. Without quite noticing, I began to transition from combative skeptic to inquiring chossid.

I wasnt alone. Bochurim would speak with each other about getting a high from Chassidus. As a 20 something baal teshuva who joined Rabbi Barass classes with us would say, In Rabbi Baras class, you dont just learn Chassidus, you saw it alive in front of you.

When it came Pesach vacation, we requested from Rabbi Baras that he continue to teach us throughout via conference call, (needless to say he agreed.) This happened again in the summer, and even the next year in shiur gimmel, when Rabbi Baras was no longer officially our teacher, we lobbied successfully that he teach us shaar yichud vehomaenu on Sunday night , (instead of us learning bechavrusa as we did the other nights of the week.)

Even when we left yeshiva, his caring continued with the same vigor. When I would tell him years later about my life, whether a milestone I had attained, or a struggle I was going through, I felt he cared more than I did. I would hesitate to tell him something that I knew would make him cringe, and part of my motivation to succeed was the joy I knew he would get from it.

One would imagine him as soft and gentle, and yet there were times when he would show an incredible gevura. I remember him actually shouting on two occasions. Once he gave a silenced the zal by shouting Shulchan Aruch says talking between the beginning of kadish and yehei shmei raba is like talking during kedusha. If we are going to pick and choose what parts of Shulchan Aruch we listen to, then we are changing and compromising the Torah!

Another time, a student had made some loud joke in the middle of a very relaxed seder in the beis medrash, to which everyone laughed. Suddenly Rabbi Baras shouted with incredible force and not one ounce of hesitation, This is bitul Torah brabim! Bochurim scrambled to find their sefarim.

How did such a gentle frail person show such strength? Since his strength, kindness and humility came from the same source, his total devotion to Hashem. Ever since then, I have his voice ringing in my head when Im tempted to reply during kaddish.

So what can we learn from Rabbi Baras about solving the chinuch crisis?

When our students have true examples of teachers who love them completely and truly dedicate their lives to living the ideals and teachings of chassidus, together with a wholehearted devotion to the success of every student, so many, of our issues in chinuch would be well on their way to being solved. The students always know who the teacher really is. With Rabbi Baras, we knew, that his one agenda was the emes. We saw how he often overworked his frail body because of his devotion. Everyone was impacted by him, whether consciously or subconsciously.

And when our students see that bitul and caring in us, they will accept our gevura, because they will know its not someone trying to impose his ego on us, but rather a true servant of Hashem.

We fail to understand how this happened when The Rebbe himself gave him a brocho for long years Chassidishe years. Parents have told me their children dont really grasp and believe the news. How can it be? The Rebbe gave him a brocho?

There is no answer, but lets at least all help lengthen his life, by greeting a few extra people with a bit more warmth, by living a life a bit more devoted to emes, by showing our students, friends, families that there really is no end to our love and devotion to them. There is no question Rabbi Baras will continue to shep nachas from all of his hundreds of children, until we see him with the Geula!

Please help support Rabbi Barass precious family. He gave everything for others. Let's show him our appreciation by taking care of his children.

Most Read Most Comments

Opinions and Comments
wow Mendy
fellow bochur in cincinnati and shliach in Torah Ohr, i share your feelings 100 percent. ad mosai!!!
(3/8/2019 11:18:47 AM)
lets all go out of our way to help his family!
If you love the father you love the children! Show him we care by contributing generously!!
(3/8/2019 11:28:48 AM)
Thankyou Mendy
Rabbi Baras dealt with hundreds of bochurim yet each one felt like they were the only one on his mind.
(3/8/2019 11:35:56 AM)
The best teacher I ever could have asked for
I was privileged to have been taught by Rabbi Baras. I will always be grateful for having had the best role model of a mashpia and family man anyone could ask for. Hamakom yenach eschem besoch sha'ar aveilei tziyon veyerushalayim. May the family only ever know simchas
(3/8/2019 11:42:59 AM)
Ad mosai?
Mendy said it all he was a real example of a emes true Chasidishe chassid....
I just hope he will be poel the hisgalus now...
(3/8/2019 11:56:27 AM)
Thank you
Really touching article
(3/8/2019 12:35:36 PM)
So beautifully written
Thank you for taking the time to write this and publicize the greatness of Rabbi Baras a'h.
He will surely continue to take care of his family and talmidim. Now, he will have even more 'pull' for Moshiach to come, may it be today, now!
Thinking of his beautiful family...
May Hashem give them true nechama.
(3/8/2019 12:45:41 PM)
Cincinnati Alumni
I am writing thus comment with tears.
I remember Rabbi Barras screaming about talking during Yehei Shmai Rabah.
When Ibthunk about Rabbi Barras, I think of Emes and Ahqvas Yusroel.
He will ve missed by all that met him.
(3/8/2019 1:08:30 PM)
One of the most inspiring articles I've read in a long time.
(3/8/2019 1:39:16 PM)
that was so beautiful. sounds like this world lost a special neshomo
(3/8/2019 2:06:20 PM)
He was my principle,mashpia, and a happy, loving and caring person to everyone. He really taught me what a true meaning of a chossid is..... NO WORDS
(3/8/2019 2:23:20 PM)
An encounter with Rabbi Baras
As a physician, I was once called to attend Rabbi Baras during davening on Rosh Hashono at shul. I found him on the floor of the library suffering from abdominal pain. I questioned him about his symptoms, and he explained that he knew that his pain was coming from the stress of intense worry. It seemed that a student of his was going through some difficult emotional problems, and Rabbi Baras was distraught over how to help him. This was a graphic example of how devoted he was to his students. Rabbi Baras, we miss you. Thank you for all you gave to us in so many ways.
Lee Shonfeld, M.D.
(3/8/2019 2:58:44 PM)
Another beautiful tribute sent to me by Rabbi Gershon Avtzon, that really depicts this wonderful man

Dear Zalmy

It is through many tears, and a shaking hand, that I write this to you. I simply can not believe that the Yeshiva just escorted you on your final journey. While your destination, and place in Gan Eden, is guaranteed; Your presence is already missed deeply.

Over the years, many people have asked me what my relationship with you is. To some I answered that you were my friend since kindergarten, your mivtzoim partner of 15 years, while to others I said that I was your employer. In truth, I really always looked at myself as your student.

From you, I learned (or at least saw an example):

1) How to love each Yid and Talmid without conditions.
2) How to treasure family and friends.
3) How to live Chassidus and truly serve Hashem
4) Deep Hiskashrus and anticipation for Geula
5) Unlimited optimism about life and "the future of Lubavitch"
6) How love and structure blend as one in Chinuch
7) How to connect with my own children.
8) How to gain the respect of all groups of Yidden without compromising your principles.
9)Even in pain and suffering, to truly care about others

To sum it up: What it means to be EMES! There is an expression: "Truth will never go out of style, because it is never in style!". You did not care about the style of the times, you only cared about emes and it showed and impacted all around you. The Hayom yom of today: " revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], once said: A chassid creates an environment. " That is you!

Dearest Zalmy: They do not need people of Emes in Olam Haemes, we need you here with us in the world of sheker. You were the moral compass for hundreds of people. Whether we were your classmates or teachers, we are all your students. I know it is against your nature to demand and scream, but please do so - in front of the Kisei Hakavod - on our behalf!

I can't wait to continue the Farbrengen that never seemed to end every time we spoke.........

With love and tears

(3/9/2019 6:09:27 PM)
Thank you mendy
For sharing your personal story with us so that we could all take a lesson from this amazing person.
(3/9/2019 8:44:00 PM)

Mendy, you're not the only one.
Anyone who knew him could have shared the same sentiments.
Thanks so much for writing this and expressing the feelings we all feal.
May Hashem bring Moshiach now!!
(3/9/2019 9:04:24 PM)
wow!! I am crying
i never met this person. never heard of him either. but when i read this article and saw the video. im crying. i wish i got to see him and learn from his ways.
thanks for sharing. so inspiring to know there are these kinds of people existing in the world.
(3/9/2019 9:12:36 PM)
i see you really learned from him
as my sons teacher last year, i see you really learned from Rabbi Baras. just for my son and the other boys to see the love you have for rabbi Baras, was a example. You were a an excellent teacher and now i see where it comes from. please continue his life by inspiring your student the way you did for my son

(3/9/2019 10:36:16 PM)
Thank you
Your smile was an inspiration to our family. When we visited you were always concerned for my well being regardless of your pain. While in pain you still greeted me with a smile that I will never forget. The more I read about you I wish I had you as my teacher. You will be missed!
Joey Goldberg
(3/9/2019 11:08:51 PM)

Wow! A must read for every teacher
(3/10/2019 10:54:40 AM)
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