By COLlive staff
Photos: Levi Percia/COLlive
On Sunday, a Torah was completed by R’ Moshe and Rivkah Reinetz of Crown Heights, in memory of her father, Rabbi Dr. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berg obm.
Rabbi Dr. Berg was a brilliant scientist who worked for the US Federal Government for many years, making his mark as a frum Lubavitch person in Washington, DC.
Even as a young boy, he was unusual in the intensity of both his desire to learn Chasidus and his ability to do so. As a child in Chicago, he arranged on his own to learn Chasidus with older Chasidim. At the age of Bar Mitzvah he left home and went on to learn in Lubavitcher Yeshivos in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and then Montreal.
While in Montreal the young Naftali typed the Rebbe’s Sichos which he had heard, photocopied them and distributed them. He knew the Rebbe’s precious words by heart, by head, by hand. His words filled him, body and soul. The Rebbe appreciated Naftali’s Hafatzas Hamaayonos, as is seen by the Rebbe’s words: “What do they say in Chicago that one of theirs is publishing Chasidus?”
Naftali’s mother recognized her son’s brilliant mind and as an immigrant from Russia who did not have the opportunity to have an education, her dream was that her son who had tremendous potential should receive a college education.
Naftali shared with the Rebbe his mother’s desire for him to go to college. The Rebbe instructed him, saying that he could go to college on the condition that he learn Chitas and Chasidus daily before davening Shacharis.
Naftali went on to university and in between semesters during his summer break he completed Smicha in just two months! However, the Rabbonim in charge of the Semicha program refused to release his Semicha certificate, being that he was attending university. Naftali shared this with the Rebbe and shortly thereafter his smicha certificate was released.
In the mid 1960’s, he graduated from college and began seeking a position in his field. Companies were eager to hire him upon hearing of his credentials, however, as soon as they saw a photo of him they refused to hire him, because he had a beard and a large black yarmulke on his head. The only place that would hire him with his Chasidic look was the Federal Government, more specifically, the Department of Defense.
In later years, he was offered a job in the private sector at triple the salary he was currently receiving. The Rebbe instructed him to remain with the government. Three years later, the company went bankrupt. At a later point in his career, an excellent job offer to work in Israel came his way. But the Rebbe answered, “Let them see in Washington that a frum Jew can rise this high and do this well.”
Naftali Berg wound up helping the Jewish people in many ways while working in Washington. Firstly, he was sent by his work many times to Israel to assist in securing its national defense. He was the internationally acclaimed expert in his field of Accoustu-Optics Signal Processing. He had a Ph.D. in electrophysics. He worked in three major areas during his professional career: (1) nuclear radiation effects on electronic materials and devices, (2) acousto-optic signal processing, and (3) the fusion of signatures, sensors, and signal processing for army tactical battlefield application. He worked on F-16 fighter jets.
Over the course of his distinguished career, Naftali managed several times to smooth things out for Eretz Yisroel and in its relationship with the US. He hired many frum people who, like he himself, had excellent credentials but were frum, and this was a strike against them in the hiring world. He headed projects which only he could head. This was true to the extent that after he passed away, his colleagues told his family that they would now be out of jobs. Only “Dr. Berg” could get the generals to take his calls without an appointment, to approve funding for their projects, could organize and direct certain high-level, high-knowledge projects.
Naftali’s office in the Army Research Laboratory looked like a Chabad House rather than the office of one that held the second highest ranking position in the ARL. He had seforim everywhere, a daily minyan, a picture of the Rebbe prominently displayed and a sink with a qvart and towel.
Instead of having the attitude: let me try and be like them, keep my differences hidden, it was: how can I best display the differences, so that people will notice and ask about it? Naftali was absolutely not embarrassed by his Yiddishkeit, but very proud of it. In fact, as related by a close friend, Professor Herman Branover said, as he was waking down a street in London, he overheard one excited Jewish teenager tell another about the great Jewish scientist who works with a full beard and tzitzis showing at the Pentagon! If he can do it at the Pentagon, they concluded, then no Jew should ever be ashamed or frightened to be different from gentiles anywhere.
On one of the occasions when he went to the Rebbe for dollars, as an expression of thanks to the Rebbe, he gave the Rebbe an early edition of the Tanya that he was given as a child. Upon receipt of the Tanya, the Rebbe asked him when will he write such a sefer L’havdil, Naftali smiled to the Rebbe, the Rebbe responded, “Yagata Umatzasa.”
As a Chasid, he didn’t just go home at the end of a work day, he was involved in many areas of Hafotzas Hama’ayonos. For example, he had a secret Tanya Shiur in Ner Yisroel with boys who were interested in learning Tanya.
He left his mark on the doctors that treated him during his illness. One doctor began putting on Tefillin because of Naftali. Another doctor, a surgeon, learned a lesson in humility because of him. This was right after a major operation. After this very complex and dangerous operation, he was introduced to the surgeon with these words, “And this is the man you have to thank.” Unable to speak at the time due to him being on life support, Naftali still couldn’t let this opportunity pass. He smiled, shook his head and pointed upward.
More than anything Naftali was a Chasid. His dedication to and love for the Rebbe, the enthusiasm and inspiration with which he carried out the Rebbe’s directives illuminated the lives of those who worked with or studied with him.
Rabbi Dr. Berg passed away 27 Tamuz 5754, after a long illness.
The new Torah will be donated to the Misaskim organization.