A half shekel of powerful oneness by Rabbi Y. R. Rubin Shlita
A half shekel of powerful oneness
I never really came to terms with his enormous ability to do what was needed, rather than what may have been convenient. Time and again he would extend himself beyond all limits for others without being asked or receiving thanks. He gave his entirety to projects others would deem beneath their dignity and would do it with a sweet smile.
I speak of the previous Bobover Rebbe Rav Naftali Halberstam ZTL who was an angel that passed through this mortal world with the aura of complete holiness.
When I was a youngster I had the merit to share many hours with this saintly soul. I won’t say I understood him, because he was a master in hiding behind a facade of simplicity. Many of us were fooled into thinking this Tzadik was just like the rest of us, but that was his secret because in fact his was a level far beyond anything we could even dream about.
Born to the Royalty of pre-Churban Bobov, he basked in the sunlight of his holy grandfather the Bobover Rebbe Rav Ben Zion Ztl and for a small period of time was allowed to aspire to the tranquil holiness that was part of his heritage. Then the hammer struck Klal Yisroel and nothing ever could be the same. He stood with his Holy Father The Rebbe Rav Shloma ZTL and together they went through all the degrees of hell our enemies prepared for us. His Barmitzvah was celebrated in that hell, and his familial losses were huge. It’s not my purpose to write a biography here; I just want to set the stage for what was to come. Out of all this darkness came Reb Naftulcha, as he was called, a slight figure with a calm elegance that radiated friendship. When I came to the Bobover Yeshiva it was still in Crown Heights and the community was in its infancy. The Rav Ztl worked tirelessly for his kehilla, and at his side was his special son, Reb Naftulcha who had been forged in the fires of our enemies so as to bring light to future generations.
I was a Yankee-born student, and so had the ability to speak English fluently. This stood me in good stead because Reb Naftulcha needed an English- speaking helper for many of his projects. In those times the yeshiva stood on a very rocky foundation. Money was extremely scarce and no one was willing to carry the burdens of such an enterprise, except the one holy soul who was prepared to give up his position, to abandon what was deservedly his in terms of expectations, and offer his entirety to the klal. This was Reb Naftulcha Ztl and his yorzheit falls just a few days before Purim.he halachah as stated by the Rema is, “Some say that before Purim one should give one half of the coin of the realm, as a remembrance of the half shekel that they gave in Adar.”
This half shekel is first mentioned at the beginning of Parshas Ki Sisa: “when you take a census of the children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them.”
The concept of half shekel is a deep one filled with rich lessons. Giving isn’t enough; rich men can’t buy themselves out of plagues. When giving towards atonement one doesn’t give to the community; one gives as part of the community. The atonement of the half shekel wasn’t that you gave so much, but that you donated half. You gave a part, a part which had meaning only together with other parts. In this way you could shift the focus from self to the fullness that is community; that is true atonement.
Most of us are willing to work for the shul or the yeshiva on our terms. We are happy to serve as long as it goes according to our preconceived ideas. We will serve with those we feel we should, go to meetings when it suits us, but please don’t ask us to do something we feel is beneath our dignity,
Sometimes we don’t contribute whatever half shekel happens to be missing; instead we persist on starting our own! If I insist that my help must be given only in my way, then I am not binding myself to the community; I thus stand alone and vulnerable.
The Rebbe Rav Naftali Ztl never asked for the responsibilities that comprised his every day. He was a peace-loving soul that sought to live a life given over to serving Hashem as his holy ancestors had. After the fires of the Churban one would have thought such an ambition would be granted. Yet, his role was deemed to be different, and he did what the klal needed, not what he may have sought for himself. Many a time I witnessed the gut- wrenching aggravation that visited his daily existence. His was a daily fight to cover the expenses of the rapidly growing Torah Mosdos of Bobov; he did this alone, with a smile and a sigh.
Purim, the time of half-shekels, was his special time as well. On Purim everything can change; through focusing on Hashem we can break down all the walls that stand in our way. On this day I would make it my business to watch Rav Naftali closely. He always hid his fire, but on Purim he opened up. As the Olam danced he would clutch his father’s hand, look up to the heavens and dance the dance of angels. His eyes looked beyond his woes; he was attached to a greater force, a heavenly atonement made up of a half shekel of powerful oneness.