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Whose Time Is It?

Whose Time Is It?

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Rabbi Solomon Trau being interviewed by JEM
Rabbi Solomon Trau being interviewed by JEM

In the 1950s, when I was a young man, I befriended Rabbi Moses Rosen, who was the chief rabbi of Romania. Whenever he came to New York, he prayed in my shul, which was the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and when we discovered that we both spoke French, it brought us together. We became good friends, our wives became friends, and it was a great friendship for friendship’s sake, as the saying goes.

On one visit to the US, Rabbi Rosen said to me, “I’m going to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, would you mind coming along with me?” I said, “Mind? I’d love to!”

His appointment was for one o’clock in the morning, but nevertheless, when we arrived at the Lubavitch Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, the street outside was crowded with people – dozens of chasidim were waiting there. When they saw Rabbi Rosen, they recognized him because he was famous – an Orthodox rabbi holding the position of chief rabbi in a Communist country was something very unusual – and they immediately made room for him.

“the Rebbe came out of his office and hugged Rabbi Rosen, whom he had known from before . . .”

Although we were early for our appointment, we were invited right in, and the Rebbe came out of his office and hugged Rabbi Rosen, whom he had known from before. Rabbi Rosen introduced me as a young rabbi from Belgium, a student of Rav Amiel, the spiritual leader of the Shomre Hadas Jewish Community of Antwerp. And the Rebbe started talking French to me, telling me that he had read Rav Amiel’s books, and he mentioned the Darchei Moshe in particular. He also asked me specific questions about the Jewish community in Antwerp, which he knew about very well.

When the Rebbe spoke with Rabbi Rosen, he also knew all the Romanian communities by name. Romania is a large country, with many towns with Jewish populations. I can’t remember their names, but the Rebbe remembered everything. He not only knew the names of the communities, but also exactly how many Jews lived where. And he wanted to know more. He asked Rabbi Rosen if there’s kosher food, if there are Jewish schools, whether the Jews want to leave Romania to go to Israel, or if they want to immigrate to America. He was very involved in this and interested in every aspect of Jewish life in Romania.

Rabbi Moses Rosen, Chief Rabbi of Romania
Rabbi Moses Rosen, Chief Rabbi of Romania

Now Rabbi Rosen had come to ask the Rebbe’s advice concerning a particular problem. At the time, Romania had only one shochet – I remember his name was Rabbi Pinchas Wasserman. This man wanted to leave Romania to visit his children in Israel. But if he left, Rabbi Rosen said, there will be no kosher meat in all of Romania. Should he be permitted to go? Although the Communist government of Romania gave out such permissions, Rabbi Rosen had a great deal of influence with the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, so the matter of the permit was basically in his hands.

I remember the Rebbe’s response. He said, “This is not a matter of halacha, Jewish law, this is an issue of mentshlichkeit, human compassion. On the one hand, the man wants to see his children, and it is a very humane thing to let him. On the other hand, thousands of Jews will be left kosher without meat because he is the only shochet available.”

Then the Rebbe thought for a moment and said, “My advice is to tell him that he can leave for six months to see his children, but under the condition that after six months he comes back.”

Before we knew it, two-and-a-half hours had passed; it was almost three o’clock in the morning. Outside, dozens ofchasidim were waiting, and they couldn’t believe this. Usually when somebody went into the Rebbe’s office, he stayed for five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, but this was highly unusual.

Rabbi Rosen became concerned that maybe we had stayed too long, and he said, “Maybe I overstayed, I’m sorry for taking up so much of the Rebbe’s time.”

But the Rebbe responded, “Rabbi Rosen, you represent a large Jewish community of many Jews, and this is their time. If anything, I am taking up their time by keeping you.”

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Dedicated in honor of the Rebbe. By Anonymous.

Rabbi Solomon Trau
Rabbi Solomon Trau was a member of many prominent Jewish organizations, including the RCA, American Israel Club, the Joint and the United Jewish Appeal. He was interviewed at his home in New York City in December, 2010.
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JEM: My Encounter with the Rebbe
Jewish Educational Media's My Encounter with the Rebbe oral history project is dedicated to documenting the life of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
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