Take a look at a nation’s heroes and you get a glimpse of its values. Heroes overcome, heroes transcend, heroes tap strength within and resources without to change their worlds and the worlds of those who know them. As a people of the spirit, our heroes are often heroes of the spirit. Their achievements can’t be described in terms of might or brawn – but their strength of character inspires everyone they touch.
What does a hero look like to you?
A Niggun for Reb Mottel
e kids of post-Holocaust Crown Heights knew many heroes, but Reb Mottel was unique. In a generation of mesirus nefesh Yidden — Jews who found a way to ignite a fire of emunah in freezing Communist Russia — he was special.
Reb Mottel the Shochet, he was called, though he was so much more. Even when most Jews left Russia, Reb Mottel Lipschitz stayed behind, because the Lubavitcher Rebbe — whom he’d never met, but with whom he was connected heart and soul — felt that Russia needed him. A shochet, a mohel — and a true chassid.
It was only in 1992 that he finally came out and moved to Crown Heights. We were mesmerized by this living legend with the radiant eyes, this man from the Old Country who rejoiced at the zechus of being able to serve Hashem in freedom. His tefillah, his farbrengens, his simchah shel mitzvah were tangible.
He davened in our shul, and we revered him. He was elderly, but still had the strength to serve as a shaliach tzibbur on Yom Kippur, and his crying shook us to the core. Each month, after Kiddush Levanah, he would lead us in dancing to “Tovim Me’oros,” and until today, we dance to the same melody and call it “Reb Mottel’s Tantz.”
Imagine my shock when I found out that this Yid, this pillar of fire, had come to one of my concerts — then another. He’d become a regular, sitting there and soaking in the atmosphere and sound. He found chiyus there, simchah, ga’aguim for something real. It meant so much to me, because it connected what we were doing to something so holy, elevated our music into Reb Mottel’s exalted realm.
This picture — an enduring reminder of his appreciation after one concert — is a treasure to me, because it’s testimony to the power of niggun, the power of a neshamah, and the place where they meet.
Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 757. Avrohom Fried is an internationally renowned singer. He lives in Crown Heights, New York.
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