He had the smallest shofar I had ever seen, but the sound he produced was deafening
Brooklyn, New York
Rabbi Yossi Bensoussan
On my 19th Rosh Hashanah, a part of my soul died. I wasn’t ready for it. I wondered why my siblings and parents never warned me. They had to have had the same experience — how could no one have thought to warn me?
The issue wasn’t the place I was davening at the year I was learning in Eretz Yisrael. Rather it was where I was coming from. I was spoiled, plain and simple. I never had to prepare myself to feel these awesome days of holiness and glory; the work was all done for me, all I needed to do was show up. And for 19 years, I thought everyone in every shul and yeshivah had the same experience. But that year, I realized they did not, and I quietly mourned not appreciating what I had.
Not everyone got to sit in the same row of seats as Rav Elya Brudny. Not every eight-year-old would subconsciously lean his head onto Rav Lazer Ginsburg when he drifted off, only to be awakened by Rav Ginsburg’s soul stirring, “Hamelech!” But as a child of one of the lucky Moroccan Jews to have been brought to America by Mir Rosh Yeshivah Rav Avrohom Kalmanowitz, I did.
These giants sat to my immediate right and left. If I turned around, I would see other rabbanim such as Rabbis Dovid and Zevi Trenk. These rebbeim of the Mir would cry real tears while singing from the deepest parts of their souls. I might look behind me briefly, because to any child, the sight of a grown man crying that passionately is astonishing. But mostly, my eyes were transfixed directly ahead. Not because I was davening or focusing on the awesomeness of the day. Not out of choice or desire to connect. But because staring directly back at me, straight into my soul, were the piercing blue eyes of Rav Shmuel Berenbaum. I remember as a young child asking my father who he was. My father smiled and replied, “Yossi, that’s a sefer Torah.”
When Rav Shmuel Gedalia Pollack would fall quiet for a moment during his chazaras hashatz to listen to the ticking of his watch, you could hear a pin drop. And when his voice rose again, you felt him pulling your heart with him on this journey of malchus.
Rabbi Rafael Koppes was the baal tekiah in the Mir in those days. You could feel the trepidation of the day as he recited the brachah, and you knew his kolos came from a place of sheer kedushah.
Now, I’ve been places where thousands of Jews answer “Amen” and “Amen, yehei Shemeih Rabba.” It is very loud and very moving. But I can tell you that I’ve never heard an earth-trembling, heart-stopping boom like the “Amen” in the Mir. As a child, I would stare at the windows, certain they could not stand another Amen without shattering.
Despite all this, when I was asked what about Yamim Noraim davening stands out in my mind, the answer was swift, precise, and certain.
It was the accountant. A talmid of the Mir Yeshivah, for 35 years he would blow the last 100 kolos. He was handpicked by the mashgiach, Rav Hirsh Feldman, to be one of the baalei tekios. They called him “the ear-buster,” a moniker that was well earned. He had the smallest shofar I had ever seen, but the sound he produced was deafening. Two of his sons would accompany him to the bimah and caution those leaning in too close that it might be safer to take a step back. As an added cautionary measure, he would let out a warning blast after the first tekiah was called. Then, the purest and truest sound would emanate and reverberate around the entire yeshivah and maybe the whole block. The sound reminded you that you have a soul — and sometimes it needs to cry.
Before Yom Tov and after he completed shofar blowing, the accountant would go up to Rav Shmuel Berenbaum for a brachah. During one of the final years before his petirah, Rav Shmuel held the accountant’s hand and said, “Rav Yitzchak, when they ask you to sound your shofar for Mashiach, do it in our yeshivah.”
It was moments like those that defined my Rosh Hashanah. When people stared in awe at the sound of his tekios, I felt they finally understood. My father hid all year as an accountant. But on these two days, they saw him for who he was. A seemingly small shofar with a larger-than-life kol.
Rabbi Yossi Bensoussan serves as mashgiach ruchani at Yeshiva High School of Cleveland. He lectures and counsels on an array of issues including raising children and teenagers, motivation, addiction, conflict, and self-development. Rabbi Bensoussan maintains a private practice in his adopted home town of Cleveland, Ohio.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 876)
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