People (including my husband) came out of his shiur completely on fire for Hashem (or so we thought) and willing to do whatever it took, and to sacrifice whatever necessary to give Hashem what this guy told us He really wanted.
This ‘rabbi’ encouraged my husband to quit his job, because ‘people with emuna rely on Hashem for their income’. He was extremely convincing. This ‘rabbi’ had already managed to convince one of the wealthy students in his class to give him a hefty chunk of money, and he was telling everyone about the huge miracles he was experiencing by doing six hours of praying every night in the cemetery in Bnei Brak.
If it worked for him, it could work for everyone else!!!
Except, it didn’t.
And then, when my poor, broken husband went back to this ‘rabbi’ for some chizzuk and support as were ended up having to sell our home etc etc, the guy basically dumped him. The problem was ours, our lack of emuna, our lack of ability to force Hashem to give us tremendous open miracles via our prayers, etc etc etc.
Which brings me to the point I’m trying to make in this post, which is that the measure of a ‘real’ rabbi is not how good a speaker they are, and how erudite they are (although clearly that has its place), and not even how many people they get to make teshuva, because as we’ve all seen with our own eyes, the ‘fire and brimstone’ route often scares people into doing things they really don’t want, or are ready for.
The measure of a real rabbi is how much they really live what they preach, and how much mesirut Nefesh, or self-sacrifice they actually make for their fellow Jew.
After Rav Ovadia Yosef died, almost a million people turned out for his funeral. They weren’t coming because of his huge Torah knowledge, or his ability to give a good shiur (although clearly, those things were also part and parcel of his greatness.) They came out because of all the concrete help, kindness and chessed Rav Ovadia showed to literally thousands upon thousands of people during his lifetime.
My old greengrocer, Baruch, was one of those people. Baruch was not so frum, but when he’d had a lot of difficulties in his life, he’d gone to Rav Ovadia for a blessing, and the Rav had given him so much comfort, and maintained a strong connection with him afterwards, to the point that Baruch tore kriah for Rav Ovadia when he died, and considered him to be a surrogate father.
The same thing by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Did he have enormous Torah learning? Yup. Did he inspire thousands of people to come back to Yiddishkeit? Yup. Could he give a stonking good shiur? Yup, absolutely.
If you talk to people even now, more than 20 years after he died, they don’t talk about that stuff. Instead, they tell you about he helped them somehow, how getting a blessing from him changed their lives, how he touched their souls and made them feel seen and cared for.
That is the true greatness of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Same thing with Rav Berland. BH, I’m currently putting the final touches on Volume 1 of ‘One in a Generation’, which I really hope will be available to buy within the next 2-3 weeks, and the stories in that book are a fraction of a fraction of what’s really out there.
And even so, they are remarkable, inasmuch as they really show how much Rav Berland lives and breathes Torah, and how many thousands upon thousands of people he’s helped, concretely, in a myriad number of ways.
I feel this point is so important to make, because there are so many superb ‘orators’ out there today, with the title of ‘rabbi’ - and so many of them are fakers. They stir up dissent between the Jewish people, they hold Am Yisrael to an unrealistic standard they themselves don’t meet, or else they dumb everything down and make our Yiddishkeit so superficial and perfunctory and theoretical and pointless.
Yes, they publish an impressive number of books, they have reputations as ‘deep thinkers’ and ‘inspiring personalities’, they have great YouTube shiurim - but when it comes to actually helping their fellow Jew? To actually displaying some mesirut Nefesh that has absolutely no payback for them? To actually watching their own mouths, judging other Jews favorably, or getting a grip on their own over-weaning arrogance and sense of superiority?
That’s completely missing from the picture.
(It’s a whole other post, but real rabbis never slag off other people’s chassidut, or other people’s orthodox religious practices and beliefs, even if they differ greatly from their own. That is the very first sign you’re dealing with a faker - if someone is openly criticizing Chabad, or criticizing Breslov, or criticizing people who do or don’t eat kitniot on Pesach, or criticizing people who believe in segulot, or in the kabbalah, run far, far away.)
The first time I ever saw Rav Ofer Erez was when I was on a trip to Uman that he happened to be leading. I saw this frum looking man coming down the passageway in Ben Gurion airport, and I was completely struck by how much genuine humility he evinced. I later found that this was Rav Ofer.
Rav Ofer can give an amazing shiur - really, top of the top. He writes loads of books, has loads of Torah insight, inspires loads of people. But what really impressed me the most is when I saw him spend the whole night awake in Uman, talking to a bunch of teenage boys from a yeshiva who happened to be in the same hotel, and who had a whole bunch of difficult questions to ask.
Rav Ofer literally sat up with them the whole night, talking to them about whatever they wanted to discuss. And let’s be clear, Rav Ofer is a very busy person, has a very heavy schedule, and is also very serious about his avodat Hashem. (And let’s not even talk about needing a good night’s sleep….)
Just because he wanted to help his fellow Jew.
So, this is the mark of true greatness. This is the real measure of a genuine Torah personality. And it’s a key thing to look for before deciding whether a ‘Rockstar Rabbi’ is truly coming from the right place.