The current world in which we live is rife with cynicism. Few are willing to believe in the existence of a man so altruistic that virtually his every move was given over to the greater good of Klal Yisroel. For those who landed on America’s shores with scarcely more than the clothes on their backs, the Satmar Rebbe, z”l, was nothing short of an angel sent down to comfort them in the worst hour. Though this may seem like hyperbole, if you were to ask any of the residents of Williamsburg who grew and healed in his enormous shadow, they might insist that that statement only understates the Rebbe’s significance.
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, himself a survivor who barely escaped the Nazi tempest alive, came to America with almost nothing, just like those whom he exhorted to hold strong to the traditions of the forefathers even here in America, a land which scoffed at age-old tradition as something of a novelty at best and an embarrassment at worst. Not willing to change even a minute aspect of his dress or customs, he clung to the traditions of his father and grandfather, insisting that a pure Torah lifestyle could and should be built in a country where many had already tried and failed. His insistence on plodding the well-worn path of authentic Judaism, the road which all of our rabbis had adhered to till then, also meant not touching the impure idol of Zionism. He saw, with his far-reaching vision, where this rebellion against G-d would eventually lead and he never ceased to hammer home that the Torah has not changed because the State of Israel was founded.
His words were often misinterpreted as attacks designed to undermine the safety of a Jewish community which was still reeling from the enormity of the Holocaust. There was a barely a day where a newspaper somewhere in the world did not hurl barbs of every kind at him. In the eyes of many who were entranced by the spell of Zionism, he was persona non grata, an enemy of the Jewish People.
Despite this, his work continued unabated, placing one brick atop of another and rebuilding what was burnt to cinders in the fires of Europe. Without compromise. The level would be the same. Many laughed at him outright, saying that rebuilding a European style Jewish community was impossible, so why even try? America was built of the sandbar of compromise and compromise extended even to those arenas where it had no place being. There was no such thing as eternal values. However, his response was the same, “Hashem’s presence fills the entire world and Torah in America is exactly the same as Torah in Europe.”
His charity was something unheard of. The money that was dispensed to all regardless of their affiliation helped build a new life for those who struggled to maintain hope. The Rebbe didn’t just give out money, he infused every dollar with hope and the conviction and certainty that life could began anew and that Hashem was with us. Even those whose tongues spewed forth vindictive towards him on a regular basis were the recipients of his openhandedness. Chasidic, Litvish, Mizrachi, etc., it didn’t matter. He saw a need and his hands gave almost automatically.
With his wit, kindness and wisdom he reassembled the broken vessels that arrived on foreign shores half alive. He was first a father and second a Rebbe, worrying day and night about the material and spiritual needs of a worldwide Jewry. An expert craftsman, he rebuilt those who have been shattered, giving them reason to strive and move on. As was his way, this was done comprehensively, finding jobs, apartments and marrying off orphans. The scar-riddled psyche of the survivors was also a top priority and the Rebbe spent countless hours teaching all that would hear that the true Torah worldview had not also been gassed and incinerated in Auschwitz. Pure faith, such as was practiced by those who had been lost in a rampage of evil, was still alive and well and available, waiting for those brave enough to adhere to it.
The Rebbe’s love and concern for every Jew was legendary. When the Zionist State began illegally smuggling Moroccan Jewish children to their state, many Moroccan rabbis turned to the Rebbe for guidance. Children, whose parents had been informed that they would be raised in the path of Torah and tradition, were actually being forcibly secularized against their will. In one morning alone, he received 5 telegrams informing him of the situation and imploring him to help. The suffering of those souls was evidently too much for the Rebbe’s heart to bear. By evening prayers, he collapsed and suffered stroke. Even when he regained consciousness, his first words were, “what’s happening with the children from Morocco?” This incident typifies his intense caring for all Jews. Because he understood the danger better than many, his knowledge would not let him rest.
This giant was someone who the Zionists had to reckon with, a general who commanded an army of thousands who were ready, willing and waiting. They were ready because of one thing: the knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Rebbe’s actions were for the sake of Heaven. They had seen it every day growing up in Williamsburg. They had seen it in the Rebbe’s prayers, in how he interacted with Yidden, from the most religiously stringent to those far, far removed from any semblance of Judaism. That unceasing caring drove their implicit trust in him. And it was well placed.
As we commemorate the anniversary the Rebbe’s passing, we remember the ideals that he embodied, the fearlessness and conviction in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. When a world had been swept away by a sea of heresy, when seemingly everyone danced to the tune of a malicious, foreign pied-piper, when Zionism had seemingly “won” the day, he stood on the ramparts of a supposedly abandoned fortress, that of True Torah Judaism, and shouted that even if the entire world were to turn against him he would not be swayed from the truth. He gave us the courage to stand strong against those who wish to destroy which we hold most dear. His memory and teachings still give us that strength to this day.
At the Rebbe’s funeral there were close to 200,000 people present, from all walks of life, there to pay tribute to man who did the impossible. After the Rebbe’s passing, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, gave a eulogy, saying that he was there to, “…pay tribute to the last of the lions.” So are we.