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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Rabbi Benjamin and Shevi Yudin

In Parshat Kedoshim, Hashem calls upon Moshe to charge Bnei Yisroel with the mandate of “holiness.” As it states:“Kedoshim tihiyu, ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem,You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Our rabbis offer numerous explanations as to how far-reaching this mandate can be. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explains that, on the one hand, the Torah directs a great deal of attention to the details in our mitzvot, whereby “every single trivial act is quantified and every component must be in conformity with halachic rules.” This, I believe, is apparent in the Mishkan construction project and the mandates associated with the offering of korbanot. I also view this attention to what may appear as minutia as a way of imparting the message that “details” do count in relationships. The Rav also points out that in the presentation of other mitzvot, the specific details are missing, but the way the mitzvot are expected to be accomplished are spelled out. The mandates of “Kedoshim tihiyu” and “v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha” are examples of this category of mitzvot. The Rav, commenting on “Kedoshim tihiyu,” explains that with the words: “And you shall be holy… The Torah does not spell out any new duty. It is concerned only with how to do things, not what to do. It is the style, the method and perspective that are the subject matter of this precept.” I believe this is because these two mitzvot offer the big-picture perspective. They are meant to inform the way we are expected to live as Torah Jews, and therefore are prerequisites to developing the mindset of valuing every detail in the service of God and mankind. The Torah here is also cautioning us that in our attention to detail we must never lose sight of the big-picture perspective.

Early on in Sefer Bereishit, we are introduced to Avraham and Sarah, who set the paradigm for the potential of greatness we all possess, individually and more so in the union of marriage. It is this patriarchal couple that demonstrates the joy we can all experience when we invite Hashem into our lives on a permanent basis. While we have much to learn from our Patriarchs and other Torah greats, most of us have difficulty connecting to the level of “holiness” they reflect. This should not discourage us! All it takes is to seek out individuals in our own lives whom we can emulate. In our case, Jack and I always referred back to the sacrifices our parents, Holocaust survivors, made in seeking jobs that would allow them to be shomrei mitzvot, as well as providing us with yeshivah educations they could hardly afford. Given the gifts showered upon our generation, can we do any less? Yet, it doesn’t end there. Baruch Hashem, 40+ years ago, when we were ready to purchase a home, Jack’s cousin suggested that Fair Lawn might just be the “spiritual paradise” we were seeking. Like most frum young couples, we were interested in a community that reflected the Torah values we wished to impart to our children. Yet, aside from the practical and spiritual criteria that needed to be met, we were also looking for a rabbi and rebbetzin who were “approachable.”

Despite their youth, Rabbi Benjamin Yudin and his rebbetzin, Shevi, already gained recognition for their exceptional warmth, caring and “hands-on” approach in serving their community. Additionally, the immediacy with which they responded to communal needs was exemplary. Little did we know how quickly we would have to turn to them. A short time after moving to Fair Lawn, I discovered that my first cousin Renee, the child of my mother’s only surviving sister, who was expected to join me in New Jersey, never made it out of Brooklyn. In a tearful conversation with my mother, I learned that she was diagnosed with a terminal form of leukemia. Renee and I were very close and had so much in common, including sharing the name of our grandmother who perished in the camps. I wondered how my aunt and uncle, who already suffered so many losses, could survive such a tragic loss. I could not even imagine how Renee, Marty, baby Rachel, her sister Gail and all those who loved her would cope with this horrific news. Then I remembered why we moved to Fair Lawn.

When I sought the counsel of the Rabbi and Shevi, I discovered that the “promise” of an “approachable” rabbi and rebbetzin paled against the reality of how the Yudins came through. Shevi was there for me every step of the way, and Rabbi Yudin went “miles beyond” the emotional and spiritual counsel I expected. Indeed, who would have imagined that a young rabbi, already challenged with the demands of his congregants, his job at YU and his own family, would commit to traveling to Brooklyn and visit Renee and Marty on a weekly basis. Moreover, because his ahavat Yisrael was so strong, the fact that he was an Orthodox rabbi and they were Conservative never got in the way. I am also certain that the empathic and loving manner with which he conducted himself during these visits was the motivating factor in their decision to “join the club.” They took advantage of every burst of energy Renee enjoyed to make this happen. For the remainder of her year-long remission, they moved to a frum neighborhood, joined an Orthodox shul, and committed to abide by the laws of kashrut, shemirat Shabbat and taharat hamishpacha. I will never forget the joy and excitement Renee experienced the first time she felt up to going to the mikvah. While our prayers for a miracle were not answered, the “new beginnings” Renee and Marty experienced were joyful, and the dividends continue today. After Renee’s petirah, when Marty was ready, he married a frum woman who was a wonderful, caring mother to Rachel. Rachel enjoyed a happy childhood and married at an early age. They have five children and were zoche to realize their dream of aliyah.

This, my friends, is but one story among the many, perhaps thousands, whose lives were impacted spiritually and emotionally by the Yudins. The 900+ guests who attended their recent 50th year celebration as the rabbinic couple leading the Shomrei Torah community bears testimony to how beloved they are to all. Moreover, their extreme humility was reflected in their facial expressions upon hearing the myriad of compliments directed toward them, as well as the words with which the rabbi began his speech: “What is this fuss all about? I was only doing my job.” Yet, the example the Yudins set before us is not meant to be daunting or to evoke a sense of overwhelm or guilt. Rather, it is intended to remind us of our own unique potential for holiness. In fact, it is in the story of the upcoming Yom Tov of Pesach, where we learn the authentic meaning of enslavement and redemption, that helps us understand what the Yudins are all about. It is true that we are no longer entrapped or worn down by the bonds of forced labor, humiliation, emotional torture and the other restrictions that prevented the Jews in Mitzrayim from connecting with God and mankind. Yet, the enemies of today, our addictions to technology, affluence, workaholism and the rest are just as destructive. Therefore, so many find themselves “off the derech” in the arena of redemption and are no longer “free” to connect with God and mankind in the manner Hashem expects of us. How lucky we are at Shomrei Torah, where we are gifted with the example the Yudins set before us through their precious legacy—a gift that will keep on giving—as they assume their new status of rabbi and rebbetzin emeritus. Still, to us they will always be “The Rabbi and Shevi.” May Hashem bless them with strength and many years of good health to continue as role models in our own spiritual journeys, always available in the legendary “Yud-Inn” where all are welcome.

By Renee Nussbaum, PhD, PsyA


Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with training in Imago and EFT. She also facilitates a chavruta in cyberspace on the weekly parsha, edited by Debbie Friedman. She can be reached at [email protected]