My beloved Father, Rabbi Azriel Yitzchok Wasserman o”bm, once had a private audience (called Yechidus) with the Lubavitcher Rebbe in honor of his Birthday, 5 Shevat 1974 (He would have been 67 this Sunday). He had begun teaching at a Jewish day school and he asked the Rebbe, “How do I achieve success with my students?” The Rebbe gave him three tips for success as a teacher:
1. Words from the heart will enter the heart.
2. Be a living example of what you teach.
3. Teach with joy.
My father, Rabbi Wasserman, dedicated his life to these three principles and as a result the mark he has left on all his students, both children and adults, is everlasting. His eternal spirit of love and joy is felt at the Jewish Girls Retreat. At this time of year, we are choosing JGR staff members for summer 2015. We strive to choose applicants who are devoted to these important values. At JGR, our staff inspire the campers with unconditional love, joyfulness and by being living examples for our daughters to emulate. Children do not learn values simply by being told about them. They learn by seeing the people around them act on and uphold those values in their daily lives.
We are given the strength to accomplish our role as parents, educators and counselors by learning from the great examples in our history. We don’t have to look far. In this week’s Parshah Bo, we find that the Jewish people were commanded to tie a sheep to their beds for four days. Hashem wanted them to deserve the redemption by demonstrating their ability to fulfill a mitzvah that takes great self sacrifice. The sheep was the G-d of the Egyptians. When the Egyptians asked them about their actions, the Jews were forced to answer, “We are going to slaughter this animal”. It took tremendous inner strength to perform this command at the risk of facing the anger of the Egyptians. The Rebbe says that we too must fulfill all Mitzvot with inner strength and sacrifice and this means to focus on the most important, and at times difficult mitzvah of “Ahavat Yisroel” – Love of our fellow man, and this will bring redemption today.
One of the ways to show love is to teach and inspire others to connect to their rich heritage, even when they don’t show interest and like Pharoh may harden their heart. “If we did not succeed in igniting their soul and touching their heart, it only means that we have not spoken the words from our heart”, said the Rebbe. As a beloved teacher to many children and adults, my father o”bm could melt a heart of stone. A friend, who is B”H the mother of eight children and several grandchildren today told me: “As a teenager, Rabbi Wasserman spoke to me with such deep love it caught me off guard. He thought I was some kind of wonderful person while I thought I was maybe even a waste of time. He is a spiritual father to me and I don’t know where I would be today if not for his love and guidance. ”
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, whose Yahrzeit is on the 10th of Shevat was a true example of self sacrifice, both in Soviet Russia and in America. Upon his arrival to America on February 18, 1940, he revolutionized Jewish life and established Jewish schools for boys and girls. The name Yosef Yitzchok expresses his life mission. In Hebrew, Yosef means “increase”. The Previous Rebbe’s mesirus nefesh – self sacrifice and love for his people constantly impelled him to increase his activities and his work inspired countless Jews to return to Jewish practice. The name Yitzchok was first given in the verse, “Whoever hears will laugh (yitzchok) with me”. The Previous Rebbe possessed a unique ability to impart happiness to others, even when he was physically broken after living through Soviet prisons and a miraculous rescue from Nazi-occupied Poland. He didn’t despair, instead he increased his efforts with joy, self sacrifice and love for his people and started the beginning of the “Baal Teshuvah” movement in America.
My father, Rabbi Azriel Yitzchok Wasserman o”bm, was one of the first students in Hadar Hatorah, a school established by the Previous Rebbe, where he spent many hours studying Torah and returning to his roots. Later, he inspired many to discover their heritage. It is written on his gravestone, “He dedicated his heart and soul to bringing Jews closer to their Father in Heaven.” Like the Previous Rebbe, my father’s second name is also “Yitzchok” and he epitomized living each day with joy and gratitude. During the final summer of his life on earth, he was the Rabbi of Camp Emunah, an overnight camp for girls. He radiated joy to the entire camp and it wasn’t known that he was suffering from a life threatening illness. Mrs. Mattie Hecht, a JGR mom and classmate, mentioned to me that she will always remember that life changing summer. How was he able to overcome his personal pain and maintain his joy and enthusiasm? My father’s joy was constant because it came from within. It was the joy of being a Jew. An adult student recalled, “Rabbi Wasserman was my favorite teacher. Everything he taught was with such excitement and love. You listened closely to every word in his class because the lessons just got to you. You felt that he lived everything he taught.”
We just entered the month of Shevat and following the Yahrzeit of R’ Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn o”bm, and the birthday of Rabbi Azriel Yitzchok Wasserman o”bm, we will also celebrate the birthday for trees. We see that the seeds planted by the Previous Rebbe continues to flourish with the growth of Chabad Houses and Jewish schools all over the world. I am privileged to witness that the seeds my father o”bm planted in his students and children continues to bear fruits until this very day. Tu B’shevat reminds us that the seeds that we plant in our students and children with love and joy will bear fruits. May our sacrifice for our children’s education, a “labor of love” lead us to the time that we will “Yitzchok” – laugh and experience the joy of Redemption. As it is written, “Then will our mouths be filled with laughter.” May we all be reunited with our loved ones and laugh together with great Simcha – joy in the immediate future!