Weekly Chasidic Story #1057
25 Adar 5778)
A Swimming Tip for Life
He was a sensitive boy and often felt homesick. Also, he found the yeshiva
lacking in cleanliness and he didn't like the food. All this led him to become
Connection: Rosh Chodesh Nissan (which falls on this Shabbat) is almost
exactly in between the yahrzeits of the two Rebbes in the story.
A Swimming Tip for Life
During the 1960's, when Reb Avraham (not his real name) was a
yeshiva student, he learned at the Vizhnitzer Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Young
Avraham had been orphaned at an early age, and his not having a father weighed
heavily on him. As a result, he was a sensitive boy and often felt very homesick.
Also, he found the yeshiva lacking in cleanliness and he didn't like
the food and he became depressed as a result.
Vizhnitzer Rebbe at the time, Rabbi Chaim-Meir Hager, author of Imrei
Chaim, noticed that the boy was discomforted and unhappy. He took the boy
under his wing and suggested that perhaps a little vacation from yeshiva
would be a good idea. The Imrei Chaim arranged for Avraham to travel to Netanya,
where he would spend a few days in the seaside town and visit the separate beach
there [secluded, with separate half-day shifts for women and men].
Avraham went to the beach and walked around on the sand, but didn't enter the
water. Others at the beach were swimming, but Avraham hung back and just watched
It so happened that the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Pinchas-Menachem Alter,
known as the Pnei Menachem, was also at the beach. At that time, he was
not rebbe, but rather rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Sefas Emes, the flagship
yeshiva of Ger in Jerusalem, a position that he was appointed to in 1957
and held for 35 years before assuming the mantle of leadership of Ger in 1992.
He noticed the somewhat forlorn-looking yeshiva boy and went over to
greet him. During the conversation, he asked Avraham why he wasn't going into
the water like everyone else. Avraham answered truthfully, "I am an orphan.
My father passed away when I was young before he was able to teach me how to
swim. I am afraid to go into the water because I cannot swim."
The Pnei Menachem smiled and said, "Don't worry! I will teach you how to
The Rosh Yeshiva then waded into the Mediterranean together with the
orphaned boy and taught him how to swim. Once Avraham got the hang of it and
he had sufficiently mastered the art of swimming, the Pnei Menachem felt that
he could be left on his own. However, before returning to dry land, he gave
Avraham one last piece of advice - six words that Reb Avraham says made such
an impact on him that it has remained vividly etched in his mind for the fifty
years since it was given.
The Pnei Menachem said (in Yiddish), "Just remember one thing:
'Zolstu shtendig halten der kop aroif.' --
'Always hold your head up
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Rabbi
Avraham Birnbaum in the April 28, 2017 email of the Yated Ne'eman,
and posted on Shabbos Stories for the Parsha, Ekev 5777 (2017).
Rabbi Chaim-Meir Hagar, the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz [ 15
Kislev 5648 - 9 Nissan 5732] (Dec. 1887 - April 1972)], after the Holocaust
moved to Bnai Brak in Israel where he established the post-war Vizhnitz community.
He also became one of the main rabbinical leaders of Agudat Yisrael in Israel.
Upon his passing, his two sons, Moshe-Yehoshua and Mordechai, became the Vizhnitz
Rebbes in Bnai Brak and Monsey, NY respectively. Three of his Bnai Brak granddaughters
are married to the current Rebbes of Skver, Belz, and Satmar.
Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter [Sivan 5686 - 16 Adar B,
5756 (June 1926 - March 1996)], also known as the Pnei Menachem
after the works he authored, was the sixth Rebbe of Ger, a position he held
for the last four years of his life. He was the only offspring of the second
marriage of his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the third Rebbe of Ger.
The fourth Rebbe of Ger, Rabbi Yisroel Alter, and the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Simcha
Bunim Alter, were his much older half-brothers. In the 1950s, he was appointed
rosh yeshiva of Sefas Emmes, the flagship yeshiva of Ger in Jerusalem.
After his passing, he was succeeded as Rebbe by his nephew, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh
Alter (the current Rebbe as of this writing), son of Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells
them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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