I greatly enjoyed Rabbi Avraham Heschel’s warm article about his father, the Kopycznitzer Rebbe, Rav Moshe, zy”a, in the Nachshon supplement of the Pesach Hamodia. It was like a trip down memory lane for me, reminding me of my teenage years growing up in that beis medrash.
When my family moved from Williamsburg to Boro Park, in the summer of 1971, I was in the middle of preparations for my bar mitzvah. At that time, it was quite common for a bar mitzvah to lein his parashah and I had spent much time and effort learning Parashas Mishpatim. However, little did I know that this was not the norm in chassidishe shtieblach, including Kopycznitz. Yet, the Rebbe broke with tradition and permitted me, a newcomer to the neighborhood, to lein the entire Sidrah, and the Haftarah. It was just as if my bar mitzvah were taking place at the Young Israel in Williamsburg, where my family davened before our move to Boro Park. (The Rebbe did insist that I be tested beforehand by the long-time expert baal korei, Reb Yankel Goldberg.)
I was (one of) the first bar mitzvah boy(s) to lein and it broke ground for a number of others, including my brothers, to do the same. The Rebbe was a visionary and realized how important it was to me to lein, especially after I had devoted so many months before the move to prepare the leining.
The “bachurim minyan” which was described in the article was an unusual innovation for a chassidishe shtiebel. Yet, the Rebbe understood that the dozens of boys growing up in the shul felt disenfranchised at not being allowed to daven for the amud or lein the Torah and would be deprived of developing these important skills. He therefore encouraged the formation of the bachurim minyan, which I headed for a few years. It gave the bachurim the opportunity and responsibility to daven for the amud, prepare the weekly leining, and deliver short divrei Torah and divrei halachah. All the bachurim participated and gained much from doing so. It developed pedagogical skills, as well as public speaking abilities, in many of them, including my esteemed brother, Rabbi Yaakov Zev Smith.
The sudden, tragic death of the Rebbe on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach, 1975, at age 48, deprived Klal Yisrael of a perceptive leader with rare abilities and insight into young people and their needs and problems. Yet, the profound impression he made on so many remains alive and well more than four decades later.
Rabbi Sholom Smith, Boro Park