R’ Yehuda Kelemer Shlita

Each motzei shabbos, I try to send out a story about a tzaddik to help inspire us.  Tonight, I want to send out a story about a tzaddik that I and some others that follow this blog are fortunate to know, Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer Shlita, who was in a terrible accident this past Monday night.  May HaRav Yehuda Ben Rivka Leah have a speedy recovery.

First I want to include a quick bio about Rabbi Kelemer that I found on the OU website and then just one story I saw posted on Facebook by Rav Daniel Glanz entitled “My ‘Chance’ Encounter with HaRav Yehuda Kelemer Shlita.”

Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer has been the Mara D’atra of the Young Israel of West Hempstead community since 1983. An enormous and self-effacing scholar, Rabbi Kelemer received semicha from Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem and also learned in Telz where he was a chavruta of Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l the Rosh Yeshiva. Rabbi Kelemer is revered as the pre-eminent posek amongst pulpit rabbanim in America and has an amazing mastery of a myriad of Torah sources.  His shul, comprised of over 700 families, is in awe of his incredible devotion, kindness and tzidkut. Rav Kelemer is also the author of multiple sefarim and is involved in the kashrut supervision of various establishments throughout the country.  He began his rabbinical career in Switzerland and then moved to Brookline, Massachusetts to serve the Young Israel of Brookline.  Rav Soloveitchik zt”l would often refer people in Boston to Rav Kelemer for complex halachic issues as well as whenever the Rav zt”l was away from Boston at Yeshiva University.

My ‘Chance’ Encounter with HaRav Yehuda Kelemer Shlita, by Rav Daniel Glanz (posted on Facebook this past Tuesday).

Klal Yisrael is on edge as we found out the news yesterday that HaRav Yehuda Kelemer, Rabbi of the Young Israel of West Hempstead, was struck by a car on Monday Night.  There have been mass emails encouraging all to say Tehillim for the speedy recovery of this Torah giant.  Although anyone that gets injured in any form deserves our Tefillos as the Gemara (Brachos 12b) says that one who withholds his tefillos for anyone in need is considered a sinner, nonetheless, the Gemara states that when a talmid chacham needs our tefillos then one needs to daven to the point that he makes himself sick over his well-being.  Still, many find it difficult to daven for someone they do not know.  Therefore, I would like to do my part in relating a story that happened to me to help us all appreciate who this Torah giant really is, even if it is only a glimpse into his greatness.

Seventeen years ago my Grandmother passed away after a long bout with Alzheimers. It was the first time my siblings and I had lost a grandparent and it was very difficult.  After the levaya my father asked me to take my brothers and sister in my car and drive in the back of the line of cars headed to the cemetery to ensure that no one got lost.  As we were on our way the car suddenly filled up with smoke and I was forced to pull over onto the shoulder of the highway.  Since we were the last car in line, no one noticed what had happened to us.  Back in those days not everyone had a cellphone which was unfortunately our situation.

So there I was, stuck on the side of the highway with a disabled, smoking car, without a cellphone with my two younger brothers and sister.  After trying to wave down cars for nearly a half an hour a kind person stopped on the side of the road.  He asked me if I was alright and offered to let me use his cellphone.  Unfortunately I did not know my father’s cellphone number or the name of the cemetery.  I noticed that the man was in a rush and thanked him and he went on his way.

After another twenty minutes or so passed I had all but given up on trying to wave down cars and was thinking how this whole situation must have ruined the funeral and had my parents worried sick.  Suddenly, a young looking Rabbi pulled over to the side of the road.  My little sister was on the verge of tears and he immediately took over the show.  He calmed all of us down and with a calm and warm smile told us that he wouldn’t leave our side until all had been settled.  Since I did not know the name of the cemetery he spent the next twenty minutes calling every cemetery in the area until he found the right one and left a message for my parents that everything was alright.  He then waited with us for another forty five minutes until the tow truck arrived and he then loaded us up into his car and followed the tow truck to the nearest service station.

After arriving I went over to him and thanked him profusely for all of his help.  He told me that he had spoken with my parents and told them where we were and that they would be there shortly.  However, as much as I tried to convince him that all was under control and that he could leave, he refused.  He told me that he would not leave us until my parents had arrived.  So we sat in his car and schmoozed for a good hour until my parents finally arrived.

Before this encounter I had never heard of Rabbi Kelemer but I was blown away at his unbelievable willingness to provide a chesed for someone he did not know and how he performed the Mitzvah until and beyond its completion.  I have not spoken with him since but I will never forget this great act of kindness he did for me and my family.

Perhaps the most staggering part of the story is that Rabbi Kelemer is a very busy man.  He had no time to give more than two hours to a complete stranger on a normal day.  But as I found out later, this was not a normal day for Rav Kelemer.  He was actually on his way to court to help someone in his community with a very serious issue.  I later found out that it was actually the busiest and most stressful day of his career up until that point and he managed to rearrange his impossible schedule and put the whole thing on hold for us, complete strangers!

This Torah giant is not just a talmid chacham but more importantly he is a gem of a person!

The Gemara (Brachos 5b) tells us that whenever someone suffered Rebbe Yochanan used to heal that person.  However when Rebbe Yochanan got sick he needed the help of Rebbe Chanina.  The Gemara asks if Rebbe Yochanan was able to heal everyone else with his merits then why not himself?  The Gemara responds that a person in jail cannot free himself from prison and therefore, needs the help of someone else.  This Torah giant brings so much merit to the world and to all of us in ways we cannot comprehend.  When a righteous person gets sick or gets hurt it is rarely due to his own iniquities but to ours.  Hence the Gemara’s statement that when a Talmid Chochom gets sick we need to make ourselves sick in prayer.  The reason being that the talmid chochom suffers for our benefit and the only way to heal him is to realize that his sickness is in place of our own (Rachmana Litzlan) and therefore we must “pray until the point of (our own) sickness” and do teshuva for his wellbeing.

I pray to Hashem with all of my heart that HaRav Kelemer shlita has a speedy recovery and can get back to his holy work on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael.

Please pray for the speedy recovery of HaRav Yehuda Ben Rivka Leah.

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