A Glimpse Into His Greatness – by Eli Glaser
You can actually daven maariv on motzei Shabbos before making Havdalah? This concept was an anathema to me – at least for the two years that I managed the men’s Heritage House and ran the Shabbos program for the “backpackers” picked up at the Wall who acquiesced to 25 hours of free room and board. Think of our own spiritual needs before taking care of our guests? Unheard of.
Once I got married (to the manager of the women’s hostel, by the way) and “settled” into a frum lifestyle, I learned that it’s preferable to daven maariv first. Rav Schuster never seemed to settle into a frum lifestyle, even though he certainly looks the part. Even though he is older than I and has been davening maariv on motzei Shabbos for many more years than I have. I can’t say for sure, but I wager that he hardly ever davened before making Havdalah. Why? Because he is always caring for his guests. His students. His children.
It isn’t that he is taking care of their needs before his needs. Their needs are his needs. There is no distinction to him. Their wanderings are his wanderings. Their yearnings are his. Their souls screaming out for meaning and connection don’t resonate with him, they emanate from him. They are his cries – and his subsequent nachas and joy.
Rav Schuster is the backpacker.
Perhaps that explains how an otherwise shy, soft spoken introvert of a man, with no knock-your-socks-off eloquence, can spend hours upon hours in the heat of the Jerusalem sun donned in hat and coat (okay, sometimes he draped the coat over his shoulders when it was really hot), approaching young Jew after young Jew, asking simple questions with both humility and dogged persistence. He looks into their eyes and sees his soul. Calling it a love for every Jew seems in some way insufficient. And it isn’t just one man shouldering the responsibility for the entire assimilated Jewish world.
When he sees a guy walking away, scurrying for a bus in order to get out of an awkward and uninvited conversation, he isn’t just looking at another Jew. He’s seeing a bit of himself standing at the precipice of a monumental opportunity cloaked in nothing more than an innocuous concession to take a class on Jewish philosophy, or walk a half hour to eat a meal at a family’s home who he has never meet, and has no idea what’s in store for him.
Maybe that’s why he just can’t let go. Maybe that’s why he davens by himself Friday night at the Kotel, hours after everyone else leaves, content that he did all he could to place everyone who would go somewhere for a Jewish experience. Correction. I don’t think Rav Schuster is ever content. He always seems to have a bit of anxiety lurking under his hat, one eye always scanning for another person to approach. To bother. To cajole. To give life.
Maybe that’s a glimpse into his greatness. He has been bestowed the unbelievable blessing and burden of totally and completely feeling the pain of another Jew. So much so that it’s his pain. Maybe that explains the enigma that is Rav Schuster. I have to conclude (as if I really know what I’m talking about) that this is a direct gift from HaShem, not something he acquired through really making the most of mussar seder.
But what I do know is that Rav Schuster had a choice. He could have tried to withdraw from this unworldly weight, running away from the responsibility as fast as so many fled from his advances – only to be overtaken by his stubbornness and sincerity. But he didn’t. He embraced it. He nurtured it. He lived it.
Our lives are a glimpse into his greatness.
Post Script – At an inauguration event during the construction of the first Aish HaTorah building, former Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel, Rav Mordechai Eliahu said he envied the portion in the World to Come of the Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Noach Weinberg. Upon walking away at the conclusion of the ceremony, Rav Weinberg said in passing that he envies the portion of Rav Schuster.