This week, coinciding with the publication of this book, the Yeshiva Beth Yehudah is celebrating the long anticipated Sefer Torah dedication in memory of our Rebbe and teacher, Rabbi Avrohom Abba Freedman, zecher tzadik l’vracha.
Approximately five years ago, on a cold Friday night in February (February 2, 2002, the 20th of Teves). Rabbi Freedman was taken from us in a tragic instant. We had no warning, no goodbyes, no last minute instructions, and no opportunity to say Tehillim in his merit. We were woefully unprepared for such a terrible blow.
His passing brought to a close a truly unusual life, filled with many paradoxes. When one would meet Rabbi Freedman for the first time, he gave the appearance of being a fairly unremarkable person. His suit was worn, the glasses on his nose hid a cross-eyed condition, his top shirt button was never fastened, the tie and jacket always a bit creased. A number two pencil placed, point up, in the front pocket of his suit jacket; he was a man with little time for niceties, pleasant enough but no time to waste.
Yet, after just a few encounters with Rabbi Freedman, it was clear you were dealing with someone quite remarkable. He was totally focused and mission-centric! With Rabbi Freedman, there was no small talk. It was all business and it was not your business; it was strictly and only G-d’s business. It was, in fact, the most serious and critical business imaginable. It was life on this earth as a preparation for your eternity.
Rabbi Freedman had the formula and he was very anxious to share it with anyone who had the time and inclination to pursue it. He was a strict constructionist with an uncompromising attitude. He knew he was right, he was confident there was only one way, and he maintained his Rebbe, Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, in his sights at all times.
The writing of this book is, for me, a bit of catharsis. I was overseas at the time of Rabbi Freedman’s levaya (funeral) and never had the time to say a proper goodbye. I never had the chance to ask mechila (forgiveness) for not being dedicated enough, respectful enough, responsive enough, or properly deferential. I had always hoped and wished for just a couple more minutes to ask him a few questions about things I wanted to know that he could teach me. I wanted a little more time to hear another explanation from Hirsch or a story about the great people he had met or a life lesson that he told over from Rabbi Mendlowitz. I wished for another quick trip to Israel or a visit with him to Lakewood or another push to visit Rabbi Wolfson’s Bais Medrash, Emunas Yisroel. I hoped for another discussion with him about the changes he would like to see at Beth Yehudah or another bracha Erev Yom Kippur in his living room before we went off to Kol Nidre. I would have liked to have heard another explanation for why it is important to say V’Yitain L’cha or Ketores on Saturday night or to wear Tefillin on Chol Hamoed. I would have liked to just say a proper goodbye.
Of course, now none of this is possible. So I decided that the Sefer Torah dedication would be a good opportunity to put my thoughts in writing and to communicate with him through this medium, the words of a book about the things I learned from him that I could pass on to others.
What better way to show my deep appreciation and gratitude than by telling a piece of his story to inspire others who did not have the privilege to call him Rebbe. It is my hope and prayer that for those who read this and knew him it will be a reminder of how much we learned and how much more we need to grow, and to those who did not know him, may it be an inspiration to learn from his remarkable life.