Remembering Rabbi Shmuel Rodal A”H — Milan’s Super Rabbi


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    Remembering Rabbi Shmuel Rodal A”H — Milan’s Super Rabbi

    Chabad Chassidim and many other Jews the world over were shocked and saddened to hear of the untimely passing of Rabbi Shmuel Rodal this past Hoshana Rabba. In addition to, together with his wife raising seventeen children, he was also a melamed, a rav of a shul, overseer of projects, and for twenty years the editor of a Jewish publication in Italian. Several years ago, Beis Moshiach’s Nosson Avrohom visited Rabbi Rodal at his bustling Chabad House in Milan’s tourism district and heard stories about a shliach who went to Milan after the Rebbe picked it out of eight suggestions, while he had no interest in the place… • Presented in honor of Rabbi Rodal’s Shloshim on the 24th of Cheshvan and the Kinus Hashluchim • Full Article

    By Nosson Avrohom, Beis Moshiach Magazine

    Friends, students and Chassidim the world over were shocked to hear the sad news that on Hoshana Rabba this year, Rabbi Shmuel Rodal, one of the Rebbe’s shluchim to Milan, Italy, returned his accomplished soul to its Maker.

    A Montreal native, Rabbi Rodal was the son of Rabbi Yosef and Feiga Rodal, the shluchim of the Rebbe Rayatz to Montreal.

    He was a student at Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad under the mashpia Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kesselman. Later he was deeply involved with Camp Gan Yisroel in Parksville, New York.

    After his marriage to Devora Munitz, the daughter of Rabbi Yisroel Meir Munitz a”h in Tammuz 5728, he learned in the Kollel under the auspices of the Rebbe’s mazkirus in Crown Heights.

    In an interview he gave Beis Moshiach several years ago, Rabbi Rodal related the story of his shlichus:

    “We got married in Tamuz 5728/1968 and lived in Crown Heights. After six months, when my wife was pregnant and had to stop working, I had to support us. We asked the Rebbe for permission for me to continue learning in Kollel but to look for an afternoon job. The Rebbe’s answer was positive.

    “I was close with Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dwworkin, from the time he was in Pittsburgh, before he became a rav in Crown Heights. I was fortunate that he was fond of me and was very much mekarev me. When I told him that my wife was expecting and I was looking for a job, he promised to find something suitable, and he kept his word.

    “He was a friend of a man named Mr. Rottenberg who ran a famous high school, YCQ, the Yeshiva of Central Queens. Many children from Boro Park and other Jewish neighborhoods sent their children to this school, which teaches both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Many graduates went on to the Mirrer yeshiva in Yerushalayim and to Yeshiva University. He called me one day and said he wanted me to be a teacher in that school. I figured that a school of this caliber would require the teachers to have advanced degrees. Why would they want me? But Rabbi Dworkin assured me, ‘You have nothing to worry about. I’ll get you in,’ and so he did.

    “They hired me as the teacher of one of the fourth-grade classes, which had all the troublemakers. Not only didn’t these kids want to learn; they had serious disciplinary problems. Not a single teacher had been able to control them. Their previous teacher had quit and I was coming in the middle of the year. I was very young, and all the staff members were watching to see if I would rise to the challenge.

    “I had plenty of siyata d’Shmaya (Heavenly assistance) and my experience in camp was a big help. I ran competitions and had prizes, and it worked! They enjoyed themselves and began learning.

    “When the year was over, I was assigned a higher class, in addition to evening classes with the older grades. I stayed with them in the afternoon and learned various topics with them, in an experiential way. I would tell stories of tzaddikim and about the ways of Chassidim. We mainly reviewed what they had learned earlier in the day, to ensure that they knew it.

    “A few months ago, an American now living in Eretz Yisrael came into my shul. He is an expert on eye treatments and was in Milan on business. When he saw me, he exclaimed, ‘Are you Rabbi Rodal?’ I said that I was, and his face lit up. He told me that he was a former student of mine and that he remembers when he had a question and I was the only one who could answer it.

    “So I learned in Kollel and taught until our daughter was born, at which point we decided it was time to go on shlichus. When I saw that I was successful in chinuch, the children liked me, and I was endearing Torah learning to them, I decided that my shlichus would be in chinuch. The fact that with chinuch I would be able to see the results of my work, as well as the fact that it demanded my full involvement, attracted me very much to it. I received a number of offers for shlichus outside of New York.

    “I wrote to the Rebbe that I wanted to go on shlichus in the field of chinuch, and the answer was positive. The Rebbe referred me to Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.

    “I was very happy. Firstly, that the Rebbe agreed that I should go on shlichus, and secondly, that it would be in the field of chinuch, a field that I loved. I planned on being a melamed and using the afternoon hours for hafatza. Within a short time I had eight possible shlichus places in the United States and Europe.

    “Milan Is Not For Me”

    “I planned on writing to the Rebbe about all the offers and presenting them in yechidus, but before I did so, I met Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, shliach in Milan, who had come to Crown Heights. That same day, he came over to me and said that he had heard from Rabbi Chodakov, the Rebbe’s secretary, that I was looking for a shlichus as a melamed and he was looking for just that kind of person.

    “I told Rabbi Garelik that Milan was not for me. I wanted a place relatively close to New York and I didn’t know Italian. If I was going to consider Europe, I had a more reasonable offer in London where the language was no problem and there was a Jewish community.

    “You have to remember that shlichus wasn’t as developed as it is now. Italy was the end of the world to me. There were plenty of reasons to pick other places that were closer, and more lucrative. Rabbi  Garelik offered me $600 a month. After I checked with the Italian consulate in New York about the cost of living in Italy, I realized it was similar to New York and that $600 would barely suffice for rent. And of course we would want to fly to New York at least once a year to visit family.

    “I had all the reasons in the world not to accept his offer, but Rabbi Garelik pressured me to include Milan when I wrote to the Rebbe. He said, ‘Listen, Rabbi Chodakov recommended you – maybe that came from the Rebbe? Who knows?’

    “Since he was nudging me, I agreed to write Milan as the last place on my list. With each offer I wrote the pros and cons, the terms and the distances. As far as Milan, I wrote that I was including it because Rabbi Garelik asked me to but we were not thinking along those lines at all, and I gave the reasons why it was unsuitable.

    “On Sunday we had yechidus. We knew that this yechidus would determine our future, where we would live, what we would do, and where we would raise our children. I gave the Rebbe the letter.

    “When he finished reading it, he looked up and said, ‘As far as all your doubts about Milan, the eitzah is to write a contract – not only the rav should sign it, but at least two important balabatim from the community – and write everything out in detail.’

    “The Rebbe looked at my wife and said, ‘There are many young couples there so you can make friends.’

    “The yechidus was over. We left in a daze. The suggestion that we regarded as least desirable was the one the Rebbe had picked. What moved us the most was the wording of the Rebbe’s bracha. In those years, the beginning of the 70’s, the Rebbe did not respond with specifics to every request to go on shlichus. He would suffice with a bracha that they do as they saw fit. We had the privilege of the Rebbe giving us specific guidance. In general, we always got very clear answers from the Rebbe and had a close relationship with him.

    A Shlichus Contract Reviewed by the Rebbe

    “The next day we told Rabbi Garelik that the Rebbe had chosen Milan but instructed that we should have a detailed contract, signed by at least two balabatim. Before we signed the contract, we wrote to the Rebbe and we were asked by the secretaries to submit the contract for the Rebbe to look at, which was considered surprising.

    “The Rebbe reviewed the contract and, like a concerned father, he looked out for our interests. He said the contract should include a clause stating that if either of the sides was not satisfied by the other, the mosad had to pay for us to move all our things back to New York. The Rebbe also directed that the contract should say that the mosad should pay for occasional trips to visit our family. We felt very touched by this kiruv of the Rebbe, who was helping us in our preparations for shlichus.

    מרכז סת”ם 720

    “We left at the beginning of the year. It took time until we learned the language and mentality, but we managed. Back then, the school had only twenty-five pupils. I taught throughout the day, five or six students in the morning and another class in the evening. Some of my students are presently rabbanim and shluchim, including Rabbi Levi Garelik of Crown Heights and Rabbi Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia.

    “At a certain point, I asked the Rebbe for permission to return to New York. I wrote that I was wasting my time teaching four or five students when I could be teaching dozens. As always, I received clear directions from the Rebbe and we remained in Milan. The Rebbe wrote that generally, an important person is involved in important things and a simpler person is involved in more simple things. But when there are neither more important nor simpler people, then even the most important person can find himself teaching a little boy the Alef-Beis.

    “Nearly two years passed and we asked permission to visit my family in Crown Heights. The Rebbe gave us four conditions: 1) if two years had gone by, 2) if it wouldn’t interfere with our shlichus, 3) if we did not go into debt, and 4) we had to be careful that people didn’t start talking about the Lubavitchers who flew because they had money.

    “The Rebbe’s responses to my desire to leave and to my wanting to visit Crown Heights guide me in my shlichus until today. Sometimes, a shliach can think: I can do big things – what am I doing here? A shliach has to remember, and constantly remind himself, that if the Rebbe sent him to a particular place, that is his place of shlichus, whether or not he understands why he was sent there and what he is accomplishing. Another lesson is that we must be sensitive to the people around us.

    “I did not fly much over the years on shlichus. My position limited me due to lack of a suitable replacement. One of the times that I went to the Rebbe, I passed through the hall near Rabbi Chodakov’s office. He looked at me and asked, ‘You have nothing to do in Italy?’ When I said that the children were on vacation, he looked at me uncomprehendingly and said, ‘So what? They don’t go to the beach?’ By that he meant, so what if they are on vacation, does that mean they no longer exist? You need to work with them even when they are on vacation. Rabbi Chodakov’s ‘Ani Maamin’ of chinuch was never to rest.

    “After a long period of time in which I learned Italian and got settled into my teaching position, I decided it was time to be involved in hafatzas ha’maayanos too. I found out that there was not a single Jewish newspaper or publication in Italy, and planned on filling that gap with a weekly publication in Italian that would bring Judaism to Italian Jewry.

    The Only Italian Jewish Weekly

    “After three years in Milan, we felt the great lack of Jewish material in the country, especially for those living in the towns and villages where there are no Jewish communities. Every week I collected material, translated it, and published it. I put it into envelopes and mailed it to people all over Italy.

    “Over the years I translated all of the Rebbe Rayatz’s Memoirs and kuntres ‘U’Maayan Mi’Beis Hashem.’ It started with four pages on a weekly basis and reached sixteen pages. I received much encouragement and many brachos from the Rebbe for the material I sent him every week. The Rebbe instructed us to bind each year’s worth of issues in order to preserve them.

    “Jews from distant villages all over Italy wanted to subscribe. Quite a few people were mekurav to Judaism, thanks to it. A Jewish girl came across one of the publications and enjoyed it very much. At that time, she had taken a great interest in a certain Mexican cult. That was her entire world. She even went to the temple of this cult, where she sought to study the religion with the shamans. How surprised she was when one of the shamans told her, ‘You are Jewish and you have the truth. Why don’t you learn it?’

    “When she returned to Italy and saw my publication, she contacted us through the address on it. By then I was giving shiurim which were attended by dozens of young people. She joined and enjoyed it. Her teshuva process was very quick, and for a long time she helped me with folding, typing and printing the publication. Today, she lives in Eretz Yisrael and has a frum family. She herself writes and edits Jewish books.

    “One week I printed a letter written by the Rebbe to a Jew who had a store. He had written to the Rebbe that even though it was open on Shabbos he did not ‘finish the month,’ and if he made most of his profits on Saturday how could he close the store on Shabbos? The Rebbe answered that he could not benefit from the money he earned on Shabbos, since it was money that wasn’t coming to him, as a Jew. The money could not be used for good purposes and would be wasted on unimportant things.

    “A few months later I got a letter from a Jew in southern Italy. He also had a store that was open on Shabbos because he made more on this day than any other day. When he read the letter he decided to try it out. He would close his store on Shabbos and see what happened with his parnasa.

    “He hung a ‘Closed’ sign on his store on Shabbos and was amazed that at the end of the month, and the month afterwards, his profit was greater. Because of this, he began attending shul every Shabbos. People who saw his commitment to mitzvos considered him their spiritual role model and asked him to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. He wrote me asking whether I could help him with the halachos and whatever he needed to know about the tekios.

    “I was touched by his letter. Of course I contacted him and taught him, in several long phone conversations, what the shofar blowing signifies according to Chassidus, as well as the pertinent laws. I asked his permission to publicize his letter in an upcoming publication and he happily agreed. His letter made a great kiddush Hashem.

    “You really can see the fulfillment of the statement, ‘chazaka al taamula sh’eina chozeres reikam’ (no outreach effort goes to waste). Many Jews, especially young ones, began attending the shiurim and making changes in their lives.

    Beis Moshiach

    “There was a girl who was not religious who lived with a gentile. She read the publication and came to shiurim that I gave in Chassidus. At the end of one of the shiurim, she told me about her life. She had some questions. As the minutes passed I saw that she was choking up with tears. She was serious and the shiurim lit up her neshama. I invited her to our home, where she would feel more comfortable talking about what was on her mind without other shiur participants around.

    “That same day one of my daughters brought her skirts and modest clothing. A few days later they went shopping with her and she bought proper clothing. She quickly cut off ties with the goy and today is happily married to a Chassidishe man and lives in a large Chabad community.

    “The publication was published for twenty years, starting with 127 copies and building up to tens of thousands. For various reasons, we no longer publish it.”

    The Shul in The Heart of Milan’s Tourism District

    One of his fellow shluchim in Milan described Rabbi Rodal as “a shliach around the clock.” He came to Milan as a teacher, but that wasn’t enough for him. Eventually, Rabbi Rodal became involved with a shul in the prime tourist area of Milan called Beth Shlomo. In our interview, he described how that came to be. It was similar to similar to what he said before: “I can’t relax. When I saw that my Shabbos had become relatively quiet in connection with hafatza, I looked for something to do and ended up at the shul.

    “I had nothing to do on Shabbosos, so I looked for something. Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik hooked me up with the shul in the tourist center, where one of the older worshippers served as the rabbi. At first, I was the Baal Korei and I occasionally gave sermons, to the satisfaction of the rabbi and the other worshippers. When he passed away, I was appointed as the rabbi.

    “It’s an interesting shul, which was founded by Holocaust survivors. This explains the name of the shul, ‘Beis Shmuel Sheiris Hapleita.’ When I first joined the shul, there were over one hundred people davening there. All were men in their eighties. They were divided into two groups: those who were religious and wanted to daven despite their wartime experiences, and those – of whom there were many – who went to shul to socialize and eat herring. (One of them explained to me that this is the reason it’s called a Beis Knesses and not a Beis Tefilla – because ‘knesses’ is from the root that means to convene).

    “Nearly 150 people came to shul on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Most of them have since died and we have built a new minyan. Many of the children of those Jews either assimilated or moved to other countries, especially England, Eretz Yisrael and the United States.

    “In recent years, making a living in Italy has become more difficult. Many Jews are leaving the country and the Jewish community is shrinking every year. If you don’t have a successful business it’s hard to exist in a dignified manner. A decent salary is 1500 Euro and renting an apartment costs 1000 Euro! This explains why the number of people at the shul is drastically smaller. Many of the men are mekuravim who began with shiurim and changed their lives.

    “The shul, which used to be closed all week, is now open three times a week for the shiurim that I give, and boruch Hashem, there is a nice crowd.”

    Another factor in the shul’s favor is that it is located in a prime tourist area which is visited by millions of tourists a year, including tens of thousands of Jews. Many of them see the shul and walk in to look around. It definitely makes an impression on them. Many others are exposed to the influence of the shul even before they enter, as was related at the beginning of this article.

    Rabbi Rodal shared many stories about the impact the shul makes:

    “We had an interesting story five years ago during a rainy winter. An Israeli who worked in computers came to Milan on business. On Shabbos he decided to tour. How surprised he was to see a shul! He came in and I welcomed him. He was impressed and stayed until the end of the davening. He was not at all observant and even despised the religious Jews in Eretz Yisrael, but when I suggested that he join us for the Shabbos meal, he accepted.

    “By the time the meal was over it was pouring outside. I offered him my coat and he was surprised by my generosity. Later on he told me that he had never met a Jew so willing to help him just because he was a Jew. He could have counted on the fingers of one hand the number of conversations he had had in his life with a religious Jew. I said to him with a smile that he didn’t have the face of a thief and he could leave the coat in the shul. We ended up becoming good friends.

    “When we were in Israel last year, he invited us to his house and we visited him, to the amazement of his friends who knew his views. We often speak on the phone and his views have changed from one extreme to another regarding religious Jews.”

    Moshiach Outreach in Milan

    Rabbi Rodal was one of those Chassidim about whom it can be said that he “lived Moshiach.” He is proud of the fact that his sons serve as shluchim and “all are meshichistin who publicize about Moshiach and are not ashamed to do so.” When I asked what his approach on this subject is, and what his response is to those Chassidim who are afraid of openly speaking about Moshiach, he said:

    “There is something basic we have to understand. If your mekuravim see that you speak logically, and you are not someone they consider a nut, they will accept the entire message. Are the laws of borer on Shabbos any more rational? All of Judaism is based on emuna. In all my shiurim I speak about Moshiach and I teach the Rambam’s Hilchos Melachim, as well as the Rebbe’s sichos on inyanei Moshiach and Geula.

    “Of course we speak about who Moshiach is, too, and when you tell them about the amazing miracles in your personal experience which came about through the Rebbe’s brachos, people realize and accept that if our generation is the generation of Geula, then the person most qualified to be Moshiach is the Rebbe. I am very close to my students, and when I explain this to them, they are receptive.

    “People see that the world is undergoing dramatic upheavals and look forward to the Geula. You also have to understand the most significant aspect of publicizing the Besuras HaGeula: you have to teach and learn and not suffice with slogans. The Rebbe said that learning is the easiest and most direct path; we Chassidim know that this is the only path. Otherwise, why would a Jew who makes a good salary, who owns a yacht and other luxuries, or someone who is frum, who lives in a nice Jewish community, want Moshiach? The only way to get people to want it is if they learn the Rebbe’s sichos about Geula.

    “The Rebbe says that the Geula will come with kindness and mercy, and we Chassidim are sure about this. We see how the nations of the world are tummeling about Iran’s nuclear capabilities and some frum Jews are warning about another disaster that will come upon us. We know that this is merely another way that Hashem has of waking us up from our sleep. We have to learn, internalize what we learn, and put it into action.

    “The most amazing thing in this redoubled darkness we are in – the ray of light within this last, difficult test – is the ability to write to the Rebbe through the Igros Kodesh and see miracles.

    “One night last winter, I had to go to Venice to give a shiur at the Chabad house. It’s a few hours away and I wasn’t sure how to go. If I went by train, I would be unable to return after the shiur in time to be in class in the morning. However, driving home after the shiur wasn’t safe, because in the winter there is heavy fog that greatly reduces visibility. I wrote about this to the Rebbe and put it in a volume of Igros Kodesh. How surprised I was to open to a letter about the development of the car. I didn’t need more than that. I drove there and the shiur went well, and when I drove home there was no fog – which was odd considering the weather that night.”

    Shlichus Advice

    In conclusion, Rabbi Rodal shared with us his guidelines on shlichus:

    “You have to really love every Jew! It’s not enough that they attend shiurim. You have to ask them how they’re doing, how they feel, and try and help them even with material things. Every Jew is G-d’s child. We have to instill this idea within ourselves and live with this reality, because it’s possible to fool someone only once or twice. If we view the person we are talking to with importance and respect, they will feel it, and our goal is to be mekarev every Jew. At the source, we are all equal; the rest is just the superficiality of Olam HaZeh. All of us, especially the shluchim, constantly see siyata d’Shmaya and live with a heavy responsibility on our shoulders.”

    Appointed by the Rebbe to Pick Esrogim

    Rabbi Rodal also served as one of the heads of the team that oversaw the harvesting of the Calabria esrogim, which Chabad Chassidim and many others are particular to use on Sukkos. Together with Rabbi Moshe Lazar, he ensured the integrity and kashrus of the esrogim.

    How this came about was related by Rabbi Leibel Altein:

    “In 5736, my father [who took over his father-in-law, Rabbi Yisroel Jacobson’s, Calabria esrogim business which also provided the esrogim for the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe] suffered a heart attack and was forbidden by the doctors to make the trip to Italy. The Rebbe then instructed that Rabbi Shmuel Rodal should join Rabbi Moshe Lazar to pick the esrogim for him. Even since, the two of them serve as the workers and the mashgichim for our esrogim business who picked the esrogim, obviously on the condition that the best of what they choose will be provided to the Rebbe.”

    * * *

    After suffering a stroke recently, he passed away this past Hoshana Rabba. He is survived by his wife and his many children, most of whom serve as shluchim of the Rebbe all around the world.

    “Hakitzu v’ranenu shochnei afar,” he among them, at the hisgalus of the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach teikef umiyad mamash now!

    * * *

    Sidebar: The Rebbe Took Responsibility

    Rabbi Rodal told of the great miracle he saw with his father, Reb Yosef, in 5731. His father had been a shliach of the Rebbe Rayatz in Montreal and was a rosh yeshiva there. He set the tone among the shluchim and enjoyed rare kiruvim from the Rebbe Rayatz. He even received a large sum of money from the Rebbe in order to buy a summer home in the mountains, so the children could spend time there while he worked.

    “After the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, my father asked the Rebbe permission to sell Siddurim, Tallisos and Chumashim and some Judaica items. My father had a small bookcase where he kept these items and sold them to those who ordered them. He did this as a side job because his salary from the mosdos was not enough to support his household.

    “The small bookcase became a bigger bookcase and then it became a room, which turned into a Judaica store. My mother ran the store and my father would help her in the evenings when he finished his other jobs. More people moved into the neighborhood and the store grew. Eventually he had two stores.

    “In 5731 my father had a severe heart attack and the doctors told us how critically ill he was. They had to do a bypass, which required them to take arteries from his leg and transplant them in his heart, a medical procedure which is done for heart disease. My father also suffered from diabetes. The doctors told him that if he didn’t stay away from the store, his days were numbered because the pressure from the stores was too much for him.

    yoni lorber

    “I was already in Milan for half a year on shlichus and my brother and I decided to write to the Rebbe and ask for his advice and bracha. My father was not that old and he still had to marry off my younger sister.

    “In our letter, we described the situation and the doctors’ opinion, and asked what to do. In the past, I had helped my father a lot in the store and I asked whether I should leave shlichus in Italy in order to run the store. I thought this was also a form of shlichus, since my father didn’t sell vegetables; he sold tefillin and mezuzos, and checked them too.

    “My second question was whether my father should take a partner to reduce the burden of dealing with the bookkeeping, whether the business should be sold, or whether he should continue to run the store.

    “As far as returning from Italy, the Rebbe said that was not at all a consideration. As for taking a partner, the Rebbe crossed that off and made a line under the last suggestion that my father should continue to run the store and added a bracha. We were stunned by this answer but you don’t argue with the Rebbe.

    “Despite the doctors’ grim predictions, my father lived another 18 years, until 5749. Two years before he died he was still working in the store. All the doctors who knew him were utterly shocked.”


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