“Thoughts” by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer: About a Man In Prison



I have a friend who while learning in Lakewood many years ago, found himself stranded in BoroPark on erev Sukkos. He had been supposed to go to Montreal for Yom Tov, but had left his passport in the dorm, not knowing that he needed it to cross the Canadian border. Miserably disappointed at having his plans fall through, the bochur began walking up and down the avenue searching for a miracle. He tried asking a few people for directions to a local yeshiva, hoping that they would pick up on his desperation, but nobody did.

Suddenly a car pulled up to a stop alongside him.

A man with a black beard and a twinkle in his eye asked him if everything was okay.

The bochur reiterated his request for directions. The man offered to drive him to the yeshiva. On the way, he skillfully questioned the bochur until he learned that he had no where to go for Yom Tov. Upon which, the man invited the bochur to his home.

“There we were driving in his car,” my friend said, “when I suddenly noticed that we had left the Jewish neighborhoods far behind. There was graffiti on every storefront and the natives stared at us menacingly. I didn’t understand where we were. Suddenly I became nervous. Was this man kidnapping me?

My host understood my concern.

“Don’t worry,” he reassured me, “we are almost there.”

Indeed, a minute later, we turned a corner and found ourselves in CrownHeights. I had been discovered/adopted by Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin and his wonderful family. In the end I stayed with them for the entire Yom Tov, experiencing the awesome Yom Tov atmosphere of CrownHeights and 770 and meeting a host of incredible people. Rabbi Rubashkin was one of the most selfless people I had ever met and the chesed operation that was done by the entire family was something amazing to see. Spending time with Reb Sholom Mordechai, was spending time in the presence of greatness.




Reb Elchonon Jacobovitz is a sixth grade rebbe in Yeshivas Darchei Torah in Detroit, Michigan. After seeing multiple inspirational Divrei Torah from R’ Sholom Mordechai printed in various outlets, he had an idea. Why not initiate a weekly exchange of Divrei Torah between his class and R’ Sholom Mordechai? Wasting no time, he penned a letter to Rabbi Rubashkin presenting his idea, which Rabbi Rubashkin enthusiastically embraced. Thus began a beautiful correspondence, with a different boy writing a Dvar Torah each week, and R’ Sholom Mordechai responding with a lengthy and inspirational thought of his own.

As everyone knows, Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin is a man of incredible faith, who despite currently being in prison, still manages to serve as a fountain of emuna and even simcha to his fellow Yidden worldwide, and to Reb Elchonon and his class, who davened daily for R’ Sholom Mordechai’s release and treasured their relationship.




Mrs. Esther Finkel a’h was Reb Elchonon’s great aunt. A baalos chessed par excellence and the founder of Ezer Halbashah, she was known throughout Brooklyn as a person who knew how to get things done and one who never stopped helping others. She was also a Holocaust survivor who never forgot the air raid sirens that she had lived through as a young girl back in Europe.

Two weeks ago, Rav Yitzchok Finkel and his rebbetzin had come to Yerushalayim for a short visit. They didn’t live in Eretz Yisroel. On  Shabbos afternoon Mrs. Finkel heard the wailing sound of the siren reverberating through the streets of the holy city and although she had no history of heart trouble, suffered a heart attack as the nightmares of her youth and the collective nightmares of her nation came full circle.

As her heartbroken family mourned her passing, Reb Elchonon sat down and penned a poem in memory of his great aunt.


The sirens sound, A heart does pound, From times gone by, a girl’s voice cries.

A different war, Of foes no more, And yet the fear, Is still so near.

They kill, they hate, That is their fate, While we just build, With love, hearts filled.

And thus, a queen, In years between, That frightened child, In a world gone wild,  These times of pain, As missiles rain.

She gave, she shared, She sowed, she reaped, And for that we rejoice, Even as we weep.

Esav can kill, Yishmael can war, But into our soul, Neither can bore.

They push us down, But we arise, And when the time comes, We’ll look into their eyes.

We’ll remind them of you, The story of the Jew, Who not once but twice, Endured such fright, And yet with grace, Prevailed despite.

Let them take the fear, The tears, the pain, We’ll keep instead, The faith we’ve gained,

And from it we’ll build, Our Mikdash anew, Yes us, Klal Yisroel, We’ll be just like you.

He shared his poem with his entire family and of course sent a copy to his dear friend Reb Sholom Mordechai.


This was Reb Sholom Mordechai’s response.


            A Guten Voch Tiere Reb Elchonan Sheyichye, Sholom Uvrocho.

            Its really great to hear from you and BEEZRAS HASHEM we will be together very soon in freedom. Its early morning and BEEZRAS HASHEM my brother is coming to visit, and I have a few minutes before the computer shuts in the am for the count. But I wanted to say that I received this email and My Heart Aches from what you write happened with your great aunt and the poem brings tears to the eyes.

            Very Powerful, and HASHEM YISBORAICH will give the whole family and yourself a double Nechama and the Best Nechama is that we should have our Geuloh Shlaimoh now with Moshiach Tzidkainu.

            Also BEEZRAS HASHEM to Bli Neder Write a Letter in the Afternoon. I am not sure if I told you that I learnt in Toirah Vodaas for the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. I think now its called Toirah Teminoh, and My Rebbe in the 8th grade was Rabbi Finkel who i really Enjoyed and Learnt a lot from. I was wondering if this is the same Rabbi Finkel? PODOH BESHOLOM NAFSHI 🙂 DIDAN NOTZACH BESUROIS TOIVOIS 🙂

            Sholom Mordechai Halevi Ben Rivkoh sheyichye 🙂 —-


            Rav Yitzchok Finkel had indeed been Reb Sholom Mordechai’s rebbe back in Torah Vodaas, going on to become the menahel of the yeshiva and Reb Sholom Mordechai penned a separate email to him as well.



            Lekovoid Reb Yitzchok Sheyichye,

            The Brocho for Nichum Availim is; HAMOKOIM YENACHEM ESCHEM BESOICH SHARAI AVAILAI TZION VEYRUSHOLAYIM. The reason the Brocho for a personal Nechoma is “Hamokoim, place” and phrased in such a way, is because it’s “Besoich” together with the Nechama of Yerusholayim. What is the Connection Between the Personal Nechoma and the Nechoma of all of Klal Yisroel and Yerusholaim?

            I heard the Pshat is this – We are totally certain that we will see the Nechoma of Yerusholayim and all of Klal Yisroel with the Coming of Moshiach Tzidkainu Bimhairoh Beyomianu and the Building of the Bais Hamikdosh Hashlishi. We will see the Nechomoh for Yerusholaim and All of Klal Yisroel Bimhairoh B’yomainu, the same way we are certain to see the Personal Nechomoh – to be reunited again with our loved ones Bimhairoh Beyomainu!


            P.S. You write that the fright of the sirens was too much for her to bear, because it reminded her of what they did to the Yidden in the Last War Rachmonoh Litzlan. When I read this and then I was saying Tehilim I thought “What A Pure Neshomo! This Tzadaikis has it right!” And We need to learn from her how to feel about this Matzav Klal Yisroel is in. She heard the enemies of the Yidden brutally attacking the children of Yisroel – the very children of the Yidden who were murdered – the children who were saved from the fiery inferno of the Second World War. This is one continuation of their evil plans which they relentlessly do in their attempt to destroy the Yidden Rachmomo Litzlan.

            This Tzadaikis Mamosh saw it right! She saw the parallel and continuation of what she lived thru in Europe and what they did to our parents generation and they are now attempting to do this to those few who survived to fires of Europe.  I wish we should take this Message to heart and realize what the Enemies of the Yidden are really plotting to do and place our trust ONLY IN HASHEM YISBORAICH OUR FATHER TO PROTECT US as it says; “Al Tiroh Mpachad Pisoim Umisoias Reshoim Kee Sovoi” “Utzu Aitzoh Vesufor Dabru Dovor Veloi Yokum Kee Imonu Kail” “Vad Ziknoh Ani Hu, Vad Saivoh Ani Esboil, Ani Osisi, V’Ani Eson V’Ani Esboil V’Amalait”!



Rabosai, here’s a man who has been sentenced to a prison sentence that would be called harsh by any standard. A man who has been snatched away from the warm embrace of his family and made to live far away from everything he knows and loves.

And yet,

And yet,

He is not sad. He is not bitter. He does not waste time on recriminations. His focus is on the positive and on giving chizuk and on doing chesed – just like he has always done – only now he does it from a prison cell. He teaches Torah and reaches out to his fellow Yid and increases achdus and serves as a role model and testimonial to what a Yid can accomplish no matter where he is.

And for that Reb Sholom Mordechai, I say Yasher Koach.

You have taught us much.

You are an inspiration to every Jew.

Rabbi Nachman Seltzer is the author of eighteen books including such classics as “The Network,” “It could Have Been You” series, “Class Acts,” and his newest book “48.”
He is a columnist for TheYeshivaWorld.com & International Hamodia magazine, where his true life stories are beloved around the world.
Rabbi Seltzer heads the Shira Chadasha Boys Choir which just released their fifth album “Am Yisroel.”
He can be reached for comments or regarding speaking engagements at [email protected]









  1. Destro,

    Besides that your accusation is false, Mr. Rubashkin was never tried, nor find guilty of being a crook, you should try to determine if you even understood the point of the story.

    That this person, even is the situation he now finds himself still full of emunah and bitachon and willing to do for others to the best of his ability. He still finds ways to encourage others.

    Examine yourself and see if, from your high horse, you do even a speck of that. Do you find yourself on the giving side or on the taking side? Consider that for several moments.

  2. The tragedy is doubly magnified by those who think he somehow deserved the sentence r”l.

    If you were locked up for 10 years for driving without insurance in order to get someone to hospital, you’d see it as disproportional, wrong, grossly unfair and as much if injustice as if you were jailed for no crime whatsoever.

    Those who cannot see the injustice in the Sholom Rubashkin case have a psul in their neshomo.

  3. Rav Yitzchok Finkel I am very sorry for you lost and BE”H you should be comforted from Shomaim, HAMOKOIM YENACHEM ESCHEM BESOICH SHAARAI AVAILAI TZION VEYRUSHLAYIM Reb Sholom Mordecha, I want to begin by saying how much you are missed and loved, youv never met me but from the story after story I hear about you how much more you would be able to teach the greatness of our creator, that explains the missing you the love, you are MY and the rest of our brothers so I love you becouse we are family and thats the way I feel im supposed to feel about my siblings. that poem was a a very dear really touches the hart kind of poem. No to people have the same falls, slips, burns and the torchering every one has been threw there own gehnom(some people have it MUCH worse but I am no judge) we dont want it and pray for it not to come. What do we want we want the total feeling that we are Hashems children ill give you a story a father has 3 kids very nice they try their hardest to do Hashems will. The first child goes to there father and tells him how much he loves him gives him a kiss then sits down for the next child, and the next child does the same thing his last child comes up and not just does he gives him a hug and a kiss the child starts saying how much he is great full he is to have a father like that and he needs him and when he goes away how much he misses him and how he gets along with his brothers and tells him I didnt just listen to what my dear father said I made it my way of life. The father cant help but start crying tears of love and joy and he feels that he would give his childern the world. BE”H were very close:)

  4. Destro,

    You compared him to Robin Hood who stole the money he gave away. You made a very specific charge, which was false.

    He did not overstate income, so you may as well try to get even that part of the story correct.

    I wonder if you report all of your income? I wonder if you do any barter and report that.? That misreporting results in not paying monies that are due.

    Mr Rubashkin was not in arrears on any his loans, the banks had no interest in perusing it.

    You are so hung up on falsely labeling a good man as evil. You really should look into yourself to see what drives this sad compunction.