Rabbi Peretz Chein with his two children.
Rabbi Herschel Hartz made last year’s Most Inspiring Rabbis list for his work in the Inwood Jewish community. We asked him to write about a rabbi who inspires him. Nominate your pick for this year’s list in the form below.
A Chabad emissary wears many hats. He must be able to connect with all the different types of people who come in his path. He jumps into the shoes of every person he meets and sees things from their perspective.
Dealing with Jews means dealing with different types of people. You have to be loving, caring and understanding of all types: the intellectual type, the cool guy, the feminist, the atheist, the student who comes from a broken family, the person who hates Chabad, and the enthusiastic religious Jew.
Rabbi Peretz Chein of Chabad at Brandeis is one of the most inspiring rabbis I know — he is able to maneuver successfully amongst all these different types of Jewish people and give each one the Jewish experience they need.
Satisfying these needs is a challenge, and one that Rabbi Chein succeeds tremendously at. From him, I have learned the importance of working with each person according to the path that is best for him or her. It may be something you would never do yourself or something that you may even sharply disagree with. But it is the greatest fulfillment of ahavat Yisrael, loving another Jew.
I started my Jewish growth at Brandeis (and hopefully continue it every day of my life) and Rabbi Chein has been there anytime I called. He has broad shoulders and the ability to look at things from a whole slew of perspectives. He is a deeply thoughtful person who adds wisdom to the most obvious of situations.
One story really sticks out for me. During my sophomore year at Brandeis, I became very interested in Jewish growth and learning. As with most people who become suddenly excited about Judaism, my desire to change overshadowed a healthy transition.
In the Chabad house, I shared my excitement over my new Jewish learning with Rabbi Chein. I also shared that I wanted to leave the Jewish fraternity that I had joined just six months before.
He immediately asked me: And what about your fraternity? How would this impact them?
I thought the guy was out of his mind. We were talking about my spiritual growth here, not theirs. I thought: Who cares?
In my complete selfishness, I could not think about them and the impact my decision would have on their feelings about Judaism or religion.
Rabbi Peretz Chein singing “One Day” by Matisyahu.
At that meeting, Rabbi Chein encouraged me to stay in the fraternity and serve as a good role model of Judaism. I didn’t listen. I couldn’t imagine staying in a place that seemed to me then the antithesis of Judaism. My zealousness drove me away.
Today, with a healthier pair of eyes, I have completely taken his lesson to heart.
Judaism is, sometimes, not about you. It is about the other.
When we make Judaism solely about ourselves, our own thoughts and our own spiritual pursuits, we are not serving God. We are serving ourselves.
Rabbi Chein has always been a phone call away, giving me a new perspective on how to approach every challenge.
When I called, literally crying about a yeshiva I was in, he gave me comfort and stability.
When I called about a new venture I was embarking on, he gave me a good dose of reality.
And he knows I am not rich. Money has never been the issue — he is legitimately interested.
I know for a fact that there are many more like me. All different perspectives, all unique people, all levels of growth and observance. And all of them, when they meet Rabbi Chein, feel like they belong to a larger Jewish family.
That is the most important part of his work: he lets every Jew he meets feel that they are part of something greater than themselves and that they matter.