Released around a year ago, "Reb Shlomo, The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld," by Rabbi Yisroel Besser, has grown to become one of my favorite books and, after speaking with others who have read it, a favorite for them as well. It is certainly one of the best frum biographies that are currently available. For those of you, who are not familiar with who Rabbi Freifeld was, all I will tell you is that he was the founder of the prominent yeshiva, Shor Yoshuv, and, being born in New York, was probably the first American Gadol to have been born-and-bred in this country. For more than that, go read the book!
Now, what makes this book so great? For starters, there is definitely something about the writing of Rabbi Besser that brings out a beautiful, vivid portrait, of the person being described. In his other works, including the book "Warmed by their Fire" (to be reviewed at a later time, iy'h!) and his Mishpacha magazine articles, his style remains consistent, often using powerful stories and strong adjectives to bring about a point. Furthermore, "Reb Shlomo" is not a biography that is written in a timeline setting, which is something that sets it apart from many others in the genre. It does start with a narrative about Rabbi Freifeld's early life but after the first 60 pages the chapters become categorized by lessons and middos that Rabbi Freifeld excelled in. That is the essence of this book; stories. This book is story after story of powerful and touching examples of the greatness that a human being can achieve, which brings us to the second aspect that makes this book great.
Often when learning about Gedolim we hear wonder stories about miracles they brought about or a phenomenal memory, etc. These stories are incredible and I certainly enjoy reading them. However, those are actions that are hard to emulate. "Reb Shlomo" reads like a mussar sefer. The hundreds of stories that Rabbi Besser collected from various talmidim and relatives of Rabbi Freifeld, show a man who excelled in simcha, sensitivity, wit, respect for others, and every other middah you can think of. He was constantly involved with the people around him, as a Rav and as an educator for hundreds of students. Certainly he was a Torah scholar of the highest caliber, and the book does not gloss over that! Yet the focus is on his gadlus is mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro, and the message that stays with you after you read this book is that Rabbi Freifeld is a golden example of a role model and someone that we should all strive to emulate.
This book is an easy read and is perfect even for someone who doesn't' have much time to devote during the day for books. Each story is small yet packs a big punch. What will G-d willing become a feature of the book reviews is including a small segment of the book to give you a taste of what to expect. Thus we present a story from "Reb Shlomo:"
Reb Shlomo was willing to do whatever it took to help a bachur grow, to feel good about himself, to become bigger.
Reb Shlomo entered the Yeshiva office one morning asking if anyone had seen the daily newspaper. R' Avrahom Halpern and R' Dovid Sitnick were sitting there, and watched as he looked for it anxiously. When he finally located it, he explained, "There's a bachur in Yeshiva who just came from Williamsburg. He can barely speak English and he certainly cannot read it."
"I see that it's breaking him; he wants to speak English so badly. I hope that if I can teach him English, then maybe, just maybe, I will be able to teach him Torah."
And with the newspaper under his arm, Rebbi headed out to teach a talmid English.
Reading "Reb Shlomo" was pure enjoyment for me and I encourage anyone who is looking for something new to read to give this book a chance. Happy reading!