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A New Position

Professor Yakov (James) Brawer was a lecturer of wide renown. As both an academic and a Chassidic scholar, he was often asked to speak to Jewish groups, and his down-to-earth, humorous talks captivated and sometimes challenged his audience. Professor Brawer himself enjoyed his role as speaker. Up to a point.

There came a time when Professor Brawer began to suffer from burn-out. He had already said all he had to say, many times over. He was tired of answering the same questions over and over again, and even the sound of his own voice was irritating.

In December of 1990, he arrived in Brooklyn, New York, for what he thought would be his final speaking engagement. He had been invited to be the keynote speaker at a Chabad Shabbaton. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had encouraged him in his speaking career and he did not want to let the Rebbe down. Still, he felt drained to the last drop and was searching for another way he could make a difference.

Almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, his last speech turned out to be a disappointment—he felt it was rambling and disjointed and failed to connect with the audience. To his ears his voice sounded weak, strained and lifeless.

Returning to his hotel room after his lecture, Professor Brawer was approached by some guests who asked him to clarify a point he had raised in his lecture. It was very interesting, they assured him. “Where can we find some of your writings?”

“I don’t express myself well in writing,” Professor Brawer apologized. “As an academic, I write in a dry, stilted academic style, not suitable for the general public.”

In the lobby of the hotel Professor Brawer was again approached by two people asking where they could get his books. He answered briefly that he was more of a speaker than a writer.

Professor Brawer was approached again by a group of yeshiva students who had been helping with the Shabbaton. They asked him where they could find more of his “stuff.”

Losing patience, Professor Brawer responded, “I am not a writer and have never been a writer.”

The students were puzzled. “But you’re a professor, aren’t you?” Professor Brawer pretended not to hear the question and made his way to the Rebbe’s synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, where the Rebbe would dispense dollars and blessings to visitors.

As he was walking he was again approached by a couple who asked innocently, “Where can we find more of your writing?”….

Professor Brawer shrugged his shoulders and retreated inside himself, preparing for his encounter with the Rebbe. In front of him in line stood Rabbi Shmuel Lew, the Rebbe’s emissary to London, England, with his son. He got into a conversation with them as the line slowly approached the Rebbe.

“Although the meeting with the Rebbe lasts only a few seconds, they are very long seconds,” Professor Brawer describes. “During those precious moments the Rebbe is totally attentive to you. No one and nothing else exists.”

The Rebbe fixed him with a loving gaze, gave him a dollar and said, “Blessings and success,” his standard blessing to all who came for a dollar. Yakov continued on his way when the Rebbe’s secretary tugged on his sleeve. The Rebbe had more to say. The Rebbe smiled warmly at him, handed him another dollar and said, “Success in writing…”

Yakov was struck dumb. Why had the Rebbe suddenly brought up writing?

Rabbi Lew’s son was standing in line ahead of him and just had to ask, “Yankel, you’re a writer?”

“I am now,” he answered.


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