Stories & Memories of Rabbi Wagner

By: Mendel Erlenwein, as heard from Menachem Wagner May 11

Above all, my Father was an Oived

About a year and a half ago, I found myself sitting on my father’s bed, chatting with him, my mother and my sister. As the conversation drew on, he mentioned that he was tired and needed to rest. He invited us to stay and continue talking while he rested.

I offered to leave and turn off the lights to help him rest, but he insisted it was fine for us to stay. He explained that he didn’t need the lights off in order to sleep.

I suggested that he should at least get under the covers and make himself comfortable, but that’s when he shared something I had never known. Over the years, I had often noticed that he slept over the blankets, but I never processed that he had consciously decided to do that. Now, though, he pointed out that he never slept under a blanket. Intrigued, I asked him why.

He explained that getting up on time in the morning is always a struggle; after all, sleep is geshmak!

Shortly after his marriage, he said, he decided that since sleeping under a blanket is far more cozy and comfortable, sleeping without one would remove one step in the process of getting out of bed, and it would be that much easier for him to overcome his inclination and get up!

My father excelled in so many areas that it is easy to see him as a superhuman, as someone who was removed from the physical world, who is beyond the limitations we mere mortals share.

This story, though, brings out the reality: He was just like us! He liked to sleep, he enjoyed olam hazeh just like we all do, but he was driven by an intense desire to be a chossid, to be an oiveid, to work on himself and struggle against his nature in order to serve Hashem. The levels he attained were acquired through intense effort, but natural work which we are all equally shayach to. It was his rotzon and cheishek for kedushah which drew him apart, and that is a path that we all can, and must, follow.

To me, this conversation encapsulates my father's essence. He had incredible inborn talents, but was never satisfied with the heights those capabilities could bring him to. Life is not about achievements, he showed us, but about connecting to the Eibershter through your current efforts and struggles, every moment, to refine yourself and do that which goes against your nature davka.

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