He offers a lot of passionate and thought-provoking advice accompanied by many fascinating true stories, both of his own life and the lives of other jaw-droppingly special Jews.
I highly recommend acquiring this set to reread again and again.
To keep as close to the original tone as possible, the compilers obviously chose as literal a translation as possible, choosing strict accuracy over style and at times, incorporating the original Yiddish into the text.
Yet the lectures (some of which are only a paragraph or two) make for some of the most compelling reading and provide tremendous mussar and inspiration.
There is no dry sermonizing here.
Rav Bender’s words exemplify the passion of Torah Judaism.
His heart was not only awake but on fire for Hashem.
Rav Bender was a complete tzaddik and it’s quite an experience to read his actual thoughts, his viewpoints, and many stories he heard and experiences he underwent...all described directly from him.
For example, if I start enthusing about another Jew’s greatness and self-sacrifice, it’s not that big a deal because who the heck am I? Because I am very far from spiritual perfection, I’m easily awed by any example of tzidkut.
This is one of the unspoken issues with biographies of great people. Those of us who are regular people can’t really explain or portray the tzaddik or tzaddikah properly because we lack the perspective that spiritual greatness would give us.
Having said that, there are extremely worthwhile biographies of great people. Some of the best biographers are Sara Yoheved Rigler, Yonason Rosenblum, and Yisroel Besser.
But when at all possible, it’s best to hear from the great person him- or herself AND descriptions of spiritually great people by other spiritually great people.
And Words of Faith does both.
Self-Sacrifice from an Entire Village of Righteous Converts
In our time, there was a certain village called Sinitsa near the city of Rostov—all of its inhabitants converted. Their conversion was in Uman because others were all afraid to convert them.
But we worked on the matter and converted them.
These converts were particularly strong men—tall, powerful, and big-boned.
They all came together for Rosh Hashanah. They had their own table in the Kloiz [big synagogue]. Their wives filled the women’s section. They stood the whole time in prayer.
They just cried and cried and let tears flow like water because they did not know how to recite one letter of the prayer.
Can you feel the difference between his expressing of admiration and that of a regular person?
Then he goes on to describe a Sinitsa convert who was learned:
I knew him well. He was from those who prayed in the Beis Hamidrash in Uman.
One day, they sent him to Siberia, thousands of kilometers deep into a thick dreadful forest!
They sent millions of people there. The set work for a group of three…that is, to chop down a gigantic tree and cut it into small pieces of wood that are ready to send.
Not only once, when a tree shook and fell, it buried many people alive underneath it.
But this matter did not disturb the evil government, may their names be erased.
He wasn’t there, but his empathy is so profound that he speaks as if he himself saw these trees and the terrible suffering of the people who slaved there.
He doesn’t forget to mention that “millions” of people were sent there. This obviously includes people who aren’t Jewish, whose suffering and deaths clearly pained him too, judging by the tzaar he obviously experiences in the recalling.
Some government officials knew that our convert was a very smart person.
Rabbi Bender obviously cherishes this man as a brother with great fondness and warmth. This convert is not “other” but “ours.”
And the truth is that, coming from a regular person, describing one of your newer fellow Jews as "our" convert might even feel condescending or patronizing for that convert. It could actually be an icky experience.
But coming from a tzaddik, it's totally different.
Then Rabbi Bender describes how the government officials offered this learned man a cozy position teaching indoors, protected from the harsh labor and horrific cold.
The downside? He would have to work on Shabbat:
He did not acquiesce to this very enticing proposition.
He answered them in strong refusal.
With holy brazenness, he said to them, "The whole reason I left my pleasant life and my birthplace to become Jewish was because of the holy Shabbos. How could you possibly think to convince me to work on the Holy Shabbos?"
Also...do you ever describe people as behaving with “holy brazenness”?
But let’s say I did. It just wouldn’t sound the same. But when a true tzaddik labels something as “holy brazenness,” then that’s a whole other ballgame.
His brazenness and refusal to cooperate aroused their wrath.
From then on, they related to him very strictly and caused him extra problems. They forced him to perform body-breaking labor steeped in a sinking canoe amid burning frost that broke the bones.
Despite his tremendous physical power, he could not bear this awesome burden.
The man’s wife came to visit him in the forest and fainted upon seeing his emaciated appearance. Out of concern for him, she begged him to acquiesce, citing pikuach nefesh as a halachically legitimate reason to violate Shabbat.
But Rav Bender describes the man's response:
“It doesn’t make any difference to me if it is permissible. I became Jewish for the sake of the holy Shabbos. I am prepared to give myself up and die for the sake of the holy Shabbos!”
He answered without hesitation and did not continue to speak to her.
Indeed, he passed away there in that awful thick forest for the sake of His Blessed Holy Name.
Happy is he!
No miracle came to save this incredible man.
He just died unnamed with his grave and specific death unknown.
It's chilling and depressing as perceived through the physical world.
And Rav Bender certainly empathizes with the man’s suffering.
But Rav Bender is also very aware of the Heavenly reward this convert ended up receiving and continues to receive: “Happy is he!”
Hashem and all of Heaven know all about this holy man and that's all that really matters.
If I ended the story with those words, it would just sound weird. But from a tzaddik, those final words have a different ring to them.
Words of Faith contains many stories like the above. And I can’t help wondering whether the mind-boggling mesirut nefesh these Jews had for Hashem’s mitzvot is what protected Russian Jewry from the worst of the Shoah.
Yes, Russian Jewry certainly suffered in labor camps during that time, but the Nazis and their death camps never made it there.
It’s these uncelebrated acts by unknown yet holy Jews that can be the most powerful.
*Note: In transcribing the text, I cleaned up the translation a tiny bit by adding punctuation and syntax.