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The Lobster’s Legacy

By Rabbi Boruch Leff -- Published in Yated (Feb 2017)

the.guard Monday, 06 February 2017

Have you heard of Rav Motta Frank?

Not so many people know his name.

The truth is he doesn’t allow people to call him Rav Motta Frank, at least not in his presence. He makes everyone call him Motta.

Rav Motta Frank is a rav and mashpia in the Breslov community in Meah Shearim and has a mossad called Be’eir Basadeh, but his appeal stretches far and wide to many lost Jews and to many Jews who may not be lost but who have lost their fire for keeping Torah and mitzvos.

Rav Motta knows just what to say and how to say it. He is able to inspire people to learn Torah, daven, and fulfill mitzvos with excitement and enthusiasm. He is able to motivate Jews who feel low, who have given up on themselves, to love themselves once again. As such, he comes into contact with many forlorn Jews, each with their story of disillusionment and tale of downfall. And then he works with them, most often finding the words to encourage and bring them back from the brink.

With this introduction, listen to a remarkable story.

Some years ago, Rav Motta was in America raising funds for his yeshiva. He was visiting shuls in the New York area speaking with people and giving shmuessen. After one particular shmues, an older teenager approached Rav Motta and shared the following.

The young man had been a regular yeshiva bochur and things were going well. But somehow over the past few months he had fallen into the wrong crowd. He revealed to Rav Motta that he and his friends had developed a new ‘custom’ for every Shabbos at shalosh seudos time. One of them would take his father’s car, (without permission, Rachmana nitzlan) and they would all pile in and head to a non-kosher seafood restaurant in order to have ‘shalosh seudos.’ Each Shabbos a different bochur in the group would steal his father’s car as part of a rotation.

Rav Motta listened without reacting; unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time he had heard such a story. He began pondering what he should say to try and inspire the bochur.

But what happened next took Rav Motta completely by surprise and was indeed a first for him.

The young man continued his story.

“Every week when we go to the seafood restaurant, I always order lobster. I just love lobster.”

Rav Motta was listening attentively wondering where all this was heading.

“Here’s my question,” the bochur said, “I love lobster so much and I want to know if I can say a bracha on it.”

Rav Motta has been ‘around the block’ many times especially with situations and people like this young man but he had never quite had anyone ask him such a question. At first, Rav Motta assumed this bochur was being spiteful and contemptuous of the halacha and of Torah. It appeared that he was just trying to anger Rav Motta. Rav Motta was tempted for a moment to ‘put him in his place’ and give him a verbal ‘potch’ for his chutzpah. But Rav Motta knew better than to add fuel to this bochur’s fire of complaints against frum society. So he held back from responding for a bit.

Suddenly, Rav Motta had a brilliant insight and knew exactly what to tell the teenager.

“Your question is actually a very, very good question!” said Rav Motta. “The gemara (see Baba Kamma 94a with Rishonim) asks your question! It’s a difficult issue to determine. There is actually an opinion in halacha that you would say a bracha. In the end, the conclusion is that we don’t make a bracha on non-kosher food such as lobster. But I admire your desire to thank Hashem for the taste of lobster that you love. So let me tell you what you can do. Each time before you have lobster you should say to Hashem, ‘I really love lobster and would love to thank You Hashem for the taste, but Motta Frank said that I can’t.’ Then, take a different kosher shehakol food or drink and say a bracha on that having in mind the lobster. In this way you can accomplish what you wish to do which is to show gratitude to Hashem.”

The young man was impressed with Rav Motta’s response. Whether he originally meant his question in spite or not, Rav Motta turned the question on its head and transformed the encounter into something with positive growth-laden potential. The bochur smiled and left.

Years passed.

One day at Rav Motta’s mossad, a man in his mid-twenties entered wishing to speak with Rav Motta. He appeared to be a ‘regular,’ frum, put-together person, not from the ‘clientele’ that sought out Rav Motta and Rav Motta wondered for a moment why the man would want to speak with him.

“Do you recall years ago a question about making a bracha on lobster asked by a confused teenager?” the man asked.

Vague memories were returning to Rav Motta and were becoming more and more clear. “Yes, yes, now I do remember. I wonder what became of that young man,” Rav Motta said.

“That confused teen became the person you are looking at right now!” the man said.

“When I asked you that strange lobster question,” the man continued, “I knew I was being pretty brazen to ask a rabbi to make a bracha on non-kosher food. I wasn’t sure how you would react. I thought you might get upset with the question and send me off in a huff. But I was actually sincere in my question. Yes, I had gone astray from Torah but I never really had in mind to totally give up on Hashem forever. But had you answered me angrily that actually could have happened and I may never have come back to Torah. But you were brilliant and sensitive to my plight. You gave me praise for even asking the question! I was shocked when you did that. And then you gave me a way to somehow ‘say a bracha’ on the lobster by eating something else first.

“I did that years. My teenage buddies would make fun of me and tell me that I was a hypocrite. If I abandoned Torah then why say the bracha, they would taunt. But I was stubborn and still did it.”

“I want you to know, Rav Motta,” the man continued, “It was only because I had this connection to Hashem in some small way that I never completely gave up. And some years later, I got my life together in general and sometime after that realized that I wanted to return to Torah because deep down, though I was pretending for a long time. . .I never really left.”

Rabbosai, this story is ripe with lessons. No matter how low you may have fallen - NEVER LET GO OF HASHEM. Keep speaking to Him, keep doing at least something small--whatever you can, to hold on to Him. And if you do this, Hashem will pull you out in the end.

Click here to see Rav Motta Frank's words about GYE.