ArtScroll Talks with Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum, Author of The Pnei Menachem

AS: The Pnei Menachem, does not follow a chronological timeline. Can you tell us about the format you chose and why you decided to write it this way?

RAB: I wanted readers to connect with the Pnei Menachem and his unique character traits before reading details about his life. Once readers connect with his unique personality through stories about his sensitivity, his exceptional intuitiveness, and his towering greatness in Torah and kedushah, I knew they would also be interested in learning about his life. That is why I included the short biographical section at the end.

AS: How did you go about choosing the stories and photos for the book?

RAB: This was a difficult task. I had enough material for several books. I left out many amazing stories about the Pnei Menachem’s bein adam l’Makom. We decided that most readers would better connect with bein adam l’chaveiro areas of his persona. I have a dream of writing another volume with a greater emphasis on his inner avodas Hashem as well. I was greatly helped by “Hotzaas Pnei Menachem,” a wonderful organization that gathered material and pictures about him.

AS: Can you tell us which story in the book touched you most?

RAB: There are so many! Some literally brought me to tears. His deep understanding of the feelings of widows, orphans, older singles and special children moved me. Here is one of my favorites: On Simchas Torah, with great love, the Rebbe would extend his hand and kiss each Sefer Torah as it passed. As this was happening, the Rebbe noticed a special child standing not far from him. He walked over and touched the child, kissing him in the same way he had just kissed the Sifrei Torah. ‘He too is a Sefer Torah!” the Rebbe exclaimed.

AS: The Pnei Menachem was born to greatness. What message do you think his life has for us “ordinary” people?

RAB: Everything! True, he was born to greatness but didn’t live with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. As a child, his life was upended by the Holocaust. He suffered much during those years. For a while he lived in abject poverty. He had tremendous challenges in his personal life, including the birth and eventual death of a special needs child and the tragic accident that killed his 27-year-old son. How he dealt with adversity and how he remained exceedingly humble despite his “royal” pedigree, is deeply instructive for all.

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