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Thursday, August 18, 2005


A note on Shabbat Nachamu

When I was living in Queens, I davened, mainly, at Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim. It's a beautiful, Jerusalem-stone building on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills.

But during the summers, I'd lein at a little shul next-door to the yeshiva. K'hal Chasam Sofer, more commonly known as Rabbi Weisel's shul.

Rabbi Avraham Sholom Yeshaya Weisel, זצ''ל, was already in his waning years when I came on the scene. He was a study in contrasts. Although he dressed and conducted his shul in a chasidish style, he was an ardent zionist. He read the prayer for Medinat Yisrael every Shabbos - in a thick chasidish accent. Murals and photos of the kotel adorn the walls of his shul. He was a brilliant Rov, but he gave shiur in Yiddish, mostly, so I was not really able to grasp the depth of his scholarship and the sensitivity of his soul until I took a look at a sefer he wrote - Segulas Ash"i (סגולת אש''י).

He gave me a copy as a token of thanks for filling in and leining during the summer. A few pages in, and I realized that he wasn't just 'stam' an elderly Rabbi. He writes about the sanctity of Israel, the importance of not judging others regardless of their observance level, and he has a piece on "Nishmas Kol Chai" that is sheer poetry. Who knew?

And that brings me to Shabbos Nachamu. I was leining at the shul, and someone told me that Rabbi Weisel had yahrzeit that day. Okay, that happens, right? So he was called up for Maftir, and he read the Haftarah himself with intense devotion and tears. His whole body was shaking, but he read it beautifully and poignantly. I never heard a Nachamu like that before, and I haven't since. Then he recited the prayer for Israel, and again, he was crying with intense feeling.

After he finished, he sat quietly in his chair and seemed to withdraw a bit from the proceedings. He spoke quietly to one of his closest Gabbaim, and then davened the rest of Musaf. THen he went upstairs to his apartment, followed only by a select group of old-timers from the shul. I asked the Gabbai what was going on. He said, "The Rabbi has yahrzeit today for three of his brothers, who were killed during the war."

I was stunned. Can you imagine? The Nazis (ימח שמם) kill THREE of your brothers on the same day - quite possibly at the same time - and it's Shabbos Nachamu?! And you can still read the words of consolation and hope some 60 years later, and still believe that it's going to happen? I don't know that I'd have that kind of strength. And I didn't realize there are still people among us who have that kind of strength.

In truth, my own grandmother (תבדלי לחיים) survived the horrors of Auschwitz while most of her siblings were killed. But we talk about it very rarely, and I don't always have the audacity to bring it up and ask her about it. But I should. We need to know that people of real strength and faith live among us to this day. In Israel, you have the holy soldiers. Here, we have the holy survivors.

May we all merit to celebrate together with our departed relatives when Hashem destroys death forever and wipes the tears from every face.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Difficult questions

Hey all -
So I was in Yerushalayim for Psachiya's bar mitzva, and it was fantastic, deeply moving, and thoroughly exhausting. I'll post more about it soon.

The situation in Gush Katif is heartbreaking. There's really no other way to describe it. And the soldiers are feeling almost as much pain as the residents. The dismantling of a Jewish neighborhood, in Israel, by Jews, raises so many questions and echoes so many historical 'expulsions' that no one article or blog entry could possible capture it.

I found myself wrestling with a lot of questions this morning as I rode the bus into work, and many of them are well articulated in this blog entry: http://israelperspectives.blogspot.com ("Religious Zionism at the Crossroads"). I found this through the Jewish Blogging aggregator site - www.jewishblogging.com.

Here's my problem: Let's say you believe Hashem meant for us to come back to Israel and take it over. For reasons of diplomacy and politics, the government isn't ENTIRELY based on Halacha. Okay. We still have a chief rabbinate and a court system and they're in charge of religious life, right? They'll handle marriages, divorces, religious education, and so on. "Status quo" was the de facto agreement reached between the secular zionists and the rabbonim at the time.

Then the Masorti (Conservative) movement and the anti-religious movement pushed to break the Orthodox hold on Israeli civil life. Why should buses not run on Shabbat? Why should movie theaters and stores be closed on Shabbat? Good questions, all. Do we have a right to 'force' Yiddishkeit on people who don't want it? It's what the left-wing called 'כפייה דתית.'

So I don't know the answer. I know that it rubs me the wrong way to read the kol koreis (broadsheets) that call for an immediate boycott of Bank Mizrachi because some of its ATMs are on during Shabbat. Never mind that their name is Mizrachi - that's grounds for vandalism right off the bat. But seriously, isn't there room to live and let live? Or am I just an apologist for secularism and relativism now? Has the 'goyishe oilem' affected me so? Or are intolerance and hatred bad things?

Aharon Hakohen, whose yahrtzeit was only a few weeks ago, never said, "Sarachta - you've messed up." This is brought down in the medrash raba and gemara. He always approached people with love and understanding, and influenced them far more deeply than a fire-and-brimstone preacher would have. But at the end of the day, isn't there also an aspect of din - law - to which we have to adhere? Or can we save that for the Heavenly court? Here's my 64 Million-Shekel question: What's going to happen when Moshiach comes?!?!

And back to Gush Katif - is the government acting in accordance with diplomacy and exigency, and thus turning its back on Torah values and Torah Jews, or is disengagement the right thing to do? What should 'frum' people in the government do? What should people who have thus far supported the government do?

I think the 'prayer for the state' that R' Mordechai Tendler שליט''א modified is a good beginning. He says, depending on who's in power, "ויתן אמצעים לתשובה/לילך בדרכיו לראשיה, שריה, ויועציה." (And may Hashem intervene to allow the government to return [from its incorrect ways], or to follow His ways.) What else can we say?

If anyone has links/suggestions for books or articles that address the fundamentals of religious zionism vis-a-vis the secular state, please e-mail me.

Thanks, and may we be blessed with the fulfillment of: ה' עוז לעמו יתן, ה' יברך את עמו בשלום

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