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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.

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