Erev Shabbat Shalom,
Living the Jewish calendar is an extraordinary way to organize a most precious resource, time. These past weeks drove home that message with the observance of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha’atzma’ut. The common thread of these holidays is that they are of very recent invention, all borne of necessity and historical realities. They represent examples of the way that Jewish tradition, in ways significant and more mundane, continues to develop. It might have been the case (and still is in some small circles) that some would say that there is no power strong enough to create a new holiday, to allow for new rituals or to permit some significant change (by way of addition) to a calendar that has been fixed for more than a thousand years. Thankfully, in this and many other ways, evolution is possible. Like evolution in the natural world it does not happen quickly, easily, or universally in Jewish tradition. It is still early. But the idea that we (and most other observant communities) read a special Torah reading that overrode the regular Torah reading, said Hallel with a blessing, read a Haftarah (on Thursday, an uncommon occurrence) and generally treated services like a holiday. Was it enough? No. Was it as well attended as Rosh Hashanah? Also no. But it was an example (one of many) of a tradition’s spiritual response to physical facts and to new circumstances, and tomorrow we’ll look at a few more ‘questions and answers’ asked and answered as the result of Judaism confronting contemporary realities head on.
Though more will be said, I’m sure I also want to note here that the Jewish world lost a giant this year, though he lived with such humility in his life that if you are not tuned into the “modern Orthodox-Zionist” circle you may not find his name familiar. To say that Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein did not seek headlines is an understatement. If and when he made a public pronouncement outside the walls of the Yeshiva that he built in Gush Etzion (called Yeshivat Har Etzion, where most of my Israeli family has spent quite a lot of time as students) it was to call for moderation, thoughtfulness, a validation of the sanctity of human life, and an affirmation of the values of learning at the intersection of humility, kindness and respect. His was a one-of-a-kind intellect and the seeming contradictions of his extraordinary life baffle the outside observer. A Talmudic genius, he also had a PhD from Harvard in English literature. A halachic conservative, he was often on the ‘humane’ side of those controversies into which he waded. A staunch religious Zionist, he was a proponent of peace, an opponent of unnecessary war, and would speak out against governments that failed to see the human component of armed conflict. A ‘gadol ha-dor’ (one of the great scholars and authorities of his generation), he agreed to accept the invitation to lead the Yeshiva at which he would spend 40 years only if the Rosh Yeshiva at the time of the invitation would stay on so they could both be co-Rashei Yeshiva. This is exceedingly uncommon. Though his students looked up to him as a towering figure, the stories of the ways he downplayed his greatness are the stuff of legend, except that they are real. Though he could have been a kind of ‘rebbe’, answering questions from students on what they should or shouldn’t do in and with their lives, instead he refused to do that and instead taught values and core commitments (and text, a lot of text!) and said to his students “now you go find a meaningful pathway, it does not have to be my pathway”. Though he was a master Talmudist, a builder of an extraordinarily impactful and important institution in Israel, and a sought-after opinion-maker, when asked what he would want to be remembered for he said that he and his wife managed to raise children who chose to live Jewish lives and who are in their own way involved in Jewish education. The story that sticks with me (and I reserve the right to tell it again!) is from a student named Moshe whose glasses broke as he was walking in the Yeshiva. A screw fell out and he was on his hands and knees looking for it. Next thing he knew he looks to the side and there is Rabbi Lichtenstein on his hands and knees and the great rabbi says “Moshe, did you lose something”? He began to help looking before he knew what had been lost. How many of us help first and ask questions later? There are hundreds of stories like that. This one happens to be on good authority. But even if it was not, the old adage applies. Is it true or not true? I don’t know, but I do know that they don’t tell stories like that about you or me.
We have services tomorrow in our usual place at our regular time. Thanks very much in advance to our Torah readers Scott Demsky, Judy Sufrin, Steve Mendelsohn, Scott Frank, Sue Gurland, Linda Ehrlich, and Alan Marcovitz. The next two Shabbatot, May 2 and 9, we are combined in the sanctuary, one for a special B’yachad-Religious School-March of the Living service and the other when Rabbi S will be away. Stay tuned for further updates! Last week we had a Learner’s Service (with some great questions from our kids!) so there is no ‘what I meant to say’ last week.
If you are a member in good standing of B’nai Torah, please come out to the Annual General Meeting on Wednesday April 29th at 7 pm.
Rabbi David Englander