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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Friday, June 23, 2017

We begin this week’s portions with Hashem telling Moses, Emor El HaKohanin … Speak to the Kohanim the children of Aaron, VeAmarta Aleyhem … And say to them. The rabbis ask why the double language of Emor and Amarta, say and say? From this we learn that one generation is responsible to teach another generation. I also see a lesson in the use of the word emor as opposed to the word daber. The rabbis teach that emor is used to speak in a soft way as opposed to daber which is used to speak in a harsh manner. Perhaps there is a lesson to try to teach in a soft manner. 

Last week we added a new column, Rav Kook on the Perasha to our weekly newsletter. When I told the following story I heard from Rabbi A Leib Sheinbaum of Cleveland, my friend Mark Raymer mentioned that it sounded typical of Rav Kook who saw the best in everyone and elevated everyone he met. 

The story takes place in 1945. Rabbi Moshe David Tenenbaum, zl, who was then head of the Vaad HaYeshivos in the Holy Land, went for a vacation in a small village in the north. As he was walking one day, a member of a nearby kibbutz approached him and asked if he could serve as the tenth man for a minyan. At first, the rabbi thought the fellow was teasing him, since it was a non-religious kibbutz and prayer with a minyan, was uncommon to say the least. How surprised he was when he arrived at the kibbutz to meet the other members of the minyan. His surprise increased when he discovered that they were not praying, but rather, performing a Brit Milah. The mohel, ritual circumciser, was a fellow in shorts, who did not appear to be observant. Nonetheless, the mohel recited the blessings fluently and performed the circumcision flawlessly, with apparent skill. 

Immediately following the ceremony, the rabbi approached the mohel and asked him where he had practiced to become such a specialist. The man explained that he used to be a Vishnitzer Chasid and had for years been a mohel in Vishnitz. Upon arriving in Israel, his relationship with Hashem had waned, and once he joined the kibbutz, he had naturally became estranged from Jewish observance. Nonetheless, he still retained his skill as a mohel, which he employed when needed. 

They finished their conversation, and Rav Moshe David was about to leave when the father of the infant came over and made a request: "We have an elderly grandfather who - due to his failing health - was unable to attend the ceremony. I am sure that it would mean the world to him if you could visit with him a moment and extend a blessing of mazel tov." Rav Moshe David was only too happy to hearten an elderly Jew. He went to the home and met the grandfather, who was confined to a wheelchair. He sat down next to him and began a conversation. He introduced himself as hailing from Jerusalem where he was a chasid of Karlin. As soon as he mentioned his connection with Karlin, the grandfather's eyes perked up, and he said, "I must tell you a story.

"I immigrated to Israel from Germany, where I had lived an assimilated lifestyle (as did many German Jews who had fallen under the influence of the scourge of Haskalah, Enlightenment.) One Friday night, my friend informed me that a Chassidic Rebbe - Rabbi Yisrael Perlow, zl, had arrived in Germany for health reasons. Chassidic Rebbes were not common in Germany and certainly not in Berlin. We felt it would be an interesting sight (a Rebbe conducting his Tish surrounded by his Chassidim around a large table). I already owned a car, so although it was Shabbat, we drove over to where the Rebbe was conducting his Tish.

"We entered the large room to see the Rebbe about to speak. 'I rarely speak Torah thoughts at the Shabbos Tish,' the Rebbe began. 'Since I am a guest visiting Berlin, however, I will change my custom and say divrei Torah.' That Shabbos was Parashas Kedoshim. It has been quite some time, and I have gone through much since that time. Nonetheless, I was so impacted by the holy Rebbe's words, I remember them as if they were today. The Rebbe began with the opening words of the parsha, Kedoshim tiheyu, 'You shall be holy.' He then quoted the rest of the pasuk and the next; the Torah's enjoinment to revere parents, followed by the commandment to observe Shabbat, with the closing words - 'I am Hashem.'

"'What is the relationship between these statements?' the Rebbe asked. 'It all depends on to whom one is speaking. To my Chassidim, it is sufficient to simply say to them - "You shall be holy." However, there are Jews for whom this is almost too much to ask (being that they are no longer religiously-connected with Hashem). To them, the Torah says, "Every man: your father and mother shall you revere." If you are no longer observant, then at least do what your parents did. Surely, there must have been a semblance of Jewish observance at home. Attempt to maintain old family practices (as a way of holding onto Judaism). As long as one holds on, there is hope. Sadly, there are Jews who have distanced themselves, so that they are not prepared to observe all of the practices that were part of their life growing up at home. To them the Torah admonishes: at least keep My Shabbos. That much you do remember.'

"I thought it was over, when, suddenly, the Rebbe raised his voice, banged on the table and declared, 'From you, Jews of Berlin, even that we cannot expect. (You have gravitated away so far, distancing yourselves from ritual observance, parental customs, even the basics, like Shabbos.) You should at least remember, "Ani Hashem, I am Hashem! Remember that there is a Creator Who guides this world!'"

"The Rebbe's pounding on the table set off a pounding in my heart. At that time, I had a daughter who was engaged to marry a gentile (that was Berlin in those days. Sadly, it was not uncommon). I did not need more. The Rebbe's pounding continued to pound in my chest. I dropped everything, and within a week, I was on a boat to Eretz Yisrael. If you saw today a grandchild of mine receive a Brit Milah, it is only because I attended the Rebbe's Tish. That night's pounding of Ani Hashem has been my conscience throughout these years." 

The rabbi went on to explain that the casual spectator who sees such a non-observant man does not take the time to wonder if there is another side to the story. He might easily disregard the many grandfathers we all often see. Do we ever stop to think: Why? Why is he like this? What was his background: Who turned him off? Was he ever turned on? What kind of life did he have? 

He continued, I meet such people every week in various settings. Some never had a chance. Some were even raised Orthodox but assimilated when they went off to school. For some it was financial, peer pressure, ignorance, lack of interest, but everyone has a story. We must never forget this. We must never judge - because, who knows, if given similar circumstances, whether we would have acted differently - or even worse? 

I was so moved by these words. I thought every teacher and every parent should hear them. I wanted to know more about Rabbi Perlow, the Stoliner Rebbe who passed away shortly after this story, I thought of what a remarkable man. I wanted to know more about Rabbi Tennebaum who had such tremendous insight and when I thought about what Mark had said, it really made sense. This sounded like Rav Kook and perhaps is why Rav Kook was the great man he was. It behooves us all to study the words and writings of such special people and hope that some of it brushes up on us.

 By: Rabbi David Bibi