By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
A devoted mother’s promise to a daughter and some pre-Pesach business brought us to beautiful, sunny Miami Beach for a few days last month. Leaving New York in the midst of one of the coldest winters on record and enjoying sunny weather in the 70s allowed me to feel the contrast in the weather. A brief encounter there with a fellow Yid allowed me to feel the contrast in two types of Yidden as well.
Permit me to explain.
Without the routine daily pressure of preparing for the daf yomi shiur or for a derashah, I had an opportunity to catch up on important articles that were relegated to the “must-read” pile. One of those articles was sent to me via e-mail by one of my talmidim—a transcript of the inspiring lecture that was given in Lakewood recently by Rebbetzin Bashi Twersky, the almanah of the great talmidchacham Rav Moshe Twersky, zt’l, who was one of the four kedoshim in the horrific terrorist attack in a Har Nof shul several months ago. I had printed out the article and on the first morning of my brief trip to Miami I was finally able to give it my full attention. I sat down at a small outdoor table at a popular restaurant off 41st Street, received my cup of coffee, pulled out the article from my jacket pocket, and began to read Rebbetzin Twersky’s heartfelt words.
It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes before someone came over to my table with a loud greeting, “Good morning, Rabbi Ginzberg! Welcome to sunny Florida.” It was an old acquaintance from New York who explained that he was there for an extended vacation. He added, “You seem so engrossed in whatever you are reading that you didn’t even hear my first greeting. May I ask what you are reading that has you so focused?” I explained that I was reading a transcript of a lecture given by Rebbetzin Twersky about the tragedy in Har Nof. I offered to give it to him to read as well, but he was quick to respond, “Please no, Rabbi Ginzberg, I’m here on vacation to relax; I don’t want to think about suffering, tragedy, or tzaros in KlalYisrael while I’m here.” I said I understood, though truly I did not.
A little while later, the waiter brought me my bill and I walked over to the counter to pay, where someone in front of me was doing the same. As he took out his wallet to retrieve his credit card, I couldn’t help but notice that it opened up to a small picture of Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal, Hy’d, the three young boys who captivated and broke the collective hearts of Klal Yisrael almost a year ago. The three boys were kidnapped by two Arab terrorists, ym’s, while they were hitchhiking and were missing for 18 days before they were found dead and buried just a short distance from where they had been taken.
I turned to him and said, “Please forgive me, as I am not in the habit of asking personal questions of perfect strangers, but I’m just curious as to why you have the pictures of the three kedoshim front and center in your wallet. Are you related to any of them?” And this former stranger and now personal role model answered me with the following simple words: “After the three boys were found, we were all devastated, and I said to my family, ‘We just can’t move on and forget them and leave just their parents to remember them. We also should not forget.’ And so while I am not related to any of them, I cut out a picture of them and placed it in my wallet, and every time I open my wallet, I see them and remind myself of this tragedy and of the loss that their parents feel every day. In some small way by doing so, I am always reminded of the painful loss of these three young kedoshim.”
What a contrast, a tale of two very different Yidden. After these back-to-back encounters, I began to wonder which approach is correct and where I fit in. Am I like the first Yid who doesn’t want to hear or think about anyone’s tzaros, private or communal, while enjoying the warm South Florida sun? Or am I like the second Yid who never wants to be meisiachda’as, forget for even a moment about Yiddishe suffering? I assume that, like most of us, I fall somewhere in the middle.
At a recent simcha, I was sitting at a table with several prominent rabbanim from different cities. The conversation focused upon comparing notes as to how many new divorces we are dealing with from couples of all ages in our respective communities. It was most disturbing when one of the rabbanim from a young community lamented not about the growing numbers of young divorces in his community, but about the lack of communal compassion and pain when these things happen.
Chazal describe the great pain when a (first-marriage) couple divorces—even the Mizbeiach sheds tears. Yet today, when these seemingly almost routine situations occur in our own communities, it generates much gossip, with everyone needing to know every detail, despite the pain that it brings to those who are living through it. If the Mizbeiach, an inanimate object, cannot hold back its tears, how should we, children of AvrahamAvinu, who are “Rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chasadim,” react when we think of the pain of a broken home, of children living through turmoil, of families being torn apart? All of the rabbanim sitting at that table agreed that the lack of compassion for a family living through such turmoil—and instead the waste of time and energy on hurtful gossip—is a major problem in our communities.
At a Pesach program that I participated in this year, I was in contact with more than a dozen families (families that are just like mine and yours) that have a recently divorced son or daughter with small children who shared their personal stories with me and asked for my help to create new shidduch opportunities for them. While their personal stories varied, they all shared experiences that were filled with pain. Here also we need to redirect the way our communities deal with these issues. The human condition is such that we try to avoid feeling pain that others are experiencing, but that doesn’t excuse us from doing something positive that ensures that we don’t just turn away from Yiddishetzaros, both individual and communal, without making a change in our lives.
A case in point. It’s difficult to remember a more painful levayah than the one a few weeks ago, the levayah of the seven children of the Sassoon family who perished in a horrific fire on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nissan. We were all devastated. People who had never before been able to properly feel the tza’ar of the families of terror victims in Eretz Yisrael were overwhelmed at the colossal loss due to this tragedy. As I stood at the levayah just a few feet away from the incredibly inspiring father of these children who shared some heartfelt words with Klal Yisrael, all I could think was that I can’t let the pain that we all collectively feel at this moment disappear like other similar feelings of the past.
On my long car ride home after the levayah, I was thinking what I could do, what we can do, so that this tragedy should not just end for us without effecting some change in our daily lives. I recalled a few years back, when a wonderful and beautiful three-year-old child in our shul was suddenly taken from us. We started a daily learning of five mishnayos a day with a distribution of a monthly calendar listing the mishnayos for each day of the month that can be learned in shul, at home, on the train, or just waiting at a red light. It’s not much, but it was something. Going through our fourth cycle of Shishah Sidrei Mishnah and doing so with hundreds of participants, it has kept the memory of Meir Yechezkel, a’h, close to our minds and hearts.
We needed to do something here as well. With the public notices about the Dirshu siyum of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim and with the new cycle of Mishnah Berurah beginning, I felt that this would be the perfect option as a lasting zikaron for the Sassoon children, zt’l. Several weeks ago, we began a daily 8-minute Mishnah Berurah shiur, following the Dirshu calendar, that is given by my son-in-law Rabbi Yudi Jeger each morning at 8:00.
Through the blessing of technology one need not do anything beyond signing up by sending in your name, cell number, and e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org, and each morning at 7:55 a.m., you will receive a text message reminding you about the upcoming shiur at 8:00. The text message will include sections that we will be covering that day. At 8:00, your phone will ring (the caller ID will be 516-360-9177), and when you pick up you will be asked to press 1 to join the conference. (If you cannot pick up the call right away, you can call back the same number and join in while the shiur is going on.) If you can’t listen to the brief shiur in the morning, it can be replayed nightly at 8:00 p.m. and at 9:00 p.m. at the same number.
Our goal with this is not only to increase our daily learning routine and to become more familiar with the basic halachos of the Mishnah Berurah, but also to leave a lasting legacy in memory of the Sassoon children, zt’l. It is an opportunity to take that tremendous achdus that we experienced together as we collectively mourned this great loss and continue that achdus as we join together in the learning of Torah and halachah in their everlasting memory.
Please join with us by signing on. The cost is free; the benefit is priceless.
Yehi zichram baruch.