As a regular Shul-goer there is part of me that gets a little annoyed when the synagogue needs to open up their accordion-walls for all of the three-time-a-year Jews. I could claim that my annoyance is due to the fact that I like my space, but there is clearly something else afoot. I am not proud of the fact, but seeing that it is so close to Yom Kippor I can at the least start working on this my admitting that the feeling is real. My fellow parishioners have not done anything wrong, the issue is clearly my own.
I was thinking of this recently when I had the pleasure of meeting with Eitan Tako the new Central Shaliach , emissary, for the Habonim Dror Youth Movement. Habonim has seven camps around North America. And while they are a small in terms of numbers, they are mighty. You might think there is little for an Orthodox Rabbi to talk about with a secular socialist Zionist movement, but when we get together we can just go on for hours. When I met Eitan for the first time I asked him the origin of his last name. As the story goes one of his ancestors was a Shamash in the synagogue in Iraq and he used to go around to wake people up for shacharit and Slichot by knocking on people’s doors and windows. Knocking on door In Arabic is “tako el baab“. So his ancestor was the village door knocker and Eitan’s last name is Tako.
Sitting with Eitan I wanted to share an important story in my life, the story of Weiss Shendor. And as the story goes:
In the midst of the Holocaust, a brilliant Torah Scholar, Ha-Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal (who had been an anti-Zionist but changed his opinion during the Holocaust), delivered a Dvar Torah in Slovakia when he returned there during some stage of his hiding from the Nazis. He was responding to the Ultra-Orthodox view against returning to Eretz Yisrael because of the secular nature of Zionism. He said: What can we say, how can we speak and how can we justify ourselves? God has found the sin of your servant.
I will tell you a story: In a small town there was a Shamash of a Shul who died, leaving behind a widow. The people of the community thought about how they could provide her with some financial support, for at that time there was no pension for widows. Perhaps it would be possible to allow her to continue the work of her late husband. On the other hand – it is not proper for a woman to serve as the Shamash of a Shul. Eventually it was decided that she would carry out those activities that could be performed outside of the synagogue, while the tasks of the Shamash during prayer times would be filled by the worshippers themselves, on a voluntary basis. Thus the woman would be able to continue earning the salary that her husband had received.
It came time for “Selichot,” and as part of her job the woman had to get up and go about from house to house in the village, waking the people for Selichot. She took the special “Selichot Klopper” in her hand and headed for the most distant house in the village – the home of Weiss Shendor. When she knocked on the door, Weiss Shendor awoke, alarmed at the disturbance at such an unusual hour. When he opened the door and saw the wife of the Shamash, he asked what she wanted. She explained that as part of her duties she had to go from house to house, waking everyone for Selichot. When Weiss Shendor heard this, he tried to persuade her that it was not seemly for a woman to go about outside so early in the morning, in such cold and wet weather, and that it would be better if he did the job in her stead. The woman accepted the offer and handed him the “Selichot Klopper,” and Weiss Shendor set off to wake up the people.
Upon knocking at the first house he was asked to identify himself. He answered, “I am Weiss Shendor, and I have taken it upon myself to wake up the people for Selichot.” The house owner was incensed. “Weiss Shendor? A pork-eater like you isn’t going to wake me for Selichot!” With that he slammed the door and went back to sleep.
He went off to the second house and again came the question, “Who is it?” Again he gave the same reply, and again the same response: “Weiss Shendor? A Shabbat desecrator like you will not come and wake me for Selichot!” Again a door was slammed in his face. The same thing happened at the next house: “A swindler and gambler like you will not wake me for Selichot!” – and so on, at every house throughout the entire village. The wake-up round ended with nothing more to show for itself than a trail of scorn and disdain. Not a single person got up for Selichot.
When the congregation was gathered for the morning davening, the Rabbi asked: “What happened this year – no one came to the Shul for Selichot?” The people started justifying themselves and explaining that it was all Weiss Shendor’s fault. He was a shady character who was notorious throughout the village. Because it was he who had come to awaken them for Selichot, each of them had refused to come.
“Fools!” responded the Rabbi. “It’s true that Weiss Shendor is guilty of everything that you’ve accused him, but at this time he was waking you for Selichot. He wasn’t doing any of the bad things that he’s known for. So why didn’t you get up?”
Here Rav Teichtal burst into tears and shouted: It’s true that the Zionists desecrate Shabbat and so forth, but it was they who awakened the Nation and shouted: “Get out of the rubble, the non-Jews hate us, there is no place for us, except in Eretz Yisrael” – and we didn’t listen!
(This version is quoted from Rav Aviner and based on the testimony of Mordechai Rosenfeld, who was present during Rav Teichtal’s talk, as recorded in Be-Sheva, vol. 163, 3 Tishrei 5766).
Retelling this story to Eitan Tako of Habonim I found myself thinking, I need to wake up. I know that these three-time-a-year Jews are also coming to wake me up. I need to work past any judgement I have, actually get up out of bed, and figure out what I am supposed to do. We all have something unique to contribute to the world to make it a better place this coming year. I wish all of Klal Yisrael a Gmar Chatima Tova.