Posts Tagged 'Teichtal'

Meaningful Light

Hanukkah is a time of miracles. But which miracles? Maybe it is the miracle of the Maccabees. How else could we explain a small group of zealots being able to beat the stronger forces and regain control of the Temple? Maybe it is the miracle of the oil. What is the explanation for how a small jar pure oil that was only enough to last for one day could last for eight days? Or maybe the miracle is what I wrote about last week, the miracles that in retelling the story of the second miracle of the oil we were successful in overshadowing the first miracle of a civil war. But maybe there is yet another answer for why Hanukkah is time of miracles. Maybe the essence of Hanukkah is our ability to find meaning in history.

Hanukkah is in the depth of winter when the days are short and  the nights are long. What has all of our work on this world accomplished? It is understandable that we might be afraid of emptiness of the cold night sky. Time might passing us by, but what is our place in the universe? It is easy getting lost in the expanse of stars. Our lives seem infinitesimal in the context of the ever-expanding universe.

In the spirit of the holiday I was up last night I was up late reading as I am up tonight writing.  I had the pleasure of reviewing the end of Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal‘s Em HaBanim Semeichah.  In this amazing book Rabbi Teichtal refutes the anti- Zionism of his Hungarian Orthodox upbringing  and beautifully lays out a vision of redemption realized in a Jewish State of Israel. I have written about this book and Rabbi Teichtal in past posts. There in the conclusion we read:

This printing of this book began on parashat VaEira , 5703[1943], and was completed successfully on Thursday, parashat Miketz, the second day of Hanukkah, 5704 [1943]. May HaShem recall the miracles that God performed for our forefathers in those days and renew them for us today. May the following verses be fulfilled through us, “He puts an end to the darkness” ( Job 28:3) and ” The Jews had light and gladness and joy” ( Esther 8:16). So may it be for us, speedily in our days. Amen.

The project of Rabbi Teichtal’s  book was looking at all of the anti-Zionist sources that he grew up with through the lens of the history.  Every shred of his being was trying to make sense of the horrors of the Holocaust. In the depths of this darkness Rabbi Teichtal was looking for the light of meaning. It has been exactly 70 years since Rabbi Teichtal finished this opus on redemption and return. I was haunting reading these words in the middle of the night on Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is truly a holiday of miracles, but maybe it does not matter which miracles. Maybe the holiday itself is an invitation for us to see world history through the lens that there is meaning in the world. Perhaps the idea of miracles itself is human projection of meaning casting light into the darkness of an otherwise meaningless universe.

Unfortunately Rabbi Teichtal was not able to live out his Zionist dreams. He was murdered on a transport train in 1945 during the closing days of World War II. On this Hanukkah I hope that we are all blessed to be inspired by the memory  of Rabbi Teichtal z”l who’s light continues to shine despite having experienced the darkest era the world has ever known. Perhaps we can be inspired to cultivate in ourselves the curiosity and desire to seek out or project a meaningful light into the depths of our darkness.


Wake Up Call

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.

*For another reference to profound Torah of Rabbi Teichtal see A Joyous Mother of Children: Gilad Shalit

A Joyous Mother of Children: Gilad Shalit

Today Gilad Shalit was returned to his family. It has been hard to find words for what I imagine the feelings that Aviva and Noam Shalit had holding their son again. I could not imagine my life without any of our children. It is just crazy to realize that two of them were born during his captivity.

All day I kept coming back to a story told by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal in his book Eim Habanim Semeichah. In this amazing book Rabbi Teichtal refutes the anti- Zionism of his Hungarian Orthodox upbringing  and beautifully lays out a vision of redemption realized in a Jewish State of Israel. This story is long, but it is prescient and worth reading. Rabbi Teichtal wrote:

In the year 5702 (1942), before Pesach ( Passover), the cursed oppressors issued the terrible decree to abduct young Jewish maidens in Slovakia, age sixteen and older, and deport them to an uninhabited, unknown land. To this day, the fate of thousand of pure Jewish souls who were transported there is unknown. May HaShem speedily take vengeance on our oppressors, on our behalf. The camp of Israel was in a great state of panic.

I know of an incident in which a certain individual attempted to smuggle his young daughters over the border, to save them from this horrible trap. It was the intermediary days of Pesach, and he promised his wife that he would send a telegraphed message from across the border informing her that he and his children  had arrived safely. The mother sat at home anticipating and longing for the moment what she would receive the good news.  It happened, however, that before they crossed the border, the father and his daughters were seized and transported to a nearby village, where they were placed in prison. There, they remained for the duration of Pesach. They were in great danger of being sent off immediately to an unknown place, for that was the punishment for someone who was  caught attempting to escape; he would be deported to an unknown destination in a harsher manner than the other deportees.

In the meantime, his wife, the mother of the girls, was informed of the situation. We can imagine the bitter emotions which overcame her. Her joy at the prospect of deliverance was transformed into sorrow. Her holiday became a time of mourning for her husband and daughters. The entire holiday she cried endlessly. Her entire world became dark. It is impossible to describe the sorrowful state into which she fell from the time she became aware of her husband and daughters’ fate, for she knew what awaited them.

However, the brilliant, righteous, and pious rabbi, a true self-sacrificing servant of HaShem, our master, Rabbi Shmuel David Unger, the av deit din of Nitra, selflessly and vigilantly endangered his own life and labored until he redeemed these three captives with a large sum of money. May he be remembered for the good. On the last day of Pesach they were set free and permitted to return home, unharmed and in peace. This distraught woman was immediately informed, via telephone, that her husband and daughters were set free and that they would return home the next day, isru chag,unharmed  and in peace. It is needless to describe what sort of effect these good tidings had upon the soul of this unfortunate woman. From that moment on, she waited expectantly for the father and daughters to return home.

The following day, she was unable to restrain herself and wait for them inside the house. Instead, she sat by the entrance of the courtyard and, with great anticipation, awaited the moment of their return. When they arrived, she burst into tears and overwhelmingly poured out all the emotions of her heart. On account of the profuse outpouring  of emotions, she was unable even to utter words of thanks to the Holy One Blessed be God for the great miracle God performed on their behalf. He who did not witness this  reunion – the mother reunited with her daughters after such a dreadful captivity, the tears of the mother when she saw that her daughters had returned to their borders, the joy of the joyous mother of children – has never witnessed true feelings of joy. This is what I know about this incident which transpired in our days.

I imagine that such will be the joy of our mother, Eretz Yisrael, when we all return to her bosom after the horrible captivity we now experience. This is how I picture the wondrous joy that a mother will share with her children, that is, Eretz Yisrael with us and we with her. Hence I entitled this work Eim Habanim Semeichah ( A Joyous Mother of Children). (from  Eim Habanim Semeichah- Translated by Moshe Lichtman)

Completed by 1944, Rabbi Teichtal’s words are hauntingly relevant today. This story transpired exactly 70 years ago this Pesach. In this time we  have realized that dream of Jews from all over the world finding a home in Israel.  In Gilad Shalit’s return home we  reconnect to the ideals of Zionism. The steep cost of his ransom awakens us from the dream of these last 70 years.

Today I got a wonderful e-mail from my sister Arielle Hendel who wrote of her connection as a parent to Gilad Shalit’s return. She wrote:

The joy we feel is tempered by the high price we paid to release him.  All of the relatives of the victims of the released terrorists are reliving their personal nightmares of loss without justice or redemption.  The Knesset’s decision was not easy but it underscores the value that Israel puts on a single life.  Gilad was everyone’s concern – he became our son, his redemption is ours. Finally, I am reminded of Golda Meir’s famous words, ”Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

Today the joy of Sukkot is overshadowed by the joy of a mother at the return of her captive son. I still believe in my heart that we will only experience sustained joy when the Palestinians love their children as much as we love our own.

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