How do you deal with the name Zelig זעליג?

This sounds like a strange heading for a blog post. Let me explain. In the last few months, we merited having two grandsons born to my younger two daughters. They and their husbands named both their sons Shaul Zelig, שאול זעליג after my dear father ז׳ל. I was honoured and, of course, this was due to my father’s very close relationship with each and every one of his grandchildren.

In the 1600’s, Rav Eliyahu Shapira in his famous work Eliyahu Rabo, quotes the Beis Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, that just before saying the Oseh Shalom עושה שלום of Shemoneh Esreh, one should say a Pasuk from Tanach whose first letter corresponds to the first letter of one’s  name, and such that the passuk ends with the last letter of one’s name.

One of my sons-in-law, had quickly taken on the custom to say his new son’s Pesukim for both שאול and זעליג as well as his own, until his son was old enough to do so. The other soon followed. I did not know but he had asked some Rabonim in Shule because he could not find a single Passuk in Tanach which started with letter Zayin and ended with a Gimmel. Eventually, it was concluded, thanks to computers, that there was no such Passuk. The question then arose, so what does one say if they practice this custom?

The Arizal and the Shelah Hakadosh both write about this concept and the latter mentions in his Sefer, that it is a tool or device to help one after 120 years, when facing God, and when asked their name (this would be something mystical that is beyond me). We will be in fear and the saying of this Passuk will jog our memory from its expected momentary freeze. (Some say the Passuk 18 times by the way). It is clearly a Kabbalistic/Mystical notion, however, I am accustomed to saying my name as well, because that’s what I was taught when I was a boy, and assumed this was mainstream practice. I don’t know whether Germanic, Oberlander or other Ashkenazic traditions also have this Minhag/practice. I would imagine that Sephardim do.

Either way, the advice one son-in-law was given was a bit of a compromise. He was to say a passuk that had a word in it that began with zayin and ended in gimmel. That’s not to say it wouldn’t work. I saw some opinions that indeed suggest this.

I was intrigued when I learned about this reality and started scouring (I don’t have Bar Ilan or Otzar HaChochma databases though). I found that some have a custom to say one passuk which would starts with a Shin for Shaul and ended with a Gimel for Zelig. This was legitimately sourced, however, both my sons-in-law both follow the Chabad custom, so I set about to find out what, if anything, Chabad does in such a situation (or indeed any group that says two Pesukim for two names).

I immediately thought to ring Dayan Usher Zelig Weiss, Rav of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital and a world-famous Posek. After all, his middle name is Zelig, and I have spoken to him before. I got an answer almost immediately that the Passuk that should be used is:

זָרַח בַּחשֶׁךְ אוֹר לַיְשָׁרִים חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּֽיק

which is from Tehillim (112:4)

The reasoning is because in pronunciation the Gimel actually sounds like a Kuf. Indeed it does. I can still hear my father say it that way unwittingly.

Certainly, in Hilchos Gittin, where names and nicknames are most critical, I could see this as being significant. There are various theories about the origin of the name Zelig. In my father’s case (I surmise Dayan Usher Zelig Weiss, the Zelig was considered a coupled/translation of Osher (Usher) as in Dov Ber, Yehuda Aryeh Leib, Menachem Mendel, etc. I knew my father’s middle name came from his grandfather who was also called Osher (who was Yitzchak Osher Amzel or Reb Yitzchak Bogoshitzer) but since my father’s other grandfather was named Yitzchak, and was still alive, he couldn’t get the name Yitzchak Osher. I got the name Yitzchak later, as did my cousin Ya׳akov Yitzchak Balbin ז׳ל.

An oracular friend in the USA, Rabbi Michoel Seligson, sent me the following letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe in response to someone who asked exactly this question (it’s reprinted from a couple’s wedding booklet gift to their guests).

image001And to add, see
where the Kav Noki quotes the Mahari Mintz (need time to look at that) supporting equivalence as in soundex. Clearly, soundex was extended to the Possuk as well, as a device for memorisation.

Zelig more  recently was the same as Germanic Selik or Selig. Rabbi Selig Baumgarten comes to mind. Again, accents/pronunciation are evident. Zelig seems to be derived from Old German meaning “chosen” or “blessed”. It is also found in Old English and may have become the word “select“.

We also find it in Yiddish with this meaning  as in “a zointz un a zelig(ch)s”

Back to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I am intrigued by the last words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe above which state that this is the Pasuk “until you find an exact pasuk”. I thought to myself, there are a finite number of Pesukim. Either it exists or it doesn’t exist. What possibly could the Lubavitcher Rebbe have meant “until you find“. You’d never find it! One could surmise he was hinting that when saying Pesukim in general, never stop paying careful attention to each letter of each Passuk.

I had another thought, for which I have no support. The tradition is that when the Moshiach comes a “new Torah” will sprout תורה חדשה. Perhaps, given the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s single-minded focus on causing Moshiach to come sooner, he was hinting that such a Passuk may come into existence in times to come? I don’t know. I’m certainly not qualified to double guess what he meant. It might be an explanation.

Either way, I found it an interesting tidbit, especially for those who have the name זעליג!

Oh, and here are our two treasures:

img_5315

Two Michaels: Danby and Kroger and the Jewish News

Michael of the Liberal Party is a political Machiavellian. He is good at it, however, his criticism of Michael Danby the long-term Jewish, Zionist member for Melbourne Ports is misplaced. Allow me to dispel in brief terms some of Kroger’s points. I don’t have time for an informal dismemberment.

  1. If a politician can get preferences from an irrelevant party, viz, the Greens, then you take those preferences. They put you into power, and allow you to hold to your agenda. If the Greens do not like what Danby has said or achieved in his years in parliament, then they will not redirect their votes. Clearly, Mr Kroger, it’s a question of degrees of distaste. The Greens distaste of the Liberal party is known and is almost uniform. That being said, Mr Kroger knows how to obtain Green preferences in other seats for the Liberals in order to block Labor. Without being party political, Kroger’s comments are simply jaundiced.
  2. It concerns me greatly that Mrs Bishop and the Australian Government has anything to do, whatsoever, with the regime of the Ayatollahs in Iran. This is indefensible. Talk is cheap. Actions speak. Iran can trigger a bomb when it wishes, how it wishes, and will do so irrespective of whether Julie Bishop kowtows to the Obama left-wing Government of the USA or whether dons a Shaytel at a Jewish event in the “same” way that she placed a head covering on for the Ayatollah.
  3. In extolling the Jewish credentials of David Southwick, let me just say that I am impressed by the almost weekly attendance at Elwood Shule of Michael Danby, where a sadly dying congregation offers him zero political leverage and succour. Michael has nothing politically to be gained by going to a Shule with barely 20 people each Shabbos. David’s perennially capacious grin seems to appear at events only, especially  in the Jewish News. David know how to stamp himself.
  4. There were major errors (and I’m using a diplomatic term) in David Southwark’s CV. Claims of certain employment were fallacious and easily known to be. I knew it and remained silent. Thankfully he corrected these.
  5. Jews are known in the Talmud as רחמנים, merciful. Accordingly, there are a number of Jewish people who tend to vote Green, among a bevy of anti-Semites who do so as well. Those Jewish people, and many are intelligent, know the Greens will not win Melbourne Ports, but Michael Kroger seems to assume that they are uncomfortable with Michael Danby receiving their preference. The last time I knew, prophecy ended with Ezra and Nehemia. I’m not aware of prophet Kroger, nor do I contend he has better inside knowledge of the mind-set of Jewish Green voters than anyone.
  6. It is true that extremism is something that Jews tend to veer away from, on both sides. Whether it’s Daniel Andrews and his mindless cavorting with the Unions on matters as grave as the control of our legendary fire fighters, or the undiplomatic, and unstatesman-like rhetoric of Donald Trump in the US elections. In this vein, the past Howard Governments’ record in the UN cannot automatically be assumed to be in the same breath as the Julie Bishop visits to Iran. One would not get an answer on the record, but I would not have expected John Howard, a true friend of Israel, to send even mild Alex Downer to dine with ayatollahs who engrave “Death to Israel” on their missiles, today.
  7. I do contend that Malcolm Turnbull is a true friend of Israel. I am not convinced by Bill Shorten. In respect of policies: the Superannuation Policy of Shorten will affect me more than the Turnbull policy. We’ve seen over the last few days, that all three parties, including the extreme Greens, cannot fully explain their policy unless the relevant minister is doing so.
  8. The Greens have a bigger Jewish thorn in their ranks than Bernie Sanders. Her name is Lee Brown, Halachically Jewish on both sides, she now goes by the name of Senator Lee Rhiannon. There is little worse than a self-deprecating Jew who tries to be less Jewish than one who is not.
  9. We do have our strange Australian Jewish News editor, Zeddy Lawrence, who in keeping with his mantra? of “mixing it all up” refuses to apologise for promoting in a large photo and article, a “Jewish” wedding, which wasn’t, and which was conducted by a non-Jewish Celebrant! Be under no illusion. Lawrence received letters about this תואבה and in his usual open “democratic” style, where he serves us boring predictable left-wing letters from Henry Herzog every two weeks, Zeddy refused to publish letters critical of that editorial disgrace. He tries to sell papers. That’s his job. He needs though to be a little more responsible.
  10. In summary, those  who cannot put aside their personal party preferred preference and make your Vote 1, for Michael Danby, are guilty of commission and omission. Michael appears as just about the only sane voice in the moving, social and written media as a strong, effective and unadulterated supporter of the State of Israel.
  11. We may get to a point, where, like France, we become an irrelevancy in Australia. This will simply herald the continued ingathering of the exiles to the Holy Land.
  12. On right vs left, other examples abound: those who simply label “Avigdor Lieberman” as right-wing, and rub their hands, are being simplistic, and fail to account for real politick. Israel has not done well under the left-wing Obama regime. It never was going to. It would do worse under Bernie Sanders, and will do no better under Hillary Clinton. That was obvious as soon as B.H. Obama was elected. I doubt whether Trump will be any better.
  13. In Australia, I think Turnbull is well ahead of Shorten both in ability, intellect, experience, believability and integrity. Shorten is a nice and likeable fellow, but hasn’t got the broader touch. He’s almost an incarnation of a political Eddie McGuire, the Broadie boy. In Melbourne Ports however, there is only Michael Danby. Do not waver.
  14. Michael Kroger’s comments are a distraction down Machiavellian roads.
From left: My father ע’ה, Vice President of Elwood Shule, Fred Antman, President Elwood Shule, Michael and Amira Danby
From left: My father ע’ה, former Vice President of Elwood Shule, Fred Antman, former President Elwood Shule, Michael and Amira Danby

What can you “say” at a grave

לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי ר׳ שאול זעליג הכהן בן ר׳ יהודה הכהן,  מקדושי ניצולי השואה האיומה בשנה ב׳ להסתלקותו לרקיע השמימא

My father, Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל
My father, אבי מורי,  R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל ּBalbin

(At least) One of my readers, is a Talmid Chochom, and a genius. I don’t have permission to publish his name so I will not do so. However, on this particular matter I disagree with him perhaps, and I believe that my opinion is the accepted one, and his thinking is somewhat skewed for whatever reason (which is generally not like him).

There is a הלכה that say אין דרורשין על המת one doesn’t “ask from” the dead.

It is an ancient tradition to visit the graves of Tzadikim. For example, Kalev prayed at Meoras ha-Machpeilah before confronting the meraglim (Sotah 34b). See also Ta’anis 23b.

There are also Minhagim brought in Shulchan Aruch and many other places to go on fast days, Erev Rosh Hashono, Yom Kippur etc since going at such times can affect the person to repent and minimise their own self-importance.

The Gemora in Taanis also mentions a second reason (16a) and that is to ask the dead to pray for mercy on our behalf. Reading this one would automatically assume one may ask a Tzadik to pray on our behalf  at auspicious times, according to various Minhagei Yisroel and Mesorah/tradition.

It would seem that according to this second explanation, one may pray to the dead in this fashion. Yet, we are also taught that it is strictly forbidden as a Torah Law! One who prays with such a singular intention transgresses the Torah command of “You shall not recognize the gods of others in my presence (see the authoritative Gesher ha-Chayim 2:26). One may also be transgressing the Torah command against “one who consults the dead” (see Shoftim 18:11 and Eliyohu Rabbah 581:4).

Now, the Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 581:16 (and others) explain this conundrum as meaning that  it is okay to speak directly to the dead to ask them to daven or beseech to Hashem on our behalf. This is in keeping with the style of Selichos that we recite and whose authors were not plain poets. Some also ask Malachim (intermediaries) to beseech Hashem on our behalf. The Melachim aren’t able to do anything but they can be a more effective mouth piece according to Mesorah/tradition. Others don’t accept this explanation and say that even this is forbidden (see Bach and Shach Yoreh Deah 179:15) and the authoritative Maharil, Hilchos Ta’anis as quoted in the Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 581:17).

Instead, their take on this is we pray directly to Hashem that in the merit of the Tzadik/Dead person, Hashem should extend mercy to us. We are inspired to visit graves to “remind” Hashem of the holy tazddikim who are physically buried there. This view is accepted as normative Halacha by a bevy of Acharonim including the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Be’er Heitev, Chayei Adam, Mateh Efrayim and others.

The Chofetz Chaim in the Mishna Brura (581:27) says that we visit, because a cemetery where tzaddikim are buried is a place where Tefillos are more readily answered. But one should never place his trust in the dead themselves. He should instead just ask Hashem to have mercy on him in the merit of the tzaddikim who are interred here.

That being said, the Munkatcher Gaon, the great defender of Chassidishe Minhohim, the  Minchas Elozor, who was a great defender of Chassidic customs, and is commonly quoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, seeks to defend those who use a more direct discourse with the dead (see his Teshuva in 1:68). He, of course, makes reference to the Zohar and says that this is a positive practice.

Practically speaking, all opinions agree that it is strictly forbidden to daven directly to a dead person or Malach so that they should help us. The most that is permitted is to ask them to act as emissaries to Hashem, so that Hashem will look favourably upon us.

The Maharam Shick, Orach Chaim 293, and prime student of the Chasam Sofer, explains this nicely. He explains that there must be nothing between a Jew and Hashem. However, it is permissible for a Jew to ask another Jew to be an intermediary between him and Hashem.

The Maharam Shick goes on to  explain the apparent anomaly in the name of his teacher: When one Jew approaches another and tells of the pain he is suffering, the other Jew feels it just as he does. Now they are both in need of prayer. The Jew does not feel he is praying for an “other”–he is praying for himself.

In other words, all Yidden are Guf Echad (one body) so that if the toe is hurting, it needs the head and the heart to help it. So too, if we are in need, we can call upon all other Jews–and especially those who are the head and the heart of our people—to pray for us as well. Because if one Jew is hurting, we are all hurting.

According to the Talmud (and the Zohar), those righteous souls who have passed on from this world are still very much in touch with their students and family and care for them and their problems. We petition them to pray on our behalf—and they do and often their prayers are more effective than our own.

Praying at a gravesite does not mean you are asking the dead to rise from the grave and appear before you. That is the abomination to which the Torah refers. Neither are you, God forbid, praying to the dead—a practice that is most certainly forbidden. But you are able to connect with these souls, since, when it comes to the soul, all of us are truly one.

One is simply expressing faith that the Tzadikim never really completely die, and a grave cannot prevent one from connecting to their teacher. Just as this tzaddik cared and took care of others during his lifetim—not as “others” but as he cared for his own soul—so too now, his Neshoma still can feel your pain and pray with you but this is directly to Hashem.

The Zohar tells us that the tzaddik is here with us after his passing even more than before. In life, he ignored the boundaries of “I and you,” so now he can ignore the boundaries of life and afterlife.

This is the fundamental reasoning behind beseeching those in the grave to intercede on our behalf and assist. And this, in fact, has been the common practice in Jewish communities around the world (although not all, for example Beis HoRav (Soloveitchik)  based on the view of the Gaon that all this can be achieved in other ways and not in essentially a Makom Tumah.

Rabbi Chaim Paltiel of Magdeburg (Germany, fourteenth century) a Rishon, said that the burial-place of a Tzadik is Holy. Regarding Chabad in particular, I found this comprehensive piece which is of interest

In addition, some quotes from the last Rebbe זי’ע

אלו שביקרו באהלי צדיקים יודעים שישנם “אוהלים” שמעוררים קו מרירות וכיווץ, וישנם “אוהלים” שפועלים קו השמחה ועלי’. האוהל של כ”ק מו”ח אדמו”ר הוא מסוג זה, שבהגיע לאוהל, הנה עוד טרם שמתבונן, כבר פועל עליו האוהל עלי’ והגבהת הרוח ששייכת לשמחה מפני עבודתו שעבד בה כל ימי חייו הי’ באופן כזה שקירב והרים  כל יהודי אף הבריות, בדרכי קירוב ונועם, עם הכוונה לפעול בהם גם “ומקרבן לתורה” )לקו”ש ח”ב 50

The broadly respected Chabad Halachist and Chassidic Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. said as per the testimony of the Rayatz, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe that:

בדרך כלל יש ה’ מדריגות, הא’ מה שמבואר
בשו”ע או”ח הל’ ט”ב וז”ל ומה שנוהגים לילך על הקברות הוא כדי לעורר האבילות ולהכניע היצה”ר ולשוב בתשובה. והב’ הוא ג”כ נזכר בשו”ע הל’ ר”ה נוהגים ילך על הקברות ולהרבות שם בתחתנונים. ושם הטעם משום דבית הקברות הוא מקום מנוחת הצדיקים, ומתוך כך הוא מקום קדוש וטהור והתפלה מתקבלת שם ביותר כו’. והג’ מה שהולכים אל מקום מנוחת אביהם וכדומה שמעורר הבכי’ והספד ועושה פתיחות הלב לגמרי עד שיוכל לבכות על חטאיו ממש ג”כ בלב נשבר ונדכה ובבכי’ רבה ויכול לבוא לידי תשובה שלימה. והמדריגה הד’ הוא מה שהולכים על קברי צדיקים שהיו יודעים ומכירים אותם בהיותם חיים אזי מצד תוקף האמונה שהי’ מאמין בו בעודו בחיים חיותו שהוא איש אלקי וכמו”כ כשהולך על מקום מנוחת קדשו מתבטל שם

This morning, before Shachris, I briefly looked this issue up in the Encyclopaedia Talmudis, a Sefer that is also quoted extensively by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and looked well worn in his Yechidus room when I was there. Rav Zevin emphatically classes Dorshin Al HaMeisim as a clear Issur. I won’t go through it, one can look it up. It’s under the second Chelek of  Daled and is beautifully set out as per Rav Zevin’s genius.

In summary, the way I see it, you ought not only go to a grave or write a letter and “speak” to the dead. This is pagan.

Sending a letter is long distance travelling to a grave, but the wording needs to include Hashem and comply with accepted Halacha

One can either ask for help from the Tzaddik or allow oneself to be either B’Yirah or B’Simcha to the extent that they are more enthused to engage separately or together with the Tzaddik, but this must always involve Hashem.

I haven’t read this article from Hakira Journal (yet), but just found it. It seems germane.

Finally, it’s aptl to close with the beautiful and apt prose of Rabbi Jakobovitz, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

The Emeritus Chief Rabbi, Jakobovits, in the foreword to the then new Singers Prayer Book, contemplates “The Jewish idea of prayer” and disapproves of petitional prayers. He wrote “What purpose can be served by formulating our pleas to God? Does the all-knowing God, who knows our needs better than we do, require their articulation of what we feel in our hearts? Still more difficult theologically, how can we hope by prayer to change His will? Our very belief in the efficacy of our petitions would seem to challenge God’s immutability, and (they) even question His justice, since we should assume that whatever fate He decrees for man is essentially just; why, therefore, do we seek to reverse it?” “But such questions are based on a false, indeed pagan, understanding of prayer as a means of pacifying and propitiating the deity and thus of earning its favours. It was against these perverse notions that the Hebrew Prophets directed their denunciations so fiercely when they fulminated against the heathen form of sacrifices, the original form of worship later replaced by prayer.” “Like sacrifices, prayer is intended to change man not God. Its purpose is to cultivate a contrite heart, to promote feelings of humility and inadequacy in man, whilst encouraging reliance on Divine assistance. Through prayer, the worshipper becomes chastened, gains moral strength and intensifies the quest of spirituality, thereby turning into a person worthy of response to his pleas.

Poetry to my ears, a paunch to my boich

Remember, our parents and grandparents couldn’t have been wrong. Poskim always have trouble saying something is forbidden if Rishonim and Acharonim said it was ok.

Reverend Shimon Allen will of course tell me that there is nothing new in this.

Finally, I have some ammunition. (click on the link)

My father ע’’ה exulting in his yearly dose of Gribenes on Erev Pesach
My father ע’’ה. R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen Balbin exulting in the yearly dose of Gribenes and liver and Kartofel on Erev Pesach

A Jewish mode of verbally induced meditation

This year, was a first for many a year, when I was not a שליח ציבור. I was also in a Shule where you could hear a pin drop. The combination of these two led to a slightly embarrassing moment on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Our Nusach, and that originally of my father ע’ה, is Nusach Sephard (not to be confused with the Nusach of Sepharadi Jews and their variations). My trusty Machzor, is small and was purchased decades ago when still a lad learning in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavne. I was excited to reuse it, and happy that unlike some of my Seforim which are lent in good faith, and seem to have found a new home, this Machzor was exactly where it should be, and readily accessible. It was easy to hold, not being thick with salubrious translation and commentary. It was plain, much-loved, but hardly used in over three decades; certainly for Shachris or Mussaf.

As a Shaliach Tzibbur/Chazan, I followed the Nusach of the Shule. This was Ashkenaz, and with the exception of the Avoda of Yom HaKippurim, the differences were not evident, as perhaps one might expect.

As I know most of the Tefilla by heart, I found myself sitting wrapped in a Tallis, keenly trying to concentrate on each word in a way that had not been amenable beforehand when I was the שליח ציבור. I was free to use as much time as needed to navigate the words and their meaning.

As I write, I remembered Mr Hoppe ז’ל, a family friend, and fellow Cohen, with a gutturally deep voice, who was an Alexander Chossid before the war with long peyos, and at whose home in Tomashov, the Aleksander Rebbe stayed on occasion. I remember him asking me one year after I had returned from Kerem B’Yavne,  (in yiddish)

“why are you davening so much, what are you saying, I don’t know how you can stand so long”

I recall that I didn’t answer. My reasons were private, I wasn’t able to answer anyway, and many of my thoughts remain private, until this day.

Hoppe+Dad
Mr Hoppe (left) and my father עליהם השלום

Because I am acutely sensitised to Nussach, and was davening in a Shule that used a Machzor based on the Ari (and finalised by the Ba’al HaTanya, I presume) there were times that I was juddered by a different word, or in some cases (such as at the conclusion of הנני העני ממעש) a set of additional lines that were not present either in Nusach Ashkenaz or Nusach Sefard when they suddenly entered the arena. I haven’t looked into their etymology.

Much of the time, my eyes were shut, and I was concentrating, as well as I could. There was the unusual fact that in Chabad there is no בעל מקריא to call out the Shofar notes. In fact, I was surprised that on the first day, the very first set of notes were not repeated as I felt (but I’m certainly no Rabbi) that they were questionably executed.

Ensconced in the repetition of the Amida (which ideally I should have stood for throughout, except that this would have disturbed my concentration) I waded off into the worlds of מלכיות , זכרונות and שופרות. I use the word waded because probably for the first time in my life I managed to control my thoughts and focus, almost subterraneously, on what was being sai, occasionally fluttering at the odd word that was different from the Nusach I was used to. Even then, my thoughts were trying to reconcile differences in my expectation.

I had always been jealous of people who were seemingly able to “meditate”. The jealousy stemmed from their ability to divest from what was occurring around them and focus solely on (often) something inane. It could be an exercise in mindfulness, or an approach that allowed one to concentrate on something else. I could never do it, despite many efforts and having five one on one lessons based on a non religious approach. My mind was forever bubbling and thinking, and I was unable to temper its tempestuous foray into areas that I did not want to go. I simply concluded that it was just one of those things: some could manage this exercise and other could not. I just wasn’t blessed to turn off, so to speak. I often joke with my students and alumni that my “off” switch is rusty, and can’t be repaired.

Amazingly, this year, while I was “unshackled” from responsibility, and was also in a conducive environment, I was able to turn off the switch controlling the outside world and immerse myself in Tefillah.

The embarrassing moment occurred when it came to שופרות. By that stage, the Cohanim, of which I am one, had left the Shule just prior and returned on time so they could ascend immediately after ארשת שפתינו. Alas, because I had been a שליח ציבור for so long, I was used to having a Levi bring me the Kvort and tissues, while someone else led the Cohanim. I was rooted to my spot on the Bima at all times, except that I jumped around to face the Kehilla. (And yes, I’m aware of different views in the Acharonim about this matter, but I have never lost my bearings and been unable to continue cleanly thereafter).

Suddenly, someone tapped me and pointed to the Machzor (one being unable to speak at that point). I was deep in thought and was literally startled. At first I thought it was a Pesicha, something which doesn’t interest me. Finally, I realised, after noticing the Cohanim ready to ascend, that I was too late. The Priestly blessings were about to commence!

I made a quick exit, as my hands hadn’t been washed, my shoes were not removed, and according to the Din, one is meant to make their move before רצה.

In a curious way, whilst I was later mirthfully called the absent-minded professor, or asked “were you sleeping?”, I was neither. I had actually succeeded for the first time in my life to meditate at some level.

Suffice it to say that on the second day, when I saw Rabbi Cohen walk past , I followed him and performed ברכת כהנים to the best of my ability, even though I had felt somewhat “disturbed” to leave the Shule for hand washing.

In summary, it was a strange experience, and I missed out on ואני אברכם on the first day, but I was surprised and pleased with myself that I had reached a level of obliviousness that brought me to Tefillah-based meditation.

Visiting the בית החיים on Erev Rosh Hashana

I have absolutely no doubt that I am still traumatised by the fact that my father ע’’ה has left this world. There is not only a vacuüm, but a set of shoes which I haven’t got a hope to fill. Yes, each person is an individual, and it is true that we all carve out our particular approach and niche in life. At the same time, whether via nature or nurture there are so very many aspects of the way my father conducted himself, I cannot even hope to reach his ankles.

I still do not sleep peacefully, and disturbingly, when I awake in the morning I am often in a state of nervous aggravation, as if I’ve fought some war during the night. I don’t remember any dreams, and I’m not sure if there were any. Maybe a subconscious stream has enveloped me. It can take me up to an hour to “get over it”.

Another symptom is forgetfulness. It is very easy for me to forget the most basic things, whereas prior to this event, I was not the classical absent-minded professor, just the remote eccentric and vocal type.

My wife has been a tower of strength often helping me to find most basic things. No doubt issues regarding her health (which Baruch Hashem is fine) haven’t exactly helped me heal overnight as my well as my mother’s poor health which is now Baruch Hashem improving.

Accordingly, unlike my mother and sisters, I avoided going to the cemetery when I could. They are no different to me, but had a need to be close to the grave. I understand that. As I Cohen, I could, however, only stand on the road and look at the back of the Matzeiva. I feared looking at my father’s grave, and coming face to face with the reality of my petty achievements in comparison with his and which had already overtaken my subconscious. Maybe it was better that way. I don’t know.

Maybe this is a part of second generation holocaust syndrome. I also do not know.

So, yesterday, I headed out with my mother to Springvale Cemetery. This is the Minhag in our family, even though Rav Schachter advised me it wasn’t his Minhag to ever go to a Cemetery, or the Minhag of Beis HoRav (Soloveitchik) or the Vilna Gaon. As I have mentioned before, Rav Schachter never would say “don’t go”. When it came to cemetery questions, he suggested I ask a Rav who has such Minhogim.

After visiting my father, we made the rounds of other relatives and friends, recounting aspects of their lives. I then felt a sudden feeling of warmth. Looking around all the Haymishe Yidden that I once knew, and were now in another world, I felt strangely “comfortable”. I thought, now this is a Kehilla. Look at this one, and that one, and so on. I know I am a tad eccentric, and maybe I am also a bissel meshigge, but I felt inspired by the names and what they had represented and achieved. Everywhere we went, there were great people, people I had loved, and people I had admired, and of course, just “plain” survivors.

So, what started as a trip laden with trepidation, ended with a feeling of a “visit to another world”, a world which was familiar to me. People who knew about Jewish tradition, how to daven, how to learn, how to do a kind favour, religious people and not so observant people: they were all in one spot.

You probably won’t understand, but never mind.

Statement to clear the air and set the record straight

This may be relevant only to the dwindling number of members at Elwood Shule. Our family has been associated with Elwood for 60+ years. My father ע’’ה was Vice President and a very long-term board member, as well as regular mispallel. I joined the board several years ago, and functioned as the Ba’al Tefilla on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur for many years. I accepted the role of leading Musaf and Kol Nidrei the year prior to the untimely death of Chazan Levy ע’’ה, the Shule’s last, full-time Chazan, in the year before he passed away. He then passed away on Rosh Hashono itself.

I worked assiduously at Board Level, and oversaw and edited the updated version of the constitution and assisted in the unfortunate but necessary legal fight for survival with our tenant. I was involved at many other levels.

I came to the conclusion, some 6 months ago that my tenure as a board member was no longer tenable. It had preyed on my mind for longer, but only emotional ties kept me going. I will not use this blog to discuss a range of issues that contributed to my decision. I later resigned from the board, as did three other board members, and of course, my father passed away, thereby making the board four fewer people than when it was constituted years earlier. When I informed long-term President Fred Antman that I had finally resigned, his comment was that I should have done so long ago, for reasons I won’t go into. He had encouraged me to resign many times and said my father would have told me the same.

Elwood is at a cross-road, where it says goodbye in the next years to Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, and welcomes a new Rabbi. Rabbi Karnowsky, the outreach Rabbi is assuming some of Rabbi Gutnick’s functions. Rabbi Karnowsky has a documented plan of what he was going to achieve as outreach Rabbi when he joined, and I assume remaining members of the board express a level of confidence in his achievements thus far.

Years ago, It was long-term President Fred Antman, who prevailed upon me, literally tens of times, to assume the function of Ba’al Tefila for Yomim Noroim. I also stepped in as needed on other occasions, willingly. I did not and never wanted to be the Ba’al Tefila. To be honest, I know my personal imperfections, and never felt worthy of representing this (or any) Kehilla. My children know too well, how, after members of the Shule passed away later during the year, that I took it personally. I might arrive home on Shabbos with bloodied knuckles and in tears or sloshed because I considered that Hashem had not listened to my prayers of מי יחיה or מי ימות and that this was due to me not being up to the spiritual level required to be a Ba’al Tefilla (or Chazan). I felt I wasn’t listened to and that my prayers were vacuous.

I was blessed with a good voice. This is not my achievement. My father ע’ה sang in the choir in the Rawa Mazowiecka Shtiebel with the Amshinover, R Zishe Shochet הי’’ד. My mother’s father played violin (as do I). These are not my achievements, they are some of Hashem’s Brachos.

A great source of personal happiness was descending the steps after Mussaf on Yom Kippur and spontaneously dancing with “Gandhi”, R’ Yossel ע’ה, a Buchenwald boy, as he was affectionately known. Of course, there was the scene of some 15+ Balbin offspring males sitting around my father on Kol Nidrei night, after he had carried the Torah during Kol Nidrei which I had intoned, and my father’s occasional glances at me. Upstairs a similar contingent of Balbin female offspring were present. My sons have beautiful life-long memories of walking with me and Zayda through thick and thin on a Shabbos (my father was, together with Rabbi Gutnick and Viggie Aron the only three people who walked a real distance on Shabbos to get to Shule and actually kept Shabbos). Nowadays, on Shabbos, Viggie only comes for layning, and Rabbi Gutnick mainly for Shabbos Shachris.

I vividly recall some feedback one year. I didn’t seek feedback. If proffered feedback I was happy to hear and sometimes listen. One man, whose face I knew, but whose name was not familiar, asked me why I kept stopping and starting during הנני העני ממעש. He sat in the front area, so he could presumably see my face, although I wear a Tallis over my head, as opposed to the more German style ecclesiastical headwear. Returning to the story, I couldn’t believe that this man hadn’t noticed that I was unable to resume my comportment at certain phrases, and often struggled not to weep. I am not talking about the iconic Chazanishe Krechtz or an “Oy yoi yoi” punctuated with a perfectly timed trill as choreographed according to the score (or iPod recording). I am talking about raw emotion.

I was shocked. That year, I decided I needed to “control myself”. I am sure I was wrong, but I consciously stopped myself thinking, perhaps over-thinking, about the meaning of the words I was uttering. At the same time, Rabbi Karnowsky approached me about incorporating his new sons in the service. I agreed (although musically, I felt they were young and raw). Nevertheless, it would be cute and perhaps would appeal to a majority of congregants who cannot follow or read a Machzor (we have 3 versions at Elwood and the Gabbay uses a fourth, and Davening is punctuated by annoyingly constant page call outs of different versions. I hope they have fixed this and settled on the magnificent Soloveitchik Machzorim, but I digress.)

Now, recall that I resigned from the board months before the High Holidays. In my letter of resignation, I also made it clear that the board should not feel encumbered in any way using my services as Ba’al Tefilla. I asked only that they inform me as soon as possible whether they required my services; a reasonable request.

Unfortunately, I was to find out that Mark Oyberman had asked around for people in Melbourne available to replace me, after which they settled on Shimon Wallis. I actually wrote to the board to confirm this as they had not communicated they were even looking let alone that they had already made a decision! Shimon has a fine voice, and his Nusach is derived from his grandfather ע’’ה, whom I enjoyed listening to on his rare visits. He was a Ba’al Tefilla with an authentic Yerushalmi Nusach. I wish him success.

What prompted me to post this article, was an Elwood promotional video I saw yesterday. I genuinely feared that some might assume that my absence from Shule was due to this new appointment.

Nothing could be further than the truth. I kept a seat at Elwood. I will hopefully be able to daven quietly and with some purpose this year. The reasons for my resignation as a board member are seemingly as valid now as they were then, and they will not be discussed in this blog post.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

Pinchas Koplowicz ע’’ה

My memories of this man are larger than life. I attended his Levaya on Erev Shabbos. To us, the Balbin family, he was known as ‘Uncle Pinye’. We were brought up never to call more senior people by their first names. It wasn’t appropriate to call him Mr, in the same way that it wasn’t appropriate to use the Yiddish “Ir” instead of the closer version “Dir”. He, as usual, disliked Mr just as much, and always said he was “Peter Kay.”

Uncle Pinye was another long-time member of Elwood Shule after his family moved from Adelaide to Melbourne. He sat at the back-most row of the Shule in the last seat of the middle section on the left, leading into the Beis Medrash named after R’ Chaim Yoffe, where daily services are still conducted. Uncle Pinye didn’t sit there because the seats were cheaper. He sat there because he was enigmatic. On the one hand, he wasn’t short of a dollar, and was munificent when it came to Tzedoko for causes that were dear to him. He revelled in the happy social murmur pervading a brunch or event that he loved to host. On the other hand, he wasn’t a person who felt comfortable “standing out” in a Shule environment. The most comforting, perhaps compromising position for him was in the back row. If anything, I felt that he was always struggling when sitting in Shule, conjoined to a seat.

To be sure, there were other members of our family who also sat in that back row over the years, and this would also have contributed to feelings of relative comfort. I use the term ‘relative comfort’ because he was constantly in a state of inner and vocal philosophical turmoil.

All Holocaust survivors struggle to find meaning or justification (if I can use such a word) to describe what they experienced, but he was an Auschwitz survivor whose tattooed number one didn’t need to see. ‘Holocaust survivor and State of Israel lover‘ were evident in a virtual tattoo that was visible constantly on his forehead and literally manifested itself in every second line of conversation I and others had with him for almost 50 years.

A close friend of my father ע’’ה for seventy years, he and his wife Resi ע’’ה loved my mother equally.

Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום
Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום

He always told me that if I needed to study the definition of Yiddishe Mamme, I should simply look at my mother. I remember my band ‘Schnapps’ flying up to Sydney to play at his grandson’s wedding. I secretly wept at select moments when nobody was watching. I played Yiddishe Mamma at his request on my violin. For him, this was a surreal occasion. I feel he was riddled with the understandable guilt of enjoyment and Nachas. What do I mean by that? Although he merited seeing two daughters build families and played joyfully with great grandchildren, he was in a state of questioning at all times. His question was

“Why me? Why did I deserve to survive? What inherent quality did I possess that was not possessed by the millions who were butchered around me?

That was not his most powerful question or indeed his constant question. He traumatised me somewhat from a very young age whenever, and I mean whenever, he saw me. He would ask:

Hey youngster! Yitzchik, I know you are an intelligent boy, a religious boy, and a good son to your parents, but one day I’d like you to explain to me why 1,000,000 children deserved to die.

As I got older, and wiser, I subconsciously, and no doubt intentionally, tried to gently steer the conversation away from that and to the Nachas he was enjoying. He wasn’t simple, of course. He knew exactly what I was doing, and sometimes managed to reverse my strategy.

He wore a small Tallis, and usually that grey hat. I suspect that the late and great R’ Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל was someone whose expressed the pain of the holocaust and a genuine love of the State of Israel as manifested in his renowned drashos, affected Uncle Pinye in a manner that captivated his attention. Rabbi Gutnick didn’t have answers either. He never pretended to. Who does? He spoke about the dry bones, and how those dry bones came to life. I am sure that message resonated somewhat with Uncle Pinye, and it was probably for that reason, and the cajoling of my father and late Uncle Yaakov, that allowed him to feel semi-comfortable enough to attend Elwood in those days.

Last week, when his state of health state was undulating precariously like a yo-yo, between recovery and imminent end of life, I visited him. As a Cohen, it was a calculated decision. We donned gowns and gloves. He was lying listlessly in the bed, and when he realised that I had come with my mother, an enormous strength overcame him as reflected in his eyes and hands. Suddenly, he was the typical Uncle Pinye. I knew it, because he said , in his last words to me

Listen to me youngster (he was 93 and I have grandchildren!)  I do not intend to leave this world until I get an answer to why 1,000,000 children were allowed to be murdered.

I was frozen, as always when confronted with this style of questioning. I find it difficult to read books about the holocaust, let alone watch a movie. The latter stems from my experience as a boy, watching the Diary of Anne Frank and running out of the TV room when the Nazis ימ’’ש found her. I recall running to my room in Rockbrook Road, lying down on the bed, trembling and weeping. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that moment. But, this isn’t about me.

When we were young, his family lived in Adelaide. It was there that he built his livelihood. They would come (and it wasn’t cheap) for visits to Melbourne, and there was no question that his daughters were tantalised by the richer Jewish and social life in Melbourne, as well as the sense of family experienced through the wider Balbin family. Whenever they came, we were in their surrounds, enjoying many moments together. They were a permanent fixture though they lived in Adelaide. Eventually, daughters Dora and Belinda won. The family moved to Melbourne, but he used to commute because he couldn’t just leave his business interests to dissipate in wanton abandon.

He had used the name Peter Kay, because in a non-Jewish world it was easier. I recall his love of table tennis, gymnastics, hand-stands and sport, as well as the gregarious nature he oozed without tiring. He had no qualms dressing up, and his house just had to have a formal bar. The refrain

Can I offer you a drink?

still rings in my ear. It wasn’t an offer. It was essentially a command. He had it all behind that bar, and once a drink or two were quaffed, our discussion inevitably led to the Holocaust and how much he admired my parents and family.

He would enthuse that he didn’t have words for the honesty and integrity of my father and Uncle Yaakov who slaved upstairs in their factory cutting clothes and assembling them for production.

For her part, my mother knew that Uncle Pinye loved Choolent. Almost each Shabbos, especially when my father retired, we set aside the remainder to be delivered personally by my father (sometimes together with me) to his house on Sunday. If my father was ill, he and my mother would ask me to perform the delivery. I did so, willingly, of course, even if it meant a drink and talk session that lasted at least an hour. There was no such thing as a quick visit.

I remember a number of times he said to me, “Yitzchik, I have so many paintings, please choose a few and take them home for your lovely wife”. I have always felt uncomforable accepting gifts, and I kept replying that I had no art appreciation and he’d need to talk to my wife. His response was, of course, “so bring her, with pleasure”. My wife also visited on a number of occasions and he loved her too like family.

The root of this connection goes back many years. Although he was born in Lodz, he had relatives in my father’s home town of Rawa Mazowiecka. Immediately after the war,

Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום
Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום

when he imagined that nobody had survived, he found two of his sisters in my Booba and Zeyda’s house in Rawa. He never forgot that. I recall when the sisters (Zosia and Itka), who lived overseas, would come to Melbourne, the special bond that they too shared with my father. The kinsmanship and love were palpable. It was no problem for me to like them as well. It was a veritable hand in glove.

Like my parents, his family was his love and purpose and that kept a tortured soul focussed and grounded somewhat. The State of Israel was a miracle he was so very proud of and he never failed to be part of it, even when he wasn’t physically standing in the streets therein.

When my father ע’’ה passed away recently, he turned his attention to the isolation and melancholy that my mother understandably descended into. After her serious fall, he redoubled his efforts, even though he was physically frail. Almost a day wouldn’t go by without him incessantly ringing my mother, and then me and my sisters when he couldn’t elicit an answer from her phone. He wanted to take out the entire family for dinner. I tried to explain that we’d need to wait until the year was over, and he accepted that, but even after the year was over, my mother was and remains rather isolationist, rejecting invitations from her friends for the most simple of activities, such as sharing a cup of coffee. This will change, undoubtedly, in time, but alas, Uncle Pinye departed before she was able to bring herself to accept invitations with comfort.

He is now, no doubt, at peace. I use the term קדושי ניצולי השואה which whilst not common, cannot be seen as objectionable. For me, every survivor was and is holy. They were holy, because they had been “set aside” as a Korbon, literally a sacrifice on the altar. For reasons we do not comprehend, the Korbon survived, not because it was a בעל מום, חס ושלום, rather because

הנסתרות להשם אלוקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם

The hidden mysteries are the domain of Hashem, but the revealed, is for us, our children and offspring, forever.

This is my only response, although it is not one that I ever used in discussion with Uncle Pinye. There could never be a response that would assuage his troubled, quixotic character.

He is now hovering above his grave on the journey to the Garden of Eden, at the end of the 12 months of mourning. His legacy, kindness, love, and gregarious nature, though, is set in stone in my psyche, and  in that of my mother, siblings, children and the wider Balbin family.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Postscript: at great expense and with much paper shuffling under the devoted hand of Ezra May, he decided to formally change his name back to Koplowicz. He had needed to function as “Kay” but he had never lost the Koplowicz, and that describes his essence in a single act. It isn’t surprising that Yom Yerushalayim will fall during his week of Shiva. That is also Hashgocho—the conundrum of issuing praise for the miracles Hashem wrought after the Holocaust, davka at a time of extreme mourning for an individual of this ilk.

Remembering Les Erdi ז’ל

Les Erdi passed away a little over a week after my father, הכ’’מ.

I knew Les Erdi as a little boy in Elwood Shule, over 40 years ago. He was different. The Shule was basically made up of Polish holocaust survivors, and he was one of a handful of Hungarians. There was and remains some antipathy between Hungarian and Polish Jews. The Poilishe Yidden were essentially snobby to the Hungarians and vice versa. In Elwood, the Poles held the upper hand. They were culturally apart. Polish Jews never spoke anything but Yiddish in Shule whereas Hungarians seemed to converse in Magyaro.

The so-called “frumer Hungarians” immigrated to Melbourne and settled in Adass and Ripponlea. The founding fathers were moderate, but their grandchildren are fundamentalist charedim, and often rabidly anti-zionist. My father complained that they wouldn’t greet him in his street, let alone say Good Shabbos. Sydney, however, absorbed the “other” Hungarians, some of whom came from traditional homes, but most of whom were more remote from practical observance. On the other hand, the Sydney variety were staunchly Zionist. I know I am generalising. There are very special exceptions.

Les was somewhat like a Sydney-style Hungarian residing in Melbourne.

Les wasn’t just a typical Hungarian, though. Until the last day I spoke to him, he presented a thick and broad Hungarian accent which seemed immovable, and like Les, refused to moderate over time. Despite being a busy businessman, Les never lost that severe Magyar twang. His wife, Eva, may she live healthily until 120, also exhibits that strong accent.

I wanted to visit Les when he became rather ill, but was advised that he didn’t want visitors. You must respect the wishes of a sick man, and so I stayed away. I also understood his reasons, knowing the man. He was a powerhouse, and that’s how he wanted to be remembered.

Yet, despite the HungarianPolish divide Les was a landsman. How so? Les was a Cohen, and as long as I can recall, when the President and Vice President of the Shule descended the Bima immediately before Bircas Cohanim, Les would walk up the stairs to the Bima and stand alongside my father, both leaning their siddurim on the little table vacated by the President and Vice president.

2004-10-17_10-29-02

As a little boy, I used to sneak in between them. Les was always short, and it didn’t take long for even my modest height to exceed his. Eventually, I stood behind them both. Elwood Shule, a love of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’ל, Chazan Avraham Adler ז’ל, Reb Chaim Yaffe ז’ל, the shared experience of being a survivor: all these elements cut a swathe through the cultural differences of Polish and Hungarian Mispallelim. Les and Dad הכ’’מ often had an arm around each other. They would joke together and there would always be a predictable joke about who should go up first to the Duchan (after Mr Blass, of course, who was always considered and called the “Cohen Goodoil”. Mr Blass passed away at the age of 99, and had all his faculties till the last day I visited him in hospital, just days before he passed away. His last words to me were “thank you, I will never forget you”.)

2002-02-25_20-27-03
My father הכ’’מ on the left, and Mr Yisroel Tovya Blass ז’ל, the “Cohen Gadol” whose Yohr Tzeit was this week, and who came from an important Gerrer family

I was a young man, then newly married, and at that time didn’t serve as Chazan for Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur. I was enveloped in my own davening, and would commonly daven Shmoneh Esreh on Rosh Hashono/Yom Kippur for 40 minutes or more. I was remote by nature, intentionally oblivious to the surrounding and somewhat of an intolerant “frumak”. I didn’t engage much. It could have been seen as haughtiness, but that wasn’t what it was. I recall that upon returning from learning in Yeshivah in Israel, I approached the then President, Mr Mottel Roth, and in front of others on Yom Kippur between Musaph and Mincha (much to my father’s shock and horror) asked Mr Roth how he could conceivably remain the president of an Orthodox Shule when he drove every Shabbos. I suggested Roth should resign on the spot. I was young, very black and white (perhaps more black than white), and didn’t engage my mind before my mouth.

I mellowed over time, and continue to do so. I grew to love each and every one of those “Poshei Yisroel” (“sinners”) after I came to the stark realisation that I was not ever even remotely in a position to understand their life experience. I had enjoyed a closeted, altruistic, and somewhat untroubled life full of opportunity. These Poles and Magyars eventually ceased to be Poshei Yisrael in my blinkered view. Each one of them morphed into a precious jewel, a Kadosh, a holy person. Rabbi Chaim Gutnick was right: anyone who walked into a Shule after emerging from the furnace of the Holocaust was someone about whom one should treat with awe and derive inspiration.

Over time, my sons, first Tzvi Yehuda and then Yossi, came up to Duchan with me and my father. Yossi used to stand next to his “mate” Mr Hoppe ז’ל but Tzvi Yehuda stood with me, right behind Mr Erdi and my father, הריני כפרת משכבו. Some of my more sensitive and charitable feelings rubbed off on my sons, and I’m pleased that they never developed my Charifus, and only had kind, meaningful and friendly interaction with this special brand of Jew.

Les surprised me. He would always engage in philosophical discussion. He knew I was an academic and that I was religious, and loved to lecture me that he had a unique one on one relationship with God. He felt privileged and blessed that he had survived, and wore the responsibility to proudly behave like a Mench in keeping with the (obviously traditional religious) education he had received in Hungary. Les truly believed that he had a personal and unique dialogue with God, and that any success he enjoyed was because of his partnership. His partner was God! Yet, despite these clearly religious undertones, he wasn’t what you’d call a dramatically practicing Jew.

Who can forget when Les’s loving wife Eva was seriously ill. Les was due to receive an Aliyah as Cohen on Rosh Hashono so that he could make a special Misheberach for her. Les was late. We had just put away the Torah. Panting, he ran to Rabbi Mottel Gutnick, and asked if there was a way to still make a Misheberach for Eva. Of course there was a way, and we readily obliged. Les was relieved. Despite wondering why God had hidden his countenance during the Holocaust and failed to personally interfere with the Nazi scourge, Les knew that God was now with him, and that God still had a say over his wife’s health, and not just his own business success.

We don’t need to extol Les’s incredible sense of charity. If he believed in a cause or a venture, he was there. He had deep pockets, and was acutely aware that he had to leave a legacy and make a difference.

I noticed a strange array of people at his Shloshim, and it was suddenly clear to me, that Les must have supported some of their causes. He took a micro interest in every aspect of his Tzedaka projects. He wasn’t simply an observer who wrote out a cheque for the inevitable plaque or honour. He had a keen and ongoing interest in what transpired and was achieved.

Les was a mench. I am sure this came from his home, parents and education. His desire as a survivor was to have an honest relationship with God. Les felt he has been spared, and must have been spared for good reasons.

In one of his early business ventures as a migrant, Les manufactured suits together with his then partner. Managing to lay the golden goose, Les procured an order for those suits from the coveted “Myers” company. I remember my father also gloating when he got orders from Myers. It was always seen as a major achievement: the competition was ferocious amongst the Shmatte industry. The Myers family was an older pre-war Jewish family.

Les visited the Myers store and noticed that the suits he had supplied didn’t contain the requisite component of wool that he had promised as part of the order. Les apologised to Mr Myers, and offered to replace the suits. Mr Myers responded that the suits were just fine, and that he had already sold most of the stock, and that he was sure that Les’s next batch of suits would have the correct wool content. Les argued. He was not averse to arguing. and said that he had not done the right thing, and would like to reimburse Myers for the difference. Mr Myers again dismissed Les’s entreaties, and suggested Les forget it.

Les was not one to take no for an answer—ever. Returning to his partner, Les suggested that they pay Myers the difference. Les’s partner was taken aback, arguing that the buyer was Mochel (happy to forgo the difference) and there was no good reason to pay money for “nothing”. Les did not react kindly to this suggestion and promptly dissolved the partnership, and paid Myers the outstanding amount. I’m told that Les then went on to succeed and his ex-partner languished in comparison.

Who would behave with such moral virtue? Even more: in those days, when every cent counted, as new migrants tried to rebuild their lives, who would have blamed someone for not returning the money? Les Erdi was a bastion of charity and business ethics who refused to adopt a lesser ethic, irrespective of his circumstance.

I found it difficult to engage Les meaningfully in our philosophical discussions. This was not because I was stuck for words. Rather, with Les, one couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. Furthermore, Les “just knew”—everything. He was sure that his relationship with God was something special and his job was to tell people about it, and not to ask for their comments or critique.

As a benefactor to Elwood, Les and Eva were notably giving but I think the aspect I will miss the most is that heavenly scene on Kol Nidrei night.

I customarily stand nervously and with trepidation on the middle of the Bima, ready to intone the ancient “Al Daas HaMakom”. Before that happens the elderly Cohanim are given the honour of each taking a Sefer Torah up to the said Bimah, standing on my left and right. As they got even older, I was careful to make sure that people like Les and my father הכ’’מ were always close enough so that they could lean on the Bima with their Toras, given their now waning strength. Alas, this year, neither Les nor my father will be near me in that physical sense. There will be a palpable vacuüm. I don’t want to think about it now.

Les didn’t have a good voice, but I can still hear him accompanying me to “Venislach Lechol Adass, B’Nei Yisroel” in the time-old Nusach of my teacher Chazan Adler, albeit with that distinctive Hungarian accent.

It won’t be easy. May he be a מליץ טוב for all of us.

Introductory words for the Shloshim of my father הכ’’מ

We had decided that in keeping with my father’s modest comportment and innate sense of unpretentiousness, that we’d keep his Shloshim, “low key” and a family affair. My mother had a few of her closest friends, but apart from that, it was a sombre and less public event. I know many people would have attended if it had been a different way; we hope you can appreciate the approach we took, however.

In truth, it is very difficult at a time of Aveylus to once more “confront the public gaze”. The Avel often craves solitude and is struggling with their sense of loss and grief. Indeed, Halacha encourages a detachment from the more public aspects of life during the year of Aveylus.

I had spoken at the Levaya, and was somewhat “grateful”, if I can use that word in context, that I was voicing introductions and context, as well as a Siyum Mishnayos.

The following is most of what I said to introduce the Shloshim.

Tonight we have gathered on the night of the Shloshim, the thirty-day period after the departure of our dear father, ר’ שאול זעליג הכהן הריני כפרת משכבו from the world as we know it, to the mysterious and exalted world of Souls. The Jewish people have a firm foundational framework which is rooted in Torah and through which we live and after which we depart this world. That framework does not evolve in the sense that it takes on new manifestations of populist modes of worship. Rather, like the foundations of a building that has been constructed to withstand an earthquake, Halacha is designed to move a given and acceptable number of degrees to the left or to the right, to remain intact, eventually returning to a proper and upright posture.

Following on from the Kevurah, where we tear our clothes, mourners observe seven days where there are major restrictions on the mourners and a responsibility for others to attempt to comfort the mourners.

Emerging from Shiva is a strange feeling. It is akin to letting go of certain practices; practices that directly and indirectly affect both the mourner and the comforter. It can sometimes be seen as an expression of “recovery”, and the notion of recovery is somewhat “offensive” to a mourner who is convinced that they will never recover, and perhaps should be sitting for two weeks and not one. Halacha is clear, however. A secondary period of mourning commences after the Shiva. Essentially, many of the restrictions are removed, providing a gentle but steady integration into society. It is far from a complete re-entry.

Some technical restrictions remain, and these represent visible signs that a person is very much still in a state of mourning. The aim of these restrictions is not to cause pain to the mourner. Rather, like all tenets of Judaism, there must be a tangible materialisation of the existential feeling of loneliness and aloneness that uniquely defines the state of mind of a mourner. Judaism has not ever been only a religion of the heart. One cannot reduce Judaism to “I am a Jew at heart”. Judaism is a religion of action emanating from feelings and belief.

From tomorrow morning, the Shloshim period ends and the mode of mourning is relaxed further, although there are still some clear strictures in place.

Jews have always had these three types of mourning: the Shiva, the Shloshim and the 12 months, and the customs and laws that go with each of these categories.

Each year, on Tisha B’Av, we mourn the fact that our true independence in the land of Israel, together with our Temple and all its accoutrements were removed from us. Even today, when we are blessed with our own country, we are far from independent, and find ourselves constantly bullied by our so-called friends and enemies. The commemoration of this loss follows three stages: the three weeks, the nine days, and then Tisha B’Av itself.

Unsurprisingly, Judaism is innately consistent. The customs surrounding the mourning of the three weeks are derived from those of the 12 month period of mourning after a parent. The customs of the nine days corresponds to the period of Shloshim. Finally, on Tisha B’Av, when we also sit on low chairs, the customs of mourning are based on the period of Shiva. Note though that the order is reversed. First it’s the 12 months, followed by the Shloshim and finally on Tisha B’Av it’s the Shiva. Rav Soloveitchik explained that this is an Aveilus Yeshana, and older event that we are mourning. We can’t simply start with the Shiva minhagim. Rather, there needs to be a gradual build up, culminating through Slichos and Kinnos to the Shiva, which is the last stage of mourning.

In the case of mourning after a human being, however, the wounds are red raw. The Aveilus is termed Chadasha, a new experience: both shocking and harrowing. The mourning commences from Shiva, the most intense period, and over time moves to Shloshim, and then finally onto the 12 months. Eventually, it becomes a Yohr Tzeit as well as special Rabinically enacted Yizkor prayers.

What then is the nature of the particular 12 month period that we are moving into?

Consider the following Halachic conundrum. A boy’s parent passed away when he was under Bar Mitzvah age. The boy became Bar Mitzvah during the Shiva period. He commences mourning. Does his choice of observing the remainder of the Shiva and Shloshim constitute the technical fulfilment חיוב of the Rabbinic enactment of the Customs of Shiva and Shloshim or do we say that since he was a minor at the time of the parent’s passing, he is doing a normal and good thing, but he couldn’t have been commanded to do this by the Rabbis because he was a minor at the time of death. Without argument, the Shulchan Aruch concludes that the unfortunate child is performing Minagim of mourning, but he cannot be considered as one who was commanded, or had to do so (בר חיובא).

I was learning the Chochmas Odom last Shabbos at Elwood Shule; the Shule where my father and his father davened, and where I have been leading the prayers each day in his honour. The Chochmas Adam (later cited by the Pischei Tshuva) made the following observation: in respect of the mourning after the Shloshim, that is, the mourning of the 12 months, the boy is actually doing what he was commanded even though he was a minor at the time. How so? The Chochmas Odom explains that the mourning after the Shloshim is essentially connected to the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V’Eim, honouring one’s parents. In this case, honouring a parent through acts that are undertaken which will bring them Nachas Ruach in another world, is something that he is now expected to do. This can commence as soon as the boy turns Bar Mitzvah.

It is this new period that we as children move into from tomorrow morning. It is also something that grandchildren may participate in, since the Gemara tells us that בני בנים הרי הם כבנים (grandchildren are like children). This insight might also explain why curiously, for our dear mother and aunt, the formal mourning laws and minhagim cease tomorrow morning. It is only children who are commanded in the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V’Eim.

The human process of grieving and missing someone, of course, is another thing entirely, and that is something that each person deals with in their own way, and their own time, and hopefully with well-meaning friends and family, especially those who have gathered here tonight and who have been so loyal and supportive to all of us.

ר' שאול זעליג הכהן בלבין הכ’מ
ר’ שאול זעליג הכהן בלבין הכ’מ

Nazi Goebbels’ Step-Grandchildren Are Hidden Billionaires

[Hat tip to Ezra]

This article is from Bloombergs. There has been a traditional antipathy towards driving German cars. My father הכ’’מ used to drive one in Berlin immediately after the Holocaust.

My father post war in his convertible Mercedes.
My father post war in his convertible Mercedes.

I asked him why and he said

Because they are my כפרה. They destroyed my youth, I decided that I would דווקא enjoy the best that they had to offer.

I understood this to be “dancing on the grave of the person who tried to murder you”. That was soon after the war. Feelings were mixed and the psyche was scarred. Yet, once in Melbourne, he wouldn’t dream of driving a German car. He always admired “Daatchishe” technology and had no problem buying devices they made. Those devices, however, weren’t “in your face” and were used at home.

It wasn’t for me to make value judgements about his choice. I hadn’t gone through what he had  and perhaps, in time, a public embracement through the aegis of a fancy car was not something that neither he, nor most survivors, were ready to make. Yet, there were and are children of holocaust survivors who bought fancy German cars and drove these cars while their parents were alive. I’ve never understood that attitude. If your parents lived through it and don’t do it, even if they are somewhat inconsistent by purchasing private goods of German origin, why would one feel so “obligated” to דווקא drive a car that their parents wouldn’t dream of driving. Even if my father had given me permission to do so (not that I could ever afford a fancy car) I wouldn’t do it while he was not doing the same. After all, there are alternatives.

Ironically, we now have the expose below about BMW. I’d imagine some Jewish BMW owners are now squirming in their warm leather seats.

Harald Quandt, Magda Goebbels’ son by her first marriage, center back stands in uniform with his step-father Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, bottom from right, his mother Magda, third from left, and the couple’s children, Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Hedwig, Holdine and Heidrun in 1942. Photograph: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the spring of 1945, Harald Quandt, a 23-year-old officer in the German Luftwaffe, was being held as a prisoner of war by Allied forces in the Libyan port city of Benghazi when he received a farewell letter from his mother, Magda Goebbels — the wife of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The hand-written note confirmed the devastating news he had heard weeks earlier: His mother had committed suicide with her husband on May 1, after slipping their six children cyanide capsules in Adolf Hitler’s underground bunker in Berlin.

“My dear son! By now we’ve been in the Fuehrerbunker for six days already, Daddy, your six little siblings and I, to give our national socialistic lives the only possible, honorable ending,” she wrote. “Harald, dear son, I want to give you what I learned in life: Be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country!”

Quandt was released from captivity in 1947. Seven years later, he and his half-brother Herbert — Harald was the only remaining child from Magda Goebbels’ first marriage — would inherit the industrial empire built by their father, Guenther Quandt, which had produced Mauser firearms and anti-aircraft missiles for the Third Reich’s war machine. Among their most valuable assets at the time was a stake in car manufacturer Daimler AG. (DAI) They bought a part of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) a few years later.

Lower Profile

While the half-brothers passed away decades ago, their legacy has endured. Herbert’s widow, Johanna Quandt, 86, and their children Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, have remained in the public eye as BMW’s dominant shareholders. The billionaire daughters of Harald Quandt — Katarina Geller-Herr, 61, Gabriele Quandt, 60, Anette-Angelika May-Thies, 58, and 50-year-old Colleen-Bettina Rosenblat-Mo — have kept a lower profile.

The four sisters inherited about 1.5 billion deutsche marks ($760 million) after the death of their mother, Inge, in 1978, according to the family’s sanctioned biography, “Die Quandts.” They manage their wealth through the Harald Quandt Holding GmbH, a Bad Homburg, Germany-based family investment company and trust named after their father. Fritz Becker, the chief executive officer of the family entities, said the siblings realized average annual returns above 7 percent from its founding in 1981 through 1996. Since then, the returns have averaged 7.6 percent.

“The family wants to stay private and that is an acceptable situation for me,” said Becker in an interview at his Bad Homburg office. “We invest our money globally and if it’s $1 billion, $500 million or $3 billion, who cares?”

Wartime Profits

Together, the four sisters — and the two children of a deceased sibling — share a fortune worth at least $6 billion, giving each of them a net worth of $1.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. They have never appeared individually as billionaires on an international wealth ranking.

See the new interactive Bloomberg Billionaires Index

Becker declined to provide the exact figure the holding manages for the four sisters. The siblings declined to comment for this account, said Ralf-Dieter Brunowsky, a spokesman for the family investment company, in an e-mail. He said the net worth calculation was “too high,” declining to be more specific.

The rise of the Quandt family fortune shares the same trajectory as Germany’s quest for global domination in the 20th century. It began in 1883, when Emil Quandt acquired a textile company owned by his late father-in-law. At the turn of the century, Emil passed the business to his eldest son, Guenther.

The younger Quandt saw an opportunity with the onset of war in 1914. His factories, already one of the biggest clothing manufacturers for the German state, quadrupled their weekly uniform production for the army, according to “Die Quandts.”

Weapons Production

After Germany’s surrender four years later, Quandt put the company’s wartime profits to use. In 1922, he bought a majority stake in Accumulatoren-Fabrik AG (AFA), a Hagen-based battery manufacturer. Six years later, he took over Berlin-Karlsruher Industriewerken AG (BKIW), a Berlin-based manufacturer that made sewing machines and silverware. The factory, once one of Germany’s largest weapon producers, had been forced to retool as part of the country’s disarmament agreement.

“The Quandts’ business grew in the Kaiserreich, it grew during the Weimar Republic, it grew during the Second World War and it grew strongly after the war,” Rudiger Jungbluth, author of “Die Quandts,” said in an interview at a Bavarian restaurant in Hamburg last November.

Nazi Connections

In 1918, Guenther Quandt’s first wife died of the Spanish flu, leaving him a widower with two young sons, Hellmut and Herbert. He married Magda Ritschel in 1921, and the couple’s only son, Harald, was born later that year. Hellmut died in 1927, from complications related to appendicitis.

Quandt and Magda divorced in 1929. Two years later, she married Joseph Goebbels, a member of the German parliament who also held a doctorate degree in drama and served as head of propaganda for Germany’s growing Nazi party. After the Nazis took power in 1933, their leader, Adolf Hitler, appointed Goebbels as the Third Reich’s propaganda minister. Hitler was the best man at the couple’s wedding.

Guenther Quandt joined the party that same year. His factories became key suppliers to the German war effort, even though his relationship with Goebbels had become increasingly strained.

“There was constant rivalry,” said Bonn-based history professor Joachim Scholtyseck, author of a family-commissioned study about their involvement with the Third Reich, in a telephone interview. “It didn’t matter that Goebbels didn’t like him. It didn’t have any influence on Quandt’s ability to make money.”

Forced Labor

In 1937, he earned the title of Wehrwirtschaftsfuehrer, the name given to members of an elite group of businessmen who were deemed beneficial to the production of war materials for the Third Reich. During the war, Quandt’s AFA manufactured batteries for U-Boat submarines and V-2 rocket launchers. His BKIW –which had been renamed Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken AG in 1936 — produced Mauser firearms, ammunition and anti-aircraft missiles.

“He was one of the leading industrialists in the Third Reich and the Second World War,” Scholtyseck said. “He always kept a very low profile.”

From 1940 to 1945, the Quandt family factories were staffed with more than 50,000 forced civilian laborers, prisoners of war and concentration camp workers, according to Scholtyseck’s 1,183-page study. The report was commissioned by the family in 2007 after German television aired the documentary “The Silence of the Quandts,” a critical look at their wartime activities.

Released in September 2011, the study also found that Quandt appropriated assets from Jewish company owners and that his son Herbert had planned building an AFA factory in which slave laborers would be deployed.

Army Volunteer

“Guenther Quandt didn’t have a Nazi-kind of thinking,” said Jungbluth, the family biographer. “He was looking for any opportunity to expand his personal empire.”

Quandt’s youngest son, Harald, lived with his mother, Goebbels and six half-siblings. In 1939, he joined the German army after the country’s invasion of Poland, volunteering for the army’s paratrooper unit one year later.

During the war, Harald was deployed in Greece, France and Russia, before being shot and captured in Italy in 1944, and taken to the British Army-run POW camp in Benghazi where he received his mother’s farewell letter.

His stepfather also sent him a goodbye note.

“It’s likely that you’ll be the only one to remain who can continue the tradition of our family,” wrote Goebbels, who served as Chancellor of Germany for one day following Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945.

Denazification Hearings

After the war, Guenther Quandt served in an internment camp in Moosburg an der Isar for more than a year, before being judged a “Mitlaeufer” — a Nazi follower who wasn’t formally involved in the regime’s crimes — in denazification hearings in 1948. No repercussions followed.

“He was lucky that he wasn’t as prominent as someone like Flick or Krupp,” said Scholtyseck, referring to the German industrialists Friedrich Flick and Alfried Krupp, who were sentenced to prison terms at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Guenther died in 1954 while vacationing in Cairo, leaving his business empire equally in the hands of his two surviving sons, Harald and Herbert. Most notably, the assets included ownership of AFA and Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken — renamed Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe AG after the war — and stakes in Daimler-Benz and potash miner Wintershall AG.

Sovereign Wealth

Herbert managed the stakes in the battery, car and potash firm, while Harald oversaw the interests in the industrial companies, according to Jungbluth’s biography.

Over the next decade, the brothers increased their stake in Daimler; Herbert saved BMW from collapse in the 1960s after becoming its largest shareholder and backing the development of new models.

Harald died in 1967, at age 45, in an airplane crash outside Turin, Italy. The relationship between his widow, Inge, and Herbert deteriorated after his death. Negotiations to settle the estate by separating assets commenced in 1970.

The most valuable asset that the Harald Quandt heirs received was four-fifths of a 14 percent stake in Daimler, according to the biography. In 1974, the entire stake was sold to the Kuwait Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, for about 1 billion deutsche marks, according to a Daimler-Benz publication from 1986 celebrating its centennial.

Inge Quandt, who suffered from depression, died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1978. Her new husband, Hans-Hilman von Halem, shot himself in the head two days later. The five orphaned daughters, two of them teenagers, were left to split the family fortune.

Family Meetings

The estate’s trustees had started overseeing the daughters’ money in 1974. An active investment approach commenced with the founding of the family investment company in 1981.

“It’s different if you work for a family than a corporation,” said Becker. “You can really invest instead of fulfilling regulation requirements.”

According to “Die Quandts,” the siblings try to get together a few times a year to discuss their investments. Gabriele Quandt lives in Munich. After earning a master’s degree in business administration at Insead in Fontainebleau, France, she married German publishing heir Florian Langenscheidt, with whom she had two sons. The couple divorced in 2008.

Katarina Geller-Herr owns Gestuet Waeldershausen, an equestrian center in Homberg (Ohm), Germany. She sponsored Lars Nieberg, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in show jumping.

Jewish Conversion

Colleen-Bettina Rosenblat-Mo is a jewelry designer who runs a studio and showroom in Hamburg. She converted to Judaism in New York at age 24. Her first marriage was to Michael Rosenblat, a German-Jewish businessman, whose father survived a concentration camp. The couple divorced in 1997. She remarried Frode Mo, a Norwegian journalist.

“We live with both religions and also celebrate Christmas,” Rosenblat-Mo said in “Die Quandts.”

Anette-Angelika May-Thies lives in Hamburg, according to the Harald Quandt Holding shareholders list filed with the German federal trade registry. Her first marriage was to Axel May, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) international adviser for private banking, who managed the family’s investments for about 25 years.

The siblings are also majority owners and investors in five financial services companies, all of which pay dividends, according to Becker. The firms were founded to manage the sisters’ wealth and subsequently opened up to third parties.

Private Equity

The six companies combined manage $18 billion in assets, according to the family investment company’s website. Becker said the majority of the money controlled by these firms is invested for third parties. One-fifth of the family fortune is managed by trustees for the two children of the youngest Quandt sibling, Patricia Halterman, who died in July 2005, four days before turning 38. Her townhouse on the Upper East Side of New York City sold for $37.5 million in 2008.

Auda International LP serves as the sisters’ New York-based private-equity unit. It manages almost $5 billion and was founded as their U.S. office in 1989, said Becker. Real Estate Capital Partners LP started the same year and has invested about $9 billion in real estate, according to its website. Both companies are owned through HQFS LP, an offshore entity based in the Cayman Islands.

Family Fortunes

In Bad Homburg, HQ Trust GmbH serves as a investment management company for about 30 families with fortunes ranging from 50 million euros to 500 million euros. Equita Management GmbH invests in small and mid-cap companies in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. HQ Advisor GmbH provides accounting and controlling services.

Only one sister, Gabriele, carries the family name, and none are active in the day-to-day business of the family office, said Becker.

Their uncle, Herbert Quandt, died in 1982. His fortune was divided between six children from three different marriages. BMW, his most valuable asset, was inherited by his third wife Johanna Quandt and their children, Stefan Quandt, 46, and Susanne Klatten, 50. The three billionaires hold 46.7 percent of the Munich-based car producer, according to the company’s 2011 annual report.

After Scholtyseck’s study was published in 2011, cousins Gabriele and Stefan Quandt acknowledged their family’s ties and involvement with the Third Reich in an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.

‘Sad Truth’

“Magda killed her six children in the Fuehrerbunker. Our father loved his half-siblings very much. And when, like me, you have something like this in your family history, you think: It can’t be any worse,” Gabriele Quandt said in the interview. “It’s a sad truth that forced laborers died in Quandt companies,” said Stefan.

The acknowledgment didn’t prompt a public distancing from the men that made their family Germany’s richest. The families’ offices in Bad Homburg are named after Guenther and Harald Quandt, and the Herbert Quandt media prize of 50,000 euros is awarded annually to German journalists.

“They have to live with the name. It’s part of the history,” said Scholtyseck. “It will be a constant reminder of dictatorship and the challenges that families have to face.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David De Jong in New York at ddejong3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net

The Cloud of Torah and Geulah (Redemption)

The following Dvar Torah is from the current Rosh Yeshivah of Kerem B’Yavneh, Rav Motti Greenberg. Back in the day’s when I was at KBY, Rav Motti was a Ram and senior member of the Kollel. I remember that he never sat up top near my Rosh Yeshivah Rav Goldvicht ז’ל because Rav Goldvicht insisted that those who sat on the מזרח wall near him, had to wear the clothing of a Talmid Chacham (which included a hat). Rav Motti felt that either a hat had passed its used-by-date as a Levush (piece of clothing) or that he wasn’t sufficiently a Talmid Chacham. The rumour was that the former was the main reason. I recall that in those days he wore a suit on Shabbos but always had an open neck (without a tie) and the collar was folded out over the outside of his suit lapel. When I met him a few years ago after many years, that’s exactly how he remained. Rav Motti was and remains infused with the Torah of Rav Kook ז’ל. Rav Goldvicht was a different type of man, having come through Etz Chaim, R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer ז’ל (who was his Mesader Kiddushin) R’ Aryeh Levin ז’ל and the Chazon Ish. Rav Goldvicht was rumoured to be a Boyaner Chassid, and whereas Rav Motti is always quoting Rav Kook, Rav Goldvicht was always quoting the Sfas Emes and Rav Tzadok HaCohen ז’ל. Anyway, enough of my reminiscing (great song by LRB, by the way, for those who know …)

Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap ז’ל

One source used by Rav Motti is the Sefer מעיני הישועה by the famous, R’ Ya’akov Moshe Charlap ז’ל, who was a famous Talmid/Chasid of Rav Kook. Charlap is a actually an abbreviation in Hebrew of חייא ראש לגולי פולין in memory of Rav Chiya from Poland, who was the head of the Polish and Portugese Communities in exile. Rav Charlap’s grandson is Rav Zevulun Charlap, who is one of the current Roshei Yeshivah at YU, and who occasionally mentioned trips to Israel when he was a boy to visit his Zeyda.

Anyway, the Dvar Torah is beautiful and I hope you enjoy it.

לזכר נשמת אבי מורי הריני כפרת משכבו ר’ שאול זעליג בן ר’ יהודה הכהן בלבין

The title “the cloud of torah and redemption” was the name of an article that Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook published a year before he passed away. He based his essay on the verse (Shmos 19:9) in this week’s Torah portion of Yisro

And Hashem said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.” And Moses relayed the words of the people to Hashem. ט. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָנָן בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ וְגַם בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם וַיַּגֵּד משֶׁה אֶת דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל יְהוָֹה

The Rambam feels that the momentous events at Sinai and not the grandiose miracles that took place are the foundation of our faith (Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 8). One question that we can ask is why it was necessary for this glorious revelation to appear in a cloud, from within a fog, and not as a clear vision.

Rav Kook’s answer is that Divine light is different from the physical light with which we are familiar. When we want physical light to do something we increase its intensity. The brighter the light the less darkness remains. But this is not true for Divine light. It is so powerful that the only way it can be seen is for its intensity to be decreased. Only then can the human eye perceive it.

“The weak eye of a human being and his limited and shaky intellect is not capable of looking at the awesome shine of the Divine light. Therefore humanity in its confusion flees from G-d, as a bat flees from the sun… The only way for the Divine light to become visible is for it to be diminished in a known way. Covering the light, decreasing it, and hiding it – t hese are the ways to reveal it.”

And just as the Divine revelation at the time of the giving of the Torah was through a thick cloud, so is the revelation of Hashem through history.

One of the phenomena through which the Divine light appears is linked to the light of the Mashiach. This light will be revealed to the world through darkness and from hiding. The first spark of Mashiach appeared in Sedom.

“‘I found my servant David’ [Tehilim 89:21]. מָצָאתִי דָּוִד עַבְדִּי בְּשֶׁמֶן קָדְשִׁי 

Where did I find him? In Sedom.” [Bereishis Rabba Lech Lecha]. As is written [Bereishis 19:15],

“your two daughters who are here” . וְאֶת שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ הַנִּמְצָאֹת

Mashiach begins to take shape in the darkness of Sedom, through an act of illicit sex. David says [Tehilim 69:9],

“I was a stranger to my brothers”, מוּזָר הָיִיתִי לְאֶחָי 

created in an illegitimate act! This process continues with the events of Yehuda and Tamar, in the immodest meeting between Boaz and Ruth, and in the story of David and Batsheva.

This same effect was seen in the building of the Second Temple, which was founded with the help of Koresh, who also had a hidden spark of the Mashiach [Yeshayahu 45:1,4]

“This is what G-d says to his Mashiach Koresh… I will call out to you by name, I give you a nickname but you do not know Me.”


כֹּה אָמַר יְהֹוָה לִמְשִׁיחוֹ לְכוֹרֶשׁ…  וָאֶקְרָא לְךָ בִּשְׁמֶךָ אֲכַנְּךָ וְלֹא יְדַעְתָּנִי

Rav Kook notes that the same principle applies in modern times, when the leaders of the movement include “some people who do not know their worth with respect to the role within the exalted guided process. They have been called out by name, but they do not know who is calling them.”

“Just as the light of Mashiach appears in ugly envelopes, now that the footsteps of Mashiach are beginning to appear it is necessary for the same thing to happen… People like this have been chosen for the process, and everything is part of the wonders of the One who is Perfectly Wise.” [Eim Habanim Semeicha, from Rav Teichtal]. As it says in Yeshayahu 51:16

And I placed My words into your mouth, and with the shadow of My hand I covered you, to plant the heavens and to found the earth and to say to Zion [that] you are My people.


טז. וָאָשִׂים דְּבָרַי בְּפִיךָ וּבְצֵל יָדִי כִּסִּיתִיךָ לִנְטֹעַ שָׁמַיִם וְלִיסֹד אָרֶץ וְלֵאמֹר לְצִיּוֹן עַמִּי אָתָּה

Rav Charlap in Mayanei Hayeshua, page 103: “Because of the awesome power of its bright light, it states in Shir Hashirim 2:6

His left hand was under my head, and his right hand would embrace me. שְׂמֹאלוֹ תַּחַת לְרֹאשִׁי וִימִינוֹ תְּחַבְּקֵנִי

 and this is the shadow, as it states in Yeshayahu 51:16

And I placed My words into your mouth, and with the shadow of My hand I covered you, to plant the heavens and to found the earth and to say to Zion [that] you are My people.

טז. וָאָשִׂים דְּבָרַי בְּפִיךָ וּבְצֵל יָדִי כִּסִּיתִיךָ לִנְטֹעַ שָׁמַיִם וְלִיסֹד אָרֶץ וְלֵאמֹר לְצִיּוֹן עַמִּי אָתָּה

Spooky

If you look at my about page, you will notice that on my father’s side הכ’’מ we have links to Amshinov, and on my mother’s side תבלח’’א we have links to Brisk. It’s also no secret that I’m a fan of the Rav.

My son pointed out that the day of my father’s הכ’’מ Yohr Tzeit ג שבט coincides with the Yohr Tzeit of the 3rd Amshinover Rebbe, R’ Yosef, ז’ל (a great-grandson of R’ Yitchok Wurke) from Ostrov Mazowiecka. By chance, I “stumbled” on the additional fact that it was also the same day as R’ Moshe Soloveitchik ז’ל, the eldest son of R’ Chaim Brisker and father of the Rav (and whose wife was a cousin of R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל).

R’ Moshe Soloveitchik ז’ל
The 3rd Rebbe of Amshinov, R' Yosef of Kalish, ז’ל
The 3rd Rebbe of Amshinov, R’ Yosef of Kalish, ז’ל

The circle of life

Some of my readers will be wondering if my thought processes have dried up over the last few weeks. They haven’t. My father, הכ’’מ passed away on the 3rd of Shvat, and I’ve obviously been under a non-self imposed emotional embargo and an halachic odyssey with הלכות אבילות (may nobody ever have to study this). I will resume soon, as soon as I catch up with life’s backlog.

 

Me+Dad
My father and I, at the Bris of his first Great Grandson.