Three Shabbosim – Three Cities – Three Great People

May 30th – June 6th – June 13th
Nasah – Behaloscha – Shelach

Shabbos – June 6, 2015 – 19 Sivan 5775 Parshas Behaloscha

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin -Shlita

In my never ending quest to meet great people, I went to hear Rabbi Shlomo Riskin speak at KJBS.   Rabbi Riskin is the founder of Efrat in Israel.

Entering the Shul, I saw Hart Hasten.  He is one of the sponsors of the Shabbos.  He called me the Kotzker.  I reminded him of the story in 1967 when the IDF captured the Kotel and Menachem Begin had called  Prime  Minister  Levi Eshkol  at 4:00 AM that the IDF must enter the old city immediately and Menachem Begin’s prayer at the Kotel.  He said that he has more stories to write another book which is what his wife wants him to do.  He should as he is living history.

Rabbi Riskin spoke at 7:00 PM.  He wore a black Kapote with subtle gold sprinkles.  He had a big white Kippah Sruga.     His theme was about the duty of the Jewish people to bring moral conscience to the world.  When we fail in our mission we are punished.  He spoke about the rainbow the God showed to Noah that He will not destroy the world.   The circle would have been a better choice, but a rainbow was used because God will not destroy the world, but man can.   Western society is based on the Greeks and Romans whose society was based on might is right, to the victors the spoils.   Anyone who imposes their views on someone is someone who is a Roman.

Rabbi Riskin spoke again at the Shlosh Siuedas meal.  He told over how the city of Efrat was created with the confluence of history with The Rov – Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevy Solovechik; theRebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe; and Menachem Begin.

In 1977, Menachem Begin was elected Prime Minister of Israel.  His first trip was to America and he went to visit the Rov, the Rebbe, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.   Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was the leader of the generation in Halacha – Jewish law.  The Rov, the leader of the generation in Lomdos – Torah learning. The Rebbe the leader of the generation in his concern for every Jew and the world.

1)  The Rov

kotzk

The Rav and the Prime Minister: Memories of Brisk from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Listening to God:

Some years later, when I was teaching at Yeshiva University, I would generally request a meeting with the Rav on Thursday afternoons to ask my “questions of the week.” He would usually give me from two minutes to an exceedingly rare, two hours, depending upon the pressures of his day. During one particular meeting, while the Rav was in the midst of showing me a passage from the Guide for the Perplexed, a telephone call came announcing that Menachem Begin, newly elected prime minister of Israel, would be arriving shortly. The prime minister of Israel is generally considered to be the prime minister of world Jewry, and this first traditional prime minister announced that during his first official visit to the United States, he wished an audience with the three religious Jewish leaders of the generation: the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Soloveitchik. Now that the revered head of state was about to enter the Rav’s New York apartment, I knew that good manners dictated that I excuse myself; my curiosity, however, got the better of my gentility, and I opted to remain until I was specifically asked to leave.

When Menachem Begin walked through the door, the Rav quickly jumped up to meet him. As they embraced, the Rav seemed especially moved, with what appeared to me to be tears welling up in his eyes. These two Jewish world leaders, the foremost statesmen in the political arena and the foremost rabbi in the religio-philosophical realm, both shared a common “Brisker” (Brest-Litovsk, Lithuania) connection.

Rav Joseph Dov’s illustrious grandfather, Rav Chayyim Soloveitchik (who pioneered a new conceptual methodology for the study of Talmud), was the rabbi of the main synagogue in Brisk and therefore of the entire city; indeed, he was known worldwide as the “Brisker Rav.” Menachem Begin’s father, Binyamin Begin – an avid Zionist, a devotee of the Revisionist Movement’s founder, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and in his own right a riveting orator – was the gabbai (lay leader) of that same synagogue in Brisk. And just to add some spices to the cholent, one of the three judges (dayanim) of that synagogue community was Rav Moshe Chazan, the father of Yaakov Chazan, founder and leader of Mapam and the initiator of the secular Shomer HaTza’ir kibbutzim in Israel – and the midwife who “birthed” all of the babies was the grandmother of Ariel Sharon. Menachem Begin had been born and raised in Brisk, and Rav J.B. Soloveitchik had spent significant Sabbaths there with his grandfather, including that of his bar mitzvah.

After their initial embrace of greeting, both men stood looking at each other, respectfully, admiringly, nostalgically. The Rav seemed to burst out, “Mr. Prime Minister, you are so short, and your father was so tall.” Menachem Begin responded, “Kavod HaRav, I will say two things. Firstly, you remember how my father looked when you were a small child, and all adults seem taller than they actually are, to children. But the real point is that my father was always a much taller and greater man than I.”

And there they sat at the table and began to reminisce together, the one entering into the words of the other and finishing the other’s thoughts and sentences. Clearly they felt transported to their childhood in Brisk, as their Yiddish words and gesticulations evoked that world. A world in which either the rabbi or the gabbai held the keys to the synagogue, and Binyamin Begin had gladly given up his keys to the illustrious Reb Chayyim when the latter accepted the rabbinical position. A place where a bar mitzvah who was preparing to spend his biblical portion in Brisk, couldn’t sleep a week beforehand because his revered grandfather insisted that every cantillation had to be exactly accurate or the entire verse would have to be repeated; an ideological climate in which Zionist leaders were either revered as forerunners of the Messiah, or reviled as rebels against God’s rule over the cosmos.

And then they both recounted an incident together, the one dispute they remembered that had taken place between the gabbai and the rabbi, between Binyamin Begin and Rav Chayyim Soloveitchik. Theodore Herzl, the legendary father of modern Zionism, died, and Binyamin Begin planned to eulogize him in the main synagogue of Brisk. Reb Chayyim was an anti-Zionist who certainly did not believe it proper to eulogize a non-observant Jew who probably ate on Yom Kippur, in an Orthodox synagogue. Since it was the rabbi who had the keys, without any kind of discussion or debate, Reb Chayyim locked the synagogue door on the morning of the scheduled eulogy. Binyamin Begin, a powerful person in his own right, broke the lock, opened the synagogue doors wide, and gave his eulogy. He then purchased new keys and a lock, and left them on the doorstep of Reb Chayyim’s home with a letter of apology and a promise that he would never do such a thing again.

Both men agreed to the facts of this. But the Rav added a fascinating postscript. He had heard of this incident from his father, Rav Moshe, who was a rabbi of a smaller town a considerable distance from Brisk. Rav Moshe asked his father, Reb Chayyim, how he had reacted to the gabbai’s defiance. Reb Chayyim, who was generally a lion in defense of what he considered proper Torah values, told his son that he decided not to react, that he inquired how many people had attended the eulogy, and found out that the shul was filled to the rafters with a large overflow outside, many more congregants than for Ne’ila on Yom Kippur. Reb Chayyim explained that “a rav muz vissen ven tzu reden, un a rav muz vissen ven tzu shreigen, a rabbi must know when to speak out, and a rabbi must know when to remain silent.”

“Mr. Prime Minister, you apparently learned to be a principled Zionist from your father,” said Rav Soloveitchik. “Kavod HaRav, you apparently learned to be a sage religious leader from your grandfather,” said Menachem Begin.

At that point, the Rav suddenly took notice of my presence, made a very quick introduction, and gestured in a way that told me that my appointment had long since ended. I left the apartment happily, not at all guilty that I had overstayed my welcome. After all, this too was Torah, and I was glad that I had been in the right place to have learned it.

2)  The Rebbe

The year is 1981.  Rabbi Riskin moved forward to create  Efrat, just seven miles from Jerusalem.  He was in America and had to travel to Israel for the groundbreaking and laying  the cornerstone for the city of Efrat.  The groundbreaking for Efrat was to be on a Monday.  The Thursday before, Rabbi Riskin was at a wedding and afterwards went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Fabrengen.   He came after the Rov left and was seated in the Rov’s seat.  When the Rebbe finished he walked towards the exit and passed by Rabbi Riskin.  The Rebbe stopped and told Rabbi Riskin that Rabbi Riskin is always in the Rebbe’s prayers.  Rabbi Riskin said he wanted a Bracha for his project in Efrat.  The Rebbe responded, God should make your plans successful.  The Rebbe took a few steps towards the exit, turned around and went back to Rabbi Riskin and said again, God should make your efforts successful.  (I was told that Rabbi Riskin on many occasions spoke to the Rebbe about Efrat.)

3)  Menachem Begin

Rabbi Riskin lands in Israel on Sunday and his partner calls frantically.  There was a terrorist attack on the west bank and the Israeli government froze all settlement activity.  Rabbi Riskin asks who can override this policy.  His partner told him, only the Prime Minister, Menachem Begin.  They call a Knesset member, a Rabbi, who was recovering from heart surgery.  The Rabbbi despite his illness, called Begin on behalf of Riskin.   Riskin was told to show up at the prime minister’s office the following Monday.

Rabbi Riskin goes to the Prime Ministers office.  Begin asks what you want?  Rabbi Riskin told him the problem.  Menachem Begin calls over Yechiel Kadishai and asks to bring  Herzl’s The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat).  In it, Menachem Begin finds a paragraph that says that when the Jewish State is formed; there will be groups and groups of Jews going to the land (I cannot find the exact quote).

Menachem Begins tells Rabbi Riskin that you can have the groundbreaking ceremony, but only one Knesset member and no publicity.  Despite no publicity, 6,000 people showed up.

Begin then turns to Riskin and says that they met at the Rov’s house back in 1977.  They talked for another few moments.

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