By Rabbi Meir Goldberg. More than 100 years ago in the city of Kiev, Ukraine in Czarist Russia, Mendel Beilis was accused of murdering a 13 year old gentile boy and using the blood for matzos. The viciously anti-Semitic government used the trial as a way of not only prosecuting Beilis, but the entire Jewish people as gentile hating murderers who deserved no sympathy. Not just Beilis but the Torah itself was put on trial for its attitude towards gentiles.
Jews from around the globe, religious and secular alike rallied around Beilis and pleaded with western governments to pressure the Czar’s government to stop this travesty of justice.
The chief Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh, a gifted orator and spokesman, was called upon to defend the Torah’s teachings vis-à-vis non-Jews.
“The Talmud views non-Jews as sub-human,” charged the prosecution. “Yevamos 61 states ‘You are called Adam but non-Jews are not called Adam’.”
“You are misunderstanding the Talmud,’ countered Rabbi Mazeh. “The Talmud means to say that the Jews are called Adam, meaning that they are all like one person and not many disparate peoples who just happen to comprise a nation. When one Jew is in pain, we all feel that pain. This trial proves it. Here we have one Jew in Kiev accused of a crime he did not commit and Jews around the world rally to his side. Would non-Jews around the globe care about a non-Jew in Kiev who was falsely accused? They are not Adam – a single entity, but rather a group of individuals.”
Rabbi Mazeh’s words have never been truer than in these past weeks as Jews from all walks of life, Sefradi and Ashkenazi, Dati Leumi, Charedi and secular all cried out in the pain of our three boys, their parents and families. Our nation, desperate for achdus, banded together as all of klal Yisroel turned as one towards our Father in Heaven, beseeching Him to return the boys home safely and after their murder, crying out in their memory. While we may fight and bicker with one another, even bitterly, we are fundamentally one people, one heart, one soul.
So what can we as a zchus for the memory the three boys?
The agony of the parents of the kidnapped boys, even prior to the discovery of their murder, was unimaginable, waiting up nights, longing to hear from them. The terror of having a child snatched from us is too much to bear. To a great extant, Hashem is missing so many of His children, ‘kidnapped’ by lives of secularism, far from living lives of purpose, meaning and closeness to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. According to one study, 71% of non-orthodox American Jews will not marry Jewish. Yet during this time of beautiful hisorerus, we witnessed ostensibly secular Jews, seemingly far from Yiddishkeit, daven and perform mitzvos in their brother’s zchus and they continue to do so in their memory.
Rabbi Shay Schachter of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, was sent as a shliach on behalf of his shul, to be menachem avel the families of the three boys. He writes the following,
“In the middle of our flight, the stewardess began to speak with me, and we got into a very pleasant conversation. She then inquired when I was planning to return back to the States, and I said I would only be staying until until after Shabbos, and I would then be returning home. She said “just four days? What kind of trip is that?” And I proceeded to tell her that I was sent by our shul to visit the three respective families, to deliver our beautiful letters, and to let them know that the affection of their beloved brothers and sisters in America, knows no bounds.
She immediately began to cry uncontrollably, and said, this kehillah of yours is something unique and something incredibly special. For you to get on the flight is no big deal; but this speaks volumes about your kehillah, that this is what they feel is important. This is where their hearts are, and this is what is occupying their minds – how incredible!
So the stewardess proceeds to make an announcement in tears, to a plane filled almost to capacity with Birthright groups; “Rabotai! We have on our plane, a shliach Mitzvah! Come meet a Rabbi who was sent by his Kehillah to perform the great mitzvah of nichum aveilim, for those whom they feel are their own brothers and sisters! Our plane is safe because we have a shaliach mitzvah on board with us!”
This led to a whole pandemonium, and after I finally got to sit down again, the young man next to me informs me that he is 26 years old, from Seattle Washington; he works in a national zoo, and is going to Israel for his first time. He then proceeds to tell me that he was so inspired by our kehillah, and that he would like to borrow my Tallis to do a mitzvah that he has not done since his Bar mitzvah celebration (at age 16) in memory of the three precious neshamos.
I gladly gave him my tallis and then proceeded to ask him if he knew how to recite a bracha. He said “sure I do”, and went on to take out a small piece of paper from his pocket, and recited the “Tefillas Haderech”. This was the one and only Hebrew Bracha that he was familiar with, so he decided to recite it as well on the Tallis.
He then asked to borrow my Tefillin as well, which was followed by a long conversation with the other members of the plane, who were all taking pictures of this highly unusual scene.
But that wasn’t it; after a few minutes he turns to me and says “Rabbi, I am so inspired, but in Seattle Washington we don’t have these boxes. But I want to continue to do something special for these three precious souls, even after I return home. So what would you suggest I do?”
I was in complete shock, and overwhelmed with emotion, so the Satmar Chassid in the next row turns to this tattood and pierced young man and says, “Sweet Jew, if you promise me you will try and wear these Tefillin each and every day, I promise I will have a pair sent by FedEx to your home in Seattle Washington by the time you get back from Israel!” They then exchanged phone numbers and information, and the deal was done.”
This is an incredible time in Klal Yisroel.
It would behoove us to seize these precious moments of national unity and reach out to our not so distant brethren with bonds of love in order to draw them nearer to their Father.
Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the director of Rutgers Jewish Xperience (www.rutgersjx.com). He resides in Lakewood with his family.