I started to think about the events of the past few weeks in Toulouse and the passing of another of our Torah giants, Rav Scheinberg zt’l last night. I thought of how I’ve changed over the past 20 years, how my reactions have shifted, my emotions are more expressed, and that maybe even a few years’ ago I wouldn’t have shed a tear on hearing of the passing of a Gadol or of the murder of innocents just going to school. I certainly wouldn’t have known to pray to Hashem for mercy and to ask Him to look after the family of the martyrs. I would have expressed verbally how awful it was, and meant it, but I’ll be honest I wouldn’t have felt connected to any great degree not because I’m not a feeling person but because it would seem too distant, something happening elsewhere.
On one of my first trips to Jerusalem, a friend insisted, on the spur of the moment, that we go to Rav Scheinberg for a bracha (blessing). I can’t say I was particularly keen because I didn’t really understand what getting a bracha was all about and being English I was a bit concerned about turning up unannounced and what was I supposed to say to him! I mean, you just don’t do that in England and suppose the Rav was busy. My friend laughed because I didn’t realise that there’d be other people also turning up unannounced and that we’d be in the queue and that the Rav and his Rebbetzin would not be serving tea and cakes!
When we went in to see the Rav he was sitting quite serenely with his many trademark tallesim draped over him, with a welcoming smile. My friend strode over to him and sat down; I stood as close to the doorway as possible not quite knowing what to do. She introduced me, told him I was visiting from London, and asked the Rav to give me a bracha. He sort of chuckled and said something like I wish you all the luck in the world [because I obviously must have needed it!?], and, with that, we said our goodbyes and left. I remember going down in the lift saying to my friend that I was somehow expecting something deep and meaningful and thought quite cheekily that what he said was the sort of thing I’d write in someone’s leaving card at work. Just goes to show how far away I was then; that someone so holy and great in Torah could speak to a simple Jew like me so normally and genuinely.
I’ve since heard and spoken to his daughter, Rebbetzin Altusky, may she be comforted among all the mourners of Zion, in London and probably that was the first time that I cried as did most of the audience as she related how her mikva lady was one of those murdered in the bus bombing near Mea Shearim several years’ ago and that the Torah way in such circumstances is not to blame others but to introspect and see how each of us can improve our service of Hashem. She has such wisdom and yet such purity and innocence and she must now be in her 70’s. True holiness and, yes, it’s palpable.
As the horrors of the atrocity at the Toulouse school unfolded then and today I admit I have been tuning into Sky News. Some of the reactions were very interesting.
President Sarkozy initially gave a press conference conveying his “sorrow” etc at what had happened. Maybe because it had just happened and he hadn’t quite internalised the enormity of the situation but although he said all the right things for a situation like this, it seemed to me that he displayed a rehearsed indifference, a cold detachment. However, later in the day he spoke again and this time he spoke about his meeting with the widow of Rabbi Sandler z’l and how her demeanour impressed him; this time there was real emotion on his face, maybe shock, but also I detected a deep respect at the dignified stance of this young widow and that he just couldn’t hide. I felt proud that this young bereft Jewish woman had made such a Kiddush Hashem.
By contrast, a father of one of the schoolchildren was interviewed in his car as he came to collect his child; he was quite visibly shocked and naturally very upset but railed against the government for allowing something like this to happen; after all, he cried, this is France, the implication being that, what, things like this don’t happen here, but elsewhere? I thought of what Rav Arush and Rav Brody talk about all the time, not to put your trust in anyone or anything other than Hashem, not to feel more English, French, American than Jewish, and the dangers of feeling too comfortable in the host country.
So as we travel the road to redemption, one fraught with all sorts of perils, let us pray that the tzadikim who have departed recently will act on klal Yisrael’s behalf.
And as for us in Olam haZeh, let’s really think hard about how much we want to be redeemed and what we are prepared to do to achieve it. And may Moshiach come speedily in our days, amen.