Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 52

When the Rightous Pass

February 11, 2021

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. Before I share my formal Rabbinic Reflections, allow me a moment to squeeze in some community announcements:

  1. I encourage you to participate in our ongoing Zoom services, both on Shabbat and during the week. The services are running smoothly and are shorter than when we are together in person. They also offer us the opportunity to meet as a Kehilla, pray, sing, learn, and kibbitz together.

  2. This past Monday, we began a fascinating Adult Education series, which focuses on Jewish writers and how their writing is influenced by their Jewish identity. This Monday, we will host Dr. Roberta Kwall, a law professor from DePaul University, who will speak about her nationally acclaimed book, Remix Judaism.

  3. You will be receiving information, under separate cover, regarding our newly created Cares Fund, which was established specifically to assist those in our synagogue who may be experiencing food insecurity.

Let us now turn our attention to this week’s Rabbinic Reflections and allow me to share with you a letter that was composed by a colleague, last week, after the passing of some prominent Rabbis in Israel. (I edited the letter slightly by translating some of the Hebrew terminology in the original version).

Many of you may be aware that on Sunday, unfortunately, many great elderly rabbinic leaders of the Torah world, living in Eretz Yisrael, passed away, all as a result of COVID-19. HaRav Yitzchak Scheiner, age 90 was the Rosh Yeshivat Kaminetz. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, noted author and psychiatrist was 90. HaRav Meshulam Dovid Halevi Soloveitchik, the head of Yeshivat Brisk, was 99.

Our sages taught us that the passing of the righteous represents an atonement for the generation, as well as a calamity likened to the destruction of the Temple. Both of these ideas are deeply connected to an immediate call for repentance and prayer. Of course, getting together and coming to Shul is not an option for everyone, as staying safe and healthy to the best of our ability is of utmost importance. However, our ability to pray, learn, and introspect can be done from wherever we are.

The Rambam famously wrote in his Laws of Fasting:

"This practice is one of the paths of repentance, for when a difficulty arises, and the people cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets, everyone will realize that [the difficulty] occurred because of their conduct..... This [realization] will cause the removal of this difficulty. Conversely, should the people fail to cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets, and instead say, "What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence," this is a cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds. Thus, this time of distress will lead to further distresses."

Everyone can decide for themselves what appropriate action, if any, to take in response to the great loss experienced on Sunday, and with Hashem's help our sincerity will be seen by Heaven as meritorious and reflect well for us, our families, our community, and all of Am Yisroel.

As I read this letter, I was struck by the two strands of thought in it, which are admittedly part of the history of Jewish religious philosophy.

The first is the concept that the passing of a righteous or scholarly person impacts the entire Jewish world. Their demise may be linked to misdeeds for the generation in which they lived. In fact, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 CE and the early authors of the Talmud did link the national “penalty” directly to the idea of causeless hatred between Jews (sinat chinam). Following this line of reasoning, the passing of these sages during the time of Covid, occurred because we, as a people, did not perform enough deeds of lovingkindness and self-reflect for purposes of repentance through prayer and meditation. The second concept suggests that through prayer and repentance we can make the world a better place and find favor in God’s eyes.

For me, I can only accept the second idea, which is part of my own, personal theology. This is to say that I do believe we all have more work to do to become better people, better Jews, better spouses and better friends. Whether it be through prayer, meditation, or random acts of kindness, we can invoke God’s grace and become truly blessed. I choose not to accept the idea that the Gedolai HaDor (the pillars of our generation) died due to our misdeeds. I can reject that principle readily for two reasons. First, the three men were almost centenarians, so their passing seems more likely due to biological rather than a religious phenomenon. Second, I am uncomfortable with the idea that a loving God would actually use human life as atonement for sin. In fact, if we adopt this idea, are we not heading towards a Christian conceptualization of the Divine?

So, as we enter Shabbat, I encourage each of us to reflect upon our personal theology and challenge ourselves to come to a greater understanding of God, as we perceive him as the Ultimate.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

WANT MORE??? Click HERE!!!