Friday October 7, 2022 – Tishrei 12, 5783
Torah Portion Ha’azinu
Montreal Candle Lighting – 6:05 pm
Shabbos ends 7:06 pm
Sukkot begins Sunday night October 9 - Candle Lighting 6:01 pm
Candle lighting Monday night after 7:02 pm
First days Yom Tov end Tuesday night 7:00 pm
It never ceases to amaze me how what I want to write about always coincides with the week’s Torah portion. It’s almost uncanny.
Personally, Yom Kippur is an easier fast than Tisha B’av. Why? Because on Yom Kippur I’m busy in shul all day whereas Tisha B’av goes on and on and we wait around for the day to pass.
I’m perfectly fine until the last part of davening, Neilah. By then, although my body has adjusted to not eating and drinking, I’m steeling myself for the next two hours as I stand for the entire Neilah. I’m kind of aching and my feet hurt a bit even though I’m wearing good running shoes. This is a custom I took upon myself many years ago and thank G-d have been able to continue.
Just before the rabbi blows shofar he always speaks. The shul is packed, the energy palpable as everyone knows the end of the fast is near. This year he spoke for only a few minutes, but his words were so powerful you could hear a pin drop in the absolutely packed room.
He spoke about a family who, because of the Holocaust, were dispersed and intermarried, many not even knowing they were Jews. This family has a reunion very often thanks to a woman (part of the family) who comes to the MTC and has a story that is incredible.
In short, her mother – a Holocaust survivor, had come closer to Judaism when she got older but never redid her will, which said she was to be cremated. Through a series of events orchestrated by Hashem, Rabbi New got involved, and this woman had a Jewish burial. Her daughter has stayed connected to Rabbi New ever since.
The family had a reunion in Montreal this past week. At that time, one of the men in her family found out, via another Chabad rabbi, that one puts tefillin on for their Bar Mitzvah. He had never done so, although he said he had a Bar Mitzvah. On Monday of this past week, this man put on tefillin, said the Shema and finally had his Bar Mitzvah.
After recounting the story, the rabbi paused for a moment and then asked all the Holocaust survivors in the shul to stand up. There were two. One was a man in his 90’s, the other a woman who sits in front of me. She is 100 years old and still davening.
If it were possible to describe the atmosphere, it would be the loudest standing ovation you can imagine. And there was not a dry eye on the women’s side. The Rabbi then blew the shofar.
This Week’s Torah Portion
This is Moses’s last day on earth…“Calling heaven and earth as witnesses, Moses exhorts the people, “Remember the days of old. Consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will recount it to you. Your elders, and they will tell you” how G‑d “found them in a desert land,” made them a people, chose them as His own, and bequeathed them a bountiful land.
When Rabbi New asked the Holocaust survivors to stand up he said, “You are our heroes. After going through the Holocaust you are still sitting in a shul? Heroes.” That is what brought everyone to tears. The 100-year-old woman, who slowly and meticulously was saying each word, nobly allowed her granddaughter to help her up and stood like a soldier, allowing the rush of the room to embrace her.
It dawned on me at that moment what it really means to be a Jew. And if we ever forget, don’t forget that the Germans reminded us. Secular or observant didn’t matter to them. In fact, they went back seven generations of your lineage to find Jews – even if you tried your hardest to be like them.
Moses is telling the people to ask your father about being a Jew. He will remind you. These two heroes reminded about 500 people exactly what it means to be a Jew.
Don’t take your Judaism for granted. It is truly a gift. While it is bequeathed upon us by G-d Himself, it is our choice if we do something with it or let it lie fallow. No matter what you decide, no one can ever take it away from you.
Watching those two stoic Holocaust survivors slowly stand up reminded me what it means to be a proud Jew. It also reminded me yet again to take nothing for granted.