The Sons of Avraham
"...Avraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him." (Genesis 18:18)
This week marks the passing of three righteous men; three whose love of HaShem, His Torah, and the people of Israel was boundless and uncompromising; three who strove their entire lives to bring the children of Israel back to their Father in heaven, and the nation of Israel back to Torah: three sons of Avraham.
Mattitiyahu ben Yochanan, Kohein Gadol - High Priest - whose yarhtzeit, (day of passing), was this Monday, (Cheshvan 15), was living in the town of Modiin when he was sent for by a passing officer of the army of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian-Greek tyrant, to slaughter a pig on a makeshift altar of idolatry. This would have been but a minor anecdote in a well-planned attack on the spiritual well-being of the Jewish nation, designed to eradicate the observance of Torah in the land of Israel, but for Mattitiyahu's response. Mattitiyahu the High Priest not only refused to participate in the abomination, but swearing allegiance to the G-d of Israel, he killed the Syrian-Greek officer, and rallied his fellow Jews with the cry: "He who is with G-d will come with me." Thus began the Maccabean uprising. The ragtag band of rebels which gathered round, were soon transformed into a well-disciplined army, which in two years time, now numbering ten thousand, defeated the soldiers of Antiochus Epiphanes, despite being outnumbered by six to one. From military victory they proceeded to liberate Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount, and to purify and rededicate the Holy Temple, and reinstate the Divine service. Mattitiyahu had died one year earlier, but it was his zealousness for his G-d and his people that turned the tide of history.
Tuesday, (Cheshvan 16), marked the passing of one of the Jewish nation's most beloved leaders of this generation: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory. Affectionately known as Reb Shlomo, he was a scion of a well known Chassidic dynasty, and a brilliant Talmid chacham - Torah scholar - in his own right. Deeply disturbed by the growing alienation of Jews around the world, Reb Shlomo eschewed the honorable chambers of establishment Judaism that awaited him, and set off on a search for Jews, wherever they might be. That search led him to San Francisco of the psychedelic '60s, where he befriended many a lost and bewildered fellow Jew. Over the next three decades he raised up thousands of students in Israel, America, and the world over. Reb Shlomo's magic was in his uncanny ability to reveal to each and every soul he met, the Divine spark that glowed within them, and to reunite them with their loving Father in heaven. He spent his lifetime traveling the globe, singing songs and telling stories. Castigated by some and ridiculed by others for his unorthodox approach, during his own lifetime, his legacy of love for his brothers and sisters of the Jewish nation has grown stronger and stronger in the twelve years since his passing. Like Mattitiyahu, Reb Shlomo too raised the banner of, "He who is with G-d will come with me," but his battle was against loneliness and indifference, alienation and ignorance.
Thursday, (Cheshvan 18), marks the passing of Rabbi Meir David Kahane, of blessed memory. He too was a maverick who refused to play by the rules as they were laid our before him. Rabbi Kahane spent his entire life fighting hypocrisy and indifference. He was intolerant of those fellow Jews who preached one thing but practiced another. To the Jews in America he said simply, leave your comfortable lives here, and move to Israel. To the Jews of Israel he said, forget the chimera of a "Jewish democracy" as you have defined it, and shape your lives and define your nation according to the precepts of Torah, the ultimate and sole source of all your claims for independent statehood. Rabbi Kahane foresaw the existential threat that a radicalized irredentist Arab population in the state of Israel would pose for the Jewish nation, long before others cared to admit it. He foresaw the moral decay that would set in as long as Jews in Israel rejected their four thousand year heritage. Fiery and uncompromising, and never afraid to speak his mind, Rabbi Kahane was reviled and rejected by the vast majority of his own people. He was murdered by a Moslem terrorist in Manhattan in 1990.
Each of these three defenders of the Jewish people was unique. Each had his own insights, each had his own approach. Yet Mattitiyahu, Reb Shlomo, and Rabbi Kahane were all the sons of Avraham. They all shared his love for G-d and his dedication to G-d's path. Like Avraham, they "made souls in Haran," (Genesis 11:5), (brought people close to HaShem), and like Avraham they didn't hesitate to take up the sword, to defend their people: "And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus." (Genesis 14:14-15)
Avraham avinu - Abraham our forefather - was a multi-faceted man, whose strength and ideals live on today in the hearts of his most beloved children. May their memories be for us a blessing.
This week on TEMPLE TALK, Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the lives and legacies of Mattitiyahu ben Yochanan, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and Rabbi Meir Kahane, and the present day situation in Israel, all in light of this week's Torah reading of Vayera, and our forefather, Avraham avinu.
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