Friday, July 20, 2012

Rosh Chodesh Av

Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh; All Israel is responsible, one for the other
Babylonian Talmud Shevuot 39a

Life in Israel is never boring. It’s been said that more happens here in a day than happens in Canada in a year.
In a recent three-hour visit to Jerusalem, two events occurred within an hour of each other; neither event were happy occasions, indeed, one was sad and the other tragic. Both were particularly Israeli events, and both commanded a reaction that only Israelis could provide.

One event was mentioned in the Winnipeg Free Press, but in small letters, the other wasn’t mentioned at all (I looked).

I had gone to visit my niece who had just given birth (see my previous blog Star Trek; the Next Generation). As my daughter and I were making our way to the hospital, we heard on the radio that Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv passed away at age 102.
Rav Elyashiv was the leader of theLithuanian-Haredi (non-chasidic) community, and considered by many Ashkenazi Jews as the posek ha-dor, or the leading authority on Halacha, Jewish law.
Rav Elyashiv had come to British mandated Palestine at the age of 12, in 1922. He became a student of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook – then Chief Rabbi of then-Palestine – who made the shidduch (match) between Sheina Chaya Levine,the daughter of Rav Arye Levine – the Tzaddik of Jerusalem and his pupil. Sheina Chaya died in 1994.

Rav Elyashiv spent his life learning and serving his people. He lived a modest life, concerned with neither power nor riches. Notwithstanding, he actually wielded a tremendous amount of power amongst his followers.  

At the time of his death, he left behind approximately 1000 descendants to the sixth generation; in 2009 a grandson had been born to his great-grandson.

In Israel, the feeling of family and of belonging is all-pervasive. It is customary to share in both the joys and the tragedies of others. It is usual to have 800-1000 people at a wedding. It is not unheard of to have 5000 people at a funeral to honor the deceased and his/her family.
There is a feeling that, despite differences in beliefs or appearances or customs, we are all in this together and are responsible one for the other.
While there were many stances of Rav Elyashiv that I disagree with, I firmly believe that it is because him, and men like him, who immerse themselves in Torah and in spirituality, and whose primary concern (whether we agree with their methods or not) is the spiritual health of the Jewish people, who protect us in our Land and give us the right to be here.

More than 250,000 people accompanied Rav Elyashiv in his last journey from his home in Mea Shearim to the Har Menuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.

250,000 people are half the population of the city of Jerusalem. While most of those were Haredi followers of the Rav who came from all around the country, there were many others who came to pay respect and honor Rav Elyashiv.

Just over an hour after Rav Elyashiv passed away, a suicide bomber blew up a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas, a resort town on the Black Sea in Bulgaria. Five Israelis and three Bulgarians were killed, dozens were injured, some critically.

Blowing up a bus full of Israelis is, sadly, not remarkable. What is remarkable is the Israeli reaction. Within hours, Israeli air force planes took off filled with doctors, nurses and supplies to treat the wounded, and to bring them and the dead home.
By the next day, all who could be moved were home.

It is Israeli policy to go where ever a Jew needs help, be it travelers hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda, tourists stranded after a tsunami in Thailand, a student lost in the jungles of Chile, or Jews attacked in India, Kenya, or Bulgaria, the long arm of the IDF will go where it’s needed. Because, no matter what our political or religious opinions, our customs or colours, no matter how far away from home you’ve strayed, all Jews are responsible for each other. We take this seriously.

But more: Israel also believes strongly in the Talmudic dictum that one who has saved one life has saved the world. Because Israel has so much experience in emergency rescue operations, we deal not only with our own tragedies in our own country, but we assist other countries all around the world when tragedy strikes.

The IDF has sent search and rescue missions to India, Turkey, and most notably Haiti in 2010 after earthquakes destroyed whole cities. They were the first to set up a field hospital in Haiti, saving dozens of lives and delivering babies.

Israel even offered to send a team to Iran after an earthquake hit that country in 2003. Iran turned the IDF down, saying they would rather die than accept Zionist help. And they did.

Doctors were sent to help in Japan after the tsunami hit that country last year. After a building collapsed in Kenya, a search and rescue team was sent to find those trapped under the rubble.
According to the IDF spokesman, the Home Front’s Search and Rescue Unit and the IDF’s Emergency Medical Unit have gone on 14 missions in the past 26 years across the world, rescuing people in need. Israeli medical personnel have saved more than 417 people, provided medical care to more than 3,700 injured patients and delivered more than 47 babies.

For a full list see of Israeli operations go here.

May HaShem avenge the blood of those murdered in Burgas and may their merits and the righteousness of Rav Elyashiv protect us from the evil that haunts us.

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