Sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Roberto Szerer, Mr. and Mrs. Dov Farkas, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Farbman, Mr. and Mrs. Ricardo Berner, Mr. and Mrs. Jacks Sterenfeld, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Maman, Dr. and Mrs. Baumel, Mr. and Mrs. Yakov Fish, Dr. and Mrs. Jay Novetsky, Mr. Yosef Katz, Mr. and Mrs. Chaim Rosen le’iluy nishmas Yehudah Aryeh Leib Ben Chaim Shlomo, Mr. and Mrs. Chaim Antian and by Diana Sreter in loving memory of her grandfather Yosef Zvi Ben Dovid, whose yartzheit is 16 Av. May his neshama have an Aliyah.
For a print version of this article here
This summer I was blessed to travel with my family for three weeks to Israel, from July 2 to the 23rd. The purpose of this article is to share some of the interesting experiences we had and some of the things that we learned. I traveled with my wife Channy and our four younger children – Zushi, age 12, Eli, age 10, Yisroel, age 6, and Shneor, age 4.
For the children, this was their first time in Israel except for Zushi who was here as a baby for my sister-in-law’s wedding (Tzippy Perelstein) 11 years ago.
We traveled on a non-stop El Al flight from Miami to Ben Gurion. As always when flying to Israel, I went around the plane offering to put on Tefillin on the male passengers. (Actually, some of my work was done beforehand as Chabad now has a Tefillin stand in Miami airport at the El Al check-in area. It is manned twice a week before the direct flights to Israel. That day it was my son’s teacher, Rabbi Ovadiah Rogalsky, who was doing this holy work.) I noticed that nearly all of the passengers on the flight were Jewish. I usually travel to Israel with other airlines and find that a majority of passengers are tourists or business travelers who are not Jewish. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people (without Yarmulkas) told me that they put on Tefillin every day. Baruch Hashem I helped about eight people don Tefillin.
Since the plane took off in the early afternoon, we had the opportunity to daven both Mincha and Maariv on the plane. El Al was pretty accommodating with making the minyanim. We could have davened Shacharis since we didn’t land until after 7 a.m. (Israel time), but people preferred to daven on the ground.
We traveled on the first day of a new partnership between Alaska Airline and El Al. As of July 1, one is supposed to be able to earn miles with Alaska Airlines when flying with El Al. (I’m still waiting for the mileage to be posted to my account. But, I’m assuming it will be…)
According to halacha, when seeing the Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) which is in ruins (from the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash) after not seeing it for 30 days, one needs to tear one’s garments in grief, similar to the kriah (rending of the garments) over the loss of a close relative. In Miami we had packed in some old shirts with this in mind.
On the way we found a shop in the Arab shuk (market) that sold scissors and another one that sold the adapter to plug in our computer and phones into the Israeli outlets.
On the way down to the Kotel we tore kriah on our shirts (which we afterwards discarded) and said the bracha of Dayan Ha’emes (Blessed be… the true judge). We then went down to the Kotel plaza and davened Mincha. We didn’t write any notes as this is not the Chabad custom. But we did kiss the wall as the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe did when he came to visit in 1929.
On the way to the Kotel, as well as throughout our trip, we were approached by quite a few people asking for donations. Back home friends had given me shliach mitzvah gelt (money to be distributed to charity while on a trip) so I was able to be (somewhat) generous with these donations. The children (hopefully) learned a good trait that I observed in my teacher, Rabbi Chayim Sholom Deitch – not to pass any poor person asking for a donation without giving them. There were times that I wasn’t in the mood to give every single person, but my next-to-youngest son Yisroel would insist.
On the way to the Kotel we passed the building where my wife and I had lived for a year and a half about 20 years ago when I was learning in the Kollel Tzemach Tzedek in the Old City of Yerushalayim. This is the building that sits on stilts on top of the Supersol on Agron St. near the Leonardo Plaza hotel (formerly the Sheraton Plaza). I stopped to say hello to the vendor who sells flowers (and now smoothies) opposite the Supersol. Back then I used to put Tefillin on with him on Fridays. Now, thank G-d, he puts on Tefillin every day.
On the way back we passed through the Cardo, the ancient Roman marketplace which is now decorated with various pieces of artwork depicting what life was like in ancient Roman times. (The Romans occupied Jerusalem after the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash and declared that no Jew live in the city, G-d forbid.)
We stayed (mostly) at a friend’s place in Sh’arei Chessed. This is a small frum neighborhood near Rechaviah. It has a few shuls, a mikvah, a grocery store, a few Yeshivos and a significant Anglo community.
On Wednesday, July 3 we went to the tomb of David HaMelech and the City of David. We trekked up from the Dung Gate to Har Tziyon (which is adjacent to the City of David) and went to Kever David HaMelech (tomb of King David). The children said Tehillm at the holy site. It is said that it is probably not the tomb of David HaMelech but rather one of his descendants – a later king of his dynasty. But the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the place has been sanctified because of the copious amount of prayers that have been uttered there over the centuries.
Although Channy and I had taken the City of David tour in the past, it was the first time for the kids. Nevertheless, every time my wife and I go, we learn new things just as the archeologists are learning new things all of the time.
Here are a few things we learned (assuming the tour guide didn’t make them up):
· Buried with Wealth
In ancient times even Jewish wealthy people would have themselves buried with a lot of their wealth. (Presumably, this was an (improper) imitation of the gentiles who would do this.) They would write at the entrance to the tomb (which in the case of the one he pointed out, was on the side of a mountain) that there was nothing to be found in the tomb in the hopes that that would deter raiders. This also teaches us that even low-class people such as thieves were literate in ancient times. The signs didn’t deter the tomb raiders, however, as all the tombs of ancient times were plundered long ago.
· Buried with His Forefathers
According to the tour guide, the custom in ancient Judea was for everyone to be buried on an open stone slab inside a burial crypt for one year. After the body had decomposed, the bones were taken and put in a drawer underneath the crypt. This drawer was used for the bones of many members (and generations) of the family. There is some evidence of this practice of gathering the bones from the Mishna. This can be the meaning of the verses that mention how so-and-so passed away and was “gathered into their nation” (See Gen. 25:8 and in many places.), i.e., their bones were literally gathered and placed among those of their nation (family members).
· Bullae from the First Bait HaMikdash
There is apparently evidence that the palace found during their excavations belonged to the Davidic kings (and possibly, even to King David himself). The seals of the two secretaries of Tzidkiyahu, the last king of Yehudah, were found in the excavations: Yuchel Ben Shelemyahu and Gedaliah Ben Pashchur who are mentioned in Yirmiyahu 38:1. (They were the ones who had Yirmiyahu, the prophet, thrown into a pit of quicksand.)
· The Last Toilet Trip
The guide showed us a toilet that had been unearthed in an archeological dig. It was part of a large home of a (presumably) wealthy inhabitant. The university had examined this toilet microscopically and with the findings of the bacteria/microbes left behind were able to figure out the diet of the person who used it last. The diet included raw meat. It is hypothesized that the last person who used that toilet was living through the siege of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians and was in hiding in that area. For fear of getting caught he (or she) would not make any fire to cook their meat.
It was quite an experience to walk through the water tunnel dug by King Chizkiyahu’s men, an event described in Tanach (Kings II 20:20 and Divrei HaYamim Chapter 32). The moment when the diggers from one side met those who had started from the other side was recorded on a stone slab found in the tunnel. The fact that the two groups tunneling through the mountain had met in the middle was a feat of engineering of ancient times. The tour guide added that the tunnels were dug in a zig zag manner to make it more likely that the two groups would meet. The water flowed through it (after it was diverted) because it was dug with slight incline – the exit hole is several inches lower than the entry point – almost a kilometer a way. It is also noteworthy that despite this amazing feat which Chizkiyahu initiated to deny the Assyrian enemy access to a water source, the Talmud (Pesachim 56a) says that the sages were not happy with King Chizkiyahu as they felt he should have had greater faith in G-d and that this kind of preparation wasn’t necessary.
At the end of the walk through the tunnels, we came out to the other side where it seems there was a large mikvah in ancient times for immersion before the pilgrims would ascend the road to the Bait HaMikdash. This road was recently discovered and excavated and will soon be open to the public. I met a nice person from Toronto who is part of the Mussar Institute. I was impressed that after he used the bathroom, he said Asher Yatzar (the blessing after using the restroom) aloud while standing in one place and with concentration. Something to learn from! He told me that they study only the classical mussartexts. Apparently, not all the members of the Mussar Institute are orthodox. In fact, only 45% of them are. He asked me about Tanya which is planning to learn with his chavrutah soon.
Thursday, July 4, was the bar mitzvah of Jay Delgado. It was quite an affair – all seven hours of it. We started at the Dung Gate with a large group of friends, family and rabbis from around Israel and the US. There were drummers who led the singing and dancing and, to top it off, the blowing of the Shofar. We walked, danced and sang as we made our way to the Ohel Yitzchak Shul near the Kotel. Jay led the services (Pesukei DeZimrah) flawlessly and read beautifully from the Torah. All his many hours of practice paid off. His family was (and is) rightly proud of him.
The brunch took place in an underground hall almost adjacent to the Kotel. It was quite an experience to be celebrating a bar mitzvah so close to the holiest place on earth. The band was exceptional, with a troupe of singers and a dance leader whose job was to get everyone dancing, a feat they did well. The food was outstanding. Jay spoke about the importance of consistency in serving G-d, about the sacrifice to keep Shabbat, about the importance of family, and about the importance of humility.
At the bar mitzvah I got a chance to speak to some of the rabbis who came to celebrate with the Izhak and Delgado families. I was particularly impressed with Rabbi Simon Jacobson of Chabad of Punta Gorda, Florida. It takes real self-sacrifice to move to a place like Punta Gorda and even more so to stay there and raise a family. Rabbi Mendy Posner of Chabad of Plantation, Florida, was there as was his brother Rabbi Yossi Posner. Rabbi Moshe Gruenstein of the Young Israel of Bal Harbour, Florida, Rabbi Motty Anati of Moshiach Center in Inverary, Florida, Rabbi Segal of Chabad Afula, and several others.
On Friday we took the children to the shuk (open-air marketplace) of Machaneh Yehuda to shop for Shabbos. On Fridays it’s so packed one can barely get through. The smells and sounds are almost overwhelming. It is a unique and unforgettable experience.
In honor of Shabbos I took my boys to the mikvah behind the Kehal Chassidim Shul in Sha’arei Chessed. It has a (fairly) reliable turnstile which enables you to pay to get in as well as to pay for a towel. There is a long row of showers, nothing like the Mikvah in The Shul of Bal Harbour that they are used to. And, most exciting, it has three mikvah pools. One is boiling hot, one is freezing cold, and the third is not too hot or too cold (just right for Goldilocks).
That Friday night I had been invited by Rabbi Avraham and Dinah Hendel to speak at a Shabbaton in honor of the third of Tammuz, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 25th Yahrtzeit. Rabbi Hendel was kind enough to pick us up and drive us there (with a stop to pick up the catered food on the way). The Chabad house rents a small hall every Shabbos. (They are in the process of building their own center.) The crowd was a nice mix of Chabad and non-Chabad people from Jerusalem and from around the world. I was happy to see many people that I knew from before—an old acquaintance from Australia by the name of Aizensmidt, Ahron Horowitz whom I have known for many years, Dovid Yerushalmy, my cousin Nurit Cohen, Shoshana Rothberg and others. It was a lively and heimish minyan.
I made the following points when I spoke at the dinner:
· A Tzadik from a Different Era
After the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s passing in 1994 I was at a Melava Malka with my great uncle, Rabbi Shlomo Carelbach. (He passed away a short time later.) He said that the Rebbe was not a tzadik that belonged in this generation but that he had the stature of a tzadik from the time of the Gemara and beyond. Hashem, in His kindness, saw that this orphaned generation, after the holocaust, needed a special leader to energize it with spiritual life, so He sent us the special tzadik that was the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
· Moshe is not Buried There
The Torah (Deut 34:6) says that Moshe was buried by G-d and that to this day no one knows his burial place. The Talmud (Sotah 13b and 14a) relates that the wicked government (i.e., the Romans) once sent a regiment of soldiers to find out where Moshe was buried. When they climbed to the top of the mountain, it appeared that the grave was on the bottom. When they descended to the bottom of the mountain, it appeared that the grave was on the top of the mountain. When they split up and half went to the top and half to the bottom, to those on top it seemed like the grave was on the bottom, and to those on bottom it appeared to be on top.
The Da’at Sofer explains the deeper meaning of this story as follows: The Romans were trying to figure out if the influence of Moshe Rabeinu had waned which would enable them to overcome the Jews (spiritually). When it says that they checked “where Moshe was buried,” it means that they examined where Moshe was no longer “alive” i.e., influential. They first checked among the higher-level Jews, the righteous men and great Torah scholars, thinking that perhaps they didn’t need Moshe’s teachings as they were great men in their own right. But they realized that “Moshe was not buried there” i.e., that the tzadikim and Torah scholars were still very inspired by Moshe’s teachings. They then considered that perhaps Moshe’s presence was no longer felt by the simple “lower” people who were not so involved in learning the Torah of Moshe. But when they looked into the matter, they realized that “Moshe wasn’t buried on the bottom” either, i.e., the simple Jews were still very much inspired by Moshe Rabeinu’s teachings.
All of this can certainly be said about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was an inspiration to both the ultra-religious and scholarly and to the simple unsophisticated folk. And that inspiration and influence continues until today.
· Reflecting Moshe’s Light
The Talmud (Sotah 13b) says that Moshe Rabeinu did not die. Rather, just as he stood and served G-d at Mount Sinai, so does he continue to serve Him in Heaven. The Zohar explains that that when the sun sets, its light continues to reach us as it is reflected by the moon and stars (planets). So too after Moshe Rabeinu passed away, his light (teaching and inspiration) continues to reach us through the Torah teachers of every generation who reflect his light and teach it to the people. This is why we find in the Talmud that Torah scholars would sometimes refer to each other as Moshe although that wasn’t their real name as they were the reflection of Moshe in their generation. (See Shabbat 101b and Sukkah 39a where Rav Safra calls Rava – Moshe.) Indeed, we, the chassidim of the Rebbe, must continue to reflect the Rebbe’s teachings to others—to our families, our friends, and the entire world. This is how we ensure that his light remains shining in this world and thus still alive.
· Our Soul’s Mission
It is customary in many communities to recite a verse from the Tanach that begins and ends with the letters that begin and ends one’s name at the close of every Amidah (silent prayer). In addition, Chassidim recite the verses associated with the Rebbe’s name as well as their own. This is based on a teaching that on the great judgement day we will be asked our names at which point we may forget them. Saying the verse associated with one’s name will help recall it.
This custom needs to be understood. Why should one forget one’s name? And if one does, how will reciting the verse help? Also, why do Chassidim need to remember the name of their Rebbe?
Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah VaDa’as, explains that every person’s name represents his mission in this world. (The Arizal said that the parents experience a glimmer of prophecy when they name their child.) If a person completes his mission in this world as expressed in his name, his name suits him, and on the great judgment day, he will be proud of his name. But if, G-d forbid, one squanders his opportunities and doesn’t fulfill his life’s task, his name will not suit him. He may remember it but will be embarrassed to say it as it will represent what he should have accomplished and did not. By saying the verses in Tanach associated with our names, we are davening to G-d that He should give us the wisdom and strength to fulfill the mission encapsulated in our names. We do this at the end of the Amidah when we are ready to “go back into the world” and resume our work to fulfill our life’s mission. At that time we pray that G-d help us fulfill our task. The reason Chassidim say the Rebbe’s verses as well is that it is often difficult to figure out what one’s life’s mission is. The Rebbe, as the leader of the generation, can help us and direct us towards our life’s mission. Thus, mentioning the Rebbe’s verses in addition to our own is a prayer that we fulfill our life’s mission as interpreted by the Rebbe.
On Shabbos, as well as on many of the weekdays, we davened in Bais Menachem, a small Chabad Shul in Sha’arei Chessed, which was literally next door to where we were staying. I used to frequent this shul when it opened up 20 years ago when I was learning in Kollel. (Then it was called Brodshindel’s after the founder and donor of the building.)
Although the Jews in the diaspora were reading Parshat Korach this Shabbat, my children and I were already caught up to the Israel Torah reading of Parshat Chukat. We accomplished this at Mincha on the Shabbat before we left the U.S. Since a minyan gathers for Mincha in my house in Surfside every Shabbat, I read the entire Parsha of Korach at that Mincha minyan. (I read the Kohen and Levi aliyah as usual. For the third aliyah, I read the entire rest of the Torah portion. I got this idea from Rabbi Chayim Sholom Deitch many years ago.) Several friends from the Young Israel of Bal Harbour who were also traveling to Israel the next week joined that minyan to hear the Mincha Torah reading as well.
In the afternoon I walked together with Zushi and Eli to the Shul of Rabbi Chaim Sholom Deitch in Sanhedria called Mayanei Yisra’el where a farbrengen was being held. Over 100 people attended the farbrengen, mostly non-Chabad Chassidim who are inspired by the teachings of Chabad. Rabbi Deitch spoke at length about how important it is to be connected to the tzadik of the generation. Here is one of the thoughts he shared:
When Prime Minister Menachem Begin returned from a visit to America, a Chassid who was a member of the Knesset came to greet him in his home. The Prime Minister said to him, “Let me tell you what happened with me and the Lubavitcher Rebbe on this trip. During my meeting with the Rebbe I asked how I can assist him. I thought he would ask me to assist one of his institutions financially. But instead he asked me for something else entirely. He pulled out a letter from a Jewish man in France who was planning to marry a non-Jewish girl. He said, ‘According to your travel itinerary, you’re supposed to stop in France. If you, as the prime minister of Israel, were to speak to him, I believe you would be able to talk him out of it.’ Of course, I agreed. So, when I arrived in France, I told my advisors that I would not meet with anyone until they tracked down this person and arranged for me to meet with him. Although they weren’t happy about it, they arranged it. I spoke to him and managed to convince him to break off the engagement. (He ended up marrying a Jewish girl.)”
The Chossid said, “That’s a very nice story but why are you telling it to me?” So the Prime Minister said, “Because, unlike the Lubavitcher Rebbe I’m sure you do want a financial favor from me for your institutions!”
On Sunday, July 7, we took a Virtual Reality tour of what the Bait HaMikdash (Holy Temple) looked like. The room of the tour is located near the Kotel tunnel tours entrance, the tour was immersive and very impressive.
We also did a tour of the Southern Wall area and the Davidson Archeological Park. A few things we learned on that tour:
· Archeologists discovered what appears to be a row of shops along a road leading towards the Har HaBayit from the era of the Second Bait HaMikdash. One of these has a hole shaped like a loop carved through the stone. Apparently, that is where the seller would tie the animals he was selling so they would not run away.
· We saw the replica of the stone that had an inscription which seemed to be pointing to the area where the Kohanim blew the trumpets to announce the impending approach of Shabbat and festivals.
· We saw several mikva’ot that were apparently used by people who wished to purify themselves before ascending to the Temple Mount. There are small divider walls in the staircases of these mikva’ot which seemed to separate those entering and exiting the mikvah. (This would protect those that were emerging from the mikvah from becoming tamei (ritually impure) by those entering.)
· The steps leading up to the Har HaBayit on the southern side alternate between long and short steps. It has been suggested that the pilgrims would pause on the long steps to bow on their way up to the Har HaBayit.
· The steps lead up to the Chulda gates. This was the area where Chulda the prophetess would sit during the last years of the First Bait HaMikdash.
· When I asked the tour guide what was so unique about the Western Wall as the southern wall of the Temple Mount was also not destroyed, she said that it has been suggested that when the Midrash speaks about the Western Wall (specifically) not being destroyed, it was referring to the Western Wall of the Azarah (courtyard) or the building of the Bait HaMikdash itself.
On Monday, July 8, we did some archeological work at Zurim national park. They have a program which allows people, for a fee, to assist sifting through earth uncovered in archeological digs. In our case this meant sifting through buckets of earth from the pilgrimage road discovered between the Silwan pool and the Temple Mount (see above). We were shown what to look for (ceramic tiles from mosaics, bones, coins, shells, glass and special stones) and how to sort these items and place them in separate buckets. Eli found a shell which the instructor told us was a unique find (since Jerusalem is inland and the shell must have been brought by a pilgrim from a seaside town). She placed it separately to everything else we found. The sifting project is located in Mount Scopus. Not so easy to get there but definitely worth looking for.
On Tuesday, July 9, we went to Chevron where Rabbi Mordechai Hellinger, one of the Chabad Shluchim of Chevron, gave us a tour. He showed us the seventh step which used to be the closest point to the Ma’arat HaMachpeila(tomb of the Patriarchs) where the Jews could daven. (The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe came to Chevron in 1929 shortly before the riots and was given special permission to enter the Ma’arat HaMachpeila.) Rabbi Hellinger told how the Ramban visited Chevron. Some say he is buried there.
Our tour guide also pointed out the spot where some theorize Avraham pitched his tent. We went inside and davened at the places designated as the graves of Avrohom and Sarah as well as for Yaakov and Leah. (The actual burial sites are, apparently in an underground cave beneath the building.) We also got a history lesson of the brief explorations done underground in the Ma’arat HaMachpeilah as well as some of the background to the massacre carried out by Dr. Baruch Goldstein. Before we set out to tour the rest of the (Jewish part of) Chevron, we bought some cans of cold drinks to give out to the soldiers stationed throughout the city. (The soldiers carry gear that weighs at least 50 lbs.) They were most appreciative.
We saw the Shul of Avraham Avinu where it is purported that Avraham Avinu appeared (in a year of a plague) to make a minyan one Yom Kippur. The shul was desecrated by the Arabs before 1967, but for some reason the Israeli government did not allow it to be excavated and renovated. In the 1970’s a (former) Soviet refusenik, Doctor Avraham Tavgir, insisted on working on repairing and renovating the Shul. Although he was arrested many times, he continued to agitate until the shul was completely renovated.
We also visited the small Chabad shul purchased by the Chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek. Nowadays it is only used for davening on Shabbos Mincha time. We saw Bait Romano, a property purchased by the Rebbe Rashab and formerly used by the Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Chevron which was called Toras Emes. At first it too was left empty after the Six-Day War. It was only when a group of women from Kiryat Araba moved in there and refused to leave that the government finally gave the land back to the Jewish community. The Lubavitcher Rebbe agreed that it be used for a Torah institution. Indeed, today it is used by the Yeshivah of Shavei Chevron (those who returned to Chevron).
When visiting the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, we went to the graves of David HaMelech’s father Yishai and David’s great-grandmother Rus. It seems that when David HaMelech was reigning in Chevron, he buried his family in the city as was the custom of the kings in those days as opposed to commoners who were buried outside of the cities. (Rus passed away many decades after King David left Chevron as she lived into the time of King Solomon’s reign.)
In this neighborhood there were archeological digs in which pottery shards were discovered with the inscription (in Hebrew) “Lamelech Chevron – to the king of Chevron.” These jugs apparently contained goods that were being delivered as taxes to the local king. (I’m not sure which king this was.)
We hitched a ride up a long and windy road to the Jewish cemetery where we visited the gravesite of Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel, daughter of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer Shneuri, the Mitteler Rebbe. This tzadeiketwas the matriarch of the Chabad community in Chevron and of the Slonim family around the world. There is a small Kollel near her gravesite where Torah is studied every evening for a few hours.
On the way back from the cemetery we ran into Rabbi Shmaya Waks and his family, his brother Yosef Waks, and Yosef Chaim Brook.
On Wednesday, July 10, (4 Tammuz) we went to Kever Rachel in Beit Lechem, a quick trip using a local Jerusalem bus. (One needs, however, to purchase a RavKav card before getting on a bus or train in Jerusalem.) We all davened at this holy site. I was impressed to see a Bait Midrash which was filled to capacity with young men studying Torah on a high level. They appeared to be part of some sort of Kolel.
We then went to Har HaMenuchot, where my grandfather Rabbi Eli Chaim Carlebach is buried. On the way we also stopped at the grave of his twin brother, the famous singer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, as well as at the graves of their parents Rabbi Naftoli and Rebbetzin Pesha Carlebach. While reading the tombstone we realized that that day was the yahrtzeit of my great-grandmother Pesha.
At the cemetery I told the story of the burial of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, known as the Tzadik of Yerushalayim. He passed away early on a Friday morning. Knowing that people from around Israel would want to attend the funeral and get back to their homes before Shabbat, the family asked the Chevra Kadisha that the funeral take place in the late morning. The Chevra Kadisha said that because the ground of Har HaMenuchot is very rocky it would take a long time to dig the grave, so they preferred to schedule the funeral for early afternoon. While they were standing in the cemetery and discussing this, the caretaker of the cemetery piped up and said, “You have nothing to worry about, the funeral can take place in the morning.” He explained, “A few years ago, Rabbi Levin came to the cemetery to visit his wife’s grave. He said to me that he was concerned that he may pass away on a Friday and because it would take a long time to dig his grave, some people might not to have a chance to get home before Shabbos. So he asked me to dig up his grave to soften it and then refill it.” This illustrates the teaching of the Talmud (Tamid 32a) “Who is a wise man? He who sees what the future will bring.”
On Thursday, July 11, we went to Eretz Bereishit in the Yishov Alon outside of Jerusalem. They provide a guided camel ride and a reenactment of Avraham Avinu’s tent. We all dressed in traditional Jewish dress of ancient times and were led on a 10-minute camel ride. We reached a tent where we were welcomed by an actor who played the role of Avraham Avinu. He explained (and reenacted) the story of Avraham breaking his father’s idols. We were then invited to bake pita bread on a traditional stone oven. The camel ride back was along the edge of a cliff which was quite exciting. Rabbi Yochanan Klein (a sofer and friend of mine from Miami) and his family were part of the next group. The price for the tour was a bit steep, but it was worth it as the kids had a great time.
After this we went on a short hike to a nearby spring. From there we drove to the Dead Sea. We didn’t go to the beach, but we got close enough to see it (and be able to say we saw the Dead Sea).
On the way back we went to Kever Shmuel HaNavi outside of Yerushalayim. It’s located in an Arab village and has a stunning view of Yerushalayim. Based on the archeological research, it seems that this spot was used by pilgrims on the way to Yerushalayim as a rest stop. In later times the crusaders used it as a fort. Some question as to whether it is the actual resting place of Shmu’el HaNavi who was buried in Ramah. Rather, they say it may be the town called Mitzpeh where the evil Yishma’el ben Netanya killed Gedaliah ben Achikamand his men.
On Friday, July 12, I took the boys to learn in my former Kollel, Tzemach Tzedek, in the Old City. There I heard the end of Rabbi Deitch’s shiur. He explained a difficult passage in the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (123:1) that one who doesn’t take three steps back after the Amidah is as if he didn’t pray. The explanation is that when departing from in front of a king, it was customary to walk backwards for three steps so that one who doesn’t do so after the Amidah is showing that he doesn’t treat his Amidah as if he’s talking to the Almighty king. Without that basic premise, his prayer is worthless.
We went to the Kotel to daven on Friday night. As always it was an experience to see all the different types of Jews praying in all kinds of styles and tunes. We saw various people whom we knew from around the globe as usually happens at the Kotel on Friday night.
On the way down and up from the Kotel plaza we encountered several people who offered sweet-smelling herbs on which to recite the appropriate blessing. This is in order to achieve the requisite 100 brachot one should say every day. They offer both herbs that grow on trees and those that grow on the ground – declaring “Atzei” (the blessing on aromatic trees or herbs with hard stalks) and “Isvei” (the blessing on aromatic herbs) as they offer them.
On Sunday, July 14, we did the Kotel tunnel tours, exploring the underground tunnels next to the Kotel. We saw
· The largest stone known to have been moved by man
· A video explaining how they were able to move such large stones
· The Hasmonean water tunnel
· The closest spot a Jew can pray near the Kodesh HaKodoshim (Holy of Holies)
· How the Herodian builders carved the shape of individual stones into the bedrock of the Temple Mount to make the wall look uniform
· How the work on the Hasmonean road stopped abruptly (in ancient times) for an unknown reason.
For Yud-Bais Tammuz, the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe’s release from Soviet exile, I had been invited by Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg of Chabad of Rechavia to lead a farbrengen. That honor was shared with a distinguished rabbi visiting from Seattle, Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin. Here are some of the points I made (or had intended to make).
1) I heard from Rabbi Yosef Weinberg ob”m in the name of the Tzemach Tzedek that on the yohrtzeit of a tzadik, that tzadik leads a farbrengen in Gan Eden and all the tzadikim in Gan Eden come to hear him give over his unique Torah teachings. The Tzemach Tzedek added that he is certain that all those who participate in a farbrengen in this world in honor of the yohrtzeit of a tzadik are considered to be part of that farbrengen in Gan Eden. It would seem that the same can be said for a birthday or a Chag HaGeula (redemption day) of a Tzadik.
2) The Previous Rebbe said (Sefer Hasichos 5700 page 158) that the parsha of the week in which a person is born relates to the kind of life he will have. Indeed, he said, he was born in the Torah portion of Pinchas and almost all of the events in his life were alluded to in that Parsha.
3) Pyotr Voykov was a communist involved in the killing (or disposal) of the Czar’s family (the Romanovs) in Russia. After the revolution, the Soviet government wanted to send him as an ambassador to various countries. The English refused to take him as an ambassador due to his murderous deeds. Canada similarly refused. He ended up as an ambassador to Poland. On June 7, 1927 he was assassinated by an 18 year-old Russian monarchist in a train station in Warsaw. The Soviets responded by arresting and imprisoning and or executing many monarchists in Russia and so-called “enemies of the state.” They specifically arrested the Previous Rebbe that same night intending to, G-d forbid, kill him that night. But Moscow withdrew permission to execute people without a trialseveral hours later. Thank G-d, the processing of the Previous Rebbe took many hours, and by the time he was fully imprisoned they had no permission to execute him. The reason the processing took so long is that, while walking (unaccompanied) down the hall to the examination room, the Previous Rebbe took a detour to another section of the prison. This was a well-lit hallway with offices on either side. While there, he sat on a bench and gathered his thoughts. A person came out of one of the offices and spoke with him (not realizing that he was supposed to be a prisoner) about his memories of Lubavitch as a non-Jewish boy growing up in that area. The Previous Rebbe was very heartened by this discussion. He had time gather his thoughts and from there went on to the examination and processing room. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, this delay saved his life.
Rabbi Levitin told over many stories from his youth and beyond. The most interesting was about a fiery car accident that he had as a yeshivah bochur just a few months before he was supposed to get married. Several hours before the accident the Rebbe spoke about (and subsequently published) the teaching of the Chabad Rabbe’im (Rebbes) that after a fire, one becomes rich. There were nine bochurim traveling back in a station wagon from a wedding in Boston. They drove back at night after the wedding so they could be in Yeshivah the next morning. It seems that the driver missed the exit and decided to reverse on the highway to be able to get out at the exit. A truck behind them was traveling too fast to change lanes before hitting them although it started to do so. The truck hit the car near the gas tank towards the back of the driver’s side of the car and the station wagon spun around and burst into flames. All of the bochurim managed to get ou,t some of them in miraculous ways. Rabbi Leviton described how he was sitting in the middle seat of the car with fire all around him. The doors on both side of him would not open. His life passed in front of his eyes and he thought to himself, “This is how people die.” At that moment he felt himself being lifted by an unseen force over the seat in front of him, and he found himself getting out of the driver side door. When the police came, they couldn’t believe that there were no fatalities as the vehicle was completely engulfed in flames. Three (or maybe two) of the bochurim were burned and needed hospitalization and rehabilitation for several months. The Rebbe was very involved in this matter, giving them blessings and advice throughout this ordeal. The Rebbe said at one point that his mentioning that “after a fire one becomes rich” several hours before the crash was like the cure that often comes before the illness.
Here are a few other points the rabbi from Seattle made:
1) Rabbi Levitan would go into Yechidus for his birthday starting from the age of 3, with his father, of course. This began in 1951 before the rules for Yechidus had been established. When the rules were made, it was not possible for children under Bar Mitzvah to have a Yechidus. But since he had started already, he was “grandfathered in.”
2) When Rabbi Levitin once mentioned to the Rebbe that he was going to travel on a certain day (which he didn’t realize was the 12th of Tammuz) the Rebbe expressed surprise that he would travel on that day. “Es iz doch Yud Bais Tammuz (It is, after all, 12 Tammuz)” the Rebbe said in a tone of surprise.
3) When the Rebbe answered a question posed by one person that didn’t mean that he was directing his answer to all people on that matter.