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Making It Personal

Rabbi Moshe Grylak

“My spiritual world is more important than a promotion”

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Every korban to terror breaks our hearts, and in a small Jewish world where everyone is somehow connected, the pain is even greater

Every time Hashem allows one of our own, soldier or civilian, to be killed in a terror attack, we all feel connected to the tragedy and share in the grief. But there are some cases that hit harder, because for one reason or another, we connect in a deep way to the victims. When I read about the murder of the young soldier Yossi Cohen Hy”d, it was one of those times.

It brought me back several decades, to the day I met Yossi’s parents at an Arachim seminar. I was on the lecturing staff, and the Cohens had come to listen, be challenged, and discuss. They were an impressive couple, people with values, the cream of secular Israeli society. And as part of Israel’s secular intelligentsia, they struggled mightily with the new truths they’d just discovered.

I remember how their parents and other family members showed up at the seminar on Shabbos — serious people of high principles — come to “save” their children from falling into our Yiddishkeit trap. But this was a couple with high spiritual aspirations, and “fall” they did. Eventually they gravitated toward Breslover chassidus and moved to Bnei Brak, which gave them their spiritual base. I didn’t really keep up with them, until I heard the news that the husband — Yossi’s father — had passed away.

His mother remarried to Rabbi Eliyahu Meirav, a Breslov mashpia who runs a small yeshivah in a farming co-op outside Beit Shemesh, where the family lives. Now they have given a korban, their son Yossi Hy”d, who was serving in the IDF’s Nachal Chareidi. And a few months ago, when his commander warned him that he wouldn’t receive a promotion if he went to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, his response was, “My spiritual world is more important to me than any promotion in the army.”

May his soul be bound in the bond of eternal life among the holy and pure souls On High.



European Jews are facing hard times, not only due to the rise in anti-Semitic violence, but also because of interference by local educational boards in the curricula of Jewish day schools, chadarim, high schools, and yeshivos for high-school-age boys. Local askanim and community rabbanim are stumped in their fight against demands that Jewish schools give equal time to heretical, anti-creationist teachings. In the UK, where there is a tangible threat of a newly anti-Semitic Labour Party taking over the reins of government, a large percentage of Jews feel that the ground is burning under their feet and are considering emigration.

But among those who are scouting out greener pastures, only a small number are contemplating aliyah. The question is, why? It is understood that those Jews who live in the Diaspora have many reasons for staying where they are, but today, with the year 2019 on the horizon, as many Jews prepare to pull up their stakes and take their old wandering staffs out of storage, why isn’t Eretz Yisrael their first option? Israel today is a highly developed country and able to happily absorb many chareidi immigrants. Every one of them adds another bit of kedushah to the State of Israel simply by living here, and lends the strength of numbers to the struggle for the primacy of Torah in Jewish life. If they’re looking for a comfortable life, Israel today has plenty to offer in terms of convenience and creature comforts. If it’s a good school system they want, a wide range of excellent educational options for chareidi students can be found here. And despite all the buzz about the draft and threats to the yeshivah world, the fact is that chareidi education continues to flourish and grow.

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the venerated rav of the Old Yishuv, framed the situation quite accurately in his time, before the founding of the state. “Where,” he asked sadly, “are the frum olim? Why aren’t they coming to Eretz Yisrael?” He went on to say, “In our Mussaf prayers, we say, ‘Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land, and we have wandered far from our soil.’ ” These are two different matters, he explained. “Because of our sins we were exiled” — that is one matter. “And we have wandered far from our soil” — that is another matter. In the countries of our exile, we have become distant from our soil. Our mentality and feelings have changed, and we no longer feel attached to the soil of Eretz Yisrael. So said the staunchly anti-Zionist but passionately pro-Eretz Yisrael gadol hador in the 1930s, when aliyah was incomparably more difficult than it is today. And now that conditions are so vastly improved, must we still remain so far from our soil? 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 740)

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