Friday, July 19, 2013

Bouncing Back: A lesson from Moshe on How to React to Calamity (And an announcement on my new position)

Bouncing Back

Chazal orchestrated the calendar so that Parshat Devarim always comes out before Tisha Bav. They did this in order to prepare us mentally for the devastation of the churban we will encounter by reminding us that much of the calamity we bring on ourselves, “בעונותינו הרבים—due to our great number of sins”. In a verse filled with pathos we read of how Moshe, their great defender before God, breaks down and expresses his inability to go on alone. איכה אשא לבדי טרחכם ומשאכם וריבכם. In that bleakest spirit and upon reciting the Haftara of Jeremiah, we prepare ourselves to mourn our own demise.

Chazal orchestrated the calendar so that parshat Vaetchanan always comes out after Tisha Bav. They did this in order to teach us how Moshe and the children of Israel reacted to adversity and even calamity with perseverance. Yes, there will be a reckoning for our sins, and yes even exile, but parshat Vaetchanan presents the antidote: “And now Israel, שמע, listen and comply with the mitzvot, the regulations of Jewish life that Moshe has taught you and will continue to teach. Listen to them in order that you shall live, return and inherit the land God has promised you”.

Three vital parshiot appear in the parsha: the first is the mitzvah/promise of teshuva, ושבת עד ה' אלוקיך, and you will repent and return to God… The second is the Ten Commandments and the third Shma. They represent a formula for living in a post churban world. Tragedy has struck? Recognize that you are still part of the covenant, find your way back, adhere to the foundational elements of God’s relationship with His nation, do so and you will not be lost forever.
Jews throughout history have been forced to reckon with adversity, react to calamity. While some nations may become dejected, withdrawn from society and ultimately submerge, Jews has always found a way to bounce back. Persecuted? Yes. Wandering for thousands of years? Yes. But always coming back, always realizing that we can rebuild our emotional lives, religious personalities and even our lost beloved country.

Parshat Vaetchanan comforts us and charges us to bounce back and return to ourselves, our Torah, our nation and our Promised Land.

My New Position

For over 700 years the city of Krakow was a thriving social and religious center for Jews. The towering personalities of Rav Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, Rav Yoel Sirkes, and most of all Rav Moshe Isserles (Rema) reflected the centrality of Torah the city represented for generations. It was a beacon of the Polish Jewish world.

Then came the Nazis.

Their destruction of Polish Jewry was almost absolute. Ninety percent of the three million Jews were murdered, while the remaining few had almost entirely submerged into anonymity and assimilation over the past eighty years.

Almost. Over the past decade the Jewish communities in Poland have awakened. Jews have come knocking on the doors of the synagogues, schools and Jewish community centers searching for identity, thirsting for Jewish knowledge. Whether they found out they were Jewish just a few days earlier or they knew all along and covered it up, today a rebirth of the Polish Jewish community is taking place.

The Chief Rabbi of Poland, R. Michael Schudrich, has been indefatigably leading this revival for the past twenty years and has hired rabbis in cities throughout the country to join him in being part of this miraculous recovery. In September I will be going to Krakow to serve the developing Jewish community using my experience and knowledge as a rabbi.

In the heart of Jewish Krakow stands the Jewish Community Center. In the last five years under the tireless leadership of Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein, Judaism has come alive. Hundreds and hundreds of members participate in all things Jewish with fun and flare. I look forward to working with Jonathan in continuing the process of Jewish resurgence and regenerating Krakow Jewish life. I will be spending several weeks a month living in Krakow; teaching and building the community and attending to the needs of Jews throughout the city.

I would like to thank Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum and the Amiel institute for making this shidduch and for guiding hundreds of Israeli rabbis to serve Jewish communities throughout the world.

With God’s help I will partake in an age old Jewish experience—bouncing back from adversity and forging ahead in reawakening Jewish identity, reconnecting to roots, to Torah and to the Jewish people.