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2019 Rosh Hashanah (5780)

09/30/2019 12:00:00 AM

Sep30

Rabbi Adir Glick: It is Never Too Late to Have Another Chance

There is a story that dates back to the beginning of the last century about one of the young rising Jewish leaders of prewar Europe, the Yabloner rebbe, Yehezkel Taub.

Yehezkel Taub was born into a great Polish Hassidic dynasty. They could trace their roots to the early masters.

They were related to the Modzits Hassidim, beloved for their music. They composed the ani maamim we sing, and many other melodies used in synagogues around the Jewish world.

The Yabloner’s court was full of beautiful singing and Torah.

He never sought to be the rebbe. He was second in line.

But his brother-in-law, who was being groomed to take on the position, passed away suddenly. Then his own father died aged 60. At age 24, he had to learn to be a rebbe.

But he grew into it. He was a natural, a warm leader, learned.

He cared for his people and had a way with them, and a wisdom in how to guide his Hassidim to a devoted life of caring for the needy, of performing good deeds, drawing closer to God.

Jews flocked to his tishes, his Friday night gatherings, where they sung and shared teachings of the Torah.

He was a beloved rebbe and a rising star in the years after the first World War — a young luminary expected to lead the Jews of Poland for many long years.

But he took his community on a slightly different course.

One day - he was visited by a distant cousin, a fellow young charismatic rebbe,

It was in the years after the Balfour Declaration, Palestine was welcoming to Jewish immigration.

His cousin shared a great Zionist fervor and yearned to create Hassidic communities in the Promised Land.

He told them stories of a recent visit there and asked: How could they reject an opportunity for redemption, a total religious revival?

He exclaimed that, not since Cyrus the Great had invited the Jews back from the first exile in Babylonia, had a foreign power opened the gates to the Jews in their Promised Land.

The Yabloner Rebbe and many of his followers were deeply affected by his cousin’s vision.

If it was so – they would follow their ideal and their dream.

Soon after, the Yabloner Rebbe told his community that he desired to move the whole community to the Promised Land!

They Loved Their Rebbe and Were Euphoric

They created a plan to send the less well-off members first funded by the wealthier members. They would buy the land and create the foundation for a larger community.

He was successful in raising funds for his trip.

All were enthusiastic except one of the leaders of Polish Jewry, the Ger Rebbe, who tried to dissuade him, telling him his trip would be a disaster if he counted on the support of the secular.

Nonetheless he pursued with his plans.

Once arrived in Palestine, he bought several thousand acres of land in the North, near Haifa, encompassing three Arab villages with the help of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) who negotiated with the landowners. They planned to create a dairy farm.

They called it Kefar Hassidim, the village of Hassidim. They made headlines. They were visited by the first chief rabbi, Rav Avraham Kook, by Bialik, Achad Haam, Weizman.

That the Orthodox and Hassidim were no less willing to take on the hard life of pioneers was applauded throughout the press of the pre-state tishuv.

There were a few who were opposed to the idea, such as David Ben Gurion (who was the head of the Histradut) who publicly ridiculed the project: What do Hassidim know about farming? They should leave the real work to those who know what they are doing. How will they survive there?

And he turned out to be right.

JNF articles gushed about how beautiful Shabbat was in Kefar Hassidim, the dancing, singing, the wonderful Yabloner rebbe who was available to his Hassidim day and night.

Arab villagers, even after receiving compensation, refused to leave their land. The river overflowed and turned the land into a malaria-infected swamp.

The water supply was contaminated. Bedouins destroyed the bridge over the river. Snakes bit and killed several members. Others were murdered by the Bedouins. They were unable to defend themselves and soon they were running out of money and became famished.

Funds Dried Up — They Were Starving

The Yabloner Rebbe turned to the JNF and pleaded with them.

They agreed to help but on the condition that he sell back to them most of the land. He would have to accept new skilled settlers who would join the community to teach agriculture and give them plots of land. He also had to send the elderly and sick back to Europe. And he did all of that.

Only – it was then that the Nazis were beginning to rise in power and anti-Semitism was pushing Jews to emigrate throughout Europe. Members from his community in Poland suddenly arrived in Kefar Chassidim expecting to find plots of land. When they heard it had been sold, they were furious with him, and accused him of being a crook. Some of his members wanted to return to Poland but they had no money for that, either.

He ended up fleeing to the US to raise funds. He was in the midst of organizing a major campaign when the war broke out. He quit all of his activities and went to enlist and join the armed forces to fight the Nazis, but he was turned down.

Instead, he joined work in the military supply industry and eventually was employed in the shipyards in California. Newspapers reported on the rebbe’s dedicated hours. He worked around the prohibition of working on Shabbat by doing extra hours on weekday evenings.

Then at the end of the war, the news began to pour in from Europe, of the concentration camps and of the devastation of European Jewry. First, they reported hundreds of thousands had been killed, then millions, and then it became clear most of Poland’s Jews had been gassed and murdered.

The Yabloner Rebbe learned that his entire community in Poland had been killed. He was devastated. He was the head of a murdered community? He felt personally responsible for the elderly and the sick he had sent back, and those whose land he had not been able to give to them.

Where was God in all of it?

Anguished, he thought, I am no longer a rebbe, how can I go back to my community in Palestine?

Far away from it all, he finally came to the decision to give up his role as rebbe and melt into the wave of Jewish refugees streaming into the United States. He shaved his peyos and his beard. Took off his kippah. He stopped being religious. He changed his name to George Nager.

Stopped All Observance

His knowledge of construction from Kefar chassidim meant he seized an opportunity to buy land in Southern California during the post war boom, and he became wealthy constructing single home properties.

Only several family members in the US knew who he had been and they were sworn to secrecy. Every now and then, he would attend synagogue in Fairfax, the Jewish area of Los Angeles.

One day he was convinced to attend a tisch, a Hassidic Friday night gathering led by a great rebbe but only a few dozen people attended. There he heard a man at the table say, you call this a tisch? I was at the tisch of the Yabloner rebbe’s table, there was real singing and a spiritual atmosphere…

But he over invested in apartments. His real estate business collapsed and he ended up sick, and nearly destitute.

His few family members asked him, why don’t you go back to Israel?

He said, nobody wants to see me there. I am the source of their anguish.

Finally in his late 70s, instead of going to Israel he said he had always wanted to study psychology and he went to college.

There, he was beloved by the students. He was a good listener and they all shared their problems with him.

Nobody knew who he was.

It enthralled him. He felt that somehow he was buying back his life. After 5 years he graduated. Again the family member said to him, why don’t you visit Israel? Until then, he had been too ashamed to go. But newly confident, he thought why not? As his great nephew said, if they still think I'm a thief at Kefar Hassidim,I’ll take a plane back to LA.

Before he went he worked as a therapist in a drug rehabilitation center, changing the lives of the people there.

Finally he went.

At the village of Hassidim… a surprise awaited.

The entire village was there in the social hall, young old, everybody waiting for him.

He saw an old friend Chaimke. “Is that you?” he asked.

His friend said to him, you think we are angry with you. Because you think we came to live your dream not ours. But we weren’t and we aren’t. You saved our lives. If it wasn’t for you we would have been killed by the Nazis.

There was another person he recognized, Sheindl, who changed her name to Shoshanah.

“Where have you been rebbe? We needed you. You saved us from the murderers. We built our homes on God’s land,” she said. Sheindl started to weep and he wept. “It’s time to come home,” she said.

He said,“I have missed this place and all of you. I never realized how much it meant to me. How much I meant to you. I never thought about the fact that I saved your lives, only about those that were lost. I only thought about what I took away not what I gave.”

Now It’s a Lot Clearer

There was silence.

“I’m coming home. I'm ready. I'm coming home,” he said. Everybody burst into thunderous applause.

Finally, at age 86, he moved back. He grew back his beard and peyos, wore a kippah. He taught Torah and prayed in the shul.

He took back the name Yehezkel Taub.

He was loved by his community again.

This is the spirit of Rosh Hashannah and the Days of Awe.

Teshuvah, repentance, A new year, a new beginning…

Redemption.

It is never too late…

The ability to change is what our holidays are all about…

We believe that with great effort - even in the most challenging circumstances - there is a door open to a new beginning.

Change is not only a possibility, it is the nature of the universe.

It is this nature that we celebrate tonight.

We begin in one place and we think our whole lives will remain there. But then we find ourselves in a new reality, and then who knows where we will end up.

It is the Nature of the Universe

Except it is not an unpredictable chaos. We believe, gently or not so gently, we are all being led to redemption and renewal.

Uvetuvo mechadesh bekho lyom tamid maaseh bereshit, and in His goodness He renews the work of Creation.

We are all being led to experience rebirth, renewal, transformation…

What this period teaches us is that repentance is the means of that rebirth, renewal, and transformation.

When we fall, the universe will keep sending us the opportunity to return, months later, years later, decades later.

If we reject one, another comes, and another, perhaps it could be a long time after, until eventually, we seize the opportunity.

As the Talmud teaches, every day, out of the heavens, a voice calls out - shuvu banim - return my children, return my children.

It is the assurance that even as we look at the circumstances of our lives

And the places where we are stuck

In our personal lives

In our professional lives

In our communal lives.

In our relationships

In our deepest self

Fearing that change is impossible,

A door can still open for us.

A voice calling us back home.

Saying you thought it was this way. But it wasn’t. Come home. And we say, I am ready I am ready.

What does it mean to repent?

According to the Rambam, Maimonides, our great philosopher who authored a guide to repentance in his mishneh Torah, he had a clear-cut definition.

Repentance means we have done the work to change who we are.

If we are placed in the exact same situation again, faced with the same circumstances, we act differently. This time we choose a different path.

Where we avoided questioning authority, now we stand up to it.

Where we had to have the last word, we allow other people to have it.

Where we cheated, we now play fair.

Where we hid in fear, now we rise to confront the battle.

Where once we rose to battle, we no longer allow ourselves to be provoked.

Teshuvah is entering that process within ourselves where we won't stumble into the same ruts anymore, where we learn to walk around them, or even better, we learn how to fill them up.

On one hand, teshuvah, literally means return, which evokes going backward.

But – the promise of Rosh Hashanah is that teshuvah is not about going backward,

It is About Moving Forward

 

Because the universe is always moving forward.

It is not going backward, but returning to the deepest place within ourselves, to the place of healing and wholeness where we repair the brokenness created by our wrongdoing.

We return to the place where we put ourselves back on track in our spiritual journey, and where we connect to our truest self, and from that sacred place chart our way forward into a new and better future.

 

This is just one small piece of the cosmic repair.

This is the great promise of teshuvah - that when we finally transcend our wrongdoing, there it is not only a redemption from pain and suffering, but the gain of new insight of new wisdom and the awakening of a new path and direction in our life.

This is the core of what it means to be a human being, of what it means to be truly alive.

Through all our life, we learn and grow, and we acquire new wisdom.

It becomes an integral part of our journey back home.

The reality of life is that there will always be times, like the Yabloner Rebbe, who was a rising star in his youth, when we spend time in galut, in exile. But there we also learn new experiences.

For much of his life he was in galut, in exile, gaining all types of experiences.

When he finally returned home, he was a fuller, truer person.

A true rebbe.

As his life unfolded, he acquired a hard earned and very deep wisdom, underwent a transformative life lesson.

Even if you are not the same as you were last time you were there.

And yet -- there is another level of our journey of teshuvah.

Sometimes we are given to do a teshuvah that is not so much return as a transformation, an opportunity to walk through a door and become someone completely different.

That is the teshuvah of transformation.

How amazing when you have someone who does that. It can change the world, a country.

The Story of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter who justified the use of violence after the apartheid government’s use of force and massacres in the 1960s. He was the force to convince the other leaders of the ANC that only violence would end apartheid.

He took a lead role and after organizing a campaign of bombings, he was caught and received a life sentence in jail.

He was on the American terror watch list until 2008.

But his long periods in jail, saw him reflect.

He was given many opportunities to leave jail if he renounced violence but he refused for long decades.

He described himself as hot headed when he entered prison, but through the decades he learned to be measured, serene.

He said simply, “I came out mature.”

In the end, he wrote a letter to one of the most extreme supporters of apartheid, President PW Botha, who had the vision to see that the direction that the apartheid government was going in was unsustainable.

Mandela proposed to him that they join forces for a peaceful resolution.

In the end Mandela, who always said of himself that he was not a saint, emerged a peacemaker, beloved around the world. He came to terms that he would have to live with his oppressors even with the enemies who put him in jail for so long. He learned Afrikaans and Afrikaaner history.

Once he secured the assurance of One Person, One Vote from the government, he accepted that he had to renounce violence, and he led efforts to end apartheid through peace and reconciliation. HE prevented civil war and always had a dignified and humble presence and invited the previous president to help him in his new position. He said we are people of the bush, we do not know how to run a country.

The teshuvah of transformation.

When that door opens, it takes a very unusual person to walk through it.

Nelson Mandela became a peacemaker.

The greatness and power of such a person…

To turn 180, and walk into a new life…

This is the great blessing at the beginning of the holidays.

The Promise of Teshuvah

The promise of change.

The promise of return.

We can make the changes we need.

It will not only take us back.

It will take us forward.

To the unknown

But an unknown

That is also home.

The most basic movement of the universe.

Everything is returning to its source.

We can find comfort that it will come back in a different form, a different guise,

No hope is ever lost.

We will find our way.

A new wish.

Uve tuvo mechadesh bekhol yom tamid.

In His goodness, he renews ever day, which is always the work of Creation.

Before us is the inner work of the holidays,

Teshuvah – repentance.

Contemplation.

Thinking.

Are we ready to return? Are we ready to go back?

Do we know what we will find?

We know we have the tools needed to emerge a new person, to undo what we have done out of fear, missed opportunity, smallness of mind, and experience.

The great gift, the great joy, the greatest of all blessings.

A new beginning

Shanah Tovah!

Tue, July 7 2020 15 Tammuz 5780