by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – August 8, 2011
In the Torah section of Va’Etchanan, we find a repetition of the famous Ten Commandments presented to the people of Israel in the desert subsequent to their miraculous exodus from Egypt. These commandments begin (Devarim 5:6), “I am the L-rd your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt.”
It is to this verse, as explained by the eminent medieval Talmudist and Torah great, R. Asher ben Yechiel, known as the Rosh or Rabenu Asher, that the noted rosh yeshiva and founder of Yeshivat Ponevezh in Israel, R. Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman would point when explaining his approach to Jews at large.
After World War II and the horrific holocaust in which millions of Jews were killed and millions who survived were left with permanent scars – physically and emotionally – one of these Jews who had survived the ordeal in Europe arrived in Israel. His only relative was a son who lived in Kibbutz Sha’ar HaGolan. He had lost all of his property except for one item that he treasured, a sefer Torah (Torah scroll), which miraculously accompanied him throughout his awful journey. This man had no one to turn to except for his son.
Upon attempting to join his son in the kibbutz, not only was this poor Jew, down-trodden by his gentile neighbors, not welcomed, his Jewish brethren in the kibbutz met his arrival with abject horror. In their twisted animosity to anything religious, the residents of Sha’ar HaGolan could not countenance the entry of a sefer Torah in their midst due to the “harmful” influence such an item can have on the youth, who were being sheltered from all forms of Judaism.
Upon news of this dangerous infiltration into their inner sanctum, the kibbutz residents convened an emergency meeting of their secretariat. It was then decided that, while the son was within his rights to invite his father to stay with him at his home in the kibbutz, the sefer Torah would have to be banished, without any regard for the feelings of the elderly holocaust survivor.
Despite the heartless and extreme attitude of the residents of Sha’ar HaGolan, R. Kahaneman would not “write them off”. In a speech at a Po’alei Agudat Yisrael convention shortly after this incident, in which he exhorted Israel’s workers to fully observe shmitta (sabbatical year), R. Kahaneman declared: “To whom am I addressing myself? Even to the folks at Sha’ar HaGolan, who expelled the Torah scroll from their midst so that their children should not see it or learn from it…I do not give up hope for a single member of the Jewish people.”
In explanation of his positive approach, R. Kahaneman noted that there is an explicit verse that states “that no one should be pushed away” (Shmuel II 14:14). He then added, “There is a well-known passage in Orchot Chaim (26) where the Rosh writes that anyone who does not believe the words, ‘who has taken you out of the land of Egypt’ does not believe in the beginning of that verse, ‘I am the L-rd your G-d’ either, and the same goes for anyone who does not believe in the verse ‘that nobody should be pushed away.’” It was with this attitude that R. Kahaneman spoke at the Po’alei Agudat Yisrael convention concerning Kibbutz Sha’ar HaGolan and it was with this attitude that he spoke of other seemingly far-gone locations. In an earlier speech, for example, at an Agudat Yisrael convention in Petach Tikva in 1941, he uttered the then startling words, “Write tefillin for the children of Ein Charod. We will yet open religious schools and yeshivot for the children of Nahallel!” (Ein Charod and Nahallel were staunchly secular kibbutzim where no shred of Judaism was to be found.). In the end, R. Kahaneman was proven right. Years down the road, Torah lectures and other shows of interest in Judaism have been exhibited in the various anti-religious locations that he spoke about (Shlomo Lorincz, In Their Shadow vol. III pp. 51-63).
R. Kahaneman was proven right. As based on our Holy Scriptures, “Nobody should be pushed away.” No matter how far-gone a fellow Jew may seem, there is always hope. As mentioned above, if we believe in “I am the L-rd your G-d,” then we must accept “that nobody should be pushed away.” As bleak as it may seem, the spark within the Jewish soul can prevail. We should never give up hope.