While travelling in my car, I put on a shiur to listen to for the journey from the website torahanytime.com. I chose a shiur about Rosh Hashana that looked of interest and the rabbi sounded vaguely familiar.
I was listening and learning as normal until something was said that particularly caught my attention. The speaker said the following:
. . . and each night before my children went to sleep I would always ask them ” who loves you the most” and they would answer ‘Hashem!’ and who else loves you the most – and they would answer ‘Mommy or papa’ . . . and again ‘who else loves you the most’- and they would say their brothers and sisters etc. and this went on until it was ‘the whole world’. And we did this, explained the rabbi, so that our children would always feel loved, and that they would know that what ever happened to them, Hashem loved them . . .
I thought that was very nice, and thought about my own children until the rabbi said something else that made my heart drop and a lump appear in my throat. He said: “…and when my daughter Tzipora woke up after the fire we had to tell her what had happened. . .”.
When I heard this I immediately realized that I wasn’t just listening to anyone, I was actually listening to R’ Gavriel Sasoon, the father of the seven purer than pure children who died in the terrible fire in their home earlier in the year in Brooklyn. His only remaining daughter Tzipora had escaped with severe burns together with his wife. When she finally awoke her father had to tell her what had happened – she did not where her seven brothers and sisters were or what had happened to them. So he continued:
. . . we had to tell her what had happened. . . and she cried and she cried and cried.
And then I said to her ‘Tzipora. Who loves you the most?’ and she said ‘Hashem’. ‘And who loves your brothers and sisters the most Tzipora?’ and she said ‘Hashem’.
By now I was a bit of a wreck, but I listened on with great intent to hear this amazing man’s wise words of faith and strength. He told of what it means to grow up feeling loved. He said that his little boy David, age five, had been in gan (kindergarten) when other children were mocking another child about his skin color. David defended the other child and said to the children, “you wear a green shirt, and you have blonde hair, and you have a yellow shirt – we are all different, what does it matter what color his skin is!?” You see, said R’ Sasoon, when being loved and loving others is the most natural thing in the world for you then when someone is not being loved, it is just so unnatural and you have to do something about it.
The parasha we always read before Rosh Hashana is parashat Nitzavim. The parasha begins with “Atem Nitzavim Hayom Culchem . . .” – “You are all standing here today , all of you . . .”. Why the repetition of “all of you”?
Many commentaries explain that the Jewish People were about to enter into a covenant with Hashem before entering Israel, a covenant of achdut, unity, to become responsible for each other. The unity of the Jewish People is not just a nice idea, it is a spiritual reality. We are all, spiritually speaking, one giant soul called “Knesset Yisrael” – the Congregation of Israel. Just like a body, when one limb is hurting the whole body feels it, so too, each and every Jew is intimately interconnected on a soul level and whether we are in tune with it or not, we are deeply spiritually affected by one another. When we do not feel compassion for another, it is only because of our distance from knowing and seeing our inherent closeness. Compassion, Rachamim, is the result of seeing and internalizing the closeness that another has with you until you feel their pain as though it were your own.
Rav Moshe Kordevero in his mystical text, the Tomer Devora, writes how one of Hashem’s aspects of rachamim is that He actually, so to speak, ‘feels’ the pain of the Jewish people. So too, we are to work on feeling this interconnected compassion for others .This is also a deeper understanding of the mitzvah of VeAhavta LeReacha Kamocha, to literally love your fellow as yourself – meaning – because on a spiritual root level they are ‘as yourself’ as parts of one soul.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, taught that one who sees himself as part of the clal, the body of the Jewish people as a whole, and not just an individual, fairs far better Rosh Hashana time because the Jewish People as a whole will always survive. Rosh Hashana is also all about making Hashem our King, and we can only do this as unified force, as a People as a whole.
As Rav Moshe Meir Weiss says, now is the time to be making a “TO – DO – BETTER” list. It would be wise for all of us to make one of our first items on this list “work on having natural love for fellow Jews – and when others are not being loved or hurt – to see it as unnatural and do something about it”.
Shana Tova U Metuka – may you all have a wonderful year and may you taste and feel the sweetness of Hashem’s bracha,