Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Role Model for All of Us

Rav Yaakov Edelstein (left) with Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Mishpacha)
I have had little patience for the way some of the right wing Charedi rabbinic leadership in Israel actually leads. Not because I don’t respect them as major Talmidei Chachamim with few peers. I actually do respect them for that.  But because their views on many issues are the opposite of mine and because of their sledgehammer approach to getting their way. I have felt that many of the positions they have taken are harmful to the very thing they are dedicated to – the preservation and perpetuation of a Torah society. I am not going to go into details of those views here. I’ve done so more times than I can count!

I have also felt that in recent times the way they have handled things has done more to divide us than unite us.  While I realize that was not their goal, that seems to be the result. That is even true among some the moderate Charedi leadership in some instances. (Although I am absolutely convinced that they all firmly believe they are acting in the best interests of the Jewish people.)

This has caused much of the non Charedi world in Israel to see Charedi Jews in a mostly negative light. They see Charedi leaders concerned only for their own community’s welfare with a seemingly callous disregard for anyone else.

It was therefore hard for me to imagine someone like Rav Yaakov Edelstein existed in our day. He has proved this characterization wrong. His life was dedicated to both the Charedi Hashkafa and an unmitigated love of all of Klal Yisroel.

There is no question about his Charedi credentials nor his values with respect to the Klal. I had no idea this man even existed let alone to what he dedicated his life. Which was recently described by Mishpacha Magazine in a memorial tribute to him upon his passing. He embraced every Jew regardless of their level of observance.

He was not just all talk. He was all action. He lived his life dedicated to that premise. Ahavas Yisroel was his raison d’etre. He lived for his fellow Jew. And they knew it.

Rav Edelstein was the Rav of Ramat HaSharon, a mostly secular and upscale suburb of Tel Aviv. He served them in that capacity for 67 years. 67 YEARS! If one looks at his appearance it would seem highly unlikely that a town like this would ever hire him as their rabbi – let alone give him an almost 7 decade tenure. But that is the case. This is a man that consulted with the Chazon Ish and followed all of his directives. He was a founding student at Ponevezh. His brother, Rav Gershon Edelstein is one of the most respected Charedi leaders in Israel. Thousands of students flock regularly to this Rosh Yeshivah of Ponovezh.

And yet this is a description of how Rav Yaakov Edelstein’s town responded to their loss of this great man: 
While the Torah world has keenly felt the loss of Rav Yaakov Edelstein — who passed away three weeks ago on 25 Shevat — none are more broken than the residents of the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon… 
Deputy mayor of Ramat HaSharon, Yaakov Koretzky, one of Rav Yaakov Edelstein’s many Baalei Teshuvah, described him as follows: 
Rav Edelstein was like our eved (slave). He was bound heart and soul to the community, to the residents, the students, everyone. He worked for us. He davened for us. He thought about us and worried for us. He was our spiritual father and we’re now just beginning to understand what we lost. I used to meet Pinchas the shoemaker, who’s been here as long as the Rav, and he would tell me, ‘Koretzky, we have to get the Rav new shoes. Look, his shoes are falling apart.’ People didn’t realize how the Rav would walk all over town in service of the community.  
That he had reached so many secular Jews is a testament to not only Rav Edelstien which assures his legacy... it is a testament to what Israel could really look like if there were more like him.

I’m sure, for example that he followed the Charedi Hashkafa that is opposed to army service for young Chardim. I am also sure he supported government funding for Yeshivos and Kollelim. I’m sure that he supports full time Torah study for all Charedim for as long as possible without the ‘burden’ of additional secular studies. Mostly positions with which I disagree. These are the kinds of issues that have divided – and continue to divide the country. And I doubt that his Charedi views were not known by the secular Jews that he served. And yet he was a beloved figure despite such hard core Charedi views.

Imagine what Israel would look like if there were more people like him! Imagine if the Charedi leadership would embrace the secular Jew the way he did. Imagine if the Charedi world would look at Rav Edelstein as their role model instead of someone like Rav Shmuel Auerbach. 

I’m not saying there wouldn’t be differences of opinion between Charedim and the rest of Israeli people. There surely would be. Those important issues will not go away even under the most ideal of relationships. But if the Charedi world would learn from the pleasant ways of Rav Edelstein, those differences might be respected instead of disparaged - right along with the people that have them.

If only they would see the world through Rav Edelstein’s eyes - oh what a different world it would be.