The Mashiach and Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira

When you greet the Mashiach, remember this name...

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
"When you greet the Mashiach, remember this name and mention it to him: Avraham Elkana ben Hena Raizl."

It was January 2005, at a siyum of Hilchot Melicha in the apartment of Rabbi Avraham Shapira, Rosh Yeshiva of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva. Rabbi Shapira spoke the above
It was eerie, sending chills down my spine.
words to our study group of twenty men and it was eerie, sending chills down my spine.

I thought: "He expects us to be there greeting the Mashiach - and he, Rav Avrum, doesn't expect to be there?"

Rabbi Shapira's faith and anticipation of the Mashiach's coming were strong you could feel it in his voice; but he was speaking of us greeting Mashiach, not himself. And during the course of two hours in his apartment Rabbi Shapira repeated this four times: "When you greet the Mashiach, remember this name and mention it to him: Avraham Elkana ben Hena Raizl." Only months later did I realize that the former Chief Rabbi of Israel was displaying his trademark honing to the line of realistic, strong thinking - a quality he alone among leading rabbis of his generation possessed.

Fast forward in time to Friday the first day of Chol Hamoed Sukkot 5768, as another former Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, delivered a eulogy for Rabbi Shapira. Rabbi Lau discussed the famous Gemara (Berachot 28a) in which Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah removed the guard from the door of the study hall, allowing all students who wanted to learn Torah to enter. Rabbi Yosef ben Dustai and some rabbis argued, one saying that 400 seats were added on that day and one saying 700 seats were added. Rabbi Lau noted that these numbers reminded him of the hundreds of rabbis, roshei yeshiva, dayanim (religious judges), melamdim (teachers of Judaism) and others who had learned at Merkaz Harav and the numerous yeshivas that have branched off from it.

This struck a chord in my heart. Rabbi Lau's hesped was right on target. Our little shiur has been meeting at Merkaz since 2002, thanks to our magid shiur Rabbi Mordechai Goldenhersh and with the blessings of Rabbi Shapira. "Seats were added to the yeshiva" to accommodate the founder of the Bnei Chayil school (our Halacha shiur was actually his brainchild) - as well as the retired chief of cardiology from Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, the head of intervention radiology at Wolfsohn Hospital, the retired head of the University of Massachusetts School of Dentistry, a senior anesthesiologist from Shaarei Zedek Hospital, and numerous dentists, retirees and others. We were privileged to hear Rabbi Shapira, because he had adopted the shiur and made it an official shiur at the yeshiva.

Rabbi Shapira paid attention to each of us students: "You are m'yatzgim (representing) B'nei Hagolah (the Diaspora) here. Tell me about yourselves - where you are from, where you learned, etc."

We were the the grey-haired old men who meet twice weekly in the classroom building, sometimes so monopolizing the xerox machines (to copy source material) that, when we
Rabbi Lau's hesped was right on target.
first appeared, the eighteen-year-olds complained about "those strangers not letting us get on the machines." That first week, one of the yeshiva heads rose to his feet and decided that we "really are part of the yeshiva" and can use the copiers. And the next Yom Yerushalayim, we knew we'd arrived: Binyamin Netanyahu was speaking in the main Beit Midrash and you had to pass by a secret service agent and an accompanying 18-year-old full-time student who looked at each entrant and said, "Hu mei'itanu" - he's one of ours - if he could enter. And the eighteen-year-old gave the thumbs-up to each of us "old timers."

At our siyum (one of three we eventually had with him), a few months later, we introduced ourselves to Rav Avrum. Most of us were from America, one from England and one from South America. And the Rosh Yeshiva not only listened, but added his own personal notes to every one of us: "You're from New York? Studied with Rabbi Gershuni? I remember him 60 years ago, as one of the leading young talmidei chachamim here at Hayeshiva. And I remember when Rabbi Eliezer Silver came from America looking for a chatan for his daughter - after talking to many prospects, he settled on Rabbi Gershuni." For each student there were questions and for each he had an anecdote about a Rebbe or a relative or a community rabbi.

But then came the clincher. Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, who already functioned as Rosh Yeshiva for many of the Merkaz's everyday purposes leaned forward and asked: "As you heard, we regard you as m'yatzgim of chutz la'aretz. We want to hear from you. What do you think the yeshiva should do during the upcoming Disengagement from Gush Katif?"

We sat stunned for a few seconds until the ex-talmid of Rabbi Gershuni piped up: "I don't presume to tell the rabbi what to do, but kol hakavod to him on his stand that IDF soldiers should refuse the immoral order to throw Jews out of their homes in Eretz Yisrael." That was the opening to a discussion ranging from the destruction of Gush Katif, scheduled for the following August, to the destruction of Yamit.

At Rabbi Shapira's funeral, Rabbi Dov Lior spoke of Rav Avrum's leadership and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu mentioned his deep expertise in Torah, which Rabbi Eliyahu had witnessed again and again during their shared ten years as Chief Rabbis. Again, all the hespedim were on the mark. But no accomplishment of Rabbi Shapira's showed his leadership as much as his stand during the Disengagement. It was a time when many religious Zionist rabbis either kept totally quiet or told their soldier-students not to manifestly disobey what they considered immoral orders. Rather, they said to complain of belly-aches and the like. And some even advised following orders for the sake of unity. But in an era of a morally rudderless society - when ethics is not even a factor in decisions by the vast majority of Israelis - one rabbi publicly did what needed to be done and proclaimed what was right.

Rabbi Avraham Shapira led a minority of rabbis and strongly announced that Eretz Yisrael is holy and one does not throw her away like unwanted trash; that Am Yisrael is holy and (especially in this country, where it is so hard to make a living) one does not impoverish 8,600 Jews, flinging them and their belongings into the street, destroying their communities, homes, families and businesses; and that the God of Israel is holy and it is a sin to Him to perpetrate this pogrom, even if the stated purpose were not to further the interests of Arab terrorists Jew killers and enemies of the State of Israel. And as a sin against God, a Jewish soldier doesn't follow such an order.

At the siyum, Rav Avrum invited us to come back anytime to his apartment and ask any question we had. Unfortunately for me, I only took him up on this invitation once. Shortly
I went back to Rav Avrum's apartment shaken to my roots.
after the Disengagement, I went back to Rav Avrum's apartment shaken to my roots. I had been in Gush Katif during the Disengagement and seen evictees hugging and kissing soldiers, and I had to ask: "There is no two ways about this. Either I am normal and I'm appalled by the huggers, or they are normal and my whole way of thinking about ethics is wrong. Which is it?" And the answer was: "You're the normal one."

I've written the following story (Memories of a Giant, Urim Publishing, page 54) before, but, in this case, it bears repeating.

When Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik passed away in 1993, his brother Rabbi Ahron Soloveitchik eulogized him with the midrash (on Eichah) that Rabbi Yosef had told at their father Reb Moshe's funeral, and which Reb Itzele Volozhiner had told as a hesped for his father, Reb Hayim of Volozhin.

When the Romans destroyed the Temple and it was burning, the young Kohanim (the pirchei kehuna) ran to the roof. They took the keys to the Beit HaMikdash and threw them heavenward, saying: 'We don't need these keys anymore. Please take them.' And then a heavenly hand came downward and caught the keys. Reb Itzele commented: 'Do you think that it was to the credit of the pirchei kehuna that they did this?' Chas veshalom, this is a criticism of the pirchei kehuna. This was the biggest blunder they could ever have made. If they hadn't thrown the keys into the fire, then in a short time, with the required effort, they would have been able to rebuild the Temple.

The Temple is burning again and foolish, weak pirchei kehuna are throwing away the keys once more. But we normal ones have the legacy of the strong moral leadership of Rabbi Avraham Elkana ben Hena Raizl to light up the way until we will greet the Mashiach, may he come speedily in our time.

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