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In Memory of our Captain

By Tzvi Fishman
9/29/2007, 12:00 AM

With the death of HaRav Avraham Elkana Kahana Shapira, the earthy ship has lost its captain, and we are left bobbing without direction on the waves of a turbulent sea.

Lost in a Turbulent Sea

The first time I met him, I had just arrived in Israel, a few hours before Simchat Torah. During a break in the joyous dancing at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, I was pulled out of the incredible tornado of spiritual energy and taken to meet HaRav Shapira, the Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi of Israel. His was one big happy smile which beamed with a radiant light. I felt like I was meeting a celestial angel. He motioned for me to take a piece of cake and to make a “L’Chaim” on a glass of wine. My Israeli friends asked him if I had to keep two days of the Yom Tov, like a Jew who lives in the Diaspora. At the time, I hardly spoke Hebrew. Constantly smiling, the Rabbi asked if I intended to make aliyah? When I answered yes, his smile broadened, his eyes twinkled, and he said that I should keep only one day, but that I should not travel out of the city during Isru Hag.

When I made aliyah, I lived in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, and would often daven at Mercaz HaRav. HaRav Shapira was always happy to see me and demonstrated a genuine interest in my progress. Once, after I had written a screenplay about an American youth who comes to Israel and gets killed by a terrorist, I had second thoughts that maybe the killing would reinforce the exaggerated fears that Diaspora Jews have about coming to Israel. So I went and asked the Rabbi if having such a scene in a movie could be considered similar to the terrible sin of speaking badly about the Land of Israel? To appreciate his answer, you have to realize that HaRav Shapira had spent all of his life in the holy halls of Torah. As eulogizes emphasized at his funeral, he didn’t just know a part of the Torah in depth, like many other rabbis, he knew all of the Torah in depth. First, he said to me that my worry was not a real concern since, unfortunately, not many Jews from the Diaspora came to Israel anyway. Second, he said that while he wasn’t a maven (expert) on movies, from what he understood, if I didn’t have the murder, I wouldn’t have a movie.

On another occasion, during the protests over the Oslo Agreement, I made a poster of Rabin wearing Arafat’s kefiah. When a student of the yeshiva had qualms about plastering the poster all over Jerusalem, we went to ask HaRav Shapira if it was OK. Without giving a definite yes or no, he asked, “Do you think the Chofetz Chaim would have made a poster like this? After all, Rabin is a child of Avraham Avinu too.”

A few years ago, when the Likud was holding a referendum whether or not to support the Sharon Disengagement Plan, I prepared an anti-Disengagement CD video that was distributed to all of the Likud membership before the vote. When I went to HaRav Shapira to film a statement from him for the film, I asked him if it permissible according to the Torah for a Jewish government in Israel to surrender a part of Eretz Yisrael to the enemy? With a look of innocent wonder, he responded, “You came here with all of this equipment to ask me that? Why do you ask me such a question? Ask any six-year old in Heder. He’ll tell you the answer. You don't have to ask me.”

His definitive proclamation that the Disengagement was a clear violation of the Torah, and that soldiers must disobey orders to uproot Jewish settlements, was the battle cry of the campaign against the evacuation. Tragically, media-pleasing rabbis who had learned under his tutelage, and who were half his age, and who had learned a tenth of the Torah that HaRav Shapira had learned, came out publically with opposing views, thus splitting the national religious camp and undermining the unity and power of the protest campaign. For almost two generations under the Torah leadership of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook and HaRav Shapira, we had learned the supreme value of the Land of Israel to the Jewish Nation. Now, suddenly, when the issue came to a real test, a handful of popular rabbis broke away from following the leadership of a true Torah giant, HaRav Shapira, and from the teachings of Rabbi Kook, and declared that the allegiance to the government and the unity of the army were more important than the sanctity of the Land. The rest is history. Instead of an invincible, unified, Torah campaign against the evacuation, the settlers became divided, and a wishy-washy campaign led by wishy-washy rabbis capitulated again and again to the authorities. Gush Katif was lost. The settlement movement lost its moral power and direction. Even worse, our wonderful, idealistic youth fell into a crisis in faith that has not yet been healed.

Walking in the funeral procession yesterday with the one-hundred thousand people who came to pay last respects to HaRav Shapira, I couldn’t help but think that if we had exhibited this unity when the Rabbi was alive, we would not have lost Gush Katif and the State of Israel would truly have become a beacon of moral light to the world. Instead, because we didn’t follow the truth of the Torah as HaRav Shapira taught, we have been punished with the weakening plague of division, and now our captain has been taken away, and we are like a ship cast away at sea having to charter its way through perilous waters alone.

May the memory of HaRav Shapira be for a blessing, and may G-d answer his heavenly prayers for mercy, and send us Mashiach to show us the way back to the Torah. Amen.