* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Yesterday was the first anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Uri Zohar. Rav Uri was a famous Israeli actor and director who did teshuvah (became observant) and was a Rabbi in Jerusalem for many years. I have many personal stories about him but recently I heard a story from the mentor of a youth group that touched me deeply.
One of the boys he mentored was going through a difficult time. Someone told the mentor that it would be a good idea to send the boy to watch Uri Zohar during Mincha, the afternoon prayer service. "A typical weekday Mincha prayer?" the mentor asked. The answer was yes. Not to see Rabbi Uri during a Ne'ilah (closing prayer) on Yom Kippur, not to see him at a brit milah or at a wedding -- just at an ordinary afternoon prayer in a tiny neighborhood synagogue.
And so it was. The boy peeked in and was impressed. Without actually meeting him, the boy was profoundly influenced by Rav Uri.
What actually happened there? *In short, there was nothing ordinary about Rav Uri's regular daily Mincha prayer. In fact, nothing that he did was ordinary, gray, or routine. Everything was done correctly and precisely with an appreciation for its elevated spiritual value and holiness.* This attitude was on display not only when he prayed, but even in a television interview. Each answer in his interviews with me was carefully thought out and infused with special meaning. Today, I listen to recordings of our telephone conversations and am amazed how he was always completely present, focused, and inspired, expressing himself with a radiance (zohar in Hebrew) all his own.
We live in a world of instant gratification, constantly seeking peak moments, in search of "likes" and recognition. We never stop switching channels or surfing the Internet. We think that in order to have a good time we need to go outside ourselves instead of exploring what lies within. Rav Uri worked on himself for dozens of years, making self-rectification the center of his life.
Many people become observant (chozrim beteshuvah), yet most are passionate about their new life only at first. Rav Uri renewed his passion every day. He competed with no one and only wished to become a better version of himself today than he was yesterday. Most of us will not reach such a level, but Rav Uri showed us what we should aspire to be.