Self-sacrifice and November 5th

Rabbi Kahane was this era’s conscience, a leader who lived and ultimately gave his life for his fellow Jews. In memoriam.

Howard Michael Riell ,

Howard M. Riell
Howard M. Riell

There is a beautiful midrash on the Akedah – the Biblical story of Abraham’s being commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac that we read this Shabbat. Interestingly, it comes from a non-Jew, the celebrated Soren Kierkegaard.

The way the famed Danish philosopher tells it, father and son complete their long and mournful journey to Mount Moriah where Abraham has been ordered by God to bring the boy as an offering. The great patriarch and father of monotheism starts the fire, lays Isaac on the makeshift altar, ties his hands, picks up the knife, leans in close to his son and whispers, “By the way kid, this has nothing whatsoever to do with God. I’m killing you because I want you dead!”

Isaac immediately begins screaming: “God, God, help me, help me, dear God, please save meeeee…..!!!”

The canny Abraham closes his eyes and reflects, “Better the boy should think me a monster than God; better that he hate me than lose his faith in the Almighty.”

The story is especially poignant in light of approaching 30th anniversary of the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane, zt’l, hy’d, who was shot to death in New York City by El Sayyid Nosair on November 5, 1990. I was supposed to have been in the audience that night, but a scheduling conflict and the knowledge that the rabbi would be speaking once again the following Sunday kept me from attending. I watched the TV coverage later that night, though, with tears streaming down my face, and was part of the throng that shut down Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway the next day at his memorial service.

The powerful midrash of Soren Kierkegaard comes to mind because it shows Abraham willing to absorb the hatred of his own flesh in order to preserve his son’s connection to and faith in God.

Rabbi Kahane, too, invited attacks, and vicious ones – from his days as a pulpit rabbi to the Jewish Defense League and their defense of elderly, helpless Jews, his campaign to free Soviet Jews, and his time as a member of Knesset – from Jews and others over the course of a career spent working for the Jewish People.

Few and far between are the people who are willing to listen to the truth, even fewer who are willing to let it change them. This discouraging little backwater of human nature is hardly new. In fact, the prophets of the Bible railed against just such self-inflicted blindness some 2,500 years ago.

Isaiah writes: “For it is a rebellious people... children that desire not to hear the Law of the Lord; which say to the seers, 'See not!' and to the visionaries, 'Envision not unto us true things; speak unto us smooth things, envision delusions...”

Warns Jeremiah: “The prophets prophesy falsely... and My people love to have it so; and what will you do in the end thereof? Truth is perished and cut from their mouths.”

Adds Amos: “They hate him who rebuketh in the gate and they abhor him that speakest uprightly.”

Rabbi Kahane was this era’s conscience, a leader who lived and ultimately gave his life for his fellow Jews. That his name has largely been forgotten, and worse, unheard of by youngsters, is a disgrace that our People will not soon live down.

May Rabbi Kahane’s memory serve as a blessing, but also as a lesson for each of us. It is not the naysayers, the disbelievers, or the willingly blind who are remembered by posterity. It's the seekers and speakers of truth -- those who force us to open our eyes and see what we'd rather not but nonetheless must, even at a terrible personal cost -- whom history cherishes.

Howard Michael Riell is a veteran journalist and author of the just-released I Would Have Taught You Something Beautiful: Inspiration and Motivation From One of America’s Most Unorthodox Orthodox Thinkers, available on