Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (http://inthelandoftheJews.blogspot.com)
Rabbi Simcha Hakohen Kook, who died at the age of 92, did so many great things. He was the beloved chief rabbi of Rehovot for decades and rabbi of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. He was president of the Meor Hatalmud yeshiva in Rehovot and stood at the head of many other educational institutions throughout the years. He was an eloquent speaker who was much sought after by audiences both in Israel and abroad and led many public struggles, especially in building bridges between the secular and religious sectors. But among his most memorable deeds, personally speaking, was his officiating my wedding.
He was the brother of the grandfather of Yedidya, my husband, and hosted us in his home in Rehovot on Shabbat prior to the wedding. It was difficult to keep up with him as he quickly walked between so many synagogues on Shabbat. At the third meal (seuda shlishit), he sat down to speak with us. I remember the picture of his famous uncle, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, on the wall behind him. You could see his uncle's special qualities in him, his nephew, as well: sensitivity, compassion, and love for every individual, at times to the point of tears, yet together with an uncompromising steadfastness regarding his values and his faith.
The pre-marriage advice he gave us came from a story in the Talmud. It concerned the wicked Yerovam ben Nevat. The Holy One blessed be He grabbed his garment and entreated him to turn from his evil ways. If he would return to the proper path, then G-d and Yerovam and King David would stroll together in Gan Eden. But then Yerovam asked: Who will go first? The Holy One blessed be He answered that King David would go first and Yerovam responded: If so, I do not need to go. And so, instead of walking in Gan Eden together with God and King David, he chose Gehinnom.
His message to us was clear: Ego is the enemy. The desire to prevail over the other person and prove that you are better can spoil and destroy everything. This is true in marriage, in children's education, and in all areas of life.
After 92 years of concern for the honor of heaven, and never for his own, Rabbi Simcha has now gone up there to be with God, together with King David.
Return us in peace
Many communities in Ukraine are struggling to survive, revive, and resurrect themselves, as illustrated in the following letter I received last night.
"Shalom Sivan, This is *Miriam Moskovtiz*, Chabad emissary in Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine. The war began three months ago and we understood after a week of artillery bombardment that we had to leave. Between missiles and tanks, a broad humanitarian rescue effort was launched. My husband Rabbi Moshe, with the din of shells exploding in the background, opened the ark in our synagogue, kissed the curtain and left with a prayer. On the bus, we recited Tefilat HaDerech (Traveler's Prayer) with the children and wept with hope in our hearts when uttering the words 'return us in peace.'
Since then the Ukrainian emissaries are managing affairs on several fronts. There are some Ukrainian Jews who arrived in Israel, some who are now scattered in countries across Europe, and some who have stayed behind in Ukraine. We are concerned with all of them even while, at the same time, it seems that in the world at large, their plight is of less and less interest.
The fighting continues, but the situation in Kharkov has become quieter as the Russian forces were pushed back from our city. My husband and two of our children left on the long return journey. As the rumor spread that the rabbi was coming back to the city, he began receiving emotional messages from members of the community who were waiting for him. And he finally arrived. At 12 Pushkinskaya Sreet, the address of the synagogue in Kharkov.
Jews were standing in line to give him a long hug, to put on tefillin, to talk. There was so much to talk about. People who have been living for three months in a basement bomb shelter under our synagogue expressed their thanks for being saved. The drivers who endanger themselves when leaving the synagogue to make food and medicine deliveries throughout the city received a personal thank you from the rabbi. And so did the cooks in the synagogue who have been working non-stop since the outbreak of the war. And then the rabbi remembered, approached the ark, opened it and gave a little kiss to the curtain. We have returned. And we have returned in peace. Amen."
Chani Lifshitz, a Chabad emissary in Nepal, sent me the following thought from Katmandu:
"This week we begin reading the Book of Numbers,which talks about our travels in the desert. The entire book transpires in the desert, between Egypt and the Land of Israel. The Book of Numbers teaches us how to behave while on the road in the midst of a long journey. Even when we are far from our destination, when we are in a desert of uncertainty, we can live a life of stability.
The Torah describes how the nation of Israel conducted itself with exemplary orderliness, how the people erected the Mishkan wherever they stopped, how in the heart of the wilderness they adhered to values and followed rules.
When we talk about this Torah portion in the Chabad House in Katmandu, everyone listens with rapt attention. They too are on a journey and sometimes want to throw everything away and be like all the other travelers from all over the globe. Who needs Shabbat or kashrut in Nepal? But the challenge is not to change. We receive strength from the forty years that the nation of Israel was in the desert as we persist in observance of what is important to us regardless of circumstances.
When we went on a mission to Nepal twenty-two years ago, my husband Chezki and I coined a phrase: 'to be a Turtle.' For a turtle always feels at home. Wherever he goes, he takes his house and his roof on his back, no matter where he may be. We promised ourselves that we would always take with us the values and rules of conduct from the homes in which we grew up, all the way to Katmandu. We have strived to do so. I wish each of us, through all the trials and in all the places in which we find ourselves, to have good fortune and to be a turtle".