For the last few weeks we all have been hearing about last night’s ‘The Asifa’ in Citified. It has been promulgated and disseminated throughout the Jewish world with letters and requests for all Jews to come and be part of sanctifying the name of Hashem.
The event was billed as one to bring about togetherness and unity among Jews and to combat those forces which are causing us harm.
Therefore, for the sake of unity and for my constant need for spiritual growth I, along with thousands and thousands, attended.
Indeed, the speakers spoke about the need to be holy and to be G-dly.
They spoke about the necessity to bring G-d into our lives.
They spoke about imitating the ways of our forefathers.
They mentioned the great traditions of Avrohom and of how we are all children of Avrohom.
They evoked the names of the great Chassidic masters and their legacies.
They quoted the names of the great one’s of our people and how they went against the tide and did not follow the masses in whatever event may have been the popular trend at the time.
They asked all of us to be brave and courageous; to have the inner strength to fight and stand up for what is right and for what is G-dly.
They insisted that notwithstanding the multitudes who gather in stadiums and have access to financial resources to promote their messages, we as G-dly, caring Jews; Jews who care about our children; should not just mimic the ways of the masses. Rather we have to keep focused and in spite of the masses and their frenzied and frenetic propaganda, we as G-d fearing, compassionate and caring Jews must think about the spiritual well being of each other; irrespective of who and how we outwardly appear.
As the speeches began to enter my heart, as I heard the legendary stories of the greats of our people who did everything and anything in their power to reach out and help those in need I felt the need to act.
As my heart awakened to the realization that there are people who are in need of compassion my body was inspired to act and not just listen.
I knew that I had to attempt to be G-dly and not just be a passive observer in the stadium munching on the free pretzels as most of the people sitting next to me were doing.
I decided to heed the call and attempt to imitate the ways of the Chofetz Chaim and of the Baal Shem Tov.
I left the arena filled with thousands and thousands of easily identifiable Jews who were sitting in comfort noshing on the free food provided and (many) checking their emails on their blackberries as speakers simultaneously made impassioned pleas to discard them.
I arose and walked out of the stadium with my head hell high and my heart infused with the knowledge and want of being G-dly and of being called a child of Avrohom Avinu.
Despite being chilled and still under the weakening effect of a lingering virus, I recalled the stories of our leaders and of their actions and this inspired me to keep seeking and walking.
I recalled the story of Rav Yisroel Salant and how he arrived at Shul late for Yom Kippur davening as he heard the cries of an unattended Jewish child. When asked how he was able to keep the masses waiting and why did he not join the crowd, Rav Yisroel responded, “A Jew who does not hear the cry of a Jewish child in need is in need of much more than of being in Shul in Yom Kippur; he needs an entire spiritual fixing.”
I know neither the source nor of the authenticity of the story. However, I do know that it entered my heart and to me it was always what was a true ‘Gadol’ is.
Is not feeling the pain of those in pain true G-dliness? As we say in davening every Motzei Shabbos: “Wherever you find the greatness of Holy One, Blessed be He. There you will find His humility…..For Hashem….the Master of masters….a great and mighty G-d. (Hashem says): I abide …in holiness, but (I) am with the broken and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to give life to those who are broken” (Yeshaya 57:15)
I knew what the message for me was; my destination was clear.
I looked and I searched.
Up the block and down the block; a phone call here and a phone call there; a request from a policeman here and an usher there; however, finally my search was not in vain and I found them.
Barricaded and secluded, confined and segregated, quarantined and concealed behind the police barricades they stood.
The hurt and pained, the broken hearted.
The ones about who Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim are the true ‘korbonos’ (sacrifices): The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; O God, You will not despise a broken and crushed heart. (Tehillim 51:19).
These were the people I had to be with.
They came not to hurt and not to cause pain.
They came not to disrupt and not to attack.
They came because they are in pain and they know there are so many others as well.
They came because there is a hidden pain which the thousands inside yearning for inspiration and information were not being told and they hoped to correct that.
They came to help Jewish children and to tell everyone that other problems irrespective of the internet have to be tackled s well.
And they came because they are in pain.
When I was a little boy my Rebbe told me that when Pharaoh asked his three advisors, Bilaam, Iyov and Yisro for advice on what to do with the Jews this is what they said:
Bilaam who wanted to annihilate the Jews was himself killed.
Yisro who stood up for the Jews was rewarded by Hashem with his daughter marrying Moshe.
Iyov was silent and was punished with afflictions and pain.
My rebbe told me that we see from here that even when you cannot help someone or something, at least try to feel their pain, at least cry out in empathy.
I approached the group; the ‘counter Asifa’.
The men were not wearing black hats and women were present.
They had no fancy stadium seats and they sat on the cold, hard pavement.
They were not famous leaders with titles and huge yeshivas behind them.
They were simple broken hearted pained Jews and with this group I felt solace.
With this group I chose to stand; for nothing more than to say “I love you and I feel your pain.”
Some of the group eyed the Chareidi dressed rabbi with the long coat suspiciously; however, I could not help feeling that Rav Yisroel Salant and the Chofetz Chaim and the Baal Shem Tov walked with me.
I secretly hoped that all of the greats who were just a few hundred yards away would do those legendary acts which our greats are known by.
I hoped they would act as Rav Yisroel would have done by standing up for the pained and broken; those injured through no fault of their own, and that they would cross the street and embrace these sacrifices of God (that) are a broken spirit.
Suddenly, as I stood with Hashem’s beloved and pained children one of the women in our group called out, “Chevra (friends) I think the Asifa may be ending, people should be coming out. Let’s go out and engage them.”
I and entire group looked towards the throngs gathered across the street who were there to be come more like Avrohom Avinu who cared even for Arab wayfarers and brought them into his house.
We looked towards the thousands who heard speaker after speaker arouse the audience to emulate the Satmar Rebbe Zt”l who was known to care for the broken and crushed of his generation.
We hoped and awaited the multitudes that were now encouraged to be more G-dly and caring of the well being of our fellow Jews.
I looked at the woman who made the announcement.
Her eyes were full of hope and anticipation; her whole being felt that perhaps now finally the masses were approaching.
Perhaps the masses had been reawakened and informed about those who are in pain; perhaps a miraculous change in attitude had occurred.
However, as she and all of us looked toward the parking lot, no one looked our way; no one even said hello; they just kept walking as if nobody was there.
The woman lowered her face in disappointment and despair.
A man across the street stopped, turned for a moment to see who was across the street behind the barricades. He quickly looked away and without too much thought began speaking on his cell phone as he walked the steps up to the number 7 line.
The woman, forlorn and forsaken sat back on the pavement; no miracle would occur tonight. She sat down in silence, once again alone .
And I walked on wondering who I am.
Rav Yitzchok Eisenman is a noted Charedi Rabbi and leads Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, NJ. Rabbi Eisenman is a sought after speaker and scholar in residence in many communities throughout the metropolitan area.