Like any other community, the St. Louis Torah community is not unfamiliar with tragedy. One of our most beloved rebbes died a few years back, barely 40 years old. One of our rebbeim has a child diagnosed with cancer. Too many divorces in such a close community.
But in ten years here I can’t remember anything like the shock we experienced over Sukkos, when a violent car accident sent four children to intensive care, children of the kiruv rabbi most singly responsible for building mitzva observance in our community.
Since then, so many people have commented on the outpouring of chesed and the powerful demonstrations of achdus, the whole community packed into the Aguda shul one Chol HaMoed evening at 9:00 with barely an hour’s notice, the bikkur cholim, the round the clock Tehillim and learning, the children coming for hakafos on Simchas Torah so the rav’s shul would not feel the melancholy of their spiritual leader’s anguish.
I wasn’t able to be there myself. My first obligation was to my students, I decided, after debating long and hard over which loyalty held the higher priority. As it turned out, it was the best Simchas Torah I can remember. I looked about the shul again and again, basking in the nachas of how so many of my students and former students — at least three-quarters of those dancing and singing — blended their energies together to fulfill the words of the niggun they sang: ivdu es HaShem b’simcha!
During a pause in the hakofos, a friend came over and suggested that one of us write an article about the communal response and the Kiddush HaShem of our community’s response to crisis, about the intensity of the achdus and the chesed.
My response was instantaneous: how much greater a Kiddush HaShem, how much greater a step forward to bring Moshiach, if we could do it without the crisis. As a teacher of Jewish History, I come back over and over and over again to how frequently we as a people have made the same mistake, waiting for tragedy to show our quality instead of binding ourselves more closely to our neighbors in times of blessing. If we could rise to the occasion on our own, those occasions of crisis and tragedy would never have to happen.
Then, as I reflected on the demonstration of achdus and simcha going on in shul around me, the dancing, the singing, the unrestrained joy of celebration before HaShem, I realized that we’re really not that far away at all. It’s not one great leap but one simple step that we have to take. The unity and the joy and the kindness are already within us. We just need to let it all out without waiting for it to be ripped out of us by our neighbor’s pain.
Let’s turn the aliyah of these concluded holidays into action. Let’s look for every opportunity to show kindness, to show unity, to express ahavas chinom — unreasoning love — to supplant the unreasoning hatred that plunged us all into darkness two millennia ago and has kept us there ever since. Let’s not wait for another tragedy.
Ivdu es HaShem b’simcha! Serve HaShem with joy!
Please daven for:
Rafoel Dovid HaLevi ben Bracha
Elisha HaLevi ben Bracha
Elyahu Chaim HaLevi ben Bracha
Tehilla bas Bracha
Reuven ben Tova Chaya