A Thought for the Week
The Eastern gates to the Courtyard of the
HaMikdash in Jerusalem were called "Shaarei Nikoner" or the
gates of Nikoner. They were beautiful bronzed structures that greeted the
guests as they arrived from all over the land.
The general, seeing that the weight of the ship was too much to survive the storm, ordered one of the doors be thrown overboard. The storm, however, continued and the boat rocked even more. The crew got ready to throw the next gate into the sea. Nikoner watched as the group hoisted the heavy bronze door into the air and something happened. Nikoner ran to the gate and began to hug it. "If this gate goes into the sea, so do I." The storm immediately subsided. Realizing what had just taken place, Nikoner began to cry over the first door that he had thrown overboard. When they finally reached the port of Ako and docked their ship, they found the missing door, under the ship and promptly hung both doors in the holy Temple. To remember this miracle the gates were called "Shaarei Nikoner". (Talmud Yoma 38)
What stopped the storm? The fact that the future gates to holiness were on board was not enough to ward off the storm. The doors wanted to be hugged! Yerushalayim wants to be hugged. Every gate, every passageway, every stone in Yerushalayim wants to be hugged.
The initial reaction was to throw the doors to Yerushalayim overboard. Lives are at stake - don't rock the boat! But that didn't help, Yerushalayim works on a different level - if we love the doors, if we express our passion for them they remain with us, even if it takes a miracle.
"It was then that Moshe and the children of Israel sang out their song to Hashem". They had already seen miracles; Moshe had already had prophecies. They knew G-d, but there was never an outpouring of emotion until now. There was no passion. Finally they sang, finally Moshe sang. G-d traveled from their minds to their hearts and all the angels in Heaven sang along. When we read the Torah we read the shira in the same tune as we read the Ten Commandments. The commandments were an outpouring from G-d; this song was an outpouring from Israel. "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me."
I was frightened and moved yesterday as I followed the news from Israel, "A bomb in Meah Shearim." There is a soup kitchen in Beis Yisroel. Every Thursday evening at 5 PM hundreds of poor Jews line up to receive fish and chicken for Shabbos. A car with Israeli license plates was unnoticeably parked in front of the house of chesed. At 4:47, 33 pounds of explosives that were in the car's trunk of the car exploded. The explosion rocked the famed Mir Yeshiva, five hundred feet away, where thousands of students are deeply engaged in the study of Torah. This is exactly the spot where my own son studied and walked every day for two years. The explosion took place sixty seconds after a truck full of gas tanks passed by. Had the timing been different. who knows? A sign remaining on the doorway of a destroyed food store said, " Back in fifteen minutes - davening Mincha." There were no deaths, thank G-d, and 1 minor injury. The students of Mir were ordered to stay in the building until the police finish combing the area. An hour or so later the Yeshiva emerged en masse and became aware of the miracle that had just taken place. They spontaneously began to dance in a circle and sing praise to the Almighty. "It was then that Moshe and the children of Israel sang out their song to Hashem".
I have often quoted the words of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik describing the way he grew up. "The emotions that overtook me as a child (particularly around the High Holidays) stimulate me still today, and my whole Weltanschauung, my whole religious philosophy, is a result of this experience. Contemporary Orthodoxy is well grounded intellectually. In spite of this, however, its followers lack passion." (Rabbi Soloveitchik in the "Days of Awe" pg. 60).
We are living in an at-risk time. Kids at risk, Jerusalem at risk, marriage at risk, personal missions at risk. They all need some passion!
My Rebbe, Rav Scheinberg, would often quote the words of King David, "I have given Your Torah as an inheritance to my children because they are the joy of my heart." Torah does not usually go down as an inheritance. I can be a great Torah scholar but that says nothing for my children. There is only one way that we can bequeath Torah to our children, "when it is the joy of my heart." When we can take it from our minds to our hearts, when we can sing about it and when we can hug it; then it remains ours.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Haber is the OU's National Director of Jewish Education and the spiritual leader of the OU's Pardes Program
Comments and questions are very welcome
"A tree of life for those who embrace it"