This past Shabbat had a special name, one which most Jews do not know. It is called Yom HaMeyuchas, a day of distinction. Its root is based on the Hebrew “yichus” which refers to the honor of relationships, distinguished family history, and the closeness of family and friends. It is a day when we pay tribute to those near and dear to us. It is a day to cherish good friendships.
On motzai Shabbat, when the Sabbath came to an end, my telephone rang. On the other end was a dear friend, a distinguished and well-known and admired rabbi. He had received an Orthodox semicha but never served in an Orthodox synagogue. Rather he was liberal and preferred to be a rabbi in a Conservative synagogue.
He had been a married man whose beloved wife died of cancer one week before Rosh Hashanah . He was totally crushed and devastated and is still in mourning for her. Theirs had been a fairy-tale romance. They met on board a ship, knew each other for only six days and were married by the Chief Rabbi in Tel-Aviv. Their children are all professionals, and of their grown grandchildren, two are in universities. He does not consider himself a scholar but only a humble teacher in spite of the fact that he had earned two doctoral degrees, a Doctor of Literature and a Ph.D in Biblical Studies and is conversant in eight languages.
He was a popular lecturer and had travelled in forty-five countries.He had served as a rabbi in Amsterdam, Holland and in the Dutch community in Aruba. He is a dual citizen of Israel and the United States and maintains a home in both countries.
The recent death of his wife has left him a broken-hearted man who is in need of companionship and friends to minimize his solitary loneliness. He asked me to join him for coffee and cake.
He had a tale to relate to me, something that appeared to be troubling and painful for him.
We met at the café, munched on our cake, sipped our coffee as he began pouring out his sad tale. He said that he had recently read an article in a Jewish periodical about an eighteen year old student at a yeshiva on the American west coast who had been hiding his gay life from everyone until he decided to open up to his parents and rabbis. They embraced him, loved him, and continue to support his feelings. He is caught between his Orthodox Jewish life and his gay sexual feelings. But he attempts to resolve the conflict.
When my friend read it, it touched his heart and soul. He had been involved with counseling LGBT young people for several years and was sympathetic to them, offering his friendship wherever and whenever needed. So he contacted the young student by means of an e-mail sent to one of the rabbis at his yeshiva to be transferred to the young man. In it he wished the fellow success, happiness, good health and a long life. And the young man was appreciative and replied to my friend’s e-mail.
The e-mail correspondence flowed between them and while the student was open and revealed himself to my friend. In his article in the Jewish journal,there was a photo of him marching in the gay pride parade in Tel-Aviv but he did not participate in the Jerusalem pride parade.
He wrote to the rabbi that he was going to be in Israel during the summer months. He informed his dates and wrote that he was looking for a place to stay. My friend, the rabbi, replied that he could stay in his home very close to Tel-Aviv. There were two bedrooms and he could have his privacy. Like Avraham Avinu, the rabbi was happy to invite him and offer him Jewish and Israeli hospitality, a private bed- room and full breakfast.
The young man replied in a very understanding manner. The rabbi was a stranger to him. He feared that the offered friendship was to gain sexual favors like Potiphar and Joseph. It was a natural reaction. And he was extremely hesitant to accept the invitation in spite of the rabbi’s solemn assurance that he had nothing to fear.
One cannot be too careful about strangers in our world today. But the rabbi gave his word that the young man would never be molested and there was no intention whatsoever of unwanted sexual behavior. He was free to do whatever he needed or wanted and could come and go as he pleased.
In a reply, the young man mentioned that he would accept the invitation and was bringing a friend with him. The rabbi was not aware that he intended to bring a companion, and so, as he told me, in a joke, he wrote back “terrific. It can be a threesome”. It was a misplaced sense of bad humor, for the rabbi had never done such a thing in his life and meant it only as a silly joke (which he says he deeply regrets). The student wrote back requesting no further contact with him. He was offended by the rabbi’s ridiculous joke which he took to be serious.
The contact ended and the blossoming friendship withered and died. My friend told me he had telephoned me because he needed someone with whom to talk. He was very upset that his remark had offended the young man. It was the last thing he wanted to do. And it is not his nature to offend. He is a kind, warm-hearted, generous rabbi, beloved by congregants and university students whom he teaches.
Over his second cup of coffee,he asked me what I thought he could do to make amends for the offense. His eyes filled with tears as he spoke. I advised him to not invite the student into his home under any circumstances but instead to offer a possible public meeting with the young student for a lunch or dinner at a Tel-Aviv restaurant. Perhaps in that way through a discussion panim el panim the situation could be clarified and the offense solved and heart-ache relieved.
Obviously, there will never be a friendship between them but at least the young man would know the rabbi’s history and his many accomplishments and the young man’s fears would disappear.
Judaism teaches us to be moral and loving. I think, perhaps, the entire essence of Judaism can be summed up in one quotation from the Book of the eighth century prophet, Micah, chapter 6, verse 8:
“It has been told thee, o man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: only to do justly,
To love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God”.
I added my own thoughts: to be a genuine friend to those in need of one, to listen and to hear the cries of a fellow-man, and to keep a warm heart and an open mind.
My rabbi friend took my hand and pressed it to his heart. “Thank you for listening to my sad tale. And above all, thank you for being my true friend. I treasure the many years of our devoted friendship”. I guess that it is what Yom HaMeyuchas really means.