The following story could only happen in Israel. I was driving back to my apartment last night when a man standing at an intersection holding a bunch of shopping bags stopped me and asked for a ride. Since I happened to be going in his general direction, I agreed, and the hitchhiker climbed into the front seat. He was an older gentleman, born and raised in Israel, wearing a big yarmulke, and, judging from his bags, it looked like he had just been at some kind of shuk (market).
“So,” he asked as we began driving, “what do you think of the results of yesterday’s vote for the Chief Rabbi of Israel?” I paused, wondering if it was ‘safe’ to express my true convictions and decided to just tell the truth.
“Honestly,” I said, “I was disappointed that Rav Stav (Rabbi David Stav, Rabbi of the town of Shoham and head of Tzohar, who represented the national religious/knitted kippah citizens) did not get elected to be the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi.”
“I agree,” the man said. “I was also disappointed; I believe Rav Stav really would have been a bridge between the secular and religious public and would have done great things as Chief Rabbi.”
We concurred on that, as well as agreeing that the whole voting was ‘political’ and that the winner of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi position, the son of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, was surely not our favorite choice for that post either.
“But,” I added, “the man who did win the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi post, Rabbi David Lau, is a very good man.” I explained to my passenger that my first cousins in Modiin are his next door neighbors and my sister and brother in law who also live in Modiin are also very good friends with Rabbi David Lau and his wife and speak very highly of him.
My passenger got off before I could tell him about all the times I had heard Rabbi David Lau speak in Modiin at my sister’s or cousin’s shul (synagogue). As Rabbi of the large city of Modiin, Rav Lau made the rounds every Shabbat at the dozens of synagogues throughout the city. I also could have cited the fact that I watch his Q&A program on Judaism “She’elat Rav” every Friday at 3pm on Channel 1 on Israel TV. It’s amazing how much patience he has to answer every single question that callers ask him about Jewish practice and tradition, no matter how seemingly mundane or trivial, he answers everyone with respect and care.
I once approached Rav D. Lau at a kiddush at my sister’s shul after the prayers and not only did he remember that he had met me before, he was so kind when I mentioned that I was very impressed with a news story I had seen on Channel 2 that week about his father. His father, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau (former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv) went to visit an old blind lady from Haifa who discovered, when her daughter was reading to her from his autobiography, that she was one of the people that treated him as a child in Buchenwald. I told Rav David Lau how heartwarming that story involving his father and that reunion with that old woman was and he wholeheartedly agreed.
This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, features the second paragraph of the Shema, and last week’s portion, Re’eh, featured the first. “And these words that I command you today should be upon your heart and you should teach them to your children. (Devarim 6:6) And teach them to your children to speak in them when sitting in your house and when going on the way and upon your lying down and your rising up… (Devarim 11:19).
Johnny’s father received a call from the principal. The principal told him, “We have to talk about your son’s behavior!” The father insisted on knowing what he had done. “When the principal informed him, “Your son is stealing pencils from the other kids in school.” The father shot back defensively, “I don’t know why he should need to steal pencils from the other kids in school. I bring home all the pencils he needs from the office!”
A fellow a rabbi had learned with decided to put on Tefillin as his son’s Bar Mitzvah approached. His son told him, “Dad, I want to do just like you. When I’m 47 years old I too am going to start to put on Tefillin!”
A student in Hebrew Day School many years ago was a chronic complainer to the point of being a nuisance and distraction to the class. His every move was accompanied by some exaggerated exclamation, “You almost banged my whole head off!” It was puzzling. Where were all these statements coming from? Then one day the principal saw his mother getting out of the car in front of the school. When she slammed shut the car door she exclaimed emphatically, “The door almost tore my whole arm off!” She continued her melodramatic monologue all the way into the school.
The first paragraph of Shema reads, “You should place these words upon your heart and (then) teach them to your children…” Why? Children read the heart. They know all too well by tone and by deed what we hold sacred. Parents announce with perfect articulation, “This is who I am and this is what I do.” Similarly at Mt Sinai we heard, “I Am HASHEM… that took you out of Egypt”, effectively stating, “This is who I am and this is what I do!” And so it is today the First Commandment of Parenting.
Even if you don’t know Rabbi David Lau personally (as my cousins and sister and brother in law do), you most certainly have heard of his father, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who truly was a model from bridging gaps and bringing Jews together. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has truly passed on his love of the Jewish people to his son as anyone who has been in contact with Rabbi David Lau can tell you. Is he a scholar? Absolutely! Is he a good speaker? No doubt about that. As Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel will he be a bridge to all Jews in Israel (both observant and not) and to the Jews and non-Jews around the world? Only time will tell, but I believe he is up to the task. One thing I know for sure, he has a wonderful mentor in his father. His father believes he will make a wonderful Chief Rabbi. We’ll see over the next decade if the old adage is true that ‘father knows best’.