The following is in tribute to the Monumental and Magnificent efforts of our Young Israel Of Woodmere Rabbi Billet, for his quest in bringing relief and aid to the entire community devastated from Sandy last year at this time.
If you look, you will find Torah everywhere. One of my favorite shows as a kid was The Bowery Boys. In one episode where Satch and his gang were in a dangerous situation and had to get quickly to their next destination, I’ll never forget Mugsy’s immortal words, “Feet don’t fail me now!” and off they went. I laughed then, now I behold the wonder, the Torah in Mugsy’s Vort.
When we first started our video business in 1976 nobody knew what video was. Our first productions were to create programming for retailers displaying their goods as a point of purchase display in front of their stores in malls. The novelty then always created a crowd. When a new mall opened in Philadelphia, I was standing in front of G&G shops watching our TV generate a lot of excitement. I looked up and saw on the upper level of the mall, a News Crew capturing the happenings in the mall. I called over a top executive from G&G (they were a big chain store) who was there for the grand opening, “Sid, look up, there is a TV crew, we have a great story here, how we attract attention, it would make a fantastic news story.” Sid said “Harold, look down at your feet, you have a good idea, why are your feet in the same place?”
Following the well-known narrative of Jacob’s dream where he sees a ladder and looking up Yaakov sees angels ascending and then descending the ladder, the Torah then tells us “Jacob lifted his feet ” and then went on his way in his historic journey.
Nechama Leibowitz shares differing commentary and her own on “Jacob Lifted His Feet”. …. In emphasizing Jacob’s reluctance to leave the spot, his feet being heavy…The Torah Shelemah tells us, “ he had to force his feet to carry him.” From The Midrash Aggada.. “he became light-footed from his joy at the Holy One blessed be He’s message: ‘And behold I’m with thee and will protect thee whithersover thou goest..”… Sforno ..“ a person carries his feet when we mean that he goes of our free will. But if a person goes reluctantly we say rather that his feet carried him.”
With this phrase in mind and the incident when Yaakov displayed the inspiration and power to move a seemingly unmovable stone- Ramban tells us, “the story teaches us that they that hope in the Lord are fortified. The fear of G-d gives them renewed vigor”
We have conflicting ideas presented, did Yaakov force his feet to go or did the divine inspiration swift him away on his mission? I believe he realized after contemplating all that he came from and all that would come from him as he looked up he indeed looked down at his feet and following Sid’s guidance, his life would change as his travels would become key points in satisfying G-d’s vision of the eternal people.
As Avraham Joshua Heschel relates, his life changed while working on his Doctoral Work, at The University of Berlin, Die Prophetie which later was published in English as a significant work “The Prophets.” As I related in other papers, Heschel grew up in Poland, part of and descended from a majestic Chassidic dynasty, in an environment that fed and nurtured the Jewish soul in an all-encompassing, closed community way. Heschel said that his work on The Prophets, changed his life. He said that it reminded him of what G-d wanted from human partners and revealed to him what God wanted from him. Researching and writing The Prophets was not enough. His outreach, multi- community involvement, writings and accomplishments became history, legendary, inspirational and demonstrative of being not only a “light upon nations” but also a light upon his nation as well.
Possibly the most famous image of Heschel is of him marching arm in arm with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma. As was written, Heschel was the lone Orthodox Jewish Soul to demonstrate what a Jew must do, what was right to do. Heschel once said “A Mitzvah is a Prayer in the form of a deed.” I imagine He too looked up and received that divine calling and when he looked down uttered what became the famous statement on marching with Dr. King “My legs were praying.”
To conclude with Nechama Leibowitz comments on “Jacob lifted his feet” and on the lengthy Torah dialogue on Yaakov moving the stone.… “The Divine promise fortify and refresh the person fortunate enough to merit them. Jacob’s communion with his Creator, his beholding of the Divine Presence at Bethel did not turn him into a recluse, contemplating the Heavenly mysteries. Rather his experience spurred him to practical action, to promoting welfare and justice in society…”
On a Shabbat following the devastation, I heard people asking “where is Rabbi Billet?” He was in Brooklyn raising funds then was to be off to Chicago on behalf of our community. The Rabbi’s legs have been in constant prayer since Sandy did its damage. Experiencing the storm’s destruction on his own home, his friends, family, neighbors, congregants and community, clearly he lifted his feet personally as well as the soul of Young Israel of Woodmere. With the Shul running on generators, carpeting gone, lights hanging on wires, no heat, I saw Jewish and Non Jewish neighbors coming there for clothes, food, guidance and a bit of comfort. A site to behold was a tractor trailer manned by the National Guard in army fatigues unloading hundreds of packaged Meal Mart prepared boxes of food.
Rabbi Billet has in the past inspired a remarkable outpouring of Chessed and Charity to an impressive portfolio of so many worthy institutions, causes and of course Israel. In a Prophetic manner when his/our community needed relief and comfort, Rabbi Hershel Billet’s feet didn’t fail him they indeed fortified and refreshed. Not only did he lift his feet but he lifted the entire community as well. On behalf of all, Thank you and Yashakoach for being that light in our community when the lights went out.
Zvi Hersh Ben Naftalidiv>