Areyah Kaltmann

Absent but more felt, Missing but not forgotten: Hersh Goldberg-Polin

Rachel Goldberg, second right, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, and Jonathan Polin, Hersh's father, right, take part in a press conference with relatives of U.S. citizens that are missing Oct. 7, 2023. (Photo Credit: AP)

I read a poem recently that moved me greatly. It said:

Often what you really have is that which you give away, what you most profoundly say is indeed what you leave unsaid when you wisely decide not to respond, and the most commanding presence is felt most keenly when that presence is simply not seen.

This rings true for so many. Absence can be extremely painful. However, it doesn’t demand that what isn’t mentioned or actually seen remains forgotten or not felt. Painfully, we can’t hug or have a conversation with many of our loved ones who have past or are far away. That doesn’t mean that they have disappeared and have faded into a mere fleeting memory

This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, begins with G-d instructing Moses “You shall command the children of Israel.” Interestingly, in this week’s portion, Moses’s name is not explicitly mentioned, the only portion in the last four books of the Torah in which that is the case. From Moses’s birth to his death, he dominates every portion.

Moses’s essence was as a leader and humble servant to the Jewish people. (Image credit:

The Torah was written with Divine perfection and this omission has a profound spiritual significance. A name is used to identify an individual, but it is not the actual essence of a person. The absence in this week’s portion draws attention to Moses’s inner essence, which was as a leader and humble servant to the Jewish people. His presence and essence are felt throughout the entire reading.

This week, the Wall Street Journal captured the life of a dedicated and selfless mother, Rachel Goldberg, who painfully has not seen or heard from her son Hersh, since October 7th, when he was taken hostage by Hamas into Gaza. I don’t think there is a mother in this world who more keenly feels the absence of her son than Rachel.

For the last 139 days, Rachel has been robbed of Hersh’s hugs, conversations with Hersh have been silenced and being able to smother her son Hersh with kisses tragically is not yet possible. Every mother deserves to embrace the child she bore, so why is Rachel being denied this basic human right?

We can help answer that question when we have the audacity to hope, pray and demand Hersh’s and all the other hostages’ immediate release from captivity. Just as Moses’s absence brings greater attention to his presence, we must also be attuned to the suffering and ongoing captivity of the hostages.

In addition to the continuous prayers, that Jews around the world are offering on behalf of the hostages, the Rebbe taught that every mitzvah that we do has profound effects on our surroundings and can even spiritually impact people and situations around the world. Here are some suggestions for mitzvahs we can take on in addition to what we may already be doing in the merit of the hostages.

1. Acts of Kindness  – These can be as simple as offering a helping hand to a friend or neighbor, visiting a sick relative, or volunteering in your community.

2. Tzedakah: Consider donating to a charitable organization in honor of the hostages. 

3. Torah Study: Take a few minutes each day or week to learn something new from our sacred texts. This can be something you’ve studied before or something new

Here is a list of those taken from us on October 7th. Please print it out and whether you light Shabbat candles, pray with a formal minyan or say a silent prayer alone, make sure to pray for them. By ensuring that we keep all the Jews in captivity in our minds and hearts and responding with prayer, love, and acts of kindness, we can bring light to the world and strengthen the hostages and their families through this ordeal.

From my heart to yours,

About the Author
Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann is the Director of Chabad Columbus at the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center. For over three decades, Rabbi Kaltmann and his wife Esther have put their heart and soul into serving the Columbus Jewish community. In addition to directing Chabad Columbus, the Rabbi and his family also operate LifeTown Columbus — which teaches essential life skills to more than 2,100 Ohio students with special needs in a 5,000-square-foot miniature city, Kitchen of Life — which fosters social-emotional skills for young people through culinary arts, Friendship Circle Columbus, the Jewish Business Network, and dozens of other programs. Areyah and Esther have adult children who serve Chabad of Downtown Columbus, oversee Chabad’s many programs and enthusiastically serve people throughout the state.
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