It is precisely at this season of the year that I glance at the photos of my grand parents who died before I was born and the great-uncle who perished in the Shoah.
Looking at their photos, my heart wishes that I could have been more like them. Devoted to their Orthodoxy, scholarly in their Talmudic knowledge, devoted to their Chassidic Rebbe of Belz.
But my mind is quite different. My religious observances pale deeply in comparison to theirs. I do not pray with the same fervor which they prayed. I don’t wear the same black kapote garb which they wore. I have no long beard or payot. I am ignorant of the Talmud which was so precious in their lives. But my love of Judaism is akin to theirs.
I don’t know if they had feelings for the Zionist movement in their parts of Poland and Lithuania. They probably saw it as a secular revolution whereas I have seen it all my life as the rebirth of the Jewish people and the resurrection of our ancient homeland.
Had I lived in their late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries we would have been in conflict.
Should one follow the conviction of the heart or the wisdom of the mind? For me, Zionism is both.
As the Yomim Nora-im approach, I take out these photos of three wise men from my family album and I pose the questions to their darkened photos. “Zaideh, ich vil zein azoi vie dir ober mein herz loz mir nit”.
Grandfather, I would want to be just like you, but my heart will not let me.
Perhaps the best example I can find would be that of the late, great, sainted first Chief Rabbi of Israel, HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, z’tz’l. In a combination of his wisdom and piety he was able to implant both in the hearts and minds of the early chalutzim who left behind their academic studies in eastern Europe to till the rocky soil of Eretz Yisrael, abandoned for centuries.
In one of our prayers we recite “lo kam b’Yisrael k’Moshe od navi”…. There has never risen up in Israel a prophet such as Moses. And unhappily I believe that there has never risen up a Chief Rabbi in Israel as great as HaRav Kook.
Many of those who followed him have been scoundrels, corrupt men who violated Torah for personal gain. Men with no heart but with bright minds. Men who could not find the ability to understand the newer generations who were seeking guidance but who were turned away.
Ha Rav Kook was successful in joining heart with mind whereas I have failed.
Glancing at my grandfathers’ photos before the Days of Awe, my heart and mind are once again in conflict. It is my annual conflict which appears to be unsolvable. Often I think with my heart, not with my mind. And sometimes I act with the directives of my mind, ignoring those of my heart. Will never the twain be reunited as one?
My grandfathers had been ultra- Orthodox rabbis in Europe since 1727 according to the megillat ha yichusin (family tree) which hangs large on my wall. But the inner conflicts of heart over mind prevent me from following the lives they lived.
Their memories may not be an inspiration for me but they truly are blessings… especially at this season of our religious year. And who knows? When I call out fervently the passage of Shema koleinu…. Maybe….just maybe…this year I will be heard.