Rabbi Raziel Shevach was brutally gunned down two weeks ago while driving near his home in Havat Gilad. The terrorist behind the crime died in a gunfight with the Israeli Defense Force a short time after. The news coverage surrounding these incidents was filled with debate as to the cause of the attack: ‘Was it over the embassy move or some other political outcry?’ But as for the legacy of Raziel Shavach’s life, there’s so much more than his death.
Rabbi Raziel Shevach was a man of action. He volunteered with Magen David Adom, and saved countless lives during his tenure. When it came to Jewish learning, his motto was also to put it into action. In addition to receiving Smicha, Rabbi Shevach studied the laws of Shichita (ritual slaughter) and proceeded to shecht chickens on Erev Yom Kippur for free. When he learned the laws of burial and mourning, he then became a member of the Hevrah Kadishah (burial society) in his region. Having learned Safrut (scribal arts), he would check his friends’ Mezuzot and Tefillin. But his last area study is most closely connected to my own work.
Raziel studied to be a Mohel and managed to perform a few hundred Britot in his days. His friends and family pointed out that he would rarely take money for his services. But there is a specific story that snuck by most news agencies that really speaks to the nature of this individual.
This past Rosh HaShanah, a family in an outlying community was desperately searching for a Mohel to perform their son’s Brit Milah. They called every Mohel they could find, but to no avail. No one was able to spend the two-day holiday in their community. Just as they had given up hope, they received Rabbi Shevach’s phone number. The father of the baby was despondent and almost didn’t call. When he did, Rabbi Shevach immediately agreed to come. The father of the baby assured him that they could procure a space for his family as well.
When Erev Rosh HaShanah came, Rabbi Shevach arrived to spend Rosh HaShanah in the community but, surprisingly, he came without his family. No explanation was given. As for the holiday, not only did Rabbi Shevach fulfill the Mitzvah of doing the Brit in it’s time but, the father of the baby reports, he brought much joy and light to the entire community.
As a Mohel, reading this account, I was totally taken aback. It is not the norm to so eagerly agree to come to a different community for even a one-day holiday. But to go without one’s family for a two-day holiday is mind boggling. This level of dedication of both Raziel, and his wife, goes above and beyond.
About a year ago, I was asked to do a Shabbat Brit in Efrat. After the father asked I did not agree so eagerly. In fact it was just the opposite. I spent quite a few days holding out, not committing, in the hopes that he would find someone else to be the Mohel. I even almost gave him a colleague’s phone number who I knew wouldn’t pass up the opportunity. The worst part is, my sister-in-law and family live a 15-minute walk away from where the Bris was to take place– which meant my whole family had a place to stay. In the end I did come for Shabbat to perform the Brit Milah, but in light of Rabbi Shevach’s behavior, I’m all the more embarrassed by my foot dragging. Why didn’t I just agree to be the Mohel right away?
The reason I responded with such hesitation was due to my own selfish desire to remain in the comfort of my home for Shabbat. In truth, we all have these emotions pulling us in multiple directions, keeping us from doing the right thing. But if there’s one thing to take away from Raziel Shevach’s life it’s not the political situation that surrounded his tragic end. What I see is his unbridled commitment to help the other– be it in his career as a mohel, or in his daily life. It’s a tall order to be that willing to help, but I think we can all do it, even if in much smaller, mundane ways. And if we do, then the tragic loss of such a special individual will not be in vain. May his memory be for a blessing.
Hayim Leiter is a Mohel for the greater Jerusalem area and a Rav at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. He can be reached at www.saferhabrit.com