Shlomo Katz

“Never Again” or “Like Never Before” – A Tale of Two Yahrtzeits

This past week began with the commemoration of the 20th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Two nights later marked another yahrtzeit, the yahrtzeit of Rav Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in the Marriott Hotel in Manhattan 24 years ago.

It would seem that these two people, walking two very different walks of life couldn’t be more different from one another, but that was not the case at all. At a concert that took place a few nights after Rav Kahane was murdered, Reb Shlomo shared the following.

“Friends, I knew Reb Meir Kahane since I’m very young. We never learned in the same yeshiva, but our paths always crossed. When I began my humble career singing, he began his career in a different way. And as much as somehow I never agreed with the way he was doing what he was doing, I always knew – he mamesh truly loved Israel with all his heart.

I’ll tell you something. At one time, there was a big event in Brooklyn College. I was playing and Reb Meir was supposed to give a speech after me. Everybody knew that Reb Meir and I don’t really agree on a few things, but somehow we are the best friends.”

But it’s the bridge between their two worlds that has paved the way toward understanding how to grasp the extremely difficult crossroads the Jewish people are at today.

On a different occasion, Reb Shlomo once said “Reb Meir (referring to Rav Kahane) always says ‘Never again’. I too say ‘Never again,’ but I add one thing. I say, ‘Like never before.’” Meaning, it’s true: we will never let ‘it’ happen again, but ‘it’ can only never happen again if we celebrate our yiddishkeit like never before.

In today’s day and age, these two slogans form such a delicate dance of the Jewish soul. Maybe it has always been like this, but today the need to understand these two ways of life and mold them together is of utmost importance.

Apparently, we think, we took care of “Never again” by establishing a state in our land, but what about “Like never before”? Is our yiddishkeit on a general national level observed, practiced, and preached like never before?

You would think that now would be the perfect time to open your heart to the leadership of the people. While so much Jewish blood has been spilled by Arab terrorists, another front of danger continues to erupt. With regard to the question of whether or not it is permissible to ascend the Temple Mount, the Halachic focus has become secondary. Rather, the dispute has become a question of: Which orthodox rabbis are saying what? What league are you in, the minors or the majors? This issue is being hotly debated while a peace-seeking Jew, Yehuda Glick, is still recovering in the hospital after a failed assassination attempt. Glick has been at the forefront of raising awareness of the importance of prayer at the place where Avraham took Yitzhak to the Akeidah. It’s the same place Yitzchak went to go pray for his soul mate and where Yaakov went to sleep and had the dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder.

In one of his last interviews, Reb Shlomo was asked what he is essentially all about. He answered:“I can’t stand shallow ideas. I can’t stand shallow people. I love them. I forgive them, but I can’t stand them.” Take a look at our shallow pettiness. The words and feelings underlying the differences of opinion regarding Halacha. It’s disgraceful. Is this the ‘Like Never Before’ Yiddishkeit?

We are living in a time where we are being shown so much. The latest trend has been the immediate release of footage of recent attacks. These horrific pieces of footage have stricken a nerve in the sensitive Soul of Am Yisrael, specifically the few minutes showing the barbaric slaughtering of Dalya Lemkus HY’D, at the Alon Shvut junction.

Beyond the pain and rage over what has been taking place in the streets of Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, and the roads of Gush Etsyon, there is a deeper fear – the fear of the silence. It’s not necessarily the numbing silence of the rest of the world in the face of these events. It’s the numbing silence that comes from a certain aspect within Am Yisrael. We have this incredible ability to forget the harm and evil that certain people have inflicted upon us and we sure know how to forget way too quickly. Have the images of bus bombings, stabbings, and kidnappings taken too much of a toll on our souls? Have we paid a certain price while trying to erase these images from our consciousness? How much closer to home do these painful moments have to hit? I have no idea. One thing I do know, however, is that the whole idea of cleaning up the terror scenes, washing the blood off the cement as fast as we can in order to show that life goes on, is not a victory. It’s a nice temporary show of strength, but I feel that we continue to miss the point.

How can one raise a family and believe in the future of his/her homeland when s/he knows that the cornerstone of the education of his/her neighbors is the sanctification of death?

Two Functions of the Eyes

In our parsha, Parshat Chayei Sarah, Rivka’s age when marrying Yitzchak is a matter of dispute. Rashi brings a Medrash stating she was three years old, while others say she was 14. Either way, let’s focus on an interesting choice of words in a specific pasuk in our parsha. When Eliezer describes meeting Rivka, he says ‘va’Avo hayom el ha’Ayin.’” “I came today to the Ayin.” He calls the well “the Ayin,” derived from the word “ma’ayan.” Why didn’t he just say ‘vaAvo hayom el habe’er’ or ‘vaAvo hayom el hama’ayan’?

Reb Shlomo teaches (Even Shlomo, Chayei Sara) that the eyes have two functions. One function is to see what’s right in front of you, using the simple sense of sight. But the second function of the eye is to look for that which isn’t there yet; to look with eyes of hope, as we say in the Nishmat Kol Chai prayer, “v’khol ayin lecha tetsape.” The eyes are meant for longing and hoping. You use your eyes for that which you are hoping to see. You can understand this better by looking into certain people’s eyes. Are they just interested in what’s in front of them right now or are they using the other function of the eye, always looking at the world longing for a more G-dly tomorrow? Both functions of the eyes are crucial. If you’re just looking at what will be tomorrow, then what’s in front of you today might be a really bad scene. But if you believe that whatever is in front of you is here to stay and nothing will change, why bother waking up in the morning?

Us Jewish people are constantly forced to use both functions of the eyes. On the one hand, we can’t afford to only look with eyes of “v’khol ayin lecha tetsapeh”. Jews have been forced to stand behind barricaded bus stops so that they don’t get run over by a sick animal from the nation of Yishmael. We have to walk the streets of Israel (and let’s be honest, the streets of the world as well) with a lot of caution, eyes wide open, to make sure we see what’s in front of us every second.

On the other hand, if we don’t look at the world with “v’khol ayin lecha tetsape,” hoping for the great day to come, we’ll be destroyed. When a couple gets into a fight, their ability to figure out how to move forward is with the eyes of ‘v’khol ayin lecha tetzape’. Their eyes don’t meet on a level of just seeing what’s in front of them right now; what’s in front of them at that very moment is chaos. Nonetheless, they can reconnect and begin to rebuild with the function of the hope in their eyes.

You can see this function of the eye when looking at someone, at times even when they’re very young. With certain people, no matter how old they are, you can see that the way they look at the world is different than the way most people use their eyes. Little children tend to carry this spark of hope within their eyes. The saddest day of their lives is when this spark begins to fade away.

Eliezer knew that Rivka was the one for Yitzhak because he says ‘va’Avo hayom el ha’Ayin’. I came today to the ‘eye’. I looked right into this little girl’s eyes. Maybe she was three, maybe 14, it’s irrelevant. He saw that she was longing for the great day to come; this simply had to be the future mother of Am Yisrael.

Essentially, we need both functions of the eyes; we need both sides of the coin.

Which Questions Did Each of These Individuals Leave Us With?

During that same concert mentioned earlier, Reb Shlomo continued and said the following:

‘I want you to know something. Reb Meir and I have two different ways of looking at the world, but let me tell you something about him. The Yid Hakadosh and the Heilige Pshischer were sitting together, eating dinner. The Heilige Yid Hakadosh says to the Pshischer ‘How do you envision the coming of the messiah?’ So he says, ‘It will be a night like tonight. People will eat dinner, then they will go to sleep. In the middle of the night there will be a big tumult. They will open the windows and ask, ‘What’s going on out there?’

And someone will say, ‘Mashiach has come.’

So the Yid Hakadosh thought for a while and said, ‘You are right, it will be a night like tonight. People will eat dinner. In the middle of the night there will be a big tumult. People will open the windows and ask what happened, and someone will say that Mashiach came. But you made one mistake. That night, the night before Mashiach is coming, they wont be able to sleep.

So I said that in every generation, there are some people who don’t let us fall asleep. In this generation it’s Reb Meir, who was always waking us up.”

In every generation the Ribbono shel Olam sends somebody to wake us up and ask us questions we’d rather not be asked. Like the title of one of Rav Kahane’s famous books, Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews.

There is a teaching in Pirkei Avot that says that being a student of Ahron Hakohen means to be Ohev Shalom, Rodef Shalom, Ohev Es Habriyos, u’Mekarvan laTorah” It means to be a Lover of Peace, a Pursuer of Peace, a Lover of All Creations, and one who brings them close to the Torah.

There is also the not-so-comfortable explanation of this saying in the name of Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshicha: A student of Aharon HaKohen is someone who is ohev shalom – a lover of peace – and a Rodef Shalom – one who runs after all the bloodthirsty people in the world to wipe them away so that there will be peace in the world.

Using both functions of the eyes are the only way that one can live in this world. As much as we hope and pray for that greater day, we have to see what’s standing in front of us.

What Keeps You Awake At Night?

There is a crucial thing we must remember when mentioning Rav Kahane. While watching the brilliant debates and speeches he gave (thank you YouTube), you will always find Rav Kahane saying “I don’t hate Arabs. I love Jews.”

Wiping out evil must come from loving Am Yisrael enough to not care what the rest of the world thinks. It cannot come from “just” hating the enemy. Those two words – ‘Mavet l’Aravim’ (‘Death to the Arabs’) – have no room in our mouths, even after enduring a week like we’ve just had. To say “Death to the Arabs” is an anti-Jewish, anti-humane, horrific thing to feel, and all the more so to say.

Yet, by the same token there’s the statement of ‘hakam lehorgecha hashkem l’horgo’, when a person is coming to kill you, you better get up and kill them. If you subscribe to the literal meaning of this statement, you’re sleeping. You’re simply in a coma; a dangerous, self-induced coma. A pathetic understanding of this statement of our sages suggests that we must passively live our lives and that if, G-d forbid, someone is about to run us over, we should be sure to fight them.

Sorry. We are not willing to see more Jewish blood being spilled, cleaned up, cried over, and forgotten. We can’t do it, we can’t live like this anymore.

During this past yahrtzeit of Reb Shlomo, we attempted to tap into the issue of how it’s possible to love the world in the way that he loved it. How does that happen?

Is being a big talmid chacham what brought out the love? I don’t know. I could argue that he had an incredible education, learned in the right places, or that his father prepped him since he was a little kid. Was it the heavenly world of song that infused the love into him? I could argue that he was constantly in the mind frame of prayer while being heavily influenced by the magical world of Modzitz music and the fantastic waltz pieces he would hear as a kid.

I don’t know, but I do know that his love for the world has kept me awake at night wondering how I can look at the world with the love that he did?

Rav Meir Kahane’s love and concern for Am Yisrael is unfortunately but fortunately keeping us awake at night whether we like it or not.

Reb Shlomo continued to speak during that concert, saying the following:

“You see what is, Reb Meir was looking at the world the way it is now, and it really is in bad shapebut my ‘shita’ (way of doing things) is that I’m looking at the world the way it could be… what a world it could be.”

Friends, these are exactly the two functions of the eyes. It’s the way it is right now – I have to see what’s happening right now. I also have look at the world with eyes of what could be tomorrow.

Some people have a very hard time when they can’t sleep only because they’re worried about how they are going to function the next day. But what’s amazing is that when we can’t sleep – it’s not the actual moment that bothers us. We’re living tomorrow already. Even though I’m just trying to sleep right now, I’m already living tomorrow. The same is true with Am Yisrael in general.

So, if you can’t sleep at night because of the horror that has been surrounding us, thank HaShem that you are awake. If you can’t sleep during the day – if you can’t rest because you feel that a coma has overtaken most of the nation – let that pain penetrate every part of you. Don’t wait for someone to come and snap you out of it. On the contrary, snap everyone else out of whatever trance they’re in and wake them up along with you.

In Conclusion

Let’s end off with a teaching from the Eish Kodesh, Rabbi Klonymus Kalman Shapira of Piasetzna who was one of the 6 million, and whose yahrtzeit was just the other week, on the 4th of Cheshvan. We learn this every year and every year I pray that it won’t be valid anymore. The Eish Kodesh wrote the following in 1939, in the beginning of that ‘end’. The Midrash that Rashi talks about stating that the evil angel showed Sarah a vision of her son Yitzhak at the Akeida, about to be slaughtered. Rashi says that parcha nishmasa; her soul couldn’t bear it and left her. Everyone thinks that she died because seeing that image weighed too heavy on her. She couldn’t handle it so she just died. The Eish Kodesh explains that our mother Sarah died in protest, saying to G-d that there are certain things, certain tests, He can’t put us through and that even if He puts us through them and we make it out of them, we’re just walking scars for the rest of our life. Seeing one’s son on the Akeida is a test that He can’t put us through.

Watching the footage we saw this week is a game changer. It might be a test for some, but for others it is a game changer.

Where did this phrase come from that “G-d only puts you through tests that you can pass?” I’ve looked around, and I can’t find the source for it. I simply don’t know what it means. Could it be that G-d puts you through certain tests in order for you to say to the Ribbono shel Olam, ‘perhaps the test you are putting through is to see whether or not I accept going through such tests'”?

As the unimaginable evil began to spread throughout Europe, the Eish Kodesh continues, saying, “G-d, we might make it out of here alive, but after what our eyes have seen, who are we after we walk out of here?” Even if we live another 35 years, we are simply open wounds that never heal. Not wounds that heal. Scars. Sometimes we’re even open wounds that remain fresh forever; wounds that are visible and that define our very being forever. Every time there is another family that gets that call, notifying them of the brutal murder of one of their loves ones, they might continue living, but we all know that they are walking scars for the rest of their lives.

May Am Yisrael be blessed with the courage, wisdom and strength to carry the two functions of the eyes, but not for much longer. When the great day comes, we will be able to trust every living creature.

Living creatures – creatures who sanctify life.

About the Author
Born in New Jersey, while growing up between Los Angeles and Ra'anana. I released a number of albums, and have been blessed to sing some of my melodies throughout the world. Received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Chaim Brovender and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin at Yeshivat Hamivtar. We live in Efrat, with our precious son and four daughters. Spiritual leader of Beit Knesset Shirat David, in Efrat, where I get to pray and learn with some of my best friends. Founder of the Shlomo Katz project.