Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"You shall strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the land."

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Goldberger in Israel - photo by Ezra Leventhal
Yom revi'i, 13 Sivan 5771.

I always think of my Rav and Rebbetzin when Parashat Shelach rolls around.

There are a few reasons for this; but a primary reason is that Rabbi Menachem and Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger refuse to fit any stereotypes.  A typical stereotype, for instance, is that American Chasidic rabbis do not traditionally support aliyah to Israel.  And yet, a very large percentage of Rabbi Goldberger's congregation either lives in Israel or is in the process of making aliyah; and a disproportionate number of Congregation Tiferes Yisroel's young people has served in the IDF.  Of course, there are also a number of our young people who have attended yeshiva in Israel for a year or two; but, again, a surprising number of those return and settle in the Holy Land.  This is due in large measure to the unabashed love the Goldbergers have for Eretz Yisrael, a love they share happily with their congregants.

This blog is named for my favorite pasuk in the Chumash, which can be found in this parasha, a pasuk I believe to be a favorite of Rabbi Goldberger's as well:  "!עלה נעלה וירשנו אתה כי-יכול נוכל לה" -- "We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!" (Bamidbar, 13:30)

There are many beautiful and inspirational p'sukim in the Chumash.  So what is it about Calev's rallying cry to the Jewish people, in the face of the spies who were trying to dissuade them from entering the Promised Land, that resonates for me so much more than all those other bits of Torah wisdom?

Besides the fact that it is all about aliyah to the holiest place in the world, this pasuk also reminds us not to "go along to get along."  If G-d thinks we can accomplish something with His help, who are all of those naysayers to tell us that it is not possible, that there are too many obstacles between us and success?

A Jew must remember that he works for The Front Office.  He doesn't just work for himself; and he certainly doesn't work for all those who tell him he can't succeed.  If G-d tells us (as He seems to, many times throughout the Torah) that He wants His people in His land, why should we let anyone tell us that it is not where we belong?  And why should we believe that surviving here is beyond our poor abilities?  (I mean -- it IS.  But it isn't our project.  Our job, to paraphrase a favorite military expression, is as follows:  "When G-d says jump, we say 'How high?'")

How high, indeed.

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Goldberger have helped us to become ourselves, and not some cookie-cutter version of themselves.  They have helped us to love every kind of Jew, no matter how different from us.  They have taught us such a sense of kehilla-as-family that all "TYers" feel connected, no matter how long it's been since we davened together or how far apart we live on the globe.  They have shared with us their version of Chasidut, which includes the injunction to use the tools G-d gives us to make our own decisions -- and to live by them.

They made it okay to leave their shul to come to live in Israel.  Not easy, but okay.

Thank you, Rabbi and Rebbetzin, for taking us higher.  Rebbetzin, I wish I could be there for your Coffee House Concert.  I know that it will be wonderful, and will inspire the ladies of our community to even greater closeness, and to the fun of being spiritual -- another instance of a stereotype you sidestep.  Thank you both for being our teachers, our friends, our family.

Pasuk, p'sukim: verse, verses
Parasha: chapter
Kehilla: community, especially the tight-knit community in a synagogue or small town
Davened: prayed
Shul: synagogue
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