Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The Path of the Righteous (REVIEW)

February 3, 2014 8:17 am 2 comments

JNS.orgThere are lots of biographies of famous people lining the shelves of bookstores. There are movie stars who hire press agents, whose job is to make sure that everyone knows all about them. There are politicians who measure their success by how many times their names appear in the newspapers. But there are very few books I know of whose purpose it is to acquaint us with saintly people. And that is what makes Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s newly published “The Unexpected Road” so important.

Goldberg has collected some amazing stories about pious and saintly Jews of our time and of the recent past. They come from Salt Lake City and from Siberia, from Atlanta and from Auschwitz, from South Bend and from Moscow, from Santé Fe and from Slobodka. Some of these stories are not about celebrities, but about plain, simple, and ordinary Jews, whose one distinguishing characteristic is that they have devoted their lives to doing what is right.

The following are some of my favorite profiled individuals from this book: one from Eastern Europe, one from Israel, and one from America.

Baruch Zeldovich and Bereh Pinnes

Baruch Zeldovich and Bereh Pinnes were two brothers-in-law who, between them, supported most of the yeshivas in Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. They had married two sisters. But how did they end up suing each other?

Zeldovich was solicited by the Volozhin yeshiva, which was the Harvard of the yeshivas in its time. He agreed to cover the entire budget deficit of the school. Shortly thereafter, his brother-in-law sued him in a beit din (rabbinic court). Pinnes claimed that he had been a partner with Zeldovich in every venture for many years, and that therefore, the saving of the Volozhin yeshiva was an investment that he was entitled to buy into equally with Zeldovich.

Who won?

That detail has somehow not come down to us—the dispute was settled, but we don’t know exactly how. All we know of is the wondrous love of Torah and mitztvot that defined the Zeldovich-Pinnes conflict—and their subsequent partnership—as not a dispute over who had the right to get the money, but rather over who had the right to share in the mitzvah to give the money to subsidize Torah study.

Rabbi Yehudah Getz

If you asked for an appointment with Rabbi Yehudah Getz, the rabbi of the Western Wall for 27 years, he would say that he could only see you in the late morning or in the afternoon, because he had a night job. No one ever asked what his night job was.

Getz’s secret job, it turns out, was to walk in the dead of night from his home to a five-foot-high cavern adjacent to the Western Wall. At that hidden spot, on a stone floor, there was a small lectern, an ark, and a table, each overlaid with red velvet. The spot was illuminated by a 25-watt light bulb. There, he recited the Tikkun Hatzot (Midnight Rectification)—the lamentation for the destruction of the Jewish Temples, which has been recited at that same place and at that same hour ever since the establishment of the Beis El Center of Kabbalah in 1727. Getz performed that “night job” from the day he came to Jerusalem, after the 1967 Six-Day War, until the day he died.

The Beis Halevi

The third story comes from Rabbi Goldberg himself. He once read a memoir in which Rabbi Baruch Epstein described how he once heard the “Beis Halevi” (Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik) teach. In this memoir, Rabbi Epstein described how the Beis Halevi formulated his words, how he was both friendly and stiff, intimate and aloof, accessible and intellectual, and always in total control—unfazed by any question, person, or issue. As Rabbi Goldberg read this account, something went off in his head. There was something familiar about this description, but at first, he couldn’t remember where he had read it before. And then he remembered. He had not heard it—he had seen it!

But Goldberg knew that was impossible. The Beis Halevi died in l892, so he could not possibly have heard him teach. Then Goldberg understood. He had spent four years in Boston, during which time heard many lectures by Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, the great-grandson of the Beis Halevi. Listening to the great-grandson, Goldberg had heard the same substance, the same delivery, the same cadence, the same tone, the same method of analysis, and the same approach to life that the Beis Halevi had. This meant that the great-grandfather, who died eight years before his great-grandson was born, must have transmitted his teaching methods to his son, and the methods continued to be passed down in the family. That is the type of continuity that unites Jews across generations!

Did these stories really happen? I can only respond with a story that I’ve heard famed Jewish attorney Alan Dershowitz tell. Once the Chafetz Chaim—Rabbi Israel Meir (HaKohen) Kagan—came to testify in a court case. Before he was sworn in, the defense attorney explained to the judge that this man was a great saint. And to prove the point, he described how the Chafetz Chaim had once entered his home and found a thief running away with a precious candlestick. The rabbi ran after the man, shouting, “Hefker! Hefker!—this candlestick is no longer mine. I declare it ownerless.” That way, the thief would not be guilty of stealing.

The judge said, “Come on now, do you really believe this actually happened?” The lawyer replied, “I don’t know, your honor, but they don’t tell stories like that about you or me.”

These kinds of stories might not be told about us on a regular basis, but we can benefit from studying these stories and learning from them.

“The Unexpected Road,” by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg. Feldheim Publishing Co., Oct. 2013. 228 pages.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Music Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    British rock band Coldplay started its set at the Glastonburg Festival on Sunday by broadcasting excerpts of the iconic speech Charlie Chaplin delivered in The Great Dictator, the 1940 political satire in which the famous filmmaker/movie star played a Jewish barber. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone,” Chaplin begins his address. “I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →