I didn’t have to ask the way from the subway. I followed the stream of heimishe hats as it wound its way through the lanes, under the shadows of the towering Chase and Citi Banks of Babylon.
Everyone seemed to be heading to the Atzeres Hatefillah.
As I got closer, I could hear the resounding cries of the tefillos … accompanied by a pounding reggae beat from a passing car. Welcome to New York. Somehow, though, the combo made the tefillah bore even deeper — like a jackhammer pounding into a stone-cold soul.
I don’t represent any organization. So all I can share is some personal fleeting impressions and feelings.
Frankly, I don’t know if I would have gone if it were a demonstration. I lost my taste for the politics of confrontation just around the time I spent nearly a week in a Yerushalayim jail … after a protest against netuchei meisim (forced autopsies) in 1967.
But this wasn’t a protest demonstration. The beauty of the massive tefillah gatherings — in Yerushalayim and in New York — was that it was just that — a tefillah gathering. It was not politicized. And maybe, if politics is the art of the possible, this was the art of the impossible — which can only be achieved through tefillah.
The spectacle of tens of thousands of people gathering together in New York, orderly and respectfully — and thanking the NYPD when it was over — was an uplifting kiddush Hashem.
The Alter Vorker Rebbe, zy”a, pointed out a question on one of the stanzas in the Haggadah: “Ilu keirvanu lifnei Har Sinai, velo nasan lanu es haTorah. Dayeinu — Even if You would have brought us before Har Sinai and not given us the Torah, that would have been enough.”
How could that be enough? Isn’t the whole point of coming to Har Sinai to receive the Torah? What is the point of being brought there if not to receive the Torah?
The point is just the gathering together of Yidden — k’ish echad b’lev echad, when, “Vayichan…” they found chein in each other’s eyes — is enough for which to be eternally grateful.
As the gathering broke and people started for the trains and buses, I caught a minyan for Minchah. I davened from the tefillah sheet distributed by the organizers of the atzeres. At the end of Shemoneh Esrei, the sheet included the addition: “V’chol hachoshvim alai raah, meheirah hafer atzasam v’kalkel machshavtam — As for all those who think to do evil against me, speedily nullify their plans and undermine their thoughts.”
I don’t remember where or when, but at some point I began to say another version of this addition… with three more words: “veyis’hapchu li l’ohavim — and may they be turned around, into allies.”
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh interprets “Vayigash eilav Yehudah — And Yehudah approached Yosef…” — that Yehudah attempted to generate within himself a feeling of love for Yosef, even though it went against his grain. But he knew that, as the passuk says: “Kamayim ha’panim el panim — Just like water reflects a face, so one’s heart is reflected back by another.” If he could bring himself to feel ahavah for Yosef, maybe, maybe, maybe… Yosef would reflect back that feeling toward Yehudah and his brothers.
Could it be that the achdus I saw today, and that the world saw in Yerushalayim last week, might somehow reach out and enter the hearts of those who stand now in opposition to Torah?
Is that too much to hope for?
Not for the art of the impossible.
And not if it starts with us.