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A Golden Treasure
Rav Sholom Gold's memoir
Rav Sholom Gold ztz”l, who passed away a few months ago, published an autobiography back in 2015 which I recently read. It’s called Touching History, and the significance of the title becomes clear when you read it. Remember Forrest Gump, in which the title character happened to be involved in the pivotal events of the 20th century? Touching History is sort of a Jewish version of this; Rav Gold describes his involvement with great rabbinic figures and significant events in modern Jewish history. I couldn’t put it down!
One aspect which stood out was how different the “black hat” world used to be. Rav Gold was molded in Torah VoDaas, Chevron, Ponovezh and suchlike, but he was passionate about celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, and his hashkafah was centrist Orthodox. He was aware that he was unlike most of his colleagues, and yet the differences back then were not so great. Consider the following story:
In the summer of 1969 Bayla and I went to Eretz Yisrael for a visit. My in-laws moved into our house and took care of the children. Only now do I realize how difficult it must have been for them. But they did it for us. They knew that I had been working very hard and how important it was to me. It would be Bayla's much anticipated first visit, and my first time back since my student days. On the plane, I made the acquaintance of a truly gifted talmid chacham who said a shiur in one of New York's finest yeshivos. Our conversation got down to issues of the day and I discerned that my new friend had absolutely no use for Yom Haatzmaut. I tried to convince him that a new yom tov of only two years' vintage, Yom Yerushalayim, marking the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War, the liberation of vast areas of our biblical homeland, and the return of Yerushalayim to Israeli sovereignty was certainly of great historic significance. He didn't buy that either and was just opposed to it all. I never really figured out what he wanted. Should we bring the British back and renew the Mandate? Close Eretz Yisrael to all the world's Jews? Did he want us to hand the Kosel over to Jordan or the Vatican? He was vague (or confused?).
Be that as it may, I suggested that when we arrived in Yerushalayim I would take him to a great Torah scholar who was not yet well known in the Jewish world, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and present our respective positions to him. A few days later, we were wending our way through the alleyways of Meah Shearim as I retraced the steps I had taken thirteen years earlier. Much to my surprise I found it. The walk was far more calm and peaceful then the first time I had been there during the civil defense exercise in the summer of 1956.
We entered Rav Elyashiv's apartment and proceeded to present our positions. For me Yom Yerushalayim is a day of great historic significance, of thanksgiving for Hashem's awesome gift to His people, for the victory of the Six-Day War, the reunification of Yerushalayim, and the liberation of Yehudah and Shomron.
My friend made it clear that he saw no reason to celebrate. Having presented our positions, we fell silent and waited to hear what the Rav had to say. He sat up tall in his chair, then bent forward facing my friend, his eyes boring into him, and proceeded to let him have it.
"You were in America for the nineteen years that we were here unable to pray at the Kosel. You obviously don't appreciate or understand the depth of our feeling for Yerushalayim and the pain of being separated from her. Well, for us here, it was and is a great day. Do you realize that the entire Yishuv was in grave, mortal danger and then saved by Hashem's miraculous intervention?"
Rav Elyashiv's reply was spoken with intense feeling and emotion. I have reported what he said and how he said it with no embellishment of my own.
It is inconceivable for such a story to be reported in the charedi press in at least the last twenty years, or for them to claim that Yom Yerushalayim is a “Great Day.” So what changed? Would Rav Elyashiv not have said such a thing in his later years, or would it just not be reported? And if the former, would this be because he innately changed, or did he just change the kind of things he would say to people?
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