By Rabbi Baruch Epstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
King David, the sweet singer of Israel, declares (Psalm 126) “ then my mouth will be filled with laughter.”
Seeing a distraught customer in Jewel, Eliyahu Moscowitz, one of the kosher supervisors, approached and asked what was wrong – was he looking for something they didn’t have in stock?
Rabbi Rapoport explained that he was stocking up on his monthly meat order and just realized he had forgotten his wallet; He’d have to unload his cart and go back home, find his wallet, come out again – hope his chosen meats were still in the fridge and then stand in line all over again!
Eliyahu Moscowitz replied: “problem solved;” gave Rabbi Rapoport the cash and asked him to reimburse him when he got home.
Wow! How thoughtful and how dear a friend.
How long had Eliyahu and Rabbi Rapoport been so close? Well Rabbi Rapoport only recently moved to Chicago and they hadn’t known each other very long at all, yet Eliyahu had a way of rapidly forming close bonds with people. It just seemed intuitive to Eliyahu that when a person was in need he helped with a smile!
Simchas Torah is the joyous climax of the “month overflowing with festivals.” After the Days of Awe and the vulnerability of Sukkos, we take the Torah scrolls out of the Holy Ark and dance and dance, till we can dance no more and then we dance some more. In contrast to standard operating procedure the Torahs remain inside their cover while the celebrants shed their masks of sedate gentlemanly demeanor allowing their souls to leap out.
There’s an age old question; we are the people of the book, and books are meant to be read; what is the value of celebrating with a covered Torah?
Simchas Torah 5779 provided us some insight.
When the news crept into the community of the cold blooded murder of the saintly Eliyahu Moscowitz, we were confronted with a crisis, should we cancel the celebration? Suspend the Simcha or carry on?
As a community rabbi who had celebrated with Eliyahu the night before, I was faced with this question head on. The answer was immediately obvious though difficult to implement. Simchas Torah would not continue as usual, it would be ramped up extraordinarily! Why? I don’t know “why”; it’s Simchas Torah and there is only the joy of Torah, the joy of being Jews. A joy not tethered to rationale, nor produced by accumulated assets or stimulated by song or food, it’s a purer joy, a joy of service and a joy driven by the essential link of a neshama to its Infinite origin. The Torah’s guidance is our road map and Hashem’s greatest gift, and sometimes, especially during the hardest times, we have to close the book and close our eyes and dance and dance and dance.
No answer is a suitable answer and so when faced with the impossible our only course of action is to hold it closer to our hearts and allow its soft cover to absorb our tears when its words are insufficient to soothe our broken hearts
When Eliyahu’s dentist came for a shiva call, his parents thanked him for “giving Eliyahu his bright smile;” the doctor replied that Eliyahu had given him so much more. When he was just a teenager and he came for his cleanings Eliyahu always brought his tefilin and allowed the dentist to connect with Hashem. When Eliyahu’s uncle, Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, of blessed memory, died suddenly in 2014 and the doctor asked how G-d could allow that, it was Eliyahu’s calm and absolute faith that answered that there are no answers, only our commitment for moving ahead.
I knew Eliyahu – his grandparents and parents and uncles and cousins are pillars of our community. When I saw him in Jewel and he showed me special attention I knew we had a warm friendship and since last week I’ve learned I wasn’t unique, that dozens of people had that kind of relationship with Eliyahu. In our shul we follow the Shemini Atzeres Hakafos with a visit to local Sukkahs for a brocha and some more food and friendship, when we started to head out from one busy Sukkah Eliyahu stayed behind insisting that he was going to clean up even though it meant missing the next stops
Eliyahu’s yarzteit is Simchas Torah, a unique Jewish Holiday; it does NOT commemorate any special miracle or event. Its purpose, as the Talmud describes is a gift from Hashem. Hashem declares: “we have been together for so many special days, it is difficult for me for you to all just disperse, let’s spend one more Holiday together.” And the Jewish People reciprocate with a gift of celebration of the Torah.
Eliyahu was the Simchas Torah of the community, the one whom others wished to stay with – to be around. Eliyahu was the gift of friendship that inspired others to respond with joy and celebrate. His abrupt departure is a stark reminder of why Hashem wants so much for us to be together.
The Jewish people have accumulated too much proficiency at finding joy despite sadness; Eliyahu is the inspiration for us to increase our acts of goodness and kindness and usher in a time of unadulterated joy.
May his memory be for a blessing and inspiration for all.
Rabbi Baruch Epstein is the Rabbi of Cong. Bais Menachem and Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois’ Director of community outreach.