In last week’s column I mentioned the death of Moshe Orlansky.
Reb Moishe was my friend. I davened next to him at Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv for almost two decades. His livelihood was making doughnuts and muffins, but his life was Torah. “V’ani sfilosi … ” (Psalm 69:14), which, I believe, can be understood as “I am tefilla/prayer.” Reb Moishe was prayer. He could fill the entire Sh’or Yoshuv Yeshiva Study Hall with the sound of tefilla.
Once my close friend was visiting in Sh’or Yoshuv. It was Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the new month), and they asked my friend to lead the prayer service. He couldn’t think of melodies to sing for Hallel and asked to be excused. But Reb Moishe motioned to him and suggested several melodies on the spot. So, after all, my friend went up and led the prayers and it was beautiful. Since then he has used those same melodies for Hallel many times. Reb Moishe was a fountain bubbling with prayer.
But there was one trait of his that stood out even above the prayer, and that was Yerushalayim. Reb Moishe was filled to the brim with love and yearning for Jerusalem.
“Al naharos Bavel … by the Rivers of Bavel (Babylonia), there we sat and also wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows within it we hung our lyres. There our captors requested words of song from us, with our lyres playing joyous music. ‘Sing for us from Zion’s song!’ How can we sing the song of Hashem upon the alien’s soil? If I forget you, O Yerushalayim, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate if I fail recall you, if I fail to elevate Yerushalayim above my foremost joy…” (Psalm 137)
Reb Moishe never forgot Yerushalayim. Now he is there forever.
Every year on the Eighteenth Day of the Jewish month of Teves I make a special meal in recognition of the day in 1966 when I first discovered G-d. My wife and I were students at the University Michigan, and that moment marked the turning point in our life. (The entire story is recounted in my book, From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul.) Every year on the anniversary of that day, until he was no longer able, Reb Moishe would supply dozens of fresh doughnuts for the students and rebbes of Sh’or Yoshuv. The doughnuts were accompanied by a reprint from my book describing the miracles which had occurred on that day. Reb Moishe could translate spiritual reality into physical sweetness.
There are no accidents in life. From the movement of a leaf to the sweep of a constellation across the sky, it is all orchestrated in Heaven. “The heavens declare the glory of G-d, and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork….” (Psalm 19) This week we read in the Torah the Tochecha, the unbearable recitation of the tragedies which will – and nebach did! – befall our People “if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments …” (Leviticus 26:14)
Reb Moishe lived the Tochecha. I have never met anyone who suffered the way he did, not for a day or a week, but for years. In each period of his recent years, the pain and suffering would be ratcheted up a notch, so there was no break for him, no chance to catch his breath. He didn’t complain, but he would ask G-d for a few days to breathe between sufferings. As I mentioned last week, over the years, the Hatzalah Ambulance Corps of Far Rockaway responded to literally dozens of emergency calls to his home. One time they gave up on him, all the Hatzalah volunteers … except one. This man worked for twenty-eight minutes, as I recall, to restore Reb Moishe’s heartbeat when everyone else thought it was hopeless. And he brought him back, miraculously, for additional years of life.
Whenever I would return from visiting him in the hospital, I would tell my wife, “I just came from Auschwitz.” I wasn’t exaggerating. That is how it was, unrelenting pain, suffering and anguish. I feel as if Reb Moishe took all our tzouris on himself.
Like everything else in life, there is a reason for the Tochecha and our sufferings. We are in Exile, and Exile is, by definition, suffering. “If I forget you, O Yerushalayim, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate if I fail recall you, if I fail to elevate Yerusha-layim above my foremost joy…” We have to remember Yerushalayim! Reb Moishe remembered Yerushalayim.
About two years ago, you may recall, I had surgery. Following the operation, I wondered for weeks and even months if I would ever return to my strength. Some two weeks after the operation, I had a dream that I was in the Bais Hamikdosh, the Holy Temple. When I awoke, my first thought was: now I understand. Everything is calculated! I had to get sick and I had to have surgery and I had to have pain and anguish. I don’t know exactly why, but I needed it in order to get to the Holy Temple.
“Arise, cry out at night in the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord! Lift up your hand to Him…. Bring us back to you, Hashem, and we shall return. Renew our day as of old. For even if You had utterly rejected us, You have already raged sufficiently against us.” (Eichah/Lamentations)
May Reb Moishe’s memory be for a blessing and may his suffering be an atonement for the Children of Israel! I always promised him that we would dance together at the Bais Hamikdosh! Now we will have to wait for techias hamaisim (the Resurrection of the Dead), may it be soon in our days!