Rav Mordechai Avromovsky has never missed a levaya in Zichron Yaakov since becoming the city’s Chief Rabbi decades ago.
When an elderly, barely-frum member of his shul passed away a few years ago, as usual Rav Avromovsky attended the levaya and then was menachem the aveilim at the family’s home. Rabbi Avromovsky led the minyan there and even showed the niftar’s son, a secular man, how to put on tefillin and say Kaddish.
At the end of the shiva, the secular son asked if he could come to shul the next day and continue saying Kaddish for his father there, and Rav Avromovsky said, “Of course! Yes!” The secular man joined the minyan for several days, and then one morning asked another member of the minyan if it would be okay if he davened from the amud. The secular man wanted to lead the minyan for the zechus of his deceased father.
The member of the minyan pointed towards the shtender at the front of the shul, and the secular man led Shacharis for the first time in his life.
Immediately after the last Kaddish, a visibly upset member of the shul approached the secular man and began rebuking him: “How can you be the shaliyach tzibur when you are mechallel Shabbos publicly! Do you think you can be motzei us in your brachos?!”
The secular man stood aghast, feeling all eyes in the minyan were watching the public rebuke. He looked around, and he saw Rav Mordechai Avromovsky, his Rav, his friend, also watching.
The secular man interrupted the shul member and said, “Let’s ask the Rav.” The shul member turned, saw Rav Avromovsky watching, and said, “Gladly!” And the two men approached the Rav.
The shul member made his case, and Rav Avromovsky responded powerfully, “Of course he can daven from the amud! Of course he can be the shaliyach tzibur! He must be the shaliyach tzibur!” The shul member was completely confused.
Unable to understand the reason for the Rav’s psak, but clear that the Rav permits this secular man to lead davening, the shul member just walked away. The secular man also shifted to depart, but Rav Avromovsky called him back and whispered, “Do you know why I poskined you can daven from the amud?”
The secular man, who now realized that a mechallel Shabbos really can’t lead a minyan, responded, “No, Rav, I don’t understand.”
Rav Avromovsky explained, “When that man rebuked you and told you that you couldn’t lead the minyan for the zechus of your father because you are a mechallel Shabbos, I saw your face change. I saw the regret you felt. I understood that for your father, you will never be mechallel Shabbos again. Since I knew that now you are a Shomer Shabbos, I poskined that you can and should lead our minyan.”
As he concluded recounting this story to the avreichim of the Center for Kehillah Development, Rav Avromovsky added: “He was never mechallel Shabbos again, and for years he has been a frum member of our kehillah. That hanhaga is found only in the fifth chelek of Shulchan Aruch.”
The CKD trip to Zichron Yaakov in December was part of the program’s shimush component, a component that brings the CKD avreichim into close, personal contact on a regular basis with some of the most influential rabbonim in Klal Yisroel.
Rav Avromovsky, who also serves as the acting Chief Rabbi of Haifa and is in charge of Rabbanut Kashrus, then took the avreichim on a daylong tour of Tishbi Winery, the Beit El industrial food manufacturing facility, and Eden Hotel – all of which are under his hashgacha and meet “B’datz” standards.
The avreichim learned first-hand the subtle but significant differences between ordinary Rabbanut hashgacha, Rabbanut Mehadrin hashgacha, and the various “B’datz” hashgachos.
“Everyone knows from hearsay that their standards are different,” said Rav Leib Kelemen, Dean of the CKD, “but very few rabbonim really understand what those differences are and what the implications are for someone who is makpid on eating only mehadrin.”
Rav Kelemen explained that kashrus is not a game, and genuine psak can’t be based on hearsay or politics. “You’ve got to know the facts on the ground,” he stressed, “and the only way to know those facts is real shimush, seeing what is actually happening in the field.”
After the tour, Rav Avromovsky sat with the avreichim for an hour, telling stories from his many years in rabbanus.
He concluded with a story about one of the first drashos he ever gave on the Yamim Nora’im: “It was erev Yom Kippur, and the shul was packed. Secular Jews I had never seen before even filed in and filled up the back rows. I gave a mussar shmuess full of fire to try to wake them up from their slumber.
When I was leaving the shul that night, a secular woman approached me. She was so upset. ‘Rabbi,’ she said, “We came. We are the ones who came. Why did you yell at us?’ I realized she was right. The next day I welcomed them all and tried to show them the beauty of teshuva. Everyone could hear that. I learned then that even with good intention, I make mistakes. Rabbis make mistakes.”
Rabbi Avromovsky looked out at the faces of the CKD avreichim, all of whom will soon be rabbinic leaders, and he concluded, “Don’t forget that even with the best of intentions, you can be wrong. Don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong.”
The Center for Kehillah Development is a five-year, post-kollel program for English speaking avreichim between ages 25-30 who are committed to serving Klal Yisroel. They are now taking applications for a limited number of spots for this coming Elul. To find out more about the program, visit www.c4kd.org, or apply by emailing Form@c4kd.org.