It came to pass that the shamash in a little shtetl passed away, leaving an elderly widow. The community volunteered to support her, but she refused to take a “handout.” So an agreement was reached whereby she would receive a good wage for doing her deceased husband’s work of awakening the townspeople for Selichot before Rosh Hashanah. She was given the wooden gavel used for the task and set off at three in the morning to awaken the men of the community.
In the town there lived a man known as Yankel Apikores because once, thirty years before, he’d arrived too late to recite Tashlich. The first house that the shamista arrived at was Yankel Apikores’s. At the knock of the gavel, Yankel called out to ask who was there. The shamista identified herself and called “shtay uf far slichas” – “get up for Selichot.”
Yankel Apikores, despite all his shortcomings, was a compassionate man. He said to the shamista, “It is three o’clock in the morning, the snow is piled up and you are not in the best of health. Give me the gavel and go home. I will wake up the people.”
The shamista went home and Yankel Apikores took the gavel and proceeded to the next house. At the sound of the gavel, the baal habayit asked who was there, to which Yankel Apikores answered that it was he and that he had come to awaken every baal habayit to Selichot.
At that moment, there came a loud and angry cry from within the house. “You have the audacity, Yankel Apikores, to waken me for Selichot? You are nothing but an apikores and I am a God-fearing man. I will not lower myself to answer your call to Selichot.”
This scenario repeated itself in every house in the shtetl, so that at the beginning of the davening only two people showed up – the rav and Yankel Apikores.
A little over one hundred years ago, an apikores by the name of Theodor Herzl organized the Zionist movement to arouse the Jewish people to return home and eventually establish a state of our own. He was rejected by the main body of religious Jewish leadership who said, “Who are you, apikores, to tell us about Eretz Yisrael? We will not come to your Eretz Yisrael.”
So who came at the end of the day? The apikorsim and a very thin sliver of yiray shamayim.
This insanity is rampant to this very day. How many wonderful frum Jews are living abroad because their rabbi said, “Don’t go to Eretz Yisrael. Here in Boro Park and on Eastern Parkway it is easier to educate your children. Here we have no army service, no economic crisis, no chillul Shabbat.”
The reality is that Israel is a democracy, and numbers decide the way the country will be governed. Permit me a little side story that reveals the greatness of the people here. It is about a young infantry captain in Tzahal (he did not tell me the story directly, but it was told by one of his friends) who had orders to spend the entire Shabbat in a camouflaged foxhole with three other men in order to ambush some Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon.
I won’t tell you the outcome of the ambush, but something happened that teaches us what kind of young men we are raising here in Israel. The young captain, in addition to all the essential equipment necessary for such an operation, took into the foxhole enough wine for Kiddush and chalot for three se’udot for himself and for all his men. If this act were performed by the soldiers of David Hamelech, it would be taken for granted. But the fact is that it was done three thousand years after David, and after 2,000 years of our enemies trying to tear us away from the Torah.
If even a relatively small percentage of our frum brothers and sisters in the galut would break away from the spiritual paralysis imposed on them by myopic leaders and come up to Eretz Yisrael, we could turn this society around – despite the Herzl apikorsim who set today’s tone.
What we do not realize is that by rebuilding the land, we rebuild ourselves as God’s chosen people. There is still so much to be accomplished. Let us not forget that Eretz Yisrael is a country under siege. Hashem drew the minimum borders of the land to be from the River Prat (Euphrates) until the Nile. The Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula are all occupiers of our holy soil.