Every Shabbat, my father took my hand in his and we walked over to the rabbi of our city to say Shabbat shalom.
Another lesson in respecting rabbis I received from Yonah Haikin. Yonah was a Hevron resident, a hero, who was once stabbed in the back by an Arab on the street there. With the knife still in his back, he ran after the Arab and shot him. Years later he developed cancer. When Rabbi Lior came to visit him on his deathbed, Yonah asked his wife to call in his children from the hallway. “Look at the face of this tzaddik,” he commanded. Modest Rabbi Lior said nothing. This was one of the last things Yonah taught his children about respecting Torah scholars.
One more story, this one about rabbinic leadership on the battlefield:
It was a Friday night in 1980. Six yeshiva students had been murdered across from Beit Hadassah in Hevron. After we evacuated the bodies and those wounded, three men were issued special permits to enter Beit Hadassah and speak with the women who had stationed themselves there. Rabbi Levinger began talking to them, expressing his condolences. As he was doing so, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Chief-of-Staff Rafi “Raful” Eitan entered. They waited for him to finish.
And suddenly, typically, Rabbi Levinger turned on them: “—and if you don’t expel the three people who incited these murders—tonight—you will be responsible for the next murder.” Ezer tried to calm him, but the rabbi repeated himself fiercely.
His interlocutors left and went up to the government building in Hevron to oversee the military’s response to the murders. Zambish, who was there at the time, tells of Raful turning to Ezer and telling him: “The rabbi is right. If we don’t do it tonight, it won’t happen. But we need approval from the prime minister. What can we do?”
Ezer said, “Have Rabbi Levinger speak with Begin.”
The rabbi didn’t hesitate. He spoke on the telephone for twenty minutes, in the middle of Shabbat. He yelled. He protested. He convinced. That very night, the helicopter that had brought the defense minister and chief of staff to Hevron took off with the three inciters and deposited them on the other side of the border. This is Torah. This is its rightful place in all our lives, both private and public.
Originally published in published in Makor Rishon, February 22, 2013, under the title, “Respect for Rabbis.” Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg.