I still have warm and vivid memories of growing up in Brooklyn and how everyone in my cheder and shul – to say nothing of everyone in my home – reacted when even a piece of a siddur or a Chumash was accidentally torn out. How careful we were to safeguard those holy words and place them safely inside of the sefer; how sincerely we kissed an accidentally dropped book containing the holy words.
When it came time to dispose of shaimos, everyone in the community would gather together the bits and pieces they had safeguarded all year long, along with their no longer useful sefarim, so the holy names and holy words could be disposed of properly, with the greatest respect. These were Hashem’s words. These were Hashem’s names.
Sadly, I have seen too many incidents in recent years that remind me of how much things have changed.
Our brethren in Eretz Yisrael just emerged from several tragic months of constant danger and destruction – of rockets and serious injuries and tragic deaths inflicted by a relentless enemy that would see all Jews murdered if it were in its power to do so, chas v’shalom. And, simultaneously, we saw miracles. For what else can we call the relatively few deaths – as tragic as they were – when compared with what the enemy intended as those missiles rained on Israel each day? An Iron Dome by any other name is clearly the Hand of Hashem covering His people and protecting them.
And yet when it came time for Israel’s prime minister and government officials to address the nation throughout the recent conflict, not once was Hashem’s name mentioned.
Menachem Begin may not have been religiously observant, but he knew instinctively the importance of acknowledging Israel’s Protector when addressing the people of Israel before, during, and after a war. How could one not? Thanking Hashem for protecting the nation is, minimally, hakaras hatov.
So things have changed. But they need not change that much. We still have the ability and the obligation to respect Hashem’s name.
It genuinely pains me, as I’m sure it pains you, to see Hashem’s name desecrated. The incidents of mistreated shaimos in our own community have brought many to tears. Sadly, after years of dealing with numerous incidents of abandoned, desecrated shaimos – and warning everyone I could to be vigilant about where they send shaimos to be disposed of – I began to hear reports of a large shaimos-dumping operation.
Months of research finally led my staff to a landfill in Pennsylvania where we discovered quite literally tons of shaimos buried beneath dirty diapers and other refuse. The shaimos was originating from New York and New Jersey. Month after month, many tons of holy sefarim were being hauled in by 18-wheel tractor trailers, dumped, and then covered with a six-inch layer of dirt, only to be packed down and then sandwiched beneath more layers of household trash. I looked with awe and tear-filled eyes upon a mountain of shaimos and garbage, now buried together.
I discussed the matter thoroughly with numerous rabbinical authorities. I visited Rabbi Chaim Cohen, rav of the Gur Shteibel and a dayan; Rabbi Shraga Hager, the Kosover Rebbe; Rabbi Nachman Yechiel Mendel Steinmetz, the Skver dayan; and Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, the rav of Agudath Israel Zichron Chaim Tzvi and rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Everyone agreed that the burial of holy shaimos in a landfill with garbage was shocking and disgraceful. Rabbi Steinmetz emphasized, “If shaimos is not treated properly, it can bring about a mahgaifah [plague], chas v’shalom.”