Editor’s Note: there’s a glossary at the end of this article.
Photo used with permission: www.collive.com
In the Tel Aviv airport, at the end of my first trip to Israel, I was looking for a tzedakah box to put my remaining shekels in. Across the way, there was a Chabadnik laying tefillin on a guy. They’ll have a tzedakah box, thinks I. As I dropped coins in the box, the tefillin-wrapper says, “You know Chabad?” Yes, we have Chabad where I live. “Where’s that?” Nashville. “Oh! Zalman Posner!”
Yes, Zalman Posner, z”l, the rabbi of Sherith Israel for 53 years. When I read yesterday that he had passed away, the word hasidut came to mind. Not so much in all of its various meanings about organizations, movements, and schools of thought within Judaism, but its root ~ chet, samech, dalet ~ meaning kindness, hesed.
Reb Zalman lived in a world of Judaism that I don’t move in, that I and many of my fellow Jews feel removed from. Yet, Rabbi Posner treated me with such kindness, such hesed. At a Torah study, at which women were welcome with him, someone asked a question about keeping some mitzvah or the other and he said, “If you can’t keep them all, keep some of them. If you can’t keep many, keep one. If you can’t keep a whole one, keep half of one.” A mini-mitzvah kept was better than none at all. All attempts to keep the mitzvot contribute to perfecting the world. A very gentle point of view, Hasidism at its best.
At lunch that day, after services, the Rabbi asked me to sit with him at his tish. Being a newbie to Judiasm, this was special but I didn’t realize how special. His wife, Risya, sat next to me and was very sweet and engaging. As emissaries with a long, long sojourn in Nashville, their welcome was just right. It made me want to know more, to study more, perhaps keep an extra mitzvah or two.
As I went through the conversion process, I attended a lecture by Rabbi Posner at which someone asked him to define a miracle. He said, with such kindness, and a sense of awe he never lost, “It’s all a miracle.” It is indeed.
Baruch dayan emet, blessed be the judge of truth, and may his mourners be comforted. A great man has passed. Read more about his amazing career here.
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Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist at www.hebrica.com
Z”l: abbreviation of zichrono livracham, may his memory be a blessing
Tzedakah: charitable giving, from the root for “justice”
Tefillin: prayer phylacteries
Chabad: organization of Hasidic Jewry; more here.
Hasidut: kindness, school of Jewish thought; more here.
Mitzvah: pl. mitzvot, commandment
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