“Let's table the discussion" is an  Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children. (Dedicated to the Refuah Sheleima of Shalva Adina Bas Sarah Chana & Eliyahu Aharon Ben Yocheved Yetta Ettel).

Rav Elazar M. Teitz Shlita, Rav HaIr of Elizabeth tells a great story about Harav Yaakov Meshulam Orenstein, the author of the Yeshuos Yaakov.  It seems that the Yeshuos Yaakov was invited to be the Rav of Zalkava. Upon arriving at the city and taking residence, his first major challenge arose one Shabbos.

Apparently, there was some discussion about whether the residents of Zalkava are supposed to say Av HaRachamim on Shabbos when that day is Yom HaMiyuchas (2 Sivan). The Yeshuos Yaakov observed the people fighting in Shul. One group insisted that since the day was a day that Tachanun was not recited, Av HaRachamim must not be said. At the same time, the other group argued that due to the tragedies of the period, Av HaRachamim MUST be recited as it is on Shabbos Mevorchin Chodesh Sivan. (Rav Teitz added that this must be the source of the famous joke about the place that said their minhag was to fight about it).

Eventually, both sides came to the Yeshuos Yaakov seeking his opinion. He heard both sides, and recognizing the basis for a practice on both sides did not rule on the matter. The 2 factions united and together decided to remove the Rav from his position.

Now unemployed and having heard of the Petira of Harav Tzvi Hersh Rosens, Rav of Lemberg, the Yeshuos Yaakov travelled to the large city. When he got there, someone recognized him and sought to advance his candidacy for the position of Rav in the city (which he eventually took). The individual asked him “HaRav Orenstein, what brings YOU to Lemberg?”  

Without missing a beat, the Yeshuos Yaakov answered: “It was the Av HaRachamim!”

The Midrash (Bamidbar 1:2) notes that Hashem chose the Midbar for creating the Jewish nation because he knew that in the Midbar they would greet him appropriately. Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi Shlita explains that those in a Midbar have both no distractions, nor nothing to hide, from the Ribbono Shel Olam. They reach out to him and accept his command fully. They long for this interaction and prepare constantly for it. In the process, the personal withholding that takes place in many relationships when people are not open to sharing a piece of themselves, did not exist. The result was an honest, open and loving Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shomayim.

People tend to get caught up in the mechanics of Minhag and assume that everything is a minhag. While minhagim are important and have a special mesorah to them, they are important when they are utilized to bring about a closer relationship with Hashem and his Torah and Mitzvos. Merely creating minhagim that do not fit that bill – like a minhag to fight about it --  are in fact, Minhagei Shtus – foolish practice.

Often when we think of our religious connection to Hashem, we get bogged down in silly questions of identity and practice (“Open” “Modern” “Centrist” “Neo-Chassidish” “Chareidi”) which focus more on our own selves and do not represent our true experience of our interpersonal relationship with the Av Harachamim.  We can do better and achieve more.

How well do you know the guiding hand of the Av HaRachamim?

How can you know it better?

Let’s  “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting  discussion into our homes and communities.