The Nine Days leading up to Tisha B'Av is normally a time of sadness and mourning, a poignant reminder that the Temple remains unbuilt and the world unredeemed. The current climate in Israel made matters even worse; ringing phones caused unease. When the phone rang, the last thing I expected was good news.
The voice at the other end of the line was an old friend of my wife's family calling from America to tell us she was engaged to be married. This was wonderful news; this woman had passed her 35th birthday, and she had begun to doubt whether she would ever marry.
After the requisite "mazel tov" came the more important questions: Who? Where? When? It was here that the intrigue began.
"The wedding will be as soon as possible."
"Basically we want to elope and get married in Israel."
"Well, he's not really religious..."
While the first two answers had a certain logic to them, in view of the age and circumstances of the couple, the third seemed most confounding. This woman was raised in what is known as a modern Orthodox home. At some point in her early adulthood she had strayed somewhat from some of the beliefs of her youth, only to return subsequently with even greater dedication. The most difficult challenge she endured was the sudden death of her father when she was 15.
As an adult she became very active in the Jewish community and outreach, bringing a great many estranged Jews to Shabbat meals and other communal activities that introduced them to Judaism. By this point, she had grown quite active in her community, known for her charitable activities, but more importantly for encouraging others to become similarly involved.
She was now exploring the possibility of my performing her wedding in Israel in less than two weeks to a man who did not seem to share the same ideals.
She was now exploring the possibility of my performing her wedding in Israel in less than two weeks to a man who did not seem to share the same ideals. The groom would be flying to Israel the following day, she said, and I would have the opportunity to meet him and speak to him. Only then would we continue our conversation. In the meantime, there were so many wedding arrangements to be organized. Fortunately, countless friends materialized, all willing to help put together a wedding in less than two weeks. A special ketubah was commissioned from a local artist; I needed to make sure that the names were written correctly, and it was only then that I asked his name. She said, "It is Landau and he is a Levi."
I said "Landau? A Levi? Could he be a descendant of Rav Yechezkel Landau?"
She asked, "Who is that?"
I answered, "One of the great rabbis of the 18th century. His surname was Landau, and he, too, was a Levi."
"I don't think there are any rabbis in his family, but he is a Levi."
With that, the conversation came to an end.
I met him a few days later. He was everything she wasn't. She was a New Yorker, brought up on Long Island; he a Southern gentleman with a thick twang, developed over years in Memphis and Texas. Standing in front of me was a former United States Marine who was now teaching high school history, along with being a football and wrestling coach. He was polite, dignified, and he had passion. He had a deep understanding that Israel is "the Lord's land" and that the Jews are "the Lord's people." These basic Jewish beliefs were engraved deep in his heart.
As a former Marine, he offered a number of suggestions for quickly and permanently solving the Middle East crisis; diplomacy was not among them. I found him engaging and interesting, yet I was not convinced that this union was made in Heaven.
We headed over to the offices of the Religious Council, where the marriage would need to be registered. We arrived at 12:06; the office apparently closed at 12:00. I went over to the gentleman in the booth and explained that we needed to open a file for a wedding.
"Impossible. The office is closed."
"But the wedding is in less than 10 days," I said.
He looked at me incredulously and said, "Impossible. It takes at least two weeks for a file to be processed." After some negotiation he sent me to Rabbi Ralbag, the man in charge, so he could tell me officially that it was impossible. As far as I was concerned, we were on our way out.
We entered the office of the rabbi, who recognized me, and I introduced my new friend. When Rabbi Ralbag heard the name Landau, he, too, said, "You could be from the family of the Noda BiYehudah." I informed the rabbi that Mr. Landau was a Levi, strengthening his assumption. Meanwhile, we opened up the envelope the groom had brought with him from the U.S.; I had instructed them earlier to bring signed affidavits establishing their marital status and Jewishness in order to expedite the registration process. The groom produced a letter written by Rabbi Efraim Greenblatt of Memphis, a well-known author and sage who was raised in Jerusalem but had traveled to America years ago to learn with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Later Rabbi Greenblatt was sent to Memphis to lead the Jewish community there.
Rabbi Greenblatt wrote that he knew the family and in fact had attended the bris milah of the groom 41 years ago. He then added that the reader should be aware that Mr. Landau was indeed a descendant of the Noda BiYehudah, seven generations removed. Rabbi Ralbag and I looked at one another, appreciating the significance of this vital piece of information. The groom was nonchalant, not really appreciating the importance of his own lineage.
The file was quickly opened, and we were on our way. I suspected that I might have just witnessed a little intercession from Above, which helped open closed doors and, more impressively, subdued Israeli bureaucracy.
I called the bride and reported our progress. I questioned her again more closely to make sure she had really thought this decision through.
She told me that he would care for her, that he was ready to make a commitment. So many of the men she had met in New York who were her age would only go out with younger women. So many had "commitment issues," or, in their words, "enjoyed their freedom." She felt, on a core level, on a soul level, that this was right. They had discussed it, and he was committed to Judaism and growth. He, too, was sure from the day they met that they would marry -- to him it was "fate." Who was I to argue? He was a man of sterling character, consistent, decent; he was a good man.
Before we hung up, I recalled the letter written by Rabbi Greenblatt, and informed her husband-to-be came from a leading rabbinical family and that he was the seventh generation from the Noda BiYehudah.
Again she asked, "Who is that?"
I responded, "He was a leading rabbi a little more than 200 years ago. While the Vilna Gaon sat and studied in Vilna, this man was considered to be the greatest halachic authority of his time. He lived in Prague, and questions poured in from all over the world for his opinion. His full name was Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehudah Landau, and he lived from 1713 to 1793."
She said, "Wow."
A day later I received another call from the bride; this time she was far more excited. "You won't believe this," she gushed. She had mentioned the Noda BiYehudah connection to one of her closest friends, who responded by saying, "Don't move." Her friend quickly went into the next room and brought back a photo album. There was a picture taken one year earlier. These two friends, both single, had decided to accompany Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis to Prague to pray at the graves of righteous Jews. The bride's friend held up one picture. There was the bride, praying by the grave of Rav Yechezkel Landau, the famed Noda BiYehudah, asking him to open some gates in Heaven and help her find her soul mate.
As she told me this, things finally became clear. She had traveled to the grave of the Noda BiYehudah and asked to meet her soul mate. The Noda BiYehudah apparently offered a "deal" -- I will introduce you to my own great-great-great-grandson on condition that you bring him closer to our heritage.
The wedding was on the porch of the Aish HaTorah building overlooking the Western Wall. The day was Tu B'Av. Despite trying to "elope," a crowd of people would not let this wedding happen quietly. They boarded a plane and came to Israel in order to rejoice with bride and groom.
There was a power to that wedding the likes of which I had never felt.
As we were preparing the ketubah for signing, an elderly, distinguished-looking rabbi appeared. I looked up and introduced myself, and he identified himself as Rabbi Efraim Greenblatt. He was in Israel for a visit, and he felt he should attend the wedding. Soon other prominent rabbis appeared, including a leading Chabad rabbi, Simon Jacobson.
We marched and danced both bride and groom to the chuppah. The bride's father had passed away years ago, and her mother was unable to fly. The groom's parents were unable to make the wedding, but the bride and groom each had a brother accompany them, together with close friends.
There was a power to that wedding the likes of which I had never felt; perhaps the location helped, but there was something more. There was electricity in the air, the music was intense, people sang and sang as we prepared for the actual ceremony. The Shechinah could be felt. This wasn't just my subjective feeling; every person present whom I spoke to later told me he "felt something."
I know that her father was smiling down, watching his only daughter get married. He was a kind man, a charitable man. In fact, when Rebbetzin Jungreis first started her "mission" 27 years ago, he was the first to hold a parlor meeting for her in order to raise much-needed funds.
But I am sure that there was another presence there: the spirit of the Noda BiYehudah, Rav Yechezkel ben Yehudah Landau…
from: Splitting the Sea by Tamar Ansh (Targum/Feldheim)