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Seeking My Brothers

Seeking My Brothers

We can strengthen Jewish unity by truly loving our fellow Jew.


I came to full Jewish observance relatively late in life. I was nearly 30 and married when I first walked through the doors of Ohr Somayach. I don't fully remember the entire process of becoming religious. But certainly the most important element of our decision was exposure to people of a refinement and depth that we had never before encountered.

For the last 20 years, I have been writing biographies of modern Jewish leaders. If one bright thread unites the lives of all the disparate figures whose lives I have researched it is their commitment to the Torah imperative that "the Name of Heaven should become beloved through you."

In the 1930s, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, today renowned as one of the premier Jewish thinkers of the century, supported himself in London tutoring young public school students. He instructed one of those young students to drop a coin in the cup of all the numerous beggars along the way. To another, he suggested that he should always go to the upper-deck of the London bus he rode to the lessons. Since he only traveled one stop, perhaps the conductor would not reach him to collect his fare, and then he – an identifiably religious Jewish boy – would hand the change to the person next to him and say in a loud voice, "The conductor did not collect my fare, please pay him for me." The lesson: Not only must one sanctify God's Name through one's actions; one must seek out opportunities to do so.

Not only must one sanctify God's Name through one's actions; one must seek out opportunities to do so.

These figures saw themselves as teaching about Torah in every situation. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, the wise man of American Jewry, once took a ball out of his pocket in a doctor's office and started playing with a young boy. When asked if it was not beneath his dignity, he replied, "He may never see another old Jew with a white beard. I want his association to be a good one." When he passed away, a group of nuns in Monsey wrote a letter lamenting the loss of the old rabbi who always smiled at them on his walks.

For 13 years, the Klausenberger Rebbe traveled the globe raising the money to build Laniado Hospital in Netanya, to create a model of a Torah approach to healing. Once he learned that a pamphlet on the laws of family purity was being distributed to patients, and ordered it be stopped immediately. He built the hospital not to do missionary work but to demonstrate how the Torah views healing, he explained. That was reflected in the no-strike clause in every doctor's contract, the surfeit of respirators so no triage decisions would ever have to be made as to who would receive a respirator, the willingness of nursing students, inspired by the Rebbe, to spend days and nights by the beds of patients upon whom everyone else had given up; and the use of much more expensive, but less painful, disposable syringes for shots.

These great Torah leaders treated each and every person with whom they came into contact with respect and empathy. Reb Yaakov Kamenetsky and another rosh yeshiva once entered a cab, in which the music was blaring. The other rosh yeshiva asked the cabdriver to turn-off the radio. But Reb Yaakov told him not to. "The driver's work is so monotonous that he'll go mad without out it so we have no right to ask him to turn it off," said Reb Yaakov, citing a Talmudic passage in support.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach would not jump up from his seat on the bus if a woman not dressed according to halachic standards sat down next to him, lest she feel insulted. He would simply push the button as if his stop was coming up and get off the bus.

Non-religious Jewish politicians who worked closely with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the long-time president of Agudath Israel of America never felt that he looked down on them. New York Mayor Ed Koch said, "He personified the Talmudic rule, 'Hate the sin, not the sinner'." Upon Rabbi Sherer's death, Alexander Schindler, the head of the American Reform movement, wrote a eulogy in The New York Times. The morning after his funeral, the black woman behind the entrance desk at the building housing Agudath Israel's office, whom Rabbi Sherer always made a point of greeting effusively and inquiring after, and the Latin American building superintendent, whose family had been spared deportation because of Rabbi Sherer's use of his political connections on their behalf, both wept openly.

Repairing Brotherhood

Last Friday night, a rav who was one of my role models at the beginning of the journey and remains one today spoke about last week's fast of the 10th of Tevet, which, according to some opinions, is the date of the sale of Yosef by his brothers. The Torah portion of the week, VaYigash, relates how Yosef and Binyamin fell on each other and wept. Rashi comments: Yosef wept for the two Temples that stood in the portion of Binyamin, which would be destroyed; and Binyamin wept for the Mishkan at Shiloh, in the portion of Yosef's son Ephraim, which would also be destroyed.

What is the connection between those destructions and the reunion of Yosef and Binyamin? Yosef had constructed an elaborate test for his brothers to see whether his brothers would stand by their half-brother Binyamin, and thus rectify their sale of him. The brothers passed that test. But only in part. Throughout Yehudah's plea to Yosef on Binyamin's behalf, he refers to the latter as the son of their father Yaakov and as "the lad", but not as "our brother." Something was still lacking in brotherly unity. And that lack was felt in the destruction of the Temple for causeless hatred.

Until we can repair that lack of brotherhood, the Temple will not be rebuilt.

Until we can repair that lack of brotherhood, the Temple will not be rebuilt.

I have never regretted the decision to become religious. I cannot even imagine how much less rich my life would have been without Torah. But it must be admitted that there is much in our society that does not conform to the paragons one meets upon entering the hareidi community. And much that I have subsequently been exposed to would have made the decision much harder at the beginning.

It is unrealistic to expect an entire community to attain the level of the great figures I have spent the last two decades writing about. But, at the very least, we should strive to emulate their example of turning every encounter with a fellow human being, and especially a fellow Jew, into a positive experience. Those individuals whose insularity has rendered them oblivious to that message fill me with pain.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

January 8, 2012

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(5) Shushana Chana Sweet, January 12, 2012 7:40 PM

Giving the benefit of the doubt

Thank you so much for the insights. The article was well written and very clear. I feel badly when I realize I missed an opportunity to connect with someone, because I realize that they may think I don't care. We are sometimes so busy with our own lives, that we unintentionally insult someone, and that can lead to misunderstandings or a feud, without a word ever being said. We all have to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and not be so sensitive. It's important to know how to take a hint, too, but we shouldn't jump to conclusions just because someone neglected to say something or said something that you didn't understand. Maybe Yehuda didn't call Binyamin his brother, because he was afraid it would make him too emotional. He must have been living with an incredible amount of guilt, because of the sale of Yosef, and his father's pain. Perhaps he also thought it gave Binyamin more prestige to be called his father's son, rather that his brother. It might have actually been an act of modesty. No one should jump to conclusions about someone else's intentions. It can cause a lot of unnecessary grief. Yashar Koach

(4) Laurie, January 11, 2012 1:28 PM

Other Venues for This Article

Well written and expressed. I'd be interested to see whether Mr. Rosenblum is able to submit this article to the other, Ultra-Orthodox, publications for which he writes.

(3) Eli Willner, January 8, 2012 8:13 PM

It's not just a few great men...

I enjoyed Rabbi Rosenblum's article, as usual, but I'm troubled by the implication that sensitivity and consideration for all people is exhibited only be a select group of leaders and is lacking in the general populace. On the contrary, the vast majority of Chareidi Jews strive for, and in general achieve, the ideals exemplified by their leaders and required by the halachic system that guides their lives. Unfortunately it is the aberrations that make headlines, partly because they are sensational and partly because the press has an anti-chareidi agenda. That being the case I'm wondering why the author states that, "much that I have subsequently been exposed to would have made the decision [to become religious] much harder at the beginning". Why is that? Was the author really expecting uniform perfection in Chareidi society at the beginning?

R K, January 18, 2012 4:37 AM

I don't think that was the author's implication at all.

The point of the article is that people are acting like they're on such a high level that they can get away with their behavior in the name of zealotry--but the holy men the author describes are surely on a higher level than these extremists and yet never forgot how to properly treat human beings. The article is a beautifully written one. I hope we all aspire to such levels of ahavat yisrael...indeed of loving all human beings.

(2) Chaya, January 8, 2012 6:18 PM


Thank you so much for your wonderful article reminding us that we are all brothers and sisters no matter what our level of observance. Countless people have become observant because the beauty of observance was shown to them. The Beis Hamikdash cannot be rebuilt until we no longer have Sinat Chinum (hatred for our brother). We must also remember to respect people of other religions & not talk down to them. We have a connection to Hashem, they haven't yet "seen the light". We learn from studying Tehillim that we must be a "light unto other nations" & the time will come when they will come to us to educate them.

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