A large, eager crowd gathered at the Young Israel of Forest Hills on Wednesday night, September 11, to hear Rabbi Ashie Schreier, rav of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, and Rabbi Shay Schachter, Rosh Beis HaMidrash at the Young Israel of Woodmere, speak on emunah in the face of tragedy.

Rabbi Schreier welcomed everyone, and then he spoke about the mitzvah of emunah and what it means. “What does it mean to have a mitzvah to believe? Based on the Rambam, it appears that the mitzvah is to turn faith into fact. We can do that by looking at our history and the fact that we still exist, which is miraculous. We can also do that by looking at our own lives and the lives of friends and family, and seeing the hand of Hashem in all of our lives.”

He noted that the shiur was scheduled for 9/11, a date with horrible destruction and tragedy, and yet there were incredible stories of seeing Hashem. He shared one story of a man who worked in the towers, who unfortunately had a sick child and went to get his mezuzos checked on that morning and didn’t go to work that day. Rabbi Schreier pointed out, “We have to see Hashem in our lives and turn faith into fact!”

Following this, Rabbi Schachter shared a teaching of the Aish Kodesh, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who was killed in 1943 in the Warsaw Ghetto at the age of 23, and who offered words encouragement to the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. He buried his writings and we have them now. One sefer was written in letters. Rabbi Schachter shared that the Aish Kodesh stated that “if I could live my life again, I would not learn Torah differently. I would not pray differently; but one thing I would do differently is I would want to come to the appreciation of G-d on my own.” He wrote that “perhaps I don’t understand the gift it is to be a Jew.” Rabbi Schachter pointed out that that is his only regret.

Rabbi Schachter imparted how we can learn from this teaching. “We have the opportunity during Elul to work on our relationship with Hashem. We have to ask ourselves if Hashem is a major component of everything we experience as a Jew.” During Elul, now is our chance to regain appreciation and to be connected with G-d. “It’s a time to reconsider all that G-d does for us and what He means to us.”

He shared the story of Rav Dudai in the Gemara, who sinned his whole life and then at one point he decided to do t’shuvah, and a Heavenly Voice came down and said he will be in Olam HaBa. Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi] heard this voice and he cried. He said, “Look what a person can accomplish in one moment. A fleeting moment of t’shuvah can turn around an entire life.” So, why did Rabbi cry? According to Mesudah Maggid, he said, “I cry because of the wasted life.” All the potential was wasted. Rabbi Schachter taught, “Life is about the experience of life as we go through it. That’s what makes life meaningful.”

Adam and G-d had a conversation. G-d said, “Where are you?” Rashi said this was a way to engage Adam in conversation. The Alshich taught that it’s a character assessment. Rabbi Schachter explained: Hashem is saying that I created you as someone with so much potential. He is asking where are you in our relationship? ”We need to ask ourselves where we are in our relationship with G-d.”

He shared a teaching of his father, Rav Hershel Schachter, Poseik and Rosh HaYeshiva at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and halachic advisor for the Orthodox Union, that one of the primary obligations of a king is to commission the writing of a sefer Torah. Even if his father was king, it is still a mitzvah for him when he becomes the new king. He related that his father is a gadol, but he, as an individual, has an obligation to carve his own story and relationship with G-d. This is a challenge for every Jew.

He taught that G-d has been constructing a ladder since creation. At different stages of our lives, we have different feelings and understandings, so our relationship with G-d changes.

Rabbi Schachter concluded with sharing his experience at the second yahrzeit of the three boys who were kidnapped and killed five summers ago in Israel, Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar. He said he was in awe when he came, and there were 15 minutes before he spoke when the parents of these boys all recited songs from Shir HaShirim, expressing their close relationship with Hashem. What a powerful lesson for us all to see their strong emunah in the face of tragedy!

by Susie Garber