April 18, 2024
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In Memory of Rabbi Moshe Kasinetz, zt”l

This past Shabbat we had the privilege of reading Parshat Vayechi. The parsha recounts a number of very dramatic events in Jewish history beginning with the impending death of our patriarch Yaakov Avinu for whom we, the Jewish people, Am Yisroel are named. Aware of his limited remaining time, Yaakov summons his son Yosef (Joseph) and makes a very difficult request of him. As opposed to the Jewish custom of immediately burying the dead he instead asks Yosef to place his hand under his thigh in symbolic reference to the brit milah, the covenant with his forefathers and says: “… v’asita imadi chesed v’emet, and do kindness and truth with me, …al na tikbereini b’Mitzrayim, please do not bury me in Egypt.” He then explicitly asks to be transported out of Mitzrayim and to be buried together with his fathers in their tomb. Yosef assures Yaakov that he will do as per his words. Rashi famously tells us that this is a “chesed shel emet,” a kind deed that can never be repaid. To this day, we the Jewish people pay great attention to the mitzvah of accompanying the dead knowing nonetheless that the kindness cannot be repaid.

Later in the parsha, Yaakov’s death and the funeral procession to the burial cave, the Mearat HaMachpela that Yaakov’s grandfather Avraham purchased, is recounted in great detail. Yosef asks permission from Pharaoh to accompany his father on his final journey. Pharoah seemingly understands the great loss and the weight of the promise Yosef made to Yaakov and encourages Yosef to go. He is accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his house and the elders of Egypt as well as the house of Yosef and his brothers and the house of his father. Indeed the tremendous loss is referred to as “aivel gadol,” a grievous mourning. The eulogy too is referred to as “misped gadol,” a very great and imposing eulogy. The funeral procession is so great and “heavy” that the Torah makes a point of telling us that “when the inhabitants of the land of Caanan saw the mourning in Goren HaAtad,” due to its intensity they renamed the place “Avel Mitzrayim,” the mourning place of Egypt “which is across the Jordan.”

Ultimately the parsha ends with the return of Yosef to Mitzrayim and a far less dramatic though no less significant recounting of his death, prior to which he restates the promise to his brothers that they will be returned to the land of Israel as sworn to their forefathers. As with his father Yaakov, Yosef asks that his bones too be transported to the land of his fathers. The parsha then ends with the dramatic Chazak wherein the Baal Korei uses a unique tune to not only signal to the congregation to rise but also to encourage them as they stand and shout “Chazak! Chazak! V’nitchazek!, Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!” The Baal Korei repeats this phrase in a dramatic voice.

Over the years it has been the custom at the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston that the founding rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Kasinetz, zt”l would receive the last aliyah of Parshat Vayechi during which the chazak is recited. Since the onset of Covid, Rabbi Kasinetz’s presence in shul has been greatly missed. As if by some strange synchronistic feeling, it struck me this past Shabbat as Rabbi James Proops, who assumed leadership of the synagogue almost two years ago, was honored with the maftir aliyah that it has been several years since Rabbi Kasinetz has had the honor of being called up when the chazak is recited. Little did any of the congregants know that Rabbi Kasinetz had passed away that very morning. After Shabbat when the congregation was made aware of Rabbi Kasinetz’s passing, thoughts about the parsha that we had just read and its tremendous symbolism began to occur to me. Indeed, not only did the congregation miss Rabbi Kasinetz’s presence for the chazak but an aivel gadol has befallen the Livingston community with the passing of the synagogue’s founding rabbi. The dignified and somber funeral at the synagogue was brief and was followed by a symbolic trip to 770 Eastern Parkway and from there on to Montefiore Cemetery. As in the case of Yaakov Avinu who desired to be buried with the Jewish leaders that had preceded him, Rabbi Kasinetz was laid to rest not far from his revered, esteemed and beloved rabbi, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l who had instructed him so many years earlier to establish the first orthodox synagogue in Livingston.

As the gravity of the loss sets in, a misped gadol, as in the case of Yaakov Avinu, will surely be delivered for Rabbi Kasinetz publicly and privately. Symbolically, after the loss of Yaakov and the great mourning, followed by the loss of Yosef, Sefer Bereishit ends. It is immediately followed by Sefer Shemot, wherein the greatest leader the Jewish people have ever known, Moshe Rabbeinu, is born. Sefer Shemot of course recounts how Moshe assumes the leadership of the Jewish people aided by his faithful and righteous brother Aharon HaKohen. In reading the beginning of Parshat Shemot this Monday morning, New Year’s Day I was again struck by the tremendous symbolism of the link between the aivel gadol at the end of Parshat Vayechi and the birth of Moshe in Parshat Shemot. Indeed Rabbi Kasinetz’s name was Moshe Aharon (ben Zev); may his memory be for a blessing.


Michael Mamet is a longtime member of the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center and Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston.

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