June 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In reference to the Birkat Kohanim, the pasuk that appears immediately before the actual blessings states, “Thus shall you bless the children of Israel, speak to them.” What is the importance and meaning of the extra words “speak to them”?

R’ Mordechai Kamenetzky explains with the following story he personally experienced: After he moved to Woodmere, a lovely young Israeli couple with two young children moved next door to them. After conversing with them, the rav and his wife realized that in Israel they had not been the least bit observant of Jewish tradition. They had not even observed Yom Kippur, let alone kept Shabbat or kosher. It seemed that they moved to America because Israel was becoming too Jewish for them. R’ Kamenetzky and his wife and felt a responsibility to bring these fine people closer to the Torah, yet they also did not feel comfortable telling them about laws that they must have known about but chose not to observe. R’ Kamenetzky sought the counsel of R’ Shlomo Freifeld, the rosh yeshiva who brought thousands of people close to Torah: “Rebbe, what do you do in order to make someone frum (religious)?” He smiled and put his large hand on his shoulder. “Do absolutely nothing!” R’ Kamenetzky stood shocked and confused as R’ Freifeld continued. “Be a mentsch: Never miss a ‘good morning’ or a ‘good afternoon.’ Make sure your lawn is neat and your children are well behaved. And just be friendly.” Then he quoted the words of our sages, “Make sure that the name of Hashem is cherished through you.” He paused, looked R’ Kamenetzky in the eye, and proclaimed confidently, “Follow that advice and you will not have to do a thing. They will get closer to the Torah.” R’ Kamenetzky and his wife followed his advice. They invited them for meals, and their children played together. R’ Kamenetzky talked politics with him, while his wife discussed gardening with her. They spoke about everything—except religion. Sure enough, the day came in October when R’ Kamenetzky surprisingly was asked by his neighbors where the closest synagogue was. They decided to go to shul for Yom Kippur. He was even more surprised when days later they asked for R’ Kamenetzky’s help in building a sukkah. Tables do turn, and after five years of living in the U.S., they decided to move back to Israel. America was becoming too goyish (non-Jewish) for them.

R’ Kamenetsky thus explains that before it enumerates the actual blessings, the Torah teaches us the true way to bless Jews: speak to them. The words “speak to them” may be more important than the actual blessing.

Classes upon classes are given on kiruv rechokim, reaching out to our lost brothers and sisters. One of those classes is missing, and that is the class on teaching you the importance of being a relatable person, to be a mentch. In addition to that, I think there is one other very important approach we learn from this idea of R’ Kamenetzky, which also needs its own class. The midrash describes Avraham Avinu’s formula for kiruv: “Avraham Avinu would bring them into his house, and he would give them what to drink, and he would give them what to eat, and he would be mekarev them, and he would bring them under the “kanfei hashechina” (literally translated as “the wings of the Divine Presence”). I had two questions on this midrash: 1) Why does it mention the ideas of “bringing them into his house” as well as the idea of feeding them as part of the formula? 2) And why does it list “bringing them under the kanfei hashechina” as a separate category from “and he was mekarev them”? Isn’t that one and the same?

I thought that perhaps Avraham Avinu, the “founder” of kiruv, was teaching us that the way to do kiruv is through “eating and spending time with them,” meaning, developing a relationship with them. The category of “he was mekarev them” is perhaps falling back on the categories of “bringing them into his house” and “giving them what to eat and drink,” to teach that the foundation of kiruv is built on this one point: that in order to be mekarev—particularly people who are very far and perhaps somewhat frustrated with Hashem and Torah—one may need to first build a fostering relationship with the other party. Avraham Avinu’s definition of being “mekarev” was perhaps not necessarily through spiritual technique, since the last category of “bringing them under the kanfei hashechina” would seem to then be redundant; but rather it was through the social technique of achdut and camaraderie. Once that occurs, now we can get to the final category: to bring them “under the kanfei hashechina,” to open their minds and hearts to the beauty of Torah, living a Jewish life, and developing a relationship with Hashem. R’ Kamenetzky did just that, and naturally his neighbors came on their own, desiring to be brought “under the kanfei hashechina.”

I think this is a very practical idea in kiruv rechokim. Many times we want to help another lost Jew, be it a family member, friend, distant relative or someone we never met. More often than not, those who we’re looking to inspire not only display a lack of interest in being inspired, but they also may express distaste and negativity about Jewish life and God. A typical reaction to that is to get defensive and end up “force-feeding” religion—which might be even more counterproductive. We can fail to realize that developing a positive acquaintance (in a careful manner, of course, with guidance from a rav, as being influenced in the wrong way is a major concern for you as the reacher-outer) can be the most powerful way of bringing our people under the kanfei hashechina.

By Binyamin Benji


Binyamin Benji learns in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He holds an MSW and is the author of the weekly Torah Talk in the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ newsletter. He can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles