June 6, 2024
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June 6, 2024
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Before his distinguished 50-year career as a surgeon at Hadassah Hospital, Dr. Nachum Kook was beloved for his righteousness and dedication to the members of the Jewish underground in pre-state Israel and his service as the unofficial doctor of the Irgun. During the Six Day War, Dr. Kook was a supervisor at the emergency military field clinic at Bikur Cholim hospital in Jerusalem, working day and night as a physician in the triage room.

Amid the raging battles, decisions in the field clinic were made at a dizzying pace. Wounded soldiers were arriving on stretchers in a desperate condition; there was a constant need to make life-and-death decisions and to prioritize treating the victims whose lives could be saved. A young soldier—evacuated from the warfront—arrived at Bikur Cholim unconscious and severely wounded, his leg barely attached to his body.

The doctors tried everything, but soon realized that they had a terrible choice to make: If the young man was to live, he had to lose his leg. Dr. Kook, however, adamantly insisted that the attending doctors do more to save the soldier’s leg from amputation. With a steady flow of injured soldiers coming in, the medical team felt there was no time to deliberate further on the matter, but Dr. Kook continued to insist: They should not give up on the limb.

In the face of Dr. Kook’s persistence—despite their opposition—the doctors reviewed the case once again. Emerging from the operating room a short while later, their faces beaming with joy: The soldier’s leg had been saved!

The medical personnel at Bikur Cholim were astounded. What had made this one doctor so focused on saving a limb? Why had he persisted so adamantly, forcing his colleagues to rethink their initial diagnosis?

The answer Dr. Kook gave is both powerful and instructive: “My great-uncle was the great tzaddik and ohev Yisrael, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, who shared a message that I carry with me each time I treat a patient in surgery. When I entered the field of medicine, my holy uncle implored me to always bear in mind that just as klal Yisrael is one nation, and no individual Jew can be cut off from their people, a surgeon must do everything within his power to ensure that a person is given a chance to stay whole.

“My uncle spent his life reaching beyond his limits to maintain a kesher (connection) with Jews whom many considered to be far away, refusing to allow them to be “cut off” from Knesset Yisrael. He spent his precious time traveling to the moshavim across Eretz Yisrael to connect with Jews of different walks of life, and in doing so subjected himself to intense opposition, criticism and shaming. Nonetheless, he adamantly insisted that no Jew would be “amputated” frWhen faced with the dilemma of whether to do or not do an emergency amputation, I am guided by my uncle’s insistence on never giving up hope, neither spiritually nor physically.”


וַיִּחַן־שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר

“Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain,” (Shemos, 19:2).

The word “vayichan—encamped,” unexpectedly appears in the singular, as if to say, “And ‘he,’ Am Yisrael, encamped there … ” Rashi notes that it implies the whole nation was כאיש אחד בלב אחד“… as one person with one heart.” Rebbe Leibele Eiger of Lublin teaches that the word “vayichan” is a term of “chein—grace.” At Mount Sinai, we all saw each other’s good points and found “grace” in each other’s eyes; we were unified in receiving the Torah.

ואהבת לרעך כמוך; זה כלל גדול בתורה—“And you shall love your friend, ‘the other,’ as you instinctively love and seek benefit for yourself; this divine commandment is the klal gadol baTorah.” Here, Rashi quotes a midrash, saying that not just one of the most important elements, but the central value, the fundamental principle and goal of Torah. Indeed, the ability to truly love others is the highest spiritual attainment, and the most God-like activity that we can engage in.

While Chazal places our religious experience in the context of an exclusive, intimate relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam, the One God, the litmus test to measure our closeness with Hashem is our avodah of ואהבת—to truly love our fellow Jew. And this is arguably the most omnipresent of mitzvos—since in every encounter with another person, we have an opportunity to uphold and fulfill this yesod, or foundational principle of kol haTorah kulah, the entire Torah.

Shavuos celebrates the fact that, “U’bau kulam bevris yachad, ‘naaseh venishma’ amru keechad”—We all came together in the covenant of the Torah, declaring ‘as one’ that we will perform it and understand it.” We all have different entry points into Yiddishkeit, and there are infinite pathways to draw near to our Creator, but the Torah and closeness with Hashem belong to all—equally, “as one.” Therefore, we must adamantly insist that no Jew be separated from his or her people. Each and every Yid is a vital limb of the Shechina.

Each Shavuos, we are called upon to renew our dedication to the charge and privilege of living with the responsibility and obligation of “veahavta.” May this Yom Tov of Matan Torah strengthen our awareness that we are, indeed, one person, with one collective heart, responsible for one another. May we never give up hope in keeping our communal body whole and unified, “l’eila chad lakavel chad—the oneness below paralleling the Oneness Above … ”

Rabbi Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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