Sunday, November 22, 2009

Natan Sharansky’s Aliyah

Mother in Israel has this week’s Haveil Havalim out here, and she mentions Russian olim to Israel:

When we arrived in the early 90’s, large numbers of educated immigrants from the former Soviet Union had difficulty finding employment. In light of this, an Israeli satire show had a skit about a Russian speaker cleaning the streets. An Israeli comes over to him and says, “In Russia, you were a doctor. How come you’re sweeping streets?” The immigrant replies, “Protektzia.“

I was going to post about something else tonight, but with that lead I had to mention that this morning I sat in shul with my kids and was privileged to watch Natan Sharansky be oleh to the Torah.

[As someone observed to me this morning, one of the perks of being part of our Toronto Beit Midrash is that the world’s Jewish leaders come here. It’s true, and it definitely adds to the experience of our avrechim. Last week it was R’ Mordechai Greenberg, Rosh Yeshiva at Kerem b’Yavneh. Next week it will be R’ Chaim Druckman, Gd-willing. This morning was Mr. Sharansky.]

I turned to my older son after Mr. Sharansky’s aliyah and told him, “When I was younger than you are now, I went to rallies to free him from a Soviet prison. Now I can hear him make a berachah on kriat hatorah!”

Of course, that necessitated an explanation of what the Soviet Union was, and why they imprisoned Jews, etc. Similarly, this afternoon I heard one collegiate describe Sharansky as, “A big Israeli.” The whole “Let My People Go” movement is an historical footnote now.

After davening, Mr. Sharansky delivered a dvar torah on ויותר יעקב לבדו. He riffed on ויותר (as in ויותר יעקב לבדו – Bereishit 36:25 – “Yaakov remained alone”) as a word associated with being מוותר, to forgive one’s rights. After apologizing for what is clearly a homiletic, he made the point that עשו always expects the Jew to be מוותר, to give up element after element of what makes him special, what makes him a Jew. Yaakov, indeed, was willing to give up much, sending Esav a gift, calling Esav “my master,” etc. But the world always wants more; the world always wants the Jew to be מוותר on piece after piece, until nothing is left.

Mr. Sharansky applied the theme to peace talks and Israel, as well; despite all sorts of offers, the bottom line for the world is that Israel cease to exist as a Jewish state. But like Yaakov, and like the Jew in a Soviet prison, Israel will not find success by granting that request. Survival, and a thriving future, will come when the Jew stands firm in the declaration that on some things we simply cannot be מוותר.

A simple lesson, to refuse to be מוותר, and a dvar torah anyone could have given – but coming from someone who lived it, the message meant much more.


  1. Yes, thank you for sharing this. Being of the generation for whom Natan Sharansky was not a foot note to history but a rallying cry for action, his being in shul with you and being oleh l'Torah is a real cause for jubilation. We/he didn't give up and we/he didn't give in--not a bad lesson for today's generations to heed.

  2. I wonder how many of us (me) would have had the courage of conviction that Natan demonstrated (his autobiography is very worth reading)? He is a true hero in a generation sadly lacking in them.

    Joel Rich