בני בני חביבי –  A Tribute to the Residents of Beit Ha’ela

Simchos Bais Hashoeva come in various shapes and sizes. Some take place in a Succa, some in Simcha halls, others in private rooms. At some, people dance to live music, at others people sit in their seats and sing. Some have several droshos, others none at all. Most are simchadik with a joyful Succos atmosphere. Hopefully most Jews go to one or two during Succos. It is part of the beauty of the Jewish calendar that during a complete year we experience  the happiness of Succos, the sadness of Tisha Be’Ov, the solemnity of Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur and much else besides.

But the Simchas Bais Hashoeva I attended tonight was not similar to any of the above. The people who attended are all patients in a nursing home in the centre of Israel. All of them suffer from serious physical disabilities which prevent them from living at home, if they have one. Some have cognitive impairments, others psychological issues. Some are blind, others are either lacking limbs or have deformed ones. Some have a combination of problems. Some come from religious homes and are quite knowledgable. Others are totally secular but remember the odd aspect of Judaism from their grandparents. I have been visiting them on a weekly basis for some time and have never heard a word of complaint about their situation.

Their four story facility is in pleasant rural surroundings but quite far from the nearest town. Hence most of the time, they have just their fellow residents as company. Besides the staff, many of whom seem to be Russian speaking, there are volunteers who go in and help in some way. I am the only male volunteer and as a Rabbi, I was asked to give a shiur once a week to those who are interested. I punctuate my Divrei Torah and stories with either popular Israeli songs or more traditional Jewish melodies which I have taught them. You should see the delight in the eyes of the Sefardi patients as they get to grips with ‘Yismach Moshe’ with its Yiddish refrains! Thus the group has grown over time. All are made to feel welcome. There’s something for everybody to enjoy.

They had told me the previous week that somebody brings them a lulav and esrog for Succos. Therefore I was quite surprised when my arrival with my lulav and esrog created such a stir. Apparently the person who had brought in previous years hadn’t managed this year so mine was the first. To paraphrase the Gemoro in Succa(51a) – “Anybody who did not see the joy with which these people took the lulav and, some with help, some without help, said the brocho have never seen joy in their life.” This was “Usemachtem Lifnei Hashem Elokaichem” in its most sublime sense. Those in wheelchairs formed the circle, those on two feet were dancing, my lulav was the Sefer Torah. Vesomachto Bechagecho was the theme song on everyone’s lips. The first hakofo had begun.

Eventually the dancing subsided, everyone formed a circle and we spoke about the symbolism of the lulav and the esrog and the message of the Succa. I told them of the time my family and I were walking towards the ‘plane in Ovda airport, north of Eilat on our way to visit our family in England. Behind the plane we could see the rugged mountains of the Negev, with not a blade of grass in sight. . “Look,” I told my family,“when the Bnai Yisroel left Egypt, Moshe Rabeinu told them that we’re going in that direction. They were leaving civilization and going into the unknown. What a leap of faith that required. How could they survive in such surroundings? Our group then sang“ Ko omar Hashem, zocharti loch chesed ne’uraich, ahavas kelulosaich, lechtech acharei bamidbar be’eretz lo zorua” to the well known tune. We could only survive because Hashem was protecting us with His Annanei Hakovod, feeding us Mon from the sky and water from the rock. This is what the succa reminds us of. Everyone in the circle, all with a Jewish neshomo was listening intently.

When Aharon Hakohen was niftar, I told them, the Annanei Hakovod were no longer to be seen. So much so, I said quoting the Gemoro Rosh Hashono (3a), that The King of Arod, alias Sichon Ho’emori, thought that this was an opportune moment to attack. Their G-d is no longer protecting them, he concluded. However he was utterly defeated. He didn’t know the secret. The Annanei Hakovod are no longer visable to the naked eye.

But they are still there, protecting the Jews, from the enemies who have tried to destroy us in every generation. How else could we have survived – a lone lamb surrounded by seventy wolves? We then sang “Vehi she’omdo”  familiar to all those present from the Seder.

I then told them, I wanted to teach them a song from the Zohar. Kad yasvin Yisroel ve’askin besimchas hatorah, Kudshe Brich Hoo omer lefamalia delai “ Chazoo, chazoo,bonai, bonai chavivai demishtachechin bezaaro dilhon ve’askin be chedvasa dili. When the Jewish People are celebrating Simchas Hatorah, the Holy One, blessed be He says to His Heavenly Court – “ Look, look at my beloved children who disregard their own troubles and celebrate My Simcha.”

We sang it with enthusiasm a few times until the tune and the words were familiar. Then I spoke again. At this very moment, I told them,and I could feel my eyes watering already, Hashem is talking to His Ministering Angels and he is pointing down to this room. “See, see My beloved children who have so many problems of their own but they’re not complaining, they’re not bitter about their lot, they’re blind, lame, malformed but they’re singing Ani Maamin, they’re dancing to Vesomachto Bechagecho, they’re looking forward to Yibone Hamikdosh Bimhairo Beyomainu with a pure faith, they’re putting aside their problems and are celebrating My Simcha. Chazoo, chazoo, bonai bonai chavivai – My beloved, beautiful children. We sang the words again, but this time with even more feeling, more intensity. In my thoughts I was again paraphrasing the Gemoro Succa. Whoever has not experienced this Simchas Bais Hashoeva, has never experienced a Simchas Bais Hashoeva in their life.

And in my thoughts, I was looking forward to the real Simchas Bais Hashoeva in the rebuilt Bais Hamikdosh. As the Mishna says all of Klal Yisroel will be there but only the Chasidim and Anshei Maaseh will be dancing in the middle. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet but I wouldn’t be surprised if with all the Gedolai Yisroel of all generations, a call doesn’t come out to invite others into the inner circle of dancers.

Aryeh and Yitschok with their sight now restored, Moshe, Yaakov, Meir and Danni now out of their wheelchairs, Gaddi, his nervous system now functioning normally, Menashe, he sings “Yibone Hamikdosh” with unequalled intencity, with the rest of our group together with all the other holy members of Klal Yisroel who with equal bravery have put aside their personal Tzoros and have celebrated “My Simcha” throughout the generations.

We will stand back as they go forward, the tachtonim will have become the elyonim – bimhairo beyomainu omain

As printed in Rabbi Fletcher’s sefer “From Strength to Strength”