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Sunday, December 19, 2010


I have a brother who spends an extraordinary amount of time at the Kosel Hamaaravi (the Western Wall). Before he was married he even brought each of his dates to the Kotel. Despite the presence of a Mechitza, my brother managed to make these dates meaningful by greeting each one of the beggars by name and introducing them to his date. One particular girl was particularly struck by this habit. She did not end up marrying my brother, but she recommended that my brother meet the only other person she knew who could greet the Kotel staff by name. They were engaged a few weeks later.

I arrived in Israel on the day before my brother’s wedding with a strong desire to go to the Kosel and spend time with my brother. We arrived at the Kotel just before midnight and the soldiers on duty greeted my brother like an old friend. As they ushered us through the metal detector an alarm went off.  The soldier searched my brother and gave him a questioning look when he found and removed a case of cigars from my brother’s jacket pocket. “Those are for you guys”, Eliyahu explained, “I’m getting married tomorrow”.

As the smiling soldiers lit up and the aroma of cigars filled the Kosel plaza, I couldn’t help but notice the number of beggars approaching my brother and I. They didn’t want money. They just wanted to talk to Eliyahu. Eliyahu looked straight into the first man’s eyes and said “I’m getting married tomorrow, please come to the wedding”. The joy on the man’s face was unmistakable, but I couldn’t tell if he was smiling for Eliyahu’s good fortune in getting married, or for his own good fortune in getting invited.

Eliyahu extended his sincere invitation to each and every one of those downtrodden men and women at the Kosel. He asked about their spouses by name, gave some money for a taxi, and expressed genuine regret when one fellow said that he would be to busy to make it to the wedding.
We made our way to the Kosel, davened, and finally made our way home after midnight amidst calls of good wishes and through a cloud of cigar smoke.

Needless to say, the wedding was beautiful and the couple began their married lives together with some of the most overlooked residents of Jerusalem.

In Parshas Vayechi, Yaakov lay on his deathbed. He summoned each one of his children and blessed them individually. Only Shimon and Levi were called in as a pair. “Shimon and Levi are brothers”, Yaacov told them. “You have the power to unite with each other and cause major events to happen.  You acted together to sell Yosef, and he was sold. You acted together to attack the residents of Shechem, and you were successful”.

In his bracha, Yaacov hinted that in the future the children of Shimon would stage a demonstration against Moshe in the episode of Zimri and Kosbi and the children of Levi would gather together against Moshe in the rebellion of Korach. Yaakov was very clear in his criticism. He cursed their anger and declared that he would have no part in their actions. He prayed that the protagonists would not be identified as his grandchildren and that the children of Shimon and Levi not be allowed to unite. Instead, he expressed his hope that the decendants of Shimon and Levi would be scattered and dispersed throughout the Jewish kingdom.

Despite the implications of Yaacov’s dying words, the tribes of Shimon and Levi were not evil. From all of the tribes, it was Levi who was to represent us in the Beis Hamikdosh. To this day, we are commanded to this day to give special honor to Kohanim and Leviim. Likewise, the tribe of Shimon made up the teaching corp of the Jewish people people. The scholars and educators of all of the tribes came primarily from Shimon.
The Kli Yakar writes that the ability of Shimon and Levi to represent and educate the Jewish people as Kohanim and teachers was a result of their ability to connect with people. Yaacov saw that when Shimon and Levi connected to each other the results were not good, so he prayed that they separate from each other and use their abilities to form powerful connections with the entire Jewish nation. Shimon and Levi were to spread out, to teach and to inspire because of their ability to connect, not in spite of it.

When I was in yeshiva, one of my Chavrusas (study partners) was also my best friend. We didn’t learn much because there was so much to talk about. We could shmooze for hours and fall drastically behind in our leaarning. In an act of self-righteousness, we asked asked our rebbe to split us up and assign us new Chavrusos.  The rebbe refused.  “If you shmooze well together”, he said, “you can learn well together too”.
Yaacov looked at the powerful abilities of Shimon and Levi and saw enormous potential. He chastised them for their anger but not for their unity. He told them to channel their energy to benefit all of Klal Yisrael. In their particular case it was not advantageous to direct their connectivity toward each other. Instead, he insisted that they scatter throughout the land of Israel and connect to every single Jew. He made them our representatives in the Beis Hamikdash and the teachers in our Yeshivos. He unleashed their power in a constructive way and gave them, perhaps, the best blessing of all.

I recently asked my brother what became of all of those guests at his wedding. He told me that not one of them has forgotten his gesture. Five years later, they approach him in the streets and thank him for making them a part of his simcha and of his life.

We have a power to connect with people in a way that is too valuable to ignore.Like Shimon and Levi, we need to spread the love and recognize that we can change lives every time we smile, every time we make a phone call, and every time we say good shabbos.

We may be tempted to restrict our unity to those around us, but we need to follow the lead of Yaacov, Shimon, and Levi to touch and acknowledge every single person in our lives.

N.B. Many people have asked me “Where is your brother now?” Please have a look at

Posted on 12/19 at 06:31 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at