This is a
true story written with the permission and blessing of those involved.
rang during the nine days leading up to Tisha Bav. This is normally a time of
sadness and mourning, a poignant reminder that the Temple remains unbuilt and
the world unredeemed. The present climate in Israel makes matters even worse:
ringing phones cause unease. With this combination of the political quagmire
and the calendric situation, the last thing I expected was good news.
at the other end of the phone was an old friend of my wife's family, calling
from America to tell us that she was engaged to be married. This was wonderful
news; this woman had passed her 35th birthday, and she had begun to doubt
whether she would ever marry.
requisite "mazel tov" came the more important questions:
It was here that the intrigue began:
the wedding will be as soon as possible."
we want to elope, and we want to get married in Israel."
he is not really religious..."
first two answers had a certain logic to them, in view of the age and
circumstances of the couple, the third seemed most confounding. This woman was
raised in what is known as a "modern orthodox" home. At some point in
her early adulthood, she had strayed somewhat from some of the beliefs of her
youth, only to return subsequently with even greater dedication. The most difficult
challenge she endured was the sudden death of her father when she was 15.
As an adult
she became very active in the Jewish community and outreach, bringing a great
many estranged Jews to Shabbat meals and other communal activities that
introduced them to Judaism. By this point, she had been learning Torah
regularly for quite some time, and had grown to be a leader in her community,
known for her charitable activities, but more importantly for encouraging
others to become similarly involved.
She was now
exploring the possibility of my performing her wedding in Israel in less than
two weeks, to a man who did not seem to share the same ideals. Was this simply
the case of a woman whose biological clock was ticking so loudly that she could
no longer think clearly?
would be flying to Israel the following day, she said, and I would have the
opportunity to meet him and speak to him. Only then would we continue our
conversation. In the meantime, there were so many wedding arrangements to be
organized; fortunately, countless friends materialized, all willing to help put
together a wedding in less than two weeks.
ketubah was commissioned from a local artist; I needed to make sure that the
names were written correctly, and it was only then that I asked his name. She
said, "It is Landau and he is a Levi"
"Landau - a Levi? Could he be a descendant of Rav Yechezkel Landau"?
"Who is that?" I answered, "One of the great Rabbis of the 18th
century. His surname was Landau and he, too, was a Levi."
don't think there are any rabbis in his family, but he is a Levi."
the conversation came to an end.
I met him a
few days later. He was everything she wasn't: She is a New Yorker, brought up
on Long Island, he is a southern gentleman with a thick twang, developed over
years in Memphis and Texas. Standing in front of me was a former United States
Marine, who now teaches high school history, along with being a football and
wrestling coach. He was polite, dignified, and he had passion. He had a deep
understanding that Israel is "the Lord's Land" and that the Jews are
"the Lord's People". These basic Jewish beliefs were engraved deep in
As a former
Marine, he offered a number of suggestions for quickly and permanently solving
the Middle East crisis; diplomacy was not among them. I found him engaging and
interesting, yet I still was not convinced that this union was made in heaven.
over to the offices of the Religious Council, where the marriage would need to
be registered. We arrived at 12:06; the office apparently closed at 12:00. I
went over to the gentleman in the booth, and explained that we needed to open a
file for a wedding. "Impossible. The office is closed." "But the
wedding is in less than 10 days," I said. He looked at me incredulously
and said "Impossible. It takes at least two weeks for a file to be
processed". After a minute of negotiations he sent me to Rabbi Ralbag, the
man in charge, so that he could tell me officially that this was impossible. As
far as I was concerned, we were on our way out.
the office of the Rabbi, who recognized me, and I introduced my new friend.
When Rabbi Ralbag heard the name Landau - he, too, said: "You could be
from the family of the Noda B'Yehuda". I informed the Rabbi that Mr.
Landau is a Levi, strengthening his assumption. Meanwhile, we opened up the
envelope the groom had brought with him from the U.S.;I had instructed them earlier to bring signed
affidavits establishing their marital status and Jewishness in order to
expedite the registration process. The groom produced a letter written by Rabbi
Ephraim Greenblatt of Memphis, a well- known author and sage who was raised in
Jerusalem, but traveled to America years ago to learn with Rav Moshe Feinstein
and was sent to Memphis to lead the Jewish community there.
Greenblatt wrote that he knew the family and in fact had attended the brit mila
(circumcision) of the groom forty-one years ago. He then added that the reader
should be aware that Mr. Landau is indeed a descendant of the Noda B'Yehuda -
seven generations removed. Rabbi Ralbag and I looked at one another,
appreciating the significance of his lineage, while the groom was somewhat
nonchalant, not really appreciating the importance of his own lineage.
was quickly opened, and we were on our way. I suspected that I might have just
witnessed a little intercession from above which helped open closed doors and,
more impressively, subdue Israeli Bureaucracy.
the bride and I reported the progress we had made. I questioned her again, more
closely, to make sure that she had really thought this decision through. She
told me that he loves her, that he will care for her, that he is ready to make
a commitment. So may of the men she met in NY who were her age had their eyes
open only for younger women. So many had "commitment issues", or in
their words, "enjoyed their 'freedom' ". She felt on a core level, on
a soul level, that this was right. She felt that together they could build
something great. She felt God had sent him her way. She felt that once in a
Jewish environment, he would grow: He is interested and committed to growth,
and he was sure from the day they met that they would marry - to him it was
"fate".She convinced me that
this was "meant to be".
Who was I
to argue? He was a man of sterling character, consistent, decent; he was a good
man. What he lacked was merely a bit of outward religious trappings and some
ritual behavior.Our sages tell us that
character is far more difficult to change than practice, yet I remained
hung up, I recalled the letter written by Rabbi Greenblatt, and informed her
that indeed her soon-to-be-husband comes from a leading rabbinic family and
that he is the seventh generation from the Noda B'Yehuda.
asked "Who is that?"
"He was a leading Rabbi a little more than 200 years ago. While the Vilna
Gaon sat and studied in Vilna this man was considered to be the greatest
decider of Halacha of his time. He lived in Prague, and questions poured in
from all over the world for his opinion. His full name was Rabbi Yechezkel ben
Yehudah Landau (1713 -1793).
A day later
I get another call from the bride; this time she was far more excited.
"You won't believe this," she gushed. She mentioned the Noda B'Yehuda
connection to one of her closest friends, who responded by saying "Don't
move". Her friend quickly went into the next room and brought back a photo
album. There was a picture taken one year earlier. These two friends, both
single, had decided to accompany Rebbitzen Esther Jungreiss to Prague, to pray
at the graves of righteous Jews. The bride's friend held up one picture:There was the bride, praying by the grave of
Rav Yechezkal Landau, the famed Noda B'Yehuda, asking him to open some gates in
heaven and help her find her "soul mate".
As she told
me this, things finally became clear: She had traveled to the grave of the Noda
B'Yehuda and asked to meet her soul mate. The Noda B'Yehuda apparently offered
a "deal" - I will introduce you to my own great-great-great grandson
on condition that you bring him a bit closer to our heritage.
was on the porch of the Aish HaTorah building overlooking the Kotel. The day
was Tu B'av. Despite trying to "elope," a crowd of people would not
let this wedding happen quietly. They boarded a plane and came to Israel,
despite "the situation", in order to rejoice with bride and groom. As
we were preparing the ketubah for signing, an elderly, distinguished-looking
rabbi appeared; I looked up and introduced myself, and he identified himself as
Rabbi Efraim Greenblatt. He was in Israel for a visit, and he felt he should
attend the wedding. Soon other leading rabbis appeared: a Kabbalist appeared,
soon a leading Chabad Rabbi, Simon Jacobson joined. We marched and danced both
bride and groom to the chupah. The bride's father, as I mentioned earlier,
passed away years ago, and her mother was unable to fly. The groom's parents
were unable to make the wedding, but the bride and groom each had a brother
accompany them, together with close friends.
There was a
power to that wedding the likes of which I had never felt; perhaps the location
helped, but there was something more. There was electricity in the air, the
music was intense, people sang and sang as we prepared for the actual ceremony.
The Shechinah could be felt. This wasn't just my subjective feeling; every
person present I spoke to later told me "they felt something".
I know that
her father was smiling down, watching his only daughter get married. He was a
kind man, a charitable man. In fact, when Rebbetzen Jungreiss first started her
"mission" 27 years ago, he was the first to hold a "parlor
meeting" for her in order to raise much-needed funds.
But I am
sure that there was another presence there: the spirit of the Noda B'Yehuda,
Rabbi Yechezkal ben Yehudah Landau, looking down, enjoying this marriage -
which was certainly arranged in heaven.
Kippur approaches I think back to that wedding. Our sages tell us that the
happiest days in the calendar were Yom Kippur and Tu Bav: Yom Kippur was day of
forgiveness and Tu Bav was a day of marriages. On both of these days people
would dance in the streets.
Kippur we should all remember that we, too, have connections in heaven. Perhaps
some of us have more famous ancestors than others, but we should remind
ourselves that we are all descendants of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and
Rivkah, and Yaakov and Leah and Rachel. These are our ancestors. But more
importantly, every time we say "Avinu Malkenu" we should remember
that we have a Father in heaven who is capable of "pulling strings".
We all need
to do some Teshuva, to improve at least one area of our lives. We need to give
Tzdaka (and encourage others to do the same!) and we all need to call out to
our Father in Heaven, who is capable of changing and liberating the entire
world "in the blink of an eye", and of intervening in even the most
intimate details of each individual's life.
He can even
help two people find one another, and happiness.