A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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A wonderful example of the true heart of the Jewish people 


When the renowned Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky lived in Toronto in the 1940s, his synagogue presented him with a silver platter as a present for Purim. A few days later, one of the shul members saw Rav Kamenetsky in a Toronto pawn shop with this very same silver platter. The member thought it highly inappropriate. The shul gave their rabbi a gift and he went to pawn it!  The member was shocked. He went back and told other members of the shul and the board of directors. A contingent came to Rav Kamenetsky and asked him “What kind of business is this – you went to pawn our gift in a pawn shop?” 

Kamenetsky told the “Committee of Inquiry” that according to Jewish law the gift was considered part of his salary.  If it is part of his salary, he felt, he needed to declare it on his income tax form as earned income. “I need to know how much the silver platter is worth, so I know how much to declare.”  So, he took it into the pawn shop to assess the fair market value of the platter so that he could accurately record it as part of his income tax declaration.

This beautiful story illustrates the beauty of the heart of the Jewish people.  Those who are immersed in Torah and follow not only its detailed commandments, but also do so in the spirit that God intends as expressed in His directive, Kedoshim Ti’yu, “You Shall be Holy,” act not simply with honesty, but with unassailable integrity. 

Our people, descended from and who grow up surrounded by those immersed in Torah, are often capable of extraordinary compassion and forgiveness.

On a December day in Gaza, after Israel Defense Forces troops mistakenly identified three escaped Israeli hostages as a threat; Yotam Haim and two others were shot and killed.  The pain of the Israeli families is enormous, and the pain and guilt of those who made the mistake are certainly beyond our ability to grasp. 

But Iris Haim, mother of Yotam, recorded a message to those soldiers.  

“I am Yotam’s mother. I wanted to tell you that I love you very much, and I hug you here from afar. I know that everything that happened is absolutely not your fault, and nobody’s fault except that of Hamas …. I want you to look after yourselves … you are doing the best thing in the world that could help us … And don’t hesitate for a second if you see a terrorist. Don’t think that you killed a hostage deliberately.”

The bereaved mother continued: “At the first opportunity, you are invited to come to us… we want to see you with our own eyes and hug you and tell you that what you did — however hard it is to say this, and sad — it was apparently the right thing in that moment. And nobody’s going to judge you or be angry. Not me, and not my (family). And not Yotam, may his memory be blessed …. We love you very much. And that is all.” 

The soldiers sent her back a voice note: “We received your message, and since then we have been able to function again.  Before that, we had shut down.”  

Iris Haim responded: “Amazing, that is what I wanted.”  The next day, the opportunity came and the soldier from the battalion who had made the mistake visited Iris and her family.

We live in a day and age when the most minor of triggers strain relationships past the point of no return.  Yet despite Iris Haim’s unimaginable pain, the compassion and forgiveness she expressed to the devastated IDF soldiers are the true heart of the Jewish people, exhibiting a stunning display of the emotional strength of those imbued with Torah values.

Israel now works together to defeat an enemy that committed the worst mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust and horrific war crimes that shocked humanity. The leaders of Hamas have said that “October 7 was just a dress rehearsal.”   Yet, while Israel tries to ensure the safety of its troops, the IDF does not bomb Gaza indiscriminately, as virtually any other army would do.  Not only does Israel allow aid to enter areas controlled by its enemy, but the IDF telegraphs its strategy to ensure that civilians flee combat zones.  And Israel continues to provide water, medicine, food and fuel to the Palestinians.  

Colonel Richard Kemp, commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. Kemp was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014.  In an article he authored and titled, “Israel: The World’s Most Moral Army,” Colonel Kemp wrote, “Based on my experience and on my observations: “The IDF does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”  

Our Sages debate what is the greatest quality a person can acquire.  Their conclusion?  A lev tov, a “good heart.” The Torah begins and ends with the two Hebrew letters that spell lev, heart.  If you’ve got a good heart, you’ve got it all: Integrity, compassion and forgiveness.  Morality on the battlefield. These, and more, are the true heart of the Jewish people. 

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