For example, the biography of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld ztz"l, Guardian of Jerusalem, changed my life and stamped an everlasting imprint on my hashkafah.
It was that book which shined light on the shadow surrounding the stories and scenarios I’d been told as a child in the movement for Conservative (which is actually quite liberal) “Judaism.”
I never consciously sensed the lies by omission nor the distortions regarding the modern history of Eretz Yisrael.
But upon reading Guardian of Jerusalem, so much came pouring back to me and I now saw the distorted history I’d been fed—corrected and displayed in full.
The maskilim and Leftist “pioneers” portrayed as heroes—they nearly destroyed the struggling Jewish settlement under Turkish rule. It was always either the Sephardi chachamim or the Ashkenazi chachamim who came to the rescue.
Yet I was always told the opposite: The religious Jews were always the bad guys; the “enlightened” liberal anti-religious Socialists were the saviors (although the fact that they were Socialists—or even Communists, really—was swept aside in the Commie-fearing Eighties).
A Zealous Warrior...from Love
He was also a tremendous warrior against the anti-Torah ideologies—but his zeal came from love.
He was a warrior from love.
Absolutely fearless, a warrior propelled by love, and a great ohev Hashem, ohev Yisrael, and ohev Eretz Yisrael, Rav Sonnenfeld was exactly what I wanted to be.
And over 20 years later, he is still the example I embrace, even though I’m still dropping very short of his example—mostly because I can’t figure out how to get there. But as usual, I figure there’s value in the effort.
Anyway, after one of my sons first started yeshivah, he came home telling me that one of his teachers was Ashkenazi and the great-grandson of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld.
Stunned with joy and gratitude, I could not believe the big chessed Hashem had done for me by placing the great-grandson of my role model as my son’s teacher.
The Ideal Teacher for Teenage Boys
Extremely energetic, good-humored, yet highly intelligent and very much a product of his family’s hashkafah, he was also very understanding of dealing with all the challenges of being a teenage boy and a frum Jew in today’s world.
He was very open and honest with the boys about the challenges this generation faces, and he gave over his Torah approach with great passion and conviction.
My husband and I met him during a parent-teacher evening and he was very friendly.
At one point, I asked my son to do me a big favor.
Saved by the "Black Arm" of a Complete Tzaddik
At one point, Rav Sonnenfeld went way out of his way to save the life of a terrible Jew (“one of the leaders of the Zionist Labor Federation, known for his virulent anti-religious attacks”) who needed the superior treatment provided only at Shaarei Tzedek hospital and only Rav Sonnenfeld could make it happen.
To provide some background: The Beit Din of Yerushalayim had placed a ban on anyone who entered the Missionary Hospital, whether for work or for treatment, with dire results for anyone who violated this ban.
Anyway, it was assumed that the legendary Dr. Wallach of Shaarei Tzedek would refuse to admit a person who both intentionally chose treatment at the Missionary Hospital (despite the ban and the poorer medical treatment there) and was a rabid anti-Torah Leftist bent on destroying Yiddishkeit in Eretz Yisrael.
Indeed, upon being brought to Shaarei Tzedek, the Leftist and his family encountered resistance from Dr. Wallach.
Interestingly, the family asked an off-the-derech youth to approach Rav Sonnenfeld. This youth was the son of a big talmid chacham and well-known to Rav Sonnenfeld. This youth also knew that Rav Sonnenfeld was “quite upset” with this same youth for leaving Torah and befriending this anti-Torah Leftist.
Nonetheless, this youth approached Rav Sonnenfeld at home, where Rav Sonnenfeld still received this youth with warmth.
Upon hearing of the urgent situation, the rav braved a severe thunderstorm to rush to Shaarei Tzedek, where Rav Sonnenfeld insisted that halacha demanded the admission of this dangerously ill traitor (but promised to discuss the matter with Dr. Wallach later).
Two weeks later, the anti-Torah Leftist experienced a miraculous recovery, then continued his nefarious activities.
Knowing how much the Leftist disliked Rav Sonnenfeld, none of the Leftist's associates informed him of Rav Sonnenfeld’s life-saving intervention & mesirut nefesh.
By the way, this also shows the mentality of such people. Why not tell the Leftist leader? Why not tell this rabid hater that one of the Gadolei Hador saved his life? Maybe it would soften him up a bit. At least, it might stop him from attacking the tzaddikim. Maybe he’d more willingly to hear Rav Sonnenfeld’s side and compromise a bit.
But those who knew davka decided to be careful not to tell him. So once again, we see that Leftists don’t really pursue peace; they have other agendas.
Anyway, a year later, this same Leftist delivered a keynote speech at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new settlement in the North. When he reached the climax of his speech, this Leftist gave a frenzied shout:
“We will build this land by waging a fight to the death against the black arm of Rabbi Sonnenfeld and his cronies!”
Sitting in the audience was the same youth who’d interceded on the Leftist’s behalf.
This statement spurred the youth to jump to his feet and shout his protest against such slander.
At the invitation of the shocked Leftist, the youth took over the podium and explained to all assembled “exactly how the ‘black arm’ of R’ Chaim Sonnenfeld had interceded to save the life of one who had vowed to destroy him.”
That should make you eat your words, shouldn’t it?
Ba'asher Hu Sham?
So I didn’t get why Rav Sonnenfeld helped this terrible traitor so much.
Yes, the book clearly quotes Rav Sonnenfeld’s view that the situation was pikuach nefesh to save a Jewish life. But the halacha isn’t so clear-cut for someone willing to die fighting tzaddikim and shredding Torah Judaism to bits.
And before anybody gets lovey-dovey about it, please know that these anti-religious Leftists were killers—sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly—in addition to destroying the Am in a spiritual sense.
In fact, these same anti-Torah Leftists later programmed terrible suffering among the religious community of Yerushalayim, causing hundreds of Jews to starve to death.
So my son very kindly agreed to ask the great-grandson on my behalf. Why on earth did Rav Sonnenfeld do such a thing?
The great-grandson knew exactly to which story my son referred and pondered the question for a moment.
Then he said, “I don’t know exactly why he [Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld] did it. It could be that at the time, it wasn’t known that the other guy [the anti-Torah sickie] was so bad.”
That could be.
While at the time, the man was a known anti-Torah Leftist leader, it could be that it was only later that the man openly stated his rabid extremism, such as being willing die fighting one of the biggest tzaddikim of that generation.
But please note what the great-grandson did NOT say:
- He did not say, “Nebbuch, the anti-religious hack was tinok sheh nishba, of course!”
- He did not say, “Ahavas Yisrael, you know.”
- He did not say, “Why, alter Zeidy loved EVERYBODY — of course he made every effort to save this hate-filled destroyer of Yiddishkeit!”
Nope. He didn’t say any of the expected feel-good stuff.
Instead, he said he wasn’t sure why his holy great-grandfather went to so much trouble to help this terrible person, then surmised that it wasn’t yet known exactly how bad the terrible person actually was.
This sort of fits in with Judaism’s precept of Hashem judging a person ba’asher hu sham—in the place where he is (i.e., in his present state), which is one reason given for Hashem’s Compassion upon Yishmael dying of thirst in the desert (Beresheit 21:17 with Rashi).
Yishmael would eventually produce a nation of terrorists (along with some very nice people too). But at that moment, he was a 16-year-old boy abandoned by a mother who couldn’t overcome her own pain to comfort him in his suffering.
(For more on that incident, please also see Salvation is Hashem and scroll down one-third.)
Who Listens to a Rabid Dog Frothing at the Mouth? And WHY?
(And I'm not going to answer the question posed in the above sub-heading, but leave it to you instead.)
It seems to me that Rav Sonnenfeld’s tzidkut was widely known at that time.
Rav Sonnenfeld not only performed tremendous chessed in official capacity, but also as a neighbor and regular passer-by.
Rav Sonnenfeld was well-known for his generous tzedakah activities. He was also incredibly humble and a tremendous baal chessed—all in addition to his scholarly brilliance.
How is it that the secular Leftists possessed such intense hatred toward Rav Sonnenfeld?
Why were they so blind to the rav’s sterling qualities?
Furthermore, based on the above story and many others like it, then rav was clearly approachable. People just came to his house or joined him on his walks to davening.
Why didn't his opponents approach him themselves? They could have.
So what was going on here?
Why did they describe Rav Sonnenfeld as having a “black arm”? Why were they willing to “wage war” against him and even fight him “to the death”?
What was so terrifyingly awful about this wise, loving, compassionate, and generous tzaddik?
It seems to me the only reason was that these anti-Torah Leftists were rabidly insane.
What else explains their all-consuming hatred? Why else were they willing to starve impoverished charedi children in Yerushalayim and elsewhere?
Yet people followed them! People listened to what they had to say!
How could they?
Yet if you look around, it seems we have the same problem today.