There once was a synagogue where a very old man prayed. He had escaped Hitler’s rise to power, leaving his parents and siblings behind in Poland where soon after they were slaughtered.
He started his life in America as an expert tailor. He raised a family and became a Baal Torah, an expert in the Jewish Books of Wisdom. He taught many boys for their Bar Mitzvah.
With his wife, they raised two daughters and saw them marry and have children of their own.
His wife departed before him. He remained in their apartment, nearing 100 years of age. He could not hear very well any longer, but his other senses were as sharp as ever. Walking was hard for him, but still he came to synagogue. He was dressed meticulously and refused to become bedridden.
Every Shabbat he would attend services. He rarely acceded to the request of the other congregants to read the Torah, lest he would embarrass the chazzan. He taught others how to read the Torah who was careful with every dot and mark.
The congregants insisted that his reading was a blessing for them to hear. Imagine the world’s most famous opera singer performing for you personally for you and for the Almighty.
But the very old man, always with a bashful smile on his face, adamantly refused: “My health prevents it,” he would tell the pleading congregants.
Health? He looked great. And even if looks are at times deceiving, the congregants yearned to hear him read the Torah.
At times they succeeded in convincing him to read, but not too often. It was as if someone from above was looking down and saying: Too much is also not good. All in good measure.
The old man approached the podium, where the chazzan was standing. He was blessed with an Aliyah (reading) where the person recites a blessing. The chazzan reads a section and then the person ends with another blessing.
As the old man approached the Torah Scroll open on the central podium, he kissed the opening and closing words of the section about to be read. He touched them with the corner of his Talith (prayer shawl).
Suddenly, it was as though he was hit by a lightening. An enormous electric force that sent him flying backward landing on his back. It was as if he saw something he should not have with eyes wide open. Something holy, possibly?
The congregants were shocked, but the old man was given a blessing. His life of just over a century overwhelmed him in an instant. Now he was a spirit free to return to the parents of his young childhood.
The old man waited, refusing to depart with the angel, until the additional portion was read at the end of the seven Aliyot (readings), concluding the weekly portion from the Book of Genesis.
Suddenly the material and the spiritual, melded as one. The congregants were shocked and worried, the old man’s presence, the firefighters and paramedics. All was frozen and time stood still. The Chazzan read:
And I will enter into a covenant for them, a peace covenant, and a covenant for all times for them. And I will give them and multiply them and will give my temple inside them for all times.
And my dwelling will be upon them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be a nation to me.
And all gentiles will know that I AM GOD WHO SANCTIFIES ISRAEL for my dwelling is in them for all times.
So are the words of God to Ezekiel (37:15-28) – the old man relaying this message to us, ensuring our full attention is on the directive – unity and a return to the land of our forefathers, where God dwells with His people, the Jewish People.
As he was welcomed to the angels, after seeing the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty first century, the ancient message and promise carry forward and remind us with an intensity and a force unlike any other: Forget not, know your past, know where you are standing and where your future will take you. For there is only one future for the Jewish People, dwelling with God in the Land of Israel for all times.