Three ladies, three lattes: Rav Chaim Kanievsky's funeral

You ask the questions, the three latte ladies provide the answers!

 THOUSANDS ATTEND the funeral of Rav Chaim Kanievsky in Bnei Brak, March 20. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
THOUSANDS ATTEND the funeral of Rav Chaim Kanievsky in Bnei Brak, March 20.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Hi Ladies, I live in New Jersey and watched only snippets of Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s funeral; but I understand from my Israeli family that universities and schools were closed on the day, traffic came to a standstill and people worked from home. How do you three feel about this? What does a rav mean to you, and how did you relate to the funeral?– Intrigued

Tzippi Sha-ked:

Nearly one-seventh of the Israeli Jewish nation congregated in Bnei Brak to pay respects to the late Rav Kanievsky

 Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral ceremony of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at the cemetery in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 20, 2022.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral ceremony of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at the cemetery in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 20, 2022. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

I watched on television, in awe of the staggering numbers. What other cultural figure could command such a funeral turnout? I tried to visualize it through Pam’s eyes; how frightening and disconcerting this colossal parade of black-hatters must be, how the massive turnout may be a harbinger of political/social realities to come.

But what a wasted opportunity if secular Israelis viewed this day solely as annoying traffic disturbances coupled with impending haredi demographic doom. Did non-haredim pause to contemplate who this sage was – someone without social media who was so greatly respected for the values he propagated and the greatness he achieved?

Rav Kanievsky z”l, reflecting God while deflecting honor and materialism, achieved a level of Torah mastery that is seldom achieved in any lifetime. His death caused me to contemplate what our society reveres, and how we define greatness. 

I imagine that thinking secular Israelis, upon learning about the rav’s life and stature, would be terribly moved. I would hope that, given recent events which highlighted some unflattering haredi behavior such as Meron and COVID violations, people could differentiate between a great rav and his myriad, more fallible, followers.

After contemplation, one thing remains salient for me: a measure of who we are and what we will ultimately become has much to do with what our society venerates. Rav Kanievsky was not my rabbi, but he was an inspiring spiritual giant from whom both his followers and detractors have much to learn.

Danit Shemesh: 

Here’s an example of how my rav improves me. Initially, when I considered Israel allowing non-Jewish Ukrainians into our borders, I felt indignant, and referenced the historic Ukrainian persecution of Jews to justify my vengeful thoughts. But a quick conversation with my rav reflected back the better version of me. He illuminated how it’s not good for my heart to forsake my inner kindness. 

King Solomon said, “…heed the message of your father and do not forsake your mother’s Torah.” The concept of mother and father is critical to our evolution. “Mother” represents a red carpet under your feet, making you feel important and welcomed to your personal path. “Father” instructs us, directs us to our best selves. King Solomon laid out our raison d’etre, as well as our compass for Jewish living. 

A rav embodies all that in a real person, without any parental baggage. A rav is a person you strive to emulate; he spends all his time studying the Creator’s expectations of his people; he demands of himself purity and integrity of thought and deed. A rav is not swayed by the public eye. Truth is his guide. 

Pirke Avot commands, “Make yourself a rav.” This means that everyone must actively seek to better themselves with the help of an objective and loving teacher. 

When Rav Kanievsky died my son, with pain etched onto his face, declared that the nation is orphaned. So long as the rav was in Bnei Brak, we felt gathered safely in; someone knew what was best for us. Now, who will guide the lost children? 

Pam Peled:

I admit I didn’t venerate Rav Kanievsky; in fact I’d never heard about him before his infamous unequivocal “God forbid!” decree to corona closures of yeshivot. I knew nothing about him – not about his charity work, nor his army service – until Tzippi enlightened me. 

Tzip’s need to chastise me sprang from an irreverent text of mine during the funeral – I wondered something about the enormous white beards – and she wasn’t amused by my lack of respect. I was impressed to learn from her of the rav’s greatness but still, somehow, his passing didn’t leave me bereft.

During the proceedings, messages popped in from my secular friends; the overriding feeling was that we felt entirely detached. The swirl of uniformed haredim in their ever-growing numbers cannot but raise the possibility that their power is increasing along with their numbers; how long before Shabbat observance is mandated here, and eating treif will become a punishable offense? 

Unlike Danit, I have never felt the need for a rav’s help to find my authentic self; I guess my core comes from my parents’ guidance, my education, and relationships in my life. Some rabbis I have learned from and admired; others not so much. Like teachers, doctors, and accountants, rabbis earn my approval through actions; the title alone does not engender automatic respect. 

I know the divide in our little country is sad and destructive. But, honestly, the funeral did not leave me grieving or facing a void. Possibly, when ultra-Orthodox leaders reach out to the secular, but not in an attempt to show them the light, things may start to change. 

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