There are very few times in a lifetime that one will encounter genuine greatness. We at Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, encountered true greatness this weekend with the visit of Rav Shlomo and Rabbanit Mazal Amar to our kehillah.
Why do I regard Rav and Rabbanit Amar as true giants? The five volumes of Rav Amar’s Teshuvot Shama Shlomo constitute one reason. Rav Amar addresses each issue, mostly cases he adjudicated as a State of Israel Rabbinic Court judge, thoroughly and methodically. Teshuvot Shama Shlomo are a true masterpiece of contemporary Halacha.
A second reason is the royal demeanor of Rav and Rabbanit Amar. They both comport themselves and speak with great dignity. It is a sight to behold them simply walking down the street. Ashreinu that we merited them walking our streets on Shabbat!
A third reason is their charismatic speaking style. Rav Amar presents a drasha and shiur in a soft and attractive manner that cannot but help inspire any and all listeners. Rabbanit Amar spoke for an hour and a half to the women of Shaarei Orah about shalom bayit, who found the talk riveting. The women continued to talk with the rabbanit for nearly an hour after the shiur (my daughter Bracha wrote a synopsis of the shiur and is available for women only upon special request). Personally, I was most touched by Rav Amar’s teaching that in the wake of Tisha B’Av we should ensure that all the words we utter are kind ones that build positive relationships and not, chas v’shalom, sow division and dissension.
Yet a fourth reason is Rav and Rabbanit Amar’s pleasant and modest demeanor. Rav Amar graciously greeted and blessed all who came to greet him. Children were especially drawn to Rav Amar to wish him Shabbat Shabbat and receive a bracha. His brachot to the community as a whole were uttered with genuine care and concern. Those who joined him for meals even enjoyed small talk with mutual exchanges of pleasantries and humor.
As important as each of these virtues are, none compare to an incident that occurred Friday evening of this glorious visit. That evening, a number of Shaarei Orah families had the honor of sharing Shabbat eve dinner with Rav and Rabbanit Amar along with Rav and Rabbanit Racca of Chicago, who accompanies Rav Amar during his visits to the United States.
The table was beautiful, and the food catered by the incomparable Nissim Douek of Executive Caterers was exquisite (and bishul Yisrael, according to the higher Sephardic standards). Rav Amar delivered a dvar Torah and the congregants and I presented many of our questions to Rav Amar. Rabbanit Amar preferred to address women only in the tradition of (in the words of Chazal) “Sarah reaching out to the women.” She emerged, in her talk with the women, as a true powerhouse brimming with dignity and respect.
Suddenly, at the meal, disaster struck. One of the guests spilled an entire glass of dark red wine in the direction of Rav Amar! The wine spilled all over Rav Amar’s jalabiya (special honorific robe worn by the Sephardic chief rabbi). Rav Amar was scheduled to be mesader kiddushin the following Sunday morning and did not have another robe in reserve! Moreover, his special robe costs tens of thousands of dollars and must be sent abroad to a specialist for cleaning!!
Yet, despite all this, Rav and Rabbanit Amar were completely calm. The guest was aghast but Rav and Rabbanit Amar gently calmed him and told him that it was a siman tov! The hour was late and Rav and Rabbanit Amar were very far from home and seriously jetlagged and yet they were not the least upset! What self-control and restraint!
Most struggle to manage their emotions. Most react strongly when provoked, especially when they are in a stressful situation. In this instance, the grace and greatness of Rav and Rabbanit Amar truly shined through. They not only have developed themselves to be intellectual giants and socially graceful, they have emerged as people with sterling and exemplary midot tovot.
There are many takeaways from this special time with Rav Amar. I plan on sharing, im yirtzeh Hashem, in the coming weeks and months many of the wonderful insights provided by Rav and Rabbanit Amar during this incredible weekend. The most important lesson of all is calm and consideration. The next time you are provoked and are tempted to react with an intemperate outburst, you might want to conjure up the image of Rav and Rabbanit Amar’s calm reaction to a domestic calamity. When we emulate this royal couple’s self-control and self-discipline, we too can achieve greatness.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a Dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.