1. The Worldwide Sanctification of G-d's Name
2. The Uplifting Experience of Giving
3. Representing Judaism Throughout History
4. The Story of the Tiny Torah Scroll
THE WORLDWIDE SANCTIFICATION OF G-D'S NAME
This past week, the entire world was occupied with just one thing, something that was painful, uniting, and even uplifting: the Columbia space shuttle disaster. Everyone is talking about it. For us, though, our representative - Col. Ilan Ramon of blessed memory - was an admirable and constructive symbol of our national unity. I saw a hareidi-sector newspaper this morning, possibly the largest newspaper in that community, with a full-page picture of Ilan Ramon, with the words, "Shma Yisrael: Col. Ilan Ramon of blessed memory, who sanctified G-d's Name before the entire world."
May my words today be in memory of Ilan, the one who "sanctified G-d's Name before the entire world." Let us discuss this topic in the framework of this week's Torah portion.
THE UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE OF GIVING
The portion (Terumah; Ex. 25-27) begins with the words, "They [Israel] shall take unto Me an offering." The commentators ask several questions on this point, such as why it says "take" and not "give," and why does it use the word "terumah" (offering) and not the word "nedavah" (donation), as is written later on? The answers are many and varied, but I would like to offer an explanation of this point that is connected with the memory of Ilan Ramon.
When one gives charity, there is a great measure of "uplifting" [another form of the word "terumah"]. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs, "Charity will uplift a nation" - The Talmud [Bava Batra] explains that this refers to Israel. When the people of Israel give charity, this is uplifting for them. When one gives charity, he receives in return much more than he gave. He can give a shekel or a few cents to a poor person; it can buy him a cucumber or an apple. But in return, he receives so much more - a mitzvah, something that can gain him everlasting life.
What is a "terumah?" One can give of himself, of his money, of his time, of his body, of his soul - and the more important the action that he does, the greater is his act of giving. It is clear to us that Ilan Ramon's contributions as an astronaut were very great. The experiments he was carrying out were designed to help solve problems faced by humanity and to improve our lives down here. It is clear that his actions, those we know of and those we don't, were designed to help human beings, and especially the inhabitants of the Holy Land [he was studying atmospheric conditions in this area].
REPRESENTING JUDAISM THROUGHOUT HISTORY
Aside from his scientific endeavors and contributions, we saw in Ilan a unique phenomenon: How important it was for him to take with him a Kiddush cup and wine for Shabbat Kiddush, kosher food, and a Torah Scroll. This was not a show, but rather a deep Jewish sensation that he was not merely the representative of just another nation in space, but rather on a mission to represent Judaism throughout its generations. He understood that the privilege of being the first Jew in space should be expressed via - Judaism, plain and simple.
It was said that the astronauts knew for a period of 60 seconds that the end was approaching. Based on the thoughts he expressed before he ascended into space, I can sense that in those 60 seconds he contemplated his destiny, his uniqueness, and his Judaism.
The Hebrew letters of Ilan's name Ramon are the same as those of "narum," meaning, "we will be brought higher." Ilan made a great contribution in "having us ascend" to thoughts of higher values, thoughts that unite us in ascending to heights of holiness.
THE STORY OF THE TINY TORAH SCROLL
Ilan took with him a very small Sefer Torah, one that survived the Holocaust in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Torah scroll has not [yet] been found; perhaps, a small hand stretched out, took it, and placed it under the Divine Throne.
The story of this small Torah scroll is an amazing one. It was given to Ramon by Prof. Yehoyachin Yosef, one of the scientists responsible for an experiment the astronaut carried out in space. This is the story, in Prof. Yosef's own words, of how he received and read from it on his Bar Mitzvah day, with great self-sacrifice, in Bergen-Belsen:
"Holland's Chief Rabbi Dasberg was with us in our hut. When he learned that I was approaching the age of 13, he decided that he had to make a Bar Mitzvah for me. He had a small Torah scroll that he had secreted in, and it was in that scroll that I read and studied for my Bar Mitzvah... It was 2:45 in the morning in our hut, a very stormy morning, with people still sleeping on the wooden beds. It was my Bar Mitzvah day, and I was very excited and emotional. Someone came and whispered my name. I got dressed, and went to the table. Rabbi Dasberg was there waiting for me, with many people from the camp who took the trouble to get up earlier than usual. We began our prayers. Someone called my name; it was my mother, who had endangered herself to come into the men's camp. They were afraid to let her into the hut, though, and she was forced to try to listen from outside. We continued our prayers, and then I read from the Torah, and gave a drashah [a talk on a Torah theme], and the rabbi blessed me, and from every corner I heard, "Mazel Tov! You are now a man!" Then we suddenly heard the whistle of the Germans, we quickly completed our prayers, I went outside to my mother, who kissed me, and I accompanied her to the gate. I was now a Bar Mitzvah - responsible for keeping the commandments. Afterwards, Rabbi Dasberg gave me the Torah Scroll, and told me, 'Take it - for you have better chances of getting out of here. Just promise me that you will tell this story.'"
It was this Torah scroll that Prof. Yosef gave to Ilan Ramon, who took it to the highest place that a Jew has reached. Today, Ilan Ramon is "floating" even higher than that...
"Charity - contributing - will uplift the nation" [juxtaposed with] the verse in this week's portion, "They will bring for Me an offering - for My Name's sake." There is no greater Sanctification of G-d's Name than our eternal story of Ilan [the Hebrew word for 'tree'] - this Ilan whose roots are in the ground, but whose head reaches for the sky - and on which "the angels of G-d ascend and descend".