“The Song Will Never be Stopped”
Rav Chanan Porat and the Betrayal of Gush Katif
BY RABBI DOVID FENDEL
Rav Chanan Porat zt”l had a special relationship with Sderot. He understood our challenges and felt a personal responsibility to teach at the yeshivah and build something special in this border town. His relationship with Sderot stemmed from his tremendous love of Sinai and Gush Katif and his deep mourning over the tragic evictions from those beautiful places.
I vividly remember the day in 1982 when bulldozers were destroying the settlement of Atzmona in the Sinai. Rav Chanan entered the shul and said Tehillim, verse by verse, with a fervor and intensity I had never seen before. I learned that day that buildings can be destroyed, but our spirit and our connection to G-d is eternal and unbreakable. Twenty years later, I was with Rav Chanan once again in Gush Katif during those terrible days of destruction. I’ll never forget how Rav Chanan spoke with genuine anger but also with love, rebuking the government but also maintaining a deep respect for our country and its soldiers.
Like thousands of others, I am an avid reader of Rav Chanan’s legendary work, Me’at Min Ha’or. So many of my divrei Torah are stolen from that masterpiece! After years of reading, I am struck by how much of his Torah was shaped by the trauma he experienced during the evacuation of Gush Katif.
In his commentary to Matot, Rav Chanan cries out, “Oy, Ariel! How could Ariel Sharon say that the settlement of Netzarim is as important as Tel Aviv, and then abandon the settlers of Gush Katif?” In Parashat Vayigash, while discussing the need for Yosef’s brothers to repent, he writes: “The sin of the disengagement won’t be forgiven until all those who participated recognize their sin – not by offering demeaning reparations to the settlers, but by asking forgiveness, placing them on their shoulders, and bringing them back home with love and mercy. Until that day comes, we will not forget nor forgive those responsible for this crime. Without proper teshuvah, the sin will remain forever with them. We will not rest until we erase this disgrace and fulfill the message of the prophet: v’shavu banim ligvulam, “the children will return to their borders!” He was confident that the government would not succeed in erasing the memory of the disengagement, and just as we returned to Gush Etzion, so too will our people return to Gush Katif.”
While discussing the mitzvah of conquering Eretz Yisrael in Parashat Re’eh, Rav Chanan writes that “the day is not far when, against our will, we will be forced to reconquer Gaza in order to protect the Negev.” As someone who lives in Sderot under the constant threat of rocket fire from Gaza, his words ring true.
Though Rav Chanan was deeply wounded by the disengagement from Gush Katif, he remained full of love – even for those who caused him and Am Yisrael so much pain. In Parashat Mishpatim, Rav Chanan ridicules those who wouldn’t give a ride to people who supported and participated in the disengagement. He writes “there is no doubt the disengagement was a hideous crime and it was forbidden for the soldiers to be involved, but who could possibly ostracize our soldiers who protect us?”
In his commentary to Devarim, Rav Chanan explains that our chief challenge is to conquer the land, but at the same time to never forget banim atem – that G-d loves all of His children, even if they sin and oppose the settling of the Land! We must do everything possible to stop them from sinning, but we must never hate!
In a postscript to Terumah, Rav Chanan explains Am Yisrael’s passion for the Mikdash, and describes an unforgettable Tisha B’Av night in Gush Katif in 2005. After Eicha, someone began singing Yosele Rosenblatt’s sheyibaneh beis haMikdash, “may Your Temple be built”. The singing went on for over half an hour, growing ever more intense, until the very walls of the shul began to sway. Rav Chanan writes that never before did he experience singing so powerful. “I looked carefully at the hundreds of people, young and old, who were praying with closed and teary eyes. I thought to myself, very soon the bulldozers will knock down these people’s houses and yet, here they are, united, telling G-d that all they care about is His house! I knew then that even if Gush Katif is destroyed, this song will never be stopped – and that the beautiful singing of these Jews will one day build our Beit HaMikdash!”
May his memory inspire in us an intensified love of Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, and Torat Yisrael.
Rabbi Dovid Fendel is the founder and Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Hesder of Sderot.