Zvi Jun/Jul 1996
Many times I go to the Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and engage the people in long discussions, trying to bring them back to their roots, back to the Bible. They, in turn, always show me the many books from their Halachah, or traditions—literature written over the centuries by the great rabbis of old. They gather round me like sharks and try to convince me that only through the Halachah can I be saved and be a “good Jew” like them. Of course, they are very serious in their beliefs, but some of them are curious and listen to what I have to say.
I always listen politely to their arguments from the Halachah, but when they finish, I tell them that they are all fictitious stories. I recently told one group of Ultra-Orthodox people, “These are nothing but stories such as I used to tell my children when they were young, and then they would go to sleep. Now you are trying to convince me that these stories are like ‘good news.’ I am sure that many people believe what you say, but not me!”
At that time an old man approached me. He had a long beard that was as white as snow, and people were treating him with great respect, as if he were the Prophet Elijah. We looked at each other for a while, and finally he shouted out, “Zvi! Don’t you know me?” I continued to look at him but did not recognize him. Then he said, “I know you very well. We spent a lot of time together good times and hard times.” I was thinking, Who can this man be? Then he said, “You must have lost your memory if you don’t know me.” I replied, “It is obvious that on the outside I have not changed much because you recognized me so quickly. But I have changed on the inside. As it is written in Ezekiel 36:26, ‘A new heart also will I [the Lord] give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.’ I can see that you have definitely changed on the outside, what with all this camouflage of clothing, long beard, and side curls, but you still have the same heart of stone because you are here in this place. I don’t remember knowing anyone in the past who looked like you. How can you expect me to recognize you?”
Finally he identified himself. And who was this great holy one? He was a man with whom I had served in the army in 1948. In fact, we had the same job, diffusing mines in the minefields. Together we witnessed death before our very eyes many times, and we were indeed good friends. Now here we were, meeting again after 48 years. Many of his friends were very much against me at the beginning of our conversation, but after our historic meeting, they all wanted to know about our lives from 1948 to 1996.
This man is 15 years older than I, and he is now an old man of 80. He said, “Zvi, I have heard about you on many occasions over the years, but I never believed the things my friends told me about you. Now I can see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears that all of those reports were true. How did you come to such a decision? How could you leave the faith of our fathers and go about preaching something that is against our great rabbis, against the Halachah, against our traditions? How did this ever happen?”
Now all of the other Hasidim in the area gathered around us. They were interested to hear what I would say, how I would answer him. Every word that came out of my mouth was very important to them.
First I said, “I do not wish to speak against anyone. Rather, I am here to remind you to whom you belong. As it is written in Malachi 3:7, ‘Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts.’ The great rabbis did not say that; it was inspired by the Lord and written by His prophet. In fact, your great rabbis are not even mentioned in the Bible. There you will read only about the Lord God and what He has done for us. I have not come to you with fictitious stories. You can see that the only book I have with me is the Bible. Don’t you wonder why I could not recognize you, although we were once such good friends, and yet you recognized me so easily? What is the big difference between us? Everyone here knows that you have changed your face, changed your style of dress, but you have not changed your heart. You still have a heart of stone. I, on the other hand, have not changed my appearance from the way I looked when we knew each other— except, of course, that I am almost 50 years older. But God has given me a heart of flesh, and that is the great difference between us. I have not changed His laws or His commands, as you have done.”
My old friend then asked, “How can you say things like that?” I replied, “I have not said it. You can see with your own eyes, right here in the Holy Bible, that God Himself has said it. But it appears that mine is the only Bible in this place. Here, in your house of prayer, you have hundreds of books— maybe even thousands—but you do not have one copy of the Bible. So where is your God? In all those books? It is written in Psalm 42:3, ‘My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?’
“I worship the Lord according to the way He has commanded, and I have come here to warn you about the false teachings you are following. I pray that I am not too late. This is my obligation before God and all people. You can see this in black and white in Ezekiel 3:17: ‘Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.’”
When I read from the Bible, they looked at it very carefully to be sure that I was not lying to them, because they were very suspicious of me. But by the end of our conversation they said, “Even though we know about you and your beliefs, you are very interesting, and we would welcome you back to speak with us again.”
I was grateful to the Lord for the good conclusion to our meeting, and I ask you to pray with me that I will have more opportunities to tell these people and my old friend—how to have true faith in the Lord God. Let us pray that it is not too late to reach them with the good news about their Messiah.