Out of the Depths; Rav Israel Meir Lau – Book Review

Suffering to Greatness

Now Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau (former Chief Rabbi of Israel) epitomizes one of G_d’s answers to Iyov [Job] as to how we’re supposed to take tragedy (see Chapter 40).  Why do wicked prosper? Really, every living creature is given the power to protect itself and there is an entire system which is in balance.  If no one could ever get hurt, we would have no heroes  no creatures stronger than a worm, and our Creator wouldn’t be all that great of a Creator.

Being Saved from Death – Physical and Spiritual

Still, it is difficult to digest when we’re talking about a six year old in work camps and concentrations camps.  Through a series of miracles, this young boy, an anomaly in the camps,survived.  A few such events:

  • sneaking out of a synagogue for a Nazi selection;
  • speaking up when selected for death telling how he could work hard to avoid being killed for being un-useful;
  • being pushed by his mother to the men’s side where he had a greater chance of survival;
  • his older brother escaping a train car to a camp to find him in another train car;
  • a compassionate doctor who didn’t give him the required adult vaccine dose which would have killed him;
  • being able to pass as a Pole in the concentration camp to receive better treatment;
  • etc, etc…

Then there’s the miracle that he remained a Torah observant Jew.  He knew nothing of, for example, not eating bread on Passover, but his older brother had him hold the potatoes traded as they were safer with him.  When finally liberated, he might have stayed in France, as his temporary host would have had.  Even when going to Israel, chances are he would have been sent to a non-religious home, as was the statistical norm.  However, his older brother ensured, per the wishes of his Rabbi father, who scarified himself so other Jews could hide, rather than go into hiding himself where the Nazi’s would turn over every stone to find him, and he continued in the path of being a Rabbinic leader.

Modern Israel – Not What Was Expected

Rabbi Lau is quote different than the Satmar Rebbe.  Rabbi Lau and his family viewed Israel as a place that was safe for Jews, and actively supported the creation of a state.  (Incidentally, Rabbi Lau’s book mentions a trip to the United States where he met with various great Rabbis, including the Satmar Rav.  He goes into detail about these meetings, but says nothing of his meeting with Rav Yoel of Satmar – probably because there was strong disagreement about Rabbi Lau’s support for the state of Israel.)

To the dismay of Rabbi Lau’s uncle, where he went to live, when the modern state of Israel was created, it was not one based on the Torah.  The Lau’s led prayer in the streets on Shabbos, spreading their tallisim over the road in protest of buses driving through their town.  The bus driver acquiesced, and it remains a town where the mass transit system observes the holy Sabbath.

Rabbi Lau recalls another memory – not only was their spiritual discretion, but Israel was supposed to be the only place in the world where a Jew could live safely.  Living through the War of Independence in Israel in 1948, he couldn’t understand how it was that Jews were dying there, too.

Meetings With World Leaders

One of the most amazing sections of the book is the retelling of conversations with famous personalities around the world.  These include politicians such as Fidel Castro (who turns out to be respectful and protective of the Jews, as is now confirmed by many other sources, including his allowance for kosher meat when every other butcher was nationalized, and some education in Judaism to Jews in Cuba to this day).  It also includes religious leaders such as a leading Muslim in Egypt (who refused to return the visit to Jerusalem), the head Buddhist in Japan (who asked for forgiveness from the Jewish people for Japan’s role in WWII, for which Rabbi Lau would not give), and Pope John Paul II (who removed all the idols from his summer home in order that Rabbi Lau could visit).

It’s a compelling story and well written.  Rabbi Lau became the father of 10 children, and numerous grandchildren who perpetuate his family name and leadership role for the Jewish people.

Please leave your thoughts and comments below.


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