CHIEF RABBI, HACHAM SHAUL KASSIN 5681 – 5779 / 1921-2018

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By: Words Of Rabbi Saul J. Kassin

My grandfather, Hacham Shaul Kassin, was born on August 24, 1921 in Yerushalayim, to his parents, Hacham Yaakov Kassin and Rabbanit Mazal Hedaya. Until the age of 12 he lived in the holy city of Jerusalem with the greatest sages and tzaddikimof his generation. At that time, the process of kibutz galuyot – the ingathering of the exiles – was beginning to unfold, as Hashem brought Sephardic Jews from the Middle Eastern countries and Ashkenazic Jews from European Countries back to our Holy Land. This was a very special period, one of profound avodat Hashem(service of Gd), unity, respect, love and growth, when both Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazic Jews were able to live side-by-side, in close proximity to one another, after having lived far apart for so many centuries. This was the unique environment in which Rabbi Shaul Kassin grew up.

My grandfather felt a tremendous love for Eretz Yisrael, and, in particular, for the sacred city of Yerushalayim, which he had the great privilege of visiting many times throughout his life. Words cannot describe the experience of being together with my grandfather in The Holy Land, basking in the special holiness of the Land of Hashem, and those of us who had this experience will cherish those memories for the rest of our lives.

My grandfather told us that he once saw an elderly man, who was very wealthy, successful, and blessed with a very large family, looking very sad. Hacham Shaul went over to the man and asked him why he looked so unhappy. The man explained that he felt this way because he did not live in Eretz Yisrael.

“So, move to Eretz Yisrael,” my grandfather said.

“I can’t,” the man replied, “because I have so many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every time I prepare to move to Eretz Yisrael, my family does not allow me.”

After relating this story, my grandfather continued, “I feel the same way. I was born in Eretz Yisraeland had to leave with my parents when I was 12 years old. Every day since then, for my entire life, I regret not living in Eretz Yisrael. The land is holy. The rocks are holy. The soil is holy. The air is holy. One cannot begin to imagine the great merits of living in Eretz Yisrael.”

My grandfather yearned to move back to Eretz Yisrael, but was unable to due to, baruch Hashem, his large family and his dedication and responsibilitiesto his community.

The last time I was privileged to join my grandfather on a trip to Eretz Yisraelwas in the summer of 2014. We went together to the Har Hazeitim and Har Hamenuhot cemeteries in Jerusalem, and my grandfather spoke about the great sages and tzaddikimwho are buried there, many of whom he knew personally. He spoke of Rabbi Alifieh who instituted the Ta’anit Dibbur (the observance of a “fast” from speech other than prayer and Torah learning) and fasted every week from Motzaei Shabbat until Erev Shabbat– abstaining throughout an entire week from food and speech. He spoke of his Rebbe in Yeshivat Porat Yosef, who required all his young, pre-bar-mitzvah
aged students to commit to memory one page of Gemara each week. They would be tested on that page by the Rosh Yeshiva, the great sage Hacham Ezra Attieh. He spoke of Hacham Yaakov Ades, Hacham Shalom Hedeya (his grandfather), Hacham Ovadia Hedeya (his uncle), and many more sacred giants of Torah. It was clear as he spoke that he was going back over 80 years and reliving those memories. He also spoke about many community members who are buried there in Yerushalayim.

When we to visited the grave of his brother-in-law, Hacham Baruch Ben Haim, zt”l, my grandfather was in tears. He said repeatedly, “Hacham Baruch served the community nonstop for over 60 years. No vacation, no breaks. He served and served the people dedicatedly, selflessly, for decades.”

I saw firsthand how much respect and admiration my grandfather and my great uncle had for each other. Whenever there was a kibbud (an honor) – such as an aliyahto the Torah, or a berachahat a wedding or berit milah – they would argue with each other, each insisting on giving the honor to the other. I remember how these arguments would ensue for quite some time until finally one would agree to receive the kibudin order not to cause any further delay.

Yitzchak Moyal, my grandfather’s gabbai in Eretz Yisrael, related that on one trip, my grandfather asked him to take him straight from the airport to Har Hamenuhot. They spent four hours in the cemetery, visiting and praying at various graves, and my grandfather did not want to leave. Finally, Yitzchak had to insist that my grandfather leave and check in to the hotel to freshen up, rest a bit and eat something. This was an elderly man traveling from New York to Israel on a plane for over 10 hours, and then in a car for over an hour to Jerusalem, and not wantingto leave even four hours later.

This is the great love that my grandfather felt for the special kedushah(sanctity) of Eretz Yisrael, and his desire to utilize every minute he could absorbing this holiness.