Sivan Rahav-Meir

By Sivan Rahav-Meir

Chaim Topol

Millions in Israel and around the world knew Chaim Topol on stage and screen as Tevye the Dairyman in Fiddler on the Roof. Here is a look at two other roles for which Topol, who passed away in Tel Aviv at the age of 87, is less well-known.

The first role was that of co-founder of the Jordan River Village in the lower Galilee which runs a year-round camp for children with serious illnesses and disabilities. Topol took his cue from Paul Newman who had founded a similar camp in the United States. Topol raised tens of millions of dollars to establish the camp, which thrived under his direction as its energetic and resourceful chairman of the board. “Children with chronic diseases come to us despondent and with bowed heads,” Topol explained, “but after an hour and a half they are already laughing and singing and dancing. They reach higher levels of happiness than we, as healthy people, can ever reach. Why? Because any pain we feel is not nearly as great as theirs.”

His second distinguished role was that of a Talmud (Gemara) student. Once he was asked how an actor with his talent, and at such an advanced age, subordinates his life to that of sick children. He said the answer is found in Gemara study. “It changes you and the life you live.” It turns out that Topol learned Gemara with a study partner every week for more than 40 years and nearly completed the entire Talmud. “Young people are only concerned with what is happening now,” he once said. “They have no idea whatsoever of what was happening just a generation or two ago. The only vital, living culture that has survived for thousands of years is that of Torah Judaism and the Gemara. The fact that religious youngsters study it today exactly as it has been studied since it was first written is proof that there is something deeply compelling about it. For me, it is a source of continual revival and constant rejuvenation.”

What Will We Take With Us From Purim?

I read in the sefer Seridei Aish that there are mitzvot observed on Purim that we should take with us and repeat throughout the year: matanot l’evyonim (gifts for the poor) and mishloach manot (sending portions of food and drink to friends and others). These mitzvot are a cry to pay attention to those in need and to preserve social and communal ties. We should not regard this giving as a once-a-year phenomenon, but as a way of life.

And what about our attitude once Purim is over? Is our joyfulness over too? In the Talmud we are told: “When Adar enters, our joy increases.” Yet, if at the beginning of this month our joy increases, it does not need to decrease when Purim is over. On the contrary, our joy is meant to continue for the rest of this month and beyond.

On The Virtue Of Being Slow

It’s a very relevant caution to the hectic and frenetic times in which we live. The nation of Israel is waiting for Moshe Rabbeinu at the foot of Mount Sinai, but after 40 days the people lose their patience. They lack the capacity to wait for the Ten Commandments and quickly prepare a substitute, a golden calf. The source of the sin of the golden calf is impatience, the desire to get everything right here, right now.

Rabbi Yaakov Galinksy was accustomed to say that in our days, too, sometimes “Moshe Rabbeinu is late.” The Torah is not always immediately accessible or instantly understood. Eternal values are not necessarily transmitted at superhighway speed. Moshe Rabbeinu may not be the most “in the know” or up-to-date. He has no seductive magic charms. In contrast to the golden calf, he does not offer any tangible, glittery form of instant gratification. Instead, he demands that the people undergo a lengthy spiritual transformation.

From then until now, Rabbi Galinsky explained, Jews have been criticized for not living with the times, for not changing in order to fit into the prevailing culture. Perhaps all of us, too, should ask ourselves: Are there instances when, due to our impatience, we would be likely to choose the golden calf over the Ten Commandments and opt for a temporary, fraudulent quick fix over a slow, long-term process of growth?

Social Media: When Privacy Vanishes

Does anything happen anymore that is not photographed or filmed? Are there still things that we would never consider sharing in public? The list of things considered “private” or “personal” is rapidly shrinking. Social media algorithms convey a clear message. Everything about us should be visible to everyone else. And everything we do should be subject to a “like.”

We received the Ten Commandments during a giant revelation to the masses at Mount Sinai. But then the nation sinned by making a golden calf, and then Moshe shattered the Tablets of the Covenant. The subsequent process of appeasement and forgiveness is described and then Moshe is invited to ascend Mount Sinai a second time, to receive a second set of tablets. But this time G-d tells him: “No man may ascend with you.” Our commentators explain that the personal, private revelation is more meaningful than whatever happens in public. And so this time there is no crowd and no thunder and, therefore, Moshe’s mission is a success.

Just for a moment, it may be worth contemplating these words: “No man may ascend with you” and search for moments like this in our lives, when we are alone with G-d. It is sometimes said: “If you didn’t post it, it never happened.” But when we experience something so profound that it cannot be expressed in words or pictures, that may be the most significant and lasting experience of all.

Yehi Ratzon (May It Be His Will)

It’s one of the most beautiful blessings, and it came from Moshe Rabbeinu. The nation of Israel dedicated itself to building the Mishkan (sanctuary), the spiritual center that accompanied our people in the desert. Silver, gold, and jewels were donated and arduous effort was exerted until the work was complete. Rashi comments that Moshe Rabbeinu then blessed the people with these words. “May it be His will that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) should rest in the work of your hands.”

Moshe Rabbeinu is saying that you did not just build a beautiful building. You built a sanctuary full of meaning, values, and spiritual content. I bless you that you should see the significance of your hard work, that you should see how every shekel, every nail, and every drop of sweat created a dwelling place for G-d that brings sanctity into the world—that this physical undertaking should enlighten and bless the world, transforming reality itself.

This is a call to bring holiness into everything we do. May it be His will that the Shechinah should rest in the work of our hands.


Translated by Yehoshua Siskin.


Sivan Rahav-Meir, married to Yedidia and a mother of five, lives in Jerusalem. She has been a journalist in the Israeli media from the age of six and has interviewed thousands of people on television, radio, and in print. Globes named her Israel’s most beloved journalist, Forbes listed her as one of the most influential women in Israel, and the Jerusalem Post ranked her among the 50 most influential Jewish people in the world.

Sivan lectures in Israel and abroad on Judaism, Israel, and new media. In recent years, she began writing The Daily Thought, a brief commentary on current events that is circulated in Jerusalem and translated into 17 languages for global distribution. This volunteer-run project provides spiritual uplift for Jews and non-Jews all over the world.

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