Inauguration Speech by Rosh Yeshiva
Address by Rabbi Goldfein, Rosh Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg, at the inauguration of the Chief Rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstein.
The President of the Republic of South Africa and Mrs Mbeki, Honoured Rabbis, Distinguished Guests
Rabbi Warren Goldstein, my dear and beloved student
As your teacher of many years, I have the duty and the privilege this morning to instruct you in your awesome responsibilities as you take office of Chief Rabbi of the South African Jewish community.
As the mantle of leadership has been placed on your very young, but strong shoulders, know well what this entails.
You shall be obligated to lead this great community in the ways of our sacred Torah, as given to our forefathers by Moses our Teacher and Master, from the hand of the Almighty at Mount Sinai. Vehiz’harta es’hem es hachukim v’es hatoros vehoda’ta lahem es ha’derech yelchu ba v’es hama’aseh asher ya’asun, “To teach the nation the knowledge of G-d; the ways in which to walk; and the deeds we are to fulfill.” (Exodus 18:20).
Therefore, the Almighty commanded all of the Kings of Israel : “That this Torah shall be with you all of the days of your life, so you shall fear the Almighty and guard all that is herein written …” (Deuteronomy 17:19) The Almighty further commanded Joshua, saying : “Be strong, strengthen yourself with resolve and determination … this Torah shall never cease from your lips … Your thoughts and study shall be in it by day and by night.”
I repeat, “this Torah shall never cease from your lips … Your thoughts and study shall be in it by day and by night, and then, and only then, will all of your ways be successful.” (Joshua 1:7-8). This is what the Almighty commanded Joshua.
Tzedek tzedek tirdof, “You shall pursue justice for all men, between man, his brother and the stranger (Deuteronomy 16:20 and 1:16). And therefore you will fear no man – the mighty nor the wealthy, nor accept favours or bribes.” Ki hashochad ye’aver eyney chachamim vi’ysalef divrey tzaddikim, “for favours and bribes blind the eyes of the wise, and corrupt the paths of the righteous.” (Deuteronomy 16:19).
You shall be a father, a protector, and champion. Champion the rights of the widow, the orphan and the stranger to emulate the Almighty Himself, who declares, “Although my abode is on the highest of all highs, I am always a Father to the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and to all who are downtrodden.” (Isaiah 57:15; Psalms 68:6).
You shall be required to walk in front of your nation, to be their leader. Not behind them, and not to follow them. Unlike King Saul who said : Ki yareisi es ha’am va’eshma bekolam, “I feared the nation, and therefore heeded their demands.” (I Samuel 15:24) but like Moses our Master, who demanded from the Almighty a leader like himself, asher yeitzeh lifneyhem, “who will walk in front of the nation” (Numbers 27:17), and fear no man. And as David our king, who even in his tender youth feared not Goliath, the mighty giant of the Philistines, and exclaimed “The Almighty who has saved me from the lion and from the bear, will also save me … from this evil giant.” (I Samuel 17:37). And as David commanded his young son, Solomon,Vechazakta veha’yisa l’ish, “Strengthen yourself to be a man”. (I Kings 2:2).
You shall accord honour to the historic forebearers of this sacred office, amongst them your immediate predecessor, the Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris – may the Almighty send him a speedy and complete recovery. You shall respect and protect their great achievements, and together with the Beth Din and your learned and distinguished colleagues, use these as foundation stones to build on them, and to bring this community to ever greater heights.
And finally and foremost, your ways shall be the paths of beauty and peace, bringing the honour and love of the Almighty to all of mankind. As our teacher and master, Maimonides has written (end of laws of Chanukah), “The entire Torah was given but to bring peace unto all of the world”, as it states, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all of Her paths are of peace.” (Proverbs 3:17).
To the Union of Orthodox of Synagogues : Hearty congratulations on the wisdom of your selection. You have chosen an “avreich” (Genesis 41:43), like our forefather Joseph, young in years, but mature in wisdom; young in years, in youthful energies and aspirations, mature in the knowledge and the ways of the world, and wise in the vast and endless depths of the sea of our Talmud, enabling him, with the help of G-d, to meet the enormous challenges lying ahead.
To the distinguished parents of our new Chief Rabbi, and of our new Chief Rebbetzin who will be sharing in this heavy burden of leadership, “how fortunate are you who have brought these offspring into the world”, and have witnessed their ascending the mountain of the Almighty.
To the President of the Republic of South Africa, you, together with Mrs Mbeki and the Minister, have honoured our community this morning with your distinguished presence, and we extend our thanks and deep gratitude.
South Africa has given to our Jewish community the greatest and most precious gift possible – the freedom to serve the Almight G-d, amidst peace and tranquility. For this we owe this country a great debt of honour, which must be repaid, with the interjection of the enormous Jewish energies and talents to assist you, Mr President and your Government, to build the Republic of South Africa into one of the world’s great nations, where justice and peace will reign for all of her inhabitants.
May the Almighty cast His protective eye on this entire assembly, and guide us in His paths of tzedek veshalom, of justice and peace.