The 3 Images – True Stories and Lessons for Introspection

September 8, 2022

I need to open with a disclaimer. I have not really known the author of this book, Rabbi Zev M. Shandalov, as an adult, other than as a Facebook friend. But when he was a child, his father was the director of Camp Moshava in Wild Rose, Wisconsin, where I spent the most glorious summers of my life. His very kind parents, Rabbi Ben, of blessed memory, and Simmie, may she have long life (who Rabbi Zev calls “The driving force” behind his father), exemplified everything that was good in religion and in Zionism. We would see little Zev and his siblings around camp, and when I was in the older counselor-in-training program, I even babysat for them a few times.  Those summers were among the most significant factors leading to my decision to live in Israel someday.

I tell this story because it is rare that one is witness to the atmosphere in which an author has spent time as a child, and then meets him again as an adult. 

Rabbi Zev Shandalov served as a rabbi for 10 years at the Modern Orthodox Congregation Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel in Chicago, Illinois. He and his wife Andy and their three daughters made aliyah in 2009 to Ma’ale Adumim, Israel. 

There are 10 chapters in this 100-page book, in which Rabbi Shandalov has compiled 10 years of his Yom Kippur sermons. He imparts his messages through images and imagery, three images in each sermon; 30 in the whole book. 

As you read, you may find yourself inspired to remember your own stories, thus enhancing your personal memories.

The images are sometimes memories of things the rabbi has experienced, and sometimes images that he conjures up in his mind in order to help him get through a difficult experience, or to help him to help one of his congregants.

The images are sometimes memories of things the rabbi has experienced, and sometimes images that he conjures up in his mind in order to help him get through a difficult experience, or to help him to help one of his congregants.

Rabbi Zev Shandalov (Asaf Cohen)

For example, one of the first memories in the book is one that Rabbi Shandalov had when the electricity in the shul, the same shul he would serve in as a rabbi many years later, went out. The chazzan said the Kol Nidrei prayers by candlelight, with the congregants repeating every word after him. He writes, “It was … the most spiritual and special Kol Nidre of my life … I believe it served as a paradigm for what the day is all about. We were all in the dark…our entire kehilla (congregation) banded together…We all approached G-d unified as one people.”

In another chapter, he tells the well-known story of the man who carries two buckets, one with a crack in it, that always arrived back half empty, but in the course of time the man discovers that exquisite wildflowers have blossomed on the side of the road where the water provided a steady drip. Rabbi Shandalov asks, “How do I find a way to serve Hashem with my shortcomings?” It reminded me of when I was teaching Creative Writing in a school for boys with ADHD, in the mid-90s. I said at a fundraising evening, “If I were stranded on a desert island with no way off, I’d want to be there with boys from this school, because they would find a way.” Today, more than 30 years later, one of those students commands an award-winning search and rescue dog unit in Israel.

My one criticism of the book is the image that Rabbi Shandalov cites when describing his visit to Birkenau (Auschwitz II), in Poland. While standing in the guard tower, he imagined the Nazi commanders below deciding who would be sent to their deaths, and who would live. “It was as if I were witnessing a Yom Hadin (Judgment Day),” he writes. “I closed my eyes and … I wondered what must have gone through the minds of the terrified men, women and children …”  But later, he writes “This idea is reminiscent of U’Netaneh Tokef (“Let us speak of the awesomeness”) – one of the most inspiring passages that we read on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur …” and he continues the analogy that “all human beings pass before God on this day …” I sent the rabbi a voice note that I found that image disturbing, and I could not bring myself to compare the decisions of God to the Nazis, whatever the good intentions of the message, and even though he added in that chapter “l’havdil elef alfei havdalot (‘in total contradistinction’) …” He replied, “I have no problem with someone saying they don’t agree with something I wrote… B’simcha (‘With pleasure’)… I like hearing things like that. It’s very helpful.”

A tense and very Israeli image appears when Rabbi Shandalov writes about the 2006 Lebanon War. After the capture of Gilad Shalit by Hamas in Gaza, and Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser up north, followed by katyushas on the northern border, the IDF entered both Gaza and Lebanon. A short video clip went viral. It was of soldiers inside a tank, reading Tefillat HaDerech (Traveler’s Prayer) by the light of a flashlight. “The soldier … is not reading,” writes the rabbi, “like someone taking off in an airplane … He is reading it with a full heart, knowing that it may be the last prayer he says in this world.” He adds later, “Our prayers on Yom Kippur are the Tefillat HaDerech for the upcoming year.” 

He sees meaning in even trivial items. Yehiel, a child in his neighborhood, suffered a severe head injury. Following a miraculous recovery, Rabbi Shandalov continued to save his visitor’s pass from the local hospital where Yehiel was treated, and writes that he continued to look at that visitor’s pass before every single tefilla. “I reminded myself that we are all given a visitor’s pass when we are born.” And he quotes Rabbi Yaakov who said, “This world is like a hallway leading to the Next World. Prepare yourself in the hallway in order to enter into the Great Hall.”

When David, a friend of his, was considering leaving a job where he was unhappy, he went for a walk and “coincidentally” bumped into another old friend, who told him he had started a new company and asked him to join him. David did, and his friend said he never would have thought of him had he not happened to bump into him. The rabbi concludes, “Hashem is always there. We just need to open our eyes.”

One of his final images is of a star, which is many light years away. He cites metaphors in the Torah that refer to stars, such as when God shows them to Abraham and says He will “multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens.” Rabbi Shandalov reminds us that, like the stars, “we will leave our mark on this world long after we are gone.” 

May we all merit to a healthy and joyful new year, in which we see only images of light and love.

The book can be ordered from: ravzev@gmail.com. It costs $18 plus shipping to USA. It will soon be available via Book Depository and Amazon. The book is also available in Israel at Pomeranz Booksellers located at Be’eri 5, Jerusalem. They can be contacted at 02-623-5559 or at pomeranzbooks@netvision.net.il

Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist and theater director and the editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.

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