Off the Pulpit

A Friend I Never Knew

Let me tell you about a friend I never knew. He was born in Jerusalem in 1906 and died in 1972. His name was Rabbi Mordechai Hacohen. His father was a renowned kabbalist who led services at the Western Wall for some 50 years.

Rabbi Mordecai Hacohen worked through the Maḥzike Hadas network of institutions in Jerusalem to represent Judaism to Israel’s secular population, especially in the kibbutzim. After his death, a research institute called Yad Ramah was established to bring his works to light. Rabbi M. Hacohen wrote many books and left a literary legacy. So why do I, never having met him and knowing little of his life, call him my friend?

After my father’s death one book that I discovered from his library that he had distributed to us was Al-Hatorah. It is a compact Hebrew volume of nearly 600 pages and contains the Torah teachings, anthologized and original, of Rabbi Mordechai HaCohen, published in 1956. As I leafed through, I saw my father had marked passages. Over the last several years, I have read it many times looking for inspiration, sermon material, and to see the trail my father left in his notes.

This scholar whom I never knew has both aided me in my learning and shown me what my father learned and treasured. Rabbi Mordecai HaCohen is my teacher to be sure. But for such a precious service, I must also call him my friend.