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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘highway’

Life’s Detours

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

    A few years ago, we were headed back home from a family vacation in the Laurentian Mountains. After exulting in a tranquil week surrounded by the simple beauty of nature, away from the modern day pressures of cell phones, wi-fi and high speed connections, we were ready to plunge back into the onslaught of life, with renewed vigor.

 

    It was about a six-hour drive back and our van was loaded down and piled high on top with suitcases, bedding, a barbeque, a small refrigerator and of course a week’s worth of clothing for the entire family – and lots of food. We were a little over an hour away from our home in Toronto and I was already mentally planning out what would need to be taken care of the moment we returned. Our time away was wonderful, but now I was ready to jump back into our regular routine. School would be starting in another few days and there was so much to prepare.

 

    Just as I was thinking these thoughts driving along the highway, our van began slowing down and emitting strange sounds from under the hood. My stomach lurched, as I thought, No, not now! Just hold out another ninety minutes and we’ll be safely home!

 

But apparently our van had a mind of its own.

 

   The man, who towed us to the closest town, reassured me that there was a car repair shop only ten minutes away. Though it was late Sunday afternoon, we could still make it there before closing.

 

     I heaved a sigh of relief as I saw the garage still open and the mechanic intensely at work. I was even more relieved as he did a quick check on our van and told us that it was a minor issue which would not take him more than an hour to fix.

 

    But then he broke the news to us – he’d be happy to work on it first thing in the morning.

 

     “No,” I protested. “You just don’t understand ” I tried to reason with him that we have a car full of children how we needed to get back home how we couldn’t possibly unpack all our stuff how the baby wouldn’t sleep in a strange room how we needed him to fix our van now, not in the morning.

 

   But the mechanic insisted that he understood all too well. He, too, had children at home, eagerly waiting for their Daddy to get home after a long day of work to their special family dinner.

 

    My pleading, cajoling, bribing, guilt treatment and offering him a gift of lots of extra cash – and even calling his wife on his cell phone and attempting to convince her – were all to no avail. He was determined to leave and it seemed like we were destined to spend the night in this little town, just ninety minutes away from our own comfortable home.

 

We did our best to unpack just what we needed for the night, locked up our van and taxied over to the nearest motel.

 

     We spent a restless night crowded into a motel room and by early the next morning the mechanic called, just as he had promised, that our van was now in smooth working order.

 

     The entire evening and morning, I kept wondering why this was happening. Why, when we were so close to home, did something so small have to go wrong? Could there possibly be a lesson here?

 

It was only as were back on the highway, driving west again towards Toronto, that my husband mentioned to me what had happened to him that morning.

 

He had gone off to the park area behind our motel to pray the morning prayers in quiet solitude. As he stood wrapped in his tallit and crowned in his tefillin, a woman approached him and stood politely at his side.

 

“May I share your siddur (prayer book) with you?” the woman had requested.

And for the next several minutes the two stood side-by-side, reading page by page. It must have been a strange site – him a tall, bearded religious man wearing his prayer attire and, she, an older woman, dressed in casual pants and t-shirt.

 

As my husband and the woman concluded their prayers, the woman explained, “I am an Israeli, so of course, I speak and read Hebrew fluently. But it’s been over 20 years since I’ve recited the Shema prayer, or, for that matter, held a siddur in my hands. When I saw you, I knew I just had to pray. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity.”

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

There are times in life when we don’t know why events happen as they do. Most times, we are never given the opportunity to answer this perplexing question. But then there are those special times when we are given a glimpse into a higher reason for why we end up in a certain place and location.

 

And it is at those moments that we understand that our little detour in life is, in fact, exactly where we are meant to be.

 

           Watch Chana Weisberg’s two minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouch  for your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at cweisberg@chabad.org

Life’s Detours

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

    A few years ago, we were headed back home from a family vacation in the Laurentian Mountains. After exulting in a tranquil week surrounded by the simple beauty of nature, away from the modern day pressures of cell phones, wi-fi and high speed connections, we were ready to plunge back into the onslaught of life, with renewed vigor.

 

    It was about a six-hour drive back and our van was loaded down and piled high on top with suitcases, bedding, a barbeque, a small refrigerator and of course a week’s worth of clothing for the entire family – and lots of food. We were a little over an hour away from our home in Toronto and I was already mentally planning out what would need to be taken care of the moment we returned. Our time away was wonderful, but now I was ready to jump back into our regular routine. School would be starting in another few days and there was so much to prepare.

 

    Just as I was thinking these thoughts driving along the highway, our van began slowing down and emitting strange sounds from under the hood. My stomach lurched, as I thought, No, not now! Just hold out another ninety minutes and we’ll be safely home!

 

But apparently our van had a mind of its own.

 

   The man, who towed us to the closest town, reassured me that there was a car repair shop only ten minutes away. Though it was late Sunday afternoon, we could still make it there before closing.

 

     I heaved a sigh of relief as I saw the garage still open and the mechanic intensely at work. I was even more relieved as he did a quick check on our van and told us that it was a minor issue which would not take him more than an hour to fix.

 

    But then he broke the news to us – he’d be happy to work on it first thing in the morning.

 

     “No,” I protested. “You just don’t understand ” I tried to reason with him that we have a car full of children how we needed to get back home how we couldn’t possibly unpack all our stuff how the baby wouldn’t sleep in a strange room how we needed him to fix our van now, not in the morning.

 

   But the mechanic insisted that he understood all too well. He, too, had children at home, eagerly waiting for their Daddy to get home after a long day of work to their special family dinner.

 

    My pleading, cajoling, bribing, guilt treatment and offering him a gift of lots of extra cash – and even calling his wife on his cell phone and attempting to convince her – were all to no avail. He was determined to leave and it seemed like we were destined to spend the night in this little town, just ninety minutes away from our own comfortable home.

 

We did our best to unpack just what we needed for the night, locked up our van and taxied over to the nearest motel.

 

     We spent a restless night crowded into a motel room and by early the next morning the mechanic called, just as he had promised, that our van was now in smooth working order.

 

     The entire evening and morning, I kept wondering why this was happening. Why, when we were so close to home, did something so small have to go wrong? Could there possibly be a lesson here?

 

It was only as were back on the highway, driving west again towards Toronto, that my husband mentioned to me what had happened to him that morning.

 

He had gone off to the park area behind our motel to pray the morning prayers in quiet solitude. As he stood wrapped in his tallit and crowned in his tefillin, a woman approached him and stood politely at his side.

 

“May I share your siddur (prayer book) with you?” the woman had requested.


And for the next several minutes the two stood side-by-side, reading page by page. It must have been a strange site – him a tall, bearded religious man wearing his prayer attire and, she, an older woman, dressed in casual pants and t-shirt.

 

As my husband and the woman concluded their prayers, the woman explained, “I am an Israeli, so of course, I speak and read Hebrew fluently. But it’s been over 20 years since I’ve recited the Shema prayer, or, for that matter, held a siddur in my hands. When I saw you, I knew I just had to pray. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity.”


 


*  *  *  *  *


 


There are times in life when we don’t know why events happen as they do. Most times, we are never given the opportunity to answer this perplexing question. But then there are those special times when we are given a glimpse into a higher reason for why we end up in a certain place and location.

 

And it is at those moments that we understand that our little detour in life is, in fact, exactly where we are meant to be.


 


           Watch Chana Weisberg’s two minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouch  for your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at cweisberg@chabad.org

The Hardest Three Words to Say

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

You and your spouse are driving along the highway. You begin to strongly suspect that you have missed your exit. The thought keeps nagging at you, and as more time elapses and the terrain is looking less and less familiar, the more certain you become. Yet as you begin to vociferously demand that your husband turn off the next exit, he stubbornly insists that you are headed in the right direction.

Fifteen minutes have passed. By now you both realize that you are driving on the wrong route. Yet instead of changing paths, your spouse is still hoping beyond hope that this will somehow bring you to your intended destination.

Why is he being so obstinate? Because turning around is admitting that he has made a mistake – and that’s probably the hardest thing for any human being to do.

We all have that highway scenario played out in our lives. We understand that we’re heading down the wrong path and we realize that the longer we continue, the more lost we will become. And yet we obstinately cling to our mistaken ways.

Why? Because it is so incredibly hard to admit that we’ve make a mistake.

You’ve had a disagreement with your spouse, child or coworker. It escalated to the point of ugly comments and incriminating remarks.

You know you were wrong. You know you crossed some red lines. You realize that you should never have brought his mother into the conversation, or that hapless remark he once said (and apologized for dozens of times) more than 10 years ago.

And yet you couldn’t stop yourself. As soon as you began your slippery slide into that nasty terrain of discord, there was no way to prevent plunging full force.

Now the heated moment is behind you. You know you ought to make amends, but every time it occurs to you to apologize, every fiber of your being rebels as your mind begins a full-scale line of defense. You may have been wrong, but he did say/do/act so inconsiderately. Thus, he should be apologizing!

Why remain in a bitter tug of war that is straining your relationship and distancing you further, when an apology could easily make things right? Because the hardest words to utter are, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”

 

Let me share a small incident. When I was traveling recently to the West Coast, a friend asked me to take a very important package to her son who was studying there. I readily agreed, packed it into my suitcase, took it along with me – and proceeded to forget all about it, schlepping it right back home with me. Only when I finally unpacked my suitcase upon my return did my heart drop, as I realized my error.

What to do now?

1.  My first reaction: ignore the whole mess-up and avoid the unpleasant ramifications. But her son really did need this package. It was bound to come to the fore, and wouldn’t she be even more upset that I didn’t inform her immediately?

2. Call her and defend myself, effectively freeing me of any guilt. Explain it this way: “Hey, it was nice enough of me to agree to schlep it in the first place.” Find some way of blaming her for not anticipating this by having her son call to remind me about the package.

3. Own up to my mistake and sincerely apologize for it.

The incident was minor enough with small enough at stake that I was able to take the latter path − and truly admit to how idiotic and silly I felt for being so absent-minded. The conversation could have taken a very different turn, but instead the more I carried on about how utterly sorry I felt, the more she reassured me, “You’re only human! Please stop blaming yourself.”

But it did teach me that the more we go against our initial and natural resistance, admit to our wrong and sincerely apologize for it, the softer and more appeasing our friends, spouses, children and coworkers become. On the other hand, the more defensive or blaming we become, the more the situation spirals out of control into a full-blown war.

With minor mistakes, it is easy enough for us to own up to our wrongs. The challenge, however, takes place when it happens in more sensitive areas or in more meaningful relationships – especially when there may be traces of emotional baggage and prior feelings of hurt, resentment, or anger.

I am sorry. Three short words. Three powerful words. Three words that can prevent us from plunging deeper down the wrong path. Will we allow our egos to get in the way of steering us toward this harder, but far more rewarding, path?

Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouchfor your dose of weekly inspiration. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

The Hardest Three Words to Say

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

You and your spouse are driving along the highway. You begin to strongly suspect that you have missed your exit. The thought keeps nagging at you, and as more time elapses and the terrain is looking less and less familiar, the more certain you become. Yet as you begin to vociferously demand that your husband turn off the next exit, he stubbornly insists that you are headed in the right direction.


Fifteen minutes have passed. By now you both realize that you are driving on the wrong route. Yet instead of changing paths, your spouse is still hoping beyond hope that this will somehow bring you to your intended destination.


Why is he being so obstinate? Because turning around is admitting that he has made a mistake – and that’s probably the hardest thing for any human being to do.


We all have that highway scenario played out in our lives. We understand that we’re heading down the wrong path and we realize that the longer we continue, the more lost we will become. And yet we obstinately cling to our mistaken ways.


Why? Because it is so incredibly hard to admit that we’ve make a mistake.


You’ve had a disagreement with your spouse, child or coworker. It escalated to the point of ugly comments and incriminating remarks.


You know you were wrong. You know you crossed some red lines. You realize that you should never have brought his mother into the conversation, or that hapless remark he once said (and apologized for dozens of times) more than 10 years ago.


And yet you couldn’t stop yourself. As soon as you began your slippery slide into that nasty terrain of discord, there was no way to prevent plunging full force.


Now the heated moment is behind you. You know you ought to make amends, but every time it occurs to you to apologize, every fiber of your being rebels as your mind begins a full-scale line of defense. You may have been wrong, but he did say/do/act so inconsiderately. Thus, he should be apologizing!


Why remain in a bitter tug of war that is straining your relationship and distancing you further, when an apology could easily make things right? Because the hardest words to utter are, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”

 

Let me share a small incident. When I was traveling recently to the West Coast, a friend asked me to take a very important package to her son who was studying there. I readily agreed, packed it into my suitcase, took it along with me – and proceeded to forget all about it, schlepping it right back home with me. Only when I finally unpacked my suitcase upon my return did my heart drop, as I realized my error.


What to do now?


1.  My first reaction: ignore the whole mess-up and avoid the unpleasant ramifications. But her son really did need this package. It was bound to come to the fore, and wouldn’t she be even more upset that I didn’t inform her immediately?


2. Call her and defend myself, effectively freeing me of any guilt. Explain it this way: “Hey, it was nice enough of me to agree to schlep it in the first place.” Find some way of blaming her for not anticipating this by having her son call to remind me about the package.


3. Own up to my mistake and sincerely apologize for it.


The incident was minor enough with small enough at stake that I was able to take the latter path − and truly admit to how idiotic and silly I felt for being so absent-minded. The conversation could have taken a very different turn, but instead the more I carried on about how utterly sorry I felt, the more she reassured me, “You’re only human! Please stop blaming yourself.”


But it did teach me that the more we go against our initial and natural resistance, admit to our wrong and sincerely apologize for it, the softer and more appeasing our friends, spouses, children and coworkers become. On the other hand, the more defensive or blaming we become, the more the situation spirals out of control into a full-blown war.


With minor mistakes, it is easy enough for us to own up to our wrongs. The challenge, however, takes place when it happens in more sensitive areas or in more meaningful relationships – especially when there may be traces of emotional baggage and prior feelings of hurt, resentment, or anger.


I am sorry. Three short words. Three powerful words. Three words that can prevent us from plunging deeper down the wrong path. Will we allow our egos to get in the way of steering us toward this harder, but far more rewarding, path?


Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouchfor your dose of weekly inspiration. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at chanaw@gmail.com.

Like The Stars Of The Heavens

Friday, September 21st, 2007


It happened a few days before Chanukah. I was driving home from the local mall, my trunk overflowing with games and toys for my three young children, when the car suddenly slowed to a crawl. I nervously steered it on to the grassy shoulder of the highway and hit the emergency brake. The gas gauge registered empty.


This was back in the days before cell phones so there was nothing to do but pop open the hood and wait, hoping a good samaritan or the highway police would eventually stop. But when the cars continued to whiz by I grew increasingly impatient and decided to hike to the nearest gas station I had passed about a quarter-of-a- mile back on the Belt Parkway.


“My car ran out of gas on the highway,” I sheepishly confessed to the gas station attendant.


“Can’t spare anybody right now,” he said. Instead, he offered to fill a two-gallon can halfway and I trudged back down the road, like the Biblical Rebekah hauling her jug from the well. It wasn’t until I removed the cap from the can that I realized the spout was missing, so I had no way of pouring the gasoline into the tank.


As the sun started to sink, so did my spirits. Why me? Why today? Why here on this busy highway that was beginning to feel like a desolate stretch of desert? The answer would arrive shortly. I watched the battered car pull off the road. It was a red Chevy, just like the model my father used to drive. While a child peered out at me from the rear window, a young woman emerged from the driver’s seat. She walked purposefully over to the trunk, opened it and removed an object, then turned and came towards me, smiling broadly.


As she handed me the tin can with the spout, she said with an unmistakable Hispanic accent, “I bring this for you – you need this.” And that’s how it’s been for most of my life. Inexplicably, a stranger will mysteriously appear to provide me with exactly what I need at that moment, whether it’s a life-saving boat, a partner for life, a life-altering Shabbos meal, or a can with a spout.


Hash-gachah Pratis, Divine Providence, has brought extraordinary people into my life – like Mr. E. Edward Herman. The E. stands for Eliezer (G-d was my help) and that says it all. Like our Patriarch Abraham’s right-hand man, this Eliezer, who is well into his 80s, is a visionary whose wisdom, limitless energy and generosity of spirit continue to be a source of inspiration for those of us who have been blessed with his friendship.


As a young G.I., he influenced my life with his heroic deeds on behalf of the St. Ottilien Displaced Persons Camp in Germany where I was born and then he reappeared a half -century later to become my most enthusiastic fan. Not content just to read my articles, he encouraged me to “write a book.” The direct result of his gentle persuasion is Like The Stars Of The Heavens. The title comes from the promise G-d made to Abraham to make his offspring “like the stars of the Heavens” (Genesis 22:17). But unlike the fleeting stardom of celebrities who walk the red carpet, the essence of the stars that shine in this volume – including rabbis, doctors, educators, lawyers, entrepreneurs and writers – is their inner light which guides them to lead lives of purpose and meaning, illuminating the way for all of us.


Originally published in The Jewish Press between 1994 and 2005, the articles collected in this anthology reveal a parallel universe where Jews don’t kvetch, they kvell, about their meaningful relationships, their good fortune and their faith. Epilogues have been added to several of the original articles to provide you with the “rest of the story.”


As a ba’alat teshuvah, I have experienced the broad spectrum of Jewish life with friends and relatives who define themselves as Modern-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, black-hat, convert and unaffiliated. So whether I’m writing about a Yale student battling against enforced co-ed habitation, or a follower of The Grateful Dead who becomes a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, their stories also reflect my own complex journey along our diverse contemporary Jewish thoroughfare.

 

 


Helen Zegerman Schwimmer

 

When my family immigrated to America in the early 1950s, the buzzword was “assimilation” and the strategy was to quickly integrate foreigners into mainstream society by housing us among the general population. Although there were no ESL classes, I was a voracious reader and ultimately excelled in my second language, earning my B.A. in English from Brooklyn College. When I had children of my own I took great pleasure in sharing with them the linguistic joys of the language with books like The Cat in the Hat.



A mere generation later, who could have predicted that the language of the shtetlwould become so trendy that this childhood classic is now available in Yiddish? Yiddish, once earmarked for extinction, like the people who spoke it, is not only alive and well but thriving on theater stages, across the pages of best-sellers, and in the streets of the most cosmopolitan city in the world. And now I even find myself explaining to my own non-Yiddish speaking children why I neglected such a meaningful part of their heritage.


A glossary appears at the back of my book to define unfamiliar words, which, unlike schlep, have not yet become an integral part of the American lexicon. Some words are Hebrew in origin, while others may be Polish or Ukrainian and still others German, reflecting the journeys of our ancestors, over the millennia, like the stars of the Heavens.


This story appears in Helen Zegerman Schwimmer’s newly published book,


Like The Stars of The Heavens, available from chosencouture.com, amazon.com and select bookstores. She can be contacted at hzs8@aol.com.

Parshat Vayishlach

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

       On July 7, 1919 the United States Army sent a caravan of 72 vehicles on a cross- country trip. The purpose of this “mission” was to highlight the poor condition of the country’s roads and demonstrate the need to improve them. Additionally, the army wanted to gain publicity for itself since it was quickly being disbanded and forgotten in the aftermath of World War One. Since there was no Route 80 back then, it took the caravan 62 days, at an average of 58 miles a day, to complete the journey. Although in certain instances the soldiers were able to avail themselves of paved roads, most of the time they were forced to use dirt and mud paths.
 
         One of the young officers who participated in this mission was none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower. Despite the fact that he enjoyed himself tremendously on the trip, he nonetheless was astonished at the poor condition of the United States road system. He firmly believed that the roads “had to be upgraded for both vacationers yearning to visit different parts of the country as well as for the military intending to defend it.” (Eisenhower by John Wukovits, Palgrave Macmillan New York, NY 2006, p.32.)
 
         Many years would go by before Eisenhower could do anything about the roads. But riding on his popularity as the general who led America to victory in the Second World War, Eisenhower was elected president in 1952. Besides his experience as a participant in the 1919 caravan, he now had the experience of World War II. During the battles against the Nazis (y”s) Eisenhower saw how the Germans had used the autobahn to their immense advantage. Having such a sophisticated highway system enabled the Germans to quickly transport soldiers from one battle to another. Eisenhower felt that this capability in no small measure allowed the Germans to prolong the defense of their country.
 
         In 1956 Eisenhower proposed the Federal Aid Highway Act. This act authorized the funds to build “what became the interstate highway system, the elaborate network of concrete that connected all sectors of the nation, sparked increased travel, and spurred the growth of restaurants and motels catering to vacationers” (p.176). Additionally, it provided the necessary mobility for the military to defend the country.
 
         Eisenhower recognized that, for the United States to develop and be able to defend itself, its infrastructure had to be improved. Only by enabling easy travel between the different parts of the country would the various regions be able to effectively complement one another and realize the full potential of this nation.
 
         In this week’s parshah we see that Yaakov had already, thousands of years ago, understood the importance of improving a country’s infrastructure. After surviving his encounter with Esav, Yaakov arrived safely at the city of Shechem. Upon reaching the city, the Torah describes (33:18): “Va’yechan Yaakov et pnei ha’ir” -and Yaakov camped on the outskirts of the city. The Gemara in Shabbat (33b) explains that the word vayechan has an additional definition besides camped. According to the Gemara, vayechan also means that he graced the city. In line with this definition, several rabbis offered different suggestions as to how Yaakov graced Shechem.
 
         Rav claimed that Yaakov minted coins for them to use as a common currency of exchange. Shmuel claimed that he organized markets for them to sell and purchase their merchandise. And Rav Yochanan claimed that he built bathhouses for them.
 
         According to the opinions of these rabbis there are two questions. The first is − why did Yaakov do anything for Shechem? The second is − why specifically, these things? On a superficial level Yaakov did these things in order to ingratiate himself to his neighbors and to demonstrate his appreciation to them for allowing him to be their neighbor. On a deeper level, Yaakov, by doing these things, was actually demonstrating his proprietary rights over Israel. Only a person who has an ownership stake would bother with such activities.
 
         In line with this reasoning, we can understand why Yaakov chose to do these things for Shechem. Realizing that his children would ultimately inherit the land, he wanted it to be built up and developed as much as possible by the time of the conquest. Economic development can only take place if people can interact with one another easily. Therefore, by establishing an accepted currency of exchange and a market economy, Yaakov ensured that people would interact with and help one another. With Yaakov’s improvements, a broad and deep economy would flourish, and the land of Israel would develop.
 
         But as we know from history, when people from different areas interact, they transfer diseases from one to the other. Thus, the building of bathhouses was necessary to maintain proper hygiene to prevent people from getting sick.
 
         All leaders must understand the importance of addressing infrastructure issues if they want their organizations to develop and succeed. While there isn’t too much glory involved with such issues, if the infrastructure is neglected, the organization will ultimately collapse.
 
         While many people who drive on U.S. highways every year are unaware that the general who defeated Germany was responsible for building them, it is no exaggeration to claim, that Eisenhower’s greatest legacy as president, was that he authorized the interstate highways to be built. Even though we have the information highway today, we could not function without our interstates.
 

         Rabbi David Hertzberg is the Principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Questions and comments can be emailed to him at Mdrabbi@aol.com.

Parshat Vayishlach

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

       On July 7, 1919 the United States Army sent a caravan of 72 vehicles on a cross- country trip. The purpose of this “mission” was to highlight the poor condition of the country’s roads and demonstrate the need to improve them. Additionally, the army wanted to gain publicity for itself since it was quickly being disbanded and forgotten in the aftermath of World War One. Since there was no Route 80 back then, it took the caravan 62 days, at an average of 58 miles a day, to complete the journey. Although in certain instances the soldiers were able to avail themselves of paved roads, most of the time they were forced to use dirt and mud paths.
 
         One of the young officers who participated in this mission was none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower. Despite the fact that he enjoyed himself tremendously on the trip, he nonetheless was astonished at the poor condition of the United States road system. He firmly believed that the roads “had to be upgraded for both vacationers yearning to visit different parts of the country as well as for the military intending to defend it.” (Eisenhower by John Wukovits, Palgrave Macmillan New York, NY 2006, p.32.)
 
         Many years would go by before Eisenhower could do anything about the roads. But riding on his popularity as the general who led America to victory in the Second World War, Eisenhower was elected president in 1952. Besides his experience as a participant in the 1919 caravan, he now had the experience of World War II. During the battles against the Nazis (y”s) Eisenhower saw how the Germans had used the autobahn to their immense advantage. Having such a sophisticated highway system enabled the Germans to quickly transport soldiers from one battle to another. Eisenhower felt that this capability in no small measure allowed the Germans to prolong the defense of their country.
 
         In 1956 Eisenhower proposed the Federal Aid Highway Act. This act authorized the funds to build “what became the interstate highway system, the elaborate network of concrete that connected all sectors of the nation, sparked increased travel, and spurred the growth of restaurants and motels catering to vacationers” (p.176). Additionally, it provided the necessary mobility for the military to defend the country.
 
         Eisenhower recognized that, for the United States to develop and be able to defend itself, its infrastructure had to be improved. Only by enabling easy travel between the different parts of the country would the various regions be able to effectively complement one another and realize the full potential of this nation.
 
         In this week’s parshah we see that Yaakov had already, thousands of years ago, understood the importance of improving a country’s infrastructure. After surviving his encounter with Esav, Yaakov arrived safely at the city of Shechem. Upon reaching the city, the Torah describes (33:18): “Va’yechan Yaakov et pnei ha’ir” -and Yaakov camped on the outskirts of the city. The Gemara in Shabbat (33b) explains that the word vayechan has an additional definition besides camped. According to the Gemara, vayechan also means that he graced the city. In line with this definition, several rabbis offered different suggestions as to how Yaakov graced Shechem.
 
         Rav claimed that Yaakov minted coins for them to use as a common currency of exchange. Shmuel claimed that he organized markets for them to sell and purchase their merchandise. And Rav Yochanan claimed that he built bathhouses for them.
 
         According to the opinions of these rabbis there are two questions. The first is − why did Yaakov do anything for Shechem? The second is − why specifically, these things? On a superficial level Yaakov did these things in order to ingratiate himself to his neighbors and to demonstrate his appreciation to them for allowing him to be their neighbor. On a deeper level, Yaakov, by doing these things, was actually demonstrating his proprietary rights over Israel. Only a person who has an ownership stake would bother with such activities.
 
         In line with this reasoning, we can understand why Yaakov chose to do these things for Shechem. Realizing that his children would ultimately inherit the land, he wanted it to be built up and developed as much as possible by the time of the conquest. Economic development can only take place if people can interact with one another easily. Therefore, by establishing an accepted currency of exchange and a market economy, Yaakov ensured that people would interact with and help one another. With Yaakov’s improvements, a broad and deep economy would flourish, and the land of Israel would develop.
 
         But as we know from history, when people from different areas interact, they transfer diseases from one to the other. Thus, the building of bathhouses was necessary to maintain proper hygiene to prevent people from getting sick.
 
         All leaders must understand the importance of addressing infrastructure issues if they want their organizations to develop and succeed. While there isn’t too much glory involved with such issues, if the infrastructure is neglected, the organization will ultimately collapse.
 
         While many people who drive on U.S. highways every year are unaware that the general who defeated Germany was responsible for building them, it is no exaggeration to claim, that Eisenhower’s greatest legacy as president, was that he authorized the interstate highways to be built. Even though we have the information highway today, we could not function without our interstates.
 

         Rabbi David Hertzberg is the Principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Questions and comments can be emailed to him at Mdrabbi@aol.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/parshat-vayishlach/2006/12/06/

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