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Q & A: The Sandak (Part VI)

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Question: I was at a brit where the father and grandfather of the boy argued over who should be sandak. The grandfather had served as sandak once before, but he persisted and, as they say, “might makes right.” I am curious as to your view on this matter.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Midrash (Tehillim pg. 723) contains the term “sandikus,” a Greek word meaning “companion of child” or “advocate.” Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov explains that sandak is an acronym of “sanegor na’aseh din kategor – the defense emerges victorious vis-à-vis the prosecutor,” referring to the brit’s function as a protection from Satan.

The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) writes that the sandak is given the first honor of being called up to the Torah, even before the mohel. The Rema explains that the sandak is compared to a kohen who offers incense in the Beit Hamikdash. All kohanim wished to benefit from the blessing of the incense, which enriched the one who offered it. Therefore, a lottery was established to assure that all had an equal opportunity to perform it. Similarly, it is customary not to give the role of sandak to someone more than once.

The Shach (Yoreh Deah ad loc. sk 22) clarifies that the Rema does not mean that a person may not serve as sandak more than once. Rather, he should not serve as sandak for more than one boy per family.

The Rema also talks about the honorary role of the kvaterin and kvater, the female and male messengers who bring the baby to the synagogue for the brit.

We quoted Rabbi Ari Enkin’s discussion of sandika’ot in his new sefer, Shu’t HaShulchani. He writes that serving as a sandak enriches one with material wealth, as well as long life full of spiritual wealth. Rabbi Enkin cites several authorities who argue that a person may serve as sandak twice; he states that the custom not to do so certainly does not apply to relatives. In fact, a father shouldn’t hesitate to serve as sandak for all of his children should he so desire. In some communities, the local rabbi is designated as the exclusive sandak for all children.

Rabbi Enkin concludes his discussion by pointing out that the custom of restricting someone from serving as sandak more than once is not found in the Talmud, and therefore is not truly binding.

We then returned to the original question about the dispute over who would serve as sandak. Proverbs (3:17) states, “Deracheha darkei noam vechol netivoteha shalom – Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” A mitzvah should bring about pleasantness and peace; if it doesn’t, it has not been fulfilled properly. Therefore, strife over the sandika’ot detracts from the full fulfillment of that mitzvah. The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) refers to sandika’ot as an actual mitzvah that one should actively pursue.

The Mechaber (supra, Yoreh De’ah 260:1) states that the right to bestow any honor or segment of the mitzvah of brit belongs to the father alone. Thus, a grandfather may not “grab” this honor for himself if it goes against the father’s wishes. Even the mitzvah of kibud av has limits, and a parent is prohibited from insisting on specific honors from his child.

Last week we cited a case discussed by Rabbi Moshe Stern, the Debreciner Rav, zt”l (Responsa Ba’er Moshe vol. 1, 60:9), in which an individual accepted sandika’ot, only to be faced with his father’s strong opposition. Rabbi Stern cites the Knesset Yechezkel (Responsum 35) who rules that a son is not duty-bound to accede to his father’s demands in such a case. The Knesset Hagedolah writes in the name of the Ohr Zarua that if a father tells his son to disregard a mitzvah without offering an explanation, the son should not to listen to him. He cites Tosafot (Bava Metzia 32a sv “d’kavod”) as a source for this ruling.

Rabbi Stern explains that in case of sandika’ot, a father might object because, as the Mechaber states (Yoreh De’ah 257:7), in any situation that involves the assumption of financial responsibilities, a mishap can occur, perhaps leading to false accusations. Rabbi Stern suggests that a father might worry that by his son serving in the capacity of sandak he is taking on some sort of financial responsibility, such as when appointed a guardian for orphans.

The Refusal To Be Comforted

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The deception has taken place. Joseph has been sold into slavery. His brothers have dipped his coat in blood. They bring it back to their father, saying: “Look what we have found. Do you recognize it? Is this your son’s robe or not?” Jacob recognized it and replied, “It is my son’s robe. A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We then read: “Jacob rent his clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned his son for a long time. His sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, ‘I will go down to the grave mourning for my son’ ” (37:34-35).

Why did Jacob refuse to be comforted? A midrash gives a remarkable answer. “One can be comforted for one who is dead, but not for one who is still living.”

Jacob refused to be comforted because he had not yet given up hope that Joseph was alive. That, tragically, is the fate of those who have lost members of their family (the parents of soldiers missing in action, for example), but have no proof that they are dead. They cannot go through the normal stages of mourning because they cannot abandon the possibility that the missing person is still capable of being rescued. Their continuing anguish is a form of loyalty; to give up, to mourn, to be reconciled to loss is a kind of betrayal. In such cases, grief lacks closure. To refuse to be comforted is to refuse to give up hope.

On what basis did Jacob continue to hope? The late David Daube made a suggestion that I find convincing. The words the sons say to Jacob – “Haker na – Do you recognize this?” – have a quasi-legal connotation. Daube relates this passage to another, with which it has close linguistic parallels:

“If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping … If it [the animal] was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal” (Shemot 22:10-13).

The issue at stake is the extent of responsibility borne by a guardian (shomer). If the animal is lost through negligence, the guardian is at fault and must make good the loss. If there is no negligence, merely force majeure, an unavoidable, unforeseeable accident, the guardian is exempt from blame. One such case is where the loss has been caused by a wild animal. The wording in the law – “tarof yitaref – torn to pieces” – exactly parallels Jacob’s judgment in the case of Joseph: “tarof toraf Yosef – Joseph has been torn to pieces.”

We know that some such law existed prior to the giving of the Torah. Jacob himself says to Laban, whose flocks and herds have been placed in his charge, “I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself” (Bereishit 31:39). This implies that guardians even then were exempt from responsibility for the damage caused by wild animals. We also know that an elder brother carried a similar responsibility for the fate of a younger brother placed in his charge (i.e. when the two were alone together). That is the significance of Cain’s denial when confronted by G-d as to the fate of Abel: “Am I my brother’s guardian (shomer)?”

We now understand a series of nuances in the encounter between Jacob and his sons when they return without Joseph. Normally they would be held responsible for their younger brother’s disappearance. To avoid this, as in the case of later biblical law, they “bring the remains as evidence.” If those remains show signs of an attack by a wild animal, they must – by virtue of the law then operative – be held innocent. Their request to Jacob, “haker na,” must be construed as a legal request, meaning, “Examine the evidence.” Jacob has no alternative but to do so, and in virtue of what he has seen, acquit them.

A judge, however, may be forced to acquit someone accused of the crime because the evidence is insufficient to justify a conviction, yet he may hold lingering private doubts. So Jacob was forced to find his sons innocent, without necessarily believing what they said. Jacob did not believe it, and his refusal to be comforted shows that he was unconvinced. He continued to hope that Joseph was still alive. That hope was eventually justified. Joseph was still alive, and eventually father and son were reunited.

Events In The West

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Prayers for Israel: All over the West Coast, from San Diego to San Francisco to Los Angeles inland to Arizona, and from Las Vegas to Texas to Utah, prayer sessions are taking place daily in shuls and yeshivas for the state of Israel and its IDF. Those who can’t attend the public sessions are saying those same prayers at home. We all hope that by the time you read this, peace will prevail in Israel.

Events In The West: On December 14, YICC will hold a freilich Kabbalat Shabbat davening, led by Yehuda Solomon… From December 24-28, Merkaz HaTorah Community Kollel in the Pico-Robertson area of L.A. will host a yarchei kallah.

Shul News: The latest strategy to get teens to come to minyan on their days off from school and on Sundays is the offer of raffles, featuring sports clothes from hometown teams with snacks following the davening.

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Raphy and Michal Shapiro, a daughter… Adam and Joy Kushnir, a daughter.

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Eitan Feifel, son of David and Meira Feifel.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Yosef and Sima Bondi, a daughter (Grandparents Howard and Gity Gluck; Great-grandmother Shirley Gluck)… Noah and Marissa Streit, a son (Grandparents Aric and Mary Streit)… Rabbi David and Dr. Ayala Levine, a son (Grandfather Dr. Robert Levine)… Richard and Charlotte Glaser, a son (Grandparents Joseph and Laurene Agi)… Seth and Jenna Rubin, a son… Avi and Aliza Gruen, a daughter (Grandparents Jeff and Judy Gruen; Manny and Sharon Saltiel)… Katriel and Sonia Green, a son… Yosi and Menucha Burston, a daughter… Yoel and Vani Hess, a daughter… Alon and Orlie Zak, a son… Yoni and Chaya Udkoff, a son (Grandparents Drs. Ranon and Rivkah Udkoff of Westlake Village, CA)… Joe and Rochel Socher, a daughter.

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvahs: Jonah Kaye, son of Barry and Nancy Kaye… Yuval Harary, son of Avishay and Ravit Harary… Avi Klein, son of Kolev and Shoshi Klein… Yochanan Gabaie, son of Albert and Fardeih Gabaie… Benjamin Goldstein, son of Joey and Tracy Goldstein… Jacob Weiss, son of David and Michele Weiss.

Mazel Tov – Engagements: Bracha Stolz, daughter of Joseph and Judith Stolz, to Moshe Hildesheim of Lakewood, NJ… Toby Weiner, daughter of Rabbi Avraham and Frumie Weiner, to Yosef Perkal… Daniela Mordecai, daughter of Dr. David Mordecai, to Dov Kracoff… Chaim Abramson, son of Naftoli and Susan Abramson, to Devorah Elefant… Ayla Simons, daughter of Dr. Steve and Doni Simons, to Betzalel Levin, son of Daniel and Nancy Levin.

Mazel Tov – Weddings: Harry Etra, son of Don and Paula Etra, to Daniella Schwartz… Tzivya Isaacs, daughter of Yaakov and Rayme Isaacs, to Yehuda Newman.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Jacob Rubenstein, son of Zev and Janet Rubenstein.

VALLEY VILLAGE, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Yechiel and Chavi Leifer of Lakewood, NJ, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Shelaim and Esther Furst)… Avi and Yael Pinsky of Teaneck, NJ, a daughter (Grandparents Barry Pinsky and Linda Scharlin).

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Simcha Rauch, son of Rabbi Zev and Rochel Rauch.

DENVER, COLORADO

Mazel Tov – Birth: Rabbi Marc and Sara Gitler, a daughter.

Nazi Camp Barbed Wire Sale Cancelled

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

First, if you think that treating a post-holocaust story with humor presents a problem, kindly click away. May I suggest our gifted cartoonist JooHoon? Thank you.

I’m the son of a holocaust survivors, and so dealing with the horror with a touch of humor is both my prerogative and my therapy. OK, I hope that covers all the liabilities. Now the news item:

The management of a Nazi concentration camp in the Netherlands (no longer in service, please try again at a later time) on Tuesday decided to drop the sale of bits of barbed wire from the camp, because of protests from Jewish groups.

(Had we known it would be so easy, we would have protested back in 1941. Who knew?)

Harry Ruijs, director of the Kamp Amersfoort Foundation, told AFP he decided not to sell 50 pieces of wire for 10 euros ($13) apiece, which he was planning to sell hoping the income would pay for an exhibition of artifacts discovered at the site, around 30 miles south-west of Amsterdam.

“It seems we have hurt some people and it was not our intention at all,” Ruijs said. “That’s why we decided to halt the sale.”

The exhibition which the sold wire was going to fund (at around $500), was intended to “draw attention to the importance of physical evidence whose preservation costs money.”

Artifacts to be displayed at the exhibition included helmets, water bottles and 150 “mysterious name tags in which the names and addresses have been engraved in mirror image.”

(Sounds like they were used to print those names and addresses, but I’m no holocaust expert. The mystery of mirror-image name tags will linger on.)

Jewish organizations expressed outrage on Tuesday, following the announcement of the barbed wire sale.

(There’s a first – Jews upset at a sale.)

“Barbed wire is the archetypal symbol of the concentration camp. It should not be put up for sale at all,” said Esther Voet, deputy director of the Dutch Center for Documentation and Information on Israel (CIDI).

“Imagine if some of these pieces of barbed wire are ultimately bought by a neo-Nazi. That would be horrible,” Voet said.

(Is there a sanctity of concentration camp barbed wire clause I haven’t heard of? If you ask me, let those neo-Nazis contribute their share to the commemoration effort.)

A spokeswoman for the Netherlands’s Central Jewish Council who asked not to be named said that idea was “completely tasteless and lacking in respect for the victims and their families.”

(As opposed to displays of concentration camp artifacts which are tasteful because they’re supported by government?)

Between 35 000 and 40 000 people were processed in Kamp Amersfoort, at least half of whom were deported to Nazi death camps. The current camp manager Ruijs said he consulted former prisoners at the camp and their relatives before the sale and their reactions had been positive.

“We’ll now give away the barbed wire pieces to those who ask for it and had relatives who passed through the camp,” said Ruijs.

But not even an inch goes to the neo-Nazis!

Thanking Our ‘Squantos’

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

It’s the classic image – the pumpkins; the berries; the squash, the turkey. It’s the beginning of a season that brings with it a sudden, exciting feeling. It’s the crisp fall air turning to gray winter; the strings of perfect, colorful leaves decorating doors and houses, the bright hues of reds and oranges. It almost feels like the cinnamon in the pumpkin pie is somehow in the air.

It’s Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. It’s a time of gratitude. Gratitude for the freedom we have in the United States. So many Jews celebrate this holiday, thankful that after so much oppression, Jews can live peacefully in this great country.

The theme of the season forces me to think back to the very first Thanksgiving. This was a celebration the pilgrims made when they first came to America. After so many hardships in the New World, they finally harvested food and had a chance of survival. They were thankful for Squanto, a Native American, who helped the early settlers through.

These thoughts overwhelmed me with a sense of gratitude I feel the need to express. Have you ever thought about who holds up our Jewish communities? Who keeps the world turning? Whose zechuyos keep us alive? Have you ever stopped to thank the people who keep our chinuch system going?

What about thanking our gedolim?

I once heard a teacher say, “At a certain point in my life I knew more names of actors and singers than I knew of Gedolei haTorah.” It struck me. We spend our lives chasing after a society and culture which have so little to do with us, and we never stop to notice what is right in front of us. Do we ever stop to contemplate and appreciate the people who devote their lives to disseminating Torah?

Your son’s Rebbe deserves respect; no matter what grade he gave your son on his Gemara test. The rav of your shul deserves a lot more respect than chatter during his short lecture. The Gedolei HaDor deserve much more than a careless shrug of the shoulder at the news of their illness or petirah.

Most of the time we do not focus our appreciation on the talmidei chachamim in our neighborhoods – that includes the young men sitting in kollel, the balabatim who run to shiur before or after work and the retired men who after years of working are now spending their time in a yeshiva setting. How much do we appreciate the rabbanim who lead our communities? Do we thank them for their time, for their hours of service?

What generation has had access to so much – shiurim on a variety of levels, website where one can download divrei Torah, at no charge? When in our history were there any so many schools to choose from? When did we ever have so many interesting speakers, teaching Torah on a daily basis?

There is so much knowledge available, and yet, many of us don’t even stretch out a hand to grab onto it. So many opportunities, yet we don’t care. So many lessons, yet we never take them in. We chase after a government. We chase after their way of life. How many names of gedolim do you know?

This lesson is clearly evident in the Purim story. The spiritual leader of the time, Mordechai, advised the Jews not to attend to royal party. The Jews scorned his opinion, claiming he was “an old Rabbi, stuck in ancient times and unaware of the political dues they had to pay.” Then tragedy struck, and all the Queens connections were worth nothing; what saved them was following the “old leader’s” suggestion to pray and fast.

We can chase after all the political leaders we want, but at the end of the day, what will save us is the Torah learning of our talmidei chachamim and of our young children.

It’s the season. It’s Thanksgiving – let us give thanks for what we have that actually matters: our Squanto, the people who throw away careers, throw away sleep and are there, twenty four hours a day, supporting our world with Torah.

Chazal teach, “Asay licha Rav”; I’ve heard it paraphrased numerous times to, “Asay licha Rebbetzin.” Each of us needs a guide or a mentor who can see clearly when we can’t.

Iron Dome’s Secret Components (From Toys ‘R Us)

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

There is a long, fascinating article in Hebrew about the “Secret to Iron Dome’s Success” — I will translate just a few paragraphs for you which I found fascinating:

“At the beginning of our journey [to create the Iron Dome], it was simply almost impossible.  We believed we would succeed, but the challenge was unprecedented.

In retrospect, its clear that the [time and financial] limitations imposed on the project, which seemed insurmountable, are what led to extremely creative and successful ideas.  The simplicity is not only in the design, but in the manufacturing process.  The manufacturers have told us this is the simplest rocket they have ever produced.

As scientists, its true we dream of sitting in offices with unlimited time and budgets to create perfect products.

Yet reality and limitations forced us to “break our heads.”

There are rocket components that are FORTY TIMES CHEAPER [in Iron Dome] than those we normally would purchase.  I can even give you a scoop — this is the only rocket in the world which includes parts from toys from “Toys R Us”.

One day, I brought my son’s toy car to work.  We passed it from one to another and saw that it has components that would be useful for us. More than that, I cannot tell you… (Source).

Letter to Our Son After Shabbat

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Dear Son,

I hope you had a Torah scroll with your platoon for Shabbat, and that you heard the Torah reading. The Parsha of Toldot begins, “These are the generations of Yitzhak, Avraham gave birth to Yitzhak.” Now this is very strange. When the Torah says, “These are the generations of Yitzhak,” we are ready to hear about the offspring of Yitzhak – Yaakov and Esav – yet the verse continues, “Avraham gave birth to Yitzhak.” Why talk about Avraham? He’s the father not a son! From this, we learn that the father is in the son. The father is passed down to his son and grandchildren from generation to generation. That’s how I feel, right now, as if I am with you on the outskirts of Gaza, waiting for the orders to wipe out Hamas and the other hornets’ nests of terror based in schools, mosques, hospitals, homes, and underground tunnels under the city, where they are hiding like cockroaches in the dark.

Over Shabbat, I remembered back to the Gulf War. Just before the missiles started falling on Tel Aviv, I had been called to milluim and was doing reserve military duty in the all Arab city of Tulkarim. You were maybe nine months old at the time. When the first missiles were launched, soldiers with beards received an order to shave, so that gas masks would fit better in case the missiles were armed with chemical heads. So I shaved. I didn’t tell your mother, thinking I would surprise her when I came home on leave, and sure enough, when I knocked on the front door several days later, the second she saw me, she gasped and retreated back into the living room, startled, as if some strange frightening caller was standing at the door. But the minute you saw me, you called out, “Ba!” and came crawling like a rocket, recognizing me immediately, even though I didn’t have a beard. When I picked you up, you were as happy as could be. “These are the generations of Yitzhak, Avraham gave birth to Yitzhak.” Father and son. Son and father. We’re the same.

So know that I am with you. So is your mother. The whole Shabbat, she waited for the moment she could turn on the radio to learn what was happening. Of course, when the warning siren suddenly sounded in Yerushalayim on Shabbat evening, and a distant boom shattered the tranquility, that brought the war even closer for your mother. More reservists were called up during Shabbat, and we heard rumors that troops would be sent to the north as well, but wherever you are, and whatever you end up doing, know that ever role is vital, whether it be that of a pilot, or the soldier that loads the bomb on the plane, the controller in the computer room, or the “jobnik” who folds the emergency parachute. King David made sure that everyone in the army of Israel received the same share of the booty, the soldiers that fought in the front, and those who stayed behind to guard over the camp.  “All for one, and one for all.”

Because I am in you, like Avraham was in Yitzhak, I know many of the things you are feeling. Even though you have received the finest training, going into battle is not an easy thing. You have a sensitive and caring soul, and even though you are as big and strong as Samson, in civilian life you wouldn’t hurt a fly. But as we learn in this week’s Torah portion, sometimes Yaakov has to dress in the clothes of Esav to bring blessing to the world. At his mother’s urging, to receive his father’s blessing, Yaakov puts goat skins on his arms, so that when his blind father embraces him, he will think it is indeed his eldest son, the hairy hunter Esav.

Rabbi Kook explains the story represents the victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil. Yet to triumph over the wicked Esav, the holy and righteous Yaakov is forced to resort to cruelty and deception.  Though it goes against his inner nature, Yaakov takes up the characteristics of Esav, the hunter, murderer, schemer, and warrior, to insure that the blessing of Avraham comes to the world through its proper channel.  Like today, when the Nation of Israel is forced to adopt Esav weapons of killing and war, it goes into battle not for the sake of destruction, but to bring an end to all killing and wars. Not out of a beastly passion for killing and war, like that of our enemies in Gaza, but out of the knowledge that this is the only way to make the world a better place. The arms and armies are like the arms and armies of Esav, but the voice is the voice of Yaakov. We fight when we have to, not for the sake of killing, but to put an end to all killing and bloodshed.

When we have to, we take up the rifles of Esav, but we are still Yaakov inside, guided by the light of the Torah. We have no other choice. In a world that lives by the sword, we have to take up the sword too. We cannot merely sit and pray for miracles. One of the commandments of the Torah is “Milchemet Mitzvah,” the mitzvah to go to war to defend Jewish life and to conquer the Land of Israel and keep it under out own Jewish sovereignty. You, my dear son, are engaged in a “Milchemet Mitzvah” twice over – defending the lives of the million Jew under rocket fire, and fighting enemies whose goal is to conquer our Land.

Not only am I and you mother with you. Our whole nation is with you. The Torah is with you. Avraham and Yitzhak and Yaakov are with you. The G-d of Israel is with you. Uproot the evil, my son. Go with a clean heart and a clear conscience. For G-d’s honor. For the honor of Israel. For the sake of the world.

Hazak V’Amatz,

Abba

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/letter-to-our-son-after-shabbat/2012/11/18/

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