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Gedolim Are Human

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

And Hashem said to Avram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your birth place, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Bereishis 12:1

With these words begins one of the ten great tests of Avraham. The Ramban explains that these were trials by fire, designed to bring Avraham’s greatness to the surface, taking it from the potential to the actual. They helped form him into the singular tzaddik he became.

Rashi notes that in this test, Hashem is very expressive about the place Avram is leaving, but does not mention where he is to go. “Leave your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, and go. . .” Rashi explains that this was all part of the test and added to the reward he would receive when he passed. Each description of the place he was leaving increased his longing and attachment to it, making it more difficult. Rashi continues that this is similar to the akeidah when Hashem challenged Avraham: “Take your son, your only son, the son that you love.” Each phrase further increased the test because it highlighted and stirred up the love Avraham felt for his son.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. The Avos were spiritual giants, men whose feet may have been on the ground but who lived up in the heavens. Avraham lived in a world of spirituality, barely cognizant of his physical surroundings. And what makes this question even more pointed is that it is hard to imagine that Avram was particularly attached to either his birthland or his father’s house.

There is a well-known midrash that says that at a tender young age Avram recognized the folly of idol worship. He set out to teach the people of his town the error of their ways but they were less than accepting of his teachings. His father in particular was dead set against them, as he owned a store that sold idols. One day his father asked him to watch the idols, and when he came back, he found that all the idols had been smashed. He turned to Avram and asked, “What happened?”

Avram answered, “Someone brought in food for the idols. One of the smaller ones took it, the bigger idol got jealous, and they had a fight, punching, kicking, and smashing. This is what is left.”

Avram’s father was not impressed with the cleverness of his son. In fact, he was so unimpressed that he took him to Nimrod the king, who pronounced him an enemy of the state and attempted to execute him. That resulted in another of the tests of Avram: the fire of Ur Kasdim.

This being the case, it is hard to imagine that Avram felt any great attachment and connection to his homeland and his father’s house. So what does Rashi mean that each expression made it harder for him to leave?

Gedolim Stories

Despite this being a very long and difficult exile, we have we have succeeded in creating our own Torah culture. We have our own manner of dress and speech; we have our own goals and priorities. We have our own newspapers, music, and books. We now even enjoy a vast body of Torah literature. Whether stories of gedolim or fictional novels that convey Torah values, it is a great accomplishment and necessary to remaining an exalted nation.

However, there is a small fly in the ointment. It seems that the gedolim written about in the popular books today are presented as malachim – as if they never failed, never suffered any setbacks, and never went through nisayonos. Never questioned themselves. Never felt lost or confused.

The reality is quite different. Every gadol has suffered. Every great person goes through tests and tribulations. Each of the Avos and Imahos had periods of darkness and difficulties and on some level they all failed. The true distinction between people who become world class gedolim and those who don’t is how much they were willing to pay the price, how committed they are to serving Hashem, how many times they were willing to get knocked down and get back up again.

If you find a gadol story that doesn’t include dark times, you are reading pure fiction. In the world Hashem created, fighting spiritual fights is integral to growth, and fighting means that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It seems that in an attempt to portray gedolim as great, we have made them non-human – angels just barely wearing human form.

Q & A: A Mother’s Mitzvah (Part III)

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Question: I am a single mother of young children. Their father has shirked all his responsibilities to them. I do my best for my children, but it isn’t easy. Isn’t their father in serious violation of the Torah by neglecting his children and not making any effort to provide them an education?

No Name Please
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: We learn from a mishnah (Kiddushin 29a) that a father has certain exclusive responsibilities to his children. One of those responsibilities is teaching them Torah. The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 245:1-6) states that it is a biblical requirement for the father to educate his son himself or hire a teacher. The Meiri (Nazir 29) learns from R. Yochanan that besides for designating a child a nazir, a woman shares the obligations of child rearing, including education, with her husband. The Shitah Mekubetzes (Nazir ad loc.) cites the Gemara (Sukkah 2b) about Queen Helena training her minor children to eat in the sukkah, indicating that a mother is also obligated to educate her children in the performance of mitzvot.

Last week we looked at several commentators who indicate that a mother is only responsible to educate her children regarding precepts they will be obligated to perform when they reach maturity, and not discretionary precepts, such as nezirut. The Chidushei Orach Mishor specifies that a mother is obligated to train her children in positive precepts but not prohibitory ones.

Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky explains that a father is actually not obligated to train his children in the performance of mitzvot but he does bear personal responsibility for his children’s transgressions; they are considered his own. It is therefore in the father’s own interest to train his children in mitzvot. A mother, however, bears no personal responsibility for her children’s transgressions.

I posited that the Torah and our sages place the responsibility of chinuch on the father because he might at times shirk his responsibility. On the other hand, a mother will naturally go to great lengths to make sure her children are educated, so no additional obligation is placed upon her.

* * * * *

After I offered my thoughts in last week’s column, I was very fortunate to find similar ideas expressed by the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l (Sha’arei Chinuch p. 113). Baruch sh’kivanti l’daat gedolim! Blessed is He who directed me to the same conclusion as one of our sages!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses the role of a mother in the education of her children and notes as follows: “It is important to emphasize the obligation and merits of Jewish women regarding chinuch.”

He writes, “First and foremost: The obligation of chinuch according to the strict letter of the law is the father’s responsibility.” The Rebbe cites Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 343:2) that the father “is obligated rabbinically to educate his sons or daughters in the observance of biblical precepts when they reach the age of chinuch.” As explained infra (sk2), this differs with each child – each according to his own level of understanding. However, the Gemara (Bava Batra 21a) sets the age at either six or seven.”

“The mother (infra sk4) is not obligated at all in her child’s regard concerning positive or negative biblical precepts. Notwithstanding this,” the Rebbe argues, “the education and the conduct of sons and daughters, especially the very young, is actually dependent to a great degree on the training of the mother, the mainstay of the house and, for all practical purposes, the preponderance of [proper] chinuch is done by her.

“Also well known is that which the Shela (Sha’ar Ha’otiot 44:1) writes: ‘Women are obligated to admonish their children, no different than the father, and even more so since they are the ones at home and more available.’

“And further, there is a greater advantage to education and admonishment when done by women as opposed to men because by nature women are more gentle and infuse more love and caring than men in the training of their children. Indeed, we have seen, especially in these recent generations, that specifically when reaching out with love [as the pasuk in Mishlei (22:6) states] ‘Chanoch la’na’ar al pi darko – Teach the lad in the manner most suited him,’ the results have the greatest success.

It’s My Opinion: A Place To Mourn

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Eighteen-year-old University of Florida student Christian Aguilar went missing on September 20. His frantic parents, Carlos and Claudia Aguilar, came to the college campus in Gainesville to search for their son. They held daily press conferences and begged for help. They handed out flyers. They organized vigils. Hundreds of law enforcement professionals, as well as volunteers from every background, were prompted to join in the effort.

The prognosis seemed grim. Another boy, Pedro Bravo, who had known Aguilar from high school in Miami, disclosed some very disturbing information. Bravo confessed to having had a fight with Aguilar. He said he beat his friend unconscious and dumped him out of his car.

Hopes for finding Aguilar dimmed as the weeks went by. The area Bravo had shown authorities yielded no sign of the missing young man. Police found blood in Bravo’s car and backpack. They found a receipt for the purchase of a shovel and duct tape. As time passed, the parents who originally had hoped to find their son now sadly realized that he probably had died.

It was quite possible that Aguilar’s body would never be found. There would be no burial, no accounting, no chance of any type of closure. The thought was excruciating.

Last week Christian Aguilar’s body was found in a private hunting club more than an hour away from the vicinity of the search. Identification was confirmed by dental records. Carlos called the find a “miracle.” He said the discovery would “give honor” to his son. Carlos and Claudia Aguilar could now bury their child and hopefully find some comfort and solace in this horrific tragedy.

There is something very poignant about the societal norm of burial and the marking of a gravesite. A human being who lived on this earth deserves to be interred with a certain dignity. Those who remain behind benefit from having a place to mourn and mark the final resting place of a departed loved one.

One of the most heartrending aspects of the Shoah is the fact that the mass graves and ashes of the crematoria have disallowed this basic human need. The Nazis tossed out the slaughtered victims as garbage. It was their final dehumanizing action.

Jewish tradition deals with the importance of burial in the Tanach. The cave of Machpeilah, purchased to bury our matriarch Sarah and the grave purchased to bury our matriarch Rachel are important parts of our history. The final act of chesed Hashem performed in the Torah was the burial of Moses. The lessons, of course, are for all time.

The Aguilar family will be able to bury their son and know where he lies. They will be able to visit his grave, grieve and process the tragedy. The survivors of the six million were deprived of this opportunity. This is a reason why the Jewish world is dedicated to building Holocaust museums and shrines.

Events In The West

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Events In The West: Over Shabbat, October 26-27, David Makovsky, a Ziegler distinguished fellow, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and one of the foremost experts on the current Israeli-American political landscape, will be the scholar-in-residence at Beth Jacob Beverly Hills… On November 2-3, Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Valley Village, CA will host an AIPAC Shabbaton on “The 2012 Elections: What you need to know about the upcoming elections and their effect on the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Shul Updates: If you live in the Hancock Park/La Bea area of L.A. and don’t know what to do with your water bottles or can’t spend the time standing in line to recycle them, you can resolve the problem and give tzedakah at the same time. Contact Congregation Tifereth Tzvi, and they will send someone to pick up your bottles.

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Leon and Avishag Kaplan, a daughter.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Edmundo and Esti Rosenberg, a son (Grandparents Michael and Sheryl Rosenberg)… Rabbi Aaron and Avigayil Gartner, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Meyer and Shulamith May)… Ben and Elana Vorspan, a son (Grandparents David and Bonnie Vorspan; Sol and Pearl Taylor)… Shmuel and Shoshana Halprin of Yerushalayim, a son (Grandparents Reuven and Yehudis Orloff)… Yisroel and Nechama Munitz, a daughter (Grandparents Rabbi Sender and Gitty Munitz)… Dov and Rachele Teichman of NY, a son (Grandparents Sidney and Marcia Teichman)… Barry and Sari Stricke, a son (Grandparents Les and Stella Stricke)… Andy and Luaren Lauber of NY, a daughter (Grandparents Sam and Lila Pfefferman)… Yoni and Tali Weiss, a son (Grandparents Yaakov and Rayme Isaacs).

Mazel Tov – Engagements: Mimi Mendelsohn, daughter of Ed Mendelsohn and Frances Mendelsohn, to Jake Green of Teaneck, NJ… Brian Schames, son of Dr. Yossi and June Schames, to Debbie Schwartz of West Orange, NJ.

Congratulations: Rabbi Eli Broner is the new director of Campus Life and Alumni Relations at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Eitan and Leah Esan, a son.

Mazel Tov –Bar Mitzvah: Benyamin Helwani, son Yosef and Gail Helwani.

Mazel Tov – Bas Mitzvahs: Daniella Engel, daughter of Alan and Rachel Engel… Chaya Daffner, daughter of Shmuel and Tonda Daffner.

VALLEY VILLAGE, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Shmuel and Shoshana Drossman, a daughter (Grandparents Rabbi Israel and Dr. Phyllis Hirsch).

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Elyah Weiser, son of Rabbi Simcha and Betty Weiser.

DENVER, COLORADO

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: David Last, son of Rabbi Benjamin and Sheryl Last.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Mazel Tov – Engagement: Pesha Kletenik, daughter of Rabbi Moshe and Rivi Kletenik, to Chezky Werzberger of New York.

Q & A: A Mother’s Mitzvah (Part II)

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Question: I am a single mother of young children. Their father has shirked all his responsibilities to them. I do my best for my children, but it isn’t easy. Isn’t their father in serious violation of the Torah by neglecting his children and not making any effort to provide them an education?

No Name Please
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: Last week we learned from a mishnah (Kiddushin 29a) that a father has certain exclusive responsibilities to his children. One of those responsibilities is teaching them Torah. The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 245:1-6) states that it is a Bbblical requirement for the father to educate his son himself or hire a teacher. The Meiri (Nazir 29) learns from R. Yochanan that besides for designating a child a nazir, a woman shares the obligations of child rearing, including education, with her husband. The Shitah Mekubetzes (Nazir ad loc.) cites the Gemara (Sukkah 2b) about Queen Helena training her minor children to eat in the sukkah, indicating that a mother is also obligated to educate her children in the performance of mitzvot.

* * *

While in agreement that a mother bears responsibility to educate her children, many commentators (Meromei Sadeh, Keren Orah, Chidushei Orach Mishor, and Hagahot Birkat Rosh to Nazir 28b) distinguish between obligatory precepts and discretionary precepts.

Without a doubt, they note, a mother is obligated to train her children to fulfill commandments, but only in the performance of precepts (such as sukkah) that they will be obligated to perform when they reach maturity. That’s why a mother cannot make her son a nazir as there is no obligation for a person to become one.

Indeed, from the Torah’s words (Numbers 6:2), “ish o isha ki yafli lindor neder nazir – a man or a woman who shall dissociate him or herself by taking a nazirite vow of abstinence,” it is clear that one effects nezirut purely at one’s own discretion, in order to seek perfection and refinement. One of the paths to refinement is this optional mitzvah – an exercise in abstinence and self-discipline for one who wishes to live a life of purity and sanctity. If a parent wishes to effect this level of sanctity and abstinence upon a child as a means of imparting those unique qualities in him, it may be done – however, only by the father.

Chidushei Orach Mishor (Rabbi Yochanan Kremnitzer, cited above to Nazir 29) goes even further and explains that a mother’s only obligation is to train her children in positive precepts, mitzvot aseh, but not prohibitory precepts, mitzvot lo ta’aseh.

Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky (novella to Nazir) explains this matter differently. He argues that, in fact, a father is not obligated to train his children in the performance of commandments; rather he bears personal responsibility for their transgressions. A father incurs punishment for his children’s transgressions because they are considered his own. This is implied by the blessing a father recites at his son’s bar mitzvah: “Baruch she’petarani me’onsho shelazeh – Blessed is He Who has absolved me from the punishment due this one.” Thus, it is in the father’s interest to train his children in mitzvot.

A mother, on the other hand, while obligated to educate and train her children in the performance of mitzvot, bears no personal responsibility for their transgressions.

Rabbi Grozovsky further argues that a mother lacks the authority to declare a nazirite vow for her son because one cannot impose a vow on another person. How, then, is a father capable of imposing such a vow? The answer lies in the unique relationship the Torah vests in a father. Since a father is responsible for his son’s transgressions, the son is deemed an extension of his father in this regard; he is not considered a separate person. Therefore, just as a father is able to render himself a nazir, he may render his son a nazir.

I would like to add that the Torah and our sages place the responsibility of chinuch on fathers because they might at times shirk their responsibility. As to mothers, there really is no need to place the full responsibility of chinuch on them because they will naturally involve themselves in this task in any event. In fact, mothers will go to great lengths in this regard. Indeed, this is one of the reasons women are not obligated in time-related precepts – because of their all time-consuming responsibilities in the home.

Israeli Teen’s Organs Save the Lives of Six People

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Nine organs donated by the family of a 16 year old Israeli athlete have saved the lives of 6 people, providing some comfort to a family heartbroken by the loss of their son.

Gilad Veturi, a student at Ilan Ramon High School in Hod Hasharon collapsed Thursday during sprinting practice and died two days later.

According to Israel Transplant, Venturi’s heart was donated by his family to a 56 year old man, his lungs were transplanted into two men aged 63 and 67, his liver was given to a 64 year old woman, a kidney and his pancreas were given to a 36 year old woman, and his other kidney went to a 24 year old woman.  Veturi’s corneas will be transplanted later.

Rabi Yehudah And Antoninus

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Rabi Yehudah Hanasi (the prince) known as Rebbe had an amazingly warm friendship with the Roman Caesar, Antoni­nus. The friendship began at the birth of the two men and continued until their dying days.

Rebbe was born as the land of Judea lay beneath the heavy Roman heel. The Roman government, furious at the stubbornness of the Jewish people, passed severe decrees against them. One of these decrees concerned the vital mitzvah of milah (circumcision).

The Jews were horrified to learn that the Romans had decreed that any Jew who cir­cumcised his child would be put to death and were in turmoil. How could one not fulfill the mitzvah that was the sym­bol of the covenant between the Almighty and His people? On the other hand, who had the courage to risk death by defying the decree?

Rabi Shimon Ben Gamliel, descendant of the great Hillel and head of the Sanhedrin, was blessed by G-d just at that time with a son. Great was the rejoicing but equally great was the trepidation.

But Rabi Shimon never hesitated. He took his eight-day old son and performed the ritual that brought him into the covenant of Avraham Avinu.

The Romans Hear

The Roman governor soon learned of Rabi Shimon’s actions. He was furious.

“Bring Rabi Shimon before me imme­diately,” he said.

Rabi Shimon was brought to the palace and before the angry gover­nor.

“What have you done? Why have you defied the orders of the Roman Caesar and circumcised your son?”

Rabbi Shimon looked at the governor and replied: “I have obeyed the orders of a greater king than the Roman Caesar. I have obeyed the decree of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, who is Sovereign of the universe.”

“I realize that you are the leader of the Jewish people and I respect you as a great man” the governor said, “but duty compels me to take you into custody for having broken the Roman law. You, your wife and the newborn child will go under guard to Rome and Caesar himself will decide your fate.”

On To Rome

The trip took many days and when they reached Italy they stopped at a hotel before proceeding on to Rome. The Empress was also staying at the same hotel for the Al-Mighty had decreed that she should give birth about the same time.

The wife of Rabi Shimon, as the leader of the Jews, had met the Empress before and they had become good friends.

“What are you doing here?” the Empress asked in surprise.

Rabi Shimon’s wife burst into tears and poured forth the entire story,

“Because we circumcised our son, Caesar, your husband, will probably con­demn us all to death.”

The Plan

The Roman Empress listened in horror to the tale that had just unfolded and she rose to her feet, “Never! This will never happen!”

“I am afraid it will,” said Rabi Shimon’s wife, sadly, “There is nothing that we can do. We defied the law of tyranny and now we shall be punished for it.”

“No, perhaps not.” said the Empress, as her face brightened,

“What do you mean?”

“I have an idea which just might work if you are willing to try it out.”

“I will do anything if the life of my son will be spared.”

“Very well,” said the Empress. “I have just given birth to a son also. He is not cir­cumcised. Let us exchange babies temporar­ily and when you show the baby to the king he will see that the child is uncircumcised and will let you all go free.”

The Jewish mother listened to the plan and agreed to try it out.

“Perhaps if the Almighty wishes it, the plan will work and we will be saved.”

In the greatest secrecy the two women gathered up their infants and exchanged them. The uncircumcised Roman baby, heir to the Roman kingdom was given to the wife of the Jewish leader and little Yehuda, destined to be one of the giants of Torah, was handed over to the Roman Empress.

Before The Emperor

The next morning the party proceeded on its journey and was taken to the palace to see the Emperor.

“I have heard that you have defied the decree of the Empire and circumcised your child,” the Emperor said. “You realize, of course, that you are liable for the death penalty for treason.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/kidz/midrash-stories/rabi-yehudah-and-antoninus/2012/10/14/

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