Saturday, August 30, 2008

Post Re'eh - Looking Back On Shabbos

NCSY used to have a thing called Shabbos Ebbs Away. It ebbed. Why she had to go I don't know , she would not say. I am sitting at the dining room table of dear friends that I set up about 12 years ago. They are married with three beautiful children. They have been a bit apologetic about the hectic noise. That noise, I think, is worth a billion dollars with a high exponent next to the billion. The four and a half year old (boy and girl) twins and the eight year old big brother are energetic, and we get along really well. The twins cried when they heard I'll be leaving. My friend told me that sometimes he reads my post Shabbos posts where I write that Shabbos was relaxing and thinks; those were the days.

The Gemora addresses a pasuk (Yishayahu 29:22) that seems to state that Yaakov saved (was podeh) Avraham. The Gemorah asks when and how Yaakov redeemed his grandfather. The Gemora explains that Yaakov spared Avraham from tzaar gidul banim – the difficulty of raising children.

Rashi explains this to mean that by raising twelve children Yaakov saved Avraham and Yitzchak from that pain. Tosafot disagrees and says that the normal difficulties of raising children are not referred to as pain but as joy (ein zu tzaar elah simcha). Tosafot says that the tza'ar referred to here is the strife between Yosef and his brothers. According to Tosafot difficulties in raising a family are considered normal. Even sibling rivalry is an appropriate part of life. Avraham and Yitzchak were spared from the extremes of the Yosef incident (although they each had strife between their own children and were not strangers to pain within their family life).

Having and raising and loving and letting go of children is not easy but I imagine, from what I see and experience surreptitiously, that it is a great joy...

The rabbi of the shul I davened in this AM spoke about kashrut. He said a fact that may not be so well known; eating of meat on a regular basis is first allowed in parshat Re'eh. Until that point eating of meat was only allowed in conjunction with an offered sacrifice (which explains why the word zevach, which means sacrifice means a slaughtered animal). To make a long story short he spoke about Agriprocessing and said that there is nothing at present proven to criticize and that we must judge others favorably.

The rabbi of the shul I didn't daven in said that he looked in forty books and didn't find an answer to his question of why specifically Grizim and Eval were chosen for the blessing and the curse. His own answer was that - perhaps - it has to do with their close proximity to Eilonei Mamrei/Shechem. If the person that told this to me got it right, and I heard it right - the rabbi's theory was this: It was in this area that Avraham took in guests after having his Brit Milah and was visited with G-d and the seeds of the Jewish Nation were sowed. It was also in this vicinity that brothers sold a brother out, a mistake which would hurt the Jewish People in immeasurable ways for myriad years.

Perhaps, Rabbi Yaakov Luban suggested, these two mountains that represent the choice of blessing or curse remind us of the choices made by Avraham and The Brothers in the surrounding area. These were choices that may have seemed small at the start but that had enormous, long term consequences.

Over Shabbos also I recalled a vort that I became fond of some years back., Rav Hirsch talks, if I recall correctly, of the fact that these two mountains at the start looked the same. One flourished and one didn't. That's the way it is with blessings and curses. They can germinate from the same equal playing field, but the final results reveal the great difference between actions that in the end lead to holiness and blessing, or G-d Forbid, the opposite. Somewhere, from sometime long ago and still now, there's an email exchange/dance, around this holy thought.

At lunch I was asked to say a Dvar Torah at the end of the meal and after having overheard a request (or two) to bentch I went into my usual Shabbat meal dvar Torah intro. I invited everyone to check me on my promise that it would be done in less than three minutes. I cited Dovid HaMelech's advice to "taste and see that G-d is good - taamu u're'u ki tov hashem." Taste and see? How about - "look and see"? The thing is that you might not see G-d's goodness if you simply look (and surely not if you look simply). If you taste "it" then you will see G-d. You need to experience Jewish life and observance and through it you can gain something higher than and way beyond words. This is why in Hebrew the word for reason and the word for taste is one - ta'am - because you come to understanding through tasting/experiencing more than through reading or listening or any other cerebral maneuver.

This ties back to Parshat Re'eh, in which we're told to see the blessing that G-d puts before us "today" (ie. daily). How do you see a blessing? David HaMelech explains, you taste and then you see. Many note that the blessing isn't described. And many answer that the words "habracha, im tishme'u - the blessing; if you listen" means something slightly different than what you might first think. This line is telling us that the blessing is if you listen - that's the greatest blessing, the experience itself. Sure, there will be more rewards and blessings galore in this world and the next. But the keeping of Torah as a way of life is in and of itself the great blessing. And then I thanked my dear friends/hosts.

As I finished up in under three minutes I remembered the story Elsbeth Couch - my amazing teacher of Human Behavior and the Social Environment - told us. Someone big, I forgot who, once wrote - "forgive my writing such a long letter, but I didn't have time to write a short one."

Shavua Tov and G-d Bless

PS - Over Shabbos this artist and the story about him and his most famous painting at the end of this site came to mind.


uriyo said...

The long letter quote is from Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), in the sixteenth letter in his "Lettres Provinciales." He wrote the letter on December 4, 1656. For the original French and a direct translation from it, see

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Wow! Thanks Uri. Google has all kinds of names, including Mark Twain and I believe my teacher was citing a woman. I'm sure there are many legends and I will look at the site you included here. Your version sounds quite well backed up.

Any way I think it's a great line. I once heard that the trick to a good speech is to have a good start and good end and then to place the 2 as close together as possible.

I am always appreciative of and amazed by how you find things. I don't know how you do it - reminds me a little of Rabbi S. Leyman.

Thanks. Wishing you a Chodesh Tov, Teshuva Sheleima and Ketiva VeChatima Tovah - also success in your year of teaching. Best regards to Yedidya and any other mutual students.

uriyo said...

Thanks! Vegam lemar.

Rena said...

Awesome post...tx! SH SH