Friday, November 20, 2015

Yahzeit of Molly Samuel 2015

Parasha VaYetzei begins with Jacob leaving his parents’ home both to find a wife and to escape the wrath of his brother Esau. In leaving his home, Jacob has an encounter with G-d in a dream. He dreams of a ladder that stretches from the earth to heaven and angles are climbing up and down the ladder. 

וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ (Genesis 28:12)

G-d appears to Jacob and states that he will be the beneficiary of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac, that he will be the father of a great nation and that he will inherit the land of Canaan. 

הִנֵּ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵאלֹהֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃ (Genesis 28:13)

In the above verse, it reads “God was standing over him and said: I am G-d, G-d of Abraham your father and the G-d of Isaac. The land on which you are lying will be given to you and to you children.” 

There is an interesting construct here. Although Isaac was Jacob’s father, the verse intimates more of a relationship with Abraham, his grandfather, than Isaac, his father. In many ways, in fact, Jacob’s life and actions mirrored those of Abraham. In his book Amittah Shel Torah, Rabbi Yitzhak Twersky (Gila’s father for those not in the know) beautifully expounds on this in his commentary on the Torah Portion. He writes: 

In general, the direction of Yaacov’s life seems to mirror the life of Avraham more than the life of his father Yitzhak. …Yitzhak’s role is to maintain the tradition of his father…By contrast, Yaakov is creative and innovative like his grandfather. He is responsible for laying the foundation of the Jewish people no less than Avraham. (Amittah Shel Torah p 127-128)

Many things differ between Isaac and Jacob. Isaac never left his homeland for any significant time, whereas Jacob leaves for over 20 years. Isaac’s wife was chosen for him, while Jacob actively chooses his wives. The riches Isaac had were predominantly the inheritance from Abraham, while Jacob earned his own riches, much like his grandfather. Both Abraham (who was originally Avram) and Jacob (who was renamed Yisrael) were given new names by G-d, but not Isaac. The description of Isaac’s life in the Torah was generally that of a passive individual, but both Abraham and Jacob appeared to be men of action. 

There is one major area that appears to differ between Jacob and Abraham. After G-d appears to Jacob in the dream, Jacob awakens and says: 

וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַעֲקֹב֮ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי
׃ וַיִּירָא֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר מַה־נּוֹרָ֖א הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה אֵ֣ין זֶ֗ה כִּ֚י אִם־בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְזֶ֖ה שַׁ֥עַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (Genesis 28: 16, 17)

“Indeed there is G-d in this place and I did not know it!”  And he was awestruck and said: How awesome is this place, it is nothing if not the House of G-d and the Gates of Heaven!”

Here is a departure from the thinking of Abraham. Abraham, father of monotheism, was inspired and his prophesy began when he was in Haran, not in Canaan or the Land of Israel. He conceptualized a single G-d in heaven, Master of the Universe, and clearly proclaimed that He was not tied to any geographic area or any inanimate object. In contrast, Jacob appears surprised, but pleased to learn that during his sojourn to the home of his mother’s family he would be able to maintain his connection with G-d, and that this connection was not limited to his homeland. This begs the question: why did G-d wait till Jacob left his parent’s home to convey this message? Why could he not have had this prophecy earlier, before the journey. 

The Akedat Yitzhak, the 15th century Spanish Talmudist and commentator on the Torah suggests that the revelation of G-d to Jacob was purposefully done to broaden his spiritual horizon. By saying that he did not know or realize G-d was in the place where he slept, Jacob was admitting to feeling the connection between G-d and man was not a personal one; perhaps it was bound to the holiness of Israel or more particularly, the place that his father and his grandfather lived. G-d wanted him to know that his relationship with mankind had no limits or territorial restrictions. Moreover, Jacob was taught the concept about Hashgahat Pratit, personal Providence, which means that the relationship between individuals and G-d both transcends boundaries and is constant. 

There is a statement that one only knows the success of an individual from seeing their grandchildren. In this time of remembering Molly, known as Nanny or Granny depending on who you were, it is clear that she was successful. Molly’s major strengths were her commitment to family, her thoughtfulness and her generosity. Like Abraham influencing Jacob, these traits are seen in all of Molly’s offspring. It is amazing to think that the influence of a grandparent can be so far reaching, but, in truth, it is a very special relationship that exists between grandchildren and their grandparents. May we always be true to the values and generosity that Molly taught us; this will keep her memory and her teachings alive in us forever. 

May her Memory be a blessing; תהא נשמתה לברכה

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Yartzeit of Mark Samuel 2015

We have recently completed the cycle of Jewish holydays that begin with Rosh Hashana, transition to Yom Kippur and end with Sukkot. The mood of these days are a study in contrasts. The first 10 days, from the New Year to Yom Kippur, are intense periods for prayer, soul searching, repentance, and asking forgiveness from your fellow man. The completion of Yom Kippur leads into the preparation and then the celebration of Sukkot. This agrarian holiday includes dwelling in a Sukkah, a temporary shelter with its thatched roof that is partly open to the sky. Suffice it to say that the climate of Israel is much superior for this holiday than Montreal. Sukkot also has other agricultural symbols, including prayers for rain and the use of four species in many of the holiday prayers. 

The four species, Lulav (Palm), Hadasah (Myrtle), Arava (Willow) and Etrog (Citron) are very diverse in their properties. We are taught that they represent 4 classes of individuals: those who perform meritorious deeds, those who are learned in Torah, those who have both traits, and those who have neither. What is fascinating is that the rituals surrounding the Arba Minim (the four species) are only valid if all the 4 are taken together. We can’t just take the lovely, fragrant Etrog, representing meritorious behaviors and scholarship, nor can we cast aside the lowly willow, which has neither a fine smell nor provides tasty fruit, thus representing individuals without good deeds or learning. In spite of the disparities between the four species, they are always must be brought together in the rituals of Sukkot; they are inexorably linked even if they differ greatly. 

This is a tremendous lesson that can be extrapolated to many things, but it is a crucial part of providing education. There are many different types of students, stronger and weaker, those who are motivated, and those who need considerable encouragement, those who have special needs, and those who have outstanding abilities. The role of an educator, and indeed of a parent, is to recognize if someone is an Etrog, a Myrtle, a Palm or a Willow, or falls anywhere along the spectrum. Like in the Sukkot rituals, all are special and must be treated equally; without one, any one, the others lose value. Treating all as unique with their own special abilities is a crucial lesson we learn from the 4 species.

We commemorate the passing of Mark on the 7th day of the Jewish Month of Cheshvan, which always comes out soon after Sukkot. Mark was a tremendous scholar, but also an amazing educator. He worked hard as a university professor to both motivate and educate. As a Father and Uncle, he provided games, and puzzles for his kids, nieces and nephews to work on, to think through and to have fun learning. It did not matter who, he always had time and patience to give to his family and his students. This was tied together with his legendary scholarship and his wish to solve complex problems in physics. On the other hand, he wrote chapters for the “Encyclopedia of Physics”, primarily a tool for non-physicists. For Mark, communicating knowledge was key. 

It is the 18th anniversary of Mark’s untimely passing. 18 is the numerical value for the Hebrew word “Chai” meaning life. Mark’s memory lives on in us and it is important that we carry on his legacy. In honor of this anniversary, we have dedicated a library in memory of Mark at Yeshivat HaKotel, the school of higher Jewish learning that Elan and Ariel trained at and has contributed to the education of many. The plaque is inscribed with his name in English and Hebrew and says “The Pursuit of Knowledge is Everything”, which embodies his vision. We invite anyone who is in Jerusalem to visit, and in remembering his life, remember the lessons Mark taught that should live on through us all: that everyone should be treated as a special person, and that we should never stop learning and trying to understanding the world around us.

Friday, October 9, 2015

October 3-10

Welcome to sunset in Netanya, with a light wind blowing along the boardwalk, populated by joggers, couples strolling, and others taking in the cooling evening weather (still about 26 C). The colors over the Mediterranean are really pretty and the setting is idyllic. So Barbara and I chilled out at a new Israeli Steak House (Jack and Rose; highly recommended) as our time is Israel comes to a close. The week has been hectic (as usual) and fun (of course) with a clear smattering of solemnity due to the events around us. So in more detail, here is the recap.

Shabbat was lovely, and was a nice prelude to the end of Sukkot. We had lots of time to talk, to enjoy 19 month old Elisha’s company, take him to the park and be amazed at his vocabulary growing every day. The juxtaposition of Shabbat and the last day of Sukkot (Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) on Sunday night made for a bit of a marathon, in terms of preparing, cooking, time in Synagogue, eating (especially) but also led to great family time. In Israel the final day of Sukkot combines the manic energy and happiness of the day known as Simchat Torah (Rejoicing for the Torah) which is celebrated as a separate day outside of Israel with the Memorial Prayers that are said for departed parents and other loved ones. One minute we are dancing, the next we are remembering those who have left us. This is a bit of a microcosm for Jewish History, where the ability to remember the past and progress towards the future has helped with the continuity of our people. For our friends at Beth Zion, there was no throwing of water at the Young Israel of North Netanya. I can’t say I missed it. Anyway the dancing with the Torah at our Netanya Shul was perfect for Elisha, who, with the other kids, was showered with candies (soft candies, a British tradition) and enjoyed a whole bunch of raisins, while being ferried around by Ariel or his Sabi Bruce.

The rest of the week we hopped around the country. Our lemon of a car seemed to hold its own, having had a new battery installed on day 3 of our trip.  On Tuesday we went to Jerusalem. Gila went to pay respects at the Shiva for her teacher Rabbi Eitan Henkin and his wife who had been shot by terrorists while driving home with their children in their car. It was obviously very emotional, with both political and religious leaders attending, in addition to family friends and former students. 

In a lighter vein, we took Elisha to the Machanei Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, which has been gentrified somewhat, with a wider main drag and several upscale restaurants. We met Barbara’s cousins Linda and Alan Zysblatt there (more on them in the January 2015 blogs) and bumped into Montrealers Marla and Peter Veres and family, as well the Ottawa Steinmans. After a bit of shopping and Elisha convincing me to buy him a baguette (he twisted my arm), we met Carol and David Novosellor and David’s father Rabbi Novosellor for a cool drink just before leaving Jerusalem. They all looked great and it was nice to see David’s father, who was visiting from New Jersey. We went back to Givat Shmuel where Gila and Ariel live and since Elisha went to bed, dined on take-out sushi and then headed back to Netanya.

A sidebar here. As you may have seen in the news, there has been a new type of terrorism happening in Israel over the past week, since the horrendous killings on the road to Itamar. “Lone wolf” Palestinians have been stabbing people randomly all over the country. There were three deaths in Jerusalem, and at least 4 attacks per day since Tuesday. The modus operandi often is an attempt to attack a soldier, usually female and steal her gun, but there have been attacks in crowds outside the old city and on busses. The perpetrators have been apprehended or killed by soldiers or police in the act of stabbing people. Obviously, we are all on edge, as the rhetoric from the leadership of the Palestinan Authoroty and Hamas praises these “heroic acts” leading to more copy-cat attempts. However, in a macabre twist that says a lot about what is wrong about the world today, Wednesday there was a solidarity rally in New York at the Israeli Embassy…Protesting the deaths of young Palestinians at the hands of Israelis during this spate of violence. In fact, an interviewer lobbed a softball to one of the leaders of the protest who talked about the evil of the IDF against their heroic boys. No mention by either the interviewer or anyone else that the reason these young men were killed was that they were in the act of attempting to kill someone else. So, those who are there to protect victims are the monsters, and the perpetrators of crimes are the heroes. We are certainly living in warped and very unnerving times.

Of course, like good Israelis, we keep life moving along at a normal pace! Wednesday following a trip to the bank (which includes a Monty Pythonesque story that really should make it to this blog, but won’t…) we visited with Ronen and Michal Sela. Michal, a nurse, has become head of Women’s Health for a large district of the Maccabi Health Insurance organization. We saw them near her office in Raanana, which was perfect because it was on the way to Givat Shmuel. We made it on time to pick up Gila and Elisha from Elisha’s day care and venture into the wilds of Bnei Braq, a very religious city adjoining Givat Shmuel, to do grocery shopping and pick up books and a few other things. Then we had dinner with the kids, before a visit to Ruth and Itamar Maliach (also ex-Montrealers) who live close to Gila and Ariel. Their daughter Annael was recently married, so we visited to wish them Mazel Tov, drink and toast “LeChaim!” and see some of the pictures from the celebrations.

The week wound down to where this blog began, with some errands, a walk along the beach, preparation for Shabbat and then a stroll along the cliffs to watch the sun set and enjoy a bit of sea air. Greatly needed and greatly appreciated.

This morning, we awoke to see that the streets were wet, the cars were wet, the grass too…it had rained! In a country with no major water resources, Israel is highly dependent on rain. In fact, the last day of Sukkot includes special prayers for the rains. Sure enough, the day after Sukkot there were downpours all over the country. On Wednesday, there was so much rain in Raanana that there was a power outage and here in Natanya there were pools of water all over the beach. This is obviously a good sign. After a few errands and breakfast, we went to Givat Shmuel to pick up Gila, Ariel and Elisha, for one last Shabbat before we go home.  On the way to Netanya, we stopped at a great playground not far from where we had dinner last night, and enjoyed some fun and a picnic. As we finish the last minute preparations, we look forward to a great Shabbat here and to the reality check that will come when we return home on Sunday!

We wish a Refuah Shelema to Zysel bat Bella

We wish a Refuah Shelema to Ha-Rav Hayyim Yechiel ben Malca

We wish a Refuah Shelema to Noam Shmuel Hayyim ben Yehudit

Wishing you a Wonderful Shabbat Shalom!

Barbara and Bruce