Thursday, December 26, 2013

Va'eira 5774

These are the heads of the fathers’ houses: The sons of Reuven (Reuben), Israel’s firstborn: Chanoch (Enoch), Pallu, Chezron and Kari, these are the families of Reuven. And the sons of Shimon (Simeon/Simon): Yemuel and Yamin and Ohad and Yachin and Tzochar and Shaul (Saul), the son of the Canaanites, these are the families of Shimon. And these are the names of the sons of Levi after their generations: Gershon, Kehat and Merari; the years of Levi’s life were a hundred and thirty-seven years.” (Shemot/Exodus 6:14-16)

Sforno asks: Why does Torah only mention the names of Reuven and Shimon and their children, but for Levi, Torah says “these are the names,” provides the names of three generations and gives Levi’s age of death?

Sforno suggests that Reuven and Shimon had righteous children, but their grandchildren and great grandchildren were not as special. However, for Levi, all of the generations that followed were righteous – his great grandchildren were Aharon (Aaron), Moshe (Moses) and Miriam. Sforno suggests that Levi’s longevity, the 137 years specified in Torah, is the reason for his exceptional progeny through the generations. He lived long enough to raise his grandchildren (Amram’s generation) and to impart to them the greatness of his father Yaakov (Jacob), becoming a living link to the Patriarch.  

Writes Rabbi Yissocher Frand on “Targum Yonasan ben Uziel says that Yocheved was 94 years old when Levi died. We can speculate that Amram must have been younger than Yocheved (she was his aunt), perhaps 20 to 25 years younger. That would make him, say 74 years old (approximately) when Levi died. This means that the extra years of Levi’s life – that made all the difference in Amram’s life (over that of his cousins from the other tribes whose grandfathers died when they were younger) came well into his adult years. Amram was benefiting from the presence of his grandfather when he was well past 50.”

Write Rabbis Yisroel and Osher Anshel Jungreis in Torah for Your Table: “How critical it is for us to connect our children to our past, to our grandparents and great-grandparents, to relate stories of our families and to teach our children to emulate the chesed, goodness, and devotion of our ancestors. If children are to thrive, they need spiritual role models to sustain and invigorate them.”

As parents, if we are fortunate enough to have living parents, we should make every effort to forge relationships between our children and our parents. A grandparent’s meaningful and loving involvement in our children’s lives can have a long lasting influence.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shemot 5774

Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe, to the river…and she saw the basket…and she sent her maidservant, and she took it.” (Shemot/Exodus 2:5)

The Hebrew word used for “her maidservant” is amatah. The Talmud (Sotah 12b) notes that amatah is an expression meaning “her hand” because the joint from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger is known in Hebrew as amah. Thus the Biblical measurement “cubits” is rendered in Hebrew as amot. Our Sages translate the verse as “she stretched out her hand” and explain that Pharaoh’s daughter’s arm grew many cubits, amot, so she could reach the basket containing the baby Moshe (Moses). (The Midrash also interprets the verse this way in Shemot Rabbah 1:23.)

Write Rabbi Yisroel and Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis in Torah for Your Table: “Our Sages explain that her [Pharaoh’s daughter’s] determination to do a mitzvah (commandment) --  to save a life – was so all consuming that she reached beyond herself and, because of that, G-d enabled her to transcend her physical limitations and He miraculously extended her arm. We learn…that when it comes to doing a mitzvah and thereby fulfilling our spiritual goals, the word “impossible” doesn’t exist. If we…put forth our best efforts, then G-d will do the rest.”

Writes Mrs. Rosally Saltsman in Parenting by the Book: “Child-rearing often seems difficult, but G-d endows parents with superhuman strength when they need it most, especially mothers. All they have to do is make the initial effort. We all know how difficult it is to cope on only a few hours sleep a day, yet mothers with small children do it for weeks and sometimes months at a time. Parents are capable of superhuman feats because they have superhuman love for their children.”

As parents, we often are faced with what feels like the impossible. We must always keep in mind that if we are sincerely determined, nothing is beyond our reach. The Rabbis Jungreis assert: “We need only stretch out our hands to discover that with G-d, everything is possible.”   

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vayechi 5774

“…And Yisrael (Israel) prostrated himself….” (Bereishit/Genesis 47:31)

In this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov (Jacob, called Yisrael in this verse) near the end of his life, calls his son Yosef (Joseph) to his bedside. Rashi notes that Yaakov bows down to Yosef, even though it normally would be improper for a father to do so for a son. Quoting from Talmud (Megillah 16b) -- “Although the lion is king, when it is the time of the fox, bow down to him” -- Rashi explains that Yaakov shows Yosef the respect he deserves as reigning viceroy, royalty.

According to the Kehot Chumash, there is another reason Yaakov bows to Yosef: He wants to arouse Yosef’s sense of power and grant him the confidence required to carry out Yaakov’s request to be buried in Israel, even though Pharaoh would insist that Yaakov be laid to rest in Egypt. 

Writes Rosally Saltsman in Parenting by the Book: “We learn from this that we have to treat our children…when they grow up, with the respect accorded to adults of their stature.” She notes that many of our children become rabbis, doctors or judges and are given titles that convey their status.  While others address our grown children as rabbi, doctor, or your honor, we parents may still want to call them Rivkele or Moishy, Becky or Mikey.

Mrs. Saltsman continues: “It is important, especially in public, that parents acknowledge the official status of their children and certainly the fact that they are grown up. No matter what their stature, there are those who will look up to them as older and wiser (such as their children) and we have to maintain that truth in their eyes.”

As parents of grown children, we should remember that even when children are adults and have acquired status, they will still turn to us for approval, and they require our continued love, support and appropriate respect.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Vayigash 5774

I am your brother Yosef (Joseph) whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not be sad and let it not trouble you that you sold me here…It was not you who sent me here, but G-d...” (Bereishit/Genesis 45:4-5, 8)

In this week’s Torah portion, Yosef reunites with the brothers who sold him as a teenager into slavery in Egypt. The brothers do not recognize the grown-up Yosef, so when he reveals himself to them they worry that Yosef, now an important official, will still be angry with them and will use his power to finally avenge their malicious actions. Yosef assuages their fears; he holds no grudge against them.

Nesanel Yoel Safran on explains how Yosef is able to let go of any anger or grudge and forgive his brothers. He writes: “Joseph realized the amazing truth that everyone in our lives is, in a deeper sense, [one of] G-d’s ‘messengers.’ Whatever they say or do is only because G-d is sending us some sort of a message, and what’s the point of getting angry at the messenger?...Since the message comes from G-d, ultimately it’s for our best.” In other words, Yosef recognizes that what his brothers did to him so many years before was part of G-d’s plan, so he cannot be angry with the brothers who simply carried out G-d’s plan.

Holding on to anger and grudges can hurt even more than the original unkindness. The ability to forgive is freeing and allows living with less pain and greater happiness. Writes Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on “Humanity changed the day Joseph forgave his brothers. When we forgive and are worthy of being forgiven, we are no longer prisoners of our past.”

As parents, instead of becoming angry when we feel wronged, instead of holding a grudge or taking out our anger on the “messenger” (all too often one of our children or our spouse), we must try make sense of G-d’s message. What is He trying to get us to do differently or to think about differently? What is He telling us about our past actions or our plans? While we cannot control the words, actions or emotions of G-d’s messengers, we can and must control our reactions and responses to them.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Miketz 5774

“‘You shall be [appointed] over my household, and through your command all my people shall be nourished; only [with] the throne will I be greater than you.’ So Pharaoh said to Yosef (Joseph), ‘Look, I have appointed you over the entire land of Egypt.’”  (Beresishit/Genesis 41:40-41) 

In this week’s Torah portion, Yosef interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and Pharaoh appoints him to the highest position in Egypt. This is expressed in verse 40. Rabbi Yissocher Frand on notes that verse 41 appears redundant and asks why Pharaoh seems to reiterate the obvious.

Rav Frand explains: “Without subtleties, without social grace, Pharaoh is clobbering it over his [Yosef’s] head: ‘Don’t forget: I am the one who made you who you are – always remember that!’” The Rav continues: “Normally, even the best of human beings feel the need to remind people of the fact that they have done them a favor. However, the less one reminds a person of a favor he has done for him in the past, the closer he is to being angel-like.”

Citing an insight from Rav Shalom Schwadron, Rav Frand relates an incident from Shoftim/Judges 13. An angel visits a barren woman and her husband, Manoach, to announce that they will have a baby. When the baby is born, the angel feels no need to reappear to remind the couple of the debt they owe him for his role in the joyous event.

Writes Rav Frand: “We may never reach the scale of the Angel of G-d; nonetheless, we should not be Pharaohs either! When we do a person a favor – get him a job, help him find a shidduch (match), give him a loan – do not go looking for gratitude. It is hard enough to be the recipient of a favor; we should avoid constantly ‘rubbing it in.’”

As parents, it is tempting to remind our children of all the “favors” we have done for them – spending hours in labor before delivering them, quitting a promising career to stay at home, or foregoing luxuries to send them to summer camp. These actions are not favors – they simply are the choices we have made as parents. We should never hold these actions over the heads of our children in order to get them to do something for us, to thank us, or to “repay” us. As they mature, they will understand and perform the mitzvah (commandment) of kibud av v’em (honoring parents) and we will receive our “payment.”