VaEra 5777 – Gevurah, Moshe Rabbeinu, and My Grandmother

226777_4024891587376_551459411_n.jpg

The 27th of Teves marks the yahrtzeit of my Grandmother Ida Radman z”l (Chaya Tzivia bas Yehoshua). She was taken from this world 14 years ago today on the Jewish calendar, New Year’s Day 2003, which effectively put a bit of a damper on the whole year. My Grandma Idee was a fierce woman who made the most incredible potato knishes I’ve ever tasted, and to this day, I haven’t found any better.

There are two things from this week’s parsha, VaEra, that stuck out to me when I think of my grandmother. The first is the seemingly trivial mentioning of the ages of Aharon and Moshe. In discussing the game plan for the brothers to meet with Paro, the Torah records that Aharon was 83 years old, and Moshe was 80. Before teaching these pesukim to my students, I would ask them how old they thought Moshe and Aharon were when the whole plan was set in motion. The overwhelming response was that the brothers were most likely young, valiant leaders. We see here, that by today’s standards, Moshe and Aharon would’ve been relegated to celebrate their years and accomplishments. Yet, putting aside the fact that people generally had longer lives during those times, their journey only began at such advanced ages. At a stage in life, when we consider people of their years to migrate South, the brothers were just beginning their ascent to leadership of the Jewish people. Their crowning achievements had yet to come.

Although seemingly unimportant, I believe that the Torah’s account of Moshe’s age is anything but. Pirkei Avos (5:21) teaches that at the age of 80 one gains gevurah, strength. Moshe Rabbeinu had lived a life of ups and downs. Much has happened to him since he was found by Bas Paro in a basket floating along the river bank. This is not to say that he didn’t possess gevurah before, but Moshe at age 80 is granted an extra level of strength to tackle the seemingly impossible task of going to Paro. Rabbi Soloveitchik adds on this point of Pirkei Avos that gevurah in this context can also mean courage. Moshe Rabbeinu at the age of 80 would be privy to courage from the Almighty that would enable him to stand up to the tyrannical Egyptian leader.

My grandmother passed away at 80. As her tafkid in life was coming to a close, Moshe Rabbeinu’s tafkid was about to take flight. She channelled this gevurah well before her 80th year. My grandmother lived a full life, but one not devoid of tzaros. My mother z”l was sick constantly as a child. She outlived her beloved husband. She buried her son, her bechor, my Uncle Joel, whose tragic passing shocked the entire family. Yet, she took everything life gave her in stride, with great strength and courage. Paraphrasing her own motto that she’d repeat, in life “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Things constantly come up and throw our world into a state of disarray. It’s our job to ensure that we maintain some sense of homeostasis, and be able to regroup and move forward. These are words that are emblazoned and engrained into my being.

Enhancing this gevurah is the second point that, to me, connects my grandmother with Moshe Rabbeinu. The interplay between Moshe and Hashem features Moshe beseeching Hashem to send someone else in his stead to converse with Paro because of his speech impediment. Moses does not feel adequately equipped to be the vessel to carry the message to the ruthless ruler of Egypt. God quells His faithful servant’s anguish by informing him that he should speak to his brother Aharon, who will serve as his mouthpiece. Even though there are barriers to communication, the message shall still reverberate.

My grandmother was racked with impaired hearing from the time that she was a child. Yet, this deficiency was something that she did not let keep her down. When we would visit her, or when anyone would speak to her, we’d speak very loudly. She could read lips. Even the fact that she lived in Missouri and Michigan, and her family in different states didn’t keep us from communicating. I distinctly remember that when we wanted to call her, we’d dial a service where an operator would transcribe our message for her to read on a screen, enabling for seamless conversation. Although, at times, we’d talk loudly into the phone as if we were talking to her in person, since we could hear her voice. I’m not sure the operators would appreciate having to hold their phones or headsets away from their own ears to escape the deafening sound. Despite external factors precluding the possibility of conversation or comprehension, we were blessed with the ability to do so.

Those phonecalls, like her mandelbread, are no more.

We miss her dearly, and hope that her neshama has an aliyah on this day, as she looks down her family with my Grandfather, uncle, and mother. May we be strengthened by the courage of Moshe and Aharon to take face situations as they come, just as my grandmother did.
Yehi Zichra Baruch

Advertisements

Chanukah 5777 Part IX: Post Chanukah – Maalin Bakodesh Ve’ein Moridin

IMG_8482.JPG

Just when we finally start remembering Al Hanissim, the festival of Chanukah is over. The scent of olive oil may still waft through our houses, yet there will be no ninth candle kindled tonight, and no dreidels spun.

One of the miracles that we commemorated over the course of Chanukah is the neis pach hashemen. There was only enough oil to last one day, but through the miracles of the Almighty, the menorah remained aglow for eight days until there was once again oil that was fit for Temple use. After those eight illuminated, joyous and magical days, people went on with their lives and tried to rebuild after the havoc wrought by the Greeks. We too, are now moving on. If the holiday of Chanukah is known for the light that it brings, we are now enveloped in darkness, the same glaring darkness that consumed us the day before we lit our first candles and a host of other times prior. But that’s only true if we give way to the darkness and let it settle into our lives.
There is a well-known dispute found in the Gemara as to how we ignite the Chanukah lights. Beis Hillel is of the opinion that we are to light one candle on the first night of Chanukah and add another each night, while Beis Shammai rules that we are light eight candles on the first night and descend until the cessation of the holiday. Ultimately, we follow the opinion of Hillel, who explains “Maalin bakodesh ve’ein moridin”, that pertaining to matters of holiness, we ascend and do not go down. True, the transition from the eighth day to the ninth night marks the end of Chanukah, yet we also should mark this time as the catalyst for dispelling the darkness in our lives, our own daled amos and beyond. “Maalin bakodesh ve’ein moridin” is not a concept exclusive to the mitzvah of ner Chanukah: it’s a state of mind. It’s the mantra that must be ingrained in the fibers of our very being. We go up, but we never go down. One need not look very far to encounter the darkness. It may be around us, but we do not let it in, we must not let it in, even for a moment. No light is too insignificant to conquer the pitch black. We must turn off the darkness, and turn on the light. Our chanukios may have used up the last of the oil for this Chanukah, but that doesn’t mean the kedushah stops here. Just like the flames, maalin bakodesh–ve’ein moridin. Period! Mosif veholich leolam vaed!

Chanukah 5777 Part VIII – Zos Chanukah: This Is Chanukah

IMG_8477.JPGZos Chanukas Hamizbeach, This was the dedication of the Mizbeach. In my head, I imagine this being proclaimed just as the Jeopardy announces “This is Jeopardy.” We always seek to finish strong with something we’ve started, whether it’s a workout or a school project. The eighth and final day of Chanukah is an auspicious time indeed, arguably one of the most powerful days of the entire holiday, according to many of our sages. Many Chasidic commentaries record Zos Chanukah, the last day of Chanukah, as being the day in which our gmar din is sealed for good (there even exists a minhag among Chasidim to greet others with “gmar chasima tova” or “gmar tov” on this day). The Ruzhiner Rebbe, one of the most regal Chasidic leaders of the 1800’s, is quoted that the holiness and splendor that is imbued in Zos Chanukah is parallel to that of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. The word “zos” from today’s Torah reading parallels two pesukim which, to me, can help crystalize this connection of the holiness of the Days of Awe with Zos Chanukah. The first comes from Yeshayahu “zos yechupar avon Yaakov”, with this shall Jacob’s iniquity be atoned for. Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, in Nitei Gavriel on Chanukah, bases this idea from passages in the Bnei Binyamin, and works of Rabbi David of Dinov and the Bnei Yissaschar. By reading of Chanukas Hamizbeach, we strengthen ourselves and our commitment to the Almighty, a step which grants us atonement for our iniquities.

The second pasuk that Zos Chanukah connects to comes from Tehillim (27:3) “Bezos ani boteach, In This I trust.” The Medrash Rabbah points out that the “zos” here refers to God, that, as our currency tells us, In God I Trust. The Chashmonaim fought valiantly against the mighty Greek militia. By no means did anyone around them think they would win. The Chashmonaim, with their intense devotion to Hashem, knew they had to fight as hard as they could in order to stand up to their aggressors. Their belief in God springboarded a religious renewal for the Jewish people following the victory over the Greeks. It’s a renewal that we can channel into this day contemporarily.

May this Zos Chanukah be one that strengthens our emunah, as well as our ability to turn back to Hashem in teshuvah, even after the Yamim Noraim. Gmar tov!