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