Terumah 5777 – Nedivei Lev and Grandpa Harry

Parshas Terumah begins by discussing the first capital campaign in the history of the Jewish people. There were no phone calls, flyers or emails. As hard as it may seem to fathom, they didn’t even a giant poster board with a large empty thermometer on it, whose contents would continually be filled in with a red sharpie depicting the rising funds collected. Nada. Moshe was told by Hashem to speak to Bnai Yisrael and have them give an amount “from any person whose heart inspires them to give generously.” Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that Targum Yonason maintains that, as it sounds, this offering was not to have been given by means of force or coercion. The Machatzit HaShekel offering, which is written about later on, was to be given was mandatory, while this donation, for the construction of the Mishkan, was participatory. The blueprints were given from On High and the nedivei lev, the ones whose hearts inspired them to give, were to give. Not to argue with the board about final renderings, or flummox the finance committee with ways to cut costs. Rav Soloveitchik continues that the very items given by the nedivei lev were themselves sacred. He writes that as slaves in Egypt, Bnai Yisrael were not compensated for their time and labor, and no rights to property. They would walk among the Egyptians who were clad in fine garments, while they, the lowly slaves, donned tattered rags. Yet, the tables had turned. The Israelites were now free, and they left Mitzrayim with gold, silver, and other riches. The Rav continues that after years of not being compensated or even appreciated, Bnai Yisrael finally had items of value. Yet, when the clarion call came from the Kisei HaKavod to give, that’s exactly what the Jewish people did. Some gave more, some gave less, but give they did. Rabbi Soloveitchik goes a step further that the sanctity of the Mishkan exuded not only from it being the sanctuary for Hashem, but the fact that Bnai Yisrael gave these precious items eagerly with great zeal. The gold, silver, and copper that they took as their reward for generations of backbreaking labor from the evil Egyptian regime, they so willingly donated to honor the Almighty.

Nedivei lev make their mark on the Jewish people. We can encounter them directly and/or indirectly. Today, the 4th of Adar, is the yahtzeit of one such individual: my great-grandfather, Yisrael ben Shraga Feivish or Israel “Harry” Chanen. Grandpa Harry, as he was known, is someone who I never had the fortune of meeting, but I am one of his grandchildren that proudly carry his name (Akiva Yisrael). Although he passed away over a decade before I was born, I know a tremendous amount about him, not only from the accounts of family members, but from his own words. There exists in the houses of the Chanen children, grandchildren, and even some of the great-grandchildren, a work, most likely contained in a red folder with fasteners, titled “The Dagda-Quincy Life Express.” This tale, told to my great-aunt Audrey, depicts the life of my great-grandfather, from a modest beginning in his beloved Dagda, Latvia, to his eventual journey across Europe and finally to the United States. The sixty-four page book is harrowing and eye-opening. I can feel his presence as I read through his life story. He was a great man, an ardent Zionist and what sticks out most to me, even more than the incredible story of the reunification of the Chanen family, is his sincere love of Yiddishkeit. Evidence of this is peppered throughout the book. He reflects on memories of davening in the Lubavitcher shul in Dagda, singing zemiros, weddings that brought the whole town together. From his own words: “I remember at the age of six, they took me to the cheder. I was wrapped in a tallis. When we got there I was sat in a chair, and all at once some candy started dropping from above. I was told ‘if you study well, all good things will come to you.’” He loved my Grandma Jean, and his whole family as well. He bought her the biggest Buick they made. It was so big, he had to extend the garage just so it could house the vehicle. Fate in America was good to Harry Chanen, as his scrap business flourished. He was a big fish in the small pond of Quincy, IL. As a nediv lev, His efforts were able to be felt even more there. Yet, no matter what would’ve been in his bank book, that classification would still have proven true.

He implores his descendants to be strong members of the Jewish people. Toward the end of the book, he writes: “I dreamt that I had died and I, the spirit only, was hovering over the houses of my families, taking pride in their activities. I tried to talk to them, but I could not get through and I woke up.” I’d like to think that he looks down upon us, perched next to Grandma Jean, and does just that. He taught my grandparents what it meant to be a nediv lev, and in turn, they passed that knowledge to their children, who have transmitted it to the next generation. My Grandpa Harry was a man short in stature, yet I’m not sure my size 15 feet could come close to filling his shoes.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.

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What I like to think Grandma Jean’s Buick looked like.

 

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