Zayin Adar 5777 – Two Greats and the Greatest.

The 7th day of Adar is recorded as being the anniversary of  the birth and death of Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader the Jewish people to date. There exists an interesting debate in Jewish law and thought about the very nature of this day. Is it one of great joy or great sorrow? It was the day that Moshe Rabbeinu, the redeemer of Israel (through the Almighty) was brought forth into the world. Conversely, it was the very day that he perished, leaving Bnai Yisrael bereft of their great and humble leader. Many Jews around the world fast, and hold this day as a day of gratitude to the Chevra Kadisha, the local Jewish burial society.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov in his Sefer HaToda’ah records that on the 7th of Adar, one should study the various passages, in the Torah and in Medrashim, that speak about the death of Moshe Rabbeinu. In the very last chapter of Devarim, the Torah records (34:10): “There will never arise another prophet in Israel as Moshe, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, known as the Yismach Moshe, points out the practical significance of this verse. Although Moses is not typically referenced as a prophet, Yismach Moshe cites that there will never arise one like him in Klal Yisrael who was always primed for nevuah, that was constantly ready to receive the word of God. He continues that while that later figures would have to prepare themselves, mentally and spiritually, to speak with God, this was not the case with Moshe. He was always prepared.

In the two preceding verses (Devarim 34:8-9), we see what transpires in the aftermath of Moshe’s demise.  

“And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moav for thirty days, and the days of weeping over the mourning for Moses came to an end. And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands upon him. And the children of Israel obeyed him, and they did as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

At the end of the days of mourning for Moshe Rabbeinu, Bnai Yisrael looked to Yehoshua, their new leader. They obeyed him because he had been trained by Moshe. Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Epstein, in his Ma’or VaShemesh writes on these verses that anyone who appoints and prepares a successor for their endeavors, it’s as if they never truly left their post. Because Moshe had prepared Yehoshua so thoroughly to be at the helm of the Jewish people, it was as if Moshe never left their midst. They stopped their crying, and listened to their new leader.

This message takes on additional meaning for me, as 7th of Adar also happens to be the yahrzteit of two of my great-grandfathers, Samuel Radman and Jack Balk.

 

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Samuel Radman, who, to me, looks almost identical to his son,  my grandfather William Radman.

Samuel Radman, Yehoshua ben Pinchas, lived a tough life. He met and married the love of his life, my great-grandmother, Rose, and promised her the world. She was his everything, and I cannot imagine how his life must’ve felt in the decade that he outlived her. He was a Russian soldier who saw action in wars, an experience that stayed with him for the rest of his life. The Radman family decided that Europe was not the place for them, yet they couldn’t simply get on a boat and leave. They walked traveled on foot, often times with bands of gypsies, across much of Russia before they were able to flee and arrive on American shores. He was a simple man, who owned a grocery store and an ice cream parlor, and was often seen sporting a coat and hat, despite sweltering St. Louis summers.

My great-grandfather, Jack Balk, Yaakov ben Yitzchak Mordechai, was born on Christmas day 1902. The youngest of the three children in his family, it’s said that he was given the name Yaakov because that name was in the first few words of the parsha that week. He, too emigrated to the United States, but as traditional channels had been all but blocked, he entered the country via San Francisco. He settled in St. Louis, the home of many Balk relatives, and worked as a butcher. Eventually, he rose to become the manager of a large grocery store in downtown St. Louis, that had a large meat processing plant. He was known to be very thorough, only willing to stock the shelves with the finest quality meat. It earned him the moniker “Send ’em back, Jack”, a nickname that he used in commercials for the establishment.

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Me and Grandpa Jack (after shamelessly cropping out 19 family members from what is, undoubtedly, the most iconic Balk extended family picture in existence.)

Not only was my Grandpa Jack alive when I was born, but I remember him vividly. There’s a picture that hung on my bar mitzvah collage in the hallway of my (now old) house of Grandpa Jack holding me as a newborn, with a smile on his face as wide as the Mississippi River. I recall the trips we’d take to his apartment on our vacations in St. Louis. On one of those trips, my mother had the foresight to bring along my siddur and mini-tallis from my first grade classroom. I stood in Grandpa Jack’s living room and proceeded through my entire davening regimen, which as a 7 year old wasn’t even that long. The smile, the same as the one from the picture a few years before, was the exact same.

Transitions may not always be this seamless, but the message here applies contemporarily as well. Samuel Radman and Jack Balk, men buried only yards away from each other, are no longer with us. Nevertheless, the legacies that they prepared their descendants for, whether they knew it or not, keeps the memories of these two men alive today.

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