Vaetchanan – Shabbat Nachamu 5782 – Where is Our Nechama?

Immediately following Tisha B’Av and the related stringencies we keep until the following day at chatzot, we herald in a wave of comfort. This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Nachamu” coming from the words of the Haftarah “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami, Comfort, Comfort my nation,” and this verse ushers in seven consecutive weeks of consolation through words of our prophets. As is often the case, we look around in our lives and we wonder where this nechama is supposed to be. Sometimes it hits much harder, like in the weeks of the shiva dinechemta when war raged in Israel. Shabbat Nachamu 2006 was only a few weeks after the terrifying capture of IDF soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev, and the heartbreaking saga of the capture and murder of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrah in 2014. Then, as in other times of tumult for our people, Tisha B’Av came and went but the nechama was seemingly anywhere but among us.

In his youth, Rabbi Soloveitchik once asked his father why there are so many unresolved questions across the Talmud. His father answered him that not every event can be comprehended by human beings. It’s one of the most frustrating things. Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer, but I can try and put forth a suggestion about prospective. 

One of the most spurious claims about Jews in modern times is the trope of dual loyalty. But being a member of Klal Yisrael means that we live with the duality of being able to celebrate amid sadness. We add many customs of mourning and remembrance at every Jewish wedding, a time of otherwise unbridled happiness.

We can go back in time and pour over the various events that have befallen the Jewish people and find silver linings. The Gemara at the end of Makkot (24b) recounts the story of Rabbi Akiva and three other sages walking by the ruins of the Beit Hamikdash when they spotted a fox running around the spot where the kodesh hakodashim once stood. The sages started weeping bitterly, while Rabbi Akiva began to laugh. His colleagues looked were puzzled at how he was able to take delight in such a spectacle. Rabbi Akiva answered them now that he has seen the prophecy or Uriah Hanavi be fulfilled, regarding the Holy Temple having been ravaged, so too we now know that the nevuah of Zechariah Hanavi, that again the streets of Jerusalem will be filled with old men and women, will surely come to fruition. Rabbi Akiva’s colleagues answered back to him “Akiva you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us.

If we all employ the approach of Rabbi Akiva’s holy cohort, we may still be crying uncontrollably. True, we know there are horrible things going on around us, but we must realize that better days are ahead of us. Rabbi Akiva’s perspective did not undo the destruction that occurred or rebuild the Temple right then and there.

Even amid our sadness and pain, it’s incredible to look back and marvel at how our communities come together when one of our own is in need. Meal trains, Tehillim chats, etc. Even if the results do not turn out the way we want them to, our efforts aren’t for naught. To paraphrase Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk on how and when one can find God in their lives, we can find nechama wherever we let it in. Let us find nechama from the words of the pasukim from our Parsha: “From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are distressed, and all these things happen upon you in the end of days, then you will return to the Lord your God and obey Him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not let you loose or destroy you; neither will He forget the covenant of your fathers, which He swore to them. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not let you loose or destroy you; neither will He forget the covenant of your fathers, which He swore to them.” Rashi comments that “not let you loose” means that He will not loosen his hold on you, that we will always be close to the Almighty no matter what the circumstance.

Being comforted doesn’t mean that everything will automatically be better or go back to the way it was. One of the most touching videos I’ve seen that helps hammer this message home is from Chai Lifeline where Rabbi Yerucham Olshin, one of the four heads of the country’s largest yeshiva, is at a hospital visiting a young girl with a brain tumor. The girls asks the rosh yeshiva for a bracha that she should be able to go to camp, and Rav Olshin responds with a bracha. She the clarifies, “no, I mean like right away!” This child has been in and out of the hospital battling her illness. She doesn’t ask for a bracha that she should be immediately healed and there should be no trace of the tumor ever again, while we know she would certainly want this. The blessing she sought was that she could go to camp, to feel like a regular child “because it’s the only place where everyone understands me. At camp, I don’t feel so alone because I see that everyone is going through a hard time.” In the end, while she was too sick to attend camp for the whole session, her doctors gave clearance for to go up for a couple of days. You can see the difference on her face before, as she talks to the rosh yeshiva, and after she returns from her short visit.

May Hashem grant us the strength to always find comfort.

When Tisha B’Av Falls on Shabbat

Haas Promenade, Jerusalem, Israel – Photo © Tami Porath, 2016

There are many that will jump to tell you that this year’s commemoration of Tisha B’Av is a nidcheh, pushed off from it’s original date. In truth, 9 Av takes place on Shabbat, a time when we do not fast (unless it’s Yom Kippur) or mourn publicly. So 10 Av is a day every few years that has all the stringencies of the preceding day’s practices of mourning. True, there are leniencies with regard that exist in a year when Tisha B’Av is pushed off, and there are those who will explain that this is a reason for us to, potentially, “temper” our sadness. While I’m not one who usually tells people to wallow in sadness, there is still reason to remain somber on this “nidcheh.”

-First and foremost, most of the Temple itself was consumed by fire on the 10th of Av. It’s for this reason that Rav Yochanan in the Gemara (Taanit 29a) states that had he been around during the establishment of this mournful day, he would’ve fought to institute the fast on the 10th, not the 9th. The rabbis don’t tell Rav Yochanan that he’s mistaken in his approach, but the answer given is that it’s preferable to mark the tragedy on the day it began.

-Second, even with the blessing of the modern state of Israel, we’re still so incomplete without the Beit HaMikdash and what the Messianic era will entail. One of the most meaningful moment’s I’ve spent is Israel is on Tisha B’Av, which I’ve done twice. The first time was on a summer program that took us to the Haas Promenade (the Tayelet) for our reading of Eicha. It was such a moving, meaningful experience that when I ran a trip to Israel seven summers later, I brought my group there to read Eicha. It’s one thing to read the megillah while in an Israeli shul, but it’s another to recite it while actually overlooking the very site where the Temples once stood. You can see the Old City of Jerusalem its modern-day splendor, but the panoramic image is glaringly incomplete. It’s not just the physical structure missing from the landscape that causes us to weep.

-Finally, the Yerushalmi (Yoma 1:1) frighteningly explains that every generation that does not see the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt it’s as if they destroyed it. Many often misinterpret this phrase to teach that it’s as if the Temple was destroyed in one’s lifetime if a new one doesn’t descend from Heaven. What the Yerushalmi actually says is that in any generation in which it’s not rebuilt it’s as if they destroyed it. It’s as if we climbed up to Har HaBayit and laid siege to the holiest space to our people. Not the Romans, Greeks, or anyone else.

Us.

There are various differences in explanation, among the Gemara and other Halachic works, of what it will be like when Mashiach ultimately arrives. Whether or not there will be supernatural events happening every day or it won’t be much different than it is now, at the very least it will be a time of peace. A time when the revivification of the dead will take place, where we can see and connect with those dear to us who have passed on.

Tisha B’Av is a nidcheh this year because of Shabbat and the various practices of mourning are applied today. Let’s hope, and do what we can, so that next year Tisha B’Av can be pushed off because it’s no longer a day of mourning, but a day of happiness and celebration.

Devarim 5782 – Making a Beeline for Good

It’s been a while…

Towards the beginning of Parshat Devarim, the verse (1:44) reads “And the Emorite who dwells on that mountain went out against you and pursued you as the bees do…” At first glance, it seems a bit odd. When one describes an attack or battle and wants to convey a sense of power and might, there are plenty of other descriptors that one could use. Bees? What is the reason for this seemingly strange comparison? 

Rashi comments on this verse that just when a bee strikes someone by stinging them it dies immediately thereafter, so too the Emorites, after attacking the Jewish nation, also died (or were killed) immediately. Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveichik, the Brisker Rav, helps us understand this idea even further. What would be considered to be more malicious: harming a weaker target who will not retaliate at all or going after a much stronger individual who will surely strike back with much greater force? It may be “easier” to pick on a target that you know you can subdue but it shows a greater amount of disdain for your enemy when you know they’ll wallop you after your initial blow. The Brisker Rav says that although the bees know they’re going to die right after they sting, they adamantly sting nonetheless. This is similar to the Emorite nation, who showed such hatred to the nation of Israel, and knew they were going to ultimately lose anyway, went forth and attacked. 

The Brisker Rav continues that this insight regarding bees can help us comprehend psukim in Tehillim that we recite as part of Hallel. “Kol goyim svavuni, beshem Hashem ki amilam, sabuni gam svavuni beshem Hashem ki amilam, sabuni k’dvorim…” or “All nations surround me; but in the name of the Lord I will cut them down! They surround me; indeed, they surround me; but in the name of the Lord I will cut them down! They surround me like bees.” The Vilna Gaon ponders why the Psalmist uses the phrase “surround” so many times. The Gra continues that when a city is under siege and surrounded by enemy forces, the attackers may sense a weak point in their army and send reinforcements to produce a second line of defense. Not only will this provide further protection, but it will prove to their advantage again by having more soldiers ready to pillage and plunder once the city siege is underway. Yet, we see from the words of Tehillim that it is we who will yield triumphant, even staring down such daunting foes with vicious battle plans. Even if the assault will prove to soon be fatal for our foes.  

When dealing with an adversary with nothing, or everything, to lose, this type of ambush can be more demoralizing than a battle against a stronger opponent. Think back to Amalek as they bombarded the nascent Jewish nation as they left Egypt. Bnai Yisrael had just seen the most incredible miracle, something that the rest of the world was both mesmerized and terrified over. The very end of Parshat Ki Teitzei reminds us of how Amalek “happened” upon us here, picking specifically on the weak and weary stragglers, with no regard for the Jewish people or their God. The word for “happened upon you,” “karcha”, can also mean to cool down. Rashi explains that Bnai Yisrael were like a hot bath that no one would want to attempt to enter for fear of being burned. Amalek knew they would be scalded, but they took the approach of trying to “cool down” the Israelites for another nation to ultimately attack and overpower them. This is precisely the sort of attack referenced by the bees in Parshat Devarim. 

I’d like to take this approach further still, with something beyond the words of Rashi and the Brisker Rav. Generally, people do not like bees. There are indeed exceptions to this “rule,” but most often people will run in the opposite direction from these creatures. When one feels their sting it’s of little comfort that this bee will soon die and not harm them again. Dealing with the effects of the sting are painful at best and can be fatal at worst. Furthermore, why do I care if this bee dies? There are plenty more where that one came from! 

Years ago, while not doing research about bees or this Dvar Torah but watching a TV show about invasive pest removal, I learned something fascinating about these insects. Remember learning about pheromones in 6th grade biology, those chemicals you give off when you’re around other people? Other animals give them off as well, including bees. When they sense that there’s trouble with their hive or from a predator, they give off pheromones that alert other bees that they’re in trouble. In your quest to vanquish one lowly bee you may suddenly wind up with an entire swarm out to contend with. 

I think the above approaches about bees can help us take action during the current time period on our calendar as well. There is no shortage of calamities, both ancient and even contemporary, that have befallen the Jewish people in the three weeks from 17 Tammuz to 9 Av. We know that the resentment of the Emorites is likened to bees, meant to tell us of the singular focus of that hatred no matter the cost. We must use that exact singular focus in redoubling our efforts of loving and helping one another. Using the approach of the Gra, look for the “weaknesses,” the potential circumstances that will leave people susceptible and vulnerable, and help shore up those gaps. Like the bee that stings with reckless abandon knowing that it will bring upon itself its own demise, we must give to and help those around us. We have Tehillim WhatApp groups, Meal Trains and CaringBridge pages and other ways to alert the masses that there are those who need our support. Oftentimes people don’t know what to do to connect to the sense of loss that we’re supposed to feel over the Temples we’ve lost. But there is plenty of loss around us today, and not only should we sense it, but can help transform it into positivity, which can lead to the ultimate hope: the geulah shleima.


This Dvar Torah is written in memory of my grandfather, William Radman (Akiva ben Yehoshua). Although I’ve heard so much about him, as you can likely surmise, I am named for him and was never privileged to meet him. I cannot, therefore, confirm or deny any thoughts of his pertaining to bees or other winged, stinging insects. But as his yahrtzeit falls today, 7 Av, I am left thinking that his approach to bees would be more in line with “don’t bother them and they won’t bother you” and with regard to helping others, to do so as much as possible. 

The Cleaning Lady is Coming

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The cleaning lady is coming.

To be more precise, the cleaning crew is coming to clean our home from top to bottom.

Yet, here I am feverishly cleaning my entire house before their arrival.

Having someone clean your house is a luxury, one that we are able to afford every few weeks. It helps make our home look beautiful and keeps us sane, especially during this pandemic. I can’t say how much time it takes for our blessed abode to become cluttered once more, but that moment of coming home to a shiny, clean space is something I wish I could bottle.

Nevertheless, I am now cleaning for the cleaning crew, and frankly, that is something that feels a bit silly. I don’t cut (what’s left of) my hair before going to the barber. I don’t change the oil in my car before taking it in for a tune-up. It wouldn’t make sense to cut the grass the day before the landscaper comes, would it?

And yet, the scene repeats itself over and over every few weeks. Like clockwork, on the eve of each visit, we stay up late to make sure that clothes are put away, the kitchen is relatively spotless, and the toys my children play with are all where they belong despite the fact that they’ll be played with again before the cleaning crew arrives. In fact, my best, most successful attempts at cleaning my home stem not from stress or feeling boxed in (even during this pandemic), or when I’m particularly happy or sad. These successful campaigns at straightening up aren’t even the result of cleaning for Passover. 

It’s when I’m cleaning for the cleaning crew. 

Something here seems askew. Why am I doing all of this in anticipation of their arrival? Is this not the exact reason why we pay for this service? I know we’re not the only ones who do this. We can’t be the only ones, right?

It seems like the behavior of a crazy person. But I learned early on what happens when the cleaning crew comes to work their magic when the apartment is completely cluttered: It doesn’t actually get clean. 

Hear me out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cleaner and more straightened up that it was before. The floors may be shinier and the counter tops will glisten. The beds may be made and the surfaces dusted. Yet, the clutter, the “stuff” that existed beforehand can only be managed, not effectively cleaned up as if it were never there. The items that aren’t in their proper place when the cleaning crew arrive don’t always magically get back to where they belong, some of which hasn’t been “home” in quite some time. The cleaning crew is only able to clean based on what they see in front of them. They can’t be as effective or efficient in their job if the house is not in some sort of order for them when they arrive. Their role is not to purge everything we own and Marie Kondo-style purge our entire living space, unearthing papers and other things that we’ve long forgotten about. The reality is that when I clean for the cleaning crew, which I am loath to do, I’m not only helping them. I’m helping myself.

The more I think about this phenomenon and how it unfolds time and again makes me realize how applicable this scenario is in relation to the High Holidays, which inch ever closer.

In the days leading up to the holiest days of the year, we try and clean our own “houses.” After an intense round of “pre-cleaning,” the Almighty cleaning crew, so to speak, will step in and tidy up what’s left. Every young child in Jewish day school or religious school knows that when Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur come around, it’s time to say we’re sorry for all the wrong we’ve done. Some make a great effort to do so, during the month of Elul or throughout the year when the issues themselves arise. Others simply don’t, much like the entire rest of the year. Some don’t know that they’ve committed any infractions, while for others, it’s hard to swallow their pride and say sorry. Nevertheless, if we are lax in our effort to repent before the Yamim Noraim, we are somewhat in luck. The Mishnah and later, Rambam, explain that if we take no repentant steps, we will be forgiven of our transgressions between us and the Almighty. A clean slate to start the year.

Much like the cleaning quagmire, what’s the point? If we are to be forgiven anyway with the coming and going of the High Holidays without even exerting much in the process, why even engage in this, at times, raw and uncomfortable procedure? The house will be cleaner even without returning the clutter back to its place.

In truth, there is a reason to engage. Both the Mishnah and Maimonides cited above are explicit in their affirmation that even though God removes our iniquities done in relation to our interaction with Him, this is not the case between our actions toward our fellow humans. Sins that are Bein Adam L’Chavero, between us and those around us, are not wiped away with the setting of the sun on Yom Kippur. While we may attain a level of teshuvah by getting a new start between us and God, there can be so much more that we’re leaving by the wayside. Teshuvah then doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to because it puts us in a false state of forgiveness. It’s a tremendous job to work on oneself during the month of Elul in advance of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, or at any time of the year, and one who does so with great self-reflection is truly worthy of the reward they’ll receive. But if this is not coupled with the same sort of introspection in reference to working on ourselves in the sphere of our interpersonal relationships, in the areas in which we have violated the standards we are to live by, this exercise remains essentially futile. If we do not seek to appease those we have wronged with serious, meaningful teshuvah, this is all for naught. What are we even doing? God’s role in the process is vital but He can only help us in attaining complete teshuvah if we help ourselves.

The month of Elul is quickly coming to a close. The cleaning crew is coming and the time is slipping further and further away. 

Liver Day 2020 – What We Gained

 

Fifteen years ago yesterday was the day that changed our family’s life – the day when my mother received a life-saving liver transplant. As we bask in the glow of Isru Chag Liver Day, it’s still a cause for celebration, even as you read this one day late. Liver Day is a day that we mark on our calendar yearly, and there was no question about whether or not to continue to do so after my mother’s passing. This was a day that she considered to be more special, more worth celebrating than her own birthday (which we kept celebrating, and keep celebrating). August 16th will forever be Liver Day, at least for the Balk family.

The first anniversary of my mother’s liver transplant was marked with a party that my sister and I both missed. I had just come back from Israel, having had one of the greatest summers of my life. It was a time that I watched myself as I continued to grow more and more from each new experience. I was on my way up to camp to tell my younger peers,  my sister included, about our transformative experience in Israel. Yet, I still kick myself that I wasn’t at this party. The five year celebration, a surprise that we incredibly hid from my mother with the help of one of our close family friends, seems like yesterday even as it was a decade ago.

While there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my mother, I don’t often think about the very means that enabled her to continue to live after her liver continued to deteriorate. She continued going about her life as best she could. Sometimes I’d remark to her that she looked like a banana or a school bus due to her condition, which made her skin a jaundiced hue of yellow. Looking back, I probably could have phrased this more politely, but she’d just laugh as if she hadn’t a care in the world.

When you lose someone, there can often be thoughts swirling about what the deceased will now miss that they’re no longer physically with us. I remember doing it myself since my mother passed away while Estee and I were engaged. Never in my life did I think that she’d miss my wedding. I just assumed that we’d get her to New York or we’d make a small wedding in Cleveland so she could be present. It was even more devastating that I imagined.

Only upon reflecting many, many times after her death did my thinking begin to change. While there were plenty of major life events that my mother wouldn’t be at physically, I thought a lot of about the eight extra years of events that my mother got to see after her transplant and her new lease of life. It’s easy to think about what she’s missed, while at the same time, gloss over the thing that she got to see.

She saw both of her children graduate high school, and wouldn’t have missed these ceremonies for the world. She chaired a pre-graduation dinner for my senior class which was a wonderful way to cap off our year and help shorten our graduation the next day. I was in Israel for my sister’s graduation and my mother called me so I could, somehow, through grogginess and being half asleep, hear her name being called as she walked across the stage. It was three in the morning for me.

Without a ticket to either ceremony, she saw both of her children graduate college. The same week, no less. Dena got to graduate first as her graduation was on Sunday and mine was on Thursday. I thought my mother was the lucky one since she didn’t have to sit through two boring graduations, but she watched each one of them from start to finish.

While we didn’t physically celebrate with her, she watched as her children found their true loves. Judd was in the family starting at Pesach 2010 and has never left since then. While I tarried and Estee only came along three years later and a few months before she would eventually pass away, the time we all shared was meaningful and magical. We fit so much into those short few months.

The trip to Israel my family took to see me when I studied in yeshiva was one of the most meaningful experiences I believe we ever had. She wore herself out walking around the Old City, having to stay in bed most of the day afterward to regain her strength. But she was there, and she did it so well.

As important as all of the big events were, they almost pale in comparison to the “monotony” of the day to day grind. Thousands of phone calls, emails, texts, voicemails and more that we would have missed out on over those eight years. I think the first time I received a text message from her I nearly fainted, partially because she had figured out how to do it and potentially because of the correct punctuation in the message itself. I didn’t even know there was a semicolon available on those old flip-phones.

There was so much fit into that short amount of time. So many memories that I took for granted, not only because she herself is no longer here, but because she made her need for a transplant seem so trivial to those around her among the grand scheme of her life. It was a huge deal even to her, but the bigger deal was how she would be able to go back to living her life, a life of giving. She was one of the biggest givers I’ve ever been around, and it made her comfortable to be on the receiving end. She pushed us to pick up the slack in her stead until she was ultimately able to resume her schedule of activities, much earlier than she should have.

Happy Liver Day, Mom. Enjoy the cake and champagne up there.

 

Father’s Day 2020 – It Seems Like Forever Ago

It seems like forever ago. 

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This one is more. Thousands of words, prayers, tears, and moments when it’s not possible to muster any of those.

This is a picture taken on January 29, 2017. It was the first morning of monitoring before our first IVF cycle. We were on a Shabbaton for couples experiencing primary infertility in Connecticut and we only knew one other couple of the 180 that were there that Shabbos. It was the most amazing and most depressing weekend all at the same time. We left the Shabbaton and drove two hours to the office in New Jersey for a blood test that would only take a few seconds. I hadn’t davened yet so I put on my tallis and tefillin in the place where I’ve never experienced more discomfort. I’ve been to many sad places before, but none have elicited the feeling of pain and despair quite like these waiting rooms. Even with the free coffee, the comfortable chairs, and the humongous fish tank. To me, the fertility center waiting rooms are the most depressing places. It’s always early in the morning, well before you have to put in a full day of work. Or school. Or both, as I was doing at the time. Everyone has the same fatigued look on their face. For some it’s the time of day that makes them look that way. For others, it’s the fact that they’ve been in this room hundreds of times waiting for the same result that has yet to come about. For many it was both. Some of them already have children and are hoping to have more. Some have none. We’re all there together. Waiting. Praying.

And then, in my case, sleeping…

This is a picture of fatherhood and so much has changed since that exhausting morning three years ago. We’ve been blessed with two incredible children who challenge us, yet give us more than we could’ve ever imagined. 

This past Shabbat, we read of the Jewish people’s punishment of having listened to the slanderous words of 10 of the 12 spies pertaining to the land of Israel. Their punishment was that they would continue to traverse in the desert for 40 years before ever reaching the promised land, the land of their destiny. Those who had remained faithful in their belief that the report of the spies was incorrect were blessed to eventually make to this land. I can’t imagine that when this Divine punishment was levied upon the Jewish people that these individuals of emunah were keen on the elongated trip to the place that they’d heard so much about. Ultimately though, I think once they made it there, setting foot on the soil and breathing the air, they may have felt different. The years of toil and trekking in the wilderness had brought them to where they need to be, although the experience lasted longer than they anticipated.

The more rabbinic literature I read about Jewish courtship buttresses the notion that our responsibility to each other is to bring about new life. For many, that’s easier said than done. Thank God, medical technology today is blazing new trails for couples with fertility issues. One such expert says that in just the last 10 years more scientific ground has been covered than in decades past. 

It seems like forever ago that the crying in our house didn’t come from our children but came from us as we tried to build our family. 

It seems like forever ago that the appointments we rushed out the door to weren’t for well visits or for immunizations. They were for us, mainly Estee, to be poked and prodded to ensure that our course of treatment was progressing properly. 

It seems like forever ago that I’d wonder what it would be like to be a parent, when now I can’t remember life being any other way.

When I think about our fertility challenges, the ups and downs, the frustration, the exhaustion, the roller coaster – this is the picture that I think about. 

Getting to where we are now feels like it took forever to get here. We hope that for those struggling that their “forever” will come to an end very, very soon. 

Behaaloscha 5780 – Why We’re Waiting

Things You Should Never Ask an Airline Gate Agent

When is the last time you had to wait for something? When is the last time you enjoyed waiting for something? At the doctor’s office, at an airport, in traffic or even if you can remember for your AOL dial up internet to get you online, everyone* hates waiting. (*If you particularly enjoy waiting, feel free to drop me a line and explain yourself). 

As they leave Egypt and traverse through the wilderness en route to Eretz Yisrael, they Jewish people are a people used to waiting. They waited year after year enduring backbreaking labor, they waited through the 10 plagues wrought by God onto their oppressors, and now they wait (although they’re not inert) to get to Israel. At the very end of Parshas Behaaloscha, Bnai Yisrael are again waiting. They are not waiting for Hashem’s salvation in regard to a treacherous predator out to get them, nor are they waiting for sustenance: They’re waiting for Miriam.

Why are they waiting for her? Did Miriam leave her pocketbook at the previous rest stop? Was she stopping off to take care of a matter which Moshe, Aharon, or Hashem requested of her? Miriam was recovering from tzaraas after having spoken ill of her brother, Moshe.

From this instance we learn of the gravity of the sin of lashon hara. While this may seem like a trivial point we learned in elementary school, this episode is to be recalled daily. In many, if not most siddurim, one of the Six Remembrances (as recorded by Sefer Charedim) at the end of the morning service is to remember what God had caused to Miriam on the way out of Egypt. We are to always be ever so careful with the words that come out of our mouths. Even if our comments are well placed, accurate, and/or make us feel good at the time, that does not give us license to dispense words of gossip or slander. Furthermore, we see that this is a rule that is applicable top-down. Miriam was an important figure, yet she (and Aharon) still contracted tzaraas.

This is understood and accepted. But what difference does it make to the nomadic (at the time) Jewish nation whether or not Miriam contracted tzaraas? Why must they wait for her to recover for seven days outside the camp before they can again set off on their journey? 

Rashi points out here that the reason why the nation waiting here is reminiscent of another episode of “waiting.” When Moshe was just a baby and placed among the reeds, it was Miriam who stood hidden to the side to see what would become of her infant brother. When Bas Paro finds him and notices he’s one of the Hebrew babies, Miriam is right there to suggest fetching a Jewish wet nurse for him. While it may seem inconsequential to us, no small act remains far away from the Almighty. Had she not been there laying among the reeds, who knows what may have happened to the individual later referred to as the greatest prophet of Israel, like whom none shall rise again. Miriam was being rewarded here for her actions many years earlier, that the entire nation waited for her until they began to move again.

What does it mean to the people as a whole? From a positive standpoint, Bnai Yisrael are to recall that even though she had contracted tzaraas, she was the same wise and astute Miriam that had tarried until she could see the fate of her brother. She was a special person, not just by being related to Moshe and Aharon, but by her own actions. Love the sinner, hate the sin. How important is this to keep in mind, not only for the nation in the desert, but for us as well? 

Yet, at the same time, this was a serious offense. Had Miriam waited around michutz lmachaneh, sequestered outside the camp, and caught up to Bnai Yisrael later on, people wouldn’t necessarily have thought anything of it. They may have thought to themselves “I haven’t seen Miriam around for a while.” They could have thought that if they were to get tzaraas as well, it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, Miriam had it and we went on our way, as if nothing even happened! For Bnai Yisrael to have to wait until all was right, until the guilty party was elevated back to their status as a member of the greater community after having been confined to seclusion, speaks volumes. It’s almost as if all of Bnai Yisrael were packed and ready to go, and stood around for days until Miriam finally journeyed back to the group, surely feeling the glare of millions of eyes upon her. No one likes to hold up the entire crowd. True, the people waited in for Miriam in her merit, yet they also waited as a reminder that no one, no matter the lofty position they hold, stands firm above Divine law. 

At a time when many of us may be waiting to go back to  our normal routines, sequestered “michutz lamachaneh,” it’s important to know that our actions are tremendously important. What we do and how we do it matters, and can affect those around us, at times, even more than we can imagine. It’s crucial that we not lose sight of this. 

19 Cheshvan – Tenfold Sadness

 

A project I started at the beginning of the year was to read the myriad of books/seforim that line the shelves of the bookcases that “insulate” our apartment. We’re the people of the book, so it’s fitting that even though much of the world has opted for a greener route of e-readers and tablets, we still have plenty to read. This is an undertaking that hearkens back to my childhood. For as long as I can remember, my mother was always reading. It seemed to me that every day she’d be reading a different book than the day before. I never asked her about it, but I would be surprised if she changed books due to her dissatisfaction of the content. What more likely transpired was that she finished her books very quickly. The living room in our home on Lyman Blvd. had two massive bookshelves that my mother filled with countless volumes she picked up. History books. Books about Israel and the Jewish people. Cookbooks. Novels. There was undoubtedly something for everyone in her collection. While she may have read the majority of the books in her library, I hadn’t necessarily been as successful as she. I followed in her footsteps, somewhat, by being curious about many different things and getting books about them to one day enlighten myself about said topic. This year, the plan was to, within reason, slowly but surely, tackle my ever-growing reading list.

Book 13 on this list was Song of Teshuvah Vol. II, the second of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger’s books of commentary on Rav Kook’s Oros HaTeshuva. Studying the Torah of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook is not easy. Yet, Rabbi Weinberger makes this already incredible content come even more alive. The chapters are often buttressed with supplementary works, including Tanya and Torah from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov or Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop, to name a few.

In the eighth chapter, Rav Weinberger comments that in the course of doing teshuvah or merely even contemplating repentance, it is very possible for someone to get brokenhearted and depressed over their previous actions. While we consider these feelings to be one and the same and synonymous, Rav Weinberger notes through a thought of Rabbi Nachman that they are indeed different. Rabbi Nachman (Sichos HaRan 41) explains various different emotions and their sources, and that while a broken heart comes from the heart (obviously), depression itself emanates from the spleen. This seemed a bit confusing to me at first. The spleen? Can anyone who is not a medical professional tell you where on their body their spleen is? There are people who live without a spleen! At this point, my mind immediately began to run wild and I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother.

The summer of 2011 was one of my most challenging summers ever, and not because I took classes for two months in New York and then Cleveland. Unfortunately, my mother was in the midst of one of her long stays at the Cleveland Clinic. Sometimes, I think I spent more time there on my visits home during college than time spent in my actual house. People who knew my mother will tell you that she was special, from the doctors and nurses to the food service workers and the housekeeping staff at the hospital. Similarly, her medical diagnoses and ailments were special, too. During this stay at the Clinic, her symptoms befuddled even the top members of her care team. In addition to her normal issues, her blood levels were low. Even after a transfusion, they would revert back to where they were before. It simply didn’t make sense where the blood was going. After a while, it was determined that an enlarged spleen was to blame, and that it needed to be removed at once. After successfully doing so, the doctors noted that my mother’s weighed ten times as much as a “healthy” spleen. This was a fact that my mother relished, and happily informed her doctors that she was looking forward to fitting into some old clothing that she hadn’t worn in a while.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and closeupWhile this was happening, I was hopeful. Now with the spleen removed, it’ll be smooth sailing for Sheila Balk. Yes and no…

Someone over Shabbat at Kiddush wanted me to tell him and his son something about my mother. There was so much I wanted to say, but I couldn’t narrow it down to just one thing. I told his son that my mother loved the St. Louis Cardinals, who, at the time of her death, were in the World Series. We all thought that with her no longer with us, she would march straight up to God and demand a championship for the baseball team of her youth. I then remembered my mother’s penchant for recounting my grandmother saying “those damn Cardinals” after failing to perform up to their level, so this indeed may have been the better outcome for her. But whether the Cardinals were good or not, my mother was always smiling and content, to her dying day. It’s no coincidence that her headstone is emblazoned with the words from Mishlei “Vatischak LeYom Acharon.” When looking to praise someone, they will often quote the first half of that verse, yet, the second half is even more applicable when it come to my mother.

When my sister and I were little, my mother bought a pin that she found to be hilarious, and joyfully affixed it to her winter coat. It stated plainly “If I’m not happy, nobody’s happy.” It was funny to her because she thought of herself as “the boss” (just ask my cousins Noam or Aliza) and if she were not happy, then she would make others around her so miserable so that they, in turn, would also not be happy. It’s funny to me now, looking back, because if she wasn’t happy, then nobody anywhere would be happy. She was the reason people were smiling because she would command a space and light up a room like no one else I’ve ever met. If she wasn’t happy, it must be because there is something happening that is so unfortunate that it would be able to take control over her and remove the smile from her face. Everyone else could be upset about something, but it was Sheila who would cheer them up and make them smile. Her reason for jokingly buying that pin frankly was not a reality.

Then Rabbi Nachman’s words hit me even more deeply. If we are to believe that depression comes from the spleen, the spleen weighs about one pound in a grown adult. My mother’s spleen at the time weighed 10 pounds, which should have rendered her ten times more depressed about her health situation. Ten times the tears should have been shed. Ten times the hopelessness and sense of oblivion at her lot. The intensity of this depression should have consumed her, it should have made her a pain to interact with or be around.

But where was it?

It simply didn’t exist.

But what does exist is a now even greater appreciation for my mother. Not just her happiness, but her incredible strength which continues to both inspire and shock me.
We love you, Mom. We miss you more and more every day.

Savta Z”L

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Savta Z”L and yblc”t Saba walking down the aisle at our wedding. For more on the dress, see below. For more on that hideous purple purse, check out the 50:45 mark of the funeral video. 

The funeral of Rita Balk can be viewed here on the Bnai Amoona website. The remarks below can be seen at around the 40 minute mark.

In March of this year, Town and Country Magazine published an article titled “What Will Happen When Queen Elizabeth II Dies?” Queen Elizabeth, very much alive at this time, has ruled over England since February of 1952. The byline states plainly: When the time comes, it’s predicted to be a “traumatic” event. The article continues While it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect, it’s likely Buckingham Palace will be prepared to announce the news, particularly if the Queen dies following a long illness. According to The Telegraph, the Palace has detailed plans in place for the Queen’s funeral and the subsequent succession, which has been given the code-name “Bridge.” The media is said to be well-rehearsed too, with British news networks including the BBC and ITN practicing how they will broadcast the Queen’s death. Depending on the time of day, it’s likely news of the Queen’s death will be broadcast immediately. If she dies overnight, the announcement could be delayed until early the following morning. The BBC will suspend all planned programming and provide detailed coverage of the royal news, which will include a rendition of the British national anthem while a picture of the monarch is displayed on screen, The Daily Mail reports. Comedy shows on BBC TV channels are also predicted to be suspended until after the funeral.

There was no article written about the Queen of the Balk family, a woman who exuded royalty and grace. No detailed succession plan, no television broadcast, no codename. But a traumatic event nonetheless. My Savta, Rita Balk, Rachel Bat Yisrael, will not be mourned by the entire British commonwealth like Queen Elizabeth II, but she was regal in every sense of the word. Not just by the Buick Regal that she drove for a period of time. She was the Audrey Hepburn of Quincy, IL. My mother of blessed memory would explain that she married into the Mary Tyler Moore family. To us, and many others, she was the classiest woman on either side of the Mississippi. She was sharp, and at times, blunt. When the idea of moving to a home with a first-floor master bedroom came up, she was asked why not build an elevator in their beautiful home on Polo Drive. To which she responded “I don’t have time to wait for an elevator!”

While someone with that level of grace and beauty could’ve rested on their laurels, she wasn’t content with coasting through her life. Saba reminds us there were serious smarts behind her beauty as well. She was the top student in her high school class, and for those who may quibble that earning the highest marks at Quincy Senior High School may not be all that impressive, she co-salutatorian of her class at the University of Illinois. I tried unsuccessfully to find how many others were in that graduating class, but you can visit the campus and see the bronze plaque that’s still there with her name on it. For this achievement, her picture was in every newspaper from Champaign to Chicago, and everywhere else in the state of Illinois. She took these clippings and put them into a scrapbook. But rather than be on display for all to see, it was hidden under a tablecloth in the living room. And when someone would bring it out, she would shudder and quickly return it to its proper place. As noted, a woman of her class and grace could have flown to New York or Milan to procure the finest garments that were available, but she didn’t do that either. She made many of her dresses, not because she couldn’t find any to her size or liking. She enjoyed doing it, so she did it. 

Savta had an eye for color, one that has been passed down to many members of our family. This can be seen by spending only a short time in the house. Whether it be masterful, expensive pieces of art or less fancy artwork in pink Popsicle-stick frames, there are colors everywhere. You can’t walk two feet in the house and not see it. I’m not sure what she’d say about this more conservative tie that I’m wearing right now. Her eye for color showed itself on the artwork adorning the walls of the house, as well as in her clothing, much of which she made herself. She would tell my parents after I was born with red hair “Never put red on a redhead,” a phrase which I think about to this day before even wearing a red tie, even despite my red hair being, less than plentiful now as it was back then. Yet, she didn’t just make this statement to my parents and ride off into the sunset, but sent many different things in different other colors for me to wear. She made all of these pieces herself. This eye was not only for color but for decor as well. When her mother, my Grandma Jeanne moved into her nursing home, the plan was for her dining room set to be sent to my parents house in Cleveland. But on delivery day, we were shocked to see an eighteen-wheeler show up on our quiet, residential street. The truck indeed contained the dining room table and chairs, but also included many other pieces of furniture that we not only did not know that we were to receive, but that we did not yet have room for! When my father called to protest, Savta responded, “Mitchell, how could you take the dining room set without the other pieces? They go so well together!” And that was that. 

The last few years have been so hard for our but even harder for Savta. It was so painful for us to see our queen be stricken and rendered almost speechless. Only she had plenty to say, you just needed to exert yourself to hear her. She had so much to say that she struggled through her illness to get out. It would take her moments to respond when you would ask her something, but it’s not that she didn’t hear you or didn’t care to answer you. But we would wait for her to be able to respond, and she would. Nevertheless, she would welcome new grandchildren-in-law and great-grandchildren with a smile. One of the most cherished pictures from my wedding is my wife dancing with Savta. Even in those moments, her sharpness could still find its way through. On one occasion when Estee and I had the privilege to bring our son to visit her and Saba, we were changing his clothes getting him ready for bed and he began walking around in his diaper. She muttered on cue “where are that kid’s clothes?!” just loud enough to hear. And it was hilarious. We were so fortunate to bring our kids to visit for her birthday this year, something that looking back was such a tremendous blessing. Savta even alleviated one of our pre-wedding stressors. There were disagreements between various parties involved on what the color of the wedding should be. Navy? Green? Unaware of this, Savta asked semi-innocuously if it would be alright if she wore a champagne dress, a color that each side immediately took a liking to,  effectively brokering a truce. She and Saba walked down the aisle at our wedding in her beautiful dress

The Town & Country article continues that To ensure the British throne is never vacant, Prince Charles, the Queen’s eldest son, would automatically become King. “He has been preparing all his life. It should be reassuring that there will be a familiar face taking the Queen’s place.” As a real estate agent, her secret weapon was to write notes to people selling their houses on their own to instead sell with her. And it worked. Savta, I know it’s been a while since you were selling real estate, but we need you to dust off your power of persuasion. We are in the midst of the most auspicious days of the year leading up to and after Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. We need you to use your abilities to help the Almighty shower us with comfort. To shower our family and our people with blessings. We have no Prince Charles, no familiar face to assume your role in our family. We are so thankful that we have Saba, who will stoically carry us through as a family. But unlike the throne, there is a gaping hole in our monarchy that we will not be able to fill. We ask you to storm the Heavenly throne and tell God to give us comfort, because we so desperately need it. 

Just a week from right now many of us will be back in the synagogue as we mark Rosh Hashannah, our new year. Some of you will be in this very room, a room that I had previously only been in for simchas, happy occasions. Next week, we will read on the second day of Rosh Hashannah the words of the prophet Jeremiah. He explains “Kol berama ishmah nehi bechi tamrurim, Rachel mevaka al baneha me’ana lehilachem al baneha ki einenu,” that a voice from on high can be heard, a lament of bitter weeping. What is that voice? Where does that piercing cry emanate from? Rachel crying for her children, crying so uncontrollably for her children since they are not with her. Savta’s Hebrew name is Rachel. Rachel mevakah al baneha ki einenu, Rachel is crying for her children. The commentaries explain that Rachel cries for her children who are in exile, cast away from the Holy land where God’s presence resides. But for us, it is the opposite, for it is us down here who are crying so uncontrollably, because we, your children are not with you.We’re all present but it’s you Rachel, it’s you Savta who are not here. This new normal is something that even in the throes of her illness that I ever considered coming about, a sentiment shared by many in our family. We simply could not imagine this day coming to be. A woman who fought so valiantly through pain and suffering, through the love and care of Saba, Aunt Lynnsie, Uncle David the chief medical officer, and our beloved Katina and Ashley. It still hasn’t truly hit me that we’re here and this is happening. Despite my wanting for this all to be some sort of horrible dream, I know it’s not. 

My father commented to me that there’s a clock in my grandparents’ house with an inscription on the back of it. “Rebe and EB ‘til the end of time.” I have not been privy to witnessing a love like that of my grandparents. There has never been another relationship like theirs. Saba wasn’t ready. None of us were ready. He would have continued caring for her so lovingly until the end of time, and not just because that clock said so. Sadly for us, the clock may still be ticking, but there is no time left for us with her. We will miss you Savta. We will never forget you.

Yehi Zichrah Baruch. 

 

Yair Shlomo Elimelech Balk

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Below are the remarks from Yair’s bris. We are so thankful that so many people we love were able to celebrate with us, both in-person and virtually. (Here is the video of the ceremony).

Hodu L’Adonai Ki Tov Ki LeOlam Chasdo. Thank you all for joining with us today to celebrate the bris milah of our beautiful son, Yair Shlomo Elimelech Balk. There are so many that need to be thanked. First, we thank Hashem for continuing to bless us, and for enabling us to reach this very moment. We are so grateful to have found gifted emissaries of the Almighty through Dr. Eli Rybak as well as the rest of the medical staff at RMA of New Jersey. We are likewise grateful to our friends at Bonei Olam, ATIME, and Yesh Tikva. Without these individuals and the individuals behind the scenes of the organizations, we would not be here today. On a similar note, it is hard to accurately and adequately thank our parents for all that they have done and continue to do for us on a daily basis. We so fervently hope to provide the type of support for Yaakov and Yair that you do for us every single day. May God grant you the koach to continue in good health for many years to come. Last, but certainly not least, I must thank Estee. Fifteen months ago, I mentioned my thanks to Estee at the end of my remarks, and although she’d prefer to not be mentioned at all, that simply will not happen and I’d like to mention them right at the outset. Estee is the single most positive driving force in my life, and I am so thankful that she is my wife. She is an incredible mother to Yaakov, and Yair is already receiving her benfits, and she insisted that even while pregnant she not slow down. Thank you for everything, and I am so excited for what the future holds for us, even through the ups and downs, I know we will weather all storms together.

Shlomo Elimelech ben Yehuda Menachem, Reb Milech Gross, was Estee’s great-grandfather. He was born in 1877 and lived a beautiful and full life. As the story goes, Reb Milech Gross was the richest, most successful businessman in Maden. He and his wife, Shifra, ran an iron works company, and their largest customer was the Polish army. As a mild-mannered individual, much of their success stemmed from his wife’s tenacity. He was a big-time galicianer. A third-generation Galicianer shebe-Galicianer, and came from a devoted family of chassidim of the Plantcher Rov, who was the father-in-law of the Satmar Rebbe. In early 1940, life in the shtetl ended abruptly, and the Milech, Shifra, Leizer (Estee’s grandfather) and Alter (Estee’s great-uncle) were eventually sent to Siberia where Shifra died. After years of struggle, the family eventually received visas from Milech’s older sons Avraham and Avidgor who were already living in New York. It was there that for the next twenty years, Shlomo Elimelech Gross watched his family grow and blossom. Grandchildren were born and grew up, having children of their own. Reb Milech passed away at the age of 89, just a few months after my father-in-law’s bar mitzvah. What Estee and I know about her great-grandfather comes from her father, as well as a book put together by a cousin, and we are so thankful for these two accounts which help shape the image of our towering patriarch. This past shabbos, I had the opportunity to talk with Estee’s father about many of his family members, and I tried to secretly, or maybe not so secretly, steer our conversations back to details about his grandfather. They were blessed to live in the very same building, and the three Gross men, Avrumi, Leiser, and Milech, would learn together every night. My father-in-law related that he was the only kid in yeshiva that ordered 2 Gemaras every year, one that he and his father would share and one was reserved for his grandfather. Reb Milech was constantly engrossed in learning. A cousin of Estee’s father once asked his grandfather if he ever got lonely as a widower living by himself. He responded that it’s hard to be lonely with Abaye and Rava. We mentioned his chassidishe stock; he wore a Homburg, donned a long jacket on Shabbos, and had a long, flowing white beard. Estee’s father still uses his grandfather’s gartel when he lains on the Yamim Noraim. It’s truly an honor to name our son after such a great man, a man who was so important to my father-in-law, and the broader Gross family, some of whom are here this morning. It is our hope that the sterling qualities of Yair’s great-great-grandfather will be found within him as well.   

Yair in Hebrew means will give light, or illuminate. On Lag B’Omer, when Yair was born, we recall light in many different ways. Lag B’Omer commemorates the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and there is a great amount of light that radiates from him. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a talmid chacham unimaginable wisdom who spent many years of his life on the run. He authored the Zohar, which means to shine, and is referred to as the Botzina Kadisha, the holy lamp. The reason that bonfires on Lag B’Omer are as ubiquitous as hamentashen on Purim is because they are lit in his memory every year, both in Meron where he is buried, and elsewhere.

This light also manifests itself through the light of Torah. “Ki ner mitzvah vTorah or,” as Mishlei tells us, the Torah itself is light. This weaves its way to Lag B’Omer through the story of Rabbi Akiva and his students. During the first three and a half weeks of the omer, Rabbi Akiva lost 24,000 students to a plague, and the carnage ceased on Lag B’Omer. They died, as the Gemara explains in Yevamos, because they did not accord one another the proper due respect. These were not students of a flawed teacher, but those of Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest rabbinic leaders in the history of our people. After such a devastating blow, it would’ve been understandable if the great sage wanted nothing more to do with spreading Torah. Losing one student would be painful, but to lose thousands upon thousands of disciples? How does that teacher, the one whose motto was Veahavta Lereyecha Kamocha, to love one’s neighbor as you love yourself, move on? But move on he did. Rabbi Akiva began anew with 5 pupils and these were the students who spread Torah learning, and, as Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon writes, saved Torah Shebe’alpeh as a whole. It’s no coincidence that one of those 5 students was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Furthermore, you rearrange the letters of Yair, you get Iyar, the month we’re in on the Jewish calendar. The entire month falls during sefiras haomer, unlike Nissan or Sivan which also contain days of the Omer. The Month of Iyar is the bridge that connects Nissan to Sivan, Pesach to Shavuos. Although we consider this time to be one of mourning, due to the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva, Rav Rimon explains that it is the days of sefirah, the days of Iyar, that are really days of potential. Days filled with potential to grow like the Jewish people did from Pesach as they left Egypt as lowly slaves to Shavuos they merited to receive the Torah. The potential to heal as Iyar is also an acronym for “Ani Hashem Rofecha”, I am the God that heals you from all that afflicts you. Yair, you have entered the world and brought a tremendous amount of light to those around you, and we can’t wait to see how you use your potential, to channel your light, to illuminate the world.

I’d like to conclude with an idea that I shared with some of you here at the Shalom Zachar in our home last Shabbos. In Parshas Behar, the Jewish farmer, but really the Jewish people, are tasked with a tremendous lesson in emunah and bitachon in Hashem. The first six years, the land may be worked, but in the seventh year, the land must lay fallow. Lest one panic of there not being anything to eat, God informs us that the land will produce a bountiful amount in year six to last for three years, and that we’ll sow in year eight while still eating old produce. Hashem is sending a clear message to the people that they should not worry or fear, because there will be enough for them to eat. Yet, rationally, put yourself in the mind of a farmer, since I don’t think many of us here are farmers. When you have to put food on your table, make a living, and provide for your family. Rationally, there is so much planning that goes into ensuring that the crop is plentiful every year. There are so many details out of one’s control, even when their own hishtadlus is flawless. It’s really all going to be okay if I sit here and do nothing? God is telling us that when you look back at the beginning of the shemittah year, and you do not prepare or work the land, you won’t believe the place you were in then versus where you are now. Even though laying dormant is the opposite of what we’ve been doing, that sense of blessing is exactly how Estee and I feel now. Just years ago we were in the doldrums, in the darkest, worst possible place as we struggled with infertility. Yet, looking at Yaakov and Yair, we would not be able to fathom the bounty that we have been privy to. Me’afeilah le’or gadol, as the Haggadah tells us, from unending darkness to great light.

Thank you all for being here, making our simcha so special, and sharing in our light. Mazel tov.