Veyetzei 5779 – The Eye of Beauty

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In Parshas Veyetzei, Yaakov Avinu is on the run from his home and his twin brother who seeks to kill him. After “swindling” Esav out of the special bracha from their father, Yitzchak, their mother, Rivka, quickly tells her younger son to head for the hills. He winds up at a well blocked by a boulder surrounded by shepherds. Suddenly, he lays eyes on Rachel, and is immediately taken with her. Eventually, Rachel’s father, Lavan, the very uncle that Rivka sent Yaakov to live with, works out an arrangement with his nephew to marry his daughter on condition that he spend seven years working for him.

That was the plan.

After seven long years, Yaakov wakes up the morning after his wedding and discovers that it was not his beloved Rachel with him in their tent, but her older sister, Leah. The response he is met with from his father-in-law is that in their area, the younger daughter does not marry before the elder one. Another seven years of labor are in store for Yaakov in order for him to marry Rachel, and he begins fulfilling the terms of this agreement.

But before these events occur, the Torah informs us of Lavan and his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. In describing them, we learn that Leah has tender eyes, while Rachel has both beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.

Rashi explains that the reason that Leah’s eyes were tender (rakot) was due to the immense tears she cried over her apparent lot in life as being destined to marry Esav. Brother Lavan had two daughters and sister Rivka had two sons,  therefore it was only natural that they would marry each other.

But Leah did not want that.

Leah was a righteous woman. The thought of marrying a man whose deeds were vile the likes of Esav was an anathema to her. The river of tears she wept and the copious amounts of tefillos so that she could be saved from this fate were enough to do just that. Therefore, explains Rashi, this is why her eyes were tender.

As a result of her pleading, Leah merited to marry Yaakov. The fact that this happened doesn’t mean that they had a perfect marriage or that she was even happy. If one were to read the psukim of this parsha: “And the Lord saw that Leah was hated, so He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the Lord has seen my affliction, for now my husband will love me.’ And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, ‘Since the Lord has heard that I am hated, He gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, ‘Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons’; therefore, He named him Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “This time, I will thank the Lord! Therefore, she named him Judah, and [then] she stopped bearing. 

Does this sound like the ideal relationship that a wife would desire from her husband? Is this the idyllic, storybook marriage that Leah could’ve hoped and dreamed for? Most likely not. Nevertheless, a union such as this meant more to her than one with her wicked brother-in-law. Even throughout this ordeal, we know that Leah is ultimately blessed to birth 7 of her husband’s children; Six of the Tribes of Israel and Yaakov’s only daughter, Dena.

Onkelos’ translation of how the text describes Leah’s eyes deviates slightly from that of Rashi, but provides monumental meaning to the verse. Onkelos renders Leah’s eyes not as tender, but beautiful. Leah’s eyes were beautiful, while Rachel’s face was beautiful. While this may seem as a mere comment about the way that each of the women looked, there is a deeper meaning behind Leah’s eyes. The eyes of Leah became “beautiful” because of the tears she cried. It was the demaos and the prayers that came from Leah that made her eyes exceedingly beautiful. It was the immense pain that the thought of being married to a person like Esav that elicited such a response from our holy matriarch.


Vayera 5779 – A Threefold Perspective on Chesed

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At the beginning of Parshas Vayera, we open on Avraham Avinu recuperating from his Bris Milah. Avraham is perched in his tent looking for any and all visitors that he can graciously welcome into his abode. In an act of care for his precious, devoted servant, Avraham, Hashem made this day incredibly hot. Rashi notes that the sun had been “unsheathed” and unleashed a brutal heat that would deter any traveler from journeying too far. Yet, what made Avraham uncomfortable was not the temperature nor was it the pain from his circumcision; he was downtrodden because there were no guests to usher into his home. God’s very act of kindness toward Avraham was in fact causing him more pain than the other factors. It was then that Hashem sent three angels Avraham’s way.

There are many lessons that can be gleaned from this episode, yet I would like to focus on three in particular.

First, Rabbi Avraham Schorr writes in HaLekach Vehalibuv (Breishis page צא) that Avraham’s actions were poignant because it was he who would be the role model for the generations to come in regard to this commandment. It’s not enough to do the mitzvah, explains Rav Schorr, but one must work at getting those around them involved and inspired to as well. Avraham informed Sarah to make the bread and the “youth” around him (Rashi explains that this was Yishmael) to involve them in this mitzvah. This can be done both directly and indirectly. This entire event occurred at the time when Sdom and Amorah were burgeoning cities, filled to the brim with sinners who deplored hachnasas orchim. Look later on in the Parsha when the angels visit the home of Lot in Sdom, and he doesn’t let them wash their feet for fear that the townspeople will learn of his guests. (Nevertheless, the townspeople showed up in force immediately anyway). Avraham teaches us that even if there is no one else around you to help in your mission, one must still strive for this goal.

Second, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe and more widely known as the author of the Nesivos Shalom, notes with distinction at Avraham’s behavior upon seeing the wandering guests (angels) in the distance. The text doesn’t merely state that Avraham went to the men and convinced them to come to his tent. The psukim state on three different occasions that Avraham acted with great haste in order to greet the angels, to tell Sarah to prepare bread, and to go and choose the finest of the calves to prepare for them. (וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙, וַיְמַהֵ֧ר אַבְרָהָ֛ם הָאֹ֖הֱלָה אֶל־שָׂרָ֑ה, and וְאֶל־הַבָּקָ֖ר רָ֣ץ אַבְרָהָ֑ם). Such zrizus (alacrity) to prepare for his guests, all without any pain medication or sedatives from his holy medical procedure.

Finally, Rav Schorr continues with an idea from Skulener Rebbe. The first Pasuk of the Parsha states that “Vehu yoshev pesach haohel kechom hayom” that Avraham was sitting in his tent in the heat of the day. We already are aware of the unseasonably warm weather, but the Skulener Rebbe goes in a different direction with this information. He explains that the heat mentioned here refers not to the temperature on the plains of Mamre where Avraham was situated, but the fire that burned inside him to perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim as he sat at his tent gazing out into the distance for any passersby. He was entirely consumed with seeing who he could help on their journey.
As my mother’s fifth yahrtzeit falls this Motzei Shabbos, these three messages from our Parsha resonate with me tremendously. Each one of them reminds me of her. For my sister and I, my parents were (and still are) tremendous role models in chesed for us and those who know them. She didn’t only take these tasks on herself, but actively sought to get others engaged. When I was in elementary school, one of her crowning achievements was her role in creating “Schechter Shabbat,” where families would be hosted by other families. Their children were often times in classes or rode the bus together, yet their families may not have always known one another. This Shabbat dinner sticks in my mind, in addition to countless others magnificently hosted by my parents. What also is stuck in my mind is the manner in which these actions were done in our home. My mother and father did these things without great fanfare, sometimes at the very last minute. And even more so, the desire that my mother had to do and to act even when she physically wasn’t able to do so. She would instruct my sister and I or other to do her bidding for her. No one would’ve faulted her for taking a few moments to herself while convalescing from one of her many trips to the Cleveland Clinic. But that was never the case with her.
The tent of Sheila was molded after the tent of Avraham Avinu. Avraham leaves giant shoes for Klal Yisrael to fill when it comes to chesed: the action itself, the manner in which it’s done, and the desire for opportunities to implement it. The Balk home was graced with a tremendous role model of championing chesed. We miss her every day.

Lech Lecha 5779 – I Told You So

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Everyone loves to feel validated. When someone recognizes that something we do or say is accurate, it gives us a certain sense of pride. Depending on who the person agreeing with our point of view, their haskama can indeed carry weight. When a student offers a novel idea on the material they are studying and the teacher responds by agreeing or bolstering their argument with additional sources or facts, it can mean the world to them. Often times, this feeling of validation is even greater when one thinks your idea is incorrect or chooses to not listen to your advice, and ultimately, your detractor is met with disappointment. The “I told you so!” moment is one that is even sweeter. You were right, they were wrong. They should’ve listened to you, they didn’t, and now they’re paying the price. Too bad for them. Furthermore, one need not even say anything and still relish the moment that an individual who makes poor choices yields unfortunate fruits. It serves them right! Why would anyone make such a stupid decision? They got what they deserved. Yet, we learn from the protagonist of Parshas Lech Lecha that this is not the manner in which to behave when someone close to you meets with disappointment.

We read in the Parsha of Avram being tasked by God to follow His command to an unknown land. Avram obliges, and brings with him his wife (Sarai), his nephew (Lot), and the followers that he and his wife had amassed. Ultimately, Sarai ends up being taken captive as they head to Egypt due to a famine, and as she is eventually freed, she and Avram end up leaving the country with great wealth. They return to their land and there’s a disagreement with the herdsmen of Lot and Avram’s livestock over where the animals in their care should graze. Avram tells Lot to choose a direction in which to lead his flock, and he would go the opposite way. This was done not out of anger, but to prevent further strife between the two. Lot chooses to head toward the plains of Jordan until Sdom. We know from the psukim that Sdom was a city comprised of evil, sinful individuals. Nevertheless, this is where Lot decided to settle. Rashi explains that Lot knew of the evil that ran rampant in the city, yet hung out his shingle there anyway. The story takes an unfortunate turn when Lot is captured by the Sodomites, along with his possessions.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that we can learn a tremendous lesson from Avram in the wake of Lot’s captivity. Upon hearing that his nephew had been taken captive, the nephew that sojourned with him great distances and was a member of his own household following the death of Lot’s father, Avram decides to act. The pasuk states that Avram heard that his brother had been taken, and he armed over three hundred of those close to him in order to retrieve Lot. This is a seminal moment. The Rav notes (Abraham’s Journey p.130) that Avram could have heard this news and reacted in a much different fashion.

“A normal reaction on his part would have been to say, ‘It serves him right; I warned him not to cast his lot with the Sodomites.’ Lot had rejected Avraham and his demanding God, preferring a pleasure-seeking society to Abraham’s covenantal fellowship. Yet, Avraham did not react this way. Lit is referred to here as Avraham’s brother. A Jew must feel a duty to save his brother even if his brother has departed from the righteous path.”

It would have been so easy for Avram to have sat back and cursed his beloved nephew for deciding to settle in a land full of evildoers. It may have even made him feel good about himself. However, when his loved one was faced with tremendous adversity, it was not enough for Avram to merely feel bad for Lot. He rescued him, and brought him back to safety.

Avram, later known as Avraham, was known for his penchant for chessed. This episode with Lot was a small example of just that.

Rabbi Sam z”l

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My mother with Rabbi Sam, at my cousin’s bris in 1988.

Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things that can be experienced. There is so much to be done by those close to the deceased, who may not know which way is up or have the headspace to deal with seemingly trivial matters. One of the first calls made when these events occur, besides to other relatives, is to one’s rabbi, to help pick up the pieces and slowly move forward. When my mother passed away, there was a lot to do, and a few rabbis were consulted and were so very helpful. That’s part of their job.

But what do you do when the lost loved one is the rabbi, the mortal conduit through which one can begin to overcome? What happens when they cannot answer the phone and guide you through the oblivion of grief? Who do you call when the one you’re mourning is the one who is supposed to help you get past the sadness?

Over Shabbat, Rabbi Sam Fraint passed away. He was our rabbi. Granted, our family had not paid dues to his synagogue or even lived in his community for over 25 years, but he was our rabbi. Let me be clear: this is not meant to diminish the impact and amazing relationships that my father, sister, and I share with the rabbis of the synagogues in Cleveland and beyond that we are now affiliated with. Not one iota. But Rabbi Sam was our rabbi and was tremendously revered in our house. And we loved him.

Our relationship begins over 30 years ago, when the senior rabbi of the largest Conservative synagogue in Chicago was looking for a new youth director. He knew of a woman who had taught at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. As she was was finishing a graduate degree in Boston, the rabbi, having heard of her all-star reputation with youth from a previous role of hers, reached out and offered her the job. The synagogue’s young assistant rabbi instantly noted how she had an unbelievable way with kids, himself included, he admitted later.

It was a reality that he remembered a few years later, when the two had both moved on from that shul on the North Shore. She was home raising her children, and he was at the helm of a new congregation, and was in need of a director of education. The rabbi reached out to his former colleague with this opportunity, and she mulled it over, clearly unsure if this was the right move for her. He asked how much money she’d need to make in order to seal the deal, and she responded with a certain amount. The response was “well, I’m going to give you $5,000 more than that.” That woman was my mother, and that rabbi was Rabbi Sam Fraint.

After a few years of working at the Moriah Congregation, our family moved to Cleveland. While this decision was, in my opinion, one of the best that my parents ever made, it’s never easy to say goodbye to a community that means so much to you. Over the years, the Fraint family have been a constant in our lives. Rabbi Sam was at my parents’ wedding. He named me at my bris. I practically idolized his son Zeke (I’m pretty sure we were at his Bar Mitzvah). Rabbi Sam even got a bracha under my sister Dena’s chuppah less than a year ago. We may have lived hours apart, I can hardly recall a time among the many that we visited Chicago when we did not see him, either surprising him in shul on Shabbos/Yuntif morning or going to his house. To visit him at Moriah was a real treat. The warm, lay-led environment of Ramahniks and USYers was (and I assume still is) a magical place. On one occasion, he made my father read Torah unexpectedly, although was an aliyah that he’s lained probably a dozen times. On almost every other occasion, he welcome us back to Moriah as he stood to speak to the congregation. This happened whether it was a regular Shabbos or if there were a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or an Aufruf.

And he and his wife Deena would drive to see us as well. As we were situated on the route between Chicago and New York/New Jersey, our home seemed to be a perfect rest stop location for the Fraints.

Rabbi Sam made me cry twice in my life. The first was when a Moriah congregant passed away the Thursday night before my Bar Mitzvah and he and Deena weren’t going to be able to join us. The second was when he spoke at my mother’s funeral. “Sheila Balk was my friend–my good friend. Since she and Mitchell moved to Cleveland, my wife and I hadn’t seen them very often. Each time I did have the opportunity to be with her over the last 20 years, her condition, an all-purpose euphemism to the torture she was subjected, her condition came to me as a shock. I don’t know anyone else who could’ve maintained herself– her personality, her ability to care for others (especially her children), her sense of humor and sense of self–in the way that Sheila did. She was part of God’s natural aristocracy, a description I’m not certain she would’ve been particularly fond of. But that’s who she was. Some people can be ’tischak leeyom acharon,’ most people cannot. But Sheila could, and she did…” 

And boy was he smart. Rabbi Sam was absolutely brilliant, yet his intellect would not stop him from sugar-coating the truth. He was a powerful orator, could, at times, say things from the bimah that were not politically correct. These were items that Rabbi Sam would grapple with tooth and nail, but would never compromise on the truth and how it made him feel.

A few years ago, he made it onto two prestigious lists. The first, was being named as one of the most inspirational rabbis in America. The second, was the secret “blacklist” of rabbis whose conversions were not accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of the state of Israel. I truly believe that these were both placements that he relished.

When he found out I was going to be a rabbi, he was kicking himself about how I ended up at RIETS and not at JTS. He told me that his own synagogue used Artscroll siddurim in addition to the Conservative Sim Shalom, and that it wasn’t too late for me to switch schools! (It was).

But by far the most meaningful thing to me about Rabbi Sam was that he took me, and other kids seriously. He made us feel important. While in high school, I was an active reader and less active emailer to the International USY Listserve. This email list not only went to USYers but to some rabbis and employees of Conservative synagogues as well. Rabbi Sam would take the time to respond to a few of the emails I sent (some of them are screenshotted below). There’s a reason I saved all of them. Never would he talk down to me, or converse with me the way adult would normally interact with a child. Most of the time, his notes were signed “Your friend, Sam Fraint.” And that’s exactly what he was.

I’ll never forget when my 8th grade class went to Israel, he walked over on Shabbat afternoon to the hotel we were staying at. I don’t know where he was walking from in Jerusalem or how long the trek was. What I do know is that we spent two hours talking like equals and old friends. My classmates were a bit puzzled as to who this guest was. Some thought he was an uncle, but none could fathom how the rabbi of a synagogue I used to go to a decade ago, hundreds of miles away from my current home, would come over and shmooze about everything from baseball to Ramah to dogs to any/all facets of Judaism. He treated me with unbelievable respect, and afforded me this same derech eretz when I matured as well.

There were times that his openness referred to earlier got my mother angry. She would tell him how she knows he’s right about x,y, and z, but he couldn’t say such things from the pulpit! They would talk it out, she would bust his chops, and he would smile and laugh it off. I can only hope that they’re doing just that right now in Gan Eden.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.


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His reply to an email I wrote about Yom HaShoah to the USY International Listserve in Spring 2006.

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An email I wrote mocking the summer trip itineraries of my fellow USYers to the USY International Listserve in Spring 2006

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Rabbi Sam’s reply to that email. Sadly, we didn’t meet up in Greenland.

Pinchas 5778 – Closing the Gap

Image result for mountainsAlthough this week’s Parsha is named for Pinchas, it’s his actions at the end of last week’s Parsha, Balak, that set the scene for where we are today. As we completed the Torah reading last Shabbos morning, the wandering Jewish people are in Shittim and begin physically and spiritually getting a bit too close to the Bnei Moav. Physically, the men of Bnai Yisrael begin sleeping with Moabite women. Spiritually, the verses state the they began to bow and serve their God as well. Believe it or not, this is not taken too well by the Almighty, who tells Moshe to command the Shoftei Yisrael to kill any man who was connected at all to serving Ba’al Pe’or. Zimri ben Salu, the nasi of Shimon took no heed to this edict, and openly paraded himself with a Midianite woman in front of Moshe and the nation. Upon witnessing this, Pinchas took a spear and killed both of them. There were 24,000 total that died as a part of this plague.

We now begin Parshas Pinchas: “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal. Therefore, say, ‘I hereby give him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and for his descendants after him [as] an eternal covenant of kehunah, because he was zealous for his God and atoned for the children of Israel.'”

It seems a bit out of character for Pinchas’ full lineage to be listed here, as it’s not a commonly seen practice elsewhere in the Torah. We’ve previously discussed an idea from Rav Soloveitchik on this matter, that this is to show us that Pinchas’ actions were done in accordance with the mentality of his grandfather Aharon.

The Or Hachaim Hakadosh, Rav Chaim ben Attar (whose yahrtzeit fell out last week) has an additional take on why this is. He explains that through the act of his grandson in stopping the plague of death from those who had fallen to such levels of wanton sinning with Bnai Moav, Hashem meant to reconcile Bnai Yisrael with Aharon in reference to cheit haeigel. In Shemos, while the Golden Calf was destroyed when Moshe returned from Har Sinai, there were thousands of Jews killed for having partaken in the sin. It was Aharon who fashioned the idol, even though he did not serve it.

It’s interesting to note that despite what we know about Aharon that this still could’ve been possible. How do we recognize him in the grand scheme of Jewish history? When Aharon dies just a few parshios earlier, there doesn’t seem to be anyone celebrating the high priest meeting his demise. Fahkert, just the opposite! Bnai Yisrael weep and mourn his passing for thirty days (In fact, this is the source for our people to note a end of the sheloshim period for a relative that has died). These were not tears of happiness to be rid of such a nefarious, horrible individual. The reaction of the kehillah was real and emotional. Aharon was loved.

One could also imagine this notion of the Or Hachaim as something that Aharon struggled with internally to a tremendous degree, and could’ve been a secret that he shared with his family and close confidants. Something that plagued him for years, something that he could not shake. This incident was not something that Aharon took lightly. The Midrash (Tanna Devei Eliyahu, Chapter 13) states that Aharon was constantly going around seeking to atone for what he had done. He would go out and to chessed for others and teach Torah, in an effort to mend the tremendous spiritual rupture that came from the eigel hazahav.

Unfortunately in our world today, there are many individuals who struggle to cast off an internal picture of who they are, whether based on decisions they’ve made previously, or sometimes for no reason at all. They can be engrossed in helping others for hours on end without a single soul knowing the depths of their kindness, yet at the end of the day, they may still feel uncomfortable with themselves knowing there is more they have yet to accomplish. Aharon HaKohen was a tremendous leader who worked every day to better himself, yet he could have still defined himself as the conduit to the greatest sin that befell the nation. This seemingly minute detail of listing Pinchas’ grandfather shows us that there should be no more resentment toward Aharon, even after the generation had died out, and that the circle had been symbolically closed.


Yom HaAtzmaut 5778 – Satiety


I suppose anyone living in a place with individuals who were alive before the founding of the country they live in maintains a greater sense of appreciation for what it took for that land to exist. Those living in the aftermath of the founding of the United States probably felt this way. The first century was not an easy one for America, but the founders of the country still permeated the land, either in person or in spirit.  The same can be said of Israel. There are individuals whose facade would not indicate anything out of the ordinary, yet upon further research, one might uncover that this person fought bravely for the nascent Jewish state to exist. Last year, a documentary titled “Ben-Gurion: Epilogue” was released. It was created from 6 hours of archived footage from a 1968 interview by BBC with the founding Israeli leader, and it’s an absolutely scintillating production. There were no film crews around to press George Washington or any of the other founding fathers on his thoughts regarding the founding of the United States of America. Memoirs or letters that have been published on the topic are not able to capture what the video is able to do. Seeing Ben Gurion react to a question, give brutally honest, poignant answers while perched in his compound in Sde Boker. It adds a tremendous layer of appreciation for the day.

In a similar vein, at my graduation from Yeshiva University, Ambassador Yehuda Avner, having just finished his magnum opus, The Prime Ministers, gave the keynote address. His account was not only that of a historian studying the events, nor was it exclusively one of someone living at the time the events occurred. He himself played a role in history as it was unfolding. Speaking lovingly about this previous chapter in his life was anything buy history: it was nostalgia. Avner was not reading pages from his book to assembled masses, but from his firsthand account in his mind. You could hear the history in his voice.

My feelings on this day are a mix of happiness, hope, and a significant amount of gratitude. I’m happy that I live in a world where the Jewish state of Israel is a burgeoning nation, a reality that was not a given for my grandparents and generations before them. I am hopeful for an even greater future on the horizon of our Homeland. I know Israel is imperfect, just as every single nation that has or will come into being is or will be. Change, while difficult, is easier than beginning anew in a different land with absolutely nothing. Finally, the gratitude, which is owed to God, and to those who came before and worked the land that I love so much.

These thoughts are summed up more eloquently by Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the founding Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion (recorded in The Religious Significance of the State of Israel [Alei Etzion 14] and Commitment and Complexity):

“Despite the many problems the State faces, we may not ignore the great miracles we experienced at the time of its establishment.  Analogously, although the Hasmonean state was far from perfect, its establishment (and the return of Jewish sovereignty, albeit limited) was nevertheless a cause for celebration, as the Rambam emphasizes.  The Rambam (Commentary to the Mishna, Yoma 1:3) knew very well the inauspicious character of the Hasmonean kings:

But in the time of the Second Temple, things were imperfect, as is well known – the kings did not follow the correct tradition and they would appoint the High Priest by force, even though he was unworthy…

Nevertheless, he felt that the establishment of the Hasmonean monarchy constitutes the main reason behind the celebration of Chanuka (Hilkhot Chanuka 3:1-3): 

The High Priests of the Hasmonean family were victorious and killed [the Greeks], thus saving Israel from their hands.  They established a king from among the priests, and monarchy returned to Israel for over two hundred years… Because of this, the scholars of that generation instituted that these eight days, starting from the twenty-fifth of Kislev, shall be days of joy and praise.

            The Second Temple period thus serves as a legitimate model by which we may assess the contemporary Jewish State, a half-century after its establishment.  However imperfect, one cannot overlook the many positive elements of our independent national existence.  Our leaders today are no worse than the Hasmonean kings, and our country is no worse than theirs was.  To the contrary, our leadership and society often exhibit moral qualities far superior to those of the Hasmonean dynasty.”

There are those who say Hallel, with or without a bracha, or even recite a Shehechiyanu or Al HaNissim to mark the religious significance of Yom HaAtzmaut. Whether one adds these additions to their daily routine is of little importance to me, so long as we uphold the strong recognition to the Almighty for enabling the state of Israel to exist. I yield again to Rav Amital from this same work:

“How can we not thank the Almighty for all the kindness that He has showered upon us? First and foremost, the State of Israel serves as a safe haven for five million Jews. After the nightmare of the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees wandered around the globe, finding a home and refuge only in Israel. The State has contributed an incalculable amount to the restoration of Jewish pride after the devastating chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s Name) caused by the Holocaust. Today, too, the State plays an enormous role in the Jewish identity of our brethren throughout the world. For so many of them, the emotional attachment to the State remains the final thread connecting them to the Jewish People and to the God of Israel.

  I spoke earlier of Rav Kook’s inability to come to terms with the establishment of a state that would not bring to fruition the ultimate destiny of redemption.  This led him to claim that the impending State of Israel was to be the ideal State of the period of ge’ula (redemption).  But don’t all the critical functions fulfilled by the State of Israel (as listed above) justify its existence, even if it has not developed into the ideal community?  After the traumatic destruction of the Holocaust, which Rav Kook could not possibly have foreseen, the State played a critical role in the restoration and revitalization of the Jewish people.  It is hard to imagine what the Jewish nation would look like today if, Heaven forbid, the State of Israel had not emerged.

            I experienced the horror of the destruction of European Jewry, and I can thus appreciate the great miracle of Jewish rebirth in our homeland.  Are we not obligated to thank the Almighty for His kindness towards us?  Unquestionably!  And not just on Yom Ha-atzma’ut; each day we must recite Hallel seven times for the wonders and miracles He has performed on our behalf: “I praise you seven times each day!” (Tehillim 119:164).”

Rav Amital concludes:

“We remain very, very far from the ideal Jewish State, and we must therefore do whatever we can to bring about its realization.  A more just society and stronger public values are necessary prerequisites for its actualization.  If we want to hasten the ultimate redemption, we must work harder to ensure moral values on both the individual and communal levels.  Closing the social gaps, concern for the vulnerable elements of society, fighting poverty, respectful treatment of the non-Jews in Israel – all these measures will bring us closer to the day for which we long.  We hope and believe that our State will develop into the ideal Jewish State, “the foundation of the Divine Throne in the world, whose entire desire is that God shall be One and His Name shall be One.”

I cannot imagine what the landscape of world Jewry would resemble without the state of Israel. Our hope, our longing has gnawed at us as a nation for so long. Seventy years to a child seems like an eternity. In the grand scheme of life, it’s a mere second.

Pirkei Avos teaches us that at the age of seventy, one achieves a sense of satiety, as referenced to David HaMelech who died at that age “beseivah Tovah” (Divrei HaYamim I 29:28). The state of Israel does indeed have much to be satisfied about. Eretz Yisrael, as little a country as it is, punches far above her weight in terms of impacting the rest of the world. Setting aside all else that our tiny medinah has done for the rest of the world, I shudder to think about the fate of our people had the State not been declared 70 years ago. Where would we go? Where would our safe haven be? Nevertheless, the Mishnah does not stop at seventy, and continues to rattle off adages for other ages through 100. The message, to me, is clear. Although we can look back and recount the miracles brought by God in order to bring the state of Israel to be – the pioneers making the desert bloom (even before the state was established!), teaching simple tailors and shoemakers to fly planes and evolve into an effective army leading to unbelievable and improbable military victories – there is much more that the Jewish homeland can and will no doubt accomplish.

Thank you Hashem for the gift of Israel!

Yom Hazikaron 5778 – On the Periphery


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*A student of Yeshivas Kol Torah wanting to visit the graves of righteous sages in the Galil. He posed a question of whether or not one would be allowed to interrupt their Torah studies to do so to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Rav Shlomo Zalman replied to his pupil that one need not venture north to find graves of tzaddikim to pray at. Rather, there were plenty of “tzaddikim” who were buried on Har Herzl, Israeli’s military cemetery.

*A recent feature article in Ami magazine profiles Rabbis Avigdor and Chizkiyahu Nebenzahl, the immediate past and current chief rabbis of the Old City, respectively. Rav Avigdor serves as the rabbinic head of ZAKA, Israel’s primary rescue and recovery organization. They are volunteers who are on the scene immediately after natural disasters and terror attacks, cleaning up the havoc wrought. Rav Avigdor’s grandson, Avraham Nebenzahl, notes that he used to see his grandfather stand near the #1 bus stop outside the Kotel plaza donned in his bloodstained ZAKA uniform, tears streaming from his eyes, as he returned home from cleaning up the scene of a terror attack.

*Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon once related that a soldier at war once asked him if he could daven in his tank due to the less than pleasant smell inside. When Rav Rimon shared this question with an American rabbi, his North American counterpart didn’t understand the question. “One can’t pray in a scenario like that, so they’re exempt entirely!”, protested the American rabbi. Yet, Rav Rimon notes, never once has a soldier ever asked if he doesn’t have to daven. It’s simply never come up.”

On Yom Hazikron, I think about these vignettes, among others, that put me in the right frame of mind to approach this day. There are plenty of other anecdotes that will do the trick. These two capture the essence of what we’re commemorating. Rav Shlomo Zalman’s story hits me because of its poignancy. Rav Nebenzahl’s story speaks to me because I can picture this very scene playing out in my mind. Rav Rimon’s account speaks volumes of the caliber of many of the soldiers of the IDF.

The memorial is two-fold: on one hand, we remember the soldiers who valiantly fell fighting for their country, while we also reminisce about those individuals who have been victims of terror. I find myself on the periphery, making small connections to some victims. I feel uneasy making myself believe that I am much closer to these kedoshim than I actually am. I recognized one of the students killed in the Mercaz HaRav attack from living in the Old City at the same time. I’ve traversed many different places where people, both soldiers and civilians, have tragically been murdered in cold blood. Nevertheless, many of us who share this lack of first-hand connective tissue are somber today, thousands of miles away from the state of Israel.

To those with a strong connection to the land, it makes no difference how close one is to the victims. They are our sons, our daughters, our sisters, our brothers. When the Torah recounts how great the tenth and final plague was leading up to Paro releasing the Jewish people from his grip, the text states that the cry was so powerful because there was no Egyptian house that remained untouched. Each family experienced a casualty. In Israel, even if the kedoshim were not part of one’s own immediate family, the relationship is still there. A friend, a neighbor. The aggressors care not who you are or where you come from. Politicians are not spared (ask Benyamin Netanyahu). Rabbinic leaders aren’t either (ask the family of Rav Elyashiv who lost a daughter in 1948 to Jordanian shelling or Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbanit Chana Henkin who lost their beloved son and daughter-in-law not long ago).

When I think to myself that I’m on the periphery and feel foolish (almost) for getting worked up about the thousands of holy individuals who have died in the name of Israel, I am quickly pulled back to reality. The Gemara (Shevuos 39a) teaches us that the Jewish people are responsible for one another. Rashi comments that when Bnai Yisrael camped at Har Sinai in anticipation of receiving the Torah, they did so “k’ish echad b’lev echad.” The nation was so staunchly united in their mission that is were as if one person with one heart were making the decision, rather than the hundreds of thousands of people who were assembled at the foot of the mountain.

Someone once told me that they didn’t necessarily understand why we recognize Yom Hazikaron. Look up the names Nachshon Wachsman, Michael Levin, or Ezra Schwartz and tell me that you feel no sense of grief or loss. Put yourself in the shoes of the families of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who, after almost 4 years, still do not have their sons’ bodies to bury, and tell me you feel nothing. Millions of Israelis would love nothing more to treat the day before Yom Ha’Atzmaut as insignificantly as Americans treat July 3rd. Sadly, they do not have that luxury. We do not have that luxury.


Yom HaShoah 5778 – Questions

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The Jews are a people full of questions. We are asked a question, and we will sometimes respond with another. There are times when we encourage questions en masse. As we recently celebrated the holiday of Passover, this tidbit is no doubt fresh in our minds. Pesach is a time when we not only desire questions, particularly from the children, but we organize the night in such a roundabout way that, naturally, questions are evoked. Conversely, there are often times when we are taught not to question. These are generally more painful commands. When a tragedy occurs, when someone is taken too early from this world, we are sometimes given the missive of “we do not question the Almighty” as we remain in the aftermath to pick up the pieces and move on.

This idea of asking questions has spawned a fascinating avenue in the form of sheilos u’tshuvos, Jewish responsa literature. Literally how the rabbis respond to our queries over Halachic matters. Rabbis today know that a major part of their time in the rabbinate is spent fielding shailos. In turn, they may themselves need to reach out to their own rebbeim and mentors, or outside rabbinic experts in order to know what to respond. There are volumes and volumes of rabbinic literature dedicated to answering our questions, and new volumes continue to be put out annually.

Sheilos u’tshuvos sefarim are something that I find to be riveting, although I do not often plumb the depths of many of them. In addition to the line of thinking used in giving the proper response, I’m curious to know about the mindset of the petitioner. What are they thinking? What’s going on behind the scenes that serves as the impetus for this shaila? There is one particular work that strikes me whenever I come across it are the responsa penned by Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, a tremendous Torah mind who lived in Lithuania when the war broke out. He eventually survived the horrors of the Shoah and wrote up the shailos that he received during this time. A one volume English work was published and the responsa, preceded by the stories behind each of them, are hard to imagine.

A hoarse Kohen wanting to know if he could still “duchen” with the other Kohanim.

Using garments of martyred Jews.

A Sukkah built with boards stolen from Germans.

Yet, the shaila that hit me like a ton of bricks is a more well known one. It was asked to Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Meisels, the Rav of Veitzen (Hungary), who also managed to survive the war and compile a collection of the petitions asked of him during the years of terror. In the introduction to his sefer, Mekadshei Hashem, he writes that on Rosh Hashannah 1944, there was a tremendous “selection” of 1600 boys. Those between the ages of 14-18 of a certain height would be spared and forced to endure hard labor. The others would be met with death. It somehow had become apparent to concerned parents of these boys that the Kapos (yemach shemam) would be willing to accept bribes from what the Jews were able to smuggle on their person in order to extract their child from the group. However, it also became clear to them from the Kapos that there would immediately be another boy taken in his stead to be slaughtered. A father with little money or possessions was able to scrape together enough to fulfill the ransom for his only son. He asked of Rav Meisels: would it be permissible for him to pay off the wicked Kapos in order to save his son knowing that another boy would meet his demise due to this action? Rav Meisels was trembling. He demurred, and said to this holy Jew that he was not equipped to answer at that moment and that in the times of the Temple, the entire Sanhedrin would need to be convened for such capital cases. He continued that it would be hard for him to answer such a question in Auschwitz as he did not have any of the relevant sefarim to guide him. While Rav Meisels hemmed and hawed in his mind about the various issues pertaining to this request, he nevertheless implored the father of this son to not ask this question. The father was not placated and did not accept this answer. Whatever answer was offered to this shaila, the father would obey. Rabbi Meisels again tried to deter the father, telling him that he cannot possibly render a Halachic conclusion without first consulting any sources. The father responded: “Rabbi Meisels, if this means that you can find no heter for me to redeem my son, so be it.” The Rav protested. “My beloved brother, I did not say that you could not ransom your child, and I cannot rule yes or no. Please do what you wish, as if you never asked me.”What cuts me to the core is that Rabbi Meisels points out in his sefer that the petitioner noted that this query was one of Halacha l’maaseh (see above), a practical question. Halacha l’maaseh?  We today typically associate Halacha l’maaseh with something significantly more trivial. It used to be “is this chicken Kosher?,” or “my meat spoon was accidentally used to stir my chocolate milk.” These are what we think of as practical questions of Jewish law pertinent for our everyday lives or our lives at that very moment. Would it be permissible for him to pay off the wicked Kapos in order to save his son knowing that another boy would meet his demise due to this action? 100 out of 100 rabbis would never rattle this case off as a Halacha l’maaseh case when pressed for one. The fact that the text above denotes those words, enlarged, makes my stomach churn and my head spin. The churning and spinning continue when I ponder about what will be in the next few years. In a time where we have more access to information and the ability to educate ourselves more than ever before, the memories are still fading. This year, Poland outlawed shirking any blame to their country for crimes committed during the Holocaust. To say that there was no involvement on their part is to say that you did not breathe yesterday. This above account described by the Veitzener Rav is only one of thousands. These atrocities did not happen hundreds of years ago with no one left in the wake to remember the exact details of what transpired. The holy survivors still are among us! On this Yom HaShoah, even more than we owe it to ourselves to pass along their stories, we owe it to them. Over the course of now until the next Yom HaShoah, we will no doubt lose more of these unbelievably heroic individuals. Where will that leave us? What will we do? The next generation will have questions, and we are no doubt tasked to answer them.

Pidyon HaBen Remarks from Estee & Willie Balk


Estee’s speech appears first. Willie’s appears second. Mazel tov!

Thank you all for coming to share in our simcha. We feel blessed to be able to have so many people in our corner to experience this high point in our lives together. It’s unbelievable how our lives have changed in one moment, and we’ve been on a high ever since.

We specifically would like to thank our parents being there for us in so many ways in reaching this moment.

When deciding what to name our son, we knew that we wanted to name him with some combination of the names Yaakov and Yehoshua after Willie’s beloved great-grandfathers. These names were meaningful to me because of who these characters represent in Tanach.

Yaakov Avinu stands for Emes, truth. He lived a life of hardship after hardship. Running away from home, tricked into marrying Leah and being led to believe for years that his most beloved son was dead. His relationship with Esav was tumultuous before they even left the womb, a relationship that thankfully, my twin brother and I do not have. What makes Yaakov so great? That he struggled? Yaakov’s greatness is reflected in how he lived with all the struggle, all the pain and uncertainty in how his life would evolve. Yaakov Avinu’s entire being still represents Emes, truth. With all his trials and tribulations, he was able to stay connected and epitomize what it means to be an Eved Hashem.

Yehoshua is among a few people in Tanach that had a name change. Moshe Rabeinu changed it from Hosheia to Yehoshua by adding a Yud at the beginning. What is significant about the letter Yud? The gemara shares that the first two letters in Yehoshua’s name now starts with the name of Hashem. Moshe wanted to give Yehoshua extra protection in order to stand up to the 10 Meraglim that were going to speak badly of Eretz Yisroel. We see Yehoshua develop into the leader that Moshe knew he could be. Yehoshua and Calev were able to remain true to themselves as they tried their hardest to save their colleagues from giving a false report. He was not afraid to stand up for the right thing, even when the right thing is not the popular thing to do. Additionally the Da’at Zekeinim adds that the Yud represents 10 shares of land that Yehoshua would inherit. Moshe indicates that Yehoshua would inherit the 10 shares that would have been the shares of the other ten spies, had they not slandered the land of Israel.

Menashe, Yaakov’s grandson, grew up far away from his grandfather’s home. Yet, even in Galus Mitzrayim, he was still on such a high level that he was considered like one of Yaakov’s sons. He even earns a shevet in his name. One famous story about Menashe is when he received the bracha from Yaakov who was on his deathbed. He puts his left hand on Menashe’s head and right hand on Efraim’s head, which confused Yosef. As Yosef’s bechor, Menashe deserved to have the right hand on his head while receiving a bracha from his grandfather. Nevertheless, Menashe doesn’t say a word. It is Yosef that is astounded by his father’s choice in switching his hands and putting the right hand on Yosef’s younger son Efraim. Commentaries explain that Yaakov did this because he saw that Efraim’s descendants would grow to become greater than Menashe’s and therefore Efraim earned, so to speak, to have Yaakov’s right hand. Menashe’s silence on this matter speaks volumes. Menashe doesn’t argue, doesn’t speak up respectfully, he doesn’t feel the need to change his grandfather’s mind because he gets it. Menashe understands that Efraim will become greater than him and he’s ok with that. Menashe knows who he is and just because his younger brother will be great does not mean he won’t be as well. In fact, this is the first time that we see in Tanach, that brothers can get along.

When Willie and I were considering different names to reflect our journey, we liked a few options but nothing stood out. Then the name Menashe came up and we both loved the name for various reasons. Willie already mentioned at the bris “ki nashani elokim es kol amali” How Yosef thanks Hashem for helping him forget the struggle he endured in his father’s house and blesses him with a son. Additionally, the letters of the name Menashe can be rearranged and spell Meshaneh, change. This journey truly changed us and it is our bracha that Yaakov Yehoshua Menashe should continue to change our lives for the better.

Words cannot express our gratitude to Hashem. The Pasuk in Shir Hama’alos says  “Ha’zorim b’dima, be’rina yikzoru” “Those who plant with tears, will later reap with joy”. While tears are flowing, it’s almost impossible to imagine or even picture the simcha that will hopefully, eventually come to fruition. We’re are so happy to be here today reaping with joy as we get ready to redeem our son tonight.

I’d like to end with one last message. Years ago when I was learning in seminary we had a weekly class with Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller and it must have been before Pesach when we had a discussion about galus mitzrayim. I remember asking her a question I had for a while. I noticed that Galus and Geulah have the same root word, Gal and I couldn’t figure out why. How could such opposites be linked together? Rebbetzin Heller shared a very powerful message. Gal in hebrew is a wave. She said that in Galus we feel waves and waves of suffering. Just when we think we’ve hit rock bottom so to speak, it gets worse. And it will be the same when the Geula comes. We will Be’ezrat Hashem experience waves and waves of goodness and just when we think life can’t get any better, Hashem will bestow even more bracha upon us. I’ve shared this idea many times since hearing this years ago however over the last month we’ve experiences more waves of goodness than we could have imagined.  

Willie, over the last couple years we’ve always said “If we could get through this, then we can get through anything”. There are no words that can thank you enough for always being there. I may have been the one to physically go to all appointments and take medication, but it was only doable because you’re there. This last month has been truly amazing, even with the lack of sleep. I can’t wait to experience more and more moments like these together.  Yaakov Yehoshua Menashe doesn’t know yet how lucky he is to have you as a role model in all areas of life, a sports fan, and of course as a father.

It’s bashert that we’re here tonight to celebrate the pidyon haben of our bechor. One week from right now, we’ll be gathering in our homes for bedikas chametz in preparation for Pesach. My Rebbe Rav Elchanan Ehrman reminded me that the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned in bentching where it says “ufdisanu mibeis avadim,” that Hashem redeemed us from the house of slavery. The word, ufidisanu comes from the word Podeh, to redeem, which is exactly what we’re doing here tonight.

When Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt and subsequently takes them as His nation, the pasuk in Devarim states vayotzi eschem mikur habarzel, I took you out of the iron crucible for Me as a nation. The Midrash says that when klal Yisrael were in Mitzraim, they were connected like iron to the Egyptian people and their way of life. What does that mean? In order to make iron, you take a bunch of different substances and melt them together at very high heat. The naked eye cannot determine the different components when glancing at it, and that’s how Bnai Yisrael were in Egypt. Other than the fact that the Jewish people were slaves, there was not much differentiation between them and a random Mitzri. There was no milah, they were ovdei avodah zarah, nothing uniquely connecting them to the Creator other than the fact that they were themselves Jewish. Nevertheless, Hashem chose them as His nation, and He redeemed them. If we were called in for an interview with the Almighty and He told us that we were the Am HaNivchar based upon our experience in Egypt, we would be so perplexed. Don’t you see us? Don’t You see how we’re living, what we’re doing? What we’re not doing? We have nothing, and You know that more than we do! THIS is what you want? Absolutely. He chose us, and we remain His people.

I heard a shiur from Rav Avraham Tzvi Kluger on this topic this past week, and it immediately reminded me of the mitzvah that we’re about to perform. Baruch Hashem, Estee and I were blessed with a son. Those of you in the room who have yet to be blessed with children may not be privy to just how much a parent gives to their child. You will no longer sleep through the night because you will need to feed, clothe, or bathe your child. Even during the day, time when you would be awake anyway, the child still requires tremendous care. Not to mention how expensive it can be to raise a child. The doctor visits, daycare, later tuition. Your newborn will deplete you of your time, sleep, money, your kochos, just about every resource you can imagine. For Estee and I and many, many other couples, as you know, the road is even longer. The pain of tzar gidel banim pales in comparison to the tzar of wanting to gidel banim. Now I ask you, THIS is what you want?! The answer, is a resounding yes.

Just 49 days after Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt, despite their level of tum’ah, as we know, they merited ascend to such spiritual heights that received the Torah, to stand at the foot of Har Sinai and witness the most awesome of sights. We know that right now, our little Yaakov is small and requires much more meticulous care like any other small child, but we as we say at the Bris Milah, zeh hakatan vegadol yihiyeh, that this diminuitive child will one day grow and flourish into a wonderful source of yiddishe nachas for his family and his community. Yaakov, we love you so much, and we are so grateful to Hashem that you’ve entered our lives.

Yaakov Yehoshua Menashe Balk


Hodu L’Hashem Ki Tov, Ki L’Olam Chasdo.

Thank you all for coming to celebrate the bris of our bechor, Yaakov Yehoshua Menashe Balk. You really find out who your friends are when you make a bris on a fast day morning, so it’s a pleasure to share our simcha with you all. Before delving into the meaning behind our son’s name, there are so many words of thanks that need to be offered. First and foremost, to Hashem for setting everything in motion and supporting us at every juncture. We must express our thanks to our doctor Rabbi Dr. Eli Rybak, who, in addition to being a talmid chacham, is a tremendously gifted clinician. He, Briana and our other nurses, and the entire staff of RMA of NJ, through the work they do guided by the Almighty, are the reason that we are standing here celebrating today. Similarly, there are not enough words to express our thanks to our parents who have guided us to reach this point as well. We are so lucky to have you as role models, and hope to be blessed with your guidance for many happy, healthy years to come.

Our son’s first name is Yaakov, and is in memory of my great-grandfather, Jack (Yaakov) Balk. He 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 among the ranks to become the manager of a large grocery store in downtown St. Louis. He was known to be very thorough in his work, 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. I was not privy to know about these commercials until after he passed, but fortunately for me, I got to know my Grandpa Jack. 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 such journey, 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 was not as extensive at our tefillah this morning. Nevertheless, the smile on his face that day was identical to the one from the picture taken years before.

Our son’s second name, Yehoshua, is in memory of my mother’s two grandfathers, Samuel Radman and Samuel Hornstein, who were both Yehoshua. I was not privileged to meet either of them, and do not know much about them. I can tell you that Samuel Radman and his family traveled on foot, across much of Russia before they were able to flee Europe and arrive on American shores. He was a simple man who had an enormous love for his family. He owned a grocery store and an ice cream parlor, and could often be seen sporting a coat and hat, even throughout the sweltering humidity that is a St. Louis summer.

In terms of the other Yehoshua, my great-grandfather Samuel Hornstein, he moved to the United States from Egypt and was married to Grandma Dena, my mother’s grandmother. My sister is named after Gram, who lived with them, and shaped the lives of my mother and aunt. He had rich olive skin, which could be seen clear as day in the picture of him that was kept on the hi-fi in the foyer of our Lyman Blvd. home.

Grandpa Jack and Grandpa Sam Radman share a yahrtzeit, the 7th of Adar, only a day after the birth of our son. Grandpa Sam Hornstein’s yahrtzeit falls just a few days after the date of what will be, with God’s help, the Pidyon HaBen for his newest great-great-grandson.

His final name, Menashe, is one that has no particular familial leanings, but one that evokes an immense sense of meaning for us. In the Torah, when Yosef and his wife Osnat give birth to their first child, they name him Menashe, and the pasuk continues “ki nashani Elokim es kol amali, that God caused me to forget all the toil I endured.” Here Yosef is referring to the less that stellar childhood at the hands of his brothers, later being sold into slavery, and being completely disenfranchised and broken as he was thrown in jail. While these experiences were numbing, Yosef is ultimately remembered as Yosef HaTzaddik, a righteous hero, who saved Egypt from the brink of disaster. Yet, the pasuk writes that “God caused me to forget.” How is that fathomable? How is it possible that Yosef could forget all of these things, the entire makeup of his formative years of his life? These were not mere random occurrences that happened once or twice. Are we to believe that every trial and tribulation of Yosef’s existence all at once slipped his mind?

I think the answer lies in the fact that while these events that peppered his upbringing and time in Egypt were unbelievably daunting, he was not defined by them. Yosef could have surveryed his lot and decided that he was a lost cause, doomed for all eternity. Even when something fortuitous happened, it was often bookended by a more nefarious affair. Yet, with the help of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, his tides turned drastically and his story is remembered differently for all time.

While not on such an extreme level, this single pasuk speaks volumes to me and Estee. The path to having a child was not an easy one for us. It was roundabout, and we were met with twists, turns, forks in the road, and dead ends. Yet, despite the challenges and hurdles we faced, we are here today with our son. Does this momentous event negate the oceans of tears shed? The sometimes multi-weekly 5:30 AM doctor visits? The injections? Absolutely not. Those things don’t just go away. Sadly for us, it also doesn’t erase the fact that my mother, the person who probably wanted this child more than anyone, will never physically be here to play with him or watch him grow.  But living in this moment, the feeling of shehechiyanu v’kimanu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh, makes those events pale in comparison to the euphoria we feel today, and that we’ve felt since 6:19 PM on February 20th of this year. We are again so thankful to our doctors, but also to Bonei Olam which helps couples financially deal with the fertility treatments, and Yesh Tikvah and ATIME, for giving us the chizuk we needed to not remain inert. We hope that the individuals we’ve encountered from these unbelievable organizations are zoche to the same palpable simcha that we feel at this very moment bimheira beyameinu.

I wanted to close with a note about my wife, Estee. Every single husband who gives a bris speech talks about how incredible their wife was during the pregnancy and labor, and how they love them. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, as this is no doubt true for my wife as well. However, those words do not do justice to how incredible Estee is. She is literally the reason that our son is here today, and not just because she carried him inside of her. Since we began the journey of trying to have children, it was Estee who became a sponge and soaked up every single piece of information about the medicine she was taking and the course of treatment we were up to. It was Estee who would be on the phone with the insurance companies. It was she who would be calling the doctors, nurses, and pharmacies staying on top of what we were up to. There were times when her acumen saved our rounds of treatment from utter sabotage. She has been the biggest advocate for this child for over three years, before he was born. I have seen the care and concern she exudes, and I know there are no better hands for our children to be in than hers. Estee, I do not know what I did to be zoche to having you as my wife, and I do not want to think about where I would be without you.

Thank you all again for making our simcha so special. While we are not 100% sure of what we will be calling our new son, we are certain that he is perfect and he is our miracle.

Have an easy fast, a freilichen Purim.