Category Archives: Yahrtzeit

Be’Ahava U’Ve’Ratzon

Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat VaYakhel-Pekudei / Parah, 23 Adar 5778.

Today is the Yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l; who was a member of Kinor David for ten years. It’s been five years since his passing. This Drasha is in his memory.

Moshe gathers the Jewish People to tell them about the commandment to build the Mishkan, to fulfill the ambition of “I shall dwell among you” – G-d’s Presence within the Jewish People, serving G-d through sacrifices, the Holy of Holies.

This is how he starts:

“Moshe gathered the entire Jewish People; he said to them: This is what Hashem commanded you to do:

Six days, you should do work, and on the seventh day, you shall have holiness, Shabbat-Shabbaton to Hashem… (Shemot 35)”

And only then does he continue:

“Moshe said to the entire Jewish People, saying: This is what Hashem commanded you: take donations from among you for Hashem…”

Before the building of the Mishkan could begin, they had to be told to keep Shabbat.

So, first of all, on a practical level, this is how we learn what is considered “work” for the purposes of the Laws of Shabbat: anything that is necessary for the building of the Mishkan is forbidden on Shabbat. That is the source of the 39 Melachot of Shabbat.

But taking a step back, there is a bigger picture. The two commandments are two related ways to serve G-d, two forms of sacrifice: keeping Shabbat, and the sacrificial service of the Mishkan.

In our Siddur, there are phrases that we add on Shabbat. They begin with the word “Retzei” (accept). We say, “Retzei ve’Hachlitzenu”, “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”. This term is normally used in the context of serving G-d through sacrifices (and the prayers that substitute for them). For instance, the blessing in the Amida, “Retzei”, is labeled by the Koren Siddur as “Avodah” (Service). It says, “Accept the Jewish People and their prayers and bring back the Service …. May their Service be accepted by You”. “Retzei”, “accept”, refers to the Service of G-d, Avodah.

What, then, is “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”, “accept our rest”?

Our rest is, in itself, our Avodah, our Service. Shabbat, too, is sacrifice.

Those of us who grew up keeping Shabbat do not always appreciate how much of a sacrifice it really is – a sacrifice of our time, our money, of opportunities; in our career, our businesses, our lives in general. This is true even living here in Israel, where it’s relatively easy to keep Shabbat; not to mention other times in our not-too-distant history when people would be told “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t come in on Monday.”

And even so – for those of us in hi-tech, which needs to run 24/7, for university students who might have a test on Thursday and a project due on Sunday, for family that lives out of town that you don’t get to see, for friends that go out on Friday night that you can’t join – this is sacrifice, this is serving G-d. We pray that our sacrifice, our rest, will be accepted: “Retzei be’Menuchateinu.”

I read an article recently, about the sociology of Modern Orthodox people, in particular, of women, which suggested that we have three shifts. Work is one shift, family is the second. The third shift is Shabbat. It’s not one day of seven, it’s an entire “shift”.

When I read that, I thought, yes, well, till I finish clearing up after Shabbat, it’s around … Tuesday… and by then I’m already inviting guests for the next Shabbat. So yes, it’s a whole shift.

But that same article pointed out how that third shift, Shabbat, gives balance to the other two, and meaning to the rest of our lives. It is an opportunity to be with the family, with ourselves, to get dressed up, to enjoy good food, to see friends, to come to shul, to sing and to pray. It is not a punishment, it is a gift.

There is another phrase that we add to our prayers for Shabbat – in fact, we will do so this Pesach, which is approaching all too soon. In the Kiddush of the Seder, we will add “Be’Ahava”. And during the Amida, we will add “BeAhava u’ve’Ratzon”. Not just Ratzon, but also Ahava. Because Shabbat is a gift of love from the Ribono shel Olam, His love for us, and our love for Him.

My father, as you might know, did not grow up with Shabbat. It was not possible to observe Shabbat in the Soviet Union, to say the least. So when we came to America and were reunited with a Torah observant Jewish community, it was very difficult for him to understand Shabbat. Why are some things considered Melacha, and forbidden, and other things, which require more effort, are permitted? We were invited for many Shabbat meals by families in our community in Far Rockaway, week after week for years at a time, but it was Shabbat from the outside.

Then we all went to Israel for a 3 week trip, and there, my father experienced Shabbat from the inside, the whole thing. When we got back, he said, “I understand that He wants me to go to Shul on Shabbos.” So he did. And clearly, when one comes home from Shul, one makes Kiddush, and if one makes Kiddush, one has to have a bite of something, yes? And so it was.

He had Shabbat, with friends in shul, with singing, and davening, with an ironed shirt, and brandy for Kiddush. Be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.

And on his last Shabbat, he came to Kinor David, in a Shabbat shirt, to be with us all, and enjoy Shabbat, be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.

Shabbat Shalom

Source of “third shift”

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Filed under Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot, VaYakhel, Yahrtzeit

Rav Chessed ve’Emmet

Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat Ki Tisa / Parah, 20 Adar 5777, in memory of my father, whose Yahrzeit is 23 Adar

The Sin of the Golden Calf made it clear that despite all the miracles of the Exodus, of the Splitting of the Sea, and of the Revelation at Sinai, the Jewish People really did not understand G-d. They were too bound up in the pagan mindset of Egyptian culture, where every god had his own set of characteristics.

Therefore, Moshe asked G-d to describe Himself to him in terms of His characteristics, and G-d responded:

ה’, ה’, אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים רב חסד ואמת
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, patient, and has “great kindness and truth” (Shemot 34:6)

This expression, Rav Chessed ve’Emmet, which is usually translated as “great kindness and truth,” is actually quite hard to interpret. Rashi says that “Chessed” is when one is given more than one deserves, and “Emmet” is when one is given precisely what one deserves. He sees the two words as antonyms – Chessed vs Emmet.

As you know, I do a fair amount of translation, having translated all the Haftarot, and I must say that this interpretation does not work for most of the times that these words are used together in Tanach. For instance, the verse made famous by Yonatan Razael’s beautiful song:

קטונתי מכל החסדים ומכל האמת שעשית את עבדיך
“I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and all the truth that You have done for Your servant” (Bereishit 32:11)

It makes sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me beyond what I deserved,” but how does it make sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me that is precisely what I deserve?”

Moreover, what does it mean to have “great truth”? Truth is binary; something is either true, or not. But here we have “Rav Emmet,” a lot of truth. So there’s such a thing as only some truth, and a lot of truth? And sometimes, we can also have all the truth?

Dr. Amos Chacham, who wrote the Da’at Mikra commentary of Yeshayahu and Tehillim, points out that the word “Chessed” is not only used together with “Emmet,” it is also used together with “Brit” (covenant). For example:

לְעוֹלָם אֶשְׁמָר לוֹ חַסְדִּי וּבְרִיתִי נֶאֱמֶנֶת לוֹ
I will always keep for him My “Chessed”, and My “Brit” is faithful to him. (Tehillim 89)

It is very clear that the two parts of the verse are parallel; the words “Chessed” and “Brit” are synonyms, not antonyms. “Chessed” here is the fulfillment of promises. The three words, “Chessed,” “Emmet,” and “Brit” are variations on the same theme – the idea of keeping one’s word.

In English, we would translate “Chessed” as “loyalty,” “constancy,” “devotion.”

I’m not saying that “Chessed” isn’t kindness; the actions that result from it are indeed kind. However, Chessed does not come from feelings of compassion or benevolence; it comes from commitment.

And what, then, is “Rav Chessed?”

To help us understand the distinction between plain “Chessed,” and “Rav Chessed,” I will tell you a story about my father, z”l.

When my sister and I were growing up in America, we were a small family. Just parents and two children (although two children is already a big family for Russians 😉 ). With the exception of some very dear friends who were distantly related to us, all of our extended family was behind the Iron Curtain, and we were able to be in touch, with great difficulty, with only a handful of them.

Then our parents came to live in Israel, and it turned out that we had a whole bunch of second and third cousins, many times removed, who lived here. One of them was Aunt Donya, my father’s mother’s youngest first cousin, who was at the time in her early eighties, living in Ashdod. Needless to say, my father made an effort to make contact and visit her. That is “Chessed,” devotion – remembering connections and commitments, and strengthening them, despite the passage of time.
But my father did not stop there. He called Aunt Donya every single week, every Tuesday, for ten years. In fact, she was one of the first people to find out that he had passed away, because it was Tuesday, and he hadn’t called.

That is “Rav Chessed” – great devotion; unfailing commitment.

Emmet must also be understood from that perspective. It is not binary truth, true or false; it is truth over time, that is, keeping one’s word. The blessings of the Haftarah are phrased in those terms:

הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן, הָאוֹמֵר וְעוֹשֶׂה, הַמְדַבֵּר וּמְקַיֵּם,שֶׁכָּל דְּבָרָיו אֱמֶת וָצֶדֶק
“The faithful G-d, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfills, all of Whose words are truth and justice. “

How do we know if prophecy is true? When it is fulfilled. So when the prophet Yechezkel says in the Haftarah:

וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם
I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land. (Yechezkel 36:24)

We look around us, and we see that these words have been fulfilled. How lucky are we, our generation, to be able to say that?

So now we know that “Rav Chessed ve’Emmet” means that G-d keeps His word despite the passage of time, with great commitment and devotion.

This is important because in the pagan mindset, this is not at all obvious. In the pantheons of many cultures around the world, there is a god who is described as a “trickster” – Loki – a god whose main characteristic is his unpredictability; not only can he not be trusted, he goes out of his way to wreak havoc. There is something in the human psyche that makes us want a god like that, perhaps to explain the chaos in the world around us.

This has even affected Jewish culture: there is an expression in Yiddish: “Der mensch trakht un gott lacht,” “man plans and G-d laughs.” But for us, it is not coming from the same place. It is not that we think that G-d enjoys it when our plans go awry, and that He’s doing it out of some perverse pleasure in our pain. It is that we realize that His plans are greater than ours, and that we are limited human beings who can only do so much.
As we say on Yom Kippur:

מה אנו מה חיינו מה חסדנו מה כוחנו
“What are we? What are our lives? What are our commitments? What is our strength?”

But Hashem, our G-d, He is Rav Chessed ve’Emmet – He speaks and He fulfills His word.

Now, to explain “Rav Emmet.” The Haftarah helps us here as well:

וְהוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת הֶעָרִים וְנִבְנוּ הֶחֳרָבוֹת
I will cause the cities to be settled, the ruins rebuilt (Yechezkel 36:33)

G-d words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if Yerushalayim had been rebuilt within its original boundaries. But that is not what we see. We see hill after hill covered in buildings, miles of them. Hundreds of thousands of people.
G-d promised:

וְהָאָרֶץ הַנְּשַׁמָּה תֵּעָבֵד
This abandoned land will be tilled (36:34)

His words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if the land were simply supporting its population. But we export cut flowers to Holland, and tropical fruit to Italy.

This is what Yaakov Avinu meant when he said, “I am not deserving of all the Emmet that You have done for Your servant – for I crossed the Jordan River with just my walking stick, and now I have grown to two full camps.”

G-d had promised him that He would take care of him. And He did, through very trying times. That promise would have been fulfilled if he had just gotten back safely. When Yaakov looks around at what he was given, he is overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet, of fulfillment.

We also look around, and we are also overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet.
Because that is our G-d, Hashem, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfils. G-d Whose characteristics are Rav Chessed ve’Emmet.

Unfailing devotion, and eternal, overwhelming commitment.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot, Shabbat Parah, Yahrtzeit

In His Ways

(Translation of the D’var Torah that I gave in our shul on 18 Adar 5776, 27 Feb 2016. It was written as a speech, not an essay, and is not actually about the Haftarah.)

This Dvar Torah is in memory my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l, whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday.

There is a Mitzvah in the Torah – “והלכת בדרכיו” – “you should act in His ways”. Chazal explain, “Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful; just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.” The list of these qualities is found in our Parsha, after the Sin of the Golden Calf, when Moshe is in the cleft of the rock, and G-d passes in front of Him and calls out:

” ה’ ה’ אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים, רב חסד ואמת, נוצר חסד לאלפים, וכו’…”
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, with great kindness and truth, remembering kindnesses for thousands of generations, …” (Shemot 34:6-7)

A person who acts in these ways of Hashem, what is he like?

“Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful” – this is understanding that the person before you is not perfect. He doesn’t know everything, he doesn’t control everything, he does not succeed at everything. He wants to do well, to do the right thing, but it doesn’t always work out for him. Because he’s not perfect, and that’s fine. This is mercy.
What is “gracious”(חנון)? Chazal say that this is when one gives free (“חינם”). My father used to say that when someone asks you for help, of course you have to help. But real giving is to help without being asked – to understand what is missing and to find ways to give it. This is “gracious.”

“Slow to anger” is when you understand that because nobody is perfect, and nobody succeeds 100%, then it is possible that if a person fails today, he might succeed tomorrow. Or sometime in the future. (And this is particularly important when dealing with children, and even more so, with teenagers. In the end, they’ll be perfect, don’t worry) – this is “slow to anger”.

“Great kindness” – there are people who are very happy to give to others, but only within their own community, to people who are like them. When it comes to others, who are different … not so much. “Great kindness” is giving to all, regardless of who they are.

“Remembering kindness for thousands of generations” – when my father came to live in Israel, it turned out that we have family all over the country. He would send me regards from, the grandchildren of the cousins of my grandmother… someone whom he had known as a child, and was kind to him then, and now he is in contact with their great-grandchildren.

And so on.

But why is this list of G-d’s qualities, which is the basis of the commandment, “act in His ways”, why is it not in mentioned at Matan Torah at Sinai? Why does G-d only tell Moshe about these qualities after the Sin of the Golden Calf, as if it was “Plan B”? What was “Plan A”?

In the Ten Commandments, it says, ”

“אנכי ה’ אלוקיך…פוקד עון אבות על בנים… לשונאי.. ועושה חסד לאלפים לאוהבי”
“I am Hashem, your G-d.. keeps in mind the sins of the father … for those who hate Me; do kindness for thousands of generations for those who love Me” (Shemot 20:5)

At Matan Torah, at Sinai, we returned to the state of before the Sin of Adam – there was no death, there was no illness, all was clear. And so G-d spoke in black and white – “those who love Me, those who hate Me.” 100%. This was a state like in the Garden of Eden, of perfection. But it did not last. Apparently, it could not last.

When Moshe did not come back on time, the Jewish People said, “this man, Moshe, we do not know what became of him.” They didn’t know! Aharon, also – it’s clear that he really just did not know what to do; he tried to delay them, he told them, “tomorrow”, because he didn’t know.

We are not perfect. We do not know everything. We only see what is in front of us, and no more. We cannot make decisions based on perfect knowledge about what will be tomorrow. We only know what we have today – “one day at a time.”
So, we make mistakes, we are not perfect. And the truth is, that this is sad. It says that when the Jewish People understood this, that they would not be able to survive with G-d treating them as either “those who love Me” or “those who hate Me”, expecting success of 100%, they mourned. They took off the “jewels”, the crowns, as it were, that they received at Matan Torah, that were symbols of their existence in the state of Eden, because it is impossible to live like that. And this is very sad.

So then, G-d showed them that He can be with them without the 100%. That He understands that they do not know everything, do not control everything, do not succeed at everything, and that sometimes, they don’t even know to ask for help.

Just as He is merciful, so you should be merciful. Just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Shabbat Parah – Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

(A translation of the Dvar Torah that I gave in Kinor David on 23 Adar 5775 (3.14.15). It was written as a speech, not an essay)

Today is the yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l. This Dvar Torah is in his memory.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah describes the transition between Exile and Redemption. One of the stages is:

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will place in you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (Yechezkel 36:26)

The prophet does not explain what the “heart of stone” of Exile is, nor what the “heart of flesh” of Redemption might be, nor how this transition is supposed to take place.

Many years ago, my father and I were discussing making Aliya, and he told me that he is afraid to live in Israel. Not because of the security situation, not because of the economic situation. He said like this: if someone betrays you and harms you, if that person is not Jewish, it is upsetting and disappointing. But if another Jew does this to you, it is intolerable. And he was not interested in putting himself into a situation where everyone around you is Jewish and the person who will harm you is a fellow Jew.

To fear that you will be betrayed is to live with a heart of stone. A heart that is defensive, closed, that is always anxious and distrustful. A heart of Exile.

But my father did make Aliyah. And those of you who knew him, can testify to the fact that he did not walk around with “a heart of stone.”

Pirkei Avot says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות
“You should greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” (Avot 1: 15)

That is, even if you are worried, if you are sad, or in pain, that is not a reason to pass that forward, so that everyone who sees your angry face will also become upset. Chazal tell us that even if you are living with a heart of stone, you must make an effort that when you meet another person, you at least don’t ruin his day with your expression. This is a minimum, “sever panim yafot”, a pleasant countenance.

But there is another Mishna in Pirkei Avot, and it says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בשמחה
“You should greet every person with joy.” (Avot 3:12)

And this is a completely different experience. This is, when someone runs into you on the street, you see true joy, not just on the face, but from the heart. “How wonderful to see you! How great it is that you are here, and I am here, and we are here together!” That is a “heart of flesh”, a heart that has nothing to fear, a heart that knows to rejoice. That is Redemption.

But how do we reach this? How do we build a society that supports these kinds of hearts, and doesn’t trample upon them?
The prophet of the Haftarah, Yechezkel, says that it will be G-d who will remove the heart of stone from us, and replace it with a heart of flesh. But what about our role? Can it be that we don’t need to do anything, and G-d will do it all?

There is a general rule that “words of Torah that are limited in one place, are expanded upon in a different place” – it doesn’t say what we must do in Yechezkel, but it does say it in Zechariah. Zechariah chapter 8 also talks about the transition between Exile and Redemption, and here, G-d tells us precisely what we are supposed to do:

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּ – דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם: וְאִישׁ אֶת רָעַת רֵעֵהוּ אַל תַּחְשְׁבוּ בִּלְבַבְכֶם
“This is what you must do: speak truth to each other. Judge with truth and justice in your courts. Do not plan evil to each other in your hearts.” (Zechariah 8:16)

This is exactly what my father said: if a Jew undermines another Jew, if he “plans evil in his heart”, to harm him and betray him, it is intolerable. If society accepts it as a norm, then it is not Redemption.

But the truth is, our society here in Israel – which perhaps is not as refined as it ought to be, and still has much to improve – this is not part of our culture here. Even now, with the upcoming elections, the advertisements are all about how this party does not do enough for this segment of the population and that party should do more for that segment. Because we actually do want everyone to do well.

And this is why my father truly enjoyed his ten years here in Israel, years of Redemption, the opportunity to greet every person with joy.

Now that we are entering the month of Nissan, which is the season of Redemption and national joy, and also our family is entering the joyful time of the Bat Mitzvah of the first granddaughter born to Dedushka in Israel, I wish all of us that we will succeed to continue and build a society of joy, a community of joy, and continue to share many joyful times together.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Filed under Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot, Yahrtzeit

Ki Tisa – Life and Death

It is a D’var Torah that was given on the occasion of the yahrtzeit of my father, z”l, and of the fathers of two other members of our shul. It was written to be a speech, not an article. The sources are paraphrased as needed. It is not strictly related to the Haftarah.

Shabbat Shalom. This D’var Torah is dedicated to the memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, the memory of Shaul’s Galek’s father, Chaim ben Shaul and Zelda, and the memory of Ziva Feigenbaum’s father, Dov Ber ben Zorach Yaakov.

I’ll start with a truly depressing verse from Kohelet:

כִּי הַחַיִּים יוֹדְעִים שֶׁיָּמֻתוּ וְהַמֵּתִים אֵינָם יוֹדְעִים מְאוּמָה וְאֵין עוֹד לָהֶם שָׂכָר כִּי נִשְׁכַּח זִכְרָם:
“For the living know that they will die, the dead know nothing, and there is no reward for them, for their memory has been forgotten” (Kohelet 9:5)

There is a Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah (9) on this verse:

R’ Chiya and R’ Yonatan were at a funeral. R’ Chiya saw that R’ Yonatan had his tzitzis out, and told him to cover them as it is rude to the denizens of the cemetery, it hurts their feelings. (In fact, that is the Halacha, not to wear tzitzis out in a cemetery). R’ Yonatan said to him, “Rebbe, but doesn’t it say, ‘the dead know nothing?” R’ Chiya answered, “You might know Mikra, text, but you don’t know Midrash! (and apparently, Kohelet must be studied with Midrash…)  ‘For the living know that they will die: those are the righteous, that even in their death are called ‘living’; ‘the dead know nothing’: those are the evildoers,  that even in their lives are called ‘dead’. How do we know that the righteous are called living, even in their death? As it says, in Parshat Ki Tisa – at that difficult time after the Sin of the Golden Calf, but before G-d actually forgave them:

G-d said to Moshe, “Go, go up from here, you and the people that I brought up from Egypt, to the land about which I swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, to tell them, to their descendants I will give it.” (Shemot 33:1)

G-d said to Moshe regarding the promise, “to tell them”, as if he is supposed to go now to the Avot and tell them that G-d is now fulfilling the promise. As if they’re still alive and he could talk to them.  From this, R’ Chiya derives that tzaddikim, the righteous, are considered living even when they’re dead.

But in what sense are the considered living? In reality, they are dead, they are gone. Moshe cannot actually go talk to the Avot…

Another Midrash: (Taanit 5b)

R’ Yochanan said: “Yaakov Avinu is not dead.”. They said to him, “What do you mean, not dead? They had a funeral, they eulogized him, they buried him?!” He said, “I derive this from the Mikra, the text, from a verse in Yirmeyahu that says: “Do not fear, Yaakov … I will rescue you from afar and your descendants from captivity” (Yirmiyahu 30)  – it identifies his descendants with him: just as the descendants are living, so too, he is living.”

We have already determined what “living” is: the righteous are called living even in their death. “His descendants are living” equals “his descendants are righteous”, that is, his descendants follow his ways, and continue in his path.

So Avraham Avinu is not dead, because each one of his descendants that does Chessed and welcomes people into their home continues the path of Avraham Avinu; thus Avraham Avinu is not dead.

Yitzchak Avinu is not dead, because each one of us that plants something here in the Land of Israel continues the path of Yitzchak Avinu.

Yaakov Avinu is not dead because each one of us that has a dream and a destiny, and is willing to struggle to achieve it, continues the path of Yaakov Avinu. Thus, Yaakov Avinu is not dead.

As long as his descendants are living, he, too is living.

In Parshat Ki Tisa, when Moshe is told about the Sin of the Golden Calf, and G-d says to him, “Leave Me alone, and I will wipe them out”, Moshe tries to convince G-d not to destroy the Jewish People. He says: “Remember what You promised to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, Your servants, that You swore to them” (Shemot 32:13).

Now, this argument, that if G-d destroys the Jewish People, He will not be able to fulfill His promise, what kind of argument is it? What information does it add? G-d couldn’t think of this on His own? He was like, “Oh, yeah, right, I promised…”  ?!

What G-d meant was as follows: If the Jewish People do not continue in the path of the Avot, then they are not living, they are dead. And like it says in Kohelet, “the dead know nothing”. The promise does not apply to them. It is over. To this, Moshe argues, “No, that is not so!”

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 44) on this verse compares Israel to a grapevine. In the winter, the grapevine looks utterly dead. Dry pieces of wood, with no signs of life. But then the spring comes, and the grapevine begins to bud and to blossom with new branches. They draw their strength from what had appeared dead but was actually the source of life.

Moshe Rabbeinu said to G-d: “It is true, at this moment everything looks dead and lost. But the strength of the Avot is found within us – they are not dead, they are living! That is, unless G-d destroys the Jewish People, in which case there really will not be any continuation for Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and then the promise is indeed void. But as long as the Jewish People exist, there is hope!”  And G-d accepted his argument …

As long as there are descendants who continue the path of their fathers, they are not dead, they are called, “living”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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