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Lev Avos Blog

Exploring Tanach while reflecting on parenthood

Seeing the Light

Yechiel Shaffer

When Moshe was born, he was good. 

When his mama looked at him, she saw his radiance. 

For the longest time, the Pharoah was stuck. He was miraculously hard-hearted. He was in too deep. He could see no way out.

Until the plague of darkness. 

The Plague of Darkness

Exodus 10:24

וַיִּקְרָ֨א פַרְעֹ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לְכוּ֙ עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה רַ֛ק צֹאנְכֶ֥ם וּבְקַרְכֶ֖ם יֻצָּ֑ג גַּֽם־טַפְּכֶ֖ם יֵלֵ֥ךְ עִמָּכֶֽם
Pharaoh then summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the LORD! Only your flocks and your herds shall be left behind; even your children may go with you.”

Why, the Kli Yakar wants to know, does Pharoah only call Moshe to get rid of darkness? 

Because the Pharoah is stuck, and there is only one person that has ever brought light to this world. He finally begins to unstick himself (be it, too late) by noticing what Moshe's mother noticed in the first moments of Moshe's life. 

A new mama looks at their child and sees their light.

How long will it take for us to see our own light?

The Wood We Carry

Yechiel Shaffer

As we live through another Rosh Hashanah, and read of Avraham taking his son to the top of a mountain to sacrifice him, maybe this was an opportunity to reflect upon the time's parents make their child do something they don't want to. While the Akeidah is an obvious extreme, and Yitzchak certainly seems to be a willing participant, nevertheless it is worthwhile considering how disconnected Avraham and Yitzchak seem from each other following the Akeidah. The Pesukim fail to mention Yitzchak's descent from the mountain, only pointing out that Avraham returned to Be'er Sheva. 

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk focuses in on one detail that is easily missed. In the description offered of all the equipment Avraham brings with him on this three-day journey, we are told he also brings along wood. Why? There surely would be wood available within the vicinity of his destination? 

Rabbi Elimelech wisely reminds us of the impossible challenge Avraham faced in the Akeidah and perhaps, the opportunity to go and search for wood may have been the perfect distraction from following through on the instructions from God. Avraham from the very beginning of his journey is committed to the instructions of God and therefore brings the wood with him. 

As we each journey to our destination, it may be worth considering the words of the Rebbe Elimelech, and gather our wood at the beginning of this trip.

When the time comes, we don't want to have to then begin gathering wood!

21 Days

Yechiel Shaffer

There are 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av.

This number is the same number of days of special holidays (yomim Tovim, Rosh Chodesh, Rosh Hashanah etc...). The first parsha we read in these three weeks of mourning is Parshas Pinchas which contains a detailed description of these very holidays. 

What at is the connection between the 3 weeks of mourning and 3 weeks of celebration? 

The Zohar says something which we intuitively know: light is most effective when in a dark room. A candle is far more effective at creating light during the night then during the day. 

It is difficult to recognize sanctity in the brightness of day. It is difficult to see G-d when all is good in the world.

We live comfortably as Jews in the 21st Century - we are free to worship, to debate, to fight for Israel, to eat kosher and keep shabbos. We attend the best colleges, we are supreme court justices, and win nobel prizes. We can enter almost any profession, run for President, and become CEOs. America has been kind to us over the last 50 years.

Even with all of the terrible terrorist attacks and the discussion in a rise in anti-semitism, we have never lived in a more prosperous and safe time.

The threat is real, but our day-to-day American lives is safe and comfortable. This can make it more difficult to recognize G-d's blessings.

The Chagim and three weeks go hand in hand. 

A Jew without joy is not a jew - a Jew without an 'oy' is also not a Jew.

Let's live balanced, thoughtful, G-d-filled lives.

Michael J. Fox vs. Bila'am

Yechiel Shaffer

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, July 17, 2016. Special guest Michael J. Fox on guitar.

As we are in the throws of campaign season, we read about Balak's attempt to solidify his political power. 

He hires Bila'am to curse the Jews. They cannot be defeated with just physical might (see here (Hebrew) & here (English) for more on this). Balak needs Bila'am 'the curser' for his skill to use words in defeating an enemy. 

And yet we see Bila'am saying to his donkey: 

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם לָאָתוֹן כִּי הִתְעַלַּלְתְּ בִּי לוּ יֶשׁ חֶרֶב בְּיָדִי כִּי עַתָּה הֲרַגְתִּיךְ

Balaam said to the she-donkey, "For you have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now."

Bila'am, the most skilled orator of his generation, the most powerful 'curser' of his time, was incapable of pronouncing a curse against his donkey. He could only cause physical harm if he had a sword in hand. 

We can only recognize our talents, and thus use them, when we have a clear mind and when we have a self-awareness of who we are. Bila'am in a moment of anger forgets his skill as a 'cursor' and threatens death by physical violence. 

Michael J. Fox, in his well-publicized fight against Parkinson's Disease (donate here), represents so much for the generation that grew up in the 80s. With inspiring self-awareness, he has not shied away from the spotlight. He uses his incredible talents, to elicit a powerful emotion. He is aware of his limitations, he is in touch with the impact of his disease, and yet understands he has so much to contribute.

As Bila'am, this week, identifies the core principles of the Jewish people, as he perceives them (see here), it is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves that we are a good people. We are generous and kind. We love humanity and are all working towards the same goal: To bring more Godliness into this world. 

Noah's Exit Strategy

Yechiel Shaffer

We are told off-the-bat that Noah is different than all the rest. He is a source of pleasantness for G-d at a time where spiritual connectivity is at an all-time low.

We are not told what Noah has done to achieve this status and the cynics among us would say that Noah didn't have to do very much because society was so corrupt - all he had to do was keep his head above the turbulent waters of debauchery and he was noticeable.

Rabbi Ya'akov Kaminetsky, in his extraordinary commentary to the Torah, Emes LeYaakov, draws our attention to an interesting detail of the Noah story. It took Noah 120 years to build his ark. In a passing comment, R' Ya'akov says that at the beginning of the flood Noah's oldest son was 100 years old. At this point we have to pause and reflect on a couple of interesting ideas:

1. Noah didn't have any children before he built the ark

2. Noah waited to start a family until he was 20 years into the building of the ark

3. Noah's children only knew a world that was condemned to be destroyed

These three thoughts offer some interesting opportunity to reflect.

Perhaps Noah doesn't start his family until he knows how his world will be repaired. In a world that is void of hope, it is near impossible to start a family. Once Noah is building the ark, it becomes the moment where it seems obvious to him to begin his family. He can have a family only when he has an exit strategy.

As Noah was keeping his head above water, his commitment to the future, having children in the face of destruction, perhaps is the most G-d like action. In the face of destruction, Noah creates life.