שבת טעם החיים תזריע-החדש תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Tazria-HaChodesh 5771
Seeds for our own future
דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר וטמאה שבעת ימים כימי נדת דותה תטמא, speak to the Children of Israel, saying: When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be contaminated for a seven-day period, as during the days of her separation infirmity shall she be contaminated. (Vayikra 12:2)
In this week’s parasha it is said (Vayikra 12:2) דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר וטמאה שבעת ימים כימי נדת דותה תטמא, speak to the Children of Israel, saying: When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be contaminated for a seven-day period, as during the days of her separation infirmity shall she be contaminated. The word תזריע is translated as conceived. However, the literal meaning is “when she produces a seed” (see Ibn Ezra). Why does the Torah refer to the conception of child in this manner?
Recently our community in Michigan lost a very special person, Mr. Paul Kohn z”l, Reb Moshe Eliyahu ben Reb Elyakim HaKohen. At the funeral people talked about the verse that states (Koheles 7:1)טוב שם משמן טוב ויום המות מיום הולדו, a good name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of birth. This is a very strange concept. How can the day that someone dies be better than the day that he was born? While after death we can applaud a person’s lifetime accomplishments, would not one rather hear about a newborn child than to be informed regarding a person’s death? The Medrash (Koheles Rabbah 7:4) informs us that we have a skewed perspective on life and death. The Medrash states that when a person is born, people begin counting towards his death, whereas when he dies, they begin counting towards life. When a person is born, all are joyous, whereas when a person dies, everyone cries. However, it should not be this way, as when a person is born, people should not rejoice, because they do not know how the person will act in the future. Will he be righteous or wicked, good or evil? Once a person dies, however, they are required to rejoice, because the person passed away with a good name and he left the world peacefully. This idea can be compared to two ships that set out to sea. One is departing from the harbor and the other ship is entering the harbor. Everyone rejoices for the ship that is departing from the harbor and no one rejoiced for the ship entering the harbor. A wise person declared, “I see here the opposite from what you see. There is no reason to rejoice for the ship that has exited from the harbor, as we do not yet know how many seas the ship will pass through and how many stormy winds the ship will encounter. We should rejoice, however, for the ship that has already entered the port, as the ship has arrived peacefully.” In a similar vein, when a person dies, people should rejoice and offer praise as the person passed away with a good name and in peace. For this reason Shlomo declared that the day of death is better than the day of birth.
How are we to understand this puzzling Medrash. Is the wise man really correct? Should we go to a funeral with joy, knowing that the person has left the world with a good name and in peace? The next verse in Koheles seems to support this approach, as it is said (Ibid verse 2) טוב ללכת אל בית אבל מלכת אל בית משתה באשר הוא סוף כל האדם והחי יתן אל לבו, it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of all man, and the living shall take to heart. Yet, I have never been to a funeral that exhibited a five-piece band and dancing and food. Are we, by mourning and crying over the loss of a departed one, possibly going against the dictums of Shlomo HaMelech and our Sages?
I believe that the verse in this week’s parasha provides us with the solution to this enigma. “When a woman produces a seed.” Why is an unborn child referred to as a seed? The Maharal explains that the reason that we bury a dead person in the ground is because one places valuable items in the ground for safekeeping. A burial site is referred to as a קבר because the dead person is being safeguarded for the Resurrection of the Dead. Similarly, a woman’s womb is also referred to as a קבר because a fetus in its mother’s womb is being safeguarded so that the child will be born healthy. When one wishes to plant grain or a tree, he places a seed in the ground. The seed decomposes and eventually becomes a tree or grain. In a similar vein, the seed in the mother’s womb eventually becomes a person. Nonetheless, the Medrash teaches us that we cannot know at the time of birth if the child will be productive or not. We must wait until the person dies to determine the results. If this is the case, then, why do we rejoice upon birth and cry over death? The answer to this question is that we are anticipating good results, so we rejoice when a child is born. When a person dies, we know that it is impossible for a person to have accomplished everything that was required of him, so we lament for the person who is now lacking the ability to accomplish more. We, however, who remain alive, must rejoice that we are still alive and we can continue to accomplish great things. As the Medrash states, when a person dies, we begin to count towards life. In the literal sense this refers to the days until the dead are resurrected. In a deeper sense, however, this alludes to the life of those who are still alive, as by observing the death of another, we contemplate what we can still accomplish while we are alive.
We can now understand why the Torah states “when she produces a seed.” A soon to be born child is like the person who has just died. Just as a seed grows into grain or a tree, the person grows and accomplishes as much as he can during his lifetime. Even after he dies, however, he leaves over hope for those who are alive that they can be inspired to accomplish more. For this reason the unborn child is like a seed, as he is safeguarded for the future, which is after death, when the living become inspired and truly begin to live.
I knew Paul Kohn z”l for over ten years, and I can honestly say that his smile still inspires me until today. Every time I saw Paul he had a smile for me and for whoever he encountered. His acts of kindness and charity were legendary, and his cheer and smile even greater. His family should know no more suffering, and we should all be inspired by his passing. While we cannot literally rejoice upon ones passing, we should at least recognize his accomplishments and be inspired to continue where he left off, in selfless acts of kindness and in bringing cheer to others. Hashem should allow us all to merit the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu and the Resurrection of the dead, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in Action NEW!
Ok, so I waited all week for my email inbox to be filled up with suggestions of how we can enhance our Shabbos observance, and to my great disappointment, I did not receive one email. That’s ok, I said, I will try again. When I write my Shabbos Page and deliver it in the Michigan community, I always say that this is לכבוד שבת קדש, for the honor of the Holy Shabbos. We can recite this for every action that we perform that brings us closer to Shabbos. Please submit your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will print them in next week’s issue of Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim. I wish you a wonderful Shabbos. Good Shabbos.
Amazing Hashavas Avediah
A friend of mine from Oak Park, MI, recently told me an amazing story that happened with him. This man’s brother was visiting from a different country and was driving down Ten Mile Road when he saw something on the road. He stopped his car and discovered a Tallis bag on the road. Later, he met another Jew who told him that he would try to ascertain who the owner was. The visiting person decided that he would rather ask his brother about it. The man who found the Tallis bag brought it home and showed it to his brother’s wife. He was wondering, however, how anyone would be able to identify the bag, as there was no name on it. When his brother’s wife saw the bag, she exclaimed, “that’s my husband’s Tallis bag.” It turns out that her husband had taken his Tallis bag out of the car and placed it on the roof of the car and he forgot it there. When he began to drive, the Tallis bag fell off the roof and landed on Ten Mile Road. Now, here’s what is so amazing about this story. If the man’s brother had given the Tallis bag to the other Jew, it is very unlikely that it would have been returned, because there was no name on the bag. HaShem in His infinite kindness allowed for the man’s brother to decide that he should ask his brother about the owner’s identity, and the rest, as they say, is history. (I would just like to add that from this story we learn the importance of having our name inscribed on all our items, as we can never know when something we own may get lost.)
A Flame Ablaze
In 1990, Hungary slipped out of the clutches of Communist dictatorship. People were free as they had not been since 1956 when Russia first invaded Hungary, and now for the first time in three decades, people were at liberty to make choices regarding the schooling of their children.
It was at that time that Mr. Albert Reichmann of Toronto and Mr. David Moskowitz of Brooklyn decided to start a religious school in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. They invited Mr. Michael Cohen of London, who had served for more than twenty years in numerous educational capacities in England, to come to Hungary and help organize the school.
Mr. Cohen readily agreed and traveled to Budapest. There he placed ads in several newspapers announcing the formation of a new religious school. Mr. Reichmann and Mr. Moskowitz asked Mr. Cohen how many children he expected to register for the school. He replied that according to what he heard in the streets and the interest that he thought the ads had generated, he was sure they would have at least 50 children. Based on that estimate, they rented a few rooms to house the school.
On the first day of school, 450 children and their parents came to register! Mr. Cohen and his teaching staff were shocked! The crowd was nine times greater than they had expected. How was it that so many parents with no religious upbringing had such an avid interest in the new school? What compelled these people to yearn suddenly for their children to have a religious education?
Immediately, calls were made to Israel, America, and England to recruit teachers for the classes, which had to begin almost at once. After a few weeks of frantic juggling of students, schedules, and study courses, a semblance of order was achieved and the school day took on a regular rhythm.
A few weeks later, Mr. Cohen extended an invitation to a group of parents to join him one evening at the school for a discussion. He wanted to probe their reactions and reflections on the new school, and hear their suggestions as to how they and their children could best be served.
The following week, ten sets of parents met with Mr. Cohen in the fourth-grade classroom. Mr. Cohen opened the meeting with a talk about the education of the children and the proficiency of the teachers. Then he posed the question that intrigued him more than anything else. “Tell me,” he said to all of the parents, “why did you send your children to this school? Why, after so many years of not having any religious education, did all of you want to enroll your children here?”
The parents were a bit surprised at the question but were willing to talk about it openly. “I remember,” began one father, “that as a very young child, I went to a cheder (a Jewish school), and so I wanted my child to go to one as well.”
A mother explained that she and her husband were not satisfied with the municipal school in their neighborhood and they thought the yeshivah would give their child more of a challenge. A third parent spoke of a return to “Jewish roots.” They went around the room, and almost every parent offered some sort of explanation — but there was one man who had not spoken at all. Mr. Cohen looked around the room, and then, turning to the fellow, he said, “Sir, you have not told us anything. Isn’t there a reason you chose to send your child here?”
Seeming embarrassed and looking downward, the man said, “Yes, there is a reason that I brought my child here, but it is difficult for me to talk about it.”
“I am sure that it is,” said Mr. Cohen sympathetically, “but I have the feeling that we all might learn something from what you can tell us.”
The man thought for a moment and then said softly, “I will try.”
Somewhat subdued, the gentleman began reliving and retelling the event that would never be forgotten by anyone who was fortunate enough to hear it.
He began. “The Germans occupied Hungary in 1944. They knew that the war was almost over for them, but in their savage obsession to kill as many Jews as possible, they rounded up as many of us as they could to send off to Auschwitz. All Hungarian Jews were terrified.
“One night I heard my parents arguing frantically. I was listening from my bedroom upstairs and I came down to hear what they were saying, but the door to the living room was locked, and so all I could do was look through the keyhole and watch.
“My father was extremely agitated. He said to my mother, ‘What are you so worried about? No one knows we are Jewish. We don’t look Jewish. We don’t act Jewish. We don’t have any Jewish friends, and there is nothing Jewish in this house. Why would the Nazis even think of coming here?’
“My mother protested. ‘How can you be sure that no one knows we are Jewish? Maybe there is a list somewhere. Maybe someone knows the truth about us and will turn us in to save his own skin?’
“My father dismissed her argument. He said, ‘Even if they did come here, they could not prove we were Jewish. There is nothing in this house that … ‘ Then he stopped talking in mid-sentence. His eyes had been darting around the room, and now, suddenly startled, he pointed to the highest shelf in the bookcase. My mother turned slowly, and then she saw what he was pointing to. It was a siddur (a prayer book), the siddur that her mother had given her on her wedding day. It was the same siddur her mother’s mother had given her mother on the day she was married.
“My mother took the siddur from the shelf and leafed through it with great emotion. My heart was pumping rapidly, for she was standing right next to a fireplace with a burning fire. I didn’t want to believe what I thought could happen, but she suddenly turned to my father and said emphatically, ‘You’re right! What do we need this for!’ And with that she threw the siddur into the fire, and it was consumed in the flames.
“I was horrified. I ran upstairs, threw myself onto my bed, and cried as I had never cried before. I cried for more than an hour; for although we had no Jewish friends and had never acted Jewish, I knew in my heart that my mother had done something terribly wrong.”
The gentleman paused for a moment as he relived the pain of his past. “All these years, I could see those pages burning — so when I finally heard that you were going to open up a religious school, I knew that I had to bring my child to you… because here I could give my child a siddur!” (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Tazria-HaChodesh 5771
is sponsored in loving memory of our dear son-in-law, Mr. Paul Kohn,ר’ משה אליהו בן ר’ אליקים הכהן ז”ל. You left a void in your family and in your town.
Mr. and Mrs. Manny Mittelman
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Good Chodesh
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
For sponsorships and subscriptions, please email Shabbostaamhachaim@gmail.com
or call 248-506-0363
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