April 17, 2024
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Our Legacy to Our Jewish Future: A Zoom Miracle

It was a beautiful conclusion to a great Torah learning session. It seemed as if Hashem said, “The rabbi did his part, the students did theirs, and now I will participate as well.”

Amid a deep dive into Sefer Daniel with my Torah Academy of Bergen County students, we focused on Chanania, Mishael and Azariah’s refusal to bow to Nevuchadnetzar’s giant golden statue. The students noted the parallels between this event, Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman, and Avraham Avinu’s rebuffing Nimrod’s demand he bow to fire. In each case, a threat of death emerged, and a miracle ensued to save our Jewish heroes.

Also, in each of these cases, there were family members who caved to the pressure. Avraham’s brother Haran was willing to bow to the fire if Nimrod emerged as the victor, most Jews bowed to Nevuchadnetzar’s statue (Megillah 12a), and one gets the impression that Mordechai stands out as one of the few Jews who refuse to bow to Haman.

What gave Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah the courage to stand apart from their fellow Jews and courageously defy Nevuchadnetzar’s demands, despite the threat of being cast into a fiery furnace? Why did they not rationalize saving themselves, reasoning, as other Jews did, that they had no intentions to serve Nevuchadnetzar’s statue? The question becomes even more poignant according to Rabbeinu Tam, who argues that Nevuchadnetzar’s figure was not, technically speaking, idolatrous (Tosafot, Ketubot 33b s.v. Ilmaleh).

We answered that the precedent of Avraham Avinu refusing Nimrod’s demand gave them the courage to defy Nevuchadnetzar. We added that Chanania, Mishael and Azariah were also mindful of the impact their actions would have on future generations. They felt that just as Avraham Avinu set an example for us to steadfastly avoid renouncing faith even when threatened with a gruesome death, so too we must set an example for future generations to do the same. A few generations later, Mordechai drew strength from Chanania, Mishael and Azariah’s bold actions and followed in their glorious path.

This mindset is reminiscent of Choni HaMa’ageil’s famous encounter with an elderly gentleman planting a carob tree (Ta’anit 21a). Choni asked why he plants something from which he will not benefit. The older man responded that just as his grandparents planted carob trees for him, so too he will plant carob trees for his grandchildren. Chanania, Mishael and Azariah similarly drew strength from the past and realized they must follow suit and set a good example for future generations.

I asked the students to consider the excellent example of fidelity to Torah ideals set by their parents and grandparents. I then asked them to consider how they will serve as role models for their children and grandchildren. I asked them to ponder the “spiritual carob trees” they will plant for their future.

At that point I specified one student, both of whose grandparents survived the Holocaust and remained entirely loyal to Torah observance. I extolled the greatness of his survivor grandparents, who maintained their loyalty to Hashem and Torah despite the extreme horrors they endured.

To everyone’s shock, the moment after we mentioned the student’s grandparents, they arrived at the student’s door for a socially distanced visit. The students excitedly exclaimed that they had witnessed the intervention of Hashem’s subtle hand. Perfect timing, they noted, is a typical divine “fingerprint.”

As to whether this was indeed a Zoom miracle, I leave to our readers to decide. However, if the students are correct in their assessment, why would Hashem join at that particular moment? I believe it is because the lesson expresses our core challenge. Each Jew must reflect on the spiritual legacy bequeathed to him by his ancestors. In turn, he must honestly assess the quality of his spiritual legacy for his descendants.

We refer to Hashem in the Amida as “Elokeinu V’Elokei Avoteinu,” our God and the God of our Fathers. In the words of Rashi (Shemot 15:2), we are not the first to observe the Torah; we follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. It is an awesome responsibility to serve as worthy successors to our predecessors, and it is a sobering thought process to consider what we must leave for the future.

Hashem seems to have orchestrated a magnificent Zoom moment to inspire us to consider the beauty of Jewish life. We are not orphans in history. We are firmly entrenched not only in the fleeting present, but we expand to our glorious past and promising future. Indeed, a Zoom miracle communicating the secret of Jewish eternity.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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