May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

As I spent so much family time together with my children over this past Pesach, it afforded me time to just stop, watch them play and just be children without the hustle and bustle of the normal crazy schedule. It was something that was a real treat for me as it was for many of you. One particular moment that was truly a pleasure was toward the end of Yom Tov as Pesach supplies were running low. My 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter had an ice pop and of course my 6-year-old wanted it, and in a very expressive way. My 3-year-old didn’t hesitate to take the ices out of her mouth and was about to give it to her brother… before I intervened. I was trying to think about how she learned to share like that and how I can be mechanech my other children and students to share the way she did.

Since this happened on Pesach, it got me thinking about an idea I saw in the name of Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinowitz, also known as the Yid Hakadosh (1766-1813), regarding when Hashem told the Jewish people to borrow gold and silver vessels from their “friends” as they were exiting Mitzrayim (Shemot 11:2). Rav Rabinowitz asks, “How can Hashem call the Egyptians ‘friends’—they enslaved, tortured and killed them for hundreds of years?” Rav Rabinowitz re-reads the posuk as the Jews should borrow from their “friend,” the Jew. They should each borrow from each other, then see if anyone needs anything to ensure they all have money, now that they have all come into wealth from utter poverty. In order to create the Jewish nation, it has to be based on care and concern for our fellow Jew, with a focus to making sure to share our gold, silver or ices.

This is obviously a challenge for all of us—to constantly look around and see if we can be of help to another person. Ramban (Vayikra 19:17) says that life is always a balance of two opposing concepts, V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, in which I need to love and possibly provide for every Jew, and the concept of chayecha kodmin, that my needs need to come before someone else’s needs (Bava Metzia 85). For some of us, it is easier to focus on our needs, and for some it is easier to focus on others’ needs. For our children and students, we need to sensitize them to this struggle. Just singing the famous “V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha” song and making the mitzvah as simple as just giving your toys to another child who wants them robs the child of the growth process of recognizing and naming the struggle of not wanting to necessarily share the toy, but in the end doing so anyway. We need to speak to our children and students, and when they hesitate, ask them why they don’t want to share their toys, and hear their feelings. However, ultimately the lesson needs to be to them that while it might be hard to share, it is the right thing to do because it is what Hashem wants us to do.

So much of our growth as Jews is recognizing that we are not robots or angels; we are better, we struggle to do what is right and we grow from the struggle. This is one of the lessons of Sefirat Haomer: the Ramban famously tells us that Shavuot does not have a date because it is the “Atzeret” of Pesach and a direct connection from leaving Mitzrayim to the fulfillment of our destiny as the Jewish people to receive the Torah. We couldn’t just walk out of Mitzrayim and stroll right up to Har Sinai; we needed to slowly work on ourselves over the next 49 days and do some introspection about who we are, where we are going as individuals and as a people, and then we would be able to receive the Torah. After this 49-day period was finally over and they had all become spiritually enlightened, the Torah describes their exalted state in one way: “Vayichan sham k’neged hahar.” Rashi famously tells us that “vayichan” is singular because they were finally ready to receive the Torah because they were of singular heart and soul. This process of unity began as they left Egypt, when Hashem told them to make sure they each had what they needed. Only then could they achieve their national destiny.

Just last week, my students gave me a detailed list of how each of their teachers speak and the style of words they use. The children are always watching; they watch and hear how we speak, what we do with our possessions and money, and more importantly, with what kind of attitude do we share our possessions. Just recently someone knocked on my door collecting money and I offered the person a cup of water. My daughter then asked me why all the people who come to our door are always thirsty, as my wife and I always try to offer them a drink if they are walking around from door to door.

During this period of Sefirat Haomer, of course we need to work on our Torah learning, as it is the holiday of receiving the Torah; however, we also need to work on what led us to becoming a nation, and that is sharing our ices with our neighbors. And hopefully, if our children see us sharing our ices despite the struggle, they will also share their ices.

By Rabbi Shimon Schenker

Rabbi Shimon Schenker is the associate principal at YUHSB/MTA.

 

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