Friday, January 16, 2009

MOURNING A LOST YOUTH

This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated to the blessed memory of my good friend and colleague, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, z"l, of Portland, Oregon, who died last week in Mexico.

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin HaKohen Melman

How many endless ours we spend before the mirror, examining each new wrinkle, each new gray hair, each new sign of aging. Even as we gaze into the mirror new wrinkles are forming. In fact the very act of looking seems to affect the process, proof positive of the veracity of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in everyday life, dictating the effect that the act of observation itself has on measurable reality. We are all observed. In fact today when you walk around any large city you are photographed several hundred times a day, without even knowing it consciously. But how does that knowledge on the subconscious level change us?

Even as Pharoah's daughter was pulling out Moses from the river's edge, she herself was being observed. And that very act of observation altered human history and destiny for all time. Peering out from her hidden fastness, Miriam quickly surmised the situation, and offered her mother's much needed services as wet nurse.

So all the while Moses was raised in the Pharaoh's palace, suddenly thrust into history as heir to the the throne of mastery of all the earth's riches, he was privy to a secret history as heir to the spiritual riches of the Abrahamic Covenant. Little Baby Moses floated ensconced in the protective walls of his mini-ark. Indeed, the word "teyva" is used both in Moses' salvation narrative as well as in Noah's (mankind's).

As Noah's epic journey proffered hope for a redeemed mankind, so too was Moses' journey a harbinger of redemption for the Jewish people suffering in the grip of bondage. Just as "teyva" suggests a rudderless vessel, guided solely by Providence, both Noah's and Moses' journeys were determined by a Divinely empowered wisdom.

Moses is found in the rushes. But the wording is curious:
It says: "(Gen2:6) vatiftach vatireyhu et *hayeled* vehinei *naar* bocheh....opening (the box) she saw the boy and behold the youth (naar) began to cry..."

What does this mean? How could Moses be both a child and a youth at one and the sametime? On one level, because of the use of the word "naar" it could suggest not Moses' crying, but that of Ishmael. Ishmael was the first to be called a "naar." Tradition teaches it was Ishmael who was the unnamed youth assigned to help provide hospitality to Abraham's three visitors (Gen 18:7).

More specifically, Ishmael is explicitlyreferenced as the "naar" in the Hagar banishment narrative (Gen 21:14-18). Interestingly, in this same narrative we see similarly the use of both "yeled" and "naar" (child and youth) to describe the same person (he was a naar in age, but still a yeled to his mother), the same juxtaposition as used concerning Moses.

Perhaps Ishmael was looking on from the great beyond. Perhaps it was Ishmael who now was crying, as he was naturally born from an Egyptian woman (Hagar), while Moses was about to be adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. Ishmael is perhaps wondering why *he* wasn't elected by history for this redemptive role?

While *his* life was spared *physically* by the suddenly appearing well of water, it was Moses, rather,who, nurtured by the foresight and awareness of Miriam, who herself is keenly associated with the wellsprings metaphor, was spared spiritually. Birth relates to the physical, as the adoptive relationship relates to the spiritual.

But on an even deeper level, it was Moses perhaps who was weeping; not Moses the child, but Moses the youth (vehinei naar bocheh). Moses the child,*knew* as a child, a pure and rarified existence as a Hebrew. Similarly, the*man* Moses knew a pure Hebraic identity as a Hebrew in his latter years. But throughout his entire youth (naar), his Hebrew identity needed remain hidden. For this his youth was crying. But while even his childhood was spent in hiding so as not to be murdered, his youth phase never allowed for any Hebrew expression whatsoever.

Similarly, our own soul yearns to be Jewish. Lacking any means of outward Jewish expression, it cries out so that we hear its pain. A Jewish soul is meant to find outward expression through its assignation to a Jewish body. Devoid of such expression, it remains in deep pain until we learn to manifest our deepest Jewish soul essence.

By attaching ourselves to the holiness which inheres in the Sabbath, through living a life immersed in the study and fulfillment of the Torah's many layers of precepts and meaning, in short, through becoming Torah, our soul gains the nourishment it needs to fulfill its earthly destiny. And while we may stare long stares in the mirror, longing for a possibly misspent youth, how much worse is a possibly misspent soul!

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos!

© 2000-2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me. I was born on the first day chol hamoed Sukkos, which is also the yahrzeit of both Rebbe Nachman and the Vilna Gaon.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!