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ב"ה

NUCLEAR LOVE

Thursday, 10 February, 2022 - 4:52 pm

In the 1970s, a Russian school inspector is questioning the children. He points to one of the boys and says, "Who is your father?"

The boy replies, "The Soviet Union."

He then asks, "Who is your mother?"

"The communist party," came the reply.

"And what do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be a dedicated worker for the glory of the state and the communist party."

The inspector then points to one of the girls and asks, "Who is your father?"

The girl answers, "The Soviet Union."

"Who is your mother?" -- "The communist party."

"And what do you want to be when you grow up?"

"A heroine of the Soviet Union raising lots of children for the state and party."

The inspector looks around and sees a Jewish boy tucked away at the back trying to look inconspicuous. He points and says, "What's your name?"

The boy replies, "Mendel Abramovitch."

"Who is your father?"

"The Soviet Union."

"Who is your mother?"

"The communist party."

"And what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Mendel replies, "An orphan.”

It is G-d’s Torah, yet we call it the “Five Books of Moses,” for the Torah was taught and transmitted through him, and it constituted Moses’ very identity.

Given the centrality of Moses’ role in the transmission of the Torah to humanity, it comes as no surprise that his name is mentioned, often as much as several dozen times, in every single portion in the Torah, that is, but one. This is this week’s parasha of Tetzaveh in which the word “Moses” does not appear. Why?

In his commentary on Torah, the Baal HaTurim explains this omission to be as a result of Moses telling G-d after the Golden Calf debacle: “I beseech You: this nation has sinned a great sin, and have made themselves a god of gold. Now, if You will forgive their sin; and if You will not, erase me from the book that You have written.” As the result of Moses’ words, his name was indeed deleted from one portion of the Torah.

Our sages have said that the words of a tzaddik, even when expressed conditionally, always have an effect.

The Rebbe presented a powerful explanation on this question.

There is a fascinating story in the Midrash

A man met Elijah the Prophet and said: “My master! There are two things in the world that I love with absolute love. Torah and the Jewish people. But which love comes first?”

The prophet Elijah responded: My son, most people say that the love of Torah comes first; but I say that the love of the Jewish people comes first.  What does this mean?

Do Jewish people exist in order that the Torah might be implemented? Is it through the Torah that we become worthy of goodness and of a relationship to G-d?

Or is it the other way around, that the Torah exists in order to serve the Jewish people in the realization of our intrinsic relationship with G-d? The love of G-d to every Jew is unconditional and unbreakable. Torah does not create that relationship. It always was and will always be.

So, Elijah says: Many people perceive it in the former perspective. But I will tell you the truth: The Jew comes first. The very idea of a Torah was conceived by the Divine mind as a tool to enhance the bond between G-d and His people—a bond that is unwavering and unbreakable, a bond that “predates” the Torah and which it comes to serve.

Thus, our sages have said: Even if the Jew sins, thereby violating his relationship with G-d as defined by Torah, he is still a Jew.

It is like a parent and a child—when the relationship is healthy and functional. I don’t love my child because he follows my rule book. I love my child and that’s why I give him a rule book, to begin with. So even when he breaks the rules, G-d’s love for every Jew is unconditional and unbreakable.

Now, we can appreciate the meaning of Moses’ declaration to G-d, “if You will not forgive them, erase me from the book that You have written,” And G-d’s response, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will  erase from My book.”

Moses was saying to G-d: True, Your people have sinned a great sin, however, Your bond with them runs deeper than Torah, deeper than anything that can be expressed or destroyed by their deeds. A Jew is a “piece of G-d,” a fragment of the Divine. If You cannot forgive them, it is because You are continuing to relate to them on Torah’s terms, on a level on which their sin cannot be tolerated.

Well, said Moses, if that is the case, “erase me from the book that You have written.” If there is no way that Torah allows for their forgiveness, then erase me from the Torah! If Torah “can’t” facilitate and capture this innate and unbreakable love—then cut me out of it!

It is at this moment, we get a glimpse into the nuclear love of Moses to G-d’s children. It was here that his “true colors” emerged. Torah constitutes Moses’ essence. No human being is as deeply identified with the Torah as Moses:

And yet, there was one thing that was even more important to Moses than his connection with the Torah: his connection with the Jewish people. As Rashi puts it: “Moses is the Jewish people; and the Jewish people are Moses.

For Moses—just as for G-d—the entire Torah is here to facilitate and express that love.

The lesson is powerful.

The “Mosesless” section of Tetzaveh, attesting to Moses’ self-sacrifice for his people, is an example and lesson for every single Jew, how we must perceive our brothers and sisters, and how we treat them.

This week I was inspired by a story, It just happened two weeks ago.

Eddie Ford was a Holocaust survivor, and he was dying of cancer. At the end of his life, the 85-year-old did not have any close family members or friends left. He was alone.

In a hospital in Toronto, Eddie requested a rabbi visit him because he wanted to connect to his Jewish faith, even though he had not been practicing Judaism.

Eddie was 6 when the war broke out in Hungary. He was taken from his parents in Budapest and put in hiding with a family who kept him until the war was over. Because the family was Christian, he grew up as a Christian. Ford’s real father was murdered.

After the war, Ford reconnected with his mother and brother he barely knew, and they moved to Toronto when Ford was 16. He worked as a handyman and performed singing and comedy acts in nightclubs. He was married and divorced.

Now Eddie, on his deathbed asks for a rabbi to come to see him.

Rabbi Zale Newman, who visits hospital patients on Fridays, started dropping by Eddie Ford’s hospital room. At Ford’s urging, He taught him simple Jewish blessings and songs. Eddie never learned the basics of Judaism, but now he wanted to learn it all. Over the eight months the men got to know each other, Ford asked Newman to ensure for him a Jewish burial.

Newman, a volunteer rabbi with The Village Shul and the Jewish Volunteer Services in Toronto, found a funeral home an hour’s drive away that would bury Ford at no charge.

 But when Eddie Ford died Jan. 29, Newman had a problem: He needed a “minyan” — 10 men — to say Kaddish. He didn’t know who to ask. He was afraid he would be the only one at the funeral.

Newman put a request on Facebook at almost 11 p.m. Jan 30, asking for volunteers to attend the graveside funeral the following day at noon. He knew it was a long shot.

 “Can you come to escort a Hero of the Holocaust for his final journey,” Newman wrote. He added: “please dress warmly.” The temperature in Toronto would be negative-30 degrees below zero!

Three people responded and said they would be there.

“I said, 'Okay, there would be four of us,’ ” Newman said in an interview with The Washington Post.

 The following morning, when he arrived at the cemetery, he saw a long line of cars.

 “I thought, ‘Oh, no, there’s another funeral,” he said. “I don’t know where it is. I don’t know where Eddie’s plot is.”

 He stopped some people and asked whose funeral they were attending. They said, “Mr. Ford.”

 Newman realized the traffic jam was for his friend, the one he thought might be buried almost alone. He had to drive far down the road to find a parking spot.

 “By the time I walked up there, I found 200 people waiting there in a circle,” he said.

 It was so cold that everyone had hats and hoods and scarves covering their faces. Newman could hardly make out people’s faces as he eulogized Ford and gave him a proper Jewish burial.

“All I saw was hundreds of pairs of eyes,” he said. But he did spot telltale signs of who was behind the coats and scarves.

“I saw some beards, so I knew there were religious people, and I saw some nose rings, so I knew there were some cool people,” said Newman.

Newman, a hedge fund manager, said he was overwhelmed by the collective gesture.

“There was so much purity,” Newman said. “There was no recognition, no way to get paid back. I’m not a mushy guy, but I went home and cried for an hour.”

And then, toward the end of the funeral, an older man approached and said that he was Eddie’s brother! It was surreal.

Newman posted on Facebook again, telling the story of the day: “I am in tears just thinking about how humbling and awesome it is to be part of the Jewish People who on very short notice; would drop everything, leave whatever they were planning on doing, drive a long distance, to stand outside in an open field, on a super freezing, blowing, windy day to escort a sweet, little Jew from Budapest, who was unknown to almost all them, on his final journey.”

He said two of Ford’s relatives were there, a nephew and a brother. Newman said he did not know much about either man. He added that as people advance in age, many have already buried most of their friends.

Eddie was 85; he was the last man standing.

Newman said Ford had a big personality and loved to sing and tell stories. He said he always looked forward to his weekly visits with Ford. He said this experience has reinforced his idea that “one act of goodness leads to another.”

“This is the best of humanity,” he said.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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