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Friday, 27 March, 2015 - 11:26 am

A Jewish town had a shortage of young, marriageable men, so they used to import men from other towns. One day a groom-to-be arrived on a train and two prospective mothers-in-laws greeted him, each claiming "ownership." A rabbi was called to solve the problem. After a few minutes of thought, he said: "You both want the groom. We'll cut him in half and give half of him to each of you."

One of the woman replied, "No! Better to just give him to the other woman."

The rabbi said, "Do that! The one willing to cut him in half is the real mother-in-law!"

Our hearts were broken with the tragedy last Shabbat of a fire in Brooklyn that took the lives of seven angelic children in the Sassoon family.

As seven children, brothers and sisters, were laid to rest in Jerusalem on Monday, accompanied by thousands of mourners, their father, Gavriel Sassoon, wept and spoke lovingly of them, and of G‑d, even as he prayed for the recovery of his wife and their remaining daughter, badly burned in a fire that consumed their home and life.

“I lost everything in the fire,” he cried out at the funeral. “There’s only one way to survive this—complete and total surrender.”

In a eulogy delivered at a Brooklyn funeral last Sunday, Gavriel Sassoon described each of his seven children:

“Eliane, she came out fighting; even as a child she was always going to the maximum,” he said. “Rivkah, she had so much joy, she gave joy to everybody. And David, he was so fine. He was truly a gift from Hashem. Yeshua was so joyful and creative, always trying to make others happy. Moshe was always beaming. He was beaming, and he tried so hard because he had learning problems, but he tried so hard. And he was an inspiration because he tried so hard. Sara was like Eliane, she was the cutest, and Yaakov just wanted everyone to be happy. He was the youngest, he was the clown.”

This week the Israeli TV interviewed him. “I love my children,” said Sassoon. “I know that they are the image of Hashem. There are things in which it is easier to see the image of Hashem, like in children. But G-d can be found everywhere, even in these sacrifices. It is difficult to deal with, so we make the blessing that Hashem is the true judge. Now it is easy to relate but I don’t know how things will be in a week,” observed Sassoon. “How will I sit at my Shabbat table without my children? How can I fulfill the mitzvah of telling your children the story of Pesach?

“I had such nachat from my children. They were really special. I have had difficulties in my life but they have never bothered me because I had my kids. The happiness that they brought me made my life easy, but now I don’t have them. I don’t know what I will do. We were privileged to have children like these. 
“I worked hard. My wife worked hard. Our lives were all about our childrenI know that I can say to Hakadosh Baruch Hu that the children that You asked us to watch for You are as pure and as holy now as when You gave them to us.”

Here is a father who can stand up to G-d and say, in response to his own “tragedy”—his life taking an unexpected and frightening turn—“I give them back as holy and pure as when You gave them to me.”

Gavriel would have heard the “four question” eight times this year. This year, they will be asking the questions to our Father in heaven: Why? Why? Why? Why so much pain, suffering, and agony? Why so much hatred, abuse, and war? Why, why don’t You already create the world You asked us to dream of—the world of redemption?!

The Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat Hagadol. In this week's Torah portion, Tzav, it says that Moses inaugurated his brother Aaron and his sons as the new priests in the newly erected Sanctuary for seven days. During this week, it was Moses, not Aaron, who performed the priestly services in the Tabernacle.

The Midrash offers some insight:

All the seven days of consecration Moses ministered in the office of High Priest, and he imagined it was his. On the seventh day G-d said to him: It belongs not to you but to your brother Aaron.

At the burning bush, Moses had repeatedly resisted G-d’s call to lead the people. Eventually, G-d told him that Aaron would go with him, helping him speak. The Talmud says that at that moment Moses lost the chance to be a priest. “Originally, [said G-d,] I had intended that you would be the priest, and Aaron your brother would be a Levite. Now, he will be the priest and you will be a Levite.”

Thus the inauguration procedure was a truly difficult test for Moses. The moment of truth came at the final sacrifice, the one which would forever remove Moshe from the officiating priesthood.

Moses was envious of Aaron. He had never wanted to be a leader; the Torah describes him as the humblest person. Instead, Moses cherished the sacred opportunity to perform the Divine service in the Holy Temple—and now he was about to give it up, for good. He did it, with joy, because it was what G-d wanted, but it was with a deep sense of pain over the loss of this sacred privilege of conducting the service to the Almighty in the Sanctuary, and spiritually uplifting the people and the entire universe to G-d.

On the holiday of Passover we celebrate freedom that includes not only the knowledge of who we are, but also of who we are not, and embracing that.

How many people drive themselves mad, because they do not really know who they are, or they can never make peace with who they are. They feel the need, in the Jewish expression, to “dance at all weddings,” because they don’t feel they belong to any one wedding. They are envious of people, because they don’t like themselves. They are people pleasers because they are insecure. They are rash, harsh and insensitive, because they feel internally weak and hence threatened by others. They never delegate sincerely because they must control all. They take responsibility for other people’s decisions, and often become codependent, because they are not sure who they are not. I am not you; you are not me. I cannot live your life for you; it is not good for you and it is not good for me. Nor can I really be of help to you when I am being you.

This transferring of duties was a fundamental moment for Moses. The priest was the person privileged with experiencing the spiritual high of the Temple service and elevating the world to G-d. But this was not Moses. Moses was the teacher of Torah, the prophet, the communicator of G-d’s wisdom and will, not be the priest. Knowing who I am not is just as important as knowing who I am.

Passover is all about education, telling the story to our children.

Moses was charged by G-d with the mission of educating his brother and nephews in the new service. At the last day, at the final hour, at the final service, Moses hesitates. He experiences an internal question:

Have I fulfilled my duty? Have I educated them properly? Can I step down safely knowing that the future is in good hands?

This is the question we must all ask on Passover. Am I living up to my duties to the next generation? Am I failing my children? Am I giving them the time of day and night, and most importantly, my heart and soul? Am I passing on to them what has been passed on to me over the last 3,300 years since Moses instructed us for the first time, “Tell the story to your children!”

May the memory of these beloved children always remain with us. May their mother and sister recover fully and swiftly, and may their father have the strength he needs at this inexplicable hour. May we glean inspiration from him how to answer our own “challenges”—how we treat our own little angels, as we hug them and embrace them, and pray and hope with every fiber of our being that not next year but “THIS year in Jerusalem,” with Moshiach Tzidkainu, may it happen now. Amen!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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