Friday, 11 January, 2019 - 6:50 am

A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were excessively mischievous. They were always getting into trouble and their parents knew that, if any mischief occurred in their town, their sons were probably involved.

The boys' mother heard that a Rabbi in town had been successful in disciplining children, so she asked if he would speak with her boys. The Rabbi agreed but asked to see them individually. So the mother sent her 8-year-old first, in the morning, with the older boy to see the grand rabbi in the afternoon.

The great rabbi, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down and asked him sternly, "Where is G-d?”

The boy's mouth dropped open, but he made no response, sitting there with his mouth hanging open, wide-eyed. So the Rabbi repeated the question in an even sterner tone, "Where is G-d!!?" Again the boy made no attempt to answer. So the Rabbi raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy's face and bellowed, "WHERE IS G-D!?"

The boy screamed and bolted from the room, ran directly home and dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him. When his older brother found him in the closet, he asked, "What happened?"

The younger brother, gasping for breath, replied, "We are in BIG trouble this time, dude. G-d is missing - and they think WE did it!"

In this week portion Bo, Moses speaks to the people about the impending Exodus from Egypt. He instructs them to make their first Passover Seder, on the eve of their redemption from exile. Then he says:

And it will come to pass when your children will say to you, ‘What is the work you are doing?’ You shall say: ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, and He saved our houses.’

And the people kneeled and prostrated themselves.

Why did the people kneel and prostrate themselves?

Rashi says: In thanksgiving for the news of the redemption, the entry into the land of Israel, and the news of the children that they would have.

Now, the first two make sense. After decades of subjugation and slavery, liberty would not only be a promise about the future but a concrete impending reality. At last, a nation would be free.

What is more, Moses is telling them that they will be soon returning to the land of their forefathers, the homeland G-d has promised to them.

But the third piece of good news seems strange. Moses informs them that they will have children. Of course, they will have children. In fact, this is a nation that has been having children all along their sojourn in Egypt. In fact, their birthrate in Egypt was astounding in its numbers, as the Torah states earlier, “The children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong, and the land became filled with them.” They were blessed with children all along. Why, when Moses informed them that their children would ask questions, did they become so overjoyed about the news that they would have children?

The great Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin (1823-1900), presented a most moving explanation.

Let’s reflect for a moment on what Moses is saying to the Jews triggering such joy in their hearts, “And it will come to pass when your children will say to you, ‘What is work you are doing?’” What type of child is this who asks this question, This does not sound like an obedient child, but as a rebellious one, one who challenges his parents and does not “go with the flow.” AS we see in the Passover Haggadah. 

If this is the case, the question becomes far more accentuated. The people of Israel are celebrating any children; they are expressing their gratitude for the rebellious children? For the children who cause them sleepless nights, for the children who give them a run for their money! It is these children the Jews are celebrating and being grateful for.

Why? Because it was at this moment they learned that even these children will forever remain “children,” linked and connected to their parents, to their people, and to their G-d.

This is what “besurat habanim” means. This is what inspired such profound joy and thankfulness in the hearts of the Jewish people. This was not just the good news that they would have children. Rather, it was the news that each of their children would remain forever connected to G-d and His Torah because the holiness of the Jew is inherent, intrinsic and innate to his or her very essence. Even the rebel among us is essentially Divine, and even his or her questions are stemming not from carelessness and apathy, but from a profound sense of belonging, consciously or subconsciously.

Sometimes, the most cynical amongst us are really the most connected. Judaism effects them so deeply, they have no way to deal with it but to mock it and never tire of mocking it. When we love something so much and we can’t find a way to embrace it, we have no choice but to hate it, so that we can deal with the pain of not having it. (Like the teenage child who tells his father, I don’t need you, because he needs him so much and feels that he can never have him and that causes him untold pain).

Sometimes, our only way of experiencing a relationship with Judaism is via a negative relationship: questions, objections, and challenges. That is how we remain engaged.

Sometimes, our questions come out of deep pain and hurt. We want to be connected, but we feel it is too painful for us; so we need to throw it all away to ease our torment.

Sometimes, we simply want to know the truth! We are yearning for so much truth and depth, and when we are given a superficial Judaism, we can’t embrace it. We really want to know the full truth. So we do not stop asking until we can see that the Torah is the truth.  

My colleague, Rabbi Ephraim Silverman, is the ambassador of Chabad to Marietta, Georgia. Late one night, he got a call from a man named Ken Wilson. “Please come over to my house now. My wife is on her deathbed, she wants to see you. It’s urgent.”

Lisa contracted breast cancer a while earlier. All of the treatment did not help, and now she lay very ill in her home.

“Rabbi,” Lisa said. “I am Jewish, but I married out. My husband is a wonderful man, and we had a good marriage. But there is a part of me that he could never understand. It is not his fault. It is the nature of reality.

“My time is short. Our son Mathew is ten years old. He is my only child. He will be orphaned from his mother. That is why I summoned you tonight. I beg you, promise me, that you will Bar-mitzvah my boy and guarantee that he gets some type of Jewish education…”

Rabbi Silverman gave her the promise she was asking for. She seemed deeply relieved. And the Rabbi left the home.

The next morning he found out that Lisa died a short while after he left her home.

Two years have passed. Rabbi Silverman did not forget his vow to Lisa. When Mat turned twelve, he called the boy’s father and said that he would like to prepare his son for his Bar-mitzvah.

The father’s reply was cold. “I am not Jewish; I don’t think it is important. I remarried, you know; I am now married to a Christian woman. Mat is growing up in a completely non-Jewish home, father and stepmother are not Jewish.”

In the inimitable Chabad style Rabbi Silverman would not let go so easily. He insisted that the boy would never forgive himself when he grows older and discovers that he did not fulfill the final wish of his mother moments before she died. Mr. Wilson consented.

Mat began learning Judaism with Rabbi Silverman for close to a year. Rabbi Ephraim Silverman arranged for a beautiful Bar-mitzvah ceremony and feast at their synagogue in Marietta. Mat was called up to the Torah, he gave a moving speech of inspiration and depth and became a full-fledged member of the Jewish people.

Who attended the Bar-mitzvah ceremony? Well, naturally, all of Mr. Wilson’s and his new wife’s relatives came to shul that Shabbat morning, only very few of his dead mom’s relatives attended. So the Chabad synagogue that Shabbat morning was filled with Christians experiencing Mat Wilson’s Bar Mitzvah and a few Jews attending as well…

But we can be assured that one of the Jewish attendees was—his mother who came to celebrate her son’s life and destiny as a Jew.

This message sums up one of the most central messages of the Rebbe throughout all the years of his leadership. Never ever give up on a Jewish child. Never ever doubt the holiness and connection of a Jewish soul. Never ever see a Jews’ questions at the end of the relationship, only as its beginning.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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