Thursday, 14 October, 2021 - 8:14 am

The local Hebrew School decided to observe Chanukah with a special ecumenical celebration, and invited everyone in the neighborhood, of whatever background, to participate in any way they thought appropriate, or to just come and observe, and have some home-baked cookies washed down with grape juice or heavy super-sweet wine.

There were speeches, dramatizations, and miscellaneous musical performances. At one point Mrs. Goldberg, in the third row, wiped away a tear as her little Miriam scratched out a hesitant rendition of "Havanu Sholom Aleichem" on a shiny new violin. Mrs. Goldberg noticed that a man seated next to her also had tears running down his face.

"Isn't it wonderful", she said to him, "to know that our heritage will be carried on by the next generation!"
"I suppose so," he said, "but I'm not Jewish."

“So why the tears?"
"I'm a musician…"

Abraham has just triumphed in a massive conflict, he defeated four powerful kings, liberated the hostages of Sedom, including his nephew Lot. Following the extraordinary victory, the Torah in this week’s portion Lech Lecha tells us:
The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Fear not, Abram; I am your Shield; your reward is exceedingly great.
And Abram said, "You have given me no child, and one of my household members will inherit me."
G-d said "This one will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you."
It is a strange exchange. Three times already, G-d promised Abraham he would have a child. Why does Abraham still doubt G-d?

The Rebbe addressed the above question and sheds a new light, and captures the grand theme in Abraham’s legacy.

As an introduction to his plea to G-d for a child, Abraham was expressing appreciation for the man who ran his affairs and served as his assistant.

There are various forms of influencing the world—and in a very general way they can be divided into three categories. Some individuals become great business tycoons—creating financial sky scrapers, literally or conceptually. Others are worriers, conquerors, generals, great military or political leaders, who conquer and lead countries. While others are great ideologues; their ambition is to change the landscape of the human mind and heart, in the scientific, artistic or moral sense.

Few have combined all three qualities in one person. We have Noble Laureates for economics, for peace, and for literature. Rockefeller was no Einstein, and Einstein was no Churchill.

Abraham embodies excellence in all three, and the Torah makes sure to delineate all three aspects of his life. He was a successful financial tycoon, wealthy and influential, and became a paradigm of philanthropy and generosity. He was also a warrior, a commander-in-chief, as the Torah articulates in the preceding story of the battle he waged. But, above all, he was a true ideologue, who successfully changed the moral landscape of humanity for eternity, and even invented the discipline of science, pointing out that the entire cosmos was governed by a set of integrated and unified laws.

But nobody can do this work alone. The greatest tycoon needs a skilled CEO and CFO to run the business. And the most skilled commander-in-chief needs generals. And the most extraordinary mind needs disciples to further communicate the message. Abraham was blessed with a man, a towering figure, Eliezer, who embodied these three roles.

First, Eliezer was the steward who oversaw Abraham’s entire household. He was Abraham’s Chief Executive Officer.

So as G-d promises Abraham great rewards, Abraham responds by acknowledging the fact that he was given a person in his life, a spiritual heir, who possesses the unique and extraordinary skill, passion, strength, integrity and idealism to continue the legacy of Abraham, on all fronts. Eliezder would continue the financial legacy, the incredible wealth amassed by Abraham and his tireless dedication to charity and philanthropy, beginning with feeding strangers and wanderers; he will stand ready to fight wars to defend the innocent and helpless from the hands of tyrants; and he will ensure the continuity of the ideas and values which his master Abraham introduced into human consciousness, the vision of a unified world under one Creator, and the moral responsibility of mankind to its Creator and each other.

And yet, the founding father of Judaism is still deeply pained. The first Jew introduced a unique and vital message. You can achieve enormous success in every field which you have put your mind into. You can create infrastructures which will continue to prove successful even after your passing, creating a legacy that is larger than life and will outlive you. Your name can be enshrined in statues, museums, and halls of fame. Yet, Abraham says, that is only half of the success.

For a person to truly feel contentment from all his or her life’s work it is when he or she gets to see a child who continues to walk in that same path, dedicated to similar ideals and values.  

So even after acknowledging the tremendous blessing of having Eliezer who will continue all the work of Abraham, Abraham says to G-d something that is expressing one of his most fundamental teachings: All the rewards in the world still leave me with a void in my heart. I yearn for a child who will perpetuate the truths and ideals I fought for and invested blood, sweat and tears.

In Judaism, beginning with Abraham, the greatest emphasis has been placed on education: to reach the hearts and minds of our own children, that they may loyally continue those values Jews have fought for and sacrificed for, over three millennia, through thick and thin, over the span of generations and continents.

Abraham was not being defiant; he was expressing what would be a central motto of Judaism: do not neglect your children for universal aspirations. You will die empty and heartbroken if you are a hero to the world, but none of your children want to get close to you or your ideals. What is more, nobody will care for your vision and passion like your child.

“I do not want to only be a world figure,” cries Abraham. “I want to have a child to give it all over to.” Only then, will it really endure forever.
Let’s face it, it is not easy. Albert Einstein was coined by TIME magazine as Man of the Century, yet his children saw him as a traitor. Theodor Herzl transformed the landscape of modern Jewish history but could not inspire his own children to embrace his legacy. Karl Marx did not have the courage to acknowledge his own son as his. Can you believe his theories on the poor when you learn that the only proletarian Karl Marx ever knew in person was the poor maid who worked for him for decades and was never paid?

Ludwig Beethoven rocked the world with his 9th symphony, but his own family situation was ugly. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as Marx, are responsible for shaping modern society and modern thinking. They have become idols for millions and icons of modernity, yet their behavior toward their closest family members was despicable. Their abuse of their wives and children is a sad commentary on how great minds can be so morally impoverished.

It is often easier to capture the attention of the masses, than the heart of your children. You can be a celebrity to millions, but a menace to those who should cherish you most.

Judaism is intolerant of a universal soul who has not the time and patience to cultivate loving and genuine relationships within his or her own family. Before you embrace a stranger, make sure you learn how to embrace your own child; before you save the world, make sure you save your marriage.

Before everything, I need to give my heart, soul, mind, mental space, time, energy to my children—to ensure that they will always feel as part of my story and the story of my ancestors back to Abraham. If I neglect this piece, I will remain forever empty.

We see this most in the Shema prayer. The Torah commands us to read the Shma twice a day—containing the fundamental deceleration of Jewish faith, Monotheism, and love to G-d.

And yet, in the first and second section of the Shema, the Torah states: “Teach it to your children.” I do not care that you believe G-d is one and you love Him with all your heart and soul, if you do not manage to impart these values and feelings to your children.

So Jews became the only people in history to predicate their very survival on education. The most sacred duty of parents was to teach their children, the handing on of memory. Judaism became the religion whose heroes were teachers and mentors.

This was Abraham’s plea to G-d. Allow me to have a child and to educate and inspire my child. Allow me to have a child who will carry on my vision and life’s work. And G-d agreed. G-d says to him: “This one will not inherit you, but the one who will spring from your innards-he will inherit you." You will enjoy a hair who will come from your “innards,” your own child who will continue your life.

It was January, 1942. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Yosef Yitzchak, was visiting the Jewish community in Chicago, when his mother, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah, suddenly passed away. It was Shabbos Beshalach, 13 Shevat, 5702.

The Rebbe, who was very ill and broken, could not make it back for the funeral. He did return to New York to sit shivah. The Rebbe was very close to his mother; they have lived in the same home for 60 years. She was a uniquely righteous, noble and holy woman; the respect he showed his mother was exemplary.

One wise man came to comfort the Rebbe on his loss. He said this: When the Torah describes the death of Sarah, it says “Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and weep for her.” Yet the word “weep” is written in the Torah with a small “chaf,” intimating that the crying was not as intense as one would expect. Why?

And the man said: Because Sarah did not just die; she left a Yitzchak in the world! She left a child, a noble giant, like Yitzchak. And when a Sarah leaves a Yitchak in the world, Abraham and the world felt so much more comforted.

This man was of course doing a play on words. The Rebbe’s mother’s second name was Sarah; the Rebbe’s second name was Yitzchak. “When a Sarah leaves over a Yitzchak, there is less sadness.” Your mother left over a child like yourself, and that changes everything. In that sense, she will forever live. It also means that she died with a unique sense of fulfillment and contentment. For there is nothing comparable to leaving the world knowing you have a child who made it all worth it; you have a child who will continue to be a blessing for humanity and the world.

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Al Capone was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed "Easy Eddie." He was Capone's lawyer for a good reason: Eddie was very good!  In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well.  Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends as well. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all the conveniences of the day.  The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.  Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocities that went on around him.

Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son whom he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had a good education and all his needs taken care of. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object.  And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn't give his son: he couldn't pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al "Scarface" Capone, clean up his own tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. He testified.

Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. On Nov. 8, 1939, a week before Al Capone was released from Alcatraz, O'Hare was shot to death while driving.

But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. Police removed from his pockets a poem clipped from a magazine.

The poem read: "The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at a late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time.  For the clock may soon be still."

The story is not over.
World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare.

He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank.    

He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship.

His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold; a squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the American fleet.

The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do.  He must somehow divert them from the fleet.

Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes.  Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another.  Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent.

Undaunted, he continued the assault.  He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible, rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return.  The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale.  It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet.  He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircrafts.

This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy's first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

But a year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

So what do these two stories have to do with each other?

Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son.

In the sacrifice of his father he discovered integrity, honor, duty and country. And that became his calling too.

Thank G-d, today most of us need not make such sacrifices. But we must make other sacrifices: Put away my phone when I come home in the evening and spend time with my children; bring them to shul on Shabbat, and make a kosher home, a Jewish home, living the values of Torah; send them to a Jewish schools; be a living example of how a Jew lives on a daily basis. I need to become a paradigm of love, caring and dedication, a true mentor and parent.

I must learn how to enhance my marriage, and how to deal with my temper, anger, insecurities, bad moods, and other issues I have, so that I can truly give my children the emotional and spiritual confidence they need to face their own challenges and polish the Divine diamonds entrusted to me.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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