Sign In Forgot Password

The Rabbi's Desk

03/01/2019 10:13:40 AM


My Derasha this Shabbat, Parshat Vayakhel,
will be delivered in the Straus Main Sanctuary prior to
and will be on the topic
Personal Reflections on a Public Issue:
Women's Ordination Comes to Bergen County

Following services in the Straus Main Sanctuary we will have the great joy of celebrating with Leya and Noah Falkenstein the bris of their baby boy, grandson of our members Beatty and Joe Schwartz

Inside: (no longer linked, please scroll down)
•  Thank You to Our Beloved Community
Shoshana's Speech from Rachel Tzofia's Zeved ha-Bat 
•  New Class on Olat Re'iyah, Rav Kook's commentary on the siddur
•  For This, Hashem Made the Internet 


Thank You to Our Beloved Community

The joy that Shoshana, Ayelet, Elana, and I feel for our new baby, Rachel Tzofia, has been phenomenally enhanced by the experience of sharing it with all of you. The Zeved ha-Bat was remarkably moving for us, seeing how many of you joined in our simcha, in our singing, and in our celebration. The warmth that pervaded the Straus Main Sanctuary was so comforting to us as we stood before you and spoke openly about all of the emotions we were experiencing. Shoshana and I are so amazed and humbled by the many gifts delivered, Shabbat meals ordered, and the large number of you that provided us with a night nurse. We feel immense gratitude for all that's being done and truly blessed to be part of this special community.

Shoshana's Speech from Rachel Tzofia's Zeved ha-Bat

Thank you for the opportunity to explain the names that we chose for our daughter - רחל צופיה. Let me begin with רחל. Chaim’s maternal grandmother’s name was Hinda Risha, and Risha is a Yiddish nickname for the Hebrew רחל. Having lost her husband, Rabbi Herman Davis, in his mid-fifties, Bubby Davis lived her life with strength, fortitude, and an eagerness to help others. She lived her entire life in Chicago and so Chaim grew up with Bubby Davis as an integral part of his upbringing. She inspired us all by making aliya at the age of 81, enjoying some of her best years living in Israel.

AND, the significance of the name רחל carries deep meaning for our family and the experiences that we have endured.

Our matriarch רחל is a complex personality who experienced numerous conflicting realities. One example of רחל’s dialectical life can be seen in her relationship with her husband יעקב. On the one hand, רחל was deeply coveted and beloved by יעקב, and at the same time, their relationship was fraught with pain and unfulfilled expectations - as their love was never able to reach its full expression. Another instance of רחל’s dichotomous life appears in her deep desire to have more than one child - as she expressed explicitly when naming her first son יוסף which means “God should add”. And רחל was blessed with another child, but with it came her untimely death and dashed hopes of seeing this gift to fruition.

The duality personified by רחל is particularly poignant for us. The last time I stood at this pulpit was to eulogize our daughter Chana a”h. And today I stand here feeling deep joy for the gift of רחל צופיה. It would be inaccurate to say that I stand here feeling הָפַכְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי, לְמָחוֹל לִי – that You God have turned my mourning into dancing. More accurate are feelings that reflect a duality, similar to so much of what רחל felt in her life - feelings that are a mixture of joy and gratitude for what is, with sadness for what could have been – dare I say, what should have been.

For the Rabbis, רחל’s legacy is marked by her ability to influence God in a way that אברהם, יצחק, יעקב, and משה all were unable. In a Midrashic passage, these four individuals appeal to God’s mercy waving their unique sacrificial act. אברהם and יצחק each reference the Akeidah, יעקב mentions the numerous times his life was threatened, and משה highlights his loyalty as God’s servant. And yet, it is only רחל’s sacrifice of allowing her sister לאה to marry the man for whom she longed and waited, that persuades God. I believe that רחל’s sacrifice stood out for the Rabbis, precisely because it was not a sacrifice of necessity. If there was ever a moment where the fulfillment of one’s own needs would not have been viewed selfishly, this was that moment, as רחל herself sacrificed in order to marry יעקב.

And yet, as she prepares for her wedding ever eager to marry Yaakov, רחל pauses to look deeply at לאה, and what she sees are the many layers of her sister’s vulnerability and suffering. And, with her heart wide open רחל sublimates her own needs, and acts with a degree of compassion that is truly stunning. רחל’s sacrifice and decision emanated from legitimate ambivalence, and from within this deeply human place, her sacrificial act pierced heaven.

Legitimate ambivalence is ever so present in response to pain. In an ideal world, we would hope for pain to refine us, to help us give to others more easily since we know deeply the feelings of being denied. But רחל shows us that it is also very human to respond to our own experience of suffering by feeling absolved to care for others. From a place that is entirely understandable, we may feel that it is those who haven’t suffered who should be extending themselves. What רחל offers, is permission to feel the true impact that pain leaves on a person – how it simultaneously enlarges and shrinks the heart.

With full transparency I share with you that after losing Chana I have felt my own heart shrunken at times, feeling on occasion as if the world owes me, owes us. And, from that very same place of pain, my heart and vision have opened, and broadened, and deepened, and widened, allowing me to see others and relate to others with more compassion than I could have ever imagined.

One final thought about רחל is elucidated by ירמיה who describes her as רחל מבכה על בניה - the matriarch who cries for her children, refusing to be comforted until their hopes and dreams are realized. This aspect of רחל is expressed in the name צופיה which means someone assigned as a lookout - looking with longings and yearnings, with expectations of hopes and dreams fulfilled.

Together, these two names, represent for us our experiences, our longings, and our hopes for the future -for our family as well as for all of Am Yisrael. Thank you.

New Class on Olat Re'iyah, Rav Kook's commentary on the siddur: My Wednesday morning class on the Siddur began a new topic this week. The class meets at the home of Bernice Hornblass Kohn Wednesday mornings at 9 AM and is dedicated in memory of Dedicated in memory of Albie Hornblass, Sydell Spatz Brooks, David Spatz, and Max Brooks zichronam li’vracha. Click here to download and listen to the first class. The text can be downloaded here. Each session is a standalone lesson so one can join at any point.

For This, Hashem Made the Internet

The Seforim Blog is a fantastic source for anyone who loves Seforim, Jewish History, and Jewish learning. The blog posts offer fascinating insights into the history of different books and their authors.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was one of the premier Torah scholars and Poskim of the 20th Century and his published responsa are an indispensable resource for the study of Halahacha. There has been some intrigue about the true authorship of the final volumes. This article on the Seforim blog describes how software and data analysis were used to investigate this issue. Enjoy!

Mon, December 6 2021 2 Tevet 5782