Parasha - Weekly Torah Portion Stories

Parashat Bo – Thoughts Over a Glass of Tea

January 29, 2009


I was sitting here, at my desk, reading through the weeks Parasha while sipping my tea, when  a few verses jumped out at me. I read them a few times, and closed the Chumash, to think a little bit about what they meant. A few minutes (and sips) later, I flipped up my laptops screen, and sat down to type – here I am.

I think it would be fitting to copy here the verses I am referring to:

And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, “Because of this, the Lord did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt. (Shemot 13:8 )

And it will come to pass if your son asks you in the future, saying, “What is this?” you shall say to him, “With a mighty hand did the Lord take us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And it came to pass when Pharaoh was too stubborn to let us out, the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I slaughter [for a sacrifice] all males that open the womb, and every firstborn of my sons I will redeem. (ibid. 14-15)

There they are. Magnificent, aren’t they?

I believe I need to explain myself further. Hashem, writes in his Eternal Torah, given to His Eternal people, an Eternal teaching. If your son shall ever come to you, as a parent, and ask you why is that you do something, you must know the reason! Not only that, but if your son ever has a question, it is his parent that he knows he can go to for an answer!

I’d like to elaborate with a story, that I once heard from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l:

Many years ago, in Israel, there was a Jewish professor, in a famous Israeli University, who was know for his opposition to Judaism. His statements were widespread and public, as was his obvious hatred to rabbis, and any Jew who succumbed to “the mental illness of Jewish observance”.  Many a time, would he be found preaching against the terrible evil going on in this modern state – Jewish children, raised in observant Jewish homes, and learning the Jewish Torah, from authentic Jewish rabbis. Oy, what a crime!

One day, shortly after the first Lebanon War, this professor walked into the office of one of the great rabbis and Torah giants in Israel. The rabbi, startled at his surprise visitor, knowing him all too well from his many statements against him, asked him if he could help him. The professor nodded, and told him that he wanted to do all in his power to further Torah-true Jewish education in Israel. The rabbi immediately asked him to stop playing games, and tell him why he was really there.

“I know you, and your beliefs all too well for me to believe that”, said the pious rabbi. The professor looked him in the eyes and said, “No Rabbi, things have changed. I have a story to tell you:

I was called up to the reserves during the recent war with Lebanon. I was fighting alone, in some rocky, deserted terrain, when I was hit. I fell to the ground, blood gushing, starting to feel faint. I am not a doctor, Rabbi, but I knew that I had no more than two hours to live. I was in the middle of nowhere, and had not notified any of the troops that I was there. I was resigned to my inevitable fate: death.

Thoughts started swirling through my mind. My life flashed before my eyes. What was there to think about in my final moments of life? I’m an English professor you know, so I started thinking of the many fine works of literature I knew by heart. Hamlet. King Lear. It didn’t do it. There was no comfort or meaning in them now.

Suddenly, images came to me from the deep recesses of my mind. I recalled in my early childhood, images of my father walking with me hand in hand, to prayers on the Eve of Yom Kippur, cloaked in his white kittel. Images of a Sukkah, with my mother showing me how to hold my siddur. Of my grandfather, carrying me in his arms as we danced with the Sefer Torah, rejoicing that G-d had chosen us from every nation in the world.

"Thoughts started swirling through my mind. My life flashed before my eyes. What was there to think about in my final moments of life?"
"Thoughts started swirling through my mind. My life flashed before my eyes. What was there to think about in my final moments of life?"

Rabbi, it was then that I burst out in tears. I knew I could now leave this world, with these thoughts in my mind. But Rabbi! As the tears rolled down my cheeks, I asked myself – what would my children have to think about one day? My grandchild, oh what a darling. What would he have to think about on that day of truth? Not his father, my son. And most definitely not me, his grandfather.

At that moment, I lifted my eyes up to the Heavens and said “G-d, I know I have done everything possible to fight those who gave reason for their children to live. But G-d, if you save my life, I promise that I will dedicate the rest of it to Jewish education”. I fainted, and woke up again in a hospital. A unit got lost, with all of their sophisticated equipment, and found me laying there unconscious.

And Rabbi, I’m standing here now, in front of you, with tears in my eyes. I want to give the Jewish children of the world, a true and meaningful reason to live!”

My friends and readers, this is the story that came to mind when I read these few verses. How many of us, have children, if not grandchildren, who light up our lives with their success and smiles? How many of us, have a physical continuation to our lives through our children and their children. Yet, how many of us, do not give them a spiritual reason to continue?

Hashem is telling us, in this weeks Torah portion – give your children a reason to live! Show them, through action, what it means to live as a Jew! Let us not be Jews, who’s children will have nowhere to turn when they need confidence to continue. Let them come to us, by being a living example.

It is my heartfelt wish, dear reader, that we shall all take a moment, to ponder the inner meaning of our lives. By fixing what needs to be fixed in our lives, and the lives of our children, we shall thus merit to see Hashem come, and give us a reason to live eternally – with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom!

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