Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Speaker Has the Floor

This past Friday, the 12th of Adar in the Jewish calendar, marked the 1st Yahrzeit for my father, who died on March 8, 2009.

This coming Thursday, the 18th of Adar, will mark the 20th Yahrzeit for my husband's father.

So on Shabbat we sponsored a kiddush at shul, and my family was with us for all of Shabbat, and at seudat shlishit, I spoke.

If you're willing to sit back with a stiff drink (it IS somewhat lengthy) and read, here it is:

D’var Torah for 1st Yahrzeit for Dad and 20th Yahrzeit for Ron’s Father

Parsha Tetzaveh

Thank you for being here this afternoon, to help us commemorate the just past and upcoming Yahrzeits of my father and Ron’s father, zichronam l’vracha.

This week’s parsha, Tetsaveh, talks about the lighting of the menorah and the oil that was used; it talks in detail about the special clothing worn by the kohanim, specifically Ahron the Kohen haGadol, and discusses the inauguration service of the mishkan and the kohanim, as well as the incense altar.

At the beginning of the parsha, Hashem gives detailed instructions about the lighting of the oil in the menorah. As Purim begins tonight, I want to point out a few similarities between the chag and the parsha.

The main character in the Purim story is Queen Esther; her gematria is 661. A phrase in the parsha with the same gematria is meaning “oil for the light”. Just as the menorah was a source of light for the Israelites, so, too, did Esther provide a spark of light for the Jews, as written in the megillah and as we recite every Motzei Shabbos at Havdala “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.”

The story of Purim talks about the king’s public party – and as noted in the megillah, the celebration had every luxury – the finest cotton, wool, and linen wall hangings, couches of gold and silver, silver rods, marble pillars and royal wine. Likewise in the parsha, we learn that the clothing of the Kohein Hagadol was very rich, made from turquoise, gold, purple, twisted linen and beautiful stones.

A major theme in both the parsha and in megillat Esther is clothing. The portion of Tetzaveh details the clothing worn by the Kohein Hagadol in ancient times, which, as the text explains, he is to wear “l’chavod u’letifahret,” for glory and honor. Rashi and other commentators explain these words to mean that by wearing the special garments, the Kohein Hagadol is distinguished from other people and his clothing brings glory and honor to Hashem. How so? By dressing in clothes made of gold and precious threads, and wearing a breastplate encrusted with jewels, the Kohein Hagadol comes to symbolize things which are rare and coveted, things which are special–he symbolizes the special and intimate relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people.

Our Purim celebrations, of course, also include costuming–but this time everyone gets in on the act, and the dressing up is not necessarily for the purpose of bringing honor and glory to Hashem. Rather, it is an expression of the spirit of Purim summarized in the words of the Megillah, “v’nahafoch hu,” things were reversed. Just as the fortune of the Jews was reversed and Mordechai took the place of Haman, so too commoners dress as royalty, and royalty dress as commoners on Purim.

Esther puts on her royal garb to go meet the king. Mordechai dons sackcloth and ashes when he hears of Haman’s plot. Haman parades Mordechai through town wearing beautiful garments and a jeweled hat. These are more than just interesting details; they are part of the message of the story, that outward appearances do in fact matter, as much as we tell ourselves otherwise. Clothing is part of the language of society. Our fashion communicates a great deal about our values, priorities, and identity. As both the Torah portion and megillat Esther might say, The clothes do in fact make the man or woman.

This week’s parsha is the only book of the chamisha chumshei Torah after Moshe’s birth that does not mention his name.

And the 'Megilla' is the only book of the Bible (after Bereshit) that does not mention Hashem’s name.

This week’s parsha opens with an eternal commandment; lighting the Menora forever.

Similarly reading the Megilla is an eternal commandment!!

Finally, this week's section deals with the Temple, which is never-ending. (Moshiach will build the Third Temple)

And the Megilla deals with Purim, which is also never-ending.

In the last Aliyah of Parshat Tetzaveh we read about the commandment to build the incense altar for the Mishkan. The mystics explain that the five primary vessels of the Mishkan correspond to the five senses. The sacrificial altar corresponds to the sense of touch (the sacrifices being a very physical service). The Shulchon, where the 12 loaves were placed each Shabbos, alludes to the sense of taste. The Menorah which gave illumination is like the sense of sight. Hashem spoke to Moshe from between the Keruvim above the Ark representing the sense of sound. Finally the incense altar reflects the sense of smell.

The sense of smell is different from the other 4. Whereas the other senses are considered physical and bodily (each to a differing degree), the sense of smell is ethereal and more intimately related to the soul. The Talmud teaches that only the Neshama benefits from fragrant spices (which is why we smell spices during Havdalah). The sense of smell represents the essential purity of the soul which cannot be corrupted no matter how severe our sins may be. For this reason the burning of the incense was the highest of the Temple services and it is for this reason that the incense altar stands alone.

Here lies the Purim connection. The master Kabbalist - the Ariza"l, connected each of the 12 months of the year to a different part of the head. The month of Adar equates to the nose i.e. the sense of smell. The heroes of the Purim story, Mordechai and Esther, are also connected to the sense of smell. Esther's real name was Haddassa which means a myrtle, known for its fragrance. The Talmud finds allusion to Mordechai in the Torah in the pure myrrh (one of the 11 spices in the incense) which is translated in the Aramaic Targum as Mara Dachya (the same letters as the name Mordechai).

And of course another connection between Purim and this Shabbos, is that we read the section Parshat Zachor in which we are commanded to remember Amalek and what he did to the Jewish people. Haman, a descendant, is the Amalek of his generation in the Purim story.

Tetzaveh's opening words are V'atah tetzaveh -- "and you shall command." The you is Moshe and Hashem is telling him what to instruct the Jewish people. But the verse only says "you" -- not "Moshe."

In this week’s parsha, Moshe’s name isn’t mentioned at all. The main reason for this is well-known and related to the sin of the Golden Calf. The people had sinned and G d was going to wipe them out and start over again with Moshe and his own dynasty. Moshe defended his people before Hashem, arguing for their forgiveness. And if Hashem wouldn’t forgive them? Moshe stated: “Micheini noh misifrecho” -- "Erase me from your book that You have written!" Moshe himself said his name should be erased from the Torah if Hashem would not forgive His people. So even though Hashem did forgive them, it is believed that the words of a tzaddik are eternal and said to come true. The effect of those words, therefore, was that somewhere in the Book, in Torah, his name would be erased. Moshe would be missing where he normally should have appeared. Ironically it is in the week when we remember his death, that Moshe’s name is missing.

Chassidim claim that this word “You” in the parsha’s opening pasuk represents something deeper and more profound than a simple name can. “You” represents Moshe’s neshama and spiritual essence of being firmly and continually committed to his people, even at his own expense. The Chassidim believe that instead of the absence being a negative, it is actually a blessing.

The Vilna Gaon explains that Moshe's yahrtzeit, the seventh of Adar, usually falls the week of or just before Parshat Tetzaveh. Moshe’s name is omitted to show that he is no longer with us, his physical presence has gone, although the essence of his teachings are the lifeblood of our nation to this day.

But his name is alluded to in the parsha in the sofei tevot – final letters – of the phrase “sealed Holy to Hashem”. There’s a mem sofit, shin and hey.

This shows us that, even though the physical embodiment of Moshe has left us, his neshama, revealed in the Torah, is very much with us even now.

In this same way, the neshamas of our fathers, Yaakov Arieh Adler and Shalom Saban, zichronum l’vracha, are with us now.

It is said, “Mishenichnas Adar, marbim b'simchah.” “With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased.”

Interestingly enough, life doesn’t always work that way. Yesterday, the 12th of Adar, we marked my father --- Jacob’s -- first Yahrzeit; we will mark Ron’s father – Shalom’s -- 20th Yahrzeit next week, on the 18th of Adar. As well, my father’s father – Majer Izchok -- passed away when my father was 6 ½ years old, and his Yahrzeit was earlier this week, on the 7th of Adar…like Moshe.

The month of Adar in the Adler-Saban households has unfortunately come to be associated with a loss of fathers.

My father had no father for 82 years. Yet he remembered and annually marked his father’s Yahrzeit. I always wondered how he could do so from the time he was a young child and suddenly cast as the male head of the household, a big brother to three younger sisters, the youngest sister named for their father, who had died two months before her birth. For 82 years my father remembered and lit a candle, and if his difficult circumstances during the war and his lifetime didn’t allow him to light a candle, he marked the date by simply remembering.

Today is Shabbat Zachor. We are required to remember what Amalek did to us, as we learn in the reading of the maftir and Haftorah. But Ron and I have our personal Shabbat Zachor, related to our family members who have left us. We remember and we sanctify their memories by lighting a candle, by saying Kaddish, by giving Tzedaka, by learning some Torah and by remembering who and what they were.

Both Ron’s father and my father were immigrants to Canada – a new language and culture to learn, jobs to find, in Ron’s father’s case, a family to support; in my father’s case, a wife to find and a family life to build. Ron’s father left behind family; my father left behind memories and ashes. But both men endured in Canada and worked hard to provide for themselves and those around them.

They never forgot their Judaism, embracing it in this cold Canadian climate with a warm heart.

Ron’s father built the aron kodesh in their shul in Winnipeg, a labour of love, a beautiful work to be proud of as it was viewed and admired daily, housing the precious Torah scrolls of Kehillat Chevura Tefilla. Although I never had the privilege of meeting him, I know that through Shalom Saban’s commitment to prayer and community and hard work, he tried to teach his sons by example: how to be kind, good, honest – in personal relationships and in business. These traits are clearly evident in Ron, and so I thank Shalom and his wife, Liora, zichronam l’vracha, for their guidance and the Torah and personal values that they passed along.

I am familiar with Ron’s father’s carpentery– the detail he carved into table tops and table and chair legs, the cabinetry he designed and built, the chessboards he carved for his family and the jewellery boxes he created. This fine and detailed handiwork reflects his skill, his patience and his finesse in doing a job to the best of his ability -- and what an ability it was!

Both Ron’s father and my father worked hard and struggled financially to give their children extensive Jewish educations, following the precept from Mishlei: Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Our fathers built their family life and daily life around davening and giving Tzedakah, around shmirat lashon and hachnasat orchim. They valued strong work ethics, Shalom Bayit, and were true to their word above all else.

It is perhaps ironic that my father, Jacob’s, shul affiliation and membership, was with Beth Jacob, Beit Yaakov. He welcomed being there and this Levi was made to feel very welcome there, as well. Not only was there a Beit Yaakov on Overbrook Place in Bathurst Manor, but there was one at the address where my parents settled over 50 years ago to create a home and raise their family, and never left. Just like in our shul, faith, guidance, tradition, warmth – and love – were the pillars of our home.

Clearly it is a true kavod when told, “I never heard your father say a bad word about anyone,” and I was told that a few years ago while my father was alive! And I know that my father helped people – financially and otherwise -- throughout his lifetime. His goodness tended to be selfless – he didn’t think, he didn’t question, he just did. And he didn’t seek recognition or rewards.

I believe that when my father left the physical world on 12th of Adar last year, he clearly entered the spiritual world; there he continues to daven for the well-being of his wife, children and grandchildren, family, friends and community. For that was the type of man Jacob Adler was: always concerned for others, looking out for everyone else before looking out for himself, if at all.

Somewhere in that spiritual world, Jacob made the acquaintance of Ron’s father, Shalom, and was reunited with Liora, Ron’s mother. No doubt he has shared with them stories of the hurdles he faced in life, the challenges he overcame, and the home life and family he built, a family that bridged with the Saban family, and whose legacy proudly continues…

Thank you, Shabbat Shalom, and I wish you all a freliche Purim.