Do What Daddy Did

Thursday, 5 January, 2023 - 3:59 pm

The legendary 18th century Eastern European Jewish jester, Hershel Ostropolyer was very poor. He once came to an inn and asked for some food. The proprietress sized him up and determined that he couldn’t afford to pay, so she refused to serve him. He said to her, “If you don’t give me food, I will have no choice but to do what my father did.” Alarmed by the prospect of what this maniac of a father might have done, the lady brought him a bowl of soup. After finishing the soup, he asked if there was any other food. The same story repeated itself and she ends up bringing him, chicken, potato knishes, vegetables, and compote. As he wipes his mouth after polishing off the last of the fruit while thanking her for the meal, she hesitatingly asks him, “So what did your father do when he wasn’t given all those things?” He replied with a twinkle in his eye, “Why, he would go to sleep hungry, of course.”

A few weeks ago, my brother, Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, shared an idea. Jacob was away from his parents for 22 years, thereby losing the opportunity to fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring parents. As a result, his own son, Joseph, was separated from him for 22 years. However, if we do the math, Jacob was actually away from his parents for 36 years. In addition to the 22 years, he also spent 14 years studying in the academy of Shem and Ever. (For more on that academy, see Why were those years not included in the reckoning of the time Jacob was separated from his parents? The answer is, when a Jew studies Torah, he is honoring his parents and their heritage. Even if they are not physically in the same place, they are connected to the same ideal. Therefore those 14 years were not regarded as separation.

The following weekend, the American Association of Hematology met in New Orleans. One of the attendees, a young doctor, stayed with us for Shabbat. Manny (name changed to protect privacy) had recently become more committed to Jewish observance. He is a 3rd generation hematologist. His father is, and his grandfather was, very prominent in the field. But when it comes to Jewish observance, he is the first in several generations to make a serious commitment. While his parents are supportive of his journey, they have trouble relating to some of his newly embraced principles and priorities. This has been a struggle for him.

After dinner, we chatted about his journey and some of the challenges that he is facing. I shared the abovementioned idea about Torah study being a connection to our ancestors. He was very moved and shared with me a dream that he had a few days earlier. In his dream, he saw his late grandfather, who was, as mentioned, a prominent doctor, albeit less involved in Jewish observance. He vividly dreamt that his grandfather called to him and saying, “come Manny, let us go to the Beit Midrash to study Torah together.”

Ultimately, whether in this world or the next, every Jew comes to recognize the value and centrality of Torah learning to a Jew. Torah connects us to Hashem, to each other, and to the generations that came before us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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