Parsha Miketz “Even if you can afford a Cadillac, buy a Chevrolet”

(Note from the author: unfortunately a combination of sick patients, homework for the kids, Yeshiva week and a very prolonged case of writers block have contributed to my delinquency in contributing to this blog. I thank all the friends (DA, DM etc) who encouraged me to pick up the pen and get back to it)

I think my earliest awareness of technology was circa 1974 when my dad brought home a new Chevrolet Caprice Classic. It was a pale yellow color consistent with the refrigerators and other appliances of that era. What made it unique in my five-year-old mind was the fact that it had something called an eight-track tape player.
Up to that point I understood that you turned on the car radio and listened to whatever music was playing. To be able to choose music in the car was a new concept for me. Of course we heard the same eight or nine songs over and over and over again- “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles stands out.

The Caprice was a company car, and the company happened to be owned by my grandfather, Grandpa Jake and his brothers (Oleh hashalom)

Don’t be impressed; the company wasn’t a conglomerate or multi-national, rather it was a small garment factory operating in the deep South. It stood as the remnant of a classic dry goods store typical of those owned by Jews living in south in the late 19th and early 20th century.
At any rate, every few years the company would lease a small fleet of the same model car for the owners, managers and salespeople.

My grandfather drove this Chevrolet to work every day up until and including the day he died.
Nana, my grandmother, on the other hand, was a bit fancier. She drove a Cadillac- something called a “Fleetwood Brougham” which even at age 5 I could tell was high style with its pinstripe seats and electric windows.

One day, on the way to work with my grandfather, (I liked to go because they had a Coca-Cola machine with real glass bottles of Coke or Fanta Grape) I asked him why he didn’t ever drive the Cadillac to work.

“There’s no reason for me to show off in front of the workers” he exclaimed.

At the time I wasn’t sure what he meant.
Why not show off? I wondered. After all, he was the boss.

( Note: my grandfather was a man of warmth, intelligence and most of all integrity. His name was his word and a handshake was stronger than a paper contract. He was a man of means but yet he was at home among everyday people. He knew everyone by name weather they were the gas station attendant, the cleaning lady or the doorman at the building.)

However, as I read this weeks’ Parsha , I think I understand what he was trying to tell me all those years ago.

In parsha Miketz we find Yakkov/Jacob and his sons in the midst of a severe famine. Everyone else is literally starving and yet, Jacob and his family apparently have food. Despite this, Jacob insists they journey to Egypt and buy food like everyone else.

“ why make yourself conspicuous?” He adjures his sons.
Rashi and another commentators discuss what is meant by this description. It seems to be that the prevailing opinion is that despite having food, The sons should still go to Egypt and purchase additional provisions. The sentiment implied is not to appear any better off than their neighbors.

The Rednecker Rav would suggest that this is a lesson that we need to be mindful of in every generation. On the one hand, there is no Jewish antipathy toward success. However it should be measured and not ostentatious. Yakkov/Jacob understood the concept of איבה (emnity) clearly from the hatred expressed toward his overwhelming success during his years as an outsider in Laban’s house.
He understood that non-Jews would always denigrate our success and would only hate us more out of jealousy toward our material gains.

Yakkov’s approach throughout his years of amassing his fortune was to accentuate his reputation not as a man of wealth, but as a man of integrity and faith.

We see this with clarity when Jacob meets Pharoah. Here we have arguably the wealthiest, most poweful man in the world, paying homage to a leader of Jews, a group typically abhorred by Egyptians.
The Rednecker sees this as the fundamental message of the parsha- recognition of ones spirituality can be more awe inspiring that seeing a person only through a materialistic lens.

In retrospect, I think what grandfather Jacob was trying to teach me with his choice of automobile was in the same vein as what Yakkov Avinu was trying to teach his children, namely that character, integrity and our concern for others makes us who we are.
And that my friends, is more important than any hood ornament you could ever put on a car.

RR

Parsha Toldos “Jews don’t hunt”

Growing up in the south, starting around Thanksgiving, in addition to seeing the well-placed greenery of a freshly cut Christmas tree we would begin to spot something more gruesome tied to the top of SUVs.

Hunting season had begun a few weeks prior and by Thanksgiving it was in full swing. You would see large animals such as deer tied to the roof or tailgate of vehicles such as Ford Bronchos or Chevy Blazers. (Unlike today where driving to Short Hills or Westchester necessitates owning an SUV, when I was a kid these vehicles were actually used to drive off road)

Although we were fairly assimilated to southern culture during my childhood years, hunting was something that was unquestionably taboo.
“Jews don’t hunt” my mother, oleh hashalom, would invariably reply in an “end of discussion” sort of tone whenever I naively asked about the intricacies of hunting.

My first and only foray into hunting came in college. In a case of almost reverse discrimination, one semester my two Jewish roommates and I took in a token goy as a sublet. This guy was a classic old south, old money type-what you would call a “sportsman”- complete with the LL Bean wardrobe and fancy Jeep Cherokee with the wood paneling looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell portrait or Ralph Lauren ad.
Most Sundays when I was busy studying, he and his WASP friends would return home after a full day of hunting, reeking of beer and chewing tobacco. They would regale us with tales of their exploits and a few dead ducks, turkeys or a slower moving member of Bambi’s family.

As repulsive as this may seem to the reader, I continued to possess a morbid curiosity about how the act of hunting actually went down. Finally, I gave in to curiosity and requested a ride-along for a duck hunt.
So here I am on a Sunday, well before dawn. Decked out in camouflage, deep in the middle of the woods, a little Jewish boy surrounded by a bunch of big rednecks with guns. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like such a bright idea .
At any rate, The whole day turned out to be a bust. Even with binoculars we failed to spot a single duck. (I hold the ducks were probably back at our SUV enjoying our coffee and listening to the radio while we froze our rear ends off)

I relate this story because I always think back to it when I read this week’s Parsha.

In the narrative of Sefer Toldos, we actually do see a Jew hunt and he seems to be pretty good at it. As much as Esau/Esav is described as a רשה or wicked person, the parsha describes his father Yitzhak as loving Esau for his ability to hunt:

וַיֶּאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו אֶֽ
“Isaac favored Esau because he put (meat) in his mouth”

The question raised is: how could Yitzhak be swayed to overlook his son’s violations of cardinal Torah laws- (idol worship, adultery, murder) all for the promise of a fleshing meal?

Rashi and other commentators note the language used in Yitzhak’s request for Esau to sharpen his knives are phrased to instruct Esau to slaughter ritually as opposed to in a non-kosher manner.
Although this may be a very subtle point, often glossed over by the reader, I think it’s extremely telling.

I would suggest that Yitzhak is in no way naïve to his son’s faults. Instead of casting him off completely, He tries to meet him in the middle. Realizing that there is still a desire for kivod av/em (honoring one’s parent) embedded in Esau, Yitzhak gives him an opportunity to fill that mitzvah. Asking him to hunt was really not about food at all but rather following his father‘s wishes.

I think the teaching point for all of us, whether as parents, teachers, colleagues or friends is to try and understand where the other person is coming from. Not to have them necessarily fit in our construct of how things should be, but instead always work to find a way to engage them at their level, valuing their positive attributes as opposed to writing them off due to their negative ones.


Wishing ya’ll a good Shabbos

,

Noach- Amazing Grace

“We say grace, we say ma’am if you ain’t into that we don’t give a…” from the song “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr.

Certain awkward moments tend to remain etched on to your brain for the rest your life. I was probably 11 or 12 at the time.  Playing at a friend’s house one late afternoon when his parents asked me to stay for dinner. After the requisite phone call home ( rotary wall phone no less), we sat down to eat. Immediately, simultaneously, in an almost choreographed manner, my friend, his siblings and mom closed their eyes and put their hands together in the classic praying position. I knew they were hard-core Baptists so this did not suprise me. What I didn’t expect was my friend’s father to look over at me and say “Would you please lead us in grace?” Too polite to say no, despite being immediately anxious as a Jewish kid surrounded by goyim, I did a quick mental shuffle to try and come up with something to say on the spot.
Now, I was familiar with the concept of saying grace from watching reruns of Andy Griffith or Little House on the Prairie. My impression from watching these shows  was that grace was a somewhat freestyle Toastmasters type thing; as long as you said something that sounded nice  (possibly in rhyme) and thanked either “our father” or “our Lord” you were probably OK.
In an almost free association I rattled off something that any  kid that went to any sort of Jewish camp of any denomination could probably say in their sleep… “WE GIVE THANKS TO G-D FOR BREAD..OUR VOICES RISE IN SONG TOGETHER AS OUR JOYFUL PRAYER IS SAID”.

They just ate it up- I think the sister even wrote it down. In full disclosure I don’t think I ever told them it was plagiarized.

As much as the word “grace” has religious meaning among  Baptists and country music stars, it’s somewhat enigmatic when viewed through a Jewish lens.

In this week’s Parsha,  Noach is described to be the only person righteous enough to save the entire world from destruction.
The description of that generation is one of חמס- robbery, where the inhabitants of the world were described as exceedingly wicked.

Hashem determines that there is no potential for redemption and therefore sets in motion the Flood in order to cleanse the earth from this desolation. Yet Noah is recognized as a person worth saving and re-populating the earth with his descendants. What is it about him that makes him the savior of human life on earth? We know that he “walked with G-d” but the description depicting the reason for Noach’s ability to avert total destruction is minimal at best- וְנֹ֕חַ מָ֥צָא חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהוָה (פ
“But Noah found Grace with the LORD”.
What does ״ חן״ chayn or grace mean? Later on in the Torah in Parsha Miketz,  we’ll encounter this phrase again when it comes to describing the personality of Yosef. Again the term חן /chayn is used. Here it’s commonly translated as “charisma” or “charm” when describing his dealings with Egyptian officials or the general populace.
So what does grace mean in the context of Noah or in general?
We see Noah described as a “Tzaddik bdorof”, A righteous man in his generation. At first blush this seems to be praise for  Noah. However, commentators see this this on some level as a kind of left-handed compliment. It is to say that perhaps in a different generation such as that of Abraham,  Noah would not of been so impressive.

The Rednecker Rav views this a little differently.
A very close friend of mine who’s  insights about human nature in general and New Yorkers in specific are always spot on pointed this out some years ago. To wit, he feels that everyone has a certain yardstick by which they are measured by in G-Ds estimation. Each person has a “tafkid”, an objective to accomplish while on this earth. It could be a nominal observance of Judaism such as going to shul twice a year for some. For others it is much greater such as finding a cure for polio or starting a charity.
From this point of view, whether one would succeed in another generation is irrelevant. Their level of success is judged by the particular circumstances they live in.

Noah, as we know, goes on to unfortunately embark on a downhill course after the flood  ends. He debases himself after becoming drunk from the vineyard he planted. Additionally he  fathered Ham, the forerunner of the Cannanite nation, the arch enemies of the Jewish nation.
Does that change the concept of Noah having grace?

Not at all, I would argue.
We know that Noah also had another child, Shem, the progenitor of the Semite nation, ie the Jewish people.

I think the take-home message for the parsha is that we all have potential to gain Hashems favor or grace, each in our own way. Although we may stumble and not be always stay on track, we can find comfort that Hashem gives us each our own way to find “grace” and there fore a purposeful life. (Even without country music)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bereshis-Homecoming (without the sock- hop)

As a high school age kid growing up in the south, the change from oppressive heat and humidity of summer  to the cool crisp fall air could only mean one thing- Football. It’s important to put in context  that in the the south,  where church attendance is sacrosanct, high school football takes on an almost religious significance.
The official kick off of the football season was marked by the first big home field game known as Homecoming.
During the days leading up to the game there was an almost palpable excitement in the school halls and classrooms. Football team members houses were “rolled” -literally decorated with toilet paper. Homemade banners were displayed on their laws stating “Defeat Dunwoody” or “Cage the Cougars” or something like that. The actual game on some level was rigged that they would play a worse team in order to guarantee a victory. Nonetheless, the crowning event of homecoming was the dance afterwards known as a “sock hop”. Held in the high school gym which doubled as the auditorium, basketball court and stage for drama class (technically my first off Broadway play- Oliver!) For homecoming it was transformed into a music call with the requisite ear splitting loud music and almost blinding strobe lights. The only requirement was shoes were not permitted as they might scuff the floor.

Of course in observant Judaism, especially at the day school or Yeshiva level there is no football season, no cheerleaders (obvious tznius issues) and no equivalent of a sock hop.
However, I would argue that we do have something akin to homecoming.
We just completed Shimini Atzeres and Shimchat Torah. (I’m still full and there’s tons of leftovers)

Both holidays continue the theme of Sukkot, namely the Zman Simchasaynu or “time of our happiness” . On some level (lahavdil) this whole process is like a homecoming. The “big game” is of course the beginning of the Torah cycle anew this week with parsha Bereshis.
The Torah opens with the description of creation. Commentators including Rashi are somewhat puzzled by the opening salvo בראשית ברא translated “in the beginning of his creation G-D created” this first calls out loud for an explanation. Rashi further states that the rabbis explain it as such: God created the world for the sake of the Torah which is called the “beginning” or ראשית of creation and gave the Torah for the sake of Israel who are called (in Yirimiah/Jeremiah) the ראשית /beginning of G-day’s way.

I think the take-home here for the us is that the culmination of the Yomim Tovim is to bring us back to our “home”- namely as the “people of the book” for which we are taught that a person should view him/herself that the world was built for their sake. Not to be taken as a self-centered viewpoint of the world, but rather an understanding that we have a mission to for fill G-d’s will in the world and we have the Torah as our blueprint on how to do it.

With that in mind I derive a great deal of comfort  knowing that tomorrow I’m coming back home to the beginning of the book that makes us who we are as the Jewish people.
With that I wish y’all a good Shabbos and homecoming. Go team!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vayeilech- Write your own Torah

When I was a kid growing up in Atlanta, Hebrew education consisted of a few hours Sunday morning and perhaps one or two afternoons a week (baseball or music lessons permitting) Other than a promise for a Slurpee or Lik a Stik at 7-11 afterward, there wasn’t a great amount of motivation to attend.

Unfortunately, as a BT, that lack of education has haunted me for the last 30 years. Like most late comers to observant Judaism, I have an inferiority complex when I’m around people that were “FFB”

To be certain, my hick accent when I’m speaking hebrew  or yiddish around these Yankees doesn’t help.

The desire to spare my children from this sort of embarrassment is probably the greatest motivator for how hard I work to fund their education. My wife jokes that I am the only person who’s excited to write a check to the Day school.

 With that in mind it’s always nice to see a return on your investment. My eldest son, who was bar mitzvahed earlier this year is going to layn the Torah this week (at two minyanim, no less!)

Granted it is the shortest parsha in the Torah but even on my best day with a year of practice I doubt I could pull it off.

 The brings to mind the theme of parsha Vayeilech- Namely to “write  for yourself a Sefer Torah”

The commentators grapple with what the mitzvah entails. There are some (Ibn Ezra) that say it means mamash to write your own scroll. The Talmud in Nedarim seems to echo this.

If you look at it though on a deeper level I think there’s a very important mussar lesson.

As much At some point, our overall excitement and enthusiasm for observance tends to wane.  Tefillin might become a chore rather than a sacred meeting with Hashem. Learning may not stimulate us the way it did during our year (or month in my case) in Israel. Mitzvot may not have the same “tam” they did when they were new to us. 

 I think that is what the parsha is trying to teach us. By “writing ourselves a new Torah” we are instructed to try and find new meaning and new excitement in our observance. Whether our bar mitzvah was earlier this year or 30 years ago, we still have some residual capacity to find novel aspects of Judaism that engage us. Hopefully with a little help from above we can all tap into this.

Y’all have a good Shabbos