This coming Sunday, 28 Tishrei, is the Yahrtzeit of my dear friend, Daniel Scarowsky, z"l.
This week's shtikle is dedicated leiluy nishmaso, Daniel Moshe Eliyahu ben Yitzchak.
Earlier today was the bris of our baby boy whom we named Yitzchak Chaim. Below are some thoughts expressed at the seudah.
Parshas Bereishis is a very appropriate week for us to be making this Bris. We have just finished a complete cycle of the Torah, one we've been through over and over again. And here we are, cycling back all the way to the beginning and starting all over again. We've done this year in and year out and still we approach it once again as a new beginning. It was just less than 4 months ago we were standing here celebrating Efrayim's Bar Mitzvah. Now, don't worry, I definitely realize that we are by no means done but a Bar Mitzvah certainly does signify a momentous checkpoint in the cycle of life not just for the child but for the parents as well. And here we are now starting a whole new beginning, trying to dust off the cobwebs of baby parenthood, trying to figure out yet again the best way to change a diaper. It certainly brings the timing into perspective.
My father challenged me to try to find some hints to bris milah in the parsha. While that might be somewhat difficult, the references to childbirth and child-rearing are almost too easy. But I'd like to reflect on a point that the Rav spoke about in his drashah this past Shabbos. To summarize, the challenges of chinuch must be tackled long before they appear to become relevant. The effort you put into building a home and raising your children must start well before they enter this world. There is a Rashi which seems to directly support this point. Harbah arbeh itzevoneich veheironeich, b'etzev teiledi vanim (3:16). "I will intensify your pain and travail, with great pain you will bear children." Rashi understands the first term, itzevoneich, as a reference to tza'ar gidul banim, the anguish involved in raising children. It is only the next two that refer to the pains of pregnancy and childbirth. There is certainly so much that can be discussed about this pasuk but the glaring nuance to me has always been this interesting chronology placing the challenge of tza'ar gidul banim first. Although it has been argued that since Chava had already given birth when the curse was given, it made sense for tza'ar gidul banim to come first, I still believe that this pasuk, with Rashi's interpretation is teaching us this lesson of how early this challenge must be addressed.
The name we chose for our son, Yitzchak Chaim, is the name of my wife Haviva's father's father, Rabbi Yitzchak Yeres. Haviva shared a very special bond with her grandparents from her many visits to the Bronx and as well, during her years in Eretz Yisrael. I came into the family at the later stages of his life. He was not able to attend our wedding but I did have the good fortune of being able to meet Sabba Rabba and Savta Rabba, as they were called, when we visited Eretz Yisrael early in our marriage. What I found so striking was not only his nei'mus, the sweetness with which he interacted with everyone around him with his radiant smile, but how quickly and seamlessly that sweetness became apparent. It wasn't hidden under many layers; he wore it on his sleeve. I still have fond memories of our one visit and how he called for our taxi back to Yerushalayim and escorted us to the car to pre-pay and make sure we got in, like he did for so many other grandchildren. I can still recall the sweetness of his voice in the annual birthday voicemails he would leave. And the truth is, you could even feel it in the emails he would write. I brought with me a publication that was put out by the family after his passing for the benefit of those who did not know him to perhaps get a glimpse of what I'm trying to portray. One of the iconic photos of Sabba Rabba is of him pensively but joyfully holding the lulav and esrog in shul on Sukkos. So it is most fitting that our Yitzchak Chaim was born on Sukkos. Although we were already decided on the name, I was actually looking for some sort of sign after he was born. Haviva was placed in room 174 which I quickly calculated was the gematria of עקד, which was good enough for me. Of course, it's never a bad idea to have a solid mnemonic to make sure you always get the right hospital room.
Sabba Rabba was born in the 1920's in Camden, NJ. The environment in America back then, of course, was one where maintaining a religious Jewish identity was hardly a foregone conclusion. Supplementing a public-school education with afternoon Talmud Torah was the norm. But he persevered and ultimately married and settled in the Bronx and taught limudei kodesh in Ramaz. Remarkably, after retiring, in his 60'she returned to Yeshiva University to complete his semichah which he had started many years prior and actually finished with one of his other sons. Even in his later years after having made aliyah, he always made time for learning. I often enjoy hearing stories about how Sabba Rabba and Savta Rabba used to live their pashut, simple lives in ways we cannot even fathom these days. We see fancy houses and cars and other various luxuries and feel that is something we would like to have but really it is our minds playing with us and convincing us that those exterior items might make our lives better. But if we really sat down with a clear and honest mind we would realize that the real true kin'ah, that which we really crave, is the ability to live life as simply as they did in bygone generations without any desire for all the new-fangled indulgences we enjoy today. Although this might be a lofty goal to seek, the stories we hear from the olden days in the Bronx give us – at the very least – a small taste of what that life was like.
There are truly so many ways in which we wish our little Yitzchak Chaim to emulate his namesake, to be an aliyah for the neshamah and ultimately be a source of – as Sabba Rabba would often say – harbeh nachat.