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A Sudden Loss In Cabin Pressure - Bereishit 5776 / 2015

10/10/2015 08:25:50 PM


We just blessed the new month of Cheshvan and we just read Parshat Bereishit. This is a good time to talk about new beginnings.

We also happen to have a large number of families who have just been blessed with a child and a number of expecting families.

I love the story about the couple who brought their 4 week old baby to see the their Rebbe.When they entered his study they proudly proclaimed that they wanted to start their child’s Jewish education as soon as possible so they wanted advice from the Rebbe. His first response was: “what took you so long.”

Despite the focus on parents and children,  I think what I have to say this morning is actually relevant to everyone in this room.

I have been reading parts of the Eulogies given by family members of the late Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.

As many of you know, Rav Lichtenstein was the Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a towering figure of Talmudic brilliance and the highest standards of humility, ethics and menschlechkeit.

As I was reading the eulogies, one theme stood out - the notion of dugma ishit - personal example.

There are two ways to teach  - one by telling people what to do, the other by setting an example by living with high standards.

Listen to some of the eulogies by Rav Lichtenstein’s children.

Hi son Yitzchak said: “I don’t recall even one time that Abba just sat on the sofa and didn't learn or do something that he felt was a mitzvah. He didn't just sit and pass the time. About a year ago, I was sitting by Abba's bedside in the hospital on Shabbat, when, in a semi-conscious state, he gave an entire shiur on the difference between borer on Shabbat and Yom Tov. That was the degree to which he was one with the Torah.”

His son Shai said: “Every moment was dear to him, yet he gave so freely of his time to others. I remember him sometimes coming home at 11 o'clock at night from the Yeshiva because one of the students needed to speak with him personally. Other times, he would be learning in his study and we would come home with Mommy and call out, "We're home!" and he would always come downstairs and chat with us…”

Of course, these recollections do not come only from his children. Students, as much as they praise his erudition in Talmud, speak with great reverence about his interpersonal conduct.

Rav Ron Yitzchak Eisenman who was a student at Har Etzion when the Yom Kippur war broke out told the following amazing story.

One precious incident that I remember occurred on Yom Kippur 1973 at the beginning of the war. Buses arrived at the Yeshiva to pick up the "boys" and bring them to the front, and the boys asked their commanders for one minute to go to the Beit Midrash and ask HaRav Aharon for a bracha before they went out to defend the Jewish people. But the Rav was nowhere to be found. Crestfallen, the boys disappointedly began to board the buses. Suddenly an apparition appeared; it was a tall, lanky figure clad in a white kittel running toward the buses, carrying something white. As the figure neared, the boys were astounded as they realized what they were witnessing. They were witnessing greatness. Rav Aharon was the apparition, running toward the buses with his hands laden down with rolls of toilet paper. As he breathlessly approached the boys he blurted out, “I want to help in some way; so I figured that in everyone’s haste to leave on Yom Kippur perhaps no one had remembered to bring this vital necessity!”


Then there are the legendary stories of how Rav Lichtenstein used to daven the entire Shabbat davening outloud into his father’s ear who was blind and unable to read the siddur on his own. Sometimes students would go speak to him to find that he was horse because he had to scream the davening into his father’s ear.

The idea of serving as a dugma Ishit - role model - is so central to Judaism that the Rabbis, in the Talmud, teach us about God’s attributes and at times explicitly state that we are to imitate them.

This week’s Parsha offers a representative example.

Let’s start with a strange verse.

Here is what happened on the sixth day of creation.


24 And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind, cattle and creeping things and the beasts of the earth according to their kind," and it was so.


כדוַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה לְמִינָהּ בְּהֵמָה וָרֶמֶשׂ וְחַיְתוֹ אֶרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וַיְהִי כֵן:

25And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kind and the cattle according to their kind, and all the creeping things of the ground according to their kind, and God saw that it was good.


Now is where things get a little bit difficult


כהוַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וְאֶת הַבְּהֵמָה לְמִינָהּ וְאֵת כָּל רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:

26 And God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth."


כווַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל הָאָרֶץ וּבְכָל הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ:

Do you hear the problem? Who on earth is God talking to? Literally, there is no one on earth to talk to.

Rashi offers a wonderful answer:

ענותנותו של הקב"ה למדנו מכאן, לפי שהאדם בדמות המלאכים ויתקנאו בו לפיכך נמלך בהם

Let us make man: From here we learn the humility of the Holy One, blessed be He. Since man was created in the likeness of the angels, and they would envy him, He consulted them.

Rashi explains why this is such a radical idea.

Even though they [the angels] did not assist Him in His creation, and there is an opportunity for the heretics to rebel (to misconstrue the plural as a basis for their heresies), Scripture did not hesitate to teach proper conduct and the trait of humility, that a great person should consult with and receive permission from a smaller one.

אף על פי שלא סייעוהו ביצירתו ויש מקום למינים לרדות, לא נמנע הכתוב מללמד דרך ארץ ומדת ענוה שיהא הגדול נמלך ונוטל רשות מן הקטן.

God was willing to take a huge risk that people think that there is more than one God in order to teach this lesson in humility.

This is a wonderful teaching. But it begs the questions. Why did God not simply teach or command the importance of humility which would have achieved the desired educational goal without the risk of heresy that is borne out of this verse?

This question bothered Rabbi Mordecai ben Avraham Yaffe (c. 1530, Prague – March 7, 1612, Posen; Hebrew: מרדכי בן אברהם יפה)  He is best known as author of Levush Malkhut, a ten-volume codification of Jewish law that particularly stressed the customs of the Jews of Eastern Europe. He is known as "the Levush", for this work.

Rabbi Yaffe’s answer is instructive.

The most powerful way to teach the importance of humility is by an example of God’s humility. God was not willing to “farm -out” this teaching to anyone else. He insisted that it be learned via an example that included Him.

As parents and community members we serve as role models for our children and the children in the community.

I’d like to suggest that we should intensely focus on the role modeling that we are doing.

A few community issues, specifically related to our teens has been on my mind lately.

Our teen minyan in struggling. There is a definite lack of enthusiasm and i would like to suggest that one way to engender greater and more on time participation is by role modeling. We will not get very far by telling our kids to get to teen minyan on time if our kids do not see that getting to shul on time is our priority.

I think  we can do better with overall attendance on Friday night, especially when it comes to young women in our congregation. Now, that can happen if parents model for their children the importance of coming to shul on Friday night. Yes, it may take some rearranging of friday afternoon schedules, but I know that we can do better.

What about brachot before and after eating- every meal at home - not just on shabbat. Our kids are taught in school to make Brachot and yet, sadly, when they eat a home, at least in many occasions, they do not see their parents modeling that behaviour.This is possibly one of the most elementary aspects of Jewish living and an easy opportunity to role model for our children.

This is the perfect time to do it. As I said on Shmini Atzeret, we are entering a long stretch of time without the fanfare of a Yom Tov. What better time is there to show our kids that our Judaism is a total and consistent commitment.

I am sure you are familiar with the instruction:

“In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will automatically descend from the ceiling. Grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have children travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs”.

You know there is a Jewish version of this and it comes from the Talmud in tractate Bava Batra (60b)

“R. Jannai had a tree which overhung the public way, and another man also had a tree overhanging the street. Some passers-by objected and he was summoned before R. Jannai. He said to him: Go away now and come again tomorrow. During the night he sent and had his own tree cut down. On the next day the man came back and he told him to go and cut the tree down. He said: But you, Sir, also have one? He replied: Go and see. If mine is cut down, cut yours down, and if mine is not cut down you need not cut yours down….”

The Talmud continues’: “Why did he not say to the man, Go and cut yours down and then I will cut down mine? — In conformity with the maxim of Resh Lakish, who said: [It is written], התקוששו וקושו - Hithkosheshu wakoshu: trim yourselves and then trim others.

It is possible that in our community and in our families - we have experienced a loss of Jewish cabin pressure. As the flight attendant says - secure your mask first. If we do, our children will mimic us and we will be able to create a robust Jewish atmosphere here and in our homes.

Thu, July 2 2020 10 Tammuz 5780