Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bris Speech

The following was the speech I gave at the Seudas Bris following the birth of our son.

וְהָאֵשׁ עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ תּוּקַד-בּוֹ לֹא תִכְבֶּה, וּבִעֵר עָלֶיהָ הַכֹּהֵן עֵצִים בַּבֹּקֶר בַּבֹּקֶר; וְעָרַךְ עָלֶיהָ הָעֹלָה, וְהִקְטִיר עָלֶיהָ חֶלְבֵי הַשְּׁלָמִים. ו אֵשׁ, תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ--לֹא תִכְבֶּה.

“The fire on the altar shall be kindled with it it shall not be extinguished. The kohein shall burn logs upon it each and every morning and arrange the burnt-offering on it and burn upon it the fats of the peace-offering. A continual fire shall be lit on the altar; it shall not be extinguished.”

The verses in this coming week’s parsha that speak about the fire which was lit on the Mizbeach cite the words “Lo Sichveh”/ do not extinguish twice. There is the idea that Hashem did not waste words when he gave over the Torah to Moshe, and in this vein, Rashi explains that one who extinguishes the fire that is lit on the Mizbeach had violated TWO negative prohibitions; one for each of the instances that the Torah says “Lo Sichveh”. We must examine this idea a bit deeper to understand why the Torah was so strict that it mandated two prohibitions for extinguishing the light that remained lit on the Mizbeach.

The Talmud Yerushalmi in Yoma quotes an opinion that says that this fire on the Mizbeach remained lit “af b’maasaos”, that is, it remained lit even when the Jewish people were traveling throughout the desert. However, another question lingers – since the Jews were not using the Mizbeach while they were traveling, why did they need this Aish, this fire, to remain lit, even when not in use?

Rabbi Yosef Greenwald says that here, there is a profound lesson that each of us should apply to our own lives, but first mentions that the word “TORAH” in the Tanach is frequently called “AISH”, so in our analysis we can substitute these words interchangeably. Rav Greenwald says that the Aish haTorah/ FIRE OF TORAH is something that is undoubtedly with us when we are learning and when we are davening. However, it is not enough that the Aish haTorah be lit in our lives only when we are engaged in spiritual pursuits; it must also be with us when we are engaged in the mundane. That is, we must take the Aish haTorah that is burning when we are engaged in the spiritual realm, and somehow infuse that in the rest of our lives, whether that be in school or in the workplace – somehow continually maintaining our connection to Yiddishkeit in any way possible, at all time. This is why the Torah was so strict in mandating TWO prohibitions for extinguishing the flame on the Mizbeach – that which the Mizbeach stood for, regardless of whether it was actually being used at a specific time, needed to permeate the lives of the Jewish people.

In fact, we see this idea in the timely story of Purim. The rabbis tell us that Esther, who was in Achashverosh’s harem for a number of years, was sure to maintain her connection to Judaism while in her stay at the palace. The rabbis comment that Esther appointed 7 servants, one for each day of the week, so she would know which day she was to observe Shabbos. However, the commentaries ask – did Esther not know how to count? She simply could’ve counted the days and known when Shabbos was that way. One beautiful answer that I saw was that if Esther would’ve only had 1 servant, and that one servant would’ve seen her acting differently on 1 day of the week (on SHABBOS), they would’ve become suspicious of her actions, and possibly reported them to the king of her being Jewish. However, in appointing seven DIFFERENT servants, for the servant who worked every Shabbos, Esther was acting no differently, and therefore, would arouse no suspicion. Thus, we see that, even while in the royal harem of Achachverosh, Esther was very calculated in making sure that she maintained a connection to Judaism.

Rabbi Kosman, the Rabbi in Frederick, often says that there is no such thing as a coincidence. It’s no coincidence then that man after whom we named our child, Yaakov Yerachmiel Hammermesh, my wife’s grandfather, fully embodied this approach to Judaism. Yaakov Yerachmiel lived in one of the most horrible times in Jewish history. The eyes and ears of anyone subjected to the Holocaust sensed things that you wouldn’t wish on your worst of enemies. One would think that even if the body would be able to recover from such experiences, certainly the mind would not – that is, it would be expected that such a person would lack Derech Eretz let alone even act humanly. However, as evidenced by his children and his grandchildren, it cannot simply be by accident that they inherited his gentle Kavod haBriyos and his Derech Eretz. Yaakov Yerachmiel raised a family that, even though rooted in the most troubling of times in Jewish history, had strong Jewish values. His experiences tested his faith in ways that none of us, God forbid, should ever know from, yet his resolve to pass Yiddishkeit onto his family is apparent to anyone that knows them. Just as it was the Jews’ responsibility to keep the Aish of the Mizbeach lit at all times, it is now our job as parents to kindle the Aish haTorah at all times for our son. Peggy and I thank all of your for coming out tonight and we know that if our son is surrounded by the same friends, parents, and grandparents that we are so lucky to have in our lives, then Yaakov Yerachmiel Laz will become a Jew that Yaakov Yerachmiel Hammermesh would’ve been proud of.