Say little, do much

Say little, do much

A dog that barks much is never a good hunter. -Proverb

The Torah and the Rabbis had little use for braggarts. They consistently look unfavorably at those who talk much, but at the end of the day don’t come through. On the other hand, they laud those who under-commit yet over-perform. We should always be striving to deliver beyond expectations, as the ancient sage Shamai famously exhorts in Chapters of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 1:15, “say little and do much.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 23:15 learns the above from the story and actions of Abraham. When the angels come to visit Abraham, Abraham states that he’ll give them some bread, but in actuality brings out a veritable feast, including mounds of freshly baked cakes and freshly-prepared meat. Abraham proves himself to be the model of generous hospitality. The righteous say little and do much.

Conversely, the wicked say much and don’t even do a little. We see this from the scene of the negotiation between Abraham and Efron. Abraham’s wife Sarah had passed away in the city of Hebron. Abraham needs to bury her and has identified the Cave of Mahpelah, within Efron’s property as the ideal location. Efron is effusive in his declarations that he will gift not just the cave, but the entire property to Abraham. However, the bottom line is that Efron demands a princely sum of 400 shekel for land whose market value was likely significantly cheaper. Rabbeinu Bechaye adds that the numerical value of Efron’s name is equivalent to “evil eye,” indicating his miserly attitude.

There is a direct correlation of being generous with ones time and resources for the benefit of others and delivering over and above the call of duty, without saying much or drawing attention to oneself. Likewise, there is also a direct correlation between loud proclamations of future generosity and effort, yet a stingy and underwhelming  performance.

May we be among those who say little and do much.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our daughter, Tiferet, on her Bat-Mitzvah.

 

Sarah’s Stages of Life

Sarah’s Stages of Life 

Of any stopping place in life, it is good to ask whether it will be a good place from which to go on as well as a good place to remain.  -Mary Catherine Bateson

happy-old-womanThe first Matriarch of the Jewish people, Sarah, is reported as having lived to the grand old age of 127 years. The phraseology however is unusual. It states that she lived “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years.”  Rashi, the classic rabbinic commentator, explains that the strange presentation of the years of Sarah’s life comes to teach us that at one hundred years she still had the innocence of a young adult, and that at twenty years old she still had the beauty of a seven year old.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 23:1 takes this interpretation one step further and explains that Sarah’s particular achievement was that she lived each stage of her life correctly and was then able to bring those positive attributes to the next stage of her life. Hence, she possessed an untainted pure beauty from her childhood that stayed with her the rest of her life. Likewise and perhaps connected to it, she retained a childlike innocence both in her young adulthood and throughout her long life.

It seems there was some inner quality in Sarah, independent of any outward guises or efforts, which radiated purity, youth and beauty.

May we find and develop those inner qualities.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Tamara on her birthday.

 

Programmed Luck

 

 

 I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it. -Thomas Jefferson 

roulette-wheel

The servant of Abraham, named in the Midrash as Eliezer, is tasked with the mission to travel north-east out of Canaan to return to Abraham’s family in Haran and find a bride for Isaac. However, Eliezer has a conflict of interests.

According to the Midrash, Eliezer was hoping that Isaac would marry one of his own daughters thereby uniting the venerable servant to the family of the man he so admired. But Abraham prohibits Eliezer from allowing Isaac to marry any woman from Canaan, including Eliezer’s daughters, even if he should fail to find a bride for Isaac. Nonetheless, what choice would there be if Eliezer failed in his mission? If Eliezer were to return empty-handed from his search, then perhaps it would be better for Isaac to marry one of Eliezer’s presumably well-educated daughters rather than the local idol-worshipping Canaanites?

However, we see Eliezer acting honestly and nobly and even praying for the success of his mission. The Sfat Emet in the year 5632 and 5633 (1872 and 1873) explains that Eliezer was praying that he shouldn’t be biased. He prayed that he should fulfill his mission with completely pure intentions of finding the best bride for Isaac and completing Abraham’s wishes, despite his own personal hopes and desires. By suppressing his own private aspirations and staying purely focused on his mission, he merited unprecedented fortune in accomplishing his task. He finds the bride, Rebecca, our Matriarch, immediately – what are the odds amongst an entire city of people? Against family resistance, proposed delays and according to the Midrash, an assassination plot, Eliezer returns with Rebecca the very next day – his mission a historic and miraculous success – against all odds.

The Sfat Emet states that when one has a pure heart, God nullifies the very fabric of time and nature to assist man with his mission.

May we be so pure of purpose and lucky in our results.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To outgoing President of the Jewish Community of Uruguay, Alberto Buszkaniec. He has had purity of purpose and great success in his noble charge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afternoon Matchmaking

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/chaye-sara-afternoon-matchmaking/

Baal Haturim Genesis: Chaye Sara

Afternoon Matchmaking

Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate. -W. H. Auden

The shortest, though perhaps the most challenging prayer of the day is the afternoon prayer (Mincha). The morning one (Shacharit) is the longest, but for those who introduce it into their routine, it turns into an excellent start to their day. The night prayer (Arvit) is not too long and is a great way to cap off ones busy day. But Mincha is different. It involves a very conscious decision to stop what one is in the middle of, and set aside some minutes for God.

The Baal Haturim on 24:63 reminds us of the tradition that our patriarch Isaac was the one who instituted the Mincha prayer. What is interesting about the Biblical source for this tradition is that immediately after praying that afternoon, Isaac’s bride-to-be appears.

Was it Isaac’s selfless time for God that earned him the appearance of a wife? Does stopping our personal pursuits and beseaching God for intervention in our lives actually lead to some stronger divine involvement?

The Baal Haturim ends his explanation with the famous dictum, Matza Isha Matza Tov (One who found a wife, found goodness). This perhaps goes against a growing trend that glorifies singlehood.

May those who seek a spouse merit divine intervention and those who have a spouse remember and reinforce the goodness that marriage is meant to be.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the single people in our lives. May they find the right partner – at the right time.

Reconciliación

ficción bíblica: Jaiei Sara

Reconciliación

Hagar y Ismael

Hagar y Ismael

Aunque Ismael tenía trece años más que Isaac, aún así parecía más musculoso y vigoroso que su medio-hermano de aspecto intelectual. Las décadas de Ismael como merodeador no habían hecho nada para disminuir su vitalidad. La enorme asamblea le abrió el paso a Ismael mientras caminaba con confianza, haciéndose camino para encontrarse con Isaac a la entrada de la cueva de Majpelá, en las colinas de Hebrón.

Isaac había estado pensando en esta reunión desde hacía algún tiempo. Él debería demostrarle el tradicional honor a su distanciado y exiliado hermano.

Ismael se detuvo a dos pasos de Isaac con una expresión indescifrable en el rostro. Todas las personas presentes parecieron contener el aliento, a la espera de ver cómo se desarrollaría el reencuentro de los hijos de Abraham.

Isaac extendió sus brazos a Ismael, dándole un ligero abrazo y besos superficiales en cada mejilla. Ismael correspondió por instinto, pero aún se mantenía tenso.

—Hermano —dijo Isaac con formalidad, inclinando ligeramente la cabeza.

—Hermano —Ismael reflejó el movimiento.

—Es un gran honor para nuestro padre que hayas venido a participar en la ceremonia de su entierro —anunció Isaac.

—Isaac, eres tú el que me honra por permitirme participar.

—¿Como podía ser de otra manera? Eres su hijo mayor. Por favor, condúcenos tú a la cueva para comenzar la ceremonia —Isaac hizo un gesto hacia la abertura estrecha cueva.

—No, Isaac. Tú debes ingresar en primer lugar.

—Nuestro padre habría querido que yo te honre a ti y que te dejara que comiences el procedimiento.

—Me honras por haber esperado por mí y permitirme participar en absoluto. Yo ni siquiera merezco este honor. He sido una vergüenza y una mancha para el nombre de nuestro padre. Tú eres su verdadero heredero. El mundo lo sabe —Ismael miró a Isaac a los ojos y luego bajó la cabeza.

Isaac se acercó y tomó a Ismael por el hombro.

—Es cierto que nuestro padre podría haber estado decepcionado con tu estilo de vida, pero no dudo de que te haya amado de cualquier manera.

Ismael miró hacia arriba, con la voz cargada de emoción.

—Eso es lo que es tal vez lo más doloroso. Él me amaba y aún así me exilió.

—No le dejaste otra opción. Amenazaste con arruinar su misión y todo lo que él representaba y creía.

—Ahora lo sé. Yo era demasiado testarudo. No entendía lo que me decía. Siguió dándome segundas oportunidades. Supuse que no habría una línea que yo no podría cruzar.

—Creo que si hubiera sido únicamente por nuestro padre, él nunca te habría desterrado. Dios le dio una orden directa.

—Sí. Padre probablemente debería haber sido más firme conmigo en una etapa temprana, antes de que tuviera que tomar medidas tan drásticas. Casi me muero en el desierto.

—Dios estuvo contigo, en su propia manera. No creo que Dios jamás te haya abandonado, ni siquiera en lo más profundo de tus problemas.

—Dios ha estado conmigo y me ha dado una gran riqueza, niños y el éxito en todas mis empresas. Sin embargo, yo no siempre estuve con Dios.

—Entonces ven, hermano —Isaac intentó maniobrar Ismael hacia la entrada—. Condúcenos a la cueva. Puedo ver claramente que te has arrepentido de sus acciones. Dios ama a los penitentes y sería un gran placer para nuestro padre que tú puedas iniciar la ceremonia.

—No —dijo Ismael con firmeza tranquila, sin moverse de su lugar—. De esto estoy convencido, lo he pensado mucho. Tú has sido y siempre serás el verdadero heredero de nuestro padre, tú eres el hijo de su amada alma gemela, Sara. Cualquier reclamación que podría haber tenido como primogénito, la renuncié por darle la espalda a las enseñanzas de nuestro padre. Aunque lamento profundamente lo que he hecho con mi vida, y voy a tratar de hacer las paces con lo que queda de ella, algunas cosas no se pueden cambiar. Algunos errores no pueden ser corregidos. Las manchas no pueden sanar por completo. Tú eres el heredero único y verdadero. La fe y la misión de nuestro padre correrán puramente por tus venas.

—¿Estás seguro de que deseas renunciar a este honor? —Isaac preguntó tiernamente.

—Sí, mi hermano. Además, es una falta de respeto tanto a nuestro Padre como a la multitud reunida que nosotros sigamos aquí debatiendo.

Isaac apretó el hombro de Ismael, y de repente lo abrazó en un abrazo fuerte y largo. Las lágrimas corrían por sus ojos.

Sin decir una palabra, Isaac dio la vuelta y se dirigió hacia la entrada de la cueva estrecha, seguido de cerca por Ismael.

Por primera vez en su relación, Isaac sintió que su espalda no estaba en peligro por amenazas de su hermano. De hecho, se sentía más seguro.

 

Para los padres de Solteros

Netziv Génesis: Jaiei Sara

Para los padres de Solteros

“Las alegrías de padres son secretas, y también sus aflicciones y temores.” – Francis Bacon

Hay una alegría especial y única que un padre siente en el éxito del matrimonio de su hijo. Del mismo modo, hay un dolor especial y único que un padre siente cuando un niño no se puede conectar con el compañero de su vida.

Hay un gran debate, discusión y controversia en cuanto a la medida en que un padre debe estar involucrado en fomentar y facilitar el matrimonio de sus hijos. Obviamente, mucho dependerá de las personalidades individuales, la dinámica familiar, las relaciones y mucho más. Algunos padres son conocidos por acosar a sus hijos sobre el tema hasta el punto de dañar seriamente la relación entre padres e hijos. Algunos padres evitan el tema como si se tratara de un mandato divino de mantenerse alejado de siquiera insinuar el tema, pero luego dejan al niño sin ningún tipo de orientación o apoyo. La mayoría caen en algún punto intermedio, haciendo lo mejor para caminar por la cuerda floja de los sentimientos, emociones, esperanzas, expectativas y decepciones que la vida pone en nuestro camino.
Cuando es hora de que nuestro patriarca Isaac se casara, nos encontramos con su padre Abraham completamente en el asiento del piloto. Abraham le da la dirección, presenta las prioridades, la financiación, los recursos y la ayuda que puede aportar, para asegurarse de que su hijo se casaría bien. Todo el episodio es curiosamente precedido por la declaración de que Abraham era viejo. El Netziv en Génesis 24:1 explica que los detalles de la edad de Abraham son para aclarar a nosotros la razón porque Abraham no fue personalmente a buscar la novia de Isaac. Si hubiera sido más joven y más fuerte de la salud, el Netziv dice, Abraham habría tenido la obligación de viajar personalmente a Harán para garantizar la unión de Isaac con Rebeca.

El Netziv deja claro que el padre tiene la obligación de hacer todo lo posible, todo lo que está dentro de sus poderes y capacidades, (con diplomacia y sensibilidad), para alentar, apoyar y realizar el matrimonio de sus hijos.

Que podamos bailar en muchas bodas juntos.

Shabat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedicación

En memoria de mi abuela Zahava Rosenthal, en el primer Yarzheit desde que nos dejó. Uno de sus regalos y alegrías especiales fue emparejar parejas nuevas.

To Parents of Singles

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/chayei-sarah-to-parents-of-singles/]

Netziv Genesis: Chayei Sarah

To Parents of Singles

“The joys of parents are secret, and so are their grieves and fears.” -Francis Bacon

There is a unique, special joy that a parent feels upon the successful marriage of their child. Likewise, there is a unique, special pain a parent feels when a child fails to connect with their life’s mate.

There is much debate, discussion and controversy as to the extent a parent should be involved in encouraging and facilitating the marriage of their child, if at all. Obviously much will depend on the individual personalities, family dynamics, relationships and more. Some parents are known to harass their children about the topic to the point of seriously damaging the child-parent relationship. Some parents shy away from the topic as if it were some divine command to steer clear of even hinting at the issue, but then leave the child without any guidance or support. Most fall somewhere in between, doing their best to walk the tightrope of feelings, emotions, hopes, expectations and disappointments that life throws our way.

When it is time for our Patriarch Isaac to marry, we find his father Abraham completely in the driver’s seat. Abraham gives the direction, provides the priorities, the funding, all the resources and assistance he can bring to bear, to ensure that his son marries well. The entire episode is curiously prefaced by the statement that Abraham was old. The Netziv on Genesis 24:1 explains that the details of Abraham’s age are to clarify for us the reason Abraham himself did not personally go to seek Isaac’s bride. If he would have been younger and of stronger health, the Netziv says, Abraham would have had the obligation to personally travel to Haran to see to and ensure the matching of Isaac with Rebecca.

The Netziv makes it clear that a parent is obligated to do all they can, all that is within their means and capacity, (with diplomacy and sensitivity), to encourage, support and enable the marriage of their children.

May we dance at many weddings together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of my grandmother Zahava Rosenthal, on the first Yarzheit since she left us. One of her special gifts and joys was to match couples together.