Monday, September 27, 2010

Two-for-One Simchat Torah and Beresheet

Simchat Torah
Parashat V’Zot Habracha
by Josh Weinstein, MH Palo Alto

It was a month ago, late at night, when I received a call from my father. Josh, he said, almost whispering, Zayde has passed away. My reaction was total incomprehension; something I later heard was not unique to me. Why would he do that? Who killed him? The notion that my grandfather, Eddie Weinstein, could expire by any natural means seemed utterly impossible. Only a few years earlier he was still running the same sweater factory in Queens he had built from scratch decades ago. I for one could not understand how a man who had insisted just six weeks beforehand on stopping for beer after dark on highway E30 en route to Warsaw could have any less than ten years left. This was a man who gushed about his children and grandchildren while communicating his life experiences before schools in the Bronx and by video-conference with schools in Australia, exuding infinite resolve. And yet one August 12, he quietly left us in his sleep.

Arriving in New York the following day and looking out onto the five hundred attendees at his funeral, I felt dazed. This crowd had gathered for what was to me a very personal loss. Eddie was the grandfather who took me to Met games, who listened patiently to me when I was seven as I explained to him what I had learned about the week’s parsha at day school, and who had given me a summer job on his factory floor when I was nine, measuring and marking zippers. And yet Eddie was also a man who had remained alive within the gates of the man-made hell known as Treblinka II for 17 days, witnessing the darkest depths of inhumanity in the fiery pits that consumed more than eight hundred thousand Jewish men, women, and children, his mother and brother among them. A man who, with an untreated bullet wound to his right lung, smuggled himself out of the camp in a train car filled with the belongings of slain innocents. A man who made it back to his town’s ghetto to warn the remaining inmates, who hid in the dyke of a fish pond for a year and a half, and who finally, escaped capture when turned into the German authorities by local Polish villagers. A man who joined the Polish Second Army, marched on Saxony, and proudly participated in Germany’s defeat.

My visit with my grandfather to Treblinka in late June was my first and his last. He was the last able-bodied survivor of that death camp, and after lighting yarzeit candles and reciting kaddish, he walked away, my arm around his back. Standing before the hundreds who came to pay their respects in New York six weeks later, I found the realization of the significance of this event, in its seeming finality, overwhelming. It was as though my memory of him merged right then and there with the vast sea of collective Jewish memory and longing, of loved ones lost and families rebuilt, of a civilization destroyed and renewed.

Every year on Simchat Torah we read from parshat Vezot ha’Bracha and recall the passing of Moses, unable to enter the Promised Land: vayamat sham moshe eved hashem b’eretz moav. The Torah ends with an affirmation of Moses’ uniqueness in what he had done for and before the Children of Israel.

The generation that is passing from us now is one that, in protecting and rebuilding a people and civilization on the verge of annihilation, achieved something tangibly similar to what Moses did in taking the Israelites out of Egypt. In their brief interlude upon the earth, this generation brought us up from the deepest abyss and gave us a future of unimaginable opportunity to live our lives as Jews. They restored Jewish sovereignty in Israel, they unleashed creative genius in every field of science and literature, and those like Eddie became the embodiment of the American dream, building new lives, successful businesses, and loving Jewish families.

The two final readings on Simchat Torah, the first parts of The Book of Genesis and The Book of Joshua, remind us both of the chaos from which our world has come and of what is required of us in facing its uncertainties and challenges. As God reminds Joshua, rak hazak ve’amatz, only strength and courage. We must remember that while people die, legacies do not; that they are there to be built upon, and not to gather dust as relics of history. So may it be with our grandparents’, so may it be with our parents’, and so may it be with our own.

Josh Weinstein is a graduate student at Stanford University and a resident in Moishe House Palo Alto

Eddie Weinstein’s memoir, 17 Days in Treblinka, is published by Yad Vashem

The Big Beresheet BANG!

I want to share this very simple idea with you about the word Beresheet. It begins with the letter BEIT (ב) and is the first letter of the Torah. The letter is a bracket, or a container for all that is to come. And all that is to come is the creation of the world and the continual unfolding story of the entire universe, including your own story. That is quite a lot!

Inside the letter ב is a small little dot. The dot tells us that in order to pronounce the letter we have to squeeze are lips together and then create a small burst that makes a B sound. Try it! Make a B sound really slowly and experience that tiny explosion.

Think about all the potential that is squeezed into the beginning of the Torah cycle, the beginning of another yearly cycle in your personal life. I imagine that the dot in the ב is a reminder of the Big Bang, that tiny intense pregnant particular from which all matter exploded from. That is the moment of starting the Torah again, the whole year is compacted into the first sound and when we speak the first word we let loose the chain of events that will lead us into the New Year.

It is a time of year to bring intention to how you embark on new beginnings. What is your mindset going into the New Year? What are some of your first thoughts and words? What are the activities that you engage in? I invite you to act, think, and intend as if you knew it would impact your entire year to come.

Many blessings!

Zvi Bellin, MHHQ


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