SHEMOS (Exodus, 1:1-6:1) — “My Grandson’s Bris –2”

Yesterday morning I was given the privilege of performing the Bris on my second grandson.  (I am not writing on the Torah Portion this week.  If you’d like to see something on the Torah Portion, there are several articles in the archives.  See the links at the bottom of this article.  “Coincidentally”, several of them are about Bris!)

My new grandson’s name is Yisrael Meir.

Yisrael Meir Goldenberg after his Bris, with his “big” cousin Moshe Dov Rudin

He is named after Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant, better known as Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, better known as the Chofetz Chaim.  (Brief biographies of the Chofetz Chaim can be found here and here.  Read his obituaries in the New York Times and Time magazine here.)

Rabbis  Lipkin and Kagan were Torah giants of world renown.   They were both experts in Talmud and Jewish law.  They both placed great emphasis on the importance of character development and interpersonal relationships.

I would like to share two examples, where the two great men interfaced.

The Chofetz Chaim was a prolific writer.  The Book which gave him his “nickname” was “Chofetz Chaim” (“He who desires life.”)  The title of the book is based upon Psalms, 34:13-14: Which man desires life…? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.  Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.

The book “Chofetz Chaim” discusses, in great detail, the terrible sin of “Lashon Hara”, gossip.  (This sin, too, is discussed in this week’s Torah Portion.  See  “Mother Goose Lied to Us”.)  Among his many works, there were three other books about refraining from gossip.  (For more information, click here.)

Someone once came to visit the Chofetz Chaim, and purchased every one of his books, with the exception of the four books about guarding one’s speech.  When the Chofetz Chaim pointed this out, the fellow explained, “Rabbi, I’m a businessman.  I speak to, and about, people all day long.  There’s no way I’ll be able to bring myself to adhere to these strict rules about speech.  If I read those books I’m just going to feel guilty.”

The Chofetz Chaim responded, “This is a common problem.  As a matter of fact, I discussed this question with Rabbi Yisrael Salanter.  He said that if someone studies the laws of proper speech, and all it accomplishes is to generate a sigh, it’s already worthwhile!”

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The Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Yisrael Salanter didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

The Chofetz Chaim writes about how to repent for the sin of gossip.  When we sin against another person, we need to rectify the problem before we can receive forgiveness from G-d.  For example, I can’t steal a million dollars, ask G-d for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, and then spend the money on a vacation in Tahiti.   I need to return the money and ask the injured party for forgiveness.  THEN, I can turn to G-d and ask Him for forgiveness as well.

In a similar vein, if I sin against you by gossiping about you, G-d won’t forgive that sin unless you do.  Therefore, writes the Chofetz Chaim, I need to ask you to forgive me for gossiping against you.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter disagreed with that ruling.  It is true, he argued, that G-d won’t forgive me for “dissing” you unless you forgive me first.  But what if you don’t know yet that I gossiped about you?  Won’t you be embarrassed when you find out what I told people about you?  What right do I have to compound my sin by embarrassing you in order to get G-d to forgive me?????

So what is the solution?  How would Rabbi Yisrael Salanter suggest going about repenting the sin of gossip and receiving G-d’s forgiveness?  You can’t. There is no solution.  You’re stuck.  No forgiveness.  (Unless, of course, you luck out and he issues a blanket statement that he forgives anyone who sinned against him, as many people do on Erev Yom Kippur, and some people do every night at bedtime!)

The real solution, of course, is to keep one’s mouth shut in the first place!

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We can see how concerned these great rabbis were about the religious obligation of treating every person with the utmost respect.  They taught that it is essential that we realize that our actions affect those around us, and that we must always be on our guard to assure that our every action is focused upon showing respect to G-d and His children.  It is my hope and prayer that little Yisrael Meir will grow up to follow the lessons of these Tzaddikim.

As we recite at every Bris, “Zeh Hakatton Gadol Yihyeh — May this small boy become a great man…”

May G-d watch over this precious little boy, and may he grow into the very large shoes that await him.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 From the Archives 

“My Grandson’s Bris – 2” (2010) 

Read More.

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“My Grandson the Priest” (2009) 

… Jethro recognized that Moses was an Israelite; he proposed a match with one of his daughters.

But there was a catch…Jethro would only agree to allow Moses to marry his daughter on the condition that the oldest son would be raised to be a priest of idol worship.

Pretty amazing, no?  Want to hear something even more amazing?  Moses agreed!! …

Read More .

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“Mrs. Moses: Certified Mohelet??!” (2008) 

Several years ago I was driving in the car listening to a discussion on the radio about circumcision.  Being a Mohel myself, I was, of course, very interested in the conversation.  I listened with curiosity and apprehension.

I get very uncomfortable when religious Jews call radio shows.  It is very difficult to explain a profound religious concept in a cogent and articulate manner when the host has his own ideas and can cut you off in mid-sentence.  Yet, the calls were coming in, and the host maintained that circumcision is done for health reasons.

Then an Italian lady called and said that she had her boys circumcised for health reasons, and was glad she did.  He said, “Thank you, dear,” and hung up.  Then he asked, “Hey, I wonder if a lady is allowed to be a Mohel.”

I braced myself for the responses.  A short time later, the host said, “Our next caller, from RocklandCounty, is Moysheh.  Hello, Moysheh.”

“Hello, Mr. Grant.  This is Moishe-the-Moyel from Monsey!”…

Read More.

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“Mrs. Moses Goes Home to Father” (2007)

… Moses was about to get a promotion.  He was about to become the Shepherd of Israel.   G-d assigned Moses the crucial task of leading his People out of Egypt.  There was, however, a problem.  There was the matter of his pre-nuptial agreement…

At one point, Zipporah decided to pack up the boys and go home.  There are various reasons given by the Commentaries.  The Chasam Sofer suggests that all was not well in the ben-Amram family…

Moses’ wife …went home.  … She would not accompany him to Egypt…

So what changed her mind? …

Read More.

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“The Secret Password” (2006)

What are the credentials of a savior of Israel? Imagine the scene:

The Sages of Israel have been summoned to a meeting. They have been enduring unspeakable horrors due to the agonizing slavery that his been placed upon them by their Egyptian taskmasters.  The meeting has been called by a fugitive, a wanted man.  Moses, the twelve-year-old son of Amram the Levite had absconded from Egypt to escape a murder conviction.  Now, as an eighty year-old man, he has returned to Egypt with an announcement…

Do we listen to Moses? Is he for real?  Is he on the level?  We haven’t seen this fellow in sixty-eight years! Suddenly he shows up with a Messianic proclamation, and he expects us to risk our skins by going to the Pharaoh with such an outrageous request!?

They bought it…

Read More.

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 “Pain in the Ukraine” (2004)

… A Mohel went to the Ukraine to usher Jewish men into the Covenant of Abraham.  As a fifteen-year-old Yeshiva student lay on the table, the Mohel read his medical chart.  The boy, as it turned out, was allergic to the anesthesia that the Mohel had brought from the U.S…  The Bris would have to be delayed… No, insisted the boy.  He wanted to have his Bris!  He would not get off the table.  He was adamant.  He was already fifteen years late; he would wait no longer!…The Mohel set out to do his holy work.  There was skin tissue to cut, and wounds to suture and cauterize.  The young man just lay there and endured it all.

He tried to be stoic and motionless.  Throughout the excruciating pain, he was silent.  But finally, he could be silent no more. It was just too painful.  He let out a blood-curdling scream…

Read More.

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“Watch Your Step!” (2004)

… I walked into my Bible class at one of the facilities where I am a chaplain, and presented them with a provocative question.  “How do we know,” I asked, “that G-d gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai?”

I wasn’t quite prepared for the response.  A little lady with a kerchief on her head — I’ll call her “Mrs. Cohen” — who almost always sat quietly through my various classes, called out, in a very German accent, “Because it says so in the Tow-raw!” (For those unfamiliar with the German pronunciation: Tow-raw — “Tow,” rhyming with “now”, and “raw,” rhyming with “saw.”)

I was frustrated.  She broke my momentum.  Sure, I thought, SHE believes that, but what about every one else?

“Yes, of course,” I continued, “it says so in the Torah.  But how do we know that the Torah’s description is actually what happened?”

“Because it says so in the Tow-raw!”

I gave up…

Read More.

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“A Tale of Two Kings” (2002) 

[TORAH TALK IN THE JEWISH PRESS:  This message from 2002, updated for the 2007 political season, appeared as an Op-Ed in the Jewish Press.]

…The Egyptians were concerned about the growth of the Jewish population. The Israelites were increasing by leaps and bounds. … The Egyptian people demanded that their king address their “Jewish Problem.”

The king, who at first had demonstrated a bit of integrity, refused. He couldn’t bring himself to take action against Joseph’s people. Joseph had been so good to Egypt. The masses wouldn’t take no for an answer. They ousted the king.

Spending three months as an ex-king was more than he could bear. Thus, “a new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph.” The “new” king with a new attitude conveniently “didn’t know,” or, at least ACTED as if he didn’t know Joseph. The persecution began…

Read More.

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“Mother Goose Lied to Us!” (2002)

Moses was pained over the status of his nation.  They were persecuted and afflicted.  The Israelites weren’t just slaves who were forced to work; they were treated like animals.  Moses couldn’t understand why the Children of Israel were suffering so greatly.  He couldn’t understand why G-d had not yet taken His People out of Egypt.  Was He angry with them?…

 Read More.

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“A Helping Hand” (2001)

…Bisya adopted the child and raised him in the palace.  She named him Moshe, “because I drew him (“MISHISIYHU” in Hebrew) from the water.”  (Exodus, 2:10) … the name “Moshe” seems to be grammatically incorrect.    A more accurate name would be “Mashui,” which would mean “one who is drawn.” …

Read More.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 8:21 am  Leave a Comment  

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