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Wednesday, March 28

מה טובו אוהליך יעקב - פרשת בלק

The following essay first appeared in the Sefer Hayovel that was published on the occasion of the 25th anniversary for the Szcaranski "Beis Yaacov" Teachers' Seminary in Tel Aviv.  Written in לשון הקדש by Shoshanna Nebenzahl, a former student of the seminary, it has been translated into English for BYGS, its staff, parents and supporters.  The theme is "The Holy Family and Education in the Jewish Home, according to the teachings of Rebbetzin Soroh Schenierer", whose Yahrzeit falls on the 26th of Adar (tomorrow).
From the horse's mouth…
The proclamation מה טובו אהליך יעקב ("Ma tovu oyholeycho Yaakov…" - how good are your dwelling Yaakov) uttered by none other than our arch-enemy בלעם (Balaam), sums up his impression when he saw how Am Yisroel (the Jewish nation) arranged the layout of their dwellings: "How regal are Yaakov's tents and how pure are Yisroel's dwellings!".  Balaam horosho - being the greatest prophet in history, whom HaShem placed at the service of the non-Jewish world - perceived the essence of what makes the chosen nation so unique.  According to Chazal, one can decipher the "curse in disguise" that he had prepared - by analysing the blessing he was forced to pronounce.  As Rashi brings down, a mouthpiece appeared in his mouth, with which HaShem directed all the statements that he transmitted about the Jewish people.

A Lifestyle
Let us find out the qualities that Bilaam saw in bene Yisroel (the Jewish children); he didn't only see physical structures. He saw a whole lifestyle. He witnessed Jewish families leading a life of holiness.  This holiness envelopes them and wherever they go is their purity evident.

The perpetual wish
The most fervent dream of a parent is to see their child emulate the ideals and behaviours they believe in.  The best compliment you can give for a parent is to praise their child's stellar behaviour.  See a youngster swell with pride when you tell him: "you must be so'n'so's son" (or daughter). This is a chain reaction, where every link forms a qualifying 'tug' up and down the generations.  Young couples base their decision about their באשערטע (soul mate) by imagining their progeny experiencing a journey that they jointly created - a life path in which both of their footsteps are etched in the sands of time.  
Makes one wonder: where in the world do you still find a civilised society in which the role model is the father, where the mother is being idolised as the ideal person to emulate?
Calm amidst chaos…
After dismissing western civilisation - where role models are the idols of the sports or icons of the fashion industry, it is infeasible to even contemplate eastern extremism, which hails death as a goal to be emulated, we're left with the unique model of living, as promulgated by the eternal Jewish family.  As a lifeboat in a foaming sea of ever changing stars and fads, the Jewish family succeeds in perpetuating a continuum of holiness and purity.  What advantage did this people have over most others? Where did it take the power from? Whence did this holiness pour forth from?

Homing in on Home…
In order to adequately answer this enigma, let's take a walk down memory lane and watch our glorious past. Throughout the ages, we can trace the path that our forebears have paved, as it was hewn into the DNA of נשמת ישראל (our collective psyche).

In the [new] beginning…
נח (Noah) was the first man to set foot on dry earth after the flood.  By planting a vineyard he laid the foundations for a civilisation that will live a life of well-being, a life full of the nicer things that were embodied in יפת (Japheth) - the good-looking son. Then came his pious son שם (Shem) and realised that having a nice tent is bordering on the physical, that all the trappings of luxurious living are only useful for the here and now. In order to qualify for an elevated existence, one has to create space where the שכינה (Holy presence) can spread its protective wings over the dwellers of this משכן מעט (miniature Mishkon).

Ask your elders…
The first family of Hebrews - the Abrahams - set the example, which was emulated by their beloved and only son יצחק (Isaac). When choosing a match for his son, our patriarch Abraham insisted that the girl that will marry Isaac must be able to fill the void that was left bare upon the death of Sara, our first matriarch: ChessedTznius and an unconditional love for למוד התורה (Torah-learning). This last treat was evident when Sarah was letting her only son leave her side so that he could attend the ישיבה (Yeshiva) of שם ועבר (Shem and Ever).   Indeed, Rivka's love for her Yaakov is for him being יושב אהלים (the one who dwells in tents), alluding to his diligent Torah-learning.  Studying at the feet of Shem, his great-grandchild-protégé Yaakov learned from him how to plot his way in life.

Sticks'n'Stones
From Yaakov's proclamation - when he woke up all alone on Har HaBayis - surrounded by stones and with just his walking stick for company,  "אין זה כי אם בית אלקים" (this is but the house of HaShem) we learn that he is continuing to weave an unbroken chain for generations to come, where every generation that follows will build a Bays Eloykim. This secret formula - that in order to preserve the purity of Am Yisroel one must create the atmospheric condition that befits a Bays Eloykim - he perpetuated through his children, שבטי י-ה (the holy tribes).

Taking root…
These then were the patriarchs of our nation, who planted the powerful roots for their offspring. The saplings were empowered to fight off any materialistic aspirations, clinging to their goal of creating cocoons where the Shechina (the holy presence) will dwell בתוכם (amongst each and every one of them). This holiness was handed down from father to son and from mother to daughter until this day. This kept the flame of undiluted spiritual Judaism alive, enabling the inner beauty of our souls, to shine forth and influence their environs.  They entertained an aspiration to always reach higher, leaving materialism in the shade.

Unique amongst the nations…
Throughout the millennia, there is hardly a comparable phenomenon to the unique Jewish family values. These values were put to test time and again over the centuries, when the tightly-nit family was threatened by upheavals such as ant-religious coercion, exile or revolution. Throughout this long and bitter גלות (exile) the Jew always sought to ensure that his family perpetuates those lofty values, for which he and his forebears have offered up their very lives.  Generation after generation, the family life helped shape the super-seed that would take root in the quicksand of time, when all odds were stacked up against its survival.  This ensured the continuity of a people that survives without a land that it can call "Home".

(Un)expected Outcome…
When a family, tribe or a people immerses itself in a culture other than their own tradition, they would disappear after a generation or two. In contemporary parlance, this would be termed as integration, or assimilation.  Not so when children propagate the tenets that they saw at home.  The parents form the foundation on which the core family values are based. They act as live role models that cause the child to become imbued with the spirit of Torah.  They create an aura of holiness that is imbibed by their toddler even before he can talk.

Perfect Formulae…
The child grows up in an environment where it inhales all the good and purity, the holiness and love, the warmth and the contentment that his parents engender in their habitat. The education that the parents impart on the child acts as a launch pad of his/her future life and the stability to lead it correctly.

הביטו אל שרה תחוללכם
(watch your forebear Sarah)
Soroh Schenierer kept prodding her students on, by relentlessly demanding they grow in spirit and in deed. She expected maximum input from her pupils and realised maximum output for Am Yisroel. Just by looking at the worldwide network of Beis Yaakov schools (and the plethora of offshoots that have sprung up since the war, like Beis ChanaBeis MalkaBeis Rochel and Beis Trana - to name but a few) one realises the mega‑undertaking that this  Tzadekes (righteous woman) built up from scratch with her ten fingers.

By helping BYGS, you help to keep her legacy alive, furthering the assurance of an authentic and traditional Jewish continuity.  In doing so, you acknowledge her contribution to the survival of The Jewish Family. This treat - Hakoras Tova - was one of her hallmarks that our children at BYGS are being brought up with and by emulating her ways may we merit to see דורות ישרים ומבורכים, Amen.
Menasche Scharf lives in South Tottenham, North London

Tuesday, March 20

מה טובו אוהליך יעקב

מה טובו אוהליך יעקב 
Ma tovu oyholeycho Yaakov…

This proclamation, which was made by none other than our arch-enemy Balaam, sums up his impression when he saw how Am Yisroel arranged the layout of their dwellings. How regal are Yaakov's tents and how pure are Yisroel's dwellings!
Their holiness envelopes them and wherever they go is their purity evident.  Man's most fervent dream is to see his children emulate their own good behaviours. The best compliment you can give for a parent is to praise their child's stellar behaviour.  See a youngster swell with pride when you tell him: "you must be so'n'so's son / daughter". Young couples base their decision about their soul mate by imagining their progeny threading in the path they jointly created with both their proverbial footsteps in the sands of time together.  Makes you wonder: where in the world do you still find a civilised society in which the role model is the father, where the mother is being idolised as the ideal person to emulate?  Contemporary thinkers are grappling with the phenomena of children who lose interest in Jewish living. Instead of  hammering away at these innocent, good-natured youngsters, they would achieve far more by concentrating their well-intended efforts at the root of the problem: the Jewish Family unit.  After dismissing western civilisation and eastern extremism, we're left with the unique model of the Jewish family. As a rescue unit in a sea of ever changing stars and fads, the Jewish home succeeded in perpetuating an unbroken chain of holiness and purity.  Out of all nations on earth, the preservation of the family as torch-bearer was upheld by the "Yiddishe Mome".  What advantage did this people have over most other peoples? Where did it take the power from? Whence from did this holiness pour forth?

In order to adequately answer this enigma, let's take a walk up memory lane and watch our glorious past fly by. Throughout the generations, we can trace the path that our forebears have trodden(?) which was hewn into the DNA of our collective psyche. The first family of Hebrews, the Abrahams set the example, which was emulated by their beloved and only son Isaac. When choosing a match for his son, our patriarch Abraham insisted that the girl that will marry Isaac must be able to fill the void that was left bare upon the death of Sara, our first matriarch: Chessed, Tznius and an unconditional Love for Torah-learning. This last treat was evident when Sarah was letting her only son leave her side so that he could attend the Yeshiva of Shem & Ever.  Indeed, Rivka's love for her Yaakov is expressed as a reason for him being the one who dwells in tents, alluding to his diligent Torah-learning.
From Yaakov's proclamation when he woke up all alone on Har HaBayis "אין זה כי אם בית אלקים…" we learn that he is continuing to weave an unbroken chain for generations to come, where every generation that follows will build a Bays Eloykim. This secret formula - that in order to preserve the purity of Am Yisroel one must create the atmospheric condition that befits a Bays Eloykim - he learnt from his parents.

Noah was the first man to set foot on dry earth after the flood.  By planting a vineyard he laid the foundations for a civilisation that will live a life of well-being, a life full of the nicer things that were embodied in Japheth - the good looking son. Then came his pious son Shem and realised that having a nice tent is bordering on the physical, that all the trappings of luxurious living are only useful for the here and now. In order to qualify for an elevated existence, one has to create space in ones home where the Holy presence can spread its protective wings over the dwellers of this Mishkon. His great-grandchild protégé Yaakov learned from him and managed to implement this way of life and perpetuate it through his 12 son who in turn built Am Yisroel made up of the holy tribes.
These were the patriarchs of our nation who planted the powerful roots that enabled generations to come with the stamina to fight off any materialistic aspirations whilst clinging to their dream of creating cocoons where the Shechina will dwell amongst them, together with them. This holiness was handed down fro
 Father to son and from mother to daughter until this day: keeping the flame of undiluted spiritual Judaism alive so that the inner beauty of our souls, hewn from the partnership of all cocoon dwellers can shine forth and influence their environment with an aspiration to always reach higher so as to attain loftier ideals that place materialism in the shade.

There is hardly a comparable phenomenon to the eternal uniqueness that makes Jewish family values so unique. Over the centuries, those values were put to test time and again, when the tightly-nit family wad threatened by upheavals such as exile and revolution. Throughout this long and bitter ordeal the Jew always sought to ensure that his family perpetuates those lofty values for which his forbears have offered up their very lives.  Generation after generation, the family life helped shape the super-seed that would take root in the quicksand of time, when all odds were stacked up against its survival.  This ensured the continuity of a people made up of offspring that survives without a land that it can call "home", unlike all other nations on earth.  In contemporary parlance, this would be termed as integration, or assimilation.  When a family, tribe or a people immerses itself in a culture other than their own traditional they would disappear after a generation or two. Not so when children propagate the tenets that they saw at home.  The parents form the foundation on which the core family values are based. They act as real live role models that cause the child to become imbued with the spirit of Torah, they create an aura of holiness that is imbibed by their toddler even before he can talk.
The child grows up in an environment where it inhales all the good and purity, the holiness and love, the warmth and the אושר (bliss?) that his parents engender in their habitat. The education that the parents impart on the child act as a launch pad of the future life and the stability to lead it correctly.