Monday, December 26, 2016

The Sulam

I am on my way back to Chicago after the Bar Mitzvah of my grandson, Yaakov Chaim Jofen. It's tough to speak for a crowd of Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbitzens and kids where you are hoping that the chasan haneshef will remember something that saed when he is a grown man, perhaps to say it over at his own grandchild's bar mitzva. 

This is what I said.

The Gemara in Shabbos 100a says that a slope that rises ten tefachim in a span of four amos is considered to be a wall, and such a slope would be separate from the Reshus HaRabbim that contains it, and would delineate a Reshus HaYachid within itself. Therefore, a hill with that pitch would create a reshus hayachid above ten tefachim. The slope would be considered a wall.

 א"ר יהודה אמר רב תל המתלקט עשרה מתוך ארבע וזרק ונח על גביו חייב


תל המתלקט - שהוא מדרון והולך ומתלקט מעט מעט עד שמגביה י' מתוך ד"א הרי הוא כאלו זקוף כולו והוי רה"י במקום גובהו ואם זרק מרה"ר ונח על גביו חייב ודוקא נקט מתוך ד' אמות דאי מתוך ה' הרי הוא כשאר רשות הרבים דניחא תשמישתיה להילוך:

What if this slope is made up of a stairway? Most stairways have a pitch of greater than 16 degrees. Would it have a din mechitza? Yes, most poskim hold that such a staircase would have a din mechitza. (This is very relevant for people whose front doors have a stairway up from the sidewalk and the newspaper landed on the stairs.)  This is interesting- the same object has a din of mechitza, which means that it is viewed in halacha as a barrier to the public, מניעת רגל הרבים, but it is inherently created to allow access.  It is a mechitza, and at the same time it is a pesach- it is a barrier, an impediment, but it is also an entryway. In life, the Ribono shel Olam often presents us with exactly this, something that a cursory view will perceive as a barrier, but others will understand to be an opportunity.  It causes מניעת רגל הרבים, but it is not מונע רגל היחיד! A yachid will find a way to change the mechitza into a pesach.

This reminds me of my father zatzal's experience in  Samarkand during WWII. Starvation was endemic; food was only available via ration coupons, which spelled the difference between survival or death, and the government was far more interested in the welfare of the horses than of the people, and certainly of the Bnei Torah.  Every morning trucks would go through the streets picking up the bodies of those that had died overnight. One who was caught "hoarding" more food than needed for that day was executed on the spot, and the one who betrayed him was rewarded.

My father, the Bar Mitzva's great grandfather, on the other hand, had printing presses set up in a basement, where he had bnei torah printing ration coupons. He had a deal with the stationmaster, that when the paper for coupons would come in on the train, the edges of the roll would get trimmed off, and the "trimmings" would go to my father. He had another basement where bnei torah sat at looms weaving clothes. It was said that the Russian army only got the honey that my father let them have.

The point is that it was a time of starvation and the disparagement of the value of human life and of no ethics but survival, but my father saw the opportunity to save lives and feed the poor, and he found a way to do it under the nose of the Soviets. 

The symbol of Yaakov Avinu was the sulam, the ladder. Yaakov Avinu was challenged by endless tzaros and impediments that would have caused a lesser man to just give up, but Yaakov turned every challenge into an opportunity and created the Shivtei Kah.

The bar mitzva, Yaakov Chaim, was at another bar mitzva party ten years ago. He was squeezed in at the table, there was no room to move, and he wanted the pickles that were at the other end of the long table. If you were three years old, and you wanted pickles from the other end of the table, and nobody was paying attention to you, I think there would be three options. You can scream like a banshee, you can cry, or you can just give up and go without. Yaakov did none of the three.  He just climbed up on the table, sauntered over to the pickles, took what he wanted, and walked back to his seat. The family and guests were dumbstruck- they weren't even sure if what they thought they saw had actually happened. In fact, the mother of the boy whose bar mitzva it happened at was at my speech, and she remembered the moment exactly. But the idea is that for some, it was a barrier, but to Yaakov, it was a cloth covered highway to pickles. The plate of pickles was Yaakov's Gordian Knot.

The midda of Yaakov is to see the opportunity where others see barriers. Others see barriers because they are lazy, or self destructive, or lack confidence. It is the middah of emes that enables a person to see that challenges exist to enable us to excel, to overcome the barriers. IYH, our Yaakov will have the midda of emes that will enable him to see the opportunities the Ribono shel Olam has and will continue to give him.

No comments:

Post a Comment