Monday, September 13, 2004

The Mother of the Sons is Happy

The Mother of the Sons is Happy
September 13, 2004


Today I want to tell you a story that I heard a few days ago. It is such an amazing episode, and a fitting way to begin the high holy days of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

Just in case you are wondering, the following account is 100% true. It happened to my son-in-law’s sister, Mina, and her husband Yoav, who live in Kiryat Arba. I heard it from Yoav on Friday night.

One day Mina was in Jerusalem, running around, doing errands. As she started to get onto a bus in the city, a woman in front of her turned around and attacked her. She hit her, kicked her, and viciously beat her. It was a very ugly event, and it left Mina hurting, physically and emotionally.

When the event finally concluded Mina made her way to her husband Yoav’s place of employment. Yoav is an expert scribe. He writes Torah scrolls by hand on fine parchment. Arriving at his office, Mina related what had happened to her a short time before. Of course, hearing the story, Yoav was quite upset and decided to approach an important Rabbi to ask his advice about what to do.

At that time, Rabbi Shamai Gross, a Torah scholar and judge was visiting Yoav’s office. Yoav approached him and repeated Mina’s story, asking his council. The rabbi, after hearing the story, told Yoav and Mina to sit down in the office, and in a few minutes he would come speak to them. A few minutes later he sat down with them and told them about a tremendous argument that had occurred in his community between two men, which threatened to tear the neighborhood apart. In the midst of the ongoing quarrel the Rabbi approached one of the men involved and said to him: “I want you to fully forgive the other person, absolving him of all blame. If you do this, you will receive a present from G-d, whatever you want. All you have to do is exonerate the other person.”

When the man finally agreed to forgive the other person, he had a very small list of requests, being childless for twenty years. He had of course, only one desire.

Nine months later his wife gave birth to their first child, a son.

The Rabbi concluded by saying, I just arrived back from this child’s brit milah – ritual circumcision.

“Now,” said Rabbi Gross to Mina, “if you agree to fully pardon the woman who attacked you, no questions asked, you can have whatever you want.” G-d will grant your wish.

Mina, her head still spinning from the recent attack, and also stunned by the story and the Rabbi’s promise, agreed, fully forgave the other woman, and left for home. The Rabbi looked at Yoav and said, “Yoav, I see you didn’t understand.” Yoav, startled, asked, “what didn’t I understand?”

“Yoav,” answered the Rabbi, “now, right now, go home, make your decision. This minute, leave work, leave everything. Now!”

So, Yoav went home to Kiryat Arba and sat down in the living room with a cup of coffee. “So Mina,” he said, “what do you want? You have an open contract with G-d.”

Mina looked at Yoav and said, “I want a son.”

Yoav, slightly shocked, responded, “but Mina, we have eight children. Isn’t that enough?”

“We haven’t had a child in five years and I want a baby, I want a son, with the following characteristics,” and she detailed exactly what she wanted. Yoav looked at her and said, “if that’s you want, so be it.”

And nine months later Mina gave birth to a baby boy.

However, that’s not the end of the story. Once the baby was born he had to be named. Yoav had a secret dream: to name a son after a famous rabbinic scholar who had been killed during the Holocaust, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtel. Rabbi Teichtel had written and extensive treatise about the value of Eretz Yisrael, and was known to be a genius. However, such a name is not common in Israel and Yoav didn’t know exactly how to approach suggesting the name to Mina.

Following the birth, Yoav spoke to Mina and suggested: “We were so fortunate to have such a miracle, perhaps we should give thanks to G-d, and maybe represent that in the baby’s name. Maybe a name like Yisachar (which, in Hebrew) incorporates the word ‘sachar’ which means reward), would be appropriate.

He then continued, “we could call him Yisachar Shlomo, after the author of the famous book about Eretz Yisrael.”

Mina’s reaction was very lukewarm. “It’s such a long name, and very ‘heavy.’ I’m not sure that I like it.

Yoav replied calmly that she could name the baby whatever she liked, he would be satisfied with whatever she chose, and left it at that.

In the meantime, it was doubtful whether the baby would be circumcised on the eighth day following his birth, because the bilirubin count in his blood was very high. Yoav was sure the brit would be delayed and they’d have more time to decide on a name.

Two days before the brit was supposed to take place, the moyel or ritual circumciser, notified Yoav that he had broken his finger and would not be able to perform the ceremony. However, he suggested someone else, who could replace him. Yoav called him and set up a time to meet and allow him to examine the baby, to determine whether or not the brit could take place on time.

Yoav and Mina drove to the man’s home, at a community between Hebron and Jerusalem, called Beitar. As they took the baby and left their car, they looked up at the street sign. To their shock, it was the same name as Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtel’s book about Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel. On the spot they decided that this could not be coincidence, and decided to name the baby after the great Rabbi.

Within a day, the baby’s bilirubin count dropped from 15 to 7, an almost unheard of reduction, and the brit took place on the eighth day, as scheduled. The sandak, the person honored to hold the baby during the ceremony, was none other than Rabbi Shamai Gross, who had, nine months earlier, promised Mina whatever she so chose, if she agreed to forgive the woman who had attacked her. The baby’s name: Yisachar Shlomo.

The story doesn’t end here.

This past Saturday afternoon, we attended a wedding meal of a friend married a few days earlier. One of the participants at the meal was Rabbi Shmuel Yaniv, a well-known Torah scholar who has written a number of books about Torah, the Hebrew alphabet and the letters’ numerical equivalents (gematriot). Following the meal Mina approached the Rabbi and asked for a blessing for her family and children.

The Rabbi, who knew nothing of the above-told story, looked at her, blessed her, and concluded his blessing with the words, “you are ‘the happy mother of the sons.’ This phrase, which is in Hebrew, Em HaBanim Smecha, is also the name of the book about Eretz Yisrael, written by her baby son’s namesake, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtel, zt”l, hy’d.

That, my friends, is the strength and power of forgiveness.

With blessings for a happy, healthy and sweet New Year, a year of joy and good, from Hebron.

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