Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger
Joy and Dissonance
This will be the first dvar Torah that i have submitted to TorahWeb that my mother z''l will not read in this world. It will be the first one that she will not copy and forward to family in her attempt to keep us all connected and it is the first that will not be printed and added to her printed collection (because there are just some things that you cannot entrust to the cloud for safekeeping). For the attendant nachas and pride that these divrei Torah provided my mother, I will forever be grateful to TorahWeb for encouraging me to write.
My mother was one of that larger-than-life generation, who left all that was precious to her when she boarded the kinder transport in May of 1939. With the miraculous resilience that we have come to take for granted, she rebuilt, with my father z"l and their peers, a thriving Jewish life in Toronto. That story has been repeated literally countless times. It never and should never cease to awe and amaze us all and challenge any doubts of the miracles with which we live and the soaring strength with which we have been entrusted.
To her last day, my mother, as did most of that remarkable generation, referred to the home from which she and her childhood innocence were forever ripped, as 'home'. I often found it jarring that she was not 'at home' in the place that I, as a child, called home. That curiosity became even more disquieting as my wife and I raised our children. The "homes" of our childhood were the "homes in which we grew up"; but "home" was the abode that we created for, and shared with, our children.
Maybe this was their least painful way of staying connected to their parents; maybe they did not really "grow up" there or anywhere they cared to remember; maybe this was their way of saying that there will never be a place again that will contain the innocence and security of their childhood home. We learned very early on not to ask and I will never know.
But referring to her parent's home in Fuerthe as "home" did powerfully communicate to my peers and me a suspicious discomfort with the current culture. Though many may have dismissed this as the language of nostalgia, it nevertheless encouraged us to be comfortable with dissonance with all that surrounded us. As a result, I understand why Moshe Rabbeinu surprisingly named his first son in recognition of his feelings of being unwelcome and distant, letting the name of his second son carry his gratitude for a lifesaving miracle. Indeed, that is how Moshe Rabbeinu impressed upon us that as important as it is to be profoundly grateful people, feeling deeply dissonant with our galus environs will often be necessary to embolden us to be attentive to Hashem's will.
As I reflect further on my mother's choice of words, I believe that we can more deeply appreciate the commitment that the Jews made to Hashem as they began to recollect the events of kriyas Yam Suf in song: "ze keili vanveihu - This is the my god and I will build a home for Him, eilokei avi v'aromimenhu - the god of my father and I will revere Him".
Rashi's comments on this seeming contrast direct us to appreciate an envisioned synthesis of their newly found closeness to Hashem with their cache of age-old teachings, all deeply ingrained with reverence and distance. 'This is my G-d', Chazal explain, has them almost pointing at Hashem and that captures the intensity of the closeness that they felt. Feeling the embrace of Hashem they would build homes rooted in their revered legacy.
That generation understood that living spaces that are built during times of hester panim or with its terrible scars will be hard to call home to the warmth and optimism of Torah lives. Nevertheless, those homes will vibrantly convey a productive and protective dissonance with an unfriendly environment.
Learning from them, we can seize on our redemptive times and our personal moments of redemption, and indeed build happy homes graced with our awareness of Hashem's watchful eye, all the while incorporating the dissonance that we have learned to maintain. It is in celebration of that gift that the Jews sang "this is my god and I will now be able to build a home for him."
May we continue to be part of the upcoming redemption and be blessed to build homes that convey the legacy of generations with joy and dissonance shaping Jews to be ever-attentive to Hashem's bidding.