Jeffrey Kobrin
Looking to the Parasha to Inspire Our Parenting

Pausing to Take Stock

Many people see the end of the calendar year similarly to the way we Jews like to think about the start of the Jewish year in Tishrei.  Such people stop to take stock of what they’ve done and what they want to do.  While some people party like it’s 1999, others pause and reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going.  This year, it’s easy to understand why one would do that.

At one point in this week’s parasha of Vaera, the action also stops as well for a moment of taking stock.  It’s an odd interruption (a concept with which all of us are all too familiar) in the narrative: Hashem has commanded Moshe and Aharon to go to Pharaoh and to free the people of Israel, when we suddenly break and are given eleven pesukim of lineage: eleh roshei beit avotam, “these are the leaders of the families…” We read the yichus that begins with Reuven and Shimon and culminates with Moshe and Aharon.  Before beginning this historic mission, Hashem points out to Moshe and Aharon that they need to look back at where they come from and how they got to where they are now.  With the sheer amount of noise these days – from social media, from the news, and from everyone around us who seems to be losing their minds –  it’s important to have a moment to stop and think of where we’ve come from and what got us here.  We have such a day each week – indeed, having a Shabbat on New Year’s Day can give us precisely the time to stop and reflect that we so desperately need.  Before the story of our lives resumes, it’s a good idea to stop, as Ferris Bueller told us, and look around.

But another important lesson to take away from this odd break answers a question that many of us have been asking ourselves for the last year and three quarters: why us?  Why did this COVID madness have to happen now?  This pandemic seems to be slowly grinding us down, making us shells of who we used to be, and preventing us from being our best selves.  Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin in his Oznayim LaTorah comments that when the Torah resumes the narrative, it emphasizes that the Moshe and Aharon from this lineage are the same two people we had been reading about earlier: hem ha-midabrim el Par’o, these are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh.”  Why the emphasis?  Rabbi Sorotzkin writes that Moshe and Aharon were the best qualified for the historic mission of going to Pharaoh and bringing the people out.    Hayu mesugalim rak hem – Moshe ve-Aharon – ve-lo eleh she-nimnu leyel ke-roshei avot.  These two – not any of the great personalities and leaders who preceded them – were the ones who could accomplish this task.  It recalls Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, who asks his friends, “What are the odds the gods would put us all in one spot?”  It was these two brothers, with their strengths and attitudes and middot, it was these two and only these two personalities who could succeed.

When we think about circumstances like that, perhaps there’s a reason we are here now dealing with what we’re dealing with here and now: because Hashem knows we can do it.  And no one who came before (or who will later arrive) can do it, can overcome it, can survive it, and can grow from it like we can.  When we stop to think about it like that, maybe there’s some comfort in the crazy.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll look back in 2022 at all that we were able to overcome.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Jeffrey Kobrin is the Rosh HaYeshiva/Head of School at the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York. He has bachelors and masters degrees in English literature from Columbia University, semikha from RIETS at Yeshiva University, and a PhD in English education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He lives in Riverdale, New York, with his wife, Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, and their daughters.
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