This week Mussie's extended family got up from Shiva for her maternal grandmother, Devorah Greenberg.
Mussie's Bubby, or Savta, as she is fondly called amongst her many international grandchildren that speak several different languages, lived a full life of 85 years. She spent her childhood and much of her young adult years in Communist Russia, where together with her parents and later her husband, fought to keep their Jewish learning and practices under the KGB’s watchful eye.
In the early 1960s, together with her family, she was granted the freedom to leave the Iron Curtain and immigrated to Israel by the grace of G-d. There, she and her husband continued to raise their beautiful family, all of whom went on to lead successful and meaningful lives, becoming Jewish community leaders and educators around the world.
Amazingly, a portrait with 7 different clocks hangs in her home, so she would be able to keep tabs on the time zones of her children that live on different parts of the globe, including places like Shanghai, Anchorage, Austin, San Diego, New York, Paris, Hannover and Odessa, and I haven't even listed them all. It's a big family. We were happy for her that some of her children and grandchildren settled close to her, in Israel, as well.
What always striked me as a “married in” grandson, was her ability to be content with little materialism. To feel and act wealthy, when in fact the opposite was the case. What Mussie's Bubby accomplished in the most beautiful and meaningful way possible, was to live and bring to reality the value described in Ethics of the Fathers as, "Eizehu ashir hasameach bechelko - Who is wealthy, one who is happy with their lot.”
Mussie’s Bubby and Zeidy lived in Israel as immigrants, with hardly enough to scrape together for the very basic necessities of life, but somehow you would never know it. Mussie's Bubby and her home shone with love and happiness, always plenty of delicious food, and although the apartment was smaller than tiny, it was always in perfect shape, and they always seemed to have everything they needed to share with others as well.
To paraphrase the wise words of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who said you often hear the question being asked about someone “What are they worth?” when all that is meant is “What is their net worth.” A person may not always have a high net worth, but living honestly and happily, raising a large and wholesome family, who all went on to live a life of service to others, and doing acts of goodness and kindness as taught by the Torah, are a person’s true worth.
There is so much more to be said about Devorah Greenberg, but I'll leave you with this for now as Mussie and I hope to learn from her and practice this in our life as well.
As soon as a child is born there is a lot of paperwork that parents quickly fill out, like social security, insurance, and birth certificate. There is another form as well that I filled out as each of my children were born, a subscription for them to each own a letter in the children's unity Torah. Hanging proudly next to their beds are their certificates identifying them as an owner of a letter in the Torah written by a scribe especially for them.
In 1981, the Rebbe launched a campaign for Jewish unity, and urged parents to give their children the opportunity to own a letter in a Sefer Torah as the medium to accomplish this. Each Sefer Torah has 304,805 letters, and the simple yet original idea the Rebbe proposed is that each of these letters should belong to one specific child, until every Jewish child has their own letter.
On the surface there appear to be many differences among children; their socioeconomic backgrounds, their geographical distance from one another, their varying degrees of education, talents and skills, and even religious differences such as Kohen, Levi and Yisrael. Nevertheless, despite all this, the Rebbe explained that all Jewish children are truly united as one people, through the Torah that belongs to all of them equally.
When a child has their own letter in a particular section of a specific Torah, whose other letters all belong also exclusively to children, this concept of oneness and unity among them becomes more tangible and practical. The purity and sincerity of a child too, adds even more holiness and makes the "Children's Unity Torah" they own that much more unique.
When the Rebbe launched this campaign it no doubt seemed daunting. That 304,805 children would sign up for a letter in the Torah sounded impossible. Never before in Jewish history had such an effort been undertaken. The closest is perhaps Moses collecting half a shekel for each individual. Yet within a few months, it was complete. And just this week, the 8th such Torah, comprised of letters belonging exclusively by children, was completed in a massive celebration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
To put that in perspective, by the time the 8th Torah was complete, 2,438,440 Jewish children of every background, had participated in the unity Torah’s commissioned by the Rebbe. With an estimated 16 million Jewish people around the world, and some 6 million in the appropriate age range to participate since the campaign was launched, this represents a staggering almost 50% of all Jewish people alive today within the age of the campaign, have participated in it!
These monumental numbers of historic proportions, which signify Jewish birth, growth, and youthfulness, and express in no uncertain terms Jewish education, pride and unity, take on an even more significant meaning when one thinks that within living memory so many Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis.
While 2,438,440 is a great accomplishment, there is still much work to be done. In true Chabad fashion, as the ink was drying and the completion celebration was taking place, the first letters of the 9th Sefer Torah were already being written. If your child or grandchild has not participated in any of the previous eight Children's Torah's, they can join the ninth today!
This past Sunday, we celebrated my son, Levi's upshernish. One of the most heartwarming moments was when Levi sang the Aleph Beis and many joined along. You could feel it in the air. As one of our friends told me afterwards, “I don’t think I was the only one who felt, ‘Wow, even in South Dakota, there’s a room full of people singing the Hebrew Aleph Beis.’”
The Aleph Beis are very special and significant.
Not only are these the letters of our ancestral language, that we have learnt and spoken for millennia, it is a holy language. The 3rd Century Mishnah refers to Hebrew as "Lashon Hakodesh," the Holy Tongue, because this was the language in which the Torah was written and taught, and the letters of the Aleph Beis which G-d spoke during Creation when He said "Let there be Light."
The singing that day reminded me of a very important teaching from the Rebbe, who said that "when you know Aleph, you should teach Aleph."
Sometimes we look at ourselves in the mirror and feel unqualified. We know our failures and our faults, and we don't feel like we could be a role model for others. The imposter syndrome rears its ugly head.
But in reality, each of us has the responsibility, and mandate, to be there for others, and teach whatever we know and share what we do have to share. Even knowing just one letter, Aleph, already qualifies you to teach Aleph. We don't need to wait until we have our PhD in a given field before we can share the knowledge and experience we have already accumulated, and we definitely don't need our PhD in Judaism before we can start meaningfully living Jewishly.
If you know Aleph, teach Aleph, and start working on learning Beis, and then teach that too.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.