Re’eh Sermon Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum August 23, 2003
When I came home on Friday night, I heard my two little boys, five and eight years old having a serious discussion. There was a storm and very bright flashes of lightning in the sky-- intense and awe-inspiring. My older son said to the other, "Look, G-d is making pictures of us." The younger one looked at him and said, "It can’t be, because we are not allowed to make pictures on Shabbat." Out of the mouths of babes. I would like to share with you a story about another one of our children, our personal journey of searching for a meaningful name for our daughter.
My daughter is now fifteen years old. She just celebrated her birthday this past Saturday. We called her Bracha, which means "blessing." While I was at the Sha’ari Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem when my wife was in labor, I asked her, "What do you think would be an appropriate name?" She said, "Let’s look at the Torah portion for today." We looked, and as we read the portion, it states, "See, I am giving you today a blessing. " So that is how we decided to call our daughter, "Blessing."
Along with the miraculous birth of our daughter, another miracle took place that day. While I was waiting outside the delivery room I noticed a fellow who appeared to be a secular Jew, but wearing a Yarmulke. To my surprise, the man was praying very devotedly. He was pacing and crying while he prayed. I was very curious to know about him, but it was awkward for me to approach him casually at a time of apparent great distress.
Right after my wife delivered our baby, this fellow’s wife and my wife were roommates in the recovery room. Shortly afterward we got acquainted-- his name was Amos and his wife was Abigail. I looked at him and asked, "Are you a Baal T'shuvah?" Amos looked at his wife, and said, "Abigail, please tell the Rabbi our story."
It looked like it was hard for her to share, but this is how she started, "Our families have been secular for many generations. We never attended the synagogue. Only once when I was in elementary school did I visit the Shule. We were not people who believed in G-d, in fact, we believed that there was no G-d. Amos and I met in high school and after that we went to medical school together. When we finished our studies, we got married, bought a nice house in Jerusalem and opened a private practice. We had a very wonderful life. Only one small problem bothered us. Every time I got pregnant, at 5 or 6 months of carrying the baby, I miscarried. It happened again and again and again. We suffered four losses. The fifth time, I said to myself, I have to try at least one more time. All of a sudden, at six months, everything was fine, but one day I woke up and suddenly I felt dizzy and sick--the same symptoms that always came right before I would miscarry. My doctor checked me carefully, and he said to me, ‘didn’t I tell you that you cannot carry a baby to term, it is just not for you to have your own baby. Just let nature take its course, suffer this loss one more time and adopt a child.’
She continued her story. "I left the doctor’s office brokenhearted. While I was driving my car I made up my mind that I wanted to commit suicide. I figured out that I would write a letter to my husband, explaining to him that I could not find a reason to live if I did not have my own baby. And while I was driving my car, in Jerusalem, I passed many synagogues. Something made me stop at a Sephardic synagogue. It looked very nice from outside. I don’t know why, but I walked into the building in the middle of the day. Only the maintenance person was there. I asked permission to go to the sanctuary. I walked into the sanctuary and I was by myself, no one else was there.
Rabbi, I can’t describe in words what I felt when I walked into the sanctuary for the first time. I walked to the ark, looked at the Torah and I was overcome by tears and emotion. I said, ‘Master of the Universe, please help me out to have my own baby.’ I was weeping, and I said, ‘I promise if you let me have my baby, I will light a candle every Friday night for Shabbat.’
I don’t know why, but after I left the sanctuary, I felt relief. I drove to my house and I called my neighbors across the street who were very observant. The wife taught me how to light the candles for Shabbat. She looked at me and said, ‘Well dear, you cannot light a candle and serve your husband pork.’ You know rabbi, in three hours she helped me to Kosher my kitchen. I called my husband, and told him that tomorrow we would close our practices for Shabbat from now on. Here we are, three months later and I have my own baby girl."
Amos was crying as she told us the story. Then she asked us what we named our daughter. I said, "We just opened the Torah chapter and the beginning of the portion starts with ‘Blessing.’ And that’s what our inspiration was and we named her ‘Blessing’." They looked at each other, and they thought that was a great idea. They also named their daughter, "Bracha." Five years later, I met him again. Amos and Abigail are still very religious. And they have their first daughter and three additional boys.
My dear friends, the Almighty promises us in this week’s Torah portion that we will receive a blessing to our home and blessings in our life. He commands us to keep the dietary laws, the law of Kashrut, and he promises a blessing to our home in exchange. You may say that it is a little difficult to keep Kosher. But in modern America, it is quite easy. Almost every supermarket has a kosher section and there are many varieties of foods. By following G-d’s instructions as we follow the traditions in our homes we cause blessings to flow into our lives.
Today we bless the new month of Elul, which is the month of preparations for the High Holidays. We follow the tradition that our ancestor Moses went up on Mount Sinai the second time and was there for forty days and forty nights. And then, at the end of the 40th day, it was Yom Kippur, the day that G-d forgives us, or the Day of Atonement. Following that custom, we observe the month of Elul as a month of preparation for the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Each day we blow the Shofar to alert us of the upcoming High Holidays. As we prepare ourselves spiritually, and follow G-d’s instructions, may the month of Elul be a month of blessings, good health and happiness to all.