Recently, in the barber shop, a boy was waiting for the next appointment. He wore a hockey uniform and sat hunched over his phone. He looked at no one. He said nothing. When his turn came, he wordlessly walked to the barber’s chair. No “good morning.” No smile or interaction. He looked into space. No word came from his mouth or light from his eyes.  


We have arrived once again at that moment, painful for me, when we leave the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, not to meet again until next year. It is like mourning for one’s parents. How can we go on?

Just who were these angelic but achingly real people? 


“Rabbi Isaac said: Why were our forefathers infertile? Because the Holy One Blessed is He desires the prayers of the righteous” (Yevamos 64a).


In this week’s Torah portion we meet Ishmael.  


In a certain study hall in Jerusalem, there was a Rabbi who would continually pace up and down between the lecterns, carrying on an intense conversation in learning … with himself! This was a delightful and sometimes amusing spectacle. As he paced, however, he was also aware of his surroundings. One day, I was explaining to my study partner my personal criterion for a good leader of the prayers, namely that he should make me cry. 


During the Sefiras HaOmer period of counting the 49 days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuos, we are working intensely to refine our character, trying to merit receiving the Torah on Shavuos. During Passover, I was privileged to perform the rare mitzvah (Torah commandment) of “shiluach hakan” - sending away the mother bird before taking her young (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). 


"When Jacob finished instructing his sons, he drew his feet onto the bed; he expired and was gathered to his people." (Genesis 49:33) So ends an era. But the influence of the Patriarchs is so powerful that it remains with their children until the end of time. All of our prayers begin with the words, "G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac and G-d of Jacob...


Now we descend with Joseph to Egypt.

The significance of our ancestors’ sojourn in Mitzraim (Biblical Egypt) must be prodigious, because we never cease to mention it. Every Sabbath begins with, “zaicher l’ytzias Mitzraim … a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt,” and every holiday cycle begins with Passover, the entire theme of which is the story of our Redemption from Mitzraim. 


"[Isaac] raised his eyes, and behold: camels were coming... Rebecca raised her eyes and saw Isaac ...." (Genesis 24:63-4)

King David said, "I raise my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help is from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth..." (Psalm 121) 



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