A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Father: Father's Day 2011/5771

Throughout the Torah the people who we sometimes anachronistically refer to as "Jews" and with abbreviation refer to as "Israelites" are more precisely, b'nei yisra'eil - the children of Israel. So common is this phrase that we don't even notice it's significance. It is a name that brings past together with future, a name that defines the present as a way of honoring the past. The Israelites are those people who are the children of a particular person: Israel, that is, Jacob.

This collective, national recognition of the power of our antecedents to define us, is made more particular in our Jewish names. Every traditional Hebrew name - the name by which we are called to read Torah - follows the formula of "So and so, son of so and so." We take our stand at the Torah under the protection of our father's (and now also our mother's) name.

My name is Yehoshua ben Ha-Rav Imanuel. I am very much my father's son. My father is Rabbi Emanuel Rose. It is certainly no coincidence that he is a rabbi and I have followed that path - sometimes in pursuit of him, I think. He made his own significant mark upon the Jewish life of his community, drawing on the spiritual fire of the Prophets to guide and goad his congregation, involving himself as a voice of conscience in national and local issues of moral importance, teaching Jewish wisdom and inspiration to generations of Jews in Portland.

He built his congregation to a place of strength spiritually, ethically, and materially. Any rabbi will tell you that it is no small feat to accomplish all of these. He is now Rabbi Emeritus but was Rabbi for 46 years at Beth Israel in Portland. Before that he was at Temple Emanu-el in New York City.

My father passed on to me his deep love for Jewish teaching, for Jewish thinking, for the Jewish moral vision that emerges from the poetry of Jewish wisdom. His commitment to Torah as a way of seeing the world is inspiring and beautiful.

As a father he has supported me in finding my own path to Torah. My path has been quite different from his - it has wandered more, it has drawn on a style of observance that is not his own, it has challenged some dimensions of his own thinking. He provides counsel and support, empathy and patient, very gentle rebuke. In doing so he has allowed me to discover my own place at Sinai, a place where I stand in debt to him for his teaching, his infinite patience, his encouragement and his endless support.

My father's way of teaching has sometimes been from a distance. Proverbs 22:6 says "Train a child according to his way." My father knows my stubbornness, and more than once the space he has allowed me to grow has enabled me to find an answer that I suspect he wanted me to find.

Kiddushin 29a describes a father's obligations to his son. They are to circumcise his son, to perform [the mitzvah of] ‘Redemption of the firstborn,’ to teach him Torah, and to teach him a trade, and (some say) he must also teach him to swim.

Yasher Koach, Aba. Thank you.

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