Shaarei Shamayim

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Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and Lag B’Omer. These 2 special days haven’t come together following today’s Torah portion Emor in 13 years…and so I decided to explore if perhaps there was a special message here.

Today’s Torah portion Emor teaches (Lev 22:27): Shor o chesev o eyz ki yivaleyd, v’haya shivat yamim tachat imo (When an ox or a sheep or goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for 7 days). Only then, the sages explain, is it a bar kayama, considered viable. An animal must remain with its mother until it can stand on its own. Tachat imo (under his mother) can also be understood as, “instead of his mother.” Mother won’t be around forever, so there comes a time when one must go out from his mother and stand on his own “instead of,” or “in place of” his mother. The job of mother and father is to prepare a child so he/she can stand on his/her own.      

Lag B’Omer is a unique holiday. About 2,000 years ago during Roman times, 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague during the Sefirat HaOmer counting from Pesach to Shavuot and so the Sages instituted this period to mourn their loss. Lag literally means lamed gimel or “33rd” day of the O’mer. On the 33rd day the plague ended.

But wait a minute. There were much greater tragedies in Jewish history that we don’t commemorate with a mourning period like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Chmelnitsky pogroms…and of course the Holocaust. Apparently, since the Oral Torah (Talmud) was not yet written down, the loss of so many of the brightest students of that generation meant a loss in transmission—a permanent loss of some of the Oral Torah—and that was the worst tragedy. From my point of view, I wonder how the parents of these 24,000 students felt. They sent their children away to learn Torah and they died. How would you feel?

Today we also send our children away to learn—to college—and we do so with the confidence that the school will keep them safe. Yes, they’ll be exposed to drugs and wild parties and ideas very different from those they heard at home. But all this we understand is part of the college experience. It wasn’t always like this as we see from the students of Rabbi Akiva. But you don’t have to go back 2,000 years.

When our grandparents and great grandparents lived in Eastern Europe, sending their child away to Yeshiva to learn Torah in another city was fraught with danger. They didn’t have cell phones to call home. They would undoubtedly encounter anti-Semites again and again along the way. But this was a risk Jewish mothers and fathers were prepared to take to assure that their children learn Torah and pass it down to the next generation.     

In Israel today almost every family sends their children away—to the Army—knowing the risks are great and the danger real. In honour of Mother’s Day I’d like to read you a true story I once mentioned to you many years ago about 2 Israeli mothers—a story with new details that have only recently come to light:

When the war broke out in Gaza in 2008, Dvir Emanuelof and his unit were stationed at the boarder getting ready for a ground invasion. Like every Jewish mother, Dalia Emanuelof was extremely concerned about the safety of her son and made him promise that he would text her before he goes into Gaza. 

9:59pm after Shabbat she received his text which read: “To my dearest mother in the whole world. I love you so much! I’ll look after myself; you after yourselves.”

Sadly, that was the last time Dalia heard from her son. Dvir Emanuelof was the 1st Israeli soldier killed in the 2008 Gaza War. Dalia was completely shattered. She couldn’t believe that she lost her son less than 3 years after losing her husband. She recalled, “The Shiva began and I was like a Zombie, spaced out, feeling nothing. I was very angry. I stopped praying and saying blessings.”

A few months later it was Dvir’s birthday and after visiting her son’s grave she returned home and was overcome with this deep sense of loneliness. She sat down and burst into tears…and for the 1st time since Dvir was killed she started talking again to Hashem. She said, “What is this? Why? Did I do something wrong?” And then she demanded, “Gd, give me a sign, give me a hug from Dvir so that I will know that his death had some meaning.”

A short while later her youngest daughter called and told her that there was this concert in Kiryat Chutzot by the famous Israeli singer Meyer Banai. Dalia, feeling quite depressed, didn’t want to go, but she didn’t want to disappoint her daughter either. Dalia found herself in the bleachers, waiting with her daughter for the performance to begin when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

A preschool teacher, Dalia turned around and saw a 3-year-old little boy with blond hair and blue eyes. Dalia was immediately drawn to him and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Eshel,” the boy replied.

That’s a nice name. Do you want to be my friend, Eshel? Would you like to sit down next to me?”

Before the boy could respond his father—sitting a couple of rows above, concerned their little boy was bothering Dalia —called out, “Eshel, Eshel, come sit next to Abba and Dvir.” 

Dalia said, “When I heard the name Dvir I turned around and saw the father holding a baby. I asked him, “Excuse me, how old is the baby?”

“He’s 6 months old.”

“Was he born before or after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza?”


Dalia swallowed hard and said, “I’m sorry for being so intrusive, but please tell me why you chose to name him Dvir?” 

He looked at her and said, “You know we never actually shared this with anyone. But if you’re asking I’ll tell you.” He pointed to his wife and said, “When my wife Shiri was in her 8th month, the doctors suspected the baby may have a very serious birth defect. Since it was the end of the pregnancy, there was little the doctors could do and we just had to wait and see how things turned out. When we went home that night, the news reported that the 1st casualty in the war was Dvir Emanuelof. Shiri was so saddened by this news that she prayed, ‘Help me Hashem. Cure my child and I will name him after Dvir.’” A month later she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and we named him Dvir.” 

Dalia—the mother of Dvir the soldier—stood with her mouth open. She tried to speak but couldn't. After a long silence, she said quietly, “I am Dvir’s mother.” 

Understand that the concert had about 8,000 people in attendance and it was dark. What are the chances that a woman from Givat Zeev and a woman from Jerusalem would sit right behind each other? They fell into each other’s arms, hugged and kissed. Shiri explained that they had planned to call Dalia once the baby was born to invite her to the Bris, but with all the medical appointments it wasn’t even clear when or if they would be able to have the Bris. It was all so last minute.

“Not to worry,” said Dalia, “I’m here now.”

With a sudden inspiration, Shiri then handed Dalia the baby and said, “Dvir wants to give you a hug.” 

Dalya held the little baby boy in her arms and looked into his angelic face. The emotion she felt at that moment was overwhelming. She had asked for a hug from Dvir…and she could truly feel his warm and loving embrace straight from Heaven.

My friends, we all have times in our lives when we feel abandoned and alone—like there’s no one really listening up there, no one watching over us. When that happens what should we do? Let me suggest that it’s precisely at times like these that we make a stronger commitment to Torah and Jewish life and connect to Gd by talking to Him. It doesn’t matter where—while you’re driving, washing dishes or folding laundry. Pour out your heart to Gd. Let Him see your tears. Ask for His help and make a deal with Gd. That’s what these 2 mothers did—as Jewish mothers have always done.   

Jewish mothers are truly our greatest treasures. And it’s with a heavy heart they send their children out into the world as the mothers of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva did and as the mothers of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Force do every day. Let’s spoil our mothers especially this weekend, and show them how much they really mean to us. Let’s shower them with hugs and kisses and love. For those like me, whose mothers are no longer with us, you may not be able to call them, but you can reach them with your prayers and you can communicate with them through your memories and thank them in your hearts by resolving to carry on what they taught us is important in life. And if we do, then this will be a truly sacred Mother’s Day for them, for us, and for those who will come after us. Amen!

                             Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis




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