No Limits!Mar 29, 2012 at 07:54:33 AM
I just returned from the Bris of my first grandchild, Noson Eliyahu Tal, and would like to share some of the many thoughts running through my head.
At the conclusion of a Bris, there is a special prayer the parent recites:
"May my son's heart be as open to Your Torah as the Ulam, the great entranceway to the Holy Temple."
This reference to the Ulam is not simply a poetic expression. It is based on the Talmud (Eruvin 53a) which quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying that "the minds of the 'earlier scholars' were as broad as the entrance of the Ulam." The Talmud then identifies these "earlier scholars" as Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Elazar ben Shamua.
This raises a question: Why are the new parents praying for their child to reach the level of Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Elazar ben Shamua? These were great Sages from 2,000 years ago, and in our generation nobody reaches such a level!
I believe some insight can be found in the Talmud (Sotah 12b): When Batya found baby Moses floating in the river, he refused to nurse from the Egyptian women, and would only nurse from his mother. Moses required "kosher" food, since in the future he would be speaking directly with the Almighty and needed to maintain the highest level of purity.
Today we would never expect to reach the level of Moses, just as we don't expect to reach the level of Rebbe Akiva. And yet the Code of Jewish Law (Rema―Yoreh De'ah 81:7) says that the preferance to nurse from a Jewish woman applies equally today!
From here, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L'Yaakov 2:7) learns a principle: Every human being has unlimited potential, and we should never place any limitation on our hopes for a child's greatness!
This idea of encouraging the greatness of each individual was a hallmark of my father, after whom my new grandson is named. As an accomplished chemist, my father had attractive opportunities in the private sector, e.g. an offer from a large food company to develop ways for breakfast cereal to stay crunchier longer in milk. But he wanted to do something meaningful that would genuinely help others. So he became a university professor, where he taught not only the advanced levels, but also insisted on teaching the entry-level chemistry course. He believed that if you give someone a good foundation from the start, that will carry them through the future.
Over the years I have heard of many of my father's students who excelled, got good grades, and went on to become successful teachers in their own right. This was due in no small measure to my father's guidance, encouragement and belief in their great potential.
With children, so much of their success depends on encouragement from the parents. The Talmud (Yerushalmi―Yevamos 1:6) discusses how Rebbe Yehoshua became such a great tzaddik. When Rebbe Yehoshua was a baby, his mother set his baby carriage outside the yeshiva. This little baby was exposed to lots and lots of Torah learning and thus grew up to become the great Rebbe Yehoshua.
Yet how did this contribute to Rebbe Yehoshua's greatness? As a baby, he certainly didn't comprehend the complex rabbinic discussions in the yeshiva. Rather, what made Rebbe Yehoshua great was the influence of having a mother who was willing to sacrifice herself to bring him there every day, who showed him the importance of having strong Jewish values, and who believed that one day he could sit amongst the great ones.
It is with tremendous gratitude to the Almighty that I celebrated today my grandson's Bris. We have unlimited hopes for this gorgeous baby. May he exceed them all !