Parshat Vayeshev 5774
Today’s Dvar Torah is in honor of
Shmuel Asher Uzziel ben haRav Michael Aharon v’haRav Pesah Esther
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin
Political assassinations are an odd phenomenon. Some of us go through the regular stages of grief and others don’t. But most of the time people do experience initial shock. I recall that I definitely did when Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated 18 years ago.
Obviously I was not alive 50 years ago when President John F. Kennedy was shot. But I have a vivid Kennedy assassination related memory. I had recently transferred to a brand new public high school for tenth grade. For some reason, my dad was in the school building with me. We walked up a huge stair case and my dad said to me “whenever I walk up a staircase like this I am reminded of Kennedy’s assassination.” He must have been in school and heard it on the PA system—in Toronto. But it always reminds him of the assassination.
In that same high school I chose an elective class called American History, thinking it was important to know about our neighbors to the south. It was then, pre YouTube that I first saw the famous Walter Cronkite clip, when he shared with the world that the president was gone. Taking off his glasses he said “we just have a report in from Dan Rather, our correspondent in Dallas, that he has confirmed that President Kennedy is dead.” Then again he stated, “From Dallas Texas, the flash official, President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time. He pauses. 2 PM Eastern Standard Time as his voice shakes, some 38 minutes ago. He pauses again and then somehow speaks about Lyndon B Johnson who will shortly assume the office. As much as a professional as Cronkite was, we can’t help but be moved by his quivering lip and look of sadness and disappointment.
Shock, disbelief and disappointment. Everyone felt it, even if they never met the president personally. People cried for the life that would not continue. This man who said: Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future would not have a future.
These feelings of shock, disbelief and disappointment were all raised to the surface for me and thousands more last week. For a year and a half, 520 days to be exact, I had been following the blog of Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer who live in the greater Chicagoland area. I have never met them, although Rabbi Phyllis Summer and I interact on Twitter. The two of them have been blogging on www.supermansamuel.blogspot.com
Their first entry was dated June 14, 2012. At the conclusion of that first post they wrote:
Sam has cancer.
Acute myeloid leukemia.
And our lives will never be the same.
By frequently reading their blog, I learned that Phyllis and Michael are wonderful parents and wonderful rabbis. Their son Sam, who loves everything Superman, has spent most of the last year and half at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and the Ronald McDonald House nearby. On November 8, two weeks ago, when Sam was 73 days post bone marrow treatment, a blog entry was given the title Little Things – BMT +73. Phyllis wrote:
“Today is Sam’s birthday….
Just a little morning with donuts at the Sommer house.
Just a little birthday.
Just a little thing.
So little I can barely breathe.
Eight is great.
May there be so many more….
Blessed are You, our God, who has enabled us to reach today.
I was thrilled for this family. They could go back to some semblance of normalcy. But then last week, Phyllis wrote the following
520 Days Later
“Time is all we have. You may find one day that you have less than you think.” ~ Randy Pausch
We are so desperately heartbroken and filled with sadness.
Sam has relapsed.
His ninja leukemia is so very strong.
It has reared its head in his bone marrow and in some extramedullary spots on his jaw and head.
There is no cure.
There is no treatment.
I won’t read the whole blog post because I can’t do it without crying. And I don’t know anybody else who has read this without tearing up either.
I felt like Walter Cronkite when I read that email; emotions of shock, disbelief and disappointment enveloped me, even though I never met Sam or his parents. I had only read about him and seen pictures—sort of like the relationship most Americans have with the President. I sat on the couch and cried for the life that won’t continue living.
We just never know what will happen- and we have never have.
We began the Joseph saga in our parsha this week. His father loved him more than any of his other children—and there were many. Jacob loved Joseph so much that he made him a special colored tunic. Joseph made Jacob feel young again; being that he was the ben Zkunim-child of his old age.
Joseph dreamed his two egocentric and arrogant dreams which made his brothers angry. Later, Joseph’s brothers made an historic mistake that changed the course of Jewish history. In chapter 37, verse 19 the brothers said to one another “Here comes the dreamer. Come now let us kill him and throw him into a one of the pits, and we can say a savage beast devoured him.” When Jacob heard the news that his son was gone, he encountered that same shock, disbelief and disappointment. He rent his clothing and put on sackcloth. The dreams and hopes he might have had for his own son were shattered.
What President Kennedy and little Superman Sam and Joseph have in common is that they were all dreamers.
We all know that Joseph was in the dream business. He dreamt wild dreams and he was able to decipher the dreams of others as well.
President Kennedy too was a man with a dream. He had a vision for a new America. He famously said “things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” And, “mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” Take a moment to think about the state of this country had Kennedy not been shot. We will never know.
Take a moment to think about our people had Joseph stayed with the other brothers and never became the Number Two to Pharaoh in Egypt. How different would our central story be? Again, we will never know as the Torah is not a choose your own adventure book.
Take a moment to think about the Sommer family. Two parents, three siblings and three grandparents are losing Sam. Sam is a dreamer too. His first responses last week when his parents told him what was happening were:
I don’t want to die!
I want to grow up and marry someone!
I want to learn to drive!
I want to have a Bar Mitzvah!
I want to see David be President!
I want to see Dad get old and wear diapers!
Phyllis wrote: How do you tell your child that he’s going to die? My heart is broken into a million billion pieces.
I don’t know the Sommers family. But Sam and his family have been so close to my heart, especially in the last few weeks. I read that when Sam was told that his leukemia had returned, one of the first things he also said, “I will never go to Israel.”
One of Sam’s dreams is to go to Israel. It is on his bucket list. And now the family is there. Am Shalom, the Temple where Phyllis works arranged to send Sam, his three siblings, parents and grandparents to Israel. Outside their hotel was a huge banner with the words Welcome Sam and Family on it. As Phyllis wrote, Sam is on a trip-of-a-brief-lifetime. It has not been an easy week, but Sam got to Israel. Some of Sam’s dreams will come true before his brief life ends. I admire his parents’ strength.
Humans are multi dimensional. Last week during Ask the Rabbi on Shabbat morning, one of our children asked why is it is that we need to have holidays to remember sad things, and how come all holidays aren’t happy?
I responded that in order to be a full person we need to have parts that are happy and sad inside of us.
We need to find inspirations and be aspirational. We need to attend funerals and simchas. We need not hope for miracles, but see the miracles around us. We need to dream
With the season of miracles about to begin this week, I want to look at President Kennedy and Jacob and Joseph and little Sam in a slightly different way. They all had miracles in their lives. The fact that Kennedy was able to win by a small margin and then wake up a nation, especially young people was a miracle. That Jacob was able to live to an old age and we will read in a few weeks be reunited with Joseph was a miracle. And that little eight year old Superman Sam has captured the hearts of thousands; across various lines which would usually divide us is miracle too.
On Wednesday night, when we recite the words of the second Chanukah blessing and say Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in the days of old and at this season, take a moment to count the miracles in your life.