I did not watch this year’s Oscars. No surprise, I didn’t watch last year’s. In fact, I’ve never watched it. But in 2012, on the short list for best Foreign Language Film were movies from the very two countries that the world worries about most, Israel and Iran. As it turned out, Hollywood passed on Israel’s ‘Footnote’ and Iran won.
‘Footnote’ is the story of a father and son, Eliezer and Uriel Skolnik. Both are respected Israeli academics. But while the father is a dedicated Talmudic scholar, researching different editions of the Jerusalem Talmud, his son is a skilled networker with a keen instinct for career advancement. As a result, Uriel is popular and a sought after lecturer. Conversely, Skolnik Senior gets no recognition. feels frustrated at the changes in research methods and feels shunned even by his own son.
One day, Eliezer gets a call from the Ministry of Education notifying him that he’s finally won the prestigious Israel Prize. The story appears in the paper. Unfortunately, it’s a big mistake. They called the wrong Skolnik.
The awards committee summons Uriel and tells him the Prize is his for the taking. What will the ambitious son do? Will he guard the secret of the mistake? We all know parents who are prepared to sacrifice everything for a child, but will a son sacrifice his career for a parent?
A similar story between a Chassid and his Rebbe happened in Staradov, Russia. In 1881, a Jew snitched to the authorities that the Chabad Rabbi there used illegal methods to obtain exemptions from military service for the community members. Eighty Jews, including the Rabbi, Zalman Neimark, were imprisoned. The community was demoralized. At the trial, the informer ‘explained’ to the authorities that this was not a local affair but a plot led by the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe himself.
The authorities tried to squeeze a confession out of local Rabbi that the Grand Rebbe was also involved. But Rabbi Neimark took full responsibility. In turn, the Rebbe wrote him, “You have nothing to fear at all.” And indeed, Rabbi Neimark was found innocent.
This week’s Biblical reading tells us how, on the day following Yom Kippur, Moses commanded the people not only to bring contributions, but to set aside their personal agendas and help build the Mishkan, the Desert Sanctuary. Strangely enough, earlier when G-d gave Moses the command he offered a rationale, “So that I shall dwell among them.” Moses however did not follow suit. He omitted any reason or explanation. Just do it!
Amazingly enough, they willingly complied and asked no questions. Now anyone who’s ever fundraised for a communal institution knows how hard it can be to get our fellow Jews to part with their wealth. When it comes to money, a lot of people have separation anxiety. Yet here, without any explanation of why (except that, “G-d said!”), the Jews donated everything! What’s going on?
During the High Holidays prayers, we recite the Avinu Malkeinu, which calls G-d, first and foremost, ‘our Father’. This reminds us: Not only is He our Heavenly Father, there is another side of the coin, we are His children! In the Alter Rebbe’s classic, Tanya, the Bible of Chabad teachings, he quotes the Zohar, “Like a son who strives for and worries for his father and mother because he loves them more than his essence and soul and spirit.” With this inborn love, a son can sacrifice everything for his parents. (Chapter 46)
So when Moses came along and said that our Father requested a Mishkan, His children didn’t need any explanations or reasons. For Dad? For Mom? Anything!
The next time you have the opportunity to be there for your parents, just remember one thing: You are their child. Likewise, given the choice of doing a mitzvah or something else, recall that “Dad” asked us to do it. And what wouldn’t a child do?
Dedicated to my parents and mother-in-law. May they all be healthy for many more years. Not only for their sake, but for ours and our children. Otherwise, to whom else could we sacrifice?