On the Brit of Ari Benjamin Stern

Ari was born on Yom Yerushalayim, a very special day which celebrates the rebirth of the ancient city of Jerusalem.

But why is Jerusalem so special? Is it because it is revered by three religions? Is it because it is where Solomon built the Temple, or where David declared his capital? Is it because Jacob dreamed of a staircase to heaven there, or because Abraham and Isaac proved their faith there?

A story is told of Solomon who was in doubt as to where he was to build the Temple. A heavenly voice directed him to go to Mount Zion at night, to a field owned by two brothers jointly. One of the brothers was a bachelor and poor, the other was blessed both with wealth and a large family of children. It was harvesting time. Under cover of night, the poor brother kept adding to the other’s heap of grain, for, although he was poor, he thought his brother needed more on account of his large family. The rich brother, in the same clandestine way, added to the poor brother’s store, thinking that though he had a family to support, the other was without means. This field, Solomon concluded, which had called forth so remarkable a manifestation of brotherly love, was the best site for the Temple, and he bought it. (The Legends of the Jews, by Louis Ginzberg, Vol. IV)

At Adam’s brit, I said that before Adam; Lauri and Charles were just a couple. Adam had made Charles and Lauri into parents and the three of them into a family.

Today, Ari has made Adam into a brother…

Adam and Ari are united by those sheaves of grain…

Both Adam and Ari were born during the counting of the Omer. The Omer is a measurement of grain offered to God in the Temple on Shavuot. We start counting on Passover when Adam was born and we finish today, on Shavuot which is by tradition the day the Torah was given.

The Omer was to be a happy time, but because 12,000 pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples all died during this period it has become a more serious period when we work on our midot, our character. Rabbi Akiva’s students were punished because they looked grudgingly on each other.

(Genesis Rabbah 61:3. Related versions of this text are also found in BT Yevamot 62b, and Kohelet Rabbah 11:6)

Notice that Akiva did not lose 12,00 students… he lost 12,000 pairs of students and it was each pair that did not act with the appropriate respect, one for the other.  The Omer and Shavuot is all about pairs.

Adam was born on the last day of Passover, Ari has his brit on Shavuot… the last and final day of the counting of the Omer.. a period when we aspire to perfect our sense of respect for our fellow man and reach the level of selflessness of those two brothers sharing their sheaves of grain under the cover of night, long ago on a hill in Jerusalem.

Shavuot was originally an agricultural harvest holiday, and the Rabbis struggle to make the connection between the biblical omer offering of the first grain with the tradtion that the torah was given on the 6th of Sivan.

Most explanations are based on a connection between the two tablets of the ten commandments and the two omers of grain, but I think that Ari is teaching us a more direct connection.

The Talmud in tractate Shabbat 31a relates the following well-known story of Hillel:

It happened that a certain heathen came before Hillel and said to him, “Make me a proselyte, on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. ….. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”

Similarly, Rabbi Akiva commented on the verse, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19: 18) “This is a major tenet of the Torah” – Ze Clall Gadol BeTorah. (Kedoshim 19:18, Toras Kohanim, ibid. See also Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4; Bereishis Rabbah 24:7)

It seems to me that the two omer offerings of grain represent the two sheaves of grain offered by those two brothers on that hill in Jerusalem. These two sheaves represent not only an offering of the first fruit but also the torah itself.. which can be condensed into the simple rule to love one’s brother, and better yet to step into his shoes before one acts.

Those of you who know me, know that I am not a big fan of the signs of the zodiac.. the mazalot. But I can’t ignore that the sign for the month of Sivan is a pair of twins – teomim. Ari was born with a special mazal, the mazal of brotherhood.

Jerusalem – Yerushalyim means awe of peace… but not just any peace, peace in pairs.  Enayim is a pair of eyes, raglayim is a pair of feet and Shalyim is shalom in a pair.

Yes, Ari is a lion and I know that he, like a lion will protect his family and our people. He will carry himself with dignity and provide for those he loves. His name is one of the names of Jerusalem and I am confident that he will always “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalms 122: 6) and support the only homeland for the Jewish people, the holy State of Israel. But I also know that he and Adam will be amazing brothers and that their brotherhood will be an inspiration to us all.

As the famous verse in Isaiah says… the young lion and the lamb will lie down together and “a little child shall lead them”. Isaiah 11:6
I hope for Ari, that he will be such a lion.

I have a gift for Ari today. It is a book called The Two Brothers – A Legend of Jerusalem. And here is my inscription:

To Ari on the occasion of your birth on Yom Yirusalayim and your brit on Shavuot and
To Adam on your becoming a brother.

May you both share this book
as you share your lives and
teach us all to share the world.

“How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalms 133:1

Love Grandpa and Safta Stern
Shavuot 2011

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Filed under Bible, Israel, Judaism, Religion, social commentary, Torah, Uncategorized

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