by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – July 19, 2011
We read in the beginning of the Torah section of Matot (Bamidbar 31:1-2), “And G-d spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Take vengeance for the children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered unto your people.’” G-d tells Moses that he is to wage war against the Midianites as retribution for their wrong-doing towards the Israelites, and afterwards he will die.
On the above verse, Rashi comments that “although he [Moses] heard that his death was conditioned in this matter [war against the Midianites], he did it gladly without delay.” Although his own death was conditioned on organizing and exercising this war, Moses proceeded, as G-d’s trusted servant, with unquestioning loyalty, without any hesitation whatsoever. Moses had encountered G-d’s glory and magnificence enough to know that whatever G-d decides is right and should not be delayed or stalled in any way – even his own death.
Such unquestioning loyalty can also be found on levels lower than Moses vis-à-vis G-d. Such unquestioning loyalty can also be found in an anecdote reported by the noted rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Staten Island, R. Reuven Feinstein vis-à-vis his famous father, the great Torah scholar and decisor, R. Moshe Feinstein (Paysach Krohn, In the Footsteps of the Maggid).
The celebration of the bar mitzvah of one of R. Reuven Feinstein’s sons was to come out on the same Sabbath as the annual Agudath Israel of America convention wherein his father R. Moshe Feinstein, the greatest scholar of the time in America, was slated to be the keynote speaker. On one hand, R. Moshe’s presence was critical to the convention, while, on the other hand, his grandson was celebrating his bar mitzvah – a very special family event.
To resolve the conflict, R. Moshe was in attendance as his grandson received an aliyah on Thursday morning at R. Moshe’s yeshiva, Tiferet Yerushalayim, followed by a festive but modest family meal, while R. Moshe participated in the convention on the Sabbath.
R. Reuven was asked years later, “Didn’t you mind that your own father did not attend your son’s bar mitzvah [on the Sabbath]?” R. Reuven responded with a smile, “Of course every person would love nothing more than to have his father at such a special family simcha [celebration]. But I was able to accept the fact that my father didn’t attend the bar mitzvah because deep in my heart I knew that he really loved me.” R. Reuven then proceeded to present three reasons for his certainty.
First of all, after getting up early every morning to study, R. Moshe would at six o’clock every morning enter his little son Reuven’s room, take his clothes and place them on the radiator, and return a half hour later to remove the clothes, which were warm by then, and dress his son while he was still under the covers, thereby preventing his son’s getting chilled by the cold New York winter upon getting out of bed.
Another indication of his love for his son occurred in the Connecticut bungalow colony where the Feinstein family spent its summers. There were few ways of keeping the children of the bungalow colony’s guests occupied. Consequently, when the colony owner would drive into town in his pick-up truck for supplies, all the children were permitted to sit in the hay-lined back of the truck, where the children would gleefully frolic as the truck rode down the bumpy roads. R. Moshe, who would regularly engage in extensive study with his son Reuven, would not hesitate, when he noticed the truck about to leave, to interrupt their study, tell his son to close his book and get on the truck to enjoy the ride. R. Reuven explained that his father “knew what was important to a child, so he encouraged me to go.”
Finally, the love of R. Moshe to his son manifested itself every Sabbath. Every Sabbath, R. Reuven was seated at his regular place at his father’s right side, enforcing his security, even when there were guests, unless they were of the most distinguished stature. Quoting the statement in Mishna Avot 1:5, “The poor should be [treated] as members of your household,” R. Moshe Feinstein would add “but they shouldn’t take over.”
R. Moshe Feinstein’s demonstration of his love for his son endured with R. Reuven Feinstein throughout all the years leading to his unquestioning loyalty to his father and unequivocal trust in his father’s decisions, similar to Moses’ unquestioning loyalty to our Father in heaven and his unequivocal trust in His decisions.
May we all learn a lesson from the actions of R. Reuven Feinstein and more so from Moses to recognize the love of those who care for us dearly and especially the great role that our Father in heaven plays in our lives. May we fully appreciate the love of those who care for us, and even more so may we follow dutifully in G-d’s word, always attentive to His instruction with nothing but unquestioning loyalty and unequivocal trust along a path paved in truth and goodness for now and eternity.