Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Eitan Reuven Flescher

Our son who was born at 12:20am on May 30 2012 / 9 Sivan 5772, is named after a biblical character who lived in the land of Judah some 3000 years ago. We only know four things about his name, and all four of them are attributes we want for our son.

The first is that he was a wise person. We learn this from the first Book of Kings where it says:

"וַיִּתֵּן אֱלֹהִים חָכְמָה לִשְׁלֹמֹה וּתְבוּנָה הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד וְרֹחַב לֵב כַּחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל שְׂפַת הַיָּם: וַתֵּרֶב חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה מֵחָכְמַת כָּל בְּנֵי קֶדֶם וּמִכֹּל חָכְמַת מִצְרָיִם: וַיֶּחְכַּם מִכָּל הָאָדָם מֵאֵיתָן הָאֶזְרָחִי וְהֵימָן וְכַלְכֹּל וְדַרְדַּע בְּנֵי מָחוֹל וַיְהִי שְׁמוֹ בְכָל הַגּוֹיִם סָבִיב:"
"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Eitan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about." (1 Kings 4:29-31)

The second is that he was a musician. We learn this from the account of the amazing ceremony arranged by King David when he first brought the Ark to Jerusalem, where Eitan is described as one of the Poets / Musicians who provided the soundtrack to this wondrous day.

 וְהַמְשֹׁרְרִים, הֵימָן אָסָף וְאֵיתָן--בִּמְצִלְתַּיִם נְחֹשֶׁת, לְהַשְׁמִיעַ.
And the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Eitan were appointed to play the cymbals of brass - 1 Chronicles 15:19

Eitan is also the author of Psalm 89.

The third is from the first Book of Kings 8:2, where it says:
 וַיִּקָּ֨הֲל֜וּ אֶל־הַמֶּ֤לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה֙ כָּל־אִ֣ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּיֶ֥רַח הָאֵֽתָנִ֖ים בֶּחָ֑ג ה֖וּא הַחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִֽי
All the men of Israel gathered to King Solomon at the special feast in the seventh month, called Yerach Eitanim.

Today we call Yerach Eitanim the month of Tishrei, the month of the Hebrew calendar which has more festivals than any other, including Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot to name but three. The festivals in Tishrei deal with our spiritual side, a time for reckoning and accounting of our deeds, followed by two festivals of great joy and dancing.
If every month in the life of Eitan is like that of Yerach Eitanim, we will be very happy for him.

In modern Hebrew, the word Eitan can mean any of the following words - constancy, firmness, safe, strong or enduring. In fact, when describing different types of streams of water in Hebrew, there are two adjectives.  Nachal Achzav (disappointment), which flows only during the winter months, and Nachal Eitan, which flows all year round, whose water source is usually from an underground spring, such as the river Jordan. 


The fourth is that his name is a description for social justice used on the book of Amos. Amos lived in the kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. His major themes were social justice, God's omnipotence, and divine judgment. Under King Jeroboam II (793 BCE to 753 BCE) the kingdom of Israel was incredibly prosperous. The gulf between rich and poor widened at this time. Amos was called from his rural home to remind the rich and powerful of God's requirement for justice. He claimed that religion that is not accompanied by right action is anathema to God and prophesied that the kingdom of Israel would be destroyed. Amos' message was, perhaps understandably, unwelcome in Israel. Not only was he a foreigner from the southern kingdom, but his prophecies of doom were completely at odds with the prevailing political climate of hope and prosperity.


In chapter 5:21-24 Amos says to the people of Israel on behalf of God,
I loathe, I despise your festivals, I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies. If you offer Me burnt offering- or your meal offerings- I will not accept them; I will pay no heed to your gifts of well-fed animals. Spare Me the sound of your songs, and let Me not hear the music of your harps. But let justice well up like water, righteousness like an ever-flowing/mighty stream.
עמוס פרק ה - וְיִגַּל כַּמַּיִם, מִשְׁפָּט; וּצְדָקָה, כְּנַחַל אֵיתָן

As a cultural Jew, these words of Amos, that justice righteousness should be like a Nachal Eitan, resonate with me more so than any other in the Tanach.  Noam Neusner explains that this passage in Amos is one of the most challenging in Tanach because it directly contradicts what God told us to do in Vayikra, Bamidar and Devarim, namely, celebrate festivals, kill cattle and offer them up as burnt offerings. Now God speaks through Amos and says not only are these acts inappropriate, but offensive if done with the wrong intention. What is the message of all this?

God does not want us to follow Jewish law, whilst forgetting the message and spirit behind the law. He does not want us to pay more attention to the kashrut of our food, than the words of gossip that comes out of our mouths whilst we are eating it.

Bottom line: True religion cannot be divorced from a just and moral society.
In his famous “I have a dream” speech of 1963, Martin Luther King famously applied this reference to the Nachal Eitan to his contemporary situation when he said:
“We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream

  
In conclusion, we learn from the Tanach that Eitan was a wise man, a poet and musician, whose name is both a description for the most joyous month in the Hebrew calendar and a description for the type of justice we need in this world. What more could we want for our son?
--
The second name we chose was Reuven after my late father, who on the 16th of May 1948, was one of the first children born in the state of Israel, just two days after her creation.

Reuven Flescher at the age of 15, Polishing Diamonds in Petach Tikva
From the age of 15, my Abba worked in the diamond industry in Ramat Gan, originally polishing diamonds on the factory floor, until he eventually became a gemmologist and was brought out to Australia where he launched the first Australian School of Gemmology, teaching people how to sort and value diamonds.

 Starting a new life in Australia at the age of 29 with a wife and two young children was not an easy task. Both my parents worked incredibly hard to ensure that my brother and I were able to attend Mount Scopus for our entire education.
When I reached Year 7, my father wanted me to join what was an experimental program at that time called the bilingual class, where all subjects would be taught in Hebrew. I was a bit sceptical about this because I thought
A: Why do I need Hebrew if I am going to live in Australia? And
B: Math and Science are complicated enough for me in English.

Ittay's Brit Mila in 1978
What he said to convince me to join this program was that every new language is like a new life. It is like a passport, which opens another door. And even though you may not need it now, one can never tell what the future may hold.

It was one of the best pieces of advice he gave me, as not only did the Bilingual program greatly improve my Hebrew, but it was also the springboard for my involvement and interest in studying Tanach, Israel and Jewish thought in the original language, which was far richer than studying these topics in translation.

This blessing of language is something I have passed onto Nava, as I now only speak with her in Hebrew, and will also pass onto Eitan. On our first Friday night at home, when Carm and I blessed Nava and Eitan together for the first time after Kiddush, I was struck about how the words for the male blessing are different from the female.
The source for blessing a male child that he should be as “Ephraim and Menashe” the source of which comes from Genesis 48:20 which reads:

וַיְבָ֨רֲכֵ֜ם בַּיֹּ֣ום הַהוּא֮ לֵאמֹור֒ בְּךָ֗ יְבָרֵ֤ךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־אֶפְרַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י מְנַשֶּֽׁה
On that day Jacob blessed them, he said, "In time to come, the people of Israel will use you as a blessing. They will say, 'May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe'." (Genesis 48:20)
Many have wondered why Jacob chooses to bless his grandsons before blessing his 12 sons. Traditionally, the answer has been that Jacob chose to bless them because they are the first set of brothers who did not fight with each other. All the brothers who came before them in the Bible – Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers – had serious issues of sibling rivalry. By contrast, Ephraim and Menashe were friends known for their good deeds. And what parent wouldn’t wish for peace among their children? In the words of Psalms 133:1
הִנֵּ֣ה מַה־טֹּ֭וב וּמַה־נָּעִ֑ים שֶׁ֖בֶת אַחִ֣ים גַּם־יָֽחַד
"How good and pleasant is it for brothers to sit peacefully together."

The other interpretation for why we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe is that they were the first pair of siblings who grew up in the diaspora, in the land of Egypt, and maintained their Jewish identity.

With that in mind, May you my two children Eitan Reuven and Nava Shulamit, be just like Ephraim and Menashe, siblings with a great love for one another, and with a strong Jewish identity that I pass on to you, that I inherited from my parents, stemming from our language, culture and history. May these gifts lead you to do all that you can to leave this world in a better place than it is now, at the time you have arrived.
Thank You

Special Thanks to Dr Roni Magidov who was my supervisor at The Hebrew University in 2007-2008 who helped me write this speech.

5 comments:

Miriam Halahmy said...

MAZELTOV!! What a beautiful and excellent choice of names. I wish you, Carm and your wonderful children a happy, healthy and fun life together. Our love to you all.

Alison said...

That is a wonderful piece to read - and will be a gift for your son, among the many he will receive from his parents. Mazel tov

Adam Stein said...

Really beautiful, ittay. Mazel Tov to all of you!

Raya Even David said...

ממש מרגש, מביא דמעות לעיניים. כ"כ שמחה בשבילכם, גאה בכך ובטוחה שתתנו חיים טובים וערכיים לילדיכם המקסימים.

אתם דוגמא בשבילי, המשיכו להיות מדהימים ואיכותיים, החוזקות שלכם מעצימים אותי!

אהבה רבה,
רעיה

Anonymous said...

Mabrook Bro. Just a sweet and wonderful. I hope that high above in Heaven, your Abba is smiling down upon you.
Warmest regards, Hyder