It began like this ...
It was the morning of Taanit Bechorot (fast of the Jewish first-born) about twelve hours before Jews throughout the world began gathering together with family and friends for the Seder on the eve of Passover (Pesach).
Morning minyan had ended moments before highlighted by a siyum (a Talmudic discourse given by a Talmud Chochem), a learned student of the Torah shel ba'al peh, the oral law. Should a Jewish first-born son attend the siyum, he is thereby no longer obligated to fast.
You may recall that of all the "ten plagues" with which G-d afflicted the land there was none as devastatingly horrible as the tenth and final one-the slaying of the Egyptian first-born, dreadful beyond measure.
It happened the night of the Korban Pesach, (the sacrifice of a sheep, an Egyptian god) hours before the descendants of B'nai Jacov who, over the course of some two-hundred and ten years, increased their numbers from seventy to six-hundred thousand souls, left Egypt in the full light of day.
When G-d's hand swept across the entire land and slew the first-born of every Egyptian household-whether human or beast-it was to demonstrate to the Egyptian people that their king's claim of divinity was as empty of truth as a cup of liquid with a hole in its bottom.
Not a single Egyptian household was spared. Death and lamentation were as pervasive as G-d's reach across the land. But it was not an act of indiscriminate mayhem for you are sure to remember that the descendants of B’nai Jacov had daubed the blood of the Korban Pesach over their door lintels.
Now you’re wandering whether the "angel of death" or, for that matter, any of G-d's agents require a sign of this sort to avoid a mistake. I do not think so. Clearly it was meant more as a sign of empirical proof to the Egyptian people that the G-d of Israel was, in fact, the master of the universe.
Conversation with a friend
"So, what do you hear from Zac?" Reb Dov queried.
"Pretty much the same old stuff, you know."
He nodded in a way that clued me in to his real concern.
"You've called Zac for Seder tonight?"
I hadn't but thought of doing so.
"Okay, let's hear it. Afraid of something? Let's say he does turn down your invitation. At least, he'll have the reassurance that you've not abandoned him. Better he should say 'Dad it just isn't my thing' than to have not heard from you at all leaving him to wonder if you have not indeed given up on him."
Reb Dov has this keen insight about him.
So I did and picked him up at 1:00 p.m.
Zac and I have been debating history for a good many years. I spotted his natural leadership qualities in his early teens when his contemporaries, deferential to Zac's judgement, looked to him for guidance and decisiveness.
In other words, Zac had all the ingredients; he just needed a good recipe.
My job was to make sure he was aware of it, and that his many friends deferred to him on matters of choice (Zac, where should we go? What should we do? What do you think, Zac?).
Making a young teen realize that he is a natural was not as worrisome as alerting him to the enormous responsibility attached-that, as a leader he is morally obligated to lead his followers down the right path.
Borrowing rather liberally from Rabbi’s talks about the nature of Jewish vs. non-Jewish leadership, especially his emphasis that whomever is more of a "taker" than a "giver" is unfit to be a genuine Jewish leader, I hammered this home to Zac as much and as often as I could. However there was another dimension that itself was a prime ingredient
How should a responsible Jewish adult respond to the disparities in the Jewish community and beyond into the dangerous world of the city’s streets? Every Jew-no matter how convinced he is of the contrary-is connected to every other human being, Jew or non-Jew-that, as Zac explained it to me it is morally impossible to walk right past a homeless person with one's eyes staring at one's feet.
"No matter how much you wish to ignore it, he is a human being pleading with you for assistance. I'll often buy a meal for him than give him the cash."
Here is my son for whom Jewish education, of the sort he experienced, had about as much retentive appeal as one might reasonably expect from a post confirmation/high school program that met once a month. And no it is not better than nothing. It is, itself, nothing and does more to destroy the potential for mitzvot, tzedaka and good deeds which is inherent in the hearts of so many young people like Zac who need a good teacher, a rebbe, to guide him along the right path.
Now I could sit here and quote quite a few appropriate verses from Psalms, the written Torah and Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers). But I shan't.
There is none other than Zac of whom I am prouder to say "This is my son."
"You know Dad, there is nothing more in which I believe than kindness."
There is really nothing more I needs say, is there?
A good rest of Passover and a Shabbat Shalom to one and all.