Teachings by Isadore Rosenthal – Story by Maddy Rosenthal
In Memory of Morris Rosenthal
It is fitting that my drash focuses on Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25) and in memory of my brother Morris.
In this parashah, the words “The mighty hand” and “The mighty hand and the outstretched arm”, mentioned in at least three times in three different paragraphs, are personally meaningful as they have a connection with my brother Morris.
My drash raises questions that I wish to answer.
- God made the Israelites travel through the wilderness for forty years. I had the mistaken notion that it was to allow enough time for those with a slave mentality to die out. I was wrong. I also had the mistaken notion that it was God’s punishment. I was wrong again.
Instead, the Torah says that God was testing the Israelites by subjecting them to hardship to learn whether, in their hearts, they were keeping God’s commandments.
Then, why did it take God forty years to do this? God only knows.
- God subjected “. . . the Israelites to hunger and then . . . gave them manna to eat.” Once more, I had the mistaken notion that it was God’s punishment.
God taught the Israelites “. . . that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees. (God provided that) the clothes upon . . . (the Israelites) did not wear out, nor did . . . (their) feet swell these forty years . . . God disciplined . . . (the Israelites) as a man (or a father) disciplines a son.”
God makes clear to the Israelites that “it is not because of . . . (their) virtues and . . . (their) rectitude that . . . (the Israelites would) be able to possess their country; but it is because of the wickedness (of the nations living in the land) that . . . God (was) dispossessing the nations before . . . (them) and . . . to fulfill the oath that the Lord made to . . . (the Patriarchs).”
- Moses required Aaron to be his spokesperson to speak on his behalf before the Pharaoh. Yet, much later, Moses became so eloquent and persuasive that, God listened to him and did not destroy the Israelites.
In a footnote to Chapter 11 of the Book of Deuteronomy, it is stated that “The fundamental relationship between God and the individual is one of love, not fear of punishment or hope of reward.” Later in the footnote, it is stated that reading from the Torah is like reading a love letter.
Morris was the oldest of my three older brothers, and I looked up to him for advice and guidance.
One of my earliest recollections of Morris was when I was eleven years old. I was watching Morris perform as a member of the Humboldt High School gymnastics team in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was performing magnificently on the high and parallel bars and the horse. Unfortunately, his gymnastics career was cut short by World War II. He was eighteen years old and was about to be inducted into the army. But before he left, he called me into his room and instructed me on the facts of life, the birds and the bees. After completing basic army training, he was sent to Italy.
During his assignment in Italy, Morris’ buddies and he were called into their headquarters. They were to act as medics and go out to the battlefield and bring back the wounded. As soon as they entered the battlefield, his buddies were killed. Morris stood up and raised his fists in the manner of King Kong at the enemy. Miraculously he wasn’t shot and killed. He proceeded into the battlefield and brought back three wounded soldiers, his lieutenant, a sergeant and another soldier. Days before this event, his lieutenant had criticized Morris for making jokes on the battlefield. The next day, when Morris went to his headquarters to make a report, the clerk told Morris that if he included the clerk’s name, he would type up the report. This angered Morris, so he left. Sixty years later, Morris was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Morris and his new teammates were riding in a jeep when there was a bombardment with shells falling around them. They quickly left the jeep and sought refuge. Morris remembered that our Mom’s peanut butter cookies were on the back seat of the jeep. Morris ran back to the jeep while his buddies shouted to return to safety. Morris retrieved the cookies and returned safely.
Later, Morris was assigned as a cannoneer and radio operator on an anti-tank canon team. One day, his teammates were hauling a canon up a hill when it broke loose and started rolling downhill toward Morris. Morris stopped the canon with his body, that is with his 145 pounds. He survived.
During his tour of duty in Italy, Morris was granted a leave of absence for the high holidays. He went to Rome. He found an empty Synagogue and went in and davened. It was a cold day in Rome. Morris spotted a pizzeria with the door open and the shop empty. He went in and took a nap in the warm oven. Fortunately, no one ordered pizza that day. When Morris returned to his unit, he found out that his buddies had been killed. Had Morris not been granted a leave of absence . . .
When asked how he had managed to survive, Morris replied: his faith. And I would add that it was also because Morris was under the protection of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm. Nevertheless, Morris suffered from survivor’s guilt for the rest of his life.
Years later, it was August 1954, and it was my turn to be inducted into the army. It was the time of the Korean War. My trip to the Induction Center would have been a grim and unhappy event were it not for the fact that Morris drove me there and entertained me with his upbeat humor and jokes.
Years ago, Morris lived in Boca Raton, Florida where his daily routine involved putting on tefillin and davening and then leading the morning service in his Synagogue.
In more recent years, Morris had been living in Denver, Colorado. For some time, Morris had been fighting multiple melanoma cancer and heart disease. Once again, Morris was leading the morning service, this time in his hospital room in Denver on Shabbat, June 29th. This would be the last time Morris would conduct a service. He was attended by two of my sons, Brian and Paul, two of my nephews, David and Ken, and myself. We tried to reach a minyan. Morris read the major parts of the text in Parashat Shelakh Lekha (Numbers 15.8 – 15.41) and the entire Haftorah. Chabad Rabbi Zalman Popack provided the grape juice, the prayer books, the tallit, and the kippahs. Rabbi Popack’s wife baked and provided the Challah. Given the fact that Morris was in pain and knew he was dying made this Shabbat service even more meaningful. Morris passed away on July 21st 2019, just one month short of his 94th birthday. His battle with cancer was over.
I would now like to read Morris’ daughter Maddy’s “Mandel Bread Story.”
MANDEL BREAD STORY
My father, Morris, never saw obstacles to prevent him from doing what he wanted to do or what he thought his child should be able to do. As a child, I went to a Hebrew elementary school and each year at Passover time, I would sell cookies, chocolates and mandel bread in order to accumulate points to win a prize from my school. My father brought me door to door all over my neighborhood as well as to adjacent neighborhoods and apartment buildings, selling to a largely non-Jewish population. It never occurred to my father that many people would not be familiar with typical Jewish Passover desserts, so he didn’t see why I wouldn’t try to sell door-to-door to every person Jewish or not. To my father, everyone was a potential customer, which was important in true salesmanship and in being an entrepreneur.
In my neighborhood in New York, there was a house where nuns lived and I was scared to sell Passover goods to them, because I didn’t see why they would be interested at all in this very niche Jewish food, and I was afraid they would be angry with me. My father kept encouraging me to approach their door and ring the doorbell as nuns, like everyone else, were potential customers. So, I rang the doorbell. When one of the nuns opened the door, she at first seemed annoyed to be interrupted from what she was doing, but moments later she totally changed her attitude when she learned what I was selling. The nun said, “You have mandel bread? I LOVE mandel bread.” And to my surprise, she purchased several boxes of mandel bread from me. Thanks to my father, who was an entrepreneur and a true salesman, I learned that all people should have the opportunity to appreciate special Passover desserts—even nuns!