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Memorial Evening 2007

5767/2007 Memorial Evening
marking the 12th Yahrzeit of Etta Ehrman Kossowsky z.l.

Le illui nishmat Etta Yonit bat moreinu haRav Zvi Ehrman, an evening of Torah learning was held on Etta's twelfth Yahrtzeit, 23rd Shevat/10th February, in Bet Shemesh in the Feigenson Synagogue.

Etta's mother welcomed some forty people, mainly family and friends of Etta's. Recalling the verse on Etta's grave, 'You shall do that which is right and good in the eyes of the Lord' ('be einei H'), Esther reminded people how appropriate that verse is for the learning in the Etta Study Groups. Other nations know about right and good; what we are being commanded to do is to apply these values as defined and sanctioned by the Lord (be einei H') and understanding that is what the learning is all about, whether a group is looking at the TeNaCh, Midrash, Gemara, Tephilla or Sefer HaChinuch.

Reporting on the finances of the Etta Kossowsky Fund, Esther reassured people that the learning was not likely to stop soon. Although, the Fund had a shortfall of a little over 6,000NIS for the year 2006, the Fund has accumulated sufficient money to weather this.

Etta's husband, Michi opened the learning with a 'devar Torah' on different ways of trying to bring Judaism 'up to date'. Our sages achieved this when they enacted the 'prosbul' or instituted 'mechirat chametz'. The question arises, does bringing Judaism up-to-date entail bringing in alien culture. The haredi world has addressed such questions as the place of television or the Internet. Other, orthodox, Jews tend to make individual decisions, relying on 'their' Judaism to guide them. The problem of integrating Western culture, with its cult of the self, its intellectualism and rationalism, is not straightforward. Like fire, it is useful, but needs to be watched. Eastern culture may offer us a possible model. It encourages self-effacement before the divine. It allows space for the 'other' and for G-d.

The distinguished guest speaker of the evening was Rabbanit Gila Weinberg. Her topic was 'Josef and Esther; Jews at the Palace'. Rabbanit Weinberg took the audience on a fascinating comparison of the two stories. She began with a literary exercise, showing how a good introduction of a character will imply features that condition the character's responses in the development of a story. Thus when we read Genesis, ch 36, we are introduced to Josef: haya ro'eh et achav, he 'shepherded' his brothers, a feature that is indicative of his future leadership. The account continues ve naar et benei Bilha, he was youthful with the sons of Bilhah; implying that he treated the sons of the servant Bilha as equals, perhaps showing an innate sense of justice, - very necessary for the future politician.

Likewise, in chapter 2 of Megillat Esther, we see the apparently helpless orphan, Esther that Mordechai takes into his household as a daughter. She is ' beautiful and fair to look upon'; the double expression underlines the importance of Esther's good looks; they are essential to the development.

Gila pointed out the significant similarities in the two texts. Both Josef and Esther are endowed with the gift of 'finding grace' in the eyes of others, be they Pharaoh or Ahasuerus. For both, clothing, the outer self, plays an important role. Both stories feature a change of status, a ring that seals this, and much more. Both are fully aware of their mission to save the Jewish people from a calamity. A major feature of both characters is their youth; the introductions speak of both Josef and Esther as naar, naarah, a youth We remember them both as somehow for ever young. And 'for ever young' is how we remember Etta, Gila said. Etta was the young woman with an impact on many people, young and old, an impact that resulted from her personality, her caring personality.

Etta's brother, Eli Ehrman, spoke of the requirement to understand, vital for the advent of the Ge'ula. Redemption is not just something that needs to be deserved. If we do not understand G-d's revelation, we are not ready and the Ge'ula will fail, as it has failed in the past. Why else would the miracle of crossing the Red Sea be immediately followed by the question, ' Why did G-d bring us out of Egypt?' We have not understood why people may suffer, even though G-d has revealed Himself, . We need to understand what G-d does in our world and the logical necessity of suffering in that context. And we need to apply our free will, to choose to accept the truth.