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Shavuot Youth Appeal

06/12/2019 04:26:15 PM


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

A few weeks ago, I found myself researching the life of Lawrence Fogelberg. I discovered that he was a band leader, who conducted the bands and taught music at Woodruff High School in Peoria, Ill. in the 40’s and 50’s, and then at Pekin Community High School until his retirement in 1976. He also directed the Pekin Municipal Band, which played “Sunday in the Park” concerts every summer near the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion. He died in August of 1982. His obituary was a top story in the Aug. 6, 1982 edition of the Pekin Daily Times. Lawrence Fogelberg, may he rest in peace.


There are two lovely passages from Midrash Tanhuma which, when held side-by-side create something of a puzzle:  

The Tanhuma wonders about the significance of the singular pronoun in the opening of the Decalogue. “I am the Lord your God…” - “your” in the singular. It cites the teaching of Rebbe, who says that the use of the singular reflects that “the people were “mimashkenin” for one another.

“Mimashkenan”:  They made not only an individual, but a collective commitment to observe the Torah.  They pledged themselves to one another; they took responsibility for one another.  Truly noble and admirable.

Now, fast forward 40 years to the eastern bank of the Jordan, on the plains of Moav. To the day on which Moshe gathers the entire nation to renew and reinforce the covenant between God and the people.  Moshe says to them, “You are standing here today, all of you…. all of the people of Israel”.

 Why the redundancy? What point is Moshe underscoring in adding “all the people of Israel” to “all of you”?

Answers the Tanhuma,

......וְכָל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל., כֻּלְּכֶם עֲרֵבִים זֶה בָּזֶה

Through the latter phrase Moshe signifies that - apparently unlike the previous time this covenant was struck – this time “all the people” will be “arevim” one for another.

Problem is that the word “arevim” pretty much means the same thing as “mimashkenan”:  pledged to one another, responsible for one another. In it as a collective. So what actually changed from year one to year 40?

The answer obviously lies in discerning some subtle yet significant distinction between the two terms:  “mimashkinin” at Sinai, and “areyvim” in the plains of Moav.  And I’ll propose that the textual blinking light that draws us toward this distinction is a word that appears in the latter context, but which – in retrospect – is conspicuously absent from the Sinai story. And that word is  טף , children.

As we read yesterday, the entirety of the adult community is addressed at Sinai, as is derived from the terms Bnai Yisrael and Beyt Yakov. In striking contrast,  Moshe – in year 40, explicitly includes  "טפכם" , –  your children”. 

And herein lies our solution. What does the adult-only community do when they undertake collective responsibility for the project?  They are “mimashkenim”, from the root mashkon, collateral, like the collateral offered to secure a loan, and which is seized by the lender is the loan is defaulted upon.  At Sinai, the adult community committed to collective liability. If one member of the nation defaults on his or her obligation to God, then all are prepared to pay whatever price is to be exacted.  “We are all on the hook if any one of us fails.” This a powerful and admirable statement of communal solidarity. And not the one you’d make if you were specifically thinking also about the children.

When their children were explicitly included by Moshe among the parties to the covenant, our ancestors were inspired to something even greater, to undertake “areyvut”.  An “arev” is not a collateral; it is a guarantor. “Areyvut” is not about offering oneself up after something has already gone wrong; it’s about offering a guarantee that everything will go right. It’s about looking at the children in our midst, and undertaking the collective responsibility to be their teachers, their role models, their examples, their inspiration, so that before they could even reach the age of “defaulting” or liability, they will already have absorbed through their communal environment , how a person lives the covenant, how a person loves the covenant.  This is “areyvut”. ALL of the adults are areyvim for ALL of the children. This is a commitment that we live out until this very day.

The one inner voice we must quiet is the one that says, “Sure. Sounds great. But I know myself. I’m not that kind of person. I’m not inspiring enough, dynamic enough, interesting enough to really have that kind an impact on a child”.  That would be a dreadful mistake.

In 1981, the singer/composer Dan Fogelberg recorded a song that hit #1 on the billboard, a song called “Leader of the Band” which he wrote as a tribute to the band-leader of Piken Community high School, Lawrence Fogelberg, his father.

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom

When it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think I said

'I love you' near enough

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

It’s funny how children are. They / we don’t need parents or adults who are household names, or superstars. Just models who do what they do in the right way, with commitment, with idealism, with principle and self-sacrifice. That’s all they need.  

I reflect often on the adults of the shul community in which I grew up… the adults who volunteered in the youth department, Rabbi Sturm who gave out the Barton’s chocolates when we came in for the Torah procession , and all of the adults who simply took the time to lean over and say “Good Shabbos” to us kids.  They got the job done. They did a fantastic job as “areyvim”. As many here in this room already do, and all of us in this room CAN do.

This is a very holy moment of Yom Tov moment. When we remember our own personal “leaders of the band”, and redouble our commitment to playing that role, to providing that both for our own children, and for all of our children. And yes absolutely, taking our holy cards, and be “arevim” in this manner as well. 

The children of Bnai David will look back one day at what they learned here and say of us, “their blood runs through our instrument; their song is in our souls”.

Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784