Parshas Vayeishev (5769)
This week my wife and I found ourselves at a downtown hospital late one night where my wife was coaching a close friend through her labor (Thank G-d, they had a healthy baby boy!) while I was watching our 5 month old baby Yosef Mordechai in the waiting room outside Triage.
At one point, Yosef started crying on top of his lungs (which he has been doing quite a lot these days - sometimes driving us crazy!) so I summoned my wife from inside the labor room to come out and nurse him in the hope that this would calm him down. My wife asked the attending nurse if she could find us a private room somewhere on the Labor and Delivery floor. The nurse told her that there was a quiet room that we could use just down the hall near the Neonatal ICU, and she gave us the key. Oddly enough, a sign above the door to the room read “Quiet Room”.
We entered the room, which was small but very cozy, and we sat on the chairs - my wife to nurse, and I to learn Daf Yomi (a page a day of Talmud studied by many Jews all around the world). As I looked up, I noticed two small blue boxes perched above the large armoire in the corner of the room with a small piece of paper attached to them. The paper read, “These are for transporting babies only”. That sounded really strange to me. Then I saw a book lying on the desk with the title Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby.
Putting two and two together, my wife and I realized (and this was later confirmed by the nurse) what this “quiet room” was really all about. This was a place where parents who had just lost their newborn baby could go to be alone and to grieve, without any noise or people to distract them.
I must tell you that those few moments spent in that difficult place really changed our perspective on life in general and on noisy, crying babies in particular. My wife and I made up then and there that the next time we hear Yosef Mordechai crying uncontrollably and we’re losing our minds from it, we will remember the Quiet Room - and thank G-d for the gift and blessing that is a noisy - or even colicky - baby.
We are heading into the holiday of Chanukah which begins this coming Sunday night. And although most Jews, if asked for the one word that they most associate with Chanukah, would likely say “Latkes” or “Dreidel” or “Oil” or “Candles”, the real one-word answer that describes the essence of what we’re celebrating on Chanukah is Hoda’ah, or thanks. As we say in the Al Hanisim prayer that the Sages added into the Shemoneh Esrei (Silent Prayer) for all eight days of Chanukah: “And they [the Sages] established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name”.
You see, the real conflict between the Greeks and the Jews was all about this one word Hoda’ah. The Greeks believed that the world revolves around Man and Nature. They related to all the beauty of this world in a very external way. The Greeks saw the human mind as the ultimate tool to fathom the will of nature. To the Greek philosophers, reason reigned supreme, and if something could not be explained or grasped by the human mind, it simply didn't exist. All the great contributions of the Greeks in the areas of the arts, poetry, music, sculpture, sports and philosophy were used by them in the service of Man, who was worshipped and put on a divine pedestal. In such a worldview, there is no place for Hoda’ah, for giving thanks to G-d and recognizing Him as the source of all blessing.
The Jews, on the other hand, see the human mind as a gift to use to fathom the will of the Creator. We always look for G-d in nature and in the beauty of the world. And everything that we have - every expression of beauty in this world and all the power of our human intellect - is a gift to be used in the pursuit of holiness and G-dliness. So that for the Jew, Hoda’ah and thanking G-d for all that we have - the good, the bad and the noisy - is the natural result of our worldview.
Sometimes in life things aren’t working out exactly the way we want - the beauty of our world is not serving our needs - e.g. the baby just won’t stop crying no matter what we do. If we would only remember the Quiet Room - that room for people who weren’t blessed with the gift of bringing home a live and noisy baby - and we would then be filled with Hoda’ah and thanks to G-d for all that we have.