Selected Sermon/Article
2001-05-29 Shavous 2nd Day/Yizkor by Rav Ze'ev Smason
My Cup Overflows
The expectant mother proudly announced to her husband, "I've decided on a name for our baby. I think I'll call her 'Minerva.' " The young husband didn't care very much for her selection, but being a diplomatic fellow he was too wise to object orally. "Minerva!" he said, "What a beautiful name! Minerva was the name of my first girlfriend, and the mention of that name brings back such happy memories!" There was a brief pause, then 'We'll call her Lucy," said the wife. "I think I like that name better."

The list of most popular baby names given in the year 2000 was recently published, and in the top 5 names for both boys and girls, there are quite a few names with origins from the Torah. What names do you think were at the top of the list? Amongst boys, the most popular name was Michael, with Jacob being second and Joseph being fourth. Amongst female names given to newborns last year, I particularly like the first prize winner -- Hannah (the name of my wife) -- with Elizabeth coming in fourth.

Jewish parents have spent countless hours throughout the millennium, carefully considering the names they later chose for their children. How did you choose the names that you did for your children? Did you name them after dear departed relatives? Perhaps there were great people from the Torah, or other noteworthy people who you admired, and wanted to provide your children with a name to grow into. There are many reasons behind the names we choose for our children.

There's a reason behind the names we give to our children that you may not have considered. Every parent, the gemara says, is imbued with a touch of prophecy -- so that the Hebrew name we select for our children is a spiritual determinant as to their character, and future! In other words, our children grow into the names we give them, and the names we gave them also indicate and predict future potential.

On this Yom Tov of Shevous, most congregations have the minhag (custom) to read the book of Ruth. Did you ever stop to think what the name 'Ruth' means? Ruth (or 'Rus', in Hebrew) is identified by the gemara (Brochos 7b) as a name that indicates that Ruth merited to have King David descended from her. David, the gemara says, "ree'vayhoo l'ha'Kadosh Baruch Hoo b'sheeros b'teeshbachos" -- he was overflowing in the abundance and quality of praises and songs to HaShem. Rus is related to the word ree'vayhoo; overflowing and abundant with goodness. In the Psalm many of you are familiar with (Psalm 23), King David said 'kosee ree'vayah' -- my cup overflows.

This attribute of overflowing goodness and kindness is part and parcel of what it means to be Jewish. In fact, the Talmud states that there are three central character traits by which the Jewish people are known. One is 'gomlay chasadim' -- an inclination to performing acts of loving kindness. The other is 'rachmanim,' or compassion. Jews are people who can't tolerate the pain and suffering of others.

The story is told of a group of men who were horseback riding, when they came to a swollen stream. On the bank sat a poor man looking sadly looking at the high water that he was unable to cross by foot. The man watched the others ford the stream on their horses, but said nothing to them. The man sitting by river bank asked the last rider, however, if he could mount behind him and cross the stream -- and this last rider cheerfully took him across. On the opposite side, someone asked the man why he hadn't requested a ride from one of the other members of the party. He replied, "There are some faces on which is clearly written the answer 'No' to a question you intend to ask. There are other faces on which is written a 'Yes.' On your faces was written a 'No' -- on his, a 'Yes.'

What answer do we have written on our faces, when it comes to our availability for the performance of acts of chesed (kindness) -- a 'No,' or a 'Yes'? What answer do people see when they look at our faces and our expressions in shul, at work, and at home with our families?

By what merit did Ruth come to marry Boaz, the leader of the Jewish people in his day, and become the great-grandmother of David HaMelech, and ultimately, moshiach? The book of Ruth states that Boaz said to Ruth (3:10) "Be blessed of Hashem, my daughter; you have made your latest act of kindness greater than the first." At this point, Boaz decided to marry Ruth.

What were the 'acts of kindness' that Ruth performed? Ruth not only demonstrated remarkable chesed to her mother-in-law Naomi, but though a beautiful woman in the prime of her life, she gave up the opportunity to marry a young man in order to marry a very old man -- Boaz -- in order to perpetuate the name of Ruth's late husband. Ruth was 'overflowing in her goodness and kindness', and as a result, gained eternity.

This attribute of chesed is, Boruch HaShem, alive and well amongst the Jewish people today. I'm sure that by now you have all heard of the terrible tragedy in Jerusalem this past Thursday evening, where a wedding hall packed with people collapsed, falling three floors into the basement. Too many were injured and too many were killed in this disaster which was likely caused by problems with the building's structure, and may have been preventable.

In the midst of all the sorrow and suffering I'd like to tell you another part of the story that occurred that tragic Thursday evening. A letter I received told of a man who went to Magen David Adom (the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) to give blood, only to be met by a locked door at the blood bank and the following sign on the door: "Thank you for volunteering to give blood, but we already have more than enough and cannot store any more. Please return after the Chag (holiday)"

Can you imagine that less than 12 hours after collapse, the blood banks were already full? Someone who was able to get a ride to the blood bank shortly after the collapse that night described the scene:

At about midnight, the blood bank was still preparing tables for blood donation. Hundreds of people had already gathered outside to give blood. As soon as the doors opened, people began to push and shove their way in, as if they were giving something away. The guard, holding onto the entranceway's doorpost for dear life, yelled, "Hevreh (friends), we only have juice! we won't even be serving coffee!" Inside, the pushing and semi-mob scene continued, each person wanting to give first. Donors were frantically helping the paramedics setup extra tables, as the normal setup wouldn't be enough. People were passing tables over other people's heads, tossing blood-pressure cuffs across the room. The donors consisted of Haredim (fervently religious), girls with bellybutton rings and spandex pants, grizzled manual laborers, religious, secular. a cross-section of Israeli society.

Ladies and gentlemen: this is a report that you won't read about in the international press -- but is precisely what the Jewish people are about. This is what makes the Jewish people great. This is what makes me so proud to be a Jew, and to be a part of this glorious, magnificent people.

We're a generous, compassionate people. Yizkor provides us with an opportunity to act with generosity and compassion towards our shul, as we fondly remember our dear departed loved ones.

On this day of Yom Matan Torah -- the giving of the Torah -- may the Almighty inspire us to reach our potential of chesed and rachmanus, and may we all truly merit to have cups overflowing with generosity and kindness towards others.

Good Yom Tov