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Two Brothers and a Watch #814

02/02/2024 04:30:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Vitro

Two Brothers and a Watch

There is a story of two brothers, who—upon the passing of their father—eventually sat down to decide how to divide his possessions. He had left many mementoes, religious items, jewelry and other possessions to disburse—spanning a long life within this loving family.

All seemed in order until it came time to claim a very elegant and expensive watch, which their father had treasured. For the brothers, it symbolized his growth from humble beginnings to ultimate financial success and personal respect within their family and the community.

“I really would love to have that watch,” said one. “So would I,” answered the other. There are many ways this minor clash of wills could have ended, but, ultimately, kindness and mutual respect prevailed.

The brothers came to an understanding that would honor their father through the idea of Shalom Ba’it—placing “peace” first within the family.

They agreed that once a year, on their father’s Yarzheit—the anniversary of their father’s passing—they would meet. The brother who had worn the watch the previous year, would remove it from his wrist— gift wrap it— and hand it to his brother, who, in turn, would unwrap it, place it on his wrist, and wear it for the next year.

And, when the brothers would convene once a year to complete this loving exchange, they would remember their dad. They would tell stories, celebrating his life.

This ritual continued for many years until one of the brothers passed away. All in the name of kindness and Shalom Ba’it.

I was moved by that story when it was shared with me this week by the surviving brother, one of our congregants. Its message and beauty have inspired me through the week.

Friends, in this week’s parashah, Moses and the Children of Israel receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. And many of the 10 Commandments which we will read continue to guide humanity.

Thou should not kill. Thou should not steal. Though shall remain faithful in your relationships. These are commandments that do not require repetition and instruction—they are intuitive, and easy to pass on.

But the story of the two brothers, for me, represents a higher commandment: How to treat those around us—whether a family member, friend or stranger. That requires much more focus and practice.

How interesting that the commandment against murder appears twice in the Torah—but the mitzvah to look after the stranger, fatherless and widowed appears 36 times.

A few years ago, I invited children in our Limud Hebrew School to suggest additional commandments to the original 10. After all, a good constitution can always benefit from some amendments.

Children told me:

Honor the environment.

Share your toys.

Be kind to animals.

Don’t make war.

Feed people who are hungry.

And perhaps my favorite—which encompasses it all—be kind. There is a story in our ancient tradition of two other brothers—one with a large family and the other, who lived alone. Concerned that his sibling had many mouths to feed, the brother who lived alone would climb a hill every night, descend and fill his brother’s barn with grain.

Meanwhile, the one with a large family worried that his single brother didn’t have help to farm his plot of land, would climb the mountain and deposit grain in his brother’s barn.

This occurred for a few nights, until one evening they met at the top of the mountain, their arms full of grain destined for the other.

The two embraced. God was moved by the beauty of their love—and decided that the place of their meeting would become the future site of the City of Jerusalem. Jerusalem meaning, City of Peace. And so it was.

In my capacity as a rabbi, I occasionally witness parents favoring one sibling over another in their wills. There may be some reasons for this. Perhaps one son or daughter is better off financially. Perhaps during their lifetimes, one parent agreed more with one child over the others.

But too often after a parents’ passing, when the will is read, it may feel that a parent loved one child more than the other. And that hurt can last a lifetime.

The Talmud notes that when a parent inexplicably leaves more to one descendent than another, often the result not only sets their children at odds, but it also can affect their grandchildren.

Occasionally, as I stand by a grandparent nearing their final breath—I hear a whisper from their lips to those present: “Please stay together as a family.”

So, this Shabbat, as we rise to recite the official 10 Commandments, my mind will drift to an additional commandment so sorely needed these days. “Thou shalt practice—Shalom Ba’it”—peace in your home and beyond.

How much better this would be if we forgave our parents, children, siblings, friends and neighbors—locally, nationally and globally.

There is an addendum to our congregant’s story. A few months ago, the son of the deceased brother reflected upon the memory of his grandfather and the beauty of that watch.

And, thinking of his father and brother, our congregant did something remarkable: He will meet with his nephew, who will take ownership of the watch for a year.

The two plan to meet yearly and remember their grandfather, brother and father. And they will find comfort through the watch—through the Shalom Ba’it that it inspired. If only houses of all sizes would embrace the concept of Shalom Ba’it.

So, this week, as the Jewish world reflects upon the 10 Commandments, let us ask this: If we had the power to add another commandment, what would it be? For me, the 11th commandment would be simple.

Let us all be kind. And let the idea of Sholom Bait, rise above the materialism and self-interest that these days seem to permeate society.

In our world, where so many are craving more authenticity within their lives—and especially within religion—we really need to entrench kindness within the constitution of humankind.

We need to sacrifice ego and our wants in the name of peace in our families and in our world. Practice Shalom Ba’it. Can there be any more sacred commandment than that?

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv

Rabbi Irwin Huberman.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784