Noach - Peace of Mind

When I became religious in Seattle, one of the first questions the rabbi asked me was, 'how are you called to the Torah.' I hesitated. I wasn't sure what to say. Searching my feelings, I went with my intuition, and said 'Levi.' It stuck. From then on, I got called up for the Levi aliya. Nevertheless, a little voice said, 'Are you sure?'

I went on to get many more Levi aliyot, but all along that nagging, little voice persisted, saying 'Are you sure.' I went to Israel. I studied in yeshiva. Then came back to Seattle and finished my degree. Gradually the voice grew louder, and so one day I set off to set this issue straight.

I got in the car and drove off to the cemetery. It was the cemetery run by the Conservative shul. I quickly found my grandfather's grave and looked at the headstone to find it said 'Asher Anshel ben Haim.' That was it. I looked for the part that would say 'HaLevi,' but there was none. I thought that maybe this was an oversight of the Conservatives. I looked over and saw other headstones that read 'HaCohen' or 'HaLevi' I shuddered. Had I made a mistake? Had I been taking the Levi aliya in vain all this time. I turned to go away, but now that little voice was louder than ever, saying 'are you sure.'

I had to be certain. I felt like my Levi license was about to be revoked.

I drove up to the other cemetery. The older, established cemetery run by the orthodox burial society. I searched and came up on my great-grandmother's grave. Nothing became clearer from the wording on her headstone. Next to her, was her son, my grandfather's older brother who had died many years earlier. The headstone was old and mossy, and the writing was not so clear, but I could make out that it seemed to say 'HaLevi' on his headstone.

Now I faced doubt. On the one hand my grandfather's headstone lacked the critical information that I need to confirm my question. On the other hand, his brother's headstone seemed to offer the validation that I was looking for. I wanted to know for sure. I knew I would have to go back another generation and settle this. I searched the rest of the graveyard but didn't turn up my great-grandfather's grave.

Asking my father, he mentioned that when the family first came to America they were settle in North Dakota. So I contacted the vital records department of North Dakota. They sent me back a copy of my great-grandfather's death certificate, which didn't say anything about being a Levi, but did show that he was buried in a town called Minot, North Dakota.

At once, I went down and got a Greyhound bus ticket and set off for Minot, North Dakota. I travelled through the Cascade mountains, across the Idaho panhandle, past the wide expanse of the Montana plains, and 2 days later into North Dakota.

Minot, North Dakota.  Founded in 1886, it was named after Henry W. Minot. Henry was fond of birds and at just seventeen years old he published The Land Birds and Game Birds of New England.  After leaving Harvard he became involved in railroad investments, and served as an executive in some of biggest train projects of his day. Ironically and sadly at the age of thirty-one, he was killed in a train wreck in Pennsylvania on November 14, 1890.

In Minot, I checked into the nearest hotel. I was ecstatic. I had made it to Minot, ND. Now I just had to get to the cemetery. I went to the front desk. He didn't know where the Jewish cemetery in the Minot was. I asked the room cleaner. She didn't know. In fact, out of the 40,888, people in Minot no one had any idea where the Jewish cemetery was.

So I decided to check with the industry players. In the phone book, I went through the list of funeral homes. By the second funeral home, I had my cemetery. And I was off.

Going down the main street, I kept walking and walking and walking. Then I found fewer and fewer houses around me, and I was leaving the city. Looking off to my left, next to a baseball field, I made out the shape of the Magen David on a front gate. I approached, and I had found the Jewish cemetery of Minot. Satisfied, I went up to the front gate, and pulled. The heavy iron bars were locked. I made my way around the cemetery which was surrounded by a tall fence.

I was crestfallen. I had journeyed so far, but now seemed to not be able to go any further. Then that voice that had questioned me throughout this process boomed in my head saying, 'are you sure?' I went around the perimeter of the cemetery again, and found a small crawlspace under the fence. Squirming through, I made it into the cemetery, and surveyed the rows of headstones.

Over there, to the left side, next to a Mr. Greenberg, I saw my great grandfather's headstone. I ran over and saw, etched in stone 'Haim ben Asher Anshel ... HaLevi - Perlin.'

The voice in my head that had pushed me on this journey was quiet. I took a picture, put down a small stone, said a little Tehillim, and walked away with just a little, yes just a little more peace of mind.

Peace of Mind

My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth.
אֶת קַשְׁתִּי נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץ

Breisheit 9:13
In this parshah, there is no symbol that more strongly represents peace than the rainbow (קשת).   As the Rabbeinu Behaye says, how do we know the rainbow comes to symbolize peace? Both of it's 'feat' and positioned firmly on the ground, rather than in heaven.
For if the rainbow (Keshet) were flipped around and had it's two ends in the sky, it would resemble the bow (Keshet) an instrument of war, pointing down towards the earth at humanity. Similarly ancient cultures that fought wars using bows and arrows, surrendered and would sue for peace by presenting to their enemy with an inverted bow.

The Kli Yakar has a problem with the appearance of the rainbow suddenly at this point in history. We all know that a rainbow appears when sunlight is refracted through moisture or rain drops in the air. The Kli Yakar explains that the natural order was not overturned, rather from the time of creation until the time of the flood a thick veil of clouds covered the atmosphere, and blocked out the sun's rays. So the rainbow was capable of appearing, but the natural circumstances did not allow for the rainbow to appear.

This fits the way that the laws of nature function in respect to the establishment of the rainbow after the flood, but the Kli Yakar has a further issue. It is said that in the generation of R. Shimon Bar Yochai and R. Shimon Ben Levi, no rainbow was seen in the sky. Were the laws of nature overturned at this point?

Mesechet Hagigah 16A teaches that, "Whoever takes no concern for the honor of his Maker, then it would a mercy he had not come into the world. What does this mean? R. Abba said: It refers to one who looks at the rainbow. R. Joseph said: It refers to one who commits a transgression in secret. ‘One who looks at a rainbow,’ for it is written: As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day, so was the appearance of the brightness surrounding it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Hashem."

Says the Kli Yakar, in a regular generation there are many ignorant people that may succomb to the inclination to look at the rainbow. Yet in the generation of  R. Shimon Bar Yochai and R. Shimon Ben Levi, the leadership and influence of these individuals had such an impact on the generation. The people were raised up to such a level that even if a rainbow appeared in the sky they did not look. So it was not that the laws of nature were overturned in that generation, but that the whole generation was great.

With the help of heaven, we should merit to have this peace of mind and achieve such greatness in our generation.

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