To Ask for Help and to Show Up

March 4, 2024

by Rabbi Dov Linzer

Remarks delivered at The Riverdale Minyan, Mar. 2, 2024

This talk is in memory of my nephew, Maoz Morell, zt”l, מעוז בן איתן וורדה דבורה זצ”ל, who died of the wounds he suffered while saving the lives of his fellow soldiers and defending Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael. May his merit always be a protection for us, זכותו יגן עלינו.

I want to start by expressing my gratitude for all the support and reach outs that Devorah and I received from all of you over the horrific, horrible week of the injury, death and shiva of my nephew Maoz. Each reach out meant so much. Know that we felt your love, comfort and support from afar.

And that is the topic that I want to talk about today. What it means to ask for help, to share, to reach out. What it means to give support and to receive it. To hold and to be held.

This week’s parsha opens with the counting of Benei Yisrael with the machatzit ha’shekel. It is commonplace to note that the half-shekel represents the idea that by ourselves we are incomplete, that we need others to make us whole.

But it is not that easy. נתקשה משה במחצית השקל. Our Rabbis tell us that Moshe had difficulty, struggled, with the half shekel, until God showed him a half-shekel of fire and said zeh yitnu – this is what you shall give.

What did Moshe struggle with? He struggled to accept that he was only half. That he was not self-sufficient. To acknowledge that he needed others.

When you look at a half-shekel, it looks complete. It is a whole coin. It’s hard to see what’s missing. It’s hard for us to see that we are not whole. And it is even more difficult for someone who is in a leadership position, someone who has to be strong for others, on whom others rely. It can be hard, very hard. Hard to ask for help. Hard to accept that by ourselves we are not whole, we are only half.

This has been true for me. For most of my life, I have struggled to reach out to others and to ask for help. I am also a very private person and tend to not share what is going on with me personally. And yet, when Devorah and I received the terrible news that Maoz had been seriously injured in battle, when we were thrown in disarray and flooded with emotions, in the middle of all the organizing to get flights to Israel, I found myself sharing the news on all the different WhatsApp groups that I am a part of – the various groups for our students, our staff, our musmachim, and my shul community.

Initially, I hesitated, Should I be sharing this? Why would people want to hear this tragic news? Why should I put this on them?

But then I realized that I needed to. I needed to share to remind myself that I am not alone. I needed to share because I needed support; I needed comfort; I needed to be held.

It is significant that the מחצית השקל was used to make the אדנים, the sockets for the beams that were the walls of the משכן. Each beam had two joints protruding from the bottom which were inserted two sockets laying underneath. Each socket was a half — with only one, the beam would fall. Each beam was held up only because there was one socket there right alongside another. And when all the sockets were together side-by-side, they formed the base  of the Mishkan, the entire foundation upon which everything was built.

The Torah describes the joints that would go into the sockets this way: שתי ידות לקרש האחד, משולבות אשה אל אחותה – two joints, parallel, one with the other. The phrase here is אשה אל אחותה – “woman to her sister.” We find the same phrase used when the Torah describes the tapestries that covered the Mishkan – they were sewn together אשה אל אחותה, woman to her sister. To be sure, the use of the feminine אשה אל אחותה– as opposed to masculine איש אל אחיו – reflects the feminine gender of the nouns being described, but it does more. It evokes the idea of sisterhood, while איש אל אחיו evokes that of brotherhood. And brotherhood and sisterhood are not the same.

At the risk of being accused of gender essentialism, I would say that a brotherhood is when people bond together to achieve an external goal. “Brothers-in-arms.” Maoz was a brother to his fellow soldiers, standing by them side-by-side, fighting Hamas, fighting a common enemy.

A sisterhood is different. A sisterhood is more interior. A sisterhood is coming together to connect with one another, it is the sharing of intimacies to become one. It was this אשה אל אחותה, this coming together of the sockets and the tapestries, that was essential to the Mishkan, to creating a place where God could reside.

And that’s what all of you did. When I reached out to you, you were there for me. While no one likes receiving bad news, I could see how meaningful it was to you that I felt close enough to you that I wanted to share, that I could trust you with the news, with this intimacy. That I gave you the opportunity to be there for me and for Devorah.

Please know that every kind word, every crying emoji, every heart emoji, meant so much. It told me – you are not alone. We are here for you. And every reach-out was experienced collectively by each WhatsApp group. It was a pain shared in community. And by being shared, it was somehow made more bearable.

It was truly עמו אנכי בצרה – I, we, are with you in your pain. Which is the greatest comfort that someone can receive.
Holding and being held was a throughline during this time. A few snapshots:

  • When Maoz died – it was expected, but of course it was horrific. The entire immediate family gathered in a room at the hospital to talk to the rabbi about what was next. I was at loose ends – I didn’t know what to do. And then I found myself, 30 minutes after Maoz’s death, back on WhatsApp updating everyone, posting on all the groups: “Maoz died surrounded by family and song and without pain. Best end we could have hoped for.” I wrote. When Devorah found out that I had been posting, she was shocked. “This is what you are doing right now?! And you’re not allowed to publicize it yet. It hasn’t been הותר לפרסום.” Truly – what was I doing just 30 minutes after his death posting on WhatsApp? But that’s what I needed. I needed to share. I needed to be held by community, by all of you. And you were there for me. עמו אנכי בצרה.
  • And there were times during that week that I was able to be there for others.
    • Right after Maoz died, I saw his brother Eli sitting in a corner sobbing uncontrollably. So I went over and sat next to him. I didn’t say anything – what was there to say? I just sat close, put my arm around him, and held him. And, as he mentioned repeatedly in the following days, that was exactly what he needed. עמו אנכי בצרה.
    • Another moment. When we first heard the news that Maoz was seriously, fatally wounded, we had no idea how long it would be -– would it be hours, days, weeks? What should we do? Do we go now? Later? Would we overwhelm my sister by all of us going now? And the answer we got is – Just show up. Just come. And we did. All 4 siblings, dropped everything, somehow managed to get plane tickets, and showed up. Many people commented during the shiva that they couldn’t believe that we all came.
  • But that’s what you do. You just show up, you just be there. 2 more stories:
    • When we arranging our flights, Rabbi Yonah Berman, who heads the leadership training program we have for Israeli rabbis and rabbaniyot, said to me that the rabbis of the program wanted to help, and could he arrange for them to pick me up at the airport? I first gave my regular response – no, please don’t bother, I’ll be fine. But then I said, you know, actually, that would be great. I really could use that. And they came, first for Devorah and then, a day later, for me. And it made all the difference. You get off the plane, and you are not alone. There is someone to welcome you. Someone to take care of you. “Rabbi Linzer – get in to the car, we know where to take you. Here’s water, and crackers, and cheese. What can I get for you?” To have someone pick you up is to walk into a hug.Those rabbis were there for us throughout, at the airport, at the funeral, at the shiva. And when Yonah Berman said to one of them, “Thank you. Thank you so much,” he responded: “Are you kidding? It was you who taught us that this is what you do. You show up for people.”
    • Last story. After Maoz was injured, my sister received a phone call from the army: “We need to inform you that your son, Maoz, has been seriously wounded. Someone will be there in 10 minutes to take you to Saroka Hospital.” On hearing about this, somebody asked, “How was the army able to get there so fast?.” And the answer was – they waited to call until they were 10 minutes out. They didn’t show up at the door and shock them with the news. They gave them 10 minutes to hear, to absorb, to prepare themselves for what was to come. And then they were there, ready to drive them to the hospital. To be with them and to hold them.

One final thought. This week’s parsha also opens with the כיור, the sink that the kohanim used to wash their hands and feet daily before entering the Mishkan. Rashba and others say that it was based on this that Hazal established the practice of washing hands each morning, so that we should see the world as our Mikdash, that we should wake up each morning and ask ourselves, how can I best serve God as I enter into the world today? And that’s the question that I’ve asked myself for most of my life.

But Ramban says something different. He says that the hand washing that we do in the morning is like the washing of hands before birkat kohanim. Which is quite strange, since birkat kohanim is not mentioned in the pesukim at all. So why does he single that out?
How is birkat kohanim different than the avodah? And I believe that the answer is this: the avoda makes us ask: How can I best serve God today? Birkat Kohanim makes us ask: How can I bring God’s blessing to the people?

This is the true question that we need to ask ourselves each morning. How can I best bring God’s blessing to others. And it starts with showing up. It starts with a hug. It starts with asking for help. It starts with holding and being held.

Shabbat Shalom.

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