It’s been a year since my Uncle Chaim passed away, and I was requested to give a d’var Torah at the s’udah in his honor this past Tuesday evening. I’m certain a lot of you may remember my dear late uncle as the founder of H Roth Adjusters. Sometimes I feel like my entire family services this neighborhood, since my wonderful first cousin Aryeh (Archie) Rabinowitz builds and repairs homes with his company AllBoro Group, and his son David takes care of your yards and flowers with Elegant Lawns & Landscaping.
I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I love my family, and that’s the core of my message.
Since my father and uncles (z”l) were all kohanim, I addressed the issue of the priesthood as discussed in the Torah. G-d gifts the priesthood (kohanim) to a select few, with great responsibilities attached to their sacred jobs. Yet, all but one chore remains, since there is no Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) standing as of today. No longer are there any duties of sacrifice or service, only Birkas HaKohanim (Blessing of the Priests) has survived until this day. I had this lively discussion with my own father, Abe Roth (z”l), on his hospital bed by posing a huge question to him that he could not answer. Why, of all the blessings in the world, does the blessing of kohanim end in the word ahavah (love)?
The Lakewood Mashgiach, Rav Matisyahu Solomon Shlita explains:
“It is in fact the need for that love that requires that their responsibility be decreed from on High! Their task is not to merely bless the congregation; they must bless them with sincere, genuine, unadulterated love.”
To utter the three short verses of Birkas Kohanim should be so simple – yet it’s not. It’s a handful of words – easy words, but words made heavy by the command that they be delivered with genuine unconditional love. It is love that makes the task so challenging. Even the kohanim needed G-d to issue a decree that they perform their blessing in such an emotional manner.
The big question is why should it be so hard to bestow blessings of love? Is it so hard to love another Jew, another family member, another child, or another friend? Yes. It is so difficult and imperative, that Rabbi Akiva taught that V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha – loving your fellow – is foundational for all of Torah.
It’s the contrast of personality traits that makes this task even more complicated. Kohanim have a tendency for anger, or in modern-day terms: “anger management issues.” It’s clearly explained in the Gemara (Shabbos 149).
What a juxtaposition G-d put kohanim in!
I can attest for both these contrary characteristics within my own family. However, my Uncle Chaim mastered these divine dualities with great ease. Although he had a tendency towards anger, his love for you was expressed freely. He had the love of a Kohen Gadol (High Priest). I know there were times when he saved me; I know there were times when he was deeply disappointed in me. More importantly, in the end, I knew that he loved me. He possessed the great wisdom of knowing when to be encouraging and when to be reprimanding, as if he already knew the outcome.
It was certainly not a coincidence that the s’udah fell on Tu B’Av, Judaism’s day of love. The happiest day of the year and a holiday as only matched by Yom Kippur.
The day and the man brought me to tears; as the world today is so full of hate, it’s almost inescapable. Why can’t we love one another? Today the task seems harder than ever. However, maybe that’s the message that G-d is sending us. The example of the kohen is really a reflection of the state we are currently in – filled with anger and fear of what’s surrounding us politically, socially, economically, and spiritually. Yet, just as with the kohen, G-d commands us to love one another even under these hostile conditions.
Here are a few reminders of what love is and isn’t:
Love is not about perfection.
Love is not about self.
Love is not about agenda.
Love is not about being right.
Love is not about opinions.
Love is not about being a victim.
Love is about imperfections that are loved no matter what.
Love is about respecting one another no matter what.
Love is about sacrifice no matter what.
Love is about family, no matter what.
Love is about your fellow Jew, no matter what.
That, my dear family and readers, is the mantra that my uncle, Chaim Roth, as kohen, as father, as Zeidy, as uncle, as husband, and as great-Zeidy, wanted to leave as his legacy. Being a kohen is hard; being loved by a kohen makes life a lot easier to live. May Chaim Dov ben Mechel HaKohen’s neshamah watch over us, in love, until Mashiach arrives very soon.
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.