I used to think that the entire California was one big meeting ground for urbane, progressive sophisticates, the type that ate braised youngberry frites, used venti as a vocabulary word, or listened to world fusion music while drinking organic wheatgrass martinis. While that is not a world I particularly care to join, it makes for some interesting people watching. Although I have been to Los Angeles many times, I still enjoy going and observing the native species, homo losanglienus

Much to my chagrin, I recently discovered that once you travel forty miles north of Los Angeles, the people revert to the unflavored kind, about as bland as the people of Iowa, South Dakota, or Manitoba. My wife and I spent the weekend in Westlake Village, CA, with a group of vibrant Jewish young professionals from across the US, who were all exploring their rich heritage while having a great time. On our first evening, when I called the concierge to ask him what kind of attractions there were in the area, he told me, “we’re the kind of town that prides itself on being a ‘sleeper town,’ after nine, we kind of close down.”  

The next day I tried again, and it turned out that the only daytime attraction in the area was the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which was just fifteen minutes away. I don’t like looking at thousands of books I have no time to read, but there weren’t any other attractions, so my wife and I decided to go check out the library anyway. Almost as soon as we turned onto the long winding road heading from the Simi Valley to the mountaintop upon which the library is located, we began to see cars parked on the side of the road. It made sense that in a town where everyone is in bed by sundown, the biggest attraction would be the local library.

I soon found out that the library was more of a museum than a library, and quite a fascinating one at that. It is set in a sprawling complex of beautiful whitestone buildings with Spanish-style terra-cotta roofing, overlooking the entire Simi Valley, with vistas so magnificent that even New Yorkers stop and stare. It is a celebration of the eight years of Reagan’s presidency, and seems to have everything from those eight years stored inside. There is the clothing he wore at his inauguration, the components of his presidential motorcade, the gifts he and Nancy received from foreign monarchs, an exact replica of the Oval Office during his tenure as president. There is even the White House situation room which was transplanted in its entirety, complete with its conference table, place settings, pens and paper, and oak paneling.

The most impressive display by a wide margin, is the 90,000 square foot Air Force One exhibit. The president’s entire airplane, also known as “The Flying White House,” is perched majestically in the museum. This allows ordinary people to tour the airplane that seven presidents used to fly diplomatic missions all over the world. It racked up over a million miles before retiring to the Reagan Library. (It had to be taken apart, shipped to library, and then reassembled in order to get such a behemoth into a museum building!)

After touring the museum for about half an hour, I was quite impressed. The only thing I didn’t understand was why it was called a Presidential Library. I didn’t see any well worn Harry Potter books anywhere, nor a shelf filled with a dozens of John Grisham books all titled “The…” I asked one of the docents about the term library, and he explained that I had missed one of the most important parts of the library – the archives. 

The archives contain 50 million pages of presidential documents, over 1.6 million photographs, a half million feet of motion picture film, and tens of thousands of audio and video tapes.  You can find anything from Reagan’s presidency, from the schedules for every day of his presidency, to White House menus, personal scribbled notes, and hotel bills paid for by the US of A (The US of A evidently uses Amex). Additionally, the archives house personal papers and collections, including documents from Reagan’s eight years as governor of California.  There are no words uttered by our fortieth commander-in-chief during his eight years as president that were not stored carefully in the archives. I don’t know if Reagan talked in his sleep, but if he did, you can be sure you’d find transcripts in the library archives. 

As you leave the Reagan Library, you come face to face with a screen playing clips of the most famous moments in Reagan’s presidency. The film concludes with Reagan saying, “Only history will be able to judge our value…” 

I don’t know if I’m qualified to pass judgment on Ronald Wilson Reagan, especially not after spending time in a shrine that almost deifies him. But what his library did help me realize is that one day, after my term is over, there is going to be a Leiby Burnham Personal Library that I’m going to have to visit daily for the rest of eternity.

In my personal library will be everything I’ve ever owned, with records of how I used it. My wedding suit, my first car, the shoes I wore daily for four years straight, even all my cancelled credit cards. The more disconcerting thing is the archives. Billions of pages with written transcripts of everything I’ve ever thought, hundreds of thousands of hours of video tape, carefully documenting every moment of my life, and audio recordings of every word I’ve ever uttered. Not only that, but this library will even include footage of the people I affected with my words and actions, and the people they affected. My library will be open to everyone and anyone, there will be no secret rooms or limited access exhibits. It will be my eternal sanctuary.

Many wonder about the Jewish view of heaven and hell. This idea really helps us wrap our minds around what it might look like. It is eternity spent in the Personal Library you built. An eternity reviewing your life, seeing all the things you did and the affect they had on the world. Videos will keep rolling in as your progeny continues the legacy you left behind. You can watch your child saying kaddish for you, giving charity on your behalf, or perhaps blowing up at his children just the way you taught him to. There will undoubtedly be videos in the archives of people you’ve never met, but somehow influenced. Heaven and hell might just depend on what exhibit you stroll into.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library took three and a half years to build at a cost of sixty million dollars. Our Personal Libraries take a lifetime to build. It comes at no cost, but it’s up to us to make sure we fill it with priceless artifacts and records, the kinds we would delight in perusing for the rest of eternity!

Parsha Dvar Torah

In this week’s Parsha, our forefather Yaakov passes from this world. Before his passing, Yaakov calls his children together and blesses them. At the end of the blessings, the Torah summarizes the event with the following verse, “And this is what their father spoke to them and he blessed them, he blessed each according to their blessing.” (Gen. 49:28).

On the surface this verse is troubling, why did he bless them according to their blessings? Shouldn’t he have blessed them according to what they were lacking? If one of the tribes was already blessed with a particular attribute, shouldn’t that be the one area in which he doesn’t need a blessing? 

The answer to this puzzle contains a gem that will teach us an important lesson about human development. We all have certain natural qualities. Some of us are soft, some super intelligent, some have leadership qualities, some academic prowess, but everyone has some quality in which they shine. Many people think that since they have that quality naturally, they should ignore it, and focus on acquiring skill they don’t yet have. But the truth is that through focusing on their natural strength and developing it they can accomplish whatever they need. 

This doesn’t mean that I can expect to breeze through college by being kind, rather, it means that if I find my natural tendency is to be very kind and warm, I should probably look for a job in the caring professions, while if I find myself to be analytical I should try to become an analyst or a lawyer, etc. When dealing with interpersonal problems, if I am the kind type I should use my kindness as a strength and find a way to draw myself away of the dissonance, whereas if I am analytical, I should sit back and tackle the problem as an equation, determining how to best go about solving it. (Sometimes the kind thing to do is to pull back and let someone else learn the hard way, and sometime the analysis will determine that an extra dose of caring and emotion is called for. The focus here is how a person arrives at the conclusion)

This is the meaning of Yaakov’s blessings. Yaakov was able to see each of his children’s strengths and to bless it, to ask G-d that it be brought out even more. He showed his children that he felt that it was that particular trait that they should focus upon. And this is how we should interact with our children. We should find their strengths and encourage their growth. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is created to be a doctor, a rabbi, or a lawyer. Parents need to be in tune with that reality while raising their progeny, and college students need to be in tune with it when picking careers. If we stop trying to shoehorn children into what we think is best for them, but instead focus on their strengths and develop them, we will have a truly blessed world!

Parsha Summary

This parsha begins at the end of the life of Yaakov. It discusses the last things that Yaakov did before passing from this world. First, Yaakov asked Yosef to ensure that he would be buried in Israel. He asked Yosef and not the other brothers because he understood that Yosef was the only one with the power to guarantee it, as Yosef was the viceroy of Egypt. Yosef readily agreed.

Soon after that encounter, Yosef got a message that his father was ill, so he immediately hurried to his father’s bedside with his two sons, Ephraim and Menasheh. When they arrived, Yaakov gave Yosef’s sons the status of tribes, thus equating them with their uncles, the rest of Yaakov’s children. This meant that they would each have a separate share in the distribution of Israel, would camp in the desert as two distinct tribes, and would have their own tribal flags. This was an enormous honor not accorded to any other of Yaakov’s grandchildren. 

After that, Yosef brought his sons forward to be blessed by his father. Yosef purposely put Menasheh on the left which would be Yaakov’s right, because he was the older brother and the right hand is considered the choice hand. However, Yaakov switched his hands and placed his right on the head of Ephraim. When Yosef tried to switch them back, Yaakov told him that he did this purposely, because the younger brother Ephraim would produce greater people, most notably Joshua who would lead the Jews into Israel after Moses’ death. 

Yaakov then blessed them with the following blessing, “Through you shall [the People of] Israel bless saying; ‘May El-him make you as Ephraim and Menasheh.’” (Gen. 48:20). To this day, when parents bless their children on Friday night, as is the custom in many homes, they say that exact formula: “May El-him make you as Ephraim and Menasheh.”

After that, Yaakov called in the rest of his children and blessed all of them, except three, whom he reprimanded. Those chastised were Reuven for moving his father’s bed to his mother’s tent without consulting his father, and Shimon and Levi for destroying the entire city of Shechem after their sister had been kidnapped and violated by the city’s prince. After blessing his sons, Yaakov asked them to bury him in Me’aras Hamachpela, the same place that Adam and Eve, Avraham and Sara, and Yitzchak and Rivka were buried. After his final request he pulled himself onto the bed and joined his people in heaven. 

The entire Egypt mourned the passing of Yaakov, as the famine stopped when he moved there. Pharaoh gave Yosef permission to leave, and the twelve brothers all traveled to Israel to bury their father in the Me’aras Hamachpela. When they came back, the brothers were concerned that now that their father was not there Yosef might try to take revenge on them for the time they sold him. However, he reassured them that he bore them no ill will; rather he understood that G-d sent him down to Egypt to sustain his people through the years of famine. 

Yosef was the first of the twelve tribes to die. However, even he lived to the ripe old age of 110 and was able to see three generations of progeny (that means he helped raise his great grandchildren). Before he died he asked the Jewish people that when G-d takes them out of Egypt they bring his bones with them to be buried in Israel. And with that the book of Genesis concludes!!

Quote of the Week: Simplicity is making the journey for this life with just enough baggage. – Samuel Fremont

Random Fact of the Week: As you read this sentence, your eyes are moving back and forth 100 times per second.
Funny Line of the Week: The crows were all calling him, thought Caw.
Have a Top of the Line Shabbos,
R' Leiby Burnham

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