On Shabbat Parshat Yitro, Marianne Sender spoke to our minyan about something she learned from R. Jehiel in the adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class she attended with him a number of years ago. She recounted that she asked him: Whatever happened to Moses’ children? Jehiel told her that there was nothing in the Torah about what kind of people they became. He observed, in passing, that the children of great leaders do not always become themselves great leaders or distinguish themselves in any way, possibly because the demands of the public role distract from the involvement of the leader in the home. Marianne went on to speak about Moses as a family man and what can fairly be inferred from the text on that point.
Afterwards I found myself dwelling further on what she had reported: Jehiel’s observation that great leaders do not always produce great children. I found myself reflecting that R. Jehiel himself, while he has been intensely involved as a leader of the community, nevertheless has also produced three very distinguished and wonderful children. In this, of course, he was assisted by Sylvia (joke! understatement!), but there is no doubt in my mind that whatever the demands of the community, Jehiel has been a very involved father to his children. I was always amazed to observe how he drew out his children (and later his grandchildren) at the Shabbat table, how he took their ideas so seriously and encouraged them to ponder difficult questions. He listened closely to what they said, and probed and questioned further, without ever telling them what the “right” answer was, and he often used their insights in his sermons–much to their mortification, I believe. And of course there was the extraordinary example, set by both Jehiel and Sylvia, of service to the community and of menschlichkeit in action. They must have done something right, because they have produced three amazing children, who are not only intellectually gifted but also very good-hearted, caring people, committed to the betterment of the community, each in his or her own unique way.
By: Nikki Pusin