When I served as the rabbi of the New West End Synagogue in London, one of our members was Alan Sierota. Alan had lost his mother, and every Shabbos he would travel from Chiswick to his late mother’s shul, the New West End Synagogue. He would always arrive on time, and at 9:05 a.m., after he said the Mourner’s Kaddish, he would leave the main shul and attend the shul’s explanatory service with Rabbi Rashi Simon, the director of the Kesher organization in London. From the lively discussion and explanations, he learned a lot about Judaism and prayer.
Alan’s father and mother had divorced when he was a teenager and his father had passed away shortly thereafter, when Alan was still in his teens. After he organized a gravestone in memory of his mother, Alan decided to trace his father’s burial place. This required searching the records of five London cemeteries. When he finally found it, he was dismayed to discover that there was no tombstone to mark his father’s resting place. So Alan decided to organize and pay for a monument. He invited me to serve as the officiating rabbi at the unveiling. I attended the service at the Brixton Cemetery in South London. There were three people in attendance: Alan, his aunt, and his first cousin. I spoke about Alan’s perseverance in locating his father’s burial place and of the kavod and chesed shel emes that Alan had performed by putting up a monument to his father’s memory, twenty-five years after his passing. And I gave him a blessing that Hashem should repay his kindness by finding him a wife within the year. Alan was forty-five years old. The date was the twenty-fifth of Elul.
Three weeks later, when Alan walked into “Live and Learn,” the New West End Synagogue’s adult education program, he met Sarah Cohen, a forty-year-old woman from Denmark. They started dating and got engaged soon after. The wedding was in late November. They had their first baby — a boy — in August. The date of the bris was the twenty-fifth of Elul. Alan and Sarah are now shomer Shabbos and are pillars of the community in Chiswick.
Alan is a mevakesh Hashem, a seeker of Hashem. He wanted to learn more. And he wanted to do something to perpetuate his father’s memory. He did not give up. He had a goal in mind and he brought his mission to fruition because he was determined to perform the mitzvah of kavod hameis, proper burial and honoring one’s parents.
In this parashah, we are told of the five daughters of Tzelaphechad. Tzelaphechad had died without leaving any sons. In the absence of any male heirs, his daughters wanted to inherit his land. In an earlier parashah, they approached and said to Moshe: “Lama yigara sheim avinu — Why should our father’s name be omitted?” (Bemidbar 27:4).
As a result of their being mevakshim, seekers of a portion of land in Israel, Moshe inquired of Hashem and He responded by teaching Moshe Rabbeinu a new law — that women can inherit their father if there are no male heirs. They sought a portion in the holiness of the land, they approached Moshe — and a new law resulted. They elicited a new law from the mouth of Hashem — because they were seekers. The same language is used by the people in the desert who had been spiritually impure when the Jewish people celebrated Pesach. The Torah says that they approached Moshe Rabbeinu and they said: “Lama nigara — Why should we be diminished [by not offering Hashem’s offering]?” (Bemidbar 9:7).
As a result of approaching Moshe with their desire to participate in the Pesach offering, Moshe inquired of Hashem, who responded by teaching Moshe a new law: Those who were spiritually impure on Pesach could still offer a Pesach offering thirty days later, on Pesach Sheini.
In both cases — the daughters of Tzelaphechad and those seeking participation in the Pesach offering — their yearning for closeness to Hashem, and an inner aspiration to participate in the kedushah of the nation, prompted them to approach Moshe and request inclusion. Their desire to join the rest of the nation in experiencing a closer connection to Hashem drove them forward. It was this inner drive — this yearning, bikush — which elicited a positive response from Hashem.
How do we, as parents, cultivate this sense of becoming mevakshei Hashem in our children? It spills over from our own sincerity and genuineness in avodas Hashem. When we daven with kavanah, when we connect to Hashem through our sincere bera chos, when we sing zemiros at the Shabbos table with joy — then our children will learn to genuinely seek a meaningful relationship with Hashem.
The Alter quotes the Midrash, which describes how Adam was named:
And Hashem asked man, “And you, by what name is it fitting that you shall be called?”
And the man answered, “Adam, because I was taken from the adamah, the earth.” (Bereishis Rabbah 17:4)
All other beings were given a spiritual name by man, a name that described their essence. Why did man give himself a physical name rather than a spiritual one? The Alter explains that with this name Adam, the first man, described his true essence. On one hand, Adam is the crown of creation, bearing a soul and an intellect; and on the other hand, he was created from the adamah, the earth, and he is therefore reminded that he needs to improve himself each day. If he does not grow, he will automatically be reduced to the lowest level, as it says, “Even the mosquito was created before you.” And thus he called himself “Adam,” to remind himself that if he fails to fulfill his purpose he will be reduced to the earth from which he was created, as it says, “Earth you are and to the earth you shall return” (Bereishis 3:19).
If we look at the letters of the word adamah, earth, we see that simply by rearranging the Hebrew vowels we form the word adameh, meaning “similar to.” He can be “adamah” or “adameh.” Man can give in to his earthly nature and be guided by physical desires, or he can elevate himself and become domeh, similar to G-d. This takes effort. In the ground, one must plant seeds. In the growth of the seeds one sees the similarity between man and G-d. It is through growth — which takes places in the ground that man can resemble G-d. Man needs to work on his character and refine his inner self. By becoming more sensitive, patient, caring, compassionate, and truthful, we elevate our characters and grow closer to resembling G-d. When we engage in this avodah with sincerity our children will witness our genuine striving and will also seek to become mevakshei Hashem.