As has become custom, this week’s message are the thoughts I shared with our graduates this past Tuesday evening:
My dear Graduates: in a few minutes, you will become alumni of the North Shore Hebrew Academy Elementary School, a place that many of you have been a part of for as long as you can remember. Even though those early memories can be fuzzy, remembering is very, very important. As you go off to high school and beyond, don’t allow the important memories of your time here at North Shore to become fuzzy. And you have so many moments to remember: Alley Pond, Seneca Lake, and Washington D.C.; your trips to Masbia and HASC; your victories on the basketball court, the hockey court, the soccer field, and the debate table; you have immortalized the testimony of Holocaust survivors through Names, Not Numbers and rallied around your classmate Rafi Nassimiha whose good health, baruch Hashem, we celebrate tonight. Don’t let those memories fade: they are where you come from.
This week we will read the story of the meraglim, the twelve spies sent to look at the land of Israel. Sensibly, before listing their names, the Torah tells us that “…They were all leaders of Israel, and these are their names.” But after the list of twelve, the Torah strangely again says:”These are the names of the men who Moshe sent to travel the land.” Why tell us again that these are their names? We just read the list! The answer has an important message for you tonight. We need to know the names of the meraglim because the meraglim themselves forgot those names. They forgot where they came from.
In his 2001 memoir, Swimming Across, Andras Grof describes his life’s journey. Born in Budapest in 1936, Grof saw it all: “By the time I was twenty,” he writes, “I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ Final Solution, the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy, a variety of repressive communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint.” Grof came to New York in 1956, at the age of twenty. He learned English, obtained an engineering degree at City College, and married Eva Kastan, a fellow immigrant. They raised a family and were married for 58 years, until he passed away in May of 2016.
In 1968, Grof, who had Americanized his name to Andy Grove, became the third employee of a new, small memory chip company called Intel. In its first year, the company made $2,672. Grove became the company’s president in 1979 and CEO in 1997, in which year they made almost twenty-one billion dollars. Intel became the seventh largest company in the world. Andy Grove was Time’s Man of the Year and was a trusted advisor of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. He gave City College twenty-six million dollars to establish a public engineering school. Andy Grove was pretty successful.
Unlike me, at Intel Andy Grove did not have his own parking space. Each day, he parked wherever he found a spot. He worked in a cubicle that was eight feet wide by nine feet long, and was known as someone to whom everyone could speak their mind if they disagreed with his thinking. As a proud member of the IRC, the International Rescue Committee, he cautioned the American people to be “vigilant as a nation to have tolerance for difference.” Andy Grove remembered where he came from. He remembered his name – even when he changed it from Andras Grof.
Changing a name doesn’t mean you forget where you come from: we know that Moshe changed Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua to protect him from falling in with or falling victim to the ten meraglim. But there was another name change among the spies too. The Gemara in Sotahtells us that Kalev ben Yefuneh was actually Kalev ben Hetzron: ve-nikra shemo Yefuneh al she-panah me-atzat ha-meraglim – he was called Yefuneh because he turned awayfrom the peer pressure of the ten spies.
To whom, to what did Kalev turn? You have all learned this. When describing the route of the meraglim, the Torah tells us va-yavo ad Hevron, in the singular, “hecame to Hevron.” The Rabbis see this as a reference to Kalev, who went to the Meharat Ha-machpela to pray for strength to deal with the ten spies. Kalev remembered where he came from.
You all come from greatness. You come from parents and grandparents who love you and who have struggled mightily to give you your education and all that you have. Your parents have excellent options in schools; appreciate that they sent you here to NSHA. You come from teachers, from Toddler or Pre-K through eighth grade, teachers who have planned and worried and cut and pasted and corrected and laughed and cried and have taken such good care of you. High school is a new beginning, but it’s not THE beginning. You began in your homes and in the hallways and classrooms of Cherry Lane and Old Mill Road.
Remember what you’ve learned and where you come from. Your struggles and your victories in the classroom and on the court, your chesed with strangers and with friends, are all part of who you are and where you come from. The love your parents and grandparents have showered upon you is where you come from.
The media recently told the story of golfer Phil Mickelson, who will be missing the US Open this Thursday to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. (Apparently, she could not get into the NSHA HS). Mickelson has not missed an Open since 1993. He could have been the sixth person to win all four major yearly golf tournaments. He still may – but not this year. Phil Mickelson knows what’s important. He remembers where he came from – and this is how he knows where he’s going. Others might be conflicted about such a decision, but not someone who knows where they come from.
Remember what you’ve learned from everyone – eizehu chacham? ha-lomed mikol adam. Like Kalev, like Andy Grove, like Phil Mickelson, never forget where you come from, and, with God’s help, you will know exactly where to go.