It’s hard to believe that we are approaching the first birthday of our twin boys, Gavriel Yehuda and Michael Binyamin.
As has been noted in earlier columns, their pregnancy was fraught with challenges, to say the least. About midway through their pregnancy, Chani underwent a vital procedure. I wasn’t allowed into the operating room, and she felt very alone there, despite the presence of a team of doctors and nurses. She kept her morale up by singing to herself the words recited after the bedtime Shema, “In the Name of Hashem, God of Yisroel: To my right is Michael, to my left is Gavriel, before me is Uriel, and behind me is Refael, and above my head is the Divine Presence of God.” Those words gave her comfort throughout the grueling and painstaking procedure.
We decided to name the babies Michael and Gavriel, to remind ourselves constantly that we pulled through those harrowing months with faith and the constant refrain that “Hashem and His malachim are always with us.”
After the procedure, the doctor warned us that it could conceivably cause premature labor, which could be dangerous for the babies. We prayed daily, and nervously counted as days and weeks passed. As Chani neared her seventh month, the doctor informed us that it would still be highly beneficial for the babies to remain within her for a few more weeks. However, should the babies be born at that point they could survive, though it would necessitate their spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Again we prayed, and watched gratefully as the weeks passed. Despite weekly, and often bi-weekly, visits to Columbia Hospital and a very challenging summer, we made it through the entire camp season—which coincided with the beginning of her ninth month—in camp. Shortly after we returned home, the doctor informed us that he was delighted with the progress, and the time had come for them to be born.
It was Friday night of Parshas Shoftim, the Shabbos before we knew the babies were going to be born. I was perusing the Midrash at the end of the parsha, when one particular Medrash caught my eye and made me very excited:
The Torah instructs that prior to the Jews going to war, they must extend overtures and offers of peace to their enemy. It is only if those efforts fail or are rebuffed that they may proceed into battle. Based on that law, the Midrash launches into a lengthy discussion about the merits of peace.
The Midrash quotes the verse (Iyov 25:2—it is also recited at the end of most forms of Kaddish) “He makes peace in His heights.” In its third explanation of how God ensures peace in the celestial heights, the Midrash states: “Michael is composed entirely of snow; Gavriel is composed entirely of fire. Yet, they stand next to each other and do not harm each other.”
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, explained that Michael and Gavriel, like all ministering angels, have unique God-given missions. Gavriel is the angel of Divine justice, while Michael is the defender of klal Yisrael. Yet, their diverse missions do not at all impede their sense of unity. They both fulfill their missions with alacrity, as well as respect the mission of their counterpart, knowing that each is doing as he is instructed.
Peace is not the absence of strife, but rather a synergetic wholesomeness that entails respect.
Seeing that Midrash that Friday night was an incredible chizuk to us, and further encouraged us that the names we had chosen were ever so appropriate.
The following Friday, just a few hours prior to Shabbos, our twins were born, miraculously healthy and beautiful, one minute apart from each other. A week later, the next Friday, on the eighth day following their birth, we were incredibly blessed to enter them into the bris of Avraham Avinu.
It was a very emotional and special event. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, had just arrived in Monsey a day prior for personal reasons. I was able to fulfill a dream of him being sandek at the bris of one of my sons, as he held Gavriel during his bris. We were then blessed that my dear Uncle, Rav Yaakov Cohn, was sandek at Michael’s bris.
In between the two brissim, we sang together the words “B’shem Hashem” that had given us such chizuk throughout the previous months, and based upon which we had named our sons. At the seuda following, I related the above Midrash that I had seen the previous Friday night, along with the beautiful explanation from Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky.
This past Friday night a year later, when I again came across the Midrash, it brought back a flood of memories from a year ago. It’s amazing that a year has passed.
I guess in a sense that’s what Elul is about. It’s not just about taking inventory of the mistakes we made during the previous year, and how we want to improve in the coming year. It’s also a review of the events of our lives—how God directed our lives, and how in tune we were to the hashgacha we experienced—for good or for better. The lessons, challenges and blessings of the past set the foundation for our direction and goals in the future.
May it be a year of only blessings!
By Rabbi Dani Staum
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as a rebbe and the guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is also a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is: [email protected] His website is: