Thursday, August 15, 2019

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN / NACHAMU 5779


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS VAESCHANAN /NACHAMU 5779
“A WISE CHOICE”

Question:
As you know, my wife is a little behind me when it comes to religious observance. One thing she challenged me on and I didn't have an answer. Last week I forgot to leave the light on in the bathroom before Shabbos. She wanted to turn it on, but I said to leave it.  So she asked, What is the big deal if I switch on a light on Shabbos? It isn't such hard work to flick a switch. Will the day of rest be totally disturbed by by me turning a light on? I wasn't sure what to say....
Answer:
Here's something I think your wife will relate to:
You are out for a romantic dinner, just the two of you. You make a reservation at a fancy restaurant, a quiet table for two in the corner. Gentle music is playing, lights are dimmed, and the ambiance is just perfect for an evening of romance. 
You resolve not to talk about work, not to talk about the kids, rather to take the time to really connect and enjoy each other's company. You laugh together, chit chat, and give one another complete focus and attention. 
Then suddenly you say, "Oh, I just remembered something." You take out your phone and call your business partner to remind him to send a report you are waiting for. It all took no more than fifteen seconds. You quickly put your phone away and smile at your wife. 
But she's not smiling. You just ruined the moment. You destroyed the atmosphere. Until now it was all about the two of you. As soon as you took out your phone, the ambiance was shattered. You brought the outside world into your intimate space. 
You could try explaining that it was just a little phone call and is really no big deal. Good luck with that. If you think you can make a business call on a date night, you just don't get what it means to create an intimate ambiance. 
The Shabbos laws are all about creating an ambiance of rest, a moment of spiritual intimacy, when we appreciate G-d's creation as it is without trying to change it. The state of the world when Shabbos comes in is the way it remains, and we do not interfere. If the light was off, it stays off. The flick of a switch, as insignificant as it may seem, would change the ambiance and ruin the moment. 
Someone who has never fully kept Shabbos may find this hard to understand. But if you've tasted the profound sense of restfulness that Shabbos can bring, you know how even a slight interruption can make a difference. 
We all need date nights and we all need Shabbos. And we need to protect the intimacy of these sacred moments. 
Rabbi Aaron Moss[1] 

          At the beginning of Parshas Vaeschanan, Moshe Rabbeinu relates how he beseeched Hashem to allow him to enter the Promised Land. “And I davened to Hashem at that time saying: My Master, G-d, You have begun to show your servant Your greatness and Your strong Hand... Please let me cross over and I will see the good land…”[2]
      Rashi explains that the ‘greatness’ of Hashem refers to His goodness. Zohar notes that gadulah (greatness) refers to chesed. What’s the connection between greatness and goodness/kindness?
      Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l[3] explained that real greatness is achieved when natural limitations are traversed. For example, if a thirty-foot giant effortlessly uproots a twenty-five-foot tree we would unquestionably agree that he is strong. But that act is not in the realm of ‘greatness’, because for someone so large such an act is expected. However, if that giant was somehow able to press himself into an ant hole in the ground, that would be an act of greatness. Natural law dictates that something so large cannot conceivably fit into something so miniscule. The ability to do so transcends normal limitations and, therefore, is considered greatness. 
      The incredible world and the miracles of nature do not demonstrate the ‘greatness’ of Hashem, as it were. Rather, it is the fact that despite the fact that Hashem is so great and powerful, He hearkens to our every prayer and notes our every action, despite our relative insignificance. The fact that Hashem loves every one of us and cares for every facet of our lives is tantamount to the giant who sticks himself into an ant-hole. It defies normal limitations and boundaries, and therefore is demonstrative of true greatness.

          In the Mussaf Shemone Esrei on Shabbos, we describe and extol the virtue of Shabbos. One of the clauses we recite is “and those who love its words, have chosen greatness.”
          What does it mean to love the “words of Shabbos” and what does it mean that those who do so have chosen greatness?
          When discussing the reward for observing Shabbos properly, the prophet Yeshaya[4] states: “If you refrain from trampling the Shabbos, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; if you call Shabbos a delight, G-d’s holy day an honor, and if you honor it by not doing your routine, or finding your affairs, nor speaking its words, then your delight will be upon Hashem...”
          The Gemara[5] explains that “not speaking it’s words” refers to the law that one’s speech on Shabbos not be like one’s speech during the week. One should not speak about mundane business and weekly affairs during the holy Shabbos.
          Most people don’t give much thought to what they say before saying it. Their speech is commonly “OTM OTM - out the mind; out the mouth”. We all know that words can build and words can destroy. Still, it is the rare person who is careful with his words and thinks carefully before speaking to ensure that no one will be hurt or offended by what he is about to say.
          The world likes to say that “talk is cheap”. It is a great untruth. The reality is that talk is easy, but it’s anything but cheap. Our whole ability to communicate and convey our thoughts and feelings is through the medium of speech.
          A high-ranking politician, or a member of a royal family has to always be wary of public statements he/she makes. One wrong statement, or even one comment taken out of context, can come back to haunt him or even destroy his career.
          On Shabbos one is obligated to think twice before he speaks, to ensure that what he is saying is in tandem with the spirit of the holy day. There are individuals who dutifully adhere to the law, albeit with a sense of annoyance about the halachic restriction. But then there are those who embrace the verbal restrictions of Shabbos. He is like a prince who is proud to be royalty, despite the fact that it entails certain restrictive behaviors. Being that the average person speaks freely without forethought, one who does restrict his speech has chosen a path of greatness. Thus, those who love the words of Shabbos - they love the restrictive speech of Shabbos - because it is “the cost” of regality of Shabbos, have chosen greatness.

          Truthfully, whenever one performs an altruistic act of kindness for another, it is a measure of greatness. By nature, man is self-centered caring primarily for his own interests and gratification. When one is willing to put aside his own agenda in order to care for someone else that transcends normal behavior. Therefore, it is an act of greatness.
      It is such acts of altruistic greatness which serve as a consolation for us in exile, for they remind us that there is hope for our eventual unification under the banner of Moshiach. 

          “You have begun to show your servant Your greatness”
          “Those who love its words, have chosen greatness”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] Rabbi Moss is a rabbi in Sydney, Australia. He sends out a weekly question with his shul announcements. I added myself to his mailing list when I came across some of his writings. His replies are always sharp, concise, and on the mark. This article is from March21 2019. To be added to his email list, send him an email at rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au.
[2] Devorim 3:24
[3] Tiferes Shimshon
[4] 58:13
[5] Shabbos 113b

Thursday, August 8, 2019

PARSHAS DEVORIM/CHAZON 5779


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS DEVORIM/CHAZON 5779
“INDIVIDUAL GREATNESS”

          The Ribnitzer Rebbe[1] was known as a pious and holy Jew. Stories abound of his extreme Avodas Hashem as well as the supernatural effects of his blessing. Today, hundreds visit his burial plot in Monsey, NY constantly to daven.
The Rebbe had private minyanim and he was insistent that the ten men who were part of the minyan had not davened yet.
          On one occasion, there was a young man who had already davened but wanted to join the Rebbe’s minyan. When the rebbe asked him if he had davened yet, he lied and said he hadn’t. The rebbe looked at him and shrugged him off, noting that he had already davened.
          The beauty of the story isn’t so much because it demonstrates the Rebbe’s ruach hakodesh, which is well known. Rather it’s the young man’s reaction afterwards when he exclaimed that he couldn’t believe that his prayers had such an effect that it was recognizable on his face that he had davened!
          How often do we feel that our prayers and Avodas Hashem aren’t worth much. This anecdote serves as a chizuk that our efforts are far greater than we realize.

    Chumash Devorim comprises Moshe Rabbeinu’s last will and testament. It was delivered over the course of five weeks, beginning Rosh Chodesh Shevat and concluding on the day of his passing, the seventh of Adar. During that time, Moshe reviewed all that transpired during the nation’s forty-year sojourns so that they would learn from their travails and mishaps.
          Moshe reminded them that after Hashem had told them of the greatness of Eretz Yisroel, they weren’t totally convinced of the Land’s merits and goodness. “You approached me, all of you, and said, "Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land, and bring word back to us; the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come."[2] Rashi comments, "You approached me - all of you, with a rabble.[3] Here the youngsters were pushing the elders and the elders were pushing the heads." 
          Rashi is conveying that before the spies departed, their mission was bound to end in failure because the nation had not approached the situation appropriately. 
    Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l[4] noted that Torah does not look favorably upon mobs or rowdy gatherings. A crowd is not merely an aggregate of individuals, but has a new ego, a separate identity completely different from its collective parts.
          A crowd is emotionally excitable, easily roused into action and, when swept away emotionally can be irrational. The crowd can easily lose itself towards a destructive path, which generally leads to more significant problems.
          The murderous march of the Crusaders during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Chmielnicki massacres of the seventeenth century, and the Nazis of our time, were all formulated by demagogues and political charlatans who ruthlessly incited angry mobs. In fact, throughout history the church has often utilized the force of mobs to murder and hurt Jews. 
          In Megillas Esther, a drunken aggregate sought to coerce Vashti to appear in the most coarse and undignified manner possible in public. Though she was an immodest person, she was still a queen. It is inconceivable that a person of such stature would allow herself to debase herself to such an extreme in view of the masses. Only an intoxicated mob of peasants would seek to demean her to such an extent.
          The sin of the Golden Calf too was the result of a mob-like gathering. The Torah[5] notes that after the calf emerged from the fire, the masses ate and drank, and then engaged in levity. When Chur sought to detain them, they did the unthinkable by murdering him. 
          Judaism believes that a person must always be a contributing member of his community. At the same time however, he must never lose perspective of his unique greatness and his own responsibilities.

          The format of our davening seems somewhat strange. On the one hand, there is tremendous emphasis placed on davening with a minyan, and there are parts of davening that can only be recited with a minyan. On the other hand, most of the actual words of davening are recited by each person individually. In fact, the central part of davening - Shmoneh Esrei - is recited completely individually.
          Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt”l explains that when we recite “Barchu”, the Chazzan is calling out to the congregation “This prayer is not only my private affair, but I invite the entire congregation to join me in sanctifying G-d’s Name together.” Although Birchos Keiras Shema can be said by an individual, the prayers combine and are far more poignant. The congregation thus responds that they too will bless Hashem together.
          (The same holds true for one receiving an aliya to the Torah. He recites “barchu” to indicate that the Torah being read is not for him alone, but a matter and honor pertaining to the entire congregation. He is inviting them to join him. When they reply “Baruch Hashem hamevorach” they are acceding to that invitation.)
          If there is such a value of tefilla b’tzibbur, why don’t we recite the entire davening together?
          The first governing document of the United States was the Articles of Confederation. It was ratified by the thirteen colonies and came into force in 1781. It was quickly realized that the limitations the Articles placed on the central government, rendered it ineffective. This led to the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. In 1789, the Constitution officially replaced the Articles. The Constitution provided for a much stronger central government by establishing a chief executive (the president), a court system, and the ability to tax.
          The greatness of the Constitution, and the reason why it revolutionized democracy is because it created a system of checks and balances. That enabled the new nation to create a union which gave sufficient power to each individual state, but has a central government that unites the fifty United States.
          Every Jew has dual roles. On the one hand, as an individual he is beloved to Hashem, and has a unique, personal mission in life. On the other hand, he is part of Klal Yisroel, with a responsibility to care and be concerned with its national needs, and to ensure that he is doing his part to fulfill its national destiny of spreading G-d’s Name throughout the world.
Perhaps it’s to express this dichotomy that we daven in that traditional manner. While we recite the actual words at our own pace and individually, we recite the paragraphs together, and proclaim special tefillos together.
          The pasuk[6] says that Hashem “creates their hearts together, and understands all of their deeds.” The mishna[7] explains that the pasuk is conveying that although Hashem combines our hearts to hears our prayers together, He is still able to understand all of our deeds/intentions individually.
          We all have a unique and special personal relationship with Hashem. Yet, at the same time, we are an inextricable part of the Jewish people. Those dual roles are reflected in the manner in which we daven- we recite the words together but as a congregation.

          My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that at the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 c.e., there were approximately twelve million Jews and ten million Chinese people. Today there are approximately a billion Chinese people, and still only about twelve million people who admit to being Jews.
          No Jew is replaceable. Every single member of Klal Yisroel has the potential and the responsibility to further the growth of Torah and mitzvos. The Jewish people are comprised of the synergy of individual greatness of each and every Jew.

          “You approached me, all of you”
          “Creates their hearts together, and understands all of their deeds”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor



[1] Rabbi Chaim Zanvil Abramowitz zt’l (died in 1995)
[2] Devorim 1:22
[3] In contrast with Har Sinai where the pasuk (Devorim 5:20-21) says they gathered with dignity. 
[4] Shiur from Adar 5729 (1969)
[5] Shemos 32:6
[6] Tehillim 33:15
[7] Rosh Hashanah 1:2