Friday, November 27, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




This past summer, Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein1 related the following personal extraordinary story:

“There was a popular pool-hall on the main street in Monticello that had a dance club in the back. It was a terribly sinful place where kids went to hang out. The worst was on Motzei Shabbos during the summer, when there would be a crowd of about two hundred fifty Jewish boys and girls ‘hanging out’.

“It was an untenable situation and we felt that we had to do something. I went with a few friends to discuss the matter with Rabbi Dovid Feinstein shlita. I told Rabbi Feinstein that we had an idea which we hoped could at least put a damper on the frivolous partying that was going on. A group of couples, including my wife and myself, planned to go to the pool-hall on Motzei Shabbos and mingle with the rambunctious crowds and schmooze with them. The thought was that between the eight of us, many of the boys and girls would recognize us. If they felt uncomfortable by our presence perhaps they would leave. It would at least prevent the boys and girls who stopped by to ‘see what was going on’ from joining.

“We also arranged to have the bowling alley in Kiamesha rented out for the boys, so those boys who we were able to convince to leave would have an incentive of where they could go. Rabbi Feinstein agreed to our plan.

“On Motzei Shabbos eight couples came down to the pool-hall. It was a wild party, replete with raucous music, smoking, and gender-intermingling. After walking around and schmoozing with some of the kids, two of my friends and I decided that we should go into the club in the back to see if we could have any effect there. I knew some of my students were back there and that they would feel embarrassed if they saw me walk in. But when we tried to enter the club, the guard at the door told us “we were too old”. I reasoned with him that we only wanted to walk through. Finally, he relented and told me that if I really thought there was ‘stuff’ going on in the back I could go in myself, look around, and leave immediately.

“I was about to walk in when suddenly the owner of the pool hall rushed over and told me I couldn’t go in. “Forget it. All of you Rabbis have to get out of here.” I told him that if he wouldn’t let me in the back I would stay and shoot pool. But he was adamant, “We don’t want your money and we don’t want you in here. Just get out!” As he said it, three bouncers began to physically shove us out. The bouncers pushed us out of the hall and literally threw us down the steps outside the pool hall.

“I began screaming at the crowd of teens gathered at the top of the steps. “Do you see how low you’ve fallen? Three Rabbis are thrown out right in front of your eyes and you don’t say a word?!”

“Meanwhile the owner of the club looked down at us from the top of the steps and condescendingly said, “Rabbis, you’re not going to win this! You don’t know who you’re messing with. I own Monticello!”

“A police officer was standing nearby and saw what was happened. He called to us to get out of there. I couldn’t believe it. We had just been pushed out for no reason and the cop was siding with the assailant. I realized the owner must truly be very influential in Monticello.

“The ‘Rabbis getting thrown out of the pool hall’ immediately became the talk of the mountains. The next day we had a meeting and I found out that the owner of the hall owned a tremendous amount of real estate and town houses in Monticello. It truly seemed as if he owned Monticello.

So we went back to the owner and told him that we felt bad about what happened. We told him that we weren’t out to ruin the kid’s fun; we just didn’t like the sinful atmosphere that was being promoted. So we offered to rent out the pool hall for the boys and a bowling alley for girls. Everyone could have a good time, albeit separately. The owner agreed to rent the pool hall to us for a large sum of money.

“That Motzei Shabbos we invited the boys to the pool hall and twenty boys showed up (fifteen girls showed up at the bowling alley). I decided that for the next week I had to come up with a better ‘draw’, so I invited Yossi Piamenta to play in the pool hall with his band. It would be a free night of pool, music, and pizza. I was sure we would have a big crowd.

But that second Motzei Shabbos, again only twenty boys showed up.

“After the ‘concert’ the owner of the pool hall turned to me and said, ‘You see Rabbi you were wrong! The boys and girls need each other. You’re trying to stop something that you just can’t stop. You brought in Piamenta, free pizza, free pool, and look who came. You see that you’re wrong. So I’ll tell you what I am going to do. On Wednesday night I am going to host the craziest party Monticello has ever seen. I will have free beer, free admission, free food and rocking music. They are going to have the wildest time of their lives.” I pleaded with him not to do it, but he wouldn’t listen. “You can’t stop it Rabbi; they need each other!” He was right; there was nothing I could do. I left feeling very defeated.

“That Tuesday I was driving by the pool-hall when I noticed signs plastered all over the building on every side, “Closed by the Fire Department”; “Do not enter”; “VIOLATION!”; “For Sale”.

“We had no idea what happened until the next day. I have a friend who is very involved with the politicians in Monticello. The Chief of the Fire Department called him up and told him that they shut down the pool-hall. My friend replied that he had never asked them to do so. The Chief replied, “It has nothing to do with you. On Sunday morning we went into the building to perform a routine safety check. When we went into the basement we found that the owner of the pool-hall had antique cars that he was repainting and refurbishing. He had so much paint, solvent, chemicals, and gas in the basement that if one cigarette butt would have been thrown into that basement the building would have blown sky high, and you would have had over two hundred dead Jewish kids.”

“The non-Jewish Chief continued, “You should know that your G-d watches out for your children. That building was on top of a time-bomb. There was so much solvent without egress that half of Monticello could have easily blown up. I want you to know of every group that we deal with, we have never had another group that cares about their children like you Jews do.”

“That Motzei Shabbos we again rented two different bowling alleys for the boys and girls, but this time it was relatively full. About two thirty in the morning, in between driving back and forth from the girls in Kiamesha to the boys in Liberty, I drove back to the pool-hall. It was almost exactly the same time as when we were thrown down the steps just a few weeks prior, except now it was completely deserted. I stood at the bottom of the steps, looked up toward the sky and screamed, “Hashem, YOU OWN MONTICELLO!2


“Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva and he went toward Charan. He encountered the place and spent the night there… And he dreamt and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.”

The Bais HaLevi notes that a person can travel to a new destination for one of two reasons. He can either be trying to distance himself from the city he departed from, or he may be seeking to fulfill a goal/mission in the city of his destination.

In Yaakov’s situation, he had both goals in mind. Yaakov was both fleeing the wrath of his brother Eisav, and seeking to fulfill his parent’s instruction that he go to the home of his mother’s brother in order to seek a wife for himself. The seeming prolix of the verse actually alludes to these dual purposes. “Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva”; he had to escape the city of Eisav for his own safety. “And he went toward Charan” in order to fulfill his father’s instruction that he search for a wife.

The Viener Rav3 explains that the saga of Yaakov is symbolic of the events that transpire in every person’s life. We all have missions in this world that we are here to fulfill. At times we find ourselves in situations that we never dreamed that we would be in. We must remember that there is a higher purpose that we may not be aware of, which plays a strong role on the course of life.

The verse in Tehillim (37:23) states, “From G-d, the footsteps of man are firm, his way shall He approve.” The Ba’al Shem Tov explained that at times a person will travel to another city. In his mind he is traveling there for business, with the goal of generating profit. However, in heaven they may have arranged that he end up in that city for a spiritual purpose that he may never become aware of. This is what the verse is saying. Ultimately it is G-d who prepares the footsteps of man.

This idea is also a source of encouragement for a person who sets out to accomplish something and invests a great deal of time and effort into his project, only to find that he was unable to meet his goals. Although from his vantage point his work was for naught, from the perspective of Heaven his efforts may have been a tremendous success.

To Yaakov, his journey must have seemed compulsory and distressing. He was obliged to leave behind the sanctity and purity of his father’s home because he had adhered to his mother’s instruction to dupe Eisav out of the blessings. He would now have to forge his own path, alone and far away. But in truth his journey would soon set a trajectory in motion which led to the building of the foundation of Klal Yisroel. Yaakov returned from Charan with four wives and eleven children4, and it was those children who became the progenitors of the Chosen Nation.

This was part of the symbolism of Yaakov’s dream. At the moment when Yaakov was sleeping alone on top of Mount Moriah it seemed as if he was alone and forsaken. The vision of the ladder symbolized that there is an inextricable connection between world and the celestial world, with angels traveling up and down the ladder. Yaakov’s journey was not merely as it seemed. There was a higher purpose that would emerge from the whole ordeal, even though at that moment Yaakov could not realize what that purpose was.

As a nation we have experienced Yaakov’s odyssey many times. When we were expelled from Spain in 1492 and we fled on ships, it seemed that we were escaping a world which had deserted us. But at the same time we were forging ahead to a new world. European Jewry was being established and a new trajectory that would last four hundred years was being set in motion.

When our parents and grandparents escaped the horrors of Nazism before, during, and after World War II, they were not only fleeing the ashes of the crematoria, they were also coming to Eretz Yisroel and America to build the next chapter of Torah living and flourishing.

Yaakov’s venture symbolizes the path of life, on a national and individualistic level. Life leads us in many directions, and we must always remember that G-d prepares the path of man. Sometimes we are not privy to how/why things occur. But the ladder reaches heavenward and the angles are perpetually ascending and descending.

“Yaakov departed Be’er Sheva toward Charan”


Thursday, November 19, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




Years ago, when I was studying in Yeshiva, I was conversing with a younger student who had decided to switch out of the yeshiva, in order to attend a different type of yeshiva. He told me how thrilled he was to be escaping the yeshiva which he animatedly described as ‘a crazy place’. He then proceeded to list his personal grievances about the yeshiva, which included every possible component. He hated the dormitory, abhorred the food, couldn’t stand the teachers, disliked many of the students, and was even bothered by the aroma in the hallway. He was pretty convincing in depicting his stay in yeshiva as being completely untenable.

I realized how ingrained his acrimonious feelings towards the yeshiva were and I listening silently. He concluded by saying that it was so bad that he didn’t know he had survived until that point.

When he had completed his list, I told him that it all boiled down to one thing; in his mind he had ‘written the yeshiva off’. He had become sick and tired and, because the yeshiva was no longer a viable option for him in his mind, he allowed himself to become consumed by every minor frustration.

It was almost amusing when he returned to the yeshiva the next year. When I asked him about all of the things that he had mentioned the year prior that drove him crazy, he nonchalantly shrugged and said it wasn’t so bad.

Indeed; it’s all a matter of attitude.

1Throughout their youth, Yaakov and Eisav seemed somewhat similar. Although there were glaring external differences, as Eisav was ruddy and hirsute while Yaakov had smoother and whiter skin, the colossal future philosophical and spiritual disparities between Yaakov and Eisav were hardly noticeable throughout their formative years.

When they were fifteen however, that all changed. On the day that their grandfather Avrohom died at the age of one hundred seventy five, Eisav committed numerous egregious sins. The gemara2 writes that on that day Eisav murdered, coerced a young girl who was engaged, denied the fundamental beliefs of Judaism, denied that there was a concept of resurrection of the dead, and sold/denigrated his first-born rights.

It is enigmatic that the Torah does not mention any of these sins, and merely states3, “Esav came in from the field and he was tired.” If Eisav had committed such terrible sins, how could the verse merely state that he was exhausted? Why is there no mention of the reason for his exhaustion, i.e. all the sins he had violated? Do we refer to a murderer-idolater-heretic as merely ‘tired’?

Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt’l explained that the Written Torah teaches us the root and foundation of everything. The Oral Torah clarifies the Written Torah4, elucidating the messages and lessons that are hidden in the Written Torah. Thus, while the Oral Torah writes the actual details of what occurred by explicitly listing the sins that Eisav committed, the Written Torah records only the root-problem of why it occurred. How did Eisav, who had been raised in the home of Yitzchok and Rivka, become such a heinous sinner? Because “he was tired”. He was tired in the sense that he had lost all his drive and ambition, and no longer saw achieving spiritual greatness as a feasible goal. When one gives up on himself he is capable of committing the worst sins, rapidly debasing himself almost without limit.

The verse alludes to this idea when it writes והוא עיף" – and he was tired.” It does not simply say that Eisav arrived from the field ‘tired’. Rather, it says ‘and he was tired’, as if to imply that his entire essence was tired5. He was completely devoid of aspiration and passion, and that was the key to his hasty spiritual decline.

In a sense Eisav’s downfall lay in the fact that he was ‘sick and tired’. That attitude is extremely deleterious, and can have a disastrous effect.

At the time of Akeidas Yitzchok6, Avrohom was one hundred and thirty seven years old. The Akeidah was the last of the ten tests that Avrohom was challenged with7. Yet Avrohom lived for another twenty eight years. If Avrohom had already traversed the ten major ‘tests’, what was left for Avrohom to accomplish during the remaining years of his life?

Perhaps the challenge of Avrohom was to maintain his level of spiritual accomplishment and to retain the lofty levels he had achieved, even while living a mundane life, devoid of major challenges and tests.

Yitzchok had a similar challenge. When he was thirty-seven years old he was bound as an offering to G-d. For the remainder of his life he was charged with maintaining that level of holiness. He was never allowed to leave the Holy Land even in the face of a famine, nor was he able to marry a maid when his wife was unable to conceive, despite the fact that his father had done so. Yitzchok was referred to as an ‘olah temimah – a complete (unblemished) elevation offering’, even after he was taken off the altar.

It is a daunting task for one to always maintain their spiritual vitality and not allow themselves to falter in their connection with G-d.

It is no coincidence that Eisav ‘left the fold’ on the day of his grandfather’s death. Avrohom lived his life with undiminished passion and vivacity. Until the day he died he never faltered or tired in his mission to spread the light of divinity throughout the world. The prophet8 states, “Youths may weary and tire and young men may constantly falter. But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength, they will grow a wing like eagles; they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary.”

On the day that the spark of Avrohom was lost to the world, Eisav grew ‘tired’. Avrohom, whose hope was in G-d, had proverbial wings like an eagle, but Eisav was the youth who grew weary, and thus he faltered.

The holy Shabbos is a day of renewal and rededication. Dovid Hamelech expressed the ‘song of Shabbos’ as, “It is good to be thankful to G-d and to sing to Your Supreme Name9.” The six mundane days of the week often cause us to lose sight of our true aspirations and goals. In the befuddlement of exile and our pursuit for livelihood we often grow ‘tired and weary.’ But when Shabbos arrives we are transformed into angelic beings whose whole lives are dedicated to G-d and spiritual pursuits. Shabbos infuses us with strength and vitality so that we are able to encounter the challenges of the next week.

On the night of the first Shabbos of a newborn baby boy’s life we celebrate the first opportunity that he has been granted to ‘taste’ the bliss of Shabbos and to be blessed with the gift of spiritual vitality. At the same time, we hope and pray that G-d will grant the newborn baby the merit and understanding to appreciate the holiness of Shabbos throughout his life and to never lose his spiritual vitality.10

“Esav came in from the field and he was tired”

“But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength”

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




Rabbi Yossi Lieber1 related that soon after the passing of his father he was invited to speak at the Hebrew Academy of Philadelphia. He began his speech by saying that his recently widowed mother was having a hard time coping with her husband’s recent passing. He therefore requested that if anyone enjoyed his speech and was inspired by his words, instead of telling him they should be so kind to call his mother and tell her. He then announced her home phone number and began his speech.

The following day Rabbi Lieber’s mother mentioned to him that the evening prior she had received a phone call from someone who had heard his speech. The caller told her how much he had enjoyed her son’s lecture and how proud she should be.

After she thanked him for the call she asked him his name. He replied, “Shmuel Kaminetsky2”.

Avrohom dispatched his trusted servant Eliezer with the sublime task of seeking a worthy wife for Yitzchok. The Torah relates, in punctilious detail, all of the events that transpired with Eliezer along his journey.

When Eliezer met Rivka he was immediately overwhelmed by her sterling character and he was convinced that she was destined to become Yitzchok’s wife. Rivka led Elizer to her home where he sat together with her wicked father Besuel and duplicitous brother Lavan.

The Torah then records Eliezer’s narrative to Rivka’s family, which is an almost verbatim account of the events that the Torah detailed in the verses prior.

The Divine Torah can never be accused of verbosity. It is therefore surprising that the Torah repeats Eliezer’s account of the events that the Torah has already recorded. To explain the unusual prolix, Rashi quotes the Medrash: “Rabbi Acha said: יפה שיחתן של עבדי אבות לפני המקום מתורתן של בנים -The conversations of the servants of the patriarchs were more beautiful before G-d than the Torah of the children, for the narrative of Eliezer is mentioned and repeated in the Torah, while many vital concepts of the Torah are merely alluded to.”

In other words, there are many important laws that the Talmud derives from analytical expositions and detailed expounding from a superfluous letter in the Torah. The Torah is exact in its wording and thus every extra letter contains myriad lessons and central laws. The fact that the Torah repeats Eliezer’s narrative in such vivid detail symbolizes how dear and beloved the patriarchs were.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt’l once quipped, "תורה קען מען דרשינן אבער מדות דארף מין אויס לערנן" “We can expound in regards to Torah (i.e. laws) but character traits must be taught”.

Laws are black on white and rigid. Although it is an arduous task to analyze and understand a law, once one has gained mastery over that law he can offer a halachic ruling based on that knowledge.

The development of character traits and proper conduct however, is altogether different. One must always be studying, analyzing, contemplating, and pondering how to act in any given situation. What is proper behavior in one situation may be egregiously inappropriate in another situation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to study and analyze the behaviors of our patriarchs and matriarchs so we can understand how they approached each situation. Character traits must be taught, especially by example so that they can be developed by osmosis.

One day the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l, had completed delivering his daily in-depth Talmudic shiur, when he met an old friend from Europe. After conversing for a few moments, Rabbi Shmuelevitz invited him to join him at his home for lunch.

When they arrived at his home, Rabbi Shmuelevitz approached his wife, Rebbitzin Chana Miriam, and told her that they had a guest. She immediately set down an extra place and served both of them a bowl of soup. Rabbi Shmuelevitz finished his soup very quickly (as he was wont to do) and immediately asked his wife for another portion. He then finished his second bowl before his guest had completed his first bowl. The guest was shocked when the Rosh Yeshiva asked for a third bowl, and then a fourth bowl.

When the Rebbitzin had left the room the guest asked Rabbi Shmuelevitz to explain his behavior, which seemed unbecoming for a respected Torah leader. Rabbi Shmuelevitz replied, “You must understand that the Rebbitzin’s soup is her ‘shiur klali’3. When I expend time to prepare a shiur, and then after I deliver the shiur someone approaches me and asks me to repeat some of the points that I said and challenges my approach, it makes me feel accomplished and gives me a feeling of inner joy. If a second student comes to ask another question I feel even better.

“Think about the “shiur” that my wife prepared, and how much effort it took on her part. For the last few hours she was busy preparing it so that I could enjoy it when I came home. When I asked her for another portion, and then a third portion, and a fourth portion, it gave her that same feeling of accomplishment and joy.”

When the Torah records that Avrohom dispatched Eliezer, he is not mentioned by name. In fact, Eliezer’s name is not mentioned once throughout the entire narrative, but is referred to merely as, ‘the slave’

Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt’l explained that Eliezer is the symbol of ultimate servitude and subjugation to a master. Eliezer devoted every fiber of his being to the fulfillment of Avrohom’s every request, and to a great extent, Eliezer forfeited his own identity and singularity. He is therefore not identified by name because he reached such a level of devotion that his whole identity was inextricably bound with his service to Avrohom. In fact by being called the servant of Avrohom, he was indeed essentially referred to by name.

In a Jewish court a servant cannot serve as a witness. A witness must be able to testify about what he witnessed with an unbiased perspective. A servant however, sees everything through the lens of his obedience to his master, and therefore his testimony is unacceptable.

Eliezer symbolizes the level of devotion and servitude we must have towards G-d. Our names must be secondary to our true identity, as the loyal adherents to the commandments of G-d and His Torah.

If the conversations of the servants of the patriarchs are replete with timeless lessons, how much more so are the actions of the patriarchs themselves. It is for that reason that the Torah does not mince words when relating the lessons of the patriarchs. Every detail mentioned must be analyzed and understood, for the lessons to be gleaned are endless.

This idea is not only true about the patriarchs and matriarchs themselves, but about all of our righteous forbearers. A Torah leader is not merely one who has a scholarly breath of Torah knowledge. He/she must also possess sterling character and uncanny sensitivity towards others.

At times those who were close with great Torah leaders will most nostalgically recall heir glowing countenance and sensitivity, and the love that the scholar exuded to all those around him.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l was walking down the street in Flatbush one day when a secular looking man approached him. The man asked Rabbi Pam if he recognized him and Rabbi Pam admitted that he didn’t. The man continued, “You were my fifth grade Rebbe many decades ago. One day you caught me cheating on a test4. You walked over to me and whispered in my ear, “If you need help, I can help you”. Then you walked away.”

We can probably assume that this individual, who had tragically left the path of Torah, did not remember much of the Torah that Rabbi Pam had taught him. But he remembered the Rebbe’s sensitivity and patience.

In a similar vein, a secular Jew who lived on the same floor as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l in his apartment on the Lower East Side, was once asked what he remembered about Rabbi Feinstein. He replied that that whenever he would see Rabbi Feinstein walking down the street in the city and children would be playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, Rabbi Feinstein would wait until the child finished his turn before he proceeded walking.

One can (and must) study laws in order to know how to conduct himself. But one who has the good fortunate of being close with a righteous person will learn the laws form watching the conduct of the righteous person. By watching and analyzing his every act when will see the words of the Shulchan Aruch5 come to life. Our patriarchs and forbearers were living examples and we must follow their lead.

“And he said, ‘I am the servant of Avrohom’”

“Character traits must be taught”

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




The great scholar and ethicist, Rabbi Yisroel Lipkin of Salant zt’l, was once in the home of an assimilated Jew in Vienna. The man’s daughter was an adroit and accomplished pianist, and had achieved much distinction for her musical talent.

While they were conversing the daughter entered and joined the conversation. She asked Rabbi Salanter, “We are always recounting and speaking about miracles that transpired centuries ago. If G-d is so omnipotent why doesn’t He perform such miracles today?”

Rabbi Salanter diverted the question and the conversation continued. Sometime later the man began to brag about the many awards his daughter had received and the many symphonies and recitals she had been part of. She was well known among musical experts as one of the most brilliant pianists in all of Austria.

After the man finished listing his daughters accomplishments, Rabbi Salanter nonchalantly replied, “I don’t believe you!” The man was stunned, “I beg your pardon, Rabbi?” Rabbi Salanter continued, “I am sure she knows how to play the piano but I do not believe that she is really all that good. In fact, I doubt that she really has much talent at all. If she really has any talent let her play and prove herself.”

The young woman was indignant. “I should play for you to prove myself? Listen here Rabbi, many of the greatest musicians in the world agree that my playing is exemplary. The diplomas and award hanging here on the wall attest to that. After they have given their approval, I surely do not need to prove myself to a Rabbi who has an amateurish appreciation of music at best.”

Rabbi Salanter turned to the woman and replied, “Listen to what you yourself just said. You have proven yourself to the greatest musical aficionados and so you feel no need to prove yourself to a lone skeptic. G-d revealed Himself to our forefathers and established for them the basic tenets of our faith. Do you honestly expect Him to come ‘play the piano’ for one skeptic in Vienna?”

Avrohom Avinu was a celebrity in his time. Despite the travails and challenges he consistently encountered, he became an affluent and wealthy person, and was incredibly influential in attracting myriads to his monotheistic preaching.

After his saga with Avimelech, Avrohom settled in the land of the Philistines for a lengthy period of time. The Torah relates1, “ויטע אשל בבאר שבע ויקרא שם בשם ה' קל עולם - He planted an ‘Eshel’2 in Be’er Sheva, and there he proclaimed the Name of Hashem, G-d of the Universe.”

Why does the Torah bother to relate about Avrohom’s planting? Furthermore, what does his planting have to do with his proclaiming about G-d?

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l explained that Avrohom taught the masses about G-d through his planting! He would call attention to the miracles of nature and use that to prove the existence of G-d. The flowering and growth of the tree, the withering and falling of its leaves in autumn, the rebirth of its buds and leaves in the spring, the miraculous growth of a fruit tree from dirt and sunlight, the process of osmosis and photosynthesis, etc. Organic life, revealed through the most basic processes of nature, is the greatest testament to an Almighty Creator. Avrohom’s greatness was that he did not only perceive G-d in the supernatural and miraculous, but he was able to perceive G-d in the mundane ‘supernatural’ processes of nature.

“In our obtuse society, man cannot see the infinite, the Creator, nor can he sense Providence. He thinks that all there is on earth is the little that physics, chemistry, and biology have described, and this knowledge is enough to understand the universe… The problem of modern man lies not in his quest for knowledge, but rather in his hubris. He carries an air of arrogance, considering himself an all-capable superhuman, not being able to admit that he knows little and understands less.”3

Earlier, the Torah describes Avrohom’s encounter with the three angels. On the third day after his circumcision, Avrohom sat at the doorway of his tent exposed to the intense desert heat, searching and pining for visitors with whom he could perform acts of kindness. Suddenly, he saw three figures in the distance. Forgetting his pain, Avrohom bolted towards them and implored them to stop at his tent. Assuming they were idolatrous nomads he asked them to first wash their feet, before sitting down to a delectable meal.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that there was a deeper significance to Avrohom asking them to wash their feet. The average mortal assumes that existence and creation is only as intricate as his eyes could see and his senses could appreciate. Avrohom assumed that these nomads were no different; that they could see no further than the dust of their own feet.

He asked them to wash their hands and feet, and to wash away their juvenile understanding of the world. “Let some water be brought and wash your feet, and recline beneath the tree.4” Avrohom requested that they make themselves comfortable under the tree, for it was the tree that was the basis of his teaching. As they settled comfortably, Avrohom would challenge them to consider the beauty of the tree, eventually extending beyond the treetop to the heavens, the stars, and ultimately to the vast expanse of the universe.

Man’s purpose in general and a Jew’s mission in particular, is to recognize the G-d of the universe through the leaves of the Eshel!

The Ramban writes5, “Through recalling the great manifest miracles a person acknowledges the hidden miracles (of everyday life) which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of our teacher Moshe until he believes that all our affairs and experiences are miracles; that there is no element of nature, or ‘ordinary course of the world’, whether regarding the community or the individual.”

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l was legendary for studying and preaching about the wonders of creation, and the love and connection to G-d that one can feel through such analysis and thought. He gave numerous lectures about the wonders of oranges, apples, elephants, and flies.

He related that, when he was a student learning in the famed Solobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania, during the summer break he often went on excursions and hikes in the nearby mountains. On one occasion he sat and stared a flower for over an hour. He reported that it was the most spiritual experience he ever had in his life.

G-d does not need to prove Himself to us. The legacy of Avrohom, the progenitor of Klal Yisroel, is to seek out G-d in the mundane. One who can recognize the miraculous in the mundane realizes that all of life is supernatural. Conversely, one who fails to see the divine hand in the mundane may very well fail to appreciate the supernatural.

Avrohom merited many miracles during his lifetime, including emerging from a blazing furnace alive and fighting off a four-nation army almost singlehandedly. But none of that occurred until Avrohom recognized that there was a Creator through sheer logic and pondering.

The Medrash6 writes, “G-d said to Avram, 'Go for yourself from your land'" (Bereishis 12:1). Rabbi Yitzchok said: This may be compared to one who was passing from place to place and saw a (birah dolekes) fortress illuminated/burning. He said, "Will you say this fortress has no governor (manhig)? The master (ba'al) of the fortress peeped out (hetziz) at him, and he said to him, "I am the master of the fortress."

“Thus, because our father Avraham would say, "Can one say this world has no governor?" The Holy One, blessed is He, peeked out at him and said to him, "I am the Master of the world”.”

The Kotzker Rebbe once commented that he cannot comprehened how people do not become believers in G-d, simply from the words of Birchas Hamazon7, which discuss how G-d provides for the entire world.

The Chiddushei HaRim8 added, “And I don’t understand how people do not become believers from the food they are eating itself.” If one focuses on the texture, taste, and aesthetic beauty of his food, he cannot help but be overwhelmed by the graciousness and goodness of G-d.

As the descendants of Avrohom it is incumbent upon us to seek out G-d in every facet of nature and life. G-d can be found everywhere, but only to one who searches for Him.

“He planted an ‘Eshel’9 in Be’er Sheva”

"I am the master of the fortress”