Thursday, May 26, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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A Paratrooper's Story

By Dr. Moshe Amirav

On Monday, the 5th of June 1967, I arrived in Western Jerusalem as a soldier in a paratrooper brigade. All through that night, we advanced from house to house under heavy fire. The battalion advanced to the east; I knew that it was in the direction of the Old City and the goal was clear: the Western Wall. At the end of that night, which was the longest in my life, we arrived in the area near the Rockefeller Museum. I climbed up onto the roof of the adjacent building and in dawn's first light I was able to see – Jerusalem.

A Jordanian shell exploded on the roof of the building. As a result of the blast, I flew up in the air. I felt a piece of shrapnel ripping my face and it felt as though it was blowing up my head. Immediately, my face bled and all I heard were screams of "Medic, Medic!" Ofer, the medic, stopped the bleeding by bandaging me quickly and professionally. He calmed me down by saying: "In a few minutes, a rescue jeep will get here and take you to the hospital." I understood that for me, the war was over. "But I have to get to the Kotel!" – I cried. Ofer looked at me as though I'd lost my mind: "That's what interests you now, the Western Wall?!"

A few hours later, I was already at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem. I could hear the echo of shooting from the Old City. The next morning, we listened to the broadcast of the Voice of Israel reporter, Raphael Amir: "At this moment, I am going down the stairs toward the Western Wall… I am touching the stones of the Western Wall…" Sounds of gunfire could be heard in the background mixed with the elated cries of the soldiers and the sounds of shofar blowing. I could not continue listening to the broadcast. I got out of bed and told Motti, who was lying in the bed next to mine: "I am going to the Kotel!"

I smile now when I remember how I ran to the Kotel, holding Motti's hand since I could hardly see where to go. We did not take our time – we ran quickly, past the Moghrabi Gate, pushing forward in a hurry. Suddenly we stopped, thunderstruck. Standing opposite us was the Western Wall: gray, huge, silent, and restrained. I remembered feeling this awe-struck only once before, as a child, when my father brought me close to the Holy Ark.

Slowly, I began my approach to the Kotel, feeling like a shaliach tzibbur, a cantor praying for a congregation; representing my father – Herschel-Zvi of Jerusalem and Lithuania, representing Grandfather Moses and Grandfather Yisrael who were slaughtered in Punar, representing my teacher and rabbi Mourner of Zion Menachem Mendel and his entire family that was killed in Treblinka, representing the poet Uri Zvi Greenberg whose poems I knew by heart and had sent me here.

Someone near me made the "She'hechiyanu" blessing, but I could not answer "Amen". I just put a hand on the stone and the tears that streamed from my eyes were part water and part prayers, tunes, and longing of generations of Mourners of Zion.

I came back to the hospital later that day to undergo surgery to remove the piece of shrapnel from my head.

On Shabbos afternoon, in the Mincha shemoneh esrei, we speak about the unity of Shabbos that will be realized in the future Messianic world. “Avrohom rejoices, Yitzchok exults, Yaakov and his sons rest upon it.” What is the meaning of these words? Why is it particularly together with his sons who rest on Shabbos?

When the prophet extols the virtues of one who safeguards Shabbos properly he says1, “Then you shall delight in G-d, and I shall mount you astride the heights of the world, and endow you with the heritage of your forefather Yaakov, for the Mouth of G-d has spoken.” Based on this verse the gemara2 comments, “Whoever delights in the Shabbos is granted a boundless heritage.” The boundless heritage promised to one who delights in the Shabbos is the portion of our patriarch Yaakov. What is the connection?

We find that Klal Yisroel always maintained a circular formation in their encampments and residence. When they entered Eretz Yisroel and the land was divided amongst the tribes the Bais Hamikdash was in the heart of the land, surrounded by the city of Yerushalayim, which was surrounded by the tribes throughout Eretz Yisroel.

Throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert they also maintained a unique encampment. At the beginning of Chumash Bamidbar, G-d instructed Moshe3, “The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignias of his fathers’ household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of the Meeting shall they encamp.” Three tribes camped in each of the four directions surrounding the center which included the Levites camp as well as the Mishkan.

The Medrash notes that when G-d commanded Moshe about the new formation of in the desert and that each tribe would have its own flag, Moshe was concerned that it would lead to dispute, as some tribes may not want to be placed where they were directed. G-d replied that the tribes would have no such qualms because they were already familiar with their positions. Their encampment in the desert was the same as how each tribe stood around the bed of Yaakov Avinu just prior to his passing when he instructed them how to escort his bier to Eretz Yisroel from Egypt for burial.

Moshe’s fears still seem founded. Why would the nation be willing to accept a formation based on a funeral of hundreds of years prior?

The Ateres Mordechai explains that it is relatively easy for people to be cordial and affable with each other when things are serene. However, when times become more challenging and tense people often become more aggressive and impatient with each other.

Moshe feared that when the Jews were instructed to maintain a rigid formation in the desert they would counter that it was an impossibility. A desert is by definition vast and lawless and there cannot be normal and structured living in a desert. So how could they be expected to maintain such disciplined order in their encampments?

G-d replied that Moshe’s fears were baseless. Yaakov Avinu had ingrained in his children the ability to maintain their faith and composure even under the most trying circumstances. When each tribe was instructed where to stand, he was informed what his role was, and what he had to accomplish. The funeral of Yaakov was unquestionably a period of intense mourning and instability for the tribes. Yet they traveled together and accomplished their mission in unison.

The ability of a Jew to maintain his equanimity even in the most challenging situations dates back to Yaakov Avinu’s funeral procession when each tribe maintained their dignity despite the circumstances.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes that G-d’s throne is surrounded by four gatherings of angels on each side, as it were, to resemble Israel’s four formations surrounding the Mishkan.

When Yaakov’s sons surrounded him in proper formation it was representative of the ‘secret of "אחד" (one)’. The word echad is composed of aleph (numerical value of one) and ches and daled (8 and 4) which combine to equal 12. Yaakov (the ‘one’ in the middle) surrounded by his twelve sons, represent the idea of "אחד"4.

The Chofetz Chaim noted that the Mishkan always had to remain in the middle of the camp, much like the Tree of Life was in the middle of the Garden of Eden5. This is reflective of the Torah which must always remain our central focus. Every other component in our lives must surround the Torah and subjugate itself towards the dictates and laws of the Torah. The Torah must always remain the epicenter of our lives.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that since our continued life in this world depends on the beating of our hearts which ensures the circulation of the blood the heart is in the center of our bodies. The source of life – physical and spiritual – always remains in the center.

When the tribes surrounded Yaakov it represented "אחד", the ultimate unity, for they all subjugated themselves toward their father, the righteous leader, in the center. When the Jewish People maintain their focus towards their national heart, they are truly a people who merit the accolade "אחד", a united, destiny-driven people.

Torah life entails a perpetual focus towards the center. That center is the heartbeat of our national existence, represented geographically by Yerushalayim, and spiritually by the Torah.

As long as the center point remains in focus, we can branch out and extend far beyond our borders. The person who proclaims Shabbos a delight is the one who is able to use all of the delicacies and pleasures of Shabbos to sanctify the holy day. Such a person has G-d in his heart and is thus able to ‘branch out’ into the pleasures of this world and not forfeit his inner sanctity. His heart and soul are ‘one’ just as the tribes were one surrounding the bed of their father Yaakov.

Therefore, one who proclaims Shabbos a delight merits the inheritance of Yaakov. G-d promised Yaakov6, “You shall spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward, and southward.” Because Yaakov personified unity of purpose and mission in his unyielding service to G-d he was blessed to spread out beyond his confines and borders.

On Shabbos afternoon during our prayers we speak of the ultimate level of Shabbos observance, i.e. the Shabbos of the future when all will recognize the ultimate truth: “You are One and Your Name is One and who is like Your Nation Yisroel, one nation in the land.” Klal Yisroel is one, united in heart and mission, because of their omnipresent awareness that the One G-d remains the central focus of their lives.

It is specifically “Yaakov and his sons” who rest on Shabbos7 because the depiction of Yaakov surrounded by his sons is the symbolism of perfect unity.

Throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert Klal Yisroel camped in that same formation, reminiscent of the harmonious spirit which their forefathers possessed and instilled in them. When we entered the Promised Land we continued to live with that same pattern, surrounding the center of our national heart of Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash.

Throughout the exile when we no longer have the physical structure of the Bais Hamikdash our hearts remained there. At the center and core of our nationhood is, above-all, our adherence to the Torah, and also our pining and yearning to return to Jerusalem and the physical centrality of our people.

The legendary words8הר הבית בידינו – The Temple Mount is in our hands” must be revised to, “הר הבית בלבינו – The Temple Mount is in our hearts.”

“Surrounding the Tent of the Meeting shall they encamp.”

“Who is like Your Nation Yisroel, one nation in the land.”

1 Yeshaya 58:14
2 Shabbos 118a
3 Bamidbar 2:2
4 Idea from Rabbi Aharon Shechter shlita, Kuntrue Ma’amarei Chof Kislev, Ma’amar 11
5 See Bereishis 2:9; Onkelos states clearly that it was ‘in the middle of the garden’.
6 Bereishis 28:14
7 The rest we refer to is not physical rest but spiritual relaxation. It is a day when we recharge our spiritual batteries, as it were, by reminding ourselves of our true purpose and focus of life.
8 Announced by Colonel Motta Gur over the military radio in June 1967, during the six-day war when G-d allowed us to miraculously re-conquer Jerusalem from the Jordanians

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The Torah That Went From the Depths to the Heavens Lost With the Space Shuttle, a Holocaust Memento

Debbi Wilgoren, Washington Post1

Wednesday, Febuary19, 2003

The bar mitzvah took place before dawn on a Monday in March, l944, inside a barracks at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

Those men who were strong enough covered the windows and doors with blankets and stood watch to make sure that no SS guards were coming.

Four candles, scrounged from somewhere, gave off enough flickering light for Rabbi Samuel Dasberg to unfurl this tiny Sefer Torah--the five books of Moses, handwritten by a scribe, on a parchment scroll that was just four and a half inches tall.

Thirteen year old Joachim Joseph chanted the blessings just as the rabbi had taught him, and then he chanted aloud from the ancient scroll in the singsong Hebrew melody that has been passed down for hundreds of years.

"There were people listening in the beds all around," Joachim Joseph, who is now a 71 year old Israeli physicist, recalls, describing the narrow triple-decker bunks where the Jewish men and boys slept. "Afterwards everybody congratulated me. Somebody fished out a piece of a chocolate bar that he had been saving and gave it to me. And somebody else fished out a deck of playing cards for me too. Everybody told me, "Now you are a bar mitzvah, now you are an adult. We are so very proud of you. Mazel tov!" And I felt very good.

"And then everything was quickly taken down, and we went out to roll call."

Rabbi Dasberg also gave Joseph a gift that day. He gave him the miniature Torah scroll that they had used, covered in a red velvet wrapper and tucked into a small green box.

He said: "This little Sefer Torah is yours to keep now, because I am pretty sure that I will not get out of this place alive, but maybe you will." "And you know how children are," Joachim Joseph said when the Washington Post interviewed him by long distance phone. "At first, I didn't want to take it, but he insisted. He convinced me. And the condition was; I had to promise that if I ever got out of there, that I must tell the story, the story of my bar mitzvah."

The story of that Sefer Torah was told to the world on January 2lst, when Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, held the scroll aloft during a live teleconference from aboard the space shuttle Columbia.

"This Torah scroll was given by a rabbi to a young, scared, thin, thirteen year old boy in Bergen Belson," Ramon said from inside the space shuttle. "It represents more than anything the ability of the Jewish people to survive. It represents their ability to go from black days, from periods of darkness, to reach periods of hope and faith in the future."

When the shuttle disintegrated as it reentered Earth's atmosphere 11 days later, Ramon and the six other astronauts were killed, and the Torah was almost definitely destroyed. But the story of the tiny scroll was reborn.

It is the story of a generation that experienced the worst humanity has to offer, a generation that, 60 years later, is rapidly dying off, leaving only its youngest survivors, museum exhibits and history books to give witness…

Joseph says he has no regrets about sending the Torah into space.
"I'm not sorry that it is gone," he says. "It did what it, perhaps, was destined to do."

Rabbi Chaim Stein shlita is the Rosh Yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Ohio. A number of years ago Rabbi Stein went to visit the original yeshiva building in the city of Telshe in Lithuania, where he himself had studied before he escaped the Nazi onslaught in October 1940. As he stood with a few others in the abandoned dilapidated building where the passionate discourse of Torah study once resounded and the sounds of Talmudic debate once erupted from its hallowed walls, the eerie silence was palpable and painful.

Rabbi Stein recounted the tragic story of the great sage, Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon. After the Roman conquest of Yerushalayim and the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, the Romans forbid the study and teaching of Torah.

The gemara2 relates, “They found Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon who was sitting engaged in Torah study, and convening gatherings in public, and a Torah scroll was resting on his lap. They brought him and wrapped him in a Torah scroll, encircled him with bundles of vine shoots and set them on fire. The Romans then brought tufts of wool, soaked them in water, and placed them over his heart, so that his soul would not depart quickly…

[As the fire raged] his students asked him, “Rebbe, what do you see?” He answered them, “גוילין נשרפין ואותיות פורחות - the blank parchment is burning and the letters are taking flight.”

Rabbi Stein explained that Rabbi Chanina’s words are legendary. The Nazis burned the building and decimated its students. But it was only the parchment that burned. ‘The letters’ of all the Torah that was studied and taught in the Telshe yeshiva ‘took flight’ and crossed the world until it was replanted in America.3

So it is throughout the generations of our persecution in exile. Our enemies have destroyed us and burned numerous Torahs throughout the millennia. But it’s only the physical scroll, the parchment, that could be burned. The Torah itself however, is indestructible. As the parchment caught fire and began to burn, its letters ascended to heaven, many times returning in new scrolls in new locations.

Klal Yisroel must never forget its exalted status. For along with the great privilege of being G-d’s Chosen Nation, comes tremendous responsibility. In its description of the Tochacha4, the Torah warns that if we fail to live up to our responsibilities we will suffer dire punishments.

The Torah describes the retribution that will befall us in explicitly unbearable detail. We have witnessed the veracity and tragic fruition of every word of those painfully foreboding predictions.

Towards the end of the Torah’s account of the Tochacha G-d promises that despite all the horrors and travails that Klal Yisroel will be forced to endure they will never be destroyed. “But despite all this, while they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them, to annul My covenant with them – for I am Hashem, their G-d5.”

The Meshech Chochma writes at length about the repeated pattern of the Jewish People in exile. He also prophetically forewarns that the time was ripe for a great tempest to brew in the Jewish world that would uproot their very roots because of, ‘those who think Berlin is Jerusalem’.

He begins however, by declaring the miracle of our survival. “Behold from when Israel became a nation, throughout the many years, the multitudes of those who dwell on earth could not believe that they (the Jewish people) would endure in such wondrous fashion. It cannot be fathomed by any rational intelligent person who understands history and the patterns of thousands of years in regards to any weak and vulnerable nation. This alone is an incredible and great wonder, that a nation could endure for a Divinely ordained lofty purpose, which was prophesized about thousands of years before it occurred.”

Our very existence is the greatest miracle of all. The fact that Torah is still being taught and that we still proudly adhere to its mitzvos and way of life, despite all we have survived and prospered defies logical explanation.

The Torah scrolls of many communities have been consumed by the nefarious fires of our most heinous and implacable enemies. The scrolls of Babylonia, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and Russia have been almost completely consumed. But the fires could not singe even one letter. The letters were transported to new lands and a new generation where it continues to be studied and promulgated in eternally cyclic tradition.

The holiday of Lag Baomer celebrates the cessation of the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s twenty-four thousand disciples. Pri Chodosh questions why that is reason for celebration. The Gemara states that as a result of their deaths, “the world became spiritually desolate”6. Why should the fact that they ceased to die be reason to celebrate?

He therefore suggests that the real cause for celebration is for what occurred after all of Rabbi Akiva’s students had died out. The gemara recounts7, “Rabbi Akiva came to our Sages in the south and taught them: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Shimon [Bar Yochai], and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua. It was they who preserved the Torah at that time.” There is a tradition8 that Rabbi Akiva began teaching the five students on Lag Baomer.

After Rabbi Akiva’s twenty-four thousand students died he was already an old man. Their tragic and untimely deaths surely weighed heavily on him and caused him untold pain and sorrow. A lesser man would have succumbed to despair. Yet Rabbi Akiva plunged ahead. With indomitable heart and spirit he cast aside his personal grief to ensure the continued dissemination of Torah to subsequent generations.

Rabbi Gedalia Schorr zt’l explained9, “Lag Baomer is a day on which one should strengthen himself in Torah study. Even if one has not learned properly, and has had periods of failure, on Lag Baomer he should strengthen himself and take a lesson from Rabbi Akiva… Just as Rabbi Akiva did not despair, so too, a Jew should not allow past failures and difficult situations to lead him to despair; rather, he should immerse himself in Torah with renewed strength.”

The fires of Lag Baomer symbolize the eternal fire of Torah10. In those flames also represents the fact that we are to be the light unto the nations, a guiding light in the morally depraved darkness. The fires of Lag Baomer stands in stark contradistinction with the fires our enemies have ignited to destroy and eradicate every scintilla of our being. Their fires have consumed nothing but parchment while our fires burn heavenward with the eternal light of the letters.

The parchment may be destroyed----but the story will go on. The story will continue. The story will live on.

“Despite all this, I will not annul My covenant with them.”

“The blank parchment is burning and the letters are taking flight.”

1 I had seen part of this article referenced in another article. When I contacted the author this week to ask her for the full article, she replied: “Sure -- here it is. I will never forget that story. Just yesterday, someone asked me what is my favorite story I ever wrote, and I cited this one. Thanks for writing, Debbi Wilgoren”
2 Avoda Zara 18a
3 Today there is a branch of the Telshe yeshiva in Cleveland, Chicago, and Riverdale.
4 Literally – rebuke; the Torah writes the Tochacha twice - in Parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:14-46) and in Parshas Ki Savo (Devorim, chapter 28)
5 Vayikra 26:44
6 Yevamos 62b
7 Ibid.
8 Kaf HaChaim (Oh’c 493:26)
9 Ohr Gedalyahu (Lag Baomer)
10 As personified by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his illustrious teacher Rabbi Akiva who studied Torah despite the personal peril involved in doing so.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

BEHAR 5771

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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BEHAR 5771


The Gold family was sitting shiva for their revered father, Mr. Jack (Yaakov) Gold in October 1976. Rabbi Yaakov Pollack, Rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Boro Park and a Maggid Shiur at Yeshiva University, entered the house and sat down. He said to the mourners, “You’re probably wondering why I came to be meanchem avel1 Avie Gold, son of Jack Gold, when neither of them ever davened in my shul. I’ll explain it to you by relating the following story:

“Many years ago an Orthodox Jewish man was driving in Queens near a Jewish cemetery when he noticed an elderly lady standing under a bus shelter. He pulled over and asked her in Yiddish where she was heading. She answered that she was going home to Brooklyn, and she told him where she lived. He replied that he was heading to the same neighborhood and he would be happy to drive her home.

“During the drive to Brooklyn she explained that she had yahrtzeit and had come to the cemetery to daven. She had been waiting for the bus to take her home. They cordially conversed until he dropped her off in front of her home.

“Almost a year later the man called the elderly women, “Since we both have yahrtzeit on the same day and we live so close to each other I’m going to pick you up on the yahrzeit and we’ll go to the cemetery together, and then I’ll drive you home.”

“The scene repeated itself for a number of years until the elderly women passed away.

“Before she died, the women mentioned the story to her son and told him the name of the man who drove her to the cemetery every year on the yahrtzeit.

“The elderly women in the story was my mother, and the man was your father. So when I heard he passed away I came to express my gratitude and to tell you how special your father was.”

The mourners were moved by the story, but they realized that the story was far greater than he had realized because their father had not lived anywhere near her, nor did he have yahrtzeit on the same day as she did.

It is one thing to do a chesed for someone one time or to do a chesed when it is convenient. But for a person to go a few hours out of his way every year for a stranger demonstrates incredible selflessness. And what’s more amazing is that he never told anyone – not even his own family – about the story. Were it not for the fact that Rabbi Pollack told the Gold family the story no one would have ever known. If Jack Gold did such a clandestine chessed, there must have been many other stories that we will never know of2.

“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident – so that he can live with you.”

The gemara3 quotes Rabbi Yitzchak who said, “Anyone who gives a perutah (small copper coin) to a pauper is blessed with six blessings… and anyone who comforts him with words is blessed with eleven blessings.4

Why is one who encourages a poor person considered so much greater than one who actually gives money to a poor person?

Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky zt’l explained that time is the most precious commodity we possess in the world. Time contains potential and opportunity for anything we want and hope to accomplish.

Someone who is willing to give up of his precious time to lend an ear and to give his attention and heart to another has given away of his most precious commodity in the world, and that is the highest level of charity.

When Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Sinai the Torah states, “Moshe arrived in the midst of the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moshe was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.”

Ibn Ezra comments about those forty days in which Moshe did not eat or drink that “this was a great wonder; there was none like it before.”

Although Moshe’s ascension to heaven and his abstention from eating and drinking for forty days was surely a great miracle, was it greater than the miracles in Egypt or at the Splitting of the Sea?

Rabbi Chaim Kreisworth zt’l5 explained that during those forty days Moshe became a quasi-angel, and that is why he did not need to eat or drink. During that time he did not have the challenges and struggles of this world because he was living an ethereal existence. However, if he did not have the struggles of this world he also could not obligated in the daily performance of mitzvos as they apply to mortals. He could not receive reward for his actions because he did not have to overcome his free choice in order to perform them.

The fact that Moshe Rabbeinu, who understood the unimaginable reward for the performance of every mitzvah better than anyone else, was willing to give up forty days of that reward so that he could learn and teach Torah to Klal Yisroel is absolutely incredible. It is about that uncanny altruistic sacrifice that Ibn Ezra writes was a greater wonder than anything that occurred until then.

One of the hallmarks of our Torah leaders is their profound understanding of the value of time. They are people who optimize their every minute and never have enough time for Torah study and their other various efforts on behalf of their people. Yet perhaps the most common feeling expressed by those who have the opportunity to spend even a few minutes with such leaders is an awed appreciation of how he made them feel special. “He spoke to me like there was nothing else in the world that mattered, like my issue was paramount in his mind.”

Rabbi Reuven Feinstein shlita related that he once came to discuss a pressing matter about the yeshiva with his illustrious father, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l. Before he had a chance to begin a well-dressed woman entered Rabbi Moshe’s office and began pouring out her troubles. It was quickly apparent that the woman was deranged. She related to Rabbi Moshe her harrowing experiences with aliens pursuing her. After a half-hour Rabbi Reuven prepared to stop her for his father’s sake. Rabbi Moshe stopped him and said, “Zee hot keinem nisht ihr ois tzuheren azeleche zachen – She has no one who will listen to her tell of such things.”

She continued talking for an hour and a half and only stopped because it was almost nightfall and that was when the aliens came out6.

This all from a man who literally valued every moment of his life.

“You shall strengthen him”

“Anyone who comforts him… eleven blessings”

1 “Console the mourner”
2 I am deeply grateful to Rabbi Noach Sauber (a rebbe and mentor from Camp Dora Golding) who related this story to me. I am particularly grateful because Jack Gold is my great-uncle (father’s mother’s oldest brother). I verified the details of the story with my cousin, R’ Avie Gold, a noted member of the staff of Artscroll publications.
3 Bava Basra 9b
4 Tosafos note that one who gives a pauper both money and encouragement merits all seventeen blessings
5 Quoted in Ohel Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Sheinerman)
6 From “Reb Moshe” by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman

Thursday, May 5, 2011

EMOR 5771

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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EMOR 5771


Imagine there is a bank that credits your account with $86,400 each morning. It carries over no balance from day to day, and every evening it deletes whatever part of the balance you fail to use during the day. Wouldn’t you try to use every cent?

Every day has 86,400 seconds. Every second used well is yours forever. Every second wasted is lost forever.

Time waits for no one. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it’s called the present.1

The clock is ticking.

Throughout my High School years, somewhere towards the end of May, on the upper right-hand corner of the board in front of the classroom was posted the countdown of how many days were left until graduation. I remember watching the decreasing numbers enviously. Finally when I was a senior my classmates and I enjoyed the experience for ourselves. As the numbers decreased our excitement proportionately increased. Then on the morning before graduation there was a big number 1 that stood proudly in the box – just one more day; we had made it!

Truthfully, I loved High School, including my classmates, the student body, my rabbeim, and the atmosphere that pervaded the yeshiva. It was a special four years and an experience I knew I would miss. But graduation is an exciting milestone and so I couldn’t help but get swept up in the graduation fever and the final countdown.

Unlike all other holidays, Shavuos is not identified by a calendar date, but rather as the fiftieth day of the Omer count2.

“You shall count for yourselves… seven weeks they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to G-d.3

The Sefer Hachinuch4 explains the purpose of the counting of the Omer: “We are to count from the day after the first (day of the) Yom Tov of Pesach until the day of the giving of the Torah (i.e. Shavuos) to demonstrate in our souls our tremendous desire for the honored day, for which our hearts pine like a servant yearns for shade. He should count constantly in anticipation ‘when will that desired time come when I will achieve my freedom?’ Counting demonstrates to a person that all of his hope and desire is to arrive at that time.”

There is a glaring question that emerges from the Sefer Hachinuch’s beautiful explanation of Sefiras Haomer: If the point of counting is to demonstrate our passionate and unbridled excitement for Shavuos, the anniversary of the day we received the Torah, why are we counting upwards? If our focus is only on our destination in time then the time that passed is seemingly irrelevant5. Would it not be more logical to count how many days are left?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains with a parable: If a desperately impoverished man wins the lottery and is informed that in thirty days he will receive a million dollars in one lump sum, those thirty days will feel like an eternity to him. The only thing between him and the money is the passage of the requisite amount of time, and so he will impatiently wait for those days to pass.

However, if the impoverished man who won the million dollar jackpot was told that he will receive ten thousand dollars a day for a hundred days, to him the days will pass all too quickly. The experience of getting such a significant amount of money each day is so enjoyable that he will savor the experience. Each day equals another ten thousand dollars in his pursuit of the full million. To him the days aren’t a mere period of waiting but a continual process of receiving his newfound fortune. Every day is invaluable to him.

The forty-nine day count to Shavuos and the receiving of the Torah is not merely a countdown of time. Rather, each day is a period of growth, a continuous amassing of spiritual greatness in preparation for our reacceptance of the Torah. The days of the counting of the Omer represent forty-nine days of spiritual treasures.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l6 noted that Sefiras Haomer teaches us that we must count our days for each day is invaluable. “Every day is a precious bauble. Whether it is raining outside or snowing, the day is a precious opportunity. There is no such thing as spare time. If a person should live to the age of one hundred and twenty, when he reached his last day, he would still believe it had come too quickly. Think – what would you do if you only had one day of life? How valuable would that one day be?”

Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner zt’l would say that the greatest mussar shmooze (ethical discourse) in the world is a ticking clock. The clock continues to tick moment after moment, indicating the constantly fleeting passage of time.

Dovid Hamelech beseeches G-d7, “Teach us to count our days, then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.” He who knows how to take advantage of his time truly possesses a wise heart.

During the 1500s a Jewish man was arrested on trumped up charges. Despite the brutality of the prison the warden offered to grant him any one day to leave jail to pray in a synagogue.

The prisoner’s first thought was that he should choose Yom Kippur so he could spend the holiest day of the year in shul. Then he thought perhaps Pesach the holiday of our national freedom and the night of the Seder presented the greatest need for community. On Purim he might not have the chance to hear the Megillah unless he was in a synagogue.

The prisoner sent his question to the Radvaz8. The Radvaz replied that he should request his amnesty for the following day! There is no greater opportunity than the present. If he has the chance to daven with a minyan he should do so at the next available chance he has9.

Rabbi Shach zt’l10 commented that from when he reached the age of fifty he would say to himself every morning, “Lazar, remember today may be your last day. Make the most of it.”

The lesson of Sefiras Ha’omer is timeless: “Don’t count your days; make your days count!” After a week of weeks trying to internalize the incredible value of every day and every moment, then we are ready to receive the eternal transcendent Torah anew.

“You shall count for yourselves”

Then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.”

1 A different version: "Yesterday is a canceled check; tomorrow is a promissory note; today is the only cash you have - so spend it wisely" (Kay Lyons)
2 which begins on the second day of Pesach, when the Omer offering was brought upon the altar
3 Vayikra 23:15-16
4 Mitzvah 306
5 Such as when we were counting towards graduation we didn’t start fifty days before and count upwards to fifty, we counted how many days were left!
6 “The Path of Life”, parshas Emor
7 Tehillim 90:12
8 Rabbi Dovid ben Zimra (1480 – 1573) Chief Rabbi of Egypt, Teshuvos HaRadvaz 13
9 The Radvaz bases his response on the rule of “Ayn ma’avirin al hamitzvos – we do not pass over an opportunity to perform a mitzvah”. Therefore one must take advantage of the first available opportunity to perform a mitzvah that becomes available to him; also see Chacham Tzvi 106 who questions the Radvaz.
10 Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Shach zt’l was the acknowledged Ponovezher Rosh Yeshiva and leader of the Yeshivah world who lived to 108 years old.