Thursday, November 24, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The late Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l was legendary for his tremendous dedication to unbridled Torah study, passionate Avodas Hashem, and deep love for every Jew. He accomplished all this despite the fact that he suffered deeply from Parkinson’s disease.

The fact that Rabbi Finkel was responsible for the financial stability of the largest Torah institution in the world, consisting of thousands of students, did not deter him, despite his feeble state. There were nights when he would have to lie flat on his coach because he was too weak to move, and could barely speak. And yet, even then, he would continue to grant students and visitors an audience with him.

One night a Rabbi from America whose wife was extremely sick came to Rabbi Finkel to solicit a blessing for his wife. At the time Rabbi Finkel was lying on his coach and motioned for the Rabbi to tell him why he had come. When the Rabbi finished relating the severity of the situation, Rabbi Finkel motioned for him to remove a Tehillim from the shelf. In a barely audible voice, Rabbi Finkel whispered, “You say Tehillim and I will cry along with you.”

For a few minutes the Rabbi recited the words slowly, while Rabbi Finkel listened intensely with tears coursing down his cheeks, as he wordlessly prayed for a woman he never met1.

During their formative years of life, Yaakov and Eisav lived in similar fashion. Once they reached adolescence however, their lives became very divergent. Yaakov remained in the tents of Torah, studying day and night. Eisav however, took to the fields, not only forsaking the physical House of Study, but its morals and values as well.

On the day of his holy grandfather’s death, Eisav committed five cardinal sins2. Yet Eisav managed to mask his sins from his father Yitzchak. Chazal explain that by asking Yitzchak complex halachic questions, Eisav cunningly duped his father into believing that he was learned and righteous. In fact, Yitzchak was prepared to give Eisav his blessing for world domination and eternal prosperity. How was that possible? How could Yitzchak, our holy forefather, have been so completely fooled by Eisav?

When Eliezer set out to find a wife for Yitzchak, his litmus test was that the young woman be prepared, not only to offer him water to drink, but to all of his servants and camels as well. The truth is that the entire event is extraordinary. Rivka, a young girl, chances upon an entourage at the foot of the well in the middle of the day. It was apparent that the leader of the group was a nobleman who had no dearth of capable servants to draw water for him and his camels. Still-in-all, Rivka immediately offered to do everything herself. So, while she was drawing and dragging bucket after bucket of water from the well for a group of complete strangers, the rest of the group was sitting on the side watching. It must be realized that drawing water from a well is incomparably more difficult than opening a faucet. Moreover, camels have the capacity to drink enough water to satisfy themselves for eleven days while traveling in the parched desert! The exhausting work must have taken Rivka a few hours in the midday sun.

If Rivka had asked for help, or if she gave up after three hours, or if she only offered water to Eliezer and his men but not the camels, would she no longer have been worthy to marry Yitzchak. Are we demanded to go to such outrageous lengths for the sake of chesed for a complete stranger?

On the third day after his circumcision, ignoring the intense pain he felt, ninety-nine year old Avrohom Avinu anxiously sat outside his tent despite the scorching heat of the day. When he noticed three Bedouins in the distance, he ran to them and implored them to join him. He catered to them like they were dignitaries and he prepared a feast for them as fitting.

Here too, we must wonder if we, the descendants of Avrohom, have the same responsibility in regard to performing acts of chesed. Are we obligated to search for lowly guests to invite them into our homes, and then to serve them so magnanimously?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that there is a preliminary fundamental dynamic that must be understood when one studies Chumash Bereishis. He explains the difference between the patriarchs and their descendants with a metaphor: There is a vast differentiation between pure unadulterated fire and the fire that we use for our daily use. The fire we use is combined with earth, water, and wind3. Our fires are limited as to the extent of how hot they can become, and they have a yellowish-orange tinge because of the other physical elements that combine with them. Genuine unadulterated fire however, contains limitless heat and is also colorless.

The difference between pure fire and the fires we come into contact with is the difference between the patriarchs and their descendants. Each of the patriarchs was the paragon of a fundamental characteristic which they instilled into their progeny. In a sense, their actions represented the unadulterated manner of service to G-d.

When Avrohom, and consequently Rivkah, performed acts of chessed, it was in the most perfect and extreme manner possible. Similarly, Yitzchak’s devotion and fear of G-d as well as his complete self-abnegation to G-d transcended normal human capacity. No matter what occurred, Yitzchok never questioned G-d. When he heard the voice of Yaakov but felt the hands of Eisav, he was perplexed, yet he gave his blessing anyway. When the ‘Palestinians’ openly lied and filled up his wells, Yitzchak picked up and left without ever answering them. Yitzchak lived with an intense awareness of G-d in every facet of his life.

Similarly, Yaakov’s devotion to truth and his staunchness in his morals and values which never wavered even in the house of Lavan for over two decades was uncanny.

A train can have many coaches but it will only be able to move all of them if the locomotive engine has sufficient power to overcome the initial inertia. If the engine is able to inject enough energy into the train to set the train’s trajectory in motion, the rest of the coaches will begin to follow suit.

Our patriarchs are the metaphoric engine at the front of the train. They had to excel in their unique characteristic to such an extent that it would be imbued into the genes of their descendants until the end of time.

Rabbi Pinkus then states that we must realize that we are NOT the disciples of the patriarchs. Rather, we are the children of the patriarchs. A teacher teaches his children how to behave; a parent initiates the proper path which their children should follow. Our patriarchs went well above and beyond the call of duty, in order to trail-blaze the path of life which we must follow. But they are not our teachers per se, in the sense that our actions don’t have to be on the same level as theirs.

With this in mind, we can also comprehend how Eisav duped Yitzchak. Just as our patriarchs excelled in their life’s mission, so too, did their opponents excel in their life’s mission. Eisav was no simple person. Just as Yaakov reached a level of perfection in righteousness, so too did Eisav reach a level of perfection in his deviousness and iniquity. In fact Eisav’s wiliness was so extreme that he was even able to fool his righteous father! Just as Avrohom, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were the paragons of kindness, spiritual strength, and truth so too, Eisav, Lavan, and to a certain extent Lot, were ‘paragons’ of chicanery, duplicity, and sin.

It is only Moshe who was crowned with the title ‘Rabbeinu- our teacher’ for he transmitted and taught Klal Yisroel Torah. Our patriarchs contributed the vital building blocks of the future Chosen Nation and that is why they are eternally the patriarchs. Our greatest leaders too demonstrate for us the extreme levels we must aspire for.

Our responsibility is to emulate their attributes, albeit not to the extent that they did. They were/are the engines that pull the eternal train called Klal Yisroel. Our responsibility is to make sure we are ‘coupled to their engine’ for then we can be confident that we will be pulled in the right direction toward the path of Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim.

“The voice is the voice of Yaakov”

“When will my actions reach the actions of my forefathers?”

1 Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman during a eulogy he delivered in memory of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Finkel zt’l.
2 He murdered, committed adultery, sold and disgraced his rights as the firstborn, denied the existence of G-d, and denied the concept of the eventual resurrection of the dead (Bava Basra 16).
3 Rambam (Hil. Yesodei HaTorah) writes that everything in the universe is composed of various levels of the combined forces of fire, water, earth, and wind.


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos/ Mevarchim Chodesh Kislev

28 MarCheshvan 5772/November 25, 2011

This past Sunday morning as I was delivering my weekly Rambam shiur after shacharis, my family neighbor from my youth, R’ Akiva Lane, walked in and sat down to listen. At the end of the shiur, he handed me a small notebook and said, “We were cleaning out our basement and we found this; it belongs to you.” I peered down at the cover of my fourth grade notebook! I should mention that the Lane family made aliyah a number of years ago. I have no idea how my notebook ended up in their home in the first place, but somehow it remained with them all these years.

By nature I am a copious note-taker and have many binders and notebooks full of notes from classes and lectures I have heard over the years. I try to write my notes in a manner that others could read my writings and understand them. Part of my inspiration for writing in such detailed fashion comes from my Zayde. Truthfully, it is not because he had such beautiful notes, but rather the opposite. His handwriting is very difficult to decipher, and he wrote brief thoughts on any pieces of paper he had available. There are short thoughts jotted on the back of invitations, tax forms, school papers, and advertisements. Those papers were left in his sefarim.

Over the years I have spent considerable amounts of time trying to decipher his writings. I have been successful in understanding some of them, but there is so much more that I still can’t quite make out. Whatever I have been able to understand is extremely precious to me.

Ben Franklin famously wrote:

“If you would not be forgotten, As soon as you are dead and rotten;

Either write things worth reading, Or do things worth writing.”

The Mishna in Avos states וקנה לך חבר" – Acquire for yourself a friend.” One of the commentaries offers a novel interpretation of these words: A קנה can also be translated as a reed, which used to be used as a quill for writing. Thus the Mishna is saying, “Your pen – will be your friend.”

When something is written, it’s documented forever (as long as you don’t lose it). I have letters that I received from my Grandmothers when I was a camper in camp as a child which are so precious to me, as well as letters from my parents, and even copies of letters I sent to others. The memories contained in those writings are invaluable. When I read them I find myself momentarily transported back to a different time and place in my life.

It was a fascinating experience to open the notebook and see my writings from so many years ago, from such a vastly different stage in my life.

That is a bit of the feeling I had when I opened up my fourth grade notebook with my old address - 19 Echo Ridge Rd - and our classic phone number 578-5787 (what a phone-number!) written in my nine year old handwriting on the front cover. That notebook had the steps of the korbanos which were brought in the Mishkan. Rabbi Shlomo Breslauer, my fourth grade rebbe, had us memorize all the steps, many of which I still remember.

It’s amazing how many memories are hidden away in old letters and an old notebook.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


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