Thursday, April 26, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          At a gathering for alumni of Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim a few years ago, Rabbi Yisroel Bodenheim shlit’a, one of the Yeshiva’s esteemed Rabbeim, related the following story:
“This story happened over sixty years ago. There was a student in the Yeshiva who was a survivor of the Concentration Camps and the Holocaust. One night he had to take care of something important and he arrived at the Dining Room for supper a half-hour late. When he walked in, he immediately noticed that the tables were bare with only crumbs remaining in the empty bread baskets. To his chagrin, there was no cheese, eggs, or even vegetables for him to eat either.
He went over to one of the other students and asked him what happened to all the food; usually there would at least be some leftovers? The other student replied, “Oh, you missed some supper tonight!” He explained that although normally the Yeshiva provided the students with ‘black bread’ which was of relatively inferior quality and not as tasty, that afternoon the bakery ran out of the cheaper bread and the Yeshiva had to purchase the far more delectable ‘white bread’ for the students. To add to the feast, the cook decided to provide the boys with halavah to eat with the bread. “White bread with halavah! We practically had a party for supper. That’s why there’s not a morsel left over. It was consumed in record time.”
          The student was now extremely annoyed. Not only did he miss the ‘supper of the year’ but he was also still famished and there was nothing for him to eat. He rummaged through the cabinets and shelves until he found three hard stale pieces of bread. He wasn’t too pleased with his find but, realizing it was all he was getting for supper, he went to wash his hands. He sat down to eat his stale bread with a cup of tea, feeling very upset. As he chewed on the hard bread he began to contemplate, “Who am I angry at? I can’t be angry at the boys in Yeshiva or the baker; they aren’t expected to know to save food for me. Am I angry at myself? It wasn’t my fault that I came late either. I had something important to take care of.” The student suddenly realized, “Oiy! Woe is to me! I can only be angry at G-d! Two years ago while lying in my bunker in the Concentration Camp, I dreamed of eating three pieces of stale bread with tea and sugar; it would have been a delicacy of the greatest proportions. Now that G-d has provided me with so much more, the one night when I have to eat stale bread should I have complaints against him?!”
          The student later related that after that revelation he ate the rest of the bread with tremendous happiness. When he finished, he bentsched[1] with more intense concentration and appreciation than he ever had before in his life.
          Rabbi Bodenehim pointed out that that student fulfilled the timeless words of the Chovas Halvovos who explains that the reason why we lack appreciation to G-d and do not thank and bless Him properly is because we are either too used to the good He provides us with, or because we are frustrated since we want more than what we have[2]. “If a person wants white bread, then even though he has fresh black bread he feels like he has nothing! However if a person doesn’t desire more than what he has he will appreciate whatever he is graced with.”
          Rabbi Bodenheim concluded, “I have tried many times to emulate that occurrence. It is very difficult. Still, the lesson of appreciation that that student taught me has made a deep impression on me.”    

          Parshas Tazria commences with a discussion of the post-partum purification process of a new mother. As soon as a woman gives birth, she becomes ritually impure for a specific amount of time. The purification process is completed when she has waited the designated time and has offered a special offering in the Bais Hamikdash. 
          (12:6) “Upon the completion of the days of her purity for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a sheep within its first year for an elevation-offering and a young dove or turtle-dove for a sin-offering to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the Kohein.”  
The Birchas Ish[3] notes that the ‘tropp’[4] of the words, “for a son or for a daughter” is ‘zarka munach segol’ with the segol on the words, “for a daughter”. He explains that there is an important message here. Very often expectant parents are somewhat hopeful that their newborn will be a boy, for various reasons[5]. When one is blessed with a girl, despite the joy of the birth, there is often a tinge of disillusionment as well. It is for this reason that the tropp is a ‘segol’ for the word segol comes from the root-word segulah, a treasure[6].
Rabbi Shain explains that one must contemplate in his heart the pain and anguish he would have felt if, Heaven forbid, his daughter was born ill or diseased. How much money and effort would he be willing to expend to seek a cure for her! How much time would he spend searching for advice and traveling to specialists to ensure the best care for his precious yet feeble daughter! How many nights would he be forced to sleep away from home in hospitals or in homes of gracious hosts because of necessary travels and unaccommodating doctor appointments!
Imagine too if after many months of aggravation G-d blessed their efforts and the child recovered and became healthy. We can hardly imagine their feelings of thanksgiving and euphoric gratitude to G-d.
Bearing this in mind, if G-d endowed a family with a healthy vibrant girl at birth and spared them the travails and emotional angst of caring for a sick baby, they should recognize the blessing they have been granted. When they see that their child has every limb intact and all functioning properly their hearts should swell with sheer joy, thanking G-d for His great kindness, and the gift that He has blessed them with.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l lived his life with incredible appreciation for the miracles of nature and life. He often spoke about our obligation to recognize the supernatural miracles involved in the most commonplace nuances of our daily functioning.
During one of his lectures, Rabbi Miller quoted the Mishnah[7] which states that the world was created with ten ‘utterances’ from G-d, as it were. The Gemara[8] asks that in the Torah’s description of Creation it only mentions nine utterances from G-d[9]? The Gemarah answers that the first verse of the Torah, “In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth” was the first utterance of G-d. It differs only because the Torah doesn’t record it as a direct command like the other utterances.
The actual creation ex nihilo was the most remarkable of all. If so, why indeed did the Torah not write, “Vayomer Hashem yehi olam- And G-d said let there be a world”? What is the reason for the Torah’s unique recording of the first utterance?
Rabbi Miller explained that G-d wanted the command, “Let there be light” to be the first statement in the Torah. Therefore, G-d concealed the first utterance so that “Let there be light” would appear to be first. He explains, “The entire world is worthless unless you look at it and see it… Light conveys objects to our eyes; it enables us to see, and seeing is so very important to this world, because we must appreciate the great gift.
“Our function in this world is to look. We have to look at the sky, at the earth, at the trees, at ourselves… and be surprised at this miracle. It is only by seeing that a person can fulfill his obligation, which is to thank G-d for this world. Don’t think this obligation is a characteristic of the overly-pious; don’t think it’s for the very righteous. Every human in this world is obliged to look at this world and thank the Creator.” 

There is undoubtedly much pain and suffering in our world. However, that does not detract from the abounding beauty and blessing inherent in creation and in our own lives.
It’s not what we have but how much we appreciate it! Better is one who has less but appreciated more than one who has more but appreciates less.

“For a son or for a daughter”
“Let there be light!”

[1] recited Grace after Meals
[2] See Hakdamah to Sha’ar Habechinah
[3] Rabbi Avrohom Shain shlita
[4] cantellation marks for reading the Torah
[5] e.g. family name, customs, etc.
[6] Klal Yisroel is called ‘Am Segulah- the treasured nation’
[7] Avos 5:1)
[8] Rosh Hashanah 32b
[9] “And G-d said ‘let there be…’”


Post a Comment