Thursday, November 8, 2012


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

This Stam Torah is lovingly dedicated l’zecher nishmas my Zayde, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, whose yahtzeit is this Monday, 27 Cheshvan. He truly was a person about whom it could be said Un Er Hut Gelebt!  He lived life with a cheerful pleasantness, and with a sense of meaning and purpose dedicated to Hashem and His People.


The Kotzker Rebbe[1] was once testing a class of young cheder boys who had just completed learning Parshas Bereishis. One of the boys was reading the verses which detail the genealogy of the ten generations from Adam to Noach toward the conclusion of the parsha. The syntax of those verses are very similar, as they briefly state that each father had a child, lived for a specific amount of years, and then died.
The young boy confidently began, “Vayechi”, which he proceeded to translate into Yiddish, “Un er hut gelebt[2]”. Then he continued, “Vayamos- Un er is geshturben[3].” Then again by the next descendant the young boy read, “Vayechi – Un er hut gelebt”; “Vayamos- Un er is geshturben”.
The Rebbe stopped the boy and told him that he was reading the verses incorrectly. He instructed the boy to read them again. The boy repeated the verses as he had the first time, which was how his Rebbe had taught them. The Rebbe told the boys that he would teach them how to read the verses properly. He began by announcing loudly, “Vayechi- UN ER HUT GELEBT!” Then, in a barely audible voice he whispered, “Vayamos- un er is geshturben”. Then again the Rebbe exclaimed loudly, “Vayechi- UN ER HUT GELEBT” and again in an undertone, “Vayamos- un er is geshturben.”
The Rebbe was impressing upon the boys that one must live with excitement and vibrancy. Death is expressed with a sedated and hushed demeanor, while life is a dynamic experience of growth and purpose.

Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l added an insight to the aforementioned thought. Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim[4] “I shall not die! I shall live and recount the deeds of G-d” The simple understanding of these words is that Dovid was exclaiming that he will not be deterred by his enemies; he will survive their efforts to destroy him and he will continue to praise G-d. On a deeper level however, he was exclaiming that he will not die while he is still living. Rather he would live his life vivaciously and passionately, with an appreciation of every day that he is granted upon this earth.

“And it was the life of Sarah: one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; those were the years of the life of Sarah.” The opening verse seems redundant. Why does it repeat “the life of Sarah”?
After the Torah concludes its narrative of the ordeal of Avrohom and Ephron purchasing the Cave of Machpelah as a burial plot for Sarah, the Torah states, “Avrohom was coming with his days, and G-d blessed him with everything.” How does one come with his days?
The Zohar explains that in the heavenly world of truth life is not measured by the physical years one’s heart was beating in this world, but rather based on spiritual accomplishment. For example, a man dies and appears before the heavenly courts. An angel calls out, “Here comes Moshe ben Tzvi. He was twenty-two years old.” Moshe isn’t very happy with that announcement. “Wait a moment”, he protests, “I was ninety years old at the time of my death. I even had great grandchildren.” The angel replies, “Let’s examine your life. Half of your life you spent in bed so that doesn’t count for much up here. Then there was all that time you ate, drank and busied yourself with your physical needs. You also had quite a few vacations and luxury time, and you spent a considerable amount of time conversing with friends or ‘shooting the breeze’. You did indeed daven each day and you learned Torah periodically and were sporadically involved in some chesed. Up here the only thing that counts is the time you spent in spiritual pursuits , and in your case that only amounts to twenty-two years.”
Moshe is quite disheartened but he stays to watch the proceedings. A few moments later a sixty year old man who died suddenly enters the courtroom. The angel appears again and announces, “Here comes Aryeh ben Reuven; fifty-five years old.” Moshe ben Tzvi is quite upset. “Wait a minute, he also spent considerable time eating, drinking, and tending to his physical needs. Perhaps he learned and prayed more than I did, but there’s no way that he busied himself solely in spiritual matters for fifty-three years!”
The angel responds, “It is true that he also spent much time involved in physical pursuits. But the difference between you and him lies in the intent behind your actions. Reuven’s ultimate goal in life was to serve G-d. Therefore, all of the moments he spent eating, sleeping, working, and even some of his vacation time, is counted in his spiritual years, because he utilized all for his ultimate goal of spiritual growth. You however did not have any such motive; your indulgence was for your own enjoyment. The mindset made all the difference!” 
Avrohom Avinu ‘came with his days’ in the sense that every day of his physical life was ‘deposited’ in his spiritual life account. Thus, when Avrohom was one hundred years old in this world, in heaven they too viewed him as being one hundred years old. Avrohom’s every action, even when he tended to his physical needs, was only for the sake of serving G-d to the maximum of his capabilities.
In explaining the aforementioned verse about the life of Sarah, the Medrash[5] quotes the verse in Tehillim,[6] “G-d knows the days of his complete (i.e. sincere) ones and their inheritance will be eternal”. The Medrash then comments: “Just as the righteous ones are complete, so too are their lives complete.”
Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l explains that in the words of the Medrash lies the key to understanding the opening verse of the parsha. As mentioned, one who merits physical longevity may not be credited for all his years in heaven. The righteous however, who are ‘complete in all their ways’ live complete lives in that every moment of their life is credited to them eternally. The days of Sarah were one hundred and twenty seven, not only in physical years, but as the verse concludes, “those were the years of the life of Sarah”, i.e. in the celestial world of truth as well.
Avrohom and Sarah together lived a life dedicated to promulgating and teaching about G-d and living an elevated life. They truly lived!

During the 1950’s Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l, who later emerged as one of the great leaders of Torah Jewry in America, was an elementary school Rebbe in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. One day just before dismissal, Rav Pam began teaching a long Tosafos[7].
One of the students complained that they would not have enough time to finish the Tosafos, and therefore it was pointless to begin. Rav Pam replied that in Gemara Bava Basra 29a, in the commentary of Rashi there is a note that says, “Here Rashi died! The commentary for the remainder of the tractate is (Rashi’s grandson) Rav Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam).” Why does the note have to be worded in such a fashion? Rav Pam explained that Rashi surely had some premonition that his end was near. He surely knew that he wasn’t going to be able to complete his monumental commentary on the entire tractate. One would expect that someone who knows he is about to die, would spend his final hours saying good-bye to family and friends. Rashi however, understood that there is no better way to spend one’s last moments of life than by immersing himself in Torah, even though Rashi was aware that he would not be able to complete his work. Therefore, Rav Pam felt it was worth beginning the Tosafos even if they were sure they would not have the chance to finish it.

“Those were the years of the life of Sarah”

[1] Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern zt’l 
[2] and he lived
[3] and he died
[4] 118:17
[5] Bereishis 58:1
[6] Tehillim 37:18
[7] Tosafos’ commentaries are printed on the side of the standard Vilna edition printing of the Talmud. Their comments are often lengthy and thought-provoking, and require patient analysis and contemplation.  

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
24 Cheshvan 5773/November 9, 2012

A few years ago Chani and I spent some time vacationing on Cape Cod. During one of those days we took a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard where we rented some bikes to pedal along a beautiful trail that ran alongside the bay. As we proceeded we enjoyed the scenic panorama all along the way. A few times way we stopped to rest, take a breather, and take a picture or two. Each time Chani asked me if we could meander around the area and enjoy the views in the serene setting. But I was set on getting to the end of the trail in the village of Eatontown. I was sure the sight at the end of the trail was most breathtaking of all and would be worth the extra exertion to get there.
When we got to Eatontown we were quite disappointed. It was indeed a peaceful and pleasant town bordering the water. But it was nothing like the idyllic vacant path we had just traversed. There were stores, restaurants, cars, and regular pedestrian traffic, as in any town. I had foolishly forged on to complete the path, but in doing so I had forfeited the enjoyment we could have had if I would have allowed myself to enjoy the moment.
Isn’t that the story of our lives? Aren’t we always thinking that just around the next bend is the key to happiness?
Someone once noted that people often rationalize that at the next stage of life they will be able to appreciate what they have. A child feels constrained and thinks his adolescent years will grant him maturity and identity. The adolescent pines for early adulthood when he will have free reign over a car, set his own guidelines and live a blissful, self-regulated life. The young adult who is dating and/or trying to make a living is certain that as soon as he/she finds a spouse and a good job life will be set. Then children come along with all the challenges of child-rearing along with its tremendous responsibilities. The parents are sure that as soon as the children are married and self-sufficient, they will be able to retire and enjoy their golden years. When those years finally arrive, even if one is blessed with self-sufficient children who have families of their own, he/she cannot help but wonder where life has gone, and what has become of the wonderful memories of years gone by. “Why didn’t I appreciate it then?!”
Hurricane Sandy was very challenging, and for many its devastating effects will linger for a long time. During such trying moments one can only focus on one day at a time. No one knows when power will go back on, whether businesses and schools will open tomorrow, or whether the gas crisis will finally resolve itself. Even an imminent landmark presidential election with massive ramifications which has riveted the attention of the nation for months, was temporarily put on hold as people focused on survival and basic needs.
The refrain expressed repeatedly is “we lost a lot but thank G-d we are all safe.” The moments when people heroically rise to the occasion, appreciate what they have, and live in the moment also linger for a long time.
Surely we do not want such tragedies to ever strike us. But if somehow we can hold onto that appreciation for the moment we would live more enriched and happier lives.
Last week our community lost a mentor who taught us this lesson by example. Howard Israel a’h, was a dear friend, who seemed to have a perpetual smile etched on his face. At his funeral his wife Susan remarked that she remembers only 4 times (!) during 31 years of marriage when she saw Howard become angry. And each time he calmed down relatively quickly and it was over. Another son noted that he had never seen his father get angry - ever!
Even during his last two years while he was ill and feeble he never lost his drive and zest for life. No matter how physically drained he was from treatments and surgeries, when asked how he was his answer was always the same – ‘fantastic’! He was never willing to capitulate. Shortly after completing brain surgery this summer, the day he was discharged from the hospital he walked in to shul for Mincha with that omnipresent smile on his face, to the shock of the kehilla.
We will miss him not only as a beloved neighbor and friend, but also as one who taught us not only how to count our days, but also how to make our days count by appreciating all of the blessings of life, including life itself.
Yehi zichro baruch!    

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425


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