Friday, November 23, 2012


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


I have often thought it peculiar that Americans publicize their own fallacies. While they might not wear their deficiencies on their sleeves per se, they definitely advertise one of their most core problems on their shirts: GAP!
There is indeed a serious gap in our overall sense of fulfillment and quality of happiness. Everyone seems to be searching for a life of bliss, and yet happiness eludes the vast majority of Americans. There is something missing, and many cannot seem to put their finger on it. The question is how can they fill that GAP[1]?  

The Ba’al Haturim notes that Parshas Vayeztei is the only parsha in the Torah which has absolutely no breaks from beginning until end. Characteristically, in the Torah scroll there are periodic breaks, analogous to chapter headings[2]. Parshas Vayetzei however, reads like one elongated chapter.
Rav Gedalia Schorr zt’l[3] explained that Parshas Vayetzei contains the story of Yaakov Avinu in exile. At the beginning of the parsha he departs from the spiritual comforts of his parent’s home and travels to the home of his duplicitous uncle (and soon-to-be father-in-law) Lavan in Charan. In Lavan’s home he encounters numerous challenges to his integrity and endurance. Yet he perseveres and raises a family of twelve righteous sons from his four wives. After twenty-two years, he has to escape Lavan’s home like a fugitive in the night. As he nears home he prepares for his fateful encounter with his vengeance-seeking brother, Eisav. 
Our Sages explain that the empty spaces in the Torah symbolize the need for a cognitive break in order to process and internalize the lessons embedded in the previous verses. Yaakov Avinu however, could not afford any cognitive breaks per se. To successfully transcend the challenges of exile Yaakov had to maintain his psychological connection with his parent’s ideals and values. That is how he remained committed despite the isolation of exile.  
Rav Schorr quotes the Zohar which states that if a person has to descend into a deep pit, he first secures a rope to a rock above ground and only then begins to slowly lower himself into the abyss. All the while he maintains his tight grasp on the rope, even as he allows himself to descend further. That rope is his lifeline to the world above and he needs it to hoist himself out when the time comes.
Yaakov needed to maintain an inextricable attachment with all he had accomplished and was connected to prior to his departure. There was no place for a gap of any kind. Even while physically living in the home of Lavan, Yaakov had to still be mentally connected with the home of Yitzchak and Rivkah, as well as the yeshivos in which he had studied Torah. He left as the one who “dwelled in tents”, and had to ensure that, at least cognitively, he never left those tents. 

It is prevalent in our circles that young men and women spend a year or more engaged in Torah study, whether abroad or closer to home. When that year/years comes to an end and life proceeds rapidly with all of its endemic pressures it becomes increasingly challenging to maintain a connection with the spiritual highs experienced during the time spent in yeshiva/seminary.
Many young men and women develop dreams and aspirations during their time of study about how they would like to build their home and family, and about its level of religiosity and commitment to Torah and mitzvos observance. But as the realities of life run their course those dreams are often lost in the nebulous winds of time.
One of the greatest defenses against the tragic loss of such lofty aspirations is to maintain a connection with that experience. That small connection keeps the experience as well as those dreams and hopes in the forefront of one’s mind and lends a certain passion to those hopes and goals. A few examples follow:
Every Friday the Mirrer Yeshiva of Yerushalayim emails a Torah thought from one of its Rabbeim to its thousands of alumni. Every Friday as those alumni find that email, even before they read the d’var Torah, it secures a connection with their yeshiva years.  
For the last few years virtually every Thursday at 2 p.m. Rabbi Yisroel Reisman[4] delivers 10-15 minutes of Torah thoughts based on the parsha or current events via phone. There is a number to call in to hear it live. The divrei Torah are then transcribed and emailed.
Although anyone can listen the system was created for Rabbi Reisman’s former students to reconnect with their rebbe every week. Although I am not an actual student of Rabbi Reisman[5] I enjoy listening/reading the divrei Torah. I find it especially meaningful when Rabbi Reisman quotes a gemara or a commentary and says ‘You may remember this point from when we learned this sugya (topic) in yeshiva’. It’s an instant reconnection with those days spent engrossed in Torah learning while in yeshiva.  
Chabad shluchim (emissaries) dispatched all over the world, maintain constant connection with Chabad’s headquarters in Crown Heights. In addition every year there is a mass gathering of all of the shluchim in Brooklyn.
Those who studied in yeshivos often have pictures of their Roshei Yeshiva hanging in their homes. That too serves as a beautiful reminder to the entire family of where one attributes and maintains his roots in Torah and Avodas Hashem[6].  

Life moves at a frenzied pace, and only seems to pick up speed as the years pass. While everyone has certain ‘bridges to burn’ and get past, it is vital that we maintain and strengthen our spiritual bridges to the roots of our past. That is the only way to ensure that the gap of exile doesn’t develop within us. That is how Yaakov maintained his greatness in the home of Lavan; there was never a gap!

“Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan[7]
“Yaakov… called the name of that place Machanayim[8]

[1] Switching to Old Navy just won’t solve the core issue…
[2] Those ‘breaks’ are known as ‘pesuchos’ (open) or ‘stumos’ (closed) depending how large the break is.
[3] Ohr Gedalya
[4] Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Madison and Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaas. He is also a noted lecturer and author.
[5] Although through his shiurim and the aforementioned divrei Torah I am a student many times over…
[6] Although I am sure there are some seminaries that do send such periodic emails to their alumni, I am unsure why many seminaries do not do so. Womern at all stages of life can surely use that chicuk, especially as the pressures of life mount.
[7] Opening verse of Parshas Vayetzei
[8] Final verse in Parshas Vayetzei 

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei
9 Kislev 5773/November 23, 2012

Did you get that text message on Tuesday night? Did you get it from numerous people?
“Please set aside two minutes of your time! The army is entering Gaza. Rabbanim are asking everyone to say Tehillim 130, 121, 83, 20, 91, 143. Fwd 2 whoever u can. Ty.”
For one, there was is the blatant problem that the text was disseminating information that was simply untrue. The invasion did not occur b’h. Making people more nervous than they already are is not to be taken lightly. For those who have family members who are soldiers, and even all of us who are davening and hoping for the welfare of our brethren, it compounded our fear for no reason.
Personally I am also bothered by the ‘text craze’. It isn’t uncommon to receive a text from someone with an urgent message with no author attached to it, that has been forwarded many times over, and ends with the words (as this one did) “Don’t break the chain.” No one wants to be the malevolent evildoer who breaks the chain, so everyone keeps forwarding the text to everyone on their contact list.
I remember a certain Rabbi once saying that he feels that it is meaningless for a man to give his wife flowers every single week. He argued that when it becomes a standard gift each week it loses its appeal. It becomes expected and is no longer valued for its sentiment.
Whether you agree with his point or not, it is thought-provoking. Something that seems to constantly happen and doesn’t entail much thought or innovation lacks poignancy.   
I certainly have nothing against people davening for someone who is sick or in a desperate situation. Au contraire; there is nothing greater than the power of tefillah. If we can convince others to daven as well we should always try to do so. But from personal census I have found that people feel that they have done their share by forwarding such texts even without adhering to its message to actually daven. And because we get such texts so often and they are so easily sent around without anyone seeming to know who sent them, they quickly lack their ability to emotionally move us.
The Kotzker Rebbe lamented the fact that people seem more dedicated to minhagim (customs) than halachos (laws). He suggested that if G-d would have given us ‘the Ten Minhagim’ in the luchos at Sinai, people would be much more apt to keep them properly.
When these text messages go out everyone feels they must immediately forward them. We fear the accusing angel coming to us in our dreams waving an accusatory finger at us and saying “YOU! You were the one who broke the chain!”
Perhaps we should send urgent texts each morning that z’man kriyas Shema is in just three minutes: “Urgent. You only have three minutes left to say Shema before the z’man. Rabbonim ask that you please say all three parshios asap. Please fwd 2 as many people as you can. Don’t break the chain. OMG wants us to do so.”
I fear that people may perceive the wrong message from what I am writing. If someone is in need of assistance or prayers within a community, texting/emailing is a wonderful means to get that message out to the community as quickly and efficiently as possible. The same holds true within a family, G-d forbid. But I question the effectiveness of such texts and emails on a mass scale, especially when no one knows the source.
May we only need to share and hear good – and accurate – news.

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

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


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