Thursday, February 20, 2014


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


          Shortly before our wedding in February 2002 (Adar 5762), I was speaking with Rabbi Dovid Katzenstein shlita, the (then) Menahel (Dean) of my yeshiva, Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, at his home. We were discussing different aspects of marriage and he was offering some valuable advice. The last idea that he mentioned was perhaps the most important advice about marriage that I have ever heard.
          He related that several years earlier he was involved with a couple who were having some serious familial issues. The situation was deteriorating rapidly and they were in desperate need of guidance. They were hoping Rabbi Katzenstein could help them salvage their marriage.
          Rabbi Katzenstein met with each spouse individually to ensure that they would be able to express their feelings uninhibitedly. One of the points the wife raised was that she was very hurt that her husband never bought her any presents. When Rabbi Katzenstein recounted her complaint to the husband, he was quick to deny the allegation. “How can she say I never buy her anything? I always buy her a birthday present, a Chanukah present, and an anniversary present!?” 
          Rabbi Katzenstein explained that he was missing the point. “Of course it is nice (and necessary) to buy a gift for your wife on all of those occasions. However, those are not the gifts she is referring to. She is complaining about the lack of spontaneity; gifts out of the clear blue. If your wife likes red jelly beans, then on a Tuesday afternoon in November bring home a bag of red jelly beans for her. If she likes vanilla milkshakes, surprise her with a milkshake on a hot afternoon in July.
“It’s not the present that really counts. It’s the message that it sends; ‘I was thinking about you today.’ Your wife wants to know that you think about her even when she’s not with you. You have to go the extra mile to demonstrate your desire to invest in the marriage in order to show her that she is paramount in your mind.”

          When Moshe addressed Klal Yisroel to relate G-d’s precise instructions about the construct of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and to appeal from them all of the necessary materials for the construction, they were unexpectedly forthcoming. The materials were quickly donated with great exuberance and philanthropy. “Every man whose heart inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the portion of G-d for the work of the tent of Meeting, for all its labor and for the sacred vestments.”[1]
The response was so positive that Moshe was compelled to stop the campaign. “Moshe commanded that they proclaim throughout the camp, saying, “Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift of the sanctuary!” …the work had been enough… and there was extra.”[2]
          Their remarkable response demonstrated a genuine desire to rectify the spiritual damage they had wrought in committing the egregious sin of the golden calf. However, there was one elite group who did not respond with the alacrity and zeal of the rest of the nation. The verse notes that, “The leaders (נשאם) brought the Shoham stones and the stones for the setting for the Ephod and the Breastplate.”[3]
          Rashi cites R’ Nassan[4] who notes the word “נשאם - nesi’im – leaders”, is spelled without the two letter yuds that it normally has. The deficiency in the spelling of their title alludes to the deficiency in their donations to the Mishkan campaign. They assumed that the general contributions would be insufficient for the construction. Therefore, they magnanimously offered to shoulder the burden of providing everything that would not be donated by the masses. However, when the campaign was over there was virtually nothing left for the leaders to donate, except for the stones for the Ephod and Breastplate.
Although the intent of the leaders was noble, their initial passiveness was viewed as an inappropriate display of languidness.
          The commentators question the Torah’s criticalness of the leader’s response. In a sense, it seems like the end vilifies the means. Had the people indeed been indolent in their response as was expected and the leaders would have donated everything that was still needed, one would imagine that the leaders would have been lauded for their generosity. Should they then be criticized because they did not fathom the nation’s eager response and therefore had almost nothing left to give?
The situation seems analogous to a wealthy close friend who promises a newly married couple that - as a wedding gift - he would give them everything they didn’t receive from anyone else. Thus, instead of receiving another mixer, set of salad bowls, or a silver mezuzah case, the couple knows that they can count on that friend to get all the things they really want. Although that gift may lack surprise and novelty, it will surely be welcomed by the young couple.
Why then was the offer of the leaders viewed with such contempt?

The truth is that in order to understand the Torah’s criticalness toward their donation we must reexamine the analogy. What if it wasn’t a friend who was making this offer to a young couple but it was a groom making such an offer to his new bride? Just prior to the wedding he explains to her that he did not buy her a new piece of jewelry to give her on their wedding day because he knows that she will be receiving a great deal of jewelry as presents. However, he assures her that after all the wedding gifts have been opened, he would buy her whatever jewelry she wanted.[5]
One can imagine the contemptuous disdain that the bride would feel toward her groom. Although the groom may have meant well, he fails to realize that it’s not merely the beauty or value of the gift that matters. There is incredible sentimental value that a gift given on one’s wedding day possesses. The gift forever symbolizes the joy and love they feel for each other on that day and, therefore, the loss of such a gift is simply irreplaceable.
On their lofty spiritual level, the Princes were remiss in this regard. Had they felt the proper level of devotion and excitement to construct the House of G-d, they would have jumped to contribute without reserve. The “House of G-d” does not require physical material as much as it requires passion and the desire to be close to G-d and to perform His Service. The emotional excitement (or lack thereof) was more important than the amount of materials contributed.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn, noted lecturer and author, relates a personal story which taught him an important lesson: In the shul where he davens (prays) there was an older unmarried fellow with whom he maintained a convivial relationship. In fact, each Friday Night when they would meet in shul Rabbi Krohn would invite the man to join his family for the Shabbos seudah (meal).But each week the man politely declined.
One Friday night Rabbi Krohn decided to be insistent. In a jocular manner he told the man that he simply had to come. “I know that each week you have a reason why you can’t come, but this week we are not accepting any more excuses!”
The man asked Rabbi Krohn if he wanted to hear his real response. Realizing that he was about to be rebuked, Rabbi Krohn replied that he was prepared to hear what the man had to say. The man looked up and continued, “What nerve do you have to invite me to your home on Friday night? Don’t you think I make plans for Shabbos? Throughout the lonely week I try to figure out where I can squeeze myself in for a meal in the most unobtrusive manner. Then I come to shul and, after davening, as everyone is going home to eat their meals you invite me. Why don’t you think about me in the middle of the week? If you called me up on Wednesday night I would gladly oblige. But being invited just prior to the meal sends a message that you think I am an unfortunate soul with nowhere to go!”
Although he was the subject of the rebuke, Rabbi Krohn relates this story so that others can learn from his mistake. In fact, after hearing the story, I realized that the message of the story was personally applicable. Each week shortly before Shabbos my wife and I make it a point to call our parents and my Bubby in order to wish them a good Shabbos. The truth is that we are in contact with our parents throughout the week. Therefore, the ‘Erev Shabbos phone call’ is generally terse. We only call to wish them ‘a good Shabbos’.
When my Bubby was still living alone in her Manhattan apartment throughout the week, we would often only see her or speak to her on weekends. I realized that the brief two minute phone call Erev Shabbos was insufficient. At that time, many of my Bubby’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren would also call her to wish her a Good Shabbos. It was also a hectic time when she was making her final preparations for Shabbos. Although she undoubtedly valued our phone calls, that was not the time when she could use it most.
I realized that a phone call in the middle of the week would mean so much more to her. I tried to make it a point to call her once a week during a mid-week morning or evening. If one of my children was in the vicinity and I gave them the phone to say a quick hello to “Bubby Kohn” it is that much more meaningful. Although our conversations were usually quick, (we may discuss the weather, what new milestones my children have reached, and how she was feeling) I knew that the message the phone call sent her was far more valuable. It conveyed to her that we were thinking about her. As she sat alone in her apartment with the news blaring in the background as her only company, she was reminded that she has children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who were thinking about her.[6]

          I once heard the following classic thought: “Men think women love flowers even though they die. The truth is that women love flowers because they die!”
Building and fostering relationships is an ongoing process that requires long-term repeated investment.
“The leaders brought the Shoham stones”
“Every man whose heart inspired him came”

[1] 35:21
[2] 36:6-7
[3] 35:27
[4] Bamidbar Rabbah 12:16
[5] [Note: It is NOT advisable to try this at home!]
[6] Currently, my Bubby lives at Fountainview Assisted Living in Monsey. Now that she is local, I try to visit her each week. May Hashem grant her many more healthy years.  


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