Friday, September 18, 2015


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


On January 23, 1996, Pastor Joe Wright was invited to open the new session of the Kansas House of Representatives. It was expected that he would recite a moving prayer and then step down. However, according to an article in the Kansas City Star from January 24, 1996, his prayer stirred tremendous controversy. Many criticized the prayer; one member of the legislative body even walked out. 
The following is the text of the witty and acerbic prayer that Pastor Wright related in front of the House:

 “Heavenly Father,
“We come before You today to ask Your Forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ''Woe to those who call evil good,'' but that's exactly what we have done.
“We have lost our Spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that; we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism; We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism; We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle; We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery; We have neglected the needy and called it self preservation; We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare; We have killed our unborn and called it choice; We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable; We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem; We have abused power and called it political savvy; We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition; We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression; We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
“Search us, O G-d, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of this state and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state of Kansas. Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your Will.”

“Moshe then gave orders to the Levites who carried the Ark of G-d’s covenant, saying, ‘Take this Torah scroll… that it may be there as a witness…”[1]
Rambam[2] states: “One who sits before a Torah scroll should do so with a serious demeanor, in awe and fear, because it is the faithful witness for all mankind; as it is written, ‘That it may be there as a witness for you.”
What does it mean that the Torah will be a witness? What kind of testimony can an inanimate object testify? How does the Torah bear witness for anything? Also, who does the Torah repeat its testimony to? It can’t be to G-d because G-d knows everything anyway.
Harav Avigdor Nebenzhal, Rabbi of the old city of Yerushalayim, explains as follows: Shlomo Hamelech wrote, “G-d has made man upright, but they have sought many intrigues.”[3] G-d created man in His image and invested within him an innate sense of right and wrong. Based on one’s own unadulterated intuition he can sense what G-d expects of him. It was imprinted onto his conscience and soul.
Our patriarch Avrohom bore proof to this, for he was able to sense G-d’s Will through his own logic. “G-d made Avrohom’s two kidneys serve as two teachers for him, and these welled forth and taught him Torah and wisdom.” The idea that the Sages were conveying is that Avrohom was able to understand and subsequently observe the entire Torah, even the Oral Law, based on his own ponderings and contemplations.
If man was able to achieve such greatness prior to the giving of the Torah, his potential for greatness increased exponentially after the Torah was given. The Torah is G-d’s gift to us as the guidebook and manual for life. The Torah teaches man what is expected of him, and what is moral and just. The Torah also serves as the resource that helps a person evaluate his own spiritual standing to surmise whether he has been fulfilling his obligations or not. When one reads the words of the Torah, (together with the timeless explanations of its classic commentaries) he can evaluate his own adherence or lack thereof to its demands.
When the Torahs says that it itself, “shall bear witness to you” it should be understood to mean that, “the Torah will testify through you”. The Torah will help one know himself. Thus, it serves as a witness for each individual. This faithful witness will reveal with incredible accuracy whether one’s own deeds are fueling the divine spark implanted within him, or if his actions leave something to be desired. The Torah is the ultimate self-help guide to help us bear witness about ourselves. 

The gemara[4] has a detailed discussion about the dangers of ignoramuses, the deleterious effect they can have on others. The gemara concludes that one must maintain a safe distance from them. As part of that discussion Rabbi Eliezer stated: “Were it not that they needed us for business ventures, they would murder us.”
It is one thing to say that an ignoramus is liable for not learning more and that he is worthy of censure for his indolence and lackadaisical attitude toward Torah and mitzvos. But it is another thing to assert that they are suspect of murdering Torah scholars. How can Rabbi Eliezer accuse them of being suspect of such heinous sin?
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explained that an ignoramus does not exercise his own cognition and therefore he is deeply affected by his surroundings. He does whatever everyone else is doing because he wants to ‘go with the flow’ and not stand out. If murder were to become the norm in society the ignoramus would commit murder too.
Rabbi Pinkus continued by relating a painful story involving Rabbi Michoel Ber Weismandel zt’l, a heroic G-d fearing Torah scholar who was heavily involved in trying to save Jews during the Holocaust. During the war, Rabbi Weismandel was desperately trying to raise funds in order to bribe high ranking Nazi officers so that he could smuggle Jews out of the Nazi inferno and into safe havens. On one occasion he met with distinguished and influential Professor, a nonobservant Jew, to ask for his assistance in putting together the badly needed funds. The professor replied that he could not contribute any money because it was illegal for an American to send resources to benefit the German government. The professor then added, “Besides, I am a chemist and I know for a fact that the gas the Nazis use to kill their prisoners kills them painlessly.” 
Rabbi Weissmandel later commented that if someone would voice a similar sentiment today he would be censured and condemned for saying something so heartless and disgusting. That is because in our time killing and persecuting Jews is not in vogue. At that time however, when the blood of Jews flowed like water, he was able to make such a ludicrous comment without fear.
Rav Pinkus himself continued that he understood the wisdom of the gemara based on a personal incident. During a doctor strike in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Pinkus’s son fell and cut open his knee and had to be rushed to the Emergency Room. The nurse who examined him realized that the situation was serious but she had no idea how to proceed. She asked a passing doctor to examine him. The doctor glanced at the knee briefly and concluded that he needs surgery. Then the doctor smiled and abruptly walked out.
In his own words, “I thought to myself that if my son was, G-d forbid, dying, the doctor would not have left so quickly. He would have spent the time saving his life. But that is only because the organizers of the strike did not intend for doctors to allow patients to die. However, if the organizers were so angry that they had demanded that no doctors perform any medical procedures whatsoever, a doctor devoid of personal morals would even allow the patient to die, because that is what was in vogue at the time.” 
Rav Pinkus continues that although we have three patriarchs, we have a special affinity for Avrohom Avinu. This can be seen by the fact that the opening blessing in Shemoneh Esrei concludes by blessing G-d who is the ‘shield of Avrohom’. Although we mention all three patriarchs in the blessing, the conclusion mentions only Avrohom. Why?
Avrohom was unabashed and would not be intimidated; he was willing to challenge the views and morality of the entire world. Avrohom demonstrated that his service to G-d was genuine and touched his inner core. The authenticity and realness of Avrohom’s relationship with G-d is the lodestar which we strive to reach.
Therefore, Rav Pinkus concludes, one must know himself very intimately to decide if he is truly a G-d fearing person or merely going through the motions like everybody else. The only way one can truly ascertain whether he is meeting that goal is by studying the Torah and knowing what it demands and expects.   
Our connection to Torah has to be genuine and penetrate within us. It isn’t sufficient just to be observant because everyone else is doing so.   

Take this Torah scroll…
 …that it may be there as a witness”

[1] Devorim 31:25-26
[2] conclusion of Hilchos sefer Torah
[3] Koheles 7:29
[4] Pesachim 49b


Post a Comment