Thursday, September 1, 2016


Rabbi Dani Staum

The peace of a Friday night in Jerusalem was shattered by an eruption of shouting and angry voices. Rabbi Rafael Grossman, the rabbi of a synagogue in Tennessee, peered out his hotel room window and saw a religious Jew blocking a taxi from pulling onto the road. The Israeli taxi driver was leaning out the window, shaking his fist, screaming invectively in response.
Rabbi Grossman went over to the religious Jew and noted that his point about Shabbos had been made and he should not allow the argument to escalate. Then he approached the taxi driver and gently requested that he not speak in such a violent and crass manner. Reaching into the back seat of his car, the driver took out a tallis and siddur and waved them at Rabbi Grossman. "You see this?" he exclaimed. "Tomorrow morning I will go to shul with my children, the way my father took me. I work tonight so I can afford to send my children to religious schools. He thinks he's more religious than I am. He’s wrong; I just don't have any alternative!"
Rabbi Grossman replied that he was moved by the driver’s deep concern for his family’s education. “I would love to get to know you better. Perhaps you and your family can join us at the hotel tomorrow for the Shabbos meal?"
The man was surprised by the expensive offer but Rabbi Grossman reassured him that he would be delighted by his attendance. The taxi driver shook his head and muttered that no one understands him. With that he drove off.
Rabbi Grossman went back to the religious Jew and noted that he should give the taxi driver the benefit of the doubt. Then he invited him to join him for the meal as well. The religious man too declined the offer and left.
The next day, Rabbi and Mrs. Grossman lingered over their meal, hoping that at least one of their guests would show up. They were about to give up when Rabbi Grossman noticed the taxi driver, approaching looking much more relaxed. He explained that he felt Rabbi Grossman was genuine, so he and his wife decided to come. He mentioned that they lived far away so it took them some time to walk. Rabbi Grossman noted how was impressed he was that they had walked, rather than drive.
They sat down and continued the meal together. After a few minutes the religious Jew arrived with his wife and three children.
At first the taxi driver turned away angrily. But with time the atmosphere warmed. The meal lasted for hours in friendly camaraderie.
In due time, the taxi driver and the religious Jew became good friends, and the taxi driver increased his commitment to Torah observance.
Years later, the two families became even closer - when they celebrated the wedding of their children to one another!

As they camped on the outskirts of the Promised Land, Moshe Rabbeinu reminded the nation that Eretz Yisroel would not tolerate sin, especially idolatry. The nation was charged to collectively eradicate all traces of idolatry from their midst. They were to ensure that no one would resort to the idolatry of their predecessors once they entered the Land.
Moshe also warned the nation to be vigilant of false prophets who speak falsely in the name of G-d. There is a specific obligation to scorn anyone who tries to convince him to veer from the path of Torah – even if it’s one’s closest relative.
“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter… entice you secretly saying, ‘Let us go and worship the god of others’… you shall not desire to him and not hearken to him… you shall surely kill him…”   
Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch shlita explains the Torah states that your brother is ‘the son of your mother’ to caution a person not to fall into the trap of one who tries to ensnare him to sin in a warm, motherly manner. This is the spiritually pernicious danger of one who tries to convince his friend that it is integral for his wellbeing for him to be less observant, or to cease keeping certain mitzvos. He may also point out the pleasure one needlessly forfeits by observing the Torah. Like a mother wants the best for her child and wants him to be comfortable and successful, the ‘enticer’ tells his friend that he only wants to see him happy.
It is to such arguments that the Torah warns, “You shall not desire to hearken to him.” Rashi explains that the Torah is admonishing him not to even want to hear his friend out. “Although the Torah commands ‘And you shall love your friend like yourself’, this person you shall not love.” Such a person is particularly wily and perilous, for he seems to genuinely care for his friend and his approach is full of love and friendship. But the Torah warns that listening to him will lead to spiritual disaster.

Most of the time, forces of sin do not appear malicious. In fact, the opposite is true. We are attracted to sin because it seems rosy and enticing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to remind ourselves just how damaging and dangerous sin is.
On the flip side, spiritual pursuits sometimes appear banal and trite. This causes people to not realize the spiritual fulfillment and inner joy one can attain when living a proper life based on Torah values. One of the reasons religion may appear that way is because that is often how it is observed. Many people go through the motions, lacking emotion and vitality in their observance, which ensures that their religious observance will indeed be boring and unfulfilling.

If one would ask any person with minimal familiarity of the Torah’s account of creation what was the first thing G-d commanded Adam in Gan Eden, he would probably reply that Adam was forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. However, Meshech Chochma notes that a careful study of the pasuk reveals that that is incorrect:
“G-d commanded the man saying, ‘From all the fruits of the tree you shall eat. But from the Tree of Knowledge, of good and bad, you must not eat thereof…’
G-d’s first instruction to Adam was about what he could eat. Adam was told that the Garden was virtually completely open to him to enjoy to his heart’s content. Only then was he instructed to refrain from eating from the one Tree of Knowledge.
At times Judaism is portrayed as a language of “no”. While indeed we have many restriction and prohibitions to maintain, G-d allows – or rather instructs – us to enjoy His creation, albeit according to and within the Torah’s parameters. But the Torah should not be observed, or taught, as a list of prohibitions, without first demonstrating the beauty and fulfillment one can experience from leading a Torah life.
The Ten Commandments too begin with five positive commandments which contain a framework for Torah living. It is only the latter five commandments which contain prohibitions against the most cardinal sins from which one must refrain.

The Torah is our guidebook for life and it must be portrayed as such. It is not a book of “no” but a regimented formula for fulfillment in life, spiritual satisfaction, and meaningful living. One does not foster love of Torah by forcing it onto others, but rather through living by example and exuding the love and joy that a Torah life brings.  

“If the son of your mother entices you secretly”
“From all the fruits of the tree you shall eat”

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


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