Thursday, October 6, 2016



[1]“There was a wonderful Jew I knew named Reb Moshe Chaim Berkowitz z’l, who passed away on Succos 1997. He was a Holocaust survivor and as an incredible ba’al tzedakah.[2] His brother, Reb Elya Berkowitz, is 92 years old ka’h and lives in Monroe, NY.
“I once heard that when Moshe Chaim was on the infamous Nazi death march with his brother Elya, at one point he dropped to the floor. He had no energy to go on and he resigned himself to the bitter fate of anyone who stopped moving.
“Elya bent down and quickly whispered in his brother’s ear “Before you die, let’s learn one more mishna together.” They learned the mishna quickly. After they did so, Moshe Chaim felt revitalized and arose to continue marching. He survived the war and built a family of Torah observant Jews. 
“I once asked Moshe Chaim’s son, Abby Berkowitz, if the story is true. He replied that, not only was it true, but there were other instances during the war when his father’s life was saved because his uncle learned ‘one last mishna’ with him.
“When I related this story to Rabbi Eitan Feiner[3], he immediately replied that I should check up the Ohr Gedalyahu on Yom Kippur, page 28.
“Rav Gedalyah Schorr there explains that one can feel an incredible chiyus (vitalization) from a mitzvah commensurate with how much chiyus he invests in performing that mitzvah.
Rav Schorr explains that Nadav and Avihu died when they offered a fire in the Mishkan on the day of its inauguration, because they had not been commanded to offer that fire. Normally when one invests their complete selves into the performance of a mitzvah, the mitzvah returns the favor, and infuses the doer with an infusion of vivaciousness and life. But in this situation when Nadav and Avihu brought the fire on their own volition and there was no mitzvah, their actions caused their own death.
“When one invests in a mitzvah, he is the greatest beneficiary of that mitzvah!”

Every morning when we recite birchas haTorah we bless Hashem as the "מלמד תורה לעמו ישראל" - the one who teaches Torah to His nation, Yisroel. The truth is that Hashem gave us the Torah at Sinai, and since then it’s been transmitted by the sages of each generation. How can we still declare that Hashem is still teaching us Torah?
Reb Aryeh Kastenbaum[4] offered the following explanation: The beracha begins with us beseeching Hashem, "והערב נא", that Hashem allow us to feel and appreciate the sweetness of Torah. The one who shows someone the sweetness of Torah, which in turn instills within that person a desire to continue learning, he is responsible for all of that person’s Torah learning! Therefore, because Hashem makes the Torah sweet for us, He is our ultimate teacher of Torah!
It’s an amazing concept! The implication of this idea is that a Rebbe who inspires students, is not only meritoriously accountable for all of the Torah he actually taught those students, but he is also responsible for all of the Torah that the student learns, due to that Rebbe’s helping him recognize the geshmak of Torah. A fifty-year-old man with children and grandchildren who doesn’t miss a day of learning with a chavrusa, may attribute his love and passion for learning to one particular elementary school rebbe who kindled that love through his own passionate love of Torah. That elementary school rebbe isn’t just a past memory. On a certain level he continues to be the rebbe of that fifty-year-old man, and may well continue to be for all of his life. 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to have a discussion with my rebbe and Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein, various issues regarding chinuch in contemporary society. During that discussion I noted how challenging it is to try to teach students in a world of so many competing interests and distractions. In passing I said something about ‘inspiring my students”. At that point Rabbi Wein stopped me and said “That’s it! That’s our main objective today; to inspire!” That has to be our main goal – if we can inspire our students then we have a chance. 
These days we have a proliferation of inspiration and there’s no dearth of captivating speakers and inspirational messages, with beautiful graphics and pictures. There’s more inspiration readily available for us today than there was even a few years ago. And yet we seem to need so much more chizuk.
The reason is because inspiration will only carry a person so far. The only way inspiration can have any lasting effect is if we put in the effort to contemplate and review the idea. But if we hear the ideas, enjoy them, and then move on, they will be like an illuminating candle, which casts its light and then melts into the shadows.

On the day of his death, Moshe Rabbeinu instructed Klal Yisroel with the final of the 613 mitzvos:
“Now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to B’nei Yisroel, place it in their mouth…”[5]
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt’l[6] relates that if a world-renown professor or doctor comes to visit a town, and it’s announced that he will be delivering a lecture on the intricate workings of his area of greatest expertise, most laymen would have little interest in attending. The common person realizes that without much background in that area he will probably have no idea what the lecturer is talking about.
However, if a great musician or conductor would arrive in a city to perform, even those who do not know the fine intricacies of music, may come to enjoy the music. They may not appreciate the depth and intricacy of the symphony, but they can still enjoy the music on their own level.
Hashem instructed Moshe to teach Torah to B’nei Yisroel as a song which can be ‘placed in their mouths’. The Torah should not be taught as a scholarly work which can only be studied by scholars. Rather, the Torah can and must be appreciated on all levels, like a melodious song which can move everyone. The Torah must be taught and transmitted in a manner in which it touches and reaches the heart of every Jew, whatever level he or she is on.
The Torah is our ultimate treasure and the greatest conduit of our ability to connect with G-d, as it were. That itself is sufficient reason to cherish its every word.

 “Write this song… place it in their mouths”
“Please make it sweet – Hashem, our G-d, the words of Your Torah, in our mouths…”

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

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[1] This story and the subsequent idea about Hashem being considered our teacher of Torah, I heard from my friend, Rabbi Yechiel Weberman - Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei 5775
[2] Rabbi Yochanan Zweig’s yeshiva in Miami was renamed in his memory.
[3] Rabbi of the White Shul, Congregation Knesseth Israel, of Far Rockaway
[4] Rabbi Weberman related that Aryeh (Leonard) Kastenbaum lives in his neaighborhood. Aside from the fact that he is respected as a tremendous ba’al tzedakah, his davening is a sight to behold. He doesn’t daven, he literally speaks to Hashem. Davening starts at 7:30 and he continues his ‘conversation with Hashem’ until 9:00. In Rabbi Weberman’s words, “He is the sincerest person you will ever meet”.  

[5] Devorim 31:19
[6] Derech Aggadah


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