Thursday, November 30, 2017



The Chofetz Chaim related a story about “chossid echad”[2] who set out to influence the world. He arrived in a city and offered to speak, but was surprised to find the people to be disinterested. “How much are you charging?” “Why should we listen to you?”
He left that city and arrived in a second city and made the same offer. He was disheartened when he was met with the same pessimistic resistance. The same occurred in the third city he went, and even in some smaller villages. 
Instead, he decided to sit down in a Bais Medrash and study Torah. He hoped to influence the masses in that manner. He indeed had a profound influence upon his surroundings, not through his speeches, but through his example.
The Brisker Rav related that he has a tradition that whenever the Chofetz Chaim spoke about “chossid echad”, it referred to the Chofetz Chaim himself![3]

After Yaakov struggled with the Angel, and then emerged unscathed from his encounter with Eisav, the Torah states: “Yaakov arrived complete in the city of Shechem… and he camped at the entrance of the city.”[4] 
Ramban explains that the day Yaakov arrived at the entrance of the city was Erev Shabbos, so he immediately set up techum Shabbos.
The Gemara[5] relates that Avrohom fulfilled the mitzvah of eiruv tavshilin, whereas Yaakov created techumin.
Meshech Chochmah explains that these two mitzvos contrast the different approaches in avodas Hashem of Avrohom and Yaakov. Each was a conduit for spreading and teaching about the Glory of Hashem in this world, but each did so in his own unique manner.  
The mitzvah of eiruv tavshilin allows a person to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos, thereby enabling him to invite guests to join him.
Rambam[6] explains that Avraham would gather masses of people to publicly prove to them about the existence of the one true Creator.
Avraham performed eiruv tavshilin, an allusion to his inviting guests to partake of his food so he could teach them about Hashem. He would indulge them with delectable food and then convince them to thank Hashem for the enjoyment they experienced.
Yaakov Avinu utilized a vastly different approach. The Torah describes him as a yoshev ohalim – one who dwelled in tents and studied Torah. Yaakov didn't go out to influence the rest of the world per se. He foresaw that he was to father the twelve tribes, which would comprise the Jewish People. Therefore, he understood that his ultimate role was to prepare his progeny for the integral role they would fulfill. He could only do so, by setting parameters and boundaries to protect them from the negative influences surrounding them.
Yaakov had to engage in enacting techumin – boundaries, to prevent outside influences from penetrating the home he was building. Instead of bringing the Shechinah to others, he made his home a place for the Shechinah. 
We see this same pattern in other examples throughout their lives. Avraham Avinu went down to Mitzrayim to influence people. Yaakov, on the other hand, was resistant to allowing his children to descend to such an immoral country. Yaakov was upset when he was accused of stealing his father-in-law’s idols, because unlike Avrohom who engaged and persuaded idolaters, Yaakov kept completely distant. When he met Eisav, Yaakov hid Dinah, because he did not want to risk him seeing her and wanting to marry her.  
Yaakov sought to separate himself from the outside world, and to build from within.
Ramban[7] explains that each of the Avos sanctified the Name of Hashem. The Torah states numerous times that Avraham called in the Name of Hashem, and it says it once about Yitzchak. Regarding Yaakov, however, the Torah never says that he called in the Name of Hashem, because he sanctified Hashem in a different manner.
Yaakov spread emunah by devoting himself to instilling that faith in his own family.[8] There can be no greater publicizing of emunah than that. Building his own family bred continuity, creating a nation that would follow the ways of Hashem for all generations.
Yaakov didn't have to go out and actively influence people, because people were influenced by the example that his family demonstrated wherever they were.  

Often, when people begin to improve in a certain area, whether in areas of health, such as a diet, or in religiosity, such as when they assume greater levels of stringency or punctiliousness in their observance, they feel inclined to preach about it to others.
Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman[9] relates that, when he was an elementary school Rebbe, each year he was able to influence a few talmidim to give up watching television. He would always emphasize to them that they should not go home and preach to their parents and siblings about the negative effects and spiritual damage that television causes. Rather, they should merely walk by the room and not say anything. The greatest message is conveyed by one’s quiet and pleasant example.
In Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech states: “Ahalelah Hashem b’chayei azamrah leilokai b’odi – I will praise Hashem with my life, I will sing to Hashem with my existence.” Rabbi Finkelman explained that Dovid was saying that, not only would he constantly praise Hashem while he was alive, but on a deeper level, his very life and his very existence would praise Hashem. By living correctly and observing Torah and mitzvos, that in and of itself would serve as a living praise of Hashem.
One of the hallmarks of Chanukah is the mitzvah of perusmei nisa – spreading and publicizing the miracles that transpired. The gemara states that the basic mitzvah is “ner ish ubayso – a candle for each man and his home”. The mitzvah of reflecting divinity outwards begins from the sanctity within our own homes.
Like Yaakov Avinu we seek to ignite the spiritual light from within, and then that light can radiate and resonate outwards.
Our society expends tremendous effort and resources to publicize and advertise. Most of what they are advertising in antithetical to what we seek to advertise and publicize with our Chanukah candles. But we are strengthened by the fact that our little candles have withstood the test of time, and continued to burn in the face of the greatest and most ominous darkness.
We have no doubt that they will continue to burn, and their message will ultimately outshine all the other messages we encounter constantly.

“Yaakov camped at the entrance of the city”
“A candle for each man and his home”

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

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayishlach 5777
[2] “one chassid”; chasid not in the sense of one who is a proponent of the Chassidic movement, but one who is extremely pious and meticulous in his mitzvah obersvance
[3] Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman
[4] The following ideas are based on a schmooze from Rav Meir Wahrsager of Mir Yerushalayim
[5] Yoma 28b
[6] beginning of Hilchos Avodah Zarah,
[7] Bereishis 12:8
[8] שהוליד בנים רבים כלם עובדי ה', והיתה לו קהלה גדולה נקראת עדת ישראל ונתפרסמה האמונה בהם, ונודעה לכל עם.
[9] Mashgiach in Ohr Hachaim in Queens, NY, and a personal rebbe

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



Rav Matisyahu Salomon shlita notes that every year, as we read the parshios in Bereishis, we enjoy discussing the profundity and extent of Avrohom Avinu’s chesed. There always seem to be new explanations and perspectives which expound upon how selfless and extreme the chesed of Avrohom was.
Rav Matisyahu explains that we need to have the same discussions and analyzation about the exemplary integrity and work ethic of Yaakov Avinu, while he was working for Lavan. The Torah demands the highest levels of ethics and responsibility regarding the workplace. It’s a value we don’t sufficiently emphasize. A Torah Jew is obligated to be wary of his financial responsibilities, and he must be honest to a fault.

In America, standard currency is the dollar, in Britain it is the pound, and in Japan the yen. Gold, diamonds, and pearls have universal value, as does real estate. These are commodities that ‘make the world go around’. In the words of Shlomo Hamelech, “Money answers everything.”
In the celestial World of Truth, undoubtedly Torah and mitzvos are the ultimate currency. But might there be another commodity that ‘opens doors’ in that world? Is there something which causes the angels to bow deferentially before it, as it were, in a similar vein to how people ‘bow’ deferentially before wealth in this world?     
After Leah Imeinu gave birth to four sons, and Rochel saw that she was not being blessed with a child, she took an extreme measure. She offered her maid Bilhah, as a wife to Yaakov. Rashi explains that Rochel learned the concept from Sarah Imeinu, who gave her maid Hagar to Avrohom to marry.
What merit was there in giving a maid as a wife?
Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l explained that spiritual growth requires mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. In the physical world, success is often achieved through unyielding ambition and uncompassionate drive to reach the top. The world of finance is one of extreme competition, where there is no room for compassion or consideration for the feelings of others. A sign above a major highway reads: “If you don’t purchase this space to advertise your company, your competitor will first.”
The spiritual world is the polar opposite. One climbs the ladder of greatness by putting his own needs and desires aside, to help and build others. The more one places others before himself and sublimates his own ego, the greater he becomes.
For a woman to allow her husband to marry another woman is an extreme act of mesiras nefesh. For a woman to offer her maid to be her husband’s second wife is the ultimate act of mesiras nefesh.
The ultimate currency in heaven is mesiras nefesh! Torah and mitzvos performed with self-sacrifice and complete dedication is the ultimate currency in the World of Truth.

Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner of London, England, is a well-known Rav and lecturer throughout the Torah world. As a Dayan, he is accustomed to receiving unusual halachic questions. But every now and then he receives questions that surprise even him.
A man related to Rav Dunner that his grandfather was a holocaust survivor. Somehow, he had smuggled his tallis with him wherever he was sent, including into Buchenwald. Amazingly, he never missed a day of wearing that tallis. After liberation, he continued wearing that tallis every day of his life. In his tzava’ah (will) he asked to be buried in the tallis. But when the grandfather died, they forgot!
It was almost his first yahrtzeit, and the family was regretful that they had not fulfilled his instruction. At that time, his grandmother was dying, and the inevitable was imminent. The question was could they bury the tallis with the grandmother, who was to be buried alongside her late husband? Would that count as fulfilling his will? 
Dayan Dunner decided to send the question to be asked of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. The answer he received stunned him. Rav Chaim replied that the tallis should not be buried with the grandmother. Rather, they should open the kever of the grandfather, and place the tallis in there, as he had requested.
Dayan Dunner called a few local chevra kadishas but all of them were squeamish and uncomfortable about doing it. The man himself did not want to give his grandfather a second burial. Couldn’t they just bury it with the grandmother?
Dayan Dunner asked the question to be presented to Rav Chaim again. His response remained the same. But he added, that if they didn’t want to open the kever, they should dig a hole as close to the kever as possible, and place the tallis there.
The family was still uncomfortable, but they agreed to do it. However, they still wanted to know why it was so important to bury it as close as possible to their grandfather.
When Rav Chaim was asked about it a third time, he replied “In the upper courts, the most valuable commodity is mesiras nefesh. The man’s tallis is his greatest testimony about his incredible mesiras nefesh. His family must therefore, make every effort to place at as close as possible to him, so he has it by his side in the Next World.”[2]

When negotiating with the B’nei Ches, Avrohom Avinu stated, “If it is your desire to allow me to bury my dead from before me, listen to me, and allow me to meet with Ephron ben Tzochar.” The word Avrohom uses for desire is “nafshechem”, which literally means ‘your soul’. What we desire is part of our essence. To place those desires aside for the sake of others, is mesiras nefesh. The ultimate mesiras nefesh is for one to give up his life to sanctify the name of G-d. But, it is often more challenging to live with mesiras nefesh in the mundane day-to-day of our lives.
When we are busy doing something we need to finish and put it aside to daven mincha, when our child asks us to help with her homework and we are tired and muster up patience to help, when a neighbor or friend asks for a favor and we are not in the mood of helping and we agree to help anyway, when we drag ourselves to a shiur or to learn with a chavrusa at the end of a long day, when we listen to a griping friend who needs chizuk though we have ten other things to do - these are all examples of mesiras nefesh.[3] 
Our yetzer hara likes to minimize such feats by convincing us that real mesiras nefesh entails doing something profound. But that is untrue. Every time we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, it is an act of mesiras nefesh.
The holiday of Chanukah, which is rapidly approaching, is a celebration of mesiras nefesh! The Maccabees went to war to ensure our ability to serve Hashem and guard the Torah in the most holy and pristine manner. They reasoned that a life devoid of Torah is not worth living, so they set out for battle with little hope for victory.
Their incredible mesiras nefesh, first on the battlefield, and later to perform the mitzvah of lighting the menorah with pure oil, served as the catalyst for the miracles that transpired.
They went well beyond the natural norm, and Hashem granted them miracles, well beyond the natural norm. It’s a holiday that celebrates, not only supernatural occurrences, but our ability to be supernatural, which is the secret of our national eternity.

“And she said, behold my maid, Bilhah… I will build from her.” 
“If it is your desire”

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

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayetzei 5777
[2] This story appeared in Ami-Living, November 30, 2016, by Rabbi Yoel Gold.
[3] It is important to note that if one agrees to do things only because he is unable to say no, out of feelings of guilt or not wanting anyone to be upset at him, that is a deficiency. There are times when it may be correct and proper for us to say no, sometimes for our own well-being. The point being made here is about one who, when overcoming his immediate desire for comfort, will feel gratified and happy afterwards with his decision, not resentful and indignant.

Thursday, November 16, 2017



The following story was published in Hamodia, Tuesday, August 9, 2016:
Under the circumstances, the very fact that such a conversation even took place is astonishing.
On a cold day in the fall of 1944, in the constant shadow of terrible death surrounded by unspeakable horror, when Aviezer Burshtyn whispered to Yossel Friedenson, “We have been presented with a great mitzvah,” the latter was all ears.
The two inmates of the Auschwitz extermination camp were close friends, and both had been assigned to a crew whose job it was to clean barracks and collect garbage in various parts of the huge death camp.
Aviezer related that he had been sent to one of several women’s camps to clean. There, he was approached by a young girl, 15 or 16 years of age, who asked for sweater. Though it was only September, it was already quite cold in that part of Europe, and the malnourished girl, wearing only the thin concentration camp uniform, was shivering.
“You have a wife in the women’s camp,” Aviezer told Yossel. “Perhaps you can obtain a sweater for her?”
Both were aware that acquiring a sweater in Auschwitz would be very difficult, if not impossible. Only twice during the entire time he was in Auschwitz had Yossel been able to visit the women’s camp where his wife was held. To obtain an article of clothing in that section, smuggle it into the men’s camp and then sneak it back to where the girl was being held seemed like an unrealistic challenge.
The following day, however, they were assigned to clean an area where clothing was stored. Aviezer was able to get his hands on a ladies’ sweater, which he hid under his own clothing. Then the two young men waited for the first opportunity to bring it to the girl. A few days later, Aviezer was able to join a cleaning crew assigned to work in the camp where the girl was held.
When Aviezer returned, his eyes were filled with tears. “She didn’t want a sweater!” he emotionally told Reb Yossel. “She wanted a siddur!”
When he tried to give her the sweater, the girl had begun to cry. “I asked for a siddur, not a sweater! It is soon Rosh Hashanah. I need a siddur or a machzor,” she told him. “I heard by the men there are siddurim…”
The young girl refused to accept the sweater, fearing that if she took it, the men would no longer try to bring her a siddur.
Both men survived the war. Rabbi Aviezer Burshtyn, z”l, moved to Eretz Yisrael, where he served as a menahel and noted author, and Reb Yossel Friedenson, z”l, became a pre-eminent Holocaust historian, Agudah leader, and the legendary editor of Dos Yiddishe Vort, a publication he established in a DP camp in 1946 and proceeded to publish for nearly seven decades. Neither of them, however, knew the name of the girl who asked for the siddur, and her fate is unknown to this day.

When the Torah introduces Eisav it uses the adjective ‘ish – man’ twice. However, in regard to Yaakov it says it only once. “The youths grew up and Esav became a man who knew hunting, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents.”[1]
Rav Chaim Kaufman zt’l[2] related that when the idea of sending a man to the moon first began circulating, years before it actually occurred, Rav Shalom Shatz zt’l declared that it could never happen because the pasuk says “The heavens are for Hashem, while the earth He gave to mankind”. Beings placed on earth cannot be in heaven.
Shortly after the Apollo-11 landed on the moon in July 1969, Rav Kaufman met the Biala Rebbe and recounted Rav Shatz’s statement. The Rebbe replied that Rav Shatz wasn’t wrong. In order for the astronauts to ‘walk’ on the moon they needed to transport and encase themselves within a tremendous amount of equipment, which included oxygen. They were surrounded by a makeshift suit which contained the basic elements that a person needs for survival on earth. Essentially an enclosed piece of earth walked on the moon. Rav Shatz meant that it is impossible for an earthly being to become a permanent resident of the heavens because he was created for an earthly existence. In that sense he was correct. 
Rav Kaufman continues that the underlying message to us is that the place from where one draws his strength and energy that is his true ‘place’ which helps define him. Conversely if he cannot live somewhere that is not his place. This idea is true in the spiritual realm as well. If one’s energy in life emanates from the time he spends in the Bais Medrash learning Torah, that demonstrates that his place is the Bais Medrash. Although he may not be able to spend his entire day there, since that is his life-source it is still considered his place.
Regarding Yaakov Avinu the pasuk says that he was “a wholesome man who dwelled in tents”. Since Torah study was his ultimate passion, he was defined by his Torah study in the Bais Medrash. Eisav however, had a dichotomous personality. On the one hand, he was ‘a man who knew hunting’, which Rashi explains means that he knew how to dupe his father by presenting himself as a Torah scholar. But on the other hand, he was a ‘man of the field’, who dwelled far from the tents of Torah in the fields of iniquity and immorality. The pasuk uses the adjective ‘man’ twice regarding Eisav because he was defined by both paradoxical extremes. 
What genuinely defines a person is inextricably bound to what motivates and energizes him.          

Under the direction of his mother, Yaakov is instructed to usurp the berachos from Eisav. The Torah relates: “He drew close and kissed him; he smelled the fragrance of his garments and blessed him; he said ‘See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of the field which Hashem has blessed’.”[3]
In Ateres Mordechai, Rav Mordechai Rogov zt’l, notes that right after fruits are plucked off a tree they are fresh and delectable. But as time goes by the fruit begins to lose its freshness and desirability. After some time has passed, a storeowner will have a hard time selling those fruits. He will have to resort to tactics that make the fruits look more appealing than they really are.
There are people who never lose their zest and vibrancy for life. No matter how old they become and how challenging things are they always seem to possess an internal vitality and a spring in their step. Such people are able to maintain the excitement of their youth by preserving their youthful vigor. The Torah that they learned in their formative years remains their driving force and ultimate passion.
But then there are others who have a vastly different life experience. The vicissitudes of life wear them down and they become bitter and rancorous. They are unable to maintain that connection with the spirit of their youth, and the tempests of life leave their insidious mark.
Just prior to giving Yaakov the blessings, Yitzchok remarked, “See, my son, the smell of freshness and vibrancy of the field that you now possess. Realize the passion and vigor you feel as you dwell in the tents of Torah. It is your deep connection to the source of purposeful life that gives you that scent. Never allow it to fade despite the vagaries of life.
Yaakov and Eisav, twins who emerged from the same womb, set out on such diverse paths. Throughout all the challenges and difficulties encountered throughout his life, Yaakov maintained the passion of his youth. His heart always remained connected to Torah. In the worst of times, Yaakov was comforted by his faith and his learning. Eisav cast off the yoke of his father and grandfather, and chose a path of spiritual anarchy and lawlessness. His legacy couldn’t be more different.
Maintaining a sense of youthful exuberance is of the greatest blessings one can merit.   

“She didn’t want a sweater… She wanted a siddur!”
“The youths grew up… Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents”

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

[1] Bereishis 25:27
[2] Mishchas Shemen
[3] Bereishis 27:27

Thursday, November 9, 2017



It’s pretty amazing that four of our children share birthdays. Two of them are twins, so that’s not surprising. But Aviva and Avi were born on November 7th three years to the day apart from each other.[2]
A number of years ago we heard Aviva and Avi talking upstairs. At one point we heard Aviva say to Avi, somewhat annoyedly, “Do you know what I got from my third birthday?” When Avi replied that he didn’t, Aviva yelled,” YOU!” 

Last year, on 24 Cheshvan 5777, our family celebrated Aviva’s Bas Mitzvah. Being that the day of her Bas Mitzvoh was Thanksgiving[3], and Ashar[4] had no classes, I picked up Aviva from school at 10:15 am and we headed to Philadelphia. Weeks earlier, I had made an appointment to meet with the Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita, the Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva and one of the leading Torah personalities in America, and his Rebbitzin, to receive their beracha in honor of Aviva’s Bas Mitzvah (which would be that night – 24 Cheshvan). I wanted to have the opportunity for Aviva to meet both of them, and we were privileged to have that opportunity.  
Along the way, we stopped Beth Israel Cemetery, which is right off the Garden State Parkway, to daven at the kevarim of my father’s parents. This included the kever of my grandmother after whom Aviva is named[5].
When we first arrived at the Kamenetky home, the Rosh Yeshiva had not yet returned from yeshiva. The Rebbitzin sat us down on the couch while she sat in a single chair. The Rebbitzin then spoke with Aviva lovingly, yet firmly, about the responsibility of being a Bas Mitzvah, and the nobility it entails. The Rebbitzin ended the conversation by saying, “Now that you are a princess, you have to learn how to act like a princess. That is what your teachers are all teaching you.”[6]
At that point the Rosh Yeshiva arrived home. He took off his coat and hat, and sat down on the opposite sofa chair. He looked at Aviva, “So you’re off from school today?” I explained that she had school, but her principal agreed that her leaving was for a good reason, and allowed her to leave early. With his trademark smile, Reb Shmuel asked Aviva, “How can you have school on Thanksgiving!”
After speaking for a few minutes, I asked the Rosh Yeshiva if he could share with Aviva a thought that she could remember from him. He looked at her and said “You are our future! Listen to the chinuch you are given; you are Klal Yisroel’s future!”
I then asked the Rosh Yeshiva if I could take a picture of Aviva with the Rebbitzin, which she graciously agreed to. On our way to the door, the Rebbitzin gave Aviva another beracha, including that she should be a source of nachas to her family and to Hashem, and kissed her on the forehead.
It was a beautiful and very special event, which I hope Aviva will cherish for her entire life.
When I was thinking back to the meeting afterwards, I was struck by the vitality and warmth of the Rebbitzin and the Rosh Yeshiva. It is astounding that the Rosh Yeshiva is well past ninety, although he seems decades younger. Their home was simple, with toys in the corner for their grandchildren, and so welcoming. With their inviting smiles and trademark humor, it is easy to forget that the Rosh Yeshiva and Rebbitzin are two of the greatest inspirations in the Torah world today.

 “And Avraham became old, coming with days; and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.”[7] 
The Gemara[8] states: “What is the coin of Avraham Avinu? (It had an image of) an elderly man and elderly woman on one side, and (an image of) a young boy and girl on the other side.”
What was the significance of those images and what was the connection to Avrohom Avinu?
The Yetev Lev explains that when contrasting youth with old age, each has a unique advantage over the other. One who has lived for many decades inevitably garners experience and a keen understanding about the vagaries and challenges of life. With age comes life experience and wisdom, and the ability to offer valuable advice. However, he often no longer has the strength of youth to bring his ideas to fruition. That lack of youthful vitality can sometimes cause elderly people to become “frumpy and grumpy”, and difficult to be around.[9]  
A young man on the other hand, has vim, passion, and energy. He sets out to conquer the world, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and feels nothing can stop him. His challenge is that he lacks the wisdom and depth of understanding that comes with age, which helps traverse and avoid the foibles and pitfalls of life.

One who is able to have the advantages of both youth and advanced age, can accomplish incredible things. He has the ambition and drive to pursue his idealistic dreams and aspirations, yet has the wisdom to know what to be wary of, and how to accomplish those worthy goals.
Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu had the advantages of youth and old age together. Even when they were advanced in years, they still served Hashem with energy and vigor.
Avrohom matched his son Yitzchak's enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos, although Yitzchak was 100 years younger than him. Yitchak too learned from his father's wisdom and followed in his footsteps, thereby earning him the advantages of old age in addition to his youthfulness. 
This is the significance of Avraham's coins. On the one hand Avrohom and Sarah were elderly, in that they were wise and experienced. Yet, at the same time, they were youthful, still burning with passion and idealism for Hashem, bursting with energy to serve Him, and teach others about Him.
This is the meaning of the pasuk “And Avraham was old, coming with his days”. Despite the fact that he was “old”, he still “came” grew and took advantage of his every day.

The Medrash[10] relates that Rebbe Akiva saw that his students were dozing off during his shiur. He wanted to rouse them, so he asked them: “In what merit did Queen Esther reign over 127 states? In the merit of Sarah who lived for 127 years.”
Why does the Midrash begin this insight by telling us how Rebbe Akiva's students were falling asleep? What does this add to the message about Sarah and Esther?
Based on the idea of the Yitev Lev, the Nikolsburger Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Lebovitz, explained that Rebbe Akiva didn’t just notice his students dozing off. He noticed that they were losing their energy for learning. They were becoming "old" and unenthusiastic. He wanted to revive their spirits and reignite their youthful vitality. He pointed out to them that Esther reigned over 127 countries, in the merit of Sarah living 127 years. Rashi notes that when Sarah was 100 years old, she was as wholesome and youthful as when she was seven years old. Because Sarah served Hashem with youthful vigor her entire life, Esther merited being the queen of a vast empire of 127 states. Rabbi Akiva message to his students was that one must always be passionate and youthful regarding his Avodas Hashem.
The Baal Shem Tov was once asked why he pioneered a completely new concept in avodas Hashem. He replied that he didn’t invent anything new. He had only reenergized the dried-out bones of the Jewish people and infused them with a new spirit to serve Hashem with joy and vigor.
 During selichos we daven “Do not forsake us at the time of old age.[11]” Why does the pasuk says “at the time” of old age and not, “during our old age?”
The pasuk is not referring merely to the time when we are truly old, but also to times when we “feel old” – emotionally lethargic and spiritually listless. We daven that Hashem not forsake us at any time when we begin to lose our youthful strength.

The final Mishna in Kiddushin discusses the infinite value of Torah study: “Rabbi Nihorai says: I put aside every trade in the world and I teach my son only Torah, for man benefits from it in this world, and the principal remains for him in the World to Come. But all other trades are not so. When a man becomes sick, old, or afflicted and he cannot engage in his work he dies of starvation. But Torah is not so; rather it guards him from all evil in his youth, and it provides him with a future and hope in his old age.
“Regarding his youth what does it say, ‘And those who hope in Hashem will renew their strength’. Regarding his old age, what does it say? ‘Yet they will still be fruitful in old age’. And likewise, it says regarding Avrohom Avinu, ‘And Avraham was old, and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything’…”[12]
“And Avraham was old, coming with his days”
“Yet they will still be fruitful in old age”


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

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[1] Based on the speech delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos morning, Parshas Chayei Sara 5777
[2] This week, bh, Aviva (officially) became a teenager, and Avi reached ‘double digits’. Boy, time flies…
[3] Thursday, November 24, 2016. In other words, her Bas Mitzvoh was at sunset that evening
[4] Where I was a Rebbe/Guidance Counselor at the time
[5] My grandmother’s name was Shprintza. When she was born, our rebbe, Rav Chaim Schabes, told us that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l would say that one shouldn’t give their child a name that is unusual in their circles. Shprintza actually means hope. We named her Aviva, which means spring, as “hope springs eternal” and spring is a time of rebirth and hope. Rabbi Schabes himself has a daughter Aviva, named after someone named Shprintza.
[6] The Rebbitzin then said that she should learn halachos of ona’as devorim. It is so important that we are careful with how we talk and what we say to others, not to hurt their feelings, as that is an important component of being a princess. She suggested that Aviva read the book “Word Power” by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, with a chavrusa.

[7] Bereishis 24:1
[8] Bava Kamma 97b
[9] Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l would speak about “the old folks sitting idle on the side of Ocean Parkway, seemingly waiting for the Angel of Death to come get them.”
[10] Bereishis Rabbah 58:3
[11] Based on Tehillim 71:9
[12] Our visit to the Kamenestky home brought this idea to life. Truly, they are fruitful in their old age. May Hashem grant them many more years, to continue to inspire Klal Yisroel. May Aviva live up to her namesake as one who grants hope, with youthful vitality throughout her life.