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. 


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