Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Light of Rav Shteinman and The Light of Chanukah

The Light of Rav Shteinman and The Light of Chanukah
Rabbi Daniel Staum
Transcribed by:
Shaindy Grinberg

 It's just a few hours before the great yontif of Chanukah haba'ah aleinu letovah.  We're all very excited undoubtedly.  The opportunity to say shehechianu and to fulfill this very special mitzvah for the very first time, to say hallel tomorrow, al hanisim.  And as was just mentioned, there's a tremendous bitterness that has enveloped Klal Yisrael with the loss of one of the gedolei hador, if not that gadol hador, Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman, zecher tzaddik lebrachah.  He lived 103 years on this earth and he's no longer here. 

I am not worthy to say the least to say divrei hespedim about such a gaon, but bezchus hatzibur hopefully we can say something that will give us a little bit of a hachanah for this great yontif and also to try to take some chizuk from who this incredible person was.  We can maybe get a glimpse. 

Let me begin with a story, going back to the days in Europe when the Jews would live on the land of the poritz.  The poritz was the landowner.  He owned a large plot of land and the Jew paid him rent.  He used to have a store or a hotel or a tavern, whatever it was, to pay the rent every month.  Basically, the tenant, the Jew, was completely at the mercy of the poritz, completely at the mercy of the poritz.  For years Moishele did very well, baruch Hashem.  He was able to pay his rent on time and he kept the tavern going.  Vayehi hayom that they built a main road just off where he was and no longer did travelers follow the road to his tavern.  It didn't go by there anymore.  Things became rough, and rougher, and for the first time in his life he didn't have the money to pay the poritz, and he begged for a first month, a second month, a third month, but he knew that that was it.  If he couldn't pay now after pushing it off six months and being way back over his head, the poritz would kill him and make his wife and his children into slaves.  It was a disaster.  There was no one to turn to.  There was nothing to do.  So he decided that he has only one recourse.  He's going to take off.  He's going to flee for his life with his family. 

The poritz went up north for a few days to some spa and he figured he has plenty of time and by the time the poritz gets back and sees that he's gone, he'll be long gone.  He packs up.  It takes some time.  They pack up everything they could pack up onto the wagon, put the children on the wagon and they set off.  On the way things are going fine for a while until they see in the distance the unmistakable carriage of the poritz.  His heart sank and his mind began to race.  What in the world is he going to tell the poritz when he comes and he sees him with all his stuff and his children.  Be'ezras Hashem before minchah at the end of the shmooze I'll share with you what he said. 

Tonight we begin reciting al hanisim im yertze Hashem many times, 24 times in the last but much more with mussaf on Shabbos and rosh chodesh and bentching.  If you forget al hanisim, you don't go back.  You don't repeat shemoneh esrei or bentching, but you have lost out on the kevius, on what the yontif is, the hallel vehoda'ah.  Hoda'ah according to Rashi at least is al hanisim.  In some yeshivos where they daven a "half shemoneh esrei" where they just go straight into kedushah for whatever reason, on Chanukah in many of those yeshivos, they will daven the full shemoneh esrei so they can say al hanisim betzibur.

There is a word that comes up four times in the Chanukah al hanisim.  That word is gadol.  Bimei Matisyahu ben Yochanan kohen gadol and then towards the end ulecha, and to You, Hashem, asisa shem gadol vekadosh beolamecha, You made for yourself a great and holy name.  Uleamcha Yisrael, and for Your nation Klal Yisrael, asisa teshuah gedolah, a great salvation and we end off vekavu shemonas yemei Chanukah eilu lehodos ulehallel leshimcha hagadol, they enacted these eight days of Chanukah to praise and to thank Your great name.

Gadol, a lot of gadol.  What is a gadol?  We just lost a gadol.  Gedulah is inextricably connected to Chanukah.  What is the gedulah?  What is gadol?

I heard a beautiful thought in the name of Rabbi Soleveitchik, zeh hakatan gadol yehiyeh.  This is the katan, he should become a gadol.  Does that mean simply biologically?  Now he's a baby who can't take care of himself and needs his parents.  He'll get older. 

He said a beautiful vort.  There's a yesod, I believe it comes from Rav Tzadok, maybe even earlier, that if you want to know the real definition of something, look at the first time that word is used in the Torah.  Where is the first time you find gadol and katan in the Torah?  By the sun and the moon on the fourth day of creation.  Es hamaor hagadol lememsheles hayom, the great light, the gadol, to rule, to dominate by day.  Ve'es hamaor hakatan, and the small light, lememsheles halaylah, to dominate at night. 

Where does the moon get its light from?  The moon has no inherent light.  The moon doesn't have light of its own.  The moon merely takes in light from the sun and reflects it.  That's what we see.  We only see the light.  Whatever light the moon gets, that's what we see.  That's what it gives off. 

The sun is an inherent being of light.  The sun has its own light that it gives.  It's an endless supply of light. 

A katan is someone who reflects.  Whatever is put into it, it gives back.  We know how impressionable young children are and even when we get a little bit older.  What comes in is what we give off.  A gadol is someone who is a being of light, a being of greatness that can give off, an endless flow of giving.  Zeh hakatan, right now this child is helpless.  Whatever we put into the child, that's the only thing the child has.  Gadol yehiyeh.  We hope that one day the child will grow up and be able to give off his own light, to be a help to others, to be a chizuk for others. 

When we talk about a tzaddik we call him a gadol.  He radiates from within.  He has built up such a reservoir of greatness, of Torah greatness and middos, working on himself, that he gives off.  That's a gadol.  Someone who gives off from that endless flow of light.

Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman zecher tzaddik lebrachah epitomized that.  A person who had so little it's shocking.  There were interviews done a few years ago.  People who went to his home and they couldn't get over it.  He had nothing.  I just read there were times that he had thousands of dollars in his pocket from the tzedakah organizations that he ran and it meant nothing to him except for the fact that it was for tzedakah.  People offered him.  He had a bed that he got from the Israeli Agency when he first made aliyah when he was first married, 70, 80 years.  Only at the end of his life when he was very sick they put in a hospital bed in his house, but until then?  He didn't care.  He wasn't interested.  It meant nothing to him.  He was a person that only lived for others.  People lined up.  People packed into the hallway outside his home.  If you ever had that experience, I'll get back to it im yertze Hashem soon, but I went with my son two years ago.  I had the zechus to get a brachah for him right after his bar mitzvah and the person who took us around, who got us in, he wove his way in and went inside.  There was a crowd of people.  You couldn't breathe.  It's a small area outside his apartment in the building.  It went all the way back to the steps, all the way back to the door going outside.  He says come on, let's go.  I'm not Israeli.  I don't know how to do that.  Over the people he reaches out and grabs my hand.  I'm holding my son.  We were just pushing through and pulling through.  Eventually people moved over a little bit and we got in.  He was a person who people lined up to meet.  Nothing of himself.  He didn’t care.  He wasn't interested.  He lived for Torah.  He lived to give.  A gadol.

He was a person who when I was younger I never heard of him.  I'm sure in Bnei Brak everyone knew who he was, but he wasn't a person who was well known until he was old enough that many people are not in this world any more, maybe in his 80s.  When Rav Elyashiv was niftar he came out even more.  He didn't care about anything until afterwards he became recognized as a gadol hador and he was told by other gedolei Yisrael you have to step up.  He was 90 years old.  He was in America and many places on one of these missions to give chizuk.  I remember years ago he went with the Gerrer Rebbe and he was very weak, extremely weak.  He was really very, very, very weak.  A very dangerous situation and the doctors worked on him and brought him back.  His main doctor said over, he said, you see?    Other doctors said give up.  He's 90.  Leave him alone.  These last 13 years of his life what he gave to Klal Yisrael may be more than he gave in his entire 90 years until then.  Not more of himself, but because Klal Yisrael recognized who he was.  He was a person who not only had arichas yamim, but he had amazing health.  Until last year the first day of Chanukah he had problems and it started from there.  Until then no hearing aids even until his dying day, no glasses.  Amazing.  The doctors asked him a year ago when he came to the hospital extremely weak at death's door and we were zocheh, I'm sure it's through Klal Yisrael's tefilos, to keep him for another year, mamash a year, they asked him what medicines are you on?  102!  What medicines are you on?  Klum.  He said one thing that he takes sometimes but klum.  For your heart?  Blood thinners?  Klum, klum, klum, nothing.  No medicines.  Zero.  They said that when they put him on antibiotics last year they put him on a child's dosage because it was so effective because he never took antibiotics.

But tzaddikim are not just about their Torah.  There are many people who are great in Torah that don't become gedolei Yisrael necessarily.  It's also their sensitivity, their love, their caring.  They don't live for themselves.  Who thinks this way?

Here's a story.  There was a couple who came to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, he should live and be well and continue to lead Klal Yisrael for many more years.  They bought an apartment for their daughter who was a kallah.  They said that the kallah refuses to move in.  She said that she has a few close friends who were single who lived right next to that dirah.  She said every day me and my husband are going to come walking out.  It's going to cause them pain.  She didn't want to move in.  A chashuveh kallah.  So they asked Rav Chaim.  Rav Chaim gives out answers all day long and gives advice all day long.  He said I can't answer.  Go to Rav Aharon Leib.

They went to Rav Aharon Leib and Rav Aharon Leib started asking all these questions.  How much was the price?  Where is it located?  What's going to be if you don't get this one?  He asked them a lot of questions and then finally he stopped for a few minutes.  It was quiet in the room and he was thinking and then he looked up and he said aval eich efshar lidkor es libos shel hachaveiros hamevugaros?  How can you stick the jab in their heart?  How can you do it to them?  You can't move there. 

They said okay.  They backed out.  Then they came back to Rav Aharon Leib and they said but could we buy it and rent it out to someone else until the other girls get engaged?  He said that you could do.  So the night of the chasunah one of the girls became engaged.  A few days later the other girl became engaged and they moved in.  By the time sheva brachos were over they were able to move in and they still live there today.  They told this to Rav Aharon Leib and he shook his head and said na'ar hayisi vegam zakanti, I was young and I became old, umeolam lo raisi, and I have never seen, adam shevitar vehifsid bekach, someone who gave up, who was willing to defer for others, and lost out because of it.

I took my son, as I mentioned, to Rav Shteinman two years ago for a brachah.  He had a sense of humor also.  The person who took us around said to Rav Shteinman, the bar mitzvah bachur vill a brachah far a cheshek in learnen, he wants a brachah to have a cheshek in learning.  So Rav Shteinman smiled and he said you should have, but the yetzer hara doesn’t want.  So the person said so give him a brachah that he should be able to overcome his yetzer hara.  So Rav Shteinman says ober der yetzer hara hob a shverd, he has a sword.  So the person said so give him a brachah he should be able to take away the sword.  So Rav Shteinman smiled and he said es zein gut.

The chizuk to others, the care, the sensitivity, the love.  It's interesting also, my son does some things with his right hand and with his left hand.  We had a whole shaylah about tefillin so he mentioned in his pshtel Rav Aharon Leib said about himself that he was born a leftie, but as it was many times in those days, they would train them and force them to become righties, so Rav Aharon Leib put on tefillin like a rightie on his left hand, but at the end before he took it off every day he would turn his tefillin the other way and put it on his right hand.  Also with lulav and esrog, he held it like a rightie but then he would switch it around, also for a moment before he put it down. 

One thought that I want to share with you briefly from Rav Shteinman himself, toraso that's the chiyus.  Tons of sefarim, this is from one of his sefarim.  I saw this this morning.  Yemalei pi sehilosecha, one of his many, many sefarim that he was mechaber, Ayeles Hashachar on shas and his sefarim on chumash.  A man who knew kol hatorah kulah. 

Vechoshech al penei sehom, the medrash says choshech refers to Yavan.  Each word in the passuk refers to one of the other exiles.  Choshech refers to Yavan.  And one of the strange decrees is that they made a decree kisvu lachem al keren hashor.  They obligated, the Yevanim obligated the Jews, they forced them, write on the horns of an ox that I have no portion in the G-d of Israel.  Why don’t you put up a sign outside the shul or outside of your home?  What's writing on the horns of an ox?

Rav Shteinman explained.  He said an ox represents going out to work to make a living.  They worked on the ox all day.  It's the equivalent of putting a sign in front of your office.  When you go out to make a living so people think when I'm in yeshivah, when I'm davening, when I'm learning, that's one thing.  I go out to work?  Nature.  There's a force of nature.  That was Yavan.  There's nature.  Ein li chelek be'elokei Yisrael, when I'm in the work field I don't have a portion in the G-d of Israel.  Here it depends how hard I work.  It depends how well I do. 

What's the victory of the Chashmonaim over the Yevanim?  Nature is not the ultimate force.  There's a G-d who runs the world.  There's a Hakadosh Baruch Hu who runs the world.

Rav Shteinman was a gadol.  Chanukah is a yontif where we, as we mentioned, talk about gadlus.  How can we become more gedolim?  How can we internalize the message of the Chanukah licht which we're going to light be'ezras Hashem starting tonight in a few hours? 

A peleh.  All the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash had to be done by a kohen.  The Rambam writes that hadlakas hamenorah could be done by a zar.  The Ra'avid argues, but at the end the Ra'avid is maskim that even bedieved if a zar did it, it's fine.  It shouldn't be lechatchilah.  But unbelievable!  A zar can do the hadlakah.  Do you know what a zar is not allowed to do?  Meitiv es haneiros, preparing the candles, getting rid of all the old wicks and everything else.  That must be done by a kohen.  How strange?  That's what has to be done by a kohen?

The idea is the fire is within every one of us.  The neshamah, the ner Hashem, is within us.  We have it within us.  Ay, why can't we connect to it?  Because the ikar avodah of the menorah is not the hadlakah.  It's being meitiv.  You've got to clean out the garbage.  There's debris in there.  There's stuff that gets in the way.  That avodah of being meitiv the neiros, that has to be done by a kohen because that's the ikar.  And for all of us as well.  We're the kohanim gedolim tonight and for the next eight nights.  The light is there in every one of us.  We have to pull out all the debris and we'll feel it, we'll connect to it.  We have kashas, we have this.  Many times the kashas are just an outgrowth of something that is blocking us.  Sometimes a person connects to within themselves and many of their kashas and sfeikos just go away.  Because the fire is there.  You just have to move everything out so that it can flame up.

So to end off, Moishele sees the poritz coming.  What is he going to tell him?  He's so scared and then all of a sudden Hakadosh Baruch Hu plants an idea in his head.  He straightens up.  The poritz comes by and he stops and says Moishele, where are you going?  He says, uhh, poritz, I'm so happy to see you.  He says, actually it's a holiday and I'm going with the family.  It's so exciting.  We'll see you in a few weeks and I'm going to give you all the money I owe you.  Everything is going to be great.  Finally, I have all the money for you, but I didn't know you were here so when we get back.  He says, holiday?  I know your holidays.  What holiday is this?  He says this is the Festival of Flights.  He said the Festival of flights?  I never heard of that one.  He said, yeah this is the Festival of Flights and now my family is going.  We'll be back soon.  Okay, have a wonderful holiday, Moishke.  I'm looking forward to getting the money when you get back and he drives off.  The poritz comes to town and he sees the Jews milling around the marketplace.  This is yontif?  Jews don’t mill around the marketplace on yomim tovim.  He sees someone and he calls him over, Feivel, come here.  He says, Moishele told me that it's the Festival of Flights.  Why are you here?  Jews don't come to the marketplace on holidays.  He says, ahh, he chapped right away.  Smart Jew.  He realized what was happening.  He said, oh, you see the Festival of Flights is very different.  It's a different holiday than all the other ones.  All the other holidays we all keep together.  The Festival of Flights is up to every person.  When he's ready to take that holiday, when he's ready to come to that level, to the Festival of Flights, then he goes with his family.  Every person on their level when they reach the Festival of Flights.  The poritz smiles.  It sounds good.  He goes off on his way.

Tonight begins the Festival of Lights.  If we want to get everything we can out of this Festival of Lights, we should make it, we still have time today and throughout our lives, the Festival of Flights.  Vayanas vayetzei hachutzah, Yosef ran away.  He fled.  And then he became that light on the menorah like every one of us are.

We should be zocheh be'eizer Hashem to grow with this yontif, to reach that level of incredible gadlus and to be a source of nachas ruach to ourselves and most of all to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Have a happy Festival of Flights and Lights.



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