Thursday, December 12, 2019

PARSHAS VAYISHLACH 5780


“STAM TORAH”
PARSHAS VAYISHLACH 5780

“WHAT’S IN A NAME?”


          Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel related that over sixty years ago his father, Rabbi Nosson zt”l, recounted the following:
          During the early days of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, one of the talmidim related that he had an intriguing dream. In his dream, he was informed that Moshiach was in a room just up ahead. When he went to the room and looked inside, he saw that Moshiach was sleeping. Standing next to him was Rabbi Akiva Eiger trying to shake him awake, but Moshiach wouldn’t budge. Then the Chasam Sofer entered and he too tried unsuccessfully to rouse Moshiach. The last one to enter was Rabbi Aharon Kotler (who was still alive at the time of the dream), but he too was unsuccessful.
          There were a few yeshiva students who then walked into the room, one of whom was holding a basketball because they were playing ball during bain hesedarim. One of the other bochurim was holding a gemara and he told his friends that they had to put away the ball because it was time to learn. As they were leaving, they too tried to wake up Moshiach. As soon, as they touched his shoulder he immediately stood up.

    After finally gathering his family and leaving the home of Lavan, Yaakov geared up for his epic confrontation with his estranged brother, Eisav. But the evening before that occurred, Yaakov crossed the river alone and was confronted by the angel of Eisav.
          “Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the ball of his thighbone… Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn has broken." And he said, "I will not let you go unless you have blessed me." He said to him, "What is your name?" He said, "Yaakov". He said, "No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisroel, for you have striven with the divine and with men and you have overcome." Then Yaakov inquired, and he said, "Tell me please, what is your name." And he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there."[1]
     The commentators note that the confrontation of Yaakov and the angel of Eisav is symbolic of our eternal struggle with our evil inclination. Kli Yakar explains that the confrontation of Yaakov with the angel of Eisav transpired at night, when Yaakov was alone and vulnerable. This is one of the greatest tactics of the Yetzer Hara. When one is feeling lowly and lonely, his evil inclination capitalizes on that vulnerability. It is specifically when one feels insignificant when one is in greatest peril of falling prey to sin. Conversely, when one feels upbeat, analogous to the shining sun, one has more strength to resist temptation and negative influences.
    When the angel asked Yaakov what his name was, Yaakov immediately replied. Why did the angel refuse to reciprocate? In addition, why was it important for Yaakov to know the angel’s name anyway?
    Rabbi Leib Chasman zt’l explains that the name of a person reflects their inner essence and strength.[2]
          When Yaakov asked the angel for its name, he was asking about his essence; his energy source and objective. Being that this angel was the evil inclination incarnate, understanding what “makes him tick” is vital for us to understand.
    In overcoming the angel, Yaakov reached a new level of greatness and, therefore, the angel gave him a new name that incorporated and reflected his newfound status. The name Yisrael connoted that he had "struggled against men and angels and had overcome". After his own name was changed, Yaakov asked the angel what his name - the source of his energy - is. The angel answered Yaakov’s question. He essentially replied, "My name is: "Why do you ask my name? That is my title and essence. Do you know how I lure people to sin? By confusing them and convincing them not to think too much or sufficiently analyze the situation. I thrive on gray areas and lack of clarity. Don’t ask what my name is! Just do it! You’ll worry about the repercussions later! That is my name!”
    When Yaakov struggled with the angel and overcame him, there was one casualty - Yaakov’s thigh was dislocated. As a result, in commemoration of that encounter, we are prohibited to eat the gid hanashe, the sciatic nerve. The gemara[3] records a dispute whether the gid hanashe has any taste. The gemara concludes that it is tasteless.
    Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita, Rabbi of the Old City of Yerushalyim, explained that there is a great symbolic message in the prohibition of eating the tasteless gid hanashe. We maintain a mistaken illusion that our evil inclination wants us to enjoy life and ‘live it up’. In truth however, our evil inclination is our foremost enemy.
    Chovas Halvavos[4] explains that our evil inclination wants to strip us of all enjoyment, gain and pleasure - in this world and in the next world. However, he understands that he will not be able to convince us to destroy ourselves completely. He reasons that if there is a choice, he would rather goad us to live it up in this world if doing so will get us to forfeit part of our portion in the World to Come. But when he has the opportunity to cause us not to enjoy this world, he does that too.
          Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l illustrated this idea with a contemporary example. If one wants to purchase a new suit, he may spend significant time looking through racks of suits until he finds a few that he likes. He tries them all on, ponders how they feel and look on him, and finally settles on one suit. He purchases it, has it shatnez tested, and then brings it to the tailor. When he finally picks up his new suit and is walking to his car, he begins to have second thoughts - perhaps he should have gotten the other suit he was considering. Those negative thoughts are unquestionably the product of his evil inclination. Now when he should feel blissful joy and gratitude that he finally found a suit, why should he start second guessing himself? His greatest enemy is internal - it doesn’t want him to have any enjoyment at all. Only when he realizes that it’s stemming up from an evil source can he seek to fight against it.
          One of our evil inclination’s greatest weapons is illusion and fantasy. He causes the pleasures of this world to seem incredibly glamorous and alluring. In doing so he hopes that will fall prey to sin, and thereby exchange our eternal world for momentary fleeting pleasure. He incited within us feelings of jealousy, enmity, and lust. He builds up fantasies in our mind, and then when he gets it to stumble in sin, we realize it was a fleeting experience, not nearly what we thought it would be. And then he we are left in the debris of our folly, whereupon our evil inclination engenders self-loathing and shame. He causes that which is tasteless to seem so inviting and that is the message of the gid hanashe. Be wary of the yetzer hara which makes tasteless seem tasty.
    The strength of our evil inclination is rooted in the question, "Why do you ask my name?" He has the ability to cause what is truly important and meaningful to seem boring, difficult, and not enjoyable. Yaakov overcame the angel because he detained him until dawn broke through the darkness. The light of clarity is our greatest weapon to overcome it.
    Often in life we become caught up in the hedonism and pettiness around us. Yaakov Avinu demonstrates that that the way to overcome our internal enemy is by maintaining the struggle until the sun rises, until we can pull ourselves away from the grip of his darkness. We need to spit out the tasteless sinew of the gid hanashe and recognize that it’s tasteless in the end.

          After relating the dream, Rabbi Wachtfogel concluded that although it was only a dream, it contains a poignant message. In our day, the evil inclination has never been stronger. We may not be able to do the great things that previous generations did, but our efforts to restrain ourselves from negative influences and remain true to Torah and its values, no generation before us has ever been so tested or challenged. And that is why our generation is worthy to fulfill the dream and welcome Moshiach.

          "Why is it that you ask my name?"
          “He struggled against men and angels and overcame”


Rabbi Dani Staum LMSW
Rebbe, Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck, NJ
Principal, Ohr Naftali, New Windsor NY




[1] Bereishis 32:25-30
[2] When a new father approached the Satmar Rebbe zt’l and asked him to suggest what he should name his newborn son, the Rebbe refused to answer. The Rebbe explained that when parents name their newborn child, they are granted divine assistance to give a name that reflects the child’s essence and soul. The Rebbe noted that he himself was not given that ability with someone else’s child, so he did not want to interfere.
[3] Chullin 89b
[4] Perek Yichud Hama’aseh

Thursday, December 5, 2019

PARSHAS VAYETZEI 5780


“STAM TORAH”
PARSHAS VAYETZEI 5780

“THE ESSENCE OF LOVE”


          One summer day, two friends, Larry and Scott, went on a fishing trip. It was a beautiful day and they enjoyed the sunshine beating down on their heads as they cast their lines into the ocean. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a massive wave lifted the boat. Larry lost his balance and fell into the now choppy waters.  Scott quickly leaned over the side of the boat and stretched out his hand towards Larry as he called out “Larry, give me your hand.” To his shock, Larry just stared at him motionless. As Larry began to drift away from the boat, Scott leaned out even further, “C’mon Larry! Hurry up! Give me your hand and I’ll just pull you back on!” Larry looked confused and continued to drift into the vast sea. Scott began to panic. “Larry! This is your last chance! Give me your hand or you’ll be too far away for me to help you!” He watched in utter anguish as his friend drifted out to sea, lost forever.  
          When he arrived back at shore, Larry had the terrible task of informing Scott’s wife about the inexplicable events that had just made her into a widow. After he tearfully recounted to her what had occurred, Scott’s wife replied, “You don’t get it. You told Larry that he should give you his hand.  Larry never gave anybody anything in his life!”

          Yaakov Avinu fled the wrath of Eisav, arriving at the home of his deceitful uncle, Lavan. When Yaakov requested to marry Rochel, Lavan agreed on condition that Yaakov work for him for seven years.
          The pasuk states: “Yaakov worked for seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him as a few days because of his love for her.”[1] Generally, when a person is excited about something in the future the days seem to drag on painfully slowly. The more excited one is for the anticipated event the slower time seems to pass. This is certainly true about a Choson and Kallah awaiting their wedding. If so, how can the Torah say that the seven years passed quickly due to Yaakov’s vast love for Rachel?       
          Rabbi Elya Lopian zt’l explains[2] that one must be wary of the difference between true love and what is merely labeled love. Our understanding of love is somewhat distorted and therefore it is difficult for us to relate to the relationship and love that Yaakov felt towards Rochel. He relates a parable about a man who came to a restaurant for lunch. When the waiter asked him what he wanted, the man replied that he loves a good steak. The waiter nodded knowingly and disappeared into the kitchen. He emerged a few minutes later with a steaming succulent steak, which he placed in front of the famished customer. The man wasted no time cutting the steak and devouring it. He then smacked his lips and put his hands on his stomach. A customer at the next table turned to him, “Sir, didn’t you say that you loved steak?” The man nodded. The other customer continued, “Is that how you treat something you love? You ask that it be doused in spices and grilled on a fire, so that you can cut it into pieces and devour it?! if you love your mother, I think I should warn her to be careful.”
          Rabbi Lopian explains that, truthfully, we don’t love foods; we love ourselves. When we are eating those foods, our taste buds are enriched with a sensation that we enjoy. Therefore, we say we love the food, when in reality it is ourselves that we love. The same is true regarding cars or other material possessions.  No one can really love an inanimate object, such as a car. What he actually loves is himself and the car makes him feel special or important when he drives it.  
          True love is selfless; it is a feeling of desire to connect with the person who is loved. When one performs a mitzvah out of feelings of love for G-d, he does not love the actual object of the mitzvah but what it represents. When one shakes a lulav and esrog he doesn’t actually love the esrog per se, but he loves connecting with his Creator, and this is the manner G-d endowed him with to foster that connection.  
          This is the love Yaakov possessed for Rochel. The seven-year period of Yaakov’s waiting for Rochel was a completely spiritual experience and the preparation and waiting for an untainted spiritual love does not cause anxiety and impatience.
          Rabbi Lopian compares Yaakov’s love to one who has to manufacture his own tefillin. Although he anxiously awaits its completion so that he can perform the mitzvah, every moment that he is working to create the tefillin is also dear to him. Therefore, he enjoys the entire experience.     
This idea is very profound, and it is challenging for us to truly comprehend it. Truthfully, when I first learned this explanation from Rabbi Lopian I had a hard time grasping the concept, because we can hardly relate to pure love that is completely selfless.

In, “The thinking teenager’s guide to life”, Rabbi Akiva Tatz expounds upon this idea:
 “Romance is certainly one of the major elements in the culture that surrounds us. Much, if not most, of its literature and entertainment revolves around this experience. What is it exactly?
“The heady swirl of emotion experienced at the beginning of a relationship is the hallmark of romance. There is no Hebrew word for this idea: Hebrew certainly has a word for love, ahava, which at its core denotes giving…
“What is the difference between love and romance? Love is the result of genuine giving (not of taking, as is the mistaken belief in modern society). Real giving, giving of the self, generates love, and that love is real. You love where you give, not where you take. When you give, and particularly when you give yourself, you love. When you give yourself to someone intensely, totally, you will love that person. Parents always love their children more than children love their parents; the reason is that parents give to their children, they give life itself, and that is how their love comes to be. That is the direction of the giving, and that is the direction of love.
“This is one of the most important things to understand, particularly in an age of self-gratification where love is confused with the good feeling of receiving. When you receive from someone and that makes you feel good, you do not necessarily love that person; on the contrary, if you think about it you will see that what you really love in those situations is yourself! You love what the person does for you, you love the good feeling, in fact, you love yourself! No; real love is where you give, not where you receive.
“But romance has nothing to do with giving. It is the experience of newness, the quick infatuation which is generated by superficial appearance, and it is illusory. It lasts only long enough to convince you that it will last forever; in fact, that is exactly when it collapses! Of course, it has a purpose, and that purpose is to inspire, to begin a relationship with energy and hope. In that sense it is a gift; but relative to genuine love it has no name.
“Modern society confuses love with romance. Romance is advertised and sold as love, and of course, when romance dies, as it must, there is nothing left but pain and disillusionment. No one has taught this generation that real relationships are built by the very hard work of giving, and therefore when the taking begins to wear thin, the relationship dies.
“Romance comes at the beginning of a relationship, love comes later. And the height of the romantic notion is, “Love at first sight”, the clearest contradiction imaginable. Love is not possible at first sight; there has not yet been any giving. First sight only reveals the superficial, and only a superficial illusion of love can result.”      
  
Yaakov’s love for Rochel was true love. The ultimate marriage is one built on giving and selflessness. To paraphrase the famous words of President Kennedy, “Ask not what is in the relationship for you to gain, but rather ask what you can devote to the relationship”. That will ensure its success.[3]

“And Yaakov loved Rochel
“They seemed to him as a few days because of his love for her.”


Rabbi Dani Staum LMSW
Rebbe, Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck, NJ
Principal, Ohr Naftali, New Windsor NY




[1] Bereishis 29:20
[2] Lev Eliyahu al HaTorah
[3]  During the early years of Stam Torah, I would add mazal tov wishes to friends and family at the end of Stam Torah. This Stam Torah was originally written in November 2001. The following is what appeared then:
It is hard for me to believe that I am actually about to write the following words. One of the things I enjoy most about disseminating Torah thoughts each week is the opportunity to wish dear friends special ‘Mazal Tovs’ on occasion.
Every day of our lives we are indebted to Hashem for so much, that we find it difficult to properly thank Him for the fact that we are alive each moment and are endowed with so much blessing. Therefore, when we are blessed with an overwhelming gift from Him it becomes that much more impossible to express our gratitude. The ideas of this week’s Stam Torah are especially applicable to a Choson and Kallah and therefore I am overwhelmed with gratitude to Hashem that He has given me the opportunity to wish a Mazal Tov to someone extremely dear to me.
Mazal Tov to Chani Mermelstein of Lakewood N.J. on her becoming a Kallah last night. The reason this Mazal Tov is so dear to me is because Chani is MY Kallah.
May Hashem grant us the strength and fortitude to accomplish all we seek to do together and build a Bays Ne’eman in Klal Yisroel, raising a generation of B’nei Torah who will continue to disseminate the word of G-d and the Torah for all of eternity.
Our vort will iy’h be a week from Sunday December 2, 2001 in Ateres Yeshaya, Lakewood, NJ, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.