Thursday, January 16, 2020



          One day Josh, a young successful executive, was driving hastily down a neighborhood street in his new sleek, black, 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE.
          Suddenly, something smashed into his car. Josh immediately slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car. A brick had clearly been thrown at his car. He turned to find a young boy standing nearby. He grabbed the boy, pushed him up against a parked car, and with his eyes bulging with rage Josh began screaming, “Just what did you think you were doing? That's my new Jag you threw the brick at. You know this is going to cost your parents a lot of money!”
          The boy’s voice quivered as he meekly replied, "Please mister, I'm sorry!  I didn't know what else to do!  I threw the brick because no one would stop to help when I waved my hands at their cars."
          Tears were streaming down the boy's face as he pointed around the parked car.  "It's my brother, sir." he said, "He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can't lift him up."  Sobbing the little boy asked Josh, "Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair?  He's too heavy for me."
          Josh tried desperately to swallow rapidly the lump building in his throat. He bent down and lifted the young man back into the wheelchair and took out his hanker-chief to wipe not only the brother’s tears, but his scrapes and cuts as well. Then he watched the grateful younger brother push him down the sidewalk toward their home.
          It was a long walk back to the dented Jaguar.  Josh never fixed the side door.  He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick to get his attention.

          Chumash Shemos introduces Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential leader.
          After escaping death in Egypt, Moshe became a shepherd for his father-in-law, Yisro. One day while shepherding in the desert, Moshe encountered a wondrous sight. A thorn-bush was aflame, yet it was not becoming consumed. Moshe declared, (3:3) "I will turn now and see this wondrous sight; why is the bush not becoming consumed?" When he approached, G-d called to Moshe from within the burning bush, and thus began his unwitting rise to leadership.
          My Rebbi, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that Moshe’s reaction symbolizes one of the qualities of Moshe that made him worthy of leadership.
          Life and world events are often unusual and intriguing. Most people take note of things that occur and then move on. We are too busy to invest any extra time or energy to contemplate the events. Life is fast paced, as well try to juggle seemingly endless responsibilities and expectations. We don’t have time to "stop and smell the flowers".[2]
     The Kotzker Rebbe noted that others may have seen the burning bush. But no one else stopped to ponder and analyze it. They may have snapped a picture and posted it on their social media page, but then had to rush back to work or pick up carpool. Moshe was the only one who declared “asurah nah – Let me turn now” to ponder the unusual occurrence. That was the first indication that Moshe had the qualifications of leadership. A leader must always be attuned to his people and his surroundings. He can never be so busy that he doesn’t recognize things happening around him.

     After World War Two ended, along with many other high-ranking Nazis, the infamous Nazi Adolph Eichmann escaped to South America after the war. The Israeli Mossad tracked him down and in May 1960, in a daring raid, they abducted Eichmann and brought him to Israel to stand trial for his innumerable war crimes. In 1961 after a fourteen-week trial, Eichmann was indicted and hung.
          During the trial, agents guarded Eichmann around the clock. The sadistic villain who nonchalantly watched adults and children being gassed, had become a reserved, even somewhat intellectual, person. The evil was all hidden beneath the veneer of German etiquette.
          Eichmann once declared to one of his guards “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad". He explained to the shocked guard that if you want to beat your enemy you have to know your enemy. During the war he wanted to understand the religion he was destroying and so he learned what those words – the words he heard cried out so many times as Jews were going to their death - meant.
     Pharaoh also understood the Jewish spirit. He knew that there was one guaranteed method to keep the Jews under his jurisdiction. Mesillas Yeshorim[3] explains that when Moshe began declaring the imminence of redemption to the nation, Pharaoh responded by commanding "tichbad ha’avodah – Let the work be heavier upon the men and let them engage in it and let them not pay attention to false words."[4] Pharaoh did not grant the Jews any respite so that we would not be able to even fathom or entertain any notion of liberation or revolution.  
     In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a 200,000-man march on Washington to protest segregation and racial inequality. He is most remembered for his now famous words, "I have a dream".
     Pharaoh ensured that the servitude was so complete and restricting that his Jewish slaves could not even entertain a dream of better times and redemption. If there is no dream, there is no hope!

     The first curse of the tochacha (‘rebuke’) of Parshas Bechukosai, is that of ‘behala’.[5] Simply translated, behala means panic. It includes the curse of lack of equanimity, of constantly running and never feeling calm and settled. Our daily lives are often filled with a modicum of behala[6]. The antidote for "tichbad ha’ovodah" is "asura nah v’ereh", to pay attention and to contemplate life as it happens, and not allow everything to pass by aimlessly.
     This week I had the privilege to participate in a Hachnosas Sefer Torah.[7] It was quite chilly as the procession made its way up the local street that was blockaded by the police. As we danced in front of the Torah, singing and dancing I couldn’t help but think about the contrast of the events of the previous night. One night earlier in Manhattan a far greater gathering had taken place. Tens of thousands of people braved the winter cold to watch the ball fall in Times Square as the secular New Year was heralded in.
     There are always things in life for which one is willing to sacrifice time, money, comfort, and sometimes even health and well-being. The question is what those things are. It’s up to us to decide, not only based on what we say we value, but based upon our actions.

          “Let the work be heavier”
          “I will turn and I will see this wondrous sight”

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

[1] This essay was from the second year that I sent out Stam Torah in 2001/5761
[2] Rabbi Wein quipped that one should talk to himself periodically. He adds that when he personally does so, those conversations are sometimes the only meaningful ones he has all day.
[3] chapter 2
[4] Shemos 5:9
[5] Vayikra 26:16; “…I will assign upon you behala….”
[6] Part of the greatness of the priceless gift of Shabbos is that it affords us a reprieve from the endless running of the week, so that we can rejuvenate body and spirit and reconnect with what really matters.
[7] This was in January 2001. It was a Hachnosas Sefer Torah in Edison, NJ in memory of Mrs. Dina Eisner a”h, mother of my friend, Moshe.


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