Thursday, August 27, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Years ago one of my Rabbeim related this humorous, yet acerbic, anecdote:

It wasn’t that Zev was bad or apathetic. In fact, in his heart Zev loved to do what was right. It was just that when it came to action, he had a hard time overcoming his lackadaisical nature.

Zev’s Rebbe was becoming exasperated. Zev was consistently late to davening and to class. He would mosey in to shul well after davening had begun with a sluggish demeanor that drove his Rebbe bonkers. Gentle prodding, stern rebuking, guilt trips, and severe warnings had accomplished little. Zev wanted to be on time and he understood the importance of prayer. It was just that his bed was so appealing in the morning and he lacked the willpower to leave the warm confines of his cozy blanket.

Then, one morning Zev decided that enough was enough! When his alarm clock rang at 6:15 a.m. he decided that this was going to be the day he began his ascent to greatness. He was going to jump from his bed, hurriedly get dressed, and then proceed to learn for an hour before davening. Then he would daven like he had never davened before, following which he would eat a quick breakfast and then return to learn with gusto. Yes! Today was going to be the beginning of the new Zev.

But just before Zev jumped out of bed an inner voice gnawed at him. “If you jump up now you’ll be dizzy and won’t be able to learn properly. Get those extra few minutes and then you’ll really daven well.” Well, that inner voice certainly had a point. Zev closed his eyes and began to drift back to sleep.

He quickly shook himself awake. “What am I doing? If I go back to sleep, it’ll end up being another wasted day. I can’t allow that to happen.” He was about to swing his covers off when the other voice returned, “Who are you fooling? You can’t just start being the top student. Go back to sleep!” His conscience shot back, “Why not? Who said I can’t become great today? Besides, I at least have to try.”

Back and forth it went. Zev’s inner struggle continued as he lay in bed contemplating his next move. Finally he wisely decided that he could not allow his evil inclination to win him over. With iron-like determination and incredible will Zev hoisted himself out of bed and got dressed. He quickly made his way into shul and at 9:45 a.m. he began to pray. Our hero!

“When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity.”

The Master Ethicists see in this verse an allusion to the personal battle that we are all compelled to contend with. Our nemesis and most implacable foe is our personal Evil Inclination who is relentless in his mission to cause us to stumble in sin.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l notes that the most important aspect of war is the strength and will-power to fight. As soon as one surrenders, the war is over and the defeated are shamed and chagrined. But as long as one is fighting, even if the odds are stacked against him, the war rages on and all hope is not lost.

In our personal struggles as well, the most important concept is, “When you will go out to war”. It is the fortitude and strength of character to rise and proclaim that no matter how many times he has fallen and stumbled, he will resiliently rise and fight on! One who does so is assured that eventually, “Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity”. The growth lies in the struggle.

The Mishna (Avos 6:9) relates, “Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma said: Once I was walking along the road, when a certain man met me. He greeted me and I returned his greeting. He said to me, “Rabbi, from what place are you?” I said to him, ‘I am from a great city of scholars and sages.’ He said to me, ‘Rebbe, would you be willing to live with us in our place? I would give you thousands upon thousands of golden dinars, precious stones and pearls.’ I replied, ‘even if you were to give me all the money in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.’… Furthermore, when a man departs from this world, neither silver, nor gold, nor precious stones, nor pearls escort him, but only Torah study and good deeds…”1

The Mishna’s story is very intriguing. Why did Rabbi Yosi immediately assume that there was no Torah in the stranger’s city? Wasn’t the fact that the man was interested in bringing Rabbi Yosi to become the leader of the city an indication that it was a city which sought spiritual growth? Perhaps the city was bustling with scholars and if Rabbi Yosi would have acquiesced he could have studied and enjoyed the money as well. Also, what was the point of Rabbi Yosi’s harangue? He could have simply said, “No, thank you”. Why did he have to deliver a speech about the value of Torah and about the transience of life?

There was once a king who had a dear and trusted servant whom he loved dearly. One day the king decided that he wanted to show his servant how much he appreciated his years of faithful service. He summoned the servant and told him that the following day he was going to give him exactly one hour to enter his royal vault containing his endless treasures and that he would be able to take whatever he wanted.

The king had another servant – Gustav - who was consumed with jealousy. When he heard the incredible offer that the king was offering the other servant he contemplated how he could cause the servant to blow the opportunity.

Gustav went before the king and said, “Your highness, I am so pleased that your highness has decided to bestow such well-deserved honor upon my friend. I would only humbly add that I know him well. He really loves beautiful music, a good bottle of scotch, and grilled lamb-chops. If your highness really wants to show him love and honor, you can allow his servant to enjoy those pleasures while he is collecting his treasures in the vault.”

The king was delighted with the idea. The next morning Gustav accompanied the honored servant into the vault. Throngs of relatives and friends gathered at the entrance of the vault, hoping that the servant would share the incredible wealth that was soon to be his when he emerged.

When they entered the inner rooms the servant could not believe his eyes. A handful of anything in the room would make him one of the richest people in the kingdom. But as was about to proceed, Gustav told him to stand quietly and listen. There was enchanting music coming from the outside room. They walked outside the room to where a symphony orchestra was playing the most intricate pieces of music, perfectly synchronized. The servant became lost in the dazzling beauty of the music. He stood with his eyes closed, mesmerized by what he was hearing.

When he finally opened his eyes a half-hour had passed. “Oh my goodness”, he cried out, “I have wasted so much time.” But before he could proceed Gustav emerged with bottles of the most expensive scotch available. “Why rush?” he called out to his friend, “just a couple of shots never hurt anyone. Besides you have plenty of time!” The servant could hardly resist and Gustav kept refilling his cup as they laughed and drank.

Within a short time, the servant was completely inebriated. Gustav smiled, “Ahh my friend, what better way to indulge then with a few lamb chops.” Indeed the smell of fresh lamb chops wafted through the room. The servant felt weak as Gustav led him to a plate of fresh lamb chops seasoned and grilled to perfection.

By the time the servant finished consuming the lamb chops there were just minutes left. He stood up and staggered over to the treasures and tried to grab what he could. But he was so drunk that he kept stumbling. Suddenly, a loud bell rang and a guard called out that he was not allowed to touch anything else.

The crowds waiting outside could hardly contain their excitement. But when the servant walked out they were shocked. He staggered out clumsily and obviously drunk; there was grease and stains all over his clothing, his face, and his hair. The people called out to him, “Where is all the wealth you amassed?” they assumed he had left wagonloads of treasures inside that would be carried out imminently.

The servant incoherently replied, “Well, I had a good couple of drinks and really good lamb chops and that’s important too!”

Needless to say, from that day on the once highly acclaimed servant was disparaged and scorned. He was forevermore known as the imbecile who wasted the greatest opportunity one could ever have!

Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma’s story contains a deeper meaning. When Rabbi Yosi related that he was traveling along the road, he was referring to the road we all traverse, i.e. the road of life. The ‘certain man’ who met him and warmly greeted him was the Evil Inclination.

Life invariably takes us in many different directions, and we are constantly challenged to veer off the proper path. The Master Ethicists explain that one of the greatest keys to maintaining our balance and not being swayed is to always remember our roots. “Know from where you’ve come!2”When one has a strong cognizance and sense of perspective and purpose, he is better equipped to pursue his goals and aspirations, despite all hindrances and obstacles that challenge him.

The question is when we are asked the ubiquitous question, “From where are you?” how do we answer. Rabbi Yosi did not reply that he was from a certain village in Babylonia. Rather, that he was from a great city of scholars and sages. It is a city beyond this world, from where all souls are dispatched and ultimately return to. The vicissitudes of life were unable to cause Rabbi Yosi to forget where he truly comes from.

The offer of “the man” that Rabbi Yosi join him in his city so that he could offer him material wealth and prosperity, represents the challenge we are all confronted with on some level. The Evil Inclination approaches us with sincerity and earnestness. He offers us valid reasons why we should become involved in externalities, and we convince ourselves that doing so is necessary and proper.

Then, as soon as we open the door slightly, our Evil Inclination slams the door open, and drags us deeper and deeper into the morass of sin and iniquity.

Rabbi Yosi saw through that farce. If the man truly wanted Rabbi Yosi to become a Torah leader in his city he should have told Rabbi Yosi about the spiritual potential that the city contains. The fact that his offer was strictly for physical greatness and prosperity indicated that the offer lacked spiritual value. Thus, not only did Rabbi Yosi refuse the proposition but he proceeded to explain why the offer was futile.

One only takes with him the Torah and mitzvos he has accrued during his lifetime. When ‘the man’ returns to take our soul and send us back to the real world of the living all the money and prosperity isn’t worth a dime! Rabbi Yosi explained that it was that realization that protected him from falling prey to the man’s convincing argument.

This world is a temporary existence where we have the opportunity to seize the greatest eternal treasures. But we become so side-tracked by the vanities and futilities of life. That was the message of Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma: Never forget where you really come from and never forget why you were sent down this road!

The month of Elul and the weeks preceding the awesome impending Days of Judgment afford us the opportunity to take stock of our own spiritual level. We are all in the vault for a set amount of time. The question is are we grabbing the treasures available to us or are we too busy drinking scotch and eating lamb chops?

“When you will go out to war against your enemies”

“I am from a great city of scholars and sages”

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Camp Dora Golding

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Dr. Raphael Moller was a legend in the German-Jewish community. Not only was he an exceptional doctor, but he was also a person of great moral character, devoted to Klal Yisroel wholeheartedly1.

On November 10, 1938 Dr. Moller arrived in shul for shacharis, only to find the building engulfed in flames. It was the morning after Kristallnacht. He returned home looking ashen and pale.

Later that day two SS officers came to Dr. Moller’s home and arrested him. He was sent to a Concentration Camp for eight weeks. When he returned home, his beard and hair were gone, and his feet were frostbitten.

Shortly after, with the help of Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l, the Moller family escaped to England and from there to America.

During the horrific eight weeks he spent in the Concentration Camp, Dr. Moller did all he could to assist his fellow prisoners. On one occasion he assisted a prisoner who had been beaten by an SS officer. When the officer saw Dr. Moller helping the man to his feet he barked to him, “Leave him alone or you’ll get the same treatment.” Dr. Moller looked at the Nazi and replied, “You do your job and I’ll do mine!”

The prophet Yirmiyahu lived a very tragic and difficult life. During the period just prior to the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash, Yirmiyahu futilely tried to warn his people about the impending doom that was imminently going to befall them if they would not repent and heed the word of G-d. But the nation did not want to hear his message, and they scorned and ridiculed him. Despite the fierce resistance he encountered, the righteous prophet continued to preach his message, until he was incarcerated by his own nation.

Eventually they all realized that Yirmiyahu had spoken words of truth, but by that time it was too late. The Bais Hamikdash was no more than a pile of smoldering ruins and the nation was ignobly being led into the Babylonian exile. Yirmiyahu was left to mourn the obstinacy of Klal Yisroel and to live with the painful awareness that if only the nation would have heeded his call the catastrophe could have been averted.

The AriZal explained that Yirmiyahu was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Shlomo Hamelech. King Solomon, the wisest of men, had lived a life of regality and affluence. The entire world was subject to his benevolent dominion, and Klal Yisroel enjoyed a period of utopian prominence, such that will not be repeated until the advent of Moshiach. It was in that period of august grandeur that Shlomo commissioned the construction of the first Bais Hamikdash in Jerusalem.

The beauty that was Jerusalem under the tutelage of Shlomo eventually became the destruction that was Jerusalem after the prophecies of Yirmiyahu went unheeded. But the greatest irony was that the soul of the person who had built the Bais Hamikdash in all its beauty returned to witness its calumnious destruction in shame and ignominy.

The most glaring question is why should Yirmiyahu have been subject to seeing the undoing and destruction of his lifelong efforts? Why was he chosen to be the prophet who would be maligned and ignored?

The Melo Ha’omer2 explains that the verse in Koheles (7:16) – written by Shlomo Hamelech - states, “Do not be exceedingly righteous or excessively wise; why be left desolate?” In truth, Shlomo wrote these words based on his own personal experience.

The Torah delineates specific guidelines that a Jewish king must follow. Although a king has an elevated status and enjoys certain added privileges and benefits not granted to the common man, he too is bound to certain restrictions. “You shall surely set over yourself a king whom Hashem, your G-d, shall choose…Only he shall not have too many horses for himself, so that he will not return the people to Egypt in order to increase horses… And he shall not have too many wives, so that his heart not turns astray; and he shall not greatly increase silver and gold for himself.3

Shlomo reasoned that as king over the entire world he would be able to influence all of mankind to serve G-d and believe in the veracity of the Torah. In so doing Shlomo hoped to usher in the Messianic era when the world would unequivocally recognize that, “G-d is One and His Name is One.” He felt that the best way to expedite that transition was for him to marry a princess from every nationality. Then, after he had forged such strong connections with all of the world’s rulers and kings, he would be able to accomplish his goals for ‘world unification under G-d’.

Thus, Shlomo felt he was justified in taking more wives than the Torah allows. He was confident that he was above the Torah’s admonishments. He reasoned that the Torah feared that if a king took too many wives they would mislead him. He however, was an exception and many wives would not affect him.

The day that the Bais Hamikdash was built was a day of unparalleled joy. Yet, regarding that same day, the gemara4 applies the verse5, “For this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and of My fury, from the day they built it until today.” The gemara explains that the reason for G-d’s anger was because on that day Shlomo married the daughter of Pharoah.

The gemara6 also notes that on the day when the Bais Hamikdash was completed and Shlomo married the daughter of Pharaoh, the angel Gavriel thrust a reed into the sea, around which mud gathered and eventually grew into ‘Rome of Italia’ which would one day destroy the Bais Hamikdash. In other words, on the very day when Klal Yisroel was celebrating the completion of the Bais Hamikdash, the seeds of its destruction were sown.

What was the ultimate root-cause of the destruction? Because Shlomo felt he was ‘wiser than the Torah’. He felt that a commandment in the Torah did not apply to him because he was above it. In so doing he dug his own grave, as it were. The wives he married were clandestinely faithful to their idolatry, and eventually became the bane of Shlomo.

Shlomo was compelled to return as Yirmiyahu to witness the destruction that he himself had unwittingly - and with the noblest of intentions – caused. Therefore, when he authored Koheles, Shlomo exhorted, “Do not be exceedingly righteous or excessively wise; why be left desolate?” It is a lesson that the wisest of men himself learned from personal experience: Never think that you are wiser than the Torah! Never think that you are above the guidelines and protective fences that the Sages enacted! If you do you may end up as Shlomo did; “why be left desolate?”7

The month of Elul and the days of repentance are upon us. These are days when we seek to reconnect ourselves with our Creator and the true purpose of life. One of the most important components of connecting ourselves with G-d is to subjugate ourselves to His Will, which is taught to us through the Torah.

At times we feel that our brilliant ideas and schemes allow us to be above the restrictions of the Torah. We feel confident that some of the prohibitions of the Sages do not apply to us and we can ignore their safeguards and still not transgress the Torah. Shlomo Hamelech warns us that no one is above the Torah.

It is not our job to save the world as much as it is to do what is incumbent upon us. In a sense the month of Elul is a time when we look heavenward and humbly proclaim, “You do your job and I’ll do mine!” Ultimately G-d will run the world as He sees fit. In the meantime our role is merely to adhere to the injunctions and commandments of His holy eternal Torah.

“And he shall not have too many wives”

“Do not be exceedingly righteous… why be left desolate?”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

RE’EH 5769

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Camp Dora Golding

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R’ Bentzion Dunner of London was a tremendously charitable philanthropist with a heart of gold. Jews from al over the world would knock on his door for financial help, and R’ Bentzion would not disappoint them. In addition, he would always lend a patient and caring ear before contributing generously. On the night of Purim 2008 he distributed more than a million pounds to charity. He gave multi-millions of dollars to Bobov and Skver and over fifty million dollars to charity in 2007. He often said that he viewed himself as a ‘gabbai tzedakah’; that G-d had granted him wealth merely so that he could be in charge of disseminating it to those in need.

On March 21, 2008, R’ Bentzion was driving with his three children from Golders Green to Bournemouth, with his wife following in a second vehicle. He suddenly lost control of his car, which veered off the road and into a ditch, killing R’ Bentzion instantly. Miraculously his children survived.

A relative of R’ Bentzion approached the great sage, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita, and asked him, “Does it not say1 “Charity saves from death”? How could a person who dedicated his life to charity and never spurned a needy person, have died so young2 and so tragically?”

Rabbi Kanievsky replied curtly and emphatically, “He was supposed to die twenty years ago!”3

The mitzvah of giving charity is one of the hallmarks of Judaism. The amount of charitable organizations and the donors who support them are a testament to our dedication to helping our brethren. The amounts of charity given by the most generous non-Jews are laughable when compared with the charity given by the average Torah Jew who gives ten percent of his income to charity. But even greater than how much we give is how we give it. A Jew must do his utmost to ensure that the recipient does not feel shamed or embarrassed for his neediness. “Who is like Your People Israel, one Nation in the land?4

“If there shall be a destitute person among you… you shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother… You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for it is because of this matter that Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.”

The Sages constantly impressed the tremendous importance and merit involved in giving charity:

  • “We are obligated to be careful in regards to the mitzvah of charity, more so than any other obligatory mitzvah… The throne of Israel is not prepared, and the law of truth does not stand except with charity… Israel will not be redeemed except with charity…”5
  • “The mitzvah of charity is tantamount to all other mitzvos.”6
  • “One is obligated to give charity with joy and a good heart.”7
  • “One who gives charity with a doleful face loses his merit”8
  • We do not recite a blessing when giving charity because we are obligated to give joyfully and most people lack that level of joy and enthusiasm when giving.9

Why is this mitzvah so valuable that it is equal to all other mitzvos? Also, why are there so many nuances and additives involved in giving charity? Isn’t it hard enough to give up one’s hard-earned money; why should one be obliged to give joyfully?

The Nesivos Sholom explains that charity is not merely about giving away money. The ability to give away one’s own resources in order to help another must be rooted in faith in G-d. If one truly believes that he will get whatever he is destined to receive from G-d (as long as he does his part) it will be far easier for him to give.

This idea is expressed in the Mishna10, “Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa said: Give Him from His own, for you and what is yours are His”. Whenever one gives charity he is essentially giving back to G-d what is anyways His. G-d ensures that money and resources are granted to whomever He deems should have it (for whatever reason). Our role in giving charity is only that we have an opportunity to overcome our nature and receive merit and reward for taking part of G-d’s Work, as it were. But in the end, our actions and efforts notwithstanding, every penny only ends up where, and to whom, G-d wants. This attitude and mindset is an integral part of giving charity.

One who gives charity dolefully or begrudgingly demonstrates that his faith is somewhat wanting and he has not fully fulfilled the mitzvah of giving charity. On the other hand, one who is able to feel joy when giving demonstrates that his faith in G-d is strong. Such a person has essentially achieved the underlying goal of all mitzvos, i.e. to fulfill the Word of G-d by subjugating ourselves to His Will and demonstrating our faith in Him. Therefore, when fulfilled properly, the mitzvah of giving charity is equivalent to all other mitzvos.

Every Jew is innately kindhearted and benevolent. It is part of our genetic makeup, dating back to our patriarch Avrohom11. But there are certain Jews who dedicate their lives to being charitable and helping others. The truest level of chessed (kindness) is accomplished by one seeks to help others altruistically, for the sole purpose of being a giver.

The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Mendel Rimanover, was once learning with his students when he was interrupted by an impoverished individual who begged him for charity. The man appeared completely bedraggled and disheveled, his clothing was torn, and his face looked gaunt. Rabbi Mendel immediately turned to his gabbai (sexton) and instructed him to go into his private room and take a gold coin from his coat to give to the poor man. When the poor man received the sparkling and expensive coin, his face lit up. He thanked the Rebbe profusely and left in a state of great joy.

Rabbi Mendel immediately resumed his studies. But about five minutes later he stopped again. After a moment of silence, the Rebbe again called over his gabbai. He asked him to please hurry and find the poor man who had just left his home and ask him to return immediately. The gabbai rushed out and soon found the poor man wandering through the market place, apparently trying to decide the best way to spend the generous donation he had just received. When the poor man heard that the Rebbe wanted him to return he looked crestfallen. He was certain that the Rebbe realized that he had given him too much and wanted to exchange it for a silver coin.

The poor man begrudgingly made his way back to the Rebbe, his eyes downcast. But as soon as he walked in the Rebbe apologized for bothering him to return and handed him a second gold coin. The poor man was beside himself with joy and confusion. “Holy Rebbe, if the Rebbe had intended to give me such a magnanimous donation in the first place why didn’t the Rebbe just do so?”

Rabbi Mendel explained, “When I originally gave you the gold coin it was given wholeheartedly. However, after you left I realized that I had really given it to you out of compassion. I felt pained by your appearance and was struck by pangs of compassion. That would mean that I had given the coin to you in order to fulfill my own need to assuage my conscience.

“In parshas Re’eh when the Torah commands that one give charity it says, "נתן תתן" which literally means “give you shall give”. The redundant wording teaches us that if one gave charity out of feelings of mercy and compassion he must give again altruistically. It was for that reason that I called you back, so that I could give you that second coin purely out of a desire to help a fellow Jew.”

There’s giving and then there’s giving!

“The mitzvah of charity is tantamount to all other mitzvos.”

“Give you shall give to him, and let your heart not feel bad”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

EIKEV 5769

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Camp Dora Golding

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week, send their address to:




Recently, I read an interview in which Rabbi Dovid Feinstein shlita discussed some recollections about his father, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l. The interviewer asked Rabbi Dovid what aspects of his father’s noble life he wished to share. Rabbi Dovid replied that he didn’t feel there was much benefit in talking about his father’s Torah study. Rabbi Moshe’s diligence, devotion, and incredible Torah scholarship was uncanny. The average person would be completely intimidated when hearing about Rabbi Moshe’s erudition. He is unable to relate to a man who completed the entire Talmud each year and was familiar with every aspect of Torah with complete mastery. Rather, Rabbi Dovid felt there would be more benefit in discussing Rabbi Moshe’s interpersonal acumen; his extreme love for every person, his sensitivity for the feelings of others, and his tireless efforts on behalf of Klal Yisroel.

“It was at the end of forty days and forty nights that G-d gave me the two stone Tablets, the Tablets of the covenant.1

Rabbi David Lapin, founder and author of iawaken.org2 makes a poignant observation about the Luchos3. If one analyzes the text of the Luchos (i.e. the Ten Commandments) he will note that there were far fewer letters on the left-hand side of the Luchos than on the right! Although there were five commandments inscribed upon each side, the commandments on the right-hand side dealing with a person’s responsibilities to G-d, are much longer and detailed than those on the left, which involve one’s interpersonal obligations. The commandments listed on the left are curt and concise, merely stating the imperative to be adhered to. The commandments on the right however, include a lengthy exposition about the law being commanded.

Although the wording on the left should logically have taken up much less space than the wording on the right, the Mabit notes that the words on the shorter, left-hand side were written larger than the words on the right. Thus, while the format was the same, i.e. the margins were the same width and height on both sides, the size of the letters was very different. It stands to reason then, that the large letters on the left-hand side could be read from a much greater distance than the smaller letters on the right-hand side.

With this in mind, Rabbi Lapin depicts the following scenario: We can only imagine Moshe descending from Sinai (let us say, the second time when the people were not otherwise preoccupied with the sin of the Golden Calf!). There was a tremendous feeling of anticipation among the Nation. They wondered, “What will this covenant that Moshe is bringing from G-d, say? What will it demand?” They had already committed themselves to it, and therefore, it is conceivable that they were somewhat apprehensive about what they had committed themselves to.

“Imagine the almost palpable wave of excitement growing in the People as Moshe appears. They tentatively step forward, then more quickly. They strain to see what is written on these large stones Moshe bears high in his arms. There is the silence of awe: the same silent questions in the hearts of every person. Curiosity. Wonder. Anticipation. Finally he is close enough for those of them with better eye-sight to read. It is as if the Headlines are all listed on the left-hand side, and the articles are on the right! They can read the headlines, but not yet the articles.

“What? No mention of G-d? No ritual? No ceremony? No formal worship? Just a list of worthy moral principles to govern the relationships between people? What religion is this? Is it a religion at all? Did that take forty days to receive?

“And much later, as Moshe steps lower and lower down the mountain, cautiously avoiding the rocks and obstacles that must have littered his way, they can read the writing on the right: I am Hashem your G-d; There shall be no other G-d; Take not My Name in vain; Shabbos. Honor your parents.

“The Nation’s first impression of the Torah was a code of interpersonal behavior and ethics. Only later, when they read the small print, did they see that there was a requirement of a vibrant relationship to G-d as well.

“That is how great Jewish people appear to the world. From the distance all you notice about them is their dignified conduct, their sensitive human interactions, their compassion and empathy, their extreme cautiousness not to damage others physically or emotionally. From the perspective of first impression and appearance, it is their humanity and morality that so radically differentiates them and sets them apart: Princes among nations. Only when you get closer, when you become more intimate, do you notice the “ritualistic” side of their religiosity. But it is not the external uniform and extent of their religious affiliation and commitment that first strikes your eye.

“Why then, if the interpersonal laws are the more important ones, did G-d not place them first on the Luchos? The Headline usually begins the newspaper; but in this case the small print preceded the Headlines! The reason is because the interpersonal is not more important than the laws that govern Man’s relationship with G-d. Our Torah lives start with Emunah and Bitachon, (belief and faith). Our precious and ever growing relationship with G-d drives everything else we do, including our interpersonal behavior.

“Our standards and expectations of interpersonal conduct need to be way beyond those of a secular moralist or humanist. To us, the prohibition of murder includes killing a person’s dignity. Theft includes the theft of time, reputation or even sleep. These demanding definitions of our moral standards stem from the very fact that they originate in our relationship with G-d. Our connection to our fellow man is premised on the fact that our souls share a common root.

“Internally and in process, the man-G-d laws precede the interpersonal laws. However in the way we project ourselves to the world, our religious observance (while never really hidden) is always part of our very private lives. It is our majestic dignity in interpersonal conduct that defines us and differentiates us in the eyes of our communities and the world.”

Rabbi Lapin’s beautiful thought has important implications for every Jew. What makes our leaders great is not only their scholarship and vast knowledge in Torah. In fact, when one encounters a Torah leader it is not his scholarship that is striking at all. Rather, it his persona and countenance; the patience he displays and the love he exudes for everyone he encounters.

Often people walk away from a meeting with a Torah leader with a noticeable sense of elevation. “It was like I was the most important person in the world and he had all the time for me, despite the fact that I know he has tens of people waiting to speak with him.” That ‘external greatness’ is the first aspect of a leader that is noticeable.

Then, when one becomes closer with a Torah leader and begins to know him more intimately, he realizes that his sterling character and uncanny humility is the product of his incredible Torah study and erudition.

Those qualities are not only for the elite and holy. It is incumbent upon every Jew to strive to perfect his character so that is resonates with every person he encounters. One must also realize that the root of that perfection, which is not discernable to the naked eye, stems from one’s devotion to G-d.

Rabbi Lapin notes that his great-uncle, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian zt’l, related that when he was a young child he once saw Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt’l. Rabbi Lopian mentioned that what most impressed him at that moment was the majesty of Rabbi Yisroel’s bearing, and the fact that in appearance and dress, he resembled an ordinary businessman. In that sense, Rabbi Yisroel epitomized the Luchos: From the distance he appeared like a person who was differentiated only by his personal majesty, not by his rabbinic clothes. It was only later did his piety become evident.

In fact, to the masses the greatness of Rabbi Yisroel’s Torah scholarship was not well known. He is remembered as the founder of the Mussar Movement, always completely devoted to thinking about others and living a life of complete selflessness. But Rabbi Yisroel was also an unbelievable scholar with an incredible breadth of Torah knowledge and a razor-sharp mind. That hidden aspect of Rabbi Yisroel’s persona was in reality the source of his greatness and accomplishments.

Here in Camp Dora Golding, there is a ‘tradition’ to kick off every Visiting Day by repeating the old bad joke: “What is the difference between a Jew and a canoe? A canoe tips!”

The Mashgiach, Rabbi Mordecai Finkeman shlita, often says that the fact that there is truth in that joke is not very funny. We have an obligation to be Examples to the world and to be a People who live a more noble and elevated lifestyle. When non-Jews (and surely Jews!) muse that Jews are aggressive drivers, lousy tippers, rude, or cheap it is a terrible desecration of G-d’s Name.

The media never minces words when they have an opportunity to malign Jews, especially religious Jews with long beards. Recently, there has been much written about Jewish dishonesty and involvement in financial shams. It is an egregious reflection upon all of us.

We have a responsibility to do our part to alter those negative stereotypes and to show that Jews are indeed a regal nation. That often entails giving an extra dollar as a tip, driving a bit slower, and being more patient on lines. But that is our responsibility as the Chosen Nation. After all, although our true greatness is that we are the Torah Nation and are incredibly devoted to G-d’s Torah and have built tremendous yeshivos, it is our interpersonal interactions that are immediately apparent.

“The words on the left were larger than the words on the right”

“G-d gave me the two stone Tablets, the Tablets of the covenant”