Friday, November 27, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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This past summer, Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein1 related the following personal extraordinary story:

“There was a popular pool-hall on the main street in Monticello that had a dance club in the back. It was a terribly sinful place where kids went to hang out. The worst was on Motzei Shabbos during the summer, when there would be a crowd of about two hundred fifty Jewish boys and girls ‘hanging out’.

“It was an untenable situation and we felt that we had to do something. I went with a few friends to discuss the matter with Rabbi Dovid Feinstein shlita. I told Rabbi Feinstein that we had an idea which we hoped could at least put a damper on the frivolous partying that was going on. A group of couples, including my wife and myself, planned to go to the pool-hall on Motzei Shabbos and mingle with the rambunctious crowds and schmooze with them. The thought was that between the eight of us, many of the boys and girls would recognize us. If they felt uncomfortable by our presence perhaps they would leave. It would at least prevent the boys and girls who stopped by to ‘see what was going on’ from joining.

“We also arranged to have the bowling alley in Kiamesha rented out for the boys, so those boys who we were able to convince to leave would have an incentive of where they could go. Rabbi Feinstein agreed to our plan.

“On Motzei Shabbos eight couples came down to the pool-hall. It was a wild party, replete with raucous music, smoking, and gender-intermingling. After walking around and schmoozing with some of the kids, two of my friends and I decided that we should go into the club in the back to see if we could have any effect there. I knew some of my students were back there and that they would feel embarrassed if they saw me walk in. But when we tried to enter the club, the guard at the door told us “we were too old”. I reasoned with him that we only wanted to walk through. Finally, he relented and told me that if I really thought there was ‘stuff’ going on in the back I could go in myself, look around, and leave immediately.

“I was about to walk in when suddenly the owner of the pool hall rushed over and told me I couldn’t go in. “Forget it. All of you Rabbis have to get out of here.” I told him that if he wouldn’t let me in the back I would stay and shoot pool. But he was adamant, “We don’t want your money and we don’t want you in here. Just get out!” As he said it, three bouncers began to physically shove us out. The bouncers pushed us out of the hall and literally threw us down the steps outside the pool hall.

“I began screaming at the crowd of teens gathered at the top of the steps. “Do you see how low you’ve fallen? Three Rabbis are thrown out right in front of your eyes and you don’t say a word?!”

“Meanwhile the owner of the club looked down at us from the top of the steps and condescendingly said, “Rabbis, you’re not going to win this! You don’t know who you’re messing with. I own Monticello!”

“A police officer was standing nearby and saw what was happened. He called to us to get out of there. I couldn’t believe it. We had just been pushed out for no reason and the cop was siding with the assailant. I realized the owner must truly be very influential in Monticello.

“The ‘Rabbis getting thrown out of the pool hall’ immediately became the talk of the mountains. The next day we had a meeting and I found out that the owner of the hall owned a tremendous amount of real estate and town houses in Monticello. It truly seemed as if he owned Monticello.

So we went back to the owner and told him that we felt bad about what happened. We told him that we weren’t out to ruin the kid’s fun; we just didn’t like the sinful atmosphere that was being promoted. So we offered to rent out the pool hall for the boys and a bowling alley for girls. Everyone could have a good time, albeit separately. The owner agreed to rent the pool hall to us for a large sum of money.

“That Motzei Shabbos we invited the boys to the pool hall and twenty boys showed up (fifteen girls showed up at the bowling alley). I decided that for the next week I had to come up with a better ‘draw’, so I invited Yossi Piamenta to play in the pool hall with his band. It would be a free night of pool, music, and pizza. I was sure we would have a big crowd.

But that second Motzei Shabbos, again only twenty boys showed up.

“After the ‘concert’ the owner of the pool hall turned to me and said, ‘You see Rabbi you were wrong! The boys and girls need each other. You’re trying to stop something that you just can’t stop. You brought in Piamenta, free pizza, free pool, and look who came. You see that you’re wrong. So I’ll tell you what I am going to do. On Wednesday night I am going to host the craziest party Monticello has ever seen. I will have free beer, free admission, free food and rocking music. They are going to have the wildest time of their lives.” I pleaded with him not to do it, but he wouldn’t listen. “You can’t stop it Rabbi; they need each other!” He was right; there was nothing I could do. I left feeling very defeated.

“That Tuesday I was driving by the pool-hall when I noticed signs plastered all over the building on every side, “Closed by the Fire Department”; “Do not enter”; “VIOLATION!”; “For Sale”.

“We had no idea what happened until the next day. I have a friend who is very involved with the politicians in Monticello. The Chief of the Fire Department called him up and told him that they shut down the pool-hall. My friend replied that he had never asked them to do so. The Chief replied, “It has nothing to do with you. On Sunday morning we went into the building to perform a routine safety check. When we went into the basement we found that the owner of the pool-hall had antique cars that he was repainting and refurbishing. He had so much paint, solvent, chemicals, and gas in the basement that if one cigarette butt would have been thrown into that basement the building would have blown sky high, and you would have had over two hundred dead Jewish kids.”

“The non-Jewish Chief continued, “You should know that your G-d watches out for your children. That building was on top of a time-bomb. There was so much solvent without egress that half of Monticello could have easily blown up. I want you to know of every group that we deal with, we have never had another group that cares about their children like you Jews do.”

“That Motzei Shabbos we again rented two different bowling alleys for the boys and girls, but this time it was relatively full. About two thirty in the morning, in between driving back and forth from the girls in Kiamesha to the boys in Liberty, I drove back to the pool-hall. It was almost exactly the same time as when we were thrown down the steps just a few weeks prior, except now it was completely deserted. I stood at the bottom of the steps, looked up toward the sky and screamed, “Hashem, YOU OWN MONTICELLO!2


“Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva and he went toward Charan. He encountered the place and spent the night there… And he dreamt and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.”

The Bais HaLevi notes that a person can travel to a new destination for one of two reasons. He can either be trying to distance himself from the city he departed from, or he may be seeking to fulfill a goal/mission in the city of his destination.

In Yaakov’s situation, he had both goals in mind. Yaakov was both fleeing the wrath of his brother Eisav, and seeking to fulfill his parent’s instruction that he go to the home of his mother’s brother in order to seek a wife for himself. The seeming prolix of the verse actually alludes to these dual purposes. “Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva”; he had to escape the city of Eisav for his own safety. “And he went toward Charan” in order to fulfill his father’s instruction that he search for a wife.

The Viener Rav3 explains that the saga of Yaakov is symbolic of the events that transpire in every person’s life. We all have missions in this world that we are here to fulfill. At times we find ourselves in situations that we never dreamed that we would be in. We must remember that there is a higher purpose that we may not be aware of, which plays a strong role on the course of life.

The verse in Tehillim (37:23) states, “From G-d, the footsteps of man are firm, his way shall He approve.” The Ba’al Shem Tov explained that at times a person will travel to another city. In his mind he is traveling there for business, with the goal of generating profit. However, in heaven they may have arranged that he end up in that city for a spiritual purpose that he may never become aware of. This is what the verse is saying. Ultimately it is G-d who prepares the footsteps of man.

This idea is also a source of encouragement for a person who sets out to accomplish something and invests a great deal of time and effort into his project, only to find that he was unable to meet his goals. Although from his vantage point his work was for naught, from the perspective of Heaven his efforts may have been a tremendous success.

To Yaakov, his journey must have seemed compulsory and distressing. He was obliged to leave behind the sanctity and purity of his father’s home because he had adhered to his mother’s instruction to dupe Eisav out of the blessings. He would now have to forge his own path, alone and far away. But in truth his journey would soon set a trajectory in motion which led to the building of the foundation of Klal Yisroel. Yaakov returned from Charan with four wives and eleven children4, and it was those children who became the progenitors of the Chosen Nation.

This was part of the symbolism of Yaakov’s dream. At the moment when Yaakov was sleeping alone on top of Mount Moriah it seemed as if he was alone and forsaken. The vision of the ladder symbolized that there is an inextricable connection between world and the celestial world, with angels traveling up and down the ladder. Yaakov’s journey was not merely as it seemed. There was a higher purpose that would emerge from the whole ordeal, even though at that moment Yaakov could not realize what that purpose was.

As a nation we have experienced Yaakov’s odyssey many times. When we were expelled from Spain in 1492 and we fled on ships, it seemed that we were escaping a world which had deserted us. But at the same time we were forging ahead to a new world. European Jewry was being established and a new trajectory that would last four hundred years was being set in motion.

When our parents and grandparents escaped the horrors of Nazism before, during, and after World War II, they were not only fleeing the ashes of the crematoria, they were also coming to Eretz Yisroel and America to build the next chapter of Torah living and flourishing.

Yaakov’s venture symbolizes the path of life, on a national and individualistic level. Life leads us in many directions, and we must always remember that G-d prepares the path of man. Sometimes we are not privy to how/why things occur. But the ladder reaches heavenward and the angles are perpetually ascending and descending.

“Yaakov departed Be’er Sheva toward Charan”



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