Thursday, October 28, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita relates the parable about the young Rabbi of a small town who was not a very proficient speaker. He had terrible stage fright and prepared extensively for every lecture he delivered. In fact he would begin preparing his Shabos Shuva and Shabbos Hagadol lectures four months in advance.

The Rabbi was most fearful of having to deliver a eulogy. If a congregant died suddenly he would not have sufficient time to prepare and he feared sounding foolish at the funeral. To assuage his nerves the Rabbi clandestinely wrote eulogies for every member of his congregation. He then filed them away in the back of his drawer.

One day a fire broke out in the town and spread precariously close to the Rabbi’s house. The Rabbi scurried to gather his belongings in a state of chaotic panic. The townspeople noticed papers lying in the street outside the Rabbi’s home that contained eulogies of the members of the congregation. They were dismayed to think that the Rabbi was preparing for their deaths. That night the heads of the community convened and decided to fire the Rabbi.

Rabbi Elyashiv noted that the community members were fools. The wisest of men declared, “Man goes to his eternal home, while the eulogizers go about the streets, before the silver cord snaps, and the golden bowl is shattered…1” Before a person even leaves this world eulogizers abound and begin to write his eulogy. In fact, throughout our lives we are writing the content of our own eulogies. Instead of firing the Rabbi, the townspeople should have realized that the Rabbi’s actions was actually a vital lesson for them.

Indeed throughout our lives we must always ask ourselves: “Are we preparing a good eulogy for ourselves?”

“Avrohom was old, coming with his days.” (24:1)

“Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon said: Avrohom requested aging (i.e. that he look elderly). He said before Him (G-d), “Master of the world, a man and his son enter a place, and they don’t know who to honor. If You will crown (the elderly) with aging then one will know who to honor. The Holy One, blessed is He, replied, ‘By your life! You have requested something good and from you it will begin. From the beginning of the book (Bereishis) until now it does not say the word ‘old’, but when Avrohom stood (i.e. reached that age) G-d granted him aging. That is what the verse means “Avrohom was old, coming with his days2.”

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that Avrohom’s request for the aging process to take effect was not because he desired respect. The Medrash3 quotes the verse “You are most beautiful of all people, charm has been poured into your lips” in reference to Avrohom Avinu. In other words, Avrohom did not request to appear old as a matter of practicality, but Avrohom understood that the appearance of old age was something beautiful and enviable, a veritable crown of beauty.

In our generation this idea is completely alien. Our society idolizes youthful vigor and external beauty. People pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to try to escape the natural process of senescence so that they can continue to appear youthful, despite advanced age. We cannot imagine someone telling an elderly person, “Look how beautiful you are; you look so old.” But that was exactly what Avrohom requested.

Rabbi Pinkus notes that when he was a child and heard people refer to the “Alter of Solobodka” or the “Alter of Kelm”4 he wondered what they did wrong to have been subject to such a degrading title. It was not until he matured that he was able to appreciate the true meanings of that distinguished designation.

Rabbi Pinkus explains that there are three modes of time in one’s life: The past, the present, and the future. When the average person contemplates his past he sadly thinks that he has not accomplished much and has wasted much of his time on vanity and nonsense. Still he consoles himself by convincing himself that the future will be better. He will yet become rich, attain greatness, become a scholar, fulfill his dreams, and develop into the person he aspires to be. Thus the person who is already past his prime can become dejected and disconsolate, for he has not yet accomplished his goals and dreams, but now he lacks the years and vitality to accomplish it in the future. It is that attitude and thought-process which casts old age in such a morbid light.

Truly great people however view their lives in the opposite manner. The future is yet unknown and no one can know what tomorrow will bring. However, they can celebrate their past accomplishments and achievements throughout their decades of toil and effort.

When the Torah records the years of Avrohom’s life it states (27:7), “And these are the years of the life of Avrohom that he lived, one hundred years, seventy years, and five years.” Avrohom did not merely live one hundred and seventy five physical years. He lived every day of his life to its fullest, accomplishing as much as he was able to, because he viewed each day as an opportunity and a gift. They were all years in which he truly lived!

Rabbi Pinkus adds that truthfully there is another component of personal greatness. Even if one has accomplished a great deal in the past, it is over and done. The greatness of a person is ultimately measured by how he handles the present. [In that sense it is aptly worded for every moment is indeed a present.] The individual who views every blessing, prayer, conversation, interaction, and action as an opportunity will take advantage of his every day.

When one seeks a doctor one does not merely look for a doctor who is qualified and well-trained. One also looks for a doctor who has much experience. Such a doctor examines his patients and states his prognosis based on all of his year’s worth of knowledge and experience.

A person who views life as an elongated growth process and “takes his days with him” builds his present based on his past. Each day is built upon the days, months, and years before it. Thus, for example, when he prays he is not reciting an isolated prayer but a prayer based on all of his years of effort and struggle in developing his ability to pray ands feel connected with G-d.

When he prays, when he studies Torah, and when he performs mitzvos, the righteous individual invests his entire being into what he is doing. All of his years of effort and achievement are incorporated into the present actions. Therein lies the beauty of old age. The action of someone with forty years of effort and accomplishment cannot compare with the action of someone with eighty years of effort and accomplishment. The same is true with every stage of life.

Simply by living life one invariably develops wisdom and maturity. The whiteness of the hair, the wrinkles, and the enfeebled body, are symbols that the person has spent years in the perennial struggle for growth and accomplishment. The elderly person who utilizes all of his life’s experience throughout his day is truly worthy of respect and admiration.

He spends his days writing a most beautiful eulogy, a eulogy based on a lifetime of accomplishment.

“The years of life that he lived”

“You are most beautiful of all people”

1 Koheles 12:5
2 Bereishis Rabbah 65:9
3 Ibid 59:5
4 “Alter” literally means “The elder”. The saintly leaders of those acknowledged Torah institutions were so called as a title of reverence and respect. But to an American boy it had a very different connotation.

Perhaps the greatest example of the etherealness and beauty of growing older is the blissful joy of grandparenthood. To grandparents there is no one more precious and perfect than their grandchildren. And to grandchildren there is no one more wonderful and dear as their grandparents.

Grandparents personify the continuity of the traditions that we tenaciously cling to and are so integral in our lives. And grandparents share a special bond with their grandchildren. There is something transcendent about that relationship that cannot be explained with words.

This past Monday morning, 17 Cheshvan 5771 (October 26, 2010) was the yahrtzeit of my Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum a’h (as well as the yahrtzeit of her oldest brother, Mr. Jack Gold a’h, who passed away on the same day quite a number of years before).

At 8:41 A.M. on Monday morning Hashem blessed us with the birth of our daughter. The miracle and blessing of childbirth is inexpressible and incredible. That our daughter was born on the day of her great-grandmother’s yahrtzeit made it all the more special. [Our first daughter Aviva is named for my Savta.]

May Savta’s soul be elevated, and may our precious daughter take her place among the righteous women of Israel and follow in the footsteps of all of her illustrious ancestors. May we only see nachas from her and all of our children and may Klal Yisroel always share simchos and happy occasions.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:

Stam Torah for Parshas Vayera is lovingly dedicated in memory of My Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, Shprintza bas Avrohom Yitzchok a’h, whose yahrteit is this Monday, 17 Cheshvan.




Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita1 relates the following story:

A man was driving in Eretz Yisroel along a quiet road late one night through an area dubbed a ‘danger zone’ because of recent gunshots that were fired at drivers in the area. Suddenly he noticed a car pulling up hastily behind him, flashing its lights and signaling that it wanted to pass him. The first driver became fearful, because a day earlier a similar incident had ended up in a vicious shooting attack.

In order to prevent the second car from overtaking him, the first drive began driving in a zigzag, weaving from one side of the road to the other. He continued driving that way until he arrived home.

When he pulled up in front of his home and stopped his car the other driver stopped behind him and also emerged from his car. The first driver was happy to see that the other driver was a Jew and he breathed a sigh of relief. But his relief was short lived. The second driver was livid by the fact that the other driver did not allow him to pass him and he began to beat the first driver without compunction. He kept punching him mercilessly until the first driver was bleeding copiously, and his nose was broken. The first driver tried to explain himself but the other man was so infuriated that he wouldn’t listen. He continued reigning blows on the hapless driver as neighbors and passerby gathered around and demanded that he stop.

When the debacle finally ended the first driver went into his home beaten and bloodied. Sometime later he called Rabbi Zilberstein to ask him whether he should file a complaint with the police against his assailant. The Rabbi replied that he should wait until the next morning and they would decide then.

The next morning the man failed to call Rabbi Zilberstein so the Rabbi decided to call him. He told Rabbi Zilberstien that he had not called because he decided that he would not file the complaint. He explained that after he hung up the phone the previous night he realized that he would probably have to go to the hospital and hire a private doctor, which would cost him thousands of shekel. But he realized that his assailant has a prestigious job in a prominent firm, and earns a good living. If such a report was filed with the police it would inevitably besmirch his reputation badly. He would not be able to deny his actions because there were numerous witnesses and he may even be fired from his job losing his source of income.

He continued, “So instead of filing the complaint I invited him to my house for Shabbos. I am confident that when he sees the beauty of a Shabbos table in a Torah-observant home he will reconsider his path of life. Perhaps he will even decide to learn more about Torah and mitzvos. That will be my greatest reward. Perhaps at some future point I will be able to take him to Bais Din (Jewish Court) and demand some remuneration. But I will not file a compliant against him in secular court or engage him in a legal battle which may cause him untold damage.”

Despite the fact that he was a hundred years old and had just underwent a painful procedure that left him in pain, and despite the fact that it was an unusually brutally hot day, Avrohom Avinu sat at the entrance of his tent, waiting and pining to demonstrate kindness to others and to teach them about G-d. When he finally noticed three ‘Bedouins’ traveling in the distance he jumped up with alacrity and implored them to join him. Then, as they sat comfortably in the shade, he prepared a regal meal for them.

Rashi, quoting the gemara2, notes that Avrohom slaughtered three calves in order to serve each guest his own tongue with mustard, truly a royal delicacy.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l3 noted that a person as righteous and saintly as Avrohom was surely above indulgence in such delicacies. Yet in regards to his guests he did not withhold anything and served them as he would aristocracy.

Rabbi Pam derives from Avrohom’s behavior an integral lesson: Although a person must always be striving for spiritual greatness, including overcoming his own desires and inclinations, that is only in regards to himself. When it comes to others however, one must do all in his power to make others as comfortable and contented as he is able. A Torah Jew strives to live his life with a focus on eternity, often forfeiting material comforts in that quest. But he must bear in mind that others may not be on his spiritual level.

This idea is vital in regards to education as well. At times parents forget what it’s like to be a child and may make demands on their children that are unreasonable. Surely a parent has a responsibility to admonish his child, but it must be based on the child’s capabilities and capacities.

[A respected ba’al teshuva told me that he struggles with this idea constantly. As he was not raised in a Torah environment he does not know what it’s like to be ‘normal religious kid’. He became Torah observant when he was a mature adult and so at times it is hard for him to fathom how his child can act so childish. He is wise enough to know that he must seek the counsel of others to know what is acceptable and what is not.]

After Avrohom rescued Lot and defeated the massive combined armies of the four kings, the king of Sodom approached him about the spoils of the war4. The King of Sodom offered Avrohom all of the spoils if only he would grant him the freed captives. Avrohom emphatically refused the offer, “If so much as a thread to a shoe-strap; nor shall I take anything of yours, so you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom rich’.” The gemara5 explains that in the merit of his refusal to accept even a thread or shoe strap Avorhom’s children merited the mitzvos of tzitzis (for the thread) and tefillin (for the strap).

Rashi explains that Avorhom’s actions were particularly meritorious because he did not want to benefit from stolen property6.

The truth is that Avrohom was legally entitled to the spoils. The King of Sodom however, clearly did not see it that way. The mere fact that he approached Avrohom with terms for a bargain demonstrates that he felt he had claims and rights. In fact, by offering Avrohom the spoils he felt like he was making a magnanimous gesture. The greatness of Avrohom was that he dealt with the King of Sodom based on his perception. Despite the fact that according to the letter of the law Avrohom was completely justified to take (at least) the spoils of the war - because in the mind of the wicked Sodomite King he would have been a thief - Avrohom decided to forego every penny. Avrohom understood that as the champion of faith and kindness he represented G-d, as it were. Therefore he had to concern himself with the perception - even faulty perceptions - of others.

The gemara7 states that the mitzvah of tefillin instills awe in all who see them. Truthfully, it is not the tefillin themselves that generate that awe but rather what they represent – the Supreme Being. It is analogous to the badge of a policeman – it is not the badge that people fear, but the institution it represents and the authority that institution wields. Similarly, when a Jew wears tzitzis it is akin to a slave who wears the insignia of his master upon his garment8.

Because Avrohom demonstrated that he was willing to deal with others based on their perception of reality, he was rewarded with mitzvos which help engender within us a cognizance of true reality. It is one’s ego that impedes his ability to see things from another’s point of view. Avrohom displayed a complete lack of egocentricity, which is a core trait necessary for one to accept upon himself the Yoke of Heaven.

We often try to compel others to live within our reality. A truly great person is able to reach beyond himself and see things from the viewpoints and perceptions of others.

One of the legacies of Avrohom is the ability to see beyond ourselves, to see the world as other’s see it and to understand their reality.

“He stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.”

“So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom rich’”

1 Aleinu L’shabayach, Bereishis 6:10
2 Bava Metzia 86b
3 “A Vort from Rav Pam”, Rabbi Sholom Smith
4 The following idea was related by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig
5 Chullin 89a
6 Maharsha questions the assumption that it was stolen property, because halachically the spoils of the war belonged to Avrohom.
7 Chullin 89a
8 See Tosafos Menachos 43b

Friday, October 15, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt’l, the legendary founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, related1: “Years ago my father taught me the Mishna in Avos which states, “In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man.” In 1966 I opened a yeshiva for kiruv. People would point at me and say, ‘There goes Noach, the crack pot, the meshuganah. He thinks he can teach Torah to secular Jews. At that time the concept was so foreign.

“Before I opened the yeshiva I went to speak with Rabbi Lazer Yudel Finkel zt’l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. It was common courtesy to ask his permission to start a new yeshiva in Yerushalayim. When he asked me what I wanted to accomplish, I explained that I wanted to teach chilonim (secular Jews) the beauty of Torah. We had a lively debate with him explaining why he thought they would never be interested and me countering with arguments of how it could be accomplished. Finally he said, “I understand what you want to do. You want to make a factory that produces Baa’lei Teshuva. Du bist meshiguh givurin2!” I replied, “Rebbe, the Torah states, “Torah tzeevah lanu Moshe miorasha kehillas Ya’akov – The Torah was commanded to us by Moshe; an inheritance to the congregation of Ya’akov.” On that verse the gemara states, “Don’t read it miorasha (an inheritance) but miorasa (betrothed).” If I introduce a secular Jew to his fiancé will he walk away from me?”

“He looked at me and said, “If you really believe that you’ll succeed”.”

“G-d said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you… Avram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their wealth that they had amassed, and the souls they made in Charan…”

Rashi explains that “the souls they made in Charan” refers to their many disciples whom they had converted to faith in G-d. Avrohom converted the men and Sarah converted the women.

The sefer Cheshbon Hanefesh3 writes that Avrohom is analogous to a tree that has many branches growing in all directions. Those branches keep growing until they reach the ground. Those branches then root themselves in the ground and become offshoots of the original tree. Thus from one tree a whole forest can eventually grow.

So too, Avrohom (as well as Yitzchok and Yaakov) was the original source from which branched new wellsprings of faith, that in turn became a repository from which new wellsprings were able to develop.

In a similar vein Ramchal4 writes that it’s incumbent upon every person to constantly contemplate what the Patriarchs accomplished, and what it is that G-d desired about them. It is man’s responsibility to live for others, to assist those in his surrounding, and to be a source of blessing.

Rabbi Moshe Sheinerman5 notes that in regards to Avrohom there is repeated mention of the word “nefesh – souls”. This is in contrast with parshas Noach where the masses were referred to as “basar – flesh”6. Due to their inferior character traits and crass unethical behavior they did not achieve a nobler encomium than flesh, which concealed their blood and limbs. That was the generation which ultimately was destroyed in the flood. But Avrohom and Sarah understood and valued the individual greatness of every person. They saw each person as a noble soul with tremendous ability and potential. It was that perspective which drew so many close to them, and enabled them to teach the masses about the truth of G-d. Avorohom’s influence was so profound that when the wicked King of Sodom came to bargain with him, even he referred to his subjects in that fashion, “Give me the souls and take the possession for yourself7.”

However, at times we feel that we are not worthy to teach others. We feel that it is not becoming for people like ourselves to assert ourselves to teach others when we have not perfected ourselves. After all, does the gemara not say, “Adorn yourself and then adorn others8”?

At one of the first meetings of the newly formed Agudas Yisroel organization in the early 1900’s, the elderly Chofetz Chaim addressed the assemblage. He spoke about every person’s obligation to teach others, to inspire his family, his city, and his community. Every person must give of himself, with whatever talent and ability he possesses.

Later during the afternoon the Chofetz Chaim surprisingly requested to speak again. He explained that during the break he had heard that people were saying that his words were directed at rabbis and righteous scholars who have the ability to influence and teach others. But the majority of people cannot teach others before they have perfected themselves. The Chofetz Chaim asked to readdress the assemblage in order to to counter that argument. He related the following parable:

There were a simple Jew named Mushka who was appointed to oversee all of the houses and fields that belonged to the Poritz (landowner). On one occasion the Poritz came to visit Mushka and Mushka served him a glass of tea. The Poritz noticed that half the cup was filled with tea while the rest was filled with sand.

The Poritz shouted at the Jew full of rage, “What is this? How dare you serve me a glass of tea that has sand in it?” Mushka sighed, “What can I do your honor? That is how the water flows from the pipes in our city.” The Poritz replied, “but you can purify the water by straining the sand.” Mushka promised to do so in the future and the Poritz bid him farewell.

Sometime later, the Poritz heard that a massive fire had broken out in his city, and no one was putting it out. He immediately raced to the city to investigate, heading straight to Mushka’s home. There he found him straining buckets full of water. “You fool!” roared the Poritz, “When you are drinking tea the water must be pure. But to put out a fire you grab any water you can and try to douse the flames as quickly as possible.”

The Chofetz Chaim explained that there was indeed a time when the community was holy and only the greatest and most righteous scholars could teach and influence others. But sadly in our time there are spiritual fires raging in the street. We cannot wait until the water is pure and unsullied. We must grab whatever water we have and use it to douse the flames. Every Jew, on whatever level he/she is on, has to use his own capabilities to help extinguish the raging flames around us.

Rabbi Weinberg concluded the interview with these words:

“We cannot fail; the Almighty is with us. We have a Torah that is beautiful beyond compare. We just have to present it the right away. We have a people who are thirsty for meaning, for truth, who are idealists in every way… they want truth and meaning. We have to do our job. We cannot fail if we do our effort.

I pray9, “Almighty I know You care about this more than I do, and I know You want me to succeed. I know that if You help me we can change the whole world. I know You want to help me, and I know I just have to want it enough. Please help me, help me to want it, to feel this pain the way You feel it. So that you can help me do it!””

“And the souls they made in Charan”

“We cannot fail; the Almighty is with us”

1 The quotes from Rabbi Weinberg are taken from interviews on the video “Inspired Too”
2 “You’re crazy!”
4 Derech Eitz Chaim
5 Ohel Moshe
6 e.g. (6:12) “for all flesh had become corrupt”
7 14:21
8 Bava Metzia 107b
9 In response to the question, “When you pray to G-d, what do you say to G-d?”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NOACH 5771

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:


NOACH 5771


The owner of one of the largest kosher American confectioners was also a major supporter of the famed Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ. On one occasion, at a large function, he had the privilege to introduce Rabbi Shneur Kotler zt’l, the then Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoha.

The industrialist began by explaining that he and the Rosh Yeshiva had a great deal in common. “Both of us went to cheder in Europe, survived the war, and now run major institutions. Both of us provide the public with an excellent product that is sweet and enjoyable. Many people stand in line to speak with me, and many people stand in line to speak with the Rosh Yeshiva. We are both well-known and try to help others.”

Then he paused and smiled, “However, there is one fundamental difference between us. You see, I produce lollipops; the Rosh Yeshiva produces men!”

“And all the days of Noach were nine hundred fifty years.2

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’l3 notes: In our day and age one who lives to the age of one hundred has been blessed with longevity. In fact, the Mishna4 states, “At one hundred years old one is as if he had died, passed on, and become irrelevant to the world.” Yet during the first twenty generations from creation people lived many hundreds of years. Before the flood, most of the personages mentioned in the Torah lived past 900 years old. After the flood their life expectancy was ‘reduced’ to 200-400 years (with the exception of Noach)5.

The great Rambam6, with all his writings and the incredible legacy he left behind, lived a mere seventy years. We can only imagine how much more he could have accomplished if he lived as long as Noach. In fact, he would still be alive today and we would be able to personally ask him the myriad questions that have been asked about his teachings throughout the centuries.

Thus, we must understand what were the original generations doing throughout their elongated lives?

The Ramchal7 explains that the generations living before the flood (and the first few generations after the flood as well) possessed tremendous insight and wisdom into the esoteric secrets of creation and the workings of G-d, as it were. The older they became the more privy they were to deeper and more penetrating secrets of the world. G-d granted them added years to allow them that wisdom so they could utilize it to raise the world to its ultimate rectification and sanctification.

Ironically however, the more wisdom they attained the more corrupt and morally depraved they became. The sardonic truth was that their greatness in wisdom was in direct proportion with their spiritual decline.

After the flood, as each generation continued in the iniquitous path of its forbearers, G-d began to shorten their years so they would not have the opportunity to cause as much malice and wrongdoing. After twenty generations, with the birth of Avrohom and a far shorter life expectancy, there was a tremendous shift in the ‘content of life’. From that point onwards no one was privy to those secrets of life and of the Ways of G-d unless he toiled and invested unyielding effort to achieve it. The first to utilize that approach to life was Avrohom Avinu, and that is why he was worthy to become the first patriarch. The later patriarchs, and consequently all of his descendants, followed the precedent that Avrohom had begun of searching and seeking G-d in every facet of life and creation.

The lesson that emerges from the discrepancy between the life of Avrohom and his predecessors is that it does not matter how much one knows, but rather what one does with that knowledge. What truly counts is how much one internalizes the wisdom he attains and consequently seeks to inculcate that knowledge into his soul and essence.

This is a concept that appears on numerous other occasions as well. Most notably, the infamous prophet Bila’am merited an incredible level of prophecy and tremendous levels of divine revelation. Yet instead of becoming a person of noble character he became the total opposite. “Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul, are disciples of the wicked Bila’am.8” His knowledge and prophetic sagacity did not make him into a greater person, but rather caused him to become nefarious, arrogant, and self-centered.

Bila’am’s foil was Moshe Rabbeinu who, despite his lofty level of direct prophecy, remained the most humble person on the face of the earth9. The difference lay in the fact that Moshe saw his knowledge and prophecy as a responsibility that he had to live up to. Bila’am on the other hand saw his virtues as proof to his own greatness and, therefore, it led him to become hedonistic and relentlessly demanding honor and aggrandizement.

In the Military chapel at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the soldiers recite the “Cadet Prayer”:

“Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with the courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”

Greatness does not come from material possessions, vapid praise, or even great breadth of knowledge. Rather it comes from inner pondering and soul-searching, and a passionate drive for truth. Avrohom ‘discovered G-d’ because he earnestly pined to know the truth and he was unsatisfied with the mendacity that the world had accepted. He infused that search into his progeny.

Avrohom became a great man during the 175 years of his life, while his predecessors became increasingly wicked, despite staggering knowledge, during their lifetimes of hundreds of years. The legacy he taught us is that the hallmark of a Jew is not how many pages he has studied, but how much of his learning he has internalized. That is the way one produces a nation of great people.

“Look to Avrohom your father and Sarah your birth mother10

“A good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul11

1 The following essay is based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, parshas Noach 5770, on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of Binyamin Pomerantz.
2 Bereishis 9:29
3 Shiurei Chumash (Bereishis)
4 Avos 5:21
5 With them living for so long, we can only imagine how big the dais was at their children’s Bar Mitzvos. With so many generations still living they must have needed to add so many extra aliyos…
6 1135-1204
7 Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, 1707-1746; Adir Bamarom
8 Avos 5:22
9 Bamidbar 12:3
10 Yeshaya 51:2
11 Avos ibid