Friday, July 1, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Rabbi Chaim Kreisworth zt’l, the beloved Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, related a story from his days as a yeshiva student in Lithuania. In those days the yeshivos lacked funding to provide food for their students so the students would eat their meals at different families in town1.

Rabbi Kreisworth was physically weak and shy by nature. He also loved to learn and having to busy himself with those arrangements detracted precious time from learning.

One day a wealthy man built a beautiful house across the street from the Bais Medrash. He built a private room with a separate entrance at the side of his home which he designated for one student. The faculty decided that Rabbi Chaim was worthy of the convenience. Rabbi Chaim was thrilled with the room that possessed all the amenities available at that time which enabled him to learn as much as possible.

For two years he lived in that room with his learning virtually uninterrupted and worry-free. Then one semester as he settled back into his room, he noticed a blind boy among the new students. Rabbi Chaim went to greet him and asked him about his background. The boy explained that he had just arrived and had no arrangements, nor was he familiar with the system. In an act of supreme selflessness, Rabbi Chaim replied that there was an available room right across the street for him, which would have everything he would need, including three nourishing meals.

The blind boy’s face lit up. He never dreamed he would be able to find such comfortable accommodations and so suited for his particular needs.

Rabbi Chaim himself however, had a very challenging time. After two years of being pampered it was extremely difficult for him to fend for himself. Nevertheless, he never regretted his decision.

Several weeks later the Nazis invaded and the world fell apart. They stormed into the yeshiva and demanded from the office staff a list of every student. As soon as they had it they began summoning each student to the office, one at a time. When the boy entered the office the Nazi asked his name and town of origin. Then he pointed his rifle at the student who barely had a chance to scream ‘Shema Yisroel’ before the officer pulled the trigger.

The remaining boys heard the cries and the shots and understood what was awaiting all 250 of them. The lifeless bodies were cast out the window like slaughtered chickens.

Then a voice rang out “Number 31, Kreisworth, Chaim”. As he walked tremblingly to the office Rabbi Chaim begged G-d to help him in the merit of his sacrifice for the blind boy. As soon as he walked in the officer said to him, “Do you have a father?” He nodded. “Do you have a mother?” In a barely audible voice he replied that he did. In a surprisingly mild tone the Nazi continued, “Do your parents miss you?” Rabbi Chaim nodded again, “Of course they do.”

The Nazi continued, “Do you miss them?”

“Most certainly.”

“When the war ends will you return to your family?”


“Look, I too have parents and I miss them terribly. I can’t wait for the war to end so I can go back home. I understand your plight and I won’t kill you. But there are other officers here, so here’s what I will do. I will shoot a bullet to the side of you. You will fall to the ground and then jump out the window. Make sure you are never seen here again.”

249 young promising students were brutally murdered that day. But “number 31, Kreisworth, Chaim” survived. Rabbi Kreisworth was convinced that it was only in the merit of his sacrifice for the blind student.

The laws of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) are the ultimate Chukas HaTorah, laws of the Torah which are beyond the capacity of human comprehension. This particularly referred to the paradox involved in the offering of the Parah Adumah, in that its sprinkled ashes purified those who were impure yet rendered impure the sprinkler who had been pure. It was about this enigma that the wisest of men declared2, “I said I would be wise, but it was far from me.”

Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorki stated that the essence of Parah Adumah is the mitzvah that one must ‘love your neighbor as yourself3’. His grandson, Rabbi Mendel, explained that the priest who undertook the sprinkling of the ashes understood that by doing so he was going to cause himself to become impure. He understood that he would have to undergo the whole purification process and would be prohibited from entering the Temple and eating the sacrificial foods until the process was done. When someone is willing to altruistically help others even at the cost of his own convenience, that is the greatest expression of love and kindness.

The Mishna4 quotes Rabbi Shimon who said “The world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah (Service), and gemilas chasadim (bestowing kindness).” It is noteworthy that the mishnah does not say ‘gemilas chessed’ in the singular but ‘gemilas chasadim’.

The Me’am Loez explains that whenever one performs an act of kindness for another, the recipient is also helping the doer. Performing acts of kindness affords the doer tremendous merit and no one can know how much blessing he merits in his own life because of an act of kindness he did for someone else.

In addition, whenever we perform an act of chesed for another we are repaying our debt to G-d, as it were, for all of the chesed he does for us. In truth, we are obligated to thank G-d for every breath we take. The way we express our gratitude to G-d is by doing acts of kindness with others. Every act of chesed we do corresponds to the myriad acts of chesed He does for us. For these two reasons, every act of chesed is really a double act of chesed and is so termed ‘gemilas chasadim’.

In parshas Chukas the Torah records the death of Aharon. “When the entire assembly saw the Aharon had perished, they wept for Aharon for thirty days, the entire House of Israel5.” Rashi notes that when the Torah records the death of Moshe it says that the nation mourned6, but it doesn’t say “the entire assembly mourned” because they mourned Aharon even more than they did Moshe.

Aharon was the quintessential lover of his people. He was able to promote peace and unity because he spoke to everyone with pleasantness, respect, and love. It was for that reason that the Mishna7 exhorts us to be from the disciples of Aharon “who loved peace and pursued peace”.

This week Klal Yisroel lost a true disciple of Aharon with the passing of Rabbi Michel Lefkowitz zt’l, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh l’tzirim. Though he was 97 years old, his passing is a painful and tragic loss. Not only was the Rosh Yeshiva a noted scholar and author of many scholarly works on the Talmud (Minchas Yehuda) he also possessed a deep love for every Jew and made every person in his presence feel exalted and special.

I had the privilege to meet Reb Michel once and I will never forget the respect he accorded me and my friends, as well as his characteristic sweetness and pleasantness. May his memory be for a blessing and may we learn from his legendary example.

“The entire House of Israel”

“Loved peace and pursued peace”

1 This practice was known as ‘teg’
2 Koheles 7:23
3 Vaykira 19:18
4 Avos 1:2
5 Bamidbar 20:29
6 Devorim 34:8
7 Avos 1:12


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