Thursday, November 3, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Rabbi Simcha Wasserman zt’l, a master educator and a beloved rabbinic personality, related that a man who had been the head of the history department at a large American university for over fifty years once entered a yeshiva to recite kaddish.

After davening, the teacher began conversing with the Rosh Yeshiva. He mentioned that he felt very lonely at that juncture of his life. The Rosh Yeshiva was surprised and asked him how many students he had taught during his lengthy career. The man replied that he had taught over 30,000 students. The Rosh Yeshiva then asked him if out of the 30,000 students any of them had invited him to their wedding. The professor shook his head sadly, “Not even one.”

Rabbi Wasserman noted that almost every yeshiva student invites his Rosh Yeshiva to his wedding1.

The world had been obliterated by the great flood because of rampant sin. Yet, within ten generations the world was again dominated by a pervasive apathetic attitude toward the Word of G-d. In that morally depraved world, Avrohom Avinu ‘recognized his Creator’. Avrohom not only contemplated and pondered until he discovered the truth but he made it his mission to teach others as well. One man - with confidence and dedication - forever altered the course of mankind.

Noachis often contrasted with Avrohom. The Gemarah (Sanhedrin 108a) quotes the opinion of Reish Lakish that Noach was only righteous relative to the people of his generation. Had he lived in a different generation however, he wouldn’t have attained any level of prominence.

Noach is an enigmatic personality. On the one hand, the Torah refers to him with unusually glowing accolades, “Noach was a righteous man, he was complete in his generation; Noach walked in the ways of G-d.” Yet, Noach is also criticized for not saving his generation and preventing the flood from occurring.

When Noach left the Ark after the floodwaters subsided, he sacrificed offerings to G-d. At that point, G-d vowed that He would never again send a flood to destroy the world. As a symbol of that promise, G-d displayed a rainbow.

How does the rainbow symbolize that message?

Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l2 explains that when the sky is overcast and cloudy gloomy it may seem that it will be a long time before the sun will again shine. But then suddenly, there can be a lull in the clouds allowing a streak of sunlight to shine through. The raindrops and clouds serve as a prism, separating the sun’s light into individual colors causing a rainbow to appear across the horizon. Then, within a few minutes, the clouds part and the sun shines in all of its radiant beauty.

The emergence of the rainbow is symbolic of certain periods throughout history. Sin and corruption were rampant as the world a spiritual decline. But then, at that bleakest of times, a dynamic rousing personality emerged with an indomitable spirit, who was not afraid to speak the truth. He had the incredible ability to stem the tide of spiritual decline and arouse a wave of repentance.

These great leaders are analogous to the streak of sunlight peering through the clouds which creates the rainbow. After the rainbow appears, the sunlight soon returns in all of its resplendency, just as these leaders replenished the world with the spirituality it lacked.

The rainbow contained a very poignant message to Noach. Noach had built the ark for one hundred and twenty years. The purpose of the lengthy construction was so that people would notice his actions and question him, in the hope was that he might be able to awaken them to repent.

Yet, Noach was unable to influence anyone, not a single person. Noach was respected and renown in his time. He had invented the plow and other farming tools that mitigated the exhausting labor that farming entailed. He was also known as being sagacious and G-d-fearing. How is it possible that not a single person was influenced by his efforts and words?

Rabbi Shapiro explains that, Noach’s personal greatness notwithstanding, he did not believe that he could conceivably have any lasting effect on anyone else. When G-d commanded him to build the Ark, Noach immediately set out to fulfill his task, thinking that it was only a matter of time before the inevitable would come to fruition. He did not have faith in his generation’s ability to change. It was that attitude which caused Noach’s failure. He should have been the preverbal ray of sunlight that bursts through the clouds and creates the rainbow. But his lack of confidence in his own abilities to influence others, and in their ability to truly change, ensured that he would indeed be unable to do so.

When G-d showed Noach the rainbow, He was sending him a dual message. The first message was a demonstration of where Noach went wrong for not being ‘the rainbow of his generation’. The other message was G-d’s promise that there would never again be a flood. Essentially, G-d was guaranteeing that there will never again be a generation that does not have the symbolic and proverbial protection of the rainbow. In other words, there would never again be a generation who lacked at least one leader who had the ability to rouse his brethren. Therefore, there will never again be a generation deserving complete destruction, as did the generation of Noach.

In this regard, Avrohom Avinu was the polar opposite of Noach. Avrohom never gave up on anyone. When G-d was ready to destroy the morally depraved cities of Sodom and Amorrah, Avrohom ‘bargained’ with G-d to spare them. Those cities were the living antithesis of everything Avrohom stood for, and yet he would not allow them to be destroyed without exercising every effort to save them. That is why Avrohom was so successful in drawing masses of people close to G-d.

It is for this reason that the Sages concluded that if Noach lived in a different generation he would not have been as great. In the generation of Avrohom, Noach’s piety and greatness would have been overshadowed by Avrohom because Avrohom believed in his generation, while Noach did not.

Perhaps Noach’s lack of faith in his generation stemmed from the fact that Noach was a celebrity-like personality from the moment he was born. The Medrash relates that Noach was the first to be born with separate fingers3. His father immediately recognized that Noach was predestined for greatness when he named him Noach, “saying this one will comfort us…” Noach grew up with the admiration and respect of his generation.

Avrohom however, grew up in a home of idolatry. His father manufactured and sold idols. When Avrohom ‘recognized his Creator’, he literally, ‘pulled himself up from the bootstraps.’ He left behind his family, friends, and all of the society he was familiar with, in order to adhere to G-d’s command. Avrohom’s personal saga contributed to his belief in the ability to reach and touch every person. Noach, on the other hand, who had always been a respected and great individual, may have not understood the human capability and capacity for change and repentance.

The idea of believing in others is especially vital in the field of education. In the words of one educator, “I have been teaching students for many years. When I think about the students that I have been unsuccessful with throughout my career, there is always one common denominator: In my mind, I had written those students off. Whenever I myself felt that a student was too far gone, I was never able to connect with him.”

When teaching and educating - children or adults – one must believe that he has the ability to reach his charges in a most profound way. He must believe in himself and he must believe in them.

The Chiddushei Harim offers a novel explanation of the conclusion of the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, “Baruch atah Hashem Mogen Avrohom- Blessed are You, G-d, the shield of Avrohom.” The Rebbe explained that, we not only thank G-d for protecting our patriarch Avrohom, but for preserving and safeguarding the “Avrohomkeit”, i.e. the spark of our patriarch Avrohom, that resides within every one of our souls. No matter how far a Jew strays, that glowing spark remains somewhere waiting to be rediscovered4.

The spark of Avrohom is, at times, the sole ray of sunlight in an otherwise gloomy existence. It is the flickering light of the rainbow which re-heralds the resplendent ethereal glow of the sun. And that spark never fades.

“Noach was a righteous man”

“Blessed are You, G-d, the shield of Avrohom”

1 “Reb Simcha Speaks”, Artscroll Publications
2 Immrei Da’as
3 Until then, everyone’s fingers were webbed together
4 The ‘Spark of Avrohom’ is also referred to as ‘The Pintele Yid’.

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha

7 MarCheshvan 5772/November 4, 2011

Do you have that one friend who always seems to be one step behind? He’s the person who is very sincere but a bit too gullible (the one who believes you when you tell him that they took the word ‘gullible’ out of the dictionary); the one who never laughs at a joke because he needs the punch line explained to him. He’s the fellow who just ‘doesn’t get it’ unless it’s spelled out for him.

But perhaps on some level that describes all of us.

In 1985, the U.S.S.R. was - as it had been since the conclusion of World War II - the United States’ most implacable foe. Behind what Churchill dubbed ‘the Iron Curtain’ was the joint forces of the communist world. Led by such nefarious leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, it was an impenetrable power.

At the same time Saddam Hussein was the dictatorial ruler of Iraq, as he had been since 1973. He had instigated a war with neighboring Iran that caused the death of hundreds of thousands. Mummar Gaddafi was the tyrannical dictator who dominated Libya since 1969. He financed and supported Palestinian militant organizations against Israel, and was dubbed ‘Public Enemy number one’ by President Reagan.

If you would have told someone then that by the year 2011 the U.S.S.R would already be a historical entity for over two decades, that Saddam Hussein would have already been captured in a farm house, put on trial for his crimes against humanity, and subsequently executed, and that Gadaffi would be dragged out of a drainpipe by rebel forces who toppled his forty-year reign, and would be beaten and killed, they wouldn’t have believed you.

Add to that that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind responsible for the September 11th and America’s Most Wanted enemy since 1998, who was killed in his Abbotabad Mansion in a gutsy raid by American Marines that lasted just a few hours.

Dovid Hamelech stated, (Tehillim 49) “Do not fear when a man grows rich, when he increases the splendor of his house. For upon his death he will not take anything, his splendor will not descend after him.”

Saddam Hussein had a net worth of over two billion dollars, Gadaffi was worth an estimated one billion, and Bin-Laden had a net worth of about fifty million dollars. [The U.S.S.R was completely bankrupt when it disbanded under Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost.]

In the last few years we have witnessed the incredible downfall of three powerful leaders and a world power, all of whom paralyzed their respective nations with intense fear and intimidation. They deified themselves to the masses and ensured everyone’s complete allegiance solely to them. Any opposition was brutally crushed and they inundated their masses with propaganda and lies. They maintained personal wealth that boggles the mind, living in palatial wealth while many of their subjects suffered abject poverty.

And now they are all dead, killed in a most ignominious fashion, and all of their decades of wealth, might, and power are gone too.

But that is all old news already. We want to hear the latest about the storm cleanup and what is happening in sports. Thank heaven the Giants didn’t lose to the winless Dolphins.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


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