Thursday, June 28, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          A young man was in the process of registering his son in a local Yeshiva. Before he finished the process, he received a phone call from an irate relative who proceeded to list a plethora of virulent complaints against that particular Yeshiva. The man replied that, although he felt pained that his relative had had such a difficult experience with the Yeshiva, he did not see how it would affect him. But the relative was persistent and he continued to badger the man, dogmatically stating that he must not register his son in that Yeshiva. The relative went so far as to say that if he enrolled his son in that yeshiva it would be a personal affront to him. Over the next few weeks, the relative repeatedly called the man and continued to beleaguer his point. Finally, the man made it clear to his relative that his decision was final and that he should stop calling.
          A few days later the young man was contacted by his Rebbe, Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l, the beloved Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Voda’as in Brooklyn. Rabbi Pam explained that he had received a phone call from the man’s relative. “I was shocked by the conversation; it was absolutely astounding!” The man was sure that Rabbi Pam was shocked by the man’s irrationality and bitterness toward the Yeshiva. But then Rabbi Pam continued, “I was shocked to realize the depth of human sensitivity.” He explained that he could not get over just how personally affected one could be by a negative experience, to the point where he becomes nonsensical and unreasonable. Furthermore, it was uncanny that a person could be so consumed by an event that he sought to impose irrelevant and irrational demands on others who were completely impartial to his situation.
          Rabbi Pam advised his student to seek an alternative Yeshiva that would be suitable for his son. In this way, even if he was unsuccessful he could at least mollify his relative by telling him that he had tried. This would demonstrate sensitivity to the pain of the relative and show him that he took his feelings seriously. Rabbi Pam concluded, “You will see that by seeking a path of peace, you will be blessed with success.”
          Years later, the man told Rabbi Pam that his promise came to fruition and that his advice to adopt a policy of rodeph shalom- pursuing peace, was blessed with success many times over. When Rabbi Pam heard that, he wept tears of joy. 

          The lengthy sojourns of the Jews were finally nearing completion. Still, despite the fact that the weary nation was not far from the Promised Land, they still had to traverse a worthy distance. The pangs and challenges of their journey were far from over. (21:1) “The Canaanite King of Arad, who dwelled in the south, heard that Israel had come by the route of the spies, and he warred against Israel and took a captive from it.” The Medrash explains that the attackers were actually a battalion of Amalekites, the nemesis of Klal Yisroel. In order to prevent the Jews from praying for victory, the Amalekites spoke the language of the Canaanites. They hoped that the Jews would erroneously pray for salvation from Canaanites and, since they were not Canaanites, the prayers of the Jews would be ineffective and the Amalekites would be victorious. However, the Jews were perplexed by their attackers who spoke the language of Canaan but were garbed in the uniform of the Amalekites. Therefore, they prayed for salvation from “this nation”, and they prevailed.
          The Gemara[1] questions what exactly the King of Arad “heard” that gave him the confidence to attack the heretofore impregnable Jewish nation? The Gemarah explains, “They heard that Aharon had died and the Divine Clouds of Glory had departed (from the Jewish camp) and that they (therefore) had permission to wage war against Israel.” 
          The Ateres Mordechai, Rabbi Mordechai Rogov zt’l, explains that Aharon was the paragon and champion of peace in Klal Yisroel. As long as he was alive there was a strong sense of peace and brotherhood in the Jewish camp. Amalek, our ultimate foe, understood well that when unified, we are invincible and indestructible. But now that Aharon had died their impenetrable defenses were breached.
          The Mishna[2] states, “Hillel would say: Be among the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace; loving people and bringing them closer to Torah.” The commentators[3] explain the wily tactics that Aharon would utilize to promote peace, especially in the event of a feud. Aharon was legendary for going to any length to repair a damaged relationship or hurt feelings. Throughout his lifetime he ensured that in the camp of Klal Yisroel, there reigned a dominant sense of camaraderie and friendship. In the merit of Aharon’s efforts, the Divine Clouds of Glory were Omnipresent around the camp. Amalek understood that as long as those Clouds were present, an attack against Klal Yisroel was futile.

          In Tehillim (29:11) Dovid Hamelech writes, “Hashem will give strength to His Nation; Hashem will bless His Nation with peace.” Perhaps the juxtaposition of these two statements is to demonstrate that in order to merit the blessing of peace one must possess inner strength and fortitude. There is a price that one must be willing to pay for peace. At times one must be willing to forego his dignity and ego, sometimes he must be willing to forfeit money due to him, and sometimes he must allow himself to be inconvenienced. However, Chazal assure us that in the long run it will be worthwhile. One need look no further than the horrific stories that we often hear about people - even good people- involved in acrimonious imbroglios and disputes over - sometimes insignificant - matters.
It is very difficult to “let go”. But the feeling of inner strength and the blessing of peace will over-compensate the ego one loses by giving in. In order to bless His nation with peace, G-d must give us the strength to pursue it properly.
          The vernacular of the Mishna is very particular, i.e. a disciple of Aharon loves peace and then he pursues it. One must have an affinity for peace and he must appreciate the psychological, physiological, and mental benefits of peace. Above all, he must realize the spiritual blessings of peace and the pleasure that it brings to G-d, as it were, when His children are at peace with one another. If one does not love peace then he will not be able to adequately pursue it. After all, why should he admit defeat or error when he was indeed right or justified? A lover of peace is willing to forego his “rightness” for the sake of peace.
          The Ateres Mordechai continues that after the death of Aharon, divisiveness and enmity crept into the Jewish camp and the Clouds of Glory dissipated. At that point, Amalek realized the vulnerability of Klal Yisroel and immediately mounted an attack.
          In Eichah[4], the prophet Yermiyahu laments the fact that, “All of her pursuers overtook her ‘bayn hamtzarim’ between the boundaries”. The Ateres Mordechai explains that this is a reference to the disunity of Klal Yisroel at that time. When people became particular about their boundaries and would not allow neighbors to walk on their property, it was then that they became vulnerable to their enemies and were defeated.
          Similarly, the pasuk in Bereishis (12:7) states, “There was a quarrel between the shepherds of the cattle of Avrom (the patriarch Avrohom) and the shepherds of the cattle of Lot (Avrohom’s nephew); the Canaanites and P’reezeites were then in the land.”  What does the presence of the Canaanites and P’reezeites in the land have to do with the feud of Avrom’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds? The answer is that the beginning of the pasuk is an explanation of the end of the pasuk. Why were the Cannanites and P’rezeites on the land at that time if the land had just been promised by G-d to Avrohom’s descendants? It was the quarreling and disunity that allowed the foreigners to have dominance over the land.
This message has not changed throughout our exile: When there is peace among the descendants of Avrohom, then we have complete sovereignty over our land and our people. But as long as we still harbor pangs of hatred and resentment against each other, we are subject to the domination, or at least the influence, of external authorities.

Rabbi Pam observed that Korach rebelled against Moshe because he recognized that the great leader Shmuel would descend from him. Had Korach not been overcome with jealousy his prophetic vision would have impelled him to become a more ardent follower of Moshe so that he would be a worthy ancestor of his esteemed progeny. However, his evil character traits overwhelmed him and he turned the vision of his progeny into a catalyst for disaster.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Aharon HaKohain, the quintessential man of peace, whose position Korach coveted. Aharon merited to be the High Priest and to wear the golden chest-plate (choshen) above his heart because his heart was filled with love for his people.  In fact, when he was informed that his younger brother Moshe was to become the leader of Klal Yisroel, instead of feeling jealous he was overwhelmed with joy. A heart that harbors no jealousy or resentment is worthy of wearing the Divine Names close to it[5].

The parsha of Chukas is invariably read in the month of Tammuz, the month when the three weeks that mark our mourning of the destruction of the Basis Hamikdash, begins. The Gemarah relates that the second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed on account of baseless hatred. Thus, our ultimate redemption and the coming of Moshiach is contingent on our efforts to rectify that wrong which is still rampant in our hearts. However, this is far easier said than done.
In life we are often faced with the daunting question: Is it better to be right or to have peace?

“Be among the disciples of Aharon”
“Hashem will bless His Nation with peace”

[1] Rosh Hashanah 3a
[2] Avos 1:12
[3] see Avos d’Reb Nosson
[4] Lamentations 1:3
[5] Shemos Rabbah 3:17


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas Pirkei Avos, perek 5
10 Tamuz 5772/June 30, 2012

It seems like a favorite pastime for people to talk about their former teachers and their unique idiosyncrasies, as well as the antics students pulled in class. Undoubtedly, one of my most unique teachers was ‘Rich’ (as he liked to be called). Rich was very into poetry – not the rhyming kind, but the kind you read as a high school student, and think that it’s complete gibberish, and laugh when the teacher is annoyed at you for not comprehending the deep meaning of the poem.
On one occasion Rich gave us a paper which had only three words on it. On top in big bold letters it said ‘HERE’. Towards the bottom right corner of the page it said in small letters ‘we are’. He was extremely frustrated when we all looked at each other blankly with snickers on our faces. “Gentlemen, I’ve been called a genius for this and you have no clue what it’s about!” He finally explained that his point was that very often we are not where we say/think we are. We like to believe that we have achieved certain things in our lives and have matured to certain levels, but frequently it is just not true.
I would like to piggy back on Rich’s point, albeit with one twist. I would spell the first word HAIR. In other words, sometimes one’s hair is no longer where it once was, as the hair line of youth recedes and thins. [I of course speak from observing others. Personally, I know nothing about this.] An older friend related that when he goes to the barber and asks for a haircut, the barber asks him which hair.
But here’s my observation: The halacha is that when a man dons his tefillin shel rosh each morning, the front of the shel rosh must be positioned at the place where one’s hair line was in his youth. Even if one’s hairline recedes, the positioning of his tefillin shel rosh remains in that original place.
In the physical world, as well as in society, the lines of acceptability and societal norms constantly shift with the times. What was once taboo may be completely acceptable today, and what was once innovative may now be completely passé. But in the spiritual world, the lines never change. Our barometer of morality and acceptability, have not altered one iota throughout – and despite – millennia in exile.
No matter how much the hairline moves, the tefillin remain where that line once was. Even if the physical hair is gone, the spiritual hairline never shifts!

              Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
                R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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