Friday, November 2, 2012


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


          Before coming to America, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l was the Rav in Luban, White Russia. In the early part of the winter of 5682 (1922), one of the members of his community was bed-stricken with a fatal infectious disease that caused his mouth and throat to become terribly inflamed.
When the man felt his end was near he requested a private meeting with Rav Moshe. When they were alone, the man related to Rav Moshe the following story, “Last Shabbos I was learning the parsha of the week, Parshas Vayera, and I came across the Torah’s narrative of the daughters of Lot. I read about how they caused their father to become inebriated and then caused him to impregnate them. I publicly questioned how it was possible that the ultimate savior of Klal Yisroel[1] would come from two women who, not only committed such a perverse act, but had the impudence to publicize their deed by naming their children - Moav (from my father) and Amon (the child of my nation) - based on the ordeal?
“That night I had a dream in which two elderly women appeared to me. Their heads and faces were completely covered, and they introduced themselves as the daughters of Lot. They told me that they heard my complaints against them and they had come from the World of Truth to explain the rationale for what they had done. They related that because they were members of the distinguished family of Avrohom Avinu, and because they had just been miraculously saved from the destruction of Sedom, no one would believe that they could/would have committed such a sinful act. They would rather believe that their pregnancy was miraculous and therefore their children were deities, who should be worshipped as ‘children of G-d’.
In order to ensure that no such desecration of G-d’s Holy Name occur, they accepted upon themselves the personal degradation of publicizing what they had done to ensure that no one entertain such heretical thoughts. It was in the merit of that self sacrifice to shoulder that disgrace that made them worthy of being the progenitors of Moshiach.
Then they told me that I had committed a great sin by speaking about them in a degrading manner and, therefore, I would be punished like the spies who gave an evil report about Eretz Yisroel. That is the reason why I am suffering with this strange disease in my mouth and throat.”
With that, the man completed his narrative, turned toward the wall and died. Rav Moshe accepted this man’s explanation as being the true explanation.   

The entire life of Avrohom was motivated by his primary desire to spread belief in G-d. This is apparent in every interaction throughout his life. A few examples follow:
When Lot’s shepherds allowed their sheep to graze in the pastures of the surrounding Canaanite fields, an argument broke out between them and the shepherds of Avrohom. The shepherds of Avrohom felt the land did not yet belong to Avrohom and therefore they had no right to allow their sheep to graze from stolen property. Lot’s shepherds countered that G-d’s promise is as good as done.
As a result of that dispute Avrohom felt that he and Lot could not remain together, and that they would have to proceed in opposite directions.
Be’er Yosef explains that Avrohom never intended for Lot to accompany him at all. When G-d instructed Avrohom “Lech Lecha” to leave his father’s home, he understood that he had to leave behind all of his family members, including Lot. However, Lot went with Avrohom on his own accord, as the verse states, “Avrom went when G-d spoke to him and Lot went with him[2]”. When Avrohom saw that Lot sincerely wanted to accompany him he allowed him to join.
But when Avrohom saw that Lot was not sufficiently respectful of the property of others, he feared that it would jeopardize his own integrity and damage his own efforts to teach people about G-d. This was especially true because Avrohom and Lot looked alike.

Parshas Vayera begins with Avrohom residing in a place called ‘the plains of Mamre’. Rashi explains that the Torah makes it a point to inform us of the name of the place in order to give honor to Mamre, who was one of Avrohom’s confidants. When G-d commanded Avrohom to circumcise himself, Avrohom consulted with Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre about whether he should proceed with it or not. Only Mamre told him that he should. It is perplexing that Avrohom asked for advice at all. Wasn’t he the faithful believer who did everything G-d commanded him to do? Why here did he contemplate not fulfilling G-d’s command?
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l[3], explains that Avrohom’s question to Mamreh was not whether he should fulfill the command. Rather it was whether he should publicize what he did or not. Avrohom was tremendously influential throughout the civilized world. After he was victorious against the Four Kings, they all accepted Avrohom as king[4]. Avrohom’s prestige contributed greatly toward his ability to influence the masses towards monotheism. Avrohom was concerned that if people heard that he had circumcised himself at an advanced age because he was commanded to do so by G-d, they would distance themselves from his teachings about G-d.
Mamre reassured Avrohom that if G-d had commanded him to do so there was no room for hesitation. His responsibility was to do as he was commanded, and the impact of his actions was not his concern. It was in the merit of that sound advice that the place where Avrohom fulfilled the mitzvah of circumcision was named after Mamre.

After leaving Avrohom’s home the angels proceeded to Sedom which was slated for destruction, along with its four neighboring cities. One angel went to actually destroy the city while the other came to save Lot. In the annals of history there have been many cities that have been wicked and depraved. What gave these five cities the dubious distinction of being worthy of miraculous decimation?
Rabbi Michael Bernstein[5] postulates that because Avrohom had saved those cities people would always refer to them as the cities that Avrohom saved. The continued existence of such sinful cities tarnished the impeccable reputation of Avrohom and could impede his efforts.
Perhaps the cities were destroyed specifically after Avrohom and Sarah were informed that they would be blessed with a child who would father the great nation promised to them. Now it became even more imperative that there not remain such an association with Avrohom Avinu.

Throughout his life, Avrohom was driven and guided by the desire to sanctify G-d’s Name and fulfill G-d’s Will. This was so apparent to the masses that the daughters of Lot were convinced that civilization would quicker believe in supernatural intervention than to accept that a member of his extended family had acted immorally.
Avrohom and Sarah infused in their progeny the need to live lives of dedication to G-d and His Torah, even at the cost of sacrifice and comfort. There is no dearth of stories of heroes and heroines who lived their lives following that example.
The following is one such story:
Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Gold arrived in America in 1913. He had left his wife Rochel and their young son Yankel (Jack) behind in Poland in the hope that he could earn enough money to bring them over quickly. With the outbreak of World War I however, it wasn’t until 1922 that the family was reunited on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
 Mrs. Gold was determined that her family be imbued with the values of Torah and even in America. The day after she arrived in New York (!) she inquired and was informed that there was only one Yeshiva at the time, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef (RJJ). She personally went down to the office with Yankel, and explained to the principal that she needed to enroll her son in the Yeshiva as soon as possible.
The principal replied apologetically that the school was too full and they could not admit him. Mrs. Gold was insistent that he begin learning Torah. She offered for him to share a chair with another student. But the principal showed her that every chair was already doubled and two students shared one sefer. The principal told her he would have to add her son to a waiting list and that it would be about two years before her son could be admitted.
Mrs. Gold and Yankel left the school, but returned about an hour later and sat down on the steps. Mrs. Gold felt that if her son could not learn in yeshiva, he could at least watch the yeshiva boys and see a yeshiva. After some time a class came outside for recess. The Rebbe noticed the mother and son sitting on the steps and asked if he could be of any assistance. “We’re just waiting”, she replied. After a few hours when the Rebbe noticed them still sitting there he asked her what she was waiting for. Mrs. Gold explained that they were waiting for her son to be admitted to the yeshiva, and that the principal had said it would take two years. The Rebbe informed the principal who looked outside and was shocked to see that the mother and son he had met hours earlier were sitting there. In fact, for the next three days the principal watched as they sat on the steps during the entire day, just waiting. After that, somehow they found room in the yeshiva for Yankel!
 Rabbi and Mrs. Gold raised a distinguished Torah observant family. I should know because Mrs. Rochel Gold was my great- grandmother.
This Friday, the 17th of Cheshvan, is the yahrtzeit of one of Rochel Gold’s children: My Savta, my father’s mother, Minnie Staum a’’h.
“Savta Minnie” as we called her took great pride in the accomplishments of her children and grandchildren. She had great nachas from our growth in Torah and middos. We continue to miss her and hope that she will be a maylitz yosher for her family. Tehi zichrah baruch!

“G-d appeared to him in the plains of Mamre”
“Avrom went when G-d spoke to him”

[1] Moshiach is a descendant of Rus who was a Moabite
[2] 12:4
[3] Darash Moshe
[4] Rashi 14:17
[5] Windows to the Soul, Shaar Press

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
17 Cheshvan 5773/November 2, 2012

By now Sandy has commandeered most of our conversations. We cannot help but marvel with awe at the ravages of destruction she wrought. With whipping winds in excess of 90 m.p.h. Sandy tore through our area, flooding tunnels, gushing through homes uninhibited, and uprooting trees along with their roots. For a night the bustling city-life was brought to a standstill.
The storm has passed and now we are faced with the momentous task of the great cleanup. Gas lines are monstrous, reminiscent of the oil embargo of the 1970s. We are thankful that we are safe, but for those of us in the dark and cold, we anxiously await the return of our electricity. In Monsey/Spring Valley, our electric is provided by “O & R” (Orange and Rockland), and now all eyes are upon them.
With schools closed all week, for the last few days we drove around the battered streets of Monsey trying to keep our children busy and warm. As we did so we searched for our heroes - the workers of O & R who, we are told, are working around the clock to restore our power. If only we could look upon the lines and see the workers atop their cherry-pickers, it would bolster our confidence in their efforts. But alas, we have not seen any! Not even one! We have seen numerous Verizon and Optimum trucks, the mail was delivered, and our garbage was collected, but no utility workers in sight. Someone told me he saw one utility worker sipping a coffee, and someone else told me he saw a worker rolling out the yellow tape in front of a fallen tree. But no cherry-pickers.
I was informed that the workers have to do ‘internal work’ before they can begin work on the poles, and that is why we haven’t seen them up and about.  
I found the concept intriguing. While I surely believe that introspection is important, and the desire for ‘internal work’ is certainly commendable, I believe their priorities are backwards. Chazal indeed say (Bava Metzia 107b) “Adorn yourself and then adorn others”. However, the Chofetz Chaim taught us that during a time of crisis when all hands are needed on deck, everyone must join the rescue efforts, even one who has not personally achieved that requisite level (See Stam Torah, Lech Lecha 5771).
If the Chofetz Chaim said that regarding spiritual matters, then it surely applies to physical matters as well.
Someone should tell the O & R workers that there will be plenty of time for them to do ‘internal work’ as soon as the aftermath of Sandy is behind us. But until then, they should get out there and get our lights and heat up and running!

A bright and warm –
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Please remember that this was written for entertainment and moral value purposes.
We salute all of the herculean efforts – including those of O & R - to return us to normalcy.

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