Friday, December 21, 2012


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


          A photographer was once describing to his friend the extreme poverty of a poor Native-American hamlet. “The women were pregnant, the children were sick and malnourished, and the men had no work. So they sat around and drank themselves into a stupor. The village was in ruins the squalid living conditions were deplorable and the poverty was unimaginable.”
The friend listened wide-eyed and asked, “So what did you do?” The photographer nonchalantly responded, “I shot them in color.”

          The epic confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda reaches its crescendo. Yosef can no longer bear the pain of his brother’s degradation. He dismisses everyone from the room and emphatically declares, “I am Yosef!” The brothers reel in shock as they try to digest the words they heard. But then Yosef adds, “Is my father still alive?”
 The commentators are puzzled by Yosef’s inquiry. Did he not know that Yaakov was alive in Canaan? Was that not one of the main points of discussion from when the brothers first appeared before Yosef? Did Yehuda not, moments before, warn Yosef of the dire consequences Binyamin’s failure to return would have on Yaakov?
In the beginning of his magnum opus, Chovas Hatalmidim[1] explains that education is not about conveying dry facts and instruction during the child’s youth and to subdue his behavior so that he can be socially appropriate. Rather, it is to inculcate within a child an appreciation and deep connection to what he is being taught, so that he can appreciate its value and how it enriches him as an individual. Dogmatic instruction is only a tool but it must be coupled with emotional connection. Shlomo Hamelech wrote[2] “Educate each child according to his way; even in his old age he will not forsake it.” True education speaks to the child so deeply that it remains a part of him throughout his life.
The word chinuch connotes a new beginning. In reference to children it refers to our efforts to open the heart of a child in order to reveal his inner beauty. The only way to accomplish such an approach towards education is through loving the child and seeing his uniqueness and then helping him recognize it and ultimately foster it as well.

Rabbi Yissochor Frand related the painful story about a yeshiva student whose father had abandoned his family. The student was completely ‘turned off’ and showed no interest in anything that the Rebbe taught. The Rebbe tried his best to engage the child with incentives and individualized attention, even inviting him to his home for a Shabbos meal. But all his efforts were to no avail. The frustrated Rebbe allowed the troubled student to sit in the back of the class in his own world. The Rebbe hoped that the student would absorb some of the lesson.
A few months passed and the Rebbe was teaching his class Parshas Vayigash and the ordeal of Yosef revealing his identity to his brothers. He asked his class the obvious question - why did Yosef ask if Yaakov was alive if he knew he was?
The class sat silently as they pondered the question. Then, a hand shot up from the back of the room. The Rebbe was surprised to see that it was his ‘lost student’. When he immediately called on him the student explained: “Yosef was telling the brothers a message. I know YOUR father is still alive and I know YOUR father is still involved in your lives; but what about MY father? Has MY father given up on me? It’s been twenty two years since I last saw him. Does he still care about ME? Is MY father still alive?”  

We live in a narcissistic, impatient world that looks for the quick-fix. We do not like solutions that require patience, methodology, or selflessness. The tragic product of such a world is a society which has lost the art of human communication and empathy. The depth of that narcissism constantly shocks us. The egregious shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut this past week is a painful case in point. 
But Chinuch requires tremendous patience and love. It is far more than academia and scholarship; it requires soul-connection, which results from passionate teaching, not dogma. It entails reaching into the soul of each student and drawing out the inherent beauty that resides within.
“Even in his old age he will not forsake it”
“Is MY father still alive?”

[1] Duties of the Student authored by the Piaseczno  Rav, Rav Klonimus Kalman Shpiro zt’l hy’d. He was a trendbnous Torah leader murdered by the Nazis.  
[2] Mishlei (22:6) "חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנו"

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
8 Teves 5773/December 21, 2012

The Jewish people always have the last laugh. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to recognize it, but it never fails.
Pharaoh tried to control our population by forcing us into extreme slave labor, but the more he oppressed us the more our population exploded. Haman tried to destroy us and plunge us into national melancholy, and his efforts resulted in Purim, a deeply joyous celebration of our national survival. Antiochus tried to eliminate our spiritual Avodah, including stopping the Menorah from being lit in the Temple, and as a result there is a menorah lit in every Jewish home for millennia throughout the world for over a week. Hitler tried to eradicate us and all of Jewish life, and here we are, with more quantitative Torah study than ever before in our history.
I would like to add an additional ‘last laugh’ to the Chanukah holiday. It is well known that the ancient Greeks had great respect for the external human body. Spartans prided themselves on their might as fierce soldiers, and Greek culture placed great emphasis on the gymnasium and being trim and fit. So we spend eight days of Chanukah eating latkes and jelly donuts fried in oil so that by the time Chanukah is over we all resemble a Jelly donut, much to the chagrin of our Greek adversaries. Take that you silly Greeks! 
Whenever a holiday comes to an end we have to question what we are taking with us from the holiday. What indelible impression has the holiday made upon us that will continue to inspire us throughout the year? Is it merely added calories and a bulging waist that we take with us (a waste indeed), or have we nourished our soul as well?
Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook zt’l wrote (Arpilei Tohar) “The pure and righteous – don’t complain about wickedness, rather they increase righteousness; they don’t complain about heresy, rather they increase faith; they don’t complain about foolishness, rather they increase wisdom.”
When Chanukah ends the fast of Asarah B’Teves is not far behind. The gemara states that on the eighth of Teves when the Septuagint was created “darkness descended to the world for three days”. The only way to counter that darkness is with the symbolic light of Chanukah. Chanukah is a celebration of light – of courage to stand up for our mission to serve Hashem and remain steadfast in our unyielding dedication to unadulterated Torah observance. The dark days of Teves mourn our loss of that dedication. 
Our world became darker this week. It is appalling and frightening that a person can be so narcissistic that he can mercilessly snuff out the lives of multiple children. Our response must be to add more light. Ultimately discussing the horror that occurred will not change anything. But another good deed, another prayer, another few moments of Torah study, another mitzvah, another kind word, that will return some of the light we have lost.
Even as we return our Chanukah menorahs to their shelves, we can hardly afford to allow its light to darken. It must continue to illuminate our lives and our world. That is the only way we can fight the darkness.

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

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