Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


A number of years ago on Rosh Hashana, I was privileged to share the amud[1] with my father in our shul, Kehillat New Hempstead. He was chazzan for shacharis while I was chazzan for mussaf.
It was a unique opportunity, not only because it was a special feeling of connection between my father and I, but also because it lent itself to a deeper nostalgic bonding. As a child, each Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I would listen as my Sabba[2] a’h lead the shacharis prayers, and my father lead the mussaf prayers, in the Poilisher shteeble in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
During shacharis, when my Grandfather stood at the amud, I and my older brother would stand next to my father, and during mussaf, when my Father stood at the amud, we would stand next to my Sabba. That year, it was gratifying to share with my father the experience that he had with his father.
It was also particularly meaningful for me that my children were able to stand next to their Zaide while I was at the amud. The special experience cannot be expressed in words. It was an emotional connection with the yesteryear that a grandfather represents.

A number of years ago, while rummaging through the sefarim in my Zaide’s[3] apartment, I discovered a machzor (prayer-book) for the High holy Days that was published in Germany in 1840. Although its pages are old and yellowed they are still firm and intact, and the print on the pages is lucid. I always make sure to daven some of the prayers from that ancient machzor during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. 
I have often thought about how vastly different the Torah world looked when the Machzor was first published. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, was two years old in Zhetel, Poland; Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Chasam Sofer had died one year prior; Rabbi Akiva Eiger had died two years prior; a 32 year old Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch was the Rabbi of the city of Oldenburg[4]; Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant was 30 years old; and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the famed Kotzker Rebbe was 53 years old[5]
The world back then also seems like a different galaxy. It was 21 years before the American Civil War; William Henry Harrison was the President of the USA after he beat out Martin Van Buren in the elections that year. It was three years into England’s Victorian Era of Pax Britannica and Otto Von Bismarck had been chancellor of Germany for 25 years. Hitler would not be born for another 49 years and Stalin for another 38 years.
It is mind-boggling to think of all the world-shattering events that have transpired since the publication of that Machzor. But the timeless words contained in that ancient book remain virtually unchanged.[6] We recite the same verses of Kingship in Mussaf on Rosh Hashana that were proclaimed in Rabbi Hirsch’s Germany, the same words of Kol Nidrei that were hummed in the Pressburg of the Chasam Sofer, and the same penetrating tune for the Kaddish before Neilah that was sung in the synagogues of Salant, Zhetel, and Kotzk. The world has changed drastically but the prayers and what they represent are exactly the same!

In the holy song of Haazinu that Moshe Rabbeinu sang on the day of his death, he proclaimed “Remember the days of old, consider the years of each generation; ask your father and he will tell you, your grandfather and he will say it to you.”[7] History and the events of the past are integral parts of Jewish life.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein often relates that when one learns to drive, the first thing he is taught before he even pulls out, is to look in his rear-view mirror to see what is behind him. Just as it is when one drives, one cannot go forward in life unless he has an understanding of what is behind him. A Jew can never forget the exodus, the giving of the Torah at the revelation of Sinai, the miracles of the forty years in the desert, and all of the other events of Divine Providence throughout the generations. As poet and novelist George Santayana once mused, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it!”
The verse’s exhortation that history not be forgotten and that elders be consulted is understandable. However, the verse seems redundant. How does “remember the days of old” differ from “consider the years of each generation”?
Menachem Tzion explains the words homiletically. The word for ‘years’ used here, shenos, can also be translated as “the changes”. One must consider and contemplate the changes that occur in each generation. He must be wary of the lessons of the past in order to apply them to the future with wisdom and discernment. Times change, people change, societies change, and circumstances change. What was effective and productive yesterday may no longer be beneficial and efficient today. Although the Torah itself never changes, part of its eternal quality is that we can learn to adapt and mold our lives around its dictates throughout time. We have to contemplate and understand how to apply its words for its wisdom traverses all societies and all challenges. We must not only remember history but we must also consider and contemplate the vicissitudes of time and how the Torah continued and continues to be true throughout.   

The Machzor Masores HaRav[8] quotes the following beautiful thought from Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l:
The Mishna[9] quotes Rabbi Akiva who stated: “A father endows his son with comely appearance, strength, riches, wisdom, longevity, and the number of generations (that had been his progenitors) before him.” He then adds, “v’hu hakatyz- And this is (the secret of) the redemption.”
There is no doubt that the genetic codes of a parent and the conditions of the home environment affect a child’s physical, economic, and intellectual status. But what is the concept of “the number of generations” which is the secret to the redemption?
Rabbi Soloveitchik eloquently portrayed the following scenario: “A grandfather stands before his newly born grandchild filled with paradoxical thoughts. Feelings of renewal merge with fading memories of the past. For the Torah-committed Jew, the scene had an added dimension. Grandfathers and grandchildren, though members of different generations, are part of one fraternity – those who preserve the integrity of the transmitted tradition (“the Mesorah community”). Jews of the past, present, and future are united in their commitment to the Divine teachings of the Torah and to the historical destiny of the Jew. One collegial fraternity exists of Moshe, Rabbi Akiva, the Rambam, the Gaon of Vilna, the Ba’al Shem Tov, and others, joining hands with grandfathers, parents, and children of all generations.
As the child is born he is absorbed into the Mesorah community. He will, hopefully, speak our language, study our texts, share our solemnities, dream our dreams, and adopt our ideals. Rashi will become his lifelong companion in Torah study, as he is ours. In this fraternity of the committed, there need not be any generation gap, any splintering of ranks, but rather a sharing of ideas and ideals which span and unite countless generations. Each newborn child enters an extended historical family where he will be reared by the wisdom and teachings of the great Torah personalities, all interested in his spiritual awakening and development.
“When it is achieved, a Mesorah relationship between grandfather and grandchild contains an emotional intensity and intellectual closeness that in some ways transcends the parent-child relationship. Psychologically, one would not expect a deep identification between two individuals whose great discrepancy of years could easily spawn alienation. Yet grandparents, more so than parents, are sensitive to the transiency of time and to the pressing need to assure the perpetuation of one’s lifelong principles. The child is far more than a biological extension; he embodies one’s hopes for spiritual continuity… Distance in time is bridged, and divergence in outward style is rendered irrelevant. This is in sharp contrast to the secular scene, where generations too often confront each other as cultural antagonists.
“This is the idea of “the number of generations before him”. Parents transmit to their children the secret of uniting with past generations and the ability to associate with distant historical figures, intellectually and emotionally, as if they were contemporaries. This is the secret of the redemption! He who can proclaim an identity with the generations from the beginning will bring about the redemption of the Jewish people.” 

The prayers we recite on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur grant us a unique opportunity to connect with our forbearers.[10] Even more so, when we sit outside in our succah during the holidays of Succos, we are united with all of Klal Yisroel in the world today as well as throughout all the generations. Anyone who has ever sat in a succah under the s’chach, which represents the sole protection of their Father in Heaven, maintains an inextricable bond.
This is part of the idea behind the Ushpizin, who come to visit our succos on a metaphysical level during each of the seven nights of the joyous Succos holiday.[11] When we sit in the succah we are relying on the protection of the same G-d Who protected the Ushpizin during their lifetimes, thousands of years ago. The mere fact that we sit in the succah deeply connects us with our patriarchs and greatest leaders. In a sense, the holiness of the succah and our ability to appreciate its meaning is thanks to their efforts. Their belief and faith in G-d created the seeds and roots from which we have branched out. On a deeper level, when the souls of the Ushpizin enter our succos they are coming back to their own homes.
The days of teshuva and the celebration of Succos which follow are days of connection – connection to our past, connection to our future, and perhaps most profoundly, connection to ourselves.

“Ask your father and he will tell you, your grandfather and he will say it to you.”
“A father endows his son… and the number of generations before him.”

[1] lectern from where the chazzan leads the congregation
[2] Father’s Father
[3] My Zaide is my Mother’s Father
[4] he did not assume the post in Frankfurt for another eleven years
[5] Gerrer chassidus was not yet founded
[6] Perhaps there are some variations depending on custom but it is the same basic universal text used today.
[7] Devorim 32:7
[8] Rosh Hashana, p. 316
[9] Eduyos 2:9
[10] Although this is true about the prayers throughout the year, it has special meaning during these High Holy Days when we use ancient tunes and maintain customs that traverse generations.


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