Thursday, November 27, 2014


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


          My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often relates:
“Shortly after the Israeli war of Independence, I was privileged to hear a lecture from a noted scholar and Torah leader. During that lecture he noted that the whole Jewish world of that time was analogous to a big Intensive Care Unit in a hospital. The first thing they tell you when you go into an I.C.U. is “Shhh!  You must talk very quietly. The patients here are ill and feeble. They need to be able to recover without added stress or noise.”
The Jewish world today is in a very precarious predicament. So many of our brethren are unfamiliar with their heritage and have not been taught about their heritage. It is indeed a sad state. However, a doctor who wants his patience to heal does not scream at them for being ill. We too we cannot shout and yell at others. If we shout they won’t hear what we are saying; they will only hear the anger and animosity in our voice. We have to convey our sincere care for them. Only then will we be able to influence them and help “cure them” of their dreaded spiritual maladies.”

          Yaakov Avinu suffered for many years living with and working for his duplicitous father-in-law, Lavan. Rashi notes that Lavan tried to dupe Yaakov out of his due wages one hundred times. But Yaakov cunningly outwitted Lavan each time.
Yaakov not only persevered financially in Lavan’s home, but he also built a beautiful righteous family. Finally, G-d appeared to Yaakov and told him it was time to depart. (31:3) “Return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you.”
          The Torah relates that Yaakov summoned his wives Rachel and Leah to the field and said, “I have noticed that your father’s disposition is not toward me as in earlier days; but the G-d of my father was with me. Now you have known that with all my might I worked for your father. Yet your father mocked me and changed my wages ten countings; but G-d did not permit him to harm me….And an angel of G-d said to me…Now – arise, leave this land and return to the land of your birth.” 
          Yaakov’s words seem shocking. G-d had appeared to him and told him to leave. For our great patriarch Yaakov it would seem superfluous to even say that he fulfilled G-d’s Word. Yet, when he approached his wives he did not immediately tell them about G-d’s instruction. Instead he appealed to their logic by explaining how leaving their father’s home was in their best interest. Only after that did he conclude by adding that G-d had appeared to him and told him to leave. Why didn’t Yaakov emphatically state that they were leaving as G-d commanded?
          Rochel and Leah’s response is even more astounding. “Have we still a share and an inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not considered by him as strangers for he has sold us? And he has even totally consumed our money!... So now, whatever G-d has said to you, do!” They too seemed to only agree to fulfill G-d’s Command because it was convenient for them. They surely would have left even if it was a burden for them as per G-d’s instruction. If so, why did they answer in such a circuitous fashion, only mentioning that Yaakov should accede to G-d’s command after they rationalized that it would be beneficial?
          The holy Shelah relates that if a person wants to inspire others to change or improve their ways - especially in his own family - he should do so without imposing it on them. This includes telling them that they are mandated by Torah law to alter their lifestyle or cease doing certain things that they have always done.[1] 
          One should try to convince others of the inherent benefit of doing the right thing. If one can help another realize the personal benefit and goodness involved in altering his behavior, the other person will want to change. The way one acts willingly is incomparable to the way one acts under duress.
          There was no question that even if his wives refuted his logic, Yaakov would heed the word of G-d and leave anyway. However, his hope - which proved successful - was that he would be able to demonstrate how G-d’s Command was beneficial. Then they would be happy to fulfill G-d’s Dictate and would not leave begrudgingly. 
          Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l added that from the response of Rochel and Leah we learn that one should always try to understand for themselves how adhering to the Will of G-d is beneficial. They too replied that leaving was in their own best interest.
Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are our forbearers who trail-blazed a path through life for us to follow. They strove not only to fulfill the Will of G-d, but also to understand how doing so was for their own good and benefit.
This is a general attitude that one must strive to maintain in all of his daily Service to G-d. We must believe and understand that adhering to Torah and mitzvos grants us ultimate fulfillment and purpose from life. “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its pathways are peace.” That realization does not result from coercion and intimidation. One can only see the beauty of something when it is presented glowingly. When Torah is presented as a yoke of love and when being a Torah-Jew is viewed as a banner of pride, than one will want to be connected to it. But if it is seen as a reality that one must contend with, negative feelings will inevitably result. 

          In his beautiful sefer, Bayis U’menucha[2], Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern zt’l, relates the following two stories:
“I remember close to forty years ago, walking on Shabbos with the great tzaddik, Rabbi Aryeh Levine zt’l. As we were walking a secular kibbutznik was slowly walking towards us smoking a cigarette. The kibbutznik was quite an imposing individual and I was afraid that if Rabbi Aryeh would chastise him for smoking on Shabbos the man would react by physically pushing the aged Rabbi. But before I could say anything Rabbi Levine walked up to him and emphatically said, “Today is Shabbos and it is forbidden to smoke!” The anger in the kibbutznik’s eyes was immediately noticeable and he responded irritably, “I am not a Jew and therefore I may smoke on Shabbos.”
“Rabbi Aryeh looked in his eyes and replied, “Do not speak that way! You are my brother and I love you dearly. So why do you smoke?” At that moment the man’s whole demeanor and tone changed. He gently replied, “Kavod Harav, of course I am a Jew. I want you to know that I have been rebuked many hundreds of times, but I never felt that anyone really cared about me. They called me many pejoratives like “sheygatz” and sneered at me angrily. You are the first Rabbi who I feel really cares about me. If you want I will extinguish the cigarette immediately.”
“Rabbi Aryeh jumped up, “Oh no, you cannot extinguish it either on Shabbos. Just put it down and let it burn out.” The kibbutznik continued, “Rebbe, if you would tell me never to desecrate the Shabbos again, I don’t know if I could promise that I would honor such a commitment. However, because of the love you demonstrated towards me I promise that I will not desecrate this Shabbos!”   
          “On another occasion I was accompanying my Rebbe and master, Rabbi Elya Lopian zt’l, to the Chevron yeshiva for the Mincha prayers one Shabbos afternoon. Each time a car passed us Rabbi Elya cringed and sighed, “Oiy! There is no one to teach them the stringency of violating the Shabbos! I cannot bear to see my brothers violating the holy Shabbos!”
“At one point he turned to me and said that he couldn’t take it any more and he wanted me to walk him home. I replied that we were already more than half way to the Yeshiva and we would see the same amount of Shabbos desecration if we turned around. Rabbi Elya begrudgingly continued walking but I saw that he was literally broken-hearted.
          “A moment later, a car pulled over at the curb next to us. The driver rolled down his window and asked for directions to Rechov Yaffo. Rabbi Elya immediately burst into tears. When he finally composed himself somewhat he replied, “How can I assist you in violating the Shabbos? But on the other hand how can I refuse another Jew who asked for my assistance?” Then he burst into tears again.
“The man parked his car and got out. “Rebbe, I have never felt like I was properly rebuked until this moment. My mother is Shabbos observant and she has screamed at me for not keeping Shabbos many times. But I never saw her cry. I see that you truly care about me and, therefore, I promise you that I will never again drive on Shabbos. Please take the keys from me and I will come to pick them up after sunset.” Rabbi Elya gently replied, “I see you are a soulful person. I must tell you that the keys too cannot be moved on Shabbos. Leave them on the side of the road and they will be here after Shabbos.” The man agreed and he put the keys down.
“Rabbi Elya then turned to me and told me that he wanted to converse with the man and that if I wanted I could go ahead to the yeshiva without him. I decided to stay in order to hear Rabbi Elya’s discussion. Rabbi Elya began asking him very basic questions about his background, his family, and what he does for a living. They stood at the side of the road talking for over an hour. When the students of the yeshiva walked past, they were stunned to find Rabbi Elya deep in conversation with a completely irreligious Jew.
When the conversation finally ended and the man walked away, Rabbi Elya turned to the small assemblage and said, “Do you see? We do not encourage people to observe Shabbos by casting stones at them. The only way to draw people closer to Torah and Shabbos observance is with true love and care.” “
“Return to the land of your fathers”
“So now, whatever G-d has said to you, do!”

The following was the sequel I wrote to this essay when it was originally printed in 5769. Unfortunately, its message is again applicable in light of last week’s tragedy in Har Nof with the massacre of four Torah scholars while davening shachris, wrapped in their talis and tefillin:

This week, the Jewish world suffered a terrible blow from which we are still reeling in shock and pain. The numbness of the dreadful news has yet to wear off as we try to come to terms with the devastation that occurred. In Mumbai, six Jews were brutally tortured and murdered. They died sanctifying the Name of G-d leaving us to mourn the horrors of the unbelievable events that transpired: Norma Rabinovitch-Shvartzblat, Yocheved Orpaz, R’ Benzion Chorman, and R’ Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, may G-d avenge their blood.
But perhaps there was no greater shock than the murder of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries. The Holtzbergs devoted their lives to providing spiritual and physical nourishment for every Jew (and many non-Jews) who walked through their doors. When their parents came to gather their belongings after the attacks, they were astonished to learn that their children only kept one room for themselves and all of their belongings. The rest of the building was open to the public.
Tens of Jews from all walks of life joined them each Shabbos. Rabbi Holtzberg would slaughter a tremendous amount of chickens each week so his guests could enjoy kosher chicken on Shabbos. His equally devoted wife would bake loaves and loaves of challah and unlimited food. Those who had spent a Shabbos with the Holtzbergs described the warm ambiance and camaraderie that the Holtzbers developed among their guests, who were strangers to each other.
Their lives were devoted to helping other Jews discover and appreciate the beauty of their heritage. But they did not do so with philosophical speeches and theological harangues. Instead they acted with love and devotion, personifying the dictum that all Jews are brothers and sisters. They showed people the sanctity of Shabbos and the beauty of living a Torah life, even in the spiritual wilderness of Mumbai.
They died as they lived, sanctifying the Name of their Creator.
In 1956, a Lubavitch emissary and four of his young students were brutally massacred by terrorists in the newly founded village of Kfar Chabad. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l sent the community a letter that contained a mere three words, three words that have been and are the key to our national resilience throughout the exile, “B’hemshech habnyan tinachamu – Through continued building you will be consoled.”
We have no way to make sense of what happened and no rational explanations will assuage our conscience. We surrender ourselves to G-d as we have always done, asserting that one day we will understand, albeit not during our physical lifetimes. The only way we can gather solace and consolation is by transforming the experience, by continuing their life’s work. When we remain steadfast to our mission we ensure that we will prevail.
It is only with heart-filled devotion and love that we will be able to rebuild what has been destroyed. As we continue where they left off, the six holy souls will smile from their glorious eternal rest and encourage us to continue building.
May their souls be bound with the souls of the eternal living!

[1]Rhodewalt and Davison (1983) noted that whenever one feels his freedom being restricted or limited, the tendency is to move farther toward what is being limited. This normal human reaction is called reactance and it occurs whenever one feels his freedom is being limited. Reactance often causes people to do the opposite of what is being demanded of them.
[2]The book is a practical guide to fostering a peaceful marriage and home


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