Thursday, January 22, 2015


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


          The verse in Parshas Bo states: למען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך... וידעתם כי אני ה'" – In order that you will relate in the ears of your sons and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt and the signs that I placed in them, and you will know that I am G-d.”
Relating the story of the exodus is an integral part of the process of instilling within one’s children knowledge and faith in G-d.
Why does the verse say “in the ears of your sons and your son’s sons”? If every person has an obligation to teach his own son, what obligation is incumbent upon the grandfather?
Also, why does the pasuk say one should, “relate the story in the ears of his son”? To what other organ would one relate the story?
Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried zt’l[2] explains that the obligation to educate one’s child is not merely about imparting information and details about past occurrences. Rather, education entails conveying lessons that will excite a child and speak to his heart. The lessons must be taught in a way that the child will internalize the message.
Personalized education cannot be taught in a collective forum; it must be taught on an individual level. Thus the pasuk says that one must relate the seminal story of the exodus to his son in a manner which will passionately excite him. Then, years later, he will relate it to his own son with the same passion and excitement.
We can add that it is for this reason that the verse states that one must speak “in the ears of his son”. It is alluding to this lesson, that one cannot teach faith with generic collective lessons. It must be tailored toward each child, spoken into his own ear. In that way, the son will want to convey that same emotional excitement about his faith to the next generation.

                   In the haggadah four different types of sons are addressed. This is itself an important principle in education. One must speak to each child in the manner in which he can hear it. One cannot speak to the wise son the same way that he speaks to the wicked son nor can one speak to the simple son using the same words he uses to engage the ‘son who does not know how to ask’.
In the recitation of the haggadah, when the Four Sons are introduced, the vernacular of the haggadah is, “חכם מה הוא אומר... רשע מה הוא אומר... - The Wise Son what does he say…The Wicked Son what does he say?...”  It does not say “what does he ask?” but “what does he say?”
A father must realize how his son is asking his question. He must extrapolate the deeper unstated message that his son is conveying. What does his question and attitude convey about where he is holding? From the son’s question one must hear not only the words he uses, but also, “what is he saying”. What depth of character and soul is he expressing through his question?

When Klal Yisroel arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah, the verse states, “בחדש השלישי לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני" – In the third month after the Children of Israel departed from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Desert of Sinai.” Rashi explains that the words “ביום הזה - on this day” are superfluous. They teach us that, “the words of Torah must be renewed upon you as if they were given that day.”
There are two points that require explanation: In parshas Ki Seitzei[3], Rashi quotes a similar teaching, “Each and every day they (the words of Torah) should be in your eyes as if they are new; as if they were commanded to you today.” Why is it necessary for the Torah to repeat this idea?
Furthermore, the aforementioned verse refers to the first day of Sivan when the weary nation first arrived at Sinai. Aside from arriving at the foot of the mountain no other significant event occurred on that day; the actual process of giving the Torah essentially did not begin until the following day. It seems incongruous to learn that the Torah must feel ‘like new’ each day from the verse discussing the day prior to the giving of the Torah?
The Torah is like a super highway that is immutable and unchanging. Torah is called, “mesilos bilev- pathways in one’s heart”. However there are many roads, paths, byways, overpasses, and underpasses that lead to, and are adjacent to, that major highway. In order to remain headed in the right direction without losing one’s way it is often vital for one to learn those adjacent byways and pathways.
In parshas Ki Setzei the Torah is indeed exhorting every Jew to view the Torah as if it was given that day. However, here[4] the Torah is alluding to a different fundamental idea. “כחדשים – as if it were new” here refers not to Torah itself but how one relates to Torah. Each and every day requires a new assessment of the optimal way to teach and relate to Torah that day.
One day a Rebbe may assess that a specific student cannot be pushed to learn too much for whatever reason. The next day however, it may be necessary for the Rebbe to put added pressure on that student because the Rebbe realizes that on that day the student can accomplish more.
A teacher must know well the temperament, capabilities, and capacities of each student in order to know how to relate to that student, and how much can be demanded of that student. Every day that assessment must be made anew.
G-d had been waiting to give the Torah since before the world was created. Why did G-d not immediately commence the process when Klal Yisroel arrived at Sinai? Why did He wait until the next day; was that not a needless waste of time?
The answer is that G-d understood that Klal Yisroel was weary from the journey. Accepting the Torah required their full concentration and involvement, which would be tremendously challenging for them at that point. So despite G-d’s great desire to give the Torah, as it were, He waited until the next day. Therefore, it is wholly appropriate to learn the lesson of reassessing one’s capabilities each day specifically from that verse. That verse demonstrates that G-d Himself granted the nation leeway because He recognized their inability to accomplish more on that day. Every educator must make that same assessment about his own students, children, and selves.

This idea of viewing the Torah “kachadashim- like new”, i.e. by constantly reassessing one’s abilities each day, has far reaching implications. It is true not only of an individual but about our general approach to Torah and our Service to G-d.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler zt’l[5] writes that each generation has its own challenge that is dissimilar to the challenge of previous generations. For example, in the generation of the Rambam the major challenge was maintaining faith. At that time there was great admiration for the teachings of Aristotle and Aristotelian philosophy. Whenever his teachings contradicted Torah there were many who preferred to believe that the Torah was mistaken (G-d forbid) than to think Aristotle’s logic was faulty. It was for this reason that the Rambam wrote his great philosophical work, “Moreh Nevuchim- A Guide for the Perplexed” to counter this tide. In it he discussed the veracity of Torah especially when Aristotelian thought countered it.
If this is true why do we not teach Moreh Nevuchim on all college campuses? Why do we not mass print it in English and have everyone read it. Wouldn’t that solve all the crises of faith?
The answer is that the challenge of our generation is vastly different.[6] Our challenges and tests of faith are far different than the challenges of the generation of the Rambam and, therefore, what worked for his generation will not work for our generation.

A few other examples of this idea:
When the Jewish Nation was preparing to leave Egypt, G-d commanded them to take clothing from the Egyptians and put it on their daughters and sons. This seems shocking! One of the three merits which made the nation worthy of redemption was that throughout the exile they did not alter their mode of dress to look like the Egyptians. How is it possible that at the moment of redemption they would don their children in clothing that they had distanced themselves from throughout the exile?
The answer is that this was a powerful message to Klal Yisroel. G-d was showing that it was not particularly the Egyptian’s clothing that was bad; the fabrics and colors were not inherently evil. Rather, it was what they represented. Throughout the years of exile if a Jew would don Egyptian clothing it would symbolize his desire to be similar to the Egyptians and to shed his uniqueness as a Jew. But at this point after Egypt was ravaged and decimated and it was “no longer hip” to look like an Egyptian, the Egyptian clothing no longer bore that negative symbolism. Therefore, at this point there was nothing wrong with the Jews wearing them.
The lesson was that even something which is absolutely abhorrent today (“treif chazir”) can be perfectly acceptable (“glatt kosher”) tomorrow! It depends on the implication and the symbolism. It wasn’t the clothing of the Egyptians that was the problem per se, but what they represented.

When I was a student in Yeshiva in Miami in the 1960s I had classmates who grew their hair long. It was very hip at that time for men to have long hair like the drummer of the band, the Beatles (the two-legged Beatles, not the six-legged beetles). One Friday the dean of the Yeshiva called the boys in and told them they had until Sunday to get a haircut or they would not be allowed back in to class. The wily boys countered, “But Rebbe, we want to be like the Nazir who grew his hair long”[7]. The wise dean stood his ground and merely repeated that they had until Sunday.
Truthfully there may be nothing halachically wrong with a man having long hair. A Nazir was indeed obligated to have long hair. It is not long hair itself that is a problem but what it represents. The Nazir’s long hair was a sign of holiness, a crown of spirituality. But the long hair of the boys in yeshiva represented their desire to imitate an outside influence that had absolutely no connection to Torah.

When the Chinuch Atzmai Yeshivos were first opened, there was a major dispute about the language in which classes would be taught.[8] The founders were convinced that they would not be teaching in ivrit (Modern Day Hebrew) as there had been tremendous opposition to ivrit, especially by Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt’l when the state decided to adopt Hebrew as its official language.[9]
They were shocked when the Chazon Ish ruled that they should indeed teach in Hebrew. The Chazon Ish explained with a parable: Imagine if during World War II A retired war hero from World War I was summoned to assist the military strategists with his sagacious advice. The general immediately set to work drawing up plans of brilliant maneuvers utilizing box planes and other primitive weaponry used in World War I. We can well imagine that they would throw his plans out the window and send him home. His ideas were simply worthless. The rules of war had changed and weapons then included fighter jets, tanks, and even sonar radar. You can’t fight WWII with WWI weapons!
In the same vein, the Chazon Ish explained that when it was first decided by individuals who had abandoned Torah that Hebrew would be the language of choice in the newly formed country, the Torah leaders of that time waged a holy battle against it. They battled to preserve the holiness and sanctity of Torah against those who were completely antithetical to its values. However, some decades later when the Chinuch Atzami schools were founded, its students were completely ignorant of Torah. Their parents too had grown up in secular homes devoid of all traces of Torah values. If they wouldn’t teach in the language the children spoke, they would not be able to relate to the students and would not be able to meet their goals.
Rabbi Sonnenfeld’s battle against Hebrew was to preserve the spirit of Torah. But a few decades later preserving Torah entailed adopting Hebrew. The weapons had changed and the battle had to change with it!

The first time that I was in Yerushalayim for Succos, I was shocked when I saw that they were selling x-mas lights still in the original packaging, as decorations for the succah. I realized that to them those lights had absolutely no significance other than being a beautiful decoration for their succah. In fact, I would venture to think that if a real Jerusalemite Jew happened to be in New York at the beginning of the winter he would think that the Americans stole their succah decorations….

          Even the manner in which one learns and explains Torah must be suited to that generation and an understanding of its challenges.
Whenever the gemara is left with a question for which it has no answer, the gemara states, "תיקו" – an acronym for "תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות"- Eilyahu HaTishbi (Elijah the Prophet from Tishbi) will answer all questions and unresolved difficulties.” Why is Eliyahu destined to answer all unresolved questions and not Moshe, the Rebbe of all of Klal Yisroel, or Rabbi Akiva, the consummate teacher of Torah?
          The answer is that our Sages tell us that Eliyahu never died, but rather ascended to the heavens alive. Since he has lived throughout the generations and understands first-hand the challenges and difficulties of each individual generation. He is most capable to answer all questions.[10]
In two of his teshuvos (respona), Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l - one of the foremost Torah authorities of the previous generation - wrote that he would not give a final ruling about a specific halachic matter because it was chiefly an ‘Eretz Yisroel issue’ and therefore the Torah leaders there had to decide. [11]

In connection with the Jewish King, we are taught: "And it shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah (Mishneh Torah) in a scroll, from before the Kohanim, the Levites"[12].
Rashi interprets the phrase “Mishneh Torah” as referring to two Torah scrolls -­ one which he places in his treasury and one that enters and goes forth with him.
Rav Elya Meir Bloch zt’l explains that the reason why a king needs two Torah scrolls is because a monarch must always be sensitive to what his generation can accept.
We would never suggest that Torah should be corrupted and halacha should be compromised to be palatable to the lowest common denominator in society. But it is important to know that sometimes a particular generation may not be able to accept all of Torah all at once. The king must be aware that he cannot overload the people with a burden that surpasses their spiritual capabilities at that moment.
Rav Elya Meir Bloch cites a pasuk from Prophets that suggests this same idea: " ה' נתן לי לשון למודים לדעת לעות את יעף דבר יעיר בבקר בבקר יעיר לי אזן לשמע  כלמודים - My G-d, Hashem/Elokim, has granted me a tongue for teaching, to understand the need of the times in conveying matters to those who thirst (for knowledge)"[13]. The prophet or king or Jewish leader must realize that there are certain situations when he must strengthen the people and he might need to do it in a way in which he does not do it all at once. The masses do not always operate at the level at which it will be productive to demand the maximum of them in every instance.
The king must have a special Torah that goes out with him and comes in with him. This must be the scroll he uses when he preaches to the nation. This is the scroll that teaches him what should be said and what should not be said. But then the king needs also a pristine Torah scroll that never leaves the ivory tower of his treasury house. This is the "master copy" that he must always look back at as a reference point. He must always have in mind the "gold standard" of Torah in his treasury house, despite the fact that he may be preaching from a different Torah scroll when he goes out amidst the masses.
The real perception of Torah must be the king's reference point that can never be totally pushed aside.

“In order that you will relate in the ears of your sons and your son’s sons”
“My G-d has granted me… to understand the need of the times”

[1] The following thoughts are my personal notes from a lecture given by renowned speaker and educator Rabbi Zev Leff shlita, at the Torah Umesorah Convention this past May. In this lecture he elucidated some important ideas about contemporary education, drawing from his characteristic anecdotal wit and vast repertoire of Torah knowledge and insights. 
[2] Apiryon
[3] (Devorim 26:16) derived from the words, “on this day G-d is commanding”
[4] in parshas Yisro at the Giving of the Torah
[5] Michtav MaEliyahu
[6] “Today people think Aristotle must be the name of some rock star. Hardly anyone is familiar with the philosophies of Aristotle and other great thinkers. Our great philosophical debates are whether to put mustard or ketchup on my hotdog. And that decision is not easy for many people…”
[7] A nazir is a Jew who took the ascetic vow described in Bamidbar 6:1-21. The term "nazir" means "consecrated" or "separated".  This vow required the man or woman to observe certain stringencies throughout their period of nezirus, including abstaining from wine, cutting hair, and becoming impure from contact with a dead body.
[8] Chinuch Atzmai was founded in 1953 by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel in Israel) to serve as an alternate school system for Orthodox children in Israel.
[9] [There is a legend that Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld once met Eliezer “ben-Yehuda”[9] on the street. Ben-Yehuda asked him, “isn’t it wonderful that we revived the Hebrew language in our land?” Rabbi Yosef Chaim replied, “Wine is a wonderful thing. We use it to perform all sorts of mitzvos. Yet, if it falls in to the wrong hands, the whole bottle becomes forbidden for usage and we spill it all out. So too, Lashon Hakodesh (lit. the Holy Tongue) is the most wonderful language. But now that it has been tampered with, it has become defiled.
Ben-Yehuda replied by angrily muttering, “Harav omer Shtusim (The Rav is saying stupidity)”. Rabbi Yosef Chaim immediately replied, “B’ivrit omrim shtuyot (In proper grammatical Hebrew the word for stupidity is shtuyot)” Unsurprisingly, Ben Yehuda walked away irate.]

[10] Based on Bais Elokim, Shaar Hayesodos, perek 60  
[11] "והנה להלכה למעשה צריך לידע מגדולי ישראל שבא'י איך לנהוג בכל דבר בעניני שמיטה ולעשות כמו שנהגו גדולי ישראל שהיתה דירתם קבועה בא'י וגם הגרי'ז מבריסק והחזון איש היו שם וידוע ודאי לבניהם ותלמידיהם איך שנהגו"  (אג''מ,יו''ד ג:קלא)
"הארכתי בזה לבאר דעתי לדינא אבל חס לו להקל בא'י לאלו שאוכלין אותן כיון שהדר'ג הורה כן ויודע יותר דרך תושבי א'י" (אג'מ, או'ח ד:עז)
[12] Devorim 17:18
[13] Yeshaya 50:4


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