Thursday, May 21, 2015


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


Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l related the following story:
There was once a wealthy fellow who was searching for a worthy husband for his daughter. He wanted his son-in-law to be a scholar of note and of exemplary character. The man was offering to support his daughter and her husband comfortably so that his son-in-law would be able to apply himself to Torah study without any financial burdens or worries.
He traveled to one of the famous yeshivas and mentioned his proposition to the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva pointed out one boy who fit the criterion. The match was arranged and the young husband traveled to his father-in-law’s hometown for the wedding. As soon as the wedding and the festivities were completed, the young man began his new schedule of rigorous study. He arrived in the Bais Medrash before nine o’clock each morning and, aside for a half hour break for lunch, he would continue studying uninhibitedly with gusto until sevent thirty each evening.  
The weeks passed and the man noticed that his son-in-law was slackening. He was coming later each morning, extending his lunch breaks, and leaving earlier each afternoon. One day he called his son-in-law into his office. “My dear son-in-law, what has happened recently? After the wedding you learned with such diligence and were so punctual. But now you seem to have lost much of your tenacity and devotion.”
The son-in-law replied, “Yes it is true that my learning is not on the same level as it was when I began. But you must understand, I am by far the most knowledgeable man in town. There is no one who learns anywhere near the amount that I do and no one possesses nearly the same magnitude of knowledge that I do. Is it so terrible if I relax my schedule a bit?”
The man shook his head sadly, “You have made a terrible mistake. I did not bring you to this town to be better than everyone else. This is merely a small town filled with simple folk. Your barometer must be the great scholars in the yeshiva which you came from. It is their extreme level of diligence and dedication that you must rival. You possess far greater capabilities than those in this town and your aspirations must reflect your capabilities. Don’t lower yourself by comparing yourself to those who are inferior to you.”
Rabbi Paysach Krohn utilizes this story to bring out a poignant idea. He relates that he was once driving along the highway on a hot summer’s day. The windows were closed and the air conditioning was on in his car and he was listening to a tape of a Torah lecture. When he arrived at the toll booth[1] and rolled down his window, he was immediately greeted with blaring music from a flaming red convertible in the booth next to him. The driver had a few earrings in his ear and was bouncing to the beat of his raucous music. Rabbi Krohn immediately felt a sense of pride, thinking about the glaring differences between himself and the other fellow. But then he recalled Rabbi Pam’s story. A Jew shouldn’t take pride in the fact that he is more dignified and noble than such an indecorous individual. There is simply no comparison. A Jew’s barometer should be other Torah Jews and great leaders.

Every morning a Jew begins his prayers with the Morning Blessings. Included in those blessings are the ‘Blessings of the Torah’. The first of the three blessings reads, “ברוך אתה ה'... אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו לעסוק בדברי תורה Blessed are you G-d… Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos and has commanded us to busy ourselves with the words of Torah.”
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explained that the vernacular “אשר קדשנו במצותיו - Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos” often used for blessings, is reserved for mitzvos that contain a physical act. The ‘sanctification’ mentioned in the blessing refers to the sanctification of the physical body. Despite the fact that the body emanates, and ultimately returns to, the earth, since during its lifetime it houses a holy soul, it becomes sanctified and elevated.
Even after the soul departs from the body, the Chevra Kaddisha (burial society) treats the physical frame with deference and dignity. The corporeal body of Jew becomes perpetually holy because it contains a holy soul.
It is for this reason that no blessing is recited on mitzvos that are performed primarily in one’s mind. For example, we do not recite a blessing, “אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו לקרות קריאת שמע - Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos and has commanded us to read the Shema,” because the most important aspect of reciting Shema is the concentration one has while reciting the words[2]. The same is true regarding prayer. No blessing is recited prior to beginning to pray because the main aspect of prayer is accomplished in the mind and heart.
The mitzvah of Torah study however, does engender this form of blessing because an essential component of Torah study is verbalizing the words and teaching them to others. This is clearly expressed in the subsequent blessing, in which we pray that G-d make the Torah sweet, “in our mouths and in the mouths of Your people, Yisroel.” While it is essential that one understand what he is learning, it is equally essential that he verbalize the words. Being ‘busy’ with the words of Torah entails that we discuss it constantly.
In addition, the mishnah[3] lists forty-eight prerequisites for Torah study, many of which involve some measure of physical depravation, e.g. minimizing sleep, chatter, pleasure, business dealings, etc. It is often physically draining to apply one’s self to Torah study, especially early in the morning or after a long day’s work. Therefore, although Torah study is a spiritual experience, it is unquestionably also a physical endeavor and the words, “אשר קדשנו במצותיו" are appropriate for the blessing recited prior to Torah study.

When Klal Yisroel arrived at Sinai they began to ready themselves for the seminal event of accepting the Torah. On the second day of Sivan[4]  G-d pledged to the nation, “And now if you will hearken to My Voice and you will guard My Covenant, and you will be for Me a Treasure from among the nations for the whole earth is Mine. And you will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a Goy Kadosh (a Holy Nation)…”[5]
What is the meaning of “Goy Kadosh”? What is the meaning of the term “Goy”, and how does a “Goy” differ from a “Goy Kadosh”?
Rabbi Shalom Ziskind z’l[6] explained that, contrary to popular belief, the title “goy” - which literally means “nation” - is not a pejorative. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the word “goy” is related to the word “g’viyah” which means ‘the physical body’[7].
A human being is composed of two diametric factions that are constantly at odds, his celestial soul and his corporeal body. The fact that a human being lives on this earth is indicative of the fact that he is primarily a physical being. Although he possesses a Divine Spark, he is driven and governed by his physical needs, and they dictate how he lives his life.
A Jew however, must view himself in a different light. It is true that he is living in a corporeal world replete with material temptations and pleasures, but he has a mission. A Jew lives with an ulterior purpose, i.e. to promulgate G-d’s Word and to sanctify his own soul. While it is undeniable that even a Jew lives his life in a physically-dominated world[8], a Jew views the entire physical world as a means to achieve a higher purpose. Thus a Jew is not merely a “goy” but he is a “goy kadosh”, a physical entity, albeit driven by holiness and the desire to connect with his innate divinity.     
This idea is expressed in the תניא, where he writes that one must strive to ensure that his moach (brain, rationale) dominates his lev (heart, emotions), and not vice versa. That is the defining factor of a Jew who is a member of goy kadosh – a physical being who pines for holiness.
With regard to holiness, G-d is described as קדוש קדוש קדוש"Holy! Holy! Holy”. The term ‘holy’ is used three times - not to denote holier, more saintly, or more sanctimonious. Instead “kadosh” signifies that G-d is different. He is in a category all by Himself. We do not say that G-d is greater than an angel, or that G-d is greater than the greatest of human beings. That would be like saying an elephant is greater than the color green. There is no comparison because they are entirely different entities. That standard of separation and uniqueness is what G-d wants the Jewish People to emulate when He commands us to be a unique entity as a “goy kadosh”. G-d expects of us on one hand, to be a “goy”, physical being, and yet in the same breath, He demands us to be “kadosh”. Even in our physicality, we, like G-d, are completely different than anything else in the world.
At times, the distinction between a goy and goy kadosh can be subtle and imperceptible to the untrained eye. Although there surely are myriad blatant differences, the core differences are internal and hidden from view. A member of goy kadosh has a drastically different mindset which leads to a difference in purpose.
At the conclusion of the Torah’s discussion about the differences between kosher and non-kosher animals, the Torah summarizes by saying, “To separate between the impure and the pure, and between the animal which is edible and the animal which is not edible”.[9]
Rashi comments, “Did the verse need to differentiate for us between a donkey and the ox? Isn’t it already explicit? Rather, this verse is coming to differentiate between what would be impure to us and what would be pure. That is, between [an animal] whose wind-pipe has been cut through half way, making it invalid, and who had the greater part cut through, making it kosher and pure.”
There is a very thin line[10] that separates pure from impure, a hairsbreadth difference between a windpipe sufficiently cut or not. A miniscule point can determine whether something is permitted or not. It is not between ox and donkey that we need to differentiate, but within the ox itself!
Similarly, it is not between man and beast that we need to differentiate because those differences are fairly obvious. It is the differences between goy and goy kadosh that we need to accentuate. 

The Ponovezher Rav once asked the following question: In Tehillim King David prays that G-d spare him from the heathen nations who are compared to raging waters. “שלח ידך ממרום פצני והצילני ממים רבים מיד בני נכר - Stretch out your hands from above; snatch me, and rescue me from raging waters and from foreigner’s hands.”[11] In Ovadiah the Jewish People are compared to fire. “The house of Yaakov shall be a fire, and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle them, and consume them; and there shall not be any remains of the house of Esau; for G-d has spoken.”[12]
In the normal course of events, water extinguishes fire. Is it possible that the Scriptures offer an analogy which implies that the nations, which are compared to water, can destroy and extinguish us, who are compared to fire?
The Ponevezher Rav answered that water extinguishes fire only if there is nothing separating them. However, if there is a separation between the fire and the water, such as a pot of water atop a flame, then, not only will the water not overcome the fire, but the fire will heat the water.
When Klal Yisroel forgets its uniqueness and tries to mingle with the “goyim”, then the goyim can overpower and extinguish us, G-d forbid. But when we maintain our identity and remain steadfast to our mission, we raise the entire world up with us.  

When all is said and done, it is our unyielding devotion to Torah as well as our resolute and uncompromising commitment to hold its banner aloft that has preserved us as a Nation. The goy kadosh has withstood all the tempests that have sought to ravage it until now, and will continue to do so for all of eternity. “וחיי עולם נטע בתוכנו - And eternal life He has planted within us[13].”

“Who has sanctified us with… the words of Torah”
“A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation”

[1] this was during the pre E-Z pass era
[2] If one does not know the meaning of the first verse of Shema when he recites it, he has not fulfilled his obligation.
[3] Avos 6:6
[4] The Torah was given on the seventh day of Sivan
[5] Shemos 19:5
[6] in his beautiful book, “Surviving Galus” (exile)
[7] For example, at the conclusion of the Adon Olam prayer it says, “ועם רוחי גויתי – And with my spirit, my body”
[8] In the words of a Rebbe of mine, “In this world the body has home-court advantage”
[9] Vayikra 11:47
[10] At times it is literally a thin line
[11] 144:7
[12] 1:18
[13] From the Uva L’tzion prayer recited each morning


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