Thursday, March 8, 2018



Someone once presented the Chofetz Chaim with the Tehillim that had belonged to his mother. The Chofetz Chaim clutched the worn volume close to his heart and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, remarked, “Who knows how many tefillos and how many tears my mother shed over these pages, davening that I should be a ben Torah and an ehlicher yid!”

In March 2012, Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after 244 years, they were going out of print.  The last print version was the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighed 129 pounds and included new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.
In the 1950s, owning an Encyclopedia Britannica was like having a station wagon in the garage. Buying a set was often a financial stretch, and many families paid for it in monthly installments.
A New York Times article noted that, “In recent years, print reference books have been almost completely overtaken by the Internet and its vast spread of resources, including specialized Web sites and the hugely popular — and free — online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
“Since it was started 11 years ago, Wikipedia has moved a long way toward replacing the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds. The site is now written and edited by tens of thousands of contributors around the world, and it has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate and comprehensive source, even by many scholars and academics.
“Wikipedia also regularly meets the 21st-century mandate of providing instantly updated material. And it has nearly four million articles in English, including some on pop culture topics that would not be considered worthy of a mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
Another article noted that a quarter of children do not know what an encyclopedia is. Some thought it is something you cook with, travel on, use to catch a ball or to perform an operation.

The Yalkut Shimoni at the beginning of Parshas Vayakhel states: “Our Rabbis, the masters of homiletics, stated: From the beginning of the Torah until its end, there is no parsha that begins “And he gathered” expect for this one alone (Parshas Vayakhel).
“The Holy One, blessed is He, stated: “Make for yourselves great gatherings, and expound before them in public regarding the laws of Shabbos, in order that the future generations will learn from you to gather each Shabbos, and to enter their Study Halls to learn and to teach words of Torah - what is permitted, and what is forbidden. This is in order that my Great Name will be praised among my children.
“From here it was said that Moshe enacted for Yisroel that they should expound about the matters of each holiday – the laws of Pesach before Pesach, the laws of Shavuos before Shavuos, and the laws of Succos before Succos.”[2] 
The idea of a Rabbi delivering a derasha and/or shiurim on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim may possibly find its source in this Medrash. Shabbos and Yom Tov are times for contemplation and growth, and learning together in a public forum from a respected personality is an ideal way to learn about and to internalize the lessons of the holy day.[3] 
Shabbos is a time for bonding. It is a day of peace, as we state in the Friday night davening, “May He spread upon us his succah of peace”. That’s also the source for the common blessing of wishing each other “Shabbos Shalom”. During a time when we are blessed with tranquility, freed from the daily angsts and deadlines we face, it is an ideal opportunity to learn Torah together in a communal forum.
This was symbolized by the fact that Moshe’s first and only official assembly of the Jewish Nation began with a discussion of some of the laws of Shabbos, even before it continued with its main topic – the construction of the Mishkan.

There is no doubt that there is much one can gain from learning from online shiurim. Today, when many of us spend great amounts of time driving or away from home, we have been blessed with the opportunity to learn Torah and fulfill the mitzvah of “When you will go on your way”. But the ultimate learning is done in a live setting when one is learning from someone teaching passionately and vibrantly.
There is much discussion revolving around the appropriateness of using siddur apps on a cell phone from which to daven. It isn’t really a matter of halacha. Assuming one has placed his phone on airplane mode, so he won’t receive notifications while davening, there isn’t a halachic issue with davening from a phone during weekdays.
It is rather more of an emotional matter. Is it appropriate to daven from a phone, which is used for more mundane matters? Whether it is or it isn’t, one thing is undeniable: An app on a screen can never replicate the feeling of holding a siddur in one’s hands, and feeling the worn pages beneath his fingertips.
I have a few seforim from my Zaydei. When I use them, I feel a sense of connection with him. I have a zemiros from him with wine and other food stains on its pages. When I open it, I can’t help but think about what the surroundings were when it was opened on my Zaydei’s Shabbos table. The same holds true when flipping the pages of his gemaras or other seforim.
In a world where the printed word is becoming more and more outdated, in the Torah community it continues to thrive, and new books and seforim are published constantly.
There is no app in the world that can convey the same feeling of vibrancy as the worn pages of a siddur or sefer. The same holds true for all mitzvos that we perform. The feeling of holding the Four Species on Succos, seeing Chanukah candles burning, hearing Shofar or Megillah, or looking at the letters of a Sefer Torah, knowing that each was written painstakingly and punctiliously.
Skype and other video call services offer us the uncanny ability to view others anywhere in the world. But there is no replacement for a hug, and the feeling of human embrace when one is physically present. There’s no recording device that can adequately capture the vibrancy of a Torah shiur being given in an atmosphere charged with excited Talmudic tension. There’s no app that can generate passion, devotion, and excitement, such as the Jewish People felt when they excitedly donated their personal materials for the construction of the Mishkan.
The ultimate manner to learn Torah is from a teacher in a public setting. Similarly, building our feeling of connection with Hashem, including purifying ourselves[4] and rectifying our misdeeds, require internal work that can only be done by one who seeks it and is ready to strive for it. 

A study done a few years ago determined that most children will more readily turn to Google for answers before asking anyone.
54% of 6-15 year-olds admitted that the search engine is their first point of call when they have a question, with a mere 3% saying they would ask their teacher. Only around a quarter (26%) of children said they would ask their parents first if they had a question.
The majority (91%) of the children questioned use Google, with almost half (47%) Googling at least five times a day and nearly a fifth (18%) using the search engine 10 times or more daily.  When Google is unable to help, a fifth of children would then look to Wikipedia for answers.
There is much information and knowledge that can be gleaned from many wonderful sources available to us today. But there is no substitution for emotion and connection. Our connection to Torah and Hashem can only be developed through such emotional connection.  
The night of the Seder is focused on educating children. It is the time when the mitzvah of “It will be when your son will ask…” and “You shall tell your son saying…” comes to life. There is no app or online site that can ever substitute the live interaction of a parent with his/her child.
With all the technology available to us, there is nothing as poignant and memorable as a family sitting around a Seder table, replete with matzah, wine, marror, and lit candles, where everyone can point and say, “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.” There is nothing that can create such a deep connection to the past, and provide such powerful fortitude for the future, as that.  
What a gift that we cannot take pictures, tweet, snapchat, or post on Facebook or You Tube, any of the cute and wonderful events that transpire at our Seder. All memories must be created and remembered in the same manner they were remembered by our ancestors - deep within their psyche and their souls.
Such an experience can never be downloaded or Googled!

“Moshe gathered the entire assembly of B’nai Yisroel”
“You shall tell your son saying, ‘because of this, Hashem took me out of Egypt’.”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei (Parah) 5772.
[2]ויקהל משה - רבותינו בעלי אגדה אומרים מתחלת התורה ועד סופה אין בה פרשה שנאמר בראשה ויקהל אלא זאת בלבד.
אמר הקב"ה: עשה לך קהילות גדולת ודרוש לפניהם ברבים הלכות שבת, כדי שילמדו ממך דורות הבאים להקהיל קהילות בכל שבת ושבת ולכנוס בבתי מדרשות ללמד ולהורות לישראל דברי תורה איסור והיתר כדי שיהא שמי הגדול מתקלס בין בני. מכאן אמרו - משה תקן להם לישראל שיהיו דורשין בעינינו של יום, הלכות פסח בפסח, הלכות עצרת בעצרת, הלכות החג בחג.
[3] The prevalent custom to fall asleep during the sermon, and to complain about the length of the sermon came later.
[4] We read Parshas Parah the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh Nissan to remind us of the purification process via the Red Heifer (Parah Adumah). It was offered in the Bais Hamikdash prior to Pesach so that anyone who was ritually impure can become pure so that he/she could participate in eating the Korbon Pesach at the Seder.


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