Thursday, May 17, 2018



   A chassid once asked his rebbe, “When Moshiach comes, how will I recognize him?” The rebbe replied, “The more important question is how will Moshiach recognize you?”

In Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah describes the marching formation of the twelve shevatim. In addition, the Medrash notes that every shevet had its own banner, which depicted its individual image and color. Hoisting that banner was a matter of pride for each shevet.
On the flag of Shevet Reuven was the image of a plant – דודאים - reminiscent of the ones Reuven picked for his mother to help her become pregnant.[2] Chazal relate that Reuven picked those dudaim in an ownerless field, to make sure he wasn’t stealing. The Medrash adds that there were fruits growing on those flowers, but Reuven wouldn’t eat them until he had given the flowers to his mother[3].
What was so great about the dudaim that made it worthy of being the image on Shevet Reuven’s flag?
Our reflexes are a gift from Hashem. If one senses an object speeding towards his head, and he moves away just in time, that’s a reflex reaction. When one is walking and suddenly one foot extends higher or lower than the previous step, the body immediately adjusts its weight to make sure he doesn’t fall. That too is a natural reflex reaction.
The most well-known natural reflex is when a doctor hits a patient’s knee to test his reflexes, and the foot automatically extends.
But there are other reflexes that are not natural, and only result from training and developing a habit.
For example, a head lifeguard in camp may randomly demand that his lifeguards jump into the pool for practice emergency drills, even when the water is cold or murky. He is trying to get them into the habit of jumping into the water without hesitation, in case, G-d forbid, it became necessary to save a life.
The commentaries on the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah) note that Reuven was only four years old when he went to pick the dudaim. For a four-year-old to be so concerned about not picking stolen flowers, means that it was a reflex reaction, it had been ingrained in him even at his young age. The fact that he wouldn’t taste the flowers until he gave them to his mother, also demonstrates the chinuch that was invested in him.
The image of dudaim on their flag symbolized the integrity of their ancestor even at a young age, which was a result of the chinuch instilled in him. It’s likely that Reuven witnessed the incredible mesirus nefesh and selfless devotion his father displayed as a loyal employee of his dishonest grandfather, Lavan. Even under the worst working conditions, Yaakov was faithful and fulfilled his responsibilities to the best of his ability. Yaakov was obsessed with not taking what wasn’t his, and Reuven internalized that lesson.
The banner of Reuven contained the symbolism of developed moral reflexes![4]

In the second perek of Megillas Rus, the megillah describes the original encounter between Boaz and Rus. After Boaz noticed Rus’s exceptional modesty and adherence to halacha, he told her: “Do not go to gather in another field, and don’t go elsewhere, and so you shall remain close to my maidens.”[5] However, when Rus recounts to Naomi what Boaz told her, she unwittingly alters his words: “Also he said to me, with my young men that are with me you should remain close until the harvest is completed.”[6]
The Medrash observes that while Boaz told Rus to cling to his maidens, she recounted that he said she should cling to the young men. The Medrash introduces the observation with strong words: “Undoubtedly, she was a Moabite!” It is inconceivable that Boaz would have told the young widow to mingle with the young men. But, Rus was raised in a society where such mingling was commonplace and therefore, her righteousness and commitment to Judaism notwithstanding, she misunderstood Boaz’s words.[7]
Rus was unquestionably committed and had grown immeasurably in her connection to Judaism. But it is challenging to change notions and ideas that are developed from one’s youth. Rus had been raised in a promiscuous society and she still was not used to the healthy boundaries which halacha dictates and therefore she misunderstood Boaz’s message to her.

A friend of mine related that when his grandfather was in the hospital, not long before his passing, he was not always so lucid. On one occasion, in a state of half-consciousness, a nurse rolled up his sleeve and began to take his blood pressure. As soon as he felt something tightening upon his arm he began reciting the beracha “l’haniach tefllin”, the blessing men recite as they don their hand tefillin each morning.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Lipa Geldwerth[8] related that years ago his father was being wheeled into the elevator in the hospital on his way down to the operating room for open heart surgery. His father had already been given an injection of anesthesia and was beginning to feel its effects. In a groggy state he told his son Rav Lipa that he wanted to share with him two things. The first was a familial matter. Then he told him the following: “I survived five concentration camps and I never missed wearing tefillin for a day. If I’m alive tomorrow morning, please make sure I put on tefillin.”
He indeed survived the surgery and they made sure he put on tefillin the next day. He lived another twenty years before he had a heart attack and stroke from which he never recovered. When he was in the hospital that time, a nurse was wrapping a cord around his arm. While she was doing so, Rav Lipa noticed his father reach into the air in front of his forehead to adjust his Shel Rosh (which wasn’t there). It was an instinctual reaction, coming from decades of meticulous devotion to perform the mitzvah of tefillin.

Our goal in learning Torah and performing mitzvos is that it not only is something we do, but it becomes part of who we are. A truly G-d fearing Jew’s adherence to halacha becomes a reflex reaction. He recoils from a prohibition in the same manner that he recoils from touching a hot stove. Conversely, he relishes the opportunity to learn Torah because he finds fulfillment and connection through it.
We don’t merely keep the Torah; we also live it. That is an important part of what we celebrate on Shavuos. 

“For it is our life and the length of our days, and in it we will engage day and night.”
“It is a tree of life for those who uphold it, and its supporters are enriched.”

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, second day of Shavuos 5777
[2] Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7
[3] Bereishis Rabbah 72:2
[4] The idea about the dudaim on the banner of Reuven as a result of his natural reflexes is from Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky.
[5] Rus 2:8
[6] Rus 2:21
[7] It’s worth noting the sensitivity of the manner in which Naomi corrected Rus. She did not chastise her or mention to her the immodesty of what she had said. Rather, in the next verse, she simply rewords Rus’s words correctly: “And Noami said to Rus, he daughter-in-law, it is good my daughter that you will go out with his maidens and you should not have any encounters in any other field.”
[8] Rabbi Geldwerth is a maggid shiur at Yeshiva Torah Temimah and rov of Khal Kol Torah of Flatbush; from a lecture given at last year’s Torah Umesorah Convention


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