Thursday, June 21, 2018



It wasn’t nice, but that’s the way it was. Everyone in school and in his town called him Mike the Moron. It wasn’t that he was stupid, as much as that he just never seemed to use common sense. He was impulsive, had no patience for details, and was socially inept. It seemed that almost daily Mike ended up being the laughingstock of his friends and community.
After somehow graduating high school, Mike was determined to change his reputation. He decided he would leave town for a year and would study social appropriateness. During that year he studied the actions of socially successful people and expended great effort training himself to pay attention to detail.
Finally, after a year of arduous work, he was ready to prove to everyone that he was a different person. He put on nice clothes, combed his hair, and mustered up the courage to walk into the first store he saw.
He didn’t recognize the owner of the store, and he greeted him warmly. The owner returned the greeting, after which Mike engaged in some pleasantries and small talk. When the owner asked how he could be of assistance, Mike pleasantly replied that he needed eggs, milk, orange juice, and a loaf of bread.
The owner peered at him for a moment. “Sir, before I try to help you with what you need, can I ask you a question?” Mike smiled, “Of course; ask me anything!” The owner looked at him again, “Are you by any chance Mike the Moron?”
Mike was beside himself. “I spent a whole year working on changing my image. I never even met you before. How could you possibly know?”
The owner replied, “Mike, this is a hardware store!”

The ironic truth is that in the famed Novardok mussar yeshiva, the Alter[1] would often send his students into a drug store to ask for nails. In those days drug stores weren’t also convenience stores; they only sold medicine. Everyone would laugh at the yeshiva student who was asking for nails.
The Alter wanted his students to be accustomed to not caring about the ridicule of others. In order to ensure that they would develop courage to do what was right even in the face of mockery and derision, he trained them to disregard public image when it interfered with one’s integrity.

The account of Moshe Rabbeinu hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, and consequently being informed that lifelong dream of entering Eretz Yisroel would be denied, is of the most difficult passages in the Torah. It is clear that the great Moshe was being held to an incredibly exacting standard, as the most righteous are. It is also clear that national interests were also a major factor.
The commentators expend great effort to understand what exactly Moshe was being punished for. We review and study the mishaps of Moshe, and all our greatest leaders, because the lessons we glean from them are personal and timeless.[2]
Hashem chastised Moshe, “Since you did not believe in Me to make me holy before the eyes of the B’nei Yisroel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the land which I gave them.”[3] These seem to be very harsh words. In what way did Moshe fail to sanctify G-d? After all, hitting a rock to produce water is not much less of a miracle than speaking to a rock to produce water? 
The Alter of Novardok[4] explains that the key to understanding what happened, is based on the Medrash[5], which states that Hashem indicated to Moshe that there was a specific rock which Moshe was supposed to speak to in order to bring forth water. There were Jews who began to mock Moshe saying that if this was really a miracle, why couldn’t he bring water from any rock? They reasoned that he was trying to bring forth water from that specific rock because he must have known there was a stream underneath it.
Moshe was in a quandary. If he fulfilled what Hashem instructed him, it would end up causing a chillul Hashem because the mockers would deny that it was a miracle. The whole purpose of the event would not be achieved. Moshe therefore reasoned that if he proved them wrong, it would produce a far greater kiddush Hashem.
The Alter noted that Moshe was not intimidated in the least bit by the masses. He had no qualms about facing 600,000 people and telling them off. To Moshe, the entire world was meaningless in the presence of Hashem. It wasn’t the opinion of the masses that Moshe was concerned about, but rather about bringing about honor to Hashem. Moshe rationalized that by veering somewhat from what he was commanded, he could silence the mockers and create greater kavod shomayim.
Moshe’s quandary is something many of us face on occasion. At times we are confronted by situations when it seems breaching halacha somewhat will bring about a far greater kiddush shem shomayim. On the flip side, at times observing halacha may seem to risk causing people to become ‘turned off’ from Hashem or Torah. How should one proceed in such a situation?
Moshe opted to try to bring about a greater kiddush Hashem, and so he spoke to a different rock and instructed it to give water. However, because it wasn’t the rock G-d had commanded him to speak to, it did not give forth water. At that point Moshe struck the rock twice and water began to flow.
This was the incredible test of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe should have recognized, that despite how it may have seemed to his eyes, it was impossible that there could come about a greater kiddush Hashem other than what Hashem commanded. Had Moshe not have followed his speculation, the water would have eventually flowed from the rock based on his directive alone. His noble and selfless rationalizations notwithstanding, Moshe came up short because he did not wholly fulfill the exact instruction of G-d.

In Sefer Yehoshua, the Navi States “Yehoshua waged war with all these kings for a long time.”[6] Radak and Rashi quote the Medrash[7] which sees this verse as finding fault with Yehoshua. Hashem had assured Yehoshua that he would live to conquer and distribute the land. Therefore, Yehoshua tarried with the conquest to prolong his life.
The Medrash notes that Yehoshua’s actions were contrasted by those of Moshe, who was told that he would die after the battle with Midyan. Nevertheless, Moshe waged war against Midyan with alacrity, to immediately fulfill the command of Hashem. Because Yehoshua sought to prolog his life in this manner, his life was shortened by ten years.
Maharzu explains that Yehoshua prolonged the conquest because he knew that as long as he was alive, the nation would not sin. Nevertheless, despite his noble intentions, he was held to task for doing so. One is charged in life with fulfilling Hashem’s Will, and not substituting his own judgement with that of the divine.[8]

The Alter concludes, “When the eye of intellect can not see clearly any longer, one must judge in accordance with his faith in the word of Hashem…Just as darkness cannot emanate from light, a desecration of G-d’s Name cannot come from obeying His command.”

One summer Rav Mandel Kaplan zt’l[9] stayed at a kiruv summer camp which worked with youth from nonreligious backgrounds. At times he felt the camp went overboard in its attempts to give the campers a good time. He asked the camp directors why they always had to provide them with so much ‘fun’?
On one occasion, the camp was planning on taking the boys to the country fair, which Rav Mendel felt was not a proper place for them to attend. The director told Rav Mendel that this was the only way to get those children interested in Torah observance. When the director quipped that, “If we don’t do this, we will lose them”, Rav Mendel curtly replied, “So you’ll lose them.”
At first the camp director was shocked by Rav Mendel’s response. This was especially true because Rav Mendel was so full of love and concern for every Jew. But with time he understood Rav Mendel’s point: if the goal was to covey to the students that Torah has supremacy in a Jew’s life, how could the camp underhandedly convey that having fun was its greatest ideal? Such an approach would produce observant Jews who paid lip service to Torah values but didn’t truly internalize it.
Our ultimate responsibility is to uphold Torah and halacha to the best of our abilities.[10] There is no greater way or any alternative way to promote kavod shomayim!

“Since you did not believe in Me to make me holy”
“Desecration of G-d’s Name cannot come from obeying His command”

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

[1] Rav Yosef Yozel Horowitz zt’l (1847-1919)
[2] That itself is one of the greatest indications of the veracity of Torah as the guide to ultimate truth. The Torah doesn’t mince words from telling us about the failings of our greatest leaders. There is only one divine being who is flawless. Although it doesn’t deserve to even be mentioned together, it’s worth noting that in the “New Testament” none of the ‘leaders’ ever seemed to err…
[3] Bamidbar 20:12
[4] Madreigos Ha’adam; beirur hamiddos
[5] Bamidbar Rabbah 19:9
[6] Yehoshua 11:18
[7] Bamidbar Rabbah 22:6
[8] This point about Yehoshua is not mentioned in this context by the Altar. I came across it with siyata d’shmaya this morning, shortly before I was going to send out this Stam Torah.
[9] Rav Mendel (1913-1985) was a legendary educator and Rosh Yeshiva. He was one of my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein’s, rabbeim. Whenever Rabbi Wein speaks of him it is with great nostalgia, admiration, and love. Artscroll published a beautiful biography entitled “Reb Mendel and his wisdom” about his life and legacy.
[10] There are undoubtedly situations which do warrant exceptions. But such unusual situations require the input and guidance of a halachic authority and gadol.


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