Thursday, October 25, 2018



Dedicated in loving memory of my father’s mother, my dear Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, whose yahrtzeit is this Friday, 17 Cheshvan.

It was an ordinary day in Judge Mindy Glazer’s Miami-Dade courtroom when forty-nine-year-old Arthur Booth appeared before her for his bond hearing. He had been arrested the previous day for breaking into a home, stealing a car, and running from police. He caused two accidents before crashing the stolen car and being arrested.
What happened next was incredible. As she shuffled papers on her desk, Judge Glazer turned to Booth and said, “I have a question for you — did you go to Nautilus (middle school)?” Booth looked up at her and immediately recognized her. He then proceeded to cover his face with both hands and, overwhelmed with emotion, cried “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!” seven times.
The judge then said to him, “I’m sorry to see you here. I always wondered what happened to you.“ She turned to the court and continued, “This was the nicest kid in middle school. He was the best kid. I used to play football with him, all the kids, and look what has happened.”
Glazer set his bond at $43,000 and closed the hearing by saying, “Good luck to you sir,” she said. “I hope you are able to come out of this okay and just lead a lawful life.”
Booth’s cousin was interviewed by the news right after the hearing and was asked why she thought he was so emotional. She answered, “He probably was thinking, ‘Wow, I had those opportunities and those abilities. That should have been me up there… He was overwhelmed with emotion because he was filled with remorse and the thoughts of what could have been.”[2]
On Rosh Hashanah morning 2015 (5776), Rabbi Efrem Goldberg[3] recounted the above story and added: ““Ha’yom haras olam, ha’yom ya’amid ba’mishpat kol yetzurei olamim… Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgment.” This morning, like Booth, we appear before the Judge who recognizes us, who knows us since our childhood and beyond. Like Booth, as we appear before the Judge of Judges, we are overwhelmed with a sense of what could have been.
“This morning, as we confront the reality of the many mistakes we have made, the poor judgment we have shown, the self-destructive behavior we have engaged in, the opportunities we have wasted and the potential we have not realized, we are filled with a profound sense of remorse, an intense regret, and an acute awareness of who we could be.
“Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer, once said, “Everybody wants to change this world; nobody wants to change themselves.” I disagree. I think we do want to change. We want to become the people we were meant to be, the people we are capable of being. Many of just don’t know how.”

There is an extraordinary theme that appears in many of the events of parshas Vayera. It seems that almost everything Avrohom set out to accomplish was either an abject failure and disappointment, or a missed opportunity.
At the beginning of the parsha, the Torah describes in great detail the tremendous effort that Avrohom invested in preparing a delectable and expensive meal for three bedouins. He involved his wife and son, and all of them were hurrying to ensure that every nuance was being catered to.
The truth was that they were angels who didn’t need the food at all. Rashi explains that when the Torah says “they ate”[4] it means that it only seemed like they ate, because angels don’t eat physical food[5].
When Hashem revealed to Avrohom that Sodom and its neighboring cities were to be destroyed because of their extreme evil, Avrohom began to pray for the cities to be spared. The Torah details the entire lengthy conversation with Avrohom imploring Hashem not to destroy the city in the merit of fifty righteous people – ten in each city. He then begs for them to be spared if there are only forty-five, or thirty, or twenty, or even ten righteous people. Each time Avrohom asks Hashem to not be angry with his request.  
In the end however, the cities were overturned and destroyed[6].
At the end of the parsha, the Torah relates the events of the akeidah – the binding of Yitzchak. Hashem commanded Avrohom to bring Yitzchak as an Olah sacrifice, which Avrohom did with alacrity and complete dedication. At the last moment, before Avrohom lowered the blade onto the neck of Yitzchak, Hashem called out to him to stay his hand.
Shemen HaTov[7] notes that in all three of these events, Avrohom’s actions seem to have been meaningless. He ended up preparing an incredible meal… for angels, he failed in his bid to save Sodom, and he wasn’t able to complete his mission of offering his son as a sacrifice to G-d.
We can add that Avrohom surely invested great energy into being mechanech Yishmael. When Avrohom was preparing the meal for the angels the pasuk says “And to the cattle Avrohom ran, and he took young cattle, soft and good, and he gave it to the youth, and he hurried to do it.” Rashi explains that the youth was Yishmael, and Avrohom was trying to train him to do mitzvos.   
Later in the parsha Avrohom is compelled to banish Yishmael from his home, because of his negative influence upon Yitzchok.
Here too, something Avrohom had invested greatly in seems to be a complete failure.
Yet, not only do we not view Avrohom as a failure, we view him as of the most faithful and accomplished devotees to G-d who ever lived. It is a stark reminder that life is not about accomplishment. In this world we are charged to put our best foot forward, to seek to make the right choices, to try to serve Hashem faithfully, and to enhance the lives of those around us.
Our task is to further the glory of G-d in this world through our actions and words. That is all we can do, and all we can be held accountable for. Whether our actions will bear fruit and whether we will actually accomplish is wholly in G-d’s hands.
We learn laws of tefilla from Avrohom’s prayer to Hashem for the people of Sodom[8]. Even if those prayers may not have accomplished their directly desired result, there is no such thing as a wasted prayer. Who knows what incredible benefits resulted from those prayers at a different juncture?!
Our responsibility is to do our best. Beyond that, results are in the Hands of Hashem.

“It looked like they ate”
“To educate him in mitzvos”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera 5778.
[2] Postscript: On April 19, 2016, Booth was released from jail after 10 months. Judge Glazer stood by waiting - along with his family to greet Booth as he walked out of jail.
"Take care of your family. Try to get a job. Stay clean," Glazer told Booth. "You're going to do something good for somebody else." Booth replied, “You better believe it! You better believe it!”
[3] Rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida
[4] Bereishis 18:8
[5] Rashi notes that the angel’s actions teach us a moral lesson – that one should not deviate from the custom of the place he is in.
[6] My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that in the end Sodom wasn’t destroyed because of all the evildoers and their malicious iniquitous behavior. Sodom was destroyed because they didn’t have ten good men. Such is the power and influence of a few righteous individuals.
[7] Rabbi Dov Zev Weinberger zt’l; the rabbi emeritus of Young Israel of Brooklyn and the author of numerous volumes of his beautiful seforim, Shemen HaTov,, Rabbi Weinberger was niftar in May 2018.
[8] Specifically, the law that one should preferably have a makom kevu’a – set place where he davens.


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