Wednesday, November 21, 2018



In 1900, there were over 50,000 horses transporting people around London each day.
To add to this, there were yet more horse-drawn carts and drays delivering goods around what was then the largest city in the world.
This huge number of horses created major problems, particularly the large amount of manure left behind on the streets. It attracted flies and also spread typhoid fever and other diseases.
 In New York the problem was more pronounced with a population of 100,000 horses.
This problem came to a head when in 1894 the newspapers predicted that in 50 years, every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. It became known as the ‘Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894’.
The terrible situation was debated in 1898 at the world’s first international urban planning conference in New York, but no solution could be found. It seemed urban civilization was doomed.
But then Henry Ford came up with a process of building motor cars at affordable prices. Electric trams and motor buses appeared on the streets, replacing the horse-drawn buses.
By 1912, the once seemingly insurmountable problem had been resolved, as motorized vehicles became the main source of transport.
In the face of problems that seem to have no apparent solution, ‘The Great Horse Crisis of 1894’ serves as an inspiration that people should never despair. Oftentimes, necessity is the mother of all invention, and the solution is far greater than could have been imagined.

Yaakov Avinu prepared to meet Eisav by gearing up for battle, praying, and sending gifts to Eisav. Then, at night, Yaakov Avinu crossed the river alone to retrieve jugs he had inadvertently left behind. While there he encountered ‘a man’ who wrestled with him through the night. Rashi notes that ‘the man’ was the angel of Eisav who was trying to impede Yaakov.
What is the significance of that encounter? Why did Yaakov struggle with an angel?
The Torah relates that Yaakov emerged from the struggle limping because the angel had dislocated his sciatic nerve. Therefore, his descendants do not eat from the gid hanashe (sciatic nerve).
Why should the descendants of Yaakov abstain from eating something because of what happened to their ancestor?
The gemara[2] relates that Iyov sought to exempt the world from the exacting precision of divine judgement. Iyov reasoned to G-d, “You created oxen with split hooves, and You created donkeys with closed hooves. You created Gan Eden and You created purgatory. You created the righteous and You created the wicked.”  
The Maharsha explains that Iyov’s claim was that ultimately there is no free-choice in the world. Most people leave this world similar to the way they entered it. Some people are born with a temper, others are naturally full of hubris, and others are inclined toward gratification. But in the end, they are no different than oxen and donkeys. Some people will end up in gan eden, others in purgatory; but it’s all pre-ordained based on how they are created.  
The gemara continues that Iyov’s friends countered that G-d created the Torah as an antidote to the evil inclination. In other words, things are not etched in stone. Despite the challenge in doing so, one has the ability to challenge his nature and to grow beyond the confines and negative character traits he is born with.[3] 
An angel is by definition a fixed being. It is referred to as an “omaid – one who stands”, in the sense that it is ‘programmed’ to fulfil its mission and can hardly do otherwise.
The fact that Yaakov Avinu was accosted by an angel is symbolic of the fundamental dispute he maintains against Eisav. Yaakov was so named because when he emerged from the womb of his mother, he was grasping the heel (eikev) of Eisav. The name Yaakov symbolizes his perpetual quest for constant growth. The angel of Eisav blocks his way, as if to say that ‘we are equal; we both are pre-programmed and cannot change our current state.’ The angel struggling against Yaakov is personification of Iyov’s claim that man cannot be held accountable for his actions and mishaps, because everything is the result of how he was created.
Ultimately however, Yaakov emerged victorious. Although he was limping because he was injured, he was still able to continue on. “And Yaakov was הולך- going on the way”. Yaakov was not an omaid who is spiritually paralyzed, but one who constantly is on the move.
The greatness of mankind lies in its ability to continue to grow and accomplish, even when limping and struggling.
The B’nai Yisroel do not eat from the gid hanashe to symbolize that spiritual growth will always be challenging. But we don’t allow the times when we falter to discourage or overwhelm us. We cast those injuries aside and continue in our efforts to grow.[4] 

The claim of Iyov symbolized by the angel of Eisav continues to be made until our time. Robert Sapolsky, a noted scientist, and author of the book Behave, asserts that human beings are biological creatures: “The conjunctions and intersections of biology and culture can be studied rigorously. Every step of the way, biological and nonbiological (experience, culture) factors shape what humans do. This is a staunchly modulatory effect we can attribute to forces in the environment, the past, or the insides of the biological organism reduces the space for the homunculus to exercise its putative free will.”
The Torah categorically rejects such an approach as heretical and false. A human is not limited to his innate character and life experience. He can transcend and traverse, if he has the drive and investment necessary.

The haftorah for parshas Vayishlach is the one-chapter prophecy of Ovadya. Ovadya was a convert of Edomite descent. He lived during the reign of the evil King Achav and even more wicked Queen Izevel. Yet, he was not only righteous, he risked his life to personally protect and sustain a hundred prophets from the sword of the king and queen. 
G-d chose Ovadya, who lived among wicked leaders, and yet was not influenced by them, to prophesize about the downfall of his ancestor Eisav, who lived with his righteous parents, and yet did not allow himself to be positively influenced.
Ovadya symbolizes that a person can overcome all challenges and can become righteous despite his surroundings.[5]   

Every fairy tale begins “Once upon a time” and concludes “And they lived happily ever after.” But the truth is that there are two more words: “The end”. We all would like to live happily ever after, but that only happens when it’s the end. Life is about the struggle to grow, and never settle on past accomplishments.[6]
When a patient is lying in a hospital bed hooked up to heart monitors, the line on the computer constantly shifts up and down. That is the symbol of life. When it becomes a flat line, that means life has come to an end.
Life is not stagnant; things are constantly changing, often at dizzying speeds. What was unimaginable yesterday becomes passé a short while later. We, as people, can and should also be constantly seeking to grow and become better people. That is the legacy of Yaakov Avinu.

“Therefore, the B’nai Yisroel do not eat from the gid hanashe”
“And Yaakov was going on the way”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Vayishlach 5778
[2] Bava Basra 16a
[3] Based on this gemara, Rav Leib Chasman noted that without the greatness of Torah to help one change and improve himself, Iyov is correct.
[4] The previous thought is from a lecture by Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum
[5] Vayikra Rabba 29:2
[6] Heard from Rabbi Pesach Skulnik, who said it over in the name of his mother-in-law, Rebbitzin Esther Tendler a”h, whose first yahrtzeit was this week.


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