Thursday, November 15, 2018



One day a father was walking with his son when they encountered a man who looked like he was ancient huddled on a park bench. The father saw an opportunity to teach his son about values. He sat down next to the man and asked him the secret to his longevity. Through his yellowed teeth he weakly replied that he drank a bottle of vodka every morning and every night, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, and ate donuts and fried foods for breakfast, lunch, and supper. The son was amazed. “You did all that and you lived to be so old?” The man looked at the youth and replied, “I’m 28 years old!” 
Age is not necessarily based on chronological years. There are people that are 95 years young, and other people that are 15 years old. Whether one is old or young has more to do with their attitude, and ability to be flexible and not rigid and fixed. One who is young at heart is always seeking to grow and accomplish, while one who is old feels there is no more room for change or growth.

When Yaakov fled the wrath of Eisav at the beginning of parshas Vayetzei, he was 63 years old. One pasuk later, fourteen more years have elapsed, and Yaakov was 77[2].
During the first seventy-seven years of his life, Yaakov lived – and excelled – in a certain mode of lifestyle. He was the righteous scholar, unaware and uninterested in anything beyond his holy books. He lived in the spiritually serene surroundings of his righteous parents, and was able to advance his spiritual pursuits with complete devotion.
Yet at this juncture, he would have to severely alter his mode of living and adapt to a totally different approach. Not only would he no longer be able to study all day, he had to become a laborer for a notorious conniving swindler, his father-in-law Lavan.
Yaakov could have easily become depressed about his newfound situation. When he had studied Torah all day in his father’s home, and during the years in the academies of Shem and Ever, his life was purposeful and meaningful. But working for Lavan may have felt like a futile endeavor. But Yaakov was undaunted and rose to the challenge. He embraced his new role and fulfiled it with incredible devotion. He was honest to a fault, and completely faithful. 
Before arriving in Charan, when he was atop Har HaMoriah, Yaakov declared “Truly Hashem is in this place, but I did not know.” The pasuk continues, “He became very afraid and he said, ‘How awesome is this place; this is none other than the House of Hashem and this is the gateway to heaven’.”
Perhaps Yaakov was not only referring to the actual sacred ground he was physically standing on at that moment, but also to his newfound situation and expectations for the home of Lavan and beyond. 
Often individuals who have spent their formative years learning diligently in yeshiva surrounded by rabbeim and friends, feel pangs of guilt and discontentment when the times come for them to leave yeshiva and seek a means of livelihood for their families. They wonder to themselves what meaning they can find in their office and in the business world, as compared to their former life in the Bais Medrash. Can closeness with Hashem be attained in the workplace? Can one continue to grow in the home of Lavan and when struggling with Eisav?  
Yaakov Avinu declared, “Truly Hashem is in this place, but I did not know.” In whatever place one finds himself, Hashem is to be found there, if he is sought. “How awesome is this place” – even beyond the confines of the Bais Medrash one can grow closer to Hashem in incredible ways if that is his aspiration and desire.
Yaakov Avinu remained the same faithful servant of Hashem in the home of Lavan, albeit in a different manner than he had done for the first seventy-seven years of his life. 

In 1929, Rabbi Chatzkel Abramsky zt’l was arrested by the NKVD in Soviet Russia and sentenced to five years of hard labor in Siberia.[3]
Years after his release, Rabbi Abramsky related to his students: “During my time in Siberia I woke up in the morning and began reciting ‘Modeh Ani’ – I am thankful before You – living and enduring King - that You returned to me my soul“, but then I stopped. My entire body ached from the severe labor I was subjected to daily, and from the severe blows the sadistic guards dealt us constantly. Was I really thankful to Hashem for returning my soul to me under such inhumane conditions? I was unable to learn Torah properly, I wasn’t permitted to serve Hashem, the constant beatings were intolerable, and there didn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. So why was I thankful for waking up?
“But then I concluded the prayer, “Great is Your faith”. For that alone it was worth enduring all the torture and suffering of Siberia – for the opportunity to connect with the infinite through faith. For that I was indeed thankful that G-d had granted me another day - even in Siberia.”
The Torah relates that after Leah had given birth to four sons, Rachel become despondent. “And she said to Yaakov, ‘grant me children, for if not I am dead’.”[4] The Torah relates that Yaakov became angry with Rachel and replied, “Am I in place of G-d who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?”
One of the commentators explain[5] that Yaakov was upset with Rachel for declaring that if she didn’t have children, she was dead. It was of course understandable that she desperately desired to have a child. But if the divine ordained that it was not to be, that her mission in life was otherwise, was she as good as dead? Could she not have any other purpose in life? Yaakov felt that the righteous Rachel, despite her pain, should realize that even when life does not happen the way we hoped or expected, Hashem has a plan for every person. The mere fact that Hashem has “returned my soul to me with compassion” demonstrates that Hashem has great faith in what we can accomplish.   

In the haftorah read on public fast days, the prophet Yeshaya states: “Let the foreigner who has attached himself to Hashem not say ‘Hashem will separate me from among His people”, and let the one unable to bear children not say ‘behold I am a dried out tree’.”[6] The Navi also declares, “The one who hopes to Hashem will renew his strength, he will ascend like the wings of eagles, he will run without becoming weary, he will proceed without tiring.”[7] 
A person may have lived many decades and yet be youthful if he maintains a freshness and excitement for what life has to offer. One who sees the opportunity in every juncture of life and in whatever situation he finds himself, maintains a spark that keeps him young.
When he arrived in Charan, Yaakov Avinu was seventy-seven. Despite his age, he embraced the significant transformation of the course of his life and was undaunted by the challenges that faced him. At that point, Yaakov Avinu wasn’t seventy-seven years old, but seventy-seven years young![8]

“How awesome is this place”
“He will run without becoming weary, they will proceed without tiring

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 Vayetzei 5778
[2] Chazal relate that Yaakov went to learn Torah in the academies of Shem and Ever for fourteen years to prepare him for the spiritual challenges of being in the home of Lavan.
[3] Due to tremendous efforts of prominent Jews throughout the world, he was freed on Erev Yom Kippur 1931
[4] Bereishis 30:4
[5] I regret that I could not locate the source of this very poignant thought
[6] Yeshaya 56:3
[7] Yeshaya 40:31
[8] In parshas Vayigash, when Yaakov finally reunited with Yosef, he is introduced to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was intrigued by the appearance of Yaakov Avinu and he asked him his age. Yaakov replied in a manner which – on his exalted level – seemed to decry the travails he had suffered (Bereishis 47:8-9). For that, he was punished by losing a year of his life for every word of Pharaoh’s question and of his reply. In a sense, at that point Yaakov’s reply was that he was one hundred and thirty years old (See Ramban there). At that point Yaakov became old, whereas in parshas Vayetzei he was still young, in the sense that we explained above.


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