Thursday, December 20, 2018



In January 1975, a 17-year-old German student and part-time concert promoter named Vera Brandes called the acclaimed pianist Keith Jarett and requested that he perform at a concert at the Opera House in Cologne, Germany on January 24, 1975. Jarett accepted, but insisted that he be provided with a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for the performance.
When Jarett arrived at the Opera House in the late afternoon of January 24, he was not feeling well. He had been suffering from back pain for several days, which was exacerbated by the five-hour, 350-mile drive he made to Cologne from a concert he’d given in Zurich.
But that was the least of it. When he sat down to practice shortly prior to the concert, the opera house staff wheeled out the wrong piano – a much smaller Bösendorfer baby grand used for opera rehearsals. It was in abject condition and badly out of tune.
For a renowned perfectionist such as Jarrett the instrument was an abomination. When he was informed that there was no time to obtain a replacement piano, he walked out of the Opera House. All of the arguments that they would do their best to tune it as best as they could didn’t help. Jarett got into his car and prepared to leave. But then he noticed Brandes, the young woman who had arranged the concert, standing by his car in the pouring rain. He rolled down his window and she begged him to please give it a chance. She knew that if the concert was cancelled her young career would be over.  
Out of pity for Brandes, he agreed to play.
That night Jarett had to work extremely hard to play. He had to stand throughout the performance and much of the time he had to pound on the keys of the piano to produce the sound he wanted.
To date, the recording of that concert has sold 35 million copies and is arguably the most beautiful, transformative piece of music ever produced!  
Keith Jarrett had been handed a mess. But he embraced that mess, and it soared. The recording of the Köln Concert is the best-selling piano album in history and the best-selling solo jazz album in history

The blessing Yaakov conferred upon Yissochor is intriguing: “Yissochor is a strong-boned donkey, resting among the boundaries. He saw tranquility that it was good and the land that it was pleasant, and he bent his shoulder to bear the burden, and he was an indentured laborer.”[2] 
The Chofetz Chaim[3] explains that a Torah scholar exerts himself in the study of Torah and will often deprive himself of sleep and earthly pleasures in his pursuit for greater Torah knowledge and mastery. The only time he will allow himself “rest” is when he celebrates completion of a section of his learning. He will briefly interrupt his learning to make a siyum, to infuse himself with the energy to continue in his Torah study.
If his passion and love is in Torah study, why does Yissochor need to think about how wonderful tranquility is and the reward at the end? If he has merited tasting the blissful sweetness of Torah study, what greater motivation could there be? 
The Chofetz Chaim related a parable about a wealthy and prestigious diamond dealer who traveled to a distant city to purchase diamonds to sell back home. He had set aside a certain amount of money that he would use for purchasing, and when he had used up that money, he prepared for the trip home. Shortly before his departure, a merchant knocked on his hotel door. The merchant explained that he had an exceptionally beautiful and rare diamond that he wanted to sell. The wealthy man thanked him but replied that he already completed his purchasing and was no longer interested. The merchant was persistent and proceeded to remove the diamond from the bag. Indeed, it was stunning, and it was an incredible bargain. The wealthy man admitted that although it was a good deal, he did not have money to pay for it.
The merchant replied that he desperately needed money and had little use for the diamond. He was willing to sell it for a quarter of its value. This was an offer the wealthy man could not pass up. He took the money he had set aside for his trip home and handed it to the merchant for the diamond.  
The wealthy man was barely left with enough money to cover the cost of a lower-class ticket. He traveled home sitting with the impoverished folk, eating coarse food, and sitting in squalor conditions.
A friend noticed him sitting amongst the lower-class passengers. He was sad to see that his once wealthy friend had lost everything so quickly. But he also noticed that his friend appeared to be unusually happy. The wealthy man noticing his gaze walked over to him and said, “Don’t be sad for me. It’s worth it for me to suffer the indignity and discomfort of this relatively short trip home, for the unimaginable wealth that will result from my doing so.”
The Chofetz Chaim explained that at times it is challenging to engage in Torah study. Despite the fact that the scholar’s soul can hardly satiate his burning desire for greater Torah scholarship, his body may cry out for pampering and physical enjoyment. It is to quell those physical whims and desires that the scholar reminds himself of the sweetness and blissfulness of the tranquility that awaits one who is loyal to Torah. It is worth it for him to physically deprive himself somewhat in order to merit the incredible greatness that awaits him in the World of Truth in the hereafter. That added incentive and the perspective of the temporality of this world helps him maintain his focus upon his true motives and aspirations, even when it is physically draining and challenging.
That was the blessing of Yissochor. 

Next door to the classroom in which I say a ninth grade shiur in Heichal HaTorah each morning, is the shiur of Rabbi Shimon Kronenberg. On the door of his classroom he posted a sign which reads, “Love what you do and work every day of your life.” When I saw the sign I thought it was an accidental distortion of the famous quote – “Love what you do and never work a day in your life.”  However, when I mentioned it to Rabbi Kronenberg he replied that it was no mistake.
He explained that the real quote implies that working is a negative thing and therefore we should enjoy what we do so we don’t have to work. The Torah, however, espouses that ‘work’ – being productive and industrious – is a tremendous value, and something one should constantly aspire for. Rather, one should love what he does and then use that passion to work hard in that area to produce the greatest results. 
I concede to the wisdom of that statement.

When Yosef brought his sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to his father Yaakov so that he could bless them, Yaakov declared, “And now your two sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, they are mine; Ephraim and Menashe – like Reuven and Shimon they will be to me.”[4] Yaakov then stated that all future children born to Yosef would belong to Yosef.
How could Yaakov Avinu declare that Ephraim and Menashe were his, and therefore would be like Reuven and Shimon? The opposite seems more logical – those born after Yaakov’s arrival should belong to him, while those born before his arrival should belong to Yosef?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l[5] explained that true chinuch is when one instills values, not just into his own children, but into their future generations as well. When one lives his values and teaches by example, his children integrate them into their very essence, and they become apparent in subsequent generations as well.
Yaakov gazed at Menashe and Ephraim and he was enamored by their integrity and incredible spiritual growth despite being brought up in a morally depraved country. He realized that such conviction was the result of the chinuch he himself had instilled in Yosef, which was that transmitted to Yosef’s children. Therefore, Yaakov Avinu was able to proudly declare to Yosef that Menashe and Ephraim were his. The success of their spiritual attainments was his doing.[6]

The greatest feelings of accomplishment result from when one invests the most effort in its attainment. When one maintains a vision of the fruits of the future, he is able to bear the pangs and challenges along the way.
Yissochor maintains a perpetual vision of the bliss of the afterworld and therefore the burdens of Torah hardly feel like burdens to him. When Yaakov taught Yosef the Torah he had learned, he did so with a vision for the future. He sensed the greatness Yosef would attain, but also that Yosef would have to suffer challenges along the way. When he saw Menashe and Ephraim, he felt the success of his earlier efforts, 22 years prior.
It’s those times in life when we feel like walking out, but force ourselves to proceed and then have to stand and pound the keys that produce the most stunning music. 

“He saw rest that it was good and the land that it was sweet”
“Now your two sons they are mine, Ephraim and Menashe”

 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 Vayechi 5778
[2][2] Bereishis 49:14
[3] Shem Olam, sha’ar Hachzakas HaTorah, chapter 10
[4] Bereishis 48:5
[5] Darash Moshe
[6] This is a beautiful chizuk for grandparents in taking pride in seeing that their grandchildren are following in the chinuch they selflessly invested in their own children. I write these words in honor of a very special occasion our family celebrated this week – the b’ris of, Chaim Noach (Hakohain), the son of our first cousins Izak and Devora Cohn in Yerushalayim. Izak is the only child of our esteemed and beloved Uncle Yaakov and Aunt Miriam Cohn. Uncle Yaakov and Aunt Miriam are living examples of incredible devotion to Torah, Avodas Hashem, and chesed. They have long served as inspirations for myself, my children (who call her ‘Bubby Aunt Mim’), and my siblings. Izak and Devora have built a home following those ideals, and we are confident that their bechor will be a source of nachas to them, to their incredible grandparents, and to all of Klal Yisroel.   


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