Thursday, May 30, 2019



During my first years in chinuch I had the good fortune to be the School Social Worker of Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. Bais Hachinuch was created for students who struggle academically in the mainstream yeshivos. The greatness of the yeshiva is that there are no more than twelve students per class, allowing rabbeim and teachers to develop strong relationships with their students. When I joined the yeshiva, it was still in its formative years, and at the time had a relatively small student body. Everyone knew everyone else’s names, and the members of the hanhala and faculty shared a warm relationship. As the years wore on, although the yeshiva remained smaller than other local yeshivos, it grew beyond its original numbers.
At a meeting held at the conclusion of one of the school years as the yeshiva was growing, the executive director of the yeshiva, Mr. Jordan Most, quipped that “with all growth comes distance.” He added that our task was to do our utmost to bridge that distance to maintain the comradery and warmth of the yeshiva, even as it grew.

At the beginning of parshas Bechuksai, the Torah delineates the beautiful blessings that Klal Yisroel will merit when they adhere to the mitzvos and observe the Torah faithfully. “… And I will turn to you and I will make you fruitful, and I will cause you to increase, and I will establish My covenant with you.”[1] On the words “And I will increase you”, Rashi comments, “With erect (dignified) bearing.”
As a rule, Rashi conveys the simplest and most straightforward understanding of the words of the Torah. If the pasuk says that Hashem will increase their numbers, why does Rashi explain that their numbers will increase with erect posture? Having a sense of pride would seem to be a separate blessing from qualitative growth?
In Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech praises Hashem, “Who heals those who have a broken heart, and bandages their sadness. He counts the number of the stars, to each one He calls a name.”[2] The commentaries explain that the second pasuk is explaining the first. Just how does Hashem heal broken hearts and bandage people’s sadness? The answer is by giving each star a number and a name.
When a person suffers any misfortune, or is undergoing any difficulty, the pain he feels is magnified by a sense of loneliness and isolation. Think about a child who falls and hurts himself. He immediately runs to his mother so she can give him a kiss, even before he runs for a band aid. The kiss does nothing to minimize the pain of the wound. But as soon as there is a feeling of pain, a person feels alone in their suffering. The mother’s kiss is a reassurance of love that takes away the emotional pain. Only after the kiss does the child look for a band aid.  
By giving each star a name, Hashem demonstrates it’s value and uniqueness. Even though there is one collective number of stars, each has a name, because each has a purpose.
The most profound feelings of sadness stem from feeling insignificant and worthless. People who are severely depressed often wonder what value their lives contain. If they wouldn’t wake up tomorrow, would anyone care?
Showing someone love and care can literally be an infusion of life, especially during difficult times.
          There is a program that a number of local schools have introduced in the last couple of years entitled “Names, Not Numbers”. Names, Not Numbers is a holocaust documentary film project offered to schools around the US, Canada and Israel. The films follow students as they learn the main aspect of filmmaking from journalists and filmmakers including research, interviewing techniques, filming techniques and editing, to prepare them to interview and film Holocaust survivors and liberators. The feature-length films are screened at the end of the school year for the students, their families, the participants, and the community.
The title itself is symbolic of our efforts to undo the psychological damage that the Nazis wrought. The Nazis sought to reduce their victims to a bunch of numbers, and thereby rob them of their identity and dignity. By allowing and encouraging the survivors to share their stories and speak about their travails and those they lost, to a degree we are restoring the identity that was stripped from them. The underhanded message is that you do matter, and every bit of suffering you endured isn’t being allowed to be forgotten.

In parshas Bamidar, a census was conducted to determine how many Jewish men there were between the ages of twenty and sixty. Rashi explains that the census was conducted out of divine love. On the first of Nissan the Mishkan was erected and began its service, and on the first of Iyar the nation was counted.
It would seem that a national census hardly grants an individual a feeling of uniqueness and importance. After all, why would anyone feel important if he was only an anonymous number within a population of 603,550. But that was in fact, not the case. The Ramban explains how the census was conducted: “Every member of the assembly brought his (half-)shekel and proclaimed before Moshe and the Nesi’im “I am so-and-so, born to so-and-so, from the family of so-and-so”[3]….One who came before the father of the prophets and his brother, the Holy one of G-d, and he made himself known before them by name, it would be for him a merit and (injection of) life, because he (thereby) entered the counsel of the nation and the annals of the B’nei Yisroel, to have the merit (of being part of) the public counting. For each individual it was a merit to be part of the census, to be counted before Moshe and Aharon, who would place upon them their eyes for good and beseech mercy on their behalf, ‘Hashem, the G-d of your fathers, should increase upon you like you a thousand fold, and He should not diminish your numbers.”[4]
The counting of the nation wasn’t merely a means to attain the final tally. They did not walk to a collection station, check their name off on a paper, and drop their half-shekel in a box. Rather, it was an opportunity for every member of the nation to present himself and introduce himself to the righteous leaders who would bless and pray for them. Only after doing so, would an individual present his half-shekel coin to Moshe and Aharon. When he walked away from that uplifting experience, it was something he would relate to his family.

In Megillas Rus, when Boaz learned about Rus in his field, he instructed her to only collect from the gleanings of grain in his field, and he pledged to take care of her. “And she fell upon her face and she bowed to the ground and she said to him, ‘why is this that I have found favor in your eyes that you have recognized me when I am a foreigner?’” Rus expressed her gratitude, not for the fact that he offered her protection and sustenance, but beyond that, for merely noticing her.
Every person craves recognition, validation, appreciation, and to be valued and appreciated.
The gemara says that one who smiles at someone has given the recipient of the smile a greater gift than a cup of milk.[5] Milk has many vitamins and nutrients and one who drinks it adds to his physical health. But one who receives a warm and pleasant smile feels uplifted in his heart and it can have an impact on his entire day.
The worst pain is when it is suffered in silence. The feeling of being loved and cared about/for makes an incredible difference upon the very quality of one’s life.

The Torah promises that when “I will increase you” and the nation will grow qualitatively, it will be a true blessing. The only way that is possible is if every individual feels valued and needed. That is why Rashi comments that Hashem will increase us it will be “with an erect bearing”. It is a guarantee that when our population increases we won’t become lost among the masses and feel like just another meaningless face in the crowd. Every individual will recognize his uniqueness and understand and appreciate his place.
The twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died during the days of Sefiras HaOmer, because they didn’t treat each other with adequate respect.[6] The way we seek to rectify that deficiency within ourselves is to love and value everyone around us. That is the way in which we prepare to once again receive the Torah on Shavuos.

“He counts the number of the stars, to each one He calls a name”
“With erect bearing”

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

[1] Vayikra 26:9
[2][2] Tehillim 147:3-4
[3] Ramban, Bamidbar 1:1
[4] Ramban, Bamidbar 1:45
[5] Kesuvos 111b
[6] Yevamos 62b


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