Thursday, June 13, 2019


“PLAN B”[1]

          On Nov. 18, 1995, the acclaimed violinist, Itzhak Perlman was performing at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. Perlman had polio as a child, and has braces on both legs, and walks with the aid of two crutches. Walking out onto stage isn’t easy for him.
          On that evening, Perlman walked slowly and painfully across the stage, placed his crutches on the floor, undid the clasps on his legs, tucked one foot back and extended the other foot forward. He then bent down, picked up the violin, placed it under his chin, and nodded to the conductor to begin.
          Almost immediately something went wrong. Just as Perlman finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. The snap was audible, and the crowd held its breath. They assumed he would immediately limp off stage and search for a new violin.
          But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. He played like he had never played before.
          Everyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. But Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. They could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head.
          When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then everyone stood up and cheered.
          He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet the crowd, and said to the crowd in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”[2]

          The Torah describes the laws regarding the Nazir, the person who seeks added holiness by accepting upon himself aesthetic restrictions of not drinking wine, cutting his hair, or becoming impure via contact with a dead body. Accepting Nezirus is viewed as a tremendous undertaking, “For the crown of his G-d is upon him.”[3]
          It is strange however, that the Torah first delineates the laws of the Nazir who was unable to properly fulfill the terms of his Nezirus, before it relates the laws of the Nazir who properly completed his Nezirus. Wouldn’t it make more sense to state the laws of one who kept his pledge before discussing one who violated it?

          At the end of his life, when Yaakov Avinu was nearing his death, Yosef brought his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, to his father so that he could bless them. “And Yisroel saw the sons of Yosef and he said, ‘Who are these?’”[4] Rashi explains that although Yaakov knew very well who his grandchildren were, he was asking why he sensed that they were unworthy of receiving his blessing?
          Despite Rashi’s explanation, it is still strange that Yaakov was specifically asking now why his grandsons weren’t worthy of a blessing. They frequently visited their grandfather during the last seventeen years since he arrived in Egypt. Yaakov even learned privately with Ephraim. How did he not realize until this point that they were unworthy of his blessing?
          The answer is that just prior to his asking about their worthiness, Yaakov had proclaimed “Ephraim and Menashe, like Reuven and Shimon they will be to me,” elevating them to the status of tribes. Thus, although Menashe and Ephraim may have been worthy of a blessing based on their previous status, now that they had been elevated they were somewhat lacking. Once they had received that promotion they were viewed and judged on a different level. Great as they were, their new status demanded that they rise to the occasion, to be worthy of the new status conferred upon them.

          The Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, explains that whenever someone aspires spiritual growth, he may think that because he has noble intentions it will all be smooth sailing. He may feel that spiritual doors will swing open before him and he will instantly be catapulted into greater spiritual spheres than he could have ever imagined. However, that is a terrible mistake, and a person who has such expectations will quickly become discouraged and disheartened.
          The road to growth is always littered with roadblocks and resistance. If one isn’t prepared for struggle, he will never be successful. Before he even begins his upwards trek, he needs to mentally prepare himself to encounter inevitable setbacks.
          Before a Nazir begins his period of Nezirus he needs to be aware that he may fail, and that the Torah has already anticipated that possibility and paved the path for him to begin anew. Only armed with that understanding can he begin his quest for added growth.
   Throughout life a person is constantly changing and growing, and at each stage, he is judged based on his current status. Behaviors and attitudes once appropriate and even considered laudable when one was single, may be callow and inappropriate in married life. What may have been innocuous during one’s single years, may be unsuitable for a parent who has impressionable young children.
          With growth comes added responsibility, as well as resistance. One must be patient with himself and prepared to weather the struggle.  

          Rabbi Yisrael Reisman[5] notes that, fascinatingly, the entire world runs on a Plan B, contingency plan. When the world was created, the intention was for all of mankind to live in Gan Eden and have a perpetual direct connection with G-d. Adam and Chava sinned and were banished, and after ten generations, the world sunk to an irreparable level of depravity and corruption and had to be destroyed. Following the flood, it took ten generations before Avrohom Avinu arrived on the scene and began to preach about G-d and man’s mission in this world.
          When the Jewish people finally entered Eretz Yisrael and built the Bais Hamikdash 390 years after the exodus, their national unity lasted for less than a century, before a permanent rift divided the nation.
          Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l noted that even creation itself was fraught with disappointments. Originally, the bark of every tree was to have had the same taste as the fruit it produced, but the trees did not do so.[6] The sun and the moon were to have the same strength, until the moon complained that two kings cannot share one crown, and G-d diminished the light of the moon.[7] The world was originally to have been created with the attribute of strict justice, but G-d saw that the world would not survive, and had to primarily run the world with compassion.[8]
          Yet, at the conclusion of the Torah’s account of creation, the pasuk states “Hashem saw all that He made, and behold it was very good.” All its failures notwithstanding, G-d still declared that the world was very good.
          We live in a world in which things do not always go as planned. If G-d Himself deemed Plan B as still being ideal and “very good”, should we have any higher expectations than the Divine?!    

          “For the crown of His G-d is upon him”
          “And behold it was very good”
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The Following is the lecture I was privileged to give in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbas Kodesh parshas Naso 5773.
[2] Although some question the veracity of this story, its poignant message is undoubtedly true. It’s worth noting that on July 26, 1981, 14-year-old Midori Goto performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. During her performance of Bernstein’s “Serenade,” Midori broke her E string, and had to replace her 3/4 size violin with the concertmaster’s full-size violin. Then she broke the E string again. Yet, she continued playing what was to become a legendary masterpiece.
[3] Bamidbar 6:7
[4] Bereishis 48:8
[5] Pathway of the Prophets, “Plan B”, p.82-83
[6] See Rashi, Bereishis 1:11
[7] See Rashi, Bereishis 1:16
[8] See Rashi, Bereishis 1:1


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