Thursday, July 11, 2019



          The following is based on the lecture I delivered in Kehillat New Hempstead (KNH), Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chukas 5778, June 23, 2018.
          I had the great fortune to serve as rabbi of KNH from 2007-2018. This lecture was the final that I gave in the capacity of being the shul’s Rabbi:

          During one of Abbot and Costello’s classic comedy routines, Lou Costello was the defendant in court. At one point, when Costello made a rude comment, the judge angrily replied, “You can’t speak to me that way, young man. I’ve been sitting on this bench for twenty-five years”. Costello snapped back, “Twenty-five years on the same bench? So you’re just naturally lazy, aren’t you!”
          I’ve been standing at this pulpit each Shabbos and Yom Tov for the last eleven years. During that time, I’ve shared many wonderful occasions with you. I’ve conveyed Torah thoughts on the parsha and yomim tovim, and have spoken during occasions spanning the lifecycle. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking on happy occasions, and I’ve had to give eulogies, which were of the most difficult experiences of my life. And now, after eleven wonderful years, this is the final lecture I will deliver from this wonderful pulpit in the capacity of Rabbi.
          As you all know, I consider myself a student of Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman. For many wonderful summers, Rabbi Finkelman joined us in Camp Dora Golding. During those summers, I had the privilege to hear many inspiring lectures from him, to learn from his sterling example, and gained tremendously from many personal conversations with him.
A few years ago, Rabbi Finkelman did not return to Camp Dora Golding. I missed (and miss) being able to glean from his direct influence and from his insights and unique perspectives.
          A friend related that he too had had such an experience when a rebbe he was close to for years had moved on. He told me that his rebbe had shared with him that when Hashem separates a person from a rebbe or guide, it is indicative of the fact that Hashem wants the person to internalize all he gained from that Rebbe, and to continue to grow without the personal connection he had until now.
          During the past decade, on some level, every member of this kehilla has been a rebbe to me.
          The greatest mashgiach for a parent, is his children, because he feels he must maintain certain spiritual standards in the presence of his impressionable children. In the same vein, the greatest mashgiach for a rebbe is his students, and the greatest mashgiach for a Rabbi are his congregants.
          A fellow Rabbi in this neighborhood would often bless me that I should have nachas from my ba’al habatim (congregants). His beracha was definitely fulfilled on many levels.
          In addition, a rebbe/rabbi is blessed with added siyata dishmaya (heavenly assistance) to live up the high demands of his position. In my years as Rabbi, I have personally gained tremendously in my personal Torah learning from all of you. Firstly, I have learned a great deal from the penetrating questions and wonderful insights that people have shared with me over the years. But in addition, on many occasions, when preparing a lecture, I have found myself realizing a new idea or perspective that I had never thought of before. On numerous occasions I had that experience while doing the arduous trek up Brick Church Road towards shul on Shabbos morning.
          Aside from the friendships and great relationships that our family has forged during the last decade, as I move on from the shul, I will miss all the added components I just mentioned as well.
          On the Final Gemara exam that I gave my ninth-grade students last week, I wrote the following concluding thought at the end: “You have arrived at the end. But every end is another beginning, if we view it in that light.”
          When sharing a final thought, it cannot be merely an insight on the parsha, but it must be a perspective about life and Torah living generally. It must be an idea that can inspire us as we forge ahead on the road of life:
          In parshas Chukas, the nation was nearing the end of their long and difficult forty-year-trek through the desert. They were not far from the Promised Land, and were camped next to settled kingdoms and nations. Moshe extended a request to the King of Edom to allow the fatigued nation to pass through his land. The King of Edom summarily rejected the request, even mobilizing his army to ensure that the Jewish nation didn’t traverse his borders.
          The vernacular Moshe used when making his request of the King of Edom contains a poignant perspective for how a Jew is to live his life: “Please allow us to cross through your land, we will not pass through the fields or the vineyards, and we will not drink from the waters of the wells; on the road of the King we will go, we will not veer to the right or to the left, until we cross through your boundary.”[1]
          Essentially, what Moshe asked the King of Edom is what our soul requests of our body in this world. In this world, out soul and body are engaged in an epic struggle for supremacy, and the body has home-court advantage.
          Our soul descends into this world with a sense of mission. It desires to garner merits and fulfill its task so that it can successfully return home, and merit its eternal reward. But to do so, it has to traverse the rugged terrain of this world, where there are temptations lurking on all sides. Our soul seeks to not divert its focus by wandering into the dangerous pastures of iniquitous fields and vineyards, or by drinking from the wells of polluted waters. Rather it pledges to remain on the road of the king, the pathway of regality, ethics, and dignity.
          Our soul begins its journey with a sense of purpose and commitment, but the road is long and serpentine. At every juncture we need to remind ourselves of our mission and not allow ourselves to be lured off course.
          Last week, I had to leave camp to come to the city. When I was an hour out of camp, well down Route 80, I had the terrible realization that I had forgotten my wallet in camp. [In camp, I hardly ever carry my wallet.] It was an uncomfortable feeling to know that I had no money, credit card, or identification on me.
          Although, thankfully, I made it back to camp without incident, it was a stark reminder that whenever we travel and leave our familiar surroundings, we are more prone to ‘forgetting our identity’ and acting in ways we never would when we are at home.  
          When Moshe wanted to dispatch twelve individuals to scout out Eretz Yisrael, he chose twelve righteous leaders. Moshe felt confident that they would execute their mission properly and infuse the nation with excitement and confidence to conquer the Land. The problem is that Rashi says that when the spies left they already had evil intentions to malign the Land. If Moshe hand-picked these individuals because of their virtues, how could they have had malicious intentions even before they arrived?
          Rav Yisrael Belsky zt”l explained[2] that Moshe indeed appointed great men for this mission. As long as they remained within the spiritually secure confines of the camp, they were holy and elite. The problem was that as soon as they left the camp and began their journey, they began to entertain malevolent ideas.
          The summer is particularly a time when people leave their communities to vacation and travel. When one is outside his community, it is a particularly challenging time when he is spiritually vulnerable and can easily compromise his standards if he isn’t careful. One must be wary of those challenges and plan accordingly.
          When Yaakov Avinu left home to escape the wrath of his brother Eisav, the pasuk says “Yaakov left Be’er Sheva and went towards Charan.”[3] Rashi asks why the Torah says that Yaakov left Be’er Sheva if it already related that fact at the end of the previous parsha? Rashi explains that it’s to teach us that when a righteous person departs from a place, his splendor, beauty, and shine leave with him.
          Rabbi Gedalia Schorr zt”l explained that when man landed on the moon, he essentially carried earth with him. The atmosphere on the moon cannot sustain human life. Therefore, each astronaut had to be completely ensconced in a spacesuit that provided him with oxygen. Although they were on the moon, in a certain sense they were still surrounded by earth.
          When Yaakov Avinu left Yeshiva to travel toward the spiritual desert of Charan, he knew that he would be spiritually vulnerable. Therefore, he made sure to take his own splendor, shine, and beauty, with him. He did so by fortifying himself as best as he could and mentally preparing himself for the challenges he knew he would encounter. Yaakov was physically leaving yeshiva, but spiritually he never left.
          Our challenge in life is to always remain upon the road of the king. That becomes an especially difficult challenge when we are traversing the surrounding vineyards and wells. In those situations, one must be especially wary to make sure he is spiritually prepared for the vicissitudes he is sure to face.

          “Yaakov left Be’er Sheva”
          “On the road of the King we will go”

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

[1] Devorim 20:17
[2] Quoted in “Halachically Speaking” Volume 7
[3] Bereishis 28:10


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