Thursday, August 8, 2019



          The Ribnitzer Rebbe[1] was known as a pious and holy Jew. Stories abound of his extreme Avodas Hashem as well as the supernatural effects of his blessing. Today, hundreds visit his burial plot in Monsey, NY constantly to daven.
The Rebbe had private minyanim and he was insistent that the ten men who were part of the minyan had not davened yet.
          On one occasion, there was a young man who had already davened but wanted to join the Rebbe’s minyan. When the rebbe asked him if he had davened yet, he lied and said he hadn’t. The rebbe looked at him and shrugged him off, noting that he had already davened.
          The beauty of the story isn’t so much because it demonstrates the Rebbe’s ruach hakodesh, which is well known. Rather it’s the young man’s reaction afterwards when he exclaimed that he couldn’t believe that his prayers had such an effect that it was recognizable on his face that he had davened!
          How often do we feel that our prayers and Avodas Hashem aren’t worth much. This anecdote serves as a chizuk that our efforts are far greater than we realize.

    Chumash Devorim comprises Moshe Rabbeinu’s last will and testament. It was delivered over the course of five weeks, beginning Rosh Chodesh Shevat and concluding on the day of his passing, the seventh of Adar. During that time, Moshe reviewed all that transpired during the nation’s forty-year sojourns so that they would learn from their travails and mishaps.
          Moshe reminded them that after Hashem had told them of the greatness of Eretz Yisroel, they weren’t totally convinced of the Land’s merits and goodness. “You approached me, all of you, and said, "Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land, and bring word back to us; the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come."[2] Rashi comments, "You approached me - all of you, with a rabble.[3] Here the youngsters were pushing the elders and the elders were pushing the heads." 
          Rashi is conveying that before the spies departed, their mission was bound to end in failure because the nation had not approached the situation appropriately. 
    Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l[4] noted that Torah does not look favorably upon mobs or rowdy gatherings. A crowd is not merely an aggregate of individuals, but has a new ego, a separate identity completely different from its collective parts.
          A crowd is emotionally excitable, easily roused into action and, when swept away emotionally can be irrational. The crowd can easily lose itself towards a destructive path, which generally leads to more significant problems.
          The murderous march of the Crusaders during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Chmielnicki massacres of the seventeenth century, and the Nazis of our time, were all formulated by demagogues and political charlatans who ruthlessly incited angry mobs. In fact, throughout history the church has often utilized the force of mobs to murder and hurt Jews. 
          In Megillas Esther, a drunken aggregate sought to coerce Vashti to appear in the most coarse and undignified manner possible in public. Though she was an immodest person, she was still a queen. It is inconceivable that a person of such stature would allow herself to debase herself to such an extreme in view of the masses. Only an intoxicated mob of peasants would seek to demean her to such an extent.
          The sin of the Golden Calf too was the result of a mob-like gathering. The Torah[5] notes that after the calf emerged from the fire, the masses ate and drank, and then engaged in levity. When Chur sought to detain them, they did the unthinkable by murdering him. 
          Judaism believes that a person must always be a contributing member of his community. At the same time however, he must never lose perspective of his unique greatness and his own responsibilities.

          The format of our davening seems somewhat strange. On the one hand, there is tremendous emphasis placed on davening with a minyan, and there are parts of davening that can only be recited with a minyan. On the other hand, most of the actual words of davening are recited by each person individually. In fact, the central part of davening - Shmoneh Esrei - is recited completely individually.
          Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt”l explains that when we recite “Barchu”, the Chazzan is calling out to the congregation “This prayer is not only my private affair, but I invite the entire congregation to join me in sanctifying G-d’s Name together.” Although Birchos Keiras Shema can be said by an individual, the prayers combine and are far more poignant. The congregation thus responds that they too will bless Hashem together.
          (The same holds true for one receiving an aliya to the Torah. He recites “barchu” to indicate that the Torah being read is not for him alone, but a matter and honor pertaining to the entire congregation. He is inviting them to join him. When they reply “Baruch Hashem hamevorach” they are acceding to that invitation.)
          If there is such a value of tefilla b’tzibbur, why don’t we recite the entire davening together?
          The first governing document of the United States was the Articles of Confederation. It was ratified by the thirteen colonies and came into force in 1781. It was quickly realized that the limitations the Articles placed on the central government, rendered it ineffective. This led to the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. In 1789, the Constitution officially replaced the Articles. The Constitution provided for a much stronger central government by establishing a chief executive (the president), a court system, and the ability to tax.
          The greatness of the Constitution, and the reason why it revolutionized democracy is because it created a system of checks and balances. That enabled the new nation to create a union which gave sufficient power to each individual state, but has a central government that unites the fifty United States.
          Every Jew has dual roles. On the one hand, as an individual he is beloved to Hashem, and has a unique, personal mission in life. On the other hand, he is part of Klal Yisroel, with a responsibility to care and be concerned with its national needs, and to ensure that he is doing his part to fulfill its national destiny of spreading G-d’s Name throughout the world.
Perhaps it’s to express this dichotomy that we daven in that traditional manner. While we recite the actual words at our own pace and individually, we recite the paragraphs together, and proclaim special tefillos together.
          The pasuk[6] says that Hashem “creates their hearts together, and understands all of their deeds.” The mishna[7] explains that the pasuk is conveying that although Hashem combines our hearts to hears our prayers together, He is still able to understand all of our deeds/intentions individually.
          We all have a unique and special personal relationship with Hashem. Yet, at the same time, we are an inextricable part of the Jewish people. Those dual roles are reflected in the manner in which we daven- we recite the words together but as a congregation.

          My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that at the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 c.e., there were approximately twelve million Jews and ten million Chinese people. Today there are approximately a billion Chinese people, and still only about twelve million people who admit to being Jews.
          No Jew is replaceable. Every single member of Klal Yisroel has the potential and the responsibility to further the growth of Torah and mitzvos. The Jewish people are comprised of the synergy of individual greatness of each and every Jew.

          “You approached me, all of you”
          “Creates their hearts together, and understands all of their deeds”

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

[1] Rabbi Chaim Zanvil Abramowitz zt’l (died in 1995)
[2] Devorim 1:22
[3] In contrast with Har Sinai where the pasuk (Devorim 5:20-21) says they gathered with dignity. 
[4] Shiur from Adar 5729 (1969)
[5] Shemos 32:6
[6] Tehillim 33:15
[7] Rosh Hashanah 1:2


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