Thursday, August 1, 2019



          An elderly man was asked what it's like to become old. He responded, "I don't know; I'm still learning.”

          This week marks the Shloshim for my beloved Bubby, Fruma bas Lieber a’h. During the last twenty years, when I would ask Bubby how she was doing, she would often say, “Dani, I’m getting old!” I would always reply, “As long as you’re only getting old Bubby, and you’re not old yet!”
          Bubby’s life was a long journey that began in a small village called Tarnagot, in Poland. The journey passed through Siberia and included much suffering there. From there it continued in Samarkand in Uzbekistan where she met an orphaned scholar who became her husband of almost fifty years. Their first child was born there, before they made their way to New York through Paris.
          Their journey continued, for a brief time in the then nascent city of Lakewood, NJ, and then as the Rabbi and Rebbitzin of Anshei Slonim on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a few decades, until the Shul was forced to close its doors in the 1970s. Zaydei was part of the Agudas Harabonim and became a mashgiach for kashrus.
          After Zaydei’s untimely passing in 1988, Bubby began the next phase of her life as a widow. She remained in her apartment filled wall to wall with Zaydei’s seforim on the Lower East Side, and would come to visit her children in Monsey each Shabbos. When she was no longer able to live alone, she moved to an assisted living facility in Monsey, until her passing a month ago at the age of 96.
          Bubby was the last of her siblings to pass, and now the book of her long and often arduous, yet rewarding and spiritually enriched journey, has come to its rightful close.

          Parshas Masei begins by delineating the forty-two encampments of the nation during their forty-year sojourn in the desert.
          It is axiomatic that the Torah does not contain an extra letter. Every letter and word contains myriad ideas and lessons that can be gleaned. Why then does the Torah list the name of every place Klal Yisroel passed through? What difference does it make to us if Klal Yisroel dwelled in places called Yatva or Chor Hagidgad?
   The answer lies in the Torah's terminology. The pasuk[1] says, "Moshe wrote their findings according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem, and these were their journeys according to their findings." What were their 'findings' in the desert and what did those findings have to do with their travels?
          Life itself is an elongated journey. Some components of the journey are physical, others spiritual, and others psychological. But every component of life is part of that journey. One cannot cross the finish line without having traversed every step of the road leading there.
          The Torah is teaching us that every journey is a 'finding' and every step of life must be seen as part of a growth process. Even the setbacks of life that seem to hinder our growth are ultimately part of our growth.
          The Torah makes it a point to list every one of the nation’s travels to symbolize that every one of those forty-two encampments was vital for them to arrive at the Promised Land.
          Life does not present itself with clear answers and goals. The struggle of life is for one to seek out his purpose and to find his place. Hashem also sets certain obstacles in one's way in order to bring out certain abilities he may not know he has. When one's back is against the wall, he discovers capabilities he was never aware of. The road may not always be smooth and direct, but it all leads to his ultimate destination.

          There was a time during the life of the Avnei Nezer[2] when his doctor instructed him to refrain from any in-depth study. As can be imagined, it was extremely difficult for the renown and brilliant scholar, and he was extremely troubled with the restriction.
          During that time, he met his father-in-law, the Kotzker Rebbe[3]. When the rebbe inquired about his welfare, the Avnei Nezer replied that it was very difficult for him that he was unable to learn during that time.
          The Kotzker Rebbe replied that in Parshas Matos, after the war against Midyan, Hashem instructed Moshe to take an inventory of the spoils of the captured people and animals and to divide them[4].
          Moshe Rabbeinu was the leader of the nation, the one who led them out of Egypt amidst incredible miracles, the one who brought the Torah down from heaven, and the only mortal to have direct communication with Hashem on demand. And now he had to be an accountant. But Moshe Rabbeinu embraced that mission like he embraced every other instruction of G-d throughout the previous forty years. If that’s what G-d wanted from him, he was ready and willing to do it. 
          The Kotzker told his son-in-law that our mission in life is to fulfill whatever Hashem wants from us in any given situation. If at that moment he was unable to learn in depth then that is Hashem’s will for him and he should embrace it, even if it’s personally challenging.

       Sefer Vayikra opens with the words: “And Hashem called to Moshe and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of the Meeting saying." Why does the pasuk begin that Hashem called to Moshe and spoke to him; why couldn’t it simply say that Hashem spoke to Moshe?
   The Slonimer Rebbe zt'l explained that the Torah is teaching us that one must view every occurrence in life as a calling from Hashem.
          If one is wary that Hashem is constantly calling out to him through the situations of life, then the person will recognize that it is mission from Hashem.

   The Gemara[5] relates that Rabbi Yochanan would stand before old Armenian (i.e. gentile) men simply because of their life experience. Rabbi Yochanan felt that anyone who has lived life for many years, even if he hasn’t accomplished much, is worthy of respect because life is an experience and experience is the greatest teacher.
          Every facet of life is a building block. Even the obstacles of life have tremendous purpose. "Eileh masei B'nai Yisroel- These are the travels of B'nai Yisroel". Every place is mentioned, since every place contributed to their growth. That is not just the story of the Jewish people but the story of each and every one of us.
          “Assess the spoils of the captives”
          “And Hashem called to Moshe”

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

[1][1] Bamidbar 33:2
[2] Rabbi Avrohom Bornstein zt”l (1838-1910)
[3] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern zt”l (1787-1859)
[4][4] Chapter 31
[5] Kiddushin 33a


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