Thursday, October 29, 2020







     The Dubner Maggid related a parable about a king who had an old dog who had faithfully served as his private watchdog for decades. When the dog grew old and could no longer be of service to the king, the king came to the painful realization that he would have to let the dog fend for itself in the forest.

          Still, the king did not want to leave the aging dog to face his fate alone in the dangerous wilderness, and he thought of an idea. He had a bear skin placed on top of the dog, a leopard skin on top of the bear skin and a tiger skin on top of the leopard skin.

          When the strange looking beast entered the forest all the animals were frightened and ran away from it. They approached the lion, and demanded that as king of the forest, it was his responsibility to approach the frightening beast and see where it came from and what it wanted. When the lion caught up with the strange beast, he asked it, "Who are you?" The old dog replied, "My father was a bear". The lion asked again, "But who are you?" The dog nervously replied that its grandfather was a leopard. When the lion again demanded to know who we was. The old dog called out that his great-grandfather was a tiger. The lion roared, “I had enough hearing about your lineage. Who are you?” The dog meekly replied, "Oh Me? I'm just a dog!"

     The Dubner Maggid noted that people often brag about their yichus (pedigree), relating how dignified and special their ancestors were. They assume that their lineage will open all doors for them. The truth, however, is that descending from an esteemed lineage is only helpful if a person makes something of himself. As it’s been said: “Yichus is like a potato; the best part is in the ground.”

          Conversely, those who have no extraordinary lineage may feel they lack potential for greatness.

          The Jewish peoples’ foundation is rooted in the lives of our patriarchs - Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. All three shared the fact that they toiled throughout their lives to constantly accomplish and grow in their Avodas Hashem. Because of their efforts, we their descendants have the potential for greatness embedded within our souls.

          However, there is a notable distinction among them. While Yitzchak and Yaakov were born into distinguished families, Avrohom was not. Avrohom grew up in an idolatrous home and society, that believed in polytheism. But Avrohom searched and pondered the world until he concluded that there was one G-d, a Creator who created the world and continues to guide it upon its natural course.

          The greatness Avrohom attained was through his own efforts and struggles. When Hashem instructed Avrohom to leave home and head south to Canaa’an, his nephew Lot accompanied him. When Avrohom ascended from Mizrayim however, he realized that he and Lot could not coexist. Avrohom offered Lot the prerogative of deciding in which direction he wanted to go, promising that whatever direction Lot would choose, he (Avrohom) would travel in the opposite direction. Lot chose the beautiful lands of Sedom and Amora despite their being iniquitous places.

          Eventually, Lot was caught in up in the major war between the five kings and the four kings. Lot was taken captive until Avrohom came to rescue him. The pasuk describes Lot's capture in the following manner: “And they took Lot, and all his possessions, the nephew of Avrom, and they went, and (Lot's capture was because) he lived in Sedom.”

          The words of the pasuk seem to be out of order. It should say "And they took Lot, the nephew of Avrom, and all his possessions."[2] Why does the Torah mention the possessions of Lot prior to mentioning that he was the nephew of Avrohom?

           The pasuk describes the people of Sedom and Amora as being "Ra'im vachata'im la'Hashem meod- Very much (steeped in) evil and sin to Hashem"[3]. Rashi adds “Even so, Lot did not withhold himself from living among them." Lot saw the potential economic growth that could be enjoyed in Sedom and he was blinded by it. That was Lot's priority in life - financial gain and enhancing his wealth. Therefore, when Lot was captured, the pasuk first tells us that his money was taken too, for that is what chiefly defined him. Only then does the Torah state that he was also the nephew of Avrohom. Lot took more pride in his wealth than in being the nephew of such a saintly personality.[4]

     Although having a distinguished yichus is a blessing, it also carries with it great responsibility. In Parshas Bechukosai, the Torah records the painful curses that would befall the Jewish people when they did not follow the ways of the Torah. However, right in the middle of these curses, the pasuk states: “And I will recall the treaty I made with Yaakov; and also the treaty I made with Yitzchak; and even the treaty I made with Avrohom I will remember and the land too I will remember."[5] Why does this pasuk appear right in the middle of the tochacha?

     The Shelah Hakadosh explains that this pasuk is part and parcel of the tochacha. G-d is warning Klal Yisroel that not only would they be held accountable for their own sins, but they would also be held accountable because they are disgracing their family name. As descendants of the patriarchs, they are expected to act accordingly. Therefore, their sins become magnified for they are judged on higher terms.

     Every Jew is a descendant of Avrohom, who reached the peak of greatness on his own initiative. Therefore, he has distinguished yichus and inherent greatness.


          “And they took Lot, and all his possessions”

          “And I will recall the treaty”

[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5763. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] Bereishis 14:12

[3] Bereishis 13:13

[4] I heard this explanation from my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz

[5] Vayikra 26:42

Thursday, October 22, 2020







          “It was freezing in Siberia during the winter; at times it dropped to forty degrees below zero. The soldiers forced us to fill impossible quotas of inhumane labor. If we didn’t fill our quota, we wouldn’t receive our meager rations of bread. Still, despite all that, many of our men would wake up early to daven shachris with a minyan.

          "On Yom Kippur, a group of men secretly gathered in a secluded room to recite Kol Nidrei and whatever prayers they could remember by heart. A fellow Jew, no doubt trying to prove his loyalty to the accursed communists, ratted them out. In the middle of their prayers, soldiers burst into the room and took them to jail.

          "As the spring approached and the air began to get warmer, we began to think about how we could possibly have matzos in Siberia. Normally even entertaining the thought was ludicrous. But just before Pesach the ‘bakery’ burned down, and they could not give us bread. Instead they gave us raw flour.

          We constructed an oven out of iron and divided it with the Poles who were inmates with us. They baked bread on their side of the oven, and we baked kosher matzos on the other side. On the night of Pesach, we conducted a Seder while the Poles kept a sharp lookout for soldiers. Then, when it was their holiday, we would keep a lookout as they celebrated."

          These are a handful of the recollections my Bubby a”h shared with me from the months she spent in Siberia with her family during the War. The unwavering dedication for Torah and mitzvos is incredible. It fits with the endless stories of Jews standing on long lines in concentration camps to don a pair of tefillin for a few moments, of those who sang ‘Ani Ma’amin’ as they knowingly walked to their deaths, and of those burned at the stake because they refused to recant their faith.

          After fifteen hundred years since creation, Hashem was not happy with the world He created. Mankind had become culturally sinful and hopelessly selfish and iniquitous. Hashem decided the world had to be started anew.

          Noach was chosen to sustain the remaining minority of the world while the rest of the world was flooded. Noach was instructed to construct an Ark and gather the remnants of civilization onto the Ark for the duration of the flood.

          When the rains finally subsided and the land was sufficiently dry and able to replenish new life, Noach opened the door of the Ark and the world began to repopulate.

          Noach decided to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Hashem. The pasuk (8:21) states, "And Hashem smelled the pleasant smell (of Noach’s sacrifice) and He said to Himself, I shall no longer curse the land because of man, for the inclination of man is evil from his youth and I will not continue to smite all the living beings which I have created."

          Why was the sacrifice of Noach so potent? What was it about the smell of his sacrifice that because of it G-d vowed never to destroy the world again?

          The greatness of Noach’s offering was in the incredible selflessness it entailed for Noach to bring them as offerings. We can hardly imagine what it was like inside the Ark during the flood.[2] The entire remnant of the world was inside the Ark sustained by Noach and his family. Noach did not have a solitary moment of rest from the moment he sealed the ark until he let the animals out. The one time he came a moment late to feed the lions, he was given a sharp strike in the leg that caused him to limp for the rest of his life.

          When the flood began, Noach was six hundred years old. He emerged from the Ark a tired man. The sight that greeted him must have been frightful. He saw desolation and the stillness of a world that had been vibrant and filled.

          Those animals that Noach had worked so selflessly to sustain for a half a year in the Ark were now returning to the world. Yet Noach took those animals and slaughtered them in appreciation of G-d’s salvation. That was the ultimate sacrifice. Noach was offering animals that he had kept alive through his sweat and ceaseless efforts. When Hashem saw the selflessness of such offerings, He vowed never to destroy the world again.


          The Mishnah[3] states, "Rebbe said: Be as scrupulous in performing a ‘minor’ mitzvah as in a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvos."

          We often think that there is a point system for mitzvos. Certain mitzvos must be worth more than others depending on that mitzvah’s importance. However, the truth is that each mitzvah is as precious as the effort expended in its performance. Two people can perform the same mitzvah, yet one will receive far greater reward for it. In fact, an individual himself can invest more in the performance of a mitzvah on one occasion than on another occasion.

          This is the message Rebbe is conveying: Do not think one mitzvah is minor or major, because every mitzvah depends on the investment of the one performing it.

          It’s been said that the real test of a relationship is when things are challenging and difficult. During difficult times it becomes apparent how dedicated and committed each side is to the marriage.

          So too, our dedication to Hashem is not proven when it is easy to observe Torah and mitzvos. It is when things are more challenging, and one must invest effort to maintain his observance that he demonstrates true dedication to his faith.

          The greatness of Noach’s sacrifice after the flood was that he was willing to give up the fruits of his greatest efforts for Hashem. That is the ultimate sacrifice and proof of his love and dedication to Hashem.


          “Hashem smelled the pleasant smell”

          “For you do not know the reward for mitzvos."


[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5762. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] Think floating Bronx Zoo without a proper sewage system.

[3] Avos 2:1