Thursday, November 12, 2020







Stam Torah is lovingly dedicated in honor of the bar mitzvah of our dear son, Avi, this Shabbos. May he continue to grow in the path of Torah and Avodas Hashem.

Stam Torah is also lovingly dedicated in memory of my beloved Zaydei, R’ Yaakov Meir ben R’ Yosef Yitzchok z”l, whose yahrtzeit is this Shabbos, 27 MarCheshvan.


          Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[2] lives in Boro Park in a two-family house. He related that, for many years, there was an Italian family that lived on the other side of the wall with whom the Finkelmans had a cordial relationship.

          One Friday night, the Italian neighbor’s sister knocked on the Finkelman’s door and asked if she could leave a package for her sister who was not home at that time. The Finkelmans readily accepted and she left a note for her sister, informing her that the package was next door.  

          While the Finkelman family was enjoying their Friday night seudah, the neighbor came home, saw the note, and knocked on their door. They welcomed her in and explained to her that because it was Shabbos, they couldn’t help her with the package, but she was welcome to take it herself from the kitchen.

          As she walked through the dining room, she suddenly stopped, and her eyes widened. She slowly looked around at the Shabbos table. She looked at the silver candelabra with the burning Shabbos candles, the delicious food, the settings of china and silver cutlery, and at the children sitting around the table in their Shabbos finery. She asked, "Do you do this every week?" Rabbi Finkelman explained that this was indeed their weekly Shabbos ritual. Tears welled up in her eyes and she replied, “If we are lucky, we have a family get-together like this twice a year. I cannot believe you enjoy this every single week."


          Avrohom and Sarah enjoyed a beautiful marriage. The greatness they respectively achieved was largely abetted by the other.

          After surpassing the greatest of his tests, the akeidah, Avrohom returned home to find that Sarah had died seemingly as a direct result of the akeidah. Avrohom was crushed, yet he controlled his emotions so as not to show any signs of regret over his fulfilling G-d’s command.

          Avrohom related a beautiful eulogy for Sarah that was recorded for posterity centuries later by Shlomo Hamelech in chapter 31 of Mishlei: "Eishes chayil mi yimtza- A woman of valor who can find?"[3]

          Yalkut Shimoni explains how each sentence relates the greatness of Sarah as the ultimate woman of valor. On Friday night, we sing this chapter as an ode to the woman of the house who worked so hard to prepare and usher in the sanctity of Shabbos. In Kaballah[4] it states that we sing Eishes Chayil on Friday night in honor of the Shabbos queen. The “woman of valor” is also an analogy for Torah[5].

          Bearing this in mind, I was always struck by the second to the last verse in the chapter. "Sheker hachain v’hevel hayofi isha yiras Hashem hi tis’halal- Grace is false and beauty is vain, a G-d-fearing woman – she should be praised." If the Torah is the guidebook to perfection and Shabbos is the crescendo of the week and a glimpse into the utopia of the future, what grace and beauty do they possess, that is deemed false or vain?


          When I was learning in Eretz Yisroel several decades ago, one of the Rabbeim from the yeshiva invited a friend and myself to join him at his home for Shabbos. The Rebbe lived in Telz-Stone, about a half-hour bus ride from Yerushalayim. On Friday night we crammed into his small Telz-Stone apartment with his many young children. To say the apartment was modest is an understatement. One of his children was screaming and carrying on, yet my Rebbe and his wife spoke to him softly and lovingly. The atmosphere was regal and peaceful.

          Maybe it was being far away from home for the first time and missing my parents Shabbos table. But for whatever reason that Shabbos meal made a deep impression upon me. My Rebbe’s face seemed to radiate with joy as he sang zemiros, related divrei Torah, and interacted with his children and made sure to make us feel part of it all.

          While sitting at that Shabbos table, the words of Eishes Chayil took on new meaning. There is tremendous beauty and grace in observing Shabbos. Living a Torah life too grants meaning, direction, and holiness. It is a beautiful life.  

          Still, a Jew must recognize that the reason he observes Shabbos and adheres to the laws of the Torah is not because of its beauty and grace. Rather, we observe them because the Torah commands us to do so. Our aim and motive in life is to fulfill the Will of Hashem, whatever it may be.

          This is perhaps the message the pasuk is conveying: "Sheker hachain v’hevel hayofee" the aspect of beauty and grace of Shabbos/Torah is false and vain. The only reason we observe them is, "Isha Yiras Hashem hi tishalal" because we must be G-d fearing Jews who follow G-d’s command.

          However, even with this newfound understanding, is it a coincidence that there is beauty and grace in keeping Shabbos and observing a life of Torah? Doesn’t G-d want us to enjoy them? Perhaps beauty and grace aren’t a priority, but it seems a bit harsh to call it "false and vain"?

          In addition, how can it be said that the beauty of a woman is false and vain if the Torah relates that the Matriarchs were beautiful?  Why would the Torah point this out if beauty is meaningless?

          The Vilna Gaon explains that grace and beauty are false and vain only when they are not accompanied by Fear of G-d. If beauty is only external it is at best superficial and vapid.  However, if a beautiful and charming woman possesses Fear of G-d, she is worthy of praise. True beauty radiates from within. Jewish tradition recognizes beauty as a factor in the total personality. But a woman who lacks values is not considered beautiful, but vulgar. But if she possesses inner beauty, than outer beauty is a crowning feature.

          The same idea may be said regarding Shabbos and Torah. One who only observes Shabbos because of its radiance, and only observes the Torah because it him feel elevated, is on a path of vanity and falsehood. However, one who remains steadfast to Torah and to Shabbos observance out of a sense of mission and duty to his Creator, will merit the beauty and inner joy that is to be gleaned from its observance. Such a person can enjoy the beauty and the grace of Shabbos and Torah as well.

          If one only observes Shabbos and Torah because of their beauty and grace, when faced with challenges that make Shabbos and Torah observance difficult, he will likely not maintain their observance.

          A Jew serves Hashem because he is instructed to do so. He hopes and awaits the feeling of spiritual bliss and internal meaning which observance brings with it. But the foundation and starting point must be a sense of duty and mission to his creator.

          Avrohom and Sarah lived their lives with that sense of mission. We, their descendants, are the beneficiaries of their unyielding efforts. It is because of their example that we remain committed to Shabbos and Torah observance.

          What a beautiful and meaningful life it is!

          As Avi sets out on the path of maturity and being a gadol on his bar mitzvah, we daven that he always have this sense of mission and duty to Hashem and that Hashem in turn help Him enjoy the blissful sweetness of living a Torah life.


          “Grace is false and beauty is vain”

          “A woman of valor who can find”



Rabbi Dani Staum


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

[2] Rabbi Finkelman is the Mashgiach in Ohr Hachaim in Queens, NY, and an inspiration to his numerous talmidim. He has many shiurim posted on I have the zechus to call myself a talmid of Rabbi Finkleman from the summers we spent together at Camp Dora Golding. I learned a tremendous amount from Rabbi Finkleman, not only about chinuch, but invaluable life lessons. He has been, and b”H continues to be, a tremendous inspiration for myself and my family.

[3] Medrash Tanchuma, Chayei Sarah 4

[4] Shaar ha-Kavanos, cited in Shaar ha-Kollel 18:2.

[5] Etz Yosef in Otzar Hatefillos. He writes that the word chayil (חיל) has the numeric value of 48 (8+10+30=48), corresponding to the 48 ways through which Torah is acquired (see Avos perek 6).


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