Thursday, November 5, 2020







Stam Torah is lovingly dedicated in memory of my beloved Savta, Shprintza bas Avrohom Yitzchak, Mrs. Minnie Staum a”h, whose yahrtzeit was this week, 17 Cheshvan.


           Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman was a Torah pioneer in America. In his daughter, Rebbitzin Ruchoma Shain’s, inspiring book about the life of her father, "All for the Boss," she relates the following story:

     Rabbi Herman and his wife graciously opened their home to guests of all backgrounds. They dedicated their life to the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim and no there was always room for food and another guest.

     Their son, Nochum Dovid, was one of the first American bochurim to make the then arduous trip to Eretz Yisroel to learn in the Chevron Yeshiva. Rebbitzin Herman was not eager about her beloved son traveling so far, but Rabbi Herman was adamant.
     Rebbitzin Shain writes how she awoke late one night to the sounds of sobbing. She followed the sound to the kitchen where she found her mother crying and her father anxiously standing at her side. At first Rebbitzin Herman didn’t want to relate what was bothering her, but after much prodding, she explained to her daughter that she had a disturbing dream.

          In her dream, she heard heartrending cries coming from a room. She opened the door of the room and saw that the room was completely empty, aside for an immense casket on the floor and a chair next to it. On the chair sat a woman dressed in a long black dress with a black kerchief covering her head. Even though she was seated it was apparent that she was extremely tall. It was she who had been weeping. A voice whispered in Rebbitzin Herman’s ear, "In the casket lies Avrohom Avinu and sitting near him is Sara Imeinu mourning his death."

     Rebbitzin Shain interjected, "But Mother, the Torah says that Sara passed away first." Rebbitzin Herman replied, "I know but this is how I dreamed it. As soon as I heard who they were, I ran into the room and also began to weep and cry. In my grief, I tore my clothes and shrieked, ‘I will not leave this room until you promise me that my prayers have been answered.’

     "As I stood there, the top of the casket slid off, and Avrohom Avinu’s face appeared. His eyes were closed, but tears were coursing down his cheek onto his long, white beard. Sara Imeinu grasped my hand and said to me, ‘You can go now. Your prayers have been answered.’"

     The dream had seemed so vivid and real that Rebbitzin Herman still cried and shook with fear. Rabbi Herman was visibly disturbed but said that seeing righteous people in a dream is always a good sign. Then Rabbi Herman mentioned that he wanted Nachum Dovid to return home to get married. Rebbitzin Herman protested because he was learning so well and was still a bit young. However, Rabbi Herman’s mind was made up.

          Shortly afterwards, Rabbi Herman sent Nochum Dovid tickets for a ship and told him to come home. Within a few months of his return, Nochum Dovid was married. Soon after his marriage, they received reports of the infamous ‘Chevron massacre’. On Shabbos just after Tisha B’av 1929, hordes of Arabs rioted in Chevron, murdering Jews throughout the city. The Yeshiva was hit the hardest with the blood of innocent bochurim flowing through the Yeshiva.

     After hearing the devastating news, Rabbi Herman turned to his wife and said, "Do you remember that dream? It seems that at the time we were being judged in heaven and because of our meticulousness in the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, Avrohom and Sarah came to protect us."


     When the angels came to the home of Lot to inform him of the immanent destruction of Sedom, the pasuk relates, " He made for them a feast and he baked matzos for them and they ate."[2] When they came to Avrohom however, the pasuk  says that Avrohom merely told them, "Take some bread and satiate your hearts."[3] Avrohom did not prepare an elaborate feast as Lot did. He did make them a complete meal but not as lavish as Lot made. Is it possible that Lot reached greater heights of hachnasas orchim than Avrohom?

     A person has a friend who is sick and bedridden, and he takes out time from his busy schedule to visit his ailing friend. He walks into the ill friend’s room and finds that his friend is asleep. He has the choice of leaving a note saying that he was there and wishes him a refuah sheleimah, or he can ‘accidentally’ make some noise until his friend wakes up.

          The difference between these two acts is the difference between genuine chessed and insincere chessed. In the first scenario, the man came to visit his friend with altruistic motives. When he saw that his friend was asleep, he had no inkling to wake him. But the second person also has some selfish motives. He feels badly that his friend is sick, but he also wants his friend to know that he came so his ailing friend knows that he’s a good guy. Therefore, he makes sure to wake him up.

     The Gemara[4] relates, "There are three identifying marks of this nation (Klal Yisroel): they are merciful, bashful, and perform acts of kindness." The list seems to be out of order. Mercy and acts of kindness are performed by one person for another person but being bashful is a trait that affects man’s relationship with G-d and not others, so why is it listed between the other two?

     Chazal are teaching us that even in our performance of chessed, we must have a certain measure of bashfulness. Even when one has the opportunity to do chessed, he should strive to do so with modesty, without making an ostentatious production out of it. One should maintain a modicum of bashfulness in order to preserve the dignity of the recipient.

     The Mesillas Yesharim refers to this as ‘mishkal hachasidus- the balance of piety’. Even when performing a good deed, one must maintain a sense of balance to ensure that no one is being negatively impacted by his good deed.

     Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l offered two examples of this concept: A couple goes to a wedding and hires a babysitter to remain home with their younger children. If the couple stays late, they may be fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing joy to the chosson and kallah, but it’s at the babysitter’s expense. If a woman works hard to cook supper for her husband and the husband shows up three hours late without calling and says that he went to drive his friend to the airport, it was a nice deed, but it was at his wife’s expense.

     It may be true that Lot performed acts of chessed but he had ulterior motives. When the angels appeared to Lot, they appeared in their true form - as angels. Chazal say that on the day the angels appeared, Lot was appointed to be the Supreme Court Justice in Sedom. Therefore, he busied himself to prepare a lavish feast to show how careful he was to perform chessed.

     Avrohom on the other hand, did chessed for the sake of chessed. The angels appeared to him as bedouins. Yet, he prepared an expensive and lavish meal for them. Avrohom was not interested in fanfare or dinners being made in his honor. He did chessed because he loved people and sincerely wanted to help them.

     The difference between Lot and Avrohom is the difference between great people and little people: Great people worry about little things; little people only worry about great things.


          “Take some bread and satiate your hearts”

          “Merciful, bashful, and perform acts of kindness”

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

[2] Bereishis 19:3

[3] Bereishis 18:5

[4] Yevamos 79a


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