Thursday, December 17, 2020







Dedicated l’refuah shleimah for נטע יצחק בן רחל


“Response-ability” is the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of those conditions, based on feeling. "

-Stephen Covey


 “The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it.”

-Lou Holtz[2]


          In his book, “Echos of the Maggid”, Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates the story of Mrs. Esther Haas. Esther was a fourteen-year-old girl when she was forced on one of the Nazi’s infamous death marches. Beaten, overworked, and malnourished from the time spent in the Concentration Camp, she felt her strength ebbing away. At one point, she collapsed on the ground out of sheer exhaustion. A moment later a Nazi loomed over her and mercilessly barked, “If you want to work, then get up now. Otherwise, you are dead right here! We have no use for weak people.”

          Esther felt she was about to become just another Nazi martyr. But then, inexplicably, from seemingly out of nowhere, she felt a surge of strength and was able to walk back to the barracks and collapse into the arms of her shocked and teary-eyed comrades.

    After the war, Esther recounted that the Nazis convinced them that every girl in the world was imprisoned in Concentration Camps worldwide. Every night she davened that if Hashem would let her survive, she would raise a family as devout Jews.

          Rabbi Krohn noted to Mrs. Haas that her pledge was similar to the words of King Yeshayahu who, upon witnessing the devastation and desolation of Torah in Eretz Yisroel at the end of the first Temple era, stood up and proclaimed, "Alay l’hakim- It is incumbent upon me to uphold it (i.e. the Torah)". He initiated a wave of unprecedented repentance throughout the country[3].

          Rabbi Krohn told Mrs. Haas that perhaps it was the merit of her constant proclamation of “Alay l’hakim” that saved her.


    When the long and painful saga of Yosef and the tribes was finally over and Yaakov was informed that Yosef was alive and well, Yaakov prepared for his descent to Egypt to be reunited with his long-lost son. Before leaving Yaakov sent ahead Yehuda. “Yehudah he sent before him to Goshen, to instruct ahead of him in Goshen.”[4] Rashi explains that Yehuda was sent ahead to establish a Bais Medrash from which laws would be studied and taught. 

          Shimon’s descendants were destined to become the teachers and Levi’s descendants were the Kohanim and Levi’im who were also leaders and teachers. Yissachar produced the greatest scholars. Would it not have been more appropriate for one of them to establish the Yeshiva? Why was Yehuda specifically chosen to establish the Yeshiva in Goshen?

    The Mishnah[5] teaches that at the age of thirteen, a Jewish male becomes obligated to perform the 613 commandments.

          Rav Mibartenura explains that the source of this law is derived from Shimon and Levi. When they killed out the males from the city of Shechem, the Torah[6] refers to them as men, and they were thirteen years old.

    After Shimon and Levi killed out the city, Yaakov chastised them said to them. “You have discomposed me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanite and among the Perizzite; I am few in number and should they gather and attack me, I will be annihilated – I and my household.”[7] If Yaakov viewed their actions as imprudent, why do we learn this fundamental Torah law from them?

          The answer lies in understanding why a thirteen-year-old boy becomes obligated in mitzvos. The Torah views a thirteen-year-old boy as mature enough to feel a sense of responsibility. The Gemarah[8] relates that one who does something when commanded is greater than one who does so when he’s not commanded. At first glance, this idea seems strange; isn’t it a greater symbol of devotion to do something without having been asked?

          Ritva explains that as soon as one is commanded to do something, there is an immediate desire to not submit to those instructions. By nature, we crave independence and abhor being told what to do. Therefore, one who fulfills what he is instructed shows greater devotion than one who acts on his own accord.

    Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky explained that the difference between an act performed by one commanded and one not commanded lies in his attitude and mindset. One who is instructed feels a sense of obligation. But one who lacks obligation doesn’t feel that urgency or pressure.

          Until the age of thirteen, the Torah does not view a young man as mature enough to bear a yoke and sense of responsibility. It is only when he turns 13 that he has matured enough to have an appreciation for obligation and responsibility.

The Torah derives this from Shimon and Levi. After Yaakov chastised them, they replied, “Should he treat our sister like a woman of ill repute?”[9] They felt a sense of responsibility to avenge the honor of their sister. Although they acted rashly, they demonstrated a sense of mission and responsibility.

    What separates the men from the boys is a sense of responsibility.

    When Yosef demanded of the brothers that Binyamin be brought before him, Yaakov refused. Even when Reuven offered the lives of his two sons as a guarantee for Binyamin’s safe return, he would not yield. It was only when Yehuda stood up and boldly proclaimed, “I will guarantee him; of my own hand you can demand him. If I do not bring him back to you and stand him before you, then I will have sinned before you for all time.”[10] Yehuda put everything on the line as a guarantee that Binyamin would return home safely. It was only then that Yaakov relented and sent Yosef. That is why when Yosef wanted to imprison Binyamin it was Yehuda who insisted that they would not leave without Binyamin.

    One can possess the sharpest mind and the greatest drive for learning but if he cannot state with conviction, "Alay l’hakim- It is incumbent upon me to establish it," he will never be successful in building a house of Torah study. Therefore, it was specifically Yehuda who was chosen to establish the Yeshiva in Goshen because Yaakov knew that Yehuda could bear its yoke. This is also the reason why the monarchy and the eventual birth of Moshiach comes from Yehuda. A monarch must bear the weight of his entire kingdom and such a job is only fit for one who can assume such an overwhelming task.


          Rav Ephraim Shapiro from Miami Beach explained that the letters of the Hebrew word for taking responsibility for others, achrayus, is spelled alephchesreishyudvuv, and tuf. Within itself the word instruct us in the proper progression we should follow in assuming responsibility for one another: The first letter is an aleph representing the number one, and the notion that before looking to help others, we must first make sure that we have taken responsibility for our own actions and needs. The following letter is ches which together with aleph spells the word ach or "brother". Only after we been successful in taking care of ourselves can we begin to take responsibility for our brothers, families, and relatives. The next letter is reish, which together with the first two letters spells acheir, or “other”. Once our families are secure, we can use that stability as a platform to aid and help others as well. The following letter is yud, which turns the word acheir in to acharai or “behind me” or “follow me”, because one who takes responsibility for others becomes a natural role model and leader within the community.[11] The next letter is vuv which added to the previous letters changes acharai to acharav or “after him”, since a role model who takes responsibility for others will inspire people to follow their example. Finally, the letter tuf, because achrayus begins with aleph, the first letter in the alphabet, and ends with tuf, the last letter in the alphabet. This symbolizes that taking responsibility for others should occupy us constantly, and that it can embolden, enrich, and uplift every aspect of our lives all the way from aleph to tuf!


    During the period of the Greek occupation of Eretz Yisroel, the Jews who agreed to live in the manner and cultural lifestyle of the Greeks, were not persecuted, in fact they lived quite comfortably. It was only the minority who stubbornly refused to forsake the ways of their forefathers and tenaciously clung to the Torah and its teachings who suffered the oppression and torture of the Greeks. In fact, much of the Jews’ persecution came from their own brethren who had Hellenized and joined the Greek way of life. The miracle of Chanukah emerged only because a small group of Jews announced, "Alaynu L’hakim". They embarked on an impossible mission to fight off the far superior powers of the Greeks.

   Chanukah is an opportunity to reflect on and renew our acceptance of the responsibility of G-d and the Torah.


          “I will guarantee him; of my own hand you can demand him.”

          “Alay l’hakim”



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] former NFL player, coach (Notre Dame, NY Jets 1979), and analyst

[3] Melachim II, Chapter 23

[4] Bereishis 46:28

[5] Avos 5:21

[6] Bereishis 34:25

[7] Bereishis 34:30

[8] Kiddushin 31a

[9] Bereishis 34:31

[10] Bereishis 43:9

[11] In most armies, the commanders stand back and command their soldiers: “Forward!” In the IDF (Israel Defense Force) however, the most legendary phrase is “Acharai” or “Follow me.” Israeli commanders lead the way into the battle.


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