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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Bamidbar 5770 - Greater than Life
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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During my final day in Eretz Yisroel two weeks ago, I went with my brother Yaakov to Har Menuchos, the vast and renowned cemetery overlooking the hills of Yerushalayim. Although there are innumerable great and holy people buried there, being that my time was limited, I particularly wanted to visit two plots: my Zayde, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, and Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l.

I knew exactly where my Zayde was buried and have been there on several occasions in the past. It was uplifting to pray there, especially with my brother Yaakov standing at my side.

Although I never merited meeting Rav Pinkus while he was alive, I consider him a personal Rebbe and he has had a profound impact on me through his books and recordings. For that reason I very much wanted to daven at his kever. The only problem was that I had no idea where it was.

The only thing I knew is that he is buried on Har Tamir, the mountain adjacent to Har Menuchos where my Zayde is buried. Despite numerous phone calls and inquiries no one else that I asked seemed to have any more precise details about where Rav Pinkus is buried. Normally that isn’t an issue because there is an office at the entrance of the cemetery and they have on file the location of every plot. But the day we were there was Yom Ha’atzmaut and the office was closed.

We spent a frustrating hour under the hot beating sun asking every person we passed if they knew where Rav Pinkus was buried, but no one had any clue. At one point while we were walking aimlessly I said aloud, “Rav Pinkus, I want to come daven at your kever but I can’t find it.”

Finally we dejectedly headed down to the entrance. I told Yaakov that we would ask one more person, and if he didn’t know we would leave.

The person we asked motioned that we should ask another person in a car who was driving away slowly. I debated if I should even bother to ask, but in the end I abruptly walked over to the car and asked. In my mind I was waiting the same answer I had received. But to my surprise the man took out his phone and made two phone calls, then he motioned or me to get in his car.

It is always encouraging when someone does a chessed for you, simply for the sake of doing chessed. With nothing but altruistic motives in mind, the man drove us back up the hill to the plot where Rav Pinkus was buried. Amazingly, it is only three sections over from where my Zayde is buried.

I randomly opened my Tehillim to say three or four psalms. It opened to chapter 61 and without thinking much about it I began davening. At the conclusion of the chapter it says the word "מן"[1], which is compelling because Rav Pinkus’s father-in-law’s name was Rav Man zt’l.

I continued davening until I reached chapter 63. In the middle of the chapter, my eyes widened and I was utterly dumbstruck. I reached a verse which I am familiar with only because I had heard it quoted by Rav Pinkus on a few different tapes and in his writings. It was literally a chilling moment for me. I don’t know if there is any other verse in all of Tanach that I know so well only because of Rav Pinkus[2]. The following is the beautiful thought he shared in the name of the Malbim:

The verse (Tehillim 63:4) states, כי טוב חסדך מחיים שפתי ישבחנוך" – For your kindness is greater than life, my lips will praise you. The Malbim explains this verse with a Parable: Imagine a man who is extremely ill and is admitted to the hospital for emergency care. There is one particular doctor who takes responsibility for the man, performing numerous procedures and surgeries until the man’s health is restored. The doctor is also a very kind-hearted man and the patient develops a deep friendship with the doctor. If someone approached the man after he was discharged from the hospital and asked him what happened while he was in the hospital, the man would reply that the doctor saved his life. He might also add that afterwards he became very close friends with the doctor. If one would ask the man what was more precious to him - the new friendship or the fact that the doctor saved his life - the man would surely reply that, although he is really excited about the new friendship, his life is far more precious. After all, what good is having a new friend if you’re dead?!

The Malbim explains that Dovid HaMelech was stating that the closeness he felt to G-d, as it were, was even more precious to him than the kindness and goodness that G-d granted him. “For your kindness is greater than life itself”. To which kindness was he referring? To the mere fact that, “My lips will praise you”, i.e. that Dovid could pray to G-d and know that G-d listens and cares about his every whim. That was more valuable to him than anything else in the world, even life itself. Life is finite and transitory but a relationship with G-d is eternal and Divine.

At the beginning of parshas Bamidbar the Torah records the national consensus of the nation conducted by Moshe. Rashi explains that the count reflected G-d’s love for His Nation. Just as one carrying precious gems will constantly pat his pockets and take out the gems and count them repeatedly to ensure that they are all there, so did G-d repeatedly count His Nation.

When the Torah records each tribe it begins with the words, “לבני – For the Children of -”. It then mentions the name of the tribe and continues to list the tallied population of its members. However, when the Torah records the tally of the final tribe – Naftali – it says “B’nei Naftali…” without the preceding ל.

The AriZal explained that truthfully there was no need to have an official tally of the tribe of Naftali. Since the final tally of the entire nation was already known, by simply adding the totals of the rest of the tribes and reckoning how much was missing Moshe could have figured out the numbers for the tribe of Naftali without bothering to count each one. Yet every member of Naftali was counted to demonstrate the fact that G-d loves and values every individual.

The Medrash[3] notes that Klal Yisroel is analogous to the stars. The verse in Tehillim states[4], “Praise Him every star of light.” Though some stars appear to be dim or even dark every star contains a tremendous force of illuminating energy, it just may be too distant to be seen with the naked eye.

Every Jew is analogous to a star in that every Jew contains a holy spark that illuminates within. At times that light may be dimmed but, like every star, the light never completely ceases to exist.

For the last couple of years a company has been advertising that you can name a star after someone and present it to them as a gift for a fee. They will enter the name in the ‘Star Registry’ and it will be an eternal gift that the receiver will always cherish. For the provider it is a smart way to make easy money with virtually no cost[5].

Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer[6] once noted that aside from whether one wants to spend money on such an idea, the names we decide are not accurate. “He counts a number for the stars; to each one He calls a name.[7]” G-d Himself names each star. In truth every time we perform a mitzvah or perform a good deed we create a star[8]. Those stars bear our name and receive their light from our actions and deeds.

Every Jew must realize his own innate unique greatness, and that he has a portion of Torah that no one else in the world is privy to. That understanding is a vital prerequisite for accepting the Torah. One must realize that G-d not only allows us to draw near to Him, as it were, but He awaits it.

The holiday of Shavuos celebrates not only our collective acceptance of the Torah as the Chosen Nation, but our personal acceptance as well.

“For your kindness is greater than life”

“He counts the stars; each one He calls a name”

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[1] "חסד ואמת מן ינצרהו"

[2] The truth is that the entire chapter 63 is really appropriate for Rav Pinkus. The chapter describes longing and yearning to be close to G-d, which is how Rav Pinkus lived his life. His foremost message was that we can and must develop a real relationship with our Creator Who loves us more than we can know.

[3] In parshas Shemos and Bamidbar

[4] 148:3

[5] I was told that anyone can name a star and copyright it under the USA copyright laws if they want.

[6] Our family’s Rav when he was the Rabbi of Kehillas Bais Avrohom in Monsey, NY.

[7] Tehillim 147:4

[8] Perhaps from a spiritual vantage point that is why the universe is constantly expanding

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