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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayera 5772 "To Sanctify His Name"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Before coming to America, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l was the Rav in Luban, White Russia. In the winter of 5682 (1922), one of the members of his community was bedridden with a fatal disease that caused inflammation of his throat and infection in his mouth. When the man felt his end was nearing, he requested a private meeting with Reb Moshe.

When they were alone, he related to Reb Moshe the following story: “Last Shabbos I was learning the week’s parsha, Parshas Vayera. When I came across the Torah’s narrative of how the daughters of Lot caused their father to become intoxicated so that they could ‘live’ with him, I publicly questioned how it was possible that our ultimate savior (Moshiach) would descend from two women who, not only committed such an act, but had the audacity to publicize it by naming their children - Moav[1] and Amon[2] - based on the ordeal?

“That night I had a dream in which two elderly women whose faces were veiled appeared to me. They introduced themselves as the daughters of Lot and informed me that they heard my complaints and had come from the World of Truth to explain the motive for what they had done.

“They related that, because they were members of the distinguished family of Avrohom Avinu, and had just been miraculously saved from the destruction of Sedom, no one would believe that they could/would have committed such a sinful act. People would rather conclude that the children must have been from G-d Himself, heaven forbid. When they would have been born, they would undoubtedly have been worshipped as ‘children of G-d’.

“Therefore, in order to ensure that no such desecration of G-d’s Holy Name occurs, they accepted upon themselves the personal humiliation of publicizing what they had done, by giving their children names that alluded to what occurred. It was in the merit of that self-imposed humiliation that they were worthy of being the progenitors of Moshiach.

“They then told me that I had committed a great sin by speaking about them in a degrading manner and that I would be punished like the spies who spoke slanderously about Eretz Yisroel. That is the reason why I am suffering with this strange disease in my mouth and throat.”

As soon as he completed recounting his dream, the man turned toward the wall and died. Rav Moshe accepted this man’s explanation as truth and would repeat it frequently.[3]

Throughout his life Avrohom sought to promulgate the teachings of G-d and to sanctify His name in any way possible.

When Lot’s shepherds allowed their sheep to graze in the surrounding Canaanite fields, a dispute erupted between them and the shepherds of Avrohom. The shepherds of Avrohom reasoned that the Land did not yet belong to Avrohom and therefore they had no right to allow their sheep to graze from it. Lot’s shepherds countered that since the Land was promised to Avrohom they had the right to begin grazing immediately.

As a direct result of that argument Avrohom decided that he and Lot would have to go their own separate ways. It seems surprising that Avrohom distanced himself from his orphaned nephew just because of one petty argument?

The Be’er Yosef explains that, in truth, Avrohom never wanted Lot to accompany him in the first place. When G-d instructed Avrohom to leave his father’s home, Avrohom understood that he had to leave behind all of his family members, including Lot. However, the Torah says, (12:4) ”וילך אברם כאשר דבר אליו ה' וילך אתו לוט - Avrom went when G-d spoke to him and Lot went with him.” In other words, Lot accompanied Avrohom on his own volition. When Avrohom saw Lot’s persistence and sincerity he allowed Lot to join him.

However, when Avrohom saw that Lot, who looked exactly like him, was not careful enough to avoid situations of potential theft, he felt that it was a threat to his integrity. Avrohom feared that even a seemingly trivial argument could have potentially negative ramifications to his efforts to teach people about G-d. If Lot presented any level of potential compromise to his efforts, Avrohom felt he could not risk allowing him to continue with him.

Parshas Vayera commences by relating that G-d appeared to Avrohom in “Elonei Mamre- the plains of Mamreh”. Rashi explains that the Torah lists Avrohom’s location to honor Mamre, who had advised Avrohom to undergo the circumcision as G-d commanded[4].

Why did Avrohom need advice in the first place? Throughout his life he never wavered or hesitated to fulfill any of G-d’s commands. Why should circumcision be any different?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explained that Avrohom’s question to Mamre was not whether he should fulfill G-d’s command, but rather whether he should do so publicly or privately. Avrohom was tremendously influential, and renowned throughout the civilized world[5]. Avrohom’s prestige and influence contributed greatly toward his ability to convince people to believe in G-d. Avrohom was concerned that if people heard that at his age he had undergone circumcision they would think he had ‘gone crazy’. Such a feeling could severely hinder his ability to further proselytize the masses.

Mamre reassured Avrohom that if G-d commanded him to perform a mitzvah he need not be concerned with its consequences. Avrohom had to do what was incumbent upon him. G-d would take care of the rest.

After departing from the home of Avrohom the three angels proceeded to Sedom, which was slated for imminent destruction, in order to save Lot. Since time immemorial, there has been no shortage of wicked and corrupt people and societies. Yet only Sedom and its neighbors were singled out for miraculous destruction. Why the dubious distinction?

Rabbi Michael Bernstein[6] postulates that perhaps because Avrohom had saved those cities from the four kings, the cities became associated with Avrohom. People would remember those cities as the ones which Avrohom had saved. Yet those cities maintained lifestyles that were the antithesis of everything Avrohom stood for. Therefore, the continued existence of such sinful cities was a blemish on the impeccable reputation of Avrohom.

In fact, it is logical to assume that the cities were destroyed specifically following the angels revelation to Avrohom and Sarah that they were about to be blessed with a child. Avrohom was about to father the nation that would be a light unto all others. Therefore, it was imperative at that point in time that no sinful nation be even remotely associated with Avrohom. Therefore Sedom and its neighbors had to be destroyed.

Every single act that Avrohom did was propelled and guided by his indefatigable desire to sanctify G-d’s Holy Name. It is no wonder that the daughters of Lot were convinced that civilization would quicker believe in supernatural intervention than to accept that a member of his extended family had acted immorally.

Following is a more recent story about a woman who was dedicated to infusing the values of Torah and sanctification of G-d’s Name to her family:

R’ Avrohom Yitzchok Gold arrived in America in 1913 seeking to make enough money to bring over his wife Rochel and their young son Jack (Yaakov) from Poland. With the outbreak of World War I however, it wasn’t until 1922 that the family was reunited on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Mrs. Gold was determined that her family maintains the spirit and values of Torah in America. The day after she walked off the boat in New York (!), she announced to her husband - whom she had not seen in almost a decade - that their son immediately had to resume learning Torah. She found out that there was only one Yeshiva at the time - Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef (RJJ). She proceeded down to the office with Yankel and explained to the principal that she needed to get her son into Yeshiva as soon as possible. The principal replied apologetically that it was absolutely impossible to get her son in to the school; it was too full.

Mrs. Gold was incredulous, “Well maybe you can pair him up with another child. He won’t mind sharing a seat.” The principal explained that every desk already had two children. The most he could do was to put him on a waiting list. When she anxiously asked how long he would have to wait, he replied that it would take two years. Mrs. Gold was beside herself. “Two years? But he needs to learn Torah immediately.” The principal shook his head dolefully and replied that there was nothing more he could do.

Mrs. Gold and Yankel left the school, returning a short time later and sitting down on the steps. Mrs. Gold brought some books while Yankel watched the horse and buggies noisily make their way down the street. If she couldn’t get Yankel enrolled in the school at least he could be in Torah environment.

After some time a class came outside for recess. The Rebbe noticed the mother and son sitting on the steps and asked if he could be of any assistance. “We’re just waiting”, she replied. Assuming she was waiting for someone or something the Rebbe walked on. But after a few hours, when the Rebbe noticed that they were still sitting in the same place he asked her who she was waiting for. “Oh, we’re not waiting for anybody. We’re waiting to get Yankel into yeshiva. The principal said it will take about two years. Can you help?” The Rebbe went into the principal and told him what was going on outside. The principal looked out his window and was shocked to see that the mother and son he had met hours earlier were sitting there.

In fact, during the next three days the principal watched as Mrs. Gold and Yankel sat on the steps the entire day ‘waiting' After that, somehow they found room in the yeshiva for Yankel!

Mrs. Gold’s descendants are Torah observant and continue the legacy she left behind. I should know because Mrs. Rochel Gold a’h is my great grandmother[7].

This Monday, the 17th of Cheshvan, is the yahrtzeit of my Savta, my father’s mother, Mrs. Minnie Staum a’’h, a daughter of the aforementioned Rochel Gold.

“Savta Minnie” as we called her took great pride in the accomplishments of her children and grandchildren and she had tremendous nachas from us. We continue to miss her and hope that she will be a maylitz yosher for her family. Tehi zichrah baruch!

“Avrom went when G-d spoke to him and Lot went with him”

“In the plains of Mamreh”

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[1] ‘From my father’

[2] ‘The child of my nation’

[3] Introduction, Igros Moshe, Chelek 8

[4] When G-d instructed Avrohom to undergo circumcision, Avrohom consulted Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre to ask their opinion. Anew and Eshkol both advised Avrohom not to undergo the procedure. It was only Mamre who advised him to adhere to G-d’s command.

[5] Rashi (14:17) writes that after the battle of the five kings against the four kings, they all accepted Avrohom as their king.

[6] Windows to the Soul, Shaar Press

[7] This past March, at my sister Shoshana’s wedding, I had the opportunity to review the details of this story, as well as other beautiful stories about my great grandparents with my cousin, Rabbi Avie Gold, a noted writer for Artscroll Publications, and the son of Jack (Yankel) Gold a’h.

Rabbi Gold noted that the reason why Mrs. Gold took her son Jack to yeshiva and not his father was simply because she didn’t trust her husband! After not seeing him for many years, when he was a young man alone in the spiritual wasteland of America, she was skeptical of his religiosity, despite his outward appearance. She therefore insisted that she be the one to bring him to yeshiva. With time she realized that her concerns about her husband were unfounded. Incredibly, he had not forfeited one iota of his customs and ideals despite the challenges of the day.

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