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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Rosh Hashanah 5773 "Quality not Quantity"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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It was a beautiful August day in Camp Dora Golding, during the summer of 2000/5760. I was walking from the Dining Room to learning groups with my Rebbe and a few other staff members. As we passed the lake, I felt a sting on the back of my neck. I instinctively slapped at my neck but, in the corner of my eye, I saw something fly away. It felt like a good pinch and it hurt quite a bit but I didn’t think much of it, and so I continued walking. I stopped by my bunkhouse where I was the counselor, to shoo some of my campers out to their learning groups. Then, I went to the staff learning group and sat down in my usual seat in front of my Rebbe.

While my Rebbe was taking attendance, my face began to feel hot. A friend sitting next to me, asked me if I was okay pointing out that my face had turned dark red. I replied that I thought I was alright but I wasn’t sure. He immediately jumped up and ran out to flag down one of the Camp Administrators who had an in-camp vehicle. Meanwhile, my feet began to itch uncontrollably and I began to feel dizzy. I quietly walked out of the room and waited outside.

A long minute later, one of the Division Heads drove up and I jumped on. Although the drive to the infirmary takes about two minutes, it was one of the longest drives of my life. By the time we reached the infirmary, I was completely dizzy, my vision was clouded, and I only saw black and white. The most alarming symptom however, was that I felt my neck begin to close up.

The nurses who had already been alerted about my condition via radio, immediately called 9-1-1. When I came in to the infirmary, one of the nurses sprayed my neck with an anti-inflammatory spray and gave me two Benadryl tablets to take orally. However, it would take a few minutes for the Benadryl to kick in and, meanwhile, it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to breath. I remember vividly that the room began to swim as the nurse administered an Epipen into my leg.

A few minutes later, an ambulance arrived and the medics rushed to take my pulse and vitals. They quickly strapped me to a stretcher and wheeled me into the ambulance. As the ambulance roared down the old country rood with its sirens blaring, they hooked my arm to an intravenous. By the time we arrived at the Emergency Room of Pocono Medical, I was beginning to feel better. Still, I was hyperventilating out of panic from the whole situation. After a few hours of being monitored to ensure that there were no further complications, I was released that same afternoon and I returned to camp.

A few days later, the medic who accompanied me in the ambulance, came back to camp to tend to another emergency. When things had calmed down, I approached him to thank him for his help. I mentioned how lucky I felt because of what could have happened had I not received that Epipen shot within a few minutes. He looked at me and replied, “Son, you were lucky by less than a few minutes!”

Whenever I reflect upon that frightening experience, I cannot help but be amazed by the fact that a minuscule insect, probably no bigger than my fingernail, almost killed me!

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the Torah’s account of the Akeidah. In addition, numerous times during our Rosh Hashanah prayers, we invoke the merit of the Akeidah. However, after the conclusion of the Torah’s recounting of the Akeidah, the day’s Torah reading continues with a short sequel of the Torah’s discussion of the descendants of Avrohom’s brother, Nachor.

And it was after these happenings (i.e. the Akeidah), it was told to Avrohom saying, ‘Behold! Milkah has also begot children for Nachor your brother. Utz his first born, and Booz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram. And Keshed, and Chazo, and Pildash, and Yidlaf, and Besuel. And Besuel begot Rivkah; these eight Milkah has given birth for Nachor, the brother of Avrohom. …[1] It is essentially nothing more than a list of names of Nachor’s children and grandchildren.

This seems to be an incredibly anti-climactic sequel. After recounting one of the greatest acts of selflessness in the history of the world, why is it necessary to list the whole family tree of Nachor on the second day of Rosh Hashanah[2]?

The Akediah concludes with a beautiful blessing that G-d promises Avrohom, “For I will surely bless you, and I will increase your children like the stars in heaven, and like the sand on the shores of the seas, and your children will inherit the gates of their foes. And through your progeny all nations will be blessed, because you have listened to My Voice.[3]

Almost immediately after recording this magnanimous blessing, the Torah segues into its recounting Nachor’s many children and grandchildren. One must wonder, what happened to the blessing of Avrohom? The great Avrohom has one unmarried son while Nachor is enjoying numerous grandchildren.

On the concluding words, “And Besuel begot Rivkah”, Rashi states, “This entire lineage was only written because of this pasuk.” Utz and Booz and all of their brothers would have remained obsolete were it not for the fact that they had a niece named Rivkah who would become a matriarch of Klal Yisroel.

In explaining the purpose of these verses, Rashi is revealing a fundamental insight. When G-d promised Avrohom that his children would be like the stars and the sand, He did not necessarily refer to a quantitative counting. Klal Yisroel is a nation of qualitative eternity, which can not be measured in human terms. The verses following the Akeidah demonstrate this concept. True, Nachor had far more descendants than Avrohom, but all of them were only worthy of mention because of Rivkah.

Rosh Hashanah is G-d’s re-coronation over the universe, as it were. Chazal teach us that we do not recite supplications on this awesome Day of Judgment, despite the fact that our futures hang in the balance. The day is dedicated to prayers imploring the Almighty to reveal His Presence to the world so that all of mankind will learn to praise and serve Him in unison. The greatest merit we can have during the awesome judgment is to demonstrate that our sole concern is for the Glory of G-d. We are ready to put all of our personal petitions and requests on hold, to prioritize our hopes for universal realization of the omnipotence of the Almighty King of Kings.

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of mankind and therefore is also the day that the Kingship of G-d was established. Only when mortal man accepted the Yoke of G-d, was His Kingship vindicated, as it were. Therefore, on the anniversary of its establishment, it is appropriate for man to declare his continued steadfast dedication to the Eternal Monarchy. One of the reasons the shofar is sounded, is to reflect the coronation, much like trumpets are sounded on the day of a human king’s coronation.

The overwhelming majority of humanity is completely unaware that anything significant is transpiring as they go about their routine business on Rosh Hashana. It makes us wonder: if the purpose of the day is to reestablish the kingship of G-d, can that be accomplished by a handful of Jews?

The answer lies in the eternal words of Rashi, “This entire lineage was only written because of this verse.” The re-coronation is indeed accomplished by a small percentage of humanity.

We state in the Mussaf prayer of Rosh Hashanah, “Hayom haras olam- Today is the anniversary of the world”. Perhaps, a brief study of geology and astronomy will convince us of the veracity of this concept:

Our solar system, the Milky Way, is hardly a speck in the universe. Within our galaxy, there are (as of this writing) eight planets and countless asteroids, moons, shooting stars etc. floating through space. Of all of the myriad objects floating through space, only one small planet has the capacity to sustain life. All other planets are either too close to the sun or too far away.

On planet earth itself, there is a relatively miniscule surface area on which mankind can survive. Planes do not fly above the Troposphere, the lowest level of the atmosphere, less than ten miles off the ground. Yet, planes require pressure and temperature controlled cabins because of the lack of oxygen and sub-freezing temperatures at that altitude.[4]

Below the crust of the earth, there is a ‘mantle’, a layer of rock so hot that it has the texture of melted plastic. Below the mantle is the core and, below that the inner core. The inner core is a solid size crystal, the size of the moon. The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean and reaches a depth of 36,205 feet. It is a mile deeper than Mount Everest, at whose altitude one requires a metallic mask to protect from radiation and frost bite. At a depth of 12,000 feet into the ocean, the pressure is equivalent to the weight of five battleships. IF one would be able to descend to the Mariana Trench, the pressure would be absolutely unbearable. Still, the Mariana Trench remains above the mantle, under which lie two more layers.

Even earth, the only place in the universe capable of sustaining human life, is itself only able to promote life in a relatively insignificant area. Yet, the whole world, with all of its galaxies in a yet expanding universe, was only created for that one small area where human beings can live.

On the birthday of the universe, the universe itself is a living example of the potency and importance of Klal Yisroel. One nation among billions, who uphold their centuries-old traditions, and for them alone the world endures.

The creation is our parable and we are the moral of the story. We are the infinite descendants of Avrohom which G-d promised after the Akeidah. Perhaps, small in number but of infinite value!

Perhaps, this is why we read this sequel on Rosh Hashanah day. Just prior to the recitation of Mussaf when we proclaim our allegiance to the Majesty of the Eternal G-d, we strengthen ourselves by reminding ourselves that the continuation of the entire universe rests upon our efforts. We, the qualitative equivalent of stars and sand, carry the world on our shoulders.

In our world, we do not need to be taught about the powerful effect individuals can have on the whole world. In the twentieth century, two of the worst human beings in the annals of mankind, Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, were responsible for the deaths of over fifty million people.[5] In contemporary times, nine wicked individuals shook the world, when they hijacked four planes on September 11th, 2001, using box cutters. However, their nefarious deeds taught an invaluable lesson about what a few people can accomplish with determination and courage!

In the completely opposite manner, we have that same ability. We remind ourselves of this at the conclusion of the Torah reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

“Today is the birthday of the world” and all of it

…“was only written because of this verse!”

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[1] Bereishis 22:20

[2] We could have easily worked out five aliyos (men called to the Torah) within the recounting of the Akeidah itself?

[3] 22:17

[4] The highest level of the atmosphere, the exosphere, begins three hundred miles from the ground and cannot maintain life

[5] Fifty million…the number is unfathomable!

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