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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Lech Lecha 5773 "Above and Beyond"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Nafatli Eisgrau, menahel of Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch, was a close disciple of Rav Don Ungarischer zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Elyon in Monsey[2]. Rav Ungarischer was a son-in-law of Rav Reuven Grozovsky zt’l, and one of the great Torah leaders of the Monsey community since its inception.

Rabbi Eisgrau related the following story:

“On one occasion when I was on a flight to Eretz Yisroel, a flight attendant asked me where I was from. When I told her I was from Monsey, NY, she asked me if I knew Rabbi Ungarisher. I replied that he was my Rebbe. She then excitedly told me that she now keeps Shabbos because of him. She related that Rabbi Ungarischer spent hours with her during a flight explaining to her how important Shabbos is in the life of a Jew.

“I was surprised by what she told me because I know, from previous times that I accompanied the Rosh Yeshiva to Eretz Yisroel, that he learned uninterruptedly throughout the flight. When she told me when it occurred, I realized that it was when the Rosh Yeshiva was accompanying the body of his newly deceased wife for burial in Eretz Yisroel. As an Onen he was not allowed to learn Torah. So instead he brought a fellow Jew closer to G-d by caringly and gently explaining to her the beauty and greatness of Shabbos.”

When the Torah introduces Noach it utilizes many beautiful accolades: “a righteous man, perfect in his generations…” Yet, when the Torah introduces Avrohom Avinu no such ornate adjectives are used. In fact, the Torah doesn’t tell us anything about him other than the fact that he married and left home.

A ‘perfect righteous’ man is one who does everything commanded of him to the tee. “Noach walked with G-d”. No matter how arduous and challenging his instructions – building an Ark despite being scorned and mocked, collecting all the animals, feeding and caring for all the animals, etc. - Noach was up for the challenge.

It would surely seem that Noach was far greater than Avrohom. Yet Avrohom is our first patriarch, while all the nations of the world are titled ‘Children of Noach’?

Also, why is the Torah not explicit about the greatness of Avrohom as it is about Noach?

The difference between Noach and Avrohom is analogous to the difference between a dependable secretary and a spouse. A secretary does whatever she is expected to do for her employer. She knows the office schedule, she maintains order, and she makes sure everything is done orderly and efficiently. In a healthy marriage however, a husband and wife don’t merely do what is asked of them. In marriage there is a relationship of love which entails understanding each other deeply and anticipating ways to build and strengthen each other.

Noach was perfectly righteous in that he kept the letter of the law faithfully and perfectly. But Avrohom went beyond that because he anticipated and pondered the spirit of the law. He didn’t want to merely fulfill G-d’s command, he wanted to sanctify G-d’s Name and teach the world how to live an elevated G-dly life.

G-d’s first command to Avrohom was that he leave his homeland, family, and friends to march towards an unknown destination[3]. But G-d never instructed him to create a mass kiruv movement. Yet, “he built there an altar to G-d, and called out in the Name of G-d[4].” Wherever he went he taught and inspired and built students.

Rashi[5] expresses the distinction between Noach and Avrohom in that Noach needed support in his service to G-d while Avrohom ‘strengthened himself and walked in his own righteousness’. Noach walked with G-d while Avrohom walked before G-d[6].

The Torah doesn’t employ adjectives to describe the greatness of Avrohom because that greatness cannot be captured in words. Avrohom’s greatness was that he forged a relationship with his Creator. He went beyond mere fulfillment of G-d’s command to a level of connection and internalizing. One can only appreciate the greatness of Avrohom from understanding how the Torah describes his conduct. “For I have known him, in order that he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the ways of G-d, doing charity and justice…[7]” Avrohom wanted nothing more than to promulgate G-d’s Word and teach it to the world.

In our world one of our greatest deficiencies is that we fail to understand Avrohom’s contribution. As Torah observant Jews we keep the laws of the Shulchan Aruch and stay true to the bottom line expectations of the Torah. But it seems that we are often trying to maneuver our way around halacha, in order to beat the system without cheating the system.

Avrohom taught that Torah and mitzvos are not just things we do, but it’s a way of life! The Torah never says ‘eat like a mentch’ or ‘have good middos’. But one who learns Torah properly and understands its underlying message will realize that the Torah is teaching us how to be an upstanding moral person, a role model for the world.

All peoples and nations of the world are called ‘Children of Noach’. Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l noted that the major religions of the world believe in ‘G-d’ and demand compliance with what they claim to be the laws of G-d. But no other nation has the audacity to espouse that we can – and must – have a personal and intimate relationship with G-d. That is exclusively a Jewish idea. Such an idea can only be preached by the children of the patriarchs who lived their lives in such a manner.

Moshe was called an ‘eved ne’eman – faithful servant’[8]. To be faithful means one goes beyond expectation. He searches, or rather pines, to find ways to serve his master. It’s not a job, it’s a privilege. He exudes a feeling of ‘It’s a pleasure to serve you’.

Our great Torah leaders live their lives in this manner. They constantly strive for ways to serve G-d beyond what’s expected of them, in order to bring ‘pleasure to their Creator’. When Rav Don Ungarischer zt’l was unable to learn Torah, recite berachos, or perform mitzvos, he found another way to serve G-d, because that was his passion and life’s mission.

This Shabbos marks the first yahrtzeit of the beloved and legendary Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l[9]. His dedication to Hashem defied belief. The Parkinson’s which ravaged his body couldn’t dampen the glowing spark of his soul. He taught Torah, inspired Klal Yisroel, and clearly loved every minute of it, despite his physical suffering. That is the life of a ‘ne’eman’; one who lives beyond expectation and responsibility, in a realm of love and selflessness.

During his final years, even on days when he was too weak to say one of his scheduled chaburos or shiurim, he wouldn’t cancel them. On one occasion, he got up to speak but couldn’t get a word out. There was an uncomfortable silence and then he tried to start a second time, but again to no avail. He wasn’t even able to mouth the words ‘I can’t’. He asked someone to pass him a piece of paper, on which he wrote, “Nisiti, selicha – I tried; I’m sorry.[10]

The Rosh Yeshiva did everything he could towards his herculean efforts to serve Hashem. He was able to come so he came, he was able to open the gemara so he did. Although he surely felt weak that day and knew that he may be unable to say his shiur, he pushed himself to the limit. It was only when he reached his limit that he was forced to concede defeat[11].

Our forefather Avrohom taught us how to live with G-d, not just before G-d. We must strive for greatness and never be complacent with mediocrity or even mere obligation-fulfillment. We must strive to reach the level when we too are deemed a ‘ne’eman’, as we state each morning[12], “You are Hashem Elokim that You chose Avrom… And you found his heart faithful before you.”

“A righteous man, perfect in his generations”

“He called out in the Name of G-d”

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Please have in mind our dear friend Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Shaindel for a refuah shaleimah in all of your tefilos. He is in need of tremendous rachmei shomayim. May we hear good news soon IY”H.

[1] Lecture delivered in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Lech Lecha 5772, in honor of the respective afrufs of Dov Kerner and Yechiel Teiler

[2] The Rosh Yeshiva’s first yahrtzeit was this past Friday on 3 Cheshvan

[3] 12:1-3

[4] 12:8

[5] 6:9

[6] 17:1

[7] 18:19

[8] Shabbos shacharis Shemoneh Esrei, based on Bamidbar 12:7

[9] 11 Cheshvan

[10] Heard from Rav Aharon Lopiansky shlita, Rosh Bais Medrash, Yeshiva of Greater Washington, and brother-in—law of Rav Nosson Tzvi zt’l

[12] In the paragraph “Vayivarech Dovid”

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