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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Toldos 5773 "Same Old Me"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Sir Moses Montefiore[2] was one of the most famous British Jews of the 19th century. He was born in Leghorn, Italy and grew up in London. In 1827, he made his first visit to Eretz Yisrael. His stay in the Land had a profound effect on him; he became religiously observant and from then until the end of his life, Sir Moses was scrupulous in all areas of mitzvah observance.

One Shabbos, the Chasam Sofer[3] stayed in the home of Sir Moses. Sir Moses was overjoyed to have the honor of hosting such a great Torah scholar and he honored his guest in every way, physically and spiritually.

Sir Moses was a humble man and was always looking to grow in his observance. After Shabbos he asked the Chasam Sofer if there was anything he did over Shabbos that was not fully in accordance with halacha.

The Chasam Sofer replied immediately, "I saw nothing here this Shabbos that was in accordance with what is written in the Torah!"

Sir Moses was stunned. But the Chasam Sofer smiled and continued, “It says in the Torah,And Yeshurun became corpulent and kicked[4]”. Rashi explains this means that when the Jewish People became rich and prospered because of G-ds kindness they neglected their responsibilities towards their Creator.

“I have spent a Shabbos with someone who has been blessed with great wealth. Yet he has not rebelled or kicked. In fact the opposite is true; everything is done exactly according to halacha. Isn’t that contrary to what the Torah says would occur?”

“The man became great, and kept becoming greater until he was very great.”[5]

Rashi notes that the Philistines became so enamored with Yitzchak that they declared “Better the manure of Yitzchak’s mules than the gold and silver of Avimelech.”

At first glance it seems Yitzchak was banished by Avimelech out of resentment and envy over Yitzchak’s successes. Despite the fact that Yitzchak’s presence was a boost to his country’s economy, Avimelech couldn’t bear the honor Yitzchak was receiving above him.

What is more surprising is that the verse seems to attribute the greatness of Yitzchak to his financial achievements. While such an attitude is prevalent in society it is inconceivable that the Torah would base Yitzchak’s greatness on his financial worth. What then does the Torah refer to?

Rav Shmuel Berenbaum zt’l[6] explains that true greatness is not measured based on how one conducts himself in public or based on magnanimous actions, but rather on how one conducts himself out of the limelight and in the privacy of his own home.

It is well-known that Rav Yisroel Salanter zt’l considered Rav Zundel Salanter to be his foremost rebbe. What is not as well known is that Rav Yisroel didn’t even know Rav Zundel until after his marriage. In fact Rav Zundel was virtually unknown at all until Rav Yisroel ‘discovered’ him and publicized his righteousness and sagacity.

In Salant Rav Zundel was known as ‘Zundel hessig macher (the vinegar maker)’. The custom was that when someone in the city made a wedding, everyone from the village would attend. At the wedding Rav Yisroel noticed a simple man – Rav Zundel - eating in the corner at one of the tables. Rav Yisroel watched in amazement as the unassuming guest conducted himself with incredible precision and meticulousness to every detail of halacha. Rav Yisroel recognized the man’s hidden greatness and immediately accepted him as his own mentor.

The story demonstrates that Rav Yisroel recognized greatness in the simplistic behaviors of Rav Zundel, how he acted when (he thought) no one else was looking. Anyone can appear spiritual and holy when he is davening or learning Torah. The true measure of a person can be viewed based on how he conducts his physical affairs – how he eats, drinks, and deals in business.

A Jew has a responsibility to be moral and upright in every nuance and facet of his life. He doesn’t only learn Torah but he must live Torah. Even when he goes shopping it should be apparent from his conduct that he is a Torah Jew.

This was the profundity of the initial test of Avrohom - ‘Lech Lecha’. If G-d assured Avrohom that hearkening to his command would guarantee him wealth, prestige, and success, what was the test?

It is far easier to be a good Jew when one is comfortable at home, can daven with a minyan when he wants, has seforim at his disposal, and everything is very convenient vis-à-vis his Judaism. The question is if he can be as devout and dedicated when he is on the road, and things aren’t too convenient? When he is successful in business and lucrative offers tug at him and it’s time to serve G-d, is he able to adhere to his spiritual responsibilities at the cost of greater personal gain?

The test of lech lecha was whether Avrohom could maintain his level of allegiance and dedication to G-d on the road when he was harried and uncomfortable, as when he was settled in his homeland with all of its amenities and comforts. In that sense, the test of lech lecha was a profounder testament to the greatness of Avrohom Avinu than the akeidah, because it entailed maintaining his level of spirituality while involved in the most mundane activities, and despite being unsettled.

This too is the underlying idea behind the greatness of Yitzchok Avinu. When the Torah states that he became exceedingly great, it was not because he had become wealthy, but rather it was the remained righteous despite his newfound wealth. Yitzchak now had many responsibilities that precluded him from isolating himself in Torah study and spiritual pursuits all day. He now had to deal with his wells and financial interests. Still-in-all, the surrounding Philistines recognized that he did not compromise on his morals one iota, but remained faithful and upright. They therefore flocked to Yitzchak and preferred to engage in business with him than with their own king. It was the contrast in moral standing which made Avimelech appear inferior to Yitzchak, and caused him to banish Yitzchak from his land.

There are certain individuals who command a level of respect which causes others to behave more dignified when they are around. People who speak in a coarse or somewhat unbefitting manner will not do so in the presence of certain people whom they respect.

The Philistines recognized Yitzchak as an ethical person and they realized that they acted and spoke differently when they were in his presence. They admiringly hated him for giving them that conscious, and they ran him out of town.

A person who exudes such sensitivity in behavior and speech is a walking Kiddush Hashem – a sanctifier of G-d’s Name. He does so through his daily conduct, even without saying a word.

As we usher in the month of Kislev we begin to anticipate the holiday of Chanukah. At the end of the Al Hanisim prayer recited throughout Chanukah, we repeatedly mention the word ‘gadol – great’. Greatness entails overextending, to reach above and beyond the standard norm.

The Maccabees merited miracles during the time of Chanukah because they acted with heroic courage beyond the norm, and so G-d in turn performed miracles for them beyond the norm.

Two years ago Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch was graced with a visit from the then one hundred year old eminent Torah-leader Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg zt’l. Though he was visibly weak, when he spoke to the students about the regality of living a Torah life his voice rose with passion.

Rav Scheinberg explained that G-d exhorts us, “Klal Yisroel, remember behave like you have to, because I take pride in being your King.

“We have brought honesty to the world. Our ways are different from the nations of the world. We are not the same as the nations. There is a way we eat – oh, how wonderful is the way we eat, and the way we sleep. All that we do is wonderful. We are showing the world that we - Klal Yisroel - have given everything to the world. They have taken it from us. It was we, we, WE! Who are the ones who give it to them!”

Rav Scheinberg concluded by passionately quoting the verse in Yeshaya, in which G-d tells Klal Yisroel ישראל אשר בך אתפאר" - Yisroel, in you I take pride.[7]” He repeated the word “בך – in you” four times, each time stressing the word with greater conviction!

“The man became great and kept becoming greater”

“Yisroel, in you I take pride”

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[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos 5772

[2] 1784 –1885

[3] Rav Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) was the leader of Hungarian Jewry, and one of the foremost leaders of Orthodox Jewry in his time

[4] Devorim 32:15

[5] Bereishis 26:13

[6] B’korei Shemo

[7] Yeshaya 49:3

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