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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Terumah 5773 "Youthful Exuberance"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l was a beloved educator, legendary for his ability to forge deep connection with his student and developing a love and passion for Torah and Avodas Hashem. However, when he first arrived in a Yeshiva high school in Chicago from Europe in 1946 he looked a bit lost.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, was one of the talmidim present when Rav Mendel arrived that first day. Rav Mendel had little connection to the mentality and outlook of American boys, aside from the fact that he hardly spoke a word of English. The boys told their parents they didn’t think the new Rebbe would last long.

Rav Mendel however, was not one to be daunted. The next day he walked into shiur with a copy of that day’s Chicago Tribune tucked under his arm. The class was stunned as he pulled it out and announced, “Today you will teach me English and I am going to teach you how to read a newspaper.” After the class recovered from disbelief, Rav Mendel began one of the most unique discourses ever given in a Yeshiva. The boys read the stories in English very slowly while Rav Mendel followed along with his index finger on the place, just as he did when he learned Gemara. The boys who knew some Yiddish struggled to translate what they were reading.

At the conclusion of each article Rav Mendel would interpret the events from a Torah vantage point as only an erudite Torah scholar could. By the end of the day Rav Mendel learned over fifty American idioms and a fair amount of English grammar. At the same time his students learned philosophic and Talmudic themes that underlie contemporary worldly events.

Every day after that, the pattern repeated itself. They taught their Rebbe how to speak English and he taught them about life. By the end of the semester he had learned English and his students learned that Gemara was much more than an ancient text[1].

It is no easy task to construct the House of G-d. G-d instructed Moshe about the minutest detail that was to be adhered to with utmost precision when constructing the Mishkan. Each vessel had to be built with painstaking exactness utilizing the proper materials.

The Aron[2] was to be placed in the Holy of Holies. It was to be constructed out of Shittim wood, and placed into a larger box constructed out of pure gold. Then, a small gold box was placed inside the wooden box, completely covering the wooden box with gold. On top of the Aron were the two Cherubim chiseled out of pure gold. “You shall make two Keruvim out of gold- hammered out you shall make them- from both ends of the cover.[3]

Ba’al Haturim notes that when the Torah writes the word Keruvim in this verse it is without the letter vov so that the word can be read as ‘kiravim’ which, in Aramaic, means children. The Gemara[4] notes that the Keruvim were actually golden images of two young children facing each other. Ba’al Haturim makes reference to a verse in Hoshea[5]Ki na’ar Yisroel v’ohavo- For Yisroel is a youth and therefore I love them.”

Our society idolizes youth because our culture values vigor and aesthetic beauty above all else. But we can hardly attribute such shallowness to G-d. What does the prophet mean that G-d love us because of our youthfulness?

The Alter from Kelm, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv zt’l, quotes Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt’l who explained that the greatness of youth lies in a child’s willingness to learn. A child feels somewhat lost in the world around him and is constantly trying to make sense out of everything going on. Any parent with young children is familiar with the constant badgering of curiosity, questions of When? Why? What? When? and How? Unlike most adults who are constantly tired, a child generally will resist being put to sleep at night[6]. A child is filled with such curiosity and does not want to stop exploring, probing, and learning.

G-d loves us, Klal Yisroel, because we possess that sense of wonderment and excitement for Torah and mitzvos. To us the ancient texts remain exciting and engaging, as we constantly seek new insights from the same passages we have learned tens of times. Like children who can’t satiate their sense of wonder, Klal Yisroel passionately studies Torah, pining for yet another novel interpretation and insight[7].

Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky zt’l adds that the Torah concludes its discussion about the Aron by stating that G-d’s voice will resonate from atop the Aron, as it were. “It is there that I will set my meetings with you from atop the cover, from between the two Keruvim that are on the Ark of Testimonial-tablets, everything that I shall command you to the B’nei Yisroel[8].” Even when the Aron was erected in the Holy of Holies, the voice of G-d would not resonate unless the Keruvim were atop the Aron. The Keruvim, which represent the exuberance and the wide-eyed excitement of youth, serve as the conduit for the Voice of G-d.

Douglas MacArthur quipped that, “Youth is not a time of life; it’s a state of mind!” A person can be chronologically old and yet be ‘old’ in the sense that he has lost his passion to grow and learn. On the other hand, someone can be older and yet still possess the fountain of youth, because they haven’t lost their ambition.

A number of years ago, Rabbi Yissocher Frand was one of the featured lecturers at a Destiny Foundation event[9]. Rabbi Frand began his speech by expressing his admiration for Rabbi Wein. Even after decades of accomplishments as a Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi, author, and lecturer in America, he not only continued teaching in Eretz Yisroel but also to initiated new programs.

Indeed, that is the symbol of youth.

The holiday of Purim is a celebration of rebirth and renewed passion. When Klal Yisroel recognized G-d’s Hand orchestrating the ‘coincidental’ events that led to Haman’s downfall, they were filled with a renewed vim and vigor for Torah and Mitzvos.

Perhaps that is part of the reason why there was a national reacceptance of the Torah at the time of the Purim miracle[10]. The voice of G-d can be heard only by those who contain the alacrity, excitement, and passion of youth, as symbolized by the Keruvim. On Purim when Klal Yisroel attained a renewal of those emotions on a national scale, it was inevitable that they would also merit a renewed connection and dedication to Torah.

“I will set my meetings with you from between the two Keruvim”

“For Yisroel is a youth and therefore I love them”

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[1] Vintage Wein, by Dr. J. Weiss

[2] Holy Ark

[3] 25:18

[4] Succah 5b

[5] 11:1

[6] Every parent of young children is more than familiar with bedtime battles…

[7] It never ceases to amaze me that there are constantly new seforim published with novel insights. When Daf Yomi commences a new tractate, a plethora of new commentaries and elucidations suddenly surface. Similarly, before every holiday every single year tens of new books are published with fresh insights and observations about the holiday.

[8] 25:22

[9] The Destiny Foundation was founded by Rabbi Berel Wein

[10] see Gemarah Shabbos 86a

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