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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshios Behar-Bechukosai 5773 "Without Ulterior Motive"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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When we lived in the Blueberry Hills complex in Monsey, a few years ago we had the opportunity to meet some wonderful families at our Shabbos table. The Bielinki family was one of those families.

During the Shabbos seudah we shared, Ami Bielinki related to me his personal story which amazed me. I appreciate Ami reviewing the details of his fascinating story with me, and allowing me to share it here:

Ami grew up in Acton, Massachusetts, with his parents and one older brother. He was a typical American kid in a typical American family; the fact that he was Jewish did not bear much significance to him.

When he was a 17 year old senior in High School, he began applying for admission into college. He was accepted into George Washington University in Washington D.C. for international business law. Because he had applied for early admissions he took it for granted that he would receive financial aid. He was shocked when the school informed him that he was denied all financial assistance because he was working in a law firm, and therefore was assumed to have finances.

By that time it was too late to begin applying to most colleges. So Ami opened the “Kaplan Book of Colleges” to find a school that had no deadline for admissions. He found a school called Kol Yaakov in a village called Monsey, NY. Not only were they were willing to accept him, they told him he could join as soon as he was able to come.

Ami graduated High School on a Friday in early June, went to a graduation party on Saturday, and arrived at Kol Yaakov on Sunday.

When he walked in they handed him a gemara Bava Kamma and promptly opened it to the eighth perek, “Hachovel”. At the time Ami didn’t even know how to read Hebrew, and was barely able to recognize the letters he had learned in his youth. But he was an adventurous American kid and was intrigued by the challenge of studying Talmud.

Ami was never mechallel Shabbos again. He remained in yeshiva and began to thrive. He learned by repetition and rote until he was able to read perfectly, without an accent. He continued his learning to higher and higher levels, staying in Kol Yaakov for four years. During the third year there he married a ‘born and bred’ Monsey Bais Yaakov girl.

Ami and his family currently live in Lakewood, NJ.

The Torah states “Im b’chukosai taylaychu- If you will follow in My Ways”, then we will be blessed with uninhibited bountiful blessing. Rain, sustenance, peace, and national security, are also guaranteed.

Rashi explains that following in G-d’s ways means toiling in Torah study. There are many facets and components of Avodas Hashem, including performing acts of kindness, prayer, Shabbos, and fulfillment of mitzvos. Rashi is explaining that Torah study provides the ultimate medium for attainment of holiness.

The Kotzker Rebbe[1] extrapolated this idea from a verse in Shir Hashirim. The verse there describes the passionate love of the beloved (Klal Yisroel) for her betrothed (G-d). “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his lips, for his love is greater than wine.[2]” Rashi notes that wine is a reference to Torah study. Thus, the verse is teaching that although there are many ways one can feel connected with G-d, the ultimate connection is achieved through Torah study; “Ki tovim dodecha” the greatest way to experience the love of G-d is “miyayin- from wine”, i.e. Torah study.

There was once a shul that was having a difficult time sustaining its diminishing membership. They arranged social events, neighborhood barbecues, and youth groups, but all to no avail; the steady decline in membership continued. Finally, the Board of Directors approached a wise Rabbi and unburdened their frustrations to him. The Rabbi replied by relating the following story:

There was once a Saudi-Arabian Sheik that was as wealthy as he was influential. He owned vast oil refineries that netted him unimaginable profits. Companies around the world competed for his business, generating more revenue than he could spend in ten lifetimes.

One day, he arrived in New York for a business meeting to further his American interests. The capitalist bureaucrats were salivating with excitement. As soon as his private jet landed they rolled out the red carpet. An entourage befitting aristocracy, including a police motorcade, accompanied him to the Waldorf Astoria hotel where he enjoyed the luxury suite reserved for the most prestigious dignitaries. Whenever he left the hotel, streets and highways were closed off to traffic as he sped around the impatient city unimpeded.

When the Sheik completed his business dealings he spent the remainder of his visit shopping at superior and elegant stores. On his final day in New York he arrived back at the hotel very late. Behind his limousine were tens of trucks. After the Sheik got out of his car he watched as workers began to unload endless boxes from the trucks. Hundreds of workers carried thousands of boxes through the hotel lobby, into the elevator and into the Sheik’s suite. By the time they finished it was almost morning. The hotel’s administration was piqued with curiosity but they dared not question the Sheik.

The following evening all the trucks returned to reload the myriad boxes and everything else the Sheik has purchased during his stay, to transport them to the airport. As the boxes were being loaded onto the Sheik’s private jet, airport security demanded to know the contents of the boxes, fearing that they could be dangerous weapons or hazardous materials. The Sheik allowed them to inspect his boxes.

The security personnel were surprised to find that the boxes were filled with thousands of sinks of all shapes and sizes. The Sheik proudly explained: “In my country we have many natural resources that flow in abundance, especially oil. However, there is one important resource that we are lacking, an adequate supply of water. That deficiency costs us billions of dollars annually and is our only real limitation. But I see that you Americans are truly brilliant. You have created these little mechanisms. All one must do is turn the little faucet and an abundance of water instantly flows. When I bring all these sinks back to my country I will become far richer and I will be hailed as a national hero.”

The head of security bit his lip to stifle his laughter. “Noble Sheik, I regret to tell you that I think you have made a terrible error. The sinks themselves are absolutely worthless unless they are attached to pipes that connect them to a source of fresh water. The sink itself is merely a conduit that regulates the flow of water from the pipes. However, the sinks themselves are no more valuable than a car without fuel. Without being connected to anything your sinks will be worthless in your country.”

The Rabbi looked at the men sitting before him. “Your well-intentioned efforts to boost your shul’s membership are somewhat analogous to the Sheik. You have provided sinks but they are not connected to anything. If you really want to be effective you must connect to the source, i.e. the hearts and souls of your members. That is accomplished through promoting and encouraging Torah study! If people feel connected to something genuine, they will want to be associated with it, and will want their children to participate as well. The programs that you have created are wonderful but first you must ensure that your piping is strong.”

Someone once lamented to the Chofetz Chaim that despite spending years engaged in Torah study, he did not feel successful or proficient in his studies. The Chofetz Chaim replied that it is a common misconception that people think it is incumbent upon them to become a leading Talmudist and scholar. One’s job is to learn to the best of his ability. Success in Torah is achieved when one learns to the best of his own ability, not to the best of everyone else’s ability.

In the Shavuos prayers, we refer to the holiday as “the time of the giving of the Torah to us.” In Parshas Emor, when the Torah details the festivals of the year, Shavuos is described simply as ‘the fiftieth day of the counting’[3] and the day when a unique korban was offered[4]. It seems like the verse ‘forgot’ to mention that it is also the anniversary of the day the Torah was given?

Kli Yakar explains that the Torah did not wish to classify the holiday of Shavuos as a celebration of the day the Torah was given, because one should view the Torah as new and exciting every day. One who studies Torah with enthusiasm, devotion, and alacrity never grows weary of its timeless words.

Shavuos is indeed the anniversary of the day that the Torah was given to Klal Yisroel, but the verse explains it as a mere holiday and day of holiness. The celebration of our acceptance of the Torah cannot be limited to one day because one who truly loves Torah celebrates the Torah on a higher level every day of his life. Shavuos is a celebration of the original transmission of the Torah, which allows us to reaccept it every day.

Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[5] explained that faith in Hashem is acquired through engaging in Torah study. Torah study has the ability to penetrate the barriers that surround one’s heart.

This is most clearly demonstrated at kiruv seminars. Many unaffiliated Jews arrive at the seminar apathetic and skeptical at best. Yet, a scant three or four days later, their eyes and hearts have been opened, and they are thirsting for more.

The motivating and captivating speakers who grace such seminars, are not the ones who accomplish the incredible transformations. Even the greatest power of persuasion can not convince multitudes of people to drastically alter their lives so abruptly. Those speakers are merely the conduit to pique the interest and engage their audience. But once they have been successfully introduced to Torah and are willing to listen, it is the Torah itself which penetrates the impenetrable hearts, and melts away all barriers. Dedication to Torah breeds emunah in Hashem and helps us feel connected.

Rav Aharon Kotler zt’l once quipped that when we daven we speak to G-d, but when we learn Torah G-d speaks to us!

The defining component in the life of a Jew is his adherence to the Torah and its way of life. It is the ultimate pipeline into the hearts and souls of every Jew.

“If you will follow in My Ways”

“For his love is greater than wine”

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[1] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern zt’l

[2] Shir Hashirim 1:2

[3] of the omer

[4] the sh’tay halechem – the two loaves of bread; see Vayikra 23:21

[5] Nefesh Shimshon – Emunah

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