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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Re'eh 5773 "Speed Reduction Ahead"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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8/1/13

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS RE’EH

SPEED REDUCTION AHEAD

Rabbi Noach Sauber[1] related the following personal anecdote:

“When I was a young man learning in Yeshivas RJJ in Edison, New Jersey, there was a Rebbe in the Yeshiva who did not drive. Whenever that Rebbe needed to get anywhere, the boys in the yeshiva would offer to drive him.

“On one occasion, I offered to drive him where he needed to go. I told the Rebbe that I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there, but he reassured me that he would find out directions. I was confident that he would tell me when to get off the highway and I eased my way into the left lane, cruising at a standard highway speed. Every couple of minutes I glanced at the Rebbe to see if it was time to start moving into the right lane to prepare to exit. But his face remained stoic, as he continued staring ahead.

“Suddenly, as we were about to pass an exit, the Rebbe pointed at the little green sign and announced, “Here!” An immediate panic overtook me as I contemplated slamming the brakes and trying to shift across four lanes of oncoming traffic. It would be quite an unpleasant experience trying to merge off the highway at full speed with about three and a half seconds so as not to miss the exit. I prudently decided not to try. I apologized to the Rebbe for the slight detour and went to the next exit.

“When reflecting on that experience, I thought about how different the experience would have been if the Rebbe had given me adequate notice about the exit. It’s no big deal to merge off the highway when one knows two miles in advance. After reducing speed, one looks into his mirror and patiently makes his way back into the right lane. Then with plenty of time he can get onto the exit ramp and settle into the local traffic pattern. But when one tries to do all that in less than three seconds, suffice it to say, it’s not going to be a comfortable ride.”

Yom Kippur is the conclusion and culmination of the time-period dedicated to penitence and atonement, and beseeching G-d for a new year of blessing and goodness. The process begins forty days prior on Rosh Chodesh Elul. The shofar is sounded throughout Elul, and selichos are recited beginning a week before Rosh Hashanah. The awesome Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, is itself replete with special prayers, shofar, symbolic foods, tashlich, and ‘Kapparos’.

Those who do not heed the call of Rosh Chodesh Elul, but bide their time to awaken to the process of teshuvah on Yom Kippur eve as the Chazzan begins Kol Nidrei, have wasted a significant opportunity[2].

One who ‘wakes up’ on Yom Kippur eve is analogous to the driver who tries to get off the highway at full speed, from the left lane, just as he is passing the exit. He has ignored the numerous signs that urged him to prepare himself for the approaching exit. He foolishly ignored the signposts and now is trying to slam on the brakes and exit in a hurry.

Rosh Chodesh Elul is the first signpost. It’s message is that it’s time to prepare to exit slowly and comfortably, as we ready ourselves for introspection and spiritual growth in the coming new year.

When Yaakov Avinu died in Egypt, his twelve sons accompanied his body to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah in Chevron. The Medrash[3] relates that when they arrived at the mouth of the cave, Eisav tried to impede their entrance, demanding to see their proof of title. The sons dispatched Naftali, who was an extremely swift runner, to run back to Egypt to bring the deed. In the meanwhile Yaakov’s body lay outside disgracefully. When Chushim, the deaf son of Dan, realized that his great-uncle Eisav was interfering with the burial of his saintly grandfather, he immediately grabbed a sword and chopped off Eisav’s head.

The question is why the other brothers weren’t incensed by the disgrace of their father that Eisav was causing, as Chushim was. Why didn’t they stand up for the honor of Yaakov?

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l[4] explains that because Chushim was deaf he did not hear Eisav’s arguments. Chushim saw the degradation of his grandfather and couldn’t understand the reason for it. Therefore, he acted immediately to stand up for his grandfather’s honor. The rest of the family however, heard Eisav’s arguments and became embroiled in debate as they sought to prove the futility of Eisav’s claim. They became ‘accustomed’ to the fact that Yaakov’s body was lying unburied outside the cave. Chushim, who was never able to hear Eisav’s arguments, was appalled by what he saw and therefore acted immediately. He never became sidetracked by Eisav’s arguments and therefore he remained committed to their mission to bury Yaakov with dignity and respect.

Sometimes circumstances call for action rather than negotiation. At times, it is important to focus in order to accomplish. When it is time to act one will only be deterred by debate and rationalization.

Parsha Re’eh begins with a subtle exhortation: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today…[5]” What did Moshe mean that the nation should SEE the blessing and the curse that was before them. Why did he emphasize their sense of sight over any of the other five main senses?

Perhaps Moshe’s message is connected with the aforementioned concept. In our psyche most of us recognize the real truth. We see the august nobility of our Torah leaders and admire the internal happiness of those who dedicate their lives to Torah. We see the naïve and simple joy of children as they recite blessings and perform mitzvos and as parents we feel proud when we watch the transmission of our heritage to the next generation. Still-in-all, we do not always live our lives in the manner that we ourselves truly desire. We have doubts about living ‘too holy’ and we are skeptical of those who we feel ‘lose touch with reality’ because they are too submerged in a Torah lifestyle.

This skepticism comes from our exposure to outside ideas and external influences. We confuse our morals and ethics with those of the rest of society causing spirituality and G-dliness to become befuddled in our minds. We rationalize, contemplate, and try to conceptualize Judaism, G-d, Torah, and mitzvos. In doing so, we seek to bring everything down to our level and what we cannot fully comprehend makes us uncomfortable.

Moshe was calling on Klal Yisroel to ‘blind themselves’ from the false reality around them so that they could see clearly[6]. We become sidetracked by the influences surrounding us and it clouds our sense of purpose and mission. Chushim ben Dan was blind and deaf to everything around him, and therefore maintained his direction and dedication to his mission. In order to maintain our own sense of direction and mission, we sometimes need to adopt that approach as well.

There was once a king who wanted to help his impoverished subjects. However, he was concerned about giving money freely to anyone who is poor because he is aware that he has many poor subjects who are simply lazy and by giving the money he fears that he will only encourage their slothfulness.

One of his ministers suggests that the king open his treasure house for one day to all the poor folks in the kingdom. However, right outside there would be a symphony playing the most pleasant music in the world. All of the lazy people would be sidetracked by the music and they would forget about the jewels and diamonds inside. Then when the music would stop, the doors of the treasure house would close and it would be too late for anyone to take any money. The king was fond of the idea. It ensured that his deserving subjects would receive desperately needed assistance while those who were undeserving would realize their foolishness. On the great day when the treasure-houses were opened, most of the visitors were indeed quickly enraptured by the music and they forgot what they came for. One man ran home and returned with pillows tied tightly around his ears. Everyone laughed at him but he couldn’t hear their taunts or the music. He spent the day amassing as much money as he could. By the time the music stopped, the man was a millionaire while the rest of the people were as destitute as they were when they first arrived.

The man with the pillows around his ears may have looked silly but he was able to remain goal-oriented because he wasn’t sidetracked by any external stimuli[7].

Without the Bais Hamikdash as the center point of our world, we lack a certain sense of clarity. Moshe beseeched the nation to try to see beyond the clouded vision of exile. To see with simplicity- as if with childlike wonder- the blissful inner fulfillment of one who adheres to the commandments of the Torah.

As the second verse of the parsha states[8], “The blessing: that you will listen… And the curse: If you do not listen…” Living a life of Torah is itself the greatest blessing, while living not in accordance with the dictates and demands of the Torah is the greatest curse, ensnaring one into a web of sinful living.

The Shabbos when Parshas Re’eh is read is often Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Elul. In order for one to begin the process of teshuvah and to try to get off the highway of daily life, one must begin to see clearly! To do so often entails blinding and deafening one’s self from all of the other sights and sounds which impel us in other directions.

“See I present before you today a blessing and a curse”

“That you hearken to the commandments of Hashem”

Please have in mind Elimelech ben Basya in your tefillos.

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[1] Assistant Principal in the Rabbi Teitz Mesivta Academy (R.T.M.A.) of Elizabeth New Jersey and a personal mentor

[2] Surely even one sincere prayer uttered during the final moments of Yom Kippur can accomplish tremendous things in heaven. Nevertheless, it pales in comparison to teshuvah performed step by step, with reflection, introspection, and contemplation for forty days.

[3] Bereishis Rabbah 97

[4] Sichos Mussar, 5732, Ma’mar 32

[5] 11:26-28

[6] Some explain that we cover our eyes when we recite the first verse of Shema, because in order to accept upon ourselves the Yoke of Heaven and state our unwavering belief in G-d, we need to obscure the false ‘realities’ surrounding us.

[7] Parable related by Rabbi Yitzy Erps, “Tell me a Tale

[8] If read with different punctuation than the simple meaning and understanding of the verse



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