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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shoftim 5774 "Innate Love"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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During the last few summers, Camp Dora Golding has been graced with a few visits by the Nikolsberger Rebbe, Harav Yosef Yechiel Mechel Lebovits. Each time the Rebbe arrives with a small entourage of his Chassidim from Monsey where he is based for the sole purpose of greeting the campers and trying to inspire them.[1]

The first time the Rebbe visited the camp was during the summer of 2008. At the conclusion of his speech to the campers the Rebbe admitted that he was originally skeptical about his own ability to connect with the campers. He mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised by the rapt attention that the campers were paying to his every word. The Rebbe was indeed able to connect with the boys in a most impressive manner. It is as our Sages relate, “Words that emanate from the heart enter the heart.”[2]

The following is an excerpt from the Rebbe’s address to the older three divisions of the camp:

Every day in our recitation of Shema we recite the verse: “ואהבת את ה' אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך - And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your resources.” How can we be obligated to love G-d? Love is an emotion that develops from an inner feeling of connection. If one feels that deep sense of connection he will automatically love that person. But if those feelings are not present there cannot be any love. One cannot love someone or something out of coercion?

The Rebbe related the following legend:

During the 1500s Jerusalem was ruled by Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the mighty Ottoman Empire. One day while in the Holy City, the Sultan noticed an elderly woman carrying two bags of garbage. He watched as she marched up a hill and promptly dumped the contents of her waste onto a huge landfill. The curious Sultan had her summoned before her. When he asked her where she was from, she explained that she was from Acco, a city somewhat distant from Jerusalem. The Sultan bewilderedly asked her if there was a shortage of garbage dumps in Acco. She explained that it was a custom in her family for hundreds of years to save up their garbage and then to haul it to Jerusalem in order to empty it on that spot. She explained that she was a descendant of the Romans who conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Holy Temple almost 1500 years earlier. Much to their dismay, when the Roman Legions set the structure on fire and destroyed it they could not penetrate the Western Wall. It was a disgrace for the Romans to leave a wall standing so they decreed that all garbage be brought to that spot. In that way the wall would be completely obscured and eventually forgotten.

The Sultan wanted to verify for himself if the old woman’s tale was true. He had his servants cast coins and diamonds into the landfill and he announced that any valuables found among the rubbish could be pocketed. The impoverished inhabitants of the city were only too eager to rummage for valuables and within a short time the entire wall was unearthed and revealed.

The Rebbe then explained that in the heart of every Jew there is an inner Bais Hamikdash; the place where the spirit of G-d resides within. But our evil inclination, our archenemy, seeks to destroy that inner Temple and to douse the inner flame that burns within our hearts. However, there is a Kosel Hama’aravi - a Western Wall within our hearts, as it were, that cannot be breached by any force of impurity in the world. It is the “pintele Yid”, the impervious holy divine spark.

So what does our Evil Inclination do if he cannot destroy that wall? He buries it! He covers it with mounds of spiritual muck and debris in order to divert one’s attention from the truly important things in life. Sometimes one may even think that his “inner Kosel” has been destroyed, Heaven forbid. But a Jew must know that that wall will never fall! It may be buried, but if one removes the spiritual refuse from his heart he will find that it is still standing in all its glory.

The Rebbe then surprised the campers when he asked the following question: “I want to ask you all something: Who here goes for the Yanks and who goes for the Mets?” The room quickly came to life with brief cheers. The Rebbe continued, “I want you all to know that I also daven for the Yankees every day!” After a raucous applause erupted from the assemblage, the Rebbe continued with a twinkle in his eye, “But not the same Yankees as you root for! You see, I daven for the Yankees, as in the children of our forefather Yankev[3] in his epic battle with Eisav. Yankev and Eisav are always fighting for domination over this world. When we connect with our inner spiritual selves then we - “the Yankys (Yankees)”[4] - have the upper hand in the world. So I am always davening for the “Yankees” to prevail!”

The Rebbe explained that one does not need to teach a parent to love his/her child because that love is innate and natural. In a similar vein, the love of G-d is naturally embedded in our hearts. It is inextricably bound with our souls which are breathed into us at the moment we are created. The only reason we may not realize or feel that love is because it becomes obscured by our sins. Thus, the more one immerses himself in Torah, mitzvos, and the service of G-d and distances one’s self from things that hinder spirituality, the more he will reconnect with that innate love and that impregnable Kosel that resides within.

The Rebbe concluded by stating that when we recite the verse of Shema which speaks about loving G-d we should not read it as a commandment but rather as a guarantee. If one will live as the rest of the paragraph states, i.e. to live Torah constantly “when you are going on the way, when you are lying down and when you wake up, etc.” then inevitably, “ואהבת את ה' אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך - You WILL love Hashem, your G-d, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your resources.”

“When you go out to battle against your enemy…you shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d, is with you….It shall be for you when you draw near to the war, the Kohen shall approach and speak to the people. He shall say to them, “שמע ישראל- Hear O Israel, today you are coming near to the battle against your enemies; let your heart not be faint; do not be afraid, do not panic and do not be broken before them. For Hashem, you G-d, is the One who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies, to save you””.[5]

On the words, “Hear O Israel” Rashi notes that even one who possesses no merits other than the fact that he is particular to recite “שמע ישראל - Hear O Israel”[6] is worthy of Divine salvation in battle.

In Ta’am V’da’as, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch explains that when one recites the Shema he proclaims and accepts upon himself, and upon the world, the monarchy and kingship of G-d. It is an assertion of one’s emphatic belief that G-d is the sole power and Divine entity, and that He runs every facet of creation according to His dictates. One who internalizes that belief need not fear entry into battle because he knows that G-d is in control and no harm can befall him unless G-d wills it.

Rabbi Sternbuch continues that there is an even more simplistic understanding of Rashi’s words. If one is meticulous to recite the Shema in its proper time, and with proper intent and punctiliousness, that itself is sufficient merit to warrant protection in battle.

When reciting the Shema one accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven and all that it entails. It is for this reason that the Talmud commences with a discussion of the laws of the Shema. It is wholly appropriate that the Oral Law begin with a dialogue and elucidation about the proper manner and laws involving the acceptance of G-d’s Kingship. A Jew begins and ends his day by reciting the Shema and reminding himself of his primary responsibilities and allegiance.

The rapidly approaching holiday of Rosh Hashana is dedicated as the day when we re-proclaim the monarchy and re-coronation of G-d. All of the beautiful prayers which describe the august majesty of G-d are not meant to be mere lip service. If G-d, in all of His grandeur and opulence is our King then we must transform ourselves into worthy subjects and trustworthy servants who seek to fulfill the Will of the King to the best of our ability.

With the powerful thought of the Nikolsberger Rebbe in mind, we can add that one who recites Shema and internalizes its message will come to feel that G-d is not merely with him but that G-d is within him!

Could there be any greater protection from the daily grinds and battles of life?

“Hear O Israel, today you are coming to battle your enemies”

“You WILL love Hashem, your G-d”

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[1] This past summer the Rebbe joined the camp in celebrating the Chanukas Habayis of the camp’s new beautiful shul

[2] Based on Mishley/Proverbs 27:19; see Metzudos Dovid

[3] in Chassidic dialect Yaakov (Jacob) is often pronounced Yankev

[4] i.e. the plural for “Yankev” – the Yankys are the descendants of Yankev…

[5] Devorim 20:1-4

[6] i.e. the recitation of the Shema

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