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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Naso 5775 "To Infinity and Beyond"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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At the Siyum HaShas[1] in March 2005, Rabbi Yissochar Frand related a story about a Jewish boxer who was very far removed from Judaism. Although his son didn’t even have a Bar Mitzvah, he became interested in his roots, and eventually ended up in a yeshiva studying with great diligence. When he came home each night, he continued to engage in his studies, reviewing what he had learned that day.

His father spent his evenings glued to the television and couldn’t fathom what could be so stimulating about ancient texts. Eventually, the father’s curiosity overcame him and he asked his son to teach him some Talmud. The son dismissed the request, explaining to his father that if he didn’t even know Hebrew he certainly couldn’t understand a page of difficult Aramaic. The father pressed his son to at least teach him one daf (folio) of the Talmud. After a great deal of pestering the son finally relented. They began the long and arduous project of studying one page. Line by line they continued, explaining, reviewing, forgetting, and plodding forward until - after a full year - they completed an entire page.

The father was ecstatic and wanted to make a siyum to celebrate their accomplishment. The son explained that in order to make a bona-fide siyum, one must complete an entire tractate of Talmud. But the father was insistent. The son finally agreed to ask Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l if they were permitted to make a siyum. Rabbi Feinstein ruled that under the circumstances it was permissible to make a siyum.

The siyum was arranged for a few nights later. As they were about to recite the siyum, Rabbi Feinstein himself walked in to participate in the celebration. That night, after the siyum, the father died in his sleep. Eulogizing the man, Rabbi Feinstein quoted the Talmud[2] which states that some people acquire their portion in the World to Come through one deed. He then added, “This man acquired his portion in the World to Come through one folio.”

Rabbi Frand continued with a second story involving Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l: On one occasion, Rabbi Feinstein called his nephew, Rabbi Michel Feinstein zt’l.

Rabbi Moshe: We need to make a l’chaim; I’m making a Siyum on Shas.

Rabbi Michel: Uncle, if you make a l’chaim every time you finish Shas, you’ll be a shikker (a drunk).

Rabbi Moshe: No, this is special, it’s the second time.

Rabbi Michel: Uncle, you’ve finished Shas many more than two times. What do you mean that it’s the second time?

Rabbi Moshe: No, I mean this is the second time that I’m fulfilling [Rebbe Meir's statement in the Talmud that] “One who learns something one hundred times is not comparable to one who learns it one hundred and one times.”[3]

Rabbi Frand concluded with a powerful thought:

“It’s never too late; it’s never too little; and it’s never enough.”

“It was on the day when Moshe (kalos) finished erecting the Tabernacle that he anointed it and sanctified it and all its utensils…”[4] Rashi explains that the word “kalos” is written as if it should be read “kalas” which means ‘the bride of’. This teaches us that, “On the day of the erecting of the Tabernacle, Klal Yisroel was analogous to a bride entering beneath her marriage canopy.” Maharal explains that the Tabernacle was like a marriage canopy, under which Klal Yisroel joined G-d.

What is the significance of the fact that the Tabernacle was like a bride entering her marriage canopy?

Rabbi Elazar Shach zt’l explained that the word “kallah” connotes completion and conclusion. When a bride enters her marriage canopy she is not only commencing a new chapter of her life, but she is simultaneously concluding the previous chapter of her life. Until this point she was single and primarily responsible for herself; now she is beginning a life of partnership, altruism, and giving. It is both an end and a beginning.

Here too, Moshe Rabbeinu was concluding the ‘practice period’ for the Service in the Tabernacle. But at the same time, the first day of Nissan marked inauguration and beginning of the actual Service. Like marriage, the end of one stage marked the beginning of another.

Essentially, this is the manner in which one must always view life. The conclusion of one period must always segue into, and initiate, a new period of growth. In Judaism, as long as one is alive, he has never really ‘finished’. Regardless of how much one has accomplished, he must always strive for higher levels. Every accomplishment must be viewed as another rung on the never-ending ladder of spiritual growth.

Parshas Naso is invariably read at the beginning of “graduation season”. ‘Commencement speeches’ will often speak about the idea that “graduation is not only a time of reflection but also a time for anticipation.” In our lives we must view everything in that light.

When we complete the reading of a Book of Torah our immediate response is, “Chazak – Let us be strong”; we must have strength to forge on! At that moment when one wishes to celebrate his accomplishments and rest on his laurels he must strengthen himself to immediately continue. Similarly, when one completes the study of a chapter or tractate of Talmud he immediately begins the subsequent chapter/tractate, symbolizing the never-ending mandate to continue striving for greatness.

In Shir Hashirim the verse states, “מה יפו פעמיך בנעלים בת נדיב – How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes, daughter of the beneficent one.”[5]

The gemara[6] expounds the verse, “’How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes’ – how beautiful are the feet of the Jews at the time that they ascend for the holiday[7]; ‘Daughter of the beneficent one’ – daughter (i.e. descendants) of our patriarch Avrohom who was termed ‘the beneficent one’.”

Rabbi Shimon Schwab questions the gemara’s explanation. The law is that one was not permitted to enter the Temple Mount while wearing shoes[8]. If so, how could the Jews be lauded for their beautiful footsteps in their shoes at the time of the pilgrimage, if they were not even allowed to wear their shoes when they arrived there[9]?

In the holiday Mussaf prayer we beseech G-d “Return the Priests to their Service, and the Levites to their song and instruments, and the Israelites[10]to their homes.” What is the meaning behind this prayer? Why do we ask that the nation return to their homes after asking for the Priests and Levites to return to their posts in the Temple?

Rabbi Schwab explains that the verse in Shir Hashirim is not referring to the actual pilgrimage at all. Rather, it refers to the nation’s returning home after the holiday is over. They had spent the holiday in the holy confines of the Temple witnessing the Priests exalted performance of the Service and hearing the melodious presentation of the song of the Levites. Now they were returning home full of inspiration and awe. It was that lofty feeling of spiritual bliss and exuberance that they felt as they departed which the verse lauds.

Any spiritual experience can not be allowed to conclude when the actual event is over. If that does happen then, in a sense, the fleeting experience was an exercise of profligacy. The most important aspect of the experience is how much of a lasting impression it leaves upon one’s soul.

After the conclusion of the inauguration feast after the completion of the construction of the first Bais Hamikdash the pasuk states “They returned to their tents happy and good-hearted.”[11] The defining factor of the greatness of the event was that they returned home still inspired and uplifted. The same was true in regards to the holiday pilgrimage. The true measure of the greatness and extent of any spiritual experience can only be determined in retrospect. The same is true in regards to the holiday pilgrimage. In what frame of mind did the masses leave? If they left in a state of joy then we can be confident that it was truly a spiritual experience[12].

This is the meaning behind the verse: ’How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes’. It refers to the appearance of the nation, when they put their shoes back on in order to take leave of the Temple at the conclusion of the holiday. The purpose of the entire experience was to foster a feeling of ascension and transformation when they would return to their homes. It is only post-facto that it becomes apparent just how magnificent and beautiful the pilgrimage is.

The seven weeks of nightly counting with a special blessing have concluded, and the holiday of Shavuos has passed. It would seem that the previous period is over and now we can move on and look forward to the summer. This is a mistaken notion. At this point the more difficult work begins, because now will be determined just how successful Shavuos and the previous weeks were. Our task is to take the growth of the previous weeks and make it part of our inner reality.

Shavuos celebrates our betrothal to G-d with Mount Sinai being our wedding canopy. Just as a bride enters the canopy she concludes her previous life to begin a more glorious and greater stage of her life, so must every Jew view his own process of growth.

Shavuos has ended, but in truth it has only begun!

“It was on the day when Moshe finished erecting the Tabernacle”

“How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes”

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[1] Celebration of the completion of the Talmud every seven and a half years

[2] Avodah Zara 17a

[3] In other words, Rabbi Moshe had learned the entire Talmud over two hundred and two times.

[4] Bamidbar7:1

[5] 7:2

[6] Chagiga 3a

[7] This refers to the tri-annual pilgrimage to Yerushalayim for the three major festivals.

[8] Berachos 64a

[9] It cannot be assumed that the verse refers to the journey itself because the whole point of the journey was to arrive there.

[10] i.e. non-Kohanim/Leviim

[11] Melachim I 8:66

[12] The same idea can be gleaned from the vernacular of the prayer recited on Yom Kippur. “True! How beautiful was the Kohain Gadol when he emerged from the Holy of Holies in peace and without any damage!” It was only when he left that the profundity of what he had accomplished became apparent.

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