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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Lech Le'cha 5777 "The Road Home"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt’l, the legendary founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, related[1]: “Years ago my father taught me the Mishna in Avos which states, “In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man.” In 1966 I opened a yeshiva for kiruv. People would point at me and say, ‘There goes Noach the crack pot, the meshuganah. He thinks he can teach Torah to secular Jews. At that time the concept was so foreign.

“Before I opened the yeshiva I went to speak with Rabbi Lazer Yudel Finkel zt’l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. It was common courtesy to ask his permission to start a new yeshiva in Yerushalayim. When he asked me what I wanted to accomplish, I explained that I wanted to teach chilonim (secular Jews) the beauty of Torah. We had a lively debate with him explaining why they would never be interested and me countering with arguments of how it could be accomplished. Finally he said, “I understand what you want to do. You want to make a factory that produces Baa’lei Teshuva. Du bist meshiguh givurin[2]!” I replied, “Rebbe, the Torah states, “Torah tzeevah lanu Moshe miorasha kehillas Ya’akov – The Torah was commanded to us by Moshe; an inheritance to the congregation of Ya’akov.” On that verse the gemara states, “Don’t read it miorasha (an inheritance) but miorasa (betrothed).” If I introduce a secular Jew to his fiancé will he walk away from me?”

“He looked at me and said, “If you really believe that, you’ll succeed”.”

“G-d said to Avram, ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you… Avram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their wealth that they had amassed, and the souls they made in Charan…”

Rashi explains that “the souls they made in Charan” refers to their many disciples whom they had converted to faith in G-d. Avrohom converted the men and Sarah converted the women.

The sefer Cheshbon Hanefesh writes that Avrohom is analogous to the Acadia tree. The Acadia has many branches that grow in all directions, those branches keep growing until they reach the ground. Those branches then root themselves in the ground and become offshoots of the original tree. Thus from one Acadia tree a whole forest can eventually grow. So too, Avrohom (as well as Yitzchok and Yaakov) were like the original sources from which branched new wellsprings of faith, that in turn were able to develop students of their own.

In a similar vein Ramchal[3] writes that it’s incumbent upon every person to constantly contemplate what the Patriarchs accomplished, and what it is that G-d desired about them. It is man’s responsibility to live for others, to assist those in his surrounding, and to be a source of blessing.

Rabbi Moshe Scheinerman[4] notes that at the beginning of the parsha there is repeated mention of the word “nefesh – souls” in regards to Avrohom. “In parshas Noach the masses were referred to as “basar – flesh”[5]. Due to their inferior character traits and crass unethical behavior they did not achieve a nobler encomium than flesh, which conceals their blood and limbs. That was the generation which ultimately was destroyed in the flood. But Avrohom and Sarah understood and valued the individual greatness of every person. They saw each person as a noble soul with tremendous ability and potential. It was that perspective which drew so many close to them, and enabled them to teach so many about the truth of G-d. Avorhom’s influence was so profound that when the wicked King of Sodom came to bargain with him even he referred to his subjects in that fashion, “Give me the souls and take the possession for yourself[6].”

However, at times we feel that we are not worthy to teach others. We feel that it is not becoming for people like ourselves to assert ourselves to teach others when we have not perfected ourselves. After all, does the gemara not say, “Adorn yourself and then adorn others”?

At one of the first meetings of the newly formed Agudas Yisroel organization, the elderly Chofetz Chaim addressed the assemblage about every person’s obligation to teach others, to his family, in his city, and in his community. Every person must give of himself with whatever talent and ability he possesses.

Later during the afternoon, the Chofetz Chaim surprisingly requested to speak again. He explained that during the break he was told that people were commenting that his words were directed at the rabbis and others scholars who have the ability to influence and teach others. But the majority of people cannot teach others before they have perfected themselves. To counter that argument the Chofetz Chaim related the following parable:

There were a simple Jew named Mushka who was appointed to oversee all of the houses and fields that belonged to the Poritz. On one occasion the Poritz came to visit Mushka and Mushka served him a glass of tea. The Poritz noticed that half the cup was filled with tea while the rest was filled with sand.

The Poritz shouted at the Jew full of rage, “What is this? How dare you serve me a glass of tea that has sand in it?” Mushka sighed, “What can I do your honor? That is how the water flows from the pipes in our city.” “Perhaps”, replied the Poritz, “but you still can purify the water by straining the sand.” Mushka promised to do so in the future and the Poritz bid him farewell.

Sometime later, the Poritz heard that a massive fire had broken out in his city, and no one was putting it out. The Poritz immediately raced to the city to investigate. He headed straight to Mushka’s home where he found him straining buckets full of water. “You fool!” roared the Poritz, “When you are drinking tea the water must be pure. But to put out a fire you grab any water you can and try to douse the flames as quickly as possible.”

The Chofetz Chaim explained that there was indeed a time when the community was holy and only the greatest scholars and most righteous people could teach and influence others. But sadly, in our time there are spiritual fires raging in the street. We cannot wait until the water is pure and unsullied. We must grab whatever water we have and use it to douse the flame. Every Jew, on whatever level he/she is on, has to use his own capabilities to help extinguish the evil flames that burn all around us.

Rabbi Weinberg concluded the interview with these words:

“We cannot fail; the Almighty is with us. We have a Torah that is beautiful beyond compare. We just have to present it the right away. We have a people who are thirsty for meaning, for truth, who are idealists in every way… they want truth and meaning. We have to do our job. We cannot fail if we do our effort.

I pray[7], “Almighty I know You care about this more than I do, and I know You want me to succeed. I know that if You help me we can change the whole world. I know You want to help me, and I know I just have to want it enough. Please help me, help me to want it, to feel this pain the way You feel it. So that you can help me do it!””

“The souls they made in Charan”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] The quotes from Rabbi Weinberg are taken from interviews on the video “Inspired Too”

[2] “You’re crazy!”

[3] Derech Eitz Chaim

[4] Ohel Moshe

[5] e.g. (6:12) “for all flesh had become corrupt”

[6] 14:21

[7] In response to the question, “When you pray to G-d, what do you say to G-d?”

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