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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Achrei/Mos Kedoshim 5777 "Ready for War"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[1] related:

“When I was an eighth grade rebbe I found out that one of my students was bringing comic books to yeshiva. Then one day he brought in a catalogue of comic books. As a rule, superheroes are not dressed modestly, so I took the catalogue away. I told the boy “I'm not a thief and I have no interest in holding onto your stuff. But I want your parents to be aware of what you are looking at. If one of your parents comes in to meet with me I'll give it back to them.”

“The next day the mother came in and told me that her son only sells the comics as a hobby. But he isn't interested in the pictures. I replied to her, "Mrs. X, is your son a normal healthy thirteen-year-old? If he is, then he is looking at the pictures. It's the result of a yetzer hara that Hashem placed within us."

“The next day the father came in and wanted to speak with me immediately. Although it was while I was teaching my class, the Menahel was willing to cover the class and the father and I went to speak privately in the Menahel's office.

“The father began, “Rabbi Finkelman, you are an extreme Jew. But our family is middle-of-the-road Jews. For my son those books are okay.”

“I replied, "I would like to qualify and explain your statement. It's true that I am an extreme Jew. I choose to wear a hat for davening, although if one looks in the Mishna Berura it's not an absolute obligation in our time.[2] In addition, I only eat Cholov Yisroel and pas Yisroel, but there are reliable poskim who state unequivocally that there is room for leniency.

“You choose to be a middle-of-the-road Jew who doesn't keep the same stringencies as I do, and that's perfectly fine. In fact, it's very possible that Hashem has more nachas from your observance than mine. Perhaps your prayers are considered more potent and precious in heaven than mine.

“But one thing I do know, and that is that both you and I recite kerias shema twice a day. In it we state “And do not stray after your heart and after your eyes.”

“In regard to that prohibition you and I are equally obligated. The Shulchan Aruch has very clear guidelines about the laws of modesty, and those laws apply to all of us equally.”

“I guess the father was unsure what to say, because after I concluded my response, he simply stood up and walked out.

“Six months later the mother called me on the phone crying hysterically. "You were right! You were right! I found magazines in his knapsack. He is looking at those things. I also found a notebook full of lewd and disgusting poetry that he is composing. What can I do?”

“I calmed her down and explained that he isn't the one who composed that lewd poetry. It's the brilliant, yet filthy, artistic lyrics of the songs he listens to on his headphones.

“We discussed the matter and tried to figure out what we could do to help her son.”

Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[3] noted that every person is obligated to fight evil. However, one must realize the great danger that exists in doing so, because it entails confronting those forces, which presents spiritual danger.

The Ba’alei Mussar would warn that “a Mashgiach must not make himself into a broom.” In other words, while seeking to ‘sweep out’ negative forces and ideologies, one must be careful not to absorb bits of what he is trying to dispose of, much like a broom becomes dirtied from the dust it is clearing.

On Yom Kippur, one of the significant services of the day, was sending off the goat for Azazel. “Aharon shall lean his two hands upon the head of the living he-goat and confess upon it… and send it with a designated person into the desert.”[4]

The concept of azazel, which symbolizes the removal of sins, contains important ideas about how one must fight evil. Firstly, the azazel was entrusted to a pre-designated individual. One did not lead the azazel blindly or spontaneously. He prepared himself for the challenge, physically and mentally, and understood his role was before he was assigned to it.

More profoundly, as the designated man led the azazel into the desert, there were pre-arranged, specified rest stops, and someone would accompany him for one rest stop to the next.

The symbolic lesson is that one should never seek to ‘go it alone’. To fight evil, one must be connected to a strong and encouraging leader or circle of positive friends, from whom he can constantly draw encouragement and spiritual support.

Rav Pinkus concludes that one must always bear in mind that although fighting sin and impurity is important, one’s own life – physical and spiritual – takes precedence. One must always ensure that he is ready and geared up for war before heading into battle.

The Torah states[5] that because when Yaakov Avinu struggled with the malach of Eisav, his gid hanashe became dislocated, “Therefore, the B’nai Yisroel do not eat the gid hanashe.”

If a person’s thigh is injured in a fight, should his descendants never eat the thigh of the chicken? Why should the descendants of Yaakov not eat gid hanashe because that’s where Yaakov was injured during his struggle with the malach of Eisav? What did they do wrong?

The reason the malach confronted Yaakov at that particular time, was because Yaakov was most vulnerable since he was alone. The question against Yaakov’s children is how they allowed that to happen? How did they allow their father to cross the river at night all alone? That is why they maintain a certain degree of culpability for Yaakov’s injury, and that’s why they do not partake in the gid hanashe.

The prohibition of eating gid hanashe serves as a reminder that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that a Jew is never left alone, especially in regard to his personal struggles against the Yetzer Hara, (symbolized by the malach of Eisav)[6].

In Parshas Vayeira, the Torah records that Sarah realized Yishmoel was being a negative influence on Yitzchak. She was adamant that Avrohom banish Yishmoel from their home. Avrohom however, was hesitant, until Hashem instructed him “all that Sarah has said to you, listen in her voice.”

Why was Avrohom hesitant? Did he not realize that Yishmael was a negative influence on Yitzchak?

Rav Aharon Kotler zt’l[7] explained that Avrohom reasoned that Yitzchok wasn’t being influenced by Yishamel, because every time Yishmael acted inappropriately or unbecomingly, Yitzchok was careful to distance himself from Yishamel. Therefore, Avrohom felt it was unnecessary to actually banish Yishmael from his home which was his only chance at doing teshuva.

Sarah replied that, while it may be true that Yitzchak will not be influenced by Yishamel, that is only because Yitzchok is so vigilant and careful to ensure that he not be influenced. But all the energy that Yitzchak was utilizing to distance himself from Yishamel he wasn’t able to use to grow in a positive manner.

Hashem told Avrohom “Listen to her voice”. Do not allow Yitzchak to drain energy that he could be using for good to be fighting bad!

In the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim, the Torah commands, “You shall be holy”. One would think that holiness entails performing “holy acts” and that the more good deeds one does, and the more holy behaviors one adopts, the holier he becomes. Surprisingly however, Rashi explains otherwise. Rashi defines holiness as separating oneself from immorality.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l[8] explained that just prior to getting married under a chupah, a very unusual beracha is recited, thanking G-d “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us about the laws of forbidden relationships.” In general, we do not recite a beracha thanking G-d for something which is forbidden, and therefore accomplished passively. Why do we do so just prior to a marriage, in regard to the laws of morality?

Rabbi Schwab explains that maintaining a distance from immorality is unlike abstaining from eating forbidden foods or wearing forbidden clothing. The desire for immorality is so prevalent and alluring, that abstaining from it is as great as physically performing a mitzvah. When one overcomes the yester hara for immorality, it is analogous to performing a holy act.

The Steipler Gaon wrote letters of chizuk for those struggling with morality issues, and controlling their eyes. He expressed a similar idea:

If one is successful in learning he feels uplifted, and that motivates him to learn more. However, when somebody avoids temptation he doesn’t feel particularly holy. He thinks that all he did is what he is obligated to do. However, he should realize that whenever he distances himself from immorality it is considered a holy act, and is viewed as heroic in the heavenly courts. That knowledge alone can be a great source of chizuk to someone to maintain the struggle.[9]

It's all part of the endless struggle to be holy in an often unholy world. To be successful we have to be vigilant and plan accordingly, with constant guidance and chizuk.

“Therefore, the B’nai Yisroel do not eat the gid hanashe.”

“Aharon shall send it with a designated person into the desert”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] Mashgiach, Ohr Hachaim, Queens, NY, and a personal rebbe

[2] Mishna Berura states that one must dress for davening as he would when he visits a gadol. In our time, there are people who will visit Gedolei Yisroel without a hat on.

[3] Tiferes Torah

[4] Vayikra 16:21

[5] Parshas Vayishlach (Bereishis 32:33)

[6] Heard from Rabbi Leible Chaitovsky

[7] Mishnas Rav Aharon

[8] Me’in Bais Hashoeivah

[9] I would venture to assume that the same ca be said for a woman who struggles to maintain the laws of modesty.

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