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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshios Matos-Mazei 5777 "Labor of Love"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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7/20/17

STAM TORAH

PARSHIOS MATOS-MASEI 5777

LABOR OF LOVE

Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, the beloved Mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim in Queens, was for many years the ‘spiritual guide’ here in Camp Dora Golding. Rabbi Finkleman nostalgically related that when he was a teenage bochur he was privileged to have a connection with the previous Skolya Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Yitzchok Isaac Rabinowitz zt’l[1].

Rabbi Finkelman explained that his maternal grandfather, Mr. Moshe Hilsenrath a’’h, was one of the Rebbe’s attendants in Europe prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. [In fact, his grandfather would accompany the Rebbe to the mikvah each morning while they were under Nazi occupation. Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather had been a German government worker until the Nazis took over the government. With his blue eyes, blond hair, and government uniform, when Nazis saw him accompanying the Rabbiner each morning, they assumed he was taking him into custody. Incredibly for over a year, he would often accompany the Skolya Rebbe to the mikvah unhindered each of those mornings, right under the noses of the Nazis.]

When the war broke out and the Nazis began their nefarious campaign to destroy Jewry, they primarily targeted the rabbis. The Nazis reasoned that if they destroyed the Jewish leadership it would be far easier to break the resolve of the masses. Because of that the Skolya Rebbe was compelled to remain in hiding for two years.

After more than a year under Nazi occupation, Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather was somehow able to procure a visa that would allow his family to emigrate to America. He presented the visa to the Rebbe, urging him to escape. Knowing the added danger he personally faced, the Rebbe accepted the gift for himself and his family. He also blessed Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather that the entire Hilsenrath family (wife and five children) would meet again in America.

Rabbi Finkelman related that when his grandmother recounted the story to him she said, “When the Rebbe gave us that blessing, your grandfather already pictured himself in America reunited with the Rebbe. But I wasn’t as convinced, and I accepted upon myself to die in Europe for the sake of the Rebbe.”

Through a series of miracles, the Rebbe and the Finkelman family were indeed reunited in America, albeit with only four of the five children. But the Rebbe was adamant. “I told you we would ALL be reunited, and with G-d’s help that will yet occur.” It later emerged that the fifth son had joined the British army. While with the army, he was sent to Palestine to help maintain order with the Israeli-Arab tensions. As soon as he could he deserted the British army and joined the Irgun to fight for his brethren rather than against them. Eventually the Rebbe’s blessing was indeed fulfilled and the entire family was reunited.

Rabbi Finkelman related that at the end of the Skolya Rebbe’s life (he died when he was eighty), he was very frail. He was a holy person, who for many a year never slept in a bed, but would fall asleep in midst of his learning, despite his fragile health. He possessed an uncanny level of devotion and love for Torah, and the Torah lectures he would relate were often lengthy, mystical, and deep[2].

On one occasion Rabbi Finkelman, then a seventeen-year-old teen, convinced a ‘non-chassidic’ friend of his to accompany him to the Skolya Rebbe’s Shalosh Seudos tish[3]. After the Rebbe concluded his discourse, the two young men obtained permission to be present when the Rebbe recited havdalah[4].

When the Rebbe concluded havdalah the two seventeen-year-old boys had an opportunity to ask the Rebbe for a blessing. Rabbi Finkelman’s friend requested a blessing to have a chayshek (intense desire) for Torah study. When the Rebbe heard the request he smiled and replied, “Some people request a blessing for livelihood, so we give them a blessing for livelihood. Some people request a blessing for health, so we give a blessing for health. But Torah is the greatest gift that we possess in this world. One cannot acquire proficiency or erudition in Torah from a blessing. That would be tantamount to selling it cheaply. The only way to love Torah and feel connected to Torah is to learn, even without a feeling of connection and devotion. If one pushes and goads himself to learn even without a desire to do so, he can be assured that eventually G-d will bless him that he will indeed eventually obtain a chayshek and love for learning.

After an arduous forty years traveling through the desert, Klal Yisroel was finally camped on the threshold of the Promised Land. It was at that time that the tribes of Gad and Reuven became concerned that their portion in the land would be insufficient for all of their possessions. “The Children of Gad and the children of Reuven had abundant livestock – very great…They said (to Moshe), “If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan”.”

When Moshe heard their request he was very distressed. He perceived it as a means of exorcising themselves from the need to fight the Canaanites alongside the rest of the nation. The Nesi’im (Princes) of Gad and Reuven quickly clarified that that was not at all their intention. “They approached him (Moshe) and said, ‘Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children. We shall arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Israel… We shall not return to our homes until the Children of Israel will have inherited…”

Rashi quotes the Medrash which notes an acerbic critique of the character of the tribes of Gad and Reuven. “They were more concerned about their money than their children, because they mentioned their cattle before their children. Moshe replied to them, ‘Not so! Make your primary secondary and your secondary primary. First build cities for your children, and afterwards pens for your flock’.”

Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l[5] asks how it was possible that the tribes of Gad and Reuven, distinguished members of the generation who were privy to all the miracles of the desert, could have prioritized their money over their children?

Rabbi Leibowitz explained that we must conclude that originally those righteous people indeed prioritized their children far above all else. Their primary focus and desire was to raise their children as righteous G-d fearing Jews. However, to raise children one requires money and resources. As the Mishna[6] states, “If there is no flour there is no Torah”. Therefore, in order to have sustenance with which to provide their families, the tribes of Gad and Reuven raised cattle and invested much time and effort into their properties.

As time passed, without realizing it, they began to become more passionate and more connected to their resources and money. Because of their relentless involvement in their pursuit for resources (which they only invested in so that they could provide for their children) eventually they unwittingly and unknowingly began to prioritize their money even more than their children.

One must realize just how influenced he is through his actions. Whenever one invests in something there is an invariable bond and passion created for that thing, even if one claims not to have any level of added connection.

This idea is very poignant and applicable. Anyone who spends much of his/her day involved in the pursuit of earning a livelihood must realize that by our very nature we become inextricably connected to what we invest in. If the great leaders of the tribes of Gad and Reuven were able to lose a certain measure of their sense of priorities, we surely have to be wary of our own sense of priorities. Undoubtedly most people will assert that their children and families are their priority. However, a rational person who wants to truly be candid with himself must constantly reckon whether he has lost focus of his true priorities. Has his investment in his livelihood blindsided him from what is truly important?

At the same time, one must realize the sense of connection and passion one can foster through investment. In regard to spiritual pursuits and Torah learning, the way to appreciate the sweetness of Torah and love of performing mitzvos, is by investing in them.

To paraphrase the timeless words of Winston Churchill, if we want to love serving G-d, “We have nothing more to offer than blood, tears, toil, and sweat.” The more the investment, the more we will appreciate its timeless greatness.

“If there is no flour there is no Torah”

“First build cities for your children, and afterwards pens for your flock”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] I thank the Mashgiach for reviewing this text.

[2] Rabbi Finkelman related that when he would take leave of the Rebbe on weeknights after such lectures, the Rebbe would ask him if he taped it, noting that he should listen to it a few times before he would be able to comprehend the full depth of.

[3] Shalosh Seudos, the third and final meal eaten on Shabbos, is a very holy and unique meal, especially in the courts of the Chassidic Maters. The word tish, which literally means table, refers to the Rebbe’s public meal eaten with his Chassidim. The Rebbe often relates deep and penetrating insights based on the weekly Torah portion.

[4] The Rebbe’s havdalah was a sight to see, as the Rebbe had many interesting customs, based on kabbalah.

[5] Chiddushei Halev

[6] Avos 3:21



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