Thursday, July 21, 2016

PARSHAS BALAK 5776

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak  
Pirkei Avos perek 6
16 Tamuz 5776/ July 22, 2016

A number of years ago I had a wound on my upper right arm, and when it healed there grew a large bump in its place. My dermatologist sent me to a plastic surgeon to have it removed so that nothing should come of it. After the surgery there remained a noticeable scar from the stitches.
Every summer when I go swimming, a few campers ask me about the scar on my upper arm.  I always reply curtly: “Vietnam”. Inevitably the camper’s eyes open wide, before they ask me a follow up question. Years ago they would ask if I was even old enough to have been a soldier during Vietnam. I would laugh and reply that indeed America was out of Vietnam a few years before I was born. As time went by, I guess I started to look older, and instead of asking if I was around during Vietnam, they asked if I really was ever a soldier in the Armed Forces. This year when I told a camper that the scar was from Vietnam, he looked at me quizzically and asked “What’s Vietnam?”
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, has dedicated tremendous time and effort to present Jewish History from a Torah vantage point. He often espouses that in order to properly understand life and how Hashem speaks to us through world events, we need to have a framework to understand where we are coming from. The myriad lessons of history must be analyzed, studied, and gleaned from our long, glorious, and yet very painful history. 
Rabbi Wein notes that although there were numerous radical and incredible events that transpired during the twentieth century, there were two events which overshadowed all else. Those events had an unimaginable and incalculable effect on the Jewish People. They are the Holocaust and the formation of the State of Israel. Because of the enormity of the impact of those two events, they cannot be downplayed or ignored. We cannot pretend that they didn’t just happen. Nor can we try to deal with the challenges of the present if we do not have a framework to understand those past watershed events from a Torah perspective.  
In recent years, Torah Umesorah, the umbrella organization dedicated to enhancing education of all Torah institutions in America, has invested great effort to present Orthodox Jewry with resources which present and teach the Torah’s viewpoint about the horrific events of the Holocaust. There is a plethora of books, videos, and presentations available about this most difficult and painful time in our history.
Regarding the second watermark event however - the formation and growth of the state of Israel - there is still a dearth about proper perspective and understanding in many of our yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs.
The purpose of this article is not at all to present any opinion about how it should be taught and with what perpsective. That will very much depend on one’s personal hashkafos. However, it is critical that the issues be addressed and put into a framework so they can be understood. Hashem orchestrated an uncanny and unimaginable chain of events beginning with the formation of the state, the victories in all of the Arab-Israeli wars, the recapturing of Yerushalayim in 1967, the Entebbe raid, the miracles during Saddam Hussein’s firing 39 scud missiles during the early 90s, etc. etc., up to and including the daily miraculous survival of Eretz Yisroel among hostile pugnacious neighbors.
The Jewish people bear many scars. We have survived despite them all and will continue to do so. But we must understand each and every scar, because each has a story to tell - a story which is an intricate and vital component of our identity and destiny.
When we no longer know what those scars represent because we no longer even know what Vietnam is, then we have cut ourselves off from understanding what G-d expects of us and what our responsibilities are as a people.  

 Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

      R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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