Thursday, November 16, 2017

PARSHAS TOLDOS 5778

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos  
28 Cheshvan 5778/November 17, 2017
Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev

It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting days of my pre-married life.
In 2000, I was one of the older bochurim in the Bais Medrash program of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah. At one point during that winter, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Wolmark, and many of the Rabbeim went to Eretz Yisroel, each for a different reason. So, I and two friends in yeshiva decided that we didn’t want to be left out. It was shortly after the resurgence of the second intifada, and plane tickets and hotels were relatively cheap. We booked a room in the King Solomon Hotel in Yerushalayim, and headed to Eretz Yisroel for a week.
One of the days we were there, Rabbi Wolmark was visiting a few Gedolei Yisroel, and graciously invited us to join him. We met at the home of Chacham Ovadia Yosef zt’l in Har Nof. Rabbi Wolmark was already there with my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz, and they were speaking in learning. We were enamored by the large room, filled wall to wall, and floor to ceiling, with sefarim. It is said that Rav Ovadia knew where every sefer was, and used them all. Before we left, Rav Ovadia gave each of us his characteristic loving gentle slap on the cheek, and a blessing.
From there, we packed into a small rental car for the hour-long drive to B’nei Brak. That afternoon, we had the privilege of visiting and receiving blessings from Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman shlita, and Rav Michel Lefkowitz zt’l.
When we arrived back in Yerushalayim that evening, I was still trying to process that in one day I had met four of the foremost Torah leaders of our time.
What struck me also was the fact that in the presence of Gedolei Yisroel, my rebbe was also a talmid. I still have the mental image of Rav Ovadia giving my rebbe the same loving slap on the cheek that he gave me. In front of Rav Ovadia we were both students. Being there with my rabbeim, was analogous to a father and son going to visit the saintly grandfather.
One of the distinctions of Gedolei Yisroel is their ability to relate to all Jews on their level. Tens, if not hundreds, of Jews from all walks of life, seek their blessing and guidance every day, and walk away feeling rejuvenated and invigorated.
Each Gadol also has his own approach and personality. When we visited Rav Michel Lefkowitz zt’l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh l’tzirim, he made us feel so welcomed. His uncanny warmth and shining countenance made us feel perfectly comfortable sitting next to him. When we stood in the presence of Rav Chaim and Rav Aharon Leib, it was with a sense of reverence and awe.
Our culture doesn’t only enjoy its sports icons and celebrities, it worships and idolizes them. Our children don’t want to just play ball like the best athletes, they want to be just like them.
We are deeply influenced by who we consider our heroes. We need to be able to explain to our children the difference between wanting to be as athletic and to play like the pros, versus wanting to be just like them in other facets of life.
It goes back to the question of what defines a hero? Is a hero someone who can accomplish physical feats that others cannot, and has therefore achieved accolades and stardom, or is a hero someone who lives his/her life for others, sacrificing personal comfort for the sake and well-being of others?
I always cherish the day that I had the opportunity to meet four real heroes, together with a couple of my rabbeim, who are also my personal heroes. People who live life always thinking about Hashem and His people. Those are people truly wish emulating.
I am sending out this essay on 27 MarChesvan, the yahrtzeit of my Zaydei, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn z’l. It’s amazing that it’s been thirty years, and it’s amazing that he remains, and iy’H always will remain, of my foremost inspirations and role models in life. Aside from being a talmid chochom of note, based on his smile and ever-present warmth and good-natured personality, one would think he lived the happiest life and had the most comfortable youth. The truth however, was vastly different. He was orphaned and alone in his teen years, after the Nazis barbarically murdered his parents, particularly his saintly father who was the Rav of his town.
My Zaydei raised money for the young, burgeoning Bais Medrash Govoha of Lakewood in its formative years, and for Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Yerushalayim. He was the Rav of the famed Slonimer shul on the Lower East Side for over two decades. He had an uncanny ability to connect with everyone, and he was an example of one who gave of himself for others.
But personally, he was, and is, my Zaydei and a perpetual inspiration. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

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