Thursday, October 12, 2023

Parshas Beraishis 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bereishis

Mevorchim Chodesh Cheshvan

21 Tishrei 5783/October 13, 2023


I don’t remember the last time I was able to so relate to a powerful story I heard, in a manner I never could have imagined.

I was asked to share divrei Torah in my neighborhood Shul before hakafos on Simchas Torah evening.

As I was walking to the bimah to begin speaking, I was told that we would be saying Tehillim first. At the time I had no idea why.

The wife of one of the Shul’s board members is a Physician’s Assistant and keeps her phone on in case she is called with a medical emergency. On Shmini Atzeres afternoon, her phone had been buzzing incessantly. Although they couldn’t see anything more than flashing headlines, it was enough for them to realize that there was a serious terrorist attack in Eretz Yisroel. After we said Tehillim, he informed me of the developments.

With two of our children in Yerushalayim, it was quite unnerving to say the least. We also have many family members living in various communities throughout the country, and many students and friends in various yeshivos there. That’s aside for the fact that, like every Jew, my heart is with Klal Yisroel, particularly in Eretz Yisroel.

As I stood by the bimah and the assemblage waited for me to begin speaking, I had a strong urge to apologize and say that I was unable to proceed. But I knew that would be demoralizing and disheartening. So instead, I said a silent prayer asking Hashem for the strength and guidance to say the right thing.

I also thought about the story I had heard a day earlier.

As I have done the last few years, during Chol Hamoed Succos, I had the great zechus to facilitate a beautiful learning program called Greater Adventure. Each Chol Hamoed morning, after a 45-minute learning session, we heard divrei chizuk from an esteemed Rav in our community. That was followed by an exciting raffle with many great prizes.

On Hoshanah Rabbah morning, the grand finale, our speaker was Rabbi Daniel Coren, a noted lecturer in the Monsey community (who also has many shiurim posted on Torahanytime). He related the following story:

“About thirty years ago I was the mashgiach in a Jewish owned old-age home in Riverdale.

“One year on Simchas Torah I was together with ten elderly men in wheelchairs from the home, helping facilitate hakafos “dancing”. They took turns holding a Sefer of Nevi’im (used to read haftorah) because it’s smaller and lighter than a Sefer Torah.

“One of the residents, Mendel Steinberg, was an Auschwitz survivor. At one point during the dancing, Mendel shared a recollection from his days in Auschwitz. “One miserable day, they were sitting together in the barracks, when suddenly one of their fellow inmates got up and started dancing. They looked at him like he fell off the moon, but he told them that it was Simchas Torah. When they retorted that even on Simchas Torah, one cannot dance in Auschwitz, he ignored their rationalizations and continued dancing. “Eventually, people started joining in, until a large circle had formed. They sang together the famous niggun to the words, “Utzu eitzah v’sufar dabru davar v’lo yakum ki imanu e-l - They (our enemies) make plans that are annulled, they speak words that never come to fruition, because G-d is with us.”[1]

“The Nazi guards heard the spirited singing and burst in. But when they saw what was happening, they didn’t know what to make of the inmates’ unbreakable devotion and they turned around and left. Mendel said it was the most emotional Simchas Torah he ever had.

“My friend, Rav Shmuel Stauber z”l, worked with me at that old aged home. After I was no longer employed in that nursing home, Rabbi Stauber related to me that when he was informed that Mendel was very ill he went to visit him. When he arrived at Mendel’s room, the attending nurse told him that Mendel was in a coma, and it was clear that he didn’t have much time left. It was a waste of time to even visit.

“Despite her words, Rabbi Stauber walked over to Mendel, leaned close to Mendel’s ear and began to sing, “Utzu eitzah v’sufar dabru davar v’lo yakum ki imanu e-l”. As he sang, Rabbi Stauber saw a tear trickle down Mendel’s cheek. Mendel passed away a few minutes later.

“I often think about Mendel on Simchas Torah and that helps me dance more enthusiastically.”

Rabbi Coren concluded by quoting the Satmar Rebbe who noted that the word rikud - dance has the same letters as the word meraked - to sift (one of the 39 forbidden melachos on Shabbos). When one dances with energy and excitement, he sifts negativity from within himself. By exuberantly demonstrating his desire for spiritual connection and growth he breaks through spiritual blockages within himself.

As I stood at the bimah on Simchas Torah, I was encouraged by the thought of a Mendel’s fellow inmate in Auschwitz dancing despite his surroundings.

After I proceeded to share some thoughts about the significance of Simchas Torah, I noted that we were about to dance for the honor of Hashem and His Torah. Therefore, it was incumbent upon us to display joy, even if we weren’t feeling it.

Like many others, this past Simchas Torah was by far the most difficult Simchas Torah of my life. But I tried to bear my own words in mind, and I continued to dance in the circle. I ignored the deep pit in my stomach and pushed myself to keep dancing, knowing it was a zechus for Klal Yisroel, particularly at that time. We don’t dance for our own gratification, but for the honor of the heart and soul of our people.

During our hakafos on Simchas Torah we made sure to sing Utzu eitzah as well.

Mendel’s message, eloquently shared by Rabbi Coren, must resound loudly in our ears and souls. Our enemies hurt us terribly and caused us untold anguish and pain. Yet, we know we will ultimately prevail, “Ki imanu e-l - For G-d is with us.”

        May Hashem comfort Klal Yisroel. May all our captives and soldiers return home in peace and serenity and may we merit great salvations for our holy people.  

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum