Thursday, October 26, 2023

Parshas Lech Lecha 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha

12 MarCheshvan 5783/October 27, 2023


לז"ן זקנתי מרתי שפרינצע בת אברהם יצחק

This Musings is dedicated in memory of my beloved Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, whose yahrtzeit is 17 Cheshvan


When I think about my Bubby, Rebbetzin Fruma Kohn a”h, my mental image is of her reciting Tehillim. Until her last years, she would read the entire Tehillim every week. No doubt, I and my family have benefited tremendously from those repeated recitations.

Someone once presented the Chofetz Chaim with the Tehillim of his mother. The Chofetz Chaim caressed its pages and with tears in his eyes remarked, “Who knows how many tears my mother shed over this Tehillim that I be a faithful Jew.”


The gemara (Sanhedrin 92b) relates that when Nevuchadnezzar witnessed Michael, Chananyah, and Azariah emerge unscathed from the furnace he had them cast into, he was overwhelmed. At that moment, he began to recite beautiful words of praise to Hashem. His words were so magnificent that if an angel had not slapped him, his praises would have put to shame the praises and songs of Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim.

If Nevuchadnezzar uttered beautiful praises, why was it fair that he be silenced just because he was going to upend the praises of Tehillim?

The Kotzker Rebbe explained that the greatness of Tehillim is not due to its ornate prose and distinct vernacular. In that regard, it’s very possible that Nevuchadnezzar was more eloquent than Dovid Hamelech. The greatness of Tehillim and the reason Dovid is called, “sweet singer of Yisrael”, is because he never stopped calling out to and praising Hashem. Even during difficult times of persecution and challenge, and even when Dovid suffered personal adversity and national defeat, he never stopped calling out to Hashem.

The only way to measure whether Nevuchadnezzar’s praises were greater than Dovid’s would be by seeing what happened when Nevuchadnezzar received a slap. When Dovid suffered the “slaps of life” he never ceased calling out to Hashem. Therefore, the angel slapped Nevuchadnezzar to see how he would react. When that happened, he immediately stopped praising and he began blaspheming. That was a clear demonstration that the praises of Nevuchadnezzar didn’t compare to the praises of Dovid Hamelech. 


During the early 1970s, my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, directed the Orthodox Union’s kashrus department. On one occasion, he was aboard a small plane together with a shochet flying to inspect a slaughtering house. There was terrible turbulence, and the plane was shaking violently. Rabbi Wein admitted that even for a seasoned flyer as he was, it was unnerving. Still, he tried to appear calm so as not to make the shochet nervous. The shochet, who was holding on for dear life and feverishly reciting Tehillim looked at Rabbi Wein and quipped, “You know, even a rabbi can say Tehillim sometimes!”


Rav Shimshon Pincus explained the power of reciting Tehillim with a parable:

There was once a great and powerful king, who was beloved by his subjects for his benevolence and leadership. There was a high-ranking general in the king’s army with whom the king spent a great deal of time. Over time the king and the general developed a close-knit friendship. From security issues they began to discuss philosophical and theological matters. They sought each other’s advice and confided with each other, and their friendship deepened.

They began to meet every day, and no one was allowed to disturb them during that time.

One day the king was informed that a rebellion had broken out at the edge of his kingdom. Fearing that the rebellion could gain traction, the king needed someone he could trust to be absolutely loyal to him to immediately squash the rebellion. It was a painful decision, but the king realized there was no one better for the job than his beloved friend.

The general did not hesitate, and he and the king tearfully bid each other farewell. The general was able to crush the rebellion quickly, but he had to remain there to ensure that it would not erupt again.

As time passed, the king missed his friend terribly. Then one day a letter arrived in the mail from the general for the king. The king excitedly read the letter in which the general expressed how deeply he missed the king. The general wrote about how he thought of their daily meetings, and longed to see the king again.

Each week after that another letter arrived in the mail and reading them became the highlight of the king’s week. But then after a few months the letters stopped coming. At first the king thought a letter or two had gotten lost in the mail. But after a month, the king nervously sent a delegation to find out what had occurred.

The delegation returned looking somber. From the look on their faces the king understood that his dear friend had died. The king was crestfallen and inconsolable. He returned to his daily affairs, but everyone around him could see that he was not himself.

A few days later, one of the king’s ministers approached his majesty clutching a box. He explained to the king that the box contained all of the 150 letters the general had sent him. The minister asked the king’s permission for him to read one of the letters. The king agreed. As the minister passionately read the letter, eliciting the emotions from within its words, tears streaked down the king’s face. It evoked deep nostalgia from within him. At the same time, it gave the king a measure of comfort enabling him to again feel the deep connection with his late friend.

Each week afterwards the minister would again return to read another one of the 150 letters.

Hashem had a dear friend, as it were. Dovid Hamelech was unyieldingly devoted to Hashem throughout his difficult life. Dovid constantly spoke about yearning to be close to Hashem and feeling His presence.

When Dovid left this world, no one could ever fill his shoes and relate the praises of Hashem in the same passionate manner. But Dovid left behind 150 “letters”; the 150 chapters of Tehillim.

We begin pesukei d’zimrah each morning by declaring, “With the songs of Dovid Hamelech we will praise you”. In addition, there is a beautiful tefillah customarily said before reciting Tehillim in which we ask that Hashem, “turn mercifully towards the words of Tehillim that I will read, (and consider them) as if Dovid Hamelech, peace upon him, himself uttered them…” When we recite chapters of Tehillim we are not only reciting the words of Dovid Hamelech, but we are also hoping that in heaven Hashem hears the words we utter as if/when Dovid himself recited them. 


There is an old Jewish joke about a Jew running away in despair from a potentially disastrous occurrence shouting: "We can no longer rely on miracles. Therefore, let us now begin to recite Tehillim!" The truth however is that Jews see the recitation of Tehillim as a natural reaction to a troubled time and not only as an appeal for miracles. 

The timeless words of Tehillim symbolize that no matter what the situation, one can and must always look to Hashem for guidance and salvation. The words of Tehillim reverberated joyously in the Beis Hamikdash. They were recited tearfully by our ancestors during times of persecution and pain. They are recited during times of joy and times of challenge. There is no emotion in the world not expressed in the timeless words of Dovid Hamelech. We find expression of our innermost hopes, longings and prayers. They grant us solace, hope and comfort as no other words ever written can. And it is with the words of Tehillim that we will greet Moshiach very soon.    


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum