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January 31, 2015 / 11 Shevat, 5775
 
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Parshas VaEschanan: ‘Wholeheartedly’

Harav Matisyahu Salomon, the Lakewood Mashgiach, once  related the following personal story:

“When I was a young man I was a student in the Gateshead Yeshiva. The yeshiva had a 125 students – not large quantitatively, but qualitatively tremendous. The building was fairly small and the tables were so narrow that the volumes of Gemara overlapped each other. If a student wanted to turn the page he had to ask everyone around him to lift their Gemaras first. Yet despite it all we studied with tremendous diligence.

“One day a Dayan from London came to visit the yeshiva. Adressing the student body he read to us a page from an American journal.

“The article was written by an obviously irreligious Jew, albeit who possessed an appreciation for Jewish history. The author explained that, along with a group of journalists, he was invited on a European tour. When they arrived in England one of the places they visited was a village in Northeast England called Wallsend.

“Wallsend is an ancient village that dates back almost two millennia. When the Romans invaded and conquered England they constructed a wall to serve as a barrier to keep the mighty Scottish Picks out of England. They named it Hadrian’s Wall after the Roman Emperor. The village where the wall ended was aptly called Wallsend. Today there is nothing left of the wall except for a few moss-covered stones in the village of Wallsend. It is nothing more than a tourist attraction.

“The day the journalist arrived at Wallsend he recalled that he had yahrtzeit for his mother and he wanted to recite kaddish in her memory. When he asked the tour guide if there were any Jewish Services in the area, the guide replied that there was a school in the village of Gateshead ten miles away.

“The journalist arrived at the yeshiva in the middle of the afternoon. He had never been in a yeshiva before and the sight that greeted him was extraordinary. There were tens of young men huddled together on small benches studying, debating, and arguing with passion and vibrancy. The journalist did not comprehend anything they were saying, but he stood and watched spellbound. But then he overheard something which caught his attention. One student called out to his friend, ‘But Rabi Akiva says…!’ Those words reverberated in his ears.

“Even after they destroyed the Bais Hamikdash, the Romans understood that their job was incomplete. In order to destroy the Jewish People, they had to stop the public study and teaching of Torah. Hadrian sentenced Rabi Akiva’s to death because he taught Torah publicly. Hadrian ordered him killed in a most barbaric and heinous fashion to serve as an example of the severe consequences for teaching Torah. Yet today, centuries later, Hadrian and the Roman Empire are long gone, relegated to the history books and symbolized by a few moss-covered stones. Rabi Akiva, on the other hand, is alive and well. His teachings and legacy are still being promulgated and studied today![1]

Rabbi Salomon concluded that the story gave him so much encouragement because it serves as a powerful representation of G-d’s Promise, “But despite all this, when they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them, to annul My covenant with them – for I am Hashem, their G-d[2].” Rashi explains that a Jew must never think that the atrocities of exile prove that G-d no longer loves us. His love for us is boundless, and even in exile the covenant remains in full force.

All of the empires and countries that have sought to vanquish and obliterate us are gone. Yet we remain. That is the greatest sign of His love for us.

 

The verses of Shema, recited thrice daily, form the cornerstone of our faith, responsibility, and devotion to G-d. A Jew is obligated to state with conviction, “You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your “Me’od”

The Gemara[3] offers two explanations of the word me’od. The first explanation is “with all of your resources”; one must prioritize G-d over his money and physical resources. The second is that one must love G-d despite whatever “middah” (Character Trait/Divine Attribute) G-d utilizes towards him. At times G-d may act toward a person with the attribute of justice, at other times with compassion. But no matter which attribute it is one must realize that G-d does all for the good and He must love G-d for that.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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