Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

On one occasion Rav Lazer Shach, zt”l, was not feeling well and slept past the early time of kerias shema (the z’man of the Magen Avrohom). The following morning, he was inconsolable. He related that he felt like one who went to sleep on the first night of Pesach and woke up the next morning, having missed the Seder and all the mitzvos uniquely endemic to that night, including matzah, marror, and the four cups of wine.

For a number of summers during my early adolescence I attended Camp Torah Vodaas in Highland, NY. I have many wonderful memories from those summers, and many lasting friendships that I made there.


It was also there that I first met Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman. Today Rabbi Finkelman is one of my, and our family’s foremost rabbeim and guides for life. Back then he was the Head Counselor of Camp Torah Vodaas. When the camp closed its doors in 1996, and I headed back to Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi Finkelman migrated there as well.

One of the many special memories I have of Rabbi Finkelman from our days in Camp Torah Vodaas involved an early wake up call on Shabbos mornings.

There is a notable dispute between the Magen Avrohom and the Vilna Gaon as to how late into the morning kerias shema may be recited. The halacha states that it may be recited until three halachic hours into the day (when the daylight hours are divided into 12 equal segments). They dispute when those three hours begin – dawn or sunrise. The halacha follows the later time, as ruled by the Vilna Gaon. However, those who are meticulous will be particular to recite Kerias Shema before the time limit of the Magen Avrohom.

Camp davened later on Shabbos morning than they did the rest of the week. The regular camp wake up was after the time of the Magen Avrohom had already passed (before the time of the Vilna Gaon). At the beginning of each summer Rabbi Finkelman would announce that anyone who wanted to be woken up early enough to recite shema before the time of the Magen Avrohom should see him.

The truth is at that time I don’t think I even understood what ‘the earlier z’man kerias shema’ was, nevertheless I asked to be woken up. Rabbi Finkelman wrote down my name, bunk number, and where my bed was situated in the bunk in a little notebook. Every Shabbos morning, he would walk into the bunk with that little notebook and gently tap my arm and whisper “good Shabbos; it’s almost the first z’man kerias shema.” He would then go to each camper whose name was written in the bunk, before he proceeded to the next bunk.

To be honest there were many Shabbos mornings when I fell back to sleep without saying kerias shema, but it made a deep impression on me. Now I try to be particular to say shema before the earlier time.

When the Maccabees entered the Bais HaMikdash and found the one jar of pure oil they rejoiced because they had the ability to perform the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in pristine purity. They could have employed many leniencies to perform the mitzvah, but when re-inaugurating the long dormant mitzvah they wanted to ensure that it was performed on the highest level.

A rebbe of mine used to say that Chanukah separates the men from the boys. It is a time when we look to ‘up the ante.’ We seek to not be satisfied with getting by in our spiritual pursuits, but we look to perform on a higher level, beyond our obligations.

It is amazing to me that Rabbi Finkelman took it upon himself to walk around each Shabbos morning to give a few young men the opportunity to perform a mitzvah in a more optimal fashion. Without his efforts everyone would have been able to fulfill the mitzvah perfectly well, albeit without that extra level of fulfilling a more stringent opinion.

It’s one thing to perform a mitzvah on the highest level of mehadrin min hamehadrin. It’s another thing to live it!

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Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author as well as a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ. He has recently begun seeing clients in private practice as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments and speaking engagements, contact 914-295-0115 or [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at