I have written a few times in this forum about the wonderful trip to Eretz Yisroel, which I enjoyed along with our bechor Shalom this past winter in honor of his bar mitzvah. While there we had the zechus to meet a few of the Gedolei Yisroel, including Rav Aron Leib Shteinman shlita. It wasn’t easy even getting into Rav Shteinman’s home, as we literally had to be pulled through the crowd waiting by his door. Even when we were inside we had to wait some time. When Rav Shteinman finally emerged from his room we had a few precious moments to receive a beracha from the aged Gadol Hador.
Our connection there—Reb Ephraim Landau (landauviptours.com)—told Rav Shteinman that Shalom had just become a bar mitzvah and wanted a beracha for a “chayshek in lernen” (desire/excitement to learn Torah). Rav Steinman replied, “He should have a chayshek, but the Yetzer Hara won’t allow it so easily.” Rav Landau responded that the Rav should then give him a beracha that he should conquer his Yetzer Hara. Rav Steinman countered, “ubber der Yezter Hara hut ah shverd—But the Yetzer Hara has a sword.” Rav Landau answered that the Rosh Yeshiva should then give him a beracha that Shalom be able to take away the Yetzer Hara’s sword. Rav Steinman smiled and replied, “Vet zayn gut—It should all be good.”
Later during that week I went to visit the home of the late “hidden tzaddik,” Rav Zundel Kroizer zt’l. In an earlier column I wrote about my unsuccessful attempt to visit and receive a beracha from Rav Kroizer during a previous visit to Eretz Yisroel. In the interim Rav Kroizer had been niftar, but I was told that I could purchase his seforim at the home of his son and daughter-in-law, where the Rav had lived during his last years.
After being informed of the address, we made our way to the simple home. We arrived there just as Rav Kroizer’s daughter-in-law came home. I told her about my failed attempt to visit the Rav a few years prior, and that I wanted to purchase some of his seforim. After she brought out some seforim, I told her that we had come to Eretz Yisroel for Shalom’s bar mitzvah. She then proceeded to give him a warm and beautiful beracha that he grow in Torah, Yiras Shomayim etc. She concluded that he should be “כובש את רוחו ומשל ביצרו—conquer his spirit and dominate his inclination,” in a perfect quote of the vernacular of the Mishna (Avos 4:1).
We are now in graduation season—replete with caps, gowns, smiling graduates, teary-eyed camera(phone)-wielding parents and long-winded commencement speeches. Ivy League colleges often invite successful and famous personalities to address their graduates and relate some of the life lessons they learned along their road to accomplishment and achievement. Invariably the talks include reflection about some major struggles and failures that the celebrity faced early on in their career. They then tell the graduates that they have to expect setbacks and challenges in life, for in the struggle lies the path to greatness.
A few years ago, our shul honored one of our worthy members, Mrs. Sandy Friedbaum. In her speech, Mrs. Friedbaum related that it is well known that Hashem gave the Torah to us on Har Sinai, because Sinai was “the humblest of the mountains.” She then added another personal lesson that she gleaned from the fact that Hashem gave us the Torah on the humblest mountain:
Living entails aspiration for growth and great effort to get there. But sometimes we strive to accomplish too much in too little time, and thereby set ourselves up for frustration and failure. Success in life and growth occurs when we set ourselves attainable goals that allow us to feel accomplished. We always have to be striving to climb our personal Har Sinais—a climb to the peak, which is not too overwhelming and daunting to the top. Then, when we arrive at the peak of our Har Sinai, we can begin the climb up the next Har Sinai.
Our Yetzer Hara has a sword, but as long as we are ready for the struggle and aren’t overly intimidated by the uphill climb we can triumph. On Shavuos we celebrate our connection to Torah—the ultimate spiritual climbing guide, and prepare ourselves to climb our personal Har Sinai every single day.
By Rabbi Dani Staum
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, Guidance Counselor and fifth-grade Rebbe in ASHAR, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor and division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is [email protected] His website is www.stamtorah.info.