June 22, 2024
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More Than Excellent Divrei Torah on the Parsha: George Silfen’s ‘Vayevarech Shlomo’

Crafting Excellent Divrei Torah

Preparing a sharp dvar Torah that will be well-received by one’s audience is quite challenging. One must begin with a compelling question. An out-of-the-box and unexpected query grab the audience’s attention; otherwise, they tune out very quickly. Of course, a convincing answer that includes a fresh insight is essential. Excellence is achieved when all of one’s listeners—from advanced scholars to beginners—feel they have gained Torah knowledge. A relevant and inspiring lesson is the icing on the cake. Most important is for the dvar Torah to be brief. There is no place for “fluff” in a short Torah thought, only solid content from the beginning to the end. Finally, the idea must be both authentic and beautiful. Sometimes a dvar Torah is genuine but is just not beautiful; sometimes, the opposite is true. It isn’t easy to achieve both authenticity and beauty.

Anyone who has delivered a dvar Torah knows how difficult it is to satisfy all of these requirements. Often, even if you achieve only two or three of the above goals you are pretty fortunate.

A fine sefer of divrei Torah can often help achieve these lofty aspirations, but experience teaches that most sefarim fall short in this regard. It is the rare sefer that reaches all of the goals.

George Silfen’s recently released “Vayevarech Shlomo” magnificently meets each requirement of the ideal divrei Torah. Each of the approximately 200 brief Torah thoughts in this must-read sefer is a jewel that readers will enjoy sharing with family and friends. Here are three examples: one from Parshat Devarim, one from Parshat Vaetchanan, and a selection from Parshat Eikev.

Three Sample Divrei Torah

Devarim 1:15 states, “Va’atzaveh etchem ba’et hahee lemor, shemo’a ben achachem ushefatem tzedek,” and I commanded [the newly appointed judges] at that time to listen amongst our brothers and judge righteously. Rashi (following the Sifri) interprets this as a command to be patient, listen carefully when considering a case, and not rush to judgment.

Mr. Silfen notes, however, that the Gemara (Kiddushin 29a) teaches that the word “tzav” used in this pasuk teaches us to be zerizim, to act with alacrity. How then could the word “va’atzaveh” be interpreted as a call to be patient?!

Mr. Silfen responds that Chazal and Rashi are teaching a profound but counterintuitive lesson. Namely, that zerizut does not always mean to act quickly. Although “zerizim l’mitzvah” implies that we should not delay the performance of a mitzvah, sometimes zerizut demands proceeding slowly. Mr. Silfen explains that zerizut means exercising great care and caution. Sometimes, acting with care involves springing into action as soon as possible. At other times, just the opposite is true.

Mr. Silfen clarifies that this is a critical lesson not only for judges but for all of us. We all must act with zerizut to develop our ability to work with patience. After all, the Torah describes none other than Hashem as Erech Apayim!

Parshat Va’etchanan (Devarim 6:7) records the mitzvah to study Torah. Most interestingly, the Torah frames this mitzvah as a commandment to teach others and not to study Torah himself. Mr. Silfen explains that the Torah communicates thereby that the Torah belongs to all of Am Yisrael. Therefore, when one learns Torah, he should not be doing so merely to benefit himself, but rather to teach and benefit other Jews as well.

Parshat Eikev famously records the mitzvah of Birkat HaMazon (Devarim 8:10). Most interestingly, the Torah frames our obligation to thank Hashem for our sustenance also as a means of expressing gratitude for Hashem gifting us Eretz Yisrael. Mr. Silfen wonders about the relevance of thanking Hashem for Eretz Yisrael when we thank Him for the food he provides us.

He cites the Zohar’s (Shemot 157b) answer that the entire world is sustained in the merit of Eretz Yisrael. Hence, when we thank Hashem for our livelihood, we must thank Hashem for Eretz Yisrael as well.

Mr. Silfen adds that we may compare Shabbat in this regard to Eretz Yisrael. He cites the Zohar (Yitro 88a) that teaches that the entire week is nourished through the Shabbat. Thus, just as Eretz Yisrael supports the world, Shabbat sustains the rest of the week. Mr. Silfen notes that this is a most appropriate comparison since Shabbat represents the holiness of time, and Eretz Yisrael expresses the purity of place.

Methodology

These are indeed inspiring divrei Torah and are sure to please the audiences to whom one presents them. But there is even more one can gain from this beautiful new sefer. As one reads more and more of Mr. Silfen’s writings, one not only gains from his ideas but one learns a methodology. His methodology is transparent, charismatic and even infectious! Therefore, one cannot help other than absorb his thoughtful style and improve his ability to create divrei Torah.

A Call to Action

As beautiful and instructive as Mr. Silfen’s Torah thoughts are, they are not the most crucial facet of this book. The fact that Mr. Silfen, an attorney by profession, has written an outstanding sefer serves as a call to action to the community. Mr. Silfen has mastered Chumash with Rashi and summons at will all of Rashi’s commentary to the Chumash to create a probing question. He cites a stunningly versatile range of other sources as well. He has forged a close relationship in Israel with Rav Asher Weiss and locally with Rav Pinchas Weinberger and has emerged as a great Torah scholar.

All of this would be pretty impressive for a full-time rabbi or Torah educator. However, what is truly remarkable is that by profession George Silfen is a partner in a major Manhattan law firm! He is even rated as a top lawyer and was selected as a “super lawyer” from 2014 to 2021.

The Gemara (Yoma 35b) tells of heroes who overcame substantial challenges and became great masters of the Torah despite their difficulties. For example, Hillel famously overcame the challenge of poverty, and Rabi Elazar ben Charsom conquered the challenge of wealth. The Gemara concludes that these great talmidei chachamim obligate the rest of us to become great Torah scholars. After all, if they accomplished so much despite the many demands placed on them, everyone else has no excuse for not doing so.

In our generation, Geroge Silfen is mechayev, obligates, all of us. If a major law firm partner can emerge as a significant Torah scholar and compose a very high-quality sefer, what excuse do any one of us have for not doing the same!

I will share some inside information about Mr. Silfen to help understand his Torah success. A few summers ago, Mr. Silfen’s son (Rav) Yosef (my student at TABC several years ago) completed Masechet Taanit and invited me to join the siyum at his home. Yosef took me aside during the celebratory meal and brought me to the beit midrash his father created at his home. It was an impressive space indeed. Yosef told me how seriously his father took his Torah study, which was evident by the quality of his learning area. The lesson for us is pretty apparent and compelling.

Conclusion

When is a sefer that assembles fine divrei Torah on each parsha and each chag more than just an ordinary sefer? When a modest and unassuming community member emerges and releases a brilliant sefer that is exceedingly useful to all. It provides divrei Torah for a full year of Shabbatot and chagim. It inspires and elevates its readers. Yasher kochacha, Mr. Silfen. What a remarkable kiddush Hashem!

Postscript

I cannot praise Mr. Silfen’s work without taking a moment to extend special honor to Mrs. Bonnie Silfen. There is no doubt that without Bonnie’s loving support of her husband there is no way that Mr. Silfen would be able to produce such an excellent work. Shelanu v’shelo shela. All the Torah we enjoy from Mr. Silfen accords to Bonnie’s credit.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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