Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Ask the Raavad: Shailos Uteshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Question: What happened to Rav Sternbuch last week? Answer: I experienced a chain of miracles last week, when I was saved a number of times from the hands of Arabs. Last Shabbos, I recited Birkas Hagomel and made a seudas hoda'ah.

The teshuvos are transcribed by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis. Questions for Rav Sternbuch may be sent to Rabbi Travis at dytravis@actcom.com


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The Zohar writes:


“Hashem has great pleasure when Jews speak about the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim on Pesach night. Hashem gathers all of the malachim in the Heavens so that they can listen to the recitation of these miracles. These angels praise Hashem for all of these miracles, and praise the righteousness of the Jewish people who celebrate the miracles that Hashem performed for them.


“Similarly, when an individual has a personal miracle, he should praise Hashem for the Providence he experienced. What benefit does Hashem receive from hearing about the miracles that He, Himself, performed? One must nonetheless relate these miracles, for these words ascend to the Heavens, and Hashem gathers all of the malachim to listen. When the Heavenly assembly hears this story, they all praise Hashem, and there is great honor to Hashem both above and below” (Zohar, Parshas Bo).


We must try to understand the meaning of the Zohar. Why does Hashem get so much pleasure and honor from the recitation of national and personal miracles? Why does He summon all of the malachim to hear this?


The answer is that whenever we experience miracles, there is always a possibility to attribute it to tevah, natural circumstances. When we experience miracles and we relate the story and admit that everything was Hashem’s Hand and nothing was a result of our own intelligence or coincidence, Hashem gets great pleasure that we rely solely on Him and nothing else. Even though angels generally have sufficient reason to prosecute us, when we speak about miracles, the tables turn and the malachim extol the praise of the Jewish people.




Last week, the 22nd of Shevat 5771, was the second yahrtzeit of Rav Sternbuch’s wife, Yaffa. One of the rov’s sons and three of his grandsons were driving Rav Sternbuch to the bais hakevoros on Har Hazeisim. The GPS misdirected them, and before they knew it, they were in an Arab village.


A group of Arabs started to hurl bricks at the car. One of the bricks broke the window and injured the driver. Although he was bleeding and crying in pain, the driver continued to drive and escape from the crowd.


A band of bloodthirsty Arabs ran after the car, but the injured driver kept going. He swerved onto a side road and managed to get away from the mob of Arabs. However, at that point, they had absolutely no idea where they were.


They continued to drive for about fifteen minutes until they came to an Arab garage. People there warned them that this was a dangerous place for them to be, but they decided that they were going to stop there and try to get help. They called the Israeli police, but the police told them that unless they could offer some identifying signs, they could not help them.


There was a small straw hut nearby, and an Arab came out and offered to help them. He invited them to his home for a drink, but Rav Sternbuch and his family refused, and instead they asked this Arab if he could give them directions. The Sternbuchs got in touch with the police, and the Arab instructed the officers how to get to the place where they were situated.


Rav Sternbuch and his family waited for about twenty minutes, and finally the police arrived. Rav Sternbuch was then taken away in a police car back to Israeli territory. Eventually, Rav Sternbuch made it to the cemetery to say tefillos for the yahrtzeit and for the miraculous rescue from the hands of death.




Rav Sternbuch related that when the Arabs started to throw bricks at the car, he did not even realize that anything unusual was taking place. He was so engrossed in learning that he did not notice what was happening. Only after they sped away from the Arab mob did Rav Sternbuch realize that they were under attack.


During the entire experience, Rav Sternbuch was confident that he would get out alive. Klal Yisroel is in great need of rabbonim today to give p’sak halacha and direction to the Jewish people, so Rav Sternbuch understood that Hashem would take care of him and protect him from all danger.


Rav Sternbuch related that during the entire episode, he did not feel the slightest bit of fear. During World War II, Rav Sternbuch’s rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shneider, ingrained into their minds, “Every bomb and bullet has an address.” If Hashem has not destined one’s demise, it will not take place.


Rav Sternbuch added that during World War II, England was bombarded with rockets by the Nazis. Many people fled to bomb shelters, but Rav Shneider stayed in the bais medrash learning. Rav Sternbuch followed the rosh yeshiva’s example and continued to learn in the bais medrash during the attacks.




On the Shabbos after the rescue from the Arabs, Rav Sternbuch recited Birkas Hagomel in shul. Afterward, he hosted a seudas hoda’ah at his home. Rav Sternbuch fulfilled the words of the Zohar by speaking about the miracles that had transpired.


After relating the miraculous rescue stories, Rav Sternbuch explained the deeper meaning of the Birkas Hagomel blessing. We say, “Who performs kindness for those who are chayavim, Who did good for me.” Why do we refer to ourselves as chayavim and why do we finish off the bracha by repeating that Hashem “has done good for me”?


Everyone has transgressions and can be considered chayav. At times, Hashem punishes us for these sins by putting us in situations of danger and then miraculously rescuing us. This is what we mean when we say, “Who performs kindness for those who are chayavim.”


Although we survive the experience, the necessity for a miracle causes us to lose from our merit. How do we regain the merit that we lost? By reciting the story and the Hashgacha of what took place, we regain what was taken away.


After entering a situation of danger, we might have doubts about Hashem’s kindness toward us. For this reason, we conclude the blessing with, “Who did good for me.” We admit that Hashem’s kindness is perfect and that everything that took place was only as a result of our own actions.


The Medrash in Parshas Tzav says that when one brings a korban todah, he offers Hashem honor on top of honor. The first honor is attributing one’s salvation completely to Hashem. However, one adds even more honor to Hashem’s Name if he also admits that he was deserving of that punishment and thanks Hashem for both chastising and rescuing him.




Rav Sternbuch’s son, Rav Asher, concluded the seudas hodayah with the following thoughts:


It is not by chance that these great miracles happened on the yahrzeit of Rav Sternbuch’s late wife, Rebbetzin Yaffa Sternbuch. It was in her great merit that the rov was able to have a great impact on the Jewish people (see introduction to A Voice in the Darkness).


One brazen individual made the following remark. Perhaps Rav Sternbuch was attacked by Arabs because of the rov‘s protests against the abominable parades in Yerushalayim, desecration of gravesites, conversions without a full acceptance of mitzvos, and other issues which Rav Sternbuch considers to be an affront to Hashem’s honor. Maybe these protests had stirred up Divine wrath against the rov, chas veshalom.


Rav Sternbuch replied that he was sure that he was saved from the hands of death because of his great concern with Hashem’s honor. Hashem allowed him the opportunity to once again sanctify the Divine Name through the miracles that took place and the great calmness that Rav Sternbuch had in reacting to them.


The seudas hodayah concluded with singing and rejoicing over the miraculous rescue. Rav Sternbuch gave a bracha that just as he had been miraculously saved from the hands of enemies, so, too, the entire Jewish people should be redeemed speedily, and we should soon witness the coming of Moshiach, who will extricate us from the hands of all of our enemies. May it be Hashem’s will that this event should be a harbinger for the speedy redemption quickly, in our days.


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Rabbi Travis is a rosh kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim in Yerushalayim, and is the author of Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying With Joy – A Daily Tefilla Companion,” a practical daily guide to improving one’s prayers, available from Feldheim Publishers. Rav Sternbuch’s weekly shiurim on the parsha are now available as a sefer titled “A Voice in the Darkness.” For more information about the work of Rabbi Travis, email dytravis@actcom.com.



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