The Trump Colorado Mistake and Rav Avrohom Genakovsky zt”l


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

The president misspoke.  He stated that they were going to build a wall in Colorado which borders on New Mexico, but not Mexico.  The media, predictably, had a field day poking fun at him.  Generally speaking, the media is not known for strictly following the midos and value system espoused by Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l, founder of the Mussar Movement.

AT the other end of the spectrum, let us examine an incident (as cited in Agan HaSahar vol. II p. 195) that occurred with the great tzaddik and Torah luminary, Rav Avrohom Genakovsky zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chebin Yeshiva and a former Talmid of the Slabodka Yeshiva.

Once a man was delivering a Dvar Torah at his son’s Bar Mitzvah.  The father wished to bring a proof that the idea of beautifying a Mitzvah is not just limited to beautifying the physical aspects of the Mitzvah such as in (1) making beautiful tzitzis or a (2) beautiful Sefer Torah or (3) a beautiful scribal feather pen [See tractate Shabbos 133b], but it also pertains to the non-physical aspects as well – such as a proper kavana – intent in the performance of a Mitzvah.

The father then attempted to cite a proof from the Mechilta [Parshas BeShalach] to make his point.  He quoted the Mechilta as adding a “Tefilah na’eh” to the list.   The father explained that prayer has no physical object involved in it.  So it must be that his point is true.

The problem was that the word Tefila in this context reerred not to prayer but rather to one single unit of Tefillin.  Everyone gathered began to smirk.  Rav Genakovsky zt”l, immediately rose to speak and praised the father’s thesis that Hiddur Mitzvah indeed does apply to an enhanced kavanah.  Rav Genakovsky, however, deftly  left out the “proof” from the Mechilta.

Immediately afterward, Rav Genakovsky zt”l related a story from the author of the Birchas Shimon who was once at a wedding ceremony, where the recipient of the first sheva brachos recited the words, “shehakol nihiya bidvaro” instead of “shehakol bara lichvodo.”  When the author of the Birchas Shimon received the last bracha, he inauspiciously recited shehakol bara lichvodo followed by the last bracha.  “It was all done beautifully with the utmpst of kavod and no embarrassment to anyone,” concluded Rav Genakovsky.

Now what did this story about sheva brachos have to do with anything?  Rav Genakovsky was very subtly conveying a life lesson to those gathered.  They should do what they can not to smirk or embarrass the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy.  [Parenthetically, the father’s original point is made by Rav Yoseph Lieberman in volume ten of the Mishnas Yoseph on page 157].

We see from here, from the remarkable deportment and leadership of Rav Genakovsky zt”l the lofty heights in which a soul immersed in Torah can achieve.  We also see how very distant people can be from the proper method of Torah behavior.  The contrast between the media’s frenzy over the president’s misstatement and the way a true gadol b’yisroel handled things is a lesson from which we should all take heed.

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  1. Amazing story! What’s even more amazing is that today was the yohrzeit of Rav Avrohom Genokovsky! He was nifter on the 25th of Tishrei, 5773. How beautiful it is that on the day of his yohrzeit, the height of his middos can be highlighted in stark contrast to the surrounding world.

    A person is not born with those middos. He creates them, nurtures them, polishes them. Each time he overcomes his natural tendencies, he strengthens them. Today, on the anniversary of his passing, we can each gain inspiration from his actions and try, in our own simple ways, to emulate them.

  2. R’ Hoffman, usually enjoy reading your articles, but in this case you are engaging in false equivalence. Number one, the President himself has constantly attacked and insulted news organizations as well as every perceived opponent in a vile and crass manner. To expect other to refrain from poking fun at him when he says ridiculous things is just unrealistic. In Judaism we have a long history of polemics where insults and ridicule are heaped on those the author is opposed to. Perhaps had the father in the story spent the last couple of years hurling vile insults at the Rav and suggested he is smarter and more knowledgeable and then the Rav still tried to prevent the father getting embarrassed we would have a comparable story. As it is, we have our highest elected official, who on a daily basis insults and demeans his opponents, apparently not aware that Colorado does not border Mexico (I know it borders New Mexico, which is probably too confusing for our President to understand the difference). This is the guy who said the other day, “in my great and unmatched wisdom…”

    If this president attracts scorn perhaps he should look in the mirror.
    RABBI HOFFMAN RESPONDS: If you carefully read the article, I am not defending his misspeaking at all. I am just pointing out that we should not embarrass people. I am distinguishing between the media and how we should behave. Also, the Klausenberger Rebbe writes כבר חזרתי על אחת מהנהגות של הרה”ק הרבי ר’ מיכל מזלאטשוב זי”ע מובא בספר יושר בדברי אמת הנהגה יט שאסור לבייש אפילו רשע מפורסם

  3. Beautiful stories. However, in order to bring some balance into the comparison to those attacking Trump over this:
    1. Neither the father or the one who made the wrong bracha was alleged to be a gadol or talmid chacham; one should think the President of the United States should know his country better.
    2. True, we all make mistakes, not to mention our President is a busy man with lots on his mind. But as frumtd says, “If this president attracts scorn perhaps he should look in the mirror.” I understand your response Rabbi Hoffman, but respectfully, if we were to acknowledge that there’s a greater context (inflammatory president, history of gaffes, country is off its gurdrails, etc.) it may be more understandable and even justifiable why people would criticize him so on such an incident, whereas if it was a single isolated misstatement people would be more forgiving. We’re in the middle of a national meltdown and the gloves have been off for some time. Respectfully, I see it as frumtd. Yes, it’s wrong to embarrass, but this is a democracy which espouses accountability. The President’s brought the ire upon himself. I look forward to having a President where I would be in agreement with you, and typically we should not look to embarrass our leader.

  4. There’s a story of the Besh”t about a gezeirah that was lifted in the zechus of someone that was saying Boruch atah Hashem Mevoriech HaNASHIM istaed HaSHANIM.