Thursday, October 19, 2017

PARSHAS NOACH 5778

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS NOACH 5778
ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP”[1]

“Most people live the life that happens, instead of the life that they truly want.”[2]

Noach is described by the Torah as being, צדיק תמים  - perfectly righteous. Yet, he is always held up to the standard of Avrohom Avinu. Therefore, as great as he was, on some level he is viewed as having not fulfilled his complete potential; he wasn’t as great as he could have been.
Rashi writes that there is an opinion that Noach was only considered righteous in his generation. However, had he lived in the generation of Avrohom, he would not have achieved any level of greatness. "יש דורשין לגנאי – אילו היה בדורו של אברהם לא היה כלום"
Although he was personally righteous, Noach did not save his generation. In fact, he didn’t save anyone outside of his immediate family. Avrohom, on the other hand, created a tremendous movement consisting of multitudes of people to whom he and Sarah taught about Hashem.
Parshas Noach is therefore a parsha which contains the story of a hero who achieved greatness, and yet did not fulfill his potential. It is intriguing that the parsha seems to end with another such story of an individual who sought greatness and yet came up short:
After the Torah introduces Terach and Avrom, it tells us about Terach’s journey at the end of his life. “Terach took Avrom his son… and he went out with them from Ur Kadim to go to the Land of Canaan. And they came to Charan and they dwelled there.[3]” Then the final words of the parsha read, “Terach died in Charan”.[4] 
In his old age, Terach left with his family to go to Canaan. Seforno explains that Eretz Yisroel is a propitious place, where the very air is conducive to achieving holiness and developing greater closeness with G-d. It seems that Terach set out for Eretz Yisroel because he wanted to bask in the sanctity of the Land.
So, what happened?

New Yok Times Bestselling author, John Maxwell, relates:
Many tourists in Switzerland enjoy mountain climbing. They are not professional climbers who scale the world’s highest peaks, but amateurs who enjoy overcoming a significant challenge.
On the day of a climb, the group departs from a “base camp” at the foot of the mountain early in the morning. The goal is to make it to the summit by mid-afternoon, so they could set up camp well before dark.
About halfway up the mountain there is a rest area – a “half-way house”. The climbers all enter to find a cozy room with couches and a fire. A hot and fresh lunch is already cooking and the smell fills the hut. Everyone removes their gear and settles around the table jovially as they enjoy their lunch.
After about an hour and a half, the guide announces that they must move on if they want to reach the summit on time. Invariably about half of the climbers reply that they decided to remain in the half-way house, and they will rejoin the group the following day when they stop in on their way down.
Those who decided to go on put on all their gear and make their way out into the cold. The rest of the group who stayed joke around, play on the piano, sing songs, and tell stories, and have a wonderful time for a couple of hours.
Somewhat suddenly, around four in the afternoon, without anyone saying anything, one by one they start walking over towards the big window, and looking towards the summit where they can see the small figures of their group setting up camp. The mood in the hut becomes melancholic and quiet. For the rest of the night and the following morning there is not much conversing going on, and they mostly stand by the window and watch.
Then, around midday, the door swings open and the rest of the group who made it to the top enter. They are laughing, whopping, and high-fiving each other. They animatedly talk about what it was like at the top, the view, the group picture they took, the selfies they took, hoisting the flag at the summit, and what it was like sleeping out there. Those who remained in the hut smile sadly but politely and nod their heads without saying much.
After lunch, the entire group puts on their gear and heads down the mountain. When they reach the bottom, they are greeted by family members and friends who ask them about their trip. Those who went all the way to the top excitedly relate about their experience. But those who chose to remain in the hut quietly slip away into their cars, and drive home in silence.
Why? Because they know that they made a big mistake. They gave up a dream and goal for a little bit of comfort.

          Chazal say that at the end of his life Terach did teshuva. His desire to go to Eretz Yisroel would seem to be part of his efforts at repentance and growth towards the end of his life. So, he left Ur Kasdim and, together with his family, they undertook the arduous journey to Charan.[5]
          When they finally arrived in Charan, perhaps Terach announced that they would spend a week in Charan to rest and reenergize themselves for the remainder of the journey south to Eretz Yisroel. But then - as so often happens - life set in with its issues and complications. One week became two weeks, then a month, two months, a year, etc.
The most painful words of all are the final words of the parsha: “Terach died in Charan”. He never fulfilled his dream! He made it to the halfway house, but never got passed it.
What a tragedy!
In Parshas Lech Lecha, the Torah states about Avrohom Avinu: "ויצאו ללכת ארצה כנען ויבואו ארצה כנען" - He left to go to the land of Canaan, and he arrived in the land of Canaan.” This pasuk, which seems to just be telling us dry facts, is in fact relating something very profound. Unlike his father who never completed his journey, and was never able to fulfill his dream, Avrohom left on his journey and indeed completed the journey. There were so many challenges that he had to overcome in order to arrive, but he persevered. 
Unlike Noach who did not completely become and achieve as much as he could have, and unlike Terach who never fulfilled his dream, Avrohom makes it all the way to the summit. And that is why he is Avrohom Avinu, the first of the patriarchs.  

John Maxwell concludes: In life, so many of us make the same mistake as those mountain climbers who remained in the half-way house.
If we want to achieve personal greatness, we have to hold onto our goals and dreams, and be relentless in our pursuit of them. We cannot allow momentary laziness or comfort to impede our success. Every day is another step towards our personal summit.

“Terach died in Charan”
“And he arrived in the land of Canaan”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] Based on the speech delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos morning, Parshas Noach 5777
[2] Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
[3] "ויקח תרח את אברם בנו...ויצאו אתם מאור כשדים ללכת ארצה כנען ויבואו עד חרן וישבו שם.
[4] ויהיו ימי תרח... וימת תרח בחרן"

[5] Although Ur Kasdim is in Mesopotamia and Charan is in Turkey, which means Eretz Yisroel is to the west of Ur Kasdim (and south of Charan), they had to follow the trade routes, which seemingly ran through Charan.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SIMCHAS TORAH 5778

STAM TORAH
SIMCHAS TORAH 5778
UNINHIBITED JOY

One year on Simchas Torah, the Chelkas Yaakov[1] noticed one of the members of his shul dancing with intense fervor and devotion. The man was not well versed in Torah, and didn’t learn much throughout the year. For some time, the Chelkas Yaakov watched in fascination as the man danced with the enthusiasm of a seasoned scholar, but after a while his curiosity got the better of him. He approached the man and politely asked him why he was dancing so passionately.
 The man replied, “Rabbi, a short time ago, on Yom Kippur I read the confession. One of the numerous sins delineated was that of accepting a bribe[2]. I am not a judge nor a Rabbi; when would I have the opportunity to accept a bribe? It seems clear that this is a communal confession, and I am confessing for the sin of a Rabbi who may have accepted a bribe. If I confess for the Rabbi’s sins, should I not be able to dance for the Rabbi’s Torah?”
With that the man walked back to the circle and resumed his fervent dancing. The Chelkas Yaakov admitted that it was a good rationale.

The month of Tishrei contains more holidays than any other month on the Jewish calendar. Even after the seven days of Succos have concluded, the final climactic day of Shemini Atzeres is dedicated to joy and celebration. Chazal compare the day’s joy to a king who invited his family to celebrate with him for some time. When the celebration was about to end, the king requested that they remain for one more day.
So too, G-d says to us, as it were, “We have spent so much time together throughout the last few weeks of Rosh Hashnah, Yom Kippur and Succos. קשה עלי פרידתכם  – Your separation is difficult for me. Please stay one more day”. Shemini Atzeres is therefore an added day, an opportunity to spend the day simply enjoying an intimate connection with G-d, and reflecting all that we have accomplished throughout the previous weeks.[3]
The Torah writes “Shivas yomim tochog laHashem Elokecha... V’hayisa ach samayach - For seven days you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d... and you shall only rejoice.”[4] The Gemara[5] explains that this verse is teaching us that there is a mitzvah of joy on the eighth day too (e.g. Shnmini Atzeres).
Generally, the word “Ach - onlyusually implies an exclusion, i.e. only this and not that. Why, in regard to Shemini Atzeres, does the verse teach us an inclusion, i.e. that the joy of the holiday applies to Shemini Atzeres as well, utilizing a word that generally implies an exclusion?
 The Gra explains that for the duration of Succos we have three major mitzvos to fulfill: Living in the succah, shaking the Four Species, and to be in a state of constant joy. On Shemini Atzeres there is no longer a mitzvah to sit in the succah[6] or shake the Four Species, we are left with only the mitzvah of being in a state of joy. Thus, the word “ach” indeed is exclusive, in that it excludes the other mitzvos of Succos. What remains is the mitzvah of being joyous, the only mitzvah that still applies to Shemini Atzeres as well.
The Gra’s explanation still does not adequately answer our questions. If the word ‘ach’ generally connotes a clear exclusion, why here does the gemara say it includes the mitzvah of joy on Shemini Atzeres? How does the Gra understand that the removing the other two mitzvos of Succos teaches us that there is a special mitzvah of joy on Shmini Atzeres?
The Gemara[7] states a general rule: We do not perform many mitzvos together. Tosafos[8] explains that each mitzvah requires complete devotion and concentration. If one performs multiple mitzvos simultaneously, he will be unable to give each mitzvah the proper focus.
On Succos however, we are instructed to perform many mitzvos at the same time. The inevitable result is that because we are so focused on the mitzva of succah and the Four Species, we are unable to devote our full concentration to the mitzvah of joy.[9]
On Shmini Atzeres when two of the mitzvos are no longer applicable, a person’s full attention is then directed towards the mitzvah of being in a state of joy. Therefore, the sole focus of the day is to rejoice in the knowledge that he is a vital part of the Chosen Nation, worthy of keeping G-d’s Torah and mitzvos.

An integral component of that joy is devoted to our celebration upon the completion of our annual cycle of Torah reading[10]. Our celebration on Simchas Torah seems peculiar: If Simchas Torah is indeed a celebration for our completion of the Torah, why don’t we learn the whole day, thereby proving our dedication and joy in Torah?
Rabbi Moshe Jacobson zt’l[11] explained that everyone has an equal share in the joy of Simchas Torah. Although not everyone is able to learn in depth, everyone can clutch the Torah tightly, and hold it close to his heart.
Simchas Torah is not merely a celebration for the study of Torah, but also for the fact that we are the Torah nation. Our uniqueness stems completely from our connection to Torah, and for that alone we rejoice. Therefore, even those who may not have a tremendous portion of Torah learning can rejoice with their connection to Torah living.
During the final year of his life, the Chofetz Chaim was bedridden. On Simchas Torah morning he informed his family that he wished to be transported to shul so that he could dance with the Torah. When the Chofetz Chaim entered the shul, the students who had been dancing, gathered around their revered Rebbe and danced with all their strength.
His beloved student, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman zt’l began to dance in front of the Chofetz Chaim alone, with unparalleled fervor and enthusiasm. The Chofetz Chaim looked up from his coat and smiled. Then he gathered every ounce of energy, and, after not standing for weeks, stood up to weakly to dance with Rabbi Elchonon.
The joy of Simchas Torah is not something to be taken lightly. Our dancing represents our love and dedication to G-d. That joy is not limited to proficient scholars. Every Jew rejoices for his personal connection to Torah, and the uninhibited joy he feels in being a member of the Chosen Nation.

“For seven days you shall rejoice before Hashem”
“And you shall only rejoice”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] Rav Mordechai Yaakov Breish of Zurich, the Chelkas Yaakov (1895-1976). Following a life-threatening incident with the Nazis, who had just come to power, Rav Mordechai Yaakov and his wife decided to escape Germany. After a brief time in Lance, France, they settled in Zurich, Switzerland, where he nurtured the Jewish community for 40 years. In 1967, he established the Kollel Le’horaah Chelkas Yaakov in Bnai Brak.
[2]Al chayt shechatanu lifanecha b’chapas shochad’
[3] see Rashi, Vayikra 23:36
[4] Devorim 16:15
[5] Succah 48a
[6] Outside of Eretz Yisroel we sit in the succah on Shemini Atzeres because of ‘Sefaykah d’yoma – the doubt of the days’.
[7] Sotah 8a
[8] Moed Kattan 5b
[9] Although, joy is the inevitable result of performing the other mitzvos properly, it becomes the result, and not the sole focus.
[10] Outside Eretz Yisroel we observe Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah on separate days. However, they are inextricably bound.
[11] Chief Rabbi of Copenhagen Denmark

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

SUCCOS 5778

STAM TORAH
SUCCOS 5778
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
  
   Once upon a time, the world existed without Waze and GPS systems. People had to rely on finding out driving directions before they left on their destination. If they didn’t they risked getting lost. In that archaic world (from not-too-long-ago), the first part of the following scenario was quite common[1]:
   Moshe and his wife, Sara, were driving down an empty highway somewhere in upstate New York. It was obvious that they were quite lost. Sara was exasperated, “Didn’t I tell you that you should ask my father for directions before we left? Anyway, none of this would have happened if you agreed to pull over and ask a gas station attendant where to go. Why is it so hard for you to ask directions?” Moshe replied sharply, “I didn’t need to ask for directions then, because, at that point, I knew where I was going. But because you were yelling at me I became confused and went the wrong way.” Sara’s eyes widened angrily, “Oh, so now it’s my fault!!!”
   On and on they argued for thirty-five miles of open highway. They finally turned off the highway to ask for directions. When they pulled up to a red light, Sara turned to Moshe and said, “Maybe now would be a good time to pull over and learn that really difficult daf of gemara you were struggling with last night.” Moshe was beside himself, “Here on the side of the road in some lost town? That has got to be the wildest suggestion ever! How do you expect me to concentrate?”
  
The Gemara[2] cites a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer regarding what the succah commemorates. Rabbi Eliezer opined that the succah commemorates the Divine Clouds of Glory that enwrapped Klal Yisroel in the desert, smoothing the path in front of them, and protecting them for the elements in the desert. Rabbi Akiva countered that the succah commemorates the huts that the Jewish Nation constructed and dwelled in while traveling through the desert.
Both opinions are perplexing. Throughout the forty years that the Jews sojourned through the desert, they were privy to myriads of miracles. Manna fell from the sky each morning, water flowed from a rock, and their clothing grew with them and never wore out. According to Rabbi Eliezer, why do we not also celebrate the other miracles that were omnipresent in the desert?
The opinion of Rabbi Akiva is even more enigmatic. Why should we celebrate a seven-day holiday in commemoration of the huts that the Jews dwelled in while they were in the desert? What connection do those huts have with us and why should remember them in such a grandiose fashion?[3]
As I write these words, I am currently sitting in Copenhagen Airport in Copenhagen, Denmark waiting for a friend who is meeting me here[4]. About two weeks ago, that friend and former classmate[5] invited me to spend Succos with him in a yeshiva for Russian students in Copenhagen. It took a few minutes before he convinced me that he was being serious. After much planning, here I am in Copenhagen.
Truth be told, when the idea of traveling to Copenhagen for Succos was first mentioned to me, I had to look at a map to locate the country. It took me some time to locate Denmark above Germany. That was basically the extent of my knowledge about the country when I boarded the plane a few hours ago. Now, as I sit here in the airport, donned in my yeshiva garb, I feel quite lost. It’s one thing when you are lost in a town or state. But, at this moment, I feel lost in the world!
When Klal Yisroel marched forth from Egypt, they entered an arid and desolate wilderness. After hearing about all the miracles of the exodus, and knowing that the Jewish nation was heading towards the Promised Land, the nations of the world were frightened and maintained their distance, surely not offering any support or assistance. The hapless nation was truly on its own!
In a similar vein, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’’l, the Satmar Rebbe, related, that after the Concentration Camp inmates were liberated at the conclusion of World War II, they were under the impression that after all they had suffered the world would rush to their aid. To their shock and chagrin, they were left to wander aimlessly, many languishing in squalid Displaced Person camp for many months before they were able to move on to begin a new life.  
When one doesn’t know where he is or where he is going, he is inevitably overcome with anxiety. It is hard for him to contemplate his next move, because he feels so alone and befuddled.
For a nation that had emerged from exile with nary any provisions or protection, it seemed that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish much until they arrived at their destination. However, it was in the desert that they achieved their greatest distinction - becoming the Chosen People. They accepted the Torah at Sinai, along with all its mitzvos and laws.
The greatness of those huts was not the flimsy building itself. Rather, it was the fact that they were able to feel settled and ‘at home’ in those makeshift huts. The fact that they felt so settled that they were able to achieve sufficient peace of mind to accept the Torah, despite the fact that they were a nomadic nation without provisions in a most dangerous territory, was miraculous.
Many years later, G-d lovingly reflected upon the tremendous faith that Klal Yisroel displayed upon leaving Egypt. “I remember the kindness of your youth; the love of your younger days. When you followed me into the desert, an unsown (undeveloped) land.” G-d repaid their faith by allowing them to feel comfortable and settled in that vast wasteland.

The pasuk explains that we dwell in succos, Because I enabled the Children of Israel to dwell in succos when I took them out of Egypt”[6]. Chidah notes that the pasuk doesn’t state “In succos I enabled them to travel” but “Hoshavti, (I enabled them) to dwell.” The Clouds of Glory were so tangible, that they literally enveloped the nation from all sides. Those who were worthy, were literally able to ‘ride the cloud’ as it carried them across the desert terrain.
Although everything that happened to Klal Yisroel in the desert was miraculous, the other miracles were necessary for the nation’s survival. G-d had to perform those miracles so that the nation didn’t die. The Clouds of Glory however, were provided solely as kindness from G-d. It greatly enhanced their traveling, but they could have survived without them.
The fact that G-d granted them those clouds demonstrated His boundless love for them. It is that love that we celebrate and commemorate on Succos.
After the awesome Days of Judgment have passed, we invoke the memory of the special closeness we attained with G-d in the desert. We rejoice for seven days in our succos, putting ourselves at the mercy of the elements, outside the protection and comfort of our homes.
On Succos, as we sit under the cover of the s’chach, we join with every Torah Jew throughout the world who is doing the same, whether in New York, Eretz Yisroel, South Africa, or Copenhagen. It is a holiday of joy and love, when we can feel at home, even if we are miles away from home.

   “I remember the kindness of your youth”
   “Because I enabled them to dwell in succos”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] I added this introduction this year (2017). Fascinatingly, a mere 17 years ago, when this essay was first written, it was unnecessary.
[2] Succah 11b
[3] The legend is that Martha Washington sewed the socks of the Colonist soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. Should there be an American custom to wear sown up socks on Independence Day?!
[4] This essay was written just prior to Succos 2000 (5760), before I was married.
[5] Rabbi Eli Berkowitz
[6] Vayikra 23:43

Thursday, September 28, 2017

SHABBOS SHUVA/YOM KIPPUR 5778

L’zecher nishmas Alexander ben Nuteh Yitzchok

STAM TORAH
SHABBOS SHUVA/YOM KIPPUR 5778
“TEAR DOWN THIS WALL”

                    The great gaon, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef zt’l, was renown in Lithuanian Vilna as an erudite scholar, versed in all areas of Torah. He held many Rabbinic posts, his most prestigious being the head of the Beis Din in Vilna. At the time Vilna was known as the ‘Yerushalayim of Lithuania’, with no dearth of Torah scholars. Yet, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef stood out as a leader.
                    Among his other accomplishments, Rabbi Yaakov’s speeches during the Yomim Noraim were legendary. He had an uncanny ability to emotionally transform an assemblage to tears, with his fiery and passionate oratory.
                    In 1885, the Jewish congregation in New York sent letters to many of the Torah dignitaries of their time including Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik of Brisk (the Bais Halevi), Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon of Kovna, Rabbi Eliyahu Meisel of Pinsk, and Rabbi Chaim Berlin of Volozhin. In the letters, they requested that the Rabbis suggest someone who could become Chief Rabbi of New York City.
At that time, America was a spiritual wilderness. The post required a charismatic person with a dynamic personality, who was also a Torah scholar with an unyielding personality. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef was chosen.
                    Rabbi Yaakov Yosef arrived in America to an unprecedented welcome. Thousands of people came to greet their new Rabbi and, literally, carried him on their shoulders. However, it didn’t take long before Rabbi Yaakov Yosef realized he was fighting a losing battle. Those who had undertaken the arduous journey from ‘the alter heim’ to ‘the Goldeneh Medina’ did so in pursuit of the American dream. Most didn’t want to be hindered by the shackles of religion.  
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef refused to yield to the pressure and resistance all around him. However, it cost him his health. Although he managed to secure some improvements in kashrus and opening a Yeshiva, most of his herculean efforts proved futile. The man who was once the pride of Vilna felt like he had become the bane of New York. Eventually, he became bedridden.
                    Just prior to Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef announced that he wished to deliver a Shabbos Shuva derasha (lecture). Despite the protestations of his doctors, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef insisted that he could not allow Shabbos Shuva to pass without speaking.
When the time arrived for the d’rasha, the shul was filled well beyond its capacity. People were literally hanging onto the windows. There was an unspoken feeling that this would be his final public lecture. That feeling proved to be correct.
                    The crowd sat in utter silence as Rabbi Yaakov rose to his feet and ascended the pulpit. They watched as he mustered every ounce of his failing strength to pull himself up to the lectern. As he began, his voice resonated throughout the shul, “The Rambam writes in hilchos teshuvah (the laws of repentance)”. The crowd leaned forward to hear what the Rambam says, but then, Rabbi Yaakov became strangely silent. The befuddled crowd watched quizzically as he began again, “The Rambam writes in hilchos teshuvah.” But then again he paused, and again there was a period of silence. He began a third time, and then a fourth time. But he did not get past those opening words.  
                   After a minute of complete silence, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef suddenly let out a painful cry. He grabbed the lectern, raised his frail body up on his toes, and called out in a voice that shook the whole shul: “I have forgotten what the Rambam says! I, who was known to be an expert and versed in all areas of the Torah, have become a broken vessel! Look what happens to a person at the end! You have a living example in front of you. Pay heed to this living rebuke and take advantage while you still have the time and opportunity to do so.”
Then, the great Rabbi Yaakov Yosef broke down and wept. Soon, the whole crowd was crying along with him.    

                   The saga of Yosef and the tribes is of the most tragic in the Torah. The tribulations that Yosef suffered when sold by his brothers and ended up alone in Egypt, is painful to read. However, the decision to sell Yosef was not unanimous. The Torah records that Reuven tried to deter the brothers from killing him by suggesting that they cast him into a nearby pit. Reuven planned to return to the pit after the brothers had left to rescue Yosef and bring him home safely. However, the pasuk[1] relates that when Reuven returned to the pit, he was shocked to discover that it was vacant. When, upon inquiry, he was informed that Yosef had been sold to a group of passing travelers, he rent his garments and mourned.
 The Medrash[2] explains that Reuven was not present when they decided to sell Yosef because he had left to continue his personal efforts of repentance.[3] The Medrash continues that when Reuven began his process of repentance, Hashem said to him, “Never in the history of mankind has a person sinned and repented before me. Because you were the first to repent, I swear that your descendant will be the prophet who will exhort the Jewish people to repent, as well.”
The promise was fulfilled when the prophet Hoshea, a descendant of Reuven, called out to Klal Yisroel: “Shuva Yisroel ad Hashem Elokecha ki kashalta ba’avonecha - Return Yisroel to Hashem, your G-d, for you have stumbled in sin.”[4]
The Gemara[5] records that Adam Harishon sat in sackcloth and fasted for one hundred and thirty years as penitence for having eaten from the forbidden fruit. In addition, the Medrash[6] relates that Kayin repented for murdering his brother, Hevel.
If so, how can the Medrash state that Reuven was the first person to engage in repentance, if Adam and Kayin had previously done so?
Rabbi Betzalel Rudinsky[7] explained that there is a fundamental difference between the motivations for the repentance of Adam and Kayin, versus that of Reuven. Both Adam and Kayin repented after they were chastised and rebuked. Adam had been banished from Gan Eden and had been informed that his sins would affect his descendants for all time. Kayin too was reprimanded by G-d for murdering his brother. It was only after they were admonished for their wrongdoing, that they sought to repent.        
Reuven however, was not immediately chastised after he moved his father’s bed. In fact, the opposite is true. The very pasuk that relates what Reuven did concludes by stating that Yaakov had twelve sons. Rashi explains that the Torah’s intent here is to inform us that all twelve of them were equally righteous. The Torah does so to reiterate that Reuven’s act was not considered a blatant sin.
Still, upon reflection, Reuven was bothered by his own action. Therefore, upon his own initiative he engaged in a self-imposed process of repentance. Reuven’s repentance was not to mitigate a punishment but it was to rebuild and rejuvenate his feeling of closeness to G-d.
The Medrash is teaching us that the highest level of teshuvah is accomplished when one seeks to literally, return to G-d, not merely out of fear of punishment or retribution.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l notes that although many religions believe in G-d and in His Omnipotence, the concept that we can have a binding and intimate relationship with G-d, is uniquely Jewish. The idea that G-d not only listens to our prayers, but that He awaits them and cherishes them, is not espoused by any other religion.[8]
 The Torah views teshuvah as an opportunity for one to reconnect. It is not merely a process where one begs G-d to dispose of his sins, but more profoundly, it is an opportunity to feel revitalized spirituality.
Rav Pinkus relates a parable about a five-year-old boy who accompanied his father to the hustling marketplace one afternoon, to purchase a set of the Four Species for Succos. The boy held his father’s hand as they walked from booth to booth analyzing the various lulavim and esrogim. While the father was analyzing a few esrogim, the son began to wander to the next booth to look at some pretty succah decorations. A moment later, the boy mistakenly thought he saw his father walking away, and he ran to catch up with him. When the boy realized that it was not his father he began to cry out for his father. Meanwhile, when the father turned around he noticed that his son was missing. He began calling his son’s name into the crowd.
After a few minutes of searching, the man walked toward a police officer to ask for assistance in locating his son. Before he had a chance however, his son saw him and excitedly jumped into his arms. At that initial moment, father and son felt extreme love for each other. It was a level of emotion they would not have felt if they had not lost each other. Their momentary disconnection had deepened their subsequent connection.
We are the beloved children of G-d. When we sin, we have not only committed a sin, but we also become spiritually distanced from G-d. When we repent and reignite that bond not only can we again feel close to G-d, but we can reach a level of closeness that would not have been possible to achieve had we never felt the pain of distance. Teshuvah is the conduit that allows us to jump back into G-d’s embrace, as it were.

The pasuk in Amos (3:8) states, “Aryeh sha’ag mi lo yira- A lion has roared; who will not fear?” The commentators note homiletically that the Hebrew word “Aryeh” is an acronym for the four awesome periods and days of repentance and reflection: Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshanah Rabbah. These are times of celestial judgment and should cause us to tremble, as we would when encountering a roaring lion.
Rabbi Shlomo Teitlebaum recalled that he had once gone to the Bronx Zoo and, while walking along the flowered promenade, heard a ferocious roar from a nearby lion. Yet, he wasn’t the least bit frightened. Why? Because the lion was in a strong cage and could not inflict any harm on him.
Rabbi Teitelbaum mused: “I deduced from that that if the “roar” of the holy days of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshanah Rabbah do not cause me to become the least bit afraid, it must be because there is a cage - a barrier between me and G-d.” This is why in the concluding prayer on Hoshanah Rabbah we ask, “May it be Your Will… remove the iron partition separating us from you.”[9]

In Elul 5767, the Monsey community was shocked by the brutal discovery that a respected member of our community was selling non-Kosher meat with kosher labels in one of the local kosher markets. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people, who are meticulous to only eat kosher meat, were impacted by the egregious duplicity.
Each Rabbi directed their congregants of what had to be done. Public stations were set up to help people kasher their vessels that had been used to cook the unkosher meat. It included blow-torching and submerging pots and cutlery under boiling water. Handles were removed from pots, grills were scorched, dishwashers were scrubbed, and ovens were cleaned. Aside from the purification of the vessels, the Rabbis of the community scheduled a communal fast as well as a massive communal assembly.
At the assembly, Rabbi Shlomo Breslauer shlita, the Mashgiach of the store from where the meat was sold, explained that until that time, the butcher had an impeccable record, and had been a respected person in the community. No one could have imagined that he was accepting deliveries of unkosher chicken in an unmarked truck during the dead of the night. After unloading the chicken, he would remove the labels, and replace them with kosher labels.
Rabbi Breslauer quoted sources which explained that the innocent consumers who had purchased and eaten the chicken were not halachically liable. Furthermore, the spiritually dangerous and noxious effects that non-Kosher food causes, was also a non-issue, because it had been completely beyond anyone’s control.
Rabbi Breslauer continued, that if that was true, why was there was any need for a public fast or a mass gathering.
He answered that the mere fact that such a terrible event had occurred in our community, was indicative of the fact that G-d was dissatisfied with our observance. It is for that sense of rejection that we must fast and gather en masse.

Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman made the following observation:
“Think about the busiest man in the world. He has relentless meetings, paperwork, deadlines, and pressures. Time is money and every moment is dedicated to its pursuit. Do you want to have a half hour conversation with that man who has no time for anything? Talk to him about how wonderful his child is!
“We approach G-d during the High Holy days, wanting to attract His attention in a favorable manner. G-d is judging the world and preparing the New Year. If we want G-d to notice us, we should talk positively about His children. We need to express our love for Klal Yisroel and our concern for their plight.”
The process of teshuvah and the awesome day of Yom Kippur is not merely spiritual garbage-removal day. The Mishnah[10] records that it is one of the two greatest Yomim Tovim on the Jewish calendar. What makes it such an incredible Yom Tov?
Dovid Hamelech states: “And as for me, being close to G-d is good”[11]. The word Yom Tov literally means ‘a good day’. If Yom Kippur affords us the opportunity to connect with Hashem on a greater level than any other day of the year, than it is truly the ultimate Yom Tov.  
If we seek to tear down the barrier we have created between us and by rededicating ourselves to Torah and mitzvos and love for every Jew, we will be able to reconnect with the ultimate source of life.
                    
“Return Yisroel to Hashem, your G-d”
“A lion has roared; who will not fear?”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] Bereishis 37:29
[2] Bereishis Rabbah 84:19
[3] Following the death of the matriarch Rochel, Yaakov’s bed which had primarily been in the tent of Rochel, was moved into the tent of Bilhah. Reuven felt that this was an affront to the dignity of his mother. He felt that if Rochel had died, surely Leah should take her place as the mainstay and backbone of the home and not the maid, Bilhah. Therefore, Reuven took the initiative of moving his father’s bed into the tent of Leah. When Reuven realized that his impulsive actions were inappropriate, he engaged in a rigorous process of repentance, where he donned sackcloth and ashes and prayed for forgiveness.
[4] Hoshea 14:2
[5] Eruvin 18b
[6] Bereishis Rabbah 22:13
[7] Shabbos Shuva, 5765
[8] Christianity conjured up the idea that G-d has an ‘intermediary’ who is closer to humankind.
[9] Rabbi Teitelbaum is the Rav of K’hal Adas Yereim in Queens. The story was quoted by Rabbi Paysach Krohn
[10] Ta’anis 4:8
[11] Tehillim 73:28