Thursday, May 17, 2018

PARSHAS BAMIDBAR 5778



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS BAMIDBAR 5778
“AUTOMATIC RESPONSE”[1]

   A chassid once asked his rebbe, “When Moshiach comes, how will I recognize him?” The rebbe replied, “The more important question is how will Moshiach recognize you?”

In Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah describes the marching formation of the twelve shevatim. In addition, the Medrash notes that every shevet had its own banner, which depicted its individual image and color. Hoisting that banner was a matter of pride for each shevet.
On the flag of Shevet Reuven was the image of a plant – דודאים - reminiscent of the ones Reuven picked for his mother to help her become pregnant.[2] Chazal relate that Reuven picked those dudaim in an ownerless field, to make sure he wasn’t stealing. The Medrash adds that there were fruits growing on those flowers, but Reuven wouldn’t eat them until he had given the flowers to his mother[3].
What was so great about the dudaim that made it worthy of being the image on Shevet Reuven’s flag?
Our reflexes are a gift from Hashem. If one senses an object speeding towards his head, and he moves away just in time, that’s a reflex reaction. When one is walking and suddenly one foot extends higher or lower than the previous step, the body immediately adjusts its weight to make sure he doesn’t fall. That too is a natural reflex reaction.
The most well-known natural reflex is when a doctor hits a patient’s knee to test his reflexes, and the foot automatically extends.
But there are other reflexes that are not natural, and only result from training and developing a habit.
For example, a head lifeguard in camp may randomly demand that his lifeguards jump into the pool for practice emergency drills, even when the water is cold or murky. He is trying to get them into the habit of jumping into the water without hesitation, in case, G-d forbid, it became necessary to save a life.
The commentaries on the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah) note that Reuven was only four years old when he went to pick the dudaim. For a four-year-old to be so concerned about not picking stolen flowers, means that it was a reflex reaction, it had been ingrained in him even at his young age. The fact that he wouldn’t taste the flowers until he gave them to his mother, also demonstrates the chinuch that was invested in him.
The image of dudaim on their flag symbolized the integrity of their ancestor even at a young age, which was a result of the chinuch instilled in him. It’s likely that Reuven witnessed the incredible mesirus nefesh and selfless devotion his father displayed as a loyal employee of his dishonest grandfather, Lavan. Even under the worst working conditions, Yaakov was faithful and fulfilled his responsibilities to the best of his ability. Yaakov was obsessed with not taking what wasn’t his, and Reuven internalized that lesson.
The banner of Reuven contained the symbolism of developed moral reflexes![4]

In the second perek of Megillas Rus, the megillah describes the original encounter between Boaz and Rus. After Boaz noticed Rus’s exceptional modesty and adherence to halacha, he told her: “Do not go to gather in another field, and don’t go elsewhere, and so you shall remain close to my maidens.”[5] However, when Rus recounts to Naomi what Boaz told her, she unwittingly alters his words: “Also he said to me, with my young men that are with me you should remain close until the harvest is completed.”[6]
The Medrash observes that while Boaz told Rus to cling to his maidens, she recounted that he said she should cling to the young men. The Medrash introduces the observation with strong words: “Undoubtedly, she was a Moabite!” It is inconceivable that Boaz would have told the young widow to mingle with the young men. But, Rus was raised in a society where such mingling was commonplace and therefore, her righteousness and commitment to Judaism notwithstanding, she misunderstood Boaz’s words.[7]
Rus was unquestionably committed and had grown immeasurably in her connection to Judaism. But it is challenging to change notions and ideas that are developed from one’s youth. Rus had been raised in a promiscuous society and she still was not used to the healthy boundaries which halacha dictates and therefore she misunderstood Boaz’s message to her.

A friend of mine related that when his grandfather was in the hospital, not long before his passing, he was not always so lucid. On one occasion, in a state of half-consciousness, a nurse rolled up his sleeve and began to take his blood pressure. As soon as he felt something tightening upon his arm he began reciting the beracha “l’haniach tefllin”, the blessing men recite as they don their hand tefillin each morning.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Lipa Geldwerth[8] related that years ago his father was being wheeled into the elevator in the hospital on his way down to the operating room for open heart surgery. His father had already been given an injection of anesthesia and was beginning to feel its effects. In a groggy state he told his son Rav Lipa that he wanted to share with him two things. The first was a familial matter. Then he told him the following: “I survived five concentration camps and I never missed wearing tefillin for a day. If I’m alive tomorrow morning, please make sure I put on tefillin.”
He indeed survived the surgery and they made sure he put on tefillin the next day. He lived another twenty years before he had a heart attack and stroke from which he never recovered. When he was in the hospital that time, a nurse was wrapping a cord around his arm. While she was doing so, Rav Lipa noticed his father reach into the air in front of his forehead to adjust his Shel Rosh (which wasn’t there). It was an instinctual reaction, coming from decades of meticulous devotion to perform the mitzvah of tefillin.

Our goal in learning Torah and performing mitzvos is that it not only is something we do, but it becomes part of who we are. A truly G-d fearing Jew’s adherence to halacha becomes a reflex reaction. He recoils from a prohibition in the same manner that he recoils from touching a hot stove. Conversely, he relishes the opportunity to learn Torah because he finds fulfillment and connection through it.
We don’t merely keep the Torah; we also live it. That is an important part of what we celebrate on Shavuos. 

“For it is our life and the length of our days, and in it we will engage day and night.”
“It is a tree of life for those who uphold it, and its supporters are enriched.”



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



[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, second day of Shavuos 5777
[2] Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7
[3] Bereishis Rabbah 72:2
[4] The idea about the dudaim on the banner of Reuven as a result of his natural reflexes is from Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky.
[5] Rus 2:8
[6] Rus 2:21
[7] It’s worth noting the sensitivity of the manner in which Naomi corrected Rus. She did not chastise her or mention to her the immodesty of what she had said. Rather, in the next verse, she simply rewords Rus’s words correctly: “And Noami said to Rus, he daughter-in-law, it is good my daughter that you will go out with his maidens and you should not have any encounters in any other field.”
[8] Rabbi Geldwerth is a maggid shiur at Yeshiva Torah Temimah and rov of Khal Kol Torah of Flatbush; from a lecture given at last year’s Torah Umesorah Convention

Thursday, May 10, 2018

PARSHAS BEHAR-BECHUKOSAI 5778



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS BEHAR-BECHUKOSAI 5778
“CREATING INSPIRATION”

   Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers[1], related:
   “When I was writing the book, which I worked on for eleven years, I had several questions for which I searched for answers. The first question was about what the paratroopers did when the city was recaptured.  
   “Everyone heard the incredible announcement by Motta Gur that “Har habayit b’yadienu[2]. It was not just a military report, but a historical claim. Yet, shortly afterwards the soldiers were frantically searching for the way to get down to the Kotel Hama’aravi. How was it possible that the paratroopers of the 55th brigade left Har Habayit to go to the Wall?
   To us today it’s passé, but if we think back to that moment, how could they leave the place of the Mikdash itself to go to the remaining outer wall? A brigade is composed of roughly two thousand men. 20 % of the brigade were religious Zionists. They understood the holiness of the Temple Mount. Why would they want to pray by the Kotel rather than at the place of the Temple?
   “I asked this question to Chanan Porat[3]. He replied, “I don’t have an answer. But we knew of the Wall. That was the place of Jewish prayer for hundreds of years, and we just wanted to touch the Wall.” But he couldn’t give me a clearer response.
   “I remember as a fourteen-year-old boy going to the Wall soon after the war ended, and not even looking up. I felt so entranced just to stand in the presence of the wall.
   “In retrospect, my feeling is that the soldiers wanted to be in the place where Jews had prayed for centuries for that moment to occur. Har habayit, korbanot, avodah, were unfortunately too abstract for them. In 1967, they wanted to have a physical connection with the collective two-thousand-years of prayer throughout the exile. At that moment, the Jews wanted to honor two thousand years of longing.
   David Rubinger is the photographer who took the famous picture of the three soldiers standing in front of the Wall shortly after it was liberated. I interviewed him and asked him about the picture. He admitted that at first, he didn’t think it was such a great picture. In fact, he chose a different picture of Rabbi Goren with people dancing around him. It was his wife who pointed to the now iconic picture and told him that it’s the one that grabbed the moment.
   “I believe the reason why we connect so much to the picture is because it captures paratroopers at the greatest moment of victory, being transformed into pilgrims with a look of humility and surrender, rather than hubris and victory.
   “I believe that was why they went down from Har Habayit to the kotel. At the moment of their greatest victory, they were overwhelmed with gratitude and humility toward all those who had prayed and longed for that moment.
   “That’s what that moment is about – not Motta Gur stating “Har Habayit b’yadeinu”, as much as it is about the paratroopers rushing down to the Wall to connect with generations of prayers and yearning.

   It seems like a complete enigma. How is it possible that Har Sinai, the place where the most seminal event in world history took place, today possesses absolutely no sanctity? This is contrast with Har Habayis which retains its holiness until today.
   This question also touches on another question people often ask: why doesn’t G-d inspire me?
   At the conclusion of Chumash Vayikra, two of the laws the Torah discusses are bechor and ma’aser. A first-born animal is consecrated to G-d from birth. “A firstborn of animals, however, which—as a firstborn—is Hashem’s, cannot be consecrated by anybody; whether ox or sheep, it is Hashem’s.”[4]
   The laws of ma’aser beheimah, tithing animals, was performed in a unique manner. “All tithes of the herd or flock—of all that passes under the shepherd’s staff, every tenth one—shall be holy to Hashem.”[5]
   Rashi explains how the tenth animal would be tithed: “When he (the farmer) is about to tithe them (the cattle), he passes them through a door one after the other, and the tenth he strikes with a rod smeared with red dye, so that it should afterwards be recognized as being one of the tithes. That is what he does to the young sheep and calves of each separate year.”[6]
   There is a fundamental difference between the sanctity of the bechor and the sanctity of the ma’aser. The bechor is sanctified automatically, its holiness is innate from birth. The ma’aser however, is separated and designated for holiness by the farmer’s actions.
   The final law mentioned in Chaumash Vayikra[7] is that once an animal is sanctified as ma’aser beheimah, it’s holiness cannot be exchanged, even for a more robust and fitting animal. If one tries to do so, both the originally sanctified animal, as well as the animal he wants to transfer the holiness to, are sanctified.
   Following that halacha, the Chumash concludes: “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe for the B’nei Yisroel on Har Sinai.”[8]  
   Chumash Vayikra ends with the concept of generating holiness through one’s efforts, emphasizing that such holiness is permanent, and cannot be exchanged.
   The covert message is that permanent holiness is the result of one’s efforts. If one wants to be a holy person he cannot wait for inspiration to hit, or for ‘holy moments’ to occur. Rather, he must create them.
   Har Sinai was analogous to the wedding hall where our marriage to Hashem, as it were, transpired. It was an incredible event, but what’s important is not where it happened, but what happened. After a couple gets married, the location of where they tied the knot is no longer relevant, beyond the pictures. What’s important is that the knot remains securely tied, their devotion and pledge to each other endures.
   Before a wedding, the florist sets up the flowers, the photographer sets up the lighting and equipment, the band arranges the music, and the caterer prepares and organizes the meal. The groom and bride need to only show up.[9] Afterwards, everyone takes their equipment, and the groom and bride head home. All the details involved in the wedding were ultimately arranged for them and have no effect upon their marriage.
   However, once they move into a home and live there for several years, and raise children there, if they decide to move, it will be harder to leave. Memories developed lovingly over time, with shared emotional experiences are not easily erased.
   There are many homes of famous personalities that are preserved. One can visit the home of FDR in Hyde Park, NY, Thomas Jefferson in Monticello, Virginia, or Abe Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, to name a few. Long after the person is gone, his mark is left upon the place where they lived.
   It was Hashem who brought the holiness and incredible revelation upon Har Sinai. The nation had to do nothing more than to show up, witness it, and accept it[10]. Therefore, when the event ended, the holiness departed as well.
   The Bais Hamikdash however, was the place where we created holiness through our efforts and service. Therefore, that holiness is eternal, even two thousand years after the physical structure has been destroyed.
   We indeed celebrate Sinai, but the event, not the place. We celebrate it by living its message and legacy, every time we study Torah, and strive to live by its standards.  
   After the wedding ends, what’s important is that the groom and bride remain committed to each other. After Sinai, our commitment to Torah is what remains paramount, and that is what we celebrate on Shavuos. True greatness comes from the holiness we generate, far more than temporal holiness that is effortlessly pre-arranged.

   “Every tenth one—shall be holy to Hashem”
   “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded… on Har Sinai.” 


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



[1] “The story of the Israeli Paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation”
[2] “The Temple Mount is in our hands”; Gur made the announcement on June 7, 1967, during the 6 Day War, when Yerushalayim was recaptured from the Jordanians, who had maintained control of the city since 1948.
[3] who was part of that brigade and later became the Head of the Knesset Lobby for the Temple Mount
[4] Vayikra 27:26
[5] Vayikra 27:32
[6] Bechoros 58b
[7] Which follows the aforementioned law of tithing animals
[8] Vayikra 27:34
[9] And they, or their parents need to pay the bill….
[10] That was their way of “signing the check”

Thursday, May 3, 2018

PARSHAS EMOR 5778



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS EMOR 5778
“IN ALL DIRECTIONS”[1]

   Rabbi Yisroel Saperstein[2] related that one of the many chesed organizations in Monsey provides volunteer drivers to help people without means of transportation to get to needed destinations, such as doctor appointments, hospital visits, etc.
On one occasion, when Rabbi Saperstein was being driven to visit someone in the hospital, the chassid driving him related that on one occasion he received a call in the middle of the night that there was a family who needed to get to Baltimore as quickly as possible for a medical procedure. The man agreed to take them (!), and after dropping them off, he went to a nearby shul in Baltimore to daven shachris.
Being that he had rushed out in the middle of the night, he didn’t have his talis or tefillin with him. He saw someone who was finishing davening with a pervious minyan and asked if he could borrow his talis and tefillin. He assured the man that as soon as he finished davening, he would bring the talis and tefillin wherever he wanted them to be brought.  At first the man was hesitant. He wanted to know why the chassid had come to shul without his own talis and tefillin. When the chassid explained the predicament, the man couldn’t get over the extent of the chesed he had done, driving over three hours in the middle of the night to help a family he never met. He told the chassid he would be happy to let him use his talis and tefillin. He told the chassid where to leave it in the shul when he was done.
Sometime later this chassid, a salesman by trade, arranged an important meeting with the wealthy owner of a large company. It was a potentially lucrative deal for the chassid and he was eager to make the connection. He walked into the meeting and immediately recognized the owner as the person whose talis and tefillin he had borrowed a few days earlier in shul. The owner recognized him as well and reassured him that he was eager to give such a ba’al chesed his business, and he placed a large order.

The Meshech Chochma notes that there are certain mitzvos, such as mezuzah, tefillin, and tzitzis, that inspire us and draw us closer to Hashem, while other mitzvos, such as tzedakah and chesed, serve to promote social connections that draw us closer to each other. 
On Shabbos there are numerous prohibitions that restrict us from “expanding outwards” and promoting social connections[3]. It is prohibited to cook food for a guest on Shabbos, nor may one carry gifts or food out of one’s home. Essentially then, Shabbos is a day of introspection, when we are meant to reflect inwardly upon our personal relationship with Hashem. We celebrate and observe Shabbos together, but everything must have been prepared beforehand.
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt’l compared Shabbos to our ‘honeymoon with Hashem’, as it were. When a couple is on their honeymoon, and are sitting together enjoying watching a magnificent sunset, and the groom takes out his cell phone to make a call, it is insulting to his bride. This time was set aside for them to spend together and any distractions take away from that bonding.
During the Yomim Tovim however, when it is permitted to cook and to carry, our main focus is external - towards our fellow Jew, promoting unity and love.
Although Pesach marks the genesis of our nationhood, at the time of the exodus we hadn’t fully become a nation. This is manifested in the fact that although the Korbon Pesach must be eaten as part of a chaburah (a group), the chaburah had to be arranged beforehand. In addition, one was not permitted to leave the home where his chaburah was eating the Korbon Pesach.
At the time of the exodus we began building connections with each other, but we did not yet achieve national unity. That would only happen at the foot of Sinai at the time of the revelation and giving of the Torah.
The restrictions regarding the Korbon Pesach symbolize that although Pesach is a Yom Tov, it bears certain similarities to Shabbos. This is reflected in the fact that when the Torah instructs about the mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer, it refers to the first day of Pesach as Shabbos. “And you shall count for yourselves on the morrow of the Shabbos, from the day when you bring the Omer that was waved, seven complete weeks they shall be.”[4]
It was seven weeks later, when the nation stood around Har Sinai in complete unity that they truly became a nation. The gemara[5] states that Moshe Rabbeinu added a day and ‘pushed off’ the giving of the Torah. When the nation followed his lead with complete allegiance, that too was a symbol that they had achieved unity and nationhood.
The counting of the Omer symbolizes the transformation from quasi-nationhood to complete nationhood.
Although there is some controversy regarding determining the proper balance between physical celebration and spiritual service during the other holidays of the year, on Shavuos one must display and enjoy physical celebration. Regarding Shavuos, the gemara states “all agree that on Shavuos you also need a component of lachem- for you”[6], i.e. physical enjoyment. On Shavuos we must celebrate together! On Shavuos we as a nation accepted the Torah in complete unity, and therefore we must celebrate together in unity.

When the Torah commences its discussion of the laws and mitzvos of the holidays of the year, it begins with Shabbos: “Speak to B’nei Yisroel and say to them- these are my fixed times… for six days work shall be done, but on the seventh there shall be a Shabbos of complete rest…”[7] Rashi, quoting Sifra, comments, “What is the relation between Shabbos (whose sanctify is affixed by Hashem) and the holidays (which are affixed by the Sanhedrin)? To teach you that anyone who desecrates the holidays it is considered as if he desecrated the Shabbos; and anyone who fulfills the holidays, it’s as if he has fulfilled the Shabbos.”
We often think of Judaism as being a G-d-centered religion, that a Jew must live his life focused on his obligations and responsibilities in his service to G-d. But the truth is that a Jew who learns Torah with intensity, davens, and performs mitzvos, yet cannot get along with others, is severely remiss in his observance.
Shabbos represents the ultimate in one’s service with Hashem. It is a day spent completely focused on spiritual pursuits, when we question ourselves whether we are living up to our own spiritual responsibilities throughout the week. It is a day to put our spiritual lives in order.
Yomim Tovim represent the ultimate barometer in how we are connecting with others. As we able to celebrate with others, or is our holiday observance a selfish experience?
One desecrates the spirit of the holidays by denigrating the importance of his “social Judaism”. Such a person isn’t striving to improve his interpersonal relations with others. He is also desecrating the spirit of Shabbos, because his relationship with Hashem cannot be as it should be, if he isn’t trying to grow in his interpersonal relationships as well. Conversely, one who sustains the holidays, by promoting unity and love among other Jews, is fulfilling the spirit of Shabbos, and bringing tremendous nachas to Hashem as well.[8] 

The compete Jew isn’t only growing horizontally – in his striving to grow closer to heaven and to make this world a conduit for holiness, but also vertically - by building relationships and caring for his fellow Jew, and seeking to ease his burdens and empathize with his plight.
A Jew must strive to grow in all directions, for Hashem is to be found not only in heaven but also in the heart of his fellow man.

“Speak to B’nei Yisroel and say to them these are my fixed times”
“You shall count for yourselves on the morrow of the Shabbos”


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



[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Emor 5773 in honor of the bar mitzvah of Refi Minsky.
[2] A fellow Rav in New Hempstead, Rabbi Saperstein is the Rav of Kehillas Ohaiv Shalom
[3] Unless pre-arranged before Shabbos
[4] Vayikra 23:15
[5] Shabbos 87b
[6] Pesachim 68b
[7] Vayikra 23:2-3
[8] I heard this explanation of Rashi from my dear friend Rabbi Yosef Bendrihem

Thursday, April 26, 2018

PARSHAS ACHAREI MOS-KEDOSHIM



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS ACHAREI MOS-KEDOSHIM
PESACH SHENI/LAG BA’OMER 5778
“ETERNAL HOPE”[1]

   In 1944 Binyamin Wertzberger, a sixteen-year-old Hungarian Jew, was sent to a Concentration Camp where he was forced to drag heavy train tracks with his bare thin hands. His entire family, including a brother and two sisters perished during the war.
   On one occasion, when he was waiting in line to receive his pitiful food rations, a Nazi asked him if he had any dreams of making it to his Jerusalem? Wertzberger remained silent.
   The Nazi taunted him - "Maybe your ashes will merit to get there through the chimneys of the concentration camp."
   Wertzberger was beaten, humiliated, starved and forced to work in the most difficult circumstances, but he never forgot the Nazi's words.
   Following the Death March, he as one of the few who arrived at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria. On May 5, 1945, the camp was liberated by the US army.
   After a long journey, he made it to Israel where he married and raised a family. His children learned in yeshivos and lead a life of Torah and Mitzvos.
   When he retired, he went to the offices of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation[2], and offered to work for them. At first they were hesitant, but he insisted that he would do anything they wanted.
   He was given the job of cleaning the stones of the Kosel. He wakes up at 5 AM every day to do so.
   In his words: "When I stand near the holy stones, I feel like I'm taking revenge on that Nazi officer. This is my Jewish revenge."[3]

The ‘minor holidays’, Pesach Sheni and Lag Ba’omer, are four days apart. Although the significance of these days are very different, there is an equal message that both impart, which is particularly vital to our generation.
In the year 2449 from creation, the second year following the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish Nation in the desert, was instructed by Hashem to offer the Korbon Pesach on the fourteenth of Nissan.
There was a group of people who were ritually impure and therefore forbidden/exempt from offering the Korbon Pesach. They were unhappy with their exemption and complained to Moshe that they too wanted the opportunity to offer the unique Korbon. Hashem replied by instructing Moshe about the concept of Pesach Sheni, the second Pesach. Those who were impure or distant, and therefore unable to bring the Korbon Pesach on the fourteenth of Nissan, could do so one month later, on the fourteenth of Iyar.
We live in a generation which struggles with feelings of meaningless, despair, and giving-up. Part of the challenge of living in a blessed affluent society, if the struggle to feel that there is meaning in our actions and the lives we lead.
The false persona displayed on social media of perfect happy lives, leads people to think that there is something wrong with them for having a more mundane and less extravagant life. Why doesn’t my vacation/spouse/house/children/job/life look like my friend’s/neighbor’s/sister-in-law’s life appears on his/her Facebook page? Although it is altogether superficial, it leads to great discontent and inner turmoil.
Regarding religiosity too, people feel that if they cannot reach the greatest levels quickly, or if they struggle constantly in certain religious areas, or have fallen into sinful behaviors, they are damaged goods. They feel they are beyond rectification and that G-d views them disdainfully. It’s easier to just give up and stop struggling.
The powerful message of Pesach Sheni is that of second chances. In the middle of its discussion of the laws and procedures of the Yom kippur service performed by the Kohain Gadol, the Torah states: “And he will atone for the Sanctuary from the impurity of the B’nai Yisroel and from their transgressions, all of their sins, and so he shall do for the Tent of the Meeting, השכן אתם בתוך טומאותם - who resides with them in the midst of their impurity.”[4] Rashi[5] explains that the pasuk is teaching us that the Shechina resides with Klal Yisroel even when we are impure.
Hashem doesn’t seek or desire perfection; but the yearning to grow and to maintain the struggle for growth.
Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter shlita explains[6] that every generation has a "צו השעה" a directive for its time, a particular divine mission incumbent upon it to grapple with. He explains that our generation’s challenge is to overcome feelings of worthlessness and despair.
Rav Shechcter quotes Rav Yehuda Horowitz of D’zikov who noted that after World War One, there was a noticeable and palpable decline in simchas hachaim – satisfaction and happiness for life, that seemed to settle on the world. People no longer appreciated or attached value to their own efforts and spiritual accomplishments.
Therefore, it has become our mission to challenge those notions, and to help people recognize their own value and greatness. Our mission is to offer chizuk – to first strengthen ourselves, so that we can strengthen others. Especially in times of confusion and spiritual struggle, it is incumbent upon us to recognize our greatness and how beloved we are in the eyes of Hashem, even in our darkest moments. It is only with that perspective that we will be able to forge on, and never give up on our efforts to constantly grow.
That is part of the reason the Torah taught by Rav Nachman of Breslov seems to resonate so much in our time. Rav Nachman’s constant message was about the inner greatness and holiness within every Jew.[7] That concept is so desperately sought out and needed to be heard, because so many feel their lives and their davening and mitzvos are meaningless and devoid of higher purpose. 

Lag Ba’omer has a deep connection with the esoteric parts of the Torah. On the day of his departure from the world, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed to his students a collection of secrets of kabbalah.
Kabbalah discerns hidden holiness, not apparent at face value. It sees beyond the surface and ascribes meaning and ‘divine energy’ to everything in existence.[8] 
The fires of Lag Ba’omer symbolize the eternal light of hope, even in the darkest and most bleak of times – physical and spiritual. It was Rav Shimon Bar Yochai who promised that the Torah will never be forgotten from the Jewish people[9]. 

The Torah commands, “Kedoshim tihiyu – You shall be holy”[10]. Those two words contain the mantra of a Jew – to strive for holiness and to lead a life beyond the mundane.
Parshas Achrei Mos begins with a discussion of the service of Yom Kippur, and how the Kohain Gadol achieved atonement for the nation for all its sins. It is not a coincidence, that the commandment of Kedoshim follows the Yom Kippur avodah, or that Parsha Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read together during non-leap years. Being holy is not ‘all or nothing’. If one sins and acts in an unholy manner, he has not perpetually destroyed himself. Following the repentance process of Yom Kippur, one can attain holiness, often achieving greater levels than he had before his falling and failing.
This is clearly seen from Aharon Hakohain who reached his greatest levels as the Kohain Gadol after he had unwittingly led the nation to commit one of its most egregious sins – that of the Golden Calf. It was after that devastating failure, which caused Aharon himself to feel that he was no longer worthy for the position, that he became the symbol of the divine Service for perpetuity.

Rav Nachman taught[11] אם אתה מאמין שאפשר לקלקל, תאמין שאפשר לתקןif you believe that you are able to distort, then you must belief that you are able to rectify.”

That is what we ‘taste’ in the matzah we customarily eat on Pesach Sheni, and that is what is reflected in the fires we celebrate on Lag Ba’omer: The inner inextinguishable light that continues to shine despite the thickest darkness.


“You shall be holy”
“Who resides with them in the midst of their impurity”


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



[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5772
[2] the organization that maintains and upkeeps the plaza in front of the Kosel
[3] Based on an article by Menachem Cohen for COLlive.com, July 19, 2010
[4] Vayikra 16:16
[5] Quoting Yoma 57a and the Sifra
[6] Kuntrus Tzav Hasha’a
[7] True understanding of Rav Nachman’s writings requires time, effort, and understanding of many lofty concepts. Many only learn his ideas on a more superficial level. Still, the most important component is to feel that sense of chizuk in a proper and healthy framework.
[8] This is why studying kabbalah without the proper holy framework is dangerous and strongly censured by the Sages. One must be proficient in all areas of the ‘revealed Torah’ before he can begin to comprehend the esoteric portions of the Torah without distorting and convoluting its deep messages.
[9] Shabbos 138b
[10] Vayikra 19:2
[11] ליקוטי מוהר"ן (תנינא קיב)