Thursday, January 12, 2017



During my formative years, one of my rabbeim once told our class that he wished to tell us something very profound, something we may have a hard time believing: “I want you all to know that every student in this room has the capability to become one of the gedolei hador[1].” I recall that at first that comment encouraged and inspired me. But within a short time, the comment left me feeling very dejected. In fact, I have thought of that comment many times since then and it took me a long time to understand what bothered me about it.

The Torah introduces the epic saga and contention between Yosef and his brothers at the beginning of Parshas Vayeshev. There the Torah states, “Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock, but he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yosef would bring evil reports about them to their father.” Rashi explains that whereas the sons of Leah would denigrate the sons of the maids, Yosef would befriend them. This was one of the points that Yosef recounted to his father about the brothers, “that they would belittle the sons of the maids by calling them servants.”
How could the righteous sons of Leah speak negatively about their half-brothers? Why did they make it a point to refer to them as sons of the maids?
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that Klal Yisroel descends from four Matriarchs. The gemara states: “We do not call anyone a matriarch except for four (women).[2]” Those four women are undoubtedly Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.
If that is true, how can the four sons of Bilhah and Zilpah be considered members of the twelve tribes if they do not descend from Leah or Rachel? It was only because Bilhah and Zilpah completely subjugated themselves to their sisters with complete faithfulness. Therefore, their sons could be considered as descending from Rachel and Leah, since their mothers considered themselves to be an extension of their sisters.
At that point a philosophical dispute arose between Yosef and his brothers, a dispute that had far-reaching consequences. The brothers felt that in order for the sons of Bilhah and Ziplah to be considered as if they are descended from Rachel and Leah, it was insufficient that their mothers subjugated themselves to their sisters. Rather, they felt the sons of the maids had to also personally subjugate themselves to the sons of Rachel and Leah. Therefore, the sons of Leah made it a point to refer to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah as ‘the sons of the maids’, not to denigrate them, but with the opposite intent. If they were servants to the sons of Rachel and Leah then they could have equal status vis-à-vis their lineage, and could father Tribes. The brothers felt Bilhah and Zilpah’s subjugating themselves to Rochel and Leah was insufficient for their children to be counted as offspring of their sisters. The son’s own efforts were necessary as well.
Yosef however countered, that the fact that their mothers maintained an attitude of servility before their sisters was enough to grant their sons equal status. Thus, Yosef felt that the brothers were being unnecessarily harsh, while the brothers felt it was necessary so that their other brothers could achieve their due greatness.
This philosophical disagreement further manifested itself in the interpretation of Yosef’s dream. Yosef dreamed that the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing to him. The brother’s countered that Yosef’s dream was nonsense since the moon referred to his mother Rachel who had already died. Yosef however believed that Bilhah had fully taken the place of his mother, and it was she who was represented by the moon in his dream.
In his efforts to assuage the brother’s anger at Yosef, Yaakov scolded Yosef by stating that indeed it was impossible for his mother to bow before him. But the Torah says that secretly Yaakov anticipated the fruition of Yosef’s dream, because in his heart Yaakov agreed with Yosef’s view that Bilhah had indeed taken the place of his mother Rachel.
This also explains Reuven’s actions. After Rachel died Yaakov moved his bed into the tent of Bilhah. Reuven felt that it was a slight to the honor of his mother and transported Yaakov’s bed into Leah’s tent. Reuven felt that in order for Bilhah’s sons to be considered part of Klal Yisroel, Bilhah had to continue to subjugate herself to Leah. But Yaakov felt that Bilhah had literally taken the place of Rachel and therefore she came before Leah (just as Rachel had come before Leah).

It is noteworthy, that from when the Torah relates the birth of the sons of the maids until parshas Vayechi when Yaakov blesses each son prior to his demise, the sons of the maids are not mentioned or referred to at all. Virtually every one of the sons of Rachel and Leah on the other hand[3], are mentioned explicitly in the drama of the account - or at least alluded to.
Perhaps it may indeed seem as if the sons of the maids are not so important. But we know otherwise, for without the sons of the maids there is no Klal Yisroel. “All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve…[4]

In our world, everybody wants to be the best. But if everybody is going to become a Rosh Yeshiva and a Rebba, there won’t be any yeshivos or chassidus. To be a leader one must have followers, and to be a follower one must be ready to accept leadership.[5]
The truth is that this concept is not limited to academic achievement but it is something that plagues us in all facets of life.
In the field of education, we have bred a generation that feels anything less than a straight ‘A’ report card is terrible.[6] Young adults feel that their lives are ruined because of their grades. In the most horribly extreme situations, teens commit suicide because they realize they aren’t going to be the next iconic pop star or professional athlete, and they feel that life isn’t worth anything if they cannot achieve the glitz and glamour. 
This is not only a challenge we face in the education of our children, but in regards to our own growth as well. People feel that if they are not the CEO or the owner of the company they are a complete failure.
And in regards to Torah study and spiritual growth such feelings of inadequacy paralyze us as well. Why should I even bother to learn my one meager page of gemara? I’m never going to know the entire Talmud anyway. Why should I work on improving my mitzvah performance, what are my actions worth anyway?
Klal Yisroel is not only composed of Reuven the firstborn, Levi the priest, Yehuda the king, and Yosef the viceroy. Without the sons of the maids – maids only in regards to their complete subjugation and humility – there is no Klal Yisroel. Not only are the sons of the maids inextricable members of Klal Yisroel, but our actions which are “analogous” to ‘the sons of the maids’, i.e. our Torah study, efforts to concentrate in prayer, good deeds, efforts at spiritual growth, etc. are all vital components of our identities as well.
In psychology one of the most rudimentary raging debates is about nature versus nurture. Are we more programmed by the way we are created or are we more influenced by our surroundings and culture? We believe that G-d creates every person with the tools he needs to achieve his own potential, and then places him in the proper environment to achieve his own level of greatness.
Yaakov gathered his sons individually and blessed each one by delineating his strengths and innate greatness. “Each man according to his blessing, he blessed them.” Every tribe possessed his own contribution to the nation, based on the inner greatness that G-d had already implanted with him. Yaakov’s blessing was that each tribe should be able to cultivate and develop the internal greatness.
The slogan of the United States army expresses this idea eloquently: “Be all you can be.” We aren’t all destined to be the Gadol Hador, but each of us possesses the ability to become a Gadol in our own way, if we appreciate the gadlus (greatness) that lies within us. One person’s greatness is as Yehuda or Yosef, while another person’s greatness is analogous to Asher and Naftali.

“All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve”
“Each man according to his blessing, he blessed them.”

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

[1] Torah leaders of the generation
[2] Berachos 16b
[3] With the notable exceptions of Yissachor and Zevulen
[4] 49:28
[5] As I heard a community activist quip: “For a long time Klal Yisroel needed lay leaders. But now we have lay leadership, and what we really need is lay followers.”
[6] The very title of parenting expert Wendy Mogul’s book says it all: “The Blessings of a B+”

Thursday, January 5, 2017



Keren Gottleib relates an incredible personal story[1]: “As part of my army service in the Israeli army I was placed, to my delight, in a teachers' unit…
“This was shortly after Operation Solomon in 1993, during which roughly 14,500 Jews from Ethiopia were airlifted to Israel. It was a special and moving operation, and the entire Israeli population was surprised to see that, suddenly, there were Jews walking around here who had, in fact, been severed from our nation many generations ago.
“They observed Shabbat, were familiar with most of the holidays and kept Jewish tradition in a devout and traditional manner. But it was clear that they didn't know everything; the separation they had undergone throughout all those years had influenced their system of traditions.
“They had never heard of Independence Day or Yom Yerushalayim, or even about Purim or Chanukah -- none of the latter historical events that took place subsequent to their break-off from the Jewish nation.
“I realized that unless I concentrated on filling these gaps of knowledge, their adjustment in Israel would never be complete. I decided to allot a considerable amount of time each day to teach them about Judaism.
 “The month of Nissan had arrived and I started teaching about the holiday of Passover. My class consisted of 20 students, 3rd - 6th grade. "Today is the first day of Nissan and Passover is celebrated during this month," I began. "Passover is one of the three festivals when the entire Jewish people used to go to Jerusalem to the Temple."
 “"Teacher, have you ever been to the Temple?"
At this point, a student jumped up, cutting me off in mid-sentence. "Teacher, have you ever been to the Temple?"
“I smiled at him, realizing that he was somewhat confused. "No, of course not. That was a very long time ago!"
“My student was insistent, and a few more pairs of eyes joined him. "Fine, it was a long time ago. But were you there? Were you at the Temple a long time ago?"
“I smiled again, this time slightly confused myself. ”Doesn't he understand? Perhaps my Hebrew is too difficult for him”, “I thought.
"No, of course not. That was a very long time ago!"
Now the rest of the students joined him in an uproar. "You've never been there?" "Teacher, what's it like being in the Temple?" "What does the Temple look like?"
"Quiet!" I tried calming everyone down. "Listen everyone -- there is no Temple! There used to be a Temple many years ago but today we don't have a Temple. It was destroyed, burned down. I have never been to it, my father's never been to it, and my grandfather has never been to it! We haven't had a Temple for 2000 years!"
I said these words over and over, having a very hard time believing that this was so strange for them to hear. What's the big deal? This is the reality with which we've all grown up. Why are they so bothered by it?
The tumult in the class was steadily increasing. They began talking amongst themselves in Aramaic, arguing, translating, explaining, shouting, as I lost total control over the class. When the bell rang, they collected their things and ran home. I left the school exhausted and utterly confused.
“The next morning I was hardly bothered by the previous day's events. In fact, I had nearly forgotten all about the incident. That day I had planed to just teach math, geometry and other secular subjects.
“I got off the bus and leisurely made my way toward the school. As I neared the gate the guard approached me, seeming a bit alarmed. "Tell me," he said, "do you have any idea what's going on here today?" I tried recalling a special activity that was supposed to be going on, or some ceremony that I had forgotten about, but nothing exceptional came to mind. "Why do you ask?" I asked him. "What happened?" He didn't answer. He only pointed towards the entrance to the school.
“I raised my head and saw a sizeable gathering of Ethiopian adult immigrants -- apparently, my students' parents. What are they doing here? And what are they yelling about? I went over to them, attempting to understand what was the matter, from the little Aramaic that I knew.
“As I came closer, everyone quieted down. One of the adults whose Hebrew was on a higher level, asked me, "Are you our children's teacher?" "Yes," I answered. "What is the matter, sir?" "Our children came home yesterday and told us that their teacher taught them that the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists. Who would tell them such a thing?" He looked at me in anger.
 "Am I sure that the Temple was destroyed? Of course I'm sure!"
"I told them that. We were discussing the Temple and I felt that they were a bit confused. So I explained to them that the Temple had been burned down thousands of years ago and that today, we no longer have a Temple. That's all. What's all the fuss about?"
He was incredulous. "What? What are you talking about?"
I was more confused than ever. "I don't understand. What are you all so angry about? I simply reminded them of the fact that the Temple was destroyed and that it no longer exists today."
Another uproar -- this one even louder than before. The representative quieted the others down, and again turned to me. "Are you sure?" "Am I sure that the Temple was destroyed? Of course I'm sure!" I couldn't hide my smile. What a strange scene.
“The man turned to his friends and in a dramatic tone translated what I had told him. At this point, things seemed to be finally sinking in. Now, however, a different scene commenced: one woman fell to the ground; a second broke down in tears. A man standing by them just stared at me in disbelief. A group of men began quietly talking amongst themselves, very fast, in confusion and disbelief. The children stood on the side, looking on in great puzzlement. Another woman suddenly broke into a heart-rending cry. Her husband came over to her to hug her.
A woman suddenly broke into a heart-rending cry.
I stood there in utter shock.
“I felt as if I had just brought them the worst news possible. It was as if I had just told them about the death of a loved one. I stood there across from a group of Jews who were genuinely mourning the destruction of the Temple.”

When he could bear the façade no longer, Yosef finally broke down and revealed his true identity to his brothers. They were so shocked that they were utterly speechless. Yosef reassured them that he bore no ill will towards them and that they did need to fear reprisal. After embracing each brother, Yosef instructed them to hurry back to Canaan to bring his beloved father Yaakov down to Egypt.
When the brothers finally arrived back home and related to Yaakov that Yosef was alive and well and was the ruler of Egypt, Yaakov could not digest their words. He simply could not believe them. All of their efforts notwithstanding, Yaakov was only convinced when, “He saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him. Then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived[2].”  
The Medrash explains that Yosef sent wagons as a clandestine message to his father to prove that he was indeed alive and well - physically and spiritually. The final topic that Yaakov and Yosef had studied together twenty-two years earlier, prior to that fateful journey when Yaakov dispatched Yosef to check the welfare of his brothers, was Eglah Arufah[3]. No one could have known what they were studying except for Yosef. In sending the wagons Yosef hinted to that final study session for the word “egel” (wagon) is similar to the word eglah (calf).  
However, there is a glaring difficulty with Yosef’s hidden message, because it was not Yosef’s idea to send the wagons in the first place. The Torah explicitly states that Pharaoh told Yosef[4], “Take for yourselves from the land of Egypt wagons for your small children and for your wives; transport your father and come.” Although the Medrash says that the wagons Pharaoh sent were bedecked with idolatry and Yehuda burnt them and Yosef sent other wagons, this too is puzzling, for the Torah later refers to the wagons in which Yaakov's family was transported as those sent by Pharaoh[5].
Rabbi Zev Leff offers the following insightful explanation: When Pharaoh was informed that Yosef’s family was reunited he was excited by the prospect of them all coming to live in Egypt. He reckoned that if Yosef was single-handedly able to manage Egypt in the face of crisis, imagine what a family of Yosef’s could accomplish for Egyptian economy. Therefore, Pharaoh wanted to make the transition for Yosef’s aged father as painless and comfortable as possible.
He didn’t want Yaakov to have to deal with the challenge of acclimating to a new culture and being an immigrant. So he instructed Yosef to send just a few wagons to bring the family members themselves down to Egypt. They did not need to take any of their belongings or furnishings with them, because Pharaoh pledged to ‘roll out the red carpet’. He would ensure that they would receive the best that Egypt had to offer, and they didn’t need to bring anything other than themselves.
However, Yosef knew that if that message were conveyed to Yaakov, he would never consent to descending to Egypt. In fact, au contraire; Yaakov needed assurance that every precaution was being taken to combat the possibility of assimilation. Thus Yosef sent wagons “according to the word of Pharaoh", i.e. not exactly according to the command of Pharaoh, but in accord with Pharaoh's intention of enticing Yaakov to Egypt. Yosef added wagons for their possessions so that they could bring with them the spirit of their home and environment in Eretz Yisroel. This would enable them to remember where home truly was even as they were living in Egypt for a prolonged period of time. Thus, Yaakov's family went down to Egypt with all "their livestock and all of their possessions which they acquired in the Land of Canaan[6]”.
When Yaakov saw the wagons that Pharaoh had sent, and was informed of the extra wagons that Yosef added for their possessions, then it revived his spirit. He recognized that Yosef understood the importance of guarding against possible assimilation and the need to remain insulated from Egyptian culture.
It was not coincidental that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef were discussing was eglah arufah. Da'as Z'keinim and Maharal explain that when Yaakov sent Yosef to check on his brothers, he bid him farewell and began to escort him as halachah dictates. Yosef, a boy of seventeen, begged his father - then one hundred and eight years old - not to accompany him down the steep hill from Hebron, which would necessitate a difficult climb back up. Yaakov replied that levayah (the mitzvah of escorting people on a journey) is an obligation.
The importance of levayah is learned from the mitzvah of eglah arufah. As part of the mitzvah of eglah arufah, the Elders of the city proclaim that they did not shed the victim’s blood. The Gemara (Sotah 45b) asks, “Could anyone really suspect the Elders of the city of having shed his blood?” The Gemara answers that the meaning of the Elders' oath is that they did not knowingly permit the deceased to leave the city without an escort, since such an escort is a protection for the person embarking on a journey.
Maharal explains that although one is halachically required to accompany his friend no more than four amos (approximately eight feet), even that levayah suffices to show the departed that he is not alone, but is connected to others. This spiritual connection gives him the merit of the public, which is a potent protection against harm.
The mitzvah of levayah shows us that a person's physical location is not as significant as the spiritual locus to which he is attached. One can be physically alone yet spiritually connected to the body of Klal Yisroel, through his connection to the one who escorts him at the beginning of his journey. Similarly, one may physically be in exile, far from Eretz Yisroel, yet spiritually connected to it. Yaakov's realization that Yosef still lived in accord with this concept caused his spirit to be revived.
When Yosef conferred with his brothers prior to their first meeting with Pharaoh, he told them to state that they were shepherds since time immemorial, so that they would be sent to live apart in Goshen. Instead of bidding them to conceal that they were shepherds so that they would be more readily accepted, Yosef emphasized it because shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians. He realized that their ability to survive the Egyptian exile depended on their capacity to remain apart, and Goshen was well-suited to that purpose. Yosef told his brothers that he was going to inform Pharaoh, "My brothers and my father's household, who are in the Land of Canaan have come to me," hinting to them that they were not only from the Land of Canaan, but in a sense they were still in the Land of Canaan, despite taking up temporary residence in Egypt.
Before actually descending to Egypt, Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead to prepare the way. The Sages explain that his function was to establish a House of Torah Study in Goshen. Seemingly this task should have been given to Levi, the Torah Scholar of Klal Yisroel, not to Yehuda, the King? 
Many countries provide space for foreign embassies on their soil. Essentially an embassy is an ‘island’ of one’s home country on foreign soil. An American citizen who enters any American embassy throughout the world is legally on American soil, and under the jurisdiction of American law, even in the physical parameters of Japan, Uruguay, or New Zealand.
The yeshiva was not merely a place of Torah study. More profoundly, it was the means of transferring the holiness of Eretz Yisroel onto Egyptian soil. In a sense it’s purpose was to be a Canaanite embassy, an island of the Holy Land on Egyptian soil. Goshen was to become a spiritually sovereign region within the environs of Egypt, like any area adjacent to Eretz Yisroel conquered in war which takes on some of the spiritual status of Eretz Yisroel. But only a king has the right to capture new land. Thus it was specifically the King - Yehuda – who was needed to transform Goshen into a spiritual extension of Eretz Yisroel.
It was Yehuda who exercised his royal power by bringing the extra wagons back to Yaakov for all their possessions. He thereby nullified Pharaoh's purpose of promoting Yaakov's assimilation. When the Medrash says Yehuda burnt the idolatry of Pharaoh's wagons, it means that he destroyed them by negating their intended function.

When Yaakov finally came to Egypt and wa introduced to Pharaoh, the monarch wa surprised by Yaakov’s aged appearance. This prompted Pharaoh to ask Yaakov his age. After Yaakov replied that he was one hundred and thirty years old, he added a startling statement: “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.” 
Ramban questions why Yaakov would vent his feelings to Pharaoh, of all people?
Rabbi Moshe Fenstein zt’l explained that Yaakov’s intent was not to complain, but rather to demonstrate to Pharaoh his mindset and attitude. As mentioned, most immigrants try to acclimate themselves to their new country as quickly as possible. Pharaoh expected that Yaakov and his family, who were close family members of the Egyptian viceroy, would certainly avail themselves to all amenities and Egyptian comforts. But, he was grossly mistaken, for Yaakov wanted to remain as distinct as possible and he did not want to assimilate or acculturate himself to Egyptian life at all. Yaakov wanted to impress upon Pharaoh that, unlike most people, he was not one to look for comfort and the easy life.
Yaakov was not venting o Pharaoh, but he was stating a fact. His life was difficult, painful, and challenging. But he was proud of who he was and what he had accomplished[7].

Our Sages relate that the study halls and shuls in exile are parts of Eretz Yisroel, transplanted onto foreign soil. It is in them and around them that we must build a temporary physical dwelling place that is spiritually rooted in the holiness and purity of Eretz Yisroel. As long as one is physically prevented from being in Eretz Yisroel, he must transplant Eretz Yisroel to foreign soil. In this way the Jew insulates himself from assimilating into the host society and culture!
Rabbi Leff notes that our role as the Chosen People requires that we protect ourselves from the influence of the rest of the world, even while living in that world. We must be insulated but not isolated! 

The fast day of the Tenth of Teves commemorates the day that the mighty legions of the evil Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar laid siege around Jerusalem during the time of the first Temple. The siege marked the beginning of the end, culminating in the destruction of the Temple on the ninth of Av.
In a deeper sense, we not only mourn the physical siege that began that day, but also the spiritual siege that surrounds us in exile. We live in a world which is antithetical to our values. Klal Yisroel declares[8], “אום אני חומה - I am a wall”. Our only hope is to strengthen the barriers we erect around ourselves. We are not impervious to the influences of the outside world and we cannot isolate ourselves from it. But we must insulate ourselves with our own inner light. The light of Chanukah must keep burning through the darkness and strengthen us to stay the course and protect our walls.

“He saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him”
“And all of their possessions from the Land of Canaan”

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

[1] The following was excerpted from the website where the complete article appears. It is called “The Heart-Rending Cry”
[2]  Bereishis 45:27
[3] The calf that is beheaded by the elders of a city closest to where a murdered body is found without any clues pointing to the murderer. See Devarim 21:1-9
[4] 45:19
[5] See 46:5
[6] Bereishis 46:6
[7] Nevertheless, Yaakov was punished for the way he spoke to Pharaoh, because it sounded as if he was complaining, even if that was not at all his intent.
[8] In the Hosha’ana prayer recited on Succos

Thursday, December 29, 2016



Between the two World Wars, Winston Churchill, the future legendary Prime Minster of Great Britain, was exasperated with the impotence of the British government in regards to their foreign policy[1].
On one occasion, he addressed the House of Commons and related that as a boy he always looked forward to the London arrival of the American Barnum and Bailey circus.
“But,” added Churchill, “there was one show that my nanny would not let me see. She said it was ‘too revolting a spectacle for the human eye.’ The sideshow was called ‘the Boneless Wonder’.
“Now thirty-six years later, I have finally discovered the freak show that I wanted to see so badly. Where did I find it? Not in the circus, but in the House of Commons, sitting on the front bench. Here they are before me – the Boneless Wonder.”

After languishing in an Egyptian prison for over a decade, Yosef was suddenly hoisted out of the doldrums of prison, and stood before the mighty Pharaoh. Yosef successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, explaining that they were foreshadowing visions of the future economic situation of Egypt. After seven years of plenty there would be seven years of intense famine, so intense that the previous years of plenty would be all but forgotten.
For all intents and purposes that should have been the end of Yosef’s audience with Pharaoh. He had interpreted the dreams and assuaged Pharaoh’s frazzled nerves. But Yosef took the liberty of adding some unsolicited advice. “Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the Land of Egypt[2]
Who asked Yosef for his opinion? Moreover, how did he have the audacity to tell the Pharaoh what to do?
In this exchange, we see a component of Yosef’s greatness. Yosef understood that stating facts without solutions and practical ideas is worthless. Yosef was unabashed to state what he felt was true and just.
Standing up for the truth is by no means an easy feat and Yosef paid dearly for it. Years earlier, when he was a seventeen-year old boy, Yosef had dreams which indicated that he would rule over his brothers. Yosef understood that his dreams were prophetic. A prophet is obligated to repeat his prophecies and Yosef felt he was mandated to share them with his brothers, despite their negative disposition towards him.
After years of anguish and pain because of those dreams, one might think that Yosef would no longer be so assertive and forthcoming. Yet he stood before the mightiest monarch in the world, and advised him how to proceed. In fact, Pharaoh was awed by Yosef and the advice he espoused, which moved Pharaoh to confer upon Yosef the very authority Yosef suggested.

When Moshe Rabbeinu offered his blessing to each tribe just prior to his death, he lauded the Levites for their courage to stand up for truth. “The one who said of his father and mother, ‘I have not seen him’; his brothers he did not recognize, and his children he did not know; for they kept Your statement, and Your covenant they would preserve.[3] Rashi explains that when the nation committed the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe rallied the faithful to avenge the honor of G-d for the egregious sin that was committed. He beckoned, “Whoever is for G-d (gather) to me”. It was the Levites who heeded his call. They fulfilled Moshe’s command to kill the participants, even though many of the sinners were their own close relatives (maternally).
Moshe then blessed the Levites that “G-d should bless his army[4]”. Rashi explains that this alluded to the future Levites who would repeat Moshe’s call. In the time of the Chanukah miracle, the Chashmonaim priests sought to avenge the honor of G-d from the Hellenists and Syrian-Greeks. Though vastly outnumbered and outflanked they took up arms and fought against the myriads of enemy forces. Their battle cry paralleled Moshe’s, “Whoever is for G-d (gather) to me.”
Maharal[5] explains that the Greeks are symbolized by a leopard, because of their extreme boldness and audacity.
The Greeks were confident of their culture and beliefs, and sought to spread their culture to every people they encountered. One of the failings of many of the Jews of that time was that even those who maintained their faith, lacked the courage and temerity to defend their traditions and beliefs.
Ultimately the righteous Jews who had the audacity to strike back were blessed with miraculous victories. They were able to defeat their enemy by employing the enemy’s own defining character trait – brazen boldness. They would not be intimidated by their far superior foes and ultimately vanquished them. It was only when the Macabees demonstrated ‘holy audacity’, and uncompromised pride for their identity, that they were victorious.   

Alexander Hamilton once quipped that, “Those who stand for nothing, will fall for anything.”
To be a leader one must be ready to stand up for his cause. In our world, we are very disenchanted by feckless politicians whose opinion reflects which way the political tides are blowing. Someone who changes his opinion to that of the masses is surely not staunch or passionate about his own views.
A true leader must believe in what he stands for and be ready to ‘pledge his sacred honor’[6] to his cause. Yosef had that moral strength and conviction. The prophet compares Yosef to a raging flame which consumes everything in its path, most notably the pernicious influence of Eisav[7].
The Maccabees possessed that same fierce drive and determination. They had an inner fire that could not be quelled, even in the face of insurmountable odds. In a certain sense the Chanukah miracle was a reflection of the inner passion of those who were the catalysts of the miracle. The fires atop the Menorah which would not go out were an external manifestation of the internal fire that raged in the hearts of the valiant Maccabees. 
The Kabbalists write that one should gaze at the Chanukah lights during the first half hour after they are lit because they contain tremendous spiritual energy. It seems that they also contain a reflection of the inner flame within ourselves.
One of the many timeless lessons of Chanukah is feeling proud of our identity. We should never seek to ‘water down’ our observance so that we better fit in with society. We are the sole bearers of a torch that miraculously has never been extinguished, despite the howling winds of time. It is because we have kept that torch aglow by never being embarrassed to hold it aloft.   

“Whoever is for G-d (gather) to me”
“G-d should bless his army”

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

[1] This was especially true in regards to the Allied policy of appeasement, allowing Hitler to proceed as he willed, falsely hoping that allowing him some gains would satiate him.
[2] 41:43
[3] Devorim 33:9
[4] Ibid, v. 11
[5] Ner Mitzvah; Maharal has a lengthy treatise explaining the detailed dream of Nebuchadnezzar from the book of Daniel. The dream contained four beasts, which Daniel explained were representations of the four major exiles the Jews would be subject to throughout history. The third beast was a leopard, a reference to Greece. Maharal explains the symbolism.  
[6] In the words of the revolutionaries who fought for America’s independence from Britain
[7]The house of Ya’akov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav for straw; and they will ignite them and devour them. There will be no survivor to the house of Eisav, for God has spoken.” (Ovadiah 1:18)

Thursday, December 22, 2016



          Yosef Begun, the noted Russian refusenik, wrote of his experiences:
          “It was in the grim Russian winter of 1971 that I celebrated my first real Hanukkah, in prison.
  “I was confined in the notorious Moscow prison, Matroska Tichina, in the company of a rather large number of fellow Jews.  Needless to say, a Moscow prison is not the most auspicious place to celebrate a Jewish holiday…
“Hanukkah was approaching.  Getting into the spirit, we enthusiastically discussed battles and the ultimate triumph of the Maccabees.  One of our more Judaically advanced cellmates gave us insightful lessons about the laws and customs of the Festival of Lights.  It goes without saying that we had no prayer books or other items with which to celebrate a Jewish holiday.  Hanukkah is supposed to be a holiday of gift-giving, family gatherings, dreidels and songs.  We had no practical means of celebration, and that saddened us deeply.
 “Fortunately, we had among us a man who was a wizard at handicraft.  Valery Krijzak - now an engineer living in Jerusalem - had truly golden hands….
“For Hanukkah, Krijzak made a wonderful dreidel out of bread, engraving the four Hebrew initials for ness gadol haya sham ("a great miracle happened there").  But it was the day before Hanukkah and we still didn't have any candles with which to fulfill the mitzvah of the Festival of Lights to commemorate the Jewish victory of over two thousand years ago.  And without those lights, Hanukkah is not Hanukkah.
“But then the miracle of Hanukkah took place in our days in our cell.
“Without saying a word to us, Krijzak began to bang on the cell door, calling for the guard.  When the small aperture was opened, he began to wail, "Call the doctor.  I'm in terrible pain."  Within ten minutes, the prison medic arrived.  Krijzak moaned, "Doctor, I am having a terrible hemorrhoid attack.  Please give me some suppositories."
“Fifteen minutes later, Krijzak received several suppositories.  Now we had the material from which to make candles.  The rest was purely technical.  We pulled out threads from our prison garb and rolled them together to make wicks.  Then we placed the wax-based suppositories on our aluminum spoons and lit them with matches (prisoners were permitted to have cigarettes and matches) and melted them down.  We placed the makeshift wicks into the wax, which we then shaped into candles.  We stuck the candles on a plate, which we then placed on the table.
“Filled with pride, we sat around our glowing table and sang Maoz Tzur.  We sang more Hanukkah songs, talked about the Maccabees' revolt and spun the dreidel.  We all had an immense feeling of closeness to each other and a strong sense of unity with our fellow Jews.
“We may have been cut off from the rest of the world, enclosed behind thick steel doors, but we were still with our people.”

The story of Yosef and the brothers is from the most captivating in the entire Torah. The dispute between these most righteous of men is almost incomprehensible. The explanations of the great commentaries notwithstanding, we still are left with a vague understanding of what occurred.
It is not only the Torah’s narrative of the story of Yosef which is difficult to understand, but also the story of Yehuda. The Torah interrupts its detailed account of the story of Yosef to relate what occurred with Yehuda.
The brothers were aware that the future monarchy was destined to emerge from Yehuda and they granted him a certain level of leadership. It was Yehuda’s suggestion that they sell Yosef to passing merchants. When the brothers saw Yaakov’s unmitigated grief and refusal to be consoled they challenged Yehuda’s leadership. “Had you told us to bring Yosef home we would have listened to you.” As a result of their disenchantment with Yehuda he departed from the brothers and settled in Abdulam.
The Torah relates that Yehuda married and had three sons. His oldest son Er married the righteous Tamar and died, then his second son Onan married Tamar and died. Yehuda feared for his third son Shaylah’s life and sent Tamar home.
Tamar was a righteous woman and knew, through Divine Prophecy, that the Davidic monarchy was destined to descend from her. She understood that Satan was doing his utmost to prevent that union from occurring. Tamar decided that she had to utilize an unconventional means to lure Yehuda into being with her. She posed as a woman of ill repute and sat at the fork of the road as Yehuda approached.
The Medrash[1] relates that under normal circumstances the righteous Yehuda would never have succumbed to such a ruse. “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘Yehuda sought to pass by Tamar. The Holy One, blessed is He, dispatched the angel of desire to entrap him. The angel said to Yehuda, ‘Where are you going? From where will kings arise? From where will great men arise?’ Yehuda then detoured to her by the road. He was coerced, against his good sense.” 
After that encounter Yehuda could not locate the woman he was with. “He inquired of the people of her place, ‘Where is the kedasha, the one at the crossroads by the road’? And they said, ‘there was no kedasha here’.[2]
It is intriguing that the Torah uses the word ‘kedasha’[3] to refer to ‘the woman of ill-repute’, as the word is strikingly similar to the word ‘kedusha – holiness’[4]. What is the essence of the concept of kedusha?
Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l[5] noted that, in his opinion, the greatest challenge our generation faces is ‘desacrilization’. In his words, “desacrilization is the violation and disintegration of the boundaries of sanctity”.
The Hebrew word for sacred is ‘kodesh’. The opposite of kodesh is chol, which means ordinary, mundane, and commonplace. Shabbos is a day of kedusha, while the rest of the week or days of chol. To understand the depth of that distinction we must understand the etymology of the words.
Chol also refers to sand. What is the connection between the days of the week and sand? The most prominent feature of sand is its particularity. Sand is composed of innumerable miniscule particles, each being its own separate entity. If one takes a handful of sand and allows it to run between his fingertips, there is nothing to hinder the flow of the sand as it drains from inside his hand. Each grain is on its own.
The word kodesh symbolizes the opposite. Although the word kodesh is most notably used to refer to holiness and sanctity, it has other meanings as well. When the Torah states the prohibition of planting kilayim – mixtures of different seeds that take root together it uses the word tikdash. “You shall not sow your vineyard with a mixture, pen tikdash - lest it become forbidden - the growth of the seed that you plant and the produce of your vineyard[6].” The verb tikdash connotes gathering two diverse things together, albeit in a forbidden fashion.
The concept of kedusha is to connect and unite disparate elements. In that sense, planting two seeds in the ground and merging them is an abused form of kedusha. On the other hand, the commandment that we sanctify ourselves also utilizes the word kidshu, because in doing so we are connecting and binding ourselves with G-d, the source of all sanctity.
That is why the days of the week are called chol while Shabbos is kodesh. During the first six days of creation, every element of creation throughout the cosmos was disparate. There was no harmony of synchronous harmony between them. The world was in a state of chaotic agitated turmoil, like free-flowing sand. But with the arrival of Shabbos G-d ‘rested’, i.e. He infused into the world the energy and ability to revitalize and regenerate itself. Suddenly the world had meaning and purpose. The entire cosmos was suddenly transformed into a catalyst suited for the sanctification of G-d’s Name. The world became united and integrated, an organic whole. That is the meaning of kedusha; cohesion and perfect integration[7].
A woman of ill repute causes a malevolent and detrimental connection between two disparate components. Through her luring, she fosters an egregious misuse of kedusha, but it is kedusha nonetheless.

The moments when we light the Chanukah candles are undoubtedly special and almost mystical. After lovingly kindling the hallowed lights we recite the ancient declaration ‘Haneiros hallalu’. In that paragraph, we declare, “These candles are kodesh – holy, and we have no permission to use them; only to see them alone, so that we will thank, praise, Your great Name, for Your miracles, for Your wonders, and for Your salvations.”
The Chanukah candles are not merely to commemorate a past miracle. In a deeper sense those miniscule lights are great unifiers, creating an invisible bond between every Jew in the world, in all four corners of the globe. At the moment that we hold our candle to the wick atop our menorah wherever we may be, we are binding ourselves to our brethren, as well as our ancestors throughout the millennia of exile, dating back to the Hasmonean Maccabes themselves. 
Every Jew who lights the Chanukah candles merges his light with the lights of the Menorah of the Maccabes, of Rashi, Rambam, Maharal, Ba’al Shem Tov, Vilna Gaon, Chofetz Chaim, to our own ancestors – from Babylonia to Crusade-ridden Europe, from Spain to Poland, from Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz to the gulag in Siberia, to the Israeli soldiers who light the candles at their army bases far from home.
Chanukah always coincides with the Christian holidays which also include displays of light. Their lights may be bigger and even prettier, but their lights are chol, they are all separate. But the Chanukah candles are kodesh, for they connect us to an internal spark within each of us. It is the spark that our foes could not extinguish and will never extinguish.

“Cut off from the rest of the world, but still with our people”
“These candles are kodesh

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

[1] Bereishis Rabbah 85:8
[2] 38:21-22
[3] As opposed to the more common word ‘zonah’, as used in verse 15
[4] Rashi explains that, as opposed to a holy person who designates themselves to spiritual matters, such a woman is ‘mikudeshes – designated’ and prepared for licentiousness.
[5] Rabbi Freifeld Speaks, p. 140
[6] Devorim 22:9
[7] See the remainder of Rabbi Freifeld’s essay entitled “A Higher Kind of Fear” where he eloquently and magnificently explains how our world has lost its sense of synchronism and cohesion, which has caused rampant ‘desacrilization’