Thursday, March 22, 2018



Rabbi Elimelech Biderman relates:
A person wakes up in the morning and makes himself a cup of coffee. He pours the bitter coffee into a mug, adds some sweet sugar, pours in the boiling water, and then adds some cold milk.
He lifts the cup of contrasts – bitter, sweet, hot, and cold, and utters the beracha, “Shehakol nihyeh b’dvaro – that all came into being based on His word.” The underlying message he is saying is “Hashem, I have no idea what today has in store for me. Perhaps it will be bitter, perhaps sweet, perhaps hot, and perhaps cold, and perhaps a little bit of each. But the one thing I know for certain is that everything that happens to me is based upon Your word.
That is how a Jew begins his morning. Life is a sea of contrasts, but we are always in the Hands of Hashem.

In Parshas Vayikra, the Torah introduces the concept of korbanos, and explains many of the laws associated with each individual korban from the vantage point of “the owner” offering the Korban. Parshas Tzav reviews the korabnos from the vantage point of the Kohain who is offering the animal (or bird, or flour/oil) on behalf of the owner upon the Mizbeiach. 
There are two categories of korbanos: kodshei kodshim (lit. holy of holies) and kodshim kalim (lit. lighter holiness). Kodshei kodshim can only be eaten by kohanim in the Temple courtyard, for the remainder of the day and the following evening after they are offered. Kodshim kalim on the other hand, were be eaten by the owner and his family throughout Yerushalayim, for an added day.
The notable exception is the Korbon Todah – the thanksgiving offering.[2] The Torah states “And the flesh of his feast thanksgiving-peace offering must be eaten on the day of its offering; he shall not leave any of it until morning.”[3]Even though the Korban Todah is in the category of kodshim kalim, it was only allowed to be eaten for one day and one night. 
The Netziv in Ha’amek Davar explains that the Korban Todah was brought as an expression of gratitude and thanksgiving to Hashem for His protection during a perilous juncture in one’s life. Because there was such a large amount of meat that had to be consumed in such a small amount of time, in addition to the forty loaves of bread that the Kohanim had to eat, the owner offering the korban would be compelled to invite many friends and guests, as well as many Kohanim, to partake in his meal. He would surely explain to them the reason for the time-limited invitation and recount to them his heartfelt gratitude to Hashem, thus publicizing the chesed that Hashem did for him.
The Netziv is conveying that any time one merits special favor and blessing from Hashem it is a mitzvah to publicly thank Hashem for what transpired, and to invite many people to join the celebration. This is part of the idea of making a Kiddush. As the invitees eat and enjoy, they invariably discuss the reason for the Kiddush, and thereby join in the ba’al simcha’s gratitude to Hashem.

Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l[4] notes that if a man goes to the supermarket to buy bread and other food, he must pay for it. But if the same man is invited to the storeowner’s home for a meal and is served the same food, he doesn’t pay a penny.
The same idea applies to the recitation of berachos. Anything one wants/needs belongs to Hashem and must be ‘paid for’. However, if he develops a loving relationship with G-d, then he can eat from the Heavenly table, and when one eats at the storeowner’s table he doesn’t receive a bill.
A Bracha is not a “payment” for one’s food. Rather, it is a means of developing a relationship with Hashem, which circumvents the need to “pay.”
Rav Pincus explains[5] that one of our greatest challenges is that we are always harried and busy. We simply have no time to stop and focus on what we are doing, and that includes reciting berachos. We swallow the beracha with the food because we aren’t careful to recite the words properly, never mind focusing on their meaning.
Without thinking about what we are doing, what ours goals are, and what the meaning of it all is, we are like animals who live based on instinct.
One should take a moment to contemplate that he is eating to give himself strength. Then he should ponder what he ultimately needs strength for. If he reminds himself that he isn’t merely eating to quell his hunger pains, but so that he can be productive and live a life of meaning in serving Hashem, then he will recite the beracha with greater focus and appreciation.
One who trains himself to live life that way, will be able to connect with Hashem throughout his day.
Prior to Makkas Barad (the plague of hail), Moshe warned Pharaoh of what was to come. However, he also added that there was a way that the Egyptians could save themselves and their livestock.Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem chased his servants and his livestock to the houses. And whoever did not take the word of Hashem to heart – he left his servants and livestock in the field.”[6]
What does it mean to fear Hashem?
The Torah contrasts those who feared G-d and hearkened to the message of Moshe, with those who “did not take the Word of G-d to heart” and did not hearken to his message. The essence of yiras Hashem is to pay attention, and to be ‘tuned in’. One who has yiras Hashem lives with the feeling that He is always in the presence of G-d and therefore must act the part to the best of his ability. It’s not a feeling of paranoia, but a feeling of regal responsibility.
Consider the following:
“How many times a day do you glance at your wristwatch? Let’s say you look at the time twice an hour, maybe three times. Let’s assume that you get up at seven and go to bed at twelve midnight. So, on average, you look at your watch some 50 times a day - 50 times a day, seven days a week. Let’s say your watch is two years old. So you’ve looked at your watch approximately 35,000 times.
“Now, without looking, write down what’s written on the face of your watch? The chances are that you left something out or got something wrong.
“You can look at the same thing, day in, day out, but if you don’t pay attention, you’ll never really see it.”[7]
That’s the idea of yiras Hashem. One can know there’s a G-d, believe the Torah’s true, and perform all the mitzvos, yet never achieve awareness of G-d.
One of our generations’ greatest religious defects is apathy and indifference. Not “putting your heart into it” is a lack of yiras Hashem, and yiras Hashem is the foundation for bringing Hashem into our lives.
Rav Pinkus teaches us that reciting berachos more patiently and with more fervor is a great starting point.
 The essence of Pesach is to develop that feeling of connection with Hashem. We begin by recounting the incredible things Hashem did for us at the time of the exodus and express our unbridled gratitude for it. Hopefully, not only the taste of the matzah, but also its timeless message, will linger in our souls long after the holiday has ended.

Thanksgiving offering must be eaten on the day of its offering”
Whoever feared the word of Hashem”

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 Tzav 5778.
[2] The Korban Todah was offered by one who experienced salvation from particularly perilous situations – crossing a desert, crossing an ocean, being released from prison, or being cured from a dangerous illness.
[3] Vayikra 7:15 
[4] Nefesh Shimshon, Siddur Ha’Tefilla, Bircas Hashachar; Rav Pincus yahrtzeit is 12 Nissan. 
[5] Haggadah Shel Pesach – Barech
[6] Shemos 9:20
[7] Ohr Somayach, Torah Weekly, Parshas Vaera

Thursday, March 15, 2018


לזכר נשמת זקני ר' אברהם יוסף בן נפתלי הערץ הלוי (ד' ניסן)
 מלכה בת אברהם יעקב הלוי (ג' ניסן)


Simon Sinek[2] related the following anecdote:
 “I was present recently at a large conference where a former undersecretary of defense was invited to speak. He was standing at the podium with a cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup, and delivering his prepared remarks with a power point behind him. Then, he stopped to sip his coffee, and smiled.
“He then looked at the crowd and said he wanted to share something personal: “Last year when I spoke at this conference, I was still the undersecretary. I was flown here business class and when I arrived at the airport there was somebody waiting for me to take me to my hotel. When I arrived, I had already been checked in and I was led straight up to my room. The following morning, when I came downstairs, I was greeted cheerfully in the lobby, and was chauffeured to this venue. I was led through the back entrance into the green room and was handed a cup of coffee in a beautiful ceramic cup.
“But this year I am no longer the undersecretary. I flew here coach, took a taxi to my hotel, and checked myself in. When I came down the lobby this morning I took another taxi here, and I came in the front door and had to find my way backstage. When I asked someone if there was any coffee available, he pointed to the coffee machine in the corner. I then poured myself a cup of coffee into this Styrofoam cup.
“It taught me a very important lesson. The ceramic cup I was given last year was never really meant for me; it was meant for the position I held. In truth, I deserve a Styrofoam cup.
“Remember this as you gain fame, as you gain fortune, as you gain position and seniority. People will treat you better; they will hold doors open for you. They will get you a cup of tea and coffee without you even asking. They will call you sir and ma’am and they will give you stuff. You have to remember that none of that stuff was meant for you; it’s meant to honor the position you hold. It is meant for the level you have achieved of leader or success or whatever you want to call it. But you will always only deserve a Styrofoam cup.”

One of the laws the Torah states about offerings is, “For you shall not cause offerings to [go up in] smoke with any yeast or honey.” Shortly after, the Torah instructs, “you shall offer salt on all your offerings...”[3] Every offering brought on the altar required that it first be salted. Yet, it was absolutely forbidden to ever place sugar on an offering.
Rav Mordechai Gifter zt’l[4] explained that these laws contain a poignant symbolic message for us: There is a fundamental difference between the way sugar and salt impact food. When a sweetener is added to food, it alters the taste of the food. When sugar is added to a bowl of oatmeal, the oatmeal itself doesn’t become sweet, it’s the sweetness of the sugar that is now tasted in every bite. Salt however, enhances the essential taste of the food by strengthening the actual taste.
The symbolic message is that yeast, which inflates, and honey, which changes the true taste of a food, should not be brought on the Altar. Only salt, which brings forth the true flavor of the food, is required. The Torah wants the true essence of the Korban to come forth and not be masked or transformed into something different.
Although we want to imbue our children with confidence and self-esteem, we need to be careful to not inflate their perceptions of themselves, thereby promoting arrogance and egocentricity. Our role as educators is to try to build our children by promoting and enhancing the uniqueness they naturally possess. We cannot make them into something they are not! The greatest thing we can do is help them appreciate and love who they naturally are, all the while helping them improve and learn to navigate their deficiencies and challenges.[5]

 When the Torah describes a person who sins, it refers to him as "ונפש כי תחטא"  a soul that sins, emphasizing the role of the nefesh in his misdeed.
However, when the Torah introduces the korbanos at the beginning of the parashah, it uses the term adam אדם כי יקריב, which refers to the physical component of a person[6]. Why is that?
Rabbi Nissan Kaplan explains that truthfully it is the nefesh of a person that bears responsibility for all iniquity, because it is a failure of one’s spirituality that he failed to restrain himself from committing the sin. However, when discussing a korban, the Torah emphasizes that it must come from the physical component of the sinner, from the adam. In bringing a korban, a person must sanctify the physical part of himself and demonstrate self-sacrifice by offering part of his physical being.
Rashi[7] notes that when the Torah discusses the minchah of a pauper, it says ונפש כי תקריב, and not אדם כי יקריב , as it does in regard to other korbanos. The pauper doesn't have anything to give - he scrapes together whatever he can until he manages to bring a minchah. Therefore, Hashem considers it as if he offered his nefesh. Regarding other korbanos however, the sinner has to offer a piece of himself to demonstrate a genuine desire to rectify his sin.
Rabbi Kaplan relates that a wealthy individual once approached him saying that he felt he needed a tikkun (spiritual rectification) and was therefore prepared to donate a large amount to tzedakah. Rabbi Kaplan replied that although he should undoubtedly give tzedakah, that was insufficient for him because it wasn’t hard for him to give. In addition to the tzedakah, he had to demonstrate personal sacrifice for Hashem, such as adding time to Torah study, resolving not to talk during davening, or not to browse on his phone at things he shouldn’t be looking at. 
For a korban to have its desired effect, the one offering it had to offer his “adam” a piece of himself.
The Medrash notes that there is an ancient custom that when children begin learning Chumash, they begin with Parshas Vayikra because, יבואו טהורין ויתעסקו בטהורים  - let those who are pure (children) come and engage in (the study of) matters of purity (korbanos).
We start with Chumash Vayikra to symbolize to the young child the concept of אדם כי יקריב that a person has to offer Hashem the part of himself - the adam - that is hard for him to sacrifice.
The harder it is to sacrifice something for Hashem, the greater the korbon it is.
In a Sefer Torah, the opening word of the Chumash, in fact, the word that gives the title to the entire sefer – Vayikra – has a small aleph. The Baal HaTurim explains that in his humility, Moshe wanted to write the word vayikar (Vayikra without the aleph), which sounds like the word mikreh – a chance occurrence. Moshe didn’t want to write Vayikra which implies a calling of love. Hashem had instructed him to write Vayikra, so as a compromise he wrote the aleph small.
The entire Chumash contains that lesson in its title; the incredible humility of Moshe. It is that humility which contains the secret for how korbanos are effective. When we humble ourselves before Hashem and seek to build ourselves from within, we connect with Hashem and discover our true greatness.

Our egos are compared to ‘the yeast in dough’. Our ego comprises our sense of self, which is vital to a healthy identity. It is our ego which propels us to accomplish and to grow. But at the same time our egos are always in danger of becoming inflated with ‘hot air’. This occurs when our sense of identity becomes befuddled, and we no longer appreciate our uniqueness. A false ego can persuade us that trivialities are hugely significant, and we can easily be distracted from what truly matters. Just as a healthy ego helps us love, compassionate, and sensitive to others, it also can cause us to become self-absorbed, envious, and hateful.
Matzah, which consists of nothing more than flour and water which has not been allowed to leaven, symbolizes self-negation before G-d. It is flat and contains nothing other than the barest essentials, demonstrating that we are nothing without G-d.
Matzah which symbolizes humility contains the lesson of the korbanos. This is part of the depth of the special mitzvah we are blessed to be able to fulfill by eating matzah throughout Pesach.[8]

One of the humblest people I was privileged to know was my Sabbah, Mr. Abe Staum, Avrohom Yosef ben Naftali Hertz a’h. He was a beloved personality to his neighbors and friends, always with a smile and a pleasant word. Much of the chessed he performed we will probably never know about. Such quiet greatness stems from a sense of humility and simchas hachaim – genuine happiness with life. His yahrzteit, 4 Nissan, is this Tuesday. May his neshama have an Aliyah, and may he be a maylitz yosher for his family and Klal Yisroel.     

“When a man will offer from you a korbon to Hashem”
“You shall offer salt on all your offerings”

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 Vayikra 5777.
[2] Simon Sinek is an author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant. He related this story during a lecture entitled “Find your Greatness”.
[3] Vayikra 2:11,13
[4] Pirkei Torah
[5] This educational thought based on Rav Gifter’s explanation is from Rav Mordechai Shifman, Head of School, Emek Hebrew Academy, Sherman Oaks, CA
[6] Adam comes from the word adamah – earth, a reference to the fact that Adam was created from the dust of the earth.
[7] Menachos 
[8] Although there are opinions that hold matzah is only a mitzvah to eat at the Seder, and is merely permitted the rest of Pesach, the Vilna Gaon holds that every bite of matzah eaten throughout Pesach is a mitzvah and gives us a spiritual infusion of faith in Hashem.

Thursday, March 8, 2018



Someone once presented the Chofetz Chaim with the Tehillim that had belonged to his mother. The Chofetz Chaim clutched the worn volume close to his heart and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, remarked, “Who knows how many tefillos and how many tears my mother shed over these pages, davening that I should be a ben Torah and an ehlicher yid!”

In March 2012, Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after 244 years, they were going out of print.  The last print version was the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighed 129 pounds and included new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.
In the 1950s, owning an Encyclopedia Britannica was like having a station wagon in the garage. Buying a set was often a financial stretch, and many families paid for it in monthly installments.
A New York Times article noted that, “In recent years, print reference books have been almost completely overtaken by the Internet and its vast spread of resources, including specialized Web sites and the hugely popular — and free — online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
“Since it was started 11 years ago, Wikipedia has moved a long way toward replacing the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds. The site is now written and edited by tens of thousands of contributors around the world, and it has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate and comprehensive source, even by many scholars and academics.
“Wikipedia also regularly meets the 21st-century mandate of providing instantly updated material. And it has nearly four million articles in English, including some on pop culture topics that would not be considered worthy of a mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
Another article noted that a quarter of children do not know what an encyclopedia is. Some thought it is something you cook with, travel on, use to catch a ball or to perform an operation.

The Yalkut Shimoni at the beginning of Parshas Vayakhel states: “Our Rabbis, the masters of homiletics, stated: From the beginning of the Torah until its end, there is no parsha that begins “And he gathered” expect for this one alone (Parshas Vayakhel).
“The Holy One, blessed is He, stated: “Make for yourselves great gatherings, and expound before them in public regarding the laws of Shabbos, in order that the future generations will learn from you to gather each Shabbos, and to enter their Study Halls to learn and to teach words of Torah - what is permitted, and what is forbidden. This is in order that my Great Name will be praised among my children.
“From here it was said that Moshe enacted for Yisroel that they should expound about the matters of each holiday – the laws of Pesach before Pesach, the laws of Shavuos before Shavuos, and the laws of Succos before Succos.”[2] 
The idea of a Rabbi delivering a derasha and/or shiurim on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim may possibly find its source in this Medrash. Shabbos and Yom Tov are times for contemplation and growth, and learning together in a public forum from a respected personality is an ideal way to learn about and to internalize the lessons of the holy day.[3] 
Shabbos is a time for bonding. It is a day of peace, as we state in the Friday night davening, “May He spread upon us his succah of peace”. That’s also the source for the common blessing of wishing each other “Shabbos Shalom”. During a time when we are blessed with tranquility, freed from the daily angsts and deadlines we face, it is an ideal opportunity to learn Torah together in a communal forum.
This was symbolized by the fact that Moshe’s first and only official assembly of the Jewish Nation began with a discussion of some of the laws of Shabbos, even before it continued with its main topic – the construction of the Mishkan.

There is no doubt that there is much one can gain from learning from online shiurim. Today, when many of us spend great amounts of time driving or away from home, we have been blessed with the opportunity to learn Torah and fulfill the mitzvah of “When you will go on your way”. But the ultimate learning is done in a live setting when one is learning from someone teaching passionately and vibrantly.
There is much discussion revolving around the appropriateness of using siddur apps on a cell phone from which to daven. It isn’t really a matter of halacha. Assuming one has placed his phone on airplane mode, so he won’t receive notifications while davening, there isn’t a halachic issue with davening from a phone during weekdays.
It is rather more of an emotional matter. Is it appropriate to daven from a phone, which is used for more mundane matters? Whether it is or it isn’t, one thing is undeniable: An app on a screen can never replicate the feeling of holding a siddur in one’s hands, and feeling the worn pages beneath his fingertips.
I have a few seforim from my Zaydei. When I use them, I feel a sense of connection with him. I have a zemiros from him with wine and other food stains on its pages. When I open it, I can’t help but think about what the surroundings were when it was opened on my Zaydei’s Shabbos table. The same holds true when flipping the pages of his gemaras or other seforim.
In a world where the printed word is becoming more and more outdated, in the Torah community it continues to thrive, and new books and seforim are published constantly.
There is no app in the world that can convey the same feeling of vibrancy as the worn pages of a siddur or sefer. The same holds true for all mitzvos that we perform. The feeling of holding the Four Species on Succos, seeing Chanukah candles burning, hearing Shofar or Megillah, or looking at the letters of a Sefer Torah, knowing that each was written painstakingly and punctiliously.
Skype and other video call services offer us the uncanny ability to view others anywhere in the world. But there is no replacement for a hug, and the feeling of human embrace when one is physically present. There’s no recording device that can adequately capture the vibrancy of a Torah shiur being given in an atmosphere charged with excited Talmudic tension. There’s no app that can generate passion, devotion, and excitement, such as the Jewish People felt when they excitedly donated their personal materials for the construction of the Mishkan.
The ultimate manner to learn Torah is from a teacher in a public setting. Similarly, building our feeling of connection with Hashem, including purifying ourselves[4] and rectifying our misdeeds, require internal work that can only be done by one who seeks it and is ready to strive for it. 

A study done a few years ago determined that most children will more readily turn to Google for answers before asking anyone.
54% of 6-15 year-olds admitted that the search engine is their first point of call when they have a question, with a mere 3% saying they would ask their teacher. Only around a quarter (26%) of children said they would ask their parents first if they had a question.
The majority (91%) of the children questioned use Google, with almost half (47%) Googling at least five times a day and nearly a fifth (18%) using the search engine 10 times or more daily.  When Google is unable to help, a fifth of children would then look to Wikipedia for answers.
There is much information and knowledge that can be gleaned from many wonderful sources available to us today. But there is no substitution for emotion and connection. Our connection to Torah and Hashem can only be developed through such emotional connection.  
The night of the Seder is focused on educating children. It is the time when the mitzvah of “It will be when your son will ask…” and “You shall tell your son saying…” comes to life. There is no app or online site that can ever substitute the live interaction of a parent with his/her child.
With all the technology available to us, there is nothing as poignant and memorable as a family sitting around a Seder table, replete with matzah, wine, marror, and lit candles, where everyone can point and say, “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.” There is nothing that can create such a deep connection to the past, and provide such powerful fortitude for the future, as that.  
What a gift that we cannot take pictures, tweet, snapchat, or post on Facebook or You Tube, any of the cute and wonderful events that transpire at our Seder. All memories must be created and remembered in the same manner they were remembered by our ancestors - deep within their psyche and their souls.
Such an experience can never be downloaded or Googled!

“Moshe gathered the entire assembly of B’nai Yisroel”
“You shall tell your son saying, ‘because of this, Hashem took me out of Egypt’.”

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 Vayakhel-Pekudei (Parah) 5772.
[2]ויקהל משה - רבותינו בעלי אגדה אומרים מתחלת התורה ועד סופה אין בה פרשה שנאמר בראשה ויקהל אלא זאת בלבד.
אמר הקב"ה: עשה לך קהילות גדולת ודרוש לפניהם ברבים הלכות שבת, כדי שילמדו ממך דורות הבאים להקהיל קהילות בכל שבת ושבת ולכנוס בבתי מדרשות ללמד ולהורות לישראל דברי תורה איסור והיתר כדי שיהא שמי הגדול מתקלס בין בני. מכאן אמרו - משה תקן להם לישראל שיהיו דורשין בעינינו של יום, הלכות פסח בפסח, הלכות עצרת בעצרת, הלכות החג בחג.
[3] The prevalent custom to fall asleep during the sermon, and to complain about the length of the sermon came later.
[4] We read Parshas Parah the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh Nissan to remind us of the purification process via the Red Heifer (Parah Adumah). It was offered in the Bais Hamikdash prior to Pesach so that anyone who was ritually impure can become pure so that he/she could participate in eating the Korbon Pesach at the Seder.