Thursday, February 15, 2018

PARSHAS TERUMAH 5778

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS TERUMAH 5778
“NATONAL SOCKETS”[1]

Yerushalayim. June 1967.
Moshe Amirav, a paratrooper, describes his first moments arriving at the Kosel, shortly after Har Habayis was conquered from the Jordanians, during the Six-Day War:
“We ran there, a group of panting soldiers, lost on the plaza of the Temple Mount, searching for a giant stone wall. We did not stop to look at the Mosque of Omar even though this was the first time we had seen it close up. Forward! Forward! Hurriedly, we pushed our way through the Magreb Gate and, suddenly, we stopped, thunderstruck.
“There it was before our eyes!
“Gray and massive, silent and restrained.
“The Western Wall!
“Slowly, slowly I began to approach the Wall in fear and trembling like a pious cantor going to the lectern to lead the prayers. I approached it as the messenger of my father and my grandfather, of my great-grandfather and of all the generations in all the exiles who had never merited seeing it - and so they had sent me to represent them. Somebody recited the festive blessing: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe who has kept us alive, and maintained us and brought us to this time."
“But I could not answer "Amen." I put my hand on the stones and the tears that started to flow were not my tears. They were the tears of all Israel, tears of hope and prayer, tears of Chasidic tunes, tears of Jewish dances, tears which scorched and burned the heavy gray stone.”

Abraham Duvdevani, a soldier, describes his first encounter at the Kosel:
"Narrow alleys, filthy passageways, garbage at the entrances of shuttered shops, the stench of dead legionnaires - but we paid no attention. Our eyes were fixed on the golden dome which could be seen from a distance. There, more or less, it had to be! We marched faster to keep up with the beating of our hearts. We were almost running.
“We met a soldier from one of the forward units and asked him the way and hurried on. We went through a gate and down some steps. I looked to the right and stopped dead. There was the Wall in all its grandeur and glory! I had never seen it before, but it was an old friend, impossible to mistake. Then I thought that I should not be there because the Wall belongs in the world of dreams and legends and I am real.
“Reality and legend, dream and deed, all unite here. I went down and approached the Wall and stretched out my hand towards the huge, hewn stones. But my hand was afraid to touch and, of itself, returned to me. I closed my eyes, took a small, hesitant step forward, and brought my lips to the Wall. The touch of my lips opened the gates of my emotions and the tears burst forth.
“A Jewish soldier in the State of Israel is kissing history with his lips.
“Past, present and future all in one kiss. There will be no more destruction and the Wall will never again be deserted. It was taken with young Jewish blood and the worth of that blood is eternity. The body is coupled to the rows of stones, the face is pushed into the spaces between them and the hands try to reach its heart. A soldier near me mumbles in disbelief, 'We are at the Wall, at the Wall...’” [2]

The joy of connection. We can hardly imagine how much greater will be our emotional excitement when the completed Bais Hamikdash is rebuilt.
Ramban explains that, although the purpose of the exodus was for Klal Yisroel to receive the Torah on Har Sinai, when that occurred the redemption was not yet complete. The exodus had not achieved its purpose until the great spiritual heights that the nation attained at the time of Kabbolas HaTorah, became a permanent part of their existence. That was accomplished with the construction of the Mishkan.
The purpose of the Mishkan was to be a permanent symbolic microcosm of the Sinai experience.[3]
It is for this reason that Sefer Shemos, the book primarily devoted to the exodus, does not conclude until the verse “For the cloud of Hashem would be on the Mishkan by day, and fire would be on it at night, before the eyes of all of the House of Israel throughout their journeys.”[4]  When the Divine Presence had a permanent place set aside for it, in midst of the Jewish camp, then the redemption from Egypt was complete, and the book of Shemos concludes.
When Moshe made the original proclamation to the nation about donating materials for the imminent construction of the Mishkan, there were 13 materials that could be offered. Of those materials, as much or as little could be donated. The only exception was the silver.
There was a total of three separate portions of silver donated. The first was the mandatory half-shekel given by every Jew, which was used to create the silver sockets that supported the massive beams which surrounded the Mishkan. The second was the annual mandatory half-shekel given by every Jew which was used to purchase the communal offerings brought in the Mishkan.[5] The third portion was optional donations of silver which were used to create the various silver vessels used in the Mishkan.[6]
It’s understandable why the communal offerings should come from a fund of donations contributed equally by every Jew. But why was it necessary for the sockets to be constructed from donations contributed equally by every Jew? Why was it different than the other silver vessels which were constructed from silver donated at will by anyone who wanted, like all of the other materials used for the construction of the Mishkan?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt’l, explained that there are two facets of a person’s Avodas Hashem: There are the physical actions that we take in the actual performance of mitzvos, and there are the foundational components of our faith, which every Jew is obligated to believe.
Our physical performance of mitzvos is predicated on our personal level. Some perform mitzvos out of rote and listlessly, while others feel a greater connection and are more passionate about their mitzva observance. However, our obligation to believe in Hashem is universal and applies equally to every Jew.
The sockets which were the foundation for the entire structure surrounding the Mishkan, represents the foundations of our faith, which include loving and fearing Hashem, and developing one’s complete faith in Him. Therefore, those sockets had to be donated from funds equally donated by every Jew.[7]

There is an additional explanation based on a thought from Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l[8]:
Rabbi Soloveitchik notes that being a Jew means to be holy, and to pursue holiness. Therefore, we need to understand how does one become holy? What is the first step one must take to attain holiness?
The answer is that he must set boundaries that allow for the development of holiness. In other words, he must make place for holiness.
When a couple get married, they do so through the process of kiddushin, which literally mean holiness. By pledging herself to he husband, to the exclusion of anyone else, they enable the holiness of the matrimonial union to rest upon their home. By creating the exclusive ‘space’ for their marriage, they enable it to take effect. 
Prior to the giving of the Torah, the nation was warned more than once not to traverse the delineated boundaries upon Har Sinai. They were warned that if they crossed the line they would immediately die. The underlying message was the kedusha takes effect when boundaries and restrictions are honored. It’s not enough to act and perform mitzvos for the honor of Hashem, one must also inhibit and restrain himself according to the restrictions the Torah has set forth. 
The goal is for a person to respect those boundaries out of a sense of love and awe for Hashem. If one maintains boundaries out of fear of sanctions, that does not necessarily engender holiness. Holiness results when one seeks moral elevation through maintaining those laws and restrictions. When one overcomes his own desires in order to honor the Will of Hashem, that creates holiness.
Holiness permeates where we prepare for it and welcome it. When we construct a shul or bais medrash, and act accordingly inside of it, then it becomes a holy place. However, when we fail to honor the place, then the holiness is disgraced, and the Divine Presence does not remain. 
The sockets which supported the beams that surrounded the Mishkan, marked the area which was then sanctified by the Mishkan inside of it. That same area, which a day prior had been mundane desert land, was now sanctified by virtue of the fact that it was marked off and dedicated for holiness.
To create a place of ‘national holiness’, requires equal contribution by every single member of the nation. In contributing equally to the creation of the silver sockets, they jointly sanctified the area where the Mishkan would be erected.

Greatness results when one sets aside space – in place and in time, to attain it. It begins with faith in G-d, and in ourselves, that we can be the holy people we aspire to become. Then we have to dedicate and give of ourselves to foster that holiness.
When we do our part, G-d will surely do His, and rest His Divine Presence among us.  

“Forty silver sockets under the twenty planks…”[9]
“For the cloud of Hashem would be on the Mishkan by day”


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 Terumah 5777.
[2] From "The Western Wall": published by the Israeli Ministry of Defense
[3] Ramban, Shemos 25:1
[4] Shemos 40:38
[5] This refers to the mandatory half-shekel atonement-tax which is mentioned at the beginning of Parshas Ki Sisa, and is read about as Parshas Shekalim, the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar.
[6] Rashi, Shemos 25:3
[7] Quoted in Peninei Menachem
[8] Quoted in The Rav Thinking Aloud – Sefer Shemos
[9] Shemos 26:19

Thursday, February 8, 2018

PARSHAS MISHPATIM/SHEKALIM 5778

PARSHAS MISHPATIM/SHEKALIM 5778

“MUNDANE GREATNESS”[1]


Mike began to panic. Sweat formed on his brow and his whole body began to quiver. He knew he was in serious trouble as he gripped the steering wheel with all his might and pushed the pedal to the floor. At a hundred and thirty miles an hour he was playing for keeps; there was no turning back. Mike was well aware that if he didn’t get there in time, this would be the last trip he would ever take. The road took a sharp turn and Mike turned the wheel with all his might. The car in front of him swerved out of his way and off the highway dropping a thousand feet into the abyss below. Mike heard a strange noise and he knew he was in trouble; he knew it was his engine…
          “Engine: Machine for converting energy into motion or mechanical work. The energy is usually supplied in form of a chemical fuel, such as oil or gasoline, steam, or electricity, and the mechanical work is most commonly delivered in the form of rotary motion of a shaft. Engines are usually classified according to the form of energy they utilize, as steam, compressed air, and gasoline; the type of motion of their principal parts…”.  

          In a sense, it seems like Parshas Mishaptim is analogous to the previous story, in the sense that it’s an abrupt interruption of exciting events, to provide lessons.
From the beginning of the exodus, things were incredibly exciting. Ten powerful plagues, the splitting of the sea, bitter water becoming sweet, manna falling from the heavens, and the war against Amalek.
The truth is, since the beginning of the reading of the Torah, every parsha contains exciting stories, and beautiful lessons. Gan Eden, the flood, Avrohom and his tests, having a child at 100 years old, the Akeidah, Yitzchok and the blessings, Yaakov dealing with Eisav and Lavan, the tribes and their internal struggles, culminating with Yosef revealing his identity, and then the descent into exile.
          Then suddenly, in middle of the continuous excitement, the Torah almost seems to ‘pull the emergency brake’ on the excitement to teach us the laws of slaves, maids, striking parents, judicial systems, goring oxen, stolen property, and witchcraft. Parshas Mishpatim contains the crux of the Talmudic tractates of Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, Sanhedrin, Kesubos, Kiddushin, and Shavuos.
How do these laws involving mundane life fit with splitting seas and manna falling from heaven?
          We often hear amazing stories of miraculous salvations in the most hopeless situations, as well as stories of painful circumstances that end up being the key to great salvations. The only deficiency of these incredible and important stories is that we sometimes forget that our everyday lives, with all of their endemic frustrations and challenges, are also precisely orchestrated by G-d.
          If a man was drowning at sea and as he was gasping for air with his last bit of strength a hook came out of heaven and lifted him onto dry land, there is no doubt that he would rejoice and relate to everyone how G-d saved him. But when we wake up each morning and open our eyes to another day, we don’t appreciate the natural miracle, and sadly, are not overwhelmed with gratitude to G-d.
          Parshas Mishaptim is read right in the middle of all the hype of miracles and salvation to teach us an invaluable lesson: It is not sufficient to be a servant of Hashem when one is in the spotlight and seated at the dais with distinguished personalities.
Being a true servant of Hashem is recognized by the level of decency one treats his maid and servant, how one cares for someone else’s possessions, and how careful one is with his own property not to cause harm or pain to others. As much as the exodus is an eternal awareness in the life of a Jew, so are the ‘mundane’ laws of Parshas Mishpatim.
 
Consider the following true story:
A woman who lived in the tri-state area was offered a job in Los Angeles, California. The position would necessitate her moving west, which would be a great change for her.  She was nervous, but also very excited.
On the day of her flight she made sure to leave herself ample time to arrive at the airport. But as luck would have it, everything went wrong and when she finally arrived at the airport, she was just in time to see her plane take off without her.
          A short time later the dejected woman was informed that as the plane neared L.A. the pilot radioed that he was having difficulty with the landing gear. However, here’s the surprising end to the story. The control tower guided him with step-by-step instructions how to bypass the malfunction and the plane landed safely in L.A. To this day, she has absolutely no idea why it was destined for her to miss the flight and lose that job opportunity.
However, that story is no less a manifestation of Divine Providence than the amazing stories we hear so often, when there is tragedy on the plane that somebody was spared from because he missed the flight. At times we are privy to understand how and why thing transpire, while at other times we never find out why things had to happen as they did. We need to remind ourselves that there is a Divine rhyme and reason for everything that occurs.

After the flood was finally over and Noach emerged from the Ark unscathed, the pasuk states, “And Noach, the man of the earth, profaned himself and planted a vineyard.”[2] Noach was originally called, “A righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d.”[3] What happened to the great Noach? How did he debase himself from ‘a man of G-d’ to ‘a man of the earth’?
At the beginning of his story, the world was full of deceit and evil and Noach stood alone, an island of morality. G-d spoke to him alone and he performed G-d’s bidding in constructing the Ark, while the rest of the world mocked him. But after the flood was over, Noach was no longer in the spotlight and G-d was no longer speaking to him directly. The great Noach lost some of his greatness, so that he was now ‘a man of the earth.’
   
Our challenge is to be G-dly not only in the presence of others, but even when we are alone and no one is there to see our actions.
When Shlomo Hamelech describes the woman of valor he states, “Her children arise to praise her; her husband to laud her.”[4] Why is this the praise of a great woman; wouldn’t she be greater if those who deal with her in her daily affairs praised her? Shouldn’t we judge her by how she is described by friends and fellow employees, not her own family?
The truth is that the real essence of a person can be gleaned from how he acts in the privacy of his own home, especially after a hard day, when he arrives home to relax. Similarly, a woman of valor is recognized by the fact that her husband and children who see how she acts ‘behind closed doors’ praise her.

[5]“This shall they give – everyone who passes through the census- a half-Shekel of the sacred Shekel…half a Shekel as a portion to Hashem…The wealthy shall not increase and the destitute shall not decrease from half a shekel…”[6]
The vernacular of the pasuk seems redundant; why does the Torah repeat that the required contribution was a half-shekel within the same pasuk?
The Yerushalmi[7] relates in the name of Rabbi Meir that G-d took out a ‘fiery coin’ from beneath His Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe declaring, “like this you shall give”. The commentators question why this was necessary. What was so complex about a tax of a half-shekel that Moshe couldn’t comprehend without a Divine demonstration?
Perhaps part of Moshe’s hesitation was that he couldn’t comprehend how a coin can represent a Jew. Hashem replied by showing him a מטבע של אש - coin of fire. The word matbeia is connected to the word teva – nature. Even the most mundane can be elevated and utilized for holiness. All of nature can be viewed and utilized for greatness, and coins are no different.

The holiday of Purim connects with this idea as well.  One living at the time of the unfolding of those miraculous events could have written them off as fascinating extraordinary coincidences, that went in the favor of the Jews. The Queen defied the King’s command, so she was executed. The worthiest maiden to be the successor happened to be Jewish. She was smart enough not to disclose her identity and when the enemy tried to destroy her nation she informed to the king and the enemy was obliterated.
The miracle of Purim was a tapestry of hidden events. Only one who appreciates the idea of the Hidden Hand of Providence, can appreciate the beauty of the succession of miracles that led to the downfall of Haman and the salvation of Klal Yisroel.

“These are the judgements you shall place before them”
“He showed him a coin of fire and said ‘Like this you shall give’”

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





[1] This essay is from the first year when I began writing Stam Torah in 1999. It was adapted from a lecture I heard in the Agudah of Staten Island by Rabbi Avi Shafran, Shabbos Kodesh Mishpatim/Shekalim 5759.
[2] Bereishis 9:20
[3] Bereishis 6:9
[4] Mishlei 31 (Aishes Chayil)
[5] “Parshas Shekalim” is the first of four unique Torah portions read during various Shabbosos prior to Pesach. The portion of Shekalim recounts the half-shekel tax which every Jew was obligated to contribute to the Temple treasury prior to the month of Nissan. After Klal Yisroel entered Eretz Yisroel and the Bais Hamikdash was built, just prior to the beginning of the month of Adar, the courts would send out emissaries to remind the people of their obligation to contribute a half-Shekel to the Temple treasury. In commemoration of that injunction by the courts, we read Parshas Shekalim during the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar.
[6] Parshas Ki Sisa, Shemos 30:13-15
[7] Shekalim 1:4

Thursday, February 1, 2018

PARSHAS YISRO 5778

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS YISRO 5778
“PREREQUISITE TO SINAI”[1]

In the late 1950s, Rabbi Yechiel Perr, a rosh yeshivah in Far Rockaway, married Miss Shani Nekritz, daughter of a rosh yeshivah from Novordok, and granddaughter of Rabbi Avraham Yoffen.
Rabbi Yoffen arranged the wedding. Many of the most well-known roshei yeshivah in the United States attended, so it was difficult to decide who would receive the various honors during the chuppah. However, there was one blessing under the chuppah that was given to a rabbi no one knew. When asked why he was honoring this Jew, Rabbi Yoffen replied that he had his reasons, and wouldn’t see anything more. The real reason was only revealed after Rabbi Yoffen’s passing.
The unknown rabbi had a small shul in the Bronx. Many years before the Perr-Nekritz wedding, he married off his own daughter and invited Rabbi Yoffen to the ceremony. Rabbi Yoffen was a busy man, and knowing neither this rabbi nor the couple, he hesitated to accept the invitation. But the rabbi begged him to attend, so he finally agreed. Since Rabbi Yoffen didn’t own a car, he expected the insistent rabbi to arrange his transportation. But he didn’t. Rabbi Yoffen and his rebbetzin took a train and a bus to the wedding.
Despite all this trouble, Rabbi Yoffen received no honors at the chuppah, and no recognition of any kind. Rebbetzin Yoffen was very upset and wanted to leave immediately after the chuppah. But Rabbi Yoffen felt that they should stay until he had a chance to dance with the chosson.
Years later, when Rabbi Yoffen married off his granddaughter, he went out of his way to honor this rabbi from the Bronx under the chuppah. This was in tandem with a mussar concept he learned in Novordok: When angry with someone, go out of your way to help them. That’s how one improves his middos.

Of all the miraculous events that transpired during the time of the exodus, and afterwards, including the plagues, splitting of the sea, falling of the manna, battle against Amalek, there was none as seminal as the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
It is axiomatic that the name of each parsha in the Torah is not haphazard or flippant, but is a worthy title that connects to the essence of that portion of the Torah[2].  Prima facie, it seems shocking that the parsha which contains the giving of the Torah should not only be introduced with the narrative of Yisro, but should be titled after him. Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, was unquestionably a great man. He was a noted idolatrous priest, who searched for truth, and subsequently rejected his stature and false beliefs, to profess his belief in Hashem. He gave his daughter as a wife to Moshe, and left his prominence behind to join the Jews in the desert.
When he arrived, and saw the process by which the nation received instruction from Moshe, by waiting on line for many hours, he rebuked Moshe and suggested an alternative approach based on a hierarchy of judges. His advice was heeded.
Yisro was obviously wise and sagacious, but it still begs the question – should his story serve as the introduction to the giving of the Torah? It is all the more intriguing according to the opinion that Yisro only arrived after the Torah was given[3]. According to that opinion, the Torah deviates from the chronological presentation of events[4], to ensure that Yisro’s story serves as the introduction to the giving of the Torah.
Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh offers a poignant and moving explanation:
By presenting the narrative of Yisro before the giving of the Torah, the Torah is conveying a deep and fundamental truth about why Klal Yisroel was chosen to be the recipients of the Torah. Hashem was demonstrating that there is great wisdom to be found among the nations of the world. They have tremendous insight, innovation, and can accomplish great things. This was demonstrated by the fact that Yisro, who was not a native of the Jewish people, yet his wisdom and advice was appreciated, and had a great effect upon the entire nation.
The Torah is showing that the Jewish people were not chosen to be the recipients of the Torah because they are the wisest or the keenest of all the nations. In fact, it is possible that there are wiser individuals from the nations of the world than from the Jewish people. Rather, the Jewish people were chosen “because of His kindness and His love for the forefathers.”    
The Ohr Hachaim concludes that one should ponder this point.

The opening words of Pirkei Avos state: “Moshe accepted the Torah from Sinai”. The question is that Moshe didn’t accept the Torah from Sinai; he accepted the Torah from Hashem, at Sinai?
Moshe was worthy to be the transmitter of the Torah from heaven to earth because he internalized and personified the lesson of Sinai. Chazal[5] note that when Hashem was about to give the Torah, the other great mountains – Mount Tavor and Mount Karmel – bragged that they were tall and imposing, and therefore, worthy to be the place where the Torah would be given. Sinai however, was far smaller, and did not deem itself worthy for such an important event. It was in the merit of its humility that, counterintuitively, it was indeed chosen from all the other mountains to be the place where the Torah was given.
Moshe was worthy to receive and transmit the Torah because he was the humblest of men. In that sense, he indeed received the Torah from Sinai, i.e. from following the example of Sinai.[6]  
In the shmoneh esrei of Shabbos morning we state: “Moshe rejoiced with the gift that was his portion, because he was called a trustworthy servant. A crown of pride atop his head was given to him, when he stood before you on Mount Sinai, and the two Tablets of Law he brought down in his hand…”
Moshe rejoiced in his being worthy to bridge the physical world with the celestial spiritual world, as it were. By transmitting the Torah to this world, he gave humankind the ability to bring holiness into the world, and elevate the world into a place worthy of the Divine Presence. Moshe was given that incredible merit because of his unparalleled humility.
The Jewish People were given the Torah, not because of their intellectual prowess and abilities, but because of their open hearts, yearning to connect with their Creator. That uniqueness was imbedded in their essence by their holy patriarchs and forbearers.
The Jewish people have undeniably contributed incredible things to humankind throughout the generations. Our society, and the world throughout history, would appear vastly different without the contributions of Jews, for good or for better. However, that is not what makes us great, and that is not why we were chosen to be the recipients and bearers of the Torah. It is because of our desire and efforts to make ourselves worthy for that role, a role which we have been groomed for since the inception of our nation.
Yisro may have possessed great wisdom, but the Torah wasn’t given to him, or to any of other brilliant scholars of the nations at that time. Moshe received the Torah from the lesson of Sinai, and we were worthy of it because of our striving to follow his lead. It is in the parsha named after Yisro that we recognize that the greatness of our people is in our internal essence, not external knowledge or innovation.
Our greatness is not only from the study of Torah, but from our efforts to internalize its timeless messages.   

“Moshe accepted the Torah from Sinai”
“Moshe rejoiced with the gift that was his portion”


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 Yisro 5777.
[2] This is in contrast to the chapters we have in Tanach, which were arranged by Christians and have no meaning and often are puzzling.
[3] See the opening Ramban on Parshas Yisro
[4] In tandem with the rule of “ayn mukdam um’uchar baTorah” – the Torah is not bound to following chronology, when altering it teaches us a lesson. Ultimately, the Torah is a guidebook to life, not a history book. Although in teaching us its lessons, many historical facts are indeed found in the Torah, that is not the goal of Torah.  
[5] Bereishis Rabbah 99:1; Megillah 29a
[6] From Anaf Eitz Avos – commentary of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt’l on Prikei Avos

Thursday, January 25, 2018

PARSHAS BESHALACH - SHABBOS SHIRAH - TU B’SHVAT 5778

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS BESHALACH/SHABBOS SHIRAH
TU B’SHVAT 5778
“PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE”[1]

While visiting Eretz Yisroel with our son Shalom two years ago, in honor of his bar mitzvah, our trip coincided with Tu B’Shvat. On the night of Tu B’Shvat we attended the Belzer tisch[2], where thousands of chassidim packed into the room surrounding the Belzer Rebbe. Based on the connections of a friend[3], I was able to get a coveted seat at the head table.
At one point, after some songs were beautifully sung together, boxes upon boxes of different fruits were hurried in, and placed it in front of the rebbe. In matter of minutes the entire massive head table was covered with more fruits than I had ever seen together in my life. Within another few minutes, the fruits were disseminated to the throngs of eager chassidim throughout the room, until the boxes were completely empty.
The entire resurgence of Belzer Chassidus is itself a complete miracle.
Rav Aharon Rokeach zt’l[4], was the fourth rebbe of Belz. During his reign the Holocaust occurred, and most his chassidim were murdered by the Nazis, including his wife, children, and grandchildren. As a leading rabbinical figure, he was high on the Nazis ‘most wanted’ list. He himself miraculously survived, and escaped to Eretz Yisroel, and remarried, but had no children from his second wife. Most thought Belz did not have a future.
The rebbe’s half-brother, Rav Mordechai, escaped with him, remarried, had a son, and died a few months later. Rav Aharon raised that son – Yissochor Dov, and groomed him to become his successor.
Today, Belz has had an incredible resurgence under the leadership of Rav Yissochor Ber, with more than fifty-thousand chassidim, and numerous yeshivos, and institutions throughout the world. 
Sitting at a Belzer Tisch is itself a symbolism of the miraculous resurgence of the Jewish people, and a testament to the unfaltering eternity of our people.

The first Shabbos after the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon, arrived in Eretz Yisroel during the winter of 1944, was the week of Parshas Beshalach. That Shabbos, the Rebbe held a tisch. Most of the small assemblage were survivors who had just recently, barely escaped with their lives, having lost most of their families and communities. It was quickly apparent that they were in no mood of singing.
In an effort to rouse their spirits, the rebbe related the following thought:
The Torah says that the Jewish Nation left Egypt “Chamushim”. Simply translated as ‘armed’, Chazal note that it also means ‘a fifth’. Only a fifth of the nation emerged from Egypt; 80% had died in Egypt[5].
This means that when the nation sang the Song of the Sea, most of the nation was not present, because they had died shortly before the exodus. It seems likely that every family had lost numerous close relatives and friends.
When Moshe arose to sing, many of them must have been overwhelmed by the anguish of their raw losses, and did not want to sing. That is why the Torah introduces the shirah by saying “Az Yashir” which literally means “Then Moshe and B’nei Yisroel will sing,” in future tense.
Moshe explained to the nation that their story is far from over. While history is generally defined as the story of the past, for the Jewish people history is defined also by the future.
The Jews in Egypt had died, but their souls were alive, and would return with the resurrection of the dead. Moshe urged them to sing, not because there is no pain, but because despite the pain, their story is far from over.
This is the uniqueness of Jewish history. Since Jews are certain that redemption will come, they go back and redefine exile as the catalyst for redemption and healing.
For us, the future defines, and gives meaning to the past too.

Just prior to their departure from Egypt at the time of the exodus, the Torah relates, “B’nei Yisroel did according to the word of Moshe; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing. Hashem granted the nation favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they asked.”[6]
However, there were a few individuals who were busy collecting other important ‘materials’, and put aside the amassing of personal fortunes:
 “Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, because he had made the Bn’ei Yisroel swear saying ‘when Hashem will surely remember you, and you will bring up my bones from this land with you’.”[7]
The Medrash contrasts what Moshe brought up with that of the rest of the nation: “All of Yisroel busied themselves with silver and gold, but Moshe was preoccupied with Yosef’s bones, to which the Holy One, blessed is He, applied the verse ‘He who is wise of heart takes mitzvos’[8].” 
After the nation sang shirah, after witnessing the final decimation of their final captors at the sea, the pasuk relates that the women also sang shirah: “Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”[9]
Yalkut Shimoni[10] notes that Miriam, and many other righteous women, were confident that there would be cause for celebration in the desert that would warrant their having instruments. So, while the nation was preparing to leave, they made sure to take instruments with them.
In Parshas Terumah, when the Torah describes the different materials that were donated for the construction of the Mishkan, one of the materials listed is acacia wood (atzei shittim).
The Medrash[11] asks how they were able to procure acacia wood in the desert? The Medrash answers that prior to his descent to Egypt, Yaakov Avinu carried acacia trees down to Egypt, prophesizing that the nation would one day need them for a Mishkan. He replanted them there. When the nation was about to leave Egypt, there were those who chopped down those trees, and carried the acacia wood with them into the desert.
Moshe took the bones of Yosef, Miriam and righteous women took instruments for celebration, and some individuals took the replanted acacia wood.[12]
In a sense, these three important ‘materials’ represent one of the most important components of a people – connection to its past, purpose in the present, and goals for the future.  
Moshe took the bones of Yosef, representing the nation’s connection to its illustrious past, and holy ancestors. Miriam took instruments with confidence and faith in the glory that was to come. The wood that was used for the construction of the structure of the Mishkan symbolized the ongoing need for the nation to have a centralized place for the Divine Presence to rest among them constantly.
There are people who get stuck in the past. They may have suffered trauma and abuse, mental anguish, and suffering, and cannot get past it. They are stuck in the morass of their past, and may suffer from insurmountable depression.
There are others who become paralyzed by fear of the unknown in the future. Anxiety of what tomorrow will bring overwhelms them, and they are filled with dread about how they will deal with the challenges that will confront them.
The goal is for a person to be able to build on his past, even the traumas and pain of the past, and utilize them, taking advantage of the present, to create a hopeful future, helping others and serving Hashem.
The three objects taken out along with the wealth of the Egyptians, represents this vital need in the formulation and growth of a burgeoning nation.

The Shabbos when Parshas Beshalach is read, is titled “Shabbos Shirah – Shabbos of Song”. It generally also coincides with the week when the holiday of Tu[13] B’Shvat is observed.
Tu B’Shvat is the “New Year for trees” in regard to certain areas of halacha[14]. Therefore, it is a time when we reflect upon the wonders of the trees, particularly regarding the analogous connections between trees and humankind[15].
Every tree grew from the seeds of previous trees. At the same time, every fruit contains within it the seeds for future trees and fruits.
The song of our lives is built upon the foundations upon which were built by our ancestors. With a sense of mission and responsibility for our progeny, we prepare the next generation, serving as the continuing link on our never-ending chain of eternal tradition. 

“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him”
“Miriam took a timbrel in her hand”

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 Beshalach 5777.
[2] A tisch is a formal Chassidic gathering, in which chassidim sing together, and listen to inspiring words of Torah from the rebbe.
[3] Fred Brinn, then Mayor of New Hempstead
[4] 1880-1957
[5] During the plague of darkness, all of those Jews who did not want to leave Egypt, died.
[6] Shemos 12:35-36
[7] Shemos 13:19
[8] Mishlei 10:7
[9] Shemos 15:20
[10] Shemos 253
[11] Bereishis Rabbah 94:4
[12] I saw the idea about taking these three ‘materials’ in an article by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
[13] The Hebrew letters ט''ו (Tu) numerically correspond to the number 15, since it is on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat
[14] Particularly about taking ma’aser, the mandatory annual tithes
[15] Based on the pasuk in Devorim 20:19