Thursday, March 25, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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week, send their address to:





Rabbi Yaakov Levitt of Bialystok related the following poignant parable2:

One day an elderly man from a simple village became severely ill. His children immediately summoned the best doctor from the big city to examine him. After a thorough checkup the doctor concluded that although his condition was very serious, with proper medication the elderly man would have a complete recovery.

He wrote out a prescription in which he detailed the exact ingredients necessary to create the elixir needed to restore his health. Before leaving the doctor gave the family strict instructions. “Remember to give the patient this prescription three times a day. Dissolve it in a cup of water and make sure he swallows it. Within a few days you should see significant improvement.”

The family thanked the doctor and assured him that they would do exactly as he said. Within a few days however, it was clear that the patient’s condition was rapidly worsening. They ran to summon the doctor. “What kind of a doctor are you?” they demanded, “not only has our father’s condition not improved, it has worsened terribly.”

The doctor couldn’t believe it. He hurried to the patients’ bedside and shook his head. “I just can’t understand what went wrong. The prescription I wrote out for you was exactly what he needs to combat those symptoms. But perhaps I made a mistake. Let me take a look at the prescription and see if I missed an important ingredient or wrote the wrong amount.”

The eldest son shook his head, “the prescription is all gone.”

The doctor was confused. “What do you mean it’s gone? What happened to it?”

The son explained, “How long did you think it would last? We followed your instructions to the tee. The day you left we immediately began ripping up the prescription paper into small pieces and dissolving it in water which we gave our father to drink. By now he has consumed the entire paper.”

The doctor was too stunned to speak. “You foolish people! You complain to me that you’re father did not get better from my prescription? It’s a miracle that he’s still alive at all. Did you really think your father would be cured by eating the paper I wrote on? The prescription paper is only to inform the pharmacist how to make the required medicine. If you would have followed the advice written on the prescription instead of having your father swallow it he would be fine now.”

A Todah (thanksgiving) offering was brought by an individual who survived a perilous situation. But one need not wait until a tragedy was averted for him to bring an offering of thanksgiving to the Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash. One was permitted to donate a Shelamim (peace-offering) any time he so desired3.

In our daily prayers we ask G-d, “Bless us, our Father - all of us as one - with the light of Your countenance… And may it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel, in every season and every hour with peace…”

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l noted that in this blessing we are not requesting new things from G-d, rather we are praying that the good we have already been blessed with continue. We pray not only that G-d continues to shower us with blessings and goodness, but that we have the sense to appreciate what we have.

Very often people look back to years and decades gone by, sigh nostalgically, and exclaim, “Those were the good old days!” Rabbi Miller counters that we would be wise to realize that “These are the good old days!” Perhaps there was a time when we were more vibrant and youthful. Perhaps there was a time when our lives were more exciting and carefree. But almost invariably at some point in the future we will look back to today wonder why we didn’t appreciate it more.

The wisest of men exhorts us4, "Do not ask why were the earlier days better then now, for it not out of wisdom do you inquire about this". Shlomo Hamelech urges us not to focus too deeply and ponder the 'good old days'. Rather, one should appreciate the gifts of the present and thank G-d for the blessings he has been endowed with. “Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy… Enjoy happiness with the woman you love all the fleeting days of your life that have been granted to you under the sun… For that alone is what you can get out of life, and out of the means you acquire under the sun.5

Our problem is that in the daily bustle of life we hardly ever stop to smell the flowers.

An insightful and analytical friend of mine recently quipped to me, “I have finally pinpointed what it is about the way we celebrate Chol Hamo’ed6 that bothers me so much.” He explained that in our fast-paced, rapid moving society we often find ourselves in a relentless pursuit of accomplishment and success. [The irony is that the furtherance of technology raises our expectations and demands for efficiency and effectiveness, which in turn ensures that we have less time, not more.]

Every six months G-d grants us an elongated week-long Yom Tov (holiday) celebration. A holiday is called a “Mo’ed” which literally means a meeting place. When one is invited to a meeting with a respected and important dignitary, everything in his life aside for that meeting is put on hold. He does not answer his phone, or check his messages. For the duration of the precious minutes of that meeting he is completely focused on the meeting.

A holiday is a Mo’ed in the sense that it is an opportunity for us to get off the rapid moving cogwheel of life, and to spend a week joyously appreciating the blessings of our lives, so that we can thereby feel gratitude and connection with G-d7.

However, ironically we have taken Chol Hamo’ed and transformed it into a stressful and pressurized time - the very concepts that the holiday affords us an opportunity to escape from! We often spend the day stressing over where to go and when to leave. The whole holiday centers around the Chol Hamo’ed plans, which at times metamorphoses into an all out family feud. [This is not to say that one should not go on family trips during Chol Hamo’ed. Au contraire! However, the trips should be a time of familial bonding, a chance to enjoy the family without the daily pressures that abound.]

In the haggadah we read that while enslaved in Egypt we suffered terrible oppression. The author of the haggadah offers a fascinating definition of Egyptian oppression. ואת לחצנו זו הדחק" – ‘Our oppression’ refers to the pressure”. Aside from the physical servitude which our forefathers were subjected to, the Egyptians enslaved them mentally and psychologically. The slavery and workload was so intense that they did not even have the ability to dream about liberation and freedom8.

Our celebration of the exodus includes the fact that we are no longer subject to Egyptian oppressive pressure. On the other hand, in our exile we are still very much plagued by stress and pressure and it inevitably takes its toll on us, physically and mentally.

In the Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov we request, “Load upon us - Hashem, our G-d - the blessings of Your appointed festivals for life and for peace, for gladness and for joy, as You desired and promised to bless us.” The holidays are an opportunity to stop the daily grind so that we can stop to smell the flowers and count our blessings.

But if we are too busy deciding what to do during the holiday and how to optimize the holiday then we have failed to utilize the holiday for what it was intended. We become analogous to the foolish children who swallow the prescription itself as the medicine instead of following its instructions.

Of course both Succos and Pesach have their own individual meaning that one must contemplate, analyze, and ponder. But even before one begins to think about the individual uniqueness endemic to each holiday, one must realize that the holiday itself is a mo’ed - a meeting not only between a person and his Creator, but also with himself!

If one indeed takes advantage of the mo’ed he will realize just how much blessing he has in his life, (even if others have more). The holiday will help him realize the omnipresent miracles that are part of his life on a daily basis.

It will help him live a life of shelamim, and not wait to express his gratitude until he has reason to bring a Todah!

“Load upon us the blessings of Your appointed festivals”

These are the good old days!

1 The following is based on the sermon I was privileged to deliver in our shul - Kehillat New Hempstead – Shabbos kodesh parshas Vayikra 5770. Because of the timeliness and relevance of this message I decided to record it even though I just related these words this past Shabbos.
2 Quoted in the “Haggadah of the Palace Gates” by Rabbi Shalom Wallach
3 The Shelamim was so called because ‘everyone’ received a portion of it. Some of the animal was burnt on the altar, certain parts were given to the Kohanim, and some was given to the owner to eat.
4 Koheles 7:10
5 Koheles 9:7-9
6 The Intermediary days of Pesach and Succos
7 The reason for Chol Hamo’ed is that the Sages realized that a week of absolutely no halachically forbidden work was too much for people. Based on analytical exegesis of the verses, they concluded that the Torah only considers the first and last day of the holiday to maintain the added stringency of Yom Tov, while the remaining days have a mitigated status of Yom Tov. Thus Chol Hamo’ed is an opportunity to spend time enjoying the blessings of the holiday, in a less restricted manner than Yom Tov itself.
8 See Shemos “they did not listen to Moshe because of shortness of breath and hard work.” Also see Mesillas Yeshraim (chapter 2) where he explains that the secret to Pharaoh’s success was based on the incredible workload which ensured that the Jews could not contemplate their roots or think about their destiny.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




In his classic work "TENDING THE VINEYARD", my Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita1, relates the following vignette:

“At the time that my wife and I made aliyah to live in Israel, the Ministry of Interior required certification through the chief rabbinate that any new immigrants were Jews in order to qualify for citizenship and immigrant benefits. After an hour-long wait at the ministry to be interviewed, my wife and I sat before a hard-faced clerk. I did not have a letter from a rabbi certifying to my Jewishness, but I felt confident that since I was on the chief rabbinate's list of approved rabbis whose letter would be accepted to verify the Jewishness of others, I would suffer no problem.

“Well, I was wrong. The clerk acknowledged that my name did appear on that august list of recognized rabbis but she sweetly said: "Simply because you are acceptable to say about others that they are Jewish does not necessarily mean that you are yourself Jewish."

“This baffling piece of legal logic astounded me. I told my wife to continue sitting at this clerk's booth and I hurried out and hailed a cab that delivered me to the house of a rabbinical friend of mine whose name was likewise on the approved list of rabbis. He wrote out a letter for me and I took the same cab back to the Interior Ministry. My poor wife was still sitting at the clerk's booth as I breathlessly charged into the office and presented the letter to the clerk.

“The clerk smiled at us and said: "Now you're Jewish!" And so we were. Never underestimate the power of a letter written by a rabbi who is on the approved list of the Israeli chief rabbinate.”

Chumash Vayikra, also known as Toras Kohanim2, is chiefly dedicated to the unique laws pertaining to the Kohanim and their daily Service in the Mishkan. It commences with a detailed account of the many laws endemic to the various offerings brought in the Mishkan.

Aside from animal offerings, there were also Mincha/flour offerings that could be offered. Although there were different types of Mincha offerings, flour and water were universal ingredients of every mincha. Yet, the Torah warns that when the flour and water were mixed they could never be allowed to leaven or ferment. “Any meal-offering that you offer to G-d shall not be prepared leavened, for you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any leavening or any honey as a fire-offering to G-d.3

As we are all aware, there is another prohibition of chometz, i.e. during the days of the holiday of Pesach. Throughout the rest of the year there is absolutely no prohibition from eating chometz, in fact bread plays a central role in many food-oriented mitzvos, such as on Shabbos and holidays. But on Pesach the mere ownership of chometz becomes a serious transgression.

The austere prohibition against owning chometz on Pesach and offering chometz on the altar seems to be interconnected. What is the deeper idea behind that connection?

In order for bread to rise, leavening must take place, catalyzed by yeast or another leavening agent. As oxidation occurs, air pockets develop. Nothing is added to the dough, but it gets bigger, propelled upward by warm air. It is nothing more than the process of nature which causes dough to rise.

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.

Chametz, on the other hand, symbolizes our sense of identity and independent contribution. Ultimately G-d wanted us to exercise our free will to contribute to His world and bring His Presence into it. In that sense Chametz is not a negative force at all. In fact, it is the source of all accomplishment and positive action. However, when one becomes arrogant and forgets his place it can easily spiral out of control. He loses perspective of where his independence and achievements come from and he begins to believe too much in himself by taking himself too seriously.

Pesach is the re-experiencing of the birth and genesis of our nationhood. During the first days, weeks, and even months of a baby’s life the infant cannot eat normal foods. His system is not yet developed and he lacks the ability to chew and digest the foods we eat.

In a similar vein, at the moment of our rebirth we reduce our eating to matzah, symbolizing that we are nothing in the presence of G-d. It is only after a week of eating matzah and contemplating its vital message that we can reintroduce chometz - representing our own egos - into our diet. It is only when we have been sufficiently reminded that ultimately we are mere pawns in the hands of the Almighty that we can again focus on our pathways of life, and hopefully won’t lose sight of Who is truly in control of our destiny.

When one brought an offering to the Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash, it was not merely a physical offering of blood or flour. It was meant to be an emotional experience of reconnection and subservience to G-d.4

The Netziv5 explains that leavened bread represents utilizing human intervention to add to the natural state of creation. When we stand before G-d in His Home, as it were, it is inappropriate it is for us to demonstrate our ability to alter the natural order and manipulate creation6. Therefore in the Bais HaMikdash, Chametz was virtually never offered on the altar7.

One of the most well-known passages in the haggadah is the Four Sons. Much attention is given to understanding the questions, as well as the responses, given to the four diverse personalities at the Seder.

Perhaps one of the most well-known questions regarding the Four Sons involves understanding the difference between the Wise Son and the Wicked Son.

“The wise one, what does he say? “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which Hashem, our G-d, has commanded you?" You, in turn, shall instruct him about the laws of Pesach, [until the final law which states that] `One may not to eat any dessert after the Passover-lamb.'

“The wicked one, what does he say? "What is this service to you?!" He says ‘to you’, but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: "It is because of this that G-d did for me when I left Egypt"; ‘for me’ - but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!"

Our response to the Wicked Son is harsh and candid because he referred to the Seder as ‘your service’ excluding himself. But does the Wise son not speak in a similar vein when he questions the laws that ‘G-d has commanded you’?

Rabbi David Lapin8 explains that there is a notable difference between their questions. The Wise Son asks about the complexity involved in the intellectual study of Torah. His question is not about the practices of the night, but about the different classifications and understandings behind all that is done at the Seder.

The Wicked son on the other hand, questions the actions. He exudes a dubious attitude towards the service that ‘G-d has commanded you’.

The Wise Son is correct for asking about the laws, testimonies, and statues that ‘G-d has commanded you’. He recognizes his role as the student who is seeking the knowledge of a more sagacious teacher. He is requesting that the teacher transmit the Torah that G-d taught him, through his teachers, who were taught by their teachers. The Wise Son recognizes that his connection to Torah is still tenuous, and he requires guidance. Essentially, his question stems from feelings of humility, an admission that the teacher has superior knowledge and understanding which the student desires to access.

In regards to practice on the other hand, the Wise Son understands that we are all equally obligated. He does not question the fact that we are performing the service of the night. Rather, his request is to better understand the depth of what we are doing.

The Wicked Son however, questions our actions. He does not seek a deeper understanding; he seeks to know why we are bothering with the Seder in the first place.

Rabbi Lapin continues that the contemporary Jewish world seems to have it backwards. What separates the scholar from the ignoramus is not in practice but in understanding. Yet, there are many people who maintain minimal levels of observance but love to demonstrate their acumen and familiarity in Talmud, and even kabbalah. They engage in deep complex Talmudic debates and lecture about profound scholarly topics, which they have limited knowledge of.9

The tragic reality is that there is a prevalent attitude that everyone feels he is worthy to be a Torah authority. Yet, when it comes to observance people are quicker to say “I’m not so religious. I don’t keep that; I’m not on that level!” In other words, we are modest with practice but arrogant in knowledge.

Therein lies the difference between the question of the Wise Son and the Wicked Son. The Wise Son is appropriately arrogant in his practice - he feels that he is just as obligated and connected to practicing the Torah as the greatest scholar. However, he is modest in his knowledge; he humbles himself before his teachers and those who possess superior wisdom.

The Wicked Son however, feels that he is worthy of debating about what is transpiring on a theological level, while at the same time excluding himself and rejecting the observance.

Rabbi Lapin concludes that as we read the haggadah each year we are wont to picture ourselves as the Wise Son. But perhaps we should stop and think if we have some of the arrogance of the Wicked son within ourselves as well.

The essence of humility is an attitude of feeling great responsibility in regards to action, but great inadequacy in regards to knowledge.

The Chofetz Chaim noted that the arrogant person is not a sinner, but rather one who lacks understanding10. He simply does not realize his place and his uniqueness and so his identity becomes distorted.

For one week of Pesach we rid our homes of matzah and undermine our own egos. In so doing we are reminded not to take ourselves too seriously. It is only when that week is over that we can again enjoy chometz, with an understanding that the essential difference between matzah and chometz is nothing more than hot air.

“Any meal-offering that you offer to G-d shall not be prepared leavened”

“What are the testimonies which Hashem, our G-d, has commanded you?"

1 Published by Shaar Press
2 The secular name of the book ‘Leviticus’ literally means ‘book of the Levites’ as the Kohanim are from the tribe of Levi
3 Vayikra 2:11
4 See Ramban,Vayikra 1:9
5 Ha’amek Davar
6 even though ultimately that is our mission
7 The one notable exception was the offering of the Shtei Halecehm on Shavuos. On Shavuos, the holiday which celebrates our acceptance of the Torah, we demonstrate that the Torah transcends the natural world. Thus, on that day we demonstrate our greatness, as the adherents to the Torah, even in the Bais Hamikdash.
8 founder and author of
9 Would anyone give a lecture about physics/law without having a thorough understanding of the subject matter?
10 Quoted in the newly printed “Mareh Kohain Haggadah” from Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l, p. 186

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




When Rabbi Uri Zohar decided to leave behind his previous life of glamour and stardom to become Torah observant, his non-religious friends asked the noted comedian if he could tell them one last joke. He replied by telling them the following1:

One day a secular Israeli police officer noticed two religious yeshiva students driving together on a motorcycle. The officer drove his car behind them looking for a pretense to issue the duo a ticket. To his chagrin, they stopped at every stop sign, adhered to the speed limit, and drove courteously. After a half-hour the cop gave up. He pulled them over and said to them, “I don’t get it. I couldn’t catch you doing anything wrong!” The yeshiva boys replied curtly, “That’s because G-d is with us.” The cop jumped up, “Aha! I’m going to give you a ticket. You have three on a motorcycle!”

Before the Torah begins its discussion about the construction of the Mishkan, its vessels, and the Priestly vestments, the Torah reiterates the laws of Shabbos. The AriZal explains that the sanctity of Shabbos and the sanctity of the Mishkan2 are inextricably bound. The sanctity of Shabbos in the realm of time parallels the sanctity of the Temple in the realm of place/space.

In anticipation of the consecration of the Bais Hamikdash, Dovid Hamelech wrote3, “If G-d will not build a house, for naught have his builders toiled in it.” The commentators explain that Dovid was expressing the idea that, all of man’s efforts not withstanding, the greatest Temple structure contains absolutely no sanctity unless G-d allows His Divine Presence to rest there. It is not the grandeur or opulence of a building which creates holiness, but the Presence of G-d! Therefore even if they will construct an august Temple, if G-d will not accede to rest his Presence there, as it were, all of their efforts were futile.

In a similar vein, when the construction of the Mishkan was completed the Torah says4, “Moshe saw the entire work, and behold! They had done it as G-d had commanded, so they had done! And Moshe blessed them.” Rashi records the vernacular of Moshe’s blessing: “May it be the Will that the Divine Presence rest amongst your handiwork.” Moshe too expressed this same sentiment, that even after all of their painstaking efforts, the construction would not achieve its goal unless the Divine Presence rested there.

This seems like an extraordinary concept. Is it possible to have a Bais Hamikdash without the Divine Presence? Could “G-d’s House” exist without His Divine Presence?

As mentioned, the holiness of Shabbos parallels the holiness of the Temple. Thus the question extends to Shabbos as well. Is it possible for there to be a Shabbos without holiness? Could “G-d’s day” be lacking G-d’s Presence?

During one of his lectures about the sanctity of Shabbos, Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l related what he feels is the biggest issue that the contemporary Torah world faces. He explained that the Torah world today is particular to perform mitzvos with incredible beauty and stringency. We procure beautiful esrogim, our matzah is made with all levels of stringency, we wear quality tefillin, and have beautiful Menorahs for Chanukah. We have more yeshivos and individuals studying Torah today than we have ever had during the exile. From an outside vantage point the Torah world is thriving. But there is one area in which we are severely remiss. We have created a Judaism without G-d! Despite all of our precision and devotion to all facets of Torah observance, G-d is often left out. In the vernacular of Rabbi Pinkus, “We have cultivated a Judaism from which we have left Hashem out of the equation.”

The tragic irony that sometimes we are so busy serving G-d that we forget about G-d. The concept of prayer, for example, should be viewed as an opportunity to simply ‘talk to G-d’. When one prays with devotion and concentration and pictures himself standing before the Almighty Who is fully concentrating on his prayer, it fosters within him a feeling of closeness with G-d. But very often even while we are praying we don’t pay attention to whom we are praying!

Rabbi Pinkus related an anecdote about Rabbi Avrohom Farbstein5, one of the Roshei yeshiva of the famed Chevron Yeshiva. Rabbi Farbstein was a skilled orator and would travel and lecture about living a Torah life to eclectic audiences. He had a decent command of the English language and was careful to translate all the verses and statements he quoted into English.

On one occasion he delivered a very powerful lecture to a crowd of unaffiliated Jews in America. After the lecture a fellow approached him and told him, “Rabbi I want you to know that I really appreciated your lecture and I was emotionally moved by what you said. You really touched my heart and inspired me. However, there was one word you didn’t translate although you repeated it quite a few times during your lecture. What is ‘Hakadoshbaruchhu’6?”

Rabbi Pinkus noted that our Torah observance is somewhat analogous to that man’s understanding of the lecture. We love to perform the mitzvos and be involved in all of the beautiful rituals endemic to Torah observance. But we often forget to contemplate and think about ‘Hakadoshbaruchhu’.

Rabbi Pinkus continued, “We have too much love in our lives! We love our homes, we love our cars, we love our phones, and we love our refrigerator. I didn’t even realize how much I loved my refrigerator until it broke down. Then I realized how attached I was to it and how much it meant to be.”

When we love so many things we cannot think about the more important things that we really love, such as our families, and G-d. The greatness of Shabbos is that on Shabbos everything ceases. On Shabbos there is no phone, no car, no building a house, and no turning on an air conditioner. On Shabbos there is nothing but G-d Himself! On Shabbos we turn off our love for everything else so that we can focus on our love for G-d.

But the tragedy is that one can observe Shabbos and miss this integral point. He can be so involved in the additives of Shabbos – the cholent and kugel, the extra sleep, the family time, and even the melodious prayers - that he doesn’t stop to appreciate that all of those beautiful things are only means to a much higher and important end. That ‘end’ is G-d Himself, Who is truly the beginning and the end!

Prior to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash the prophets warned the nation that they had forgotten G-d. The Temple itself had become a place of Service to G-d without paying attention to G-d Himself. The prophet Yeshayah expressed G-d’s indignation with the nation’s heartless Service. “Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? Says G-d – I am satiated with elevation-offerings of rams and the choicest of fattened animals; and the blood of bulls and sheep and he-goats I do not desire.7” The nation would only use the best animals for its offerings, but G-d proclaimed that it was all meaningless because their hearts were not in it.

A few verses later the prophet lamented about their Shabbos observance as well. “You shall not continue to bring Me a worthless meal-offering – incense of abomination is it unto Me; New Moon and Shabbos, callings of convocation, I cannot abide mendacity with assemblage.” Their Shabbos too had become a G-dless experience, despite the fact that they may have still been particular to adhere to the letter of the law.

Today in exile, we no longer have a central Bais Hamikdash. But we have shuls and Batei Medrash8, which play a central role in our lives and observance. The pitfall that our ancestors fell into then is not very different from the challenge we face. Our shuls cannot only be houses of study and prayer. More importantly, they must be places of connection and devotion to G-d!

We are analogous to people who travel to the palace of the king and marvel at the intricate architecture of the physical structure. The guests gawk at the lavishness and beauty of the chambers, and are enthralled by the might of the king. They are delighted to have the opportunity to take part in the elaborate rituals associated with the service of the king. But then they leave without ever meeting the king himself. That is surely an affront to the king!

The blessing of Moshe and the statement of Dovid Hamelech serves as a reminder that ultimately it is not the buildings we build or the services we perform that create holiness, but G-d’s Divine Presence.

The final of the four special Torah readings read during the weeks prior to Pesach is Parshas Hachodesh. The twenty verse reading begins with the words, “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” The following eighteen verses discuss the laws of the offering of the Paschal Lamb offered just prior to the onset of the Pesach holiday.

It is intriguing that the title of the reading is named after the second verse, when most of the reading has nothing to do with the title9. The commentators explain that the point of the Paschal Lamb, as well as the entire Pesach holiday, is to infuse us with encouragement and excitement because it is a time of renewal.

The renewal which we refer to is not in ritual or performance, for we continue to do the same things we have been doing until now (even the Paschal lamb is repeated from the year before). Rather the renewal is internal; emotional renewal of one’s feeling of connectedness and devotion to his Creator. The holiday of Pesach is a celebration of G-d’s love for us, and our role is to embrace that love and appreciate it.

Parshas Vayakhel and Pekudei record the actual construction of the Mishkan. Before commencing its recording of the building the Torah reminds us about the holiness of Shabbos.

Both of these integral mitzvos are connected in the sense that they are primarily granted as a means for connection with G-d. We must always ensure that we have not left G-d outside of our shuls/Shabbos10.

The reading of Hachodesh reminds us that we can always renew our connection with G-d, for in reality it is not He who obscures that connection, but we. With that renewed level of awareness and devotion we can approach the holiday of Pesach with excitement - not merely in order to perform all of the special rituals and mitzvos unique to that nigh - but more importantly, to feel the emotional connection with G-d that those mitzvos can help us achieve!

“If G-d will not build a house”

“And Moshe blessed them”

1 Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l repeated this story in Rabbi Zohar’s name. He prefaced it by saying, “I love this joke.”
2 and subsequently the Bais Hamikdash in Yeryshalayim
3 Tehillim 127:1
4 Shemos 39:43
5 1917-1997; as a youth he learned in the Mirrer yeshiva in Europe. He married the daughter of Harav Yecheskel Sarna zt’l
6 Hakadosh Baruch Hu – the Holy One, blessed is He
7 Yeshayah 1:11 [This verse is from the haftorah of Shabbos Chazon, read the Shabbos prior to Tisha BAv.]
8 Synagogues and Houses of Study
9 “Hachodesh” means ‘the month’; the letters also form the word ‘hachadash- the new one’ referring to the fact that Nissan, the first of the months, is a time of new beginning
10 Perhaps this is part of the reason why we have the custom to recite an added prayer of kabbolas Shabbos – acceptance of Shabbos. Before we embrace the holiness of Shabbos we need to take a few minutes to mentally prepare ourselves for this great occasion. We need to realize that Shabbos in not just a day with added laws, but it is a different experience completely; a day of connection with G-d Himself!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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One day a Jewish fellow walked into Starbucks to find his friend perusing an Arab newspaper. “Moishe, what’s this? Have you lost your mind? Why in the world are you reading an Arab newspaper?” Moishe put down the paper and replied, “I used to read the Jewish newspapers but the news was always so glum and morose. Jews are being persecuted, Israel is vulnerable and in danger of attack, Jews are fighting against Jews, and the assimilation rate is rising. So I decided to switch to the Arab newspapers. Now I read about how the Jews own all the banks, Jews control the media, Jews are rich and powerful, Israel is a mighty force to be reckoned with, and Jews run the world. The news is so much better!”

Klal Yisroel stood at Sinai and accepted the Torah in a state of supreme purity and complete unity. Every Jew reached a level of prophecy and witnessed an unparalleled revelation of G-d. Then Moshe ascended Sinai for forty days so G-d could teach him the laws and details of the Torah.

When the forty days had ended, Klal Yisroel thought Moshe would not return, and they panicked. The result was catastrophic; they created a golden calf and committed an egregious sin1.

How did they reach such a low level? It began with a miscalculation. The people thought Moshe was supposed to return that day. When six hours passed and he had still not returned, they began to become skeptical of his return. They knew that Moshe was very precise - to him midnight was exactly midnight and midday was precisely midday. They immediately began to panic. If Moshe was really gone, G-d forbid, what would become of the Jewish people? Who would lead them into Israel? Would they remain in the desert for eternity? Would the manna continue to fall - after all it was only due to the merit of Moshe that it fell in the first place? And if there was no manna what would become of their families? To make matters worse, Satan showed them the image of Moshe dead.

The Satan did not succeed in totally convincing the Jewish people that he died, for the people only said "we do not know what became of him"; there was no mention that he died. They did, however, allow their imagination to overpower their intellect. They were terribly frightened. If they would have been completely logical they would have reasoned that G-d would not abandon his people, even if Moshe did not return; perhaps Aharon would take over. The problem was that the people followed what their eyes saw, not what logic dictated.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l pointed out that in the Hoshanos recited on Hoshana Rabba we beseech G-d to save, "the ground from accursedness ... the soul from panic." In that paragraph we ask G-d to save the granary from "gazam" - a type of locust, and the crop from "arbeh" - another type of locust, for they are destructive forces.

By the same token the soul must be saved from panic, for panic can destroy the soul. This is precisely what happened in the desert. The people panicked. They were so frightened that they were not able to think logically. Their panic led to decisions made in haste2.

The lesson to be learned from their sin is that one must not allow himself to be immediately overwhelmed by what his eyes see. Our imagination can at times paint terrible pictures, but we must realize that in the end it is only our imagination.

Why did the Jews panic so much when they thought Moshe would not return?

We must bear in mind that despite the fact that the nation had just accepted the Torah at Sinai, a mere year earlier they were still lowly slaves in a brutal exile.

Servitude does not only destroy one’s physical sense of freedom, it destroys the slaves mental and psychological sense of self as well. A slave becomes completely dependent on his masters. There are no bills to pay or decisions to make about which school to send his children to. The slave forfeits his identity to his master and knows nothing other than the directions imposed upon him.

When the Jews marched forth from Egypt they had the difficult challenge of not only traversing the land of their captivity but also triumphing over the slave mentality that had infiltrated their conscience for so many generations. That reality was extremely daunting and immobilizing for the newly freed nation. They were frightened by the prospect that they had to make their own decisions and forge their own pathways of service to G-d3.

So when they thought Moshe would not return they feared that they would be unable to lead their families and live up to their lofty potentials without an intermediary to guide them.

This mindset was an integral part of the sin of the Golden Calf. It wasn’t only what they did; it was also the feeling of turmoil and fear which caused their actions. They were held accountable for allowing their emotions to overwhelm them because they did not sufficiently believe in themselves!

With this in mind we can understand why the Torah repeats the importance of safeguarding Shabbos prior to its narrative of the sin of the Golden Calf. When Shabbos is observed properly it helps instill within a person a sense of serenity and inner-peace. It is a day of connection when we remind ourselves of our priorities. On Shabbos we have the ability to contemplate life and our place in it in a manner that we cannot achieve during the other six days, which are more chaotic and fast-paced.

When one observes Shabbos properly he is protected from sins such as the Golden Calf.

Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita explained that in a certain sense the Purim story served as rectification for the sin of the Golden Calf. In contrast to other enemies of Israel, at the time of Purim there was a tremendous upheaval that came about without warning.

For example, when Nebuchadnezzar approached with his armies from the North heading towards Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah warned the nation repeatedly of the impeding doom that would befall them if they did not repent. Although the false prophets claimed Jerusalem would not fall, when the enemy surrounded the city the people could not say they had not been forewarned.

The Jewish people in Shushan on the other hand, could not have imagined that a decree would be passed slating them for annihilation. It was simply unfathomable. The Jewish people had a good relationship with their neighbors. They had gone to the king’s feast together and celebrated in unison. Then, suddenly, without warning, an order was passed "to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews, from young to old, children, and women4".

If the Jewish people would have despaired at that point we could not have blamed them. There indeed seemed to be no hope. However, at that point the Jews displayed uncanny determination and resolve; they did not despair and they did not panic. They did not send a delegation to try and convince Achashveirosh or Haman to rescind the decree. Their only response was to gather together and implore G-d for mercy.

The truth is that this idea played an even deeper role vis-à-vis the miracles of Purim. When one analyzes the events of the Megillah a beautiful tapestry and pattern emerges, with each part of the story segueing to the next part. Achashveirosh makes a party, becomes drunk, kills Vashti, Esther becomes Queen, Haman becomes Prime Minister, is consumed by hubris and then with rage when Mordechai refuses to bow to him, builds a gallows, and eventually ends up being hung on his own gallows.

There is one part of the story which does not seem to fit with the whole pattern – what was the point of the parade? Why was it necessary for Haman to lead Mordechai through the streets of Shushan? It is a great addendum to the story, but it does not seem at all necessary for Haman’s ultimate demise.

The gemara relates that Haman had an incredible power of persuasion. He was extremely eloquent and influential and in his wily manner was able to convince almost anyone that his point of view was correct5. Even after Haman had been condemned by the king he should have been able to talk his way out of trouble. Why did Haman not ‘work his magic’ to bail himself out?

The Chasam Sofer explains that Haman was destroyed because of ‘behala’ – panic and a lack of equanimity! The parade was extremely unnerving for Haman, not to mention humiliating. His disgrace and misery was further compounded by his daughter’s death after she dumped the contents of the family’s chamber pot on his head. After the party Haman returned home with the hope of showering and changing for the second party. But suddenly the King’s guards stormed in and whisked him away. From that point on the events continued to move at a maddening pace. Before Haman could say a word in his own defense he was being led to the gallows he had built in a state of total defeat and disillusionment.

The irony is that while Haman was destroyed by behala, the Jewish people were saved because they did not succumb to behala!

The Jews of Shushan espoused that intellect must rise above confusion, and one's soul must not be shattered by panic. However, their repentance was not complete. One of the reasons given for not reciting Hallel on Purim is that, "We are still servants of Achashveirosh6". Although the nation overcame the initial feelings of panic and despair, we are still plagued by such emotions. In that sense we are still servants to Achashveirosh.

One of the timeless lessons of Purim is that we must never allow our faith in G-d to waver. The Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) which was offered in the Bais Hamikdash, with its ashes sprinkled upon anyone who had contracted ritual impurity via contact with a dead body, is the symbol of our subservience to G-d. Our Sages relate that even King Shlomo, the wisest of men, could not comprehend certain aspects of the laws of the Parah Adumah.

The Medrash also relates that the Parah Adumah served as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The sin of the Golden Calf was rooted in the fact that they acted hastily, upon impulse and out of panic. Although with the absence of the Bais Hamikdash we can no longer offer the Parah Adumah, reading about its laws helps instill within us an inner sense of subservience to G-d. It reminds us that ultimately we follow the Torah and its laws simply because G-d commanded us to!

The lesson of the Parah Adumah is that there is purpose and meaning to everything, even when we cannot comprehend it. When one is able to foster such feelings within his heart he is indeed protected from behala and internal turmoil.

The Mishna Berura (47:10) notes that there are specific points during the daily prayer during which one should pray for the success and spiritual achievement of his/her children. One of those places is in the Uva L’tzion prayer following the words, “May He open our heart to his Torah… so that we do not toil in vain nor give birth for ‘behala’.”

It is no coincidence that following those words one should pray for his children’s spiritual welfare. If we want to have children who have a healthy sense of self and have the ability to learn and grow we have to do our part to ensure that we raise them in an environment as free from ‘behala’ as possible7.

Purim has passed and Pesach is on its way. Parah Adumah seeks to reinforce within us the notion that redemption is rooted in our ability to not lose ourselves in the behala of life. World events can be daunting and frightening8, no less than our own personal struggles and challenges. Still we must always maintain our perspective and remember that there is a rhyme and reason to all that occurs.

“Haman is destroyed by behala”

“So that we do not toil in vain nor give birth for behala”

1 It is lunacy to think that after witnessing the revelation of Sinai the Jews actually worshipped the Golden Calf and believed it had led them forth from Egypt. Ramban and Kuzari explain that the people did not lack belief in G-d, rather they feared Moshe - their leader and guide - would not return. Thus they made the Golden Calf to be their representative of G-d and to be a place for the Divine Presence to rest. Nevertheless, their actions were deemed wrong and made them culpable for destruction.
2 We are not permitted to pass judgment on the generation of the desert. We can only attempt to understand what happened based on our own limited capacity to judge.
3 This fits in well with the Medrash Tanchuma (Noach) which states that although the Jews were eager to accept the Written Torah, they were hesitant to accept the Oral Torah, which entails toil and decision making. Perhaps part of their hesitancy lay in the fact that they felt inadequate to offer rulings regarding the Oral Law.
4 Esther 3:13
5 Haman was the original care salesmen and lawyer mixed together.
6 Megilla 14a
7 Of course there are times and situations beyond our control. But we must do all we can to ensure that our homes are places of safety and love. Most teachers will attest to the fact that many (if not most) of their most difficult students live in “behala-filled homes”, in one sense or another.
8 especially the manner in which Klal Yisroel is depicted in the news –often by fellow Jews