Thursday, December 29, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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When my wife and I married in February 2002/Adar 5762, we enjoyed many beautiful Sheva B’rachos hosted by friends and relatives, including one hosted by my Yeshiva, Shaarei Torah in Monsey. Shaarei Torah was a second home for me and sharing that simcha with my friends, Rabbeim, and fellow talmidim was very special to me. Although the actual meal and Sheva B’rachos was only attended by my closest friends, the dancing that followed included many of the students of the yeshiva.

As my kallah and I were preparing to leave the Yeshiva afterwards, my Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz1, met us at the door and said, “Doniel, I just want to share with you a quick thought. A few moments ago, we recited Sheva B’rachos. It’s interesting to note that there are two blessings that describe and thank Hashem for fulfilling two distinct and diverse roles, as it were: “Boruch atah Hashem misamayach tzion b’vaneha- Blessed are you Hashem who brings joy to Zion and her children” and “Boruch atah Hashem misamayach chosson v’kallah- Blessed are you Hashem who brings joy to the groom and the bride.” In the first blessing we thank G-d for fulfilling a more global role of comforting and strengthening all of Zion. In the latter blessing we thank G-d for specifically bringing joy to the groom and the bride in an exclusive manner. Indeed, G-d relates to us and blesses us both as a nation and as individuals.

“Doniel, you have a strong connection with many boys in the Yeshiva and you love to schmooze with younger boys and to encourage them when you can. However, now you have a different responsibility. Now is not the time for you to bring joy to the collective, “children of Zion and her children.” At this juncture, your sole responsibility is to bring joy to your new wife and to thank G-d for the blessing of finding your zivug (sole mate). That must be your main focus at the beginning of your marriage. Your primary focus must be on your new wife, to a certain extent to the exclusion of everyone else.”

With that, a warm handshake, and another blessing of Mazal Tov, my Rebbe waved us off.

When Yosef could bear his inner resistance no longer he felt the time had come to reveal his identity to his brothers. (45:1) “And Yosef was not able to restrain himself in the presence of all those who were standing there, and he called out ‘remove everyone from before me’, and no man stood there when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.” And he raised his voice and cried and all of Egypt heard and the entire house of Pharaoh heard.”

Why did Yosef feel the need to dismiss all his ministers and officers when he revealed himself to the brothers? The verse says that when he revealed his identity to the brothers he wept so loudly that the whole palace heard. If they knew what was happening anyway, why did they have to exit the room?

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l offered a poignant explanation: The Gemara2 discusses how the Kohanim alternated among themselves who performed the Avodah in the Bais Hamikdash. The Kohanim were divided into twenty-four groups known as mishmaros. Each mishmar would work in the Bais Hamikdash for a week at a time. Their tour of duty began with the onset of Shabbos and concluded the following week, just prior to Shabbos. As one regiment of Kohanim departed, the next group entered. As they passed each other, the departing group conferred upon his entering kinsmen the following blessing: “He Who causes His Name to rest in this House, He should cause to dwell amongst you love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship.”

One would think that the blessing should include a blessing that they perform their holy tasks faithfully and properly, or that G-d be pleased with their service. What is the meaning behind this blessing?

The highest from of Divine Service is accomplished when there is peace and brotherhood among G-d’s children. All of the effort and Service that the Kohanim performed was ultimately to arouse a spirit of pleasure to G-d, as it were, so that G-d’s presence would dwell amongst his people, particularly in the Bais Hamikdash itself. The most direct manner to accomplish that goal was by promoting an atmosphere of harmony and brotherhood. Thus, the departing Kohanim would bless the new group that they accomplish their goals in the most utopian manner possible, with a spirit of peace and unity amongst each other.

The haftorah of Parshas Vayigash discusses the exile of the ten tribes prior to the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. The second Bais Hamikdash never reached the level of sanctity and holiness that was present in the first Bais Hamikdash. The Gemara compares the Divine Presence of the first Bais Hamikdash to a lion and the Divine Presence of the second Bais Hamikdash to a dog. The reason for the diminution in holiness was because the ten tribes did not return with the rest of the nation. If Klal Yisroel is incomplete, the Shechina can not return to its previous Glory.

The Gemara Shabbos3 relates that a convert once approached the great sage Hillel requesting that he teach him the entire Torah ‘on one foot’. Hillel replied: “Do not do that which is hateful to your brother. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary, go and learn it!”

Hillel’s response was that loving one’s fellow Jew plays a pivotal role in one’s commitment to Torah and mitzvos. This idea was apparent at Sinai when the nation stood at the foot of the mountain ‘like one man with one heart’.

A gentile was not allowed to traverse the fence called the ‘Chayl’ on the Temple Mount. When the Greeks invaded and seized control of the Temple, prior to the miracle of Chanukah, they breached the Chayl thirteen times to symbolize the removal of the barriers between them and the Jews, who they claimed were no longer the Chosen Nation. The Divine Presence that was manifest in the Bais Hamikdash was an expression of G-d’s love for His people, which the nations of the world are not privy to. Therefore, it was inappropriate for them to be in the presence of that exclusive ‘Divine Embrace’.

When Yosef decided to reveal his identity he realized that there would be a tremendous display of emotion, and eventually - after the brothers recovered from the shock and were able to be convinced that Yosef truly harbored no resentment toward them - there would be a tremendous outpouring of love. At that moment of intense unity and love, the Shechina would surely be present. When there is such an intense level of Divine Presence that emanates because of the unity of G-d’s Chosen Children, a gentile may not be present. Therefore Yosef dismissed everyone from the room.

Today in exile, we lack the intense revelation of Shechina that was omnipresent in the Bais Hamikdash. However, we can still feel that level of Divine Embrace when Jews promote peace and unity. G-d has tremendous pleasure, as it were, whenever his children are united.

Rabbi Miller concludes that landlords should strive to get along with their tenants, and neighbors should work on getting along with each other. The Gemara states that if there is peace in a home the Divine Presence resides there too.

It is not easy for people to put aside their differences for the sake of peace, but it is for that reason that such personal sacrifice warrants and merits an increased level of Shechina.

The one thing we can be certain of is that unity will never be fostered by rock throwing, spitting at others, or calling others despicable names4. The Divine Presence resides when there is unity which stems from genuine love and concern for others.

“He called out: Remove everyone from before me”

“That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary”

1 In my years in Yeshiva, I had a special kesher with Rabbi Heimowitz. Aside for the numerous shiurim I heard from him, I consulted with Rabbi Heimowitz about many important life-decisions, including the challenges of dating and choosing the path towards my career.
2 Berachos 12a
3 31a
4 The greatest tragedy is when such things are done in order to ‘sanctify G-d’s Name’. There are certain methods a Jew should never employ.



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash

4 Teves 5772/December 30, 2011

Jeff had always wanted to be an army-pilot and now his dream was finally becoming a reality. In another week he would set off to the army base to begin the exciting new stage of his life. Although he didn’t want to admit it Jeff was very nervous. The prospect of entering hostile enemy territory and engaging in constant combat was daunting to say the least. He knew there would be dark and lonely days ahead. Still Jeff was confident that his years of training and ongoing support from his generals and fellow soldiers would give him the encouragement to stay the course.

During the week before his departure, friends and family members gathered around him to toast him, wish him well, and tell him how proud they were of him. Most precious of all was the advice and encouragement from Uncle Barry. A former general, Barry had proven himself to be an adroit soldier. Uncle Barry spoke to Jeff about his own experiences. He told Barry that it was inevitable that he would make mistakes, which at times could even be costly. But a real soldier doesn’t allow himself to wallow in self pity. Most importantly he told Jeff that he had to learn to trust himself and believe that he had the tools necessary to succeed. Even in the bleakest situations he had to trust the monitors and gauges before him. He had all the tools he needed; the test would be whether he could access those tools in moments of need.

The conclusion of Chanukah is always somewhat bittersweet. For eight nights we gather together with our families to reflect upon the blessings G-d endows us. We sing in the glow of the dancing flames which remind us that throughout our history our flame continues to burn, despite the storms and tempests that tried to extinguish it. The beautiful customs and unique foods endemic to Chanukah add to the spirit of the holiday.

When Chanukah ends it not only marks the conclusion of this most beautiful holiday, but it also ushers in the darkest and coldest stretch of winter. Within a week of Chanukah’s conclusion is the eighth of Teves, that day the Septuagint was written. It is a day when the Gemara says darkness descended into the world for three days. Chanukah generally ends during the Christian holiday season or prior, which historically is a difficult period for Jews. The Septuagint also has much to do with the eventual writing of the New Testament, the foundation of their religion. Two days later we fast to commemorate the beginning of the siege of Nebuchadnezzar around Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. The weeks of Shovavim, a period of repentance and introspection (during the weeks of the reading of the first six parshios (in a leap year eight parshios) of Chumash Shemos), also begin within two weeks of Chanukah.

These events do not abruptly and rapidly eradicate all traces of the joy of Chanukah. In fact the opposite is true. The holiday of Chanukah provides us with encouragement and spiritual warmth to weather the challenges of the upcoming weeks. The Yom Tov grants us the tools to find fulfillment even in darkness.

The Yom Tov of Chanukah cannot end when the Menorah is placed back on the shelf. We must continue to hear its message, feel its warmth, and see its light throughout the winter. The Menorah and the eight days of hallel and hoda’ah have given us the tools we need to plunge ahead into the months of Teves and Shevat. The only question is if we can access those tools in our moments of need.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


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