Friday, January 13, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




Henry Ford, the wealthy Detroit entrepreneur who created the automobile assembly line, was not only infamous for being an anti-Semite but also for being a narcissist who admittedly never did anything for anybody.

On one occasion, Ford was walking with a friend when they heard howling nearby. In the distance, they saw that a dog was caught in a barbed wire fence and was howling in pain. Ford immediately walked over and lifted the fence so that the dog could scurry away. Afterwards, the man accompanying Mr. Ford asked him why he bothered to help the dog, “Don’t you brag that you never do anything for anybody?” Ford wittily answered, “I didn’t do that for the dog; I did it for myself. His cries were bothering me.”

Chumash Shemos commences with Klal Yisroel in a far different predicament than they were at the conclusion of Chumash Bereishis. As Bereishis concludes, many of the illustrious sons of Yaakov are still alive, and the burgeoning Jewish nation is enjoying prosperity and comfort in the exile. Although Yosef had just died, the nation was still enjoying some measure of prominence, political power, and influence. At the beginning of Chumash Shemos however, the state of affairs has changed drastically and dramatically. All at once the Jewish nation has been forced into oppressive labor in inhumane conditions with an impossible work quota. Suddenly they became the bane of society, whose very presence made the Egyptians loathe them.

“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef.” What an incredible concept! Yosef had single handedly saved Egypt from the ravages of hunger and financial and economic ruin. He faithfully served Pharaoh and increased the monarchial treasury many times over. How is it possible that Pharaoh forgot about Yosef? Could the United States forget George Washington and all that he did for the union in 1791, right after his tenure as president concluded.

Rashi explains that Pharaoh, “made it as if he forgot about Yosef.”

During the winter of 5767, I had the privilege to meet the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum zt’l, while he was in Lakewood celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson.

On Friday night the Rosh Yeshiva was sitting at his son’s table sharing Torah insights. Among the many other pearls he related, he questioned why Pharaoh had to create a charade as if he did not know who Yosef was. Pharaoh was a virulent anti-Semite, the Hitler/Stalin of his day. Why did he have to pretend that he did not know who Yosef was? If a great Torah leader such as the Chofetz Chaim had somehow been the chancellor of Germany and saved the country during World War I, would Hitler have felt the need to pretend he didn’t know who he was?

Rabbi Birnbaum answered the question succinctly, “Pharaoh - wicked as he was - was still human!” In other words, he didn’t claim to forget about Yosef because of the Jews, but because of his own conscience. No matter how much of a tyrannical heartless maniac Pharaoh was, he would not be able to live with the fact that he was “stabbing in the back” the man who saved the whole country. Therefore, he quelled his feelings of guilt by tactfully forgetting about Yosef and downplaying his accomplishments. We can imagine that he launched a propaganda campaign which publicized the fact that there were really others who had saved the country and Yosef was no more than a figurehead to whom Egypt owes nothing to.

In essence, the Nazis utilized the same tactic. How could they convince an entire nation to destroy a people who had so benefited society? How could they convince the German population to annihilate bankers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, veterans, high ranking army officials and politicians? Furthermore, how could the Nazis themselves committed such macabre crimes against innocent people, especially babies? How could human beings become so barbaric that they could torture and torment millions of people while committing mass genocide in the most horrid and inhumane manners?

The answer is that the Nazis simply, “no longer recognized Yosef”. Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda campaign was extremely successful in depicting the Jews as horrible and dangerous people. Distribution of books such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Hitler’s hysterical ranting, so vilified the Jews that in the minds of the Nazis and Germans they were no longer people. They saw the Jews as objects of such vile contempt that their very existence became abhorrent. The same nation that prided itself for its etiquette and precise adherence to cultural protocol, were able to justify the inconceivable crimes that they were committing.

Indeed, after the war Adolph Eichman altered his identity and assumed a new personality as Ricardo Klement, and continued his life with relative peace of mind, feeling satisfied with the carnage he was responsible for, even after he was apprehended by the Mossad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1960.

The change from Chumash Bereishis to Chumash Shemos contains another important transition. Chumash Bereishis is primarily the “Book of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs”. It details the lives of our forbearers and teaches us how they lived their elite lives. It is the story of the birth of our greatness and why in our genes we are destined to be he Chosen People.

Chumash Shemos details the post-Patriarchal generation. The Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and the Tribes had all died and now their descendants were quickly becoming a nation. However, the nation was persecuted and tormented by evil captors and they were in desperate need of salvation. In that dismal time arose the need for Jewish leadership.

Moshe is not our forefather per se, but rather, he is our teacher, our guide, and our light. The beginning of the Chumash introduces us to the family from whom leadership was destined to emerge.

Moshe Rabbeinu grew up in the lap of luxury, a godson to Pharaoh himself who loved him. Moshe was educated and cultured under the most elite Egypt had to offer. His life lacked nothing. But Moshe was aware that his brethren were suffering and he refused to allow himself to be pampered while his people were being slaughtered and oppressed. He left the safe confines of the palace to help bear the burden of his brothers.

In doing so, Moshe risked his life. It was undoubtedly a capitol crime to assist enemies of the state, especially for a member of the nobility, and especially if he was a surrogate member of the royal family.

It also must be noted that Moshe was not merely acting out of pity. Although good deeds committed out of pity are also virtuous, they pale in comparison to the merit of good deeds committed out of true kindness.

The difference is that when one acts out of pity, he is doing so to satiate the pain and hurt he feels in his heart. When one sees a destitute sickly child on the street, it breaks his heart and his conscience gnaws at him to do something – anything - to help ease the horrible plight of the child. However, when one acts out of kindness, his motive is altruistic and his desire is chiefly to help the other person and not to simply to quell his own inner pain.

Before I was married, I was a counselor in camp for a number of summers. When I would receive my bunk list just prior to the camper’s arrival on the first day of the camp season, invariably it was apparent from the names of the parents that a few of the boys came from broken homes. My superiors would relate the camper’s difficult home situation and caution me to provide extra TLC and attention.

I often felt so pained by their tales of woe that I couldn’t wait for them to arrive so I could try to compensate for their difficult lives by giving them the summer of their lives. Ironically, in many instances within a week or two much of my compassion was gone.

As is sometimes the case, some of the children who had these difficult backgrounds had difficult personalities as well, and could be behavioral challenges too. The original compassion which resulted from the pain I felt was overwhelmed by my feelings of fatigue, and annoyance by the antics and misbehavior of those boys. At that point, the way to maintain my patience and emotional sensitivity toward that boy was to try to switch to ‘chessed mode’. I had to constantly remind myself that I needed to be there FOR THE BOY. I had to continually tell myself that despite my frustrations, I needed to be supportive and patient.

Moshe Rabbeinu knew the peril he was placing himself in when he left the palace. When personal danger is involved, compassion will almost invariably be insufficient because inner pain is overwhelmed by the fear of external danger. But Moshe’s chesed was altruistically motivated by a sincere desire to help others. That is why he was worthy to be the leader.

From where did Moshe learn about chessed and altruism? The Torah relates that two Jewish women, Shifra and Puah, would risk their lives to help Jewish mothers give birth safely, despite Pharaoh’s edict mandating all male Jewish babies be killed. Shifra was Yocheved, Moshe’s mother and Puah was Miriam, Moshe’s older sister. Being selfless and giving was in Moshe’s genes.

On a deeper level, it was specifically Moshe, who personified and understood the extent of chesed and how one must always contemplate the plight of others and share their burden, who was chosen as the leader to destroy Pharaoh and his nation of ingrates, who egregiously refused to acknowledge their obligation of gratitude.

“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef”

“Moshe grew up and he went out to his brothers.”



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos

18 Teves 5772/January 13, 2012

I remember it like two days ago. It was Shabbos morning and davening had just ended. I had just left shul with my father, older brother, and two neighbors, and we were heading home. I am not sure what the catalyst was but my older brother (who shall remain nameless for the sake of anonymity) slugged me (though I have no doubt that it was his fault). I remember that it didn’t hurt physically as much as it hurt my pride, but I dropped to the ground and refused to get up. The crowd stopped walking and turned to see what happened. As they were standing nearby trying to cajole me into getting up so we could proceed, I heard someone say, “You better get up, there’s a cop coming.” Good tactic I thought, but I still remained on the ground. Then my father said, “Dani, seriously, a cop is coming.”

I was still a bit skeptical but was contemplating concluding my theatrical drama when I heard a car stop and a commanding voice call out, “Everything okay here?” Someone replied, “Just a bit of sibling rivalry. He’s totally fine.” I picked my head up in time to see the cop turn to my older brother (who is still maintaining his anonymity) and say, “Son, you better be careful. He’s going to keep eating his Wheaties, and one day he’s going to come after you.” Then with a laugh from everyone (except me) he drove off. [I never liked Wheaties which is why I never had a chance to get back at him… until now J.]

If you happen to live in close walking distance to shul this essay is not for you. But for those of us who have a bit of a walk to shul there are benefits to be had. Aside for the obvious advantage that you could afford to eat an extra piece of cake and kugel at the Kiddush with a little less guilt (as long as your spouse doesn’t find out about it), the walk home is a great time to think about important things in your life (like why you don’t live closer to the shul).

When I am walking to shul alone I verbally say the derasha that I will be saying in shul. When I pass people along the way I pretend that I was humming a tune out loud.

Most importantly, if one is blessed to have children who accompany him to shul, the walk is a great opportunity for bonding time. Although every child is different and every child enjoys different things, if parent and child can decide on an enjoyable cognitive activity to share along the way home the walk can be a special experience. I know I have been successful in this regard when my children tell me that the walk home from shul felt ‘so short’.

Aside for preparing derashos for Shabbos, I try to make sure I have a good story on hand to share with our oldest son Shalom while we are walking way home. I try to make sure the story has a good lesson, especially apropos for Shabbos. Recently, Shalom and I have begun to review the Mishnayos he learns in school by heart while walking (he gets a quarter for every Mishna he knows; I get nothing).

At times there may be others walking with us. During those times I have to try to make sure that at least part of the walk is dedicated to my ‘walking session’ with Shalom. Showing that I value our conversation is meaningful to him as well.

So for all of you unfortunate souls who live right next door to the shul (and therefore stopped reading this article three paragraphs ago), you don’t know what you’re missing. (Um, also please have me in mind when you start your seudah).

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425


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