Thursday, November 29, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


In an article written two years ago, Roy S. Neuberger, noted author and lecturer, related the following story:
 “Several years ago, I had the privilege to meet Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn. I mentioned my father, who is now over 107 years old[2]! Rabbi Berenbaum cited the well-known Gemora[3] which states “karkafta d’lo manach tefillin… the head that does not wear tefillin” will be judged severely, and told me that I must make sure my father puts on tefillin at least once before he reaches 120!
It wasn’t so easy. Various impediments prevented us from carrying out Rabbi Birnbaum’s advice, but we always kept it in mind. Then, about two and a half years ago, when my third book, 2020 VISION, was published, I brought a copy to my father. I assumed that it would sit around unread, but I was wrong! The next day, I saw that he was reading my book!
He loved it! He read it three times!
“You make religion sound so enjoyable,” he said, “not like a chore.”
My father had always felt that “religion” was the cause of all the world’s problems, but the book seemed to open his eyes.
My wife realized: now is the time for the tefillin.
I asked my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Naftali Jaeger, how to go about this. He told me to bring my tefillin and a second pair to my father’s house. I should put mine on, make the blessings aloud and have my wife instruct my father to say “Amen” to those blessings, while at the same time putting the borrowed tefillin on my father.
So it was that he put on tefillin for the first time in his life a week before his 105th birthday!
A few months later, my wife and I made our semi-annual trip to the University of Michigan, to speak for the Maimonides Program…
So here we were in Ann Arbor again, two years ago, and I told the students how my father had put on tefillin for the first time in his life at the age of 105. In the group that semester was a pre-med student named Jared Spitz, one of those beautiful Jews who always amaze us with their desire to come closer to G-d despite the fact that they are surrounded by mountains of impurity!
When Jared heard that my father had put on tefillin for the first time at one hundred and five years old, he thought to himself, “If a man can put on tefillin at 105, why shouldn’t I put on tefillin today? What am I waiting for? Should I wait until I am 105?”…
The morning after I had told the story of my father, Jared ordered a pair of tefillin! He has been faithfully wearing those tefillin six days a week for the last two years! He is now completely observant and is planning to take next year off to learn in Israel between college and medical school!
My father’s tefillin changed his life!”

“Rachel died, and was buried on the road… Yaakov erected a (מצבה) monument over her grave; it is the monument of Rochel’s grave until this day.[4]” The verse relates that Yaakov erected a single stone as the monument which would serve as a memorial to Rochel’s grave. Indeed that site remains hallowed as Kever Rochel to this day. 
In Chumash Devorim, when Moshe instructed Klal Yisroel about how to properly serve G-d and remain faithful to Him, he told the nation, “You shall not erect for yourself a (מצבה) monument which Hashem your G-d hates.[5]” If one wants to offer a sacrifice to G-d he must do so atop an altar, constructed out of many stones. But to offer a sacrifice atop a monument consisting of one stone is an abomination to G-d, because such was the practice of idol-worshippers. Rashi notes that although during the days of the patriarchs an offering brought atop a monument was ‘beloved before G-d’, since then it has become abhorrent.  
Why is a single-stone altar - a matzeivah – so abhorrent to G-d?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l explained[6] that something which is constructed out of many stones symbolizes continuous building. One can continue adding layers to it without it altering its identity. It will remain an altar no matter how many additional layers of stone are added to it.
A matzeivah constructed from a solitary stone however, cannot be enlarged, for doing so will change it from being a matzeivah into a full-fledged mizbayach.  In that sense a matzeivah symbolizes a single accomplishment, while a mizbayach symbolizes continuous accomplishments.
Before the Torah was given to Klal Yisroel, if someone observed any mitzvoh, he did so on his own volition. Every time one of the patriarchs observed Shabbos or ate kosher it was a great testament of their love and devotion to G-d. Every individual act was precious. Therefore, it was laudable to offer a sacrificed atop a matzeivah which symbolized single acts of growth.
After the Torah was given however, it became a long term binding commitment. One who performs mitzvos but then slackens in his observance is spiritually deficient.  Every mitzvah performed is not done in isolation, but is another brick of our personal spiritual growth. Therefore, after the Torah was given our observance is symbolized by a multi-stoned mizbayach, symbolizing continuous building of the same structure. At that point the single stone matzeivah symbolizing individual isolated mitzvos, became abhorrent.

When a person dies the custom is to erect a ‘matzeivah’ above his kever (burial plot). Prima facie, it is difficult to understand why we would erect a matzeivah when the Torah mentions how abhorrent a matzeivah is in G-d’s eyes.
Based on Rabbi Feinstein’s aforementioned explanation, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman[7] explained that throughout a person’s lifetime he must pursue a path of constant growth. A stagnant life is a wasted life, for life is about growth through struggle and striving. Therefore, during one’s lifetime the symbolism of a matzeivah is antithetical to his pursuit of greater growth. When one has died however, he has completed his mission on earth and can no longer accrue merits through personal fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. At that point it is apropos to erect a matzeivah to symbolize the completion of the deceased’s mission. This is also why it is customary to etch an epitaph into the matzeivah which briefly describes the accomplishments of the deceased.
Rabbi Reisman added that perhaps this is why it is customary that when one takes leave of a grave he places a small stone atop the matzeivah. As mentioned, the matzeivah symbolizes the completion of a lifetime of accomplishment. But in truth departure from this world is not an end to the opportunity to gain merits. If during one’s lifetime he deceased taught others, even if only be example, and they were inspired by him to improve their own observance, he can continue to accrue benefits in Gan Eden. The actions he performed in this world continue to benefit him even after he has departed.
As we take leave of a grave we place small stones atop the matzeivah to symbolize  that the soul of the deceased is continuing to ‘build’ as he garners more merits based on his previous actions. The person may be physically gone but his legacy and example lives on.

Life is an opportunity for growth, not only during one’s lifetime but even after he has departed from this world. We are constantly building, so that others will be able to continue to build above the foundations we have erected.

“Yaakov erected a monument over her grave”           
“It is the monument of Rochel’s grave until this day”

[1] Based on derasha given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach 5771
[2] Roy Rothschild Neuberger (1903 – 2010) was an American financier who contributed money to raise public awareness of modern art.
[3] Rosh Hashana 17a
[4] Bereishis 35:19-20
[5] Devorim 16:22
[6] Darash Moshe chelek 1, parshas Shoftim
[7] Parshas Vayishlach 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach
16 Kislev 5773/November 30, 2012

“A Day in Court”
Scene One
Warning: The following scene can be disturbing to some viewers. Discretion advised.

The atmosphere in the courtroom was tense. The judge peered intensely at the litigants, as he listened to the defending lawyer’s closing arguments. The defendant himself had boldly presented his position and had represented himself well. He also knew that the judge sincerely cared about him and wanted to help him. Still the defendant knew he needed all the help he could get.
The defending lawyer was adroit and astute, legendary for never losing a case! He knew how to appeal to the emotions of the judge and jurors so that they concluded that there was benefit in granting the defendant - not only clemency - but also court obligated assistance to help him in his private endeavors.
The judge was clearly moved by the lawyer’s arguments and the lawyer was confident that they were about to win the case.
But then suddenly the judge’s face darkened and his complexion changed. He slammed down his gavel angrily and bellowed, “This court hereby finds the defendant in contempt of court. I am ordering a motion to postpone this case until the defendant can learn proper conduct in a court of law.” With that the judge stood up and marched out in a huff.
The lawyer was stunned. What had happened in those final moments? When he questioned his client, the defendant shrugged meekly. “I don’t really know. While you were arguing my case I was talking to my friend behind me about the game last night. It was an amazing comeback and we were marveling about it. Then I mentioned some of the financial hardships I am dealing with lately, and he told me some of the problems he’s having at home. We were talking very quietly and it didn’t disturb the proceedings or anyone else. I think the judge needs to chill. Worse things have happened.”
The lawyer just stared at his client with his mouth agape, not knowing how to respond.
End of scene One 

Judge – Hashem
Defendant – not me or you (hopefully)
Lawyer – Chazzan reciting Chazaras Hashatz (repeating Shemoneh Esrei in shul) twice daily

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Friday, November 23, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


I have often thought it peculiar that Americans publicize their own fallacies. While they might not wear their deficiencies on their sleeves per se, they definitely advertise one of their most core problems on their shirts: GAP!
There is indeed a serious gap in our overall sense of fulfillment and quality of happiness. Everyone seems to be searching for a life of bliss, and yet happiness eludes the vast majority of Americans. There is something missing, and many cannot seem to put their finger on it. The question is how can they fill that GAP[1]?  

The Ba’al Haturim notes that Parshas Vayeztei is the only parsha in the Torah which has absolutely no breaks from beginning until end. Characteristically, in the Torah scroll there are periodic breaks, analogous to chapter headings[2]. Parshas Vayetzei however, reads like one elongated chapter.
Rav Gedalia Schorr zt’l[3] explained that Parshas Vayetzei contains the story of Yaakov Avinu in exile. At the beginning of the parsha he departs from the spiritual comforts of his parent’s home and travels to the home of his duplicitous uncle (and soon-to-be father-in-law) Lavan in Charan. In Lavan’s home he encounters numerous challenges to his integrity and endurance. Yet he perseveres and raises a family of twelve righteous sons from his four wives. After twenty-two years, he has to escape Lavan’s home like a fugitive in the night. As he nears home he prepares for his fateful encounter with his vengeance-seeking brother, Eisav. 
Our Sages explain that the empty spaces in the Torah symbolize the need for a cognitive break in order to process and internalize the lessons embedded in the previous verses. Yaakov Avinu however, could not afford any cognitive breaks per se. To successfully transcend the challenges of exile Yaakov had to maintain his psychological connection with his parent’s ideals and values. That is how he remained committed despite the isolation of exile.  
Rav Schorr quotes the Zohar which states that if a person has to descend into a deep pit, he first secures a rope to a rock above ground and only then begins to slowly lower himself into the abyss. All the while he maintains his tight grasp on the rope, even as he allows himself to descend further. That rope is his lifeline to the world above and he needs it to hoist himself out when the time comes.
Yaakov needed to maintain an inextricable attachment with all he had accomplished and was connected to prior to his departure. There was no place for a gap of any kind. Even while physically living in the home of Lavan, Yaakov had to still be mentally connected with the home of Yitzchak and Rivkah, as well as the yeshivos in which he had studied Torah. He left as the one who “dwelled in tents”, and had to ensure that, at least cognitively, he never left those tents. 

It is prevalent in our circles that young men and women spend a year or more engaged in Torah study, whether abroad or closer to home. When that year/years comes to an end and life proceeds rapidly with all of its endemic pressures it becomes increasingly challenging to maintain a connection with the spiritual highs experienced during the time spent in yeshiva/seminary.
Many young men and women develop dreams and aspirations during their time of study about how they would like to build their home and family, and about its level of religiosity and commitment to Torah and mitzvos observance. But as the realities of life run their course those dreams are often lost in the nebulous winds of time.
One of the greatest defenses against the tragic loss of such lofty aspirations is to maintain a connection with that experience. That small connection keeps the experience as well as those dreams and hopes in the forefront of one’s mind and lends a certain passion to those hopes and goals. A few examples follow:
Every Friday the Mirrer Yeshiva of Yerushalayim emails a Torah thought from one of its Rabbeim to its thousands of alumni. Every Friday as those alumni find that email, even before they read the d’var Torah, it secures a connection with their yeshiva years.  
For the last few years virtually every Thursday at 2 p.m. Rabbi Yisroel Reisman[4] delivers 10-15 minutes of Torah thoughts based on the parsha or current events via phone. There is a number to call in to hear it live. The divrei Torah are then transcribed and emailed.
Although anyone can listen the system was created for Rabbi Reisman’s former students to reconnect with their rebbe every week. Although I am not an actual student of Rabbi Reisman[5] I enjoy listening/reading the divrei Torah. I find it especially meaningful when Rabbi Reisman quotes a gemara or a commentary and says ‘You may remember this point from when we learned this sugya (topic) in yeshiva’. It’s an instant reconnection with those days spent engrossed in Torah learning while in yeshiva.  
Chabad shluchim (emissaries) dispatched all over the world, maintain constant connection with Chabad’s headquarters in Crown Heights. In addition every year there is a mass gathering of all of the shluchim in Brooklyn.
Those who studied in yeshivos often have pictures of their Roshei Yeshiva hanging in their homes. That too serves as a beautiful reminder to the entire family of where one attributes and maintains his roots in Torah and Avodas Hashem[6].  

Life moves at a frenzied pace, and only seems to pick up speed as the years pass. While everyone has certain ‘bridges to burn’ and get past, it is vital that we maintain and strengthen our spiritual bridges to the roots of our past. That is the only way to ensure that the gap of exile doesn’t develop within us. That is how Yaakov maintained his greatness in the home of Lavan; there was never a gap!

“Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan[7]
“Yaakov… called the name of that place Machanayim[8]

[1] Switching to Old Navy just won’t solve the core issue…
[2] Those ‘breaks’ are known as ‘pesuchos’ (open) or ‘stumos’ (closed) depending how large the break is.
[3] Ohr Gedalya
[4] Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Madison and Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaas. He is also a noted lecturer and author.
[5] Although through his shiurim and the aforementioned divrei Torah I am a student many times over…
[6] Although I am sure there are some seminaries that do send such periodic emails to their alumni, I am unsure why many seminaries do not do so. Womern at all stages of life can surely use that chicuk, especially as the pressures of life mount.
[7] Opening verse of Parshas Vayetzei
[8] Final verse in Parshas Vayetzei 

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei
9 Kislev 5773/November 23, 2012

Did you get that text message on Tuesday night? Did you get it from numerous people?
“Please set aside two minutes of your time! The army is entering Gaza. Rabbanim are asking everyone to say Tehillim 130, 121, 83, 20, 91, 143. Fwd 2 whoever u can. Ty.”
For one, there was is the blatant problem that the text was disseminating information that was simply untrue. The invasion did not occur b’h. Making people more nervous than they already are is not to be taken lightly. For those who have family members who are soldiers, and even all of us who are davening and hoping for the welfare of our brethren, it compounded our fear for no reason.
Personally I am also bothered by the ‘text craze’. It isn’t uncommon to receive a text from someone with an urgent message with no author attached to it, that has been forwarded many times over, and ends with the words (as this one did) “Don’t break the chain.” No one wants to be the malevolent evildoer who breaks the chain, so everyone keeps forwarding the text to everyone on their contact list.
I remember a certain Rabbi once saying that he feels that it is meaningless for a man to give his wife flowers every single week. He argued that when it becomes a standard gift each week it loses its appeal. It becomes expected and is no longer valued for its sentiment.
Whether you agree with his point or not, it is thought-provoking. Something that seems to constantly happen and doesn’t entail much thought or innovation lacks poignancy.   
I certainly have nothing against people davening for someone who is sick or in a desperate situation. Au contraire; there is nothing greater than the power of tefillah. If we can convince others to daven as well we should always try to do so. But from personal census I have found that people feel that they have done their share by forwarding such texts even without adhering to its message to actually daven. And because we get such texts so often and they are so easily sent around without anyone seeming to know who sent them, they quickly lack their ability to emotionally move us.
The Kotzker Rebbe lamented the fact that people seem more dedicated to minhagim (customs) than halachos (laws). He suggested that if G-d would have given us ‘the Ten Minhagim’ in the luchos at Sinai, people would be much more apt to keep them properly.
When these text messages go out everyone feels they must immediately forward them. We fear the accusing angel coming to us in our dreams waving an accusatory finger at us and saying “YOU! You were the one who broke the chain!”
Perhaps we should send urgent texts each morning that z’man kriyas Shema is in just three minutes: “Urgent. You only have three minutes left to say Shema before the z’man. Rabbonim ask that you please say all three parshios asap. Please fwd 2 as many people as you can. Don’t break the chain. OMG wants us to do so.”
I fear that people may perceive the wrong message from what I am writing. If someone is in need of assistance or prayers within a community, texting/emailing is a wonderful means to get that message out to the community as quickly and efficiently as possible. The same holds true within a family, G-d forbid. But I question the effectiveness of such texts and emails on a mass scale, especially when no one knows the source.
May we only need to share and hear good – and accurate – news.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


Sir Moses Montefiore[2] was one of the most famous British Jews of the 19th century. He was born in Leghorn, Italy and grew up in London. In 1827, he made his first visit to Eretz Yisrael. His stay in the Land had a profound effect on him; he became religiously observant and from then until the end of his life, Sir Moses was scrupulous in all areas of mitzvah observance.
One Shabbos, the Chasam Sofer[3] stayed in the home of Sir Moses. Sir Moses was overjoyed to have the honor of hosting such a great Torah scholar and he honored his guest in every way, physically and spiritually.
Sir Moses was a humble man and was always looking to grow in his observance. After Shabbos he asked the Chasam Sofer if there was anything he did over Shabbos that was not fully in accordance with halacha.
The Chasam Sofer replied immediately, "I saw nothing here this Shabbos that was in accordance with what is written in the Torah!"
Sir Moses was stunned. But the Chasam Sofer smiled and continued, “It says in the Torah, “And Yeshurun became corpulent and kicked[4]”. Rashi explains this means that when the Jewish People became rich and prospered because of G-ds kindness they neglected their responsibilities towards their Creator.
“I have spent a Shabbos with someone who has been blessed with great wealth. Yet he has not rebelled or kicked. In fact the opposite is true; everything is done exactly according to halacha. Isn’t that contrary to what the Torah says would occur?”

“The man became great, and kept becoming greater until he was very great.”[5]
Rashi notes that the Philistines became so enamored with Yitzchak that they declared “Better the manure of Yitzchak’s mules than the gold and silver of Avimelech.”
At first glance it seems Yitzchak was banished by Avimelech out of resentment and envy over Yitzchak’s successes. Despite the fact that Yitzchak’s presence was a boost to his country’s economy, Avimelech couldn’t bear the honor Yitzchak was receiving above him.
What is more surprising is that the verse seems to attribute the greatness of Yitzchak to his financial achievements. While such an attitude is prevalent in society it is inconceivable that the Torah would base Yitzchak’s greatness on his financial worth. What then does the Torah refer to?
Rav Shmuel Berenbaum zt’l[6] explains that true greatness is not measured based on how one conducts himself in public or based on magnanimous actions, but rather on how one conducts himself out of the limelight and in the privacy of his own home.
 It is well-known that Rav Yisroel Salanter zt’l considered Rav Zundel Salanter to be his foremost rebbe. What is not as well known is that Rav Yisroel didn’t even know Rav Zundel until after his marriage. In fact Rav Zundel was virtually unknown at all until Rav Yisroel ‘discovered’ him and publicized his righteousness and sagacity.
In Salant Rav Zundel was known as ‘Zundel hessig macher (the vinegar maker)’. The custom was that when someone in the city made a wedding, everyone from the village would attend. At the wedding Rav Yisroel noticed a simple man – Rav Zundel - eating in the corner at one of the tables. Rav Yisroel watched in amazement as the unassuming guest conducted himself with incredible precision and meticulousness to every detail of halacha. Rav Yisroel recognized the man’s hidden greatness and immediately accepted him as his own mentor.  
The story demonstrates that Rav Yisroel recognized greatness in the simplistic behaviors of Rav Zundel, how he acted when (he thought) no one else was looking. Anyone can appear spiritual and holy when he is davening or learning Torah. The true measure of a person can be viewed based on how he conducts his physical affairs – how he eats, drinks, and deals in business.
A Jew has a responsibility to be moral and upright in every nuance and facet of his life. He doesn’t only learn Torah but he must live Torah. Even when he goes shopping it should be apparent from his conduct that he is a Torah Jew.
This was the profundity of the initial test of Avrohom - ‘Lech Lecha’. If G-d assured Avrohom that hearkening to his command would guarantee him wealth, prestige, and success, what was the test?
It is far easier to be a good Jew when one is comfortable at home, can daven with a minyan when he wants, has seforim at his disposal, and everything is very convenient vis-à-vis his Judaism. The question is if he can be as devout and dedicated when he is on the road, and things aren’t too convenient? When he is successful in business and lucrative offers tug at him and it’s time to serve G-d, is he able to adhere to his spiritual responsibilities at the cost of greater personal gain? 
The test of lech lecha was whether Avrohom could maintain his level of allegiance and dedication to G-d on the road when he was harried and uncomfortable, as when he was settled in his homeland with all of its amenities and comforts. In that sense, the test of lech lecha was a profounder testament to the greatness of Avrohom Avinu than the akeidah, because it entailed maintaining his level of spirituality while involved in the most mundane activities, and despite being unsettled. 
This too is the underlying idea behind the greatness of Yitzchok Avinu. When the Torah states that he became exceedingly great, it was not because he had become wealthy, but rather it was the remained righteous despite his newfound wealth. Yitzchak now had many responsibilities that precluded him from isolating himself in Torah study and spiritual pursuits all day. He now had to deal with his wells and financial interests. Still-in-all, the surrounding Philistines recognized that he did not compromise on his morals one iota, but remained faithful and upright. They therefore flocked to Yitzchak and preferred to engage in business with him than with their own king. It was the contrast in moral standing which made Avimelech appear inferior to Yitzchak, and caused him to banish Yitzchak from his land. 

There are certain individuals who command a level of respect which causes others to behave more dignified when they are around. People who speak in a coarse or somewhat unbefitting manner will not do so in the presence of certain people whom they respect. 
The Philistines recognized Yitzchak as an ethical person and they realized that they acted and spoke differently when they were in his presence. They admiringly hated him for giving them that conscious, and they ran him out of town.
A person who exudes such sensitivity in behavior and speech is a walking Kiddush Hashem – a sanctifier of G-d’s Name. He does so through his daily conduct, even without saying a word.

As we usher in the month of Kislev we begin to anticipate the holiday of Chanukah. At the end of the Al Hanisim prayer recited throughout Chanukah, we repeatedly mention the word ‘gadol – great’. Greatness entails overextending, to reach above and beyond the standard norm. 
The Maccabees merited miracles during the time of Chanukah because they acted with heroic courage beyond the norm, and so G-d in turn performed miracles for them beyond the norm.
Two years ago Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch was graced with a visit from the then one hundred year old eminent Torah-leader Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg zt’l. Though he was visibly weak, when he spoke to the students about the regality of living a Torah life his voice rose with passion.
Rav Scheinberg explained that G-d exhorts us, “Klal Yisroel, remember behave like you have to, because I take pride in being your King.  
“We have brought honesty to the world. Our ways are different from the nations of the world. We are not the same as the nations. There is a way we eat – oh, how wonderful is the way we eat, and the way we sleep. All that we do is wonderful. We are showing the world that we - Klal Yisroel - have given everything to the world. They have taken it from us. It was we, we, WE! Who are the ones who give it to them!”
Rav Scheinberg concluded by passionately quoting the verse in Yeshaya, in which G-d tells Klal Yisroel ישראל אשר בך אתפאר" - Yisroel, in you I take pride.[7]” He repeated the word “בך – in you” four times, each time stressing the word with greater conviction!

“The man became great and kept becoming greater”
“Yisroel, in you I take pride”

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos 5772
[2] 1784 –1885
[3] Rav Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) was the leader of Hungarian Jewry, and one of the foremost leaders of Orthodox Jewry in his time
[4] Devorim 32:15
[5] Bereishis 26:13
[6] B’korei Shemo
[7] Yeshaya 49:3

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos
2 Kislev 5773/November 16, 2012

In case you are concerned that this country has a lack of faith, especially with recent efforts to take G-d out of the Pledge of Allegiance, let your heart not be troubled. Insurance companies are insistent that they will not compensate for ‘an act of G-d’, which includes the recent hurricane. [Isn’t blind faith beautiful?!]
I was told that the morning after the storm, the headlines on one of the local newspapers read “G-d hates us!” While it is definitely encouraging to note how they believed it to be in act of G-d, one must wonder what happened to all the agnostics. Shouldn’t the headline have read “Random hates us!” In addition, on a beautiful summer day when the markets were up and things seemed peaceful, was there ever a headline that read ‘G-d loves us!’
But it seems not everybody believes in G-d. This week when we received our bill from the electric company we noticed that they charged us a late fee for last month. Guess why we paid late? Because we had no electricity! What a brilliant tactic! So while banks are allowing a grace period because of the storm, the electric company is not. I guess they live by the old creed ‘In G-d we trust; all others pay cash!’  
As believing Jews we turn to our faith as we helplessly hear about the trauma and tragedy that ravaged the homes of our brethren in Far Rockaway, Seagate, Bayswater, and other communities. The beauty of our people shines through as busloads of people from surrounding communities, and even as far away as Baltimore, altruistically gave of their time and efforts to help fellow Jews. But for those who have to be the recipients of that altruism the pain must be overbearing. We must at least think about their pain and keep them in our tefillos. At least our lunch shouldn’t taste as good knowing how much they have lost.
I believe that the best perspective on the recent events was summed up by R’ Eli Oelbaum, one of my in-laws’ distinguished neighbors in Lakewood, who – when asked during the week of the storm if he had power – replied, “I have electricity, but I learned this week that I have no power!”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar

This Stam Torah is lovingly dedicated l’zecher nishmas my Zayde, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, whose yahtzeit is this Monday, 27 Cheshvan. He truly was a person about whom it could be said Un Er Hut Gelebt!  He lived life with a cheerful pleasantness, and with a sense of meaning and purpose dedicated to Hashem and His People.


The Kotzker Rebbe[1] was once testing a class of young cheder boys who had just completed learning Parshas Bereishis. One of the boys was reading the verses which detail the genealogy of the ten generations from Adam to Noach toward the conclusion of the parsha. The syntax of those verses are very similar, as they briefly state that each father had a child, lived for a specific amount of years, and then died.
The young boy confidently began, “Vayechi”, which he proceeded to translate into Yiddish, “Un er hut gelebt[2]”. Then he continued, “Vayamos- Un er is geshturben[3].” Then again by the next descendant the young boy read, “Vayechi – Un er hut gelebt”; “Vayamos- Un er is geshturben”.
The Rebbe stopped the boy and told him that he was reading the verses incorrectly. He instructed the boy to read them again. The boy repeated the verses as he had the first time, which was how his Rebbe had taught them. The Rebbe told the boys that he would teach them how to read the verses properly. He began by announcing loudly, “Vayechi- UN ER HUT GELEBT!” Then, in a barely audible voice he whispered, “Vayamos- un er is geshturben”. Then again the Rebbe exclaimed loudly, “Vayechi- UN ER HUT GELEBT” and again in an undertone, “Vayamos- un er is geshturben.”
The Rebbe was impressing upon the boys that one must live with excitement and vibrancy. Death is expressed with a sedated and hushed demeanor, while life is a dynamic experience of growth and purpose.

Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l added an insight to the aforementioned thought. Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim[4] “I shall not die! I shall live and recount the deeds of G-d” The simple understanding of these words is that Dovid was exclaiming that he will not be deterred by his enemies; he will survive their efforts to destroy him and he will continue to praise G-d. On a deeper level however, he was exclaiming that he will not die while he is still living. Rather he would live his life vivaciously and passionately, with an appreciation of every day that he is granted upon this earth.

“And it was the life of Sarah: one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; those were the years of the life of Sarah.” The opening verse seems redundant. Why does it repeat “the life of Sarah”?
After the Torah concludes its narrative of the ordeal of Avrohom and Ephron purchasing the Cave of Machpelah as a burial plot for Sarah, the Torah states, “Avrohom was coming with his days, and G-d blessed him with everything.” How does one come with his days?
The Zohar explains that in the heavenly world of truth life is not measured by the physical years one’s heart was beating in this world, but rather based on spiritual accomplishment. For example, a man dies and appears before the heavenly courts. An angel calls out, “Here comes Moshe ben Tzvi. He was twenty-two years old.” Moshe isn’t very happy with that announcement. “Wait a moment”, he protests, “I was ninety years old at the time of my death. I even had great grandchildren.” The angel replies, “Let’s examine your life. Half of your life you spent in bed so that doesn’t count for much up here. Then there was all that time you ate, drank and busied yourself with your physical needs. You also had quite a few vacations and luxury time, and you spent a considerable amount of time conversing with friends or ‘shooting the breeze’. You did indeed daven each day and you learned Torah periodically and were sporadically involved in some chesed. Up here the only thing that counts is the time you spent in spiritual pursuits , and in your case that only amounts to twenty-two years.”
Moshe is quite disheartened but he stays to watch the proceedings. A few moments later a sixty year old man who died suddenly enters the courtroom. The angel appears again and announces, “Here comes Aryeh ben Reuven; fifty-five years old.” Moshe ben Tzvi is quite upset. “Wait a minute, he also spent considerable time eating, drinking, and tending to his physical needs. Perhaps he learned and prayed more than I did, but there’s no way that he busied himself solely in spiritual matters for fifty-three years!”
The angel responds, “It is true that he also spent much time involved in physical pursuits. But the difference between you and him lies in the intent behind your actions. Reuven’s ultimate goal in life was to serve G-d. Therefore, all of the moments he spent eating, sleeping, working, and even some of his vacation time, is counted in his spiritual years, because he utilized all for his ultimate goal of spiritual growth. You however did not have any such motive; your indulgence was for your own enjoyment. The mindset made all the difference!” 
Avrohom Avinu ‘came with his days’ in the sense that every day of his physical life was ‘deposited’ in his spiritual life account. Thus, when Avrohom was one hundred years old in this world, in heaven they too viewed him as being one hundred years old. Avrohom’s every action, even when he tended to his physical needs, was only for the sake of serving G-d to the maximum of his capabilities.
In explaining the aforementioned verse about the life of Sarah, the Medrash[5] quotes the verse in Tehillim,[6] “G-d knows the days of his complete (i.e. sincere) ones and their inheritance will be eternal”. The Medrash then comments: “Just as the righteous ones are complete, so too are their lives complete.”
Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l explains that in the words of the Medrash lies the key to understanding the opening verse of the parsha. As mentioned, one who merits physical longevity may not be credited for all his years in heaven. The righteous however, who are ‘complete in all their ways’ live complete lives in that every moment of their life is credited to them eternally. The days of Sarah were one hundred and twenty seven, not only in physical years, but as the verse concludes, “those were the years of the life of Sarah”, i.e. in the celestial world of truth as well.
Avrohom and Sarah together lived a life dedicated to promulgating and teaching about G-d and living an elevated life. They truly lived!

During the 1950’s Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l, who later emerged as one of the great leaders of Torah Jewry in America, was an elementary school Rebbe in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. One day just before dismissal, Rav Pam began teaching a long Tosafos[7].
One of the students complained that they would not have enough time to finish the Tosafos, and therefore it was pointless to begin. Rav Pam replied that in Gemara Bava Basra 29a, in the commentary of Rashi there is a note that says, “Here Rashi died! The commentary for the remainder of the tractate is (Rashi’s grandson) Rav Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam).” Why does the note have to be worded in such a fashion? Rav Pam explained that Rashi surely had some premonition that his end was near. He surely knew that he wasn’t going to be able to complete his monumental commentary on the entire tractate. One would expect that someone who knows he is about to die, would spend his final hours saying good-bye to family and friends. Rashi however, understood that there is no better way to spend one’s last moments of life than by immersing himself in Torah, even though Rashi was aware that he would not be able to complete his work. Therefore, Rav Pam felt it was worth beginning the Tosafos even if they were sure they would not have the chance to finish it.

“Those were the years of the life of Sarah”

[1] Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern zt’l 
[2] and he lived
[3] and he died
[4] 118:17
[5] Bereishis 58:1
[6] Tehillim 37:18
[7] Tosafos’ commentaries are printed on the side of the standard Vilna edition printing of the Talmud. Their comments are often lengthy and thought-provoking, and require patient analysis and contemplation.  

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
24 Cheshvan 5773/November 9, 2012

A few years ago Chani and I spent some time vacationing on Cape Cod. During one of those days we took a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard where we rented some bikes to pedal along a beautiful trail that ran alongside the bay. As we proceeded we enjoyed the scenic panorama all along the way. A few times way we stopped to rest, take a breather, and take a picture or two. Each time Chani asked me if we could meander around the area and enjoy the views in the serene setting. But I was set on getting to the end of the trail in the village of Eatontown. I was sure the sight at the end of the trail was most breathtaking of all and would be worth the extra exertion to get there.
When we got to Eatontown we were quite disappointed. It was indeed a peaceful and pleasant town bordering the water. But it was nothing like the idyllic vacant path we had just traversed. There were stores, restaurants, cars, and regular pedestrian traffic, as in any town. I had foolishly forged on to complete the path, but in doing so I had forfeited the enjoyment we could have had if I would have allowed myself to enjoy the moment.
Isn’t that the story of our lives? Aren’t we always thinking that just around the next bend is the key to happiness?
Someone once noted that people often rationalize that at the next stage of life they will be able to appreciate what they have. A child feels constrained and thinks his adolescent years will grant him maturity and identity. The adolescent pines for early adulthood when he will have free reign over a car, set his own guidelines and live a blissful, self-regulated life. The young adult who is dating and/or trying to make a living is certain that as soon as he/she finds a spouse and a good job life will be set. Then children come along with all the challenges of child-rearing along with its tremendous responsibilities. The parents are sure that as soon as the children are married and self-sufficient, they will be able to retire and enjoy their golden years. When those years finally arrive, even if one is blessed with self-sufficient children who have families of their own, he/she cannot help but wonder where life has gone, and what has become of the wonderful memories of years gone by. “Why didn’t I appreciate it then?!”
Hurricane Sandy was very challenging, and for many its devastating effects will linger for a long time. During such trying moments one can only focus on one day at a time. No one knows when power will go back on, whether businesses and schools will open tomorrow, or whether the gas crisis will finally resolve itself. Even an imminent landmark presidential election with massive ramifications which has riveted the attention of the nation for months, was temporarily put on hold as people focused on survival and basic needs.
The refrain expressed repeatedly is “we lost a lot but thank G-d we are all safe.” The moments when people heroically rise to the occasion, appreciate what they have, and live in the moment also linger for a long time.
Surely we do not want such tragedies to ever strike us. But if somehow we can hold onto that appreciation for the moment we would live more enriched and happier lives.
Last week our community lost a mentor who taught us this lesson by example. Howard Israel a’h, was a dear friend, who seemed to have a perpetual smile etched on his face. At his funeral his wife Susan remarked that she remembers only 4 times (!) during 31 years of marriage when she saw Howard become angry. And each time he calmed down relatively quickly and it was over. Another son noted that he had never seen his father get angry - ever!
Even during his last two years while he was ill and feeble he never lost his drive and zest for life. No matter how physically drained he was from treatments and surgeries, when asked how he was his answer was always the same – ‘fantastic’! He was never willing to capitulate. Shortly after completing brain surgery this summer, the day he was discharged from the hospital he walked in to shul for Mincha with that omnipresent smile on his face, to the shock of the kehilla.
We will miss him not only as a beloved neighbor and friend, but also as one who taught us not only how to count our days, but also how to make our days count by appreciating all of the blessings of life, including life itself.
Yehi zichro baruch!    

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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