Thursday, December 26, 2013


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


          The conditions in the Warsaw ghetto were deplorable. As more and more Jews were forced in from neighboring towns and villages, conditions became increasingly desperate. In addition to starvation, a typhoid epic, caused by the poor sanitary conditions, broke out. By April 1941 the mortality rate in the ghetto was a staggering six thousand people per month. Funeral carts would come and collect bodies every morning, between 4-5 A.M.
The squalid conditions notwithstanding, Torah and mitzvos continued to be observed clandestinely, despite the risks involved in doing so. The faithful were encouraged by the herculean faith of the great Torah leaders in the ghetto, such as Rabbis Kalunimus Shapiro, the Piaseczner Rebbe, and Menachem Ziemba zt’l hy’d.
The Alexander Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Menachem Mendel Danykcer zt’l hy’d, was one of the righteous Torah leaders who was a bastion of faith in the ghetto. After being deported, he died in Treblinka in 1943.
During one of the discourses that he delivered in the ghetto he related the following thought: In Tehillim, Chapter 92, ‘Mizmor Shir L'Yom HaShabbos - A Psalm for the Sabbath Day’, King David describes the connection one must always maintain with G-d. “It is good to thank G-d and to sing to Your Supreme Name. To tell of Your kindness in the morning and Your faith at night.” The commentators explain that morning is a reference to times that are pleasant and smooth, when G-d’s divinity is clear and revealed. Night on the other hand, symbolizes the ominous junctures of life when G-d’s Presence is hidden and unclear.
To speak of G-d’s kindness during good times is logical and befitting. But what does it mean to speak of G-d’s Faith during trying times? The verse does not say, “To tell of Your kindness in the morning and our faith at night”, but of “Your faith at night”. That we strive to have faith in G-d is understood, but who does G-d have faith in? Does He need to believe in Himself?
The Rebbe explained that we are referring to G-d’s faith in us! During challenging situations and in difficult times we must know that G-d has faith in our ability to rise to the challenge and to transcend our adversities.
We often lack faith in ourselves which leads us to think that we cannot survive the pain we are suffering. But the mere knowledge that G-d in Heaven believes in him and knows his capacities far better than he himself does, is enough to strengthen one’s resolve. Ghetto life was miserable and subhuman. But G-d had faith in them, and His faith is stronger than a humans!

“G-d said to Moshe and Aharon saying, ‘When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Provide a wonder for yourselves,’ you will say to Aharon, “Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh - it will be a snake’!” …Pharaoh, too, summoned his wise men and sorcerers, and they too – the necromancers of Egypt – did so with their incantations. Each one cast down his staff and they became snakes; and the staff of Aharon swallowed their staffs.”[1] 
The vernacular of the verse, “When Pharaoh will…say, ‘Give for yourself a sign” seems strange. If anything, Pharaoh would demand a sign to prove to himself and the Egyptians the veracity of Moshe’s claim. Why would Pharaoh demand that Moshe give a proof to himself?
Also, why specifically the transformation of a stick into a snake? If G-d wanted to impress Pharaoh, there are other outlandish miracles that would be more impressive, especially because Pharaoh was not the least bit excited by the “stick-snake” transformation? Rashi notes that after all of the snakes had become staffs again Aharon’s staff swallowed their staffs. Still, G-d could have performed greater miracles to impress Pharaoh?
Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l[2] explained that when Moshe originally appeared before Pharaoh and declared that Klal Yisroel is G-d’s Nation and he must therefore release them from bondage, Pharaoh mocked him. “How can you say that the lowly Jews are a divine people? They are idolaters just like their captors. Why should I free a group of idolatrous peasants?”
The response to that claim of Pharaoh was symbolized by the staff-snake transformation. “Give for yourself a sign”, i.e. a sign that reflected why the Jews are elite and worthy of redemption; a sign that symbolized the Jews own uniqueness and greatness.
The staff of Aharon bore an engraving of G-d’s ineffable Name, and was therefore holy. Moshe instructed Aharon to take that staff - which in his hand represented sanctity and purity - and cast it onto the floor of the palace in front of the feet of Pharaoh. Almost immediately it transformed into a snake, the symbol of evil and godlessness, a representation of the primordial serpent who introduced sin to mankind.
The message to Pharaoh was that while it’s true that currently the Jews appear to be as depraved and lowly as the Egyptians, that is because they are forced to wallow in the impurity of Egypt. Even a holy stick can become a slithering snake on the floor of Egypt. But then, when Aharon reached out and grasped the snake by the tail, it immediately reverted back to its original form, as a holy staff. So too, despite how the Jews appear presently, if they would be hoisted from the noxious Egyptian environment and would be granted the opportunity to ascend from the exile, they would immediately transform into a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.”
Despite the potent message, the verse continues, “The heart of Pharaoh was strong and he did not heed them, as G-d had spoken.” Though his skepticism was refuted he obstinately refused to accede to the truth, a trait that would ultimately cause the destruction and downfall of his kingdom.

It is well-known that success and motivation is contingent on one’s self-esteem. If a person believes in himself and his abilities, and feels that he is a worthy and deserving person, he will have the impetus and drive to succeed. But if one feels undeserving or unable - all of his potential and strengths not withstanding - his ability to accomplish will be stymied.
G-d told Moshe that Pharaoh would demand that Moshe give a sign for himself! Moshe and Klal Yisroel needed to themselves believe in the potential that they possessed. As long as they saw themselves as a lowly nation of battered slaves Pharaoh was indeed correct; they were no better than their idolatrous captors.
Then verse (6:9) states that when Moshe announced that the redemption was imminent, “They did not listen to Moshe because of shortness of breath and hard work”.  The words “מקוצר רוח” can also mean “a dearth of spirit”. As long as the nation lacked hope and spirit, the redemption could not commence because it would have been purposeless.
It was only when they realized their roots and their innate dormant potential that they could believe that they were truly destined for greatness. In a sense, it was only when their belief in themselves paralleled G-d’s belief in them that the process of redemption was able to begin.

“To tell of Your kindness in the morning and Your faith at night”
“Give for yourself a sign”

[1] Shemos 7:8-13
[2] Immrei Da’as

Thursday, December 19, 2013


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


This editorial appeared in the Colorado Gazette Telegraph. It was written by William Atken. Mr. Atken is not a Jew, just as the Telegraph is not a Jewish journal. It was Mr. Atken's comment on the slogan which appeared during the flurry of Nazi scrawling on synagogues and other public buildings in the early 70’s. This was during the period of the oil embargo that immediately followed the Yom Kippur War. As a result of the severe oil and gas shortage there was a lot of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments that surfaced.  

Delivered on June 01, 1973
by William Atken

"JEWS GO HOME" - Well, now this is nothing new. Never in the past have you ever taken this gentle suggestion to move on. But Heaven forbid, suppose just this once, you thought that expression of a few sick people actually expressed the conviction of all the people in this wonderful land of ours and all of you started to pack your bags and leave for parts unknown.
Just before you leave would you do me one favor?
Would you leave your formula for the Salk vaccine with me before you leave?
You wouldn't be so heartless as to let my children contact polio.
And would you please leave your knack for government and politics and persuasion and literature and good food, and fun and love, and all those things, and would you please leave me with the secret of your desire to succeed?
And please have pity on us, please show us the secret of how to develop such geniuses as Einstein and Steinmetz and oh, so many others who have helped us all. After all, we owe you most of the A bomb, most of our rocket research and perhaps the fact that we are alive today.
On your way out, Jews, will you do me a favor?
Will you please drop by my house and pick me up too? I'm not sure I could live too well in a land where you weren't around to give us as much as you have given us. If you ever have to leave, love goes with you, democracy goes with you, everything I and my buddies fought for in World War Two goes with you; G-d goes with you.
Just pull up in front of my house, slow down and honk because so help me, I'm going with you too.

          Shemos (1:8-22):
 “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Yosef. He said to his people, “Behold! The people, the Children of Israel, are more numerous and stronger than we are. Come let us outsmart it lest it become numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it too, may join our enemies, and wage war against us and go up from the land.” So they appointed taskmasters …it built storage cities for Pharaoh
“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives…When you deliver the Hebrew women…if it is a son you are to kill him…But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live. The king of Egypt summoned the midwives…’why have you…caused the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are…experts; before the midwife comes to them, they have given birth.’ Pharaoh commanded his entire people saying, ‘Every son that will be born – into the River you shall throw him! And every daughter you shall keep alive’!”
          Why does the Torah repeatedly shift from referring to the Egyptian leader as “Pharaoh” to “king of Egypt”?

The following is an excerpt of one of the diabolical diatribes of Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi who was the propaganda minister in Nazi Germany. This essay, which was published and read over the radio, was dated November 16, 1941:

“The fact that the Jew still lives among us is no proof that he belongs among us, just as a flea is not a household pet simply because it lives in a house. When Mr. Bramsig or Mrs. Knöterich feel pity for an old woman wearing the Jewish star, they should also remember that a distant nephew of this old woman by the name of Nathan Kaufmann sits in New York and has prepared a plan by which all Germans under the age of 60 will be sterilized. They should recall that a son of her distant uncle is a warmonger named Baruch or Morgenthau or Untermayer who stands behind Mr. Roosevelt, driving him to war, and that if they succeed, a fine but ignorant U.S. soldier may one day shoot dead the only son of Mr. Bramsig or Mrs. Knöterich. It will all be for the benefit of Jewry, to which this old woman also belongs, no matter how fragile and pitiable she may seem.
If we Germans have a fateful flaw in our national character, it is forgetfulness. This failing speaks well of our human decency and generosity, but not always for our political wisdom or intelligence. We think everyone else as is good natured as we are….That's how we Germans are. Our national virtue is our national weakness. We do not want to change all that much, and as long as our world-famed good nature does no great harm, why should we? Klopstock gave us some good advice, however: Don't be too good natured, since our enemies are not noble enough to overlook our mistakes.
If this advice applies anywhere, it apples to our relations with the Jews. Carelessness here is not only a weakness, it is disregard of duty and a crime against the security of the state. The Jews long for one thing: to reward our foolishness with bloodshed and terror. It must never come to that. One of the most effective defenses is an unforgiving, cold hardness against the destroyers of our people, against the instigators of the war, against those who would benefit if we lose, and therefore also against the victims, if we win.
Therefore, we must say again and yet again:
The Jews are our destruction….There are no distinctions between Jews. Each Jew is a sworn enemy of the German people…The Jews are to blame for each German soldier who falls in this war….If someone wears the Jewish star, he is an enemy of the people. Anyone who deals with him is the same as a Jew and must be treated accordingly…The Jews enjoy the protection of our enemies. That is all the proof we need to show how harmful they are for our people….The Jews have no right to claim equality with us. If the Jews appeal to your sentimentality, realize that they are hoping for your forgetfulness, and let them know that you see through them and hold them in contempt. A decent enemy will deserve our generosity after we have won. The Jew however is not a decent enemy, though he tries to seem so. The Jews are responsible for the war. The treatment they receive from us is hardly unjust. They have deserved it all.
It is the job of the government to deal with them. No one has the right to act on his own, but each has the duty to support the state's measures against the Jews, to defend them with others, and to avoid being misled by any Jewish tricks.
The security of the state requires that of us all.

          Since time immemorial, Klal Yisroel has been challenged by heinous dictators and nefarious regimes that have sought to eradicate us, spiritually and/or physically. Our Sages relate that the nations are driven by a subconscious deeply-embedded enmity inherent in their genes, tracing back to Esau’s jealousy for Yaakov.
In order to assuage their conscience our enemies have always concocted ‘rational’ justifications for their malicious and evil intentions. It almost universally begins with the spreading of propagandized lies about the Jews, that they present a severe danger to the welfare of the country, and public security. Thus, when they carry out their vile plans of genocide, pogroms, or mass expulsion against the Jews, they justify themselves with the dictum, “If one comes to kill you, kill him first!”
          The most infamous of such justifications was the publication and widespread dissemination of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols is an anti-Semitic plagiarism and literary forgery, first published in 1903 in the Russian newspaper, Znamya (the Banner). In 24 chapters, or protocols, allegedly minutes from meetings of Jewish leaders, the Protocols describes the secret plans of Jews to rule the world by manipulating the economy, controlling the media, and fostering religious conflict.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews”.
The first Anti-Semitic measure taken by the Nazi’s - a one day boycott of all Jewish businesses in April 1933 - was justified as a defense against the “Plan of Basel”, a pseudonym for “The Protocols”. It was only because the Nazis asserted that there was a “Jewish Problem” that they were able to justify their urgent need for a “Final Solution”.

In the Haggadah shel Pesach, we quote the verse, “The Egyptians did evil to us and they afflicted us, and placed hard work upon us.”[1]
 Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt’l, the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, noted that the verse literally reads, “The Egyptians made us evil.” In other words, in order to impose barbaric labor demands on the Jews, they had to vilify the nation and prove that they presented a grave danger to Egypt. The Egyptians made the Jews out to be an evil people by promulgating lies about how the Jews wanted to overrun the country and destroy the native population.
Perhaps when the Torah refers to Pharaoh as “king of Egypt” the Torah is alluding to the manner in which he presented himself, i.e. as the justice-oriented king, concerned for the welfare of his people. When the Torah refers to him as “Pharaoh” however, the Torah is referring to him for what he truly was, a tyrannical despot, who had vehement hatred and unwarranted vendettas against the innocent Jews.
The Torah relates that new decrees were passed and they were forced to build, “Storage cities for Pharaoh”. In other words, they were suffering and being tortured because of the personal hatred of the despotic Pharaoh. However, to the rest of the world it was presented as decrees of self-defense and self-preservation.
When Pharaoh spoke to the Jewish midwives he presented himself as a concerned ruler, i.e. the “king of Egypt”. When Pharaoh instructed them to kill the male babies he feigned personal anguish, as if pained that he was ‘forced’ to issue such a barbaric decree for the good if his people. The midwives however, understood the evil decrees as a heartless campaign of infanticide. Therefore, “The midwives said to Pharaoh”, i.e. they replied to him as a heartless dictator and murderer, not as the “king of Egypt”.
As history has repeatedly demonstrated, it wasn’t long before his true intentions emerged. Thus, when Pharaoh could not manipulate the midwives to adhere to his decree, the verse continues, “Pharaoh commanded his entire people saying, ‘Every son that will be born – into the River you shall throw him! And every daughter you shall keep alive’!” Eventually, it became clear to all that the decree was a result of Pharaoh’s personal enmity, and not because of his capacity as king of Egypt
With this understanding, we can offer a novel explanation of the verse: “It was during those numerous days, the king of Egypt died. The Children of Israel groaned from their enslavement and they shrieked; and their cries ascended to G-d from their work.”[2] The commentators question why Pharaoh’s death caused such an adverse reaction. It would seem more logical for them to celebrate his death?
Perhaps the verse is not only mentioning the physical death of Pharaoh, but that his death also marked the end of covert anti-Semitism. From this juncture onward the decrees were overtly discriminatory. The “anti-Jewish campaign” was no longer under the pretense of national security. At this point their evil motives and intents were clear and uninhibited. The “king of Egypt” died in the sense that the mentality that all the decrees were for the good of his people came to an end.
Rashi notes that Pharaoh did not die at all. Rather, he contracted leprosy which is such a painful malady that it is tantamount to death. The Jews cried out because Pharaoh had Jewish babies slaughtered so he could bathe in their blood, because he was informed that doing so would cure his leprosy. Their renewed cries were a result of their anguish from the intensification of the already unbearable servitude and exile.

The Egyptian exile was not only our first exile but it was also a harbinger for all future exiles. In every country where Jews have been exiled, we have prospered and advanced the country’s economy in many ways. Yet the end result was always the same. Eventually, the Jews were made out to be a national threat and were persecuted or expelled. The accusations and allegations of our enemies are almost as ludicrous as they are irrational, but it is the price we pay for being G-d’s People.
Yet, despite all we have endured and suffered, we are here to tell - not only our own tragic story - but also the story of our persecutors, who have long ago perished from the face of the earth.

“The Egyptians made us evil and they afflicted us”
“Will you please drop by my house and pick me up too?”

[1] Devorim 26:6
[2] 2:23

Thursday, December 12, 2013


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


A young man and woman, both of whom had grown up in completely irreligious homes and had struggled mightily to keep Torah and mitzvos, finally stood under the chupah together, preparing to unite as husband and wife “כדת משה וישראל – According to the dictates of Moshe and Yisroel.” A Rabbi who was close with the young couple and familiar with their challenges, spoke under the chupah and recounted the following thought:
The Dubner Maggid related a parable about a king who had three daughters. When the first daughter became engaged she approached the king. “Father, I will soon be married and living a great distance from the palace. I will not be able to see you for long intervals of time. If you would give me the priceless vase that adorns your dining room table I will place it upon the dining room table in my new home and it will remind me of you constantly.” The king acquiesced.
Some time later the second daughter became engaged as well. She too approached her father prior to the wedding with a similar request. “Father, if you would give me a ruby from your crown, I will place it on a ring that I will wear on my finger. Whenever I look at it I will remember your home and all the lessons you taught me.” The king lovingly gave her the ruby for her ring.
When the third daughter became engaged the king waited to see what she would ask for. When she approached him he was surprised by her request; she wanted the blueprints of the palace. The king was bewildered, “Your sisters asked for expensive items. Why would you want the plans for the palace?” She explained, “Father, if I take a particular item from you it will remind me of you whenever I see it. However, I wish to build my home as an exact replica of yours. In this way, everything about my home – in fact my home itself - will remind me of you and I will think about you all day long.”
The Dubner Maggid explained that there are those who leave a portion of their homes unfinished as the Gemarah instructs. The unsightly unfinished remains serve as a perennial reminder of the exile and that G-d’s Home, as it were, still lies in ruins in Yerushalayim. But on a higher level there are those who transform their homes into a Temple. They infuse their homes with the sanctity and holiness that was omnipresent in the Bais Hamikdash. In such homes, the home itself is not a reminder of the glory that was lost but is a spiritual replica of G-d’s Home.
The Rabbi speaking under the chupah concluded, “Our bride and groom had to traverse many hardships to be where they are right now. They are not looking to build a home that will reflect the Glory of G-d. They are working to build a home for G-d.”

After Yaakov Avinu concluded blessing his children individually and collectively, he addressed them one final time: “I shall be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave…in the field of Machpelah…There they buried Avrohom and Sarah his wife; there they buried Yitzchok and Rivkah his wife; and there I buried Leah.[1]” Following his request, Yaakov, the last of the Patriarchs “expired and gathered to his people[2].”
 It seems strange that when Yaakov listed the distinguished personalities who were buried in the cave of Machpelah he mentioned Avrohom before Sarah and Yitzchok before Rivkah when, in reality, Sarah died before Avrohom and Rivkah died before Yitzchok? It is also perplexing that Yaakov mentioned his parents and grandparents by name.
HaRav Shimon Schwab zt’l[3] explains that Yaakov’s reference to Avrohom and Sarah as well as Yitzchok and Rivkah was not in the capacity of parents and grandparents, but as couples who represented greatness and spiritual distinction. When people mentioned “Avrohom and Sarah” it immediately conjured up images of extreme kindness, love, and unyielding faith. In their home the Divine Presence was tangible and their names represented what they stood for. In a similar vein, “Yitzchok and Rivkah” brought to mind devotion, fear of G-d, and Divine Service on the highest level. The Patriarchs were living examples of the Gemarah’s statement “A man and a woman, if they merit it, the Divine Presence is between them.”[4]
When a couple gets married and set out to build a home and family together, the principles and ideals that they value and base their home on become synonymous with them. Thus, if a family is dedicated to helping others, a mere mention of the family will bring to mind the family’s kindness and goodness. 
Rav Schwab explains that when the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried in the cave of Machpelah, the cave became a symbol of the values and ideals that they embodied during their lifetimes. When Yaakov requested to be buried in the cave of Machpelah he wanted to be buried in the vicinity of “Avrohom and Sarah his wife” as well as “Yitzchok and Rivkah his wife”, not simply because they were his flesh and blood, but because of the greatness they represented and the holiness of their burial plot. Yaakov recognized that forevermore the cave of Machpelah and the city of Chevron would be transformed into a symbol of faith and the ideals of those who were buried there.[5]

The Torah-source for the laws of marriage, divorce, illegitimate children, and the complex laws of Yibbum[6], are found in Parshas Ki Setzei, a parsha in Chumash Devorim (Deuteronomy). Rabi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l[7] notes that the mitzvos commanded in Chumash Devorim are exclusively those that apply to the king or the entire nation. Chumash Devorim was Moshe’s final discourse to Klal Yisroel prior to his death, and therefore he only discussed those concepts and mitzvos that were applicable on a national level.
In essence, his words were meant to guide and inspire the nation when - under the leadership of Moshe’s successor Yehoshua - they would conquer Eretz Yisroel from the Canaanites. This being the case it would seem that the laws of marriage, which are a private endeavor, are incongruous with Chumash Devorim. It would have been more appropriate for those laws to have been commanded in Chumash Vayikra (Leviticus) alongside the laws of immorality and forbidden relationships? 
Rabbi Kamenetsky explains that we must conclude that the laws of marriage and everything connected to marriage are not a private endeavor. In fact, the nation as a whole has a vested interest in every marriage, because Klal Yisroel is built on families and the familial structure. The holiness of Klal Yisroel is inextricably bound to the holiness that radiates within a Jewish home predicated on Torah and mitzvos. Conversely, when a marriage is forced to end or when one is deemed unfit to marry and create a new family within Klal Yisroel, it is a tragedy of national proportion. Therefore, the laws of marriage indeed belong specifically in Chumash Devorim.  
This idea can be further demonstrated based on the fact that when a chosson (groom) celebrating sheva berachos[8] is present in shul, the entire congregation omits the recitation of tachanun[9]. [This is in contradistinction with the law pertaining to a mourner. Although if services are held in the home of a mourner tachanun is omitted, if the mourner davens in shul tachanun is recited.] The implication of this law is that the mere presence of a groom is considered such a congregationally joyous event that it warrants the omission of tachanun. 
It is for this reason that when a young couple becomes engaged we bless them that they merit building, “A bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel- A trustworthy home in Klal Yisroel.” Their marriage is not a personal event but one which affects our entire nation. We are hopeful that they will build a home where the Divine Presence will rest and the continuity of Klal Yisroel will be guaranteed.

In addition, there is an ancient Yiddish blessing that is wished upon a bride and groom, “דער זווג זאהל עולה יפה זיין[10]. The Satmar Rebbe, HaRav Yoel Teitlebaum zt’l, offered a novel witty interpretation based on the literal text of the blessing:
 In various places[11] the word עולה- olah” is used to connote the gematria (numerical value) of a phrase. Thus, the blessing can be reinterpreted to mean that the new match should have the numerical value of the word “יפה – yafeh”, which equals 95. According to the calculation of the Sefer HaChinuch, the ninety-fifth commandment in the Torah is “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell amongst them.[12]
In other words, our blessing to the young couple is that the home they build should be a sanctuary for G-d’s Presence, just as the Mishkan and Bais Hamikdash were.

“There they buried Avrohom and Sarah his wife”
“A trustworthy home in Klal Yisroel”

[1] Bereishis 49:29-31
[2] 49:33
[3] Ma’ayan Bais Hashoeivah
[4] Sotah 17a
[5] [It was only out of humility that Yaakov said, “there I buried Leah,” and not “there Leah is buried,” since Yaakov was requesting that he be buried alongside her.]
[6] if a man dies without children his brother is obligated to marry his brother’s widow (known as ‘Leverite Marriage’)
[7] Emes L’Yaakov, Parshas Ki Setzei
[8] the initial festive week following a wedding
[9] the supplication that is omitted on holidays and other joyous occasions.
[10]Der zivvig zohl olah yafeh zain – literally - The match should ascend nicely”
[11] e.g. Tosefos Megilla 13b
[12] Shemos 25:8

Thursday, December 5, 2013


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


In his book, Life’s Too Short, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, relates a powerful story about a woman named Nora, who was attending an Al-Anon group[1]. At one meeting, Nora contrasted the challenges of dealing with her husband’s alcoholism for so many years with the joy and blessing they were enjoying now that he was sober. She noted that the one major disappointment of their lives had been that she was unable to bear a child. They eventually adopted two children. 
When at forty-two Nora became pregnant, she saw it as divine intervention. She had no doubt that this child was going to become a Rhodes Scholar and would light up the world with his wisdom.
Nora explained, “I thought that during my years of recovery in Al-Anon all my anger and resentment had gone forever, but it suddenly returned in a massive proportion when I held my dream baby in my arms for the first time. He had Down syndrome.
“‘G-d, why did you do this to me? I had resigned myself to being biologically barren and adopting my two children. Why did you tease me? You are cruel and unfair.’ I knew these were not nice thoughts, but I could not help them.
“Every night my husband and I prayed over the crib. ‘G-d, you have been so kind to us. You have performed so many miracles in our lives. Now we ask You for just one more miracle. Please change him.’
“Then, after many nights of prayer, the miracle occurred. G-d answered our prayers, and He changed us.
“If that little child did not come into the world for any other purpose than what I am about to tell you, it was all worth it. When I sit in the rocking chair and cuddle him in my arms, and I look at his pudgy little hands that have only the one crease, and at his funny-looking eyes, and I realize how much I love this child with all his defects, then I know for certain that G-d can love me even with all my defects.’”

After the dramatic moment when Yosef revealed his identity to his stunned brothers, he sought to appease them with encouraging words. “And now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for… it was not you who sent me here, but G-d.[2]
Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz zt’l, notes that Yosef was not offering insubstantial solace by downplaying what occurred. Nor did he state that although they acted malevolently it was worth it because of the prestige and power he attained. Rather, Yosef was telling them that essentially they were not responsible for what transpired. Their actions had been dictated by what they had felt was the proper course to take. Whatever occurred to Yosef from that point on was orchestrated by G-d and had nothing to do with their original calculations. Their actions were merely the catalyst that set the divine trajectory into motion.
Rabbi Levovitz concludes that this is the proper attitude that every Jew should maintain. No matter what displeasure or discomfort one suffers, he should realize that it is all divinely ordained. Although the perpetrator will undoubtedly receive due punishment for his improper actions, as far as the victim is concerned, he only received what was coming to him.

Yosef continued his words of consolation to his brothers by describing the extent of his success. “וישימני לאב לפרעה ולאדון לכל ביתו ומשל בכל ארץ מצרים - He has made me for a father to Pharaoh, for a master of the entire household, and a ruler throughout the land of Egypt.”
The previous Belzer Rebbe zy’a notes that the verse seems to be grammatically inconsistent. Although Yosef used the expression “for”, represented by the prefix letter “ל” (“He has made me for a father figure to Pharaoh and for a master of his entire household”), in the final clause of the verse Yosef omitted the prefix. To maintain grammatical consistency the verse should have concluded, “ולמשל בכל ארץ מצרים - And for a ruler throughout the land of Egypt”, not merely “ומשל בכל ארץ מצרים - And a ruler throughout the land of Egypt.”
The Belzer Rebbe explained that Yosef was sending the brothers a covert message, that although he had become a father-like figure for Pharaoh and the master of all his affairs, he never lost sight of the fact that, “There is a ruler in the land of Egypt!” In the concluding clause of the verse, Yosef was not referring to himself but he was rather expressing to his brothers that even in a country as dissolute and corrupt as Egypt the true ruler of the world is apparent to one seeks Him. The ruler of Egypt is G-d alone; Yosef recognized his as a mere emissary of the Ultimate Ruler.
When Yosef concluded his speech to his brothers he encouraged them to hastily return to Canaan to inform their father Yaakov that he was alive and well, and eagerly awaiting reunification. But when the brothers returned to Yaakov and announced, “עוד יוסף חי וכי הוא משל בכל ארץ מצרים – Yosef is still alive and he is the ruler of Egypt,[3]” the Torah relates that, “his (Yaakov’s) heart rejected it; for he could not believe it.” The next verse continues, “However, when they related to him all the words that Yosef spoke to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.”
The Belzer Rebbe explains the conversation that ensued. When Yosef related his message with its covert implication, the brothers did not grasp it. Instead they returned to Yaakov and related what they thought his message was, “Yosef is still alive and HE is the ruler of Egypt.” When Yaakov heard that the viceroy of Egypt claimed to be the determiner of the fate of the country and its central authority, he refused to believe that it was Yosef. He could not entertain the notion that his beloved forlorn son would speak in such a faithless manner. But, “when they related to him all the words that Yosef spoke to them”, i.e. when they repeated what Yosef had said verbatim, Yaakov immediately understood the hidden message and his spirit was revived. It was only when Yaakov comprehended Yosef’s message of his unshaken faith that he was able to believe that it was indeed Yosef[4].

In the waning moments of Chanukah as the final glimmers of the menorah’s light begins to fizzle this message has particular meaning. The Greeks with their newfound culture and wisdom created an approach to life rooted in reason and logic. Nature was a god unto itself and all of creation was bound to its dictates and laws. In Greece there were many gods, each with its own personality, passion, and inclinations. These gods were creations of man’s intellect and were subject to man’s imagination and creativity. It was for this reason that the belief in one Omnipotent G-d was abhorrent to the Greeks. The notion that there is a metaphysical supernatural power that runs the world undermined the basis of Greek life.
The Chanukah miracles and the victory over the Greeks symbolize the timeless words of Yosef in a most profound manner. The message of Yosef was that there is a Supreme Ruler in Egypt; the message of Chanukah is that in the darkened world of Greek culture that same Ruler continues to dominate. Yosef was a beacon of spiritual light in an impure land just as Chanukah brought about a revelation of light in an impure darkened era.

It seems paradoxical that during the week following Chanukah, we commemorate the tragic events that occurred during the month of Teves. On the tenth of Teves, the wicked Babylonian king Nevuchadnezzar laid siege around Yerushalayim. Eventually the city capitulated and the Babylonians destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash on the ninth of Av. On the ninth of Teves the great prophet Ezra, who spearheaded the return of the Jews from exile when the second Bais Hamikdash was constructed, died. His death was a severe blow to the morale of the Jews of the time. On the eighth of Teves (285 B.C.E.) the Egyptian King Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) who possessed a deep desire for knowledge and was influenced heavily by Greek culture, forced seventy elders to translate the Torah into Greek (the Septuagint). Although great miracles occurred (see Megillah 9a), the Sages viewed the event as a breach of the singularity of Klal Yisroel for this was the first time that the nations of the world had access to the Torah. [The New Testament and the King James Bible are rooted in the Septuagint.]
The events of the eighth day of Teves essentially mark our mourning for the loss of what we celebrated a week prior on Chanukah. If Chanukah celebrates the triumph of Torah, then the eighth of Teves mourns the loss of our exclusivity to the Torah[5].
Perhaps the juxtaposition of the morbid events of Teves with the conclusion of Chanukah come to bring us to the sobering realization that, despite our victories and the light of Chanukah, we are still stuck in the morass of our deep exile. As much as we have vanquished the notion that we are subject to the rules of natural law and finite wisdom represented by the ancient Greeks, we are still constantly inundated and influenced by the exile that envelops us.
The light of Chanukah serves as the lodestar that helps us proceed into the dark ominous days of Teves with a revitalized sense of mission and purpose.
The light of Chanukah reminds us that G-d is always present, albeit not in the way we imagine Him to be. G-d does not conform to our agenda or ideas of how the world should run. Miracles are omnipresent, but we often fail to realize them and appreciate them for they are often subtle and covert.       

“G-d answered our prayers, and He changed us
“A ruler throughout the land of Egypt

[1] Al-Anon is the sister program of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a support group for the spouses, loved ones, and family members of alcoholics.
[2] Bereishis 45:5-7
[3] 45:26
[4] I heard this magnificent explanation in the name of the Belzer Rebbe from Rav Yirsoel Dovid Shlessinger shlita.
[5] [The commentators discuss in great depth how the Greek exile forced a national shift of focus from the Written Law (i.e. Chumash) to Oral Law (i.e. Talmud etc.). It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss that vital point adequately.]

Thursday, November 28, 2013


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


Francois-Marie Arouet, known to the world as Voltaire, is considered one of France’s greatest writers and philosophers. He was also a fierce and outspoken critic of religion. He considered himself a deist who did not believe that absolute faith, based upon any particular or singular religious text or tradition of revelation, was needed to believe in G-d. Instead, Voltaire focused on the idea of a universe based on reason and respect for nature. He wrote vociferously against the folly of religion and the Bible and boasted that he could personally prove its futility.
In 1759, when already in his later years, Voltaire purchased a château (manor-house) in the town of Ferney near the French-Swiss border. In 1778 he died, in his words, “abandoned by G-d and man”.
There is a humorous postscript to Voltaire’s legacy. Twenty years after his death the Geneva Bible Society purchased his estate and transformed it into the headquarters for the British and Foreign Bible Society.

[1]Throughout the duration of holiday of Chanukah we recite the special prayer “Al Hanisim” in Shemoneh Esrei and in Birkas Hamazon.
A casual reading of the prayer reveals a seeming glaring deficiency in the text. Any child somewhat familiar with the holiday of Chanukah knows about the miracle of the candles on the menorah remaining lit for eight days. Yet in this prayer there is hardly an allusion to that miracle. If the miracle of the candles was the reason for the establishment of the holiday, how can the prayer endemic to the holiday virtually completely omit it?
Furthermore, after lighting the Chanukah candles, we recite the declaration of “Haaneiros halalu”.
Here too the emphasis is on the miraculous victories of the Maccabes, with nary a mention of the miracle of the menorah?
Furthermore, the miracles that transpired during the Maccabean wars were imperative for the survival of the Jews as a Torah-nation. The Syrian-Greeks had forbidden them from practicing religion and mercilessly persecuted those who did not heed their decrees. If the Jews had any hope of preserving their heritage their only chance was to resist and go to war. The problem was that they were hopelessly outnumbered, outflanked, and out-strategized. They had no chance of victory. Their victories were nothing short of miraculous. In fighting those wars so they preserved the heritage and traditions of Klal Yisroel as a nation.
The miracle of the menorah however, seemed superfluous. Ramban explains that, as a general rule, G-d does not alter the rules of nature, unless there is an urgent situation that warrants it. At that point the Maccabes had already recaptured the Bais Hamikdash and ousted the enemy from the city, securing them from imminent danger. Even if lighting the Menorah was so vital that another day could not lapse without it, G-d could have allowed them to discover eight pure jugs of oil. It surely would have been a more subtle “hidden” miracle and not a grandiose nature-alerting miracle. What was the point of the miracle of the menorah?
Bais Yosef asks why the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated for eight days. If the jar of oil that they found had sufficient oil with which to light for one day then the miracle was only for the subsequent seven days. If they had enough oil for one day why isn’t the holiday only seven days?
The commentators ask an additional question regarding the miracle of the menorah: If the little jar of oil that they found contained sufficient oil for eight days, that oil was obviously supernatural. However, the law is that Menorah must be fueled by pure organic olive oil. It may have been a wondrous sight that the candles remained lit, but when all is said and done, if they did not use natural olive oil they did not fulfill their obligation?
Maharal explains that the miracle of the oil was qualitative, not quantitative. There are some oils which are more combustible than others, and therefore do not maintain a flame as long or as well as other oils. The oil that the Maccabes found contained normal organic olive oil. The miracle was that it took eight days for the oil to burn out. In other words, the miracle of the menorah involved protracted combustion; the amount of oil which was normally used up in one day took eight days to burn. Therefore, the miracle was already apparent the first day when they noticed that only an eighth of the oil in the cup had been used and the flames continued to burn brightly. Therefore, the holiday of Chanukah is eight days long.
In a few places in his commentary on the Torah, Ramban notes that any miracle which had human involvement is not recorded in the Torah. The reason is that when there is human involvement it is inevitable that people will minimize what occurred and rationalize the event.[2]
This was the quandary of the sages after the miraculous Maccabean victories.  Despite the physical impossibility of their mission[3], because there was human involvement their victories could not be celebrated on a permanent national scale, and they could not enact a new holiday.
The miracle of the menorah however, was an undeniable manifestation of Divine Power. When the Chashmonaim had only placed enough oil in the menorah for one day and yet it inexplicably continued to burn for eight days, it was an undeniable miracle. The miracle was also unadulterated, in the sense that it had occurred without any human intervention.
The lesson of the Chanukah holiday is when something is qualitatively impossible and a qualitative change occurs which overcomes the quantitative odds, that is undeniably the Hand of G-d. Qualitatively, there was insufficient oil in the menorah for the candles to burn longer than twenty-four hours. But then a qualitative change occurred which supernaturally allowed the candle to be fueled by an eighth of the normal amount of oil. It was clear to all that G-d was altering nature and performing a miracle.  
In this sense, the miracle of the menorah paralleled the miracles of the wars. In regards to the war too, the Chashmonaim were qualitatively doomed. It was naturally impossible for them to emerge victorious over the Syrian army. But G-d manipulated their ability to fight and made them qualitatively superior soldiers, in fact herculean. The outcome was, “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few”. In the same vein as the miracle of the menorah it was a qualitative change that overwhelmed the quantitative norm.[4]

Maharal explains that the central miracle of Chanukah was the Maccabean victories in battle. However, it was only after miracle of the menorah occurred that it became undeniably clear that the wars too had been a completely divine miracle. Therefore, it was only after the miracle of the menorah that the sages were able to create a holiday to celebrate the victories. Thus, although the main celebration is for the victories of the war, that celebration could only be implemented when the miracle repeated itself in an undeniably Divine fashion, free of human involvement.
When we recite the Haneiros Halulu declaration after lighting the Chanukah candles, and the Al Hanisim prayer in Shemoneh Esrei, we are recounting the main focus of the holiday. Therefore, the emphasis is on the miraculous victories, and the miracle of the menorah is only mentioned in passing. Still, it was the concurrence of both miracles that allowed for the creation of a new holiday. Both miracles espoused the idea that no matter the natural odds, G-d can manipulate nature at will and He does so for the salvation of His people.

During those years when Chanukah begins and ends on Shabbos, thus causing there to be two Shabbos Chanukahs, there are two different haftaros[5] that are read. The haftorah of the first Shabbos Chanukah is from Zechariah (chapter 2), “Rani V’simchi”, in which the prophet describes his vision of the inauguration of the menorah when the second Bais Hamikdash was built. The prophet also describes the vision he had concerning Yehoshua the Kohain Gadol, and his interaction with Satan who sought to destroy Yehoshua before G-d came to his defense.
Zachariah continues, “The angel who spoke with me returned…he said to me ‘what do you see?’ I said, ‘I see, and behold! – there is a Menorah made entirely of gold with its bowl on its top, and its seven lamps are upon it, and there are seven tubes to each of the lamps that are on its top…”
The haftorah of the second Shabbos Chanukah is from Melachim (Kings I, chapter 7), where the prophet details the actual construction of the Menorah when it was built during the reign of Shlomo Hamlech for the Bais Hamikdash, “Vaya’as Chiram”.
During most years when there is only one Shabbos Chanukah, the haftorah from Zechariah is read. It is intriguing that this is the haftorah of choice. It would seem that the haftorah from Melachim which describes the actual construction of the menorah would be more apropos to be read on Chanukah than the haftorah from Zechariah which merely depicts the prophet’s vision of the menorah?
The answer is that at the conclusion of the haftorah from Zechariah the true lesson of Chanukah is clearly expressed. The prophet describes two olive trees next to the menorah which symbolized a continuous supply of fuel for the lights of the menorah. The prophet is confused by the two olive trees and questions their symbolism. “The angel who was speaking to me spoke up and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No my lord.” He spoke to me and he said saying, “This is the word of Hashem to Zerubavel (the leader of the nation and a scion of the Davidic dynasty), saying, “לא בחיל ולא בכח כי אם ברוחי אמר ה' צב-אות" – Not through armies and not through might, but through My spirit”, says Hashem, Master of Legions.” Essentially, the miracles of Chanukah imparted this same lesson: that when all is said and done, it is the spirit of G-d that determines the course of events!
The Al Hanisim prayer reflects this idea as well. “For Yourself You made a great and holy name in Your World, and for Your people Israel You worked a great victory and salvation as this very day.” Although the original miracles, i.e. the miraculous victories of the battles, are the source of the holiday, at that point the holiday was not enacted.
The prayer then continues by mentioning the miracle of the Menorah. “Thereafter, your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of your Holiness and kindled lights in the Courtyards of Your Sanctuary.”  It was only after the miracle of the Menorah occurred that the holiday of Chanukah was created, as the prayer concludes, “And they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name."

The holiday of Chanukah always coincides with the reading of the parshios which discuss the tragic saga of Yosef - the vicissitudes of his life, the confrontation with the brothers, and their eventual resolution.
In a sense, Yosef’s life parallels the epic Chanukah story. Yosef was one individual; in a qualitative sense he was quite limited. Yet, he saved the world and set the groundwork for the salvation of Klal Yisroel in the Egyptian exile. In a qualitative sense Yosef accomplished incredible feats, despite the odds being stacked against him at every juncture of his life.
Yosef also personifies resilience and refusal to yield to overwhelming challenges. He remained a beacon of light in an impure, threatening world, and he ultimately triumphed and reunited his family. But above all Yosef was a bastion of faith and his belief in G-d never wavered. No matter what occurred to him, and no matter in whose presence he stood, he was undaunted to admit that it is the Spirit of G-d that guided him and ensured his survival.

Chanukah is celebrated at the outset of winter, the darkest and most ominous time of year. It serves as a perennial reminder that even in the greatest darkness, or rather especially in the greatest darkness, it is the Spirit of G-d that guides us and the entire world.

“They established these eight days of Chanukah”
“Not through armies or might, but through My spirit”

[1] The following (excluding the conclusion about Yosef) is my adaptation of a discourse by HaRav Matisyahu Salomon shlit’a, the Mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood N.J. The Mashgiach is well-known for his fresh insights and unique perspectives in all facets of Torah. This discourse, which discusses the logic behind the Sages formation of the holiday of Chanukah, is no different.
[2] For example, in Parshas Vayishlach when Shechem ben Chamor abducted Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov, her brothers, Shimon and Levy, avenged her honor by killing out all the men in the city. Ramban explains that, subsequently, the surrounding nations banded together and waged war against the family of Yaakov, to exact retribution for killing out a neighboring city. It was only with great miracles that the outflanked children of Yaakov were able to overpower the other nations. Yet this incredible miracle, including that the war itself, is not mentioned in the Torah. [It is only alluded to a few parshios later (Bereishis 48:22), when, prior to his death, Yaakov offers the city of Shechem to Yosef. Yaakov explained how the city came to his possession; “That I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.”]
Although their victory was clearly a miracle, it is not recorded in the Torah because they had to physically wage war. After the war, when reflecting on those victories, people would rationalize that the children of Yaakov were better soldiers or more adept at guerilla warfare. Even if people would admit that it was a “miraculous victory”, they would still attribute the victory to superior tactic and skill.
[3] According to Rashi, the rebellion began with thirteen untrained Maccabees going out to fight myraids of trained and equipped Syrian-Greek forces
[4] In Rav Salomon’s words, "שינוי באיכות שהתגבר על כמות הטבעי"
[5] The portion from the Prophets read after the Torah reading each Shabbos