Wednesday, January 16, 2013


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



          One day a man was walking in the woods when he noticed the cocoon of a butterfly. It was a most spectacular sight and the man stopped to marvel at it. Each day after that, when he would walk by he would stop to look at the cocoon.
One day he noticed a small opening. He watched as the butterfly inside struggled to force its body through the small hole. At one point it seemed as if the butterfly had gotten as far as it could and could go no further. The man decided to help the butterfly so he took out a pair of scissors and cut off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly soon emerged easily but it had a swollen body and small-shriveled wings. The man expected that at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the entire body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings and was never able to fly.
          In his misplaced kindness and haste the man did not realize that the restricting cocoon plays an important role, and that the butterfly needs to struggle to push itself through the tiny opening. He did not understand that this was G-d’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight as soon as it emerged from the cocoon. He had unwittingly restricted the butterfly’s quality of life by helping him avoid the necessary struggle.

          Medrash Shocher Tov[1] states, “Just as a fetus is within the womb of an animal and the shepherd sticks his hand inside to remove it, so did the Holy One, blessed is He, miraculously take one nation (Klal Yisroel) out of another nation (Egypt).
What is the meaning of this Medrash? How is the exile from Egypt comparable to a fetus emerging from its mother’s womb?
          Maharal[2] explains that while a fetus is within its mother’s womb, it has no self-identity. Its nourishment is wholly dependant of the mother, drawn through the umbilical cord. The fetus continues to grow and expand within the mother until it is ready to be born. At the moment of its birth, it becomes a new life and takes on its own identity.
          As long as Klal Yisroel were in Egypt they had no real self-identity. They were a people without direction or purpose who spent their day trying to escape the crack of the Egyptian whip. They were slaves to Pharaoh and did not know of any other purpose or ideal in life.
When G-d redeemed the nation from Egypt, it was a mental and psychological redemption as much as a physical one. With the exodus, an enslaved people became a “nation” in every sense of the word. They now had a goal and a purpose as G-d had informed Moshe[3] “This is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.” 
          Although it wasn’t until the Giving of the Torah at Sinai that they truly achieved nationhood, with the exodus from Egypt they were ‘born’. At that point they had severed their dependency on their former captors and were free to ‘breath on their own’.
          The purpose of the tribulations and oppressions of Egypt were to train Klal Yisroel in achieving complete servility. They had to learn how to be completely dedicated to a cause so that when they were finally freed from bondage they would be able to channel that servitude toward G-d. Without the initial pangs of exile, they could have never become the greatest nation on earth and G-d’s representatives of morality and higher purpose in this world.    
When G-d initially instructed Moshe to assume the leadership of the burgeoning nation and to be the ‘liaison’ between G-d and Pharaoh, Moshe was reluctant. It was only after a week of circuitous discussion that G-d became angry with Moshe and insisted that he proceed with the mission.
When Moshe and Aharon appeared before Pharaoh and delivered G-d’s message however, Pharaoh was hardly forthcoming. In fact, he was enraged by the audacity of their request. He imposed new inhumane demands on the hapless slaves. The elders were awaiting Moshe and Aharon when they returned and sharply censured their efforts: “May G-d look upon you and judge, for you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, to place a sword in their hands to murder us.[4]
Moshe felt exasperated and turned to G-d, “My Lord, why have you done evil to this people, why have you sent me? (ומאז) And From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name he did evil to this people, but You did not rescue Your people.[5]
G-d responded curtly that everything would transpire in due time, “for through a strong hand he (Pharaoh) will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them from his land.”
At the foot of the Sea of Reeds when the army of Pharaoh had been vanquished, Moshe led Klal Yisroel in the ‘Song of the Sea’. The Torah commences its repetition of that song with the words, “Az yashir Moshe uv’nei Yisroel” which literally means, “Then Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang.”
The Da’as Zekeinim read the pasuk homiletically: “Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang about the ‘Az’ “; i.e. at that point all of their pain and suffering was able to be put into context. They had become a new nation because of the Egyptian servitude. There was a reason and a point to every iota of their suffering and it was not in vain.  At that point, Moshe and Klal Yisroel sang about the ‘Az’, as in what Moshe had originally complained to G-d utilizing the terminology, “Umayaz basi el Pharaoh,’ he now transformed into a song of gratitude and praise using that same expression.    

It’s never easy to see the good in the bad. Nevertheless, struggles are often the key to growth and development. If life would be free of worry or struggles, it would cripple us and we could never achieve our full potential.
Perhaps there is no more profound example of this than childbirth. All of the pain and discomfort of nine months and the labor itself is all worth it as the mother cuddles her baby in her arms for the first time. 
Without the bitterness of the Egyptian exile we could never have become the Chosen Nation[6].

“Why have you done evil to this people?”
“Then Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang.”


[1] Tehillim 115
[2] Gevuros Hashem, chapter 3
[3] Shemos 3:12
[4] Shemos 5:21
[5] Shemos 5:22-23
[6] The following was the conclusion of this Stam Torah when I first wrote it in 5763 (2002):
This week, Hashem in His infinite kindness granted my wife and I a window of understanding and appreciation into the words of the Maharal. For the last nine months every kick and movement that could be felt in my wife’s stomach was exciting. Yet (the numerous doctor visits, sonograms, blood tests, heartbeat monitors etc. not withstanding), it was difficult to fathom that there was really a life growing and developing within my wife’s womb. To us, it was merely an extension of my wife to which we became accustomed to
There are no words in the world that can describe the first moment when a baby leaves the womb to begin its new life. All of a sudden, there is another breathing human in the room. The umbilical cord is cut and with it the baby’s dependence on the mother. Miraculously the baby’s body takes over and its own blood begins rushing throughout its tiny body.
At 4:26 A.M. in the wee hours of last Monday morning, December 30, 2002/25 Teves 5763, our son was born and we were transformed from a couple into a family. This week on Monday morning, 3 Shevat 5763, our son joined the elite members of our holy and priestly nation when he had his B’ris. We named him Yaakov Meir Sholom after my mother’s father (Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn z’l) and my mother-in-law’s father (Mr. Yaakov Meir Sholom Kawer z’l).
We hope and pray that G-d  will guide us to raise Yaakov Meir Sholom in the ways of his great-grandfathers and that we will indeed be zocheh to raise him l’Torah l’chupah ul’ma’asim tovim.


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo
6 Shevat 5773/January 18, 2013

The first day of ninth grade is unquestionably a big milestone. I remember my first day vividly. Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey would become my second home for twelve years, but on that first day it was anything but home.
After shacharis I walked into the gym/cafeteria feeling pretty good about myself, as I reached for the ladle to scoop up some orange juice to drink with my breakfast. Before I did another hand grabbed the ladle. I peered up into the eyes of a tall eleventh grader who looked down at me disdainfully. “Staum, first of all, I was here first. Second-of-all you’re a freshie. So get lost!”
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Throughout eighth grade, my rebbe, Rabbi Yanky Horowitz, would often rib us, “You guys walk around this building like you’re so tough. I can’t wait until next year when you enter mesivta. Suddenly your bravado disappears as you cower before the older students.”
Truthfully, that represents the upward climb of life. We are constantly struggling to achieve, and when we finally reach a level of mastery, we find ourselves at the bottom of the next level. It’s like an apartment building where the top of one floor is the bottom of the next floor.
At that point we are faced with the choice of resting on our laurels or goading ourselves onward to the next level, accepting the renewed discomfort as par for the course of growth. 
A number of years ago I was part of an organization which had been very close-knit and friendly. As the organization began to grow they were looking into bringing in new members and new resources. At a luncheon during that time, the director lauded our accomplishments and successes, and also prepared us for the changes that were to come. He wisely noted that “With all growth comes a certain measure of distance.” There can no longer be the same camaraderie and closeness as there once was. Procedures and styles have to change. It is a further challenge of expansion and ascension.
Oftentimes we know we have to grow and change but we aren’t prepared to accept the inevitable challenges. Alfred Hitchcock, the noted playwright, spoke about a ‘MacGuffin’ as an important component of any good story. A MacGuffin is something that occurs which draws the hero/heroine into the story. It is what starts the process and gives it meaning, impelling the characters onto a journey from where there is no shying away.   
Often we don’t grow until a MacGuffin arrives in our lives. It is the proverbial kick in the pants. We often want to fight it, so that our lives can remain status quo, in the comfort zone we have grown accustomed to. But MacGuffins are persistent and force the journey upon us.
If you never undergo the challenges of ‘freshie-hood’ you can never become a senior. And if you never become a senior you never get to take orange juice first.

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

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


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