Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


A number of years ago on Rosh Hashana, I was privileged to share the amud[1] with my father in our shul, Kehillat New Hempstead. He was chazzan for shacharis while I was chazzan for mussaf.
It was a unique opportunity, not only because it was a special feeling of connection between my father and I, but also because it lent itself to a deeper nostalgic bonding. As a child, each Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I would listen as my Sabba[2] a’h lead the shacharis prayers, and my father lead the mussaf prayers, in the Poilisher shteeble in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
During shacharis, when my Grandfather stood at the amud, I and my older brother would stand next to my father, and during mussaf, when my Father stood at the amud, we would stand next to my Sabba. That year, it was gratifying to share with my father the experience that he had with his father.
It was also particularly meaningful for me that my children were able to stand next to their Zaide while I was at the amud. The special experience cannot be expressed in words. It was an emotional connection with the yesteryear that a grandfather represents.

A number of years ago, while rummaging through the sefarim in my Zaide’s[3] apartment, I discovered a machzor (prayer-book) for the High holy Days that was published in Germany in 1840. Although its pages are old and yellowed they are still firm and intact, and the print on the pages is lucid. I always make sure to daven some of the prayers from that ancient machzor during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. 
I have often thought about how vastly different the Torah world looked when the Machzor was first published. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, was two years old in Zhetel, Poland; Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Chasam Sofer had died one year prior; Rabbi Akiva Eiger had died two years prior; a 32 year old Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch was the Rabbi of the city of Oldenburg[4]; Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant was 30 years old; and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the famed Kotzker Rebbe was 53 years old[5]
The world back then also seems like a different galaxy. It was 21 years before the American Civil War; William Henry Harrison was the President of the USA after he beat out Martin Van Buren in the elections that year. It was three years into England’s Victorian Era of Pax Britannica and Otto Von Bismarck had been chancellor of Germany for 25 years. Hitler would not be born for another 49 years and Stalin for another 38 years.
It is mind-boggling to think of all the world-shattering events that have transpired since the publication of that Machzor. But the timeless words contained in that ancient book remain virtually unchanged.[6] We recite the same verses of Kingship in Mussaf on Rosh Hashana that were proclaimed in Rabbi Hirsch’s Germany, the same words of Kol Nidrei that were hummed in the Pressburg of the Chasam Sofer, and the same penetrating tune for the Kaddish before Neilah that was sung in the synagogues of Salant, Zhetel, and Kotzk. The world has changed drastically but the prayers and what they represent are exactly the same!

In the holy song of Haazinu that Moshe Rabbeinu sang on the day of his death, he proclaimed “Remember the days of old, consider the years of each generation; ask your father and he will tell you, your grandfather and he will say it to you.”[7] History and the events of the past are integral parts of Jewish life.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein often relates that when one learns to drive, the first thing he is taught before he even pulls out, is to look in his rear-view mirror to see what is behind him. Just as it is when one drives, one cannot go forward in life unless he has an understanding of what is behind him. A Jew can never forget the exodus, the giving of the Torah at the revelation of Sinai, the miracles of the forty years in the desert, and all of the other events of Divine Providence throughout the generations. As poet and novelist George Santayana once mused, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it!”
The verse’s exhortation that history not be forgotten and that elders be consulted is understandable. However, the verse seems redundant. How does “remember the days of old” differ from “consider the years of each generation”?
Menachem Tzion explains the words homiletically. The word for ‘years’ used here, shenos, can also be translated as “the changes”. One must consider and contemplate the changes that occur in each generation. He must be wary of the lessons of the past in order to apply them to the future with wisdom and discernment. Times change, people change, societies change, and circumstances change. What was effective and productive yesterday may no longer be beneficial and efficient today. Although the Torah itself never changes, part of its eternal quality is that we can learn to adapt and mold our lives around its dictates throughout time. We have to contemplate and understand how to apply its words for its wisdom traverses all societies and all challenges. We must not only remember history but we must also consider and contemplate the vicissitudes of time and how the Torah continued and continues to be true throughout.   

The Machzor Masores HaRav[8] quotes the following beautiful thought from Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l:
The Mishna[9] quotes Rabbi Akiva who stated: “A father endows his son with comely appearance, strength, riches, wisdom, longevity, and the number of generations (that had been his progenitors) before him.” He then adds, “v’hu hakatyz- And this is (the secret of) the redemption.”
There is no doubt that the genetic codes of a parent and the conditions of the home environment affect a child’s physical, economic, and intellectual status. But what is the concept of “the number of generations” which is the secret to the redemption?
Rabbi Soloveitchik eloquently portrayed the following scenario: “A grandfather stands before his newly born grandchild filled with paradoxical thoughts. Feelings of renewal merge with fading memories of the past. For the Torah-committed Jew, the scene had an added dimension. Grandfathers and grandchildren, though members of different generations, are part of one fraternity – those who preserve the integrity of the transmitted tradition (“the Mesorah community”). Jews of the past, present, and future are united in their commitment to the Divine teachings of the Torah and to the historical destiny of the Jew. One collegial fraternity exists of Moshe, Rabbi Akiva, the Rambam, the Gaon of Vilna, the Ba’al Shem Tov, and others, joining hands with grandfathers, parents, and children of all generations.
As the child is born he is absorbed into the Mesorah community. He will, hopefully, speak our language, study our texts, share our solemnities, dream our dreams, and adopt our ideals. Rashi will become his lifelong companion in Torah study, as he is ours. In this fraternity of the committed, there need not be any generation gap, any splintering of ranks, but rather a sharing of ideas and ideals which span and unite countless generations. Each newborn child enters an extended historical family where he will be reared by the wisdom and teachings of the great Torah personalities, all interested in his spiritual awakening and development.
“When it is achieved, a Mesorah relationship between grandfather and grandchild contains an emotional intensity and intellectual closeness that in some ways transcends the parent-child relationship. Psychologically, one would not expect a deep identification between two individuals whose great discrepancy of years could easily spawn alienation. Yet grandparents, more so than parents, are sensitive to the transiency of time and to the pressing need to assure the perpetuation of one’s lifelong principles. The child is far more than a biological extension; he embodies one’s hopes for spiritual continuity… Distance in time is bridged, and divergence in outward style is rendered irrelevant. This is in sharp contrast to the secular scene, where generations too often confront each other as cultural antagonists.
“This is the idea of “the number of generations before him”. Parents transmit to their children the secret of uniting with past generations and the ability to associate with distant historical figures, intellectually and emotionally, as if they were contemporaries. This is the secret of the redemption! He who can proclaim an identity with the generations from the beginning will bring about the redemption of the Jewish people.” 

The prayers we recite on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur grant us a unique opportunity to connect with our forbearers.[10] Even more so, when we sit outside in our succah during the holidays of Succos, we are united with all of Klal Yisroel in the world today as well as throughout all the generations. Anyone who has ever sat in a succah under the s’chach, which represents the sole protection of their Father in Heaven, maintains an inextricable bond.
This is part of the idea behind the Ushpizin, who come to visit our succos on a metaphysical level during each of the seven nights of the joyous Succos holiday.[11] When we sit in the succah we are relying on the protection of the same G-d Who protected the Ushpizin during their lifetimes, thousands of years ago. The mere fact that we sit in the succah deeply connects us with our patriarchs and greatest leaders. In a sense, the holiness of the succah and our ability to appreciate its meaning is thanks to their efforts. Their belief and faith in G-d created the seeds and roots from which we have branched out. On a deeper level, when the souls of the Ushpizin enter our succos they are coming back to their own homes.
The days of teshuva and the celebration of Succos which follow are days of connection – connection to our past, connection to our future, and perhaps most profoundly, connection to ourselves.

“Ask your father and he will tell you, your grandfather and he will say it to you.”
“A father endows his son… and the number of generations before him.”

[1] lectern from where the chazzan leads the congregation
[2] Father’s Father
[3] My Zaide is my Mother’s Father
[4] he did not assume the post in Frankfurt for another eleven years
[5] Gerrer chassidus was not yet founded
[6] Perhaps there are some variations depending on custom but it is the same basic universal text used today.
[7] Devorim 32:7
[8] Rosh Hashana, p. 316
[9] Eduyos 2:9
[10] Although this is true about the prayers throughout the year, it has special meaning during these High Holy Days when we use ancient tunes and maintain customs that traverse generations.


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


“Dip the apple in the honey
Make a b’racha (blessing) loud and clear
Shana Tova Umesuka
Have a happy, sweet new year”

            An elderly carpenter was eagerly preparing for retirement. When he informed his employer/contractor of his plans, the employer asked him if he could do him a personal favor and build one more house before he left. After so many years of working together the carpenter felt he could not refuse, and so he begrudgingly agreed. It quickly became apparent that the carpenter’s heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and he used inferior quality materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
          When the carpenter finished the house he informed his employer that the job was done. The employer smiled and handed the key to the front door to the carpenter.                
"This is your house," the employer said, "It is my personal gift to you, with gratitude for your dedication and work for so many years."
The carpenter was crestfallen! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have built it so differently. Now he would be living in a subpar home with no one to blame but himself.
We are the carpenters constructing our own lives. "Life is a do-it-yourself project.” The attitudes and choices we make throughout our lives are the nails, boards, and walls that compose the "house" we live in tomorrow. We would be wise to build carefully and adroitly!

One of the most beloved customs of Rosh Hashana is the eating of symbolic foods on the eve of the holiday, and reciting prayers which incorporate a play on words with the Hebrew name of the food, to ask G-d for various blessings during the coming year. But unquestionably the most famous and celebrated of all is dipping the challa and an apple into honey and petitioning G-d for a sweet new year. In fact, along with the shofar, honey has become a symbol of Rosh Hashana.
Perhaps there is a deeper connection and meaning in the custom to ‘dip in honey’ on Rosh Hashana than the mere fact that honey is sweet. The very manner in which bee-honey[1] is produced serves as a powerful lesson for our main objective and focus on Rosh Hashana. 

Honeybees use nectar from flowers to make honey. Nectar is almost 80% water with some complex sugars. In North America, bees get nectar from flowers like clovers, dandelions, berry bushes, and fruit tree blossoms. [Different colors and flavors of honey are primarily based on what kind of flowers the bees use to produce their honey.]
The bees use their long, tube like tongues as straws to suck the nectar out of the flowers. Then they store it in their "honey stomachs". [Bees actually have two stomachs, their honey stomach which they use like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach.] When the honey stomach is full it weighs almost as much as the bee does. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey stomachs.
The honeybees return to the hive and pass the nectar onto other worker bees. These bees suck the nectar from the honeybee's stomach through their mouths. These "house bees" "chew" the nectar for about half an hour. During this time, enzymes are breaking the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars so that it is both more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive.
The bees then spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees help the nectar dry faster by fanning it with their wings. Once the honey is gooey enough, the bees seal off the cell of the honeycomb with a plug of wax. The honey is stored until it is eaten. In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey.

Honey is created through a transformation that occurs within the bee. The bee gathers the raw materials and then works intensely to abet the process and ensure that it is completed. The process of teshuva – repentance, which begins on Rosh Hashana, is not simply about going through the motions. Rather, it is a deeply internal and personal process. It is primarily a transformation that occurs within a person’s heart and mind, and includes a commitment to growth and improvement.

Prima facie, it seems enigmatic that the two days of Rosh Hashana serve as the first two days of the Ten days of Repentance. The prayers of the day are primarily focused on accepting and declaring the majesty and grandeur of the G-d’s eternal monarchy. In fact, there is nary a mention of sin, repentance, or regret in all of the prayers of the day.[2]
It is obvious that the service of Rosh Hashana is not only integral to the process of repentance but it is also the vital starting point. How does the theme of recognizing and focusing on G-d’s Kingship relate to the repentance and forgiveness we so desperately seek?

In order for a person to properly repent he must have an understanding of the severity of sin and the spiritually deleterious effect that it has upon his soul. He must also understand that G-d truly loves him, cares about his actions, and is waiting for him to draw close to Him. Without that realization, the process of repentance is futile. One cannot repent and return to something which is vague and emotionless. It is for this reason that the Ten days of Repentance must begin with Rosh Hashana.
The theme of Rosh Hashana, which traverses all its prayers and customs, is the realization of the greatness of G-d as the supreme omnipotent force of the world. At the same time we also relate the special closeness and boundless love that G-d maintains for His elite Nation. We mention that G-d’s kingship was only consummated when Klal Yisroel unyieldingly accepted the yoke of His monarchy upon ourselves, which is in effect saying that we are the progenitors of G-d’s Monarchy, as it were.[3]
When a person has an appreciation of the greatness of G-d and of the meticulous precision of the judgment, and at the same time understands that G-d loves him deeply, then he can foster a desire to reconnect himself with that Supreme Being through repentance. Thus, Yom Kippur has no meaning unless it is preceded by Rosh Hashana.
Unlike Yom Kippur which is full of external symbols, laws, and customs regarding repentance, on Rosh Hashana our ‘repentance’ is completely internal. The deep introspection of Rosh Hashana even surpasses that of Yom Kippur, for it is the service of Rosh Hashana that sets the trajectory of repentance in motion which culminates with Yom Kippur. The more one appreciates the message of Rosh Hashana the more he will be able to take advantage of the awesome opportunity granted on Yom Kippur.

Another message to be gleaned from the creation of honey is the bee’s persistence and incredible work ethic to produce every drop of honey. To gather a pound of honey, a bee flies a distance equal to more than three times around the world. Also, it takes two million flowers to make one pound of honey. Those numbers seem inconceivable to us but for the bee it is merely part of its job. It was created to perform those tasks and it has the innate capacity to do so.
The Torah states regarding repentance[4] “For the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” Sometimes we feel that we have sinned so much and have drifted so far that we can never repent. The Torah tells us otherwise. The ability to repent was built into our essence and therefore no matter how far one has strayed he can always repent. It will unquestionably require a tremendous amount of commitment, but it is within our purview to do it.

The sad truth is that, “Most people live the life that happens instead of the life they truly want.”[5] Many of us have dreams and aspirations but we often never overcome the initial hurdles and impediments. Time drags on and we sigh as we watch our dreams fall by the wayside.    
When we dip our challah/apple into honey we should remember how much commitment, exertion and dedication it entailed for the bee to produce that honey. It was created from an inner transformation that transpired inside a diminutive insect fulfilling its nature. 
We are constantly building our own lives! Rosh Hashana affords us the opportunity to take a moment to look back at the blueprints and decide if our building is developing as planned. At the same time, we dip our challa/apple into honey and remind ourselves that the building is only as good as its blueprints. Those blueprints are composed with forethought and insight that stem from deep within one’s psyche.

“Most people live the life that happens instead of the life they want”
“For the matter is very near to you”

[1] It must be noted that one may certainly use honey from dates or other types of honey. The thoughts recorded here relate to bee-honey as that is the most prevalent and widely used honey generally and on Rosh Hashana.
[2] The one exception is the opening stanza in the “Avinu Malkeinu- Our Father, Our King” prayer which states, “Our Father, Our King, we have sinned before you.” Indeed, there are halachic opinions which state that one should omit this sentence on Rosh Hashana. The consensus is that it is read on Rosh Hashana as a passing statement, “Our Father our King we have sinned before you, but our Father our King, we have no king other than You.”
[3] Surely an Infallible G-d does not need us. However, “There is no king without subjects” and so, although G-d did not change one iota when He created the world and man, it is only when we accepted His kingship that He could be called King.
[4] Devorim 30:14; See Ramban there
[5] Quoted by Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky 

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


“I want to speak about Shabbos because it’s such a foundation of Judaism. We must speak about the dimensions of Shabbos and what Shabbos used to be for Jews. It puts it into our consciousness and can help us penetrate more into what Shabbos is all about; it has become so commercialized today.
“My Rebbe used to say that when two drunks have no money for schnapps, they talk about schnapps.
“Let’s talk about what Shabbos is:
“The gemara[1] says that on Shabbos your speech must be different…The Yerushalmi sheds light on this: On Shabbos the world was complete, and there were no more utterances from G-d, no more of G-d’s commands. Just like the Creator of the World observes Shabbos, so must we. This entails curbing one’s speech on Shabbos.
“This is puzzling; the crown of man lies in his koach hadibbur, his ability to speak and communicate. How can it be that on the holiest day of the week he shouldn’t use that ability which is so central to his essence, to the fullest extent?
“I asked the son of the malach[2] who lives in Albany, ‘Did your father sleep on Shabbos?’ He told me, ‘Not Friday night, not Motzei Shabbos, nor Yom Tov.’ The malach understood that Shabbos was too precious to be wasted.
“By not talking on Shabbos you’re connecting with the Divine Presence…”
(Harav Shlomo Freifeld zt’l, lecture given at a Kiddush on a Shabbos morning[3])

On the final day of his life, Moshe gathered together every member of the Jewish people - from prestigious to simple, old and young, men and women - to urge them to be faithful to the covenant. אתם נצבים היום - You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d; the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers….for you to pass into the covenant of Hashem, your G-d, and into His imprecation that Hashem, your G-d, seals with you today. In order to establish you today as a people to Him…”
Rashi explains that Moshe gathered the nation en masse because he was about to pass the mantle of leadership to his successor Yehoshua. Moshe arranged the ‘standing ceremony’ in order to exhort the nation one final time to not lose sight of their mission. Rashi adds that a similar standing ceremony transpired shortly before the mantle of leadership transferred from Yehoshua at the end of his life, and then again shortly before the leadership transferred from Shmuel to King Shaul. 
What was the purpose of having a ‘standing ceremony’? Why couldn’t they sit and listen to Moshe’s exhortation? What message was Moshe trying to convey by emphasizing the fact that they were standing at that time?
Harav Elya Meir Bloch zt’l explained that the word ‘stand’ in our context does not refer to the physical act of standing on one’s feet, but rather to the concept of standing immobile, (i.e. standing still).
Rabbi Yissacher Frand quotes Rabbi Bloch’s answer: “Life is very hectic. If we were left to our own devices, we would rarely take the time to stop and think. Like gerbils running around on a spinning wheel, we would just keep running and running without thinking where we came, where we are trying to go, and how we are going to get there. We would go from home to shul, from shul to work, work to home, and then go to sleep, only to wake up and start the same race all over again the next morning.
“If we want to succeed in life, we need to have direction. We must know what we are trying to achieve in life and come up with a plan to reach those goals. We are unlikely to take stock of what we have achieved and what we still have to accomplish on a daily basis (although we should probably do so), so it is absolutely vital that we take stock when we reach a transition point in life.
“This is what Moshe, Yehoshua, and Shmuel had in mind in bringing Klal Yisroel to a standstill when it came time for each one to hand the reins to his perspective heir, says Rabbi Bloch. They used the momentous occasion of a ‘changing of the guard’ to point out that the nation-at-large was at a major crossroads, and that such a crucial moment calls for serious introspection.
“We undergo many defining moments in our lives: the beginning of high school, yeshivah gedolah, or seminary; getting married; having a first child; and marrying off a child are all occasions when we should stop and think: What was I supposed to achieve up to now? What am I supposed to achieve in the next stage of life? How can I accomplish all that I want to accomplish?
“It is easy to fall into a humdrum routine and go through life without making much of ourselves. If we just go from one stage in life to the next without coming to a standstill and thinking about our past and future, we are guaranteed not to achieve much in life. Moshe brought the nation to a standstill and caused them to take note of the defining moment they had reached so they would not squander the opportunity to take stock of their spiritual standing.” 

The recitation of selichos always begins on Motzei Shabbos[4]. The pizmon[5] of the first night’s selichos begins with the words, “במוצאי מנוחה קדמנוך תחלה – At the departure of (the day of) rest, we have come before You (G-d) for the first time[6].” The prayer does not merely state that after the departure of the Shabbos we began reciting selichos, but specifically after the departure of the day of rest. It could have just as simply and poetically stated, “at the departure of the holy (day)” or “at the departure of the coveted (day)”. Why is the aspect of resting on Shabbos singled out as the prelude for reciting selichos?  
In order to answer that question we must understand what it means that Shabbos is a “day of rest”. It does not simply refer to a cessation and rest from physical laborious activities. In the afternoon shemone esrei of Shabbos we refer to the aspect of rest on Shabbos in glowingly lofty terms: “A day of rest and holiness You granted to Your nation… A rest of love and donation; a rest of truth and faith; a rest of peace and tranquility, of quiet and security; a complete rest that You desire in it…”
Although relaxation and enjoyment are surely integral components of Shabbos, they fall under the umbrella of oneg Shabbos, enjoyment on Shabbos.[7] But it is different than the concept of menucha on Shabbos.
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that built into creation is the concept that exertion breeds fatigue. After working for a certain amount of time one becomes tired which necessitates that he rest/sleep before being able to resume working.
Life in this world is a constant struggle between body (physical) and soul (spiritual). Those two diverse forces are always at odds with each other. In order to survive in this world one must involve himself in physical pursuits. Too much involvement in the physicality of the world however, will inevitably detract from one’s spiritual pursuits and focus.
Rabbi Pinkus explains that when one involves himself in physical labor his overwhelming focus is on his physical self. For that time, he somewhat neglects his spiritual self. It is for that reason that G-d created the concept of tiredness and exhaustion. We become tired, not really because our strength has ebbed, but because we have become too far removed from our spiritual selves which serves as our connection to G-d, the source of life.  
When one feels tired it is G-d’s reminder to him that he must reevaluate his spiritual level. He must not allow himself to become so distracted by the mundane that his spiritual connectedness becomes severed and withered. If a person was able to work without tiring, we can only imagine how involved people would become in their work and pursuits at the expense of his spiritual responsibilities and obligations.
In other words, every time one yawns and feels fatigued he should view its message as a reminder that he must not allow himself to become too distracted from his spiritual obligations.
After creating the world in six days and involving Himself in its formation, G-d rested on the seventh day, as it were. In so doing G-d demonstrated that one who is involved in this world for too long will grow tired and must withdraw from it in order to regain his depleted energy.
That is the definition of the menucha - rest of Shabbos. It is a rest from physical pursuits providing the opportunity for one to refocus. It is a detachment from our involvement with the physical world so that we do not stray from our true selves and purpose. Shabbos is a day of realignment with the Source of life, and our responsibilities to our Creator.[8] On Shabbos we rest from the business of the week where we lose sight of what is truly important.
With this in mind, we can understand why we begin reciting selichos specifically after Shabbos, the Day of Rest. It is only after spending a day contemplating and taking stock of our spiritual level and reminding ourselves of our priorities and ultimate goals that we are truly ready to commence the arduous process of penitence. The High Holy Days are by definition “days of rest” in the sense that they are a time when we seek to break the monotony of the daily drone by infusing our lives with inspiration and desire for spiritual ascension and renewal. The aspect of spiritual rest granted on Shabbbos serves as the perfect segue for the commencement of the recitation of selichos and the final stretch leading up to the awesome Days of Judgment.

Parshas Netzovim is invariably read shortly prior to Rosh Hashanah. The parsha opens with the nation standing, gathered together in silent contemplation of their current standing along with their future hopes and goals. There could hardly be any more appropriate prelude for Rosh Hashanah.  

“You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d”
“A rest of love and donation… a complete rest that You desire…”

[1] Shabbos 113b
[2] Rabbi Chaim Avrohom Dov Ber Levine HaCohen
[3] From the book, “Reb Shlomo” about Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt’l
[4] For Askanazim. Sefardim begin reciting Selichos at the beginning of Elul.
[5] hymn recited responsively
[6] i.e. we have now begun reciting the selichos – the prayers for forgiveness
[7] When one demonstrates his love for the holy and sanctified day it is equally a testament to one’s desire to be close with G-d, as it were. But that is the obligation of oneg Shabbos.
[8] Rabbi Pinkus adds that, in truth, according to this idea the physical world should cease to function throughout Shabbos; rain should not fall, plants should not grow. The reason that does not occur is because through our reconnection with our spiritual selves on Shabbos we are able to recognize the entire physical world as a medium for holiness. The reason why we would need to completely remove ourselves from the physical world on Shabbos is because that world serves as a detraction from our spirituality. However, if we are able to view the physical world as a means to achieve spirituality (as we do on Shabbos when delicious food, added sleep, and general enjoyment are part and parcel of proper Shabbos observance) then we need not remove ourselves from those enjoyments and benefits. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


One hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.
His father, working in the yard, saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear, he ran toward the water, yelling to his son as loudly as he could.
Hearing his voice, the little boy became alarmed and quickly turned to swim toward his father. It was too late. Just as he reached his father, the alligator reached him.
From the dock, the father grabbed his little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. A horrible tug-of-war ensued. The alligator was much stronger than the father, but the father was much too passionate to let go.
A farmer happened to drive by, heard the screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator.
Remarkably, after weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack. In addition, on his arms were deep scratches where his father’s fingernails had dug into his flesh in his effort to hold on to his son.
The newspaper reporter, who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked if he would show him his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs. Then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. These marks are because my Dad wouldn’t let go.”

Shortly prior to his death, Moshe related to Klal Yisroel the chilling and frightening prophecy of the tochacha, the harsh rebuke which would befall them if they would not hearken to the Torah and its commandments. Prior to the tochacha, the Torah states the multitudes of blessings that the nation would be endowed with when they observe the Torah properly.
The blessings commence:
“It shall be that if you hearken to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, to observe, to perform all of His commandments that I command you this day, then Hashem, your G-d, will make you supreme over all the nations of the earth. ובאו עליך כל הברכות האלו והשיגוך All of these blessings will come upon you and they will overtake you.”[1]
What does the Torah mean that the blessings will ‘overtake you’?
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pershischa zt’l explained that, at times, people are blessed with goodness that they cannot, or do not, appreciate. Either they do not realize the magnitude of the blessing or they don’t appreciate what they have been granted. The promise of “והשיגוךthat “the blessings will overtake you” is that G-d will ensure that one will have the ability to realize, appreciate, and enjoy the great blessings bestowed upon him.
Rabbi Avrohom Schorr notes that the Torah utilizes the same terminology in reference to the curses and punishments of the tochacha. "והיה אם לא תשמעו בקול ה' אלקיך.. ובאו עליך כל הקללות האלה והשגוך". – But it will be that if you do not hearken to the voice of Hashem, your G-d… then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you[2].  According to the explanation of Rabbi Simcha Bunim how are we to understand the concept of והשגוך in reference to the curses? How can a person be expected to appreciate curses that befall him?

The Skulener Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal zt’l was a man of incredible compassion, concern, and love for his fellow Jew. When he was a young man he did everything in his power to convince young Jewish men not to enter the Romanian army, because of the deleterious effect such a post would inevitably have on one’s spiritual state. Instead, he convinced them to go to a yeshiva where they could learn Torah. When the Romanian authorities got wind of his “sedition” they incarcerated him in a dank prison cell.  
It was well known that when the Rebbe would pray he would do so with incredible passion and concentration. With nothing else in the squalidness of his cell he began to pray by heart, focusing and pondering every word he said. When the Rebbe was reciting the “Baruch She’amar”[3], he reached a phrase that troubled him. “Blessed is He Who uttered and the world came into existence… ברוך גוזר ומקיים - blessed is He Who decrees and fulfills.” These words just don’t seem to fit in. The whole prayer is a song of praise to G-d for His blessings and goodness. Decrees on the other hand, are generally harsh and unpleasant. Why mention them here? Furthermore, why is it a great praise to say that G-d fulfills His decrees; doesn’t any honest person keep his word?
After pondering the question for some time the Rebbe had an epiphany.  The word, “ומקיים (umikayem)” does not only mean “and He fulfills” but it also means “and He sustains”. In other words, G-d makes decrees that are often harsh and seemingly overbearing but He also infuses the recipient of the decree with the strength to endure and persevere despite the difficult conditions. “Blessed is He who decrees and sustains”, i.e. He sustains the subject of the decree.
A few days later the Rebbe was released from his imprisonment. Every year on the anniversary of his release he would recount this thought and remind his followers that although we are often challenged with tests and difficulties in life, we must remember that the same G-d who put us in the predicament also grants us the strength and fortitude to bear it and persevere.

The curses of the tochacha are severe and frightening. Indeed, less than a century ago our people bore witness to their veracity. We do not have explanations for any of those events and, in this finite world, we never will. We cannot fathom why a million innocent holy children were brutally murdered in the most savage manner, nor can we imagine why any child suffers, or why three pre Yeshiva students are kidnapped and murdered in cold blood. It is simply beyond us.
However, we take solace in the knowledge that G-d who loves us in the most profound manner gives us the strength to endure it and suffers along with us. The pain may not be mitigated, the nightmares may persist, and the personal anguish may linger perpetually, but somehow one is able to endure. One needs look no further than at how the Torah world has rebuilt a scant 70 years after the horrors of World War II. It is undoubtedly the greatest display of resilience in the history of the world. “Blessed is He who decrees and sustains.”
The Torah states that if Klal Yisroel does not hearken to the commandments of G-d, the curses will overtake them. As the Skulener Rebbe explained, G-d grants us the strength to withstand our trials and tribulations and somehow foster resilience to live on. That is the promise of the curses “overtaking you”. Blessings are only meaningful if one has the ability to appreciate them and reap their benefits. In a similar vein, tragedies and challenges become invaluable growth experiences when we are able to grow because of them.

The verse in Tehillim[4] foreshadows the desperate prayer that Queen Esther beseeched of G-d[5] as she was unlawfully perparing to enter the chamber of King Achashveirosh in order to plead for the lives of her people, קלי קלי למה עזבתני – My G-d! My G-d! Why have you forsaken me?”
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l comments that the word “למה (lamah)” should be read, “Limah – for what”. It should be read as a question, “My G-d! My G-d! For what (purpose) have you forsaken me?” In other words, in the face of tragedy and challenge one should ponder what G-d expects of him at that time. How can he grow from the experience and elevate himself because of it. What growth does G-d want to see from him through this event?  

Throughout his life Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi[6] would be the ba’al koreh[7] in his shul.
The year after his death, a different member of the congregation became the ba’al koreh. When it came time to read the tochacha the ba’al koreh began to read it quickly and in a low tone, as is customary. Not long after he began, Rabbi Dov Ber, the son and successor of the Baal HaTanya, let out a sigh and promptly fainted. They quickly revived him, but as soon as the ba’al koreh resumed reading the tochacha the Rebbe fainted again. Needless to say it was a very painful experience. Afterwards, the Chassidim asked Rabbi Dov Ber why he had been so shaken by the tochacha. True they were frightening words but they were the same words that he had heard his father read for so many decades. The Rebbe shook his head and responded, “It’s not the way my father read it!”
What did Rav Dov Ber mean?
When we read the horrific account of the tochacha one may think that, heaven forbid, G-d is punishing out of wrath, adopting punitive measures and seeking retribution for the iniquitous. However this is an egregious misunderstanding. Chazal explain that G-d suffers along with us, as it were. “When he calls on Me, I will answer him; I am with him in distress, I will deliver him and honor him.”[8] It is the concept of shechinta b’galusa – that the Divine Presence descended into exile with us and will remain with us until the final redemption. Furthermore, whenever one is suffering G-d’s presence rests alongside him/her and they weep together, as it were.
When the Ba’al haTanya read the tochacha, his son was able to hear the pain G-d feels, as it were, behind the curses. He detected the heartache of a loving father forced to chastise and discipline his son in order to ensure his son’s maturation, in a manner which the child cannot comprehend. Painful and horrible as it was, the feeling of love behind the rebuke made it tolerable to hear. But when another person read the words, Rabbi Dov Ber did not hear the love behind the rebuke. He only heard the chilling and terrifying words and, therefore, he could not bear to listen to it.[9]

No one wants to be tested and surely no one wants to suffer pain and anguish. But one must always remember that when, G-d forbid, one does suffer, his Eternal Celestial Father suffers and cries along with him. It is not a hyperbolic statement, but rather a truism. That knowledge alone is the greatest source of consolation and inspiration.
The gemara[10] states that the tochacha is read close to the conclusion of the year to symbolize our hope that the year conclude with its curses so that the new year can begin with its blessings, "תכלה שנה וקללותיה תחל שנה וברכותיה". We not only pray for a year of blessing but also for the insight and ability to appreciate all of the blessings that we have, especially the blessing of being a Jew, who possesses a special relationship with His Father in Heaven.
 “My G-d! My G-d! For what have you forsaken me?”   
“I am with him in distress; I will deliver him and honor him”

[1] Devorim 28:1-2
[2]Devorim 28:15
[3]recited as the opening prayer of pesukei d’zimrah, the ‘verses of praise’ recited at the brining of shachris
[4] 22:2
[5] Foreshadows in the sense that Dovid Hamelech prophetically wrote these words centuries before Esther uttered them
[6] The holy Ba’al HaTanya
[7] the reader of the Torah
[8] Tehillim 91
[9] Heard from Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Lob of Chicago at Torah Umesorah convention, June 2008
[10] Megilla 31b