Thursday, November 27, 2014


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


          My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often relates:
“Shortly after the Israeli war of Independence, I was privileged to hear a lecture from a noted scholar and Torah leader. During that lecture he noted that the whole Jewish world of that time was analogous to a big Intensive Care Unit in a hospital. The first thing they tell you when you go into an I.C.U. is “Shhh!  You must talk very quietly. The patients here are ill and feeble. They need to be able to recover without added stress or noise.”
The Jewish world today is in a very precarious predicament. So many of our brethren are unfamiliar with their heritage and have not been taught about their heritage. It is indeed a sad state. However, a doctor who wants his patience to heal does not scream at them for being ill. We too we cannot shout and yell at others. If we shout they won’t hear what we are saying; they will only hear the anger and animosity in our voice. We have to convey our sincere care for them. Only then will we be able to influence them and help “cure them” of their dreaded spiritual maladies.”

          Yaakov Avinu suffered for many years living with and working for his duplicitous father-in-law, Lavan. Rashi notes that Lavan tried to dupe Yaakov out of his due wages one hundred times. But Yaakov cunningly outwitted Lavan each time.
Yaakov not only persevered financially in Lavan’s home, but he also built a beautiful righteous family. Finally, G-d appeared to Yaakov and told him it was time to depart. (31:3) “Return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you.”
          The Torah relates that Yaakov summoned his wives Rachel and Leah to the field and said, “I have noticed that your father’s disposition is not toward me as in earlier days; but the G-d of my father was with me. Now you have known that with all my might I worked for your father. Yet your father mocked me and changed my wages ten countings; but G-d did not permit him to harm me….And an angel of G-d said to me…Now – arise, leave this land and return to the land of your birth.” 
          Yaakov’s words seem shocking. G-d had appeared to him and told him to leave. For our great patriarch Yaakov it would seem superfluous to even say that he fulfilled G-d’s Word. Yet, when he approached his wives he did not immediately tell them about G-d’s instruction. Instead he appealed to their logic by explaining how leaving their father’s home was in their best interest. Only after that did he conclude by adding that G-d had appeared to him and told him to leave. Why didn’t Yaakov emphatically state that they were leaving as G-d commanded?
          Rochel and Leah’s response is even more astounding. “Have we still a share and an inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not considered by him as strangers for he has sold us? And he has even totally consumed our money!... So now, whatever G-d has said to you, do!” They too seemed to only agree to fulfill G-d’s Command because it was convenient for them. They surely would have left even if it was a burden for them as per G-d’s instruction. If so, why did they answer in such a circuitous fashion, only mentioning that Yaakov should accede to G-d’s command after they rationalized that it would be beneficial?
          The holy Shelah relates that if a person wants to inspire others to change or improve their ways - especially in his own family - he should do so without imposing it on them. This includes telling them that they are mandated by Torah law to alter their lifestyle or cease doing certain things that they have always done.[1] 
          One should try to convince others of the inherent benefit of doing the right thing. If one can help another realize the personal benefit and goodness involved in altering his behavior, the other person will want to change. The way one acts willingly is incomparable to the way one acts under duress.
          There was no question that even if his wives refuted his logic, Yaakov would heed the word of G-d and leave anyway. However, his hope - which proved successful - was that he would be able to demonstrate how G-d’s Command was beneficial. Then they would be happy to fulfill G-d’s Dictate and would not leave begrudgingly. 
          Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l added that from the response of Rochel and Leah we learn that one should always try to understand for themselves how adhering to the Will of G-d is beneficial. They too replied that leaving was in their own best interest.
Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are our forbearers who trail-blazed a path through life for us to follow. They strove not only to fulfill the Will of G-d, but also to understand how doing so was for their own good and benefit.
This is a general attitude that one must strive to maintain in all of his daily Service to G-d. We must believe and understand that adhering to Torah and mitzvos grants us ultimate fulfillment and purpose from life. “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its pathways are peace.” That realization does not result from coercion and intimidation. One can only see the beauty of something when it is presented glowingly. When Torah is presented as a yoke of love and when being a Torah-Jew is viewed as a banner of pride, than one will want to be connected to it. But if it is seen as a reality that one must contend with, negative feelings will inevitably result. 

          In his beautiful sefer, Bayis U’menucha[2], Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern zt’l, relates the following two stories:
“I remember close to forty years ago, walking on Shabbos with the great tzaddik, Rabbi Aryeh Levine zt’l. As we were walking a secular kibbutznik was slowly walking towards us smoking a cigarette. The kibbutznik was quite an imposing individual and I was afraid that if Rabbi Aryeh would chastise him for smoking on Shabbos the man would react by physically pushing the aged Rabbi. But before I could say anything Rabbi Levine walked up to him and emphatically said, “Today is Shabbos and it is forbidden to smoke!” The anger in the kibbutznik’s eyes was immediately noticeable and he responded irritably, “I am not a Jew and therefore I may smoke on Shabbos.”
“Rabbi Aryeh looked in his eyes and replied, “Do not speak that way! You are my brother and I love you dearly. So why do you smoke?” At that moment the man’s whole demeanor and tone changed. He gently replied, “Kavod Harav, of course I am a Jew. I want you to know that I have been rebuked many hundreds of times, but I never felt that anyone really cared about me. They called me many pejoratives like “sheygatz” and sneered at me angrily. You are the first Rabbi who I feel really cares about me. If you want I will extinguish the cigarette immediately.”
“Rabbi Aryeh jumped up, “Oh no, you cannot extinguish it either on Shabbos. Just put it down and let it burn out.” The kibbutznik continued, “Rebbe, if you would tell me never to desecrate the Shabbos again, I don’t know if I could promise that I would honor such a commitment. However, because of the love you demonstrated towards me I promise that I will not desecrate this Shabbos!”   
          “On another occasion I was accompanying my Rebbe and master, Rabbi Elya Lopian zt’l, to the Chevron yeshiva for the Mincha prayers one Shabbos afternoon. Each time a car passed us Rabbi Elya cringed and sighed, “Oiy! There is no one to teach them the stringency of violating the Shabbos! I cannot bear to see my brothers violating the holy Shabbos!”
“At one point he turned to me and said that he couldn’t take it any more and he wanted me to walk him home. I replied that we were already more than half way to the Yeshiva and we would see the same amount of Shabbos desecration if we turned around. Rabbi Elya begrudgingly continued walking but I saw that he was literally broken-hearted.
          “A moment later, a car pulled over at the curb next to us. The driver rolled down his window and asked for directions to Rechov Yaffo. Rabbi Elya immediately burst into tears. When he finally composed himself somewhat he replied, “How can I assist you in violating the Shabbos? But on the other hand how can I refuse another Jew who asked for my assistance?” Then he burst into tears again.
“The man parked his car and got out. “Rebbe, I have never felt like I was properly rebuked until this moment. My mother is Shabbos observant and she has screamed at me for not keeping Shabbos many times. But I never saw her cry. I see that you truly care about me and, therefore, I promise you that I will never again drive on Shabbos. Please take the keys from me and I will come to pick them up after sunset.” Rabbi Elya gently replied, “I see you are a soulful person. I must tell you that the keys too cannot be moved on Shabbos. Leave them on the side of the road and they will be here after Shabbos.” The man agreed and he put the keys down.
“Rabbi Elya then turned to me and told me that he wanted to converse with the man and that if I wanted I could go ahead to the yeshiva without him. I decided to stay in order to hear Rabbi Elya’s discussion. Rabbi Elya began asking him very basic questions about his background, his family, and what he does for a living. They stood at the side of the road talking for over an hour. When the students of the yeshiva walked past, they were stunned to find Rabbi Elya deep in conversation with a completely irreligious Jew.
When the conversation finally ended and the man walked away, Rabbi Elya turned to the small assemblage and said, “Do you see? We do not encourage people to observe Shabbos by casting stones at them. The only way to draw people closer to Torah and Shabbos observance is with true love and care.” “
“Return to the land of your fathers”
“So now, whatever G-d has said to you, do!”

The following was the sequel I wrote to this essay when it was originally printed in 5769. Unfortunately, its message is again applicable in light of last week’s tragedy in Har Nof with the massacre of four Torah scholars while davening shachris, wrapped in their talis and tefillin:

This week, the Jewish world suffered a terrible blow from which we are still reeling in shock and pain. The numbness of the dreadful news has yet to wear off as we try to come to terms with the devastation that occurred. In Mumbai, six Jews were brutally tortured and murdered. They died sanctifying the Name of G-d leaving us to mourn the horrors of the unbelievable events that transpired: Norma Rabinovitch-Shvartzblat, Yocheved Orpaz, R’ Benzion Chorman, and R’ Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum, may G-d avenge their blood.
But perhaps there was no greater shock than the murder of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries. The Holtzbergs devoted their lives to providing spiritual and physical nourishment for every Jew (and many non-Jews) who walked through their doors. When their parents came to gather their belongings after the attacks, they were astonished to learn that their children only kept one room for themselves and all of their belongings. The rest of the building was open to the public.
Tens of Jews from all walks of life joined them each Shabbos. Rabbi Holtzberg would slaughter a tremendous amount of chickens each week so his guests could enjoy kosher chicken on Shabbos. His equally devoted wife would bake loaves and loaves of challah and unlimited food. Those who had spent a Shabbos with the Holtzbergs described the warm ambiance and camaraderie that the Holtzbers developed among their guests, who were strangers to each other.
Their lives were devoted to helping other Jews discover and appreciate the beauty of their heritage. But they did not do so with philosophical speeches and theological harangues. Instead they acted with love and devotion, personifying the dictum that all Jews are brothers and sisters. They showed people the sanctity of Shabbos and the beauty of living a Torah life, even in the spiritual wilderness of Mumbai.
They died as they lived, sanctifying the Name of their Creator.
In 1956, a Lubavitch emissary and four of his young students were brutally massacred by terrorists in the newly founded village of Kfar Chabad. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l sent the community a letter that contained a mere three words, three words that have been and are the key to our national resilience throughout the exile, “B’hemshech habnyan tinachamu – Through continued building you will be consoled.”
We have no way to make sense of what happened and no rational explanations will assuage our conscience. We surrender ourselves to G-d as we have always done, asserting that one day we will understand, albeit not during our physical lifetimes. The only way we can gather solace and consolation is by transforming the experience, by continuing their life’s work. When we remain steadfast to our mission we ensure that we will prevail.
It is only with heart-filled devotion and love that we will be able to rebuild what has been destroyed. As we continue where they left off, the six holy souls will smile from their glorious eternal rest and encourage us to continue building.
May their souls be bound with the souls of the eternal living!

[1]Rhodewalt and Davison (1983) noted that whenever one feels his freedom being restricted or limited, the tendency is to move farther toward what is being limited. This normal human reaction is called reactance and it occurs whenever one feels his freedom is being limited. Reactance often causes people to do the opposite of what is being demanded of them.
[2]The book is a practical guide to fostering a peaceful marriage and home

Thursday, November 20, 2014


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


This past Shabbos I experienced a moment of wistful nostalgia. The chazzan who was leading the Musaf services had yahrtzeit[1] for his mother. During the kedusha prayer when it is customary to sing part of the prayer,[2] the chazzan sang a tune uncommonly used for those words. It was the tune of the melody, “Oyfn pripetchik”.[3]
It struck me because that was the song my Zeide – whose yahrtzeit was two days later – would often sing to me.[4] For a moment I was again a seven year old boy sitting on the bed in my grandparent’s apartment with my Zeide sitting next to me singing those very words to me.

“And these are the offspring of Yitzchak, son of Avrohom; Avrohom begot Yitzchak”[5]. Rashi explains why the Torah reiterates that Avrohom was the father of Yitzchak. The cynics of the generation claimed that Yitzchak could not have possibly been the son of Avrohom and Sarah, who had not borne a son for so many decades and now were well past their childbearing years. They therefore countered that when Avimelech, the king of the Philistines, abducted Sarah she became pregnant from him, and Yitzchok was his son. In order to disprove them, G-d made Avrohom and Yitzchak’s physical features identical so that even the scoffers had to admit that they were wrong.
          The assertion of the scoffers seems completely preposterous. The truth was that Avrohom already had a child, i.e. Yishmael, which made it clear that Sarah’s barrenness was not due to a deficiency in him. In fact, Chazal[6] say that Sarah was an “aylanus”, i.e. her body was physically unable to bear a child. If so, even if she had conceived from Avimelech it would not be much less of a miracle than if she conceived from Avrohom. If so, what were the cynics trying to accomplish with their derisive claim?
Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky zt’l explained that the scoffers had no qualms about admitting to miracles and supernatural occurrences. Their goal was to hinder the perpetuation of the legacy of Avrohom.
The Mishna[7] states: “There were ten generations from Adam until Noach – to show the degree of His (G-d’s) patience; for all those generations increasingly angered Him until he brought upon them the waters of the flood. There were ten generations from Noach until Avrohom – to show the degree of His patience; for all those generations angered Him increasingly, until our forefather Avrohom came and received reward corresponding to all of them.”
How can the Mishna assert that all of the generations between Noach and Avrohom were wicked, if there were righteous men such as Shem, Ever, Mesushelach, and Chanoch?
The answer is that despite the fact that there were sparks of greatness, there was no continuation. Those righteous individuals were unable to transmit their beliefs and righteous lifestyles to their children and, therefore, their saintliness ended with them.
Avrohom Avinu however, ensured that his legacy would live on by imparting his beliefs to his children: “Avrohom begot Yitzchok”. There was a perpetuation that ensured that the spark of Avrohom would continue to flourish after his passing.
It was that continuity that made the scoffers apprehensive. They asserted that although Sarah may have indeed become miraculously pregnant, the child was not Avrohom’s but Avimelech’s. In so doing, they hoped to sever the legacy of holiness and divinity that Avrohom had promulgated and taught.  
Rabbi Galinsky concluded that in every generation there have been (and are) scoffers with the same goal in mind of hindering the transmission of the Torah and its values. The only thing that changes is their title, e.g. Sadducees, Kararites, Boethusians, etc.
In our generation too scoffers are relentless in their pursuit to undermine and destroy the continuity of our legacy and traditions. Yet, the continuation of the transmission of Avrohom’s legacy continues.   

When G-d was about to destroy Sodom, He felt compelled to reveal His intentions to Avrohom. “Shall I conceal from Avrohom what I am about to do… For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d…”[8]
There were many reasons that G-d could have mentioned in explaining the reason for His extreme love for Avrohom. Yet, above all He mentioned the fact that Avrohom educated his children.
A person reveals his true passions and values by what he strives to imbue in his children. The fact that Avrohom was so involved in the promulgation of his values and beliefs demonstrated that they were of seminal importance to him.
The Chasam Sofer questions why Avrohom was unaware of G-d’s intent to destroy Sodom. Many of the great prophets of future generations - including Yeshaya, Yirmiyah, and Yechezkel - were privy to revelations about retribution that was imminently going to be meted out to heathen nations. If Avrohom was a prophet and had reached such lofty levels of connection with G-d, why was he not privy to what was about to happen to Sodom?
The Chasam Sofer explains that, in truth, Avrohom did not reach the same levels of prophecy as his successors. It was not because he was unworthy of those levels but because he did not devote the necessary time and efforts to reach those levels. In order to ascertain the highest levels of prophecy one must invest many hours into personal growth, including engaging in deep introspection in utter seclusion. However, it is almost impossible for one to engage in exalted ponderings in prolonged isolation and still be able to teach on a rudimentary level. Avrohom preferred to afford that time and energy to the education of his family and disciples. Essentially, Avrohom gave up his own greatness for the edification of his family and students.
With this understanding the wording of the pasuk is beautifully understood. G-d said, “Shall I conceal from Avrohom what I am about to do?... For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice, in order that G-d might bring upon Avrohom that which He had spoken of him’.” The reason Avrohom did not know about the imminent destruction is because of his ‘prophetic deficiency’, which itself was a result of the fact that, “he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d”. If so, G-d felt Avrohom should not lose out because of his full involvement in the education of his household.

This thought from the Chasam Sofer has powerful ramifications. At times we may want to engage in ‘loftier Judaism’. We may want to add stringencies or other worthy ideals to our religious observance. But we must never forget that our primary role is to educate our children and to foster within them love and appreciation for our beliefs.
This can perhaps also explain why the righteous individuals who preceded Avrohom were unable to influence their own children and their generation. They may have been too invested in their own personal growth, hoping that they would be able to inspire others by osmosis. They failed to realize that without active education one cannot inspire and influence others.

In parshas Ki Sisa when the Torah reiterates the centrality and holiness of Shabbos it says, “The children of Israel shall observe the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations.”[9] The Torah is commanding us to observe Shabbos in such a manner that it will become an eternal covenant for all generations. This entails observing Shabbos so that, not only do we enjoy it and look forward to it, but that we ensure that our children love it as well. If we are so busy with our own Shabbos that we neglect the ‘Shabbos of our children’ then we have failed to fulfill this verse which adjures us to ensure that “our generations” also observe the Shabbos.[10]

In regards to observing the Torah’s laws and mitzvos, the Torah itself demands, “You shall live by them”[11], on which the gemara[12] expounds, “and not die by them.” In light of the aforementioned insights we can offer a homiletical explanation of the verse: One must live his life in such a manner that his children will follow in his footsteps and adhere to the Torah as he did. Thus, he will live beyond death in the actions and lives of his successors. “You shall live by them”, i.e. to observe the Torah in such a manner that it will vicariously ensure eternal life.

As we usher in the month of Kislev, the excitement for the holiday of Chanukah begins to be palpable. When the Syrian-Greeks imposed their heinous decrees on the hapless Jews their intent was not to stop them from studying Torah completely. The Greeks were a cultured people who appreciated knowledge and wisdom and they saw the Torah as a mere book of wisdom. Their intent was to destroy the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition and our sense of mission and purpose.
The Syrian-Greeks sought to extinguish our flame but the righteous Maccabes proved that its light is eternal. Its light will continue to cast its ethereal glow, well beyond our own mortality and temporal existence.      

“To make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations.”
“Yitzchak, son of Avrohom; Avrohom begot Yitzchak”

[1] The anniversary of the day of death
[2] to a tune which the chazzan chooses
[3] Composed by the noted Yiddish lyricist, M. M. Warshavsky (1840-1907) [The chazzan later informed me that his mother would sing that song to him when he was a child.]
[4] It is a song which depicts little children who are being taught the letters of the Hebrew alphabet by their Rebbe, huddled around a fire warming their hearts and souls. The teacher exhorts his students to remember that all the tears and hope of our people are inextricably bound to those letters.
[5] 25:19
[6] Yevamos 64b
[7] Avos 5:2
[8] Bereishis 18:17-19
[9] Shemos 31:16
[10] In a world of talking toys and dolls and electronic games which are forbidden to be played with on Shabbos, this is no simple task. If our children view Shabbos merely as a day of “NO” (i.e. “you can’t play with this”; “you can’t play with that”) they will surely not enjoy it. The concepts of having a “Shabbos party”, as well as the fact that children receive extra attention from parents are integral components of a child’s Shabbos observance and education. A therapist related that when he wants to understand the dynamics of a family and how a child feels at home his first inquiry is about the family’s Shabbos table. “Describe to me the atmosphere at your Shabbos table.”
[11] Vayikra 18:5
[12] Sanhedrin 74a

Thursday, November 13, 2014


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


          A man once approached Rabbi Mordechai Shulman zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Slobodka Yeshiva in B’nei B’rak to seek his advice. The man had a daughter who was of marriageable age, and a specific boy who studied in the Solobodka Yeshiva was suggested for her. The boy was a diligent and erudite scholar, and had a sterling reputation. He wanted to know Rabbi Shulman’s opinion about the shidduch.
Rabbi Shulman replied, “If you are looking for a chavrusa (study partner) for your daughter, you will not find anyone better than that boy. But if you are looking for a husband for your daughter you should look elsewhere!”[1] 
           “The River, The Kettle, and The Bird”, authored by Rabbi Aharon Feldman shlita[2], relates a Torah-based approach for developing marital harmony.[3]
In the opening chapter Rabbi Feldman discusses the unique title of his book. It is based on a passage in the Gemara[4] which states that if one envisions a river, a kettle, or a bird in his dream he can hope and look forward to peace.
Rabbi Feldman utilizes that idea to explain that there are three levels of marriage. The first level is tantamount to a river flowing between two cities. There is essentially no connection between the two cities except the potential benefit they can have from each other. The river serves as a means for commerce, allowing them to transport goods from one city to the other. But the cities never connect in any meaningful way; their ‘relationship’ is based purely on their own self interest.
Spouses, who view their marriage as a means to personal benefit and gratification, will quickly become dissatisfied when the marriage stops providing for them. Such a marriage is unsteady and destined to fail.
A kettle is designed to prepare food by utilizing the combined forces of water and fire. Each force alone could not cook the food properly. But the mediatory effect of the kettle allows the process of cooking to be accomplished. Similarly, there are marriages that exist based on commonalities and shared goals. As individuals it may be too daunting to raise children and deal with the everyday frustrations of life. Marriage provides an ally with whom to share the burdens. The peril of a marriage built only with commonality in mind, is that once the alliance is no longer needed the bond of the marriage dissipates as well.[5]
The third level of marriage is symbolized by a bird. A bird has two disparate abilities; it flies and soars across the sky, though it needs the earth as well. A bird is simultaneously an earthbound and an airborne being. These dual facets of a bird are not separate components which the bird utilizes at will. Rather, the survival of a bird is based on its ability to know when to fly and when to land, when it needs to coast high above and when it needs to forage among the earth. In that sense, a bird represents the embodiment of two natures fused and synergized into one being. It is one organism encompassing two very different and diverse abilities.
The ultimate marriage is achieved when there is a synergistic internalization of the connection between two spouses. It is a peace that results from an internal sense of identity that each partner feels with the other. Both partners are indeed two very different and disparate beings; however, they view their selfless connection as inextricable. That is the level of marriage which transforms “I” into “we”.  Marriage is not merely ‘extra baggage’ but the formation of a new entity, a potent force with incredible potential.
The prophet Malachi exclaimed, “For she is your comrade and the wife of your covenant.”[6] The purpose of marriage is to develop the ultimate friendship and connection. But such a lofty bond can only result from true dedication and relentless effort to constantly foster and maintain that relationship.

During the recitation of the morning blessings, when we recite the blessings thanking G-d for granting us the Torah and allowing us to engage in its study, we recite a passage[7] which commences: “These are the precepts of which a person enjoys their fruits in this World, but whose principal (reward) remains intact for him in the World to Come.” The Gemara then proceeds to list certain precepts which fit into this category, including visiting the sick, allocating funds so that the needy can marry, and accompanying a deceased person to his final resting. It then concludes, “…bringing peace between man and his fellow – and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.”
According to those who pray Nusach Sefard[8] there is a textual variance. After the words, “and bringing peace between man and his fellow”, the words, “and (bringing peace) between man and his wife” are added. Why does Nusach Ashkenaz omit those words?[9]
Based on the aforementioned insight from Rabbi Feldman, we can posit that Nusach Asheknaz did not include ‘making peace between man and his wife’ because in an optimal marriage it is redundant to say, “Between man and his fellow, and between man and his wife”. True marriage contains the greatest bond of friendship, on a deeply internal level.
Fostering peace between husband and wife is fostering the greatest level of friendship. This is clearly enunciated in one of the blessings recited after a wedding: “Gladden intensely the beloved friends, as You gladdened Your creation in the Garden of Eden from days of old. Blessed are You, G-d, Who gladdens groom and bride.”      

When the time came for Avrohom to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchok, he dispatched his trusted servant Eliezer, instructing him to travel to his homeland to find a suitable woman from there. When Eliezer met Rivka at the well in Charan he was immediately overwhelmed by her kindness and righteousness. When he discovered that she was a cousin of Yitzchok he was overjoyed. He accompanied her back to her home where he met her father Besuel and brother Lavan.
There Eliezer recounted all of the events that transpired from when he departed from his master’s home until then. Eliezer also explained how his meeting Rivka was unquestionably divinely ordained.
Rashi notes that, in a moment of candid honesty, Eliezer revealed to Rivka’s family that he himself had clandestinely hoped Avrohom would choose his (Eliezer’s) own daughter as a wife for Yitzchok. But Avrohom had countered, “My son is blessed and you (as a Canaanite) are accursed. The accursed cannot cleave to the blessed.”[10] [It is a testament to the faithfulness and integrity of Eliezer that, despite his personal disappointment, he still fulfilled his mission with alacrity.]
The vernacular of Rashi, quoting the Medrash, seems to be grammatically incorrect. When Avrohom explained to Eliezer why his proposed shidduch (match) could not work, the subject was Yitzchok. In other words, prima facie it would seem that Avrohom was telling Eliezer why Yitzchok could not marry Eliezer’s daughter. However, if that is true, Rashi should have written, “My son is blessed and you (as a Canaanite) are accursed. The blessed cannot cleave to the accursed.” Rashi’s phraseology seems to be inverted?
The answer is that Avrohom was not explaining to Eliezer why the match could not work from Yitzchok’s vantage point. Rather, he was explaining to him why it would be a bad idea for his own daughter. As a descendant of Cham who was cursed, the daughter of Eliezer would herself feel like a second-class citizen in the marriage. Knowing that her husband was of noble descent when she herself descended from inferior lineage would inevitably lead to feelings of resentment.
The foundation of a happy marriage is built on mutual respect and admiration. A marriage which begins with one spouse feeling like a second-class citizen is off to a precarious start. 

In discussing the proper outlook on marriage Rambam[11] writes, “Likewise the Sages commanded a man that he should honor his wife more than himself, and love her like himself. And if he has money, he should increase spending in her benefit according to his wealth. And he should not put on her excessive strictness. He should speak with her gently and he should not be sad or angry (with her).
“Likewise the Sages commanded on a woman that she should honor her husband more than is fitting, and she should have great respect for him, and do all her actions according to his mouth. And he should be in her eyes like a king; she should go in the desires of his heart and distance from him anything he dislikes. And this is the way of the daughters of Israel which are holy and pure in their marriage. And in this way their home will be great and praiseworthy."

Proper marriage fosters connection and internal bonding which cannot be accomplished when both individuals are not on equal footing.

“The accursed cannot cleave to the blessed”
“For she is your comrade and the wife of your covenant.”

This Thursday, 27 MarCheshvan, is the yahrtzeit of my beloved Zaide, Harav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l. I refer to my Zaide as my Rebbe because, even now, almost three decades after his passing, he continues to be an inspiration and role model.
Zaide was a remnant of a lost generation of those who had learned in the great Yeshivos of Europe. He was a leader and an inspiration to his congregants and all who knew him. Above all, he was a person who lived and loved Torah, his greatest passion. His greatest pride was to see his children and grandchildren learning Torah.
But to me he will always be my Zaide, who loved his grandchildren unconditionally and could find no fault in them.
In his memory, I am including a lecture I found among his writings which is apropos to the topic of marriage:

“The relationship between the Almighty and Israel is often portrayed as that of a marital relationship. The prophet Hoshea (2:21) foresaw the day when the Almighty will take Israel unto Himself and effect a perfect union.
We repeat those words which G-d said to us every morning when we don our tefillin: "וארשתיך לי לעולם – I shall betroth you unto Me forever”
This first idea expressed is that the union must be a permanent one. Too many young people enter the marriage relationship with mental reservations that they will dissolve the union when living together will be difficult. Trial marriages are never successful because they begin with the wrong idea, namely, that the marriage may be dissolved. One must begin with the idea that come what may, for better or worse, the marriage will continue.
In this week’s sedra (Torah portion)[12], after Yaakov left the home of his father Yitzchak in order to build a home for himself, he had a dream: “Behold a ladder was standing on the ground and its top reached into the heavens.” Life is like a ladder. It is not always smooth; it is not always like a bed of roses. You do not always go up the rungs of the ladder; sometimes you must go down. However, you must always remember that G-d is always above you and will guide you forever.
The verse continues, “Behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending it (the ladder)”. Through the vicissitudes of life remember that your position on the rungs of the ladder may fluctuate. There are times when you have to submit to the opinions of others and heed the advice of others. That will insure an everlasting marital relationship.
The verse in Hoshea continues, “וארשתיך לי בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים – I shall betroth you to Me with justice and righteousness, with kindness and mercy.”
The union must be characterized by proper consideration for one another, by justice and kindness. Neither spouse must take advantage of the other; they must be fair, ready to share the burdens as well as the joys that life holds for them.
Finally, the verse in Hoshea concludes, וארשתיך לי באמונה וידעת את ה'" – And I shall betroth you unto me with faith, and you shall know that I am G-d.”
Faith and knowledge of G-d are the third elements that must be present. Faith in one another and knowledge of G-d are most essential because they grant an ideal which both spouses hold in common and which brings idealism into their lives. The more things in common that two young people believe in, the greater will be their chance for cooperation and collaboration.
In order to achieve any goal in life, it must be accomplished step by step, rung by rung, on the ladder of success. Life is not always smooth, but if it is based on harmony, mutual conscientious concern, understanding, compassion for another, character and love, then it will indeed be a success.
May you be guided by these ideals and may the union be form be permanent and lasting. May the Divine Presence ever be in your midst and bless your home with happiness and joy.”

[1] I heard this story from a son-in-law of the man who approached Rabbi Shulman.
[2] Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, in Baltimore, MD. Rabbi Feldman is a scholar of note and one of the great Torah leaders in America today.
[3] It is rare to find a book written by an author who is not only a prolific writer but also a respected Torah scholar. The book is invaluable and its insights are integral to achieving the ultimate satisfaction from marriage.  
[4] Berachos 56b
[5] [This is the root cause of many empty-nest divorces.]
[6] Malachi 2:14
[7] Shabbos 147a
[8] As opposed to Nusach Ashkenaz, Nusach Sefard is the name for a variant form of the prayer book. It was designed to reconcile Ashkenazic customs (based in Germany and Western Europe) with the kabbalistic customs initiated by the holy Ari who lived in Tzefas in the fifteenth century.
[9] This question was posed to me by my father-in-law
[10] See Rashi (24:39)
[11] Hilchos Ishus (15:19). When I was engaged to my wife, I had this quote from the Rambam printed onto a wooden plaque. It hangs on the wall in our home.
[12] Note: This lecture was delivered during the week of Parshas Vayetzei

Thursday, November 6, 2014


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


This week’s Stam Torah is lovingly dedicated in memory of my Savta (Father’s Mother), Shprintza bas Avrohom Yitzchok, Mrs. Minnie Staum a’h, whose yahrtzeit is 17 Cheshvan. May her neshama have an aliyah.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[1], had a personal relationship with the beloved Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas[2], Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l. Periodically, Rabbi Finkelman would visit Rav Pam in his home to speak with him and to solicit his blessings, especially prior to a holiday.
On one such occasion, Rabbi Finkelman brought one of his sons, who was then a toddler, to receive a blessing. As Rabbi Finkelman was conversing with Rav Pam, his son was playing on the floor with some blocks that the Pams had in their house for their own grandchildren.  In the corner of his eye Rabbi Finkelman noticed that the tower his son was building was beginning to wobble. Concerned that it would fall and cause a loud noise, Rabbi Finkelman causally leaned over to straighten the blocks.
As he was about to push the blocks, Rebbitzin Pam, who was standing on the side watching and listening, suddenly called out, “Excuse me, what are you doing?!” Rabbi Finkelman explained that he wanted to make sure the blocks wouldn’t fall. Rebbitzin Pam emphatically responded, “No, No! You must not touch those blocks! When a child plays it is his way of expressing himself and developing his imagination. You must not interfere with what he is doing.”[3]

When G-d was about to destroy the evil cities of Sodom and Amorrah, He felt compelled to reveal His intentions to Avrohom. “G-d said, ‘Shall I conceal from Avrohom what I am doing. Now that Avrohom is surely to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice, in order that G-d might bring upon Avrohom that which He had spoken of him’.”[4]
Rashi relates an astounding insight about the manner in which Avrohom educated his children: “Thus did he (Avrohom) instruct his children: Keep the way of G-d so that G-d will bring upon Avrohom that which He had spoken of him[5].
The Mishna states: “Antignos of Socho would say: Do not be like a servant who serves his master solely for the sake of receiving his wages. But be like the servant who serves his master not for the sake of receiving reward, and the Fear of Heaven will be upon you.”[6]
It is inconceivable that our patriarch Avrohom did not fulfill this dictum! If so, how could Avrohom, the paragon of kindness and righteousness, and the bulwark of faith, instruct his children to follow the commandments of G-d so that they merit reward and personal gain?
The Nikolsberger Rebbe[7] explains that this was indeed the manner in which Avrohom instructed and educated his children. Avrohom was modeling for his progeny the proper mode of educating children. Avrohom demonstrated that one must relate to every child according to his/her level and capacity. Young children are too callow to appreciate the intrinsic benefit of Service to G-d. They have not yet developed the maturity and depth to comprehend the concept of developing a relationship with an intangible yet omnipotent G-d. Therefore, in order to train a child to act properly, one must help the child feel excited and see the benefit in doing the right thing, on the child’s level.
This idea is expressed by the legendary words of Shlomo Hamelech: “Educate each child according to his way; even when he becomes old he will not deviate from it.”[8] The message is that if one wants to instill values in a child that will remain with the child throughout life, he must seek to convey those values in a manner which speaks to the child’s soul on a personal level.
Thus, when Avrohom wanted to guide his young children to adhere to G-d’s Commandments, he spoke to them about the personal benefit they would enjoy if they did so.
The Nikolsberger Rebbe continues by quoting the timeless words of the Rambam[9]: “Give heart to hear my words about this topic. A young child enters to learn Torah from an educator. This is the ultimate good for the child because (through its study) he can reach perfection. However, because of his young age and lack of wisdom, he does not understand its great value, nor (does he comprehend the greatness of attaining) perfection. Behold, the educator is compelled to awaken him to study by (offering him) things that are dear to him in his young age. He should say to him, ‘Learn and I will give you walnuts and almonds’, or, ‘I will give you a little bit of honey’. At that point he will learn – not because of the (internal benefit of) study, for he does not understand its value – but for the treats which to him are valuable. He sees his studying and toiling as a means to receive a walnut or a bit of honey.
“Then, as he grows older and matures, the things which he used to think were valuable now lose their value. At that point the educator must tell him, ‘learn and I will buy you nice shoes or a nice article of clothing….”
The Rambam continues by explaining that at every stage of the youngster’s life the educator must “up the ante”. He must continue to offer incentives that the child deems valuable so that the child will want to continue learning.
Eventually, when the child matures enough, he will begin to realize and appreciate the internal value of Torah study. Because of all the incentives and rewards he received he will have become conditioned and trained to spend his time studying and will begin to appreciate its greatness. At that point, he will begin to serve G-d and study Torah out of love and sheer devotion; external incentives will no longer be necessary.

At the Torah Umesorah convention in May 2008, along with a few other Rabbeim, I had the pleasure of accompanying Rabbi Reuven Feinstein[10] for a walk early Shabbos morning. As we walked someone posed the following question to the Rosh Yeshiva: The Medrash[11] notes that although one’s Yetzer Hara (“Evil Inclination”) joins him at birth, a child does not merit his Yetzer Tov (“Good Inclination”) until his Bar Mitzvah. If that is the case, why do we bother trying to educate our children throughout their formative years? If they lack the capacity to do good anyway, why don’t we commence the religious education process at the child’s Bar Mitzvah?
Rabbi Feinstein replied that our understanding of the Medrash is flawed. The Medrash does not mean to imply that before his Bar Mitzvah a child lacks the capacity to perform good deeds and to act appropriately.[12] The purpose of the Good Inclination is that it grants a person the ability to act out of genuine altruism. Because a child lacks a Good Inclination he cannot be expected to do anything solely because it is the right thing to do. A child requires incentive; he must see the personal benefit and enjoyment that he will have when he does what is expected of him.
[It is worthy to note that I subsequently mentioned to Rabbi Feinstein that it has now become in vogue to try to encourage children to perform – not for external incentive – but in order to build their own sense of self-worth and self-esteem. We want our children to realize and appreciate the sense of inner fulfillment that one enjoys when he feels accomplished. I asked if that too is beyond the purview of a child?
Rabbi Feinstein replied that a child can indeed be motivated because he wants to feel satisfied and fulfilled. That sensation is itself an incentive (perhaps a far more valuable incentive). One who acts in order to feel that inner fulfillment, worthy as that is, is not acting completely altruistically.
In truth, even as adults the overwhelming majority of most people’s actions contain ulterior motives, including the desire for appreciation, accolades, and even an inner feeling of self-worth. However, unlike children, we intrinsically possess the ability to act out of pure unadulterated goodness and kindness, if we seek to develop that ability. To act out of sheer altruism requires a very high level of piety and selflessness. In fact it borders on the Divine, for all that G-d does is out of complete love and a desire to give, for He lacks nothing. An adult has the capacity to reach that extreme level as well.]

Although a child is born with innate characteristics and temperament, he/she essentially enters the world with a blank slate. It is incumbent upon the educators in his life (i.e. his parents and teachers) to educate him in a manner which the child can relate to. In our fast-paced, rapidly changing society, our children are so often robbed of their ability to enjoy the greatest gift of all, the gift of youth. Proper Torah-based chinuch includes deep sensitivity for a child’s development and all that such development entails.
It is tragic that it has become rare to see children exploring the outdoors in an unstructured manner. Too much involvement with computer games, toys that light up, and dolls that speak, robs children of their vital need to utilize their imaginations and develop their sense of wonder. The bliss of natural pleasure is the greatest gift we can give, such as encouraging a child to jump in a pile of leaves, play in the snow, and run around and explore the wonders of G-d’s Creation.
A child also cannot be taught in the same manner as one teaches an adult. He must be trained to act appropriately by realizing the sweetness and inherent good that one enjoys when fulfilling the Will of G-d and studying His Torah.
It is appropriate to conclude with an anecdote involving Rabbi Reuven Feinstein’s own childhood. When he was a child he would study with his saintly father, the foremost Torah leader and halachic authority of the previous generation, Harav Moshe Feinstein zt’l. During the summer, when the Feinstein family would travel up to the Catskill Mountains, young Reuven would learn with his father outside. There was a tractor that would drive through the bungalow and offer hayrides to the young children. When the tractor would appear in the distance, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would gently close his son’s sefer and send him off to enjoy the ride.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein knew the value of every word of Torah study more than anyone else in the world. There was nary a free moment during his day when he wasn’t studying from a text or reviewing passages of Torah by heart. But his son was only a child!

“Because he commands his children… in order that G-d might bring…”
“Even when he becomes old he will not deviate from it.”

[1] Rabbi Finkelman is the Mashgiach (student guide and advisor) at Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim in Queens, NY. I was privileged to spend many summers with him in Camp Dora Golding. He continues to be one of my primary Rebbes in life.
[2] In Brooklyn, NY
[3] When recounting the story Rabbi Finkelman added that the Finkelman and Pam families share a warm friendship and, therefore, the Rebbitzin felt comfortable offering him ‘friendly rebuke’.  

[4] Bereishis 18:17-19
[5] i.e. all the blessings of prosperity and posterity
[6] Avos 1:3
[7] Rabbi Yosef Yechiel Michel Lebovits, (Kuntrus V’zos Hamitzva)
[8] Mishlei 22:6
[9] Peirush Mishnayos, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10 (Note: The quote is my own loose translation of the words of the Rambam. I have not done them justice.)
[10] Rosh Yeshiva, Mesifta Tiferes Yerushalayim, Staten Island
[11] Koheles Rabba 4:13
[12] If that was the case, then our efforts to educate a child prior to his reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah would truly be futile.