Thursday, May 28, 2015


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


At the Siyum HaShas[1] in March 2005, Rabbi Yissochar Frand related a story about a Jewish boxer who was very far removed from Judaism. Although his son didn’t even have a Bar Mitzvah, he became interested in his roots, and eventually ended up in a yeshiva studying with great diligence. When he came home each night, he continued to engage in his studies, reviewing what he had learned that day.
            His father spent his evenings glued to the television and couldn’t fathom what could be so stimulating about ancient texts. Eventually, the father’s curiosity overcame him and he asked his son to teach him some Talmud. The son dismissed the request, explaining to his father that if he didn’t even know Hebrew he certainly couldn’t understand a page of difficult Aramaic. The father pressed his son to at least teach him one daf (folio) of the Talmud. After a great deal of pestering the son finally relented. They began the long and arduous project of studying one page. Line by line they continued, explaining, reviewing, forgetting, and plodding forward until - after a full year - they completed an entire page.
The father was ecstatic and wanted to make a siyum to celebrate their accomplishment.  The son explained that in order to make a bona-fide siyum, one must complete an entire tractate of Talmud. But the father was insistent. The son finally agreed to ask Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l if they were permitted to make a siyum. Rabbi Feinstein ruled that under the circumstances it was permissible to make a siyum.  
The siyum was arranged for a few nights later. As they were about to recite the siyum, Rabbi Feinstein himself walked in to participate in the celebration. That night, after the siyum, the father died in his sleep. Eulogizing the man, Rabbi Feinstein quoted the Talmud[2] which states that some people acquire their portion in the World to Come through one deed. He then added, “This man acquired his portion in the World to Come through one folio.”

Rabbi Frand continued with a second story involving Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l: On one occasion, Rabbi Feinstein called his nephew, Rabbi Michel Feinstein zt’l.
Rabbi Moshe: We need to make a l’chaim; I’m making a Siyum on Shas.
Rabbi Michel: Uncle, if you make a l’chaim every time you finish Shas, you’ll be a shikker (a drunk).
Rabbi Moshe: No, this is special, it’s the second time.
Rabbi Michel: Uncle, you’ve finished Shas many more than two times. What do you mean that it’s the second time?
Rabbi Moshe: No, I mean this is the second time that I’m fulfilling [Rebbe Meir's statement in the Talmud that] “One who learns something one hundred times is not comparable to one who learns it one hundred and one times.”[3]
Rabbi Frand concluded with a powerful thought:
“It’s never too late; it’s never too little; and it’s never enough.”

It was on the day when Moshe (kalos) finished erecting the Tabernacle that he anointed it and sanctified it and all its utensils…”[4] Rashi explains that the word “kalos” is written as if it should be read “kalas” which means ‘the bride of’. This teaches us that, “On the day of the erecting of the Tabernacle, Klal Yisroel was analogous to a bride entering beneath her marriage canopy.” Maharal explains that the Tabernacle was like a marriage canopy, under which Klal Yisroel joined G-d. 
What is the significance of the fact that the Tabernacle was like a bride entering her marriage canopy?
Rabbi Elazar Shach zt’l explained that the word “kallah” connotes completion and conclusion. When a bride enters her marriage canopy she is not only commencing a new chapter of her life, but she is simultaneously concluding the previous chapter of her life. Until this point she was single and primarily responsible for herself; now she is beginning a life of partnership, altruism, and giving. It is both an end and a beginning.
Here too, Moshe Rabbeinu was concluding the ‘practice period’ for the Service in the Tabernacle. But at the same time, the first day of Nissan marked inauguration and beginning of the actual Service. Like marriage, the end of one stage marked the beginning of another.
Essentially, this is the manner in which one must always view life. The conclusion of one period must always segue into, and initiate, a new period of growth. In Judaism, as long as one is alive, he has never really ‘finished’. Regardless of how much one has accomplished, he must always strive for higher levels. Every accomplishment must be viewed as another rung on the never-ending ladder of spiritual growth. 

Parshas Naso is invariably read at the beginning of “graduation season”. ‘Commencement speeches’ will often speak about the idea that “graduation is not only a time of reflection but also a time for anticipation.” In our lives we must view everything in that light.
When we complete the reading of a Book of Torah our immediate response is, “Chazak – Let us be strong”; we must have strength to forge on! At that moment when one wishes to celebrate his accomplishments and rest on his laurels he must strengthen himself to immediately continue. Similarly, when one completes the study of a chapter or tractate of Talmud he immediately begins the subsequent chapter/tractate, symbolizing the never-ending mandate to continue striving for greatness.

In Shir Hashirim the verse states, “מה יפו פעמיך בנעלים בת נדיב – How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes, daughter of the beneficent one.”[5]
The gemara[6] expounds the verse, “’How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes’ – how beautiful are the feet of the Jews at the time that they ascend for the holiday[7]; ‘Daughter of the beneficent one’ – daughter (i.e. descendants) of our patriarch Avrohom who was termed ‘the beneficent one’.”
Rabbi Shimon Schwab questions the gemara’s explanation. The law is that one was not permitted to enter the Temple Mount while wearing shoes[8]. If so, how could the Jews be lauded for their beautiful footsteps in their shoes at the time of the pilgrimage, if they were not even allowed to wear their shoes when they arrived there[9]?
In the holiday Mussaf prayer we beseech G-d “Return the Priests to their Service, and the Levites to their song and instruments, and the Israelites[10]to their homes.” What is the meaning behind this prayer? Why do we ask that the nation return to their homes after asking for the Priests and Levites to return to their posts in the Temple?
Rabbi Schwab explains that the verse in Shir Hashirim is not referring to the actual pilgrimage at all. Rather, it refers to the nation’s returning home after the holiday is over. They had spent the holiday in the holy confines of the Temple witnessing the Priests exalted performance of the Service and hearing the melodious presentation of the song of the Levites. Now they were returning home full of inspiration and awe. It was that lofty feeling of spiritual bliss and exuberance that they felt as they departed which the verse lauds.
Any spiritual experience can not be allowed to conclude when the actual event is over. If that does happen then, in a sense, the fleeting experience was an exercise of profligacy. The most important aspect of the experience is how much of a lasting impression it leaves upon one’s soul.
After the conclusion of the inauguration feast after the completion of the construction of the first Bais Hamikdash the pasuk states “They returned to their tents happy and good-hearted.”[11] The defining factor of the greatness of the event was that they returned home still inspired and uplifted. The same was true in regards to the holiday pilgrimage. The true measure of the greatness and extent of any spiritual experience can only be determined in retrospect. The same is true in regards to the holiday pilgrimage. In what frame of mind did the masses leave? If they left in a state of joy then we can be confident that it was truly a spiritual experience[12].
This is the meaning behind the verse: ’How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes’. It refers to the appearance of the nation, when they put their shoes back on in order to take leave of the Temple at the conclusion of the holiday. The purpose of the entire experience was to foster a feeling of ascension and transformation when they would return to their homes. It is only post-facto that it becomes apparent just how magnificent and beautiful the pilgrimage is.

The seven weeks of nightly counting with a special blessing have concluded, and the holiday of Shavuos has passed. It would seem that the previous period is over and now we can move on and look forward to the summer. This is a mistaken notion. At this point the more difficult work begins, because now will be determined just how successful Shavuos and the previous weeks were. Our task is to take the growth of the previous weeks and make it part of our inner reality.
Shavuos celebrates our betrothal to G-d with Mount Sinai being our wedding canopy. Just as a bride enters the canopy she concludes her previous life to begin a more glorious and greater stage of her life, so must every Jew view his own process of growth.
Shavuos has ended, but in truth it has only begun!

“It was on the day when Moshe finished erecting the Tabernacle”
“How beautiful are your footsteps in your shoes”

[1] Celebration of the completion of the Talmud every seven and a half years
[2] Avodah Zara 17a
[3] In other words, Rabbi Moshe had learned the entire Talmud over two hundred and two times.
[4] Bamidbar7:1
[5] 7:2
[6] Chagiga 3a
[7] This refers to the tri-annual pilgrimage to Yerushalayim for the three major festivals.
[8] Berachos 64a
[9] It cannot be assumed that the verse refers to the journey itself because the whole point of the journey was to arrive there. 
[10] i.e. non-Kohanim/Leviim
[11] Melachim I 8:66
[12] The same idea can be gleaned from the vernacular of the prayer recited on Yom Kippur. “True! How beautiful was the Kohain Gadol when he emerged from the Holy of Holies in peace and without any damage!” It was only when he left that the profundity of what he had accomplished became apparent. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


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


Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l related the following story:
There was once a wealthy fellow who was searching for a worthy husband for his daughter. He wanted his son-in-law to be a scholar of note and of exemplary character. The man was offering to support his daughter and her husband comfortably so that his son-in-law would be able to apply himself to Torah study without any financial burdens or worries.
He traveled to one of the famous yeshivas and mentioned his proposition to the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva pointed out one boy who fit the criterion. The match was arranged and the young husband traveled to his father-in-law’s hometown for the wedding. As soon as the wedding and the festivities were completed, the young man began his new schedule of rigorous study. He arrived in the Bais Medrash before nine o’clock each morning and, aside for a half hour break for lunch, he would continue studying uninhibitedly with gusto until sevent thirty each evening.  
The weeks passed and the man noticed that his son-in-law was slackening. He was coming later each morning, extending his lunch breaks, and leaving earlier each afternoon. One day he called his son-in-law into his office. “My dear son-in-law, what has happened recently? After the wedding you learned with such diligence and were so punctual. But now you seem to have lost much of your tenacity and devotion.”
The son-in-law replied, “Yes it is true that my learning is not on the same level as it was when I began. But you must understand, I am by far the most knowledgeable man in town. There is no one who learns anywhere near the amount that I do and no one possesses nearly the same magnitude of knowledge that I do. Is it so terrible if I relax my schedule a bit?”
The man shook his head sadly, “You have made a terrible mistake. I did not bring you to this town to be better than everyone else. This is merely a small town filled with simple folk. Your barometer must be the great scholars in the yeshiva which you came from. It is their extreme level of diligence and dedication that you must rival. You possess far greater capabilities than those in this town and your aspirations must reflect your capabilities. Don’t lower yourself by comparing yourself to those who are inferior to you.”
Rabbi Paysach Krohn utilizes this story to bring out a poignant idea. He relates that he was once driving along the highway on a hot summer’s day. The windows were closed and the air conditioning was on in his car and he was listening to a tape of a Torah lecture. When he arrived at the toll booth[1] and rolled down his window, he was immediately greeted with blaring music from a flaming red convertible in the booth next to him. The driver had a few earrings in his ear and was bouncing to the beat of his raucous music. Rabbi Krohn immediately felt a sense of pride, thinking about the glaring differences between himself and the other fellow. But then he recalled Rabbi Pam’s story. A Jew shouldn’t take pride in the fact that he is more dignified and noble than such an indecorous individual. There is simply no comparison. A Jew’s barometer should be other Torah Jews and great leaders.

Every morning a Jew begins his prayers with the Morning Blessings. Included in those blessings are the ‘Blessings of the Torah’. The first of the three blessings reads, “ברוך אתה ה'... אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו לעסוק בדברי תורה Blessed are you G-d… Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos and has commanded us to busy ourselves with the words of Torah.”
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explained that the vernacular “אשר קדשנו במצותיו - Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos” often used for blessings, is reserved for mitzvos that contain a physical act. The ‘sanctification’ mentioned in the blessing refers to the sanctification of the physical body. Despite the fact that the body emanates, and ultimately returns to, the earth, since during its lifetime it houses a holy soul, it becomes sanctified and elevated.
Even after the soul departs from the body, the Chevra Kaddisha (burial society) treats the physical frame with deference and dignity. The corporeal body of Jew becomes perpetually holy because it contains a holy soul.
It is for this reason that no blessing is recited on mitzvos that are performed primarily in one’s mind. For example, we do not recite a blessing, “אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו לקרות קריאת שמע - Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos and has commanded us to read the Shema,” because the most important aspect of reciting Shema is the concentration one has while reciting the words[2]. The same is true regarding prayer. No blessing is recited prior to beginning to pray because the main aspect of prayer is accomplished in the mind and heart.
The mitzvah of Torah study however, does engender this form of blessing because an essential component of Torah study is verbalizing the words and teaching them to others. This is clearly expressed in the subsequent blessing, in which we pray that G-d make the Torah sweet, “in our mouths and in the mouths of Your people, Yisroel.” While it is essential that one understand what he is learning, it is equally essential that he verbalize the words. Being ‘busy’ with the words of Torah entails that we discuss it constantly.
In addition, the mishnah[3] lists forty-eight prerequisites for Torah study, many of which involve some measure of physical depravation, e.g. minimizing sleep, chatter, pleasure, business dealings, etc. It is often physically draining to apply one’s self to Torah study, especially early in the morning or after a long day’s work. Therefore, although Torah study is a spiritual experience, it is unquestionably also a physical endeavor and the words, “אשר קדשנו במצותיו" are appropriate for the blessing recited prior to Torah study.

When Klal Yisroel arrived at Sinai they began to ready themselves for the seminal event of accepting the Torah. On the second day of Sivan[4]  G-d pledged to the nation, “And now if you will hearken to My Voice and you will guard My Covenant, and you will be for Me a Treasure from among the nations for the whole earth is Mine. And you will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a Goy Kadosh (a Holy Nation)…”[5]
What is the meaning of “Goy Kadosh”? What is the meaning of the term “Goy”, and how does a “Goy” differ from a “Goy Kadosh”?
Rabbi Shalom Ziskind z’l[6] explained that, contrary to popular belief, the title “goy” - which literally means “nation” - is not a pejorative. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the word “goy” is related to the word “g’viyah” which means ‘the physical body’[7].
A human being is composed of two diametric factions that are constantly at odds, his celestial soul and his corporeal body. The fact that a human being lives on this earth is indicative of the fact that he is primarily a physical being. Although he possesses a Divine Spark, he is driven and governed by his physical needs, and they dictate how he lives his life.
A Jew however, must view himself in a different light. It is true that he is living in a corporeal world replete with material temptations and pleasures, but he has a mission. A Jew lives with an ulterior purpose, i.e. to promulgate G-d’s Word and to sanctify his own soul. While it is undeniable that even a Jew lives his life in a physically-dominated world[8], a Jew views the entire physical world as a means to achieve a higher purpose. Thus a Jew is not merely a “goy” but he is a “goy kadosh”, a physical entity, albeit driven by holiness and the desire to connect with his innate divinity.     
This idea is expressed in the תניא, where he writes that one must strive to ensure that his moach (brain, rationale) dominates his lev (heart, emotions), and not vice versa. That is the defining factor of a Jew who is a member of goy kadosh – a physical being who pines for holiness.
With regard to holiness, G-d is described as קדוש קדוש קדוש"Holy! Holy! Holy”. The term ‘holy’ is used three times - not to denote holier, more saintly, or more sanctimonious. Instead “kadosh” signifies that G-d is different. He is in a category all by Himself. We do not say that G-d is greater than an angel, or that G-d is greater than the greatest of human beings. That would be like saying an elephant is greater than the color green. There is no comparison because they are entirely different entities. That standard of separation and uniqueness is what G-d wants the Jewish People to emulate when He commands us to be a unique entity as a “goy kadosh”. G-d expects of us on one hand, to be a “goy”, physical being, and yet in the same breath, He demands us to be “kadosh”. Even in our physicality, we, like G-d, are completely different than anything else in the world.
At times, the distinction between a goy and goy kadosh can be subtle and imperceptible to the untrained eye. Although there surely are myriad blatant differences, the core differences are internal and hidden from view. A member of goy kadosh has a drastically different mindset which leads to a difference in purpose.
At the conclusion of the Torah’s discussion about the differences between kosher and non-kosher animals, the Torah summarizes by saying, “To separate between the impure and the pure, and between the animal which is edible and the animal which is not edible”.[9]
Rashi comments, “Did the verse need to differentiate for us between a donkey and the ox? Isn’t it already explicit? Rather, this verse is coming to differentiate between what would be impure to us and what would be pure. That is, between [an animal] whose wind-pipe has been cut through half way, making it invalid, and who had the greater part cut through, making it kosher and pure.”
There is a very thin line[10] that separates pure from impure, a hairsbreadth difference between a windpipe sufficiently cut or not. A miniscule point can determine whether something is permitted or not. It is not between ox and donkey that we need to differentiate, but within the ox itself!
Similarly, it is not between man and beast that we need to differentiate because those differences are fairly obvious. It is the differences between goy and goy kadosh that we need to accentuate. 

The Ponovezher Rav once asked the following question: In Tehillim King David prays that G-d spare him from the heathen nations who are compared to raging waters. “שלח ידך ממרום פצני והצילני ממים רבים מיד בני נכר - Stretch out your hands from above; snatch me, and rescue me from raging waters and from foreigner’s hands.”[11] In Ovadiah the Jewish People are compared to fire. “The house of Yaakov shall be a fire, and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle them, and consume them; and there shall not be any remains of the house of Esau; for G-d has spoken.”[12]
In the normal course of events, water extinguishes fire. Is it possible that the Scriptures offer an analogy which implies that the nations, which are compared to water, can destroy and extinguish us, who are compared to fire?
The Ponevezher Rav answered that water extinguishes fire only if there is nothing separating them. However, if there is a separation between the fire and the water, such as a pot of water atop a flame, then, not only will the water not overcome the fire, but the fire will heat the water.
When Klal Yisroel forgets its uniqueness and tries to mingle with the “goyim”, then the goyim can overpower and extinguish us, G-d forbid. But when we maintain our identity and remain steadfast to our mission, we raise the entire world up with us.  

When all is said and done, it is our unyielding devotion to Torah as well as our resolute and uncompromising commitment to hold its banner aloft that has preserved us as a Nation. The goy kadosh has withstood all the tempests that have sought to ravage it until now, and will continue to do so for all of eternity. “וחיי עולם נטע בתוכנו - And eternal life He has planted within us[13].”

“Who has sanctified us with… the words of Torah”
“A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation”

[1] this was during the pre E-Z pass era
[2] If one does not know the meaning of the first verse of Shema when he recites it, he has not fulfilled his obligation.
[3] Avos 6:6
[4] The Torah was given on the seventh day of Sivan
[5] Shemos 19:5
[6] in his beautiful book, “Surviving Galus” (exile)
[7] For example, at the conclusion of the Adon Olam prayer it says, “ועם רוחי גויתי – And with my spirit, my body”
[8] In the words of a Rebbe of mine, “In this world the body has home-court advantage”
[9] Vayikra 11:47
[10] At times it is literally a thin line
[11] 144:7
[12] 1:18
[13] From the Uva L’tzion prayer recited each morning


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

לז''ן רחל בת יונה, וחיה בת דוד  ע'ה


“These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe on the day G-d spoke with Moshe at Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aharon…”
On this verse Rashi comments, “It mentions only the sons of Aharon yet they are called ‘offspring of Moshe’, because he taught them Torah. It teaches us that whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah, Scripture views him as if he had fathered him[1].”
                   The aforementioned quote is one of the most well-known and oft-quoted in the world of chinuch (education). The idea that devoted teachers of Torah take on a certain dimension of fatherhood vis-à-vis their students is extremely fundamental and profound.
The commentators offer many beautiful ideas to elucidate this concept[2]. I quote it as an introduction that segues into the following thoughts.
          The following are my personal notes from the address given by Harav Aharon Feldman shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, at the Torah Umesorah Convention, Shabbos Kodesh Behar-Bechukosai 5769, prior to Kabbolas Shabbos. I have sought to retain the flavor of the Rosh Yeshiva’s delivery and so it is written in first-person dialect.
We have come here to improve ourselves and become better mechanchim (educators). In order to do so we need to understand what we are working on. What are our guiding principles? What character traits must we develop within ourselves in order to have a greater effect on our students?
The well-known gemara[3] states - " אם דומה הרב למלאך ה' צבאות יבקש תורה מפיהו ואם לאו אל יבקש תורה מפיהו". – One should only study Torah from a teacher who is analogous to an angel of G-d.
The simple understanding of this injunction is that a student must view his teacher as being on a very lofty level and have a sense of awe and admiration for him so that he will be able and willing to accept his teachings.
The Hafla’ah in his introduction offers an alternative explanation. He explains that an angel has no self-interest when performing its duties. Its objective and intent is solely to fulfill the Will of its Creator. In a similar vein, a teacher of Torah must view teaching as his mission, without ulterior motives.
A Rebbe once commented that he loves teaching because through the give-and-take of the lessons with his students novel ideas and interpretations always emerge. There is a great deal of truth in that statement, as our Sages state, “And from my students (I have learned) more than all of them (i.e. my teachers or peers).” However, that is a side benefit; the essential focus of chinuch must only be in order to educate students and help them grow.
It is for this reason that the Torah states, “ושננתם לבניך- And you shall teach them (the words of the Torah) to your sons”, and not, “לתלמידיך – to your students”. Chazal explain, "בניך"-אלו תלמידיך – “Your sons” refers to your students.” The reason why the verse refers to students as sons is to impress upon every teacher that their approach to education must be in the same vein as a father raises his son. A father does not educate his son out of self-interest, but out of an altruistic desire that his son become a good Jew and a productive member of Klal Yisroel. So too a teacher must educate his/her students without self-interest or ulterior motives.

Rabbi Yitzchok Ruderman zt’l related that on one occasion the Altar of Slobodka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, was teaching Torah to a group of students. This was at the beginning of bain hazmanim (“vacation”) and just then the Altar’s son, Rabbi Lazer Yudel, arrived home from the Mirrer Yeshiva where he was studying. The Altar continued his lecture and did not immediately stop to greet his son. Afterwards his Rebbitzin was upset. She asked the Altar why he couldn’t interrupt his teaching for a moment to at least greet his son who had been away for a prolonged period. The Altar replied, “And these (students) are not also my sons?!”

How does a teacher reach such a level that he truly views his students as sons?
The Tosefta[4] discusses why of all the tribes, the Jewish monarchy descended from Yehuda? Tosefta proceeds to offer a few reasons, and subsequently refutes the first three, until it concludes with the fourth reason.
The four reasons offered are: Because he was willing to admit and fess up to his involvement with his daughter-in-law Tamar, because he saved Yosef from being killed when he suggested to his brothers that they sell Yosef as a slave, because of his willingness to become a slave in Binyamin’s stead when Binyamin was accused of espionage by the Egyptian viceroy (Yosef), and because he sanctified the Name of G-d[5].
It is apparent from the Tosefta that there are four requisite traits that a monarch must possess.[6]A monarch must be able to admit to the truth even when it is humiliating to do so, he must care and worry for the welfare of others, he must possess a deep sense of inner humility, and he must live his life in a manner that brings constant sanctification and glory to the Name of G-d.
All four of these traits involve a sense of  - התבטלותself-abnegation and self-renunciation. Being able to admit to wrongdoing requires mental/psychological abnegation; helping others requires a measure of self-abnegation in order to focus on the other person’s needs; humility requires abnegation and domination over one’s negative characteristics; and sanctifying G-d’s Name requires abnegation over all of one’s personal interests and desires.
A rebbe/teacher who aspires to become “K’malach Hashem – like an angel of G-d” must develop within himself these qualities. He must be ready to accept responsibility and admit to his mistakes, he must care deeply for the welfare and growth of his students, he must be humble (i.e. he can’t be too demanding of his own honor), and he must be willing to make sacrifices for the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos. 

There is an incredible story that took place in Yerushalayim about thirty-five years ago, that demonstrates the concept of a rebbe being “K’malach Hashem”:
There was a young man who had learned and taught in various yeshivos and developed into a master educator. He had only informal training but he was a natural educator with an uncanny ability to teach and understand students. He founded a cheder (school) in Yerushalayim in which he incorporated the best techniques and approaches of the ‘old system’, and added many innovations that he learned from successful teachers in other institutions. He trained a cadre of teachers according to all of his ideas and methods and he ran the school in the most optimal manner possible. The school quickly gained a reputation as a reputable and wonderful institution.
There was a teacher in the school who had undergone all of the training and had proven to be an outstanding teacher. The Principal promoted that teacher to become his Vice Principal. The Vice Principal was very jealous of his supervisor and he began a terrible campaign to malign the Principal and to advocate against him. He blamed every problem and issue that surfaced on the Principal’s poor leadership skills and incompetence.
The Vice Principal kept working to garner more backing, until one morning the Principal walked into his office to find the Vice Principal sitting in his chair in his office. Ten years of ceaseless blood, toil, and sweat was now being usurped by someone he himself had trained and built up. Incredibly, the Principal turned around and went home! 
I was a parent in the school and, along with a group of other parents, was very upset by the egregious injustice that had been committed. We convened and decided that we were going to protest. We knew that we could rally enough support to push the Vice Principal out. Prior to doing so we went to the Principal to tell him about our intentions and of our unyielding support for him. He immediately asked us to cease and desist. He explained, “My job is to be mechanech children in Torah and Yiras Shamayim (Fear of Heaven). If there is a situation of disharmony and dispute amongst the staff of the school that objective will be impossible to accomplish. Children exposed to virulent disagreement will be damaged for the rest of their lives because of the distrust fostered amongst the staff.” When we asked him about his job he replied, “It is better to be a taxi driver than to distort young minds.”
That Principal was a master educator who understood that there is nothing more damaging for a child’s education than to be exposed to dispute. It is the polar opposite of “K’malach Hashem”.
That Principal never came back to the school. Only we, the few parents who wanted to help him, even knew the true story about what had occurred. He founded another school, and today is around eighty years old and still spreading and teaching Torah in Yerushalayim.
The Vice Principal on the other hand, was thrown out of the school around ten years later because of misappropriated funds. Seven years later he died at a relatively young age. [I presume he did teshuva.]
This incredible story demonstrates how a mechanech was able to embody the four essential traits necessary for an educator – complete self-abnegation on all levels, and all for the sake of the education and growth of his disciples. 

Educational techniques, classroom management, and all the other various procedures and methods are all helpful and important, but they are not the defining and essential factors for chinuch. Having letters before and after one’s name is very impressive, but all the techniques in the world are only tools, and with tools alone one doesn’t become an effective teacher.
It is analogous to an individual who has a stethoscope. If he has the skills and knowledge necessary to practice medicine, the stethoscope can help him do his job. However it is only a tool and the stethoscope alone will not make him a doctor.
They don’t teach how to become K’malach Hashem in University; in fact they teach the opposite!
May we all merit reaching these great levels, and through them to הרמת קרן התורה throughout the world!

[1] Sanhedrin 19b
[2] Malbim writes that the sons of Aharon are attributed to Moshe because Moshe prayed on their behalf. In fact it was in the merit of Moshe’s prayers that Elazar and Isamar, the latter two sons of Aharon, did not die as did their older brothers, Nadav and Avihu. This is itself a powerful lesson: It is incumbent on all teachers to pray for Divine assistance and particularly for the growth of their students.  
[3] Chagiga 16b
[4] Berachos 4:16
[5] This was when the Jews were stationed at the foot of the Sea of the Reeds with the Egyptians in fierce pursuit. It was the tribe of Yehuda who plunged into the sea first
[6] Although the Tosefta refutes the first three reasons, from the fact that they were offered as potential reasons it is clear that they are integral character traits that every king must possess.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


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


The following thought is excerpted from a lecture given by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau shlita, at St Annes College, on May 7, 2006:

“There was once a conference held with Professor Toynbee[1], of Oxford, and Rabbi Yaakov Herzog[2]. At the conference, Professor Toynbee was arguing that Eretz Yisroel was not a state, but a Jewish sect of people with no real linkage in past statehood, an amalgam of religious people who did not deserve the name of a state. Yaakov Herzog responded to these challenges with a witty allegorical story:
““Imagine that you are on the runway of a Greek airport, watching the disembarking passengers. Out of the plane steps an old man, Socrates. Socrates starts speaking ancient Greek, but nobody understands him because the language of modern Greece is very different. Then Socrates asks to see the Temple of Zeus, but it is no longer there because the country is Christian. Only archaeology can link this small NATO country to the empire it once was.
“The same goes for Italy. Imagine Julius Caesar stepping off a plane in Rome. No temple of Jupiter, but the Pope is now supreme. Nobody speaks ancient Latin anymore, and this Rome bears no resemblance to the Rome of Caesar.
“Now let us go to Ben Gurion Airport. An attendant sees an old man step off a plane. The old man says “Shalom Aleichem.” The attendant answers “Aleichem Shalom” in the same language. The old man says, “Hi, I’m Moshe ben Amram.” The attendant says, “Hello, my name is Moshe also. I was born in Egypt.” Moshe ben Amram says, “So was I. Oh no, I have forgotten to put my Tefillin on. It’s an ancient custom dating back three thousand years…”
““No problem” says the attendant, “I have my Tefillin in the car.” Moshe is astounded. This ancient custom has survived thousands of years, as has the language, the culture and the traditions of the people he sees before him today.”
“Herzog concluded, “If we are not a nation, then what is a nation? Who else preserves it like the Jewish people? How is it that we are not justified in being a state? We are not just a state, we are The Jewish State.””

          The verses of the tochacha (rebuke) in Parshas Bechukosai[3] forebode the horrific and terrifying punishments that would befall Klal Yisroel if they would not adequately adhere to the Torah and mitzvos. It is frightening to note how we have seen the fulfillment of these curses throughout our years of persecution in exile.
          Towards the conclusion of the tochacha the Torah states, “Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their forefathers, for the treachery with which they betrayed me, and also for having behaved towards me with happenstance. I, too, will behave towards them with happenstance and I will bring them into the land of their enemies – perhaps then their unfeeling heart will be humbled and then they will gain appeasement for their sin.”[4]
The commentators question why this final punishment will befall the nation after they have confessed. If they expressed their indignity and regret for their iniquities, why would G-d react by relating to them with ‘happenstance’ and casualness?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explained that throughout the tochacha the Torah emphasizes that the greatest sin of all is the fact that their service and attitude to G-d was apathetic and ‘with happenstance’. Their deficient observance of mitzvos and Torah study was not as tragic and deleterious as the fact that ‘their hearts were not in it.’ They approached their duties with triteness, and as a burden that needed to be done. Therefore their service was devoid of meaning. Most notably they lacked a relationship with G-d as it were, and their observance could not create an internal metamorphosis within them.
The greatest danger was that Klal Yisroel did not recognize this. “Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their forefathers, for the treachery with which they betrayed me, and also for having behaved towards me with happenstance.” True they will confess all of their sins, but their overriding sin, i.e. the lack of relationship and full commitment, they will only confess as an aside, “and also for having behaved towards me with happenstance”. The ‘and also’ is indicative of the fact that the nation failed to realize that their happenstance attitude was their core failing. The punishment too is measure for measure; G-d too, will only relate to Klal Yisroel with happenstance.

The Shulchan Aruch[5] rules that a worker hired to perform a job, recites an abridged version of Grace after Meals so that he does not take time away from the job he is being paid to perform. To dispel the question that perhaps he should recite the blessing while doing his work, the Shulchan Aruch adds that it is forbidden to perform any work while one is reciting a blessing.
The Taz explains the reason why one may not perform even a perfunctory activity while reciting a blessing: “For this demonstrates that he is performing the mitzvah without concentration, but with haphazardness and casualness, and this was included in the statement in our Torah, “And if you will go with Me with happenstance”. The words, ‘go with Me’ refers to performance of mitzvos. Even though one is performing the mitzvah, it is being done with haphazardness and casualness.”
It is not sufficient to go through the motions. Rather, each mitzvah we perform, the Torah we learn, and the blessings we recite, must help us build a personal connection with our Creator. The extent of this idea can be understood from this law: It is better for a worker to recite an abridged prayer than to recite the entire prayer without full concentration.   

I would like to illustrate this idea with a personal anecdote that happened recently: For the last few weeks I was experiencing some vexing computer issues with the desktop in my Yeshiva office. Apparently a virus had infiltrated the hard-drive and was severely affecting the computer. The problem became progressively worse until one morning I could not get into my system at all.          
A friend suggested that I wipe out the entire hard-drive and then reinstall Windows and all the other programs. This friend was somehow able to retrieve my files despite the fact that he could not log on. Then he proceeded to delete the hard-drive.
The process of reinstalling windows, and finding the necessary drivers for various programs, was arduous and time consuming. But when everything was installed I had a brand new computer and I was convinced that my computer woes were over.
My naiveté came to an end when a few days later a little box popped up on the bottom of computer which read, “You have 26 days left to activate your computer. Click here to activate now.” No sweat, I thought. I had the 25-character-activation-key printed on a sticker on the side of the computer and it would just take a few minutes to type in. To my utter chagrin however, the computer refused to activate. After verifying that my code was valid, Microsoft claimed that the flaw was with IBM‘s software. IBM in turn insisted that the problem lay with Microsoft and that they could not help me.   
When a friend tried utilizing another program to bypass the activation, the hard-drive was inadvertently wiped out again, bringing me back to square one. After reinstalling everything again the problem returned, only I now had an additional 29 days.
 Another friend insisted that he had a way of programming the computer so that it could fool the computer into thinking it was activated. Amazingly it worked (and you thought computers were so smart). However, after the 29 days were up I found out that although the computer said it was activated, it really wasn’t.
Suffice it to say that by that point I was exasperated and brought the computer to a technician. He too couldn’t rectify the problem, but he made me an offer – he could wipe out the hard drive and reinstall it…..
So now I am sitting at my computer, with its newly installed (for the third time!) hard-drive, hoping that this time it really lasts.
We are trained to believe that everything in life happens for a reason. Aside from the obvious lesson (bring it to the technician the first time), I contemplated what deeper message could be gleaned from the whole episode. The following are my thoughts:
The concept of forgiveness and atonement are integral to Judaism. The idea that one can always return and make amends is central to the spiritual growth cycle of man. The first ten days of each new year are the Ten days of Penitence, that climax with Yom Kippur, and the new year presents an opportunity to begin anew with a fresh start. In addition, in our prayers recited thrice daily we ask for forgiveness and constantly beg for atonement.  However, even after one has been granted forgiveness and his slate has been wiped clean, he has not completed his task. If one does not “activate”, by registering himself in the celestial database, as it were, his newfound spirituality will not last. The problems of the past will quickly resurface and he will end up right where he started.
Activation requires sacrifice and effort. Our database includes our forbearers and predecessors throughout time. If we want to register ourselves in that database we have to be prepared to follow the laborious protocol it entails.

The parshios of Behar and Bechukosai are often read together, shortly prior to Shavuos. One of the themes that traverses both parshios is the idea of commitment. Parshas Behar discusses the laws of shemittah, the sabbatical year. Only one who is truly committed to G-d and the Torah will allow his field to remain fallow for an entire year. In addition it discusses the laws of inheritance and possession of land, which also contains the idea of permanence and commitment to upkeep one’s inherited portion of Eretz Yisroel.
Parshas Bechukosai includes the frightening tochacha that Klal Yisroel suffers when our relationship with G-d is haphazard and lacking commitment. It is not enough to do what we have to do. We also have to become! If we serve G-d without emotion we have failed to register ourselves. That lack of feeling and aloofness towards Torah and mitzvah observance is the primary cause for retribution. G-d loves us too much to allow us to slip out of our eternal relationship with Him.
This vital idea precedes the holiday of Shavuos because it contains one of the most important prerequisites for accepting the Torah. One cannot be a proper Torah Jew with half a heart.  It entails complete submergence and servility to the yoke of Torah. Just as Klal Yisroel emphatically proclaimed, “ נעשה ונשמע – We will do and we will hear”, at the time of the giving of the Torah, so must we make the same mental declaration each year on Shavuos. Activation/registration is indeed required!

“And if you will go with Me with happenstance “
“I, too, will behave towards them with happenstance”

[1] Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) was an important British historian, who through his controversial theory on civilizations found a place in Israeli and Jewish awareness as an "anti-Semite." According to his theory, civilizations, like human beings, have life cycles that are marked by rises and falls. But the story of the Jewish people, who were determined to survive 2,000 years in the Diaspora only to rise again as a modern nation, did not suit his theory. Thus Toynbee described the Jews as a historic "fossil" - not dead, true, but also not really alive.
When he published his theory at the beginning of the 1960s, he was invited to a debate. The person who invited him was Dr. Yaakov Herzog, at the time Israel's ambassador to Canada, son of the former chief rabbi Yitzhak Herzog and the younger brother of Chaim Herzog, a brilliant scholar and diplomat. Many of Foreign Ministry officials were wary of this debate, which was reminiscent of the mythological word battles in the Middle Ages between Jews and Christians. In the end, however, all those who were present at the debate that took place in January 1961 in Montreal were convinced that Herzog had won.
Michael Bar-Zohar, who was Herzog's biographer, related that Pnina Herzog, the ambassador's wife, who sat next to Toynbee's wife, heard her saying to her husband right: "I told you not to take part in this debate!" 
In the wake of that failure, Toynbee indeed moderated the sharpness of his statements about the Jews. 
[2] A rabbi, erudite scholar, and gifted diplomat, Yaacov Herzog served as a close adviser to four Israeli prime ministers, was ambassador to Canada and served briefly as the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. His brother, Chaim Herzog, served as the sixth president of the state of Israel.
[3] and repeated with variation in parshas Ki Savo
[4] 26:40-41
[5] Ohr HaChaim 191:1, 3