Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SIMCHAS TORAH 5778

STAM TORAH
SIMCHAS TORAH 5778
UNINHIBITED JOY

One year on Simchas Torah, the Chelkas Yaakov[1] noticed one of the members of his shul dancing with intense fervor and devotion. The man was not well versed in Torah, and didn’t learn much throughout the year. For some time, the Chelkas Yaakov watched in fascination as the man danced with the enthusiasm of a seasoned scholar, but after a while his curiosity got the better of him. He approached the man and politely asked him why he was dancing so passionately.
 The man replied, “Rabbi, a short time ago, on Yom Kippur I read the confession. One of the numerous sins delineated was that of accepting a bribe[2]. I am not a judge nor a Rabbi; when would I have the opportunity to accept a bribe? It seems clear that this is a communal confession, and I am confessing for the sin of a Rabbi who may have accepted a bribe. If I confess for the Rabbi’s sins, should I not be able to dance for the Rabbi’s Torah?”
With that the man walked back to the circle and resumed his fervent dancing. The Chelkas Yaakov admitted that it was a good rationale.

The month of Tishrei contains more holidays than any other month on the Jewish calendar. Even after the seven days of Succos have concluded, the final climactic day of Shemini Atzeres is dedicated to joy and celebration. Chazal compare the day’s joy to a king who invited his family to celebrate with him for some time. When the celebration was about to end, the king requested that they remain for one more day.
So too, G-d says to us, as it were, “We have spent so much time together throughout the last few weeks of Rosh Hashnah, Yom Kippur and Succos. קשה עלי פרידתכם  – Your separation is difficult for me. Please stay one more day”. Shemini Atzeres is therefore an added day, an opportunity to spend the day simply enjoying an intimate connection with G-d, and reflecting all that we have accomplished throughout the previous weeks.[3]
The Torah writes “Shivas yomim tochog laHashem Elokecha... V’hayisa ach samayach - For seven days you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d... and you shall only rejoice.”[4] The Gemara[5] explains that this verse is teaching us that there is a mitzvah of joy on the eighth day too (e.g. Shnmini Atzeres).
Generally, the word “Ach - onlyusually implies an exclusion, i.e. only this and not that. Why, in regard to Shemini Atzeres, does the verse teach us an inclusion, i.e. that the joy of the holiday applies to Shemini Atzeres as well, utilizing a word that generally implies an exclusion?
 The Gra explains that for the duration of Succos we have three major mitzvos to fulfill: Living in the succah, shaking the Four Species, and to be in a state of constant joy. On Shemini Atzeres there is no longer a mitzvah to sit in the succah[6] or shake the Four Species, we are left with only the mitzvah of being in a state of joy. Thus, the word “ach” indeed is exclusive, in that it excludes the other mitzvos of Succos. What remains is the mitzvah of being joyous, the only mitzvah that still applies to Shemini Atzeres as well.
The Gra’s explanation still does not adequately answer our questions. If the word ‘ach’ generally connotes a clear exclusion, why here does the gemara say it includes the mitzvah of joy on Shemini Atzeres? How does the Gra understand that the removing the other two mitzvos of Succos teaches us that there is a special mitzvah of joy on Shmini Atzeres?
The Gemara[7] states a general rule: We do not perform many mitzvos together. Tosafos[8] explains that each mitzvah requires complete devotion and concentration. If one performs multiple mitzvos simultaneously, he will be unable to give each mitzvah the proper focus.
On Succos however, we are instructed to perform many mitzvos at the same time. The inevitable result is that because we are so focused on the mitzva of succah and the Four Species, we are unable to devote our full concentration to the mitzvah of joy.[9]
On Shmini Atzeres when two of the mitzvos are no longer applicable, a person’s full attention is then directed towards the mitzvah of being in a state of joy. Therefore, the sole focus of the day is to rejoice in the knowledge that he is a vital part of the Chosen Nation, worthy of keeping G-d’s Torah and mitzvos.

An integral component of that joy is devoted to our celebration upon the completion of our annual cycle of Torah reading[10]. Our celebration on Simchas Torah seems peculiar: If Simchas Torah is indeed a celebration for our completion of the Torah, why don’t we learn the whole day, thereby proving our dedication and joy in Torah?
Rabbi Moshe Jacobson zt’l[11] explained that everyone has an equal share in the joy of Simchas Torah. Although not everyone is able to learn in depth, everyone can clutch the Torah tightly, and hold it close to his heart.
Simchas Torah is not merely a celebration for the study of Torah, but also for the fact that we are the Torah nation. Our uniqueness stems completely from our connection to Torah, and for that alone we rejoice. Therefore, even those who may not have a tremendous portion of Torah learning can rejoice with their connection to Torah living.
During the final year of his life, the Chofetz Chaim was bedridden. On Simchas Torah morning he informed his family that he wished to be transported to shul so that he could dance with the Torah. When the Chofetz Chaim entered the shul, the students who had been dancing, gathered around their revered Rebbe and danced with all their strength.
His beloved student, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman zt’l began to dance in front of the Chofetz Chaim alone, with unparalleled fervor and enthusiasm. The Chofetz Chaim looked up from his coat and smiled. Then he gathered every ounce of energy, and, after not standing for weeks, stood up to weakly to dance with Rabbi Elchonon.
The joy of Simchas Torah is not something to be taken lightly. Our dancing represents our love and dedication to G-d. That joy is not limited to proficient scholars. Every Jew rejoices for his personal connection to Torah, and the uninhibited joy he feels in being a member of the Chosen Nation.

“For seven days you shall rejoice before Hashem”
“And you shall only rejoice”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] Rav Mordechai Yaakov Breish of Zurich, the Chelkas Yaakov (1895-1976). Following a life-threatening incident with the Nazis, who had just come to power, Rav Mordechai Yaakov and his wife decided to escape Germany. After a brief time in Lance, France, they settled in Zurich, Switzerland, where he nurtured the Jewish community for 40 years. In 1967, he established the Kollel Le’horaah Chelkas Yaakov in Bnai Brak.
[2]Al chayt shechatanu lifanecha b’chapas shochad’
[3] see Rashi, Vayikra 23:36
[4] Devorim 16:15
[5] Succah 48a
[6] Outside of Eretz Yisroel we sit in the succah on Shemini Atzeres because of ‘Sefaykah d’yoma – the doubt of the days’.
[7] Sotah 8a
[8] Moed Kattan 5b
[9] Although, joy is the inevitable result of performing the other mitzvos properly, it becomes the result, and not the sole focus.
[10] Outside Eretz Yisroel we observe Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah on separate days. However, they are inextricably bound.
[11] Chief Rabbi of Copenhagen Denmark

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

SUCCOS 5778

STAM TORAH
SUCCOS 5778
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
  
   Once upon a time, the world existed without Waze and GPS systems. People had to rely on finding out driving directions before they left on their destination. If they didn’t they risked getting lost. In that archaic world (from not-too-long-ago), the first part of the following scenario was quite common[1]:
   Moshe and his wife, Sara, were driving down an empty highway somewhere in upstate New York. It was obvious that they were quite lost. Sara was exasperated, “Didn’t I tell you that you should ask my father for directions before we left? Anyway, none of this would have happened if you agreed to pull over and ask a gas station attendant where to go. Why is it so hard for you to ask directions?” Moshe replied sharply, “I didn’t need to ask for directions then, because, at that point, I knew where I was going. But because you were yelling at me I became confused and went the wrong way.” Sara’s eyes widened angrily, “Oh, so now it’s my fault!!!”
   On and on they argued for thirty-five miles of open highway. They finally turned off the highway to ask for directions. When they pulled up to a red light, Sara turned to Moshe and said, “Maybe now would be a good time to pull over and learn that really difficult daf of gemara you were struggling with last night.” Moshe was beside himself, “Here on the side of the road in some lost town? That has got to be the wildest suggestion ever! How do you expect me to concentrate?”
  
The Gemara[2] cites a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer regarding what the succah commemorates. Rabbi Eliezer opined that the succah commemorates the Divine Clouds of Glory that enwrapped Klal Yisroel in the desert, smoothing the path in front of them, and protecting them for the elements in the desert. Rabbi Akiva countered that the succah commemorates the huts that the Jewish Nation constructed and dwelled in while traveling through the desert.
Both opinions are perplexing. Throughout the forty years that the Jews sojourned through the desert, they were privy to myriads of miracles. Manna fell from the sky each morning, water flowed from a rock, and their clothing grew with them and never wore out. According to Rabbi Eliezer, why do we not also celebrate the other miracles that were omnipresent in the desert?
The opinion of Rabbi Akiva is even more enigmatic. Why should we celebrate a seven-day holiday in commemoration of the huts that the Jews dwelled in while they were in the desert? What connection do those huts have with us and why should remember them in such a grandiose fashion?[3]
As I write these words, I am currently sitting in Copenhagen Airport in Copenhagen, Denmark waiting for a friend who is meeting me here[4]. About two weeks ago, that friend and former classmate[5] invited me to spend Succos with him in a yeshiva for Russian students in Copenhagen. It took a few minutes before he convinced me that he was being serious. After much planning, here I am in Copenhagen.
Truth be told, when the idea of traveling to Copenhagen for Succos was first mentioned to me, I had to look at a map to locate the country. It took me some time to locate Denmark above Germany. That was basically the extent of my knowledge about the country when I boarded the plane a few hours ago. Now, as I sit here in the airport, donned in my yeshiva garb, I feel quite lost. It’s one thing when you are lost in a town or state. But, at this moment, I feel lost in the world!
When Klal Yisroel marched forth from Egypt, they entered an arid and desolate wilderness. After hearing about all the miracles of the exodus, and knowing that the Jewish nation was heading towards the Promised Land, the nations of the world were frightened and maintained their distance, surely not offering any support or assistance. The hapless nation was truly on its own!
In a similar vein, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’’l, the Satmar Rebbe, related, that after the Concentration Camp inmates were liberated at the conclusion of World War II, they were under the impression that after all they had suffered the world would rush to their aid. To their shock and chagrin, they were left to wander aimlessly, many languishing in squalid Displaced Person camp for many months before they were able to move on to begin a new life.  
When one doesn’t know where he is or where he is going, he is inevitably overcome with anxiety. It is hard for him to contemplate his next move, because he feels so alone and befuddled.
For a nation that had emerged from exile with nary any provisions or protection, it seemed that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish much until they arrived at their destination. However, it was in the desert that they achieved their greatest distinction - becoming the Chosen People. They accepted the Torah at Sinai, along with all its mitzvos and laws.
The greatness of those huts was not the flimsy building itself. Rather, it was the fact that they were able to feel settled and ‘at home’ in those makeshift huts. The fact that they felt so settled that they were able to achieve sufficient peace of mind to accept the Torah, despite the fact that they were a nomadic nation without provisions in a most dangerous territory, was miraculous.
Many years later, G-d lovingly reflected upon the tremendous faith that Klal Yisroel displayed upon leaving Egypt. “I remember the kindness of your youth; the love of your younger days. When you followed me into the desert, an unsown (undeveloped) land.” G-d repaid their faith by allowing them to feel comfortable and settled in that vast wasteland.

The pasuk explains that we dwell in succos, Because I enabled the Children of Israel to dwell in succos when I took them out of Egypt”[6]. Chidah notes that the pasuk doesn’t state “In succos I enabled them to travel” but “Hoshavti, (I enabled them) to dwell.” The Clouds of Glory were so tangible, that they literally enveloped the nation from all sides. Those who were worthy, were literally able to ‘ride the cloud’ as it carried them across the desert terrain.
Although everything that happened to Klal Yisroel in the desert was miraculous, the other miracles were necessary for the nation’s survival. G-d had to perform those miracles so that the nation didn’t die. The Clouds of Glory however, were provided solely as kindness from G-d. It greatly enhanced their traveling, but they could have survived without them.
The fact that G-d granted them those clouds demonstrated His boundless love for them. It is that love that we celebrate and commemorate on Succos.
After the awesome Days of Judgment have passed, we invoke the memory of the special closeness we attained with G-d in the desert. We rejoice for seven days in our succos, putting ourselves at the mercy of the elements, outside the protection and comfort of our homes.
On Succos, as we sit under the cover of the s’chach, we join with every Torah Jew throughout the world who is doing the same, whether in New York, Eretz Yisroel, South Africa, or Copenhagen. It is a holiday of joy and love, when we can feel at home, even if we are miles away from home.

   “I remember the kindness of your youth”
   “Because I enabled them to dwell in succos”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] I added this introduction this year (2017). Fascinatingly, a mere 17 years ago, when this essay was first written, it was unnecessary.
[2] Succah 11b
[3] The legend is that Martha Washington sewed the socks of the Colonist soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. Should there be an American custom to wear sown up socks on Independence Day?!
[4] This essay was written just prior to Succos 2000 (5760), before I was married.
[5] Rabbi Eli Berkowitz
[6] Vayikra 23:43

Thursday, September 28, 2017

SHABBOS SHUVA/YOM KIPPUR 5778

L’zecher nishmas Alexander ben Nuteh Yitzchok

STAM TORAH
SHABBOS SHUVA/YOM KIPPUR 5778
“TEAR DOWN THIS WALL”

                    The great gaon, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef zt’l, was renown in Lithuanian Vilna as an erudite scholar, versed in all areas of Torah. He held many Rabbinic posts, his most prestigious being the head of the Beis Din in Vilna. At the time Vilna was known as the ‘Yerushalayim of Lithuania’, with no dearth of Torah scholars. Yet, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef stood out as a leader.
                    Among his other accomplishments, Rabbi Yaakov’s speeches during the Yomim Noraim were legendary. He had an uncanny ability to emotionally transform an assemblage to tears, with his fiery and passionate oratory.
                    In 1885, the Jewish congregation in New York sent letters to many of the Torah dignitaries of their time including Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik of Brisk (the Bais Halevi), Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon of Kovna, Rabbi Eliyahu Meisel of Pinsk, and Rabbi Chaim Berlin of Volozhin. In the letters, they requested that the Rabbis suggest someone who could become Chief Rabbi of New York City.
At that time, America was a spiritual wilderness. The post required a charismatic person with a dynamic personality, who was also a Torah scholar with an unyielding personality. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef was chosen.
                    Rabbi Yaakov Yosef arrived in America to an unprecedented welcome. Thousands of people came to greet their new Rabbi and, literally, carried him on their shoulders. However, it didn’t take long before Rabbi Yaakov Yosef realized he was fighting a losing battle. Those who had undertaken the arduous journey from ‘the alter heim’ to ‘the Goldeneh Medina’ did so in pursuit of the American dream. Most didn’t want to be hindered by the shackles of religion.  
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef refused to yield to the pressure and resistance all around him. However, it cost him his health. Although he managed to secure some improvements in kashrus and opening a Yeshiva, most of his herculean efforts proved futile. The man who was once the pride of Vilna felt like he had become the bane of New York. Eventually, he became bedridden.
                    Just prior to Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef announced that he wished to deliver a Shabbos Shuva derasha (lecture). Despite the protestations of his doctors, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef insisted that he could not allow Shabbos Shuva to pass without speaking.
When the time arrived for the d’rasha, the shul was filled well beyond its capacity. People were literally hanging onto the windows. There was an unspoken feeling that this would be his final public lecture. That feeling proved to be correct.
                    The crowd sat in utter silence as Rabbi Yaakov rose to his feet and ascended the pulpit. They watched as he mustered every ounce of his failing strength to pull himself up to the lectern. As he began, his voice resonated throughout the shul, “The Rambam writes in hilchos teshuvah (the laws of repentance)”. The crowd leaned forward to hear what the Rambam says, but then, Rabbi Yaakov became strangely silent. The befuddled crowd watched quizzically as he began again, “The Rambam writes in hilchos teshuvah.” But then again he paused, and again there was a period of silence. He began a third time, and then a fourth time. But he did not get past those opening words.  
                   After a minute of complete silence, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef suddenly let out a painful cry. He grabbed the lectern, raised his frail body up on his toes, and called out in a voice that shook the whole shul: “I have forgotten what the Rambam says! I, who was known to be an expert and versed in all areas of the Torah, have become a broken vessel! Look what happens to a person at the end! You have a living example in front of you. Pay heed to this living rebuke and take advantage while you still have the time and opportunity to do so.”
Then, the great Rabbi Yaakov Yosef broke down and wept. Soon, the whole crowd was crying along with him.    

                   The saga of Yosef and the tribes is of the most tragic in the Torah. The tribulations that Yosef suffered when sold by his brothers and ended up alone in Egypt, is painful to read. However, the decision to sell Yosef was not unanimous. The Torah records that Reuven tried to deter the brothers from killing him by suggesting that they cast him into a nearby pit. Reuven planned to return to the pit after the brothers had left to rescue Yosef and bring him home safely. However, the pasuk[1] relates that when Reuven returned to the pit, he was shocked to discover that it was vacant. When, upon inquiry, he was informed that Yosef had been sold to a group of passing travelers, he rent his garments and mourned.
 The Medrash[2] explains that Reuven was not present when they decided to sell Yosef because he had left to continue his personal efforts of repentance.[3] The Medrash continues that when Reuven began his process of repentance, Hashem said to him, “Never in the history of mankind has a person sinned and repented before me. Because you were the first to repent, I swear that your descendant will be the prophet who will exhort the Jewish people to repent, as well.”
The promise was fulfilled when the prophet Hoshea, a descendant of Reuven, called out to Klal Yisroel: “Shuva Yisroel ad Hashem Elokecha ki kashalta ba’avonecha - Return Yisroel to Hashem, your G-d, for you have stumbled in sin.”[4]
The Gemara[5] records that Adam Harishon sat in sackcloth and fasted for one hundred and thirty years as penitence for having eaten from the forbidden fruit. In addition, the Medrash[6] relates that Kayin repented for murdering his brother, Hevel.
If so, how can the Medrash state that Reuven was the first person to engage in repentance, if Adam and Kayin had previously done so?
Rabbi Betzalel Rudinsky[7] explained that there is a fundamental difference between the motivations for the repentance of Adam and Kayin, versus that of Reuven. Both Adam and Kayin repented after they were chastised and rebuked. Adam had been banished from Gan Eden and had been informed that his sins would affect his descendants for all time. Kayin too was reprimanded by G-d for murdering his brother. It was only after they were admonished for their wrongdoing, that they sought to repent.        
Reuven however, was not immediately chastised after he moved his father’s bed. In fact, the opposite is true. The very pasuk that relates what Reuven did concludes by stating that Yaakov had twelve sons. Rashi explains that the Torah’s intent here is to inform us that all twelve of them were equally righteous. The Torah does so to reiterate that Reuven’s act was not considered a blatant sin.
Still, upon reflection, Reuven was bothered by his own action. Therefore, upon his own initiative he engaged in a self-imposed process of repentance. Reuven’s repentance was not to mitigate a punishment but it was to rebuild and rejuvenate his feeling of closeness to G-d.
The Medrash is teaching us that the highest level of teshuvah is accomplished when one seeks to literally, return to G-d, not merely out of fear of punishment or retribution.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l notes that although many religions believe in G-d and in His Omnipotence, the concept that we can have a binding and intimate relationship with G-d, is uniquely Jewish. The idea that G-d not only listens to our prayers, but that He awaits them and cherishes them, is not espoused by any other religion.[8]
 The Torah views teshuvah as an opportunity for one to reconnect. It is not merely a process where one begs G-d to dispose of his sins, but more profoundly, it is an opportunity to feel revitalized spirituality.
Rav Pinkus relates a parable about a five-year-old boy who accompanied his father to the hustling marketplace one afternoon, to purchase a set of the Four Species for Succos. The boy held his father’s hand as they walked from booth to booth analyzing the various lulavim and esrogim. While the father was analyzing a few esrogim, the son began to wander to the next booth to look at some pretty succah decorations. A moment later, the boy mistakenly thought he saw his father walking away, and he ran to catch up with him. When the boy realized that it was not his father he began to cry out for his father. Meanwhile, when the father turned around he noticed that his son was missing. He began calling his son’s name into the crowd.
After a few minutes of searching, the man walked toward a police officer to ask for assistance in locating his son. Before he had a chance however, his son saw him and excitedly jumped into his arms. At that initial moment, father and son felt extreme love for each other. It was a level of emotion they would not have felt if they had not lost each other. Their momentary disconnection had deepened their subsequent connection.
We are the beloved children of G-d. When we sin, we have not only committed a sin, but we also become spiritually distanced from G-d. When we repent and reignite that bond not only can we again feel close to G-d, but we can reach a level of closeness that would not have been possible to achieve had we never felt the pain of distance. Teshuvah is the conduit that allows us to jump back into G-d’s embrace, as it were.

The pasuk in Amos (3:8) states, “Aryeh sha’ag mi lo yira- A lion has roared; who will not fear?” The commentators note homiletically that the Hebrew word “Aryeh” is an acronym for the four awesome periods and days of repentance and reflection: Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshanah Rabbah. These are times of celestial judgment and should cause us to tremble, as we would when encountering a roaring lion.
Rabbi Shlomo Teitlebaum recalled that he had once gone to the Bronx Zoo and, while walking along the flowered promenade, heard a ferocious roar from a nearby lion. Yet, he wasn’t the least bit frightened. Why? Because the lion was in a strong cage and could not inflict any harm on him.
Rabbi Teitelbaum mused: “I deduced from that that if the “roar” of the holy days of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hoshanah Rabbah do not cause me to become the least bit afraid, it must be because there is a cage - a barrier between me and G-d.” This is why in the concluding prayer on Hoshanah Rabbah we ask, “May it be Your Will… remove the iron partition separating us from you.”[9]

In Elul 5767, the Monsey community was shocked by the brutal discovery that a respected member of our community was selling non-Kosher meat with kosher labels in one of the local kosher markets. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people, who are meticulous to only eat kosher meat, were impacted by the egregious duplicity.
Each Rabbi directed their congregants of what had to be done. Public stations were set up to help people kasher their vessels that had been used to cook the unkosher meat. It included blow-torching and submerging pots and cutlery under boiling water. Handles were removed from pots, grills were scorched, dishwashers were scrubbed, and ovens were cleaned. Aside from the purification of the vessels, the Rabbis of the community scheduled a communal fast as well as a massive communal assembly.
At the assembly, Rabbi Shlomo Breslauer shlita, the Mashgiach of the store from where the meat was sold, explained that until that time, the butcher had an impeccable record, and had been a respected person in the community. No one could have imagined that he was accepting deliveries of unkosher chicken in an unmarked truck during the dead of the night. After unloading the chicken, he would remove the labels, and replace them with kosher labels.
Rabbi Breslauer quoted sources which explained that the innocent consumers who had purchased and eaten the chicken were not halachically liable. Furthermore, the spiritually dangerous and noxious effects that non-Kosher food causes, was also a non-issue, because it had been completely beyond anyone’s control.
Rabbi Breslauer continued, that if that was true, why was there was any need for a public fast or a mass gathering.
He answered that the mere fact that such a terrible event had occurred in our community, was indicative of the fact that G-d was dissatisfied with our observance. It is for that sense of rejection that we must fast and gather en masse.

Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman made the following observation:
“Think about the busiest man in the world. He has relentless meetings, paperwork, deadlines, and pressures. Time is money and every moment is dedicated to its pursuit. Do you want to have a half hour conversation with that man who has no time for anything? Talk to him about how wonderful his child is!
“We approach G-d during the High Holy days, wanting to attract His attention in a favorable manner. G-d is judging the world and preparing the New Year. If we want G-d to notice us, we should talk positively about His children. We need to express our love for Klal Yisroel and our concern for their plight.”
The process of teshuvah and the awesome day of Yom Kippur is not merely spiritual garbage-removal day. The Mishnah[10] records that it is one of the two greatest Yomim Tovim on the Jewish calendar. What makes it such an incredible Yom Tov?
Dovid Hamelech states: “And as for me, being close to G-d is good”[11]. The word Yom Tov literally means ‘a good day’. If Yom Kippur affords us the opportunity to connect with Hashem on a greater level than any other day of the year, than it is truly the ultimate Yom Tov.  
If we seek to tear down the barrier we have created between us and by rededicating ourselves to Torah and mitzvos and love for every Jew, we will be able to reconnect with the ultimate source of life.
                    
“Return Yisroel to Hashem, your G-d”
“A lion has roared; who will not fear?”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] Bereishis 37:29
[2] Bereishis Rabbah 84:19
[3] Following the death of the matriarch Rochel, Yaakov’s bed which had primarily been in the tent of Rochel, was moved into the tent of Bilhah. Reuven felt that this was an affront to the dignity of his mother. He felt that if Rochel had died, surely Leah should take her place as the mainstay and backbone of the home and not the maid, Bilhah. Therefore, Reuven took the initiative of moving his father’s bed into the tent of Leah. When Reuven realized that his impulsive actions were inappropriate, he engaged in a rigorous process of repentance, where he donned sackcloth and ashes and prayed for forgiveness.
[4] Hoshea 14:2
[5] Eruvin 18b
[6] Bereishis Rabbah 22:13
[7] Shabbos Shuva, 5765
[8] Christianity conjured up the idea that G-d has an ‘intermediary’ who is closer to humankind.
[9] Rabbi Teitelbaum is the Rav of K’hal Adas Yereim in Queens. The story was quoted by Rabbi Paysach Krohn
[10] Ta’anis 4:8
[11] Tehillim 73:28

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

ROSH HASHANAH 5778

STAM TORAH
ROSH HASHANAH 5778
 “ALONE WITH YOURSELF”
                  
Dr. David Pelcovits related the following story:
“A number of years ago, a man who is a respected and well-known personality in the yeshiva world, approached me to seek my guidance in dealing with his son. His son was involved in terrible things and the situation was deteriorating rapidly. At one point the father told me that he had spoken to his Posek in Eretz Yisroel to decide whether he could keep his son at home. The Posek told him that because the son was a negative influence on the other children, he had the din of a rodeph, and had to be sent out of the home.
“I was very bothered by the p’sak. I told the Rav that throwing his son out of the house could prove to be a disastrous mistake. The son had already gone from doing drugs to dealing drugs, and was already involved with dangerous drug gangs. The Rav insisted that he wasn’t going to go against the p’sak of his Posek. I asked permission to discuss it with the posek who happened to be in town. The father gave permission and the posek and I met late one night.
“I was very impressed with the posek who sat and listened intently to every word I said, for over two hours. When I finished the posek said to me, “You were right and I was wrong. He cannot send his son out of the house. However, I don’t think we can simply allow him to move back in. “I suggest that for Rosh Hashanah he go to his uncle and aunt who live in an out of town community. Let’s see if there’s some sign on his part that he’s ready to at least have an inkling of change so he can move back in.” I liked the idea and we arranged it.
“On Tzom Gedaliah the boy came to see me looking very upset. “Doc, you gotta help me!” I became very nervous, knowing all the things he was involved with. Then he told me what occurred on Rosh Hashanah while he was staying in the home of his uncle and aunt:
“I didn’t go to shul on Rosh Hashanah. But as the day wore on I decided that I should walk my uncle and aunt home from shul. They had treated me so nicely that I thought it was the least I could do.  I waited until the time I thought davening was over and walked to shul. However, when I arrived there I didn’t see anyone at all. I walked into the shul but didn’t want to walk further in because I wasn’t dressed appropriately for shul. I realized they were blowing the last 40 tekios at the end of davening.
“Suddenly, out of nowhere I burst into tears. As the shofar kept blowing I kept crying louder, until I was crying out of control. People were motioning for me to be quiet so they could hear the shofar, but I couldn’t control myself. Doc, what happened to me? You have to help sort this out.!”
“I don’t want to make it sound like a fairy tale because there were many struggles and challenges along the way. But that incident was the beginning of a long journey back.”

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no labor; it shall be a day of teru'ah for you.”[1]
Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz explained the deep connection between the anniversary of the creation of Man[2] and the mitzvah to blow shofar: When the Torah records the creation of Man it writes, “Al-mighty G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul[3]. Man became a living, sentient being when G-d breathed His own breath into him, as it were. It was that metaphysical breath that transformed him from physical matter into a living hybrid of physical and spiritual.
When we blow shofar on the anniversary of the day of Man's creation, it serves as a commemoration of that first Divine breath of life blown into man on the sixth day of Creation, Rosh Hashanah.

The gemara[4] writes an intriguing statement: "כיון דלזכרון כבפנים דמו", since the purpose of blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah is to affect a favorable remembrance before G-d, it is equivalent to a service performed inside the Holy of Holies in the Bais Hamikdash.
During the moments when we hear the shofar being blown, on some level, it is as if we were performing the service in the Holy of Holies.
When the Torah details the service that the Koahin Gadol performed on Yom Kippur, it discusses the apex of the day’s service, i.e. his entry into the Holy of Holies. On the holiest day of the year, the holiest man in the world, entered the holiest place on earth. About that awesome moment the Torah states[5]: “And no man shall be in the Tent of the Meeting when he comes to provide atonement in the Sanctuary until his departure.”   
Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l explained that when the Torah states that no “man” can enter the sanctuary, it includes the Kohain Gadol himself! At that surreal moment, he had to temporarily surrender his physical being. During those moments, the Kohain Gadol had to be alone with his true inner self - the soul within which contains the true spark of life.

A shofar is the horn of an animal[6]. The sound of the shofar is the sound of breath - the spark of life - being blown through a natural medium, created by G-d. The sound of the shofar is therefore reminiscent and symbolic of primordial man in his untainted pristine state.   
When the Kohain Gadol entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, for a few moments he had to disassociate himself from his animalistic and base desires and needs, to assume the guise of a metaphysical being, above sin and physicality. The call of the shofar, which is to accomplish that same objective, therefore has the potential to raise us to the level of the Kohain Gadol entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

After Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit in Gan Eden, the Torah relates, “G-d called to Adam and he said to him, Ayeka -Where are you?!”[7] Adam immediately blamed Chava, who in turn blamed the snake. G-d’s response was “Where are you?” That question was also posed to Adam on that sixth day of creation, Rosh Hashanah.
The path to repentance begins with the question, “Where are you?”
The shofar is a catalyst for reflection and introspection. It is a reminder that we must never view ourselves as intergraded with the exile around us. We must remember that internally we are different and have a higher mission.[8]
The message of the shofar must resonate throughout the year: We must seek to be true to ourselves - the real us! 

“No man shall be in the Tent of the Meeting”
“Equivalent to a service performed inside the Holy of Holies”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor



[1] Bamidbar 29:1
[2] Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of man.
[3] Bereishis 2:7
[4] Rosh Hashanah 26a
[5] Vayikra 16:17
[6] Although the shofar may be polished and molded somewhat, it is essentially the horn as it appeared on the animal. 
[7] Bereishis 3:9
[8] With this in mind, we can understand why we do not blow shofar when Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbos. A properly observed Shabbos invariably becomes a day of introspection and reflection. When we abstain from involvement in the physical world and engage in a more spiritual lifestyle, we cannot help but feel more committed to what is truly important in life. On Shabbos, the shofar’s message becomes superfluous, for the essence of the day calls out to us with the same message as the shofar. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

PARSHIOS NETZOVIM-VAYELECH 5777

STAM TORAH
PARSHIOS NETZOVIM-VAYELECH 5777
 “PERFECTLY CANDID”

The Stranger
Author unknown
"A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.
As I grew up I never questioned his place in our family. In my young mind, each member had a special niche. My brother, Bill, five years my senior, was my example. Fran, my younger sister, gave me an opportunity to play 'big brother' and develop the art of teasing. My parents were complementary instructors -- Mom taught me to love the word of G-d, and Dad taught me to obey it.
But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spell-bound for hours each evening.
If I wanted to know about politics, history, or science, he knew it all. He knew about the past, understood the present, and seemingly could predict the future. The pictures he could draw were so life like that I would often laugh or cry as I watched.
He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. My brother and I were deeply impressed by John Wayne in particular.
The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind-but sometimes Mom would quietly get up, while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places, go to her room, read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave.
You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house-- not from us, from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge the stranger was never confronted. My dad was a teetotaler who didn't permit alcohol in his home - not even for cooking. But the stranger felt like we needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often.
He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (much too freely) about private relationships. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man-woman relationship were influenced by the stranger.
As I look back, I believe it was the grace of G-d that the stranger did not influence us more. Time after time he opposed the values of my parents. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave.
More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive. He is not nearly as intriguing to my dad as he was in those early years. But if I were to walk into my parents' den today, you would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.
His name? We always just called him TV."


“For this commandment that I command you today – it is not hidden from you and it is not distant… Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it.”[1]
In discussing the deleterious effect of bribery, the gemara[2] quotes Rava, who explained that bribery unwittingly creates a certain bond between the giver and the recipient. That subtle connection causes the receiver’s sense of justice to become impaired.
The Torah warns emphatically that if a judge accepts a bribe he will be unable to render a proper judicial decision in a case involving the briber. The gemara further warns that even if the judge is particularly wise, if he accepts a bribe he will not inevitably conjure up perverse reasoning which will plague him throughout his life.
The gemara continues that even the smallest favor or minuscule gift is considered a bribe that brings with it devastating effects.
If this is all true, how it is possible for a person to repent? Every individual is responsible to be a judge of himself. He must determine whether he has properly fulfilled his obligations. It is undeniable however, that a human being is ‘bribed’ by his own desires and negative character traits which incline him towards sin. If the subtlest bribe destroys the rationale of even the greatest judge, what hope is there for us in judging ourselves, when we are drowning in a morass of self-deception?  
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt’l[3] answers that logically there should indeed be little hope for our spiritual growth. However, the Torah promises us that if we seek truth, G-d will help us discover the truth, and not be overwhelmed by our own negative whims and thoughts.
This is what the pasuk means when it states: “It is not hidden from you and it is not distant”, for truthfully it should be too distant to achieve. However, “the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it”. Despite our penchants and proclivities, G-d invested us a supernatural ability to transcend our natural self-deception. 
Our evil inclination not withstanding, we have the ability to become close with G-d and ascertain the truth. However, we can only achieve that if we are willing to invest in order to discover it. The first step is for one to realize his innate deception and then pray to G-d to help him overcome it.

When I taught High School literature in yeshiva[4], I would read the above article to my students. They always enjoyed the article and its subtle ironic message. I would then challenge them to explain what makes the article so brilliant? What wily technique does the author use to drive home his message?
We discuss the fact that if the article began by stating that the author wanted to convey just how terrible television is, most of the message would have already been lost. Bribed by the ‘inner id’, a person who watches television does not want to hear about how terrible it is. He goes through life making up excuses for himself why ‘it’s not really so bad’. 
But the author does not begin with any introduction. Rather he immediately launches into the story, capturing the attention and piquing the interest of the reader. By the time the reader has neared the end of the article, he has arrived at his own conclusions about the terrible stranger. He can not help but wonder why the family sanctioned such an awful influence in their home? If the stranger made the parents nervous why did they not ever demand that the stranger leave?
Then in the final line – nay, in the final two letters - of the article the irony of the story is revealed. At that moment, the potent message of the story is undeniable. It is only in retrospect that the reader realizes who the stranger is and by then it is too late to deny the strong negative thoughts and feelings evoked for ‘the stranger’. The author allowed the reader to unwittingly draw his own conclusions about the evils of TV.[5]

It is hard for us to be objective when it comes to ourselves. But the Torah assures us that it can be done if one is prepared to perform a candid internal reckoning.
Just prior to his demise, Moshe tells his beloved student and successor Yehoshua, “Hashem – it is He Who goes before you; He will be with you; He will not release you nor will He forsake you; do not be afraid and do not be dismayed[6].”
That message speaks to every Jew for all time. One need only begin the search earnestly and diligently. Once one has rolled up his sleeves and sets a trajectory in motion, he will realize that Heaven is guiding him and spurring him onward.  

“In your mouth and in your heart to perform it”
“Hashem – it is He Who goes before you”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] Devorim 30:11-14
[2] Kesuvos 105
[3] Divrei Aggadah
[4] In Yeshiva Shaarei Arazim
[5] See Shmuel 2, chapter 11-12 where the prophet Nosson utilizes a similar tactic in getting Dovid Hamelech to realize the mistake he made, by allowing Dovid to draw his own conclusions in a made up analogy which Nosson presented to Dovid.
[6] 31:8