Thursday, August 10, 2017

PARSHAS EIKEV 5777

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS EIKEV 5777
 “BEFORE AND AFTER”

In the introduction to his sefer V’ha’arev Na[1], Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita relates the following story about his father-in-law, the eminent Torah sage Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita:
In Iyar 5768 (1998) Rabbi Elyashiv, had to be hospitalized[2]. Despite his  hospitalization, he was determined to maintain his daily learning schedule which entailed awakening at 3 A.M. and studying Torah uninterrupted until 7 A.M. However, he was so feeble that he was unable to finish buttoning his shirt; he simply lacked the energy. Still he felt that it was disrespectful to learn with his shirt not fully closed so he asked the grandson that was staying with him for assistance.
After his grandson closed his buttons, Rabbi Elyashiv opened his seforim and learned his usual four hour regiment with complete concentration.
Rabbi Zilberstein added that it was a living example of the words of the Maharsha[3], “There is nothing sweeter in all of the engagements of man than the engagement in Torah.”  When one achieves that level of love and devotion to Torah study there is nothing in the world that gives that person as much satisfaction and enjoyment as Torah study.

Reciting blessings are a very important component of a Jew’s life. The gemara relates that in order to ward off a fatal plague that was ravaging Klal Yisroel, Dovid Hamelech enacted that a Jew should recite a hundred blessings every day. The recitation of blessings constantly arouses within a person a perpetual realization and recognition of the Omnipotence of G-d and His Hand in everything that transpires.
Although almost all blessings were obligated and ordained by the Sages, there are two blessings that are Biblically mandated:
·         (Devorim 8:10) “You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He gave you.” The gemara[4] explains that from this verse we learn the commandment to recite Grace after Meals, whenever one eats a bread-meal and is satiated[5].
·         (Devorim 32:3) “When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to G-d.” From this verse, the Gemara[6] exegetically derives that one must recite a blessing prior to studying Torah.

The gemara derives a kal v’chomer one must also recite a blessing before one eats[7]. But the blessing prior is only derived from logical reasoning and therefore is only rabbinically obligated. In addition, the gemara discusses the need to recite a blessing after one completes studying Torah. But that too is only a rabbinic obligation.
There is a glaring difference between these two exclusively Biblical blessings, i.e. when they are recited. Why are the Biblically-mandated blessings for Torah study recited prior to one beginning to study, while Grace after Meals is recited after one has completed his meal?
The Vilna Gaon explains that the difference between the recitations of these two blessings is rooted in human nature. When a person desires something physical it is relatively easy and natural for him to be polite and cordial. If a child wants a snack and the parent replies that the child can only have it if he asks nicely, generally the child will pleasantly and politely restate his request.
After one has received what he wanted however, it is common for a person to forget how much he wanted it beforehand, which in turn causes him to forget to express his appreciation for what he received, or at least to express it without adequate feeling. The gemara[8] says that a lion does not roar when it is hungry, but rather when it feels full and satiated. When one is satiated after a fairly large meal, it is common for him to become complacent, and to have a feeling of indolence and lethargy[9].
On the other hand, in regard to spirituality, the opposite is true. The hardest thing is for one to get started. Our Evil Inclination utilizes the force of inertia to restrain us from undertaking good endeavors, such as prayer, Torah study, and mitzvos. But if one is able to overcome his natural sluggishness and indeed prays with concentration, engages in meaningful Torah study, or performs a mitzvah, it will infuse him with a feeling of spiritual bliss and unparalleled fulfillment[10].
In the two Biblically-mandated blessings the subtle profundity and wisdom of the Torah as the Book of Life and human nature becomes apparent. In regard to food – the symbol of physical enjoyment – one is Biblically obligated to recite a blessing after he has eaten and is satisfied, because it is specifically after one is satiated that he often forgets to express his gratitude for what he has received[11].
In regard to spirituality, the converse is true. One must recite the blessings of Torah study prior to beginning his studies, because it is at that point that one may lack a proper feeling of gratitude for the privilege to study Torah. After one has studied he naturally feels a sense of deep gratitude and love for G-d for the ability to comprehend some Torah thoughts. Anyone who has studied Torah and understood some of its depth can relate to that feeling of spiritual fulfillment and achievement.

Doron Mahareta grew up and went to school in Ethiopia, and therefore his background in Judaic studies was weak. When he arrived in Israel in his teens he wanted very much to study Torah in the noted Yeshivas Merkaz Harav. But because of his limited familiarity with Talmud study the yeshiva told him he would not be able to keep up with the level of study. He replied that if he could not become a student in the yeshiva he wanted to get a job helping the kitchen, washing dishes and preparing meals. The yeshiva agreed to accept him. For a year and a half Doron worked in the kitchen during all meals. But as soon as he had completed his kitchen duties he would head to the Bais Medrash and study with uncanny devotion. He would often study very late into the night, learning the tractate that the students were studying.
One day Doron approached the Rosh Yeshiva and asked him to test him on the tractate of Talmud that the yeshiva was studying. Doron and the Rosh Yeshiva subsequently became engaged in a lively Talmudic discussion. The next day Doron was a full-fledged student and was no longer washing dishes.
On weekends when Doron would go home to visit his family in Ashdod, he would spend almost the entire Shabbos engaged in study in the Melitzer Shul or he would study Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries in the Gerrer shteibel. In Shevat 5768, after being in the yeshiva for over ten years, Doron completed his study of the entire Shulchan Aruch!
On Rosh Chodesh Adar 5768 (March 6, 2008), Doron was one of eight yeshiva students at Merkaz Harav who was tragically murdered by Arab Terrorists.
Doron’s story is analogous to the story of the great Hillel who slept on a roof in the snow so that he could hear and study the Torah learning that was being discussed in the warm Bais Medrash below him.   

The timeless wisdom of the Torah in dictating which blessings must be recited reminds us that after one has enjoyed physical bounty he must arouse himself to express his appreciation properly, because he naturally loses his impetus to do so. This is true in regard to our relationships with others as well.
At the same time, the Torah itself reminds us that we must recite a blessing before commencing its study because at that point it may look daunting, intimidating, and unappealing. But after one has studied and mastered any small amount of Torah the joy he feels is unparalleled and blissful. It is literally worth dying for!

“When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to G-d.”
“You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem”


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




[1] Lit. “Please make sweet”; the opening words to the blessings recited each morning prior to studying Torah. The sefer is a compilation of fascinating halachic questions based on the weekly parsha which demonstrate the Torah’s contemporary applicability to every facet of life in a most engaging and intriguing manner. A second volume was published recently.
[2] At the time Rabbi Elyashiv was 98 years old. G-d should grant him many more years.
[3] Berachos 11b
[4] Berachos 48b
[5] If one eats an olive’s-worth of bread but is not completely satiated he has a Rabbinic obligation to recite Grace after Meals. 
[6] Berachos 21a
[7] A kal v’chomer is a method of Talmudic derivation. The gemara reasons that if one is Biblically obligated to recite a blessing after he has completed his meal, surely he must recite a blessing before he begins to eat his meal.
[8] Berachos
[9] The only exception is one who eats a large meal in a spiritual fashion on Shabbos. Rashi (Beitzah 16a) explains that the ‘neshama yesayra’ (‘added soul’) one is blessed with on Shabbos allows him to partake in greater doses of physical pleasure and yet not be physically repulsed from doiung so, as one would throughout the rest of the week.
[10] The Orchos Tzaddikim explains that if one wants to have a minute taste of what the World to Come – a world without physicality – is like in our world, the temporary blissful feeling one has after performing a good deed or learning Torah with great zeal, is the most analogous to that world, albeit on a far more magnified scale.
[11] The Rabbincally mandated blessing prior to eating logically follows, because it is easier to recite a prayer thanking G-d for food before one has enjoyed it and is still tantalized by the food before him.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN/SHABBOS NACHAMU 5777

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS VAESCHANAN/SHABBOS NACHAMU 5777
 “WHOLEHEARTEDLY”

 During a lecture given on Tisha B’av a number of years ago, Harav Matisyahu Salomon shlita, the Lakewood Mashgiach, related the following personal story:
“When I was a young man I was a student in the Gateshead Yeshiva. The yeshiva had a hundred and twenty-five students; not large quantitatively, but qualitatively tremendous. The building was fairly small and we were packed onto the benches. The tables were so narrow that the volumes of gemara before us all overlapped each other. If a student wanted to turn the page he had to ask everyone around him to lift their gemaras first. Yet despite it all we sat and studied with tremendous diligence.   
“One day a Dayan from London came to visit the yeshiva. When he addressed the student body he explained that he did not wish to deliver a lecture. Rather he wanted to read to us a page from an American journal that he had read the week prior.
“The article was written by an obviously irreligious Jew, albeit who possessed an appreciation for Jewish history. In the article the author explained that, along with a group of journalists, he was invited on a European tour. When they arrived in England one of the places they visited was a village in Northeast England called Wallsend. 
“Wallsend is an ancient village that dates back almost two millennia. When the Romans invaded and conquered England they constructed a wall to serve as a barrier to keep the mighty Scottish Picks out of England. The wall was called Hadrian’s Wall after the Roman Emperor. The village where the wall ended was aptly called Wallsend. Today there is nothing left of the wall except for a few moss-covered stones in the village of Wallsend. It is nothing more than a tourist attraction[1].  
“The day the journalist arrived at Wallsend he recalled that he had yahrtzeit for his mother and he wanted to recite kaddish in her memory. When he asked the tour guide if there were any Jewish Services in the area, the guide replied that there was a school in the village of Gateshead ten miles away. There he would be sure to find any religious service he needed.
“The journalist wrote that he arrived at the yeshiva in the middle of the afternoon. He had never been in a yeshiva before and the sight that greeted him was extraordinary. There were tens of young men huddled together on small benches studying, debating, and arguing with passion and vibrancy. The journalist did not comprehend anything they were saying, but he stood and watched spellbound. But then he overheard something which caught his attention. One student called out to his friend, “But Rabbi Akiva says…!” Those words reverberated in his ears.
“Even after they destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the Romans understood that their job was incomplete. In order to destroy the Jewish People, they had to stop the public study and teaching of Torah. Rabbi Akiva’s execution was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. His crime was that he taught Torah publicly. Hadrian ordered Rabbi Akiva to be killed in a most barbaric and heinous fashion to serve as an example of the severe consequences for teaching Torah. Yet today, centuries later, Hadrian and the Roman Empire are long gone, relegated to the history books and symbolized by a few moss-covered stones. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, is alive and well. His teachings and legacy are still being promulgated and studied today![2]
Rabbi Salomon concluded that the story gave him so much encouragement because it serves as a powerful representation of G-d’s Promise, “But despite all this[3], when they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them, to annul My covenant with them – for I am Hashem, their G-d[4].” Rashi explains that a Jew must never think that the atrocities of exile prove that G-d no longer loves and favors Klal Yisroel. His love for us is boundless, and even in exile the covenant remains in full force.
All of the empires and countries that have sought to vanquish and obliterate us are gone. Yet we remain. That is the greatest sign of His love for us. 

The verses of Shema, recited thrice daily, form the cornerstone of our faith, responsibility, and devotion to G-d. A Jew is obligated to state with conviction, “You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your “Me’od”[5].”
The gemara[6] offers two explanations of the word ‘me’od’: The first explanation is that me’od means “with all of your resources”; one must prioritize G-d over his money and physical resources. The second explanation is that one must love G-d despite whatever “middah” - Character Trait/Divine Attribute - G-d employs towards him. At times G-d may act toward a person with the attribute of justice, at other times with compassion. But no matter which attribute it is, one must realize that G-d does all for the good and He must love G-d for that.
A Jew must love G-d on Tisha B’av in the same vein as he loves G-d on Simchas Torah. Even when events are inexplicable and painful, during times of loss and pain, one must remind himself that G-d loves him and is always with him. Through that realization one will come to love G-d, regardless of which ‘middah’ He utilizes towards him.

The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev, was renowned for his extreme piety and passion in his Service to G-d. One night Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was staying at an inn. At midnight he sat down on the floor to recite Tikkun Chatzos [7] as he did every night.
When the innkeeper was awakened by the sounds of weeping coming from one of his rooms, he was alarmed and went to see what was wrong. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok gently explained to the ignorant innkeeper that he was reciting special prayers to mourn the destruction of the Temple and the elongated exile that we are subject to. The innkeeper replied that those tragic events transpired centuries earlier. Why cry over spilled milk? The Rebbe gently described to his host the grandeur and opulence that was Jerusalem. He described the Kohanim doing the service in the Bais Hamikdash and bringing the offerings on the altar, while the Levites sang harmoniously. He delineated the many miracles that were omnipresent in the Bais Hamikdash, and the feeling of closeness and connection that every Jew felt with his Creator.  
When the innkeeper heard the Rebbe’s description he began to cry. In fact, he cried so intensely that soon Rabbi Levi Yitzchok had to put his arm around the innkeeper to console him. “Despite what we have lost, we are actually quite fortunate”, began the Rebbe. “On Tisha B’av afternoon, after spending hours sitting on the floor and reciting lamentations, recounting all the tragedies that have befallen us as a people during the exile, we arise and don our Talis and Tefillin[8]. During Mincha we recite the added prayer “Nachem” which requests G-d to console us for our losses. How does this drastic transition occur? How can we begin to accept consolation when moments before we were in a state of inconsolable grief? Furthermore, most of the Bais Hamikdash burned during the afternoon of the ninth and the morning of the tenth of Av. Why are we rising from our most intense state of mourning during the time when the flames were ravaging the Sanctuary?
The Rebbe continued, “The truth is that we do not comprehend G-d’s kindness and love for us. Our Sages explain that G-d destroyed the Bais Hamikdash in order to preserve us. Had He allowed us to receive the retribution we justly deserved we would have been destroyed. But because He channeled His anger, as it were, towards the physical structure of the Bais Hamikdash, we were able to survive the harrowing and traumatic ordeal. Therein lies our solace! The very fact that G-d destroyed the Bais Hamikdash demonstrates His love for us, for He destroyed His own home and exiled Himself, as it were, rather than destroy His Beloved Nation.
“That is why we are able to be consoled at the height of our grief. The very burning of the Bais Hamikdash symbolizes the reason why we are able to be consoled. For in that sense the burning Temple symbolizes G-d’s unyielding love for us.”
When Rabbi Levi Yitzchok concluded his narrative, the innkeeper stopped crying, and then he got up and began to dance. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok arose to join him and they sang and danced together. One of the other guests at the inn was awakened by the noise and went to investigate. The sight that greeted him was astounding. He asked the innkeeper why he was dancing with the Rebbe in the middle of the night. The innkeeper smiled and replied, “Why do you think we are dancing? We are dancing because G-d destroyed the Bais Hamikdash!”[9]

The Shabbos following Tisha B’av is titled Shabbos Nachamu – the Shabbos of consolation. The opening words of the haftorah read, “Console! Console My People!” Despite all we have suffered and all of the difficulties and pains people suffer from, we take solace in the knowledge that G-d’s love for us is boundless and unconditional. In addition, we wear ‘our yellow stars’ as banners of pride for we know that we are part of an eternal people who will ultimately prevail and persevere. No other nation can feel consolation in the tragedy itself, besides Klal Yisroel, for we know that we are part of a Master Plan.
We await the ultimate consolation when G-d will abolish tears and pain forever, and the whole world will recognize the undeniable truth, “On that day, G-d will be One, and His Name will be One.”

 “You shall love Hashem, your G-d”
“Console! Console My People!”


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




[1] In Rabbi Salomon’s words, “I’m not sure what you do when you arrive at the wall, other than to have a picnic and a beer next to the wall before leaving.”
[2] Rabbi Salomon added that, in his opinion, “that is the only reason why there is a ridiculous place called Wallsend and why people still go to look at those stones. Because those stones are a testimony that Torah is Min Hashamayim (Divinely Ordained).”
[3] i.e. the harsh curses that will befall Klal Yisroel when they do not hearken to the Word of G-d
[4] Vayikra 26:44
[5] Devorim 5:5
[6] Berachos 61b, 54b
[7] Special prayers recited for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, to mourn for the Divine Presence which is in exile. It is customarily recited at midnight.
[8]On Tisha B’av morning we symbolize the loss of our pride in the exile and so we do not wear Talis and Tefillin, which represent that pride.
[9] Heard from Rabbi Pinchos Idstein, Head Counselor of Camp Dora Golding, Tisha B’av 5770

Thursday, July 27, 2017

PARSHAS DEVORIM/SHABBOS CHAZON 5777

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS DEVORIM/SHABBOS CHAZON 5777
 “OUR GENERATION”

The Kedushas Tzion[1] related the following fabled story:
The Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) once appeared before the Heavenly Court and complained that he was unable to fulfill his mission. “How am I expected to convince people to listen to me when my name is “Evil”? Whenever I approach someone and try to seduce him to sin he counters that he will have no connection with an evil being. How can I do my bidding with such a bad reputation?”
The court hearkened to his complaint. “From hereon we will change your name. No longer will you be known as the “Evil Inclination”, but as the “Ba’al Davar”[2].”
Sometime later the Evil Inclination returned to the celestial courts dejected and disheartened. “My new title is not good enough,” he cried. “Now wherever I try to prey upon someone he argues, ‘lav ba’al devroim didi at[3]’.”
The heavenly court pondered the issue and then replied. “We have a new title for you. But this one is practically guaranteed to work. From now on you will be called ‘Hayntige Dor’ (Today’s Generation). When people try to resist your temptations, you will be able to convince them to sigh and think “Oiy hayntige dor! What can be expected from us already; we live in such a lowly generation!” You will be able to approach people and convince them that in such times we can no longer afford to be old-fashioned. They will think that they must be liberal and progressive in order to keep afloat with the times. With this new name you will be very successful in ensnaring many souls to iniquity and sin.”
The Kedushas Tzion concluded that, with this in mind, we can appreciate a novel understanding of the words of the prayer (Psalms 12:8), “Atah Hashem tishmirem, titzrenu min hador zu liolam – You, G-d, will guard them; You will preserve each one from this generation forever.” Dovid Hamelech was praying that G-d protect us from the detrimental feeling of “this generation”, i.e. the feeling that we cannot live up to the levels of our forbearers because we live in such a lowly generation.

There is a well-known thought attributed to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev. Although we refer to the holiday of Pesach by that name, the Torah refers to the holiday as “Chag hamatzos”. The Barditchiver explained that we refer to the holiday as Pesach[4] to recall the kindness G-d performed when he ‘skipped over our homes’ on the eve of the final plague, the slaying of the Egyptian firstborns. However the Torah refers to the holiday as “the Festival of Matzos” to recall our selfless dedication and faith in G-d when we marched forth from Egypt en masse into the barren desert, with no provisions for our families other than the matzoh which was baking on our shoulders in the intense desert heat.
 Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l noted[5] that it is our responsibility to imitate the Ways of G-d. Just as G-d titled the holiday to reflect the merits of Klal Yisroel, so too must every Jew constantly seek and espouse the merits and greatness of the Jewish people.
The Tanna D’vei Eliyahu speaks glowingly about the intense pleasure G-d has, as it were, when we speak kindly of our fellow Jews.
Rabbi Pam notes that it is common to hear people, even people of stature, bemoaning the spiritual degeneration of our time. They bemoan the fact that our generation is lowly relative to previous generations. But it must be realized that G-d has no pleasure from such negative speech.
Rabbi Pam explained that he was not referring to one who is rebuking or admonishing others. In such a case it is surely fitting to explain to someone (in a genial and gentle fashion) what he has done wrong.
In fact, Chumash Devorim is chiefly Moshe’s rebuke in which he admonished Klal Yisroel prior to his death. Moshe did not mince words as he explicitly delineated their mishaps and errors throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert. “How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?[6]” But, at the same time, Moshe constantly conveyed to the nation their innumerable value and greatness, and that G-d values and loves them. His words also contained great encouragement and emotional support. “You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d – He shall wage war for you.[7]” Such rebuke is vital for growth.
 Rather, Rabbi Pam explains, he is referring to those who are standing together and ‘conversing about things’. While speaking they begin to discuss people and events that transpire and they mention the spiritual erosion of our time.
One who wants to find fault with Jews, “Iz duh vos tzu g’foonin- There is what to find.” However, when the purpose of one’s words is nothing more than to speak negatively, he is doing a great disservice to the entire world. Rabbi Pam states that, “Perhaps this malady is one of the causes for the delaying of Moshiach!”
It is analogous to a father who has a wayward son, G-d forbid, who causes him much heartache and grief. If a person approaches the father and tells him about some pranks or shenanigan that his son pulled, it will cause him much inner pain – even though the father is aware of his son’s rambunctious behavior. However, if a person would approach the father to tell him how his son helped him and acted nobly, the father would be extremely appreciative. In fact, that comment may very well give the father more pleasure than hearing something nice about another child who has a better reputation, because it is so rare.
In heaven, they await to hear words of defense and merit on behalf of Jews, especially by other Jews. It is not a matter of being blind to the truth of our faults, but a matter of focus and perspective. What does one choose to see? Unless one has the ability to correct and rectify evils that are committed, he should not speak negatively about other Jews, but should seek out their positive traits and focus upon them.  

There are undoubtedly many challenges that the Torah world is confronted with, and many of those challenges are very serious. However, there is no dearth of merits that we possess either. The fact that the Torah world has rebuilt itself as it has after the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis is the greatest testament to our resiliency and eternal greatness. It all depends on what we focus on.

The Tur notes that Tisha B’av and Seder night (the first night of Pesach) always fall out on the same day of the week. Although, prima facie, it would seem that these two nights are polar opposites, in truth there is an underlying bond that connects them. Seder night represents the zenith of our greatness, while Tisha B’av symbolizes our nadir. But on Pesach we also recall the servitude and bitterness that preceded our ascent to greatness and redemption. The marror plays an integral role at the Seder and must be eaten before the festival meal.
Tisha B’av falls on the same day of the week as Pesach to remind us that the mourning and pain of Tisha B’av is temporary. Like Pesach, there will yet come a time when the pain of Tisha B’av will be reduced to a memory which precedes the festive meal which celebrates the coming of Moshiach. The only difference is that we are still eating the marror of Tisha B’av – which has been brutally bitter - and have not yet gotten to the festive meal.
But for us to finally enjoy that festive meal we need to believe, not only in G-d, but also in ourselves!
The Arizal noted that Pesach is a conjunction of the words, “peh sach – a soft mouth.” While we are shackled under Egyptian bondage not only were we physically and emotionally in exile, but our ‘speech’ was in exile as well. This not only refers to our ability to pray and cry out to G-d, but also our ability to see the good of our brethren and to speak about our merits as a nation/family.   
We have to see the good of others and have optimism in ourselves! We must believe that we can be the catalysts for the coming of Moshiach, despite the fact that our generation has degenerated to a level far lower than our ancestors. Although that is indeed true, it is for that very reason the merits of our action are far more powerful and valuable.

In the words of the great scholar and pedagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l[8]:
“Our problem is not that we don’t have the opportunities to grow. It is that we don’t have the proper will and desire to grow. In all circumstances, there are always excuses. The kids were sick. The boiler broke. I had to work overtime. I was so tired when I came home and I had to spend time with the family. We know the excuses and they’re all valid excuses. But they don’t really explain our failures.
“We fail because we despair of being successful. We fail because we do not believe that we have it within us to succeed. It is not the interposition of obstacles that prevents us from succeeding but our own lack of confidence and determination and sheer will.
“We fail because we are making a mistake. Because the truth is that we do have it within us to succeed. Because the truth is that each of us possesses the most incredible divinely-empowered instrument that can help us smash all obstacles and scale all peaks. It is called the human will. And when there is an honest will, we can transport a stone to Yerushalayim.” 

The Shabbos prior to Tisha B’av is titled, “Shabbos Chazon – The Shabbos of vision”. The name is derived from the opening words of the haftorah which recount the bitter prophecy of Isaiah when he chastised the nation, exhorting them to repent from their iniquitous sins. But it also represents a vision of the future. It is a vision of hope and optimism of what can, and will, be. It is vision of a utopian world which allows us to see beyond out faults and foibles, so that we recognize the true greatness we and every Jew possesses. It is a vision which we pray every day that we will witness[9], “May our eyes envision Your return to Zion in compassion.”
If we are compelled to sit on the floor and mourn this Tisha B’av let us realize that although the night has been long and ominous the festive meal is right after the marror.

“You will preserve each one from this generation forever”
“You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d – He shall wage war for you”

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


[1] Bobover Rebbe, Harav Benzion Halberstam zt’l hy’d, yahrtzeit is 4 Av
[2] A Talmudic title for a litigant/person with whom to reckon
[3] A Talmudic expression which loosely translates into, ‘I have nothing to do with you.’
[4] literally ‘passed/skipped over’
[5] Haggadas Mareh Cohain, p. 136
[6] 1:12
[7] 3:22
[8]“Rabbi Freifeld Speaks”, by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Reinman, Artscroll, p. 25
[9] “V’sechezenah aynaynu” recited before Modim in Shmoneh Esrei

Thursday, July 20, 2017

PARSHIOS MATOS-MASEI 5777

STAM TORAH
PARSHIOS MATOS-MASEI 5777
 “LABOR OF LOVE”

Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, the beloved Mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim in Queens, was for many years the ‘spiritual guide’ here in Camp Dora Golding. Rabbi Finkleman nostalgically related that when he was a teenage bochur he was privileged to have a connection with the previous Skolya Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Yitzchok Isaac Rabinowitz zt’l[1].

Rabbi Finkelman explained that his maternal grandfather, Mr. Moshe Hilsenrath a’’h, was one of the Rebbe’s attendants in Europe prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. [In fact, his grandfather would accompany the Rebbe to the mikvah each morning while they were under Nazi occupation. Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather had been a German government worker until the Nazis took over the government. With his blue eyes, blond hair, and government uniform, when Nazis saw him accompanying the Rabbiner each morning, they assumed he was taking him into custody. Incredibly for over a year, he would often accompany the Skolya Rebbe to the mikvah unhindered each of those mornings, right under the noses of the Nazis.]
When the war broke out and the Nazis began their nefarious campaign to destroy Jewry, they primarily targeted the rabbis. The Nazis reasoned that if they destroyed the Jewish leadership it would be far easier to break the resolve of the masses. Because of that the Skolya Rebbe was compelled to remain in hiding for two years.
After more than a year under Nazi occupation, Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather was somehow able to procure a visa that would allow his family to emigrate to America. He presented the visa to the Rebbe, urging him to escape. Knowing the added danger he personally faced, the Rebbe accepted the gift for himself and his family. He also blessed Rabbi Finkelman’s grandfather that the entire Hilsenrath family (wife and five children) would meet again in America.
Rabbi Finkelman related that when his grandmother recounted the story to him she said, “When the Rebbe gave us that blessing, your grandfather already pictured himself in America reunited with the Rebbe. But I wasn’t as convinced, and I accepted upon myself to die in Europe for the sake of the Rebbe.”
Through a series of miracles, the Rebbe and the Finkelman family were indeed reunited in America, albeit with only four of the five children. But the Rebbe was adamant. “I told you we would ALL be reunited, and with G-d’s help that will yet occur.” It later emerged that the fifth son had joined the British army. While with the army, he was sent to Palestine to help maintain order with the Israeli-Arab tensions. As soon as he could he deserted the British army and joined the Irgun to fight for his brethren rather than against them. Eventually the Rebbe’s blessing was indeed fulfilled and the entire family was reunited.  

Rabbi Finkelman related that at the end of the Skolya Rebbe’s life (he died when he was eighty), he was very frail. He was a holy person, who for many a year never slept in a bed, but would fall asleep in midst of his learning, despite his fragile health. He possessed an uncanny level of devotion and love for Torah, and the Torah lectures he would relate were often lengthy, mystical, and deep[2].
On one occasion Rabbi Finkelman, then a seventeen-year-old teen, convinced a ‘non-chassidic’ friend of his to accompany him to the Skolya Rebbe’s Shalosh Seudos tish[3]. After the Rebbe concluded his discourse, the two young men obtained permission to be present when the Rebbe recited havdalah[4].
When the Rebbe concluded havdalah the two seventeen-year-old boys had an opportunity to ask the Rebbe for a blessing. Rabbi Finkelman’s friend requested a blessing to have a chayshek (intense desire) for Torah study. When the Rebbe heard the request he smiled and replied, “Some people request a blessing for livelihood, so we give them a blessing for livelihood. Some people request a blessing for health, so we give a blessing for health. But Torah is the greatest gift that we possess in this world. One cannot acquire proficiency or erudition in Torah from a blessing. That would be tantamount to selling it cheaply. The only way to love Torah and feel connected to Torah is to learn, even without a feeling of connection and devotion. If one pushes and goads himself to learn even without a desire to do so, he can be assured that eventually G-d will bless him that he will indeed eventually obtain a chayshek and love for learning.

After an arduous forty years traveling through the desert, Klal Yisroel was finally camped on the threshold of the Promised Land. It was at that time that the tribes of Gad and Reuven became concerned that their portion in the land would be insufficient for all of their possessions. “The Children of Gad and the children of Reuven had abundant livestock – very great…They said (to Moshe), “If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan”.”
When Moshe heard their request he was very distressed. He perceived it as a means of exorcising themselves from the need to fight the Canaanites alongside the rest of the nation. The Nesi’im (Princes) of Gad and Reuven quickly clarified that that was not at all their intention. “They approached him (Moshe) and said, ‘Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children. We shall arm ourselves swiftly in the vanguard of the Children of Israel… We shall not return to our homes until the Children of Israel will have inherited…”
Rashi quotes the Medrash which notes an acerbic critique of the character of the tribes of Gad and Reuven. “They were more concerned about their money than their children, because they mentioned their cattle before their children. Moshe replied to them, ‘Not so! Make your primary secondary and your secondary primary. First build cities for your children, and afterwards pens for your flock’.”
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l[5] asks how it was possible that the tribes of Gad and Reuven, distinguished members of the generation who were privy to all the miracles of the desert, could have prioritized their money over their children?
Rabbi Leibowitz explained that we must conclude that originally those righteous people indeed prioritized their children far above all else. Their primary focus and desire was to raise their children as righteous G-d fearing Jews. However, to raise children one requires money and resources. As the Mishna[6] states, “If there is no flour there is no Torah”. Therefore, in order to have sustenance with which to provide their families, the tribes of Gad and Reuven raised cattle and invested much time and effort into their properties.
As time passed, without realizing it, they began to become more passionate and more connected to their resources and money. Because of their relentless involvement in their pursuit for resources (which they only invested in so that they could provide for their children) eventually they unwittingly and unknowingly began to prioritize their money even more than their children.
One must realize just how influenced he is through his actions. Whenever one invests in something there is an invariable bond and passion created for that thing, even if one claims not to have any level of added connection.
This idea is very poignant and applicable. Anyone who spends much of his/her day involved in the pursuit of earning a livelihood must realize that by our very nature we become inextricably connected to what we invest in. If the great leaders of the tribes of Gad and Reuven were able to lose a certain measure of their sense of priorities, we surely have to be wary of our own sense of priorities. Undoubtedly most people will assert that their children and families are their priority. However, a rational person who wants to truly be candid with himself must constantly reckon whether he has lost focus of his true priorities. Has his investment in his livelihood blindsided him from what is truly important?
At the same time, one must realize the sense of connection and passion one can foster through investment. In regard to spiritual pursuits and Torah learning, the way to appreciate the sweetness of Torah and love of performing mitzvos, is by investing in them.
To paraphrase the timeless words of Winston Churchill, if we want to love serving G-d, “We have nothing more to offer than blood, tears, toil, and sweat.” The more the investment, the more we will appreciate its timeless greatness.

“If there is no flour there is no Torah”
“First build cities for your children, and afterwards pens for your flock”


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



[1] I thank the Mashgiach for reviewing this text.
[2] Rabbi Finkelman related that when he would take leave of the Rebbe on weeknights after such lectures, the Rebbe would ask him if he taped it, noting that he should listen to it a few times before he would be able to comprehend the full depth of.
[3] Shalosh Seudos, the third and final meal eaten on Shabbos, is a very holy and unique meal, especially in the courts of the Chassidic Maters. The word tish, which literally means table, refers to the Rebbe’s public meal eaten with his Chassidim. The Rebbe often relates deep and penetrating insights based on the weekly Torah portion. 
[4] The Rebbe’s havdalah was a sight to see, as the Rebbe had many interesting customs, based on kabbalah.
[5] Chiddushei Halev
[6] Avos 3:21