Thursday, April 27, 2017



In our community, New Hempstead, prior to Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, and Pesach, three of the local rabbonim - Rabbi Chaim Schabes, Rabbi Yisroel Saperstein, and myself - speak at a joint forum, rotating which shul hosts.
The following is from the moving lecture that Rabbi Yisroel Saperstein presented this year prior to Rosh Hashanah[1]:

“I want to share with you how the Intensive Care Unit in the hospital helps prepare a person for Rosh Hashanah:
 “This past summer our family went through a very challenging ordeal with my wife’s health. “If a heart is not strong enough to pump, doctors can install an actual metal pump into the left ventricle, called a Left Ventricle Assist Device. There are many people who have that device in their heart. There are wires that come out of the stomach, and the person walks around with a mini computer and two large batteries for the rest of their lives.
“There came a point after they performed bypass surgery, and a valve job, when they decided that since my wife’s heart wasn’t healing well enough on its own, they would have to install an LVAT.
 “Before they installed the LVAT, a social worker approached my wife and asked her why she wanted to live? This device is very stressful to live with, and therefore, before installing it, they evaluate whether the patient has a strong enough will to live, before going through the bother of the major operation to install it.
“The second question they asked was whether we had family who will help and support us throughout the ordeal? The family is necessary to assist, to constantly change the dressings around the stomach, and for moral support and encouragement. 
“My wife gave satisfactory answers, proving that she had a will to live and that she had a supportive family. Shortly after, a male nurse arrived to train me and my daughter about the dressings, and other things we needed to know about caring for my wife.
“While he was training us by demonstrating on a dummy, I asked the nurse what they do if a patient in need of an LVAT is single. He replied that they wouldn’t install it. I looked at him in shock, “Do you mean to tell me that if he doesn’t have a support system you let him die?” He shook his head yes. “The person won’t be able to deal with the internal bleeding and all the other inevitable complications, so it won’t work anyway!”
“At that moment, I had a new appreciation for the power of encouragement, and how much it can help another person! If we want to do teshuva this coming year, it doesn’t have to be with new stringencies. Let’s encourage people to help them go through life. Everyone wants people to smile at them. We can start with our family members.
“That’s the message from the LVAT division of Columbia Presbyterian. If you have someone to give you chizuk, you can survive. But if not, it’s not worth all the effort because you won’t make it.
“There’s a world of lonely people. Not only singles, even married people, and children who may not come from broken homes, but from homes where they don’t get enough recognition.
“Imagine a world where everyone wanted to make sure everyone else was happy, and all our hearts beat in unison.”

In 2010/5770, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Eretz Yisroel. On the Friday I was there I had the great zechus to attend the ‘Erev Shabbos Chumash Shmooze (lecture)’ of the late Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l in his home.[2]
It was Erev Shabbos parshas Metzora and the Rosh Yeshiva quoted a thought from his rebbe, the former Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l[3]:
The gemara[4] states that there are four individuals who are analogous to a dead person: One who is impoverished, a metzora, a blind person, and one who is childless.
Rav Shmulevitz explained that the reason the metzora is analogous to one who is dead, is not because of his physical suffering. Even one who suffers terribly is far better off than one who is dead. On the pasuk in Eicha[5] which states, “Of what shall a living man complain?” the Gemara[6] comments “It is enough that he is alive”.[7]
Rather, the Metzora is analogous to a dead person because he must be isolated from society and cannot interact with anyone else. Living in isolation is not a life! If one cannot be a functioning and contributing member of society, he is as good as dead. Truly living means giving and helping others!
I vividly remember that, as he related this poignant idea, Rav Nosson Tzvi was shaking a great deal from the Parkinson’s Disease which ravaged his body. He was having a hard time just getting the words out. In fact, he was not able to complete the lecture, stopping mid-sentence with a nod that he was physically unable to continue. Yet, when he spoke about the gift of life, and that as long as one is alive one has no right to complain, he said it with conviction and his trademark smile.[8]
Rav Nosson Tzvi personified this idea. He was feeble and sickly, and normal human functions which we take for granted, were often torturous for him. Yet he indefatigably devoted every bit of the energy he had[9] to helping others and to teaching and promoting Torah. He lived with a sense of simcha just for being alive and thus able to serve Hashem. It was that indomitable will and spirit that inspired, and continues, to inspire us.
In that sense, he was more alive than most of us.

“This shall be the law of the Metzora”[10]
“Of what shall a living man complain?”

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

[1] I encourage anyone who would like to be inspired to view the video of the presentation at:
[2] That would end up being the final time I would have the opportunity to see and hear from the venerable Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva. 
[3] Sichos Mussar, 5732, ma’amar 31
[4] Nedarim 64b
[5] 3:39
[6] Kiddushin 80b
[7] In other words, it is a gift just to be alive, so how can he complain?
[8] Despite the fact that he had to cut his lecture short, he remained seated at the table shaking everyone’s hand,  smiling at them, and wishing them a good Shabbos as they walked by him.
[9] Or didn’t have…
[10] Vayikra 14:2

Thursday, April 20, 2017



A non-religious Jew once approached the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mottel Katz zt’l and asked him, “How do you explain all of the religious Jews who lie and cheat on their income taxes?” Rabbi Katz replied, “I have a similar question about all those religious Jews who eat on Yom Kippur, drive on Shabbos, and don’t eat only Kosher.” The non-religious man was perplexed, “But those people are not religious?” Rabbi Katz nodded, “And neither are the ones that you mentioned!”

The Torah details the laws of kosher and non-kosher animals, birds, and fish, noting that adherence to these laws helps strengthen the innate holiness within every Jew.
In order for an animal to be kosher for consumption, it must be a ruminant (cud-chewing) and have split-hooves. Any animal that does not possess both of those traits may not be eaten.
“But this is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have split hooves: the camel, because it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split - it is unclean to you; and the hyrax for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split it is unclean to you; and the hare for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split, it is unclean to you; and the pig, for its hoof is split and its hoof is completely separated, but it does not chew its cud – it is unclean to you” (11:4-7).
The vernacular of the verses seems enigmatic. If the Torah wants to delineate why certain animals are not kosher why does it first list the manner in which those animals meet the criteria that would render it kosher? In other words, if the Torah wants to emphasize that the camel, hyrax, and hare are not kosher because their hooves are not split, why first mention that they chew their cud? And if the Torah wants to emphasize that the pig is not kosher because it does not chew its cud, why first mention that it has split hooves?
The Kli Yakar explains that in mentioning the ‘kosher components’ of the animal before listing their ‘non-kosher components’ the Torah is emphasizing a very poignant lesson. The fact that these animals meet certain kosher criteria is not a positive thing but rather is a further deficiency in the purity of those animals.
Eisav is compared to a pig. A pig is wont to stick out its hooves as if to promulgate the fact that it is a kosher animal. The fact that it fails to chew its cud is far less apparent. In that sense the pig is the perfect representation of Eisav who seeks to obscure his enmity towards Yaakov and his descendants. The fact that Eisav shows an external front of love and fraternity does not mitigate his wickedness, but rather increases it. Because of his chicanery and deviousness Eisav is a far more dangerous enemy than one who does not conceal his nefarious intent.
In a similar vein the Torah warns us that the camel, hyrax, and hare are not ‘less impure’ because they possess one of the criteria that would render it kosher. Rather, the fact that it seems to be partially kosher causes those animals to be ‘more impure’.
The Kli Yakar continues that the Medrash notes that the four not-kosher animals mentioned are symbolic of the four major exiles. “The camel refers to Babylonia… the hyrax refers to Persia… the hare refers to Greece… and the pig refers to Edom[1]
The reason why these specific animals represent those bitter exiles is because each of those nations contained traits that were alluring and tantalizing to the exiled Jew. That itself was/is the greatest danger. The ‘signs of purity’ within the impure animal pose the greatest threat to our spiritual well-being.    

The message of the Kli Yakar is not merely about the dangers we face externally, but perhaps even more so internally. Human beings are by nature subject to weakness and frailty, which includes the paradoxes and contradictions which we all live at times.
A wise man once quipped that human character is like New York weather in April. There can be wintry weather one day and summery weather the next day. 
We are even more badgered and befuddled by those who unabashedly live such contradictions. A man who prays intensely but cheats in business, one who gives generously to charity but is not careful with the laws of kashrus, one who observes Shabbos meticulously but slanders and maligns others freely, one who eats kosher but does not “speak” or “act” kosher, one who acts respectfully and generously to all but is a tyrant within his home, etc.
The Kli Yakar reveals to us the subtle insight that the Torah is teaching us. External piety inextricably connected with internal iniquity is the most dangerous level of impurity. Surely we must be wary of the external danger we face in this regard, and we must undoubtedly not allow our faith to be shaken by our pitiful brethren who live in such a sorry manner[2]. But the greatest lesson is regarding ourselves. We must ensure that our own actions are as pure as possible.

The parsha concludes with G-d’s message that G-d redeemed us from Egyptian bondage so that we can become holy through adherence to His laws[3]. The laws of holy eating remind us that in every facet of our behavior we have a responsibility to sanctity the Name of G-d, His holy People, and His holy Torah.  

“But this is what you shall not eat”
“And the pig refers to Edom

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

[1] Egyptian exile is not considered one of the four exiles because it essentially was before the Jews became a nation. It is also viewed as the prototype of all the future exiles and therefore remains in a class of its own.
[2] My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita, would always remind us not to confuse Jews with Judaism.
[3] See 11:45, and Rashi

Thursday, April 6, 2017



Rabbi Yaakov Levitt of Bialystok related the following poignant parable[2]:
One day an elderly man from a simple village became severely ill. His children immediately summoned the best doctor from the big city to examine him. After a thorough checkup the doctor concluded that although his condition was very serious, with proper medication the elderly man would have a complete recovery.
He wrote out a prescription in which he detailed the exact ingredients necessary to create the elixir needed to restore his health. Before leaving the doctor gave the family strict instructions. “Remember to give the patient this prescription three times a day. Dissolve it in a cup of water and make sure he swallows it. Within a few days you should see significant improvement.”
The family thanked the doctor and assured him that they would do exactly as he said. Within a few days however, it was clear that the patient’s condition was rapidly worsening. They ran to summon the doctor. “What kind of a doctor are you?” they demanded, “not only has our father’s condition not improved, it has worsened terribly.”
The doctor couldn’t believe it. He hurried to the patients’ bedside and shook his head. “I just can’t understand what went wrong. The prescription I wrote out for you was exactly what he needs to combat those symptoms. But perhaps I made a mistake. Let me take a look at the prescription and see if I missed an important ingredient or wrote the wrong amount.”
The eldest son shook his head, “the prescription is all gone.”
The doctor was confused. “What do you mean it’s gone? What happened to it?”
The son explained, “How long did you think it would last? We followed your instructions to the tee. The day you left we immediately began ripping up the prescription paper into small pieces and dissolving it in water which we gave our father to drink. By now he has consumed the entire paper.”
The doctor was too stunned to speak. “You foolish people! You complain to me that you’re father did not get better from my prescription? It’s a miracle that he’s still alive at all. Did you really think your father would be cured by eating the paper I wrote on? The prescription paper is only to inform the pharmacist how to make the required medicine. If you would have followed the advice written on the prescription instead of having your father swallow it he would be fine now.” 

A Todah (thanksgiving) offering was brought by an individual who survived a perilous situation. But one need not wait until a tragedy was averted for him to bring an offering of thanksgiving to the Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash. One was permitted to donate a Shelamim (peace-offering) any time he so desired[3].
In our daily prayers we ask G-d, “Bless us, our Father - all of us as one - with the light of Your countenance… And may it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel, in every season and every hour with peace…”  
Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l noted that in this blessing we are not requesting new things from G-d, rather we are praying that the good we have already been blessed with continue. We pray not only that G-d continues to shower us with blessings and goodness, but that we have the sense to appreciate what we have.

Very often people look back to years and decades gone by, sigh nostalgically, and exclaim, “Those were the good old days!” Rabbi Miller counters that we would be wise to realize that “These are the good old days!” Perhaps there was a time when we were more vibrant and youthful. Perhaps there was a time when our lives were more exciting and carefree. But almost invariably at some point in the future we will look back to today wonder why we didn’t appreciate it more.
          The wisest of men exhorts us[4], "Do not ask why were the earlier days better then now, for it not out of wisdom do you inquire about this". Shlomo Hamelech urges us not to focus too deeply and ponder the 'good old days'. Rather, one should appreciate the gifts of the present and thank G-d for the blessings he has been endowed with. “Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy… Enjoy happiness with the woman you love all the fleeting days of your life that have been granted to you under the sun… For that alone is what you can get out of life, and out of the means you acquire under the sun.[5]
          Our problem is that in the daily bustle of life we hardly ever stop to smell the flowers.

          An insightful and analytical friend of mine recently quipped to me, “I have finally pinpointed what it is about the way we celebrate Chol Hamo’ed[6] that bothers me so much.” He explained that in our fast-paced, rapid moving society we often find ourselves in a relentless pursuit of accomplishment and success. [The irony is that the furtherance of technology raises our expectations and demands for efficiency and effectiveness, which in turn ensures that we have less time, not more.]
          Every six months G-d grants us an elongated week-long Yom Tov (holiday) celebration. A holiday is called a “Mo’ed” which literally means a meeting place. When one is invited to a meeting with a respected and important dignitary, everything in his life aside for that meeting is put on hold. He does not answer his phone, or check his messages. For the duration of the precious minutes of that meeting he is completely focused on the meeting.
          A holiday is a Mo’ed in the sense that it is an opportunity for us to get off the rapid moving cogwheel of life, and to spend a week joyously appreciating the blessings of our lives, so that we can thereby feel gratitude and connection with G-d[7]
           However, ironically, we have taken Chol Hamo’ed and transformed it into a stressful and pressurized time - the very concepts that the holiday affords us an opportunity to escape from! We often spend the day stressing over where to go and when to leave. The whole holiday centers around the Chol Hamo’ed plans, which at times metamorphoses into an all out family feud. [This is not to say that one should not go on family trips during Chol Hamo’ed. Au contraire! However, the trips should be a time of familial bonding, a chance to enjoy the family without the daily pressures that abound.] 
In the haggadah we read that while enslaved in Egypt we suffered terrible oppression. The author of the haggadah offers a fascinating definition of Egyptian oppression. ואת לחצנו זו הדחק" – ‘Our oppression’ refers to the pressure”. Aside from the physical servitude which our forefathers were subjected to, the Egyptians enslaved them mentally and psychologically. The slavery and workload was so intense that they did not even have the ability to dream about liberation and freedom[8].
Our celebration of the exodus includes the fact that we are no longer subject to Egyptian oppressive pressure. On the other hand, in our exile we are still very much plagued by stress and pressure and it inevitably takes its toll on us, physically and mentally.    

In the Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov we request, “Load upon us - Hashem, our G-d - the blessings of Your appointed festivals for life and for peace, for gladness and for joy, as You desired and promised to bless us.” The holidays are an opportunity to stop the daily grind so that we can stop to smell the flowers and count our blessings.
But if we are too busy deciding what to do during the holiday and how to optimize the holiday then we have failed to utilize the holiday for what it was intended. We become analogous to the foolish children who swallow the prescription itself as the medicine instead of following its instructions.
Of course, both Succos and Pesach have their own individual meaning that one must contemplate, analyze, and ponder. But even before one begins to think about the individual uniqueness endemic to each holiday, one must realize that the holiday itself is a mo’ed - a meeting not only between a person and his Creator, but also with himself!
If one indeed takes advantage of the mo’ed he will realize just how much blessing he has in his life, (even if others have more). The holiday will help him realize the omnipresent miracles that are part of his life on a daily basis.
It will help him live a life of shelamim, and not wait to express his gratitude until he has reason to bring a Todah!

“Load upon us the blessings of Your appointed festivals”
These are the good old days!

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

[1] The following is based on the sermon I was privileged to deliver in our shul - Kehillat New Hempstead – Shabbos kodesh parshas Vayikra 5770. Because of the timeliness and relevance of this message I decided to record it even though I just related these words this past Shabbos.
[2] Quoted in the “Haggadah of the Palace Gates” by Rabbi Shalom Wallach
[3] The Shelamim was so called because ‘everyone’ received a portion of it. Some of the animal was burnt on the altar, certain parts were given to the Kohanim, and some was given to the owner to eat.
[4] Koheles 7:10
[5][5] Koheles 9:7-9
[6] The Intermediary days of Pesach and Succos
[7] The reason for Chol Hamo’ed is that the Sages realized that a week of absolutely no halachically forbidden work was too much for people. Based on analytical exegesis of the verses, they concluded that the Torah only considers the first and last day of the holiday to maintain the added stringency of Yom Tov, while the remaining days have a mitigated status of Yom Tov. Thus Chol Hamo’ed is an opportunity to spend time enjoying the blessings of the holiday, in a less restricted manner than Yom Tov itself.  
[8] See Shemos “they did not listen to Moshe because of shortness of breath and hard work.” Also see Mesillas Yeshraim (chapter 2) where he explains that the secret to Pharaoh’s success was based on the incredible workload which ensured that the Jews could not contemplate their roots or think about their destiny.