Thursday, June 22, 2017

PARSHAS KORACH 5777

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS KORACH 5777
 “THE PRINCIPLE OF THE MATTER”

Rabbi Shlomke of Zvhill was walking home from shul one morning flanked by his gabbai (sexton), when a man approached him and began berating the Rebbe with a barrage of insults. The Rebbe patiently stuck his hand into his pocket and handed the man a few coins. The man took the money and left.
The gabbai was dumbstruck by what had occurred. The Rebbe explained, “One must be able to understand what a person is really saying, even beyond their words. I realized that when this man was really nervous because he needs money. So, I handed him a few coins, and he was content.”

The Mishna[1] contrasts a dispute which is “for the sake of heaven” (i.e. with pure motives) with one that is not for the sake of heaven (i.e. with ulterior motives). The former is epitomized by the disputes between the academies of Hillel and Shamai, whose variant views in halacha were legendary. Yet, despite their numerous disputes, the disciples had the greatest respect for each other. It is for that reason that we continue to study their disputes.
The latter is epitomized by Korach and his assembly, who waged a feud against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. They had an ignominious end, punished with eternal dishonor. In fact, there is a Torah prohibition[2], “that he not be like Korach and his assembly.”
The Chofetz Chaim explains that to a Jew, intellectual disagreement is an integral part of life. As a spiritual, thinking people, we are always involved in the discussion and exchange of ideas. The peril of such interactions is that a philosophical debate can easily morph into a personal debate, which can easily spiral into bickering, animosity, jealousy, and competition.
Jews are always passionate and ideological[3]. But that can often cause deep rifts and contention. This is essentially what occurred with Korach. Korach countered that all Jews are holy and, therefore, Moshe and Aharon had no right to ‘usurp’ the leadership.
Korach’s arguments were rooted in personal feelings of envy that he did not merit a position of leadership.
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l notes that perhaps the most frightening aspect of what occurred is that Korach himself was convinced that he was acting with purely altruistic motives.  If one would have asked Korach if he felt any envy towards Moshe and Aharon, he would have vehemently denied it.
When Moshe tells Korach that he and his followers were to offer ketores (incense) on the Altar as a means of determining who is truly the chosen one of G-d, Korach accedes. Offering the ketores was only permitted by one designated by G-d. It is punishable by death if brought by anyone else. What’s more, the entire nation was well aware of the tragic end of Nadav and Avihu when they sought to offer ketores without being instructed to do so.
Korach was so convinced of the veracity of his mission that he was prepared to proceed. His two hundred and fifty followers indeed offered the ketores and were instantly killed.
The Chofetz Chaim warns that before we embark on any ideological campaign we must carefully analyze and ponder our motives. If this is where the great Korach erred, we must pay heed to that painful lesson!
The tragic story of Korach is a mere historical tale. Many live the mistake of Korach constantly. There is no dearth of disputes and feuds. The wise person will be painfully meticulous to probe his true motivation before he allows himself to become involved in any such schism.

On his album “Me’umka d’Lipa”, Lipa Schmeltzer sings a song (in Yiddish) about a fellow who arrives in shul as a guest one Friday night and is convinced that he will be asked to be the chazzan. When he is not asked to do so, he reasons that he will surely be asked to be chazzan for shachris the following morning. When that too doesn’t occur, he reassures himself that he will surely be called to the Torah for one of the seven aliyos, or at least asked to lead Mussaf. By the time they begin Mussaf and he has not been given any recognition at all, he is very upset.
Just prior to the Mussaf Shemoneh Esrei the miffed guest realizes that the gabbai forgot to announce that a certain prayer must be added. The guest wastes no time, and he bangs on the table and calls out repeatedly the ubiquitous, “Nu! Nu! Nu! Nu!”
The narrator wisely explains that upon further introspection, it becomes clear that the guest’s overt passion in sending the gabbai a reminder, was not because he was afraid that the congregation would be remiss in their prayers. Rather, in his feelings of annoyance with the gabbai whom he perceives has slighted him, he had found a way to make the gabbai feel badly as well, and so he jumped on the opportunity!

“That he not be like Korach and his assembly”
“For the sake of heaven”


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



[1] Avos 5:20
[2] Bamidbar 17:5
[3] On one occasion a rabbi related the old quip “Two Jews; three opinions”. Someone immediately called out, “No Rabbi, it’s three Jews; four opinions!”

Thursday, June 15, 2017

PARSHAS SHELACH 5777


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS SHELACH 5777
 “THE COWARD AND THE HERO”

In 5770, I was privileged to spend a week in Eretz Yisroel with a group of Rabbis
from across America and Canada. One of the great people I met there was Rabbi Avi Berman, director of the Orthodox Union in Eretz Yisroel. Among his other important work, is Rabbi Berman’s involvement with Israeli soldiers.  When soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces went into combat against Hamas in Gaza a few years ago, he spearheaded the dissemination of tefillin to over a hundred soldiers who were interested in adding a spiritual component to their weaponry. After the operation in Gaza concluded, the OU continued to be in contact with the soldiers who had received the new pairs of tefillin.
Outside enemy territory the army erects a home base. Before advancing into combat, at that base, soldiers leave all their personal belongings and valuables.
Rabbi Berman related that he was friends with a soldier who was killed during the Gaza campaign. When they gathered his personal belongings after he was killed, they found on his camera a video which was taken just before he had set out with his unit, on what would be his final mission. The video showed the soldier and members of his unit dancing intensely with their unit’s Army-Rabbi singing "עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה" - The eternal nation does not fear the long road[1].”   
During the Shabbos I was in Eretz Yisroel, we had the privilege to eat Shalosh Seudos at the home of Abba and Pamela Claver. The Clavers live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim, and their rooftop provides a magnificent view of the Kosel and the Temple Mount.
But what made the experience truly special was the fact that we ate together with a regiment of religious soldiers. In fact, we sat interspersed among the soldiers, and had a chance to get to know them. One of the highlights of the seudah for me was when we sang the aforementioned "עם הנצח" together.
Defending Eretz Yisroel, being, and living, as a Torah Jew, and seeking to gain any level of mastery in Torah study, the noblest pursuit of all, all entail perseverance along “the long road”. The eternal people must always proceed without fear! 

The nation stood at the threshold of Eretz Yisroel, their entry into the land imminent. Twelve of the greatest leaders of the nation, one leader representing each tribe, were dispatched to survey the land. The results of that mission were catastrophic. 
Ten spies reported that the inhabitants of the Land were possessed insurmountable strength, and were impregnable. Two spies however, returned preaching that they would be able to vanquish the inhabitants, despite the odds.
Ten spies lamented that, “We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us”, and two spies countered, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it.” Ten spies cried, “It is a land that devours its inhabitants… we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes”, while two spies retorted, “If G-d desires us, He will He will bring us to this Land and give it to us… You should not fear the people of the Land for they are our bread… G-d is with us. Do not fear them!”
It is uncanny that the same people who saw the same thing could have had two diametrically different experiences. How could ten spies return full of dread and pessimism, while the other two were filled with sanguinity and excitement?
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’l[2] explained that one’s level of bitachon[3] in G-d is based on the context of his perceived relationship with G-d. If one truly believes that G-d loves him, he will relate to the events of life with a far more optimistic attitude, than one who believes G-d is ‘out to get him’ (heaven forefend).
On their great level, the ten spies felt a certain spiritual/psychological aloofness from G-d. They did not feel worthy enough of G-d’s love and protection[4]. Therefore, when they saw the challenges they would face upon entry into the land, they saw them as impending disasters.
Yehoshua and Calev however, saw the same land through a lens of closeness to G-d. Their bitachon in G-d was whole-hearted, and they felt that G-d’s love for them, and all of Klal Yisroel, was uncompromised and unconditional. Therefore, when they viewed those same challenges, they saw them as opportunities that would undoubtedly yield Divinely-ordained victories.

Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita, the Lakewood Mashgiach, noted[5] that in Israel today there is a “Sar Habitachon - Minister of Defense” who is in charge of ensuring the security of the country. But Torah Jews have greater confidence in the “Sha’ar Habitachon”[6]. It is our sense of bitachon that grants us the ability to feel a sense of security and tranquility in an insecure world.   
Rabbi Salomon continued by quoting a poignant thought from Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm: It is commonly believed that the difference between a hero and a coward is that the coward is beset by fear, while the hero is not afraid. But this is a fallacy. If the hero indeed had no fear, either he would not proceed into battle in the first place, or even if he did, he would not fight with adequate gusto and determination.
In truth, both the hero and the coward may be intimidated and frightened by the prospects of the unknown they are facing. The difference is however, that the coward flees from the source of his fear, while the hero is propelled forward despite his fear. Both are afraid, but the coward is paralyzed by his fear and seeks avoidance, while the hero is more driven with confidence to confront his fear with every asset available to him. The coward seeks the path of least resistance, while the hero relentlessly readies himself for a long arduous journey. 

To become a hero, one must feel that sense of security which breeds optimism and hope. To have that level of bitachon in G-d there must be requisite feeling of connection with G-d, and a penetratingly deep realization of how much G-d loves him.
The roads of life are daunting and ominous. But when one feels securely in the Hands of G-d he can proceed, because he is not afraid to confront fear itself!

 “G-d is with us. Do not fear them!”
 “The eternal nation does not fear the long road”


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



[1] This well known song sung by religious soldiers was written during the Disengagement from Gaza by the settlers as they were being evacuated. It is sung to the popular tune commonly sung to the words, “Oz V’hadar l’vushah”.
[2] Alei Shor, Volume 2, p. 576
[3] Bitachon is the highest level of trust in G-d. It is a deeper and higher level than emunah (faith). Bitachon literally means security; one who has bitachon in G-d feels completely secure no matter what happens to him because he sincerely feels that he is in G-d’s Hands. Chazon Ish explains that emunah is an intellectual belief, while bitachon is an emotional belief, and therefore is much stronger. 
[4] The Chofetz Chaim develops this idea at length. He explains that the spies felt misplaced humility, figuring that they were unworthy of divine intervention and miracles. The Chofetz Chaim continues that this is a common tactic of our own Evil Inclination; he seeks to make us feel unworthy and distant from G-d, which in turn affects all of our Service to G-d.
[5] Torah Umesorah Convention – Iyar 5769/May 2009
[6] Literally the “Gates of Trust (in G-d)”; a reference to the section with that title in the great ethical work Chovas Halivavos (Duties of the Heart) 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

PARSHAS BEHA’ALOSCHA 5777

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS BEHA’ALOSCHA 5777
 “WHO YOU GOING TO CALL”

            My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, related that there was a woman who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and the Concentration Camps, but lost everything, including friends and family. For years, she would peel vegetables and cook a pot of soup every day. Then, when it was ready, she would angrily spill it down the drain to ‘spite G-d’ for all the pain and agony she had suffered.
                        Rabbi Wein commented that although her act seems like blatant brazenness, one can view it from a vastly different perspective: Despite all that she had gone through, and all of the horrors she had endured, she still maintained her unwavering belief that everything that occurred to her was orchestrated by the Hand of G-d. She was angry at that Hand but she knew, unquestionably, that it was all G-d’s work!

          It was finally time for the nation to travel forth from Sinai. After all of the glory and greatness of what occurred at Sinai, from that point onward there seemed to be one tragedy after another. The gemara says that when the nation departed Sinai they did so “like children running away from school”[1]. They were afraid that more laws and restrictions would be imposed upon them. Shortly after, complainers aroused tension and unrest among the masses, igniting G-d’s wrath. A fire raged within the camp causing much damage.
When that debacle concluded, yet another tragedy followed. “The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also wept once more and said, ‘Who will feed us meat?’[2]” They complained that the manna was trite and unfulfilling, and they desired real food. That event too ended in severe tragedy, with many dying a horrible death.  
Rabbi Yecheskel Abramsky zt’l was once asked the following question:
Our forefathers who witnessed the exodus, revelation of Sinai, and the omnipresent miracles in the desert were known as the “Dor De’ah – Generation of knowledge”. There never was, or will be, a generation that had such a deeply rooted connection with the G-d as they did. Every individual of that generation merited being a progenitor of the eternal Chosen Nation. Yet, when studying the events that transpired throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert, there seems to be a glaring lack of faith and connection with G-d. If they were so connected how could they repeatedly fall prey to sin?
Rabbi Abramsky answered by relating that, one year during the reading of Megillas Esther on Purim, he noticed a young boy who did not shake a grogger when the name of Haman was read during the Megilla. Later on, he asked the boy why he didn’t make noise like all the other boys his age did. The boy replied that he did not have a grogger. The boy explained that he was an orphan and had no one to ask to procure a grogger for him.
           Rabbi Abramsky explained that the greatness of that generation was that they truly felt that G-d was their father, who cared about every petty detail in their lives. Therefore, as soon as there was anything in their lives that bothered them they turned to their Father and voiced their dissatisfaction. Thus, it was their incredible faith and connection with G-d which caused them to subtly lose perspective and complain to G-d inappropriately.
In other words, it wasn’t a lack of faith that caused them to sin, but an overwhelmingly stark realization of their connection with G-d. The problem was that their stark understanding caused them to lose sight of proper boundaries.
Rabbi Abramsky added that when the nation gathered en masse to donate materials for the construction of the Mishkan the verse says[3]: “The Children of Israel brought a donation to G-d.”  The Torah is testifying that when they brought their donations to Moshe it was solely “for G-d”, i.e. without any ulterior motive. They were not interested in personal fame and honor, only the honor of G-d.
The greatness of that generation was their deep-rooted knowledge that G-d is truly a loving Father. They understood that when one has complaints or doubts in lives, ultimately the only One who can help is G-d.[4] To them it wasn’t polemics; they lived with that realization!
Some years ago, a yeshiva student wrote a letter to Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt’l, about certain serious issues that he felt were impinging his growth. He turned to Rabbi Pinkus to solicit his advice. Rabbi Pinkus’ response is characteristic and legenendary[5]:
“To the precious student…
“I received and read your letter. I must say that I have not reached a level where I can give advice to people, telling them exactly what to do. However, I will reply and respond to your remarks according to my limited understanding.
“It seems to me that you are trying very hard to grow in Torah and Yiras Shamayim (Fear of Heaven), and that you are certainly fulfilling your required efforts and hishtadlus in this regard. However, you now find yourself in a position where you simply need help from outside. The logical explanation for this is simply because all lofty and spiritual pursuits require special assistance, above and beyond our physical capabilities. Therefore, I am providing you with the name and address of someone who can surely help you:
“They call Him G-d.
“He is very strong, since in truth, He created everything! I also know with certainty that He loves you personally very much, and that He especially desires that you should turn to Him. You will have no problem finding Him, since He is everywhere, in the simplest form of understanding. In fact, even now as you read this letter, you can simply turn to Him.
“I write this because many people mistakenly think that this understanding is only attained through Prayer, good deeds, and exalted levels…. This is all true. However, it is not the main requirement. Rather, the main requirement is to understand that G-d is not a “concept”, Heaven forfend. Rather, G-d is real, alive, and eternal and we can forge a personal relationship with Him!
“The more that we realize this, the more we will turn to Him - and the stronger our relationship with Him will become. We will simply share our problems with Him and ask Him to help us over and over…
“If someone will give you different advice, it is a waste of your time to pursue it. Simply turn to the One who can truly help you (Hashem Yisborach) and grab hold of Him and never let go until you achieve that which your heart desires!
“I sign with honor for a Ben Torah who is searching for the truth, but simply doesn’t know where to look!
----Shimshon Dovid Pincus”

Rabbi Pincus did not merely preach these ideas. He lived them every day of his life.
There was a couple who lived in Ofakim[6] who were not blessed with children[7]. Years went by and, despite all their efforts they still did not merit a child.
One day the man approached Rabbi Pinkus and poured out his heart. After listening to the man’s painful account, Rabbi Pinkus replied that he was going to pick him up that evening to take him to a special place to daven.
The man wondered what kind of mystical and holy place Rabbi Pinkus knew of, that he was going to take him to in the dead of night.
That night Rabbi Pinkus borrowed his neighbor’s car and, around midnight, drove up to the man’s house. They drove out of Ofakim into the nearby desert. After some time, they arrived at a deserted area. Rabbi Pinkus told the man that he should exit the car. After the man stepped out, Rabbi Pinkus told him: “It is dark and ominous here in the dead of night! Don’t look for a road to take you home because there is nothing out here. In this place, it’s just you and the Master of the World! I am leaving you here and I will return. Do not speak to G-d, don’t cry, and don’t pray. Rather, scream out to G-d! Pour out your heart and soul and beseech Him with prayer. In that way, you will receive the slavation you seek. I will be back in a half-hour.” With that Rabbi Pinkus drove off into the night.
Rabbi Pinkus returned a half-hour later and gazed at the shaken young man’s face. “I’m sorry, but it seems to me that you have not cried sufficiently. I am telling you again: Cry! Beg! Speak with G-d and relate to Him your request!” With that, Rabbi Pinkus again drove off.
Sometime later he returned again. This time he noticed that the man’s clothes were drenched with sweat and tears. Rabbi Pinkus smiled, “This is what I meant. You will see that your prayers will be answered.” 
Today the young man is the father of a beautiful family.   

The Gemara[8] states: “Anyone who has no wisdom, it is forbidden to have mercy on him.” Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explained[9] that this surely does not refer to someone who lacks intelligence or is lacking mental aptitude. Rather, it refers to one beset by travails, disease, and difficulties who does not consider that it is G-d who is behind everything transpiring to him. Such a person has lost perspective of his suffering and therefore does not deserve the mercy of others.   
The personages mentioned in the Torah may have been cuplable of various sins on their level, but they remain our foremost role models, because they understood how to live a life of connection with G-d. Ultimately, the struggle and pursuit incumbent upon every one of us is to live by their example. We must truly believe that G-d is our father and king, and only He has the ability to grant us our needs and desires.

“Who will feed us meat?”
“Our Father in Heaven”


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




[1] Shabbos 115b
[2] 11:4
[3] 35:29
[4] Their ‘sin’ was that on their great level they should have presented their complaints in a more refined and respectful manner.
[5] The letter is printed in the original Hebrew in Nefesh Shimshon (Igros Umichtavim). I have found this translation is not my own, but am unsure of its authorship.  
[6] the community where Rabbi Pinkus served as its Rabbi
[7] This incredible story is written in ‘Rabboseinu Shbadarom” a biography about Rabbi Pinkus, page 144
[8] Sanhedrin 92a
[9] Commentary to Yeshaya 27:12