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