Thursday, September 28, 2017


L’zecher nishmas Alexander ben Nuteh Yitzchok


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017



Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l related that he once asked a survivor how he endured five years in a forced labor camp, and remained a believer? How could he have emerged with the same love for Hashem?
The man replied, “We couldn’t keep one mitzvah in the camp. They deprived us of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Torah, etc. and from early morning until late in the evening they guarded us closely. But there was one thing they could not take away from us – the moon! There were inmates among us who calculated when Rosh Chodesh was, and when it was time to recite Kiddush Levana. On that night, as we would walk back to the barracks with soldiers on both sides, someone would whisper ‘Miken machen Kiddush Levana’ and we would hold hands and say Kiddush Levana. That symbolized everything to us.
This was a fulfillment of the words we recite in the blessing of Kiddush Levana: “To the moon he said that it should renew itself, as a crown of splendor for those borne by Him from the womb, those who are destined to renew themselves like it, and to glorify their Creator for the sake of His glorious kingdom.”[1]

After relating the harsh and frightening words of rebuke, Moshe Rabbeinu tells the nation: “You shall observe the words of this covenant… so that you will succeed in all that you do.”[2]
Rav Nissan Alpert zt’l notes that when a word ends with the letter nun – such as the final word of this verse (ta’asun- that you do) - it means to minimize whatever is being discussed.
At times, a relatively minor action can be as valuable as a greater action, because of its rarity and necessity. For example, if someone gives a few coins to a destitute person who is then able to buy some food which saves him from starvation, the contributor has saved a life despite the fact that he gave very little.
Moshe Rabbeinu was conveying to Klal Yisroel that after a period of tochacha (the fulfillment of the frightening rebuke delineated earlier in the parsha) merely preserving the covenant is itself profound. The ability to persevere in the face of terrible prosecution is heroic.
The generation of survivors, who we are still privileged to have met, are living fulfillment of this idea. Despite the atrocities they suffered they maintained their faith and have transmitted to us a conviction that defies all odds and logic. Our successes are solely due to their sacrifices.    

There’s a question that we all ask ourselves from time to time: If Moshiach didn’t come during the lifetime, and in the merit of, our great leaders of yesteryear, how can we dare think he’ll come during our generation? If the Chofetz Chaim, Chasam Sofer, Vilna Gaon, Ba’al Shem Tov, Rambam, and Rashi did not merit greeting Moshiach, how can we even hope to merit seeing him?
Rabbi Azriel Tauber related a poignant answer, based on the following analogy. In the army, there are two types of heroes. There is the hero who is willing to disregard his personal safety and place himself in peril for the sake of his comrades. He fearlessly plunges himself into the line of fire to take on the enemy and bring honor to his people.
Then there is the second type of hero who is not a particularly high-ranking officer, and isn’t known for his bravery or military acumen. But when he is captured by the enemy and offered his freedom and wealth for merely pledging his allegiance to the enemy, he obdurately refuses. He is willing to endure ridicule and discomfort rather than to turn his back on his king and his people. Such a person may not save his country but he shows ultimate loyalty and love for his king. Despite not having actually committed any great acts of heroism, his sheer loyalty makes him a hero for his people.
Throughout our history we have had many great and heroic leaders. These Torah giants invested every ounce of their strength and capabilities for the honor of Hashem, the Torah, and the Jewish people. They are analogous to the heroic soldier who is willing to take on the enemy under fire.
Then there is the second hero. He may not possess such extreme sagacity or leadership, he may not even be an accomplished scholar. However, he contains an incredible loyalty that trumps everything else. Though tempted by the ultimate enemy – the evil inclination – to succumb to the temptations and whims of society at large, he is unyielding. He may be assured pleasure and fun if he lets his guard down, and what’s more, he is guaranteed that no one will ever know of his actions, and he can maintain his veneer of piety. Yet he will not budge. Such a fellow demonstrates uncanny loyalty, borne out of sheer love and devotion for his king. He demonstrates that his unwavering love for Hashem is so strong that he is willing to forgo all pleasures of society, simply because it is not what Hashem wants of him.
Rabbi Tauber explained that while we may no longer have the first class of heroes, there are individuals in our time who are from the second class of heroes. No one in the world may know it, expect for Hashem Himself. It is their unbending loyalty in the face of such powerful urges and drives, that may very well be the catalyst and merit that brings Moshiach.
We may never achieve the greatness of that first class of heroes, but every one of us can become members of the second class of heroes. 
When Moshiach indeed arrives, we may be shocked to discover who Moshiach thanks for hastening his arrival. It may very likely be us!

“You shall observe the words of this covenant”
“To the moon he said that it should renew itself”

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

[1] Related by Harav Matisyahu Salomon shlita, Siyum Hashas at Madison Square Garden, March 1, 2005
[2] Devorim 29:8