Wednesday, October 11, 2017



One year on Simchas Torah, the Chelkas Yaakov[1] noticed one of the members of his shul dancing with intense fervor and devotion. The man was not well versed in Torah, and didn’t learn much throughout the year. For some time, the Chelkas Yaakov watched in fascination as the man danced with the enthusiasm of a seasoned scholar, but after a while his curiosity got the better of him. He approached the man and politely asked him why he was dancing so passionately.
 The man replied, “Rabbi, a short time ago, on Yom Kippur I read the confession. One of the numerous sins delineated was that of accepting a bribe[2]. I am not a judge nor a Rabbi; when would I have the opportunity to accept a bribe? It seems clear that this is a communal confession, and I am confessing for the sin of a Rabbi who may have accepted a bribe. If I confess for the Rabbi’s sins, should I not be able to dance for the Rabbi’s Torah?”
With that the man walked back to the circle and resumed his fervent dancing. The Chelkas Yaakov admitted that it was a good rationale.

The month of Tishrei contains more holidays than any other month on the Jewish calendar. Even after the seven days of Succos have concluded, the final climactic day of Shemini Atzeres is dedicated to joy and celebration. Chazal compare the day’s joy to a king who invited his family to celebrate with him for some time. When the celebration was about to end, the king requested that they remain for one more day.
So too, G-d says to us, as it were, “We have spent so much time together throughout the last few weeks of Rosh Hashnah, Yom Kippur and Succos. קשה עלי פרידתכם  – Your separation is difficult for me. Please stay one more day”. Shemini Atzeres is therefore an added day, an opportunity to spend the day simply enjoying an intimate connection with G-d, and reflecting all that we have accomplished throughout the previous weeks.[3]
The Torah writes “Shivas yomim tochog laHashem Elokecha... V’hayisa ach samayach - For seven days you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d... and you shall only rejoice.”[4] The Gemara[5] explains that this verse is teaching us that there is a mitzvah of joy on the eighth day too (e.g. Shnmini Atzeres).
Generally, the word “Ach - onlyusually implies an exclusion, i.e. only this and not that. Why, in regard to Shemini Atzeres, does the verse teach us an inclusion, i.e. that the joy of the holiday applies to Shemini Atzeres as well, utilizing a word that generally implies an exclusion?
 The Gra explains that for the duration of Succos we have three major mitzvos to fulfill: Living in the succah, shaking the Four Species, and to be in a state of constant joy. On Shemini Atzeres there is no longer a mitzvah to sit in the succah[6] or shake the Four Species, we are left with only the mitzvah of being in a state of joy. Thus, the word “ach” indeed is exclusive, in that it excludes the other mitzvos of Succos. What remains is the mitzvah of being joyous, the only mitzvah that still applies to Shemini Atzeres as well.
The Gra’s explanation still does not adequately answer our questions. If the word ‘ach’ generally connotes a clear exclusion, why here does the gemara say it includes the mitzvah of joy on Shemini Atzeres? How does the Gra understand that the removing the other two mitzvos of Succos teaches us that there is a special mitzvah of joy on Shmini Atzeres?
The Gemara[7] states a general rule: We do not perform many mitzvos together. Tosafos[8] explains that each mitzvah requires complete devotion and concentration. If one performs multiple mitzvos simultaneously, he will be unable to give each mitzvah the proper focus.
On Succos however, we are instructed to perform many mitzvos at the same time. The inevitable result is that because we are so focused on the mitzva of succah and the Four Species, we are unable to devote our full concentration to the mitzvah of joy.[9]
On Shmini Atzeres when two of the mitzvos are no longer applicable, a person’s full attention is then directed towards the mitzvah of being in a state of joy. Therefore, the sole focus of the day is to rejoice in the knowledge that he is a vital part of the Chosen Nation, worthy of keeping G-d’s Torah and mitzvos.

An integral component of that joy is devoted to our celebration upon the completion of our annual cycle of Torah reading[10]. Our celebration on Simchas Torah seems peculiar: If Simchas Torah is indeed a celebration for our completion of the Torah, why don’t we learn the whole day, thereby proving our dedication and joy in Torah?
Rabbi Moshe Jacobson zt’l[11] explained that everyone has an equal share in the joy of Simchas Torah. Although not everyone is able to learn in depth, everyone can clutch the Torah tightly, and hold it close to his heart.
Simchas Torah is not merely a celebration for the study of Torah, but also for the fact that we are the Torah nation. Our uniqueness stems completely from our connection to Torah, and for that alone we rejoice. Therefore, even those who may not have a tremendous portion of Torah learning can rejoice with their connection to Torah living.
During the final year of his life, the Chofetz Chaim was bedridden. On Simchas Torah morning he informed his family that he wished to be transported to shul so that he could dance with the Torah. When the Chofetz Chaim entered the shul, the students who had been dancing, gathered around their revered Rebbe and danced with all their strength.
His beloved student, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman zt’l began to dance in front of the Chofetz Chaim alone, with unparalleled fervor and enthusiasm. The Chofetz Chaim looked up from his coat and smiled. Then he gathered every ounce of energy, and, after not standing for weeks, stood up to weakly to dance with Rabbi Elchonon.
The joy of Simchas Torah is not something to be taken lightly. Our dancing represents our love and dedication to G-d. That joy is not limited to proficient scholars. Every Jew rejoices for his personal connection to Torah, and the uninhibited joy he feels in being a member of the Chosen Nation.

“For seven days you shall rejoice before Hashem”
“And you shall only rejoice”

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

[1] Rav Mordechai Yaakov Breish of Zurich, the Chelkas Yaakov (1895-1976). Following a life-threatening incident with the Nazis, who had just come to power, Rav Mordechai Yaakov and his wife decided to escape Germany. After a brief time in Lance, France, they settled in Zurich, Switzerland, where he nurtured the Jewish community for 40 years. In 1967, he established the Kollel Le’horaah Chelkas Yaakov in Bnai Brak.
[2]Al chayt shechatanu lifanecha b’chapas shochad’
[3] see Rashi, Vayikra 23:36
[4] Devorim 16:15
[5] Succah 48a
[6] Outside of Eretz Yisroel we sit in the succah on Shemini Atzeres because of ‘Sefaykah d’yoma – the doubt of the days’.
[7] Sotah 8a
[8] Moed Kattan 5b
[9] Although, joy is the inevitable result of performing the other mitzvos properly, it becomes the result, and not the sole focus.
[10] Outside Eretz Yisroel we observe Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah on separate days. However, they are inextricably bound.
[11] Chief Rabbi of Copenhagen Denmark

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


   Once upon a time, the world existed without Waze and GPS systems. People had to rely on finding out driving directions before they left on their destination. If they didn’t they risked getting lost. In that archaic world (from not-too-long-ago), the first part of the following scenario was quite common[1]:
   Moshe and his wife, Sara, were driving down an empty highway somewhere in upstate New York. It was obvious that they were quite lost. Sara was exasperated, “Didn’t I tell you that you should ask my father for directions before we left? Anyway, none of this would have happened if you agreed to pull over and ask a gas station attendant where to go. Why is it so hard for you to ask directions?” Moshe replied sharply, “I didn’t need to ask for directions then, because, at that point, I knew where I was going. But because you were yelling at me I became confused and went the wrong way.” Sara’s eyes widened angrily, “Oh, so now it’s my fault!!!”
   On and on they argued for thirty-five miles of open highway. They finally turned off the highway to ask for directions. When they pulled up to a red light, Sara turned to Moshe and said, “Maybe now would be a good time to pull over and learn that really difficult daf of gemara you were struggling with last night.” Moshe was beside himself, “Here on the side of the road in some lost town? That has got to be the wildest suggestion ever! How do you expect me to concentrate?”
The Gemara[2] cites a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer regarding what the succah commemorates. Rabbi Eliezer opined that the succah commemorates the Divine Clouds of Glory that enwrapped Klal Yisroel in the desert, smoothing the path in front of them, and protecting them for the elements in the desert. Rabbi Akiva countered that the succah commemorates the huts that the Jewish Nation constructed and dwelled in while traveling through the desert.
Both opinions are perplexing. Throughout the forty years that the Jews sojourned through the desert, they were privy to myriads of miracles. Manna fell from the sky each morning, water flowed from a rock, and their clothing grew with them and never wore out. According to Rabbi Eliezer, why do we not also celebrate the other miracles that were omnipresent in the desert?
The opinion of Rabbi Akiva is even more enigmatic. Why should we celebrate a seven-day holiday in commemoration of the huts that the Jews dwelled in while they were in the desert? What connection do those huts have with us and why should remember them in such a grandiose fashion?[3]
As I write these words, I am currently sitting in Copenhagen Airport in Copenhagen, Denmark waiting for a friend who is meeting me here[4]. About two weeks ago, that friend and former classmate[5] invited me to spend Succos with him in a yeshiva for Russian students in Copenhagen. It took a few minutes before he convinced me that he was being serious. After much planning, here I am in Copenhagen.
Truth be told, when the idea of traveling to Copenhagen for Succos was first mentioned to me, I had to look at a map to locate the country. It took me some time to locate Denmark above Germany. That was basically the extent of my knowledge about the country when I boarded the plane a few hours ago. Now, as I sit here in the airport, donned in my yeshiva garb, I feel quite lost. It’s one thing when you are lost in a town or state. But, at this moment, I feel lost in the world!
When Klal Yisroel marched forth from Egypt, they entered an arid and desolate wilderness. After hearing about all the miracles of the exodus, and knowing that the Jewish nation was heading towards the Promised Land, the nations of the world were frightened and maintained their distance, surely not offering any support or assistance. The hapless nation was truly on its own!
In a similar vein, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’’l, the Satmar Rebbe, related, that after the Concentration Camp inmates were liberated at the conclusion of World War II, they were under the impression that after all they had suffered the world would rush to their aid. To their shock and chagrin, they were left to wander aimlessly, many languishing in squalid Displaced Person camp for many months before they were able to move on to begin a new life.  
When one doesn’t know where he is or where he is going, he is inevitably overcome with anxiety. It is hard for him to contemplate his next move, because he feels so alone and befuddled.
For a nation that had emerged from exile with nary any provisions or protection, it seemed that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish much until they arrived at their destination. However, it was in the desert that they achieved their greatest distinction - becoming the Chosen People. They accepted the Torah at Sinai, along with all its mitzvos and laws.
The greatness of those huts was not the flimsy building itself. Rather, it was the fact that they were able to feel settled and ‘at home’ in those makeshift huts. The fact that they felt so settled that they were able to achieve sufficient peace of mind to accept the Torah, despite the fact that they were a nomadic nation without provisions in a most dangerous territory, was miraculous.
Many years later, G-d lovingly reflected upon the tremendous faith that Klal Yisroel displayed upon leaving Egypt. “I remember the kindness of your youth; the love of your younger days. When you followed me into the desert, an unsown (undeveloped) land.” G-d repaid their faith by allowing them to feel comfortable and settled in that vast wasteland.

The pasuk explains that we dwell in succos, Because I enabled the Children of Israel to dwell in succos when I took them out of Egypt”[6]. Chidah notes that the pasuk doesn’t state “In succos I enabled them to travel” but “Hoshavti, (I enabled them) to dwell.” The Clouds of Glory were so tangible, that they literally enveloped the nation from all sides. Those who were worthy, were literally able to ‘ride the cloud’ as it carried them across the desert terrain.
Although everything that happened to Klal Yisroel in the desert was miraculous, the other miracles were necessary for the nation’s survival. G-d had to perform those miracles so that the nation didn’t die. The Clouds of Glory however, were provided solely as kindness from G-d. It greatly enhanced their traveling, but they could have survived without them.
The fact that G-d granted them those clouds demonstrated His boundless love for them. It is that love that we celebrate and commemorate on Succos.
After the awesome Days of Judgment have passed, we invoke the memory of the special closeness we attained with G-d in the desert. We rejoice for seven days in our succos, putting ourselves at the mercy of the elements, outside the protection and comfort of our homes.
On Succos, as we sit under the cover of the s’chach, we join with every Torah Jew throughout the world who is doing the same, whether in New York, Eretz Yisroel, South Africa, or Copenhagen. It is a holiday of joy and love, when we can feel at home, even if we are miles away from home.

   “I remember the kindness of your youth”
   “Because I enabled them to dwell in succos”

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

[1] I added this introduction this year (2017). Fascinatingly, a mere 17 years ago, when this essay was first written, it was unnecessary.
[2] Succah 11b
[3] The legend is that Martha Washington sewed the socks of the Colonist soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. Should there be an American custom to wear sown up socks on Independence Day?!
[4] This essay was written just prior to Succos 2000 (5760), before I was married.
[5] Rabbi Eli Berkowitz
[6] Vayikra 23:43