Thursday, December 14, 2017

PARSHAS MIKETZ 5778

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS MIKETZ 5778
“THE END UPON A TIME”[1]

There was a man who had survived the Holocaust and was completely broken. He had fallen into a state of yiush - utter despair.
Rabbi Yankel Galinsky knew him from years earlier, and suggested that he come with him to discuss his tragic situation with the Chazon Ish[2]. The man was reluctant; he didn’t feel like anything could help him after what he had seen and experienced. But eventually he agreed.
After listening to the man describe some of his horrible experiences, and his feelings of despair, the Chazon Ish told the man that he would like to share with him a halachic question from years earlier:
There was a woman who supported her husband, who learned Torah in kollel, by selling merchandise. On one occasion, she was in Leipzig for the major fair to sell her wares. After doing much business for a few days, she realized to her horror that she had lost the pouch that contained all the money she had collected.
She was beside herself with grief. That was the money she had painstakingly earned to provide for her family for a few months.
She went to the local Rav and related what had occurred. The Rav replied that he would announce it in town and, on the very small chance that a Jew had found it, hopefully he would return it.
Indeed, a few days later a Jew approached the Rav and said that he had found the pouch. But he argued that the woman had unquestionably given up hope of ever seeing the money again. Therefore, he asked the Rav if he was really obligated to return the pouch. The man added that he wasn’t interested in acting piously, beyond the letter of the law (lifnim mishuras hadin). He only wanted to know the bottom line halacha - is he really obligated to return it?[3]
The Rav was stymied and presented the question to Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector zt”l.
Rav Yitzchak Elchanan replied simply that the rule is, כל מה שקנתה אשה קנה בעלה - everything a woman acquires, belongs to her husband. Therefore, the woman’s yiush doesn’t count for anything, since it isn’t hers. The true owner - the husband - doesn’t know it’s missing, and therefore it’s a case of yiush shelo mida’as[4]. Therefore, the finder is indeed obligated to return the pouch to the woman.
After the Chazon Ish finished recounting the story, the man asked him what it had to do with his situation. The Chazon Ish replied that as a religious, Torah-abiding Jew, no matter how bleak and challenging things were, he had no right to be miyaesh. Like the woman in the story, who could not give up on money that belong to her husband, he could not give up on a life that had been granted to him by Hashem. Hashem preserved him throughout the horrors of the war, and therefore he is obligated to persevere.
Rav Yankel Galinsky related that the man left a different person. Everyone had tried to empathize and reason with him. But the Chazon Ish framed it differently - a person has no right to ever give up; it’s not our prerogative![5]

I often joke that Parshas Miketz ‘begins at the end’. That’s because the opening words of the parsha are, “And it was at the end of two years, and Pharaoh dreamed…”  But perhaps there is a deeper meaning to that statement, which also serves as a tremendously encouraging message, apropos to the Yom Tov of Chanukah.
The Bais Yosef asks: the gemara[6] states that the jug of oil the Chashmonaim found contained enough oil for one day. After they lit it, it miraculously continued to burn for an additional seven days. If so, the miracle was in fact only for seven days. So why is Chanukah an eight-day holiday, and not seven days?[7]
The Bais Yosef himself offers three possible answers. One of the ideas he writes is that the Chashmonaim divided the oil they had found into eight parts, and only poured one eighth of a cup into the menorah on that first night. The fact that it continued to burn the entire night and not only one eighth of the night, was a miracle on that first night, which repeated itself throughout all eight days.[8] 
This idea is very perplexing. How could the Chashmonaim divide the oil, thereby ensuring that naturally the mitzvah would not be fulfilled even that first night? They had no idea that a miracle would occur. If they only had enough oil for one night, they would have seemed to have been obligated to fulfill the mitzvah properly that first night, and worry about the subsequent nights later.
Rav Dovid’l of Skver zt’l explained that when they prepared to pour the contents of the jug into the menorah, the Chashmonaim did not intend to only fill an eighth of each cup. However, when they began pouring the oil, they were only able to squeeze out an eighth of a cup into each cup. Try as they might, they could not get out even a drop more. With no recourse, they lit with the oil that was there. The miracle was apparent that first night, when the candles continued to burn throughout the night.
The Nikolsburger Rebbe, Rav Yosef Lebovits[9], noted that the idea of Rav Dovid’l symbolizes a tremendous lesson about life. At times, we try to accomplish things, be it in the spiritual realm or physical realm, and find ourselves feeling very frustrated when we are not able to accomplish our objectives. It’s analogous to the oil not emerging, no matter how hard the jug is squeezed. We view it as a needless and frustrating experience, and don’t realize that Hashem may be orchestrating our frustration for our own benefit.
When Yaakov dispatches Yosef to check on his brothers’ welfare, it sets off a trajectory that lands Yosef as a slave in Egypt, and then as a prisoner in jail on trumped up charges. The commentaries ask, there is a rule that “emissaries sent to perform a mitzvah will not be harmed”. If so, how was Yosef able to suffer so much misery, as a direct result of his fulfilling the mitzvah of adhering to the instruction of his father?  
The truth however is, that one only would only ask such a question if he failed to see the bigger picture. In the bigger scheme of things, Yosef’s fulfilling his father’s instruction, ultimately led to his becoming viceroy of Egypt, and ability to sustain his entire family throughout the years of famine. But even before he became viceroy, by overcoming the incredibly difficult test of resisting the lustful advances of Potiphar’s wife, Yosef set down a foundation of holiness for the Jewish People in Egypt. That heroic self-control influenced the entire nation throughout their centuries there.[10]   
We can never know why things do or don’t happen to us. But we need to remind ourselves that the way things seem to us based on our limited physical senses is often not the way things really are.
Beyond that, even when things seem most bleak and it seems like a time of utter darkness, the Jewish People never give up. We live with the hope of a better tomorrow. How many times has an end also served as a new beginning.
The Holocaust was the tragic and unfathomable end of European Jewry. After the war, with the smoldering ashes still burning, the world gave up on the Jews ever again becoming a force, especially Torah Jewry. Yet, that was the beginning of a miraculous resurgence which continues until today.
Just prior to June 1967, it seemed like the end was coming. The entire country of Eretz Yisroel trembled in fear of the impending onslaught and attack from the Arabs on all sides. Yet, it ended being an incredible new beginning, with the reconquest of Yerushalayim and an incredible boost of morale for Jews the world over.
During the time of Chanukah too, it seemed like the end. The Hellenists were constantly growing in power and prestige, and the loyal few who were persecuted and abused, seemed hopeless. Yet, from the bowels of despair the Chashmonaim accomplished miraculous victories and created a holiday that continues to give us hope, even in the darkest and most unlikely of places.
There is no end for the eternal people, only new beginnings. Sometimes those beginnings are costly and painful, but we live with the faith that the candles, not only continue to burn, but increase each night.

“And it was at the end”
“A great salvation and redemption, like this day…”





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


[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Miketz 5777
[2] Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz zt’l
[3] Generally, the halacha is that if the owner gave up on getting his object back, the finder may keep it, though it is still proper for him to return it.
[4] When an owner doesn’t know his object is missing, he can’t actively “give up hope” on getting it back.  If it’s a situation where any rational person would give up hope of getting it back, but the owner doesn’t know about it, such as if it fell into the ocean, it’s considered “unintentional yiush”. The law in such a situation is a major Talmudic debate between Abayei and Rava. We hold that it is not considered yiush and therefore must be returned. 
[5] Story heard from Rav Yosef Veiner - Agudah convention 2018
[6] Shabbos 21b
[7] This is known as the famous question of the Bais Yosef. There are over five hundred solutions that have been offered to this legendary question.
[8] They were are that they would be able to procure pure oil in eight days, so they knew that jug had to last them for eight days.
[9] Derasha given in Nikolsburg Bais Medrash, Fourth night of Chanukah, 5777
[10] Egypt was a country seeped in immorality. Yet, from the millions of Jews there for over two hundred years, there was only one instance of immorality, which was forced, and the Torah publicizes that she was flirtatious – Shloimis bas Divri. The product of that relationship was the Egyptian who blasphemed G-d in the wilderness. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

PARSHAS VAYESHEV 5778

STAM TORAH
PARSHAS VAYESHEV 5778
“TIME AND PLACE”[1]

Last year, as he was beginning his remarks at a fahrbrengen[2] he was leading, Rabbi YY Jacobson related the following:
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it here tonight. I was in Aventura, Florida for an educator’s convention, and had a flight that was due to land back tonight in New York at 6:13 p.m. I was concerned that landing so late would not leave me ample time to make it here, so I switched to an earlier flight.
“However, when I arrived at the airport that flight was delayed. Then it was delayed again, and then it was delayed a third time, following which they told everyone to exit the plane. It seemed clear that I wasn’t going to make it back. Surprisingly, a few minutes later, they announced that everyone should re-board. We were cleared for takeoff, and landed in New York… at 6:13 p.m. I came straight here, and arrived just minutes ago.
“This whole experience reminded me of another event that happened to me a few years ago, that changed my perspective on traveling and delayed flights.
“I was heading to Ottawa for a large speaking engagement, and then too, my flight was delayed a few times, and I realized there was no way that I was going to make it to the speaking engagement. I called the Rabbi who had invited me and arranged it and informed him of the bad news. He was incredulous. He told me that there were so many people coming, and I had to figure out a way to get there. I told him that even if I drove I wouldn’t make it, and there were no other options for any outgoing flights that could get me there sooner.
“My mind was still racing when I hung up, as I continued to contemplate if there were any other possibilities. Then I noticed an elderly chossid sitting nearby, calmly peering into a sefer. I asked the chossid where he was heading, and he replied that he was going to Ottawa to be sandek at his grandson’s bris. I looked at my watch and replied that it was almost sh’kiah (sunset); there was no way he was going to make it. The b’ris had to be performed on the eighth day and couldn’t be delayed. The chossid nodded calmly.
“I couldn’t believe it. “You’re okay with missing the opportunity to be sandek at your grandson’s bris?” The chossid replied, “You don’t know the vort of Rav Chatzkel of Kuzhmir?”
“When I admitted that I didn’t, he told me that every morning we recite the beracha thanking Hashem “hameichin mitzadei gaver – who prepares the footsteps of man.” Rav Chatzkel noted that anyone who recites that beracha and doesn’t have in mind that wherever he ends up that day is all b’hashgacha p’ratis, is saying a beracha levatalah.
“The chossid continued, “I said that beracha this morning. I thought that I was going to be in Ottawa for my grandson’s bris, and I was very excited about it. But the Master of the World obviously had other plans. So that’s the end of the story.”
With that, Rabbi Jacobson concluded his story, and began the fahrbrengin. 

In the home of my Zaydei[3], I found a sefer called Rachshei Ilan, a collection of the schmoozen (ethical discourses) given by Rav Yosef Leib Nenedik zt’l hy’d, the Mashgiach in the famed Kletzker Yeshiva, who was murdered by the Nazis.
In the back of the sefer, the author printed a letter my Zaydei sent him, in which my Zaydei recounted a schmooze that he recalled from his years in the yeshiva. The following the basic idea he recorded:
The pasuk in Hoshea[4] states “For the ways of Hashem are straight; the righteous will go in them, and the wicked will stumble in them.” A person has the ability to choose his actions and to decide whether he will adhere to the mitzvos, or transgress them. However, he must know, that no matter what he decides to do, the Will of Hashem will ultimately be carried out.
The classic example of this is from the events with Yosef Hatzaddik. He dreamed that his brothers would bow before him and he would be their leader. They were angered by his dreams, and did all in their power to ensure his dreams would never be able to come to fruition. They cast him into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, and then sold him like a lowly slave. However, all their efforts to stifle his dreams, only set in motion the trajectory which eventually culminated in the dreams being fulfilled. It was only because he had been sold down to Egypt that he eventually became its leader.[5]
The ways of Hashem are straight, in that nothing we do will ever be able to impede His Will from being carried out. The only question is what will our role be regarding the fulfillment of His divine plan? Will we do what is correct so that Hashem’s plan will come about through us, or will we seek to fight it, in which case the plan will come about anyway, with us being left culpable?[6]

The whole story of Yosef’s life came about because he was in the right (or wrong) place at an exact time. When he approached the brothers in the field, they saw it as the perfect opportunity to kill him and stage that he was ripped apart by an animal. Potiphar’s wife arranged for the perfect opportunity to be alone with him to finally seduce him. The Sar Hamashkim ‘just happened’ to be with Yosef when he had his dream that Yosef was able to interpret.
It was a long, lonely, and arduous journey for Yosef Hatzaddik, but it became clear afterwards that every step of the way was exactly as Hashem orchestrated. Everything in its time and in its place.  

Regarding the laws of Chanukah, there is also a clear emphasis on time and place. We never find so much particularity about both of these components regarding any other mitzvah.
The candles should ideally be lit at a height of between three and ten tefachim, and should be lit by the door, or by the window, or by the gateway outside. They are supposed to be lit from sunset until a half hour later[7].
Other mitzvos that must be performed during the day or night, can be performed throughout that day or night. But regarding Chanukah candles, there is a very particular limited window[8] of time for the lighting.
Rabbi Tzvi Sobolofsky notes that in regard to offering korbanos in the Bais Hamikdash, there was also a strong particularity on time and place [9]. The service of the korban was extremely precise and had to be performed exactly as the Torah commands. Those Korbanos whose meat was eaten, were only allowed to be eaten within a specific amount of time and within certain parameters, depending on what type of korban was offered.
During the time prior to the Chanukah miracle, the Syrian-Greeks sought to destroy the sanctity of Judaism and the Jewish home.
Therefore, when the Sages established the holiday which celebrates the defeat of the Syrian-Greeks, they added great emphasis on strengthening and celebrating the sanctity of Judaism and the Jewish home. They sought to create a connection between the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles which we perform within our own homes, with the avodah performed in the Bais Hamikdash.
In doing so, it fosters within us the awareness that our homes are holy, and we strive to live holy lives. The gemara[10] states that the basic mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles is “Ner ish ubayso”, loosely translated to mean that there must be one candle lit in one’s home each night of Chanukah. The literal translation however, is “the light of a man and his home”. It is hinting to us that we, the inhabitants of our homes, are the source of the light within our homes.
It is that holy light generated through our performance of mitzvos and Torah learning within our home, that we seek to spread outwards into the darkness during Chanukah. 
Through the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, reciting hallel and expressing our gratitude for all of the miracles Hashem performed for our ancestors then, and continues to perform for us each day, we strengthen within ourselves the knowledge that Hashem is with us in all times and places. That is the light that shines in the darkness.

“Who prepares the footsteps of man”
For the ways of Hashem are straight”





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


[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayeshev 5777
[2] Farbrengen in Yiddish means "joyous gathering". The term is used by Chabad-Lubavitch, and is the equivalent of what other sects of chassidim call a tish. It may consist of explanations of general Torah subjects, with an emphasis on Chassidishe philosophy, stories, lively singing and dancing, and often with refreshments.
This particular farbrengen was in honor of Yat Kislev (19th of Kislev), the day the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was freed from prison. Chabad celebrates the day as the ‘New Year for Chassidus’.  
[3] Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, Rav of Anshlei Slonim in the Lower East Side.
[4] 14:10
[5] The brothers of Yosef were undoubtedly tzaddikim of the highest level. The Mashgiach must have meant that in regard to the fulfillment of the prophetic dreams of Yosef they were ‘wicked’ in the sense that they sought to destroy those dreams. Chazal explain that the brothers had righteous and justified intent in trying to kill Yosef. Nevertheless, in the bigger scheme of what occurred, it retroactively became clear that they were wrong. 
[6] I wonder how much chizuk my Zaydei personally derived from this thought, and if that might be why it was the schmooze he chose to recount. My Zaydei’s father was the Rav of his town – Seltz, and was brutally murdered by the Nazis, as was my Zaydei’s mother and sister. Zaydei, a lonely orphan, somehow escaped, until he eventually somehow landed up in Samarkand, where he met my Bubby (may she live and be well until 120). He never disclosed about his experiences during that frightful time, but we know that his emunah in the ‘straightness’ of Hashem’s ways never wavered.
[7] During the time of the gemara, after the first half hour after sunset when it was dark outside, people were no longer travelling the roads. Today however, when the roads are filled with people on average until 11 p.m., until then is still considered the ideal time to accomplish ‘persumei nisa’ – publicizing the miracle, which is the main objective for lighting Chanukah candles.
[8] Pun intended
[9] The opening laws discussed in Maseches Zevachim (which is about the laws of slaughtering korbanos) are about the validity of an offering in which the Kohain sprinkling its blood on the altar did so with improper intent about eating from its meat beyond the allotted time, or outside the permitted area. 
[10] Shabbos 21b