Thursday, November 15, 2018

PARSHAS VAYTZEI 5779


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS VAYTZEI 5779
“FOREVER YOUNG”[1]

One day a father was walking with his son when they encountered a man who looked like he was ancient huddled on a park bench. The father saw an opportunity to teach his son about values. He sat down next to the man and asked him the secret to his longevity. Through his yellowed teeth he weakly replied that he drank a bottle of vodka every morning and every night, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, and ate donuts and fried foods for breakfast, lunch, and supper. The son was amazed. “You did all that and you lived to be so old?” The man looked at the youth and replied, “I’m 28 years old!” 
Age is not necessarily based on chronological years. There are people that are 95 years young, and other people that are 15 years old. Whether one is old or young has more to do with their attitude, and ability to be flexible and not rigid and fixed. One who is young at heart is always seeking to grow and accomplish, while one who is old feels there is no more room for change or growth.

When Yaakov fled the wrath of Eisav at the beginning of parshas Vayetzei, he was 63 years old. One pasuk later, fourteen more years have elapsed, and Yaakov was 77[2].
During the first seventy-seven years of his life, Yaakov lived – and excelled – in a certain mode of lifestyle. He was the righteous scholar, unaware and uninterested in anything beyond his holy books. He lived in the spiritually serene surroundings of his righteous parents, and was able to advance his spiritual pursuits with complete devotion.
Yet at this juncture, he would have to severely alter his mode of living and adapt to a totally different approach. Not only would he no longer be able to study all day, he had to become a laborer for a notorious conniving swindler, his father-in-law Lavan.
Yaakov could have easily become depressed about his newfound situation. When he had studied Torah all day in his father’s home, and during the years in the academies of Shem and Ever, his life was purposeful and meaningful. But working for Lavan may have felt like a futile endeavor. But Yaakov was undaunted and rose to the challenge. He embraced his new role and fulfiled it with incredible devotion. He was honest to a fault, and completely faithful. 
Before arriving in Charan, when he was atop Har HaMoriah, Yaakov declared “Truly Hashem is in this place, but I did not know.” The pasuk continues, “He became very afraid and he said, ‘How awesome is this place; this is none other than the House of Hashem and this is the gateway to heaven’.”
Perhaps Yaakov was not only referring to the actual sacred ground he was physically standing on at that moment, but also to his newfound situation and expectations for the home of Lavan and beyond. 
Often individuals who have spent their formative years learning diligently in yeshiva surrounded by rabbeim and friends, feel pangs of guilt and discontentment when the times come for them to leave yeshiva and seek a means of livelihood for their families. They wonder to themselves what meaning they can find in their office and in the business world, as compared to their former life in the Bais Medrash. Can closeness with Hashem be attained in the workplace? Can one continue to grow in the home of Lavan and when struggling with Eisav?  
Yaakov Avinu declared, “Truly Hashem is in this place, but I did not know.” In whatever place one finds himself, Hashem is to be found there, if he is sought. “How awesome is this place” – even beyond the confines of the Bais Medrash one can grow closer to Hashem in incredible ways if that is his aspiration and desire.
Yaakov Avinu remained the same faithful servant of Hashem in the home of Lavan, albeit in a different manner than he had done for the first seventy-seven years of his life. 

In 1929, Rabbi Chatzkel Abramsky zt’l was arrested by the NKVD in Soviet Russia and sentenced to five years of hard labor in Siberia.[3]
Years after his release, Rabbi Abramsky related to his students: “During my time in Siberia I woke up in the morning and began reciting ‘Modeh Ani’ – I am thankful before You – living and enduring King - that You returned to me my soul“, but then I stopped. My entire body ached from the severe labor I was subjected to daily, and from the severe blows the sadistic guards dealt us constantly. Was I really thankful to Hashem for returning my soul to me under such inhumane conditions? I was unable to learn Torah properly, I wasn’t permitted to serve Hashem, the constant beatings were intolerable, and there didn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. So why was I thankful for waking up?
“But then I concluded the prayer, “Great is Your faith”. For that alone it was worth enduring all the torture and suffering of Siberia – for the opportunity to connect with the infinite through faith. For that I was indeed thankful that G-d had granted me another day - even in Siberia.”
The Torah relates that after Leah had given birth to four sons, Rachel become despondent. “And she said to Yaakov, ‘grant me children, for if not I am dead’.”[4] The Torah relates that Yaakov became angry with Rachel and replied, “Am I in place of G-d who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?”
One of the commentators explain[5] that Yaakov was upset with Rachel for declaring that if she didn’t have children, she was dead. It was of course understandable that she desperately desired to have a child. But if the divine ordained that it was not to be, that her mission in life was otherwise, was she as good as dead? Could she not have any other purpose in life? Yaakov felt that the righteous Rachel, despite her pain, should realize that even when life does not happen the way we hoped or expected, Hashem has a plan for every person. The mere fact that Hashem has “returned my soul to me with compassion” demonstrates that Hashem has great faith in what we can accomplish.   

In the haftorah read on public fast days, the prophet Yeshaya states: “Let the foreigner who has attached himself to Hashem not say ‘Hashem will separate me from among His people”, and let the one unable to bear children not say ‘behold I am a dried out tree’.”[6] The Navi also declares, “The one who hopes to Hashem will renew his strength, he will ascend like the wings of eagles, he will run without becoming weary, he will proceed without tiring.”[7] 
A person may have lived many decades and yet be youthful if he maintains a freshness and excitement for what life has to offer. One who sees the opportunity in every juncture of life and in whatever situation he finds himself, maintains a spark that keeps him young.
When he arrived in Charan, Yaakov Avinu was seventy-seven. Despite his age, he embraced the significant transformation of the course of his life and was undaunted by the challenges that faced him. At that point, Yaakov Avinu wasn’t seventy-seven years old, but seventy-seven years young![8]

“How awesome is this place”
“He will run without becoming weary, they will proceed without tiring

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



[1] The following is the lecture I delivered in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Vayetzei 5778
[2] Chazal relate that Yaakov went to learn Torah in the academies of Shem and Ever for fourteen years to prepare him for the spiritual challenges of being in the home of Lavan.
[3] Due to tremendous efforts of prominent Jews throughout the world, he was freed on Erev Yom Kippur 1931
[4] Bereishis 30:4
[5] I regret that I could not locate the source of this very poignant thought
[6] Yeshaya 56:3
[7] Yeshaya 40:31
[8] In parshas Vayigash, when Yaakov finally reunited with Yosef, he is introduced to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was intrigued by the appearance of Yaakov Avinu and he asked him his age. Yaakov replied in a manner which – on his exalted level – seemed to decry the travails he had suffered (Bereishis 47:8-9). For that, he was punished by losing a year of his life for every word of Pharaoh’s question and of his reply. In a sense, at that point Yaakov’s reply was that he was one hundred and thirty years old (See Ramban there). At that point Yaakov became old, whereas in parshas Vayetzei he was still young, in the sense that we explained above.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

PARSHAS TOLDOS 5779


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS TOLDOS 5779
“VALUE SYSTEM”[1]

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that during the Holocaust a Nazi in the gehtto was grabbing Jewish children off the street and throwing them into the back of a waiting truck, to cart them off to their deaths.
As he picked up one child, the youth looked defiantly at the Nazi and said, “You’re Eisav and I’m Yaakov. And even though right now you’re stronger, I would still rather be Yaakov than Eisav!”

When the Torah records the death of Avrohom Avinu it says, “And they buried him, Yitzchok and Yishmael his sons, to the cave of Machpeilah…”[2] Rashi comments that the fact that the pasuk records Yitzchak before Yishmael indicates that Yishmael allowed Yitzchak to precede him with the burial, which demonstrates that Yishamel repented.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l[3] explained that the mere fact that Yishmael allowed Yitzchak to precede him demonstrated that Yishamel recognized Yitzchok’s greatness. That realization and acceptance was itself an inextricable part of his teshuva process. The prerequisite for repentance is recalibrating one’s values and priorities.
Rabbi Wolbe continues that throughout our lives we are constantly evaluating. We evaluate whether a food is tasty and whether it’s sufficiently cooked. When we speak to people, we evaluate whether they are as smart as we are, and whether they share our viewpoints.
Every person has a different value system. What one values strongly effects the lifestyle he pursues and the kind of person he develops into.
The fact that Yishmael allowed Yitzchak to walk before him at the funeral of their father, demonstrated that Yishamel recognized Yitzchak’s primacy. That symbolized that Yishmael had altered his value system and recognized that the path of Yitzchak was more admirable than the path he had embraced until that point.

When Eisav flippantly sold the birthright to Yaakov for a bowl of lentils, he too demonstrated that his value system had changed. He no longer recognized the value of the birthright, which he now viewed disdainfully, and was more than willing to part with it. “Behold I am going to die, what is the birthright for me?”[4]
The gemara relates that on that day – the day of Avrohom Avinu’s death – Eisav had committed five cardinal sins, immorality, idolatry, murder, denial of G-d, and denial of the resurrection of the dead. The shift in his values was at the root of why he committed such severe sins.    

On the morning of November 18, 2014/26 Cheshvan 5775, two Palestinian men from Yerushalayim entered Kehilat Bnei Torah, in Har Nof , Israel, and attacked the innocent congregants with axes, knives, and a gun.
Four men were immediately killed, while donned in their talis and tefillin - Rabbi Moshe Twersky, 59, head of the Toras Moshe kollel, Rabbi Calman Levine (55), Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky (43), and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg (68).
One of the injured victims, Howard (Chaim) Rotman, spent nearly a year in a vegetative coma due to multiple cleaver wounds to the face and head, died of his wounds on October 23, 2015.

The following article appeared the day after the attack:
Day After Deadly Attack, Family Holds Brit at Har Nof Synagogue
  27 Heshvan 5775 – November 19, 2014

 …Even with the cloud of sadness that descended on Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, as the community mourned the gruesome murders and the bloodied synagogue, there was a spark of happiness felt – in the synagogue itself.
Shula and Dov Sorotzkin, Haredi residents of Har Nof, decided to hold the brit mila or ritual circumcision of their son, Eliyahu Meir, at the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue, where the attack took place 24 hours earlier.
“We woke up yesterday to the sounds of gunfire,” Dov Sorotzkin told Tazpit News Agency. The couple, who live right next to the synagogue, decided that despite the bloody attack, their synagogue was the best place to perform the brit mila of their newborn son.
“We chose to do the brit here today because of the symbolism that this place holds, especially in light of this important religious ceremony for our people. The brit mila is about the covenant and connection between G-d and the Jewish people,” Sorotzkin told Tazpit.
“The rabbis who were here yesterday were killed in the middle of a conversation with G-d, but we are here today, continuing that connection,” said Sorotzkin…
For Sorotzkin’s father, Yosef, the brit mila of his grandson is a sign of faith. “We are doing what the Jewish people have done throughout history; every time there has been death and destruction, we keep moving and creating,” he told Tazpit.

Our response to the attacks was with the sounds of Torah and tefilla and b’ris mila the following morning. At the same time, Arabs were giving out candies to their children to celebrate the murders that had occurred.
It is a stark representation of Rabbi Wolbe’s insight. Our values determine and direct our behaviors and the way we choose to live.

The week following the horrific attacks, while the families were still sitting shiva, the four widows sent out the following message:
“With tears and broken hearts for the blood that has been spilled - the blood of the sanctified ones, our husbands, the heads of our homes - we turn to our brothers and sisters, everyone from the house of Israel, in whatever place they may be, to unite so that we merit compassion and mercy from on High.
“We should accept upon ourselves to increase the love and affection for each other, between ourselves and between different communities within the Jewish people.
“We beseech that every person accepts upon himself/herself at the time of the acceptance of Shabbos, that this Shabbos, Shabbos Parashas Toldos, should be a day in which we express our love for each other, a day in which we refrain from speaking divisively or criticizing others.
“By doing so it will be a great merit for the souls of our husbands who were slaughtered for the sake of G-d’s Name. G-d looks down from above and sees our pain, and He will wipe away our tears and declare 'Enough to all the pain and grief.' We should merit witnessing the coming of Moshiach, soon in our days, amen, amen.
-Chaya Levine, Breine Goldberg, Yakova Kupinsky, Bashi Twersky”

In life and in death, our primary concern is for the sanctification of Hashem’s Name. That value system contains the secret to our eternal greatness.

“Eisav disgraced the birthright”
“They buried him, Yitzchok and Yishmael his sons, to the cave of Machpeilah”


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



[1] The following is the lecture I delivered in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Toldos 5775. It was the week following the terrible Har Nof massacre. It’s message about our response and perspective is especially resonant in light of the recent attacks in Pittsburgh.
[2] Bereishis 25:9
[3] Shiurei Chumash
[4] Bereishis 25:32

Thursday, November 1, 2018

PARSHAS CHAYEI SARAH 5779


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS CHAYEI SARAH 5779
“THRIVING WITH DIFFERENCES”[1]

Rav Chaim Brisker[2] once quipped to his students, “I don’t want you to learn and to think the way I learn and think. I want you to develop your own way of thinking and learning.”
The disciples of Rav Chaim include some of the most prominent scholars whose Talmudic exegesis are reverentially studied and taught in the hallowed halls of yeshivas the world over. That list includes Rav Shimon Shkop zt’l[3], Rav Baruch Ber Lebowitz zt’l[4], Rav Naftali Trop zt’l[5], Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt’l[6], and Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt’l hy’d[7], to name a few.
They all learned Torah from Rav Chaim. Yet each forged his own unique pathway and methodology of Talmudic learning and Torah outlook.[8] 

Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l would relate a schmooze[9] based on the week’s parsha each week in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. It was known that the schmooze before Parshas Chayei Sarah was always about shidduchim[10]. The parsha which contains Eliezer’s search to find a worthy wife for Yitzchok, and his finding Rivka who subsequently married Yitzchak[11], is a most worthy time to speak about marriage and promoting marital harmony.
My rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman, notes that when he first moved to Boro Park many decades ago, each Shabbos morning as he walked to shul with his children, they would hear the church bells ringing. On Saturday the non-Jews would celebrate weddings.
These days however, the church bells are quiet. It’s not because there are less non-Jews living in the surrounding areas. Rather sadly, people are choosing not to get married. They don’t feel the need to overburden themselves with the commitment and responsibilities that marriage imposes, and they would rather live together like cats and mice.
The challenge of marriage is that it is literally the merging of two different worlds. The very title of the New York Times bestseller speaks volumes: “Men are from Mars; women are from Venus.”[12] 
Yitzchok was the paragon of the attribute of justice. He lived with the sense of intense awe of G-d that he felt when he was laid upon the altar at the akeidah throughout his life. Rivkah, on the other hand, was the paragon of chesed. The kindness she displayed for Eliezer and his camels was incredible, demonstrating her incredible selflessness.
Their marriage was the fusion of two opposite attributes. It reflects the ultimate ideal of marriage – the synergy of two different personalities with the common goal of building a home that promotes kiddush shem shomayim.

When Avrohom Avinu begged Hashem for children he said, “Hashem, my G-d, what will you give me when I am childless and the one in charge of my household is Damesek Eliezer? Behold, to me you have not granted offspring, and behold the steward of my home will inherit me.”[14] The gemara[15] explains that he was called Damesek Eliezer because he was ‘doleh umashkeh – drew and irrigated’ from the Torah of his master Avrohom. In other words, Eliezer transmitted the lessons of Avrohom to the masses.
The commentators ask that here Avrohom was pleading his case before G-d that all he has in life is Eliezer. If he wanted to demonstrate how unfulfilled his life was, it wouldn’t seem to be a good time to relate the praise of Eliezer. Why would Avrohom refer to Eliezer as Damesek which alludes to his scholarship and teachings at this time?
The Me’or Vashemesh explains that Avrohom’s complaint was that Eliezer taught exactly what Avrohom taught. There was no novelty or added insight or perspective. Avrohom wanted a child who would forge his own path in serving Hashem, who would seek his own unique connection with Torah, and wouldn’t just repeat whatever he was taught.
Yitzchak indeed fulfilled that dream. His approach to serving Hashem was starkly different from that of Avrohom. Each are called Avinu – our patriarch, for each invested in their progeny a different vital modality in the service of G-d. The same was true with Yaakov Avinu.  
This also explains why the masses who learned from Avrohom seemed to fade into oblivion. After Avrohom’s death they are never mentioned again. They may have learned faithfully from Avrohom, but they never sought to internalize his teachings and develop them within themselves. Sadly, as soon as Avrohom was no longer there, they lost their spiritual standing.  
Our goal in raising children is not to produce machine-like people who do as we did, and faithfully go through the motions. We seek to cultivate and develop within our children a deep connection with Hashem based on the unique capabilities and personalities that Hashem invested in them.

As the end of their forty-year sojourns in the desert approached, Moshe Rabbineu, knowing that he would not lead the nation into Eretz Yisroel, requested that Hashem help him appoint a worthy successor. “Moshe spoke to Hashem saying: Let Hashem, the G-d of spirit for all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly. Who will go out before them and come before them… and the assembly of Hashem should not be like sheep without a shepherd.”[16]
Commenting on this verse, the Medrash discusses a law connected to it: “A halacha – if one saw a multitude of Jewish people he says – Blessed are you Hashem… sage of the secrets. For just as their faces are not similar to one another, so are their thoughts not identical to one another. Rather, each one has his own thoughts… for the individual spirit of each and every person. You know that this is so, because Moshe asked of the Holy One, blessed is He, before his death saying before him, “Master of the Universe! The thoughts of each and every individual are revealed and known before You. You know that the thoughts of children are not similar to one another. Thus, when I depart from them, I beg of You, appoint over them a leader who will bear each and every individual according to that individuals’ way of thinking…” 
Hashem created every person with a unique DNA. No two people have the same faces or fingerprints. Rav Dovid Povarsky zt’l explained that the fact that each person is physically different is to symbolize that each person’s soul is unique, and therefore the way every person thinks and views the world is different as well.
Moshe implored Hashem to seek out a leader who could relate to the individual personalities and needs of each person, and yet to fuse them together and relate to them as a nation as well.

Our society is facing an insidious danger. It is the result of the proliferation of reliance on the web and social media that is rapidly deepening the divide in western society.
In the words of Rabbi Jonathon Sacks: “When we rely exclusively on smartphones, algorithms and filters, we find ourselves fed with the news we want to hear, interpreted in a way that confirms our prejudices. This fragments society into a series of sects of the like-minded, and as Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard has shown, when we associate exclusively with people who share our views, we become ever more extreme…
“The “selfie” culture is harming us… Hyper-individualism has had its day. We need a new code of shared responsibility for the common good.”[17]
America was founded on the principles of democracy. For a democracy to flourish, dialogue is one of its most important components. That is the only way for every opinion to be heard and counted. When dialogue is stifled because of inability to understand or even listen to another perspective, the whole basis of democracy is in jeopardy.
The Jewish people’s strength lies in our ability to unite. It is incumbent upon us to forge and promote national unity. We need not agree[18], but we need to love! We are a nation composed of many views and strong opinions. Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for a leader who could unite all of those differences for the greater good.
The strength of a good marriage, of a kehillah, and ultimately of Klal Yisroel, lies in our ability to synergize our greatness, and respect the contribution of every one of our fellow Jews.

“The one in charge of my household is Damesek Eliezer”
“Yitzchok brought her into the tent and he loved her”

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



[1] The following is the lecture I delivered in Kehillas Zichron Yaakov, Shabbos Kodesh Chayei Sarah 5778
[2] 1853-1918, Rav of Brisk, author Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim
[3] 1860-1939, Rosh Yeshiva in Grodno, author of Sha’arei Yoshor and Chiddushei Reb Shimon
[4] 1862-1939, Rosh Yeshiva of Kaminetz, author of Birchas Shmuel and Chiddushei Reb Baruch Ber
[5] 1871-1928, Rosh Yeshiva of Radin, author of Chiddushei HaGarnat
[6] 1870-1953, Rosh Yeshiva of Etz Chaim, author of Even Haezel
[7] 1874-1941, Rosh Yeshiva of Baranovitch, author of Kovetz Shiurim
[8] She’ifos p. 284
[9] Inspirational discourse
[10] Lit. matches, a reference to marriage
[11] The end of the parsha also relates Avrohom’s second marriage to Keturah
[12] Or as I once heard someone quip, in our circles the title should be, “Men are from Lakewood; women are from Flatbush”
[13] Bereishis 24:67
[14] Bereishis 15:2-3
[15] Yoma 28b
[16][16] Bamidbar 27:15-17
[17] Rabbi J. Sacks, The Sunday Telegraph, November 52017
[18] And in many instances we are not permitted not agree, such as when halacha is being violated