Friday, July 20, 2018

PARSHAS DEVORIM 5778


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS DEVORIM 5778

“THE PAIN OF SOLITUDE”


     
The southern gateway of the old city of Yerushalayim is known as the ‘Sha’ar Ha’ashpos- Dung Gate.” In the times of the prophet Nechemiah the southern gateway was one and a half miles south of the present gateway. Because of the tremendous sanctity of the city, refuse could not be dumped within the confines of the city. Therefore, Nechemiah enacted that all of the city’s garbage be carried out of the city through the southern gateway and dumped into the valley of Hennom where it would be burned.
      In our time, the ‘modern day’ southern gate retains its ancient title, but for a more painful reason. In 324 C.E., the Byzantines conquered Yerushalayim and reversed the edict of Nechemiah and proclaimed that refuse from all surrounding villages must be brought into Yerushalayim via the southern gate and dumped on the Temple Mount. Over time, the entire Temple Mount and all the remains of the Bais Hamikdash were covered in garbage and completely obscured from view.
      There is a legend that in the early 1500’s the Moslem ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent, saw an elderly woman carrying garbage into Yerushalayim and dumping it on top of an endless pile of waste. He summoned her and demanded that she explain her actions. She replied that it was an age-old family tradition which she had been trained to do by her mother and grandmother in her youth. She told him that she had a familial tradition that the sole remaining wall of the Jews’ Holy Temple was beneath that spot. When her ancestors - the Romans - were unable to destroy that wall, they decided to bury the wall, so no one would see any trace of what was once there.
Suleiman was intrigued; he couldn’t believe it was really true. He had precious diamonds and gems buried in the heap. When word got out that jewels were to be found in the garbage, multitudes of the impoverished citizens began clearing away the garbage in search of the diamonds. Eventually, the refuse was cleared away and the Kosel was revealed.

      At the beginning of Chumash Devorim, Moshe Rabbeinu gathered Klal Yisroel to give his lengthy final discourse to his beloved nation. In it he recounted their mishaps and struggles, so the new generation could learn from the mistakes of their fathers. Moshe recounted his feelings of helplessness when all of Klal Yisroel gathered in a fury to complain. “How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?”[1]  
      The Medrash[2] relates that there were three prophets who prophesized utilizing the word, “Eichah”: Moshe, Yeshayah, and Yermiyah. Moshe said, “Eichah esa levadi- How can I carry alone?” Yeshayah said, “Eichah haysa l’zonah kiryah ne’emanah- How has the faithful city (i.e. Yerushalyim) become like a harlot?”[3] Yermiyah said, “Eichah yashvah vadad ha’ir rabasi am haysah k’almanah- Alas! how does she sit in solitude? The city that was great with people has become like a widow.”[4]
      The Ateres Mordechai, Rabbi Mordechai Rogoz zt’l, explains that each of the proclamations of ‘Eichah’ were far worse than their predecessor. Moshe Rabbeinu lamented over the arguments and quarrels that Klal Yisroel presented to him. Yeshayah looked at the cries of Moshe with envy. “The fact that they came to Moshe with their quarrels and complaints was a level unto itself. But in our generation, they don’t even seek the counsel of Torah sages; they no longer strive to know the will of G-d.” Therefore, Yeshayah lamented that the trustworthy city, the city that was well founded in the ways of Torah and G-d, has strayed like a harlot.
      The complaint of Yermiyahu however, was the most painful of all. He assessed the situation at the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and declared that, despite the sins of the masses, in the time of Yeshayahu there was still hope. Yerushalayim was still swarming with her beloved, albeit sinful, children. There was still hope in the hearts of the righteous that the nation would repent, and the foreboded destruction could be avoided. But now that the enemy had vanquished the city, “Alas! She sits in solitude!” There can be no greater pain in the world than that of a forsaken loneliness, and the deadly silence of defeat.

      Why was the city punished with such a grim fate of being emptied completely?
      The Netziv of Volozhin comments that when Bila’am ‘blessed’ Klal Yisroel he peered at them and unwittingly declared, “Behold it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.”[5] Hashem wanted Klal Yisroel to be a nation that dwells in solitude, i.e. a nation that would live a different lifestyle than the other nations. It was to be nation that would not feel compelled to conform to the styles and lifestyles of their surroundings. A nation that would proudly unite among themselves and not feel intimidated by others.
But Klal Yisroel did not live up to that mantra. There is an old Jewish expression that says, “When a Jew tries to make Kiddush with the Goyim, the Goyim make Havdalah.” When we ignore our uniqueness and seek to be like everyone else, the nations remind us that we are indeed different. When we failed to maintain our uniqueness, we were compelled into the solitude of exile. 
The greatest pain in the world is when something we had is lost. To a mourner we relate the verse, “Hamakom yenachem eschem b’soch shi’ahr avaylay Tzion veYerushalayim- May the Omnipresent console you among the mourners of Tzion and Jeruslalem.” The title, “Hamakom” (literally meaning, ‘the Place’) is relatively infrequently used in reference to G-d. When a loved one dies, there is no way to fully console the mourners. The death of their loved one creates a gaping void. The only true means of consolation would be to bring the dead back to life. Our prayer is that G-d Himself fill the void in the hearts of the mourners by resurrecting the dead.

From when the holy metropolis of Yerushalayim was silenced, there can only be one way to console the holy city. We must once again unify and become the nation that dwells in solitude, filled with pride in who we are and what our mission is. When we have that sense of pride, the very city of Yerushalayim will emerge from its two thousand years of solitude, bereft of its ultimate landmark - the Bais Hamikdash. We will once again ascend the holy mountain in eternal joy, retaking our place pridefully as Hashem’s ambassadors on earth.

Alas! how does she sit in solitude?”
“May the Omnipresent console you… Yerushalayim”

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


[1] Devorim 1:12
[2] Eichah 1:1
[3] 1:21
[4] Eichah 1:1
[5] Bamidbar 23:9

Friday, July 13, 2018

PARSHAS MATOS-MASEI 5778


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS MATOS-MASEI 5778

“BEYOND SELF”


          I read the following story a few year ago:
Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, was once exiting shul when a man approached and engaged him in a lengthy halachic conversation.
The man continued the discussion as Rav Chaim made his way down the street. At the end of the block, Rav Chaim walked up the stairs and into his home. Then he removed his weekday kapoteh (long coat) and donned his Shabbos kapoteh. The man seemed oblivious to it all as he continued the lively dialogue back down the steps and along the street toward a nearby wedding hall.
Together they walked into the hall and up to the front where Rav Chaim sat down among the distinguished guests, all the while continuing to respond and continuing the conversation. Every few moments he would stand up and embrace one of the guests or rise to give a handshake. Then he would sit down, and the man resumed the conversation.
Finally, Rav Chaim turned to the man and said, “Forgive me, but I have to walk my son down to his chupah now.”

      Although an accident can often be rectified with an apology, at times it can be very severe. One who murders by accident is held somewhat accountable for the act, because he should have been more cautious.
The Torah commands an ‘accidental murderer’ to flee to specified ‘Ir Miklat - cities of refuge.’ The Torah warns that if the murderer is not within the confines of the city, a relative of the deceased is permitted to avenge the blood of the deceased. The murderer must remain in exile with only one means of redemption. “For he must dwell in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohain Gadol, and after the death of the Kohain Gadol the killer shall return to the land of his possession.”[1]
      The Gemara[2] wonders what the Kohain Gadol has to do with the murderer’s accident? One can only imagine the prayers the murderer begs to the Almighty for the untimely demise of the Kohain Gadol so that he can return to his family, home, and possessions.  Why should the Kohain Gadol have that against him on account of a stranger’s careless murder?
The Gemarah answers, “For he should have prayed for his generation that such catastrophic events not occur, and he didn’t!” The Kohain Gadol is responsible, not only for the Temple service but also for the spiritual greatness and physical wellbeing of Klal Yisroel. If such an event occurred, it is indicative of the fact that the Kohain Gadol has not offered ample prayer and concern for the nation.
      The enigma of these laws however is even greater. The Rambam[3] states: “If the verdict of the murderer (that he must flee to exile) was declared and then the Kohain Gadol died, the murderer is exempt from exile and he may return home. However, if the Kohain Gadol passed away just before the verdict was declared, the murderer is obligated to go into exile until the passing of the new Kohain Gadol.”
Even if the Kohain Gadol has an obligation to pray for his generation, what liability is there for one who became Kohain Gadol moments earlier? When a president takes office on the day of his inauguration, millions view the ceremony as the President proudly assumes his new position. In those great moments we would hardly expect him to be worrying and agonizing over some homeless kids in the Bronx. In a much greater and more spiritual sense, the day the Kohain Gadol assumes his role it is a very special day for him. Unique sacrifices are offered, and surely, he will want to spend some time expressing his joy to G-d for the tremendous opportunity. At that moment is he supposed to be worrying about accidental murderers?
      The simple answer is that indeed the new Kohain Gadol is expected to do just that. A Kohain Gadol is worlds apart from a President or monarch. His entire responsibility as the new leader of Klal Yisroel is to be devoted to the nation and concerned with their welfare on every level. about them, every single one of them, at every moment. The greatness of our leaders throughout the generations is that they achieved this great level, just like the Kohain Gadol.
The Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Sholom Kahaneman zt’l, once walked into the home of the Chofetz Chaim and heard cries emanating from the room of the holy sage (in the vernacular of Rav Kaheneman), “as if a mourner was crying in front of a corpse”. Alarmed, Rav Kahaneman rushed over to the Rebbitzin who was busily sweeping the floors and asked her if the Rav was okay. The Rebbitzin casually replied that a woman had just come to the Rav and said that she has been childless in marriage for years. She asked that he daven for her to merit having children.

      This is an extremely high level, but that is why there was only one Kohain Gadol, and that is why our great leaders are so precious to us. There was no greater personification of such love and care for Klal Yisroel than the one who initiated these laws, i.e. Moshe Rabbeinu. When he begged Hashem to replace him with a worthy leader he said, “And let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd.”[4] From the beautiful words Moshe employed, it is apparent how much love and devotion he felt for Klal Yisroel. That was why he was able to convey such demanding laws for the Kohain Gadol. 

     Dovid Hamelech wrote, “As the ayol (deer) longs for brooks of water so my soul longs for you, G-d.”[5] An ayol is a male deer (buck). In contrast, the word ‘ta’arog’ is the feminine way of saying ‘longs/yearns’.
Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Charif zt’l explained that the Medrash Tehillim relates that deer are gifted with a tremendous power of prayer. When there is a shortage of rain the animals approach the deer and beg it to use its penetrating prayers to beseech G-d for rain. The female deer (doe) is a caring animal and obliges. However, what would happen if the female deer found herself in midst of labor when the other animals approached her to beg her to pray for rain? There is hardly any greater pain in the world than the process of childbirth and at that moment the deer surely wants to cry out for her own plight? Yet she ignores her own needs and prays for rain for the forest. In her greatest moment of need, the female deer pretends she is ‘k’ayol’ like a male deer that cannot have labor pains, and ‘ta’arog’ she pines, yearns, cries and prays for water for all the animals.
This is the beauty of Dovid’s words. Just as the doe forgets her own plight and prays for the needs of the world, so G-d does my soul forget its pain and woes and instead yearns and pines to be closer to You, the true G-d.

      It is not easy to think about others when we are concerned about our own welfare. But the Torah demands that we not forget those less fortunate even in our own times of need. How impressed are we when in the midst of a person’s simcha or (G-d forbid) in times of tragedy the person asks us how we are doing? This is but a small reflection of the required concern the Kohain Gadol must always have for Klal Yisroel. Ultimately this too is our goal, not only to constantly think about others but even more so to always be thinking about G-d and the desecration of His name in exile.
Like the Kohain Gadol on the day of his coronation, like the deer on the day of its labor, “so does my soul yearn for You, the living G-d.”

It’s often said that perhaps our most important focus during this time of year, is to try to be more mindful about the plight and feelings of others. That is what is required of us to help end the exile and bring about the ultimate redemption.
Perhaps we will never reach the level demanded of the Kohain Gadol, but on our own level, the more we think beyond ourselves the more we will be able to promote unity, and the quicker we will merit to greet Moshiach, and celebrate the future holiday of Tisha B’av.

“For he must dwell in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohain Gadol”
 “As the ayol (deer) longs for brooks of water”


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



[1] Bamidbar 35:28
[2] Makos 11a
[3] Hilchos Rotzeiach 7:11
[4] Bamidbar 27:17
[5] Tehillim 42:2

Thursday, July 5, 2018

PARSHAS PINCHOS 5778


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS PINCHOS 5778
“SIBLING UNITY”

Harbaugh parents "try not to compare" Super Bowl sons
CBS NEWS February 1, 2013
NFL coaches John and Jim Harbaugh will square off against each other in Sunday's Super Bowl, becoming the first sibling coaches to face each other in the big game. Their parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, will be on hand -- although, out of sight -- on Sunday to share in their sons' anxiety, wins, and losses.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Jack said like most parents, they will feel the sting of defeat right along with the son who loses the game.
"Every single parent can identify with that. That thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. On Sunday night, we're going to experience both of those great emotions. Our thoughts will be with the one that comes up a little short," Harbaugh said.
Friday on "CBS This Morning," the Harbaughs said that for now, they are focused on enjoying the moment…
Jack added that he got some choice advice from NFL Hall of Famer John Elway "when Jim was junior at Palo Alto high." Elway told Harbaugh, "Anytime you have two youngsters like this and you compare, you're demeaning one or the other. So we try not to compare. We try to find similarities in the two," Jack Harbaugh explained…”

After the disastrous debacle with the daughters of Midyan which ended because of the courageous act of Pinchas who stood up for the honor of Hashem, the Torah records the consensus of the nation.
Rashi, quotes the Tanchuma, who compares the need for a consensus at this point, to a shepherd whose flock was attacked by wolves. After the attack, the shepherd counts the flock to know how many remain.
When the Torah records the numbers, it does so by family, listing the heads and names of each family that comprised the nation. Curiously, regarding two tribes the Torah seems to be repetitive: “...this is the family of Dan according to their families.[1] “These are the families of Naphtali according to their families...”[2]
Why does the Torah seem to stress it’s listing of the families of Dan and Naphtali?
The Birchas Ish[3] offers a novel explanation: In Parshas Vayeshev, the Torah relates that Yosef had a dream that the sun and moon and stars were bowing down to him. He subsequently related the dream to his father and brothers. The Torah states, “His father scolded him, and said to him, “what is this dream that you have dreamt? Are we to come - I and your mother and your brothers - to bow down to you to the ground?””[4]
Rashi there quotes the Medrash which explains that Yaakov wanted to deride the dream in the presence of the brothers[5] by demonstrating that it was impossible for it to be fulfilled. The moon in the dream was obviously symbolic of Yosef’s mother, Rochel. But she had died well before, so it was impossible for her to ever bow to Yosef. The Medrash concludes that Yaakov failed to realize that the moon in the dream was a reference to Bilhah, who had become Yosef’s surrogate mother after Rochel’s death.
It seems that the reason why Bilhah became the mother figure to Yosef following Rochel’s death was because she was Rochel’s maid. It was for that reason that following the death of Rochel, Yaakov moves his bed into the tent of Bilhah. Since she was now caring for the sons of Rochel, that was how Yaakov could be close to Yosef and Binyamin, the “children of his old age”.
Bilhah herself had two sons - Dan and Naphtali. When Bilhah welcomed Yosef and Binyamin into her tent, it’s conceivable that it was a great challenge for Dan and Naphtali. At that point the attention they received from their mother was going to be compromised by the “favored children” of Yaakov. 
In addition, Yosef and Binyamin were orphans from their mother, and people are naturally inclined to be more compassionate towards orphans. That too would cause their mother to curry additional love towards Yosef and Binyamin.
Although it is logical that Dan and Naftali would have felt resentful towards Yosef and Binyamin, that was not at all the case. When Yosef was sold into slavery, Rashi notes that the driving forces behind the sale were Shimon and Levi. He proves why each of the other tribes couldn’t have been the primary protagonists of the sale, noting that it couldn’t have been the sons of the maids because they had a better relationship with Yosef than the sons of Leah.
The fact that Dan and Naftali had a relationship with Yosef demonstrates that they had a tremendous sense of humility, and therefore weren’t jealous of their half-brothers. Yaakov must have recognized these virtues in Dan and Naftali and, therefore, was not hesitant to allow Bilhah to become their surrogate mother.
Perhaps that is why the Torah emphasizes and repeats the word family regarding these two tribes. It is unfortunately not uncommon for there to arise competitiveness and jealousy among siblings, which often lasts into adulthood, and at times can even effect generations.
The humility of Dan and Naftali had repercussions long after they were gone. Their descendants internalized and maintained their sense of love and respect for siblings, which is the foundation upon which successful families are created. In this regard, the families of Dan and Naftali represent the prototype of a family.
This powerful insight is a reminder that families are built not only on love, but also upon mutual respect. We can love siblings and yet be jealous and resentful of them. For there be to a true familial spirit, siblings must respect their differences and share in each other’s joy and challenges.
Parents are faced with the daunting challenge of, not only raising their family, but also to identify and build upon the strengths and uniqueness of every individual child.
There is a powerful quote in the world of education: “To treat all children equally, is to treat them unfairly!” Each child needs his/her own level and mode of attention and must be addressed in that manner.
It’s a tall and often overwhelming task, which is why we need to constantly daven that Hashem give us the necessary siyata d’shmaya to give each child what he/she needs.

“This is the family of Dan according to their families”
“These are the families of Naphtali according to their families.”

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



[1] 26:42
[2] 26:50
[3] Rav Avrohom Shain. Rabbi Shain has quite a few beautiful explanations of some of the pesukim involving the consensus. He derives numerous insights from a section of the Torah which most breeze through when learning it.
[4] Bereishis 37:10
[5] in order to quell their jealousy of Yosef and his “dreams of grandeur”

Thursday, June 28, 2018

PARSHAS BALAK 5778


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS BALAK 5778
“JUDGE OF CHARACTER”

Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l related that a granddaughter of the Chofetz Chaim was lured by secular influences. She eventually left the life of Torah and went to University.
During that time, she came to visit her saintly grandfather. She told him about the incredible innovations and how the world was progressing. She reasoned that it was time for him to leave the insular life of the shtetl and the antiquated life of Torah, so that he could be part of the progressive world.
The Chofetz Chaim replied, “Tochterel (my daughter), I want you to know that with all of their innovations and inventions, they will eventually be able to develop a bomb that will kill thousands of people in a moment. Ubber mir machen mentchen! But we are making people.”  

The Torah relates that Balak hired Bila’am to curse Klal Yisroel, but Hashem protected them and foiled his plans. Throughout the story Bila’am presented himself as being a loyal servant of G-d. But Chazal relate that Bila’am was a lowly and despicably immoral person driven by lust and a desire for money and honor. 
The Mishna Avos[1] states:
“Any person who has these three traits is from the disciples of Arohom Avinu, and [any person who has] three other traits is from the students of Bila’am the evildoer. One who has a good eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul is from the disciples of Avrohom Avinu. Those who have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a greedy soul are among the disciples of Bila’am the evildoer.
How are the disciples of Avrohom Avinu different from the disciples of Bila’am the evildoer? The disciples of Avrohom Avinu enjoy the fruits of their good deeds in the next world… But the disciples of Bila’am the evildoer inherit Gehinnom (Purgatory) and descend into the well of destruction…”
The wording of the Mishna seems somewhat verbose. Why does the Mishna introduce that there are three definite character traits of disciples of Avrohom and three of Bila’am, and only then relate what those character traits are? Also, why does the Mishna need to specify that there are three traits at all; anyone can count for themselves?
In addition, the very question about the difference between the disciples of Avrohom and Bila’am is peculiar. Would anyone ask about the difference between the energy of a turtle in contrast to that of a rocket ship? They are not comparative in the least bit.
The Nesivas Shalom explains that the Mishna is not contrasting a righteous Jew with a wicked non-Jew. Rather, the Mishna is teaching us about the value and importance of having good character traits. Both the disciples of Avrohom and the disciple of Bila’am that the mishna refers to are Torah and mitzvah-observant Jews. The difference is that the disciples of Avrohom possess the enumerated three sterling character traits, while the disciples of Bila’am have the opposite traits.
Rav Chaim Vital writes that developing good character traits is a necessary prerequisite for growth in Torah. The more one refines his character, the more the Torah he learns can penetrate and elevate him. The Noam Elimelech similarly writes that one descends into this world with a divine mission to challenge his nature, as well as his negative proclivities and desires.
The Mishna stresses that students of Avrohom Avinu have three character traits, to emphasize that a complete Jew requires all three traits to achieve greatness.
Having a good eye means he is able to view others positively on an intellectual level. He trains himself to see the good in others, and to generally view life positively.
All negative character traits stem from arrogance which leads to a narcissistic outlook on life. The humble spirit is one who doesn’t always put himself first but is able to prioritize the needs and wants of others.  
Having a meek soul means he is not always seeking his own selfish gratification and fulfillment.
The Mishna asks what the difference between the disciples of Avrohom and Bila’am, not regarding the next world, where there is indeed no comparison. The Mishna is delineating the difference between them in this world. The disciples of Avrohom exert great energy to challenge and refine themselves. However, the result is that they are able to appreciate and enjoy life.
The disciples of the evil Bila’am however, can never enjoy the pleasures of this world because their insatiable desire for more as well as their jealousy and lust give them no peace or satisfaction.

The Navi[2] relates that Yoav and Avner were the two greatest generals in the time of Dovid Hamelech. Avner had been the loyal general of Shaul Hamelech, but sometime after Shaul’s death he joined the forces of Dovid Hamelech. Yoav, the original general of Dovid Hamelech, was not happy that Avner was joining with them. Avner had killed Yoav’s brother Asa’el and Yoav wanted revenge. Yoav cunningly lured Avner into a trap and stabbed him through his fifth rib, straight into his heart.
The Medrash[3] states that Avner was so powerful that even as he lay dying he was able to seize Yoav in a death grip, threatening to kill him. At that moment Avner desperately wanted to kill Yoav. Klal Yisroel entreated Avner, “Master! If you kill Yoav we will be orphaned without a father and the Pelishtim will plunder us and our wives.” Avner acquiesced and he released Yoav and allowed him to live.
Rav Yechiel Perr[4] notes that the Medrash is a parable. It is relating the feeling that rose in Avner’s consciousness in those waning moments of his life. He realized that only he and Yoav had the ability to successfully lead the Jewish army and protect the nation from the Pelishtim. If he would kill Yoav the nation would be left defenseless, and so he released Yoav.
In Rav Perr’s words: “I envision myself in Avner’s position, staring my assassin in the face as my heart pounds its last few beats. You murderer! You didn’t kill a person I happen to know. You didn’t even kill a close friend, or a relative. You killed me! You made an end to all my dreams! It was me that you killed!...
“What does the entire world matter anymore? The world is dead to me! I am standing alone on the plain of swiftly gathering darkness. Already the edges of my sight are dimming, and I can feel my life ebbing away! I should let you go because you will be a good general? Ill be a corpse, decaying in the ground, surrounded by nothing but gravestones and worms, as you lead the Jewish army, surrounded by Klal Yisroel’s elite! You killed me, and I shouldn’t snap your neck like a toothpick?
“A self-immersed egotistical person could never hear the pleas of the Jewish nation spring unbidden into his mind. How could his thoughts have room to consider the future of the nation? Was he not overwhelmed by the tragedy of his own death?
“If a person is self-centered, he has no room for others in his mind. You think a person who has spent a lifetime thinking about himself will suddenly change at the moment of death? Nonsense… people can change over the course of their lifetimes, but not instantaneously…
“Avner was able to prioritize the Jewish nation at the moment of his death, because that was how he lived his whole life!... A lifetime of slogging up the mountain of altruism brought Avner to this glorious, elevated peak as he let his enemy slip through his fingers.”

The disciples of Bila’am may seem to live a more glamorous and idyllic life. But beneath the surface, only one who develops within himself the character traits of Avohom Avinu can achieve internal happiness and satisfaction in life. 
To have the incredible grace of character that Aver possessed in his dying moments, one must live their life constantly seeking to refine their character.

“The students of Avrohom Avinu enjoy the fruits of their good deeds”
“Mir machen mentchen!”
 

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


[1] 5:22
[2] Shmuel II chapter 2
[3] Yalkut Shimoni, Yirmiayhu 285
[4] Rosh Yeshiva, Derech Ayson of Far Rockaway, from his powerful book “Mind over Man”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

PARSHAS CHUKAS 5778


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS CHUKAS 5778
“TRUST THE PROCESS”

It wasn’t nice, but that’s the way it was. Everyone in school and in his town called him Mike the Moron. It wasn’t that he was stupid, as much as that he just never seemed to use common sense. He was impulsive, had no patience for details, and was socially inept. It seemed that almost daily Mike ended up being the laughingstock of his friends and community.
After somehow graduating high school, Mike was determined to change his reputation. He decided he would leave town for a year and would study social appropriateness. During that year he studied the actions of socially successful people and expended great effort training himself to pay attention to detail.
Finally, after a year of arduous work, he was ready to prove to everyone that he was a different person. He put on nice clothes, combed his hair, and mustered up the courage to walk into the first store he saw.
He didn’t recognize the owner of the store, and he greeted him warmly. The owner returned the greeting, after which Mike engaged in some pleasantries and small talk. When the owner asked how he could be of assistance, Mike pleasantly replied that he needed eggs, milk, orange juice, and a loaf of bread.
The owner peered at him for a moment. “Sir, before I try to help you with what you need, can I ask you a question?” Mike smiled, “Of course; ask me anything!” The owner looked at him again, “Are you by any chance Mike the Moron?”
Mike was beside himself. “I spent a whole year working on changing my image. I never even met you before. How could you possibly know?”
The owner replied, “Mike, this is a hardware store!”

The ironic truth is that in the famed Novardok mussar yeshiva, the Alter[1] would often send his students into a drug store to ask for nails. In those days drug stores weren’t also convenience stores; they only sold medicine. Everyone would laugh at the yeshiva student who was asking for nails.
The Alter wanted his students to be accustomed to not caring about the ridicule of others. In order to ensure that they would develop courage to do what was right even in the face of mockery and derision, he trained them to disregard public image when it interfered with one’s integrity.

The account of Moshe Rabbeinu hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, and consequently being informed that lifelong dream of entering Eretz Yisroel would be denied, is of the most difficult passages in the Torah. It is clear that the great Moshe was being held to an incredibly exacting standard, as the most righteous are. It is also clear that national interests were also a major factor.
The commentators expend great effort to understand what exactly Moshe was being punished for. We review and study the mishaps of Moshe, and all our greatest leaders, because the lessons we glean from them are personal and timeless.[2]
Hashem chastised Moshe, “Since you did not believe in Me to make me holy before the eyes of the B’nei Yisroel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the land which I gave them.”[3] These seem to be very harsh words. In what way did Moshe fail to sanctify G-d? After all, hitting a rock to produce water is not much less of a miracle than speaking to a rock to produce water? 
The Alter of Novardok[4] explains that the key to understanding what happened, is based on the Medrash[5], which states that Hashem indicated to Moshe that there was a specific rock which Moshe was supposed to speak to in order to bring forth water. There were Jews who began to mock Moshe saying that if this was really a miracle, why couldn’t he bring water from any rock? They reasoned that he was trying to bring forth water from that specific rock because he must have known there was a stream underneath it.
Moshe was in a quandary. If he fulfilled what Hashem instructed him, it would end up causing a chillul Hashem because the mockers would deny that it was a miracle. The whole purpose of the event would not be achieved. Moshe therefore reasoned that if he proved them wrong, it would produce a far greater kiddush Hashem.
The Alter noted that Moshe was not intimidated in the least bit by the masses. He had no qualms about facing 600,000 people and telling them off. To Moshe, the entire world was meaningless in the presence of Hashem. It wasn’t the opinion of the masses that Moshe was concerned about, but rather about bringing about honor to Hashem. Moshe rationalized that by veering somewhat from what he was commanded, he could silence the mockers and create greater kavod shomayim.
Moshe’s quandary is something many of us face on occasion. At times we are confronted by situations when it seems breaching halacha somewhat will bring about a far greater kiddush shem shomayim. On the flip side, at times observing halacha may seem to risk causing people to become ‘turned off’ from Hashem or Torah. How should one proceed in such a situation?
Moshe opted to try to bring about a greater kiddush Hashem, and so he spoke to a different rock and instructed it to give water. However, because it wasn’t the rock G-d had commanded him to speak to, it did not give forth water. At that point Moshe struck the rock twice and water began to flow.
This was the incredible test of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe should have recognized, that despite how it may have seemed to his eyes, it was impossible that there could come about a greater kiddush Hashem other than what Hashem commanded. Had Moshe not have followed his speculation, the water would have eventually flowed from the rock based on his directive alone. His noble and selfless rationalizations notwithstanding, Moshe came up short because he did not wholly fulfill the exact instruction of G-d.

In Sefer Yehoshua, the Navi States “Yehoshua waged war with all these kings for a long time.”[6] Radak and Rashi quote the Medrash[7] which sees this verse as finding fault with Yehoshua. Hashem had assured Yehoshua that he would live to conquer and distribute the land. Therefore, Yehoshua tarried with the conquest to prolong his life.
The Medrash notes that Yehoshua’s actions were contrasted by those of Moshe, who was told that he would die after the battle with Midyan. Nevertheless, Moshe waged war against Midyan with alacrity, to immediately fulfill the command of Hashem. Because Yehoshua sought to prolog his life in this manner, his life was shortened by ten years.
Maharzu explains that Yehoshua prolonged the conquest because he knew that as long as he was alive, the nation would not sin. Nevertheless, despite his noble intentions, he was held to task for doing so. One is charged in life with fulfilling Hashem’s Will, and not substituting his own judgement with that of the divine.[8]

The Alter concludes, “When the eye of intellect can not see clearly any longer, one must judge in accordance with his faith in the word of Hashem…Just as darkness cannot emanate from light, a desecration of G-d’s Name cannot come from obeying His command.”

One summer Rav Mandel Kaplan zt’l[9] stayed at a kiruv summer camp which worked with youth from nonreligious backgrounds. At times he felt the camp went overboard in its attempts to give the campers a good time. He asked the camp directors why they always had to provide them with so much ‘fun’?
On one occasion, the camp was planning on taking the boys to the country fair, which Rav Mendel felt was not a proper place for them to attend. The director told Rav Mendel that this was the only way to get those children interested in Torah observance. When the director quipped that, “If we don’t do this, we will lose them”, Rav Mendel curtly replied, “So you’ll lose them.”
At first the camp director was shocked by Rav Mendel’s response. This was especially true because Rav Mendel was so full of love and concern for every Jew. But with time he understood Rav Mendel’s point: if the goal was to covey to the students that Torah has supremacy in a Jew’s life, how could the camp underhandedly convey that having fun was its greatest ideal? Such an approach would produce observant Jews who paid lip service to Torah values but didn’t truly internalize it.
Our ultimate responsibility is to uphold Torah and halacha to the best of our abilities.[10] There is no greater way or any alternative way to promote kavod shomayim!

“Since you did not believe in Me to make me holy”
“Desecration of G-d’s Name cannot come from obeying His command”


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



[1] Rav Yosef Yozel Horowitz zt’l (1847-1919)
[2] That itself is one of the greatest indications of the veracity of Torah as the guide to ultimate truth. The Torah doesn’t mince words from telling us about the failings of our greatest leaders. There is only one divine being who is flawless. Although it doesn’t deserve to even be mentioned together, it’s worth noting that in the “New Testament” none of the ‘leaders’ ever seemed to err…
[3] Bamidbar 20:12
[4] Madreigos Ha’adam; beirur hamiddos
[5] Bamidbar Rabbah 19:9
[6] Yehoshua 11:18
[7] Bamidbar Rabbah 22:6
[8] This point about Yehoshua is not mentioned in this context by the Altar. I came across it with siyata d’shmaya this morning, shortly before I was going to send out this Stam Torah.
[9] Rav Mendel (1913-1985) was a legendary educator and Rosh Yeshiva. He was one of my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein’s, rabbeim. Whenever Rabbi Wein speaks of him it is with great nostalgia, admiration, and love. Artscroll published a beautiful biography entitled “Reb Mendel and his wisdom” about his life and legacy.
[10] There are undoubtedly situations which do warrant exceptions. But such unusual situations require the input and guidance of a halachic authority and gadol.