Thursday, January 25, 2018



While visiting Eretz Yisroel with our son Shalom two years ago, in honor of his bar mitzvah, our trip coincided with Tu B’Shvat. On the night of Tu B’Shvat we attended the Belzer tisch[2], where thousands of chassidim packed into the room surrounding the Belzer Rebbe. Based on the connections of a friend[3], I was able to get a coveted seat at the head table.
At one point, after some songs were beautifully sung together, boxes upon boxes of different fruits were hurried in, and placed it in front of the rebbe. In matter of minutes the entire massive head table was covered with more fruits than I had ever seen together in my life. Within another few minutes, the fruits were disseminated to the throngs of eager chassidim throughout the room, until the boxes were completely empty.
The entire resurgence of Belzer Chassidus is itself a complete miracle.
Rav Aharon Rokeach zt’l[4], was the fourth rebbe of Belz. During his reign the Holocaust occurred, and most his chassidim were murdered by the Nazis, including his wife, children, and grandchildren. As a leading rabbinical figure, he was high on the Nazis ‘most wanted’ list. He himself miraculously survived, and escaped to Eretz Yisroel, and remarried, but had no children from his second wife. Most thought Belz did not have a future.
The rebbe’s half-brother, Rav Mordechai, escaped with him, remarried, had a son, and died a few months later. Rav Aharon raised that son – Yissochor Dov, and groomed him to become his successor.
Today, Belz has had an incredible resurgence under the leadership of Rav Yissochor Ber, with more than fifty-thousand chassidim, and numerous yeshivos, and institutions throughout the world. 
Sitting at a Belzer Tisch is itself a symbolism of the miraculous resurgence of the Jewish people, and a testament to the unfaltering eternity of our people.

The first Shabbos after the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon, arrived in Eretz Yisroel during the winter of 1944, was the week of Parshas Beshalach. That Shabbos, the Rebbe held a tisch. Most of the small assemblage were survivors who had just recently, barely escaped with their lives, having lost most of their families and communities. It was quickly apparent that they were in no mood of singing.
In an effort to rouse their spirits, the rebbe related the following thought:
The Torah says that the Jewish Nation left Egypt “Chamushim”. Simply translated as ‘armed’, Chazal note that it also means ‘a fifth’. Only a fifth of the nation emerged from Egypt; 80% had died in Egypt[5].
This means that when the nation sang the Song of the Sea, most of the nation was not present, because they had died shortly before the exodus. It seems likely that every family had lost numerous close relatives and friends.
When Moshe arose to sing, many of them must have been overwhelmed by the anguish of their raw losses, and did not want to sing. That is why the Torah introduces the shirah by saying “Az Yashir” which literally means “Then Moshe and B’nei Yisroel will sing,” in future tense.
Moshe explained to the nation that their story is far from over. While history is generally defined as the story of the past, for the Jewish people history is defined also by the future.
The Jews in Egypt had died, but their souls were alive, and would return with the resurrection of the dead. Moshe urged them to sing, not because there is no pain, but because despite the pain, their story is far from over.
This is the uniqueness of Jewish history. Since Jews are certain that redemption will come, they go back and redefine exile as the catalyst for redemption and healing.
For us, the future defines, and gives meaning to the past too.

Just prior to their departure from Egypt at the time of the exodus, the Torah relates, “B’nei Yisroel did according to the word of Moshe; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing. Hashem granted the nation favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they asked.”[6]
However, there were a few individuals who were busy collecting other important ‘materials’, and put aside the amassing of personal fortunes:
 “Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, because he had made the Bn’ei Yisroel swear saying ‘when Hashem will surely remember you, and you will bring up my bones from this land with you’.”[7]
The Medrash contrasts what Moshe brought up with that of the rest of the nation: “All of Yisroel busied themselves with silver and gold, but Moshe was preoccupied with Yosef’s bones, to which the Holy One, blessed is He, applied the verse ‘He who is wise of heart takes mitzvos’[8].” 
After the nation sang shirah, after witnessing the final decimation of their final captors at the sea, the pasuk relates that the women also sang shirah: “Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”[9]
Yalkut Shimoni[10] notes that Miriam, and many other righteous women, were confident that there would be cause for celebration in the desert that would warrant their having instruments. So, while the nation was preparing to leave, they made sure to take instruments with them.
In Parshas Terumah, when the Torah describes the different materials that were donated for the construction of the Mishkan, one of the materials listed is acacia wood (atzei shittim).
The Medrash[11] asks how they were able to procure acacia wood in the desert? The Medrash answers that prior to his descent to Egypt, Yaakov Avinu carried acacia trees down to Egypt, prophesizing that the nation would one day need them for a Mishkan. He replanted them there. When the nation was about to leave Egypt, there were those who chopped down those trees, and carried the acacia wood with them into the desert.
Moshe took the bones of Yosef, Miriam and righteous women took instruments for celebration, and some individuals took the replanted acacia wood.[12]
In a sense, these three important ‘materials’ represent one of the most important components of a people – connection to its past, purpose in the present, and goals for the future.  
Moshe took the bones of Yosef, representing the nation’s connection to its illustrious past, and holy ancestors. Miriam took instruments with confidence and faith in the glory that was to come. The wood that was used for the construction of the structure of the Mishkan symbolized the ongoing need for the nation to have a centralized place for the Divine Presence to rest among them constantly.
There are people who get stuck in the past. They may have suffered trauma and abuse, mental anguish, and suffering, and cannot get past it. They are stuck in the morass of their past, and may suffer from insurmountable depression.
There are others who become paralyzed by fear of the unknown in the future. Anxiety of what tomorrow will bring overwhelms them, and they are filled with dread about how they will deal with the challenges that will confront them.
The goal is for a person to be able to build on his past, even the traumas and pain of the past, and utilize them, taking advantage of the present, to create a hopeful future, helping others and serving Hashem.
The three objects taken out along with the wealth of the Egyptians, represents this vital need in the formulation and growth of a burgeoning nation.

The Shabbos when Parshas Beshalach is read, is titled “Shabbos Shirah – Shabbos of Song”. It generally also coincides with the week when the holiday of Tu[13] B’Shvat is observed.
Tu B’Shvat is the “New Year for trees” in regard to certain areas of halacha[14]. Therefore, it is a time when we reflect upon the wonders of the trees, particularly regarding the analogous connections between trees and humankind[15].
Every tree grew from the seeds of previous trees. At the same time, every fruit contains within it the seeds for future trees and fruits.
The song of our lives is built upon the foundations upon which were built by our ancestors. With a sense of mission and responsibility for our progeny, we prepare the next generation, serving as the continuing link on our never-ending chain of eternal tradition. 

“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him”
“Miriam took a timbrel in her hand”

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 Beshalach 5777.
[2] A tisch is a formal Chassidic gathering, in which chassidim sing together, and listen to inspiring words of Torah from the rebbe.
[3] Fred Brinn, then Mayor of New Hempstead
[4] 1880-1957
[5] During the plague of darkness, all of those Jews who did not want to leave Egypt, died.
[6] Shemos 12:35-36
[7] Shemos 13:19
[8] Mishlei 10:7
[9] Shemos 15:20
[10] Shemos 253
[11] Bereishis Rabbah 94:4
[12] I saw the idea about taking these three ‘materials’ in an article by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
[13] The Hebrew letters ט''ו (Tu) numerically correspond to the number 15, since it is on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat
[14] Particularly about taking ma’aser, the mandatory annual tithes
[15] Based on the pasuk in Devorim 20:19   

Thursday, January 18, 2018



Rav Shabsi Yudelevitz zt”l, one of the great maggidim of Yerushalayim of the last generation, recounted an experience he had during one of his visits to America.
He was invited to speak at a bar mitzvah celebration of an American boy, whose family’s religious commitment was somewhat wanting. In his speech, Rav Shabsi noted that ultimately there are no secrets. He quoted the Gemara[2] which says that the walls of a person’s home testify about him on the Day of Judgment. The objects we own, the chairs we sit on, the walls of our homes, and even the food we eat, testify about our mitzva observance before the celestial courts.
Rav Shabsi continued that it’s vital for a Jewish male to put on tefillin every weekday of his life. He then lifted a golden ladle off the table in front of them, and announced to the bar mitzvah boy that if he wouldn’t put on tefillin, the ladle itself would testify against him! With that, in front of the entire assemblage, he placed the ladle in his pocket.
The next morning, Rav Shabsi helped the boy put on tefillin for the first time.
After davening, the boy’s father told Rav Shabsi that the ladle he had taken was not only very expensive, it was also a family heirloom, and was part of a set.
Rav Shabsi replied that he had no intention of keeping the ladle, and it would be returned imminently. He asked permission to hold onto it a bit longer. He explained that since he had announced to everyone that the ladle would testify about whether the boy put on tefillin or not, he wanted to wait until after shachris so he could ask the ladle if the boy put on his tefillin that morning.
The father thought the Rav was mocking him, but he didn’t say anything.
The next day, the father asked Rav Shabsi what the ladle said. Rav Shabsi replied that the ladle began crying that the first day after his bar mitzvah, the boy already neglected to don his tefillin. The father asked Rav Shabsi why he was falsely accusing his son. Rav Shabsi said he would ask the ladle again. He walked out of the shul, and came back a few moments later shaking his head. He insisted that the ladle was still crying that his son hadn’t put on tefillin.
At that point, the father became annoyed, and demanded that the ladle be returned. Rav Shabsi replied that he he wanted the boy to put on the tefillin in front of everyone, so they could see the ladle testify. They agreed that the next morning, the boy would put on tefillin before shachris at the bimah, in view of everyone.
The next morning the shul was packed. Everyone wanted to see how the ladle would testify. The bar mitzvah boy nervously began taking out his tefillin, as everyone tensely watched. Suddenly, there was a loud thud. Everyone looked down to find the ladle lying on the floor at the bar mitzvah boy’s feet.
People were stunned; the Rav had performed a miracle. The ladle had truly testified!
Before Rav Shabsi left, the Rabbi of the shul asked him what forces of kabbala he had employed to make the ladle appear. Rav Shabsi replied that the day before, when he had helped the boy put on tefillin, he had snuck the ladle into his tefillin bag before closing it.
When the father demanded that he return the ladle, it became clear that his son hadn’t put on tefillin, otherwise he would have discovered it in his bag. The following morning, when he began to don the tefillin, the ladle fell out!

During my youth, we had a book at home called “If a Siddur Could Talk”[3]. The book opened by asking the reader, “Of course a siddur can’t talk. But if it could… what do you think it would say?” The book then related the purported experiences of various children with davening, and what their siddurim mighty say about how they daven.
Its an intriguing concept, especially because the gemara[4] seems to say that the question isn’t merely what our siddur would say, but also what would our tefillin say, what would our action say, and what would our Shabbos table say.
The Mesillas Yesharim[5] writes that regarding self-improvement, there is a concept of יפשפש במעשיו and another concept of ימשמש במעשיו. יפשפש implies that one should search his actions, to discern whether they are positive or negative. One then must strive to increase his good deeds and decrease his negative behaviors. ימשמש literally means ‘to feel out’, or probe his actions. One should analyze his positive and laudable actions, so that he can improve them constantly, never settling for ‘good enough’, at the sacrifice of ‘even better’.
Any person who is serious about accomplishing greatness in whatever endeavor he wishes to achieve mastery, understands this concept. He must first recognize his deficiencies, so he can circumvent them and work on improving his performance despite them. However, he also realizes that his greatest achievements will come from building upon his successes, and striving to improve what he already excels at. 
At the Seder on Pesach night, we state “Blessed is the One who has guarded his promise to Yisroel, blessed is He.” Hashem did not merely fulfill His pledge to Avrohom Avinu that he would take his progeny out. He guarded that pledge, and anticipated the opportunity to redeem it. Then He did so, in a most magnanimous and loving manner.
When it became evident that the nation could not endure another 190 years of servitude and affliction, Hashem “calculated the end” and used a tactic of counting the promised four-hundred years from the time of the birth of Yitzchak[6]. When the physical exodus occurred, the nation left with tremendous wealth and a feeling of dignity and glory. They did not rush out like fugitives escaping in the night. Their former captors and persecutors waved them on meekly and reverently.
The Torah describes the fateful night of the exodus as “Leil Shimurim”. That terminology is mentioned twice in the same verse: “It was a night of שמרים for Hashem, to bring them out of Egypt; that same night is Hashem’s one of שמרים for all of the B’nei Yisroel for all generations.[7]
Rashi explains that the second time the word שמרים is used it refers to divine protection. The anniversary of the night of the exodus is a night of divine protection for Jews throughout the world. However, the first time the word שמרים is used it refers to anticipation and excitement. That night was a night of anticipation for Hashem, as it were, as He excitedly waited for the opportunity to redeem His nation.
One guards something he feels is precious and valuable, and wants to protect. In the Haggadah we bless Hashem who, not only fulfilled His promise, but guarded it with anticipatory love. 
When we recognize that Hashem loves us and treasures our every action, it becomes evident that we should seek to at least reciprocate, by trying to perform mitzvos and serve Hashem with that same feeling of love and yearning.
On Shabbos morning we sing about the one who is “השומר שבת הבן עם הבת”. We aren’t singing about one who merely fulfils the laws of Shabbos, but one who safeguards the Shabbos with excitement and love. It’s a feeling that he passionately shares with his children – his son and his daughter.
Part of what we remember when we recount the experience of the exodus, is how Hashem clearly acted out of love. He didn’t just fulfill His promise to ‘be done with it’. He demonstrated that there is a relationship and a partnership.
Our goal must be to serve Hashem with those same feelings.

“Blessed is the One who has guarded his promise“
“A night of anticipation for Hashem, to bring them out of Egypt”

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 Bo 5772.
[2] Chagiga 16a
[3] Published in 1987 by Yocheved Yosef; the book was more recently reprinted in 2005
[4] ibid
[5] Chapter 3 (based on Gemara Eiruvin 13b)
[6] The promise was that “the descendants of Avrohom would be strangers in a land not theirs” for four hundred years. As soon as Yitzchak was born, and at that time Eretz Yisroel was not the property of Avrohom, the four hundred years could technically begin, even though that wasn’t the original interpretation of the decree.
[7] Shemos 12:42

Thursday, January 11, 2018



A beggar once knocked on the door of Baron Rothschild to request financial assistance. The Baron was in a particularly sociable mood, and good-naturedly asked the beggar what he would do if he had all his money. The beggar’s eyes widened, “If I had the Baron’s money, I wouldn’t be going around collecting from door to door like I am now. Oh no! If I had your money, I would have a beautiful horse-drawn chariot that would take me around town when I would go collecting from door to door.”

Hashem instructed Moshe to appear before Pharaoh and instruct him to liberate the Jewish slaves. Moshe replied that he was an unworthy candidate to be G-d’s representative, because of his speech impediment. He countered that if the Jewish people couldn’t hearken to his message of hope, how would he be able to convince Pharaoh that he had to free the entire nation?  
After the Torah records Moshe’s concern, it uses twenty verses to relate the entire lineage of Moshe, beginning with the lineage of Reuven and Shimon, then continuing with Moshe’s ancestor, Levi. Only after completing Moshe’s lineage, and subsequently repeating Moshe’s concern, does the Torah relate that Hashem replied to Moshe that indeed Aharon would be the liaison between Moshe and Pharaoh.
Why the seemingly unconnected digression?
At the beginning of Parshas Vaera, Hashem related to Moshe the four expressions of redemption:
“Therefore, say to B’nei Yisroel that I am Hashem. I will take you out from beneath the סבלת מצרים burdens of Mitzrayim, and I will save you… and I will redeem you… and I will take you to Me for a nation… and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out from beneath the burdens of Mitzrayim.”[2]
The four expressions of redemption symbolized a four-step progression towards redemption. Each expression represented another, deeper level towards eventual salvation. The fourth expression, “and I will take you to Me for a nation”, refers to the giving of the Torah, when the purpose of the redemption was actualized.
Why would the nation only “know” that Hashem took them out from under the burdens of Egypt after the Torah was given? Why wouldn’t they realize it immediately after the exodus, or even as it was unfolding?
The gemara[3] explains the words “(And you will know that I am Hashem) המוציא אתכם - who is taking you out from beneath the burdens of Mitzrayim”, that Hashem was telling B’nei Yisroel: “when I will eventually take you out of Egypt, I will perform for you miraculous things, so that you will know that I am the One who took you out of Egypt.
From the gemara too. it is apparent that only after Mattan Torah, would the nation understand that Hashem alone took them out of Mitzrayim. Why?
Harav Yosef Nechemia Kurnitzer zt’l[4] notes that Rashi explains the words, “(I will take you out from beneath the) סבלת מצרים”, to mean that Hashem would take the nation out from “the yoke of the burden of Mitzrayim”. In other words, whereas סבלת normally simply means burden/hard labor, here Hashem was promising to remove them from being subservient to the bidding of Egypt at all.
 When Hashem portended to Avrohom about the imminent exile during the B'ris Bain Habsorim, He told Avrohom about two separate components of the exile. The first was that, “they will be strangers in a land that is not theirs”[5]. The second component was regarding the severity of the enslavement - “And they would enslave them and afflict them.”[6]
Being subservient and under the "סבלת" of another, having to answer to a higher authority, is not necessarily a tragedy. In fact, there are many people who lack leadership qualities, and would not do well as entrepreneurs, or being self-employed. They may be excellent employees who can maintain the structure of a company already set up, but they would be unable to initiate it on their own. 
Being subject to the סבלת of a higher authority becomes a tragedy when the one who is subservient could do better, if he wasn’t limited by the shackles of submissiveness to a limiting overseer. What’s even more tragic, is when he doesn’t even recognize how much his potential greatness is being stifled. He feels content with his situation and is fearful to ‘rock the boat’, so he fails to recognize the potential he has. He has no vision or aspiration to accomplish more than what he is doing.
Koheles[7] states: “I have seen slaves on horses, and nobles walking on foot like slaves.” One’s socioeconomic status does not necessarily define who he is, or even his status. A person may come across a windfall of money and resources, but essentially, he is still enslaved to his former life as an impoverished person. He maintains those old attitudes and anxieties, despite the fact that he now has money. He is a rich slave, stuck in the morass of a slave mentality.
That is the message that the beggar conveyed to Rothchild. He couldn’t even relate to having wealth. In his mind, having money would enable him to collect in style, but he failed to realize that if he had the money he wouldn’t need to collect at all.
That attitude is the tragedy of "סבלת" - when one cannot even fathom a greater life or higher ambitions.
While they were slaves in Egypt, the nation couldn’t recognize the depth of the exile. They only saw what was surrounding them – pain, affliction, humiliation, and endless servitude. They didn’t have the ability to realize the deeper tragedy – that they were a nation with an incredible heritage and destiny, who were now trapped in a suffocating exile. Not only were they being subjected to inhumane physical torture, but they were princes treated worse than vermin.
Moshe recognized the depth of the exile, and asked Hashem, that if the Jewish people themselves were not cognizant of their own greatness, how could he possibly convince Pharaoh of the full severity of his crime, enslaving a noble people?!
Before Hashem replied to Moshe, the Torah lists the esteemed lineage of Moshe. That itself is part of the response. It was as if Hashem was telling Moshe that he (Moshe) was aware of his privileged ancestry, because it was taught to him. Therefore, that was his mission regarding the Jewish people as well. He had to convey to them that they are descended from the princes of the world – the patriarchs and the twelve tribes, so they could recognize their own greatness. 
Once Pharaoh would see that his slaves have more of a respect for themselves, they would begin to feel more restless languishing in their persecuted state, and Pharaoh would invariably recognize that this situation would not continue as it was. At that point, the only way Pharaoh was able to maintain the servitude was because G-d hardened his heart, and compelled him to do so.

The truth is that the nation could not have a full appreciation of their inherent greatness until they achieved the ultimate accomplishment – accepting the Torah on Har Sinai. Only then were they able to fully appreciate the extent of the tragedy of the exile they had just been redeemed from.
That is the profundity of what Hashem told Moshe: “I will take you to Me for a nation… and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out from beneath the(סבלת)  burdens of Mitzrayim.” Only when Hashem “took them for a nation” at Sinai, were they able to realize the extent of סבלת מצרים.

In life, we often sell ourselves short. We may have capabilities and capacities to accomplish more things in avodas Hashem and our spiritual pursuits. The problem is that we too, are shackled by סבלת - the burdens of our exile, which convince us that the ultimate pursuit is for comfort and complacency.
It is only when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and drag ourselves to our own Har Sinais of accomplishment, that we can look back and realize just how tragic our situation had been, and how far we have come.

 “I have seen slaves on horses”
“You will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out”

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 Vaera 5777; based on a lecture by Rav Aryeh Lebowitz (
[2] Shemos 6:6-7
[3] Berachos 38a
[4] A great scholar, he was also the last Rav of Crackow before World War II; he died in 1933
[5] Bereishis 15:12
[6] Ibid
[7] 10:7