Thursday, May 24, 2018

PARSHAS NASO 5778



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS NASO 5778
“ON ME ALONE”[1]

   Toward the end of his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1981, President Ronald Reagan spoke of monuments to heroism. Struggling to control his emotions, he drew attention to “the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery with its row upon row of simple white markers.”
   He continued, “Under such a marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small-town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division.” Treptow was killed while serving as runner in the battle of the Ourcq River on July 29, 1918.
   Reagan related that after Treptow was killed, a diary was found in which he inscribed the following message: “America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the whole struggle depended on me alone.”   

   Doctor Joel Berman[2] related that in the IDF, if a soldier loses his gun he is sentenced to five years in military prison. A soldier who falls asleep at his post however, is sentenced to seven years in military prison. Falling asleep and failing to be vigilant can endanger numerous lives, and is therefore a more serious violation than being careless with a weapon.

   At the end of Parshas Naso, the Torah relates each of the offerings donated by the Princes of each Shevet during the first twelve days of Nissan. Although they all brought the exact same offering, the Torah repeats each one, symbolizing how special each one was to Hashem.
   The Torah introduces the topic by stating, “Vayehi – And it was the one who brought the offering on the first day, Nachson ben Aminodov of the tribe of Yehuda.”[3]
   The Medrash[4] notes that the expression “Vayehi” is one of distress – “Vay- Woe!”  The Medrash offers various explanations as to who was distressed at that time.
   Oznayim laTorah suggests that the entire nation was in distress because this was shortly after the sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu in the Mishkan. It occurred shortly after a heavenly fire descended upon the Mizbeiach, symbolizing the commencement of the Avodah in the Mishkan. In a moment intense national celebration was transformed into overwhelming grief. “And your brethren the entire House of Israel shall bewail the ‘burning’ that Hashem has ignited.”[5]
   At that moment, the princes paused. They were to begin offering their special korbanos that day. But who could offer a personal korbon immediately after such a paralyzing tragedy befell the nation?
   It would seem that Nachson ben Aminodov would be the last person to offer his korban that day. His grief was more intense than anyone else because Nadav and Avihu were the sons of his sister Elisheva, the wife of Aharon. It was his nephews who had died.
   Yet his fellow princes chose him. Just prior to the Splitting of the Sea, at that frightful moment when the Egyptians closed in upon the hapless nation and the sea was raging before them, it was Nachshon who plunged into the sea. He had no idea that a miracle would occur but his unyielding faith in Hashem impelled him. When the sea reached his nostrils, it split before him, and the nation was able to proceed.
   The princes reasoned that Nachson would be able to sublimate his own grief, in order to serve as an example for the entire nation of selfless Service to Hashem. A korbon symbolizes man’s willingness to sacrifice his entire being for the honor of Hashem. There was no one more fitting than Nachshon who could master his own feelings and offer such korbanos for the honor of Hashem.
   Regarding what occurred just prior to the Splitting of the Sea, the gemara[6] relates two different opinions: “This one (tribe) said ‘I will descend (into the sea) first’, and this one said ‘I will descend into the sea first’. The tribe of Binyamin jumped in and descended into the sea first.
   “Rabbi Yehuda says that is not the way it transpired. Rather, this one said, ‘I won’t descend into the sea first’ and this one said ‘I won’t descend into the sea first’. Nachson ben Aminodov jumped in and went down into the sea first.”
   According to the first approach mentioned in the gemara, what was the basis of their argument regarding who should plunge into the sea first. The sea has more than ample place for everyone to jump in simultaneously?
   Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt’l[7] explained that although the other tribes claimed to want to enter the sea first it wasn’t with complete personal abandon.
   The Medrash[8] asks “What did the sea see?” In other words, what caused the sea to split? The Medrash answers it saw the bones of Yosef[9]. Yosef was a strikingly handsome seventeen-year old bachelor, rejected from his family, and all alone. Yet, incredibly he refused the advances of a beautiful woman who desperately tried to seduce him and threatened him with terrible suffering for resisting. Yosef overcame his nature in a most profound manner.
   At first the sea did not want to alter its natural flow. But when it saw the bones of Yosef who had overcome his own nature, it felt compelled to alter its own nature as well.
   As the nation stood facing the ominous sea with the Egyptians behind them, Moshe urged them to faithfully proceed into the sea. Each tribe declared that they would be willing to descend first, but only if they were grasping the coffin containing the bones of Yosef. They understood the powerful symbolism and protection that those bones would offer, and they were only confident to continue with them.
   The tribe of Binyamin however, countered that there was no time to waste. If Hashem willed them to proceed that did not require any propitious symbolisms or protections. Therefore, while all the other tribes converged upon the bones of Yosef, Binyamin plunged into the sea with nothing but their unyielding faith in Hashem.
   It seems that the same was true about Nachson. He too did not seek the protection of the bones of Yosef, but rather he plunged into the sea with total faith and a feeling of responsibility that the fate of the nation rested upon his shoulders.

   The holiday of Shavuos is a celebration of our acceptance and compete subjugation and adherence to Torah. The Torah not only contains the guidelines of halacha, but also provides us with a framework for every aspect of our lives.
   Nachson was the ultimate example of one who lived by his faith and was undeterred by anything that could shake his faith. It made him worthy of being the ancestor of Boaz, the Davidic dynasty, and the eventual birth of Moshiach. A king has to be able to put aside his own personal agendas and desires for the betterment and welfare of his kingdom.[10]
   During times of national panic and mourning, the nation was able to draw comfort and encouragement from the sterling example of Nachshon. That too became the legacy of his descendants Dovid and Shlomo, and will be the legacy of Moshiach.

   “And this one said ‘I will descend into the sea first”
   “On the first day, Nachson ben Aminodov of the tribe of Yehuda”


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 Naso 5777
[2] Dr Berman was a soldier in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). He is currently a beloved rebbe, teacher, and Assistant Principal in Heichal HaTorah 
[3] Bamidbar 7:12
[4] Bamidbar Rabbah 12:7
[5] Vayikra 10:6
[6] Sanhedrin 36b-37a
[7] הערות – מסכת סוטה
[8] Bereishis Rabbah 87:8
[9] Based On Yosef’s instruction prior to his death, his bones were carried out of Egypt and accompanied the nation throughout their travels in the desert. They were eventually interred outside Shechem.
[10] It is interesting for us to contrast such lofty ideals of true monarchy with the disgrace of what has become of the remaining royalty in our world. This week the world watched a prince marry a movie star, both of whom do not live exemplary lives as role models for others. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

PARSHAS BAMIDBAR 5778



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS BAMIDBAR 5778
“AUTOMATIC RESPONSE”[1]

   A chassid once asked his rebbe, “When Moshiach comes, how will I recognize him?” The rebbe replied, “The more important question is how will Moshiach recognize you?”

In Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah describes the marching formation of the twelve shevatim. In addition, the Medrash notes that every shevet had its own banner, which depicted its individual image and color. Hoisting that banner was a matter of pride for each shevet.
On the flag of Shevet Reuven was the image of a plant – דודאים - reminiscent of the ones Reuven picked for his mother to help her become pregnant.[2] Chazal relate that Reuven picked those dudaim in an ownerless field, to make sure he wasn’t stealing. The Medrash adds that there were fruits growing on those flowers, but Reuven wouldn’t eat them until he had given the flowers to his mother[3].
What was so great about the dudaim that made it worthy of being the image on Shevet Reuven’s flag?
Our reflexes are a gift from Hashem. If one senses an object speeding towards his head, and he moves away just in time, that’s a reflex reaction. When one is walking and suddenly one foot extends higher or lower than the previous step, the body immediately adjusts its weight to make sure he doesn’t fall. That too is a natural reflex reaction.
The most well-known natural reflex is when a doctor hits a patient’s knee to test his reflexes, and the foot automatically extends.
But there are other reflexes that are not natural, and only result from training and developing a habit.
For example, a head lifeguard in camp may randomly demand that his lifeguards jump into the pool for practice emergency drills, even when the water is cold or murky. He is trying to get them into the habit of jumping into the water without hesitation, in case, G-d forbid, it became necessary to save a life.
The commentaries on the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah) note that Reuven was only four years old when he went to pick the dudaim. For a four-year-old to be so concerned about not picking stolen flowers, means that it was a reflex reaction, it had been ingrained in him even at his young age. The fact that he wouldn’t taste the flowers until he gave them to his mother, also demonstrates the chinuch that was invested in him.
The image of dudaim on their flag symbolized the integrity of their ancestor even at a young age, which was a result of the chinuch instilled in him. It’s likely that Reuven witnessed the incredible mesirus nefesh and selfless devotion his father displayed as a loyal employee of his dishonest grandfather, Lavan. Even under the worst working conditions, Yaakov was faithful and fulfilled his responsibilities to the best of his ability. Yaakov was obsessed with not taking what wasn’t his, and Reuven internalized that lesson.
The banner of Reuven contained the symbolism of developed moral reflexes![4]

In the second perek of Megillas Rus, the megillah describes the original encounter between Boaz and Rus. After Boaz noticed Rus’s exceptional modesty and adherence to halacha, he told her: “Do not go to gather in another field, and don’t go elsewhere, and so you shall remain close to my maidens.”[5] However, when Rus recounts to Naomi what Boaz told her, she unwittingly alters his words: “Also he said to me, with my young men that are with me you should remain close until the harvest is completed.”[6]
The Medrash observes that while Boaz told Rus to cling to his maidens, she recounted that he said she should cling to the young men. The Medrash introduces the observation with strong words: “Undoubtedly, she was a Moabite!” It is inconceivable that Boaz would have told the young widow to mingle with the young men. But, Rus was raised in a society where such mingling was commonplace and therefore, her righteousness and commitment to Judaism notwithstanding, she misunderstood Boaz’s words.[7]
Rus was unquestionably committed and had grown immeasurably in her connection to Judaism. But it is challenging to change notions and ideas that are developed from one’s youth. Rus had been raised in a promiscuous society and she still was not used to the healthy boundaries which halacha dictates and therefore she misunderstood Boaz’s message to her.

A friend of mine related that when his grandfather was in the hospital, not long before his passing, he was not always so lucid. On one occasion, in a state of half-consciousness, a nurse rolled up his sleeve and began to take his blood pressure. As soon as he felt something tightening upon his arm he began reciting the beracha “l’haniach tefllin”, the blessing men recite as they don their hand tefillin each morning.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Lipa Geldwerth[8] related that years ago his father was being wheeled into the elevator in the hospital on his way down to the operating room for open heart surgery. His father had already been given an injection of anesthesia and was beginning to feel its effects. In a groggy state he told his son Rav Lipa that he wanted to share with him two things. The first was a familial matter. Then he told him the following: “I survived five concentration camps and I never missed wearing tefillin for a day. If I’m alive tomorrow morning, please make sure I put on tefillin.”
He indeed survived the surgery and they made sure he put on tefillin the next day. He lived another twenty years before he had a heart attack and stroke from which he never recovered. When he was in the hospital that time, a nurse was wrapping a cord around his arm. While she was doing so, Rav Lipa noticed his father reach into the air in front of his forehead to adjust his Shel Rosh (which wasn’t there). It was an instinctual reaction, coming from decades of meticulous devotion to perform the mitzvah of tefillin.

Our goal in learning Torah and performing mitzvos is that it not only is something we do, but it becomes part of who we are. A truly G-d fearing Jew’s adherence to halacha becomes a reflex reaction. He recoils from a prohibition in the same manner that he recoils from touching a hot stove. Conversely, he relishes the opportunity to learn Torah because he finds fulfillment and connection through it.
We don’t merely keep the Torah; we also live it. That is an important part of what we celebrate on Shavuos. 

“For it is our life and the length of our days, and in it we will engage day and night.”
“It is a tree of life for those who uphold it, and its supporters are enriched.”



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, second day of Shavuos 5777
[2] Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7
[3] Bereishis Rabbah 72:2
[4] The idea about the dudaim on the banner of Reuven as a result of his natural reflexes is from Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky.
[5] Rus 2:8
[6] Rus 2:21
[7] It’s worth noting the sensitivity of the manner in which Naomi corrected Rus. She did not chastise her or mention to her the immodesty of what she had said. Rather, in the next verse, she simply rewords Rus’s words correctly: “And Noami said to Rus, he daughter-in-law, it is good my daughter that you will go out with his maidens and you should not have any encounters in any other field.”
[8] Rabbi Geldwerth is a maggid shiur at Yeshiva Torah Temimah and rov of Khal Kol Torah of Flatbush; from a lecture given at last year’s Torah Umesorah Convention

Thursday, May 10, 2018

PARSHAS BEHAR-BECHUKOSAI 5778



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS BEHAR-BECHUKOSAI 5778
“CREATING INSPIRATION”

   Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers[1], related:
   “When I was writing the book, which I worked on for eleven years, I had several questions for which I searched for answers. The first question was about what the paratroopers did when the city was recaptured.  
   “Everyone heard the incredible announcement by Motta Gur that “Har habayit b’yadienu[2]. It was not just a military report, but a historical claim. Yet, shortly afterwards the soldiers were frantically searching for the way to get down to the Kotel Hama’aravi. How was it possible that the paratroopers of the 55th brigade left Har Habayit to go to the Wall?
   To us today it’s passé, but if we think back to that moment, how could they leave the place of the Mikdash itself to go to the remaining outer wall? A brigade is composed of roughly two thousand men. 20 % of the brigade were religious Zionists. They understood the holiness of the Temple Mount. Why would they want to pray by the Kotel rather than at the place of the Temple?
   “I asked this question to Chanan Porat[3]. He replied, “I don’t have an answer. But we knew of the Wall. That was the place of Jewish prayer for hundreds of years, and we just wanted to touch the Wall.” But he couldn’t give me a clearer response.
   “I remember as a fourteen-year-old boy going to the Wall soon after the war ended, and not even looking up. I felt so entranced just to stand in the presence of the wall.
   “In retrospect, my feeling is that the soldiers wanted to be in the place where Jews had prayed for centuries for that moment to occur. Har habayit, korbanot, avodah, were unfortunately too abstract for them. In 1967, they wanted to have a physical connection with the collective two-thousand-years of prayer throughout the exile. At that moment, the Jews wanted to honor two thousand years of longing.
   David Rubinger is the photographer who took the famous picture of the three soldiers standing in front of the Wall shortly after it was liberated. I interviewed him and asked him about the picture. He admitted that at first, he didn’t think it was such a great picture. In fact, he chose a different picture of Rabbi Goren with people dancing around him. It was his wife who pointed to the now iconic picture and told him that it’s the one that grabbed the moment.
   “I believe the reason why we connect so much to the picture is because it captures paratroopers at the greatest moment of victory, being transformed into pilgrims with a look of humility and surrender, rather than hubris and victory.
   “I believe that was why they went down from Har Habayit to the kotel. At the moment of their greatest victory, they were overwhelmed with gratitude and humility toward all those who had prayed and longed for that moment.
   “That’s what that moment is about – not Motta Gur stating “Har Habayit b’yadeinu”, as much as it is about the paratroopers rushing down to the Wall to connect with generations of prayers and yearning.

   It seems like a complete enigma. How is it possible that Har Sinai, the place where the most seminal event in world history took place, today possesses absolutely no sanctity? This is contrast with Har Habayis which retains its holiness until today.
   This question also touches on another question people often ask: why doesn’t G-d inspire me?
   At the conclusion of Chumash Vayikra, two of the laws the Torah discusses are bechor and ma’aser. A first-born animal is consecrated to G-d from birth. “A firstborn of animals, however, which—as a firstborn—is Hashem’s, cannot be consecrated by anybody; whether ox or sheep, it is Hashem’s.”[4]
   The laws of ma’aser beheimah, tithing animals, was performed in a unique manner. “All tithes of the herd or flock—of all that passes under the shepherd’s staff, every tenth one—shall be holy to Hashem.”[5]
   Rashi explains how the tenth animal would be tithed: “When he (the farmer) is about to tithe them (the cattle), he passes them through a door one after the other, and the tenth he strikes with a rod smeared with red dye, so that it should afterwards be recognized as being one of the tithes. That is what he does to the young sheep and calves of each separate year.”[6]
   There is a fundamental difference between the sanctity of the bechor and the sanctity of the ma’aser. The bechor is sanctified automatically, its holiness is innate from birth. The ma’aser however, is separated and designated for holiness by the farmer’s actions.
   The final law mentioned in Chaumash Vayikra[7] is that once an animal is sanctified as ma’aser beheimah, it’s holiness cannot be exchanged, even for a more robust and fitting animal. If one tries to do so, both the originally sanctified animal, as well as the animal he wants to transfer the holiness to, are sanctified.
   Following that halacha, the Chumash concludes: “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe for the B’nei Yisroel on Har Sinai.”[8]  
   Chumash Vayikra ends with the concept of generating holiness through one’s efforts, emphasizing that such holiness is permanent, and cannot be exchanged.
   The covert message is that permanent holiness is the result of one’s efforts. If one wants to be a holy person he cannot wait for inspiration to hit, or for ‘holy moments’ to occur. Rather, he must create them.
   Har Sinai was analogous to the wedding hall where our marriage to Hashem, as it were, transpired. It was an incredible event, but what’s important is not where it happened, but what happened. After a couple gets married, the location of where they tied the knot is no longer relevant, beyond the pictures. What’s important is that the knot remains securely tied, their devotion and pledge to each other endures.
   Before a wedding, the florist sets up the flowers, the photographer sets up the lighting and equipment, the band arranges the music, and the caterer prepares and organizes the meal. The groom and bride need to only show up.[9] Afterwards, everyone takes their equipment, and the groom and bride head home. All the details involved in the wedding were ultimately arranged for them and have no effect upon their marriage.
   However, once they move into a home and live there for several years, and raise children there, if they decide to move, it will be harder to leave. Memories developed lovingly over time, with shared emotional experiences are not easily erased.
   There are many homes of famous personalities that are preserved. One can visit the home of FDR in Hyde Park, NY, Thomas Jefferson in Monticello, Virginia, or Abe Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, to name a few. Long after the person is gone, his mark is left upon the place where they lived.
   It was Hashem who brought the holiness and incredible revelation upon Har Sinai. The nation had to do nothing more than to show up, witness it, and accept it[10]. Therefore, when the event ended, the holiness departed as well.
   The Bais Hamikdash however, was the place where we created holiness through our efforts and service. Therefore, that holiness is eternal, even two thousand years after the physical structure has been destroyed.
   We indeed celebrate Sinai, but the event, not the place. We celebrate it by living its message and legacy, every time we study Torah, and strive to live by its standards.  
   After the wedding ends, what’s important is that the groom and bride remain committed to each other. After Sinai, our commitment to Torah is what remains paramount, and that is what we celebrate on Shavuos. True greatness comes from the holiness we generate, far more than temporal holiness that is effortlessly pre-arranged.

   “Every tenth one—shall be holy to Hashem”
   “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded… on Har Sinai.” 


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



[1] “The story of the Israeli Paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation”
[2] “The Temple Mount is in our hands”; Gur made the announcement on June 7, 1967, during the 6 Day War, when Yerushalayim was recaptured from the Jordanians, who had maintained control of the city since 1948.
[3] who was part of that brigade and later became the Head of the Knesset Lobby for the Temple Mount
[4] Vayikra 27:26
[5] Vayikra 27:32
[6] Bechoros 58b
[7] Which follows the aforementioned law of tithing animals
[8] Vayikra 27:34
[9] And they, or their parents need to pay the bill….
[10] That was their way of “signing the check”

Thursday, May 3, 2018

PARSHAS EMOR 5778



STAM TORAH
PARSHAS EMOR 5778
“IN ALL DIRECTIONS”[1]

   Rabbi Yisroel Saperstein[2] related that one of the many chesed organizations in Monsey provides volunteer drivers to help people without means of transportation to get to needed destinations, such as doctor appointments, hospital visits, etc.
On one occasion, when Rabbi Saperstein was being driven to visit someone in the hospital, the chassid driving him related that on one occasion he received a call in the middle of the night that there was a family who needed to get to Baltimore as quickly as possible for a medical procedure. The man agreed to take them (!), and after dropping them off, he went to a nearby shul in Baltimore to daven shachris.
Being that he had rushed out in the middle of the night, he didn’t have his talis or tefillin with him. He saw someone who was finishing davening with a pervious minyan and asked if he could borrow his talis and tefillin. He assured the man that as soon as he finished davening, he would bring the talis and tefillin wherever he wanted them to be brought.  At first the man was hesitant. He wanted to know why the chassid had come to shul without his own talis and tefillin. When the chassid explained the predicament, the man couldn’t get over the extent of the chesed he had done, driving over three hours in the middle of the night to help a family he never met. He told the chassid he would be happy to let him use his talis and tefillin. He told the chassid where to leave it in the shul when he was done.
Sometime later this chassid, a salesman by trade, arranged an important meeting with the wealthy owner of a large company. It was a potentially lucrative deal for the chassid and he was eager to make the connection. He walked into the meeting and immediately recognized the owner as the person whose talis and tefillin he had borrowed a few days earlier in shul. The owner recognized him as well and reassured him that he was eager to give such a ba’al chesed his business, and he placed a large order.

The Meshech Chochma notes that there are certain mitzvos, such as mezuzah, tefillin, and tzitzis, that inspire us and draw us closer to Hashem, while other mitzvos, such as tzedakah and chesed, serve to promote social connections that draw us closer to each other. 
On Shabbos there are numerous prohibitions that restrict us from “expanding outwards” and promoting social connections[3]. It is prohibited to cook food for a guest on Shabbos, nor may one carry gifts or food out of one’s home. Essentially then, Shabbos is a day of introspection, when we are meant to reflect inwardly upon our personal relationship with Hashem. We celebrate and observe Shabbos together, but everything must have been prepared beforehand.
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt’l compared Shabbos to our ‘honeymoon with Hashem’, as it were. When a couple is on their honeymoon, and are sitting together enjoying watching a magnificent sunset, and the groom takes out his cell phone to make a call, it is insulting to his bride. This time was set aside for them to spend together and any distractions take away from that bonding.
During the Yomim Tovim however, when it is permitted to cook and to carry, our main focus is external - towards our fellow Jew, promoting unity and love.
Although Pesach marks the genesis of our nationhood, at the time of the exodus we hadn’t fully become a nation. This is manifested in the fact that although the Korbon Pesach must be eaten as part of a chaburah (a group), the chaburah had to be arranged beforehand. In addition, one was not permitted to leave the home where his chaburah was eating the Korbon Pesach.
At the time of the exodus we began building connections with each other, but we did not yet achieve national unity. That would only happen at the foot of Sinai at the time of the revelation and giving of the Torah.
The restrictions regarding the Korbon Pesach symbolize that although Pesach is a Yom Tov, it bears certain similarities to Shabbos. This is reflected in the fact that when the Torah instructs about the mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer, it refers to the first day of Pesach as Shabbos. “And you shall count for yourselves on the morrow of the Shabbos, from the day when you bring the Omer that was waved, seven complete weeks they shall be.”[4]
It was seven weeks later, when the nation stood around Har Sinai in complete unity that they truly became a nation. The gemara[5] states that Moshe Rabbeinu added a day and ‘pushed off’ the giving of the Torah. When the nation followed his lead with complete allegiance, that too was a symbol that they had achieved unity and nationhood.
The counting of the Omer symbolizes the transformation from quasi-nationhood to complete nationhood.
Although there is some controversy regarding determining the proper balance between physical celebration and spiritual service during the other holidays of the year, on Shavuos one must display and enjoy physical celebration. Regarding Shavuos, the gemara states “all agree that on Shavuos you also need a component of lachem- for you”[6], i.e. physical enjoyment. On Shavuos we must celebrate together! On Shavuos we as a nation accepted the Torah in complete unity, and therefore we must celebrate together in unity.

When the Torah commences its discussion of the laws and mitzvos of the holidays of the year, it begins with Shabbos: “Speak to B’nei Yisroel and say to them- these are my fixed times… for six days work shall be done, but on the seventh there shall be a Shabbos of complete rest…”[7] Rashi, quoting Sifra, comments, “What is the relation between Shabbos (whose sanctify is affixed by Hashem) and the holidays (which are affixed by the Sanhedrin)? To teach you that anyone who desecrates the holidays it is considered as if he desecrated the Shabbos; and anyone who fulfills the holidays, it’s as if he has fulfilled the Shabbos.”
We often think of Judaism as being a G-d-centered religion, that a Jew must live his life focused on his obligations and responsibilities in his service to G-d. But the truth is that a Jew who learns Torah with intensity, davens, and performs mitzvos, yet cannot get along with others, is severely remiss in his observance.
Shabbos represents the ultimate in one’s service with Hashem. It is a day spent completely focused on spiritual pursuits, when we question ourselves whether we are living up to our own spiritual responsibilities throughout the week. It is a day to put our spiritual lives in order.
Yomim Tovim represent the ultimate barometer in how we are connecting with others. As we able to celebrate with others, or is our holiday observance a selfish experience?
One desecrates the spirit of the holidays by denigrating the importance of his “social Judaism”. Such a person isn’t striving to improve his interpersonal relations with others. He is also desecrating the spirit of Shabbos, because his relationship with Hashem cannot be as it should be, if he isn’t trying to grow in his interpersonal relationships as well. Conversely, one who sustains the holidays, by promoting unity and love among other Jews, is fulfilling the spirit of Shabbos, and bringing tremendous nachas to Hashem as well.[8] 

The compete Jew isn’t only growing horizontally – in his striving to grow closer to heaven and to make this world a conduit for holiness, but also vertically - by building relationships and caring for his fellow Jew, and seeking to ease his burdens and empathize with his plight.
A Jew must strive to grow in all directions, for Hashem is to be found not only in heaven but also in the heart of his fellow man.

“Speak to B’nei Yisroel and say to them these are my fixed times”
“You shall count for yourselves on the morrow of the Shabbos”


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 Emor 5773 in honor of the bar mitzvah of Refi Minsky.
[2] A fellow Rav in New Hempstead, Rabbi Saperstein is the Rav of Kehillas Ohaiv Shalom
[3] Unless pre-arranged before Shabbos
[4] Vayikra 23:15
[5] Shabbos 87b
[6] Pesachim 68b
[7] Vayikra 23:2-3
[8] I heard this explanation of Rashi from my dear friend Rabbi Yosef Bendrihem