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”