Friday, September 20, 2019



          During the early hours of March 13, 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed outside an apartment building across the street from where she lived in Queens, NY. Genovese was then chased by her assailant and attacked three times in the street, over the course of a half hour, as thirty-eight neighbors watched from their windows. Nobody called the police.
          In a book about the case, Abe Rosenthal, future editor of the New York Times, noted that the fact that no one intervened or tried to help is indicative of urban apathy. “It is almost a matter of psychological survival, if one is surrounded and pressed by millions of people, to prevent them from constantly impinging on you, and the only way to do this is to ignore them as often as possible. Indifference to one’s neighbor and his troubles is a conditioned reflex in life in New York as it is in other big cities.”
          In his bestselling book, The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell notes that Rosenthal’s conclusion was incorrect. He quotes a study in which a student staged that he was having an epileptic fit. If there was one other student in the room, he rushed to the student’s aid 85 percent of the time. However, if the subjects thought there were four other people who overheard the seizure, the only came to help 31 percent of the time.
          “When people are in a group, in other words, responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem… isn’t really a problem. In the case of Kitty Genovese… the lesson is not that no one called despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her scream; it’s that no one called because thirty-eight people heard her scream. Ironically, had she been attacked on a lonely street with just one witness, she might have lived.”

          In parshas Re’eh and again in parshas Ki Savo, the Torah foreshadows the events that would take place after the nation entered Eretz Yisroel. Half of the tribes would ascend Har Grizim and the other half would ascend Har Eival. The Leviim would stand in the middle and would turn towards Har Grizim and declare one of the blessings, e.g. “blessed is the man who does not make a molten image”, and the entire nation would say amen. Then they would turn towards Har Eivel and declare one of the curses, e.g. “cursed is the man who makes a molten image”, and again the nation would say amen. They would continue in this manner until they finished stating all of the blessings and curses.[2]
          In Sefer Yehoshua[3], it relates the actual events when they occurred following the conquering of the cities of Yericho and Ai.
          What was the point of this seemingly theatrical display? Why was it such an important event that the Torah refers to it twice before it even occurred?
          The Be’er Yosef explains that the gemara[4] states that a person should always view himself as if he has exactly as many merits as liabilities, so that the next act he performs can tip the scales. Another opinion states that one should view the entire world as if there is a perfect balance between its merits and liabilities, and the next act he performs will actually tip the scales of the entire world.  
          The message the gemara is conveying is that one should always feel a sense of responsibility, that each of his actions are significant, and his personal conduct generally has ramifications far beyond his own self.  
          This concept was vividly portrayed by the events at Har Grizim and Har Eival. Each blessing and curse was declared from the middle, facing six of the tribes. Every individual should view himself as the Levite standing in between a mountain of curse and a mountain of evil, and his next action will determine the state of the entire world.
          When discussing the special vestments of the Kohain Gadol, the Torah relates that upon his shoulders were two Shoham stones that contained the names of all twelve tribes. “Six of their names were on the one stone, and the six remaining names were on the second stone, according to their birth.”[5]
          Chasam Sofer explains that the Kohain Gadol was a living reenactment of the event of Har Gerizim and Har Eival. He was the “Levite” in the middle with the six tribes on the “hills” to each of his sides.
          That was also symbolic for every Jew to feel that he too is like the Kohain Gadol who bears responsibility to the entire nation.

           If one does not have a feeling of responsibility, but seeks to shift blame and point fingers, he can never achieve greatness or leadership.
          This is true in every facet of life. I remember once reading about a baseball player who was asked the secret to his incredible determination to the game. He replied that every time he stepped up to bat he felt as if the whole game was riding on his shoulders and it was up to him to carry his team.
          In a similar vein, a few years ago, I took a course in CPR. The instructor told us that in an emergency situation someone has to take charge. If he opts to start doing compressions immediately, he will tire himself out. The first thing he must do is instruct someone to call for help, and then to tell someone else to grab a defibrillator. Only then, should he begin administering CPR.[6]
            How much more important is this idea regarding spiritual matters, particularly teshuva.
          Yeshaya Hanavi[7] makes reference to “the waters of Noach”.[8] The commentators question why the flood is labeled the waters of Noach when it was in his merit that humankind survived beyond it?
          The Aish Dos explains that Noach is viewed as being somewhat culpable for the flood. He did not pray for his generation out of feelings of misplaced modesty that he would be unable to effect any major changes in them. As a righteous man, he should have risen to the occasion and done his utmost, without thinking about whether he would be successful or not. If he would have felt a greater level of responsibility, he would have invested more.
          The gemara[9] relates that Eliezer ben Durdaya had a lifelong struggle with lust and immoral sin. When he finally came to the stark realization that he was lost in the morass of sin, he tried to solicit any avenue of assistance or shifting of the blame. He finally declared “The matter is contingent upon me alone!” With that he cried profusely out of sincere regret until he died. So great and sincere was his repentance that he is referred to as Rabbi Eliezer ben Durdaya.  
          As we begin the period of selichos and prepare to usher in the great days of Judgement and Mercy, the imagery of Har Gerizim and Har Eival becomes even more poignant. It’s up to us to decide which mountain we face, and whether we choose a life of blessing.

          “These shall stand to bless the nation upon Har Gerizim…”
          “The matter is contingent upon me alone!”
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Adapted from the derasha delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Setzei 5775
[2] Rabbi Leibel Chaitovksy recounted that years ago before parshas Ki Savo, he took his students for a walk to a nearby park where there were two small mounds. He stood the Kohanim and Leviim in the middle of the hills, and then sent half of the class to stand on one hill and half on the other. Then he would have the Kohanim and Leviim begin reading the pesukim exactly as they appear in the chumash. A clever way to bring the event to life.
[3] Chapter 8
[4] Kiddushin 40b
[5] Shemos 28:10
[6] Sometimes around the table when someone calls out “Can someone please pass the ketchup?” the person gets frustrated when no one does. If the request is directed at everyone, then no one in particular may feel that they should stop what they are doing to do it. The better option is to ask someone specific to pass it.  
[7] Yeshaya 54:9
[8] This is from the haftorah of parshas Ki Setzei and parshas Noach
[9] Avodah Zara 17a

Friday, September 13, 2019



The Latest Marriage Fad: Marrying Yourself[2]
May 20, 2017  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
…Its name is sologamy – and it means getting married to yourself.
In this sad, new trend of sologamy, people commit themselves to themselves with their own wedding ceremony. These celebrants, such as self-styled "sologamist" Erika Anderson, throw on a white gown, invite their close friends and family and marry themselves in a legally nonbinding way. As Houston's KHOU, CBS Philly, the Telegraph UK, and others are reporting, people are forgoing typical white dress-black tux nuptials with a partner in favor of a celebration of all things solo.
The happy bride or groom claim it's not so much meant to be a narcissistic affair but rather a day meant to celebrate "returning to your own happiness and contentment," as Sophie Tanner in the U.K. told the Telegraph.
Gone are the days that marriage meant a wedding between two people. After all, in the age of narcissism gone wild how could anyone be expected to pledge love and commitment to another person who assuredly is inferior?...
As it has been beautifully pointed out, in the word “wedding”, “we” comes before “I”. We as a unit, we as partners, we who care about each other at least as much as we care about our own selves recognize that for marriage to fulfill a longing for happiness we must be prepared to exchange narcissism for love and worship of the self for affection for another.
What is destroying marriages today is not the absence of love but its misdirection. Narcissists have an abundance of love – but unfortunately, they choose to shower it only upon themselves. And a world which brings up its children to believe that they alone matter will make it almost impossible for their progeny to participate in the give-and-take relationship of successful marriages.
Marrying yourself is just an isolated fad, but getting married to another and thinking only of yourself ever after is becoming more and more of a tragic reality. 
          At every Jewish wedding, the chosson places a ring on his kallah’s finger and declares, “You should be sanctified to me with this ring, according to the law of Moshe and Yisroel.” In doing so, he is marrying his wife with the process of “kedushei kesef” - acquiring his wife through giving her money, or something of monetary value.
          The Torah never states how one acquires a wife. It only states “When one will take a wife…”[3], which the gemara[4] explains is a reference to ‘taking her in marriage. The gemara notes that the biblical source that money can be used for kiddushin is based on a “gezeirah shava”[5]. When Avrohom Avinu was purchasing Me’aras Hamachpeilah from Ephron, he declared, “I have given the money for the field, take it from me.” Since the Torah uses the word “take” regarding Avrohom’s acquisition which he accomplished by paying money, we understand that when the Torah uses the word “take” regarding marriage (taking a wife), that can also be accomplished by him giving her money.  
          It is intriguing that the source for the most prevalent form of marriage – giving the woman something of value – is from Avrohom purchasing a burial plot for his beloved wife from a notorious swindler. What message about marriage can we glean from that peculiar source?
          Throughout parshas Ki Setzei there are numerous unions and marriages mentioned, and each one seems more disastrous than the next. The Torah speaks of the man who maligned his wife, the unfaithful wife, a woman who was seduced or raped, and a woman of ill repute. The Torah also lists those who cannot marry a Jew, including a mamzer, a man from the nations of Moav or Amon, etc. Even when the Torah finally speaks of a man marrying a woman, the pasuk concludes by talking about him discovering something abhorrent and deciding to divorce her.[6]
          The only “happy husband” in the parsha is the man who has been married for less than a year and is therefore sent home from the battlefront.
          It is clear that parshas Ki Setzei is not the source of happy marriages, despite the fact that it is the source of many of the laws of marriage. Happy marriages were mentioned in Chumash Bereishis. Immediately after creating Adam and Chava, the Torah speaks of the goal of marriage: “Therefore, a man should forsake his father and his mother, and cling to his wife, and they will be as one flesh.”[7]
          [It should be noted that in his commentary, Onkelos translates this pasuk: “Therefore, a man should forsake the sleeping place of his father and mother, and cling to his wife…” Onkelos is stressing that when one gets married he leaves the confines of his parent’s home, but he does not, and must not, sever the connection with those who selflessly raised him and provided for his every need until he married.]
          Rav Tzvi Sobolofsky[8] explains that the very first “troubled marriage” mentioned in parshas Ki Setzei is the one mentioned at the beginning of the parsha – “the eishes yefes to’ar”.  A man in the heat of battle sees a beautiful woman and is entranced by her beauty. The Torah details the process she must undergo before he is able to marry her.
          Although, after that process he is permitted to marry her, Chazal warn that things are not going to end well. The marriage is likely to be full of enmity, which will likely produce a rebellious and disobedient child.[9]
          Such a marriage is doomed to failure because it flies in the face of the Torah’s ideal for marriage. An ideal marriage is when the priority is “we” and not “me”. When marriage is predicated on lust and selfish taking, it is practically doomed from the outset.
          In the Hollywood world, the concepts of love and lust are used interchangeably. But in truth, there is a world of difference between them. We lust objects, but we love partners. Lust wanes with time and familiarity, while love grows as a relationship deepens. One who is in lust is thinking only of himself, while one who is in love is prioritizing the other. Lust is about taking; love is about giving!
          A soldier on the battlefield can become self-absorbed in the passion of the moment and consumed with lust. The Torah lays out a process which he must undergo, which forces him to delay acting on his desire for instant gratification. As that process unfolds, he can reflect and realize whether he truly loves her or whether this is a selfish endeavor which will not end well.
          What is the antidote to selfish marriage? The marriage of Avrohom and Sarah. Avrohom and Sarah are the paragons of chesed, living their entire lives to give and help others. The reality is that even chesed can have selfish motives, such as a desire for accolades or reciprocal acts of kindness. The ultimate altruistic chesed is when one gives and knows that he will never receive anything in return. That is what is referred to as chesed shel emes – kindness of truth, such as when one is involved in burying another, knowing that the deceased will never be able to repay him for being involved in the incredible mitzvah of his burial.
          When Avrohom purchased Me’aras Hamachpeilah, it was to bury Sarah. Avrohom went to great lengths and spent incredible amount of money so that his deceased wife would have the ultimate honor in death. That act was indicative of the unparalleled chesed they displayed to each other throughout their married lives together.
          That is the lesson the Torah is teaching us by connecting marriage with Avrohom giving money to purchase a burial plot for Sarah. Marriage is about selflessness and giving on the highest level.
          The Mishna[10] notes that a wife is often referred to as one’s “bayis – house”. Rabbi Reuven Feinstein notes[11] that when spelled out ‘bayis’ also refers to the second letter of the aleph bais. Chazal relate that the Torah begins with the letter bais because it is closed on all sides except going outward. This is symbolic of the fact that we should not ponder what happened before creation, but we should instead place our focus on the world since then.
          So too, if one wants to have a nurturing and positive relationship with his spouse, he must learn to focus on the future, and not harp and be resentful over previous disagreements. When spouses keep a virtual score card of how much each had done, it doesn’t bode well for their marriage. [12]
          Marriage is about giving with love and devotion. Every married couple has the choice to build marriages such as those in parshas Ki Setzei, which are doomed to misery and frustration. Or they can build a marriage predicated upon chesed like that of Avrohom and Sarah, which offers fulfillment and growth.
          To build a bayis ne’eman[13] one has to adopt the approach of the “bais”, always looking towards the future as an opportunity for growth and love.  

          “When one will take a wife”
          “I have given the money for the field, take it from me.”
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Adapted from the derasha delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Setzei 5777, in honor of the Sheva Berachos of Gary and Aliza (Brinn) Liebman.
[2] From
[3] Devorim 24:1
[4] Kiddushin 2a
[5] An exegetical principle in which the Torah uses identical terminology in two different locations, which demonstrates a connection between them.  
[6] When the Torah speaks about yibum (if a man died childless, his brother has a mitzvah to marry the widow), it mentions the possibility of chalitzah (the process in which the living brother rejects the union with his former sister-in-law).   
[7] Bereishis 2:24
[8][8] Rabbi, Ohr Torah, Bergenfield, NJ; Rosh Yeshiva – YU
[9] Chazal derive this negative progression from the fact that the following two topics discussed are about one who hates his wife (although her son is his firstborn) and the ben sorer u’moreh - rebellious and wayward son.
[10] Yoma 1:1
[11] Divrei Sholom: A Torah Guide to a Peaceful Life  
[12] Rabbi Feinstein notes that Hashem forgives us utilizing this same approach. When we beg forgiveness each year, He could reason that we begged forgiveness for the same sins last year, and yet have committed them again. But instead He hearkens to since repentance and allows us to begin anew each year, despite numerous previous failings and coming up short of our goals.
[13] The customary blessing given to a chosson and kallah is that they build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel – a faithful home amongst the Jewish people.