Thursday, May 30, 2019



During my first years in chinuch I had the good fortune to be the School Social Worker of Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. Bais Hachinuch was created for students who struggle academically in the mainstream yeshivos. The greatness of the yeshiva is that there are no more than twelve students per class, allowing rabbeim and teachers to develop strong relationships with their students. When I joined the yeshiva, it was still in its formative years, and at the time had a relatively small student body. Everyone knew everyone else’s names, and the members of the hanhala and faculty shared a warm relationship. As the years wore on, although the yeshiva remained smaller than other local yeshivos, it grew beyond its original numbers.
At a meeting held at the conclusion of one of the school years as the yeshiva was growing, the executive director of the yeshiva, Mr. Jordan Most, quipped that “with all growth comes distance.” He added that our task was to do our utmost to bridge that distance to maintain the comradery and warmth of the yeshiva, even as it grew.

At the beginning of parshas Bechuksai, the Torah delineates the beautiful blessings that Klal Yisroel will merit when they adhere to the mitzvos and observe the Torah faithfully. “… And I will turn to you and I will make you fruitful, and I will cause you to increase, and I will establish My covenant with you.”[1] On the words “And I will increase you”, Rashi comments, “With erect (dignified) bearing.”
As a rule, Rashi conveys the simplest and most straightforward understanding of the words of the Torah. If the pasuk says that Hashem will increase their numbers, why does Rashi explain that their numbers will increase with erect posture? Having a sense of pride would seem to be a separate blessing from qualitative growth?
In Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech praises Hashem, “Who heals those who have a broken heart, and bandages their sadness. He counts the number of the stars, to each one He calls a name.”[2] The commentaries explain that the second pasuk is explaining the first. Just how does Hashem heal broken hearts and bandage people’s sadness? The answer is by giving each star a number and a name.
When a person suffers any misfortune, or is undergoing any difficulty, the pain he feels is magnified by a sense of loneliness and isolation. Think about a child who falls and hurts himself. He immediately runs to his mother so she can give him a kiss, even before he runs for a band aid. The kiss does nothing to minimize the pain of the wound. But as soon as there is a feeling of pain, a person feels alone in their suffering. The mother’s kiss is a reassurance of love that takes away the emotional pain. Only after the kiss does the child look for a band aid.  
By giving each star a name, Hashem demonstrates it’s value and uniqueness. Even though there is one collective number of stars, each has a name, because each has a purpose.
The most profound feelings of sadness stem from feeling insignificant and worthless. People who are severely depressed often wonder what value their lives contain. If they wouldn’t wake up tomorrow, would anyone care?
Showing someone love and care can literally be an infusion of life, especially during difficult times.
          There is a program that a number of local schools have introduced in the last couple of years entitled “Names, Not Numbers”. Names, Not Numbers is a holocaust documentary film project offered to schools around the US, Canada and Israel. The films follow students as they learn the main aspect of filmmaking from journalists and filmmakers including research, interviewing techniques, filming techniques and editing, to prepare them to interview and film Holocaust survivors and liberators. The feature-length films are screened at the end of the school year for the students, their families, the participants, and the community.
The title itself is symbolic of our efforts to undo the psychological damage that the Nazis wrought. The Nazis sought to reduce their victims to a bunch of numbers, and thereby rob them of their identity and dignity. By allowing and encouraging the survivors to share their stories and speak about their travails and those they lost, to a degree we are restoring the identity that was stripped from them. The underhanded message is that you do matter, and every bit of suffering you endured isn’t being allowed to be forgotten.

In parshas Bamidar, a census was conducted to determine how many Jewish men there were between the ages of twenty and sixty. Rashi explains that the census was conducted out of divine love. On the first of Nissan the Mishkan was erected and began its service, and on the first of Iyar the nation was counted.
It would seem that a national census hardly grants an individual a feeling of uniqueness and importance. After all, why would anyone feel important if he was only an anonymous number within a population of 603,550. But that was in fact, not the case. The Ramban explains how the census was conducted: “Every member of the assembly brought his (half-)shekel and proclaimed before Moshe and the Nesi’im “I am so-and-so, born to so-and-so, from the family of so-and-so”[3]….One who came before the father of the prophets and his brother, the Holy one of G-d, and he made himself known before them by name, it would be for him a merit and (injection of) life, because he (thereby) entered the counsel of the nation and the annals of the B’nei Yisroel, to have the merit (of being part of) the public counting. For each individual it was a merit to be part of the census, to be counted before Moshe and Aharon, who would place upon them their eyes for good and beseech mercy on their behalf, ‘Hashem, the G-d of your fathers, should increase upon you like you a thousand fold, and He should not diminish your numbers.”[4]
The counting of the nation wasn’t merely a means to attain the final tally. They did not walk to a collection station, check their name off on a paper, and drop their half-shekel in a box. Rather, it was an opportunity for every member of the nation to present himself and introduce himself to the righteous leaders who would bless and pray for them. Only after doing so, would an individual present his half-shekel coin to Moshe and Aharon. When he walked away from that uplifting experience, it was something he would relate to his family.

In Megillas Rus, when Boaz learned about Rus in his field, he instructed her to only collect from the gleanings of grain in his field, and he pledged to take care of her. “And she fell upon her face and she bowed to the ground and she said to him, ‘why is this that I have found favor in your eyes that you have recognized me when I am a foreigner?’” Rus expressed her gratitude, not for the fact that he offered her protection and sustenance, but beyond that, for merely noticing her.
Every person craves recognition, validation, appreciation, and to be valued and appreciated.
The gemara says that one who smiles at someone has given the recipient of the smile a greater gift than a cup of milk.[5] Milk has many vitamins and nutrients and one who drinks it adds to his physical health. But one who receives a warm and pleasant smile feels uplifted in his heart and it can have an impact on his entire day.
The worst pain is when it is suffered in silence. The feeling of being loved and cared about/for makes an incredible difference upon the very quality of one’s life.

The Torah promises that when “I will increase you” and the nation will grow qualitatively, it will be a true blessing. The only way that is possible is if every individual feels valued and needed. That is why Rashi comments that Hashem will increase us it will be “with an erect bearing”. It is a guarantee that when our population increases we won’t become lost among the masses and feel like just another meaningless face in the crowd. Every individual will recognize his uniqueness and understand and appreciate his place.
The twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died during the days of Sefiras HaOmer, because they didn’t treat each other with adequate respect.[6] The way we seek to rectify that deficiency within ourselves is to love and value everyone around us. That is the way in which we prepare to once again receive the Torah on Shavuos.

“He counts the number of the stars, to each one He calls a name”
“With erect bearing”

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

[1] Vayikra 26:9
[2][2] Tehillim 147:3-4
[3] Ramban, Bamidbar 1:1
[4] Ramban, Bamidbar 1:45
[5] Kesuvos 111b
[6] Yevamos 62b

Wednesday, May 22, 2019



The following are my personal notes from the remarks delivered by my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, at the Torah Umesorah convention, Shabbas Kodesh parshas Behar 5768, May 1998:

The haftorah of parshas Behar relates that just prior to the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash, G-d tells the prophet Yirmiyah to purchase land in Eretz Yisroel. Yirmiyah signs the deed and places it in earthenware so that it will last. Then Yirmiyah asks G-d, “You made the heavens and the earth….לא יפלא ממך כל דברThere is nothing that is too wondrous for You.”
He continues by relating the history of Klal Yisroel- the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah, their arrival in Eretz Yisrael, and he mentions the sins of Klal Yisroel. He then says, “Behold! Upon mounds of earth they came to the city to capture it, and the city was handed over to the Chaldeans who are attacking it, in the face of the sword, the famine, and the pestilence; what You declared has happened- and You see it!” With the destruction being so imminent, Yirmiyah asks G-d why He instructed him to purchase land in Eretz Yisroel?
G-d’s response is terse and seemingly redundant, “Behold- I am Hashem, the G-d of all flesh;  הממני יפלא כל דבר-Is there anything too wondrous for me?”
What was G-d’s response? How did He answer Yirmiyah?
The commentators explain that when Yirmiyah made the statement it was out of wonder for the destruction which was imminent. Klal Yisroel didn’t believe that G-d would ever destroy the Bais Hamikdash and throw them out of Eretz Yisroel. They reasoned that G-d had too much invested in them! Yirmiyah warned them repeatedly but they would not listen to him. He asked G-d how it could all happen.
G-d’s response was with the same words. However, whereas Yirmiyah said it out of shock, G-d responded with conviction. “Indeed, nothing is too wondrous for Me!” The Jews would indeed suffer horribly but they would also be resilient, they would rebuild, and their eternity would never falter.

In our time, we have witnessed both forms of the statement. We endured a horrible Holocaust where everything that stood for hundreds of years was destroyed in the most horrific manner. We didn’t believe it could happen. We had too much invested in Europe; we had lived there too long. It couldn’t happen! But לא יפלא ממך כל דבר, we know that it did happen!
On the other hand, we have witnessed the second part as well, הממני יפלא כל דבר. Our rebuilding of Torah is also incredible and defies all logic.

                    When I was the Rav in Miami Beach, I had the opportunity to develop relationships with many great Torah giants. They would come to Miami to collect money during the winter because many wealthy individuals came to Miami for the winter as well. One of those great personalities that I was privileged to become close with was the Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kaheneman zt’l.
                    He once told me that he and his son escaped to Eretz Yisroel in 1941. His family was supposed to leave Lithuania the next week, but the Germans invaded, and their visas were no longer valid. He lost everything in the war. He arrived in B’nei Brak and purchased land to build the Yeshiva.
                   At the time Rommel, the Nazi general known as the Desert Fox, was an eleven day march from Tel Aviv. Until that point Rommel had been virtually invincible and had pushed his way across North Africa. The British were burning their papers and getting ready to move their defenses to Iraq. The final British holdout was at El-Alamein In Egypt. If that fell there was nothing between the Nazi onslaught and Israel. The country was preparing for doom and the Ponovezher Rav bought land in order to build a Yeshiva.
                    When he was asked about it, the Rav explained, “Klal Yisroel needs yeshivos for eleven days too!” Then he added that the land would not fall!
הממני יפלא כל דבר” The doom was horrific and unbelievable, but rebuilding of Torah and the revitalization of Torah in our time is nothing short of miraculous.

The gemara[1] asks about a certain animal[2] how it fit on Noach’s Ark. The gemara first suggests that it was born and brought on the Ark as a little baby. Then the gemara suggests that only its head was on the Ark and the rest of it was outside floating along. Then the gemara suggests that only its nose was in the Ark. Finally, the gemara concludes that it was tied to the Ark, although it was outside.
The Ark represents the Ark of Torah; our only salvation from the torrents and deluge of impurity and defilement that rage throughout our world. Some people are lucky enough to be born on the Ark. They are raised ion a Torah observant atmosphere.
Others aren’t born into it, but they have an intellectual connection. Their heads are in the Ark. They possess an understanding and an appreciation of the depth of Torah.                   
Currently, I deliver a daily shiur in Yeshivas Ohr Somayach. The students there challenge me with questions that really make me think. They haven’t been discouraged by our system, so they are confident and comfortable to ask.
Then there are those who are emotional Jews, they have a “shmeck yiddishkeit”, e.g. a Carlebach Friday Night, enjoyable Shabbos meals, etc.
Finally, there are those who have almost no connection to anything. They are not biologically, intellectually, spiritually, or mentally connected to it. Those people we must bind to the Ark, “bavosos shel ahava- with ropes of love”. We have to show them that we love them and embrace them, so that they maintain a connection with us, and hopefully will one day enter the Ark.

Chazal say, “Push with your left (weaker) hand but draw close with your right hand!”[3] There were great educators, some of the greatest men of all time, who pushed their wayward students too hard and it brought untold destruction to the world.
I once expelled a boy from the Yeshiva three weeks before he was to graduate because he was caught cheating. I called him in and told him, “`I want you to know that I love you because I am going to get a great deal of flack it for this[4]. But if I don’t crack down on you, you’ll go to grad school and you’ll cheat there. Then you’ll go into business and you’ll cheat there, and one day your face will be on the front page of the New York Times. So, I feel that this is what I must do!”
Two and a half years later he came back to thank me.

A Rosh Yeshiva once approached me when I was the head of the OU Kashrus division and asked me how I sleep at night. He asked me if the fact that so many people are eating based on my rulings bothers me; isn’t that unnerving? I replied that everything we did was based on Shulchan Aruch and the rulings of the Halachic authorities. Therefore, I did not feel nervous at all. In fact, I was very confident. “But you”, I told him, “You are a Rosh Yeshiva! You deal with students; you deal with lives! How can YOU sleep at night?”
The Good Lord paid me back by making me a Rosh Yeshiva…. But the fact is that in education we are indeed dealing with nefashos (souls) and we cannot underestimate or undervalue the greatness of what we are doing.    
We must hold on to our students, “bavosos shel ahava”, and we can only do so when we value ourselves and recognize the greatness of what we are accomplishing.
          “There is nothing that is too wondrous for You.”

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


[1][1] Zevachim 113b
[2] the Re’em- some suggest that it was a rhinoceros
[3] Sanhedrin 107b
[4] he was the son of a board member of the Yeshiva