Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Rabbi Donie Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The following excerpt is from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski’s book, It’s Not As Tough As You think, chapter 62):

“You’ve heard of the “empty nest syndrome”. Children grow up and go off to study. They marry and move to another city. The house is empty. Mothers seem to be more affected than fathers, probably because the mother is often more intimately involved with the care of the child, whereas the father is at work all day.

“At any rate, mothers may get depressed when the house empties out. There is nothing much to do in the house anymore. Most of the beds are not slept in. There is very little laundry. Cooking for two takes little time, and the couple often eat out. Why mess up the kitchen?

““Empty nest syndrome” mothers become depressed because they don’t feel useful anymore. This is where they are making a great mistake. Parents are ALWAYS useful. It is just the nature of their function that changes.

“When the child is a tiny infant, he needs constant attention: feeding, bathing, diapering, carrying, and looking after him when he is ill. As he grows older, he can dress and bathe himself. His mother still has to do the laundry, prepare his lunch, cook dinner, and clean his room. Some of this activity continues when he is off at school. His father may feel needed because he is helping out financially. But when the child marries and moves away and becomes financially self-sufficient, that’s when the parent may feel that they are no longer functional.

“How wrong, how terribly wrong! I lived six hundred miles from my parents. I was established in my practice, and my parents did not have to do anything for me. But when the baby got his first tooth or took his first steps, I called and shared these great events with them. I sent them pictures of the children, and they called to tell me that these were unquestionably the most beautiful children in the world. When the children said something cute, my parents told me that my children were the brightest in the world. They came to the bar mitzvahs and graduation. There is abundant joy in raising a family when one can share good news with parents. And of course, one can receive comfort when things do not go well.

“One of the saddest moments of my life was when I could no longer call my father or mother to share the pleasure of my children’s progress. Sure, I received many congratulatory wishes from good friends, but a parent’s good wishes are irreplaceable. I do take great pleasure in my grandchildren’s achievements, but it would be infinitely greater if I could share the joy with my parents.

“So, dad and mom, you may no longer have to diaper or pay for dental braces. But, oh, how much you are needed! Your roles may have indeed changed, but your value never changes, except, that is, it increases.”


The Torah relates that, “Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.” After twenty-two painful years of separation, Yaakov was finally reunited with Yosef in Egypt. Yaakov begrudgingly emigrated from Canaan, transporting his entire family to Egypt.

The Medrash1 derives from the vernacular of the verse that Yaakov truly “lived” during his final seventeen years in Egypt. They were years of “ripe old age and tranquility”. After an entire lifetimes besieged with challenges and vicissitudes, Yaakov lived out his final years enjoying the nachas and pleasure of watching his burgeoning family’s growth.

It would seem that Yaakov earned the bliss of his final years. After living and traversing the challenges of Esav, Lavan, Dinah, and the loss of Yosef, Yaakov was surely entitled to enjoy the end of his life.

After Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav and after the abduction of Dinah and the Shechem debacle, the Medrash states that Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, whereupon G-d immediately wrought upon him the debacle of Yosef. G-d said, as it were, “Is it not sufficient for the righteous what is prepared for them in the World to Come that they seek to dwell in serenity in this world?”

The commentators struggle to understand this statement. Yaakov surely did not seek a life of physical indulging and pampering. The tranquility he yearned for was a life free of challenge so that he could devote himself to complete Service to G-d. What was wrong with that noble desire?

I was further bothered by the fact that at the end of his life Yaakov seems to have indeed achieved a period of blissful tranquility. Although the natural course of senescence took its toll on Yaakov, his final years were free of external challenge. For the first time in decades, Yaakov was able to devote himself solely to spiritual pursuits and the promulgation of his legacy after his passing. Why was Yaakov entitled to tranquility at this point whereas earlier he had to suffer the unbearable pain of losing Yosef?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l offers a novel interpretation of the aforementioned statement. Just prior to leaving home, Yosef, the second to youngest of Yaakov’s children was seventeen years old, practically a young adult and mature beyond his years. All of Yaakov’s sons had already achieved extreme levels of scholarliness and had developed into righteous young men. Thus Yaakov felt that his children had past the stage of life when he could educate them. He felt that from that point onward they no longer needed his constant guidance and education, and at this point he was free to reap the fruits of his labor of raising such a beautiful family. Yaakov thought that he could sit back and enjoy his family as they continued on the path he had set them on during their formative years.

It was at that point that the debacle of Yosef began to unfold. G-d’s message to Yaakov was that it is only when the righteous depart this world and enter the upper worlds that they become exonerated from their responsibility to educate their children. But as long as one is still alive he must always be a guide and educator for his children. The manner in which he gives over that education changes drastically throughout the course of life, but the idea that a parent always remains an educator never changes.

Perhaps we can utilize this idea to understand why there was no complaint against Yaakov’s years of tranquility at the end of his life in Egypt. Throughout those seventeen years Yaakov was in fact the consummate educator. The Torah relates in detail the blessings that Yaakov gave to each of his sons, and to Menashe and Ephraim as well. The aged Yaakov utilized his remaining energies to direct and guide his children.

The Torah records the end of Yaakov’s life by stating, “When Yaakov finished instructing his sons; he was expired, and gathered to his people.” The last period of Yaakov’s life may have been a time of relative calm, but Yaakov utilized the time to teach and guide his children about the future, literally until he breathed his last. It was only when he finished instructing his sons that he passed on to the world of true tranquility.

Every yeshiva boy is familiar with the concept of a “chosson schmooze”. It is a special heart-to-heart conversation that every engaged yeshiva boy has with a rebbe with whom he feels very close just prior to his marriage. Among other things the Rebbe impresses upon his young student the importance of marriage, the need for constant work to ensure the beauty and preservation of the marriage, the need for commitment and guidance, etc.

I am often bothered by the fact that there is no concept of a “Ba’al Habayis schmooze”. The reality is that most yeshiva boys leave the yeshiva world at some point to fulfill their responsibilities of supporting their family. The stark and harsh truth is also that the yeshiva world is vastly different from the ‘working world’. When one steps out of the spiritual security of the yeshiva he is exposed to all sorts of temptations and challenges that were completely taboo and foreign to him while he was a full time student in the yeshiva.

Many of my friends have compared the experience of leaving yeshiva and being thrust into the working world to a cup of ice cold water being poured over their heads. It’s not only a challenging transition it is a potentially spiritually hazardous transition as well.

So why is there no “Ba’al Habayis schmooze”? When the time comes for a student to depart yeshiva why is there no candid lecture in which the potential challenges he will imminently face are discussed with him? Why is there no lecture about the realities he must now face and given some ideas for spiritual survival2?

Perhaps some will argue that it is indeed the responsibility of the yeshivos to have such conversations and it is a criticism on them that it is not done. I humbly disagree3.

According to Rabbi Feinstein the lesson Yaakov learned is that a parent must be an educator as long as he/she lives. It is we - as parents - who must be the guides and consultants for our children. What greater bonding and meaningful conversation can there be than for a father to speak to his son, or for a mother to speak to her daughter, about the challenges of the workforce and what he does to protect himself from its dangers! Who but a parent can best address and understand the specific challenges that his/her child will have to contend with!

Although as adolescents we all know more than our parents, Mark Twain quipped, “The older I got the smarter my father became.” Parents muse be wise enough to know how to say things to their older children, but they must also realize that their children still need them and their guidance4.

In his well-known song entitled “Zaidy”, Moshe Yess poignantly sang, “Who will be the Zaidy of our children; who will be their Zaidy if not we?”

Who will be the parents of our children if not we?!

“When Yaakov finished instructing his sons…”

“Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years”

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Rabbi Donie Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




In his noted “Shabbat Shalom Weekly” for parshas Terumah 5769, Rabbi Kalman Packouz1 related the following story:

“I once asked Reb Noah2 for his favorite joke. He gave a little laugh and then proceeded to tell me, "There was once a man who worked the late shift. When his shift was over, he would take a shortcut home through a graveyard. One dark, moonless night he was following the path when he fell into an open grave. Unbeknownst to him, someone had dug it during the day. For an hour he tried to find a foothold or handhold to get out of the grave. Finally, he gave up, sat in the corner and decided to wait until someone came in the morning.

A short while later another man - taking the same shortcut - plops into the grave. From his seat in the corner, the first man watches as the second man searches for a foothold or handhold to get out. Figuring he'll save the guy some time - and maybe they can get out if they work together - he gets up, walks up behind the second man. He then taps him on the shoulder from behind. Zip! Zap! The second man jumps straight out of the grave!"

“After sitting there for a few moments pondering probably one of the unfunniest jokes I have ever heard, I asked Reb Noah, "Rebbe, what's so funny about that joke?"

“Reb Noah smiled his warm smile, his eyes twinkled, and he replied, "Kalman, don't you understand? We are using so little of our potential. Imagine what we could accomplish if we actually used our potential! Isn't that funny? The Almighty gives us virtually unlimited potential and we don't use it."

In parshas Miketz, the Torah records that the brothers returned to Yaakov in Canaan and related that the Viceroy of Egypt had instructed them that they could no longer seek provisions in Egypt unless their brother Binyamin accompanied them. Yaakov was beside himself and he was insistent that Binyamin not go.

Then, as time went on, their provisions began to dwindle. Reuven boldly announced that he would guarantee the safe return of Binyamin at the cost of the lives of his two oldest sons3. Yaakov promptly refused his offer. It was not until Yehuda pledged that if Binyamin did not return with him he would forfeit his portion in this world and the next world that Yaakov finally relented.

Why did Yaakov only agree to send Binyamin when Yehuda pledged everything away? Did Yaakov not trust him beforehand?

At the beginning of parshas Vayigash, the moment of truth arrived. The seemingly volatile Viceroy of Egypt announced that the culprit – Binyamin - in whose sack the royal chalice was found would remain a slave, while the rest of the brothers were free to leave.

The parsha opens with the words, “Then Yehuda approached him.” It is one of the most dramatic confrontations in the Torah. Yehuda approached Yosef to plead Binyamin’s case and emphatically stated that he would not leave without Binyamin at his side. “For your servant took responsibility for the youth from my father saying, ‘if I do not bring him back to you then I will have sinned to my father for all time’.” Yehuda’s arguments pushed Yosef over the edge and Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers.

Many times we are faced with daunting and demanding situations. We struggle mightily and apply ourselves as much as we feel that we are able. But when we feel that we are no longer progressing, somewhere along the line we are forced to concede defeat so that we could invest our efforts elsewhere. When one is heavily invested in something however, he is slower to admit defeat and walk away. Even when he feels that he has exhausted his efforts and done as much as he is able, if he is truly committed, he will somehow figure out a way to try again.

Yaakov undoubtedly trusted his children and believed that they would utilize every means and invest every effort to ensure that Binyamin return home to him safely. But doing their utmost was insufficient. To Yaakov losing Binyamin was tantamount to dying himself. Thus he would not allow Binyamin to go unless he felt that someone would have that same level of commitment for Binyamin’s wellbeing as he himself would.

It was only when Yehuda put ‘everything’ on the line that Yaakov reluctantly agreed. Only then did Yaakov felt confident that Yehuda would spare no effort, in fact risk his own life, to ensure that Binyamin return home safely.

When Yosef insisted that the rest of the brothers return to Canaan in peace, the brothers might very well have reasoned that there was nothing more they could have done. They may have rationalized that the best they could do at that moment was to return to Yaakov to seek his advice before they returned and tried to formulate a plan to rescue Binyamin. But to Yehuda leaving was not an option. He had no recourse but to take up the cause immediately because to him nothing else existed besides the welfare of Binyamin. Such is the power of commitment.

On March 13, 1964, a woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York. The reason her case made headlines was because of the apathy of her neighbors. The New York Times article detailing the events was entitled, “Thirty-eight who saw murder but didn’t call the police”.

“For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched… three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice the chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned... Not one person telephoned the police during the assault.”

The case became symbolic of the cold and dehumanizing effect of urban life. It seemed that nobody cared enough to bother to call, and therefore all the neighbors remained indifferent even as a woman was being killed.

The truth about the case however, is somewhat more complicated and intriguing. Two New York City psychologists4 subsequently conducted a series of studies to try to understand the “bystander problem.” They staged emergencies in different situations to see who would come forward to help. What they found was that the one factor above all else which predicted who/how many people would come forward was how many witnesses were present at the time.

For example, in one experiment a student who was alone in a room staged an epileptic fit. When there was only one person in the room next door listening, that person rushed to the student’s aid 85 percent of the time. But when the subjects thought there were four other people overhearing the seizure they came to the student’s aid only 31 percent of the time.

In another experiment, people who saw smoke seeping out from under a doorway would report it 75 percent of the time when they were on their own, but only 38 percent of the time when they were in a group.

The conclusion was that when people are in a group, responsibility for acting becomes diffused. Everyone assumes that someone else will act, and if no one else does they assume that it must not really be a serious problem.

Thus, in the case of Kitty Genovese it wasn’t that no one called despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her screams; it’s that no one called because thirty-eight people heard her screams. Had she been attacked on a lonely street and only one person would have seen, the story may have ended differently.

There is an old quip which says that the Israeli army always fights with incredible determination and gusto because they have “General Aleph Bais”. Aleph Bais, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is an acronym for the words, “Ayn b’rayra - there is no choice!” In other words, the Israelis know against whom they are fighting, and that they are always fighting defensive wars. Surrender is simply not an option; they have no recourse but to fight until the end.

There is simply no comparison between the efforts invested by one who is committed than by one who is uncommitted. One of the shortcomings of our world is that there is a general lack of commitment to ideals and values. Any successful marriage requires a great degree of patience, tolerance, and understanding. But above all there must be a sense of commitment to ensure that those other vital characteristics can be fostered.

Our personal level of Service to G-d is also bound to our level of commitment. Those aspects of Judaism to which we are not committed often fall by the wayside as soon as the invariable obstacles surface. It is only when we are fully committed that we oblige ourselves to traverse all impediments to ensure that we maintain our obligations.

The brothers all realized the severity of what was transpiring but it was only Yehuda who stepped forward to protect Binyamin because he had committed himself to his cause.

We all have far more potential and abilities than we care to believe. But we will never realize our latent greatness unless we are ready to commit ourselves to be all that we can be. If we never step forward, the tragic joke will be on us!

“Then Yehuda approached him”

“For your servant took responsibility for the youth”

Friday, December 18, 2009


Rabbi Donie Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:





The following is part of the text of the Oxford Chabad Society Joseph Graham Memorial Lecture, given by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau1, at St Annes College, on 7 May, 2006:

“I was privileged once to meet David Ben Gurion, the architect of the State of Israel. On April 13, 1972, I received a telephone call from Ben Gurion. At the time, he was living in S’de Boker, the desert kibbutz. He was a great admirer of the Tanach, and he called to ask some questions regarding two passages in the Torah which he did not understand. He asked if we could meet to discuss these issues at S’de Boker, as rheumatism had made it difficult for Ben Gurion to walk. I considered this a great honour indeed. When we met up, we discussed his questions for several hours, but I had one question of my own.

““David”, I asked, “For years I have been telling a story that I had heard about you during the Period of the British Mandate of Palestine. I would like to confirm if this story is true or not”.

““What is the story in question?” asked Ben Gurion.

“I proceeded to tell him what I had heard. It happened in 1937, at the time that the Peel Commission was presiding over the British mandate of Palestine, as Israel was then known, trying to decide what to do about the Arab-Jewish conflict. The Peel Committee was the only committee to suggest cancelling the British mandate, the same decision that the UN came to in 1947. At the time of the Peel Commission, Ben Gurion was the head of the Jewish Agency, and was the last witness to appear before the Peel Committee to appeal in favour of a Jewish state. Ben Gurion spent over three hours explaining the linkage between the Jews and the Land of Israel, stating, “This is our home”.

“Everybody was impressed by Ben Gurion’s testimony. Everyone, that is, except for Lord Peel. [By the way, “Peel” means “Elephant” in Hebrew.]

““Mr. Ben Gurion, may I ask you a question?” said Lord Peel.

““Of course you can; that is why I am here”, replied Ben Gurion.

““Where were you born?”

““Plonsk,” came the reply.

““Where is Plonsk?”


“A large period of silence came after the reply. Finally, Lord Peel said in the barest whisper, “Very strange indeed. All of the Arab leaders who have appeared before me were born in Palestine. Most of the Jewish leaders who have appeared before me were born in Eastern Europe.”

“Lord Peel spoke up, saying “Mr. Ben Gurion, the Arab people have a Kushan entitling them to this land.” A Kushan was an Ottoman land deed. “Do you have a document saying that Palestine belongs to you?”

“At that point, Ben Gurion became aware of the Tanach in his hand that he swore upon whilst taking the oath to be witness to the commission. He held it up triumphantly exclaiming “Here is your Kushan; here is your document! It is the world’s most highly respected book, and I believe that you British regard it with much respect too. We must have this land.”

“Back in 1973, I asked Ben Gurion in his desert home “Is this story really true? Did you hold up a Tanach and say ‘Here is your document?”

“Ben Gurion smiled and said “Emet Veyatziv”, it is true and it is certain.

“I had another question to ask Ben Gurion. I asked, “Imagine you have a document that entitles you to a land. Then you destroy it. You crumple it up, shred it, and tear it. Try and present this document to a committee as proof of entitlement for a piece of land. The committee will not accept it in its torn and tattered condition. But look at the Jewish people. We pick and choose certain laws. We consider some laws archaic. In effect, we are destroying our own document. How can we therefore use it as entitlement to the Land of Israel?”

“David Ben Gurion was a very smart man. So smart, in fact, that he refused to answer the question!”


מעוז צור ישועתי לך נאה לשבח" - My fortress! The Rock of my salvation, to You praise is fitting”. The opening words of the beloved hymn sung after lighting the Chanukah candles are well known. We commence by emphatically stating that G-d is our Rock, the symbol of consistency and strength, and it is only through Him that the Maacabees were able to rout the Syrian-Greek forces.

Tragically, Chanukah has become a grossly misunderstood and politicized holiday. It has become the symbol of the weak striking back against its captors and oppressors. Chanukah has become the symbol of the triumph of the underdog who seeks to stand up for himself, despite the odds. In a sense, Chanukah has become a celebration analogous to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series2. It’s the loveable losers finally triumphing.

Truthfully however, Chanukah has nothing to do with political or economic democracy. It was simply a battle for the right to serve G-d and keep His Torah. The scholarly Maacabees felt that if they were unable to keep the Torah life was not worth living. That (and that alone) was the impetus for their mission.

In our culture fighting for religion is certainly not in vogue. Movies and media promote stories of those who give up everything, even religion, in the name of “love”3. Thus has the message of Chanukah been distorted and misunderstood. The holiday which symbolizes our desire for pristine untainted Torah living, and observing the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu, has virtually come to represent the opposite idea.

Chanukah is not the only time that the idea of “Tzur Yeshuasi – The Rock of my salvation” was distorted. The term was also used in 1948 in the Israeli Declaration of Independence as a compromise between religious and secular Jews.

In Psalm 19:14, G-d is referred to as "צורי וגואלי – My Rock and my Redeemer."4 The commentators explain that the "Rock" refers to G-d, who protects the Jewish people and is the center of our faith, which defines our identity and consciousness. The term indicates the trust and faith of our people in an Immutable, Unfaltering, Omnipresent G-d. However, secular Zionists have interpreted this term in a non-religious way to refer to the cultural and historical heritage that has preserved Jewish community and identity over the centuries.

The term "Rock of Israel" became a virulent subject of controversy just before the promulgation of the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. The leaders present at the ceremony who were to be signatories of the declaration believed that the declaration should express the fundamental values and principles that would define the new state, which would give the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine after 2,000 years.

The Jewish religious leaders, led by Rabbi Fishman-Maimon wanted a clear reference to G-d with the words " צור ישראל וגואלו The Rock of Israel and its Redeemer." However, a large segment of the leadership who had secular and socialist convictions sought a clear separation of ‘church and state’. Aharon Zisling, the left-wing leader of Mapam refused to sign the declaration of independence if it contained references to "a G-d in whom he did not believe." The disagreement threatened to derail the actual and ceremonial proclamation of the establishment of a Jewish state.

David Ben-Gurion, who would become the country's first Prime Minister, spent the morning of May fourteenth mediating the dispute between Rabbi Maimon and Zisling. After hours of talks, Rabbi Maimon agreed to leave out the term "Redeemer" from the text of the declaration and leave it “with faith in the Rock of Israel”. The compromise allowed each side to define that term as they saw fit and it was included without a final vote.

Later in his life Ben-Gurion is said to have explained that to him, "Rock of Israel" referred to "the Old Testament with its history and traditions", or the "Tzahal5.

Despite Ben-Gurion's conviction that "Rock of Israel" was not necessarily a religious term, the official English translation composed by Moshe Sharet, and cited in official documents, rendered it as "Al-mighty G-d." It was not until 1962 that the Israeli government changed it to the more literal "Rock of Israel".

This tragic encounter is at the root of the distortion of the message and symbolism of Chanukah. Chanukah celebrates the eternal protection and connection that we have with the ‘Rock of Israel’. But those who define the ‘Rock of Israel’ in ulterior manners undermine the basis of our traditions and faith.

In the Chanukah prayers we state that the Syrian-Greeks wanted, להשכיחם תורתך" – To make them forget Your Torah.” How is it possible to force someone to forget something, especially something so deeply-rooted as the Torah is to the Jewish people?

At the conclusion of Parshas Vayeshev, the Torah relates the saga of Yosef in prision with Pharoah’s Chief Baker and Chief Wine-Maker. They both had disturbing dreams and could not understand their meanings. Yosef was able to explain to both of them that each dream held an integral message about their fate; the Chief-Baker would be hung while the Chief Wine-Maker would return to his post. After interpreting the dreams Yosef requested that the Chief Wine-Maker remember him and intercede on his behalf before Pharoh.

The verse at the end of Vayeshev concludes, “And the Chief Wine-maker did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” It would be another two years before the Wine-Maker ‘remembered’ Yosef and mentioned him before Phroah, after Pharoah had two disturbing dreams that his ministers and astrologers could not interpret. Clearly then, the Wine-maker did not totally forget about Yosef because he ultimately did mention him to Pharoah. If so, what does it mean that he forgot him?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l explained that a person remembers something when it makes an impression on him. When one is emotionally moved he does not quickly forget the impetus for that impression.

There was no question that when Yosef interpreted the dreams correctly, the Chief Wine-Maker was completely overwhelmed by Yosef, his charisma, and his ability to forsee the truth. But the Chief Wine-Maker did not want to be impressed by a Jew. Therefore, in his mind he belittled the events, rationalizing that Yosef had just ‘gotten lucky’.6

That is what the verse means that the Chief Wine-Maker ‘forgot Yosef’. He rationalized what happened and attributed it to natural forces, causing him to ‘forget’ how amazed he was and therefore forgetting about Yosef’s supernatural ability.

This is also the meaning of our Chanukah prayer that the Syrian-Greeks sought to compel us ‘to forget Your Torah’. The Syrian-Greeks tried to ‘chill’ our passion and utter devotion to Torah. They reasoned that Jew and Greek could live side by side and enjoy each other’s wisdom and insight. By subtly decreasing our commitment to Torah and its supremacy over every facet of our lives, the Syrian-Greeks were successful in luring the masses towards their lifestyle and culture. Without passion and devotion, our Torah observance inevitably becomes deficient. That was the starting point which led to the perilous spiritual devastation of that time.

How did the Maccabbes vanquish the enemy’s spiritual attack? In the Al Hanisim prayer we state that G-d delivered “וזדים ביד עוסקי תורתך – the malevolent ones in the hands of those who engage in Your Torah”. The Maccabean victory was bound to the fact that the revolters were those who immersed themselves in Torah study. One only engages in meticulous in-depth study of something if it is extremely valuable to him. Otherwise he would not have the patience to painstakingly decipher every dimunitive nuance.

The exile of Greece was rooted in the dousing of passion, which caused us to ‘forget’ the cebtrality of Torah in our lives. The victory came about because of those who renewed their passion and were ready to die for their cause.

The holiday of Chanukah celebrates our belief in the Rock of Israel. We await the day when all of our bretheren will realize that the Rock of Israel refers to G-d, and He Alone.

“My fortress! The Rock of my salvation”

“In the hands of those who engage in Your Torah”

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




In 1944, as the Nazi’s realized that their defeat was imminent, they escalated their barbaric efforts to eradicate as many Jews as they could. It was during that time that Hungarian Jewry was systematically transported to the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp for destruction.

One of those Hungarian prisoners was a sixty-year-old scholar named Rabbi Shraga Shmuel Schnitzler zt’l1. Reb Shmelke, as he was affectionately called, was an extremely pious man with a fiery and zealous love for G-d. He was exceptionally friendly and offered encouragement to everyone in the camps, especially the dispirited souls, inspiring them not to lose faith.

Even in the Nazi inferno, Reb Shmelke retained his faith and dignity. On Shabbos he would sit with the other inmates and create some semblance of Shabbos by regaling them with words of Torah and recounting stories of the Baal Shem Tov, as well as of his great-grandfather, Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg zt’l. For those few moments each week, the physically and spiritually starved inmates would be uplifted from their despondency.

His amiable ways garnered Reb Shmelke ‘special privileges’ from the ruthless Nazi commanders. Reb Shmelke used this rare privilege to ensure the proper burial of his fallen comrades. He also kept a record of the names of the deceased by scribbling them on small scraps of paper, using the charred tips of discarded matches that he collected for this purpose. In so doing he hoped to avert disastrous consequences to war widows who would be spared the agony of having to endure an agunah status2.

With the advent of Chanukah, Reb Shmelke was determined to light a Menorah. However, he could not imagine how he would be able to gather the necessary materials.

The dilemma weighed heavily on him, even as he was in the process of burying a recently deceased inmate during the day before Chanukah. Reb Shmelke found himself short a couple of stones to complete the partitioning of the gravesite and scoured his immediate surroundings, to no avail. But from a distance a pile of rocks caught his eye. As he removed some of them, he was shocked to uncover a small bottle of oil. Shoving aside some more of the stones, he discovered cups - and soon he unearthed a pack of wicks.

A stunned Reb Shmelke could hardly believe his eyes. He recited a silent prayer of gratitude and quickly hid his newfound treasure. Later that evening, after the guards had left, a crowd of inmates stealthily gathered around as Reb Shmelke fervently and lovingly recited the blessings and lit the candles. Needless to say that moment infused the battered inmates with tremendous encouragement.

When the war ended, Reb Shmelke returned to Hungary where he would become widely known as the Tchaber Rav. He eventually immigrated to Israel and moved to Jerusalem.

Upon a subsequent visit to America, the Tchaber Rav looked up an old acquaintance, the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l. At some point during their emotional reunion, the Satmar Rebbe remarked, "You know that I too was in Bergen-Belsen but was rescued on the twenty-first of Kislev, four days before Chanukah3. Obviously I was unaware that I was to be saved and during my final weeks in the camp I expended tremendous effort, including bribing, to gather together oil, cups, and wicks to use for the mitzvah of Menorah. When I was saved I buried my Menorah materials in the ground. But I always felt badly that those materials were never used.

Words failed the Tchaber Rav as tears flooded his eyes. After a few moments he softly replied, “I assure you Rebbe, those materials were put to very good use.”

The ‘Al Hanisim’ prayer inserted into our prayers on Chanukah (and Purim) is our declaration of gratitude to G-d for all the miracles our ancestors were privy to at the time of their salvation. The introductory stanza is the same for Chanukah and Purim: “For the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles, which You performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time.”

In addition, the universally recited text after kindling the Chanukah candles begins, “These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations, and the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days at this season through Your holy priests…”

The commentators question why we thank G-d for the battles. Why should we express our gratitude for the source of our grief and distress? Furthermore, why are the battles the final point that we mention; didn’t the battles occur before the miracles4?

The Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kaheneman zt’l offered a novel and poignant explanation. The Hasmonean battles were all wars between the forces of holiness and impurity. The Hasmoneans went to battle the forces which sought to inhibit their Service to G-d and their ability to study Torah. They were unwilling to surrender their souls to an implacable foe who promised them untold glory and wealth if they would succumb to their indulging physical lifestyles.

The Hasmoneans obviously possessed indomitable will and an inextinguishable love for G-d and His Torah, and it was that passion that drove them to a war in which they merited many uncanny miracles. In other words, it was their obdurate determination and refusal to surrender that was at the foundation of the formation of the holiday of Chanukah.

Many centuries have passed since the Chanukah miracles occurred. The ancient Greeks are nothing more than an ancient dynasty relegated to the annals of history. But their nefarious legacy vis-à-vis the Jewish people lives on. We are still battered and plagued by external forces and a glitzy ostentatious culture which stands antithetical to Torah values. We are still challenged by the luring temptations of lifestyles which possess an exciting and inviting veneer. But the fact that we have not yet succumbed is the greatest testament to our strength and will. We may lose many a battle but we have not yet raised the white flag of surrender. Our ability to sustain the perpetual battle is the legacy which we have inherited from the Hasmoneans.

It is in that sense that we thank G-d “for the battles”, because we continue to fight those battles until this very day. We thank G-d for granting the Hasmoneans the ability to fight those wars, in spite of the odds, and never lose hope and courage, and simultaneously we thank G-d for giving us the fortitude and inner conviction to stay the course and not capitulate despite having been tripped up so many times.

There was perhaps no greater symbol of this idea than Yosef hatzaddik. Yosef was a seventeen year old handsome adolescent, abandoned by his family and sold into slavery, who ended up in the home of a woman who badgered him constantly to perform a sin with her. In fact, she was inhumanely relentless.

Truth be told, Yosef could have performed the sin and no one would have been any the wiser. But Yosef refused to succumb. As a reward for his incredible restraint he was landed in an Egyptian prison, with the crassest criminals of Egypt. Yet even there Yosef did not surrender to his grief. He won the favor of the prison wardens and earned himself some level of distinction until he was finally hauled from prison, en route to becoming the viceroy of Egypt.

The Torah’s narrative of the saga of Yosef is always read prior to, and during Chanukah. One of the many correlations between the two events is the uncanny devotion to G-d and the ability to never lose sight of the cause. Yosef eventually prevailed and his dreams came to fruition because he never gave up. The Hasmoneans too, adapted that same mantra. Like Yosef they were plunged into incredible darkness and bleakness, but they battled through the darkness and their efforts bore fruit.

With this in mind we can offer a novel interpretation of a passage we recite towards the conclusion of Al Hanisim: “ולעמך ישראל עשית תשועה גדולה ופורקן כהיום הזה - And to Your nation Yisroel, You made a great salvation and redemption as this day.” What do we mean “as this day”?

The Master Ethicists explain that throughout life a person is engaged in an internal battle that rages within. It is the epic struggle between following one’s base desires or exercising his moral conscience to overcome his whims and inclinations. The most important component of that struggle is the courage, patience, and conviction to stay the course and not give up… on oneself

The verse in Proverbs (24:16) states, “The righteous falls seven times, and he gets up.” The commentators note that the difference between the righteous and the wicked is not in how often they fall, but in how quickly and resiliently they get up. We must believe in ourselves and not allow ourselves to fall into the morass of despair which our Evil Inclination lures into so adeptly.

The key to our success lies in our courage to never surrender. The Hasmoneans eventually triumphed because they had the courage to fight on, even when things seemed hopeless. The Chanukah candles symbolize that sense of will and courage and their light reflects that sense of mission and ambition.

Thus we pray that the salvation and redemption that G-d wrought in those days should be “like this day”; that in our time too we too should merit salvation that results from perseverance and resolve. We pray that G-d help us find the inner conviction to never give up on ourselves, so that we can follow in the footsteps of Yosef and the holy Priests who were the catalysts of the Chanukah miracles.

The holiday of Chanukah personifies the prophet’s beautiful words:

כי אשב בחושך ה' אור לי אל תשמחי איבתי לי כי נפלתי קמתי - Let my enemies not rejoice over me, for when I fall I will arise. When I sit in darkness, G-d is my light5” As long as we never allow ourselves to surrender on the epic battle of life, we will find the eternal light of G-d, reflected in the ethereal glow of the Chanukah candles.

“And for the battles”

“A great salvation and redemption as this day”

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates a beautiful story1 about a Jerusalem Jew named Yosef Gutfarb who was extremely meticulous to always pray with a minyan. Even the worst weather could no deter Yosef, and he was invariably one of the first people to enter the synagogue whenever it was time to pray. If he had to travel he would ensure that would be able to attend a minyan along the way.

One night Yosef arrived home at 3 a.m. and had not yet prayed ma’ariv. He traveled from his neighborhood of Shuafat, to the Zichron Moshe synagogues near the Geulah neighborhood. By the time he arrived it was 3:15 a.m. To his dismay, the place was virtually deserted, save for one man who also had not yet prayed.

R’ Yosef thought for a moment. Then he pulled out his phone and called a local taxi company. He asked the dispatcher if he could send eight taxis to Zichron Moshe. He also insisted that they all be Israeli drivers. The dispatcher replied, “Who has eight taxis available at this hour?” R’ Yosef replied, “How many do you have available?” “Five” “Okay, please send them as soon as possible. And remember, only Israeli drivers.”

He then called another taxi company and asked them to send three taxis, only with Israeli drivers. Both taxi companies were sure a wedding had just finished and many guests needed rides. The cabbies were surprised when they pulled up in front of the deserted building of Zichron Moshe.

R’ Yosef walked out to greet them. “Gentlemen, please start your meters. And then please follow me into the synagogue.” He explained to them that he needed them to complete a minyan so that he could pray ma’ariv. Although they were all familiar with reading Hebrew, some of the drivers were unfamiliar with the prayer text. They had to get yarmulkes from the glove compartment of their cars and be shown the page on which the service began.

After the prayers had concluded, R’ Yosef excitedly offered to pay each of them for their time. But none of them would accept his money!

The great confrontation was imminent. Yaakov and his family were heading home to Eretz Yisroel, and his wrathful brother Eisav was heading towards him, with an army poised for battle. Yaakov dispatched emissaries to portend his arrival. The Torah states, “He charged them saying, ‘Thus shall you say, ‘To my lord, to Eisav, so said your servant Yaakov: עם לבן גרתי ואחר עד עתה - I have sojourned with Lavan and have lingered until now’.”

Rashi explains that Yaakov utilized the unusual terminology "גרתי" (I have sojourned) to intimate to Eisav that, although he had lived in the home of the duplicitous Lavan until now, "תריג מצות שמרתי ולא למדתי ממעשיו הרעים - The six hundred and thirteen commandments2 I have safeguarded, and I did not learn from his (Lavan’s) evil ways.”

Yaakov’s message to Eisav is surprising. In fact, it seems to be blatantly untrue! During his years in the home of Lavan, Yaakov married two sisters. Although Yaakov was unquestionably justified - in fact obligated - to marry both Rochel and Leah3, still-in-all the Torah expressly prohibits one from marrying two sisters4. Although Yaakov may have literally been ‘above the law’ in regards to the prohibition against marrying sisters for various reasons, how could he say that he observed all 613 commandments of the Torah, when he clearly violated one5?

For many summers, Camp Dora Golding, where I have spent (and spend) many of my summers, would host a concert. A Jewish music star/group would perform for the delight of the campers and staff, and it was always a memorable event.

A number of summers ago, the camp hired a certain Jewish group to perform. The members of the group were known to be somewhat ‘unconventional’ in their performance, sometimes becoming hippie-like and wild.

Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, the spiritual leader of Dora Golding, met with the band members beforehand in order to discuss various guidelines.

Suffice it to say the guidelines were not adhered to.

The next morning, Rabbi Finkelman spoke to the older division of campers. He explained that before the administration of the camp agreed to bring in that band to perform they had sought the counsel of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky shlita. At the time Rabbi Kaminetsky told them that if the band members were “shomer Torah and mitzvos” then they could be brought in.

Rabbi Finkelman noted that Rabbi Kaminetsky did not say if they were ‘mikayem Torah and mitzvos’ they could be brought in, but rather if they were ‘shomer Torah and mitzvos’. ‘Mikayem’ means to fulfill, and indeed refer to one who is Torah observant as a mikayem Torah and mitzvos. But a ‘shomer’ is a guard. A guard doesn’t just react when confronted. A guard must be vigilant and ready; a guard must be proactive.

Rabbi Finkelman continued by explaining that the performers who came to camp were good Jews with good hearts. They were mikayim Torah and mitzvos by observing Shabbos and putting on tefillin each morning. However, they could not be classified as ‘shomrei Torah and mitzvos’. He explained that when they met before the concert to review some guidelines, the bandleader replied, “Rabbi, you need to understand that sometimes I just lose myself in the music!” Rabbi Finkelman countered that a Torah Jew can never justify his actions by claiming that ‘he just loses himself’. He is obligated to always maintain control over himself and his actions. One who admits to ‘losing himself’ may be observant most of the time, but he isn’t much of a guard.

With this poignant idea in mind, we can understand Yaakov’s message to Eisav. Yaakov did not say that in the home of Lavan he had observed all 613 commandments, for that would indeed be untrue. Rather, Yaakov said that in the home of Lavan he safeguarded all 613 commandments. Yaakov may not have observed the letter of the law per se, but in regards to the spirit of the law he was meticulous to a fault. There was a precise calculation to his every action and he never proceeded an iota without first ascertaining that his actions were in accordance with the Will of G-d. In that sense, Yaakov was the epitome of a shomer, vigilant and attentive, to G-d’s Will.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’l clearly expresses this same idea. At the beginning of parshas Vayeshev, the Torah records the dreams of Yosef, which symbolized Yosef becoming the ruler over his brothers and parents. Yosef understood his dreams as being an expression of prophecy and he felt obliged to recount them to his brothers. His brothers did not take kindly to the dreams and they developed an enmity for him.

Although Yaakov externally chastised Yosef in order to mitigate the envy of the brothers towards Yosef, the Torah relates “ואביו שמר את הדבר – His father guarded the matter.” Rashi explains that the word שמר connotes that Yaakov waited and anticipated the fruition of the matter.

Rabbi Wolbe notes that when Yaakov told Eisav that he was “shomer” the 613 mitzvos, he also meant that he waited and anticipated fulfilling the mitzvos. Throughout his years in the home of Lavan Yaakov was perpetually searching, pining, and anticipating opportunities to serve G-d and fulfill mitzvos6.

Rabbi Wolbe continues that in our daily prayers we beseech G-d, ותן בלבנו בינה להבין ולהשכיל לשמוע ללמד וללמד לשמר ולעשות ולקיים את כל דברי תורתך באהבה" – Place in our hearts understanding to comprehend and to discern, to perceive, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, and to perform, and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah with love.”

Here too, לשמר means to anticipate and to yearn. We pray that G-d not only grant us the ability to understand and perform His commandments, but that He also grant us the wisdom to safeguard ourselves from transgression and fulfill our obligations properly. To do so we cannot be ‘passive fulfillers’, we must be proactive guards.

On Shabbos morning there is a well-known zemer (song) with the refrain, השומר שבת הבן עם הבת לקל ירצו כמנחה על מחבת" – One who safeguards the Shabbos, the son with the daughter, to G-d it is desirous like a Mincha-offering on a flat pan.”

The commentators explain that the shomer which the lyricist refers to is one who anticipates and is excited about Shabbos7. The ‘shomer Shabbos’ passionately looks forward to Shabbos and prepares himself – mentally and physically – for Shabbos well in advance. His whole week centers around Shabbos, and he yearns for the holy day to commence. One who observes Shabbos in such a regal and excited fashion is analogous to one who offers a Mincha offering to his Creator.

The holiday of Chanukah is inextricably connected to this idea as well. In fact, the miracles of Chanukah would never have occurred if the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) did not possess this level of inextinguishable love.

After their miraculous victories over the far superior Syrian-Greek forces, the Hasmoneans entered the Holy Temple with the intention of immediately resuming the daily Service, which had been stopped by the invading enemy. While there was plenty of oil available for lighting the menorah, it had all been rendered ritually impure by the Greeks. According to halacha, the Hasmoneans had many leniencies upon which they could have relied in utilizing that oil, despite its impurity. However, they refused to do so. They insisted on searching for ritually pure oil, although finding such a bottle was virtually inconceivable. The very fact that they found a bottle of pure oil was in itself an incredible miracle8.

If the Hasmoneans merely fulfilled the letter of the law the holiday of Chanukah would have never come about. Therefore, the Chanukah holiday is an elongated celebration that emerged because of those who were ‘shomer’ Torah and mitzvos, seeking to serve G-d in the most ideal manner possible.

It is for this reason that the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles can be performed on three different levels9. The holiday created out of passion and excitement contains opportunities for us to demonstrate our own desire to fulfill its mitzvos in the optimal manner.

The holiday of Chanukah is essentially a celebration of our national unyielding passion and desire to go beyond the letter of the law and prove that we not only fulfill, but we seek to safeguard as well. It is a testament that we don’t only do what we have to do, but we seek to do whatever we can, however we can do it.

“I have sojourned with Lavan, and the 613 commandments I have guarded”

“Place in our hearts understanding… to safeguard”

Friday, November 27, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




This past summer, Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein1 related the following personal extraordinary story:

“There was a popular pool-hall on the main street in Monticello that had a dance club in the back. It was a terribly sinful place where kids went to hang out. The worst was on Motzei Shabbos during the summer, when there would be a crowd of about two hundred fifty Jewish boys and girls ‘hanging out’.

“It was an untenable situation and we felt that we had to do something. I went with a few friends to discuss the matter with Rabbi Dovid Feinstein shlita. I told Rabbi Feinstein that we had an idea which we hoped could at least put a damper on the frivolous partying that was going on. A group of couples, including my wife and myself, planned to go to the pool-hall on Motzei Shabbos and mingle with the rambunctious crowds and schmooze with them. The thought was that between the eight of us, many of the boys and girls would recognize us. If they felt uncomfortable by our presence perhaps they would leave. It would at least prevent the boys and girls who stopped by to ‘see what was going on’ from joining.

“We also arranged to have the bowling alley in Kiamesha rented out for the boys, so those boys who we were able to convince to leave would have an incentive of where they could go. Rabbi Feinstein agreed to our plan.

“On Motzei Shabbos eight couples came down to the pool-hall. It was a wild party, replete with raucous music, smoking, and gender-intermingling. After walking around and schmoozing with some of the kids, two of my friends and I decided that we should go into the club in the back to see if we could have any effect there. I knew some of my students were back there and that they would feel embarrassed if they saw me walk in. But when we tried to enter the club, the guard at the door told us “we were too old”. I reasoned with him that we only wanted to walk through. Finally, he relented and told me that if I really thought there was ‘stuff’ going on in the back I could go in myself, look around, and leave immediately.

“I was about to walk in when suddenly the owner of the pool hall rushed over and told me I couldn’t go in. “Forget it. All of you Rabbis have to get out of here.” I told him that if he wouldn’t let me in the back I would stay and shoot pool. But he was adamant, “We don’t want your money and we don’t want you in here. Just get out!” As he said it, three bouncers began to physically shove us out. The bouncers pushed us out of the hall and literally threw us down the steps outside the pool hall.

“I began screaming at the crowd of teens gathered at the top of the steps. “Do you see how low you’ve fallen? Three Rabbis are thrown out right in front of your eyes and you don’t say a word?!”

“Meanwhile the owner of the club looked down at us from the top of the steps and condescendingly said, “Rabbis, you’re not going to win this! You don’t know who you’re messing with. I own Monticello!”

“A police officer was standing nearby and saw what was happened. He called to us to get out of there. I couldn’t believe it. We had just been pushed out for no reason and the cop was siding with the assailant. I realized the owner must truly be very influential in Monticello.

“The ‘Rabbis getting thrown out of the pool hall’ immediately became the talk of the mountains. The next day we had a meeting and I found out that the owner of the hall owned a tremendous amount of real estate and town houses in Monticello. It truly seemed as if he owned Monticello.

So we went back to the owner and told him that we felt bad about what happened. We told him that we weren’t out to ruin the kid’s fun; we just didn’t like the sinful atmosphere that was being promoted. So we offered to rent out the pool hall for the boys and a bowling alley for girls. Everyone could have a good time, albeit separately. The owner agreed to rent the pool hall to us for a large sum of money.

“That Motzei Shabbos we invited the boys to the pool hall and twenty boys showed up (fifteen girls showed up at the bowling alley). I decided that for the next week I had to come up with a better ‘draw’, so I invited Yossi Piamenta to play in the pool hall with his band. It would be a free night of pool, music, and pizza. I was sure we would have a big crowd.

But that second Motzei Shabbos, again only twenty boys showed up.

“After the ‘concert’ the owner of the pool hall turned to me and said, ‘You see Rabbi you were wrong! The boys and girls need each other. You’re trying to stop something that you just can’t stop. You brought in Piamenta, free pizza, free pool, and look who came. You see that you’re wrong. So I’ll tell you what I am going to do. On Wednesday night I am going to host the craziest party Monticello has ever seen. I will have free beer, free admission, free food and rocking music. They are going to have the wildest time of their lives.” I pleaded with him not to do it, but he wouldn’t listen. “You can’t stop it Rabbi; they need each other!” He was right; there was nothing I could do. I left feeling very defeated.

“That Tuesday I was driving by the pool-hall when I noticed signs plastered all over the building on every side, “Closed by the Fire Department”; “Do not enter”; “VIOLATION!”; “For Sale”.

“We had no idea what happened until the next day. I have a friend who is very involved with the politicians in Monticello. The Chief of the Fire Department called him up and told him that they shut down the pool-hall. My friend replied that he had never asked them to do so. The Chief replied, “It has nothing to do with you. On Sunday morning we went into the building to perform a routine safety check. When we went into the basement we found that the owner of the pool-hall had antique cars that he was repainting and refurbishing. He had so much paint, solvent, chemicals, and gas in the basement that if one cigarette butt would have been thrown into that basement the building would have blown sky high, and you would have had over two hundred dead Jewish kids.”

“The non-Jewish Chief continued, “You should know that your G-d watches out for your children. That building was on top of a time-bomb. There was so much solvent without egress that half of Monticello could have easily blown up. I want you to know of every group that we deal with, we have never had another group that cares about their children like you Jews do.”

“That Motzei Shabbos we again rented two different bowling alleys for the boys and girls, but this time it was relatively full. About two thirty in the morning, in between driving back and forth from the girls in Kiamesha to the boys in Liberty, I drove back to the pool-hall. It was almost exactly the same time as when we were thrown down the steps just a few weeks prior, except now it was completely deserted. I stood at the bottom of the steps, looked up toward the sky and screamed, “Hashem, YOU OWN MONTICELLO!2


“Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva and he went toward Charan. He encountered the place and spent the night there… And he dreamt and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.”

The Bais HaLevi notes that a person can travel to a new destination for one of two reasons. He can either be trying to distance himself from the city he departed from, or he may be seeking to fulfill a goal/mission in the city of his destination.

In Yaakov’s situation, he had both goals in mind. Yaakov was both fleeing the wrath of his brother Eisav, and seeking to fulfill his parent’s instruction that he go to the home of his mother’s brother in order to seek a wife for himself. The seeming prolix of the verse actually alludes to these dual purposes. “Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva”; he had to escape the city of Eisav for his own safety. “And he went toward Charan” in order to fulfill his father’s instruction that he search for a wife.

The Viener Rav3 explains that the saga of Yaakov is symbolic of the events that transpire in every person’s life. We all have missions in this world that we are here to fulfill. At times we find ourselves in situations that we never dreamed that we would be in. We must remember that there is a higher purpose that we may not be aware of, which plays a strong role on the course of life.

The verse in Tehillim (37:23) states, “From G-d, the footsteps of man are firm, his way shall He approve.” The Ba’al Shem Tov explained that at times a person will travel to another city. In his mind he is traveling there for business, with the goal of generating profit. However, in heaven they may have arranged that he end up in that city for a spiritual purpose that he may never become aware of. This is what the verse is saying. Ultimately it is G-d who prepares the footsteps of man.

This idea is also a source of encouragement for a person who sets out to accomplish something and invests a great deal of time and effort into his project, only to find that he was unable to meet his goals. Although from his vantage point his work was for naught, from the perspective of Heaven his efforts may have been a tremendous success.

To Yaakov, his journey must have seemed compulsory and distressing. He was obliged to leave behind the sanctity and purity of his father’s home because he had adhered to his mother’s instruction to dupe Eisav out of the blessings. He would now have to forge his own path, alone and far away. But in truth his journey would soon set a trajectory in motion which led to the building of the foundation of Klal Yisroel. Yaakov returned from Charan with four wives and eleven children4, and it was those children who became the progenitors of the Chosen Nation.

This was part of the symbolism of Yaakov’s dream. At the moment when Yaakov was sleeping alone on top of Mount Moriah it seemed as if he was alone and forsaken. The vision of the ladder symbolized that there is an inextricable connection between world and the celestial world, with angels traveling up and down the ladder. Yaakov’s journey was not merely as it seemed. There was a higher purpose that would emerge from the whole ordeal, even though at that moment Yaakov could not realize what that purpose was.

As a nation we have experienced Yaakov’s odyssey many times. When we were expelled from Spain in 1492 and we fled on ships, it seemed that we were escaping a world which had deserted us. But at the same time we were forging ahead to a new world. European Jewry was being established and a new trajectory that would last four hundred years was being set in motion.

When our parents and grandparents escaped the horrors of Nazism before, during, and after World War II, they were not only fleeing the ashes of the crematoria, they were also coming to Eretz Yisroel and America to build the next chapter of Torah living and flourishing.

Yaakov’s venture symbolizes the path of life, on a national and individualistic level. Life leads us in many directions, and we must always remember that G-d prepares the path of man. Sometimes we are not privy to how/why things occur. But the ladder reaches heavenward and the angles are perpetually ascending and descending.

“Yaakov departed Be’er Sheva toward Charan”


Thursday, November 19, 2009


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




Years ago, when I was studying in Yeshiva, I was conversing with a younger student who had decided to switch out of the yeshiva, in order to attend a different type of yeshiva. He told me how thrilled he was to be escaping the yeshiva which he animatedly described as ‘a crazy place’. He then proceeded to list his personal grievances about the yeshiva, which included every possible component. He hated the dormitory, abhorred the food, couldn’t stand the teachers, disliked many of the students, and was even bothered by the aroma in the hallway. He was pretty convincing in depicting his stay in yeshiva as being completely untenable.

I realized how ingrained his acrimonious feelings towards the yeshiva were and I listening silently. He concluded by saying that it was so bad that he didn’t know he had survived until that point.

When he had completed his list, I told him that it all boiled down to one thing; in his mind he had ‘written the yeshiva off’. He had become sick and tired and, because the yeshiva was no longer a viable option for him in his mind, he allowed himself to become consumed by every minor frustration.

It was almost amusing when he returned to the yeshiva the next year. When I asked him about all of the things that he had mentioned the year prior that drove him crazy, he nonchalantly shrugged and said it wasn’t so bad.

Indeed; it’s all a matter of attitude.

1Throughout their youth, Yaakov and Eisav seemed somewhat similar. Although there were glaring external differences, as Eisav was ruddy and hirsute while Yaakov had smoother and whiter skin, the colossal future philosophical and spiritual disparities between Yaakov and Eisav were hardly noticeable throughout their formative years.

When they were fifteen however, that all changed. On the day that their grandfather Avrohom died at the age of one hundred seventy five, Eisav committed numerous egregious sins. The gemara2 writes that on that day Eisav murdered, coerced a young girl who was engaged, denied the fundamental beliefs of Judaism, denied that there was a concept of resurrection of the dead, and sold/denigrated his first-born rights.

It is enigmatic that the Torah does not mention any of these sins, and merely states3, “Esav came in from the field and he was tired.” If Eisav had committed such terrible sins, how could the verse merely state that he was exhausted? Why is there no mention of the reason for his exhaustion, i.e. all the sins he had violated? Do we refer to a murderer-idolater-heretic as merely ‘tired’?

Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt’l explained that the Written Torah teaches us the root and foundation of everything. The Oral Torah clarifies the Written Torah4, elucidating the messages and lessons that are hidden in the Written Torah. Thus, while the Oral Torah writes the actual details of what occurred by explicitly listing the sins that Eisav committed, the Written Torah records only the root-problem of why it occurred. How did Eisav, who had been raised in the home of Yitzchok and Rivka, become such a heinous sinner? Because “he was tired”. He was tired in the sense that he had lost all his drive and ambition, and no longer saw achieving spiritual greatness as a feasible goal. When one gives up on himself he is capable of committing the worst sins, rapidly debasing himself almost without limit.

The verse alludes to this idea when it writes והוא עיף" – and he was tired.” It does not simply say that Eisav arrived from the field ‘tired’. Rather, it says ‘and he was tired’, as if to imply that his entire essence was tired5. He was completely devoid of aspiration and passion, and that was the key to his hasty spiritual decline.

In a sense Eisav’s downfall lay in the fact that he was ‘sick and tired’. That attitude is extremely deleterious, and can have a disastrous effect.

At the time of Akeidas Yitzchok6, Avrohom was one hundred and thirty seven years old. The Akeidah was the last of the ten tests that Avrohom was challenged with7. Yet Avrohom lived for another twenty eight years. If Avrohom had already traversed the ten major ‘tests’, what was left for Avrohom to accomplish during the remaining years of his life?

Perhaps the challenge of Avrohom was to maintain his level of spiritual accomplishment and to retain the lofty levels he had achieved, even while living a mundane life, devoid of major challenges and tests.

Yitzchok had a similar challenge. When he was thirty-seven years old he was bound as an offering to G-d. For the remainder of his life he was charged with maintaining that level of holiness. He was never allowed to leave the Holy Land even in the face of a famine, nor was he able to marry a maid when his wife was unable to conceive, despite the fact that his father had done so. Yitzchok was referred to as an ‘olah temimah – a complete (unblemished) elevation offering’, even after he was taken off the altar.

It is a daunting task for one to always maintain their spiritual vitality and not allow themselves to falter in their connection with G-d.

It is no coincidence that Eisav ‘left the fold’ on the day of his grandfather’s death. Avrohom lived his life with undiminished passion and vivacity. Until the day he died he never faltered or tired in his mission to spread the light of divinity throughout the world. The prophet8 states, “Youths may weary and tire and young men may constantly falter. But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength, they will grow a wing like eagles; they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary.”

On the day that the spark of Avrohom was lost to the world, Eisav grew ‘tired’. Avrohom, whose hope was in G-d, had proverbial wings like an eagle, but Eisav was the youth who grew weary, and thus he faltered.

The holy Shabbos is a day of renewal and rededication. Dovid Hamelech expressed the ‘song of Shabbos’ as, “It is good to be thankful to G-d and to sing to Your Supreme Name9.” The six mundane days of the week often cause us to lose sight of our true aspirations and goals. In the befuddlement of exile and our pursuit for livelihood we often grow ‘tired and weary.’ But when Shabbos arrives we are transformed into angelic beings whose whole lives are dedicated to G-d and spiritual pursuits. Shabbos infuses us with strength and vitality so that we are able to encounter the challenges of the next week.

On the night of the first Shabbos of a newborn baby boy’s life we celebrate the first opportunity that he has been granted to ‘taste’ the bliss of Shabbos and to be blessed with the gift of spiritual vitality. At the same time, we hope and pray that G-d will grant the newborn baby the merit and understanding to appreciate the holiness of Shabbos throughout his life and to never lose his spiritual vitality.10

“Esav came in from the field and he was tired”

“But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength”