Thursday, September 24, 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:





Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 9, 1995 12:00 a.m. MDT

An inmate who claimed he violated his own civil rights by getting arrested filed a $5 million lawsuit against himself - then asked the state to pay because he has no income in jail.

Robert Lee Brock, a prisoner at the Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake, filed a handwritten, seven-page lawsuit last month in federal court."I partook of alcoholic beverages in 1993, July 1st; as a result I caused myself to violate my religious beliefs. This was done by my going out and getting arrested," wrote Brock, who is serving 23 years for breaking and entering and grand larceny.

"I want to pay myself 5 million dollars," he continued, "but ask the state to pay it in my behalf since I can't work and am a ward of the state."

Judge Rebecca Beach Smith was unimpressed by Brock's ingenuity.

She dismissed the lawsuit Thursday as frivolous.

"Plaintiff has presented an innovative approach to civil rights litigation," Smith wrote. "However, his claim and especially the relief sought, are totally ludicrous."

© 2009 Deseret News Publishing Company | All rights reserved

The Chachmei Hakabbalah1 explain that man has two levels of consciousness, hisרצון העליון (‘upper will) and his רצון התחתון (‘lower will). Although there are deeper esoteric explanations of this concept, we will analyze them from a psychological perspective2.

The רצון התחתון represents man’s pragmatic logic. It is the aspect of a person’s thoughts that are only interested in survival and gratification, and views the world from a very practical perspective.

Theרצון העליון however, represents man’s cognitive, decision-making abilities. One’s ‘upper will’ seeks spirituality and a higher focus and is not limited by utilitarian and momentary concerns. It is more interested in right and wrong than it is on what is comfortable or convenient. One’s ‘upper will’ may decide to act in a way contrary to his pragmatic interests if it feels that delaying gratification or suffering physically may yield spiritual growth.

A person is often unaware of the decisions of his ‘upper will’, because he is more in touch with his physical body. He inclines himself to his utilitarian ‘lower will’ which seeks gratification before he seeks the spiritual demands of his ‘upper will’.

In the Shemoneh Esrei prayers we beseech G-d, “Us’filasam sikabel b’ratzon – And their prayers accept with favor.” We do not simply request that G-d accept all our prayers, but that He does so with favor. We often pray for things which we are confident are necessary and beneficial for us. However, only G-d can know if granting those requests will ultimately be detrimental on a physical, spiritual, or psychological level. Our ‘lower will’ may be praying for something which may be financially rewarding, but can be spiritually devastating. Therefore, we pray that G-d accept our prayers with favor, for only He can truly know which of our prayers He should fulfill3.

The Rambam4 rules that if a man refuses to offer his wife a divorce document the court must physically compel him until he agrees to give it.5 The Rambam explains that the rationale for coercing someone to comply with Torah law is that, although the sinner’s ‘lower will’ is unwilling to comply with the Torah law, his ‘upper will’ wants to do what’s right. Unfortunately, the sinner himself is not in touch with his true desires and thinks that he wants to be recalcitrant. However, when we literally ‘beat it out of him’ his ‘upper will’ emerges and he himself realizes that this is truly what he wants.

This is analogous to an addict who emphatically demands that his addiction be nurtured. His true inner desire is to rid himself of the addiction which is dominating his life and destroying him. But because he is so enmeshed in the addiction and so badly craves the momentary gratification, he is unable to realize what he truly wants.

Another example where this concept emerges is in regards to the annulment of vows. A Jewish court has the right to annul a vow which was assumed voluntarily, if the court has legitimate grounds on which to absolve it. The rationale is that we assume that although the person’s ‘lower will’ accepted the vow, his ‘upper will’ never agreed to accept the vow. Torah law recognizes that, in respect to vows, the human personality also takes into account one’s ‘upper will’. It is based on that assumption, that the court can (at times) annul a vow.

With this idea in mind, we can understand why the holy day of Yom Kippur commences with the recitation of ‘Kol Nidrei’, a prayer which is nothing more than the annulment of vows. A vow is susceptible to rescission because it was not representative of the person’s true inner self, in that his ‘upper will’ was not in agreement with the vow. So too, on Yom Kippur (and whenever one seeks repentance), G-d acknowledges that whenever a mortal sins it is because he has acceded to his base ‘lower will’, and ignored his own higher calling, i.e. his ‘upper will’. The process of repentance entails our connecting ourselves with our ‘upper will’ which was never involved or tainted by sin.

This is why immediately after Kol Nidrei we read the verse in which G-d says6, “ונסלח לכל עדת בני ישראל... כי לכל העם בשגגה - I will forgive the entire assembly of the Children of Israel… because the entire nation’s (sins were committed) inadvertently.” Even sins which a person commits willfully are in a sense inadvertent, because such actions counter one’s own pristine ‘upper will’. Essentially, on Yom Kippur we commit to realign ourselves and be more cognizant of our ‘upper will’. Once we have made that commitment, the sins which we committed by pursuing our ‘lower will’ can be pardoned and forgiven.

At the commencement of each of the seven hakafos celebrated and danced on Simchas Torah, a prayer is recited beseeching G-d for salvation. The prayer for the fourth hakafah states, “יודע מחשבות הושיעה נא - He Who knows our thoughts, please save us.”

One year, someone asked me why we refer to G-d as the One, “Who knows our thoughts”? If anything, it would seem that we would want to stay far away from mentioning our thoughts. Do our fantasies, daydreams, and reveries make us worthy of salvation?

I replied that we are not referring to the superficial fleeting thoughts which dominate our minds much of the time. Rather, we are referring to our innermost thoughts, the lofty thoughts which stem from the deepest recesses of our souls, and which we often forget that we feel, the thoughts of our ‘upper will’. It is those thoughts that render us perpetually worthy of salvation.

One of the core beliefs and responsibilities of every Jew is to serve G-d with mesiras nefesh (giving over his “nefesh”). This concept is generally understood to refer to giving up one’s life for the sanctification of G-d’s Name. It is associated with mental images of martyrs marching to their deaths, their heads aloft, as they proclaimed “Shema Yisroel” in their final heroic moments. We think of those who were persecuted with gas chambers, inquisitions, pogroms, crusades, and marauding Cossacks.

Therefore, we believe that those of us who are blessed to live in a democracy and are not persecuted for Torah observance do not have the opportunity to fulfill this fundamental responsibility. But that is a fallacy.

The Mashgiach7, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, notes that the word nefesh refers to one’s desires. When the children of Efron negotiated with Avrohom Avinu about the sale of the Cave of Machpelah they said8, “אם יש את נפשכם – If it is your desire.”

The greatest level of mesiras nefesh is giving up one’s life, because our ultimate desire is to live. However, any time one suppresses or overcomes a desire or a craving for the sake of G-d’s Name, he has been moser nesfeh – i.e. he has given up some of his nefesh. Therefore, we indeed have the opportunity to be moser nefesh constantly. Every time we challenge our base desires and overcome our whims we have demonstrated mastery over our animalistic self. One who averts his senses, alters his behaviors, or invests added resources and efforts into his spiritual pursuits, allows his upper will to dominate his lower will.

On Yom Kippur we completely absolve ourselves from many of our most basic physical comforts and needs. On that one day a year we go to the extreme, giving ourselves a momentary hiatus from the dominance of our lower will. In the waning moments of Neilah as the sun begins to set and our physical strength is almost completely sapped, we continue in our service unabated, with almost superhuman drive. At that point our upper will has complete reign and, for a few moments, we connect with our true selves.

Shortly thereafter, the day and all of its arduous service and august opulence concludes. Within a few hours life resumes its course and we are again busy with life9.

If only we were able to capture a small measure of the deep emotions we feel in those waning majestic moments of Yom Kippur! What a different live we would live!

Throughout the rest of the year we must maintain a taste of the beauty of living a life dominated by one’s upper will. This will ensure that even when we stumble, we will remember that within us is a divine spark that we can always reconnect with.

“He Who knows our thoughts, please save us”

“I will forgive because their sins were inadvertent”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rosh Hashanah 5770

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 Yosef Elyahu Henkin1 zt’l was one of the foremost halachic authorities in America and the president of Ezras Torah, a charity organization that offered assistance to needy Torah scholars.

Rabbi Henkin was involved in many landmark halachic decisions that affect contemporary Jewish life2. Among others, there were two landmark issues that Rabbi Henkin argued passionately about. The first involved eating prior to hearing shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt’l was of the opinion that one is allowed to make Kiddush and eat a small amount before hearing the shofar3. Rabbi Henkin countered that whenever one is obligated to fulfill a mitzvah he is forbidden to eat before doing so, and shofar is no different4.

The second dispute involved the need to write a get (halachic divorce document). Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l was of the opinion that if a woman married through a Reform or Conservative marriage, the marriage has absolutely no validity. Thus, if the woman wants to remarry she may do so without obtaining a ‘get’ from her ‘husband’. Rabbi Henkin vehemently opposed Rabbi Feinstein’s position. He felt that at least we have to suspect that the marriage has the status of ‘kiddushei safek (doubtful marriage)’. Therefore, she must obtain a get from her first husband before remarrying5.

At the end of his life Rabbi Henkin suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, a progressively debilitating disease that ultimately destroys one’s memories and cognitive abilities. As the disease progresses the patient may have moments when he is completely disconnected from reality. During those times, many sufferers of Alzheimer’s will scream obscenities or shout vulgar and angry comments regarding events that transpired decades prior.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita, relates that he once went to visit the ailing Rabbi Henkin, when he was suffering such a bout of complete disconnect. Rabbi Henkin was sitting in his chair staring blankly ahead, repeating over and over, "מי טאר נישט עסין פאר תקיעות", "זי דארף יא האבען א גט" – “One cannot eat before tekios (shofar blowing)”; “She does require a get!” For twenty minutes straight Rabbi Henkin blankly kept repeating those same words.

Rabbi Wein related that it was an extremely painful sight to see a man who had carried the Torah world on his shoulders, now reduced to such a pitiful state. On the other hand, it was incredibly inspiring to see what was truly in his heart. When there was nothing left in his mind, what remained was two halachic rulings that he had fought about for the Sake of G-d’s Torah!6

“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no labor; it shall be a day of teru'ah for you.” (Bamidbar 29:1)

Rabbi Yonasan Eybshitz zt’l explained that there is a deep connection between the anniversary of the creation of Man7 and the commandment to blow the shofar.

When the Torah records the creation of Man it writes, “The Al-mighty G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul8. Man became a living, sentient being when G-d breathed His own breath into him. It was that metaphysical breath that transformed him from physical matter into a living hybrid of physical and spiritual.

When we blow the shofar on the day of Man's creation, it serves as a memorial to that first breath - the Divine breath of life blown at the dawn of Creation, on Rosh Hashanah.

On Rosh Hashanah, we are commanded not to blow the shofar per se, but to hear the blast of the shofar. When our Sages composed the wording of the blessing recited on Rosh Hashana, they attempted to focus our concentration on that first breath, that primordial breath which infused mankind with a Divine soul.

During the course of the year, the sound of the shofar may become distant and we may turn our attention away from the divinity that is at our very core. That cycle of obliviosuness is interrupted on Rosh Hashana, as it was on certain other occasions in our history when we were able to hear that sound collectively and clearly, and to recognize its divine source: At Mount Sinai, when we received the Torah, on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee Year. It will again occur with the advent of Moshiach.

Once each year we are commanded to listen intently, with proper concentration, to the sound of the shofar. We are called upon to tune in to that cry that supplants words, the sound that is made by our breath, and to hear the echoes of that first breath that reverberates through time, ever since God blew His own breath into Man.9

The gemara10 writes an intriguing statement: "כיון דלזכרון כבפנים דמו" - which means that since the purpose of blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah is to effect a favorable rememberance of Israel before G-d, it is equivalent to a service performed inside the Holy of Holies.

Many commentators explain that this means that during the moments when we hear the shofar being blown, on some level it is as if we were performing the service in the Holy of Holies.

When the Torah details the service that the Koahin Gadol (High Priest) performed on Yom Kippur, it discusses the apex of the day’s service, i.e. his entry into the Holy of Holies. On the holiest day of the year, the holiest man in the world, entered the holiest place on earth. In reference to that awesome moment the Torah states11, “And no man shall be in the Tent of the Meeting when he comes to provide atonement in the Sanctuary until his departure.”

Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l explained that when the Torah states that no “man” can enter the sanctuary it includes the Kohain Gadol himself! At that surreal moment when the Kohain Gadol entered the inner sanctum of the Sanctuary he had to temporarily surrender his physical being. Although his body was physically there, mentally he had to bring himself to a higher angelic world, beyond physical confines. During those moments the Kohain Gadol had to be alone with his true inner self, the soul within which contains the true spark of life.

A shofar is the horn of an animal12. The sound of the shofar is the sound of breath - the spark of life - being blown through a natural medium, created by G-d Himself. The sound of the shofar is therefore reminiscent and symbolic of primordial man in his untainted pristine state.

When the Kohain Gadol entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, for a few moments he had to disassociate himself from his animalistic and base desires and needs and become a metaphysical being, above sin and physicality. The call of the shofar, which is to accomplish that same objective, therefore has the potential to raise us to the level of the Kohain Gadol entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

After Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit in Gan Eden, the Torah relates13, “G-d called to Adam and he said to him, Ayeka -Where are you?!”

One of the challenges of exile is that we are strongly influenced by the culture we live in. The inundation of media and the world at large inevitably takes a spiritual toll on us and affects how we act and, more importantly, how we view ourselves.

When Adam sinned and G-d called him to task, Adam immediately blamed Chava, who in turn blamed the snake. G-d’s response was “Where are YOU?” It was a very poignant rebuke. The reason Adam sinned was because he allowed himself to be swept away by the trajectory around him. He felt that circumstances dictated his actions and that he was therefore justified in behaving as he did. G-d replied that Adam had made an egregious error. A person may never allow himself to be ‘swept away’. He must always be wary of his own true self. The world around him, and even his own sins, does not become part of him, and he must realize that.

We often think that the influences around us are part of us and that we are deeply connected to them. The hassles of life cause us to forget and lose sight of who we really are causing us to mistakenly identify ourselves with the world around us. The path to repentance must begin with the answer to the question, “Where are YOU?” No one else, and nothing else, just the raw YOU!

The shofar is a catalyst for reflection and introspection. Its wordless call cries out to us to answer, “Where are YOU?” It is a reminder that we must never view ourselves as intergraded with the exile around us. We must remember that internally we are different and have a higher mission.

Perhaps with this we can understand why we do not blow shofar when Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbos. The very essence of Shabbos is introspection and reflection. It is a day of cessation from the hassles and spiritual distractions of the week so that we can remind ourselves of our ultimate purpose in this world. One who truly appreciates the sanctity and centrality of Shabbos will reflect upon the question of “Ayeka” every single Shabbos. Therefore, the shofar is superfluous on Shabbos as we can achieve the objective of the shofar through our Shabbos observance.

However, if we do not appreciate the message of Shabbos, we are not only vulnerable because of the lack of the merit of the shofar, but we have failed to appreciate the beauty and essence of Shabbos as well.

The message of the shofar must remain with us throughout the year. We must always be true to ourselves, the real us!

“No man shall be in the Tent of the Meeting”

“Equivalent to a service performed inside the Holy of Holies”

Wednesday, September 9, 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:




The horrific events involving the Mumbai massacre are still vivid and fresh in our minds. Along with the other kedoshim1 who were killed in the Chabad house, the hosts, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkie Holtzberg, were murdered by Islamic fascist terrorists, for no reason other than the fact that they were Jews.

Gavriel and Rivkie Holtzberg moved to Mumbai in 2003 as Chabad emissaries, to ensure that there was a warm and welcoming Torah home for all those passing through Mumbai. Some people stayed for a night, or a Shabbos, others for a month. But everyone who stayed in their home described the Holtzberg’s warmth and devotion to all their guests.

During the week of shiva mourning after the massacre, a woman entered the home of Mrs. Yehudis Rosenberg, Rivkie Holtzberg’s mother, and handed her a package. When Mrs. Rosenberg opened the package she was shocked to find that it contained one of Rivkie’s nicest Shabbos dresses, as well as her diamond ring.

The visitor explained that while she was vacationing in India some months before, she had been apprehended for illegal activities and was imprisoned. As soon as she was let out she hurried to the Chabad house in Mumbai where Rivkie welcomed her in. Rivkie urged her to escape the country as soon as possible. When the woman expressed her concern that if she was noticed by airport security she might be detained, Rivkie gave her one of her Shabbos dresses as well as her diamond ring, so the woman would look respectable and not appear like a fugitive.

The strategy worked and the woman was able to leave the country without further issue. Now she had come to return the borrowed items. Mrs. Rosenberg told the woman that a few months before she had asked Rivkie where her ring was. Rivkie curtly replied that the ring (like her) was on ‘shlichus2’!

The final parshios of the Torah contain Moshe’s last will and testament. (Devorim 30:15-19) “See – have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil… and you shall choose life, in order that you shall live, you and your children.”

It is obvious that the Torah is not referring to “life” in the classical sense, because any rational person would choose life over death. Even a young child does not need to be told to choose honey over ammonia. Moshe was obviously speaking about a higher mission of life; to choose a life of meaning and purpose.

The commentators offer many explanations, each with a poignant and integral message apropos for the days preceding the Days of Awe. The following is one such approach3:

During the Ten days of Penitence from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur we add a few insertions into our prayers. In the opening blessing of Shemoneh Esrei we pray, “Remember us for life, King who desires life, and record us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, the Living G-d!” In the second blessing we insert, “Who is like you Father of Compassion, Who remembers His Creations for life in His compassion!”

The Sages explain that Shemoneh Esrei was composed to reflect the manner in which a servant would approach a king to beseech his needs. He opens by praising the king, and speaking of the king’s greatness. Then he proceeds to mention his own personal requests and needs. After he concludes his own needs, he thanks the king and speaks about the king’s kindness and beneficence.

So too, the first three blessings of Shemoneh Esrei are devoted to praising G-d and proclaiming His inimitable greatness. The middle thirteen blessings detail our petitions and requests from G-d, and the concluding three blessings are dedicated to thanksgiving and gratitude.

If so, how/why do we breach that format by inserting a personal request during the Ten days of Penitence? Why do we have the right to request life in the opening blessings which are dedicated to praising G-d?

In addition, we must understand the meaning of the prayer, “For Your sake, the Living G-d”. What is the meaning behind our request that G-d grants us life for His sake because He is the Living Eternal G-d?

The Ibn Ezra4 writes an incredible idea: כי החיים הם לאהבה" – Because life is for love!” It is understood that true love connotes giving selflessly and altruistically. Thus, in other words, the Torah defines life as a means to perform acts of kindness, to assist others, and to promote unity and goodness.

When Moshe exhorted the nation to choose life, he was not referring to mundane life. Rather, on his final day, he was encouraging the nation to pursue a life of giving and altruism, for that would ensure the continuity of the nation and its ability to endure.

In a similar vein, when we request life in the opening blessing of Shemoneh Esrei during the Ten days of Penitence, we are begging G-d to grant us life as the Torah defines it, a life of higher purpose and Imitatio Dei.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzzato explains that G-d is titled the Living G-d because He is completely selfless and giving! G-d needs nothing and therefore cannot be a recipient. By the virtue of the fact that He is “All Giving”, He is a being of pristine and complete life!

We ask G-d to grant us life for His sake, because He is the Living G-d. In other words, we desire to live a life as G-d lives, devoted to giving and helping others. Asking for that type of life is wholly appropriate, even in the opening blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, because the desire to live such a life is of the greatest praise we can offer G-d.

A woman once approached noted lecturer, Rabbi Leib Kellerman, and emphatically stated that, she was imminently traveling to the United States to undergo a procedure that would ensure that she would never be able to bear children. She explained that she felt that anyone who would bring a child into our selfish and morally depraved world was themselves immoral and selfish. Before heading off, she wanted to know his opinion about the matter.

Rabbi Kellerman replied by relating to her the following parable:

An aspiring young woman decided that she wanted to become the Chief Surgeon in a prominent hospital. She worked diligently throughout High School, College, Premed, Med school, and through her internship, and residency. While her friends partied and lived it up, she was busy studying and applying herself relentlessly to her dream. She eventually began her work as a surgeon and was extremely successful. Her prestige continued to grow as did her success, and she rapidly climbed the ranks.

Finally the day arrived when she was promoted to the position she always dreamed of. After the ceremony, she was preparing to enter the Operating Room for the first time as Chief Surgeon when a young man burst out, white as a ghost. He looked at her with terror in his eyes and cried out, “Don’t go in there! It’s terrible! There’s blood and guts all over the place. The room is full of disease and the patient is so sick. For your own sanity, run the other way!”

The Chief Surgeon looked at him and calmly replied, “I know exactly what awaits me in that room. But this is what I always wanted to do. I lived my life so that I could help others in the most profound way possible. True, it is not a pretty sight. But to be able to give someone a second lease on life is the greatest gift possible.” With that, she proceeded through the double doors and disappeared.

Rabbi Kellerman explained, “If you’re purpose on this world is for pleasure, enjoyment, and self-gratification then this world is indeed a cruel and vicious place, and you indeed have no business bringing new life into such a selfish world. However, if you view life as an opportunity to give and to provide, and if you see life as a chance to love, cherish, and comfort, then this world is replete with opportunity. If you see life in this vein then what greater world is there in which to raise children and a new generation?!”

One who lives life for his own enjoyment is truly hard-pressed to ask for life during the opening blessings of Shemoneh Esrei. But one who understands that his temporal life is a place of opportunity where he must grab every chance to assist and love others, has the right to ask for life at the beginning of his prayers!

“And you shall choose life”

“Because life is for love!”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

KI SAVO 5769

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:




The Alter of Norvadok, Rabbi Yosef Yoizel Horowitz zt’l1, related a witty parable which presents an accurate portrayal of much of our society:

A stranger came running into town one day, looking flustered and breathless. When people noticed a harried stranger excitedly searching for something they became curious and intrigued. They too rushed outside and began following the stranger on his relentless pursuit. As they continued down the street others noticed the commotion and joined as well. Within a short time an entourage of hundreds of people joined, and were running through town. However, the masses had no idea why they were running, all they knew was something excited was about to happen and they didn’t want to be left out.

A lone man noticed the procession whizzing by him. He ran past all the followers, and all the distinguished leaders of the community, and caught up with the breathless stranger. “My friend, can you tell me why you are running so fast and why all these people are following you?” The stranger continued running as he replied, “I have no idea why all these people are following behind me. All I know is that I really need to find a bathroom quickly!”

After reviewing all the events and travails that the Jewish Nation had endured throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert, Moshe Rabbeinu foreboded the horrific curses of the tochacha (‘rebuke’) which would besiege the nation if they did not pay heed to the Torah.

Moshe warned them that the curses would be so severe that they would become insane from witnessing them. (28:34) “You will go mad from the sight of your eyes that you will see2.”

I remember once hearing a conversation between two elderly men. The younger of the two was complaining that senility was beginning to set in and, at times, he would forget the most obvious things. The older man replied, “You’re at a tough stage. You still realize that you’re forgetting and that’s why you feel old. Just wait a couple of years and you won’t even realize that you’re forgetting. Then life will become blissful again.”

The Dubner Maggid noted that an insane person is often convinced that his actions are normal. It is only those who watch him that realize he is crazy. However, at times, an insane person may be sane enough to realize that his behavior is eccentric. Such a person will be deeply pained that he is unable to control himself.

Moshe warned the Jewish Nation, that no matter how severe and how terrible the curses of the rebuke would be, they would always maintain an awareness of their ‘insanity’. Many persecuted nations have escaped their misery by ‘selling out’ or defecting. The Jewish Nation lacks that ability. Moshe promised them that they will always be acutely aware of their incredible pain and suffering, and will never be able to become lost in it.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that an insane person is not necessarily a person committed to a mental ward. It can even be a person who society sees as normal. He illustrates this idea by contrasting a destitute individual with an extremely wealthy individual.

A wealthy person who becomes consumed by his money can easily lose himself to his wealth. He can become so obsessive about money that he unwittingly prioritizes it above all else, including his family and friends. His life becomes a marathon in pursuit of another dollar and leaves him no rest. We can say that such an individual has gone crazy on account of his wealth. But perhaps the greatest tragedy is that he is unaware of his madness and does not realize the damage his wealth is causing him.

A destitute person also lives an abnormal lifestyle. He is compelled to beg others for compassion, and he has no choice but to rely on the graciousness of strangers who view him as a nuisance. He must ignore the ignominy and lack of dignity that his ‘profession’ entails. The difference is that the destitute individual is keenly aware of his insanity. If one would ask him about his lifestyle, tears would well up in his eyes and he would sigh out of anguish.

Rabbi Pinkus writes that this concept is true about our generation. Our morally depraved society world is ravaged by breakdowns in the normal social order. Family life has been shattered, respect for elders and authority has been severely compromised, and society is built upon the pursuit of mindless entertainment above all else.

But the scariest part about it is that we see it! It is clear to any sensible rational person that our cultural ‘norms’ are abnormal, and that we must transform our lifestyles. But we refuse to alter our behaviors and trends. We want to have change without changing! And so we continue our madness, aware that we are only deepening our problems.

Rabbi Pinuks continues that this concept is applicable to Torah observant Jews as well. Every Torah Jew is aware of the spiritual bliss one feels when he serves G-d properly. Hopefully, we have all ‘tasted’ the celestial joy of praying well, doing mitzvos, and the feeling of fulfillment one enjoys when learning Torah. And yet we waste so many opportunities to enjoy that bliss. Precious moments and days slip through our fingers because of our inept and sloth attitudes. We are aware of our folly and yet we continue to indulge in it.

The verse in Koheles3 states, “Better is a poor but wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to take care of himself.” The Medrash explains that the ‘poor but wise youth’ refers to one’s Good Inclination4. He is wise but is considered poor because most people do not heed his call. The “old and foolish king” refers to one’s Evil Inclination. In truth, it is not the Evil Inclination who is foolish, but us, the victims of his schemes and plots. By luring us into vapid temptation and inane sin, our Evil Inclination causes us to appear foolish and callow.

One of the greatest schemes of our Evil Inclination is to create ‘something out of nothing’. Much of our culture is built on the pursuit of the happiness and inner peace that is achieved from glamour, wealth, paparazzi, and fame. But it is all futile, because that whole concept is nonexistent. It is - as the Alter of Norvadok explained - a society mindlessly pursuing what everyone else is pursuing, as if without recourse.

Intellectually we are aware of the traps that our Evil Inclination lays out for us. Yet we often succumb anyway. It takes a discerning eye and heart to, not only see the emptiness of our society, but to be ready to fight its trends.

It is a daunting task to refuse to be insane in an insane world, but one who does so is ensured a life of inner peace and happiness.

“You will go mad from the sight of your eyes that you will see”

“An old and foolish king”