Thursday, December 30, 2010

VA’ERA 5771

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:


VA’ERA 5771


A Paul Harvey classic1

“It was a sweltering hot day, and word was traveling like a brush fire through the countryside: “The British are coming”.

“No false alarm. The British army was closing in fast. Looking for one man. A prominent patriot with a price on his head.

“In the mounting rebellion against the British, of the small but courageous forces opposing the Crown, he was commander-in-chief. And he was hiding in a coffin-like compartment in the ceiling of his home!

“The secret compartment had been prepared for this purpose. But the heat of August made it like an oven. So, with barely enough room to lie flat in the sweltering, suffocating, starving, thirst-searing delirium of that quiet darkness, the fugitive patriot would try to fight off madness by remembering.

“His men had tried to warn him that the British were coming. He had not taken the warning seriously. He had awakened before dawn to hear his dog barking in the yard and the clatter of approaching British troops in the distance.

“In minutes the town would be isolated and a house-by-house search would begin.

“Fortunately, his home appeared on the official register of the Crown under a name that was not his own. Yet even as he took comfort in that thought there came a knock at the door… the army of King George! He had ascended to his secret hiding place in the ceiling only moments before.

“The patriot’s wife let the soldiers in, answered to the alias by which she was addressed. Her husband was visiting in another town, she said. After searching the house, the soldiers ordered her and her two little children to come with them. Temporary headquarters had been set up nearby. They would be held for questioning.

“So now the patriot was alone in that torrid tomb, sealed in the ceiling of his own home.

“On the brink of unconsciousness he recognized the ultimate horror: If something should happen to his wife and children, he would be left there to die in an unmarked crypt. His forces, leaderless, would surely be crushed by the troops of King George.

“Days passed.

“No food, no water. The only sounds were the occasional voices of British soldiers taking refuge from the August son – and the miraculously incessant pounding of his own heart.

“On the evening of the third day, when he would almost have welcomed capture by the British, came a tapping at the boards on which he lay. And then he heard his wife’s voice.

“It was over. The British troops had given up the search, had gone.

“The dream for a new nation conceived in liberty - lived.

“The fugitive patriot with a price on his head, the hunted commander of the freedom forces, had survived a premature tomb to lead his men to victory, eventually to lead his country.

“The nearness of his capture, during those three days in purgatory, is measured in a coincidence.

“The British soldiers, choosing a site at random, had unknowingly arranged their temporary search headquarters in the courtyard of the man they sought!

“And that man, who might have suffocated in the ceiling of his own house – the dissident leader with a price on his head, hiding from the troops of King George VI, in Tel Aviv, in the August of 1946, was Menachem Begin.

“And now you know… THE REST OF THE STORY.”

The time for the process of redemption had finally arrived. G-d instructed Moshe to inform the battered nation of their glorious future, which was now imminent. Moshe was to inform them that the servitude would cease, they would emerge triumphantly from the shackles and confines of Egyptian oppression, they would become the Chosen People, and they would receive the Holy Land as an inheritance. But when Moshe tried to relay the message his words were unheard. “They did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.”

Moshe became very dejected from that encounter. “Moshe spoke before G-d saying, ‘Behold, the Children of Israel have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me?”

The Tiferes Yonason explains that this was part and parcel of Pharaoh’s methodical diabolic plan. His astrologers informed him that the savior of the Jews was going to be a member of the tribe of Levi. Therefore he deliberately granted the Levites a mass exemption from the enslavement. It was not simply a clerical exemption but a brilliant way to ensure that the savior would be doomed to failure.

Pharaoh understood well that a leader who could not relate and understand his followers was hardly a leader. In the words of the wisest of men2, “The protector of a fig tree will eat its fruit.” But one who was not involved in the laborious task of planting and guarding the fruit will not be welcomed to eat the fruit in when it finally ripens.

Pharaoh exempted the entire tribe of Levi so that when the savior arose to fulfill his mission he would fail abysmally. The weary embittered slaves would surely not follow the lead of a Levite who did not endure the pain and suffering they had experienced for generations.

Pharaoh’s scheme was initially successful. The nation didn’t hear/hearken to his words because of the severity of the servitude. They saw Moshe as an outsider who could not appreciate the extent of their suffering and the depth of the exile, and therefore they turned a deaf ear towards him. Moshe himself realized this point when he stated that if the Jews wouldn’t listen to him surely Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him.

The Torah Ohr3 explains that ultimately Pharaoh’s scheme did not work however, because Moshe went way beyond the call of duty. The Torah relates that Moshe grew up in the lap of Egyptian aristocracy, in fact in the palace of Pharaoh himself. Yet he left the safety of the palace to seek out the welfare of his oppressed brethren. He went down to the worksites and wept as he witnessed what was transpiring to his people. Beyond that he actually bent down and joined in their workload to alleviate some of their unbearable burden. When he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beat a Jew he zealously killed the Egyptian at the risk of his life. Because of that event he had to escape Egypt for decades. He remained away from his people and family for many years until G-d instructed him to return to Egypt to lead the Jews out of the country.

The Egyptians sought to destroy his ability to lead by disconnecting him from his people, but the very attribute which made him worthy to be the leader – his love and empathy for his people - foiled their plan. When the nation realized this truth about Moshe they began to hear his words, despite the fact that he was a Levite.

The gemara4 states, “We do not appoint a caretaker upon the public unless he has ‘a box of insects’5 hanging from behind him, so that if he becomes too haughty they say to him, ‘Turn behind you’.” A leader who never struggled, at least on some level, will not be able to relate to his followers. Such a leader is severely deficient.

By definition a leader is one who can understand the challenges of his followers and can relate to their pain. Yet at the same time he must have the ability to lift his followers above and beyond their limitations and shackles.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the quintessential leader because he had an uncanny ability to do just that. He understood the needs of every individual and appreciated their individual struggles. At the same time he was (eventually) able to help them recognize that they had the ability to traverse the morass of the exile they were muddled in. As soon as Moshe was able to convey to the people that sense of hope and confidence he was able to demand that Pharaoh not impede the fulfillment of that vision.

“The protector of a fig tree will eat its fruit”

“There arose none like Moshe”

1 “More of Paul Harvey’s The Rest Of The Story”
2 Mishley 27:18
3 Commentary on the Tiferes Yonason
4 Yoma 22b
5 i.e. the Talmudic equivalent of ‘skeletons in the closet’.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:





Yediot Acharonot, Evan Ackerman, Friday, November 20, 2009

Your browser may not support display of this image. The Roomba is an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner sold by iRobot. Under normal operating conditions, it is able to navigate a living space and its obstacles while vacuuming the floor independently, even under beds and cabinets.

About six months ago Efi Frida (39) and her husband Eli (41), from Mizpe Avtalyon in the Galilee, purchased a Roomba to assist them in the household cleaning. The Fridas have two children, Jonathan (7) and Yael (4), in addition to two cats and two dogs.

One evening last week Efi turned on the robot and left the house. When she returned home she noticed that it had stopped and was beeping. She tried to turn it back on but it would not restart. Efi opened the machine and, to her horror, discovered a Vipera Palaestinae, a venomous snake that had been sucked up by the machine.

Your browser may not support display of this image. The snake was wound thoroughly around the cleaning wheel and had received injuries to its head. By the time Eli came home the viper died of its wounds.

When Eli informed “IRobot” of the situation, they were so excited to hear the story that they sent the Frida family a remote control as compensation. “We were very lucky”, sums Eli, “If the snake would have hid in the house and bitten one of the children it could have ended badly.”

The family of Yaakov Avinu grew rapidly. The Egyptians hastily mobilized to impose a Final Solution to solve the (trumped up) problems caused by the burgeoning nation. They enslaved the Jews mercilessly, subjecting them to a horrific and inhumane workload. Years went by, then decades and centuries. The Jews had become an enslaved people, the bane of Egyptian society. But they had scant memories of a glorious past, and nebulous promises of a prominent future.

Finally G-d hearkened to His People’s myriad plaintiff cries and began to pave the way towards their redemption. G-d appeared to Moshe ben Amram and instructed him to set the trajectory in motion by standing before Pharaoh and demanding that he release his Jewish slaves.

Moshe desperately tried to shun the awesome responsibility, reasoning that he was inadequate and incapable. But G-d was adamant that he was the right person for the job and Moshe finally agreed to embrace his mission. Moshe returned to his father-in-law Yisro in Midyan and bid him farewell as he prepared to embark upon his fateful return to Egypt.

After Moshe set out on his way G-d spoke to him again and reiterated the message he was to deliver to Pharaoh. After the Torah concludes quoting G-d’s message to Moshe it immediately segues into a peculiarly traumatic event that occurred to Moshe. “When he was on his way, at the inn, G-d encountered him and sought to kill him. So Tzipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to his feet; and she said, “A husband of blood you are to me.” So he loosened his hold on him; then she said, “A husband of blood because of circumcision.1

Rashi explains that an angel in the form of a vicious snake had attacked Moshe. “The angel sought to kill Moshe because he had not circumcised his son Eliezer. Because he was remiss, he was to be punished with the death penalty. Rabbi Yose said: Heaven forbid! He was not remiss. Rather he said, ‘Shall I perform the circumcision and then depart on the journey? Traveling poses a danger to the infant until three days (have elapsed from the circumcision). The Holy One, blessed is He, has commanded me, “Go! Return to Egypt.”’ So why was Moshe to be punished with death? Because he busied himself with arrangements for the inn first. The angel sent to punish him assumed the form of a serpent and swallowed Moshe from his head to his thighs, and then swallowed him again from his feet to that place (of circumcision). Tzipporah understood that it was because he had delayed his son’s circumcision.”

This entire event seems difficult to understand. The fact that Moshe was ‘derelict’ in circumcising his son was only because he was engaged in the most sublime responsibility that he had just been compelled to accept. Moreover, one who is engaged in performing one mitzvah is exempt from performing any other mitzvah that may interfere with his performance of the first mitzvah2. So why was Moshe at all liable for not circumcising his son?

Also, why is there no open space in the Torah between G-d’s message to Moshe and this event? It seems that the Torah wishes to emphasize that the two are connected.

I once heard the following explanation: The Torah here is stressing that NO ONE is above the law. Even the great Moshe who was en route to become the emissary of G-d to redeem His people, the future transmitter of the Torah at Sinai, the only mortal who would ever speak to G-d ‘face to face’ in normal conversation, and the consummate leader was subject to the laws and mitzvos like any other Jew. The Shulchan Aruch was written -and is binding - for the simplest Jew to the most erudite scholar.

Rabbi Lazer Shach zt’l3 explained that perhaps Moshe was indeed exempt from circumcising his son, according to the letter of the law. However, because Moshe was now setting out to fulfill such an integral mission he should have realized that he needed every possible merit that he could accrue. The mitzvah of circumcision is an incredible merit for all those involved, and Moshe should have taken that into account. He may have been exempt, but for the mission he was involved in the merit of that mitzvah was indispensable. The great Moshe was taken to task for failing to realize that point.

Truthfully there is a deeper idea contained in this event, which serves as an invaluable lesson for those involved in communal affairs: A leader or community activist must always remember that although he is involved in holy work, he is never excused from his primary duties – caring for his own family.

There was no greater activist on behalf of his people than Moshe Rabbeinu. Yet he was held accountable for neglecting his responsibility toward his own son. There is no separation between G-d’s message to Moshe regarding saving the nation and the incident with the snake, to demonstrate that just as saving the nation was a binding divine obligation so was Moshe’s responsibility to perform his son’s circumcision. All of one’s responsibilities notwithstanding, one can never forget that his priority is his own family.

This idea does not only apply to the education of one’s children, but in marriage too. Rabbi Chaim Freidlander zt’l4 explains why marriage is such a necessity for one’s personal growth. It is a wonderful mitzvah to be involved in acts of chessed (kindness) for others. It demonstrates a level of altruism and selflessness, and shows that the doer lives for others, not just for himself. However, if one chooses not to involve himself in any particular chessed for whatever reason, although he forfeits that opportunity, it is not necessarily a detriment to the recipient. Someone else can step in and do what is necessary. However, in regards to emotional, psychological, and physical support of a spouse, only the other spouse has the ability to fulfill those needs. That is chessed that is specifically incumbent upon the spouse and no one can adequately substitute for a spouse.

We lead very busy lives and most of us have many responsibilities that need to be fulfilled without adequate time. Still-in-all, we must realize that our primary responsibility is to our children and to our spouse. There are many responsibilities that others can help us with, but no one can truly be the parent of our children or a supportive mate for our spouse, aside from us5.

“A husband of blood you are to me”

“He busied himself with arrangements for the inn first”

1 4:24-26
2 See Succah 25a
3 MeRosh Amanah
4 In his pamphlet "וידעת כי שלום אהלך" about marriage
5 At times life definitely seems to spin like a vacuum cleaner. But no one knows and understands how to help us ‘pluck out the venom’ from our lives like a parent or a spouse.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




During my school years, one of my rabbeim told our class that he wished to tell us something very profound, something we would have a hard time believing: “I want you all to know that every student in this room has the capability to become one of the gedolei hador2.” I recall that at first that comment encouraged and inspired me. But within a short time, it left me feeling very dejected. In fact, I have thought about that comment numerous times since then, and it took me a long time to understand what bothered me about it.

The Torah introduces the epic contentious saga between Yosef and his brothers at the beginning of Parshas Vayeshev. There the Torah states, “Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock, but he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yosef would bring evil reports about them to their father.” Rashi explains that, whereas the sons of Leah would denigrate the sons of the maids, Yosef befriended them. This was one of the negative points that Yosef recounted to his father about the brothers; “they would belittle the sons of the maids by calling them servants.”

How could the righteous sons of Leah speak negatively about their half-brothers? Why did they make it a point to refer to them as sons of the slaves?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that the Sages taught that Klal Yisroel descends from Four Matriarchs. “We do not call anyone a matriarch except for four (women).3” Those four women are undoubtedly Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.

If that is true how can the four sons of Bilhah and Zilpah be considered members of the twelve tribes if they do not descend from Leah or Rachel? The only way was for Bilhah and Zilpah to completely subjugate themselves to their sisters, Leah and Rachel, with complete faithfulness and servility4. Their sons were able to be considered as descending from Rachel and Leah since their mothers considered themselves to be an extension of their sisters.

In addition there arose a philosophical dispute between Yosef and his brothers, a dispute that had far-reaching consequences. The brothers felt that in order for the sons of Bilhah and Ziplah to be considered as if descended from Rachel and Leah, it was insufficient that their mothers subjugated themselves to their sisters/masters. Rather, they felt that the sons of the maids had to personally subjugate themselves to the sons of Rachel and Leah. The sons of Leah made it a point to refer to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah as the sons of the maids - not to denigrate them - but with the opposite intent. If they were servants to the sons of Rachel and Leah then they could have equal status vis-à-vis their lineage and father Tribes in Klal Yisroel. The brothers felt Bilhah and Zilpah’s efforts were insufficient, for the son’s own efforts were necessary as well.

Yosef however countered that the fact that their mother’s maintained an attitude of servility before their sisters was enough to grant their sons equal status. Thus Yosef felt that the brothers were being unnecessarily harsh in calling them sons of the maids. The brothers however felt they had to do so in order for the sons of the maids to achieve their due greatness.

This philosophical disagreement further manifested itself in the interpretation of Yosef’s dream. Yosef dreamed that the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing to him. The brother’s argued that Yosef’s dream was nonsense since the moon referred to his mother Rachel who had already died. Yosef however believed that Bilhah had fully taken the place of his mother and it was she who was represented by the moon in his dream.

In his efforts to assuage the brother’s anger towards Yosef, Yaakov scolded Yosef by stating that indeed it was impossible for his mother to bow before him. But the Torah says that Yaakov furtively anticipated the fruition of Yosef’s dream, because in his heart Yaakov agreed with Yosef’s view that Bilhah had indeed taken the place of his mother Rachel.

This also explains Reuven’s actions on a different occasion. After Rachel died Yaakov moved his bed into the tent of Bilhah. Reuven saw that as a slight to the honor of his mother and he proceeded to transport Yaakov’s bed into Leah’s tent. Reuven felt that in order for Bilhah’s sons to be considered part of Klal Yisroel, Bilhah had to continue to subjugate herself to Leah. But Yaakov felt that Bilhah had literally taken the place of Rachel and therefore she came before Leah (just as Rachel had come before Leah).

It is noteworthy that from when the Torah records the birth of Yaakov’s eleven sons in parshas Vayetzey until parshas Vayechi when Yaakov blesses each son prior to his demise, the sons of the maids are not mentioned or referred to at all. Virtually every one of the sons of Rachel and Leah on the other hand5, are mentioned explicitly somewhere in the drama of the account - or at least alluded to.

Perhaps it may indeed seem as if the sons of the maids are not so important, for they seem to lack the renown of the other brothers. But we know otherwise, for without the sons of the maids there is no Klal Yisroel. “All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve…6

In our world everybody wants to be the best. But if everybody is destined to become a Rosh Yeshiva or a Chassdic Rebba, there won’t be any yeshivos or chassidus. To be a leader one must have followers, and to be a follower one must be ready to accept leadership.

The truth is that this concept is not limited to academic achievement but it is something that plagues us in all facets of life.

In the field of education we have bred a generation that believes that anything less than a straight ‘A’ report card is terrible. Young adults feel that their lives are ruined because of their grades before they even hit adolescence. Teens have committed suicide because they realize they aren’t going to be the next iconic pop star or professional athlete, and they feel that without the glitz and glamour what’s life worth?

This is not only a challenge we face in the education of our children, but in regards to our own growth as well. People feel that if they are not the CEO or the boss of the company they are a complete failure.

And in regards to Torah study and spiritual growth we are paralyzed by feelings of inadequacy. “Why should I even bother to learn my one meager page of gemara?” “I’m never going to know the entire Talmud anyway.” “Why should I work on improving my mitzvah performance, what are my actions worth anyway?”

Klal Yisroel is not only composed of Reuven the firstborn, Levi the priest, Yehuda the king, and Yosef the viceroy. Without the sons of the maids7 there is no Klal Yisroel. Not only are the sons of maids inextricable members of Klal Yisroel, but our actions which we deem to be analogous to ‘the sons of the maids’, i.e. our Torah study, efforts to concentrate in prayer, good deeds, efforts at spiritual growth, etc. are all vital components of our identities as well.

In psychology one of the most rudimentary raging debates is about ‘nature versus nurture’. Are we more programmed by the way we are created or are we more influenced by our surroundings and culture? We believe that G-d creates every person with the tools he needs, and then places him in the perfect environment suited to help him achieve his own level of greatness.

Yaakov gathered his sons individually and blessed each one by delineating his strengths and innate greatness. “Each man according to his blessing, he blessed them.” Every tribe possessed his own contribution to the nation, based on the inner greatness that G-d had already implanted with him. Yaakov’s blessing was that each tribe should be able to cultivate and develop the greatness that lay within every one of them.

The slogan of the United States army expresses this idea so eloquently: “Be all you can be.” We aren’t all destined to be the Gadol Hador! Yet each of us possesses the ability to become a Gadol in our own way, if we appreciate the gadlus (greatness) that lies within us. One person’s greatness is as Yehuda or Yosef, while another person’s greatness is analogous to the roles of Asher and Naftali. And each possesses a vital contribution to Klal Yisroel.

“All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve”

“Each man according to his blessing, he blessed them.”

1 Lecture given on Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayechi 5770 at Kehillat New Hempstead.
2 Torah leaders of the generation
3 Berachos 16b
4 Their father Lavan had designated Bilhah and Zilpah to be maids to Rachel and Leah
5 With the notable exceptions of Yissachor and Zevulen
6 49:28
7 maids only in regards to their complete subjugation and humility

Friday, December 10, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




Keren Gottleib relates an incredible personal story1: “As part of my army service in the Israeli army I was placed, to my delight, in a teachers' unit…

“This was shortly after Operation Solomon in 1993, during which roughly 14,500 Jews from Ethiopia were airlifted to Israel. It was a special and moving operation, and the entire Israeli population was surprised to see that, suddenly, there were Jews walking around here who had, in fact, been severed from our nation many generations ago.

“They observed Shabbat, were familiar with most of the holidays and kept Jewish tradition in a devout and traditional manner. But it was clear that they didn't know everything; the separation they had undergone throughout all those years had influenced their system of traditions.

“They had never heard of Independence Day or Yom Yerushalayim, or even about Purim or Chanukah -- none of the latter historical events that took place subsequent to their break-off from the Jewish nation.

“I realized that unless I concentrated on filling these gaps of knowledge, their adjustment in Israel would never be complete. I decided to allot a considerable amount of time each day to teach them about Judaism.

“The month of Nissan had arrived and I started teaching about the holiday of Passover. My class consisted of 20 students, 3rd - 6th grade. "Today is the first day of Nissan and Passover is celebrated during this month," I began. "Passover is one of the three festivals when the entire Jewish people used to go to Jerusalem to the Temple."

At this point, a student jumped up, cutting me off in mid-sentence. "Teacher, have you ever been to the Temple?"

“I smiled at him, realizing that he was somewhat confused. "No, of course not. That was a very long time ago!"

“My student was insistent, and a few more pairs of eyes joined him. "Fine, it was a long time ago. But were you there? Were you at the Temple a long time ago?"

“I smiled again, this time slightly confused myself. ”Doesn't he understand? Perhaps my Hebrew is too difficult for him”, “I thought.

"No, of course not. That was a very long time ago!"

Now the rest of the students joined him in an uproar. "You've never been there?" "Teacher, what's it like being in the Temple?" "What does the Temple look like?"

"Quiet!" I tried calming everyone down. "Listen everyone -- there is no Temple! There used to be a Temple many years ago but today we don't have a Temple. It was destroyed, burned down. I have never been to it, my father's never been to it, and my grandfather has never been to it! We haven't had a Temple for 2000 years!"

I said these words over and over, having a very hard time believing that this was so strange for them to hear. What's the big deal? This is the reality with which we've all grown up. Why are they so bothered by it?

The tumult in the class was steadily increasing. They began talking amongst themselves in Aramaic, arguing, translating, explaining, shouting, as I lost total control over the class. When the bell rang, they collected their things and ran home. I left the school exhausted and utterly confused.

“The next morning I was hardly bothered by the previous day's events. In fact, I had nearly forgotten all about the incident. That day I had planed to just teach math, geometry and other secular subjects.

“I got off the bus and leisurely made my way toward the school. As I neared the gate the guard approached me, seeming a bit alarmed. "Tell me," he said, "do you have any idea what's going on here today?" I tried recalling a special activity that was supposed to be going on, or some ceremony that I had forgotten about, but nothing exceptional came to mind. "Why do you ask?" I asked him. "What happened?" He didn't answer. He only pointed towards the entrance to the school.

“I raised my head and saw a sizeable gathering of Ethiopian adult immigrants -- apparently, my students' parents. What are they doing here? And what are they yelling about? I went over to them, attempting to understand what was the matter, from the little Aramaic that I knew.

“As I came closer, everyone quieted down. One of the adults whose Hebrew was on a higher level, asked me, "Are you our children's teacher?" "Yes," I answered. "What is the matter, sir?" "Our children came home yesterday and told us that their teacher taught them that the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists. Who would tell them such a thing?" He looked at me in anger.

"I told them that. We were discussing the Temple and I felt that they were a bit confused. So I explained to them that the Temple had been burned down thousands of years ago and that today, we no longer have a Temple. That's all. What's all the fuss about?"

He was incredulous. "What? What are you talking about?"

I was more confused than ever. "I don't understand. What are you all so angry about? I simply reminded them of the fact that the Temple was destroyed and that it no longer exists today."

Another uproar -- this one even louder than before. The representative quieted the others down, and again turned to me. "Are you sure?" "Am I sure that the Temple was destroyed? Of course I'm sure!" I couldn't hide my smile. What a strange scene.

“The man turned to his friends and in a dramatic tone translated what I had told him. At this point, things seemed to be finally sinking in. Now, however, a different scene commenced: one woman fell to the ground; a second broke down in tears. A man standing by them just stared at me in disbelief. A group of men began quietly talking amongst themselves, very fast, in confusion and disbelief. The children stood on the side, looking on in great puzzlement. Another woman suddenly broke into a heart-rending cry. Her husband came over to her to hug her.

I stood there in utter shock.

“I felt as if I had just brought them the worst news possible. It was as if I had just told them about the death of a loved one. I stood there across from a group of Jews who were genuinely mourning the destruction of the Temple.”

When he could bear the façade no longer, Yosef finally broke down and revealed his true identity to his brothers. They were so shocked that they were utterly speechless. Yosef reassured them that he bore no ill will towards them and that they did need to fear reprisal. After embracing each brother, Yosef instructed them to hurry back to Canaan to bring his beloved father Yaakov down to Egypt.

When the brothers finally arrived back home and related to Yaakov that Yosef was alive and well and was the ruler of Egypt, Yaakov could not digest their words. He simply could not believe them. All of their efforts notwithstanding, Yaakov was only convinced when, “He saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him. Then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived2.”

The Medrash explains that Yosef sent wagons as a clandestine message to his father to prove that he was indeed alive and well - physically and spiritually. The final topic that Yaakov and Yosef had studied together twenty-two years earlier, prior to that fateful journey when Yaakov dispatched Yosef to check the welfare of his brothers, was Eglah Arufah3. No one could have known what they were studying except for Yosef. In sending the wagons Yosef hinted to that final study session for the word “egel” (wagon) is similar to the word eglah (calf).

However, there is a glaring difficulty with Yosef’s hidden message, because it was not Yosef’s idea to send the wagons in the first place. The Torah explicitly states that Pharaoh told Yosef4, “Take for yourselves from the land of Egypt wagons for your small children and for your wives; transport your father and come.” Although the Medrash says that the wagons Pharaoh sent were bedecked with idolatry and Yehuda burnt them and Yosef sent other wagons, this too is puzzling, for the Torah later refers to the wagons in which Yaakov's family was transported as those sent by Pharaoh5.

Rabbi Zev Leff offers the following insightful explanation: When Pharaoh was informed that Yosef’s family was reunited he was excited by the prospect of them all coming to live in Egypt. He reckoned that if Yosef was single-handedly able to manage Egypt in the face of crisis, imagine what a family of Yosef’s could accomplish for Egyptian economy. Therefore, Pharaoh wanted to make the transition for Yosef’s aged father as painless and comfortable as possible.

He didn’t want Yaakov to have to deal with the challenge of acclimating to a new culture and being an immigrant. So he instructed Yosef to send just a few wagons to bring the family members themselves down to Egypt. They did not need to take any of their belongings or furnishings with them, because Pharaoh pledged to ‘roll out the red carpet’. He would ensure that they would receive the best that Egypt had to offer, and they didn’t need to bring anything other than themselves.

However, Yosef knew that if that message were conveyed to Yaakov, he would never consent to descending to Egypt. In fact, au contraire; Yaakov needed assurance that every precaution was being taken to combat the possibility of assimilation. Thus Yosef sent wagons “according to the word of Pharaoh", i.e. not exactly according to the command of Pharaoh, but in accord with Pharaoh's intention of enticing Yaakov to Egypt. Yosef added wagons for their possessions so that they could bring with them the spirit of their home and environment in Eretz Yisroel. This would enable them to remember where home truly was even as they were living in Egypt for a prolonged period of time. Thus, Yaakov's family went down to Egypt with all "their livestock and all of their possessions which they acquired in the Land of Canaan6”.

When Yaakov saw the wagons that Pharaoh had sent, and was informed of the extra wagons that Yosef added for their possessions, then it revived his spirit. He recognized that Yosef understood the importance of guarding against possible assimilation and the need to remain insulated from Egyptian culture.

It was not coincidental that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef were discussing was eglah arufah. Da'as Z'keinim and Maharal explain that when Yaakov sent Yosef to check on his brothers, he bid him farewell and began to escort him as halachah dictates. Yosef, a boy of seventeen, begged his father - then one hundred and eight years old - not to accompany him down the steep hill from Hebron, which would necessitate a difficult climb back up. Yaakov replied that levayah (the mitzvah of escorting people on a journey) is an obligation.

The importance of levayah is learned from the mitzvah of eglah arufah. As part of the mitzvah of eglah arufah, the Elders of the city proclaim that they did not shed the victim’s blood. The Gemara (Sotah 45b) asks, “Could anyone really suspect the Elders of the city of having shed his blood?” The Gemara answers that the meaning of the Elders' oath is that they did not knowingly permit the deceased to leave the city without an escort, since such an escort is a protection for the person embarking on a journey.

Maharal explains that although one is halachically required to accompany his friend no more than four amos (approximately eight feet), even that levayah suffices to show the departed that he is not alone, but is connected to others. This spiritual connection gives him the merit of the public, which is a potent protection against harm.

The mitzvah of levayah shows us that a person's physical location is not as significant as the spiritual locus to which he is attached. One can be physically alone yet spiritually connected to the body of Klal Yisroel, through his connection to the one who escorts him at the beginning of his journey. Similarly, one may physically be in exile, far from Eretz Yisroel, yet spiritually connected to it. Yaakov's realization that Yosef still lived in accord with this concept caused his spirit to be revived.

When Yosef conferred with his brothers prior to their first meeting with Pharaoh, he told them to state that they were shepherds since time immemorial, so that they would be sent to live apart in Goshen. Instead of bidding them to conceal that they were shepherds so that they would be more readily accepted, Yosef emphasized it because shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians. He realized that their ability to survive the Egyptian exile depended on their capacity to remain apart, and Goshen was well-suited to that purpose. Yosef told his brothers that he was going to inform Pharaoh, "My brothers and my father's household, who are in the Land of Canaan have come to me," hinting to them that they were not only from the Land of Canaan, but in a sense they were still in the Land of Canaan, despite taking up temporary residence in Egypt.

Before actually descending to Egypt, Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead to prepare the way. The Sages explain that his function was to establish a House of Torah Study in Goshen. Seemingly this task should have been given to Levi, the Torah Scholar of Klal Yisroel, not to Yehuda, the King?

Many countries provide space for foreign embassies on their soil. Essentially an embassy is an ‘island’ of one’s home country on foreign soil. An American citizen who enters any American embassy throughout the world is legally on American soil, and under the jurisdiction of American law, even in the physical parameters of Japan, Uruguay, or New Zealand.

The yeshiva was not merely a place of Torah study. More profoundly, it was the means of transferring the holiness of Eretz Yisroel onto Egyptian soil. In a sense it’s purpose was to be a Canaanite embassy, an island of the Holy Land on Egyptian soil. Goshen was to become a spiritually sovereign region within the environs of Egypt, like any area adjacent to Eretz Yisroel conquered in war which takes on some of the spiritual status of Eretz Yisroel. But only a king has the right to capture new land. Thus it was specifically the King - Yehuda – who was needed to transform Goshen into a spiritual extension of Eretz Yisroel.

It was Yehuda who exercised his royal power by bringing the extra wagons back to Yaakov for all their possessions. He thereby nullified Pharaoh's purpose of promoting Yaakov's assimilation. When the Medrash says Yehuda burnt the idolatry of Pharaoh's wagons, it means that he destroyed them by negating their intended function.

When Yaakov finally came to Egypt and wa introduced to Pharaoh, the monarch wa surprised by Yaakov’s aged appearance. This prompted Pharaoh to ask Yaakov his age. After Yaakov replied that he was one hundred and thirty years old, he added a startling statement: “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.”

Ramban questions why Yaakov would vent his feelings to Pharaoh, of all people?

Rabbi Moshe Fenstein zt’l explained that Yaakov’s intent was not to complain, but rather to demonstrate to Pharaoh his mindset and attitude. As mentioned, most immigrants try to acclimate themselves to their new country as quickly as possible. Pharaoh expected that Yaakov and his family, who were close family members of the Egyptian viceroy, would certainly avail themselves to all amenities and Egyptian comforts. But, he was grossly mistaken, for Yaakov wanted to remain as distinct as possible and he did not want to assimilate or acculturate himself to Egyptian life at all. Yaakov wanted to impress upon Pharaoh that, unlike most people, he was not one to look for comfort and the easy life.

Yaakov was not venting o Pharaoh, but he was stating a fact. His life was difficult, painful, and challenging. But he was proud of who he was and what he had accomplished7.

Our Sages relate that the study halls and shuls in exile are parts of Eretz Yisroel, transplanted onto foreign soil. It is in them and around them that we must build a temporary physical dwelling place that is spiritually rooted in the holiness and purity of Eretz Yisroel. As long as one is physically prevented from being in Eretz Yisroel, he must transplant Eretz Yisroel to foreign soil. In this way the Jew insulates himself from assimilating into the host society and culture!

Rabbi Leff notes that our role as the Chosen People requires that we protect ourselves from the influence of the rest of the world, even while living in that world. We must be insulated but not isolated!

The fast day of the Tenth of Teves commemorates the day that the mighty legions of the evil Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar laid siege around Jerusalem during the time of the first Temple. The siege marked the beginning of the end, culminating in the destruction of the Temple on the ninth of Av.

In a deeper sense, we not only mourn the physical siege that began that day, but also the spiritual siege that surrounds us in exile. We live in a world which is antithetical to our values. Klal Yisroel declares8, “אום אני חומה - I am a wall”. Our only hope is to strengthen the barriers we erect around ourselves. We are not impervious to the influences of the outside world and we cannot isolate ourselves from it. But we must insulate ourselves with our own inner light. The light of Chanukah must keep burning through the darkness and strengthen us to stay the course and protect our walls.

“He saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him”

“And all of their possessions from the Land of Canaan”

1 The following was excerpted from the website where the complete article appears. It is called “The Heart-Rending Cry”
2 Bereishis 45:27
3 The calf that is beheaded by the elders of a city closest to where a murdered body is found without any clues pointing to the murderer. See Devarim 21:1-9
4 45:19
5 See 46:5
6 Bereishis 46:6
7 Nevertheless, Yaakov was punished for the way he spoke to Pharaoh, because it sounded as if he was complaining, even if that was not at all his intent.
8 In the Hosha’ana prayer recited on Succos

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




Between the two World Wars, Winston Churchill, the future legendary Prime Minster of Great Britain, was exasperated with the impotence of the British government in regards to their foreign policy1.

On one occasion he addressed the House of Commons and related that as a boy he always looked forward to the London arrival of the American Barnum and Bailey circus.

“But,” added Churchill, “there was one show that my nanny would not let me see. She said it was ‘too revolting a spectacle for the human eye.’ The sideshow was called ‘the Boneless Wonder’.

“Now thirty-six years later, I have finally discovered the freak show that I wanted to see so badly. Where did I find it? Not in the circus, but in the House of Commons, sitting on the front bench. Here they are before me – the Boneless Wonder.”

After languishing in an Egyptian prison for over a decade Yosef was suddenly hoisted out of the doldrums of jail and brought before the mighty Pharaoh. Yosef successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams explaining that they were foreshadowing visions of the future economic situation of Egypt. After seven years of plenty there would be seven years of intense famine, so intense that the previous years of plenty would be all but forgotten.

For all intents and purposes that should have been the end of Yosef’s audience with Pharaoh. He had interpreted the dreams and assuaged Pharaoh’s frazzled nerves. But Yosef took the liberty of adding some unsolicited advice. “Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the Land of Egypt…2

Who asked Yosef for his opinion? Moreover, how did he have the audacity to tell Pharaoh what to do?

In this exchange we see a component of Yosef’s greatness. Yosef understood that stating facts without solutions and practical ideas is worthless. Yosef was unabashed to state what he felt was true and just.

Standing up for the truth is by no means an easy feat and Yosef paid dearly for it. Years earlier, when he was a seventeen-year old boy, Yosef had dreams which indicated that he would rule over his brothers. Yosef understood that his dreams were prophetic. A prophet is obligated to repeat his prophecies and Yosef felt he was mandated to share them with his brothers, despite their negative disposition towards him.

After years of anguish and pain because of those dreams, one might think that Yosef would no longer be so assertive and forthcoming. Yet he stood before the greatest monarch in the world, looked him square in the eye, and advised him how to proceed. In fact, Pharaoh was awed by Yosef and the advice he espoused, which moved Pharaoh to confer upon Yosef the very authority Yosef suggested.

When Moshe Rabbeinu offered his blessing to each tribe just prior to his death, he lauded the Levites for their courage to stand up for truth. “The one who said of his father and mother, ‘I have not seen him’; his brothers he did not recognize, and his children he did not know; for they kept Your statement, and Your covenant they would preserve.3” Rashi explains that when the nation committed the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe rallied the faithful to avenge the honor of G-d for the egregious sin that was committed. He beckoned, “Whoever is for G-d (gather) to me”. It was the Levites who heeded his call. They fulfilled Moshe’s command to kill the participants, even though many of the sinners were their own close relatives (maternally).

Moshe then blessed the Levites that “G-d should bless his army4”. Rashi explains that this alluded to the future Levites who would repeat Moshe’s call. In the time of the Chanukah miracle, the Chashmonaim priests sought to avenge the honor of G-d from the Hellenists and Greeks. Though vastly outnumbered and outflanked they took up arms and fought against the myriads of enemy forces. Their battle cry paralleled Moshe’s, “Whoever is for G-d (gather) to me.”

Maharal5 explains that the Greeks are symbolized by a leopard because of their extreme boldness and audacity.

The Greeks were extremely confident of their culture and beliefs. They arrogantly sought to spread their culture to every people they encountered. One of the failings of many of the Jews of that time was that even those who maintained their faith, lacked the courage and temerity to defend their traditions and beliefs.

Ultimately the righteous Jews who had the audacity to strike back were blessed with miraculous victories. They were able to defeat their enemy by employing the enemy’s own defining character trait – brazen boldness. They would not be intimidated by their far superior foes and ultimately vanquished them. It was only when the Macabees demonstrated ‘holy audacity’, and uncompromised pride for their identity, that they were victorious.

Alexander Hamilton once quipped that, “Those who stand for nothing, will fall for anything.”

To be a leader one must be ready to stand up for his cause. In our world, we are very disenchanted by feckless politicians whose opinion reflects which way the political tides are blowing. Someone who changes his opinion to that of the masses is surely not staunch or passionate about his own views.

A true leader must believe in what he stands for and be ready to ‘pledge his sacred honor’6 to his cause. Yosef had that moral strength and conviction. The prophet compares Yosef to a raging flame which consumes everything in its path, most notably the pernicious influence of Eisav7.

The Maccabees possessed that same fierce drive and determination. They had an inner fire that could not be quelled, even in the face of insurmountable odds. In a certain sense the Chanukah miracle was a reflection of the inner passion of those who were the catalysts of the miracle. The fires atop the Menorah which would not go out were an external manifestation of the internal fire that raged in the hearts of the valiant Maccabees.

The Kabbalists write that one should gaze at the Chanukah lights during the first half hour after they are lit because they contain tremendous spiritual energy. It seems that they also contain a reflection of the inner flame within ourselves.

One of the many timeless lessons of Chanukah is feeling proud of our identity. We should not be apologetic about our Judaism nor should we not seek to ‘water down’ our observance so that we better fit in with society. We are the sole bearers of a torch that miraculously has not gone out because we have kept that torch aglow by never being embarrassed to hold it aloft.

“Whoever is for G-d (gather) to me”

“G-d should bless his army”

1 This was especially true in regards to the Allied policy of appeasement, allowing Hitler to proceed as he willed, falsely hoping that allowing him some gains would satiate him.
2 41:43
3 Devorim 33:9
4 Ibid, v. 11
5 Ner Mitzvah; Maharal has a lengthy treatise explaining the detailed dream of Nebuchadnezzar from the book of Daniel. The dream contained four beasts, which Daniel explained were representations of the four major exiles the Jews would be subject to throughout history. The third beast was a leopard, a reference to Greece. Maharal explains the symbolism.
6 In the words of the revolutionaries who fought for America’s independence from Britain
7 “The house of Ya’akov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav for straw; and they will ignite them and devour them. There will be no survivor to the house of Eisav, for God has spoken.” (Ovadiah 1:18)

Friday, November 26, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




Yosef Begun, the noted Russian refusenik, wrote of his experiences:

“It was in the grim Russian winter of 1971 that I celebrated my first real Hanukkah, in prison.

“I was confined in the notorious Moscow prison, Matroska Tichina, in the company of a rather large number of fellow Jews. Needless to say, a Moscow prison is not the most auspicious place to celebrate a Jewish holiday…

“Hanukkah was approaching. Getting into the spirit, we enthusiastically discussed battles and the ultimate triumph of the Maccabees. One of our more Judaically advanced cellmates gave us insightful lessons about the laws and customs of the Festival of Lights. It goes without saying that we had no prayer books or other items with which to celebrate a Jewish holiday. Hanukkah is supposed to be a holiday of gift-giving, family gatherings, dreidels and songs. We had no practical means of celebration, and that saddened us deeply.

“Fortunately, we had among us a man who was a wizard at handicraft. Valery Krijzak - now an engineer living in Jerusalem - had truly golden hands….

“For Hanukkah, Krijzak made a wonderful dreidel out of bread, engraving the four Hebrew initials for ness gadol haya sham ("a great miracle happened there"). But it was the day before Hanukkah and we still didn't have any candles with which to fulfill the mitzvah of the Festival of Lights to commemorate the Jewish victory of over two thousand years ago. And without those lights, Hanukkah is not Hanukkah.

“But then the miracle of Hanukkah took place in our days in our cell.

“Without saying a word to us, Krijzak began to bang on the cell door, calling for the guard. When the small aperture was opened, he began to wail, "Call the doctor. I'm in terrible pain." Within ten minutes, the prison medic arrived. Krijzak moaned, "Doctor, I am having a terrible hemorrhoid attack. Please give me some suppositories."

“Fifteen minutes later, Krijzak received several suppositories. Now we had the material from which to make candles. The rest was purely technical. We pulled out threads from our prison garb and rolled them together to make wicks. Then we placed the wax-based suppositories on our aluminum spoons and lit them with matches (prisoners were permitted to have cigarettes and matches) and melted them down. We placed the makeshift wicks into the wax, which we then shaped into candles. We stuck the candles on a plate, which we then placed on the table.

“Filled with pride, we sat around our glowing table and sang Maoz Tzur. We sang more Hanukkah songs, talked about the Maccabees' revolt and spun the dreidel. We all had an immense feeling of closeness to each other and a strong sense of unity with our fellow Jews.

“We may have been cut off from the rest of the world, enclosed behind thick steel doors, but we were still with our people.”

The story of Yosef and the brothers is from the most captivating accounts in the entire Torah. The dispute between these most righteous of men is almost incomprehensible. The explanations of the great commentaries not withstanding, we still are left with a vague understanding of what transpired.

It is not only the Torah’s narrative of the story of Yosef which is difficult to understand, but also the story of Yehuda. The Torah interrupts its detailed account of the story of Yosef to relate what occurred with Yehuda.

The brothers were aware that the future monarchy was destined to emerge from Yehuda and they granted him a certain level of leadership. It was Yehuda’s suggestion that they sell Yosef to passing merchants. When the brothers saw Yaakov’s unmitigated grief and refusal to be consoled they challenged Yehuda’s leadership; “Had you told us to bring Yosef home we would have listened to you.” As a result of their disenchantment with Yehuda he departed from the brothers and settled in Abdulam.

In Adulam Yehuda married and had three sons. His oldest son Er married a woman named Tamar and died. Then his second son Onan married Tamar and he died as well. Yehuda feared for his third son Shaylah’s life and sent Tamar back to her father’s home.

Tamar was a righteous woman and knew, through Divine Prophecy, that the Davidic monarchy was destined to descend from her. She understood that Satan was doing his utmost to prevent that union from occurring. She decided that she had to utilize unconventional means to lure Yehuda into being with her. She posed as a woman of ill repute and sat at the fork of the road as Yehuda approached.

The Medrash1 relates that under normal circumstances Yehuda would never have succumbed to desire. “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘Yehuda sought to pass by Tamar. The Holy One, blessed is He, dispatched the angel of desire to entrap him. The angel said to Yehuda, ‘Where are you going? From where will kings arise? From where will great men arise?’ Yehuda then detoured to her by the road. He was coerced, against his good sense.”

After their encounter Yehuda could not locate the woman. “He inquired of the people of her place, ‘איה הקדשה - Where is the kedasha, the one at the crossroads by the road’? And they said, ‘לא היתה בזה קדשה - there was no kedasha here’.2

It is intriguing that the Torah uses the word ‘kedasha’3 to refer to ‘the woman of ill-repute’, as the word is strikingly similar to the word ‘kedusha – holiness’4. How can the same word refer to the epitome of sanctity and to the crassest of iniquity? What is the essence of the concept of kedusha?

Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l5 noted that, in his opinion, the greatest challenge our generation faces is ‘desacrilization’. In his words, ’desacrilization is the violation and disintegration of the boundaries of sanctity’.

The Hebrew word for sacred is ‘kodesh’. The opposite of kodesh is chol, which means ordinary, mundane, and commonplace. Shabbos is a day of kedusha, while the rest of the week or days of chol. To understand the depth of that distinction we must understand the etymology of the words.

The word Chol also means sand6. What is the connection between weekdays and sand? The most prominent feature of sand is its particularity. Sand is composed of innumerable miniscule particles, each being its own separate entity. If a person takes a handful of sand and allows it to run between his fingertips, there is nothing to hinder the flow of the sand as it drains from inside his hand. Each grain is on its own.

The word kodesh symbolizes the opposite. The concept of kedusha is to connect and unite disparate elements. Although the word kodesh is most notably used to refer to holiness and sanctity, it has other meanings as well. When the Torah states the prohibition of planting kilayim – mixtures of different seeds that take root together it uses the word tikdash. “You shall not sow your vineyard with a mixture, פן תקדש - lest it become forbidden - the growth of the seed that you plant and the produce of your vineyard7.” The verb tikdash connotes gathering two diverse things together, albeit in a forbidden fashion.

Planting two seeds in the ground and merging them is an abused form of kedusha. On the other hand, the commandment that we sanctify ourselves also utilizes the word kidshu, because in doing so we are connecting ourselves with G-d, the source of all sanctity.

That is why the days of the week are called chol while Shabbos is kodesh. During the first six days of creation, every element of creation was disparate. There was no harmony or synergy between them. The world was in a state of chaotic agitated turmoil, like free-flowing sand. But with the arrival of Shabbos G-d ‘rested’, i.e. He infused into the world the energy and ability to revitalize and regenerate itself.

Suddenly the world had meaning and purpose. The entire cosmos was transformed from various energies and powers into an entity that was suited to be a catalyst for the sanctification of G-d’s Name. That is the meaning of kedusha; cohesion and perfect integration8.

A woman of ill repute connects herself with another person in a malevolent and detrimental manner. Through her luring she fosters an egregious misuse of kedusha, but it is kedusha nonetheless.

The moments when we light the Chanukah candles are nostalgically special. After lovingly kindling the hallowed lights we recite the ancient declaration ‘Haneiros hallalu’. In that paragraph we declare, “הנרות הללו קודש הם - These candles are kodesh – holy, and we have no permission to use them; only to see them alone, so that we will thank, and praise, Your great Name, for Your miracles, for Your wonders, and for Your salvations.”

The Chanukah candles are not lit merely to commemorate an ancient event. In a deeper sense those miniscule lights are great unifiers, creating an invisible bond between every Jew in all four corners of the globe. When we hold our candle to the wick atop our menorah, wherever we may be, we are binding ourselves to our brethren, as well as our ancestors throughout the millennia of exile, dating back to the Hasmonean Maccabees themselves.

Every Jew who lights the Chanukah candles merges his light with the lights of the Menorah of the High Priest, of Hillel and Shami, Abaye and Rava, Rashi, Rambam, Maharal, Ba’al Shem Tov, Vilna Gaon, Chofetz Chaim, and all of our ancestors – from Babylonia to Crusade-ridden Europe, from Spain to Poland, from Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz to the gulag in Siberia, to the Israeli soldiers who light the candles at their army post far from home.

The Chanukah candles are kodesh, for they connect us to an internal spark within each of us. Other religions may also have great displays of light for their holidays, and those displays may be more impressive than our candles. But their lights are chol; they are disparate and unrelated. The Chanukah candles reflect a resplendent internal flame that is luminescent within the heart of every Jew. It is the spark that our foes could not extinguish and continues to glow in all of its radiance.

“Cut off from the rest of the world, but still with our people”

“These candles are kodesh

1 Bereishis Rabbah 85:8
2 38:21-22
3 As opposed to the more common word ‘zonah’, as used in verse 15
4 Rashi explains that, as opposed to a holy person who designates themselves to spiritual matters, such a woman is ‘mikudeshes – designated’ and prepared for licentiousness.
5 Rabbi Freifeld Speaks, p. 140
6 See Bereishis 32:13
7 Devorim 22:9
8 See the remainder of Rabbi Freifeld’s essay entitled “A Higher Kind of Fear” (Rabbi Freifeld Speaks, p. 140) where he eloquently and magnificently explains how our world has lost its sense of synchronism and cohesion, which has caused rampant ‘desacrilization’.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




King Louis XIV of France once asked Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher of his day, to prove to him that miracles occur. Without a moment's hesitation, Pascal answered, "Why, the Jews, your Majesty-the Jews."

“What is the Jew?...What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?!

The Jew - is the symbol of eternity. ... He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear.

The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

- Leo Tolstoy What is the Jew?

“The struggle for world domination is between me and the Jews. All else is meaningless. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on the world: Circumcision for the body and conscience for the soul. I come to free mankind from their shackles.”

- Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler

“Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”

- Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain

“I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations ... They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”

- John Adams, President of the United States (Letter to F. A. Van der Kemp, Feb. 16, 1808)

After over two decades in the home of his father-in-law Lavan, Yaakov Avinu finally departed. Despite his having arrived with literally nothing but his walking stick, Yaakov left with a beautiful family, tremendous wealth, and spiritual vibrancy. The time had finally come for the fateful encounter with his insidious brother Eisav.

As they set up camp for the night Yaakov realized that he forgot some jugs on the other side of the river. When he journeyed back alone to retrieve them he was confronted by the Angel of Eisav. Their dynamic confrontation foreshadowed and symbolized the epic perennial struggle between Yaakov’s descendants and Eisav’s descendants.

“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Yaakov’s hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him… Therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the Gid Hanasheh (the displaced sinew) of the hip-socket to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip-socket on the displaced sinew.1

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explained that the word “nasheh” means a creditor. When one owes someone else money he is subservient and indebted to the lender. In that sense the Gid Hanesheh is the sinew of submission and lack of resistance. When the Angel dislodged that sinew he robbed Yaakov of control over the muscle of the hip, which attaches to the bone to control the leg. That caused Yaakov to lose some of his footing and control, and forced him into a certain level of submission. The tendon was still there, the muscle was still there, and the leg was still there, but its use was hampered. But Yaakov immediately regained his composure, and although injured, he eventually persevered and defeated his implacable opponent.

The Torah forbids us to eat that sinew because of what it symbolizes. Its dislocation of it represented the Angel of Eisav gaining the upper-hand and stymieing Yaakov, if even for a moment. A Jew must realize and know that the Spirit of Eisav can NEVER vanquish Yaakov or even cause him to falter.

We traverse exile with a certain measure of dignity and fortitude. True, there have been many times in our long and painful history when we have been subject to unspeakable pain and domination. However, we do not view domination as Eisav’s physical superiority, but as our spiritual inferiority.

“Yaakov falls… not because he is not equal to Eisav in material power. Rather, because he has not understood how to retain the protection of G-d for himself. If Israel stands, it stands not because of its strong material power, but because G-d bears them aloft on the eagle wings of His Almightiness.”

A short time later Yaakov met up with Eisav himself. Eisav was so overwhelmed by Yaakov and his family that, incredibly, his relentless rage dissipated. When Eisav then suggested to Yaakov that they proceed together, Yaakov refused, stating that his family would not be able to keep up the pace. “So Eisav returned on that day to his way, to Seir.2

Rabbi Hirsch comments that this was the final time that Yaakov and Eisav appeared together. From that moment when they took leave of each other they would never again be united. Eisav returned on his path, while Yaakov proceeded on his own path, each towards his own divergent destinations.

One of the reasons for the joy of an upsherin3 is that the child’s payos (edges, i.e. sideburns) are not cut4. A Jewish male’s payos are an external symbol of the separation we maintain from the rest of the world. We are different and we are proud of what/who we are!

Someone once asked the Brisker Rav why people remark that at an upsherin, “payos machin” (literally, ‘we make payos’). It would seem that not cutting the sideburns is merely adhering to a prohibition, not fulfilling a command. We do not ‘make payos’ we simply refrain from cutting them.

The Brisker Rav replied by quoting the vernacular of the Rambam5 in his quotation of this law: “We do not shave the corners of the head like the nations of the world do…” The Rambam associates this law with our desire to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the nations. Thus by refraining from cutting the sideburns we are actually “making payos”, fulfilling an active obligation to demonstrate our separateness and uniqueness.6

The day when the boy receives his first haircut there is an additional beautiful custom, for the father to bring his son – wrapped in a tallis – to a rebbe who teaches young children.7

On the day the child is introduced to the study of Torah he is also taught that we are special and different. We are not merely a nation among nations. We are the Children of Yaakov, the Chosen Nation. The two ideas are inextricably bound.

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita notes that the gematria (numerical value) of the words כף ירך יעקב - Yaakov’s hip-socket8 (was dislocated)” is the same as the words להדליק נר חנוכה- To kindle the Chanukah candles”.

During the period of Greek culture’s surging influence the Greeks sought to destroy the notion that Jews were unique and elite. They invited the Jews to take part in all of their activities and rituals to demonstrate that they were all the same.

The Medrash9 relates that the tyrannical despot Antiochus passed an edict which obligated all Jews to write on the horns of their oxen, “You do not have a portion in the G-d of Israel.”

Maharal10 offers a poignant explanation for this bizarre edict. One of the darkest moments in Jewish history was the sin of the golden calf. Hardly five weeks after they had witnessed the unparalleled revelation at Sinai the nation committed the egregious sin with dire consequences. But after Moshe implored the Almighty on our behalf, G-d acquiesced and promised that He would not destroy us, and that we would be forgiven.

The Greeks wanted to ingrain within us that although at one time we were indeed destined to be special and different, we had forfeited that position when we committed the sin of the golden calf. An ox is a mature and grown-up calf, and therefore the Greeks compelled every Jew to inscribe on the horns of their oxen that they had no connection with the G-d of Israel, the G-d of an elite people. The Greeks espoused that the (golden) calf had never died or been overcome and the Jews never transcended that sin.

The Greeks submitted that with all of their sophistication and advancements in medicine, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, drama, they had become the Chosen people. Therefore, if the Jews wanted to be special they would have to join with them.

The Greeks loved wisdom and did not seek to impede the Jews from studying Torah, albeit as long as they studied it as a subject of academia. Jews and Greeks could even study Torah together. The Greek’s chief goal was “to make them forget Your Torah”, i.e. that the Torah was G-d’s and not merely another subject of study.

The Maccabean revolt was driven by those who fought for the purity of Torah. They were consumed by a religious zeal fueled by the knowledge that they were indeed special and different. It is for that reason that the miracle of Chanukah involved the light of the Menorah, for the lights of the Menorah symbolize the spiritually pristine light of Torah.

The lights of Chanukah serve as the antithesis and rectification of what the Angel of Eisav tried to accomplish during his struggle with Yaakov. He tried to demonstrate that Yaakov is subservient to Eisav. But the Chanukah candles resplendently symbolize that we rise above Eisav and his pernicious efforts to vanquish us – spiritually and physically.

Thus, on the day when we begin to teach our son Torah we must also symbolize to him that we – as a people – are different. It is through pure Torah study that we maintain our uniqueness as a holy nation. Torah study without that appreciation is severely remiss. We are an eternal people; the secret to our eternity being our binding to the holy Torah.

It is appropriate that we conclude with the timeless words of the great Rabbi Yaakov Emden zt’l in the preface to his commentary on the Siddur11

“No nation has been as pursued as we have. How great have been our difficulties, how overwhelming were our enemies. From the very inception of our history, they have been bent upon utterly destroying and eradicating us. This was due to the hatred that they had for us because they were jealous of us…. (Despite) our many enemies, they were never successful in destroying or eliminating us. (I swear) by my life that when I ponder these wonders, I deem them to be greater than all of the miracles and wonders which Hashem did for our forefathers in Egypt, in the desert and in Eretz Yisroel. The longer this exile lasts, this miracle receives even greater affirmation and the might and power of G-d.”

“Eisav returned on that day to his way, to Seir”

“Therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the Gid Hanasheh”

1 Bereishis 32:25-33
2 33:16
3 This week we celebrated the upsherin of our dear son Avrohom Yosef (Avi). There is an ancient custom not to cut a young boy’s hair until he is three years old. There is much depth and meaning behind this custom. When he turns three the family celebrates the child’s ‘upsherin’, i.e. his first haircut.
4 See Vayikra 19:27
5 Hil Akum 12:1
6 Nitei Gavriel, Tiglachas Hayilodim (hakdamah)
7 The father places the child in the rebbe’s lap and the rebbe learns the letters of the Aleph Bais with the child. The letters are read from a chart which is coated with honey. Each time the child recites a letter he is given some honey to eat. This inculcates in the child the feeling that Torah is sweet and delectable.
8 512
9 Bereishis Rabbah 2:4