Wednesday, February 24, 2010


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:



PURIM 5770


The following excerpt is from the memoirs of Dr. Isaac Steven Herschkopf1:

“One summer I was spending a week with my aunt and uncle in upstate Ellenville. Uncle David and Aunt Saba, survivors themselves, as the doctor and nurse in charge of the concentration camp infirmary, had managed to save the lives of innumerable inmates, including my mother and sister. After “the War” they had set up a medical practice in this small Catskill village, where, I discovered, to my amazement, they had one celebrity patient — Rav Moshe.

“My aunt mentioned casually that Rav Moshe had an appointment the next day. Would I like to meet him? Would I? It was like asking me, would I like to meet God.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I agonized over what I should wear. Should I approach him? What should I say? Should I mention that his son-in-law was my rebbe? Should I speak to him in English, or my rudimentary Yiddish?

“I was seated in the waiting room, in the best clothing I had with me, an hour before his appointment. It seemed like an eternity, but eventually he arrived, accompanied by an assistant at each side. He didn’t notice me.

I was frozen. I had intended to rise deferentially when he entered, but I didn’t. I had prepared a few sentences that I had repeatedly memorized, but I sensed that my heart was beating too quickly for me to speak calmly.

“My aunt had heard the chime when he entered and came out of the office to greet him: “Rabbi Feinstein, did you meet my nephew Ikey? Can you believe a shaygitz [unobservant] like me has a yeshiva bochur [student] in the family?”

“Rav Moshe finally looked at me. I was mortified. My aunt was addressing him irreverently. She was joking with him. She had called me Ikey, not Yitzchok, or even Isaac.

“Then it got even worse. She walked over to him. Surely she knew not to shake his hand. She didn’t. She kissed him affectionately on the cheek as she did many of her favorite patients. She then told him my uncle would see him in a minute and returned to the office.

“Rav Moshe and his attendants turned and looked at me, I thought accusingly. I wanted to die. In a panic, I walked over to him and started to apologize profusely: “Rabbi Feinstein, I apologize. My aunt, she isn’t frum [religious]. She doesn’t understand...”

He immediately placed his fingers on my lips to stop me from talking. He then softly spoke two sentences in Yiddish that I will remember to my dying day: “She has numbers on her arms. She is holier than me.”

“Rav Moshe had understood what I had not. Our holiest generation was defined by the numbers on their arms.”


Harav Dovid Schustal shlita, one of the Roshei Yeshiva of the famed Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood NJ, related a thought which he heard from his father-in-law, the late Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Shneur Kotler zt’l. It was a thought Rav Shneur had related numerous times. But it is an especially beloved thought because it was the final Torah thought that Rav Schneur related before his passing2:

Following the Torah’s description of the measurements and dimensions of the vessels of the Mishkan in parshas Terumah, parshas Tetzaveh records G-d’s commanding Moshe about the special Priestly vestments. It also describes the special offerings brought on the day of the inauguration of Aharon and his sons as the priests.

The gemara (Arachin 16a) explains that each of the priestly garments atoned for various sins. “Rav Anani bar Sason said: Why is the portion about the priestly garments placed next to the portion about the sacrifices? It is to tell you that just as sacrifices procure atonement, so do the priestly garments.”

The gemara then proceeds to list what each of the garments atoned for.
“The Me’il3 procures atonement for loshon hora (slander), for the Holy One, blessed is He, said: Let that which emits a sound, procure atonement for an act of sound (i.e. speech).”

What is the connection between the Me’il and slander? What is the lesson of the Me’il which counters the tendency to speak derogatorily about others?

Rav Shneur explained that slander - and for that matter most sources of conflict and discord – is often baseless. It is rooted in a distorted interpretation or view of another person’s actions or behaviors. There is no attempt to delve deeper, to understand the reason behind the act, or to try to understand what occurred in its total context. People who constantly malign others generally do not strive to see the inner good in people or give others the benefit of the doubt. If one understood the real motivation and reason why people do things (which only G-d can truly know) they probably would think twice before speaking negatively about the other person.

The gemara (Megilla 13b) states that “No one knew how to slander like Haman.” The gemara proves its point by citing Haman’s complaint about the Jews, which he presented to Achashveirosh: “Look at the Jews” he said, “They never work! Today they tell you it’s Sabbath; tomorrow it’s Pesach. Every day there is another excuse to get out of working!”

The truth is that the observance of Shabbos and Pesach can be viewed in a very positive light, even for the gentiles. Shabbos reminds a Jew that there is a Creator Who demands morality and ethics, even his business practices and mundane involvements. The holiday of Pesach reminds the Jew that he must maintain the dignity and respect of every person, because - as a former slave - he knows what it is like to be abused and mistreated. Thus the fact that Jews keep Shabbos and Pesach essentially benefits all of society, for it helps ensure that the Jewish workers are honest and cordial.

Haman however, had the ability to distort anything by drawing out the negative and making it seem deleterious. He took what was beautiful and praiseworthy, and viewed it from a hating, distorted, superficial viewpoint. That is why he was described as the ultimate gossiper.

The antidote to such a negative attitude and viewpoint is symbolized by the Me’il. The Me’il was made out of techeiles. The gemara4 explains the significance of techeiles: The blue techeiles reminds one of the sea, the sea reminds one of the sky, and the sky reminds one of the Divine Throne (Kisay haKavod). Thus seeing techeiles prompts one to think of G-d and of his own responsibility to adhere to Torah and mitzvos. When one saw the Me'il, it mentally triggered the thought pattern that is supposed to come to mind whenever one sees techeiles.

The idea of techeiles and its ‘cognitive connection’ with G-d’s Throne of Glory is that it trains us to see beyond the actual physical picture we are viewing, and that we probe deeper. One must realize that whatever he sees is merely the tip of the iceberg and so much more is obscured from view beneath the surface. If one trains himself to view others in this light he will think twice before saying something negative about him. After all, how can one speak negatively about someone when he knows so little about him, or at least about his present situation?5

On Purim, following the reading of the Megillah, we sing the beloved hymn which commences, שושנת יעקב צהלה ושמחה בראותם יחד תכלת מרדכי" – The Rose of Yaakov, cheerful and joyous, when they saw together the techeiles of Mordechai.”

As Mordechai was being paraded through the streets of Shushan by his nemesis, Haman, the Shushanites were confused. Was it really possible that Mordechai was being glorified by his implacable foe? They were only convinced that their eyes were not deceiving them when they saw tzitzis dangling from beneath the royal robes of the person riding the horse. They knew Mordechai would not have removed his tzitzis, and so they were convinced that inexplicably the greatest of ironies had occurred and Mordechai was indeed riding the horse.

Based on the aforementioned thought from Rabbi Kotler zt’l, perhaps we can offer another explanation regarding the connection between their joy and techeiles. Haman’s nefarious powers were rooted in his ability to portray all forces of holiness and spirituality negatively. That is how he was able to convince Achashveirosh to allow the destruction of the entire Jewish nation, despite the challenges and difficulties that would inevitably result from such an indiscriminate sanctioning of mass genocide.

Ultimately Haman was defeated by Mordechai, because Mordechai was a living example of the message of techeiles. Mordechai saw and sought the good of his brethren and loved them as a leader must love his flock. In fact, the final words of the Megillah reiterate this point. “For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashveirosh; he was a great man among the Jews, and found favor with the multitude of his brethren; he sought the good of his people and was concerned for the welfare of all his posterity.6

Haman, who sought to present the superficial negative that emerges from a half hearted cursory viewing is defeated by Mordechai, who appreciated the value and inherent greatness of every person because he respected the fact that there is so much more than meets the eye.

When the Jews saw the techeiles of Mordechai it symbolized to them that Mordechai had the ability to overcome Haman, and that that process had begun.

Haman drew his strength from his ancestor Amalek. After Klal Yisroel emerged triumphantly from Egypt following all the miracles and revelations of the plagues and the splitting of the sea, the entire world trembled in fright, except Amalek. The Amalekites obdurately refused to acknowledge the Hand of G-d. They viewed all the events with a blunted superficial eye; in their mind it was all coincidental and the Jews got lucky. True to his mantra, Amalek refused to see beneath the surface.

The gemara7 records the following exchange: “The disciples asked Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai “Why did… the Jews of that generation deserve extermination (i.e. through the decree of Haman)”? He said to them “You say the reason”. They said to him, “Because they derived pleasure from the feast of the wicked one (i.e. Achashveirosh)”. [Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai replied] “If so, only the Jews of Shushan should have been killed (for only they partook of the feast)?” The students said, “So you tell us the reason.” He said to them, “Because they prostrated themselves to an image.”8

“The disciples then said to him, “(If the Jews committed such a severe sin by bowing to an image) should favoritism be shown in this case (in other words, why were the Jews ultimately saved from Haman’s decree)?” He said to them, “They only performed the act outwardly (out of fear of Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath; but in their hearts they were completely devoted to G-d). Similarly, the Holy One, blessed is He, dealt with them only outwardly (to frighten them into repenting; but G-d never intended to actually allow them to be exterminated).”

Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrovitch explained that although each Jew only bowed externally and in his heart was still completely devoted to G-d, a person could only know that about himself. But no one had any way of knowing that every other Jew who bowed was also only doing so externally. Thus, at that time the Jews all suspected each other of being sinner and idolaters.

When the decree of Haman was publicized however, and the Jews united in prayer and penitence, it became clear that in the heart of every Jew there was still complete allegiance to G-d, and that the earlier prostrations to Nebuchadnezzar were only external. That realization was an integral component in the unification of all the Jews, which was a prerequisite to overcoming Haman/Amalek.

Rabbi Meir Yechiel explains that this is an added reason why there is a mitzvah of,ומשלוח מנות איש לרעהו" - Sending portions (gifts of food) each man to his friend” on Purim. At the time of the Purim miracle they gave each other gifts to demonstrate that they were all friends and no longer suspected each other of treachery or idolatry. Similarly, we give gifts to each other on Purim to demonstrate our feelings of love and trust for each other.

At times we become upset and annoyed with each other. But for one day we cast aside our grievances and look beyond the surface. We acknowledge that there is always another side to the story and that there is so much beneath the surface that we do not know.

On Purim there is a unique mitzvah for one to drink wine, even to a point of intoxication. Part of the idea inherent in this unusual mitzvah is that when one becomes inebriated he is unable to think logically and rationally. Much of the enmity and ill-will that is engendered between people on a regular basis is rooted in logical grievances and complaints. On Purim we forfeit our ability to hold such grudges and anger, so that we can truly feel a sense of fraternity and unity.

The holiday of Purim reminds us to look beyond the surface, to the deepest recesses of our hearts. “When wine enters secrets emerge9”. Purim helps us connect with our souls which yearn to be close to G-d, to love His Torah, and to be unified with His beloved nation. Purim helps us remember that things are not always how they seem. It’s celebration is rooted in techeiles which reminds us that even an ignorant irreligious woman may be exceedingly holy.

To remind us of the old adage that, “You just never know” we joyously - yet spiritually - imbibe until we cannot know!

“Let that which emits a sound procure atonement for an act of sound”

“When they saw together the techeiles of Mordechai”

1. Dr. Herschkopf is an attending psychiatrist at the NYU Medical Center and the author of “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: Embracing Anger to Heal Your Life.”
2. Rav Schustal recounts that Rav Shneur zt'l was sitting in a chair, racked with pain; pitifully weak. He was so weak that he could hardly think, let alone talk. But he forced himself to speak slowly, word after word, until he finished the entire "vort".
3. Loosely translated as ‘Robe’, the Me’il was constructed out of techeiles, blue dye procured from the blood of the chilazon fish. This is the same dye used for the production of the blue string on tzitzis. On the bottom of the Me’il were golden bells and pomegranates, which clang together when the Kohain Gadol walked.
4. Menachos 43b
5. Truthfully, this represents the weltanschauung of a Jew in general. A Torah Jew is always supposed to probe beneath the surface to see the deeper meaning behind everything that occurs in his life – personally, communally, and globally. That is what is represented by the techeiles on the tzitzis. Our discussion is about the techeiles on the Me’il which is inextricably connected with (atonement for) the sin of loshon hora.
6. Esther 10:3
7. Megilla 12a
8. During the reign of the wicked Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, the despot erected a massive image of himself and ordered everyone to prostrate themselves before it. Out of fear for their lives the Jews also bowed despite the fact that it is forbidden for a Jew to prostrate himself before anything/anyone other than G-d. In this case it wasn’t really an idol, but because it resembled one the Jews were culpable for bowing before it.

9. "נכנס ייו יצא סוד"Eiruvin 65a – It is interesting to note that the numerical value of ייו is 70, the same amount as סוד.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


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:




  • As a young man Abe Lincoln was a failure as a businessman and then as a lawyer. He turned to politics and was defeated in his first efforts to become a legislature, again defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts at the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of 1858. It was at that time that he wrote to a friend, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth.”
  • Winston Churchill repeated a grade during elementary school. He twice failed the exam to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He later wrote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to the convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up!”
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything”. He was fired from his first two jobs for being un-productive.
  • Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was seven. He was later expelled from school.
  • R.H. Macy failed seven times before his New York City store was successful.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and good ideas”.
  • Charles Schultz’s comics were rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Walt Disney wouldn’t hire him.
  • Twenty seven publishers rejected Dr. Suess’s first book “To think I saw it on Mulberry street”.
  • Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s book about a boy wizard, before a small London house published “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone”.
  • Babe Ruth, not only held the home run record for years (714) but also the strikeout record (1,330). In his words, ‘Every strikeout brought me closer to another home run’.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

The Mishkan (Tabernacle), its vessels, and its priestly garments were made from thirteen types of raw materials listed in the verses at the beginning of parshas Terumah. The nation was so eager to donate the materials and to have a share in creating a ‘resting place’ for G-d’s Presence, that those in charge of the work appealed to Moshe to stop the contributions.

The final two materials mentioned were, “Shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate.” The Ohr HaChaim questions why the stones - which were so valuable and precious - are listed last?

He answers by quoting the Gemara1 which states that the precious stones needed for the Mishkan miraculously fell from clouds near the Jewish camp. The Ohr HaChaim explains that because those stones required minimal effort and did not entail any self sacrifice because they did not have to be donated per se, they are listed after all of the other materials which required effort and sacrifice in their giving.

The Torah’s value system is often at odds with our value system. While precious stones may seem invaluable to us, in regards to the materials donated for usage in the construction of the Mishkan they were the least valuable because they entailed the least personal sacrifice.

The final chapter of Mishley, known as “Aishes Chayil”, read every Friday evening prior to the recitation of Kiddush, begins with a seemingly degrading statement about women: “A woman of valor - who can find? Far from pearls is her value.” Prima facie, it sounds as if Shlomo Hamelech is saying that there are no accomplished women of valor, a seemingly harsh condemnation of women. However, it seems illogical that that was his intent for later in the same paragraph he explicitly states otherwise. “רבות בנות עשו חיל - Many daughters have accomplished valor, but you surpassed them all.” How are we to understand this seeming contradiction?

Rabbi Zev Leff explained that the key to understanding Shlomo Hamelech’s message lies in the conclusion of the opening verse. What does it mean, “Far from pearls is her value”? It is well known that a pearl forms on the ocean floor in a most unusual manner. Pearls are not molded by craftsman; it is simply a matter of ‘chance’ whether one will have the good fortune of finding a pearl or not. A diver or fisherman can stumble across a pearl effortlessly, or he can fruitlessly search for weeks. Finding pearls is essentially pot-luck.

Shlomo Hamelech begins his description of the Woman of Valor by declaring that no woman reaches such levels simply by chance, or by getting lucky. You can’t just ‘find’ a woman of valor because she isn’t something that just happens. In that sense her value is ‘far from pearls’ which are a matter of luck. Many women have made themselves2 into Woman of Valor, albeit only through great effort and introspection.

During the last few decades a plethora of ‘gedolim books’ have been written3. These books, written with painstaking effort, offer a glimpse into the regal lives of our greatest leaders. But there is one notable fault inherent in these books. Very often they characterize the gadol as being otherworldly, as a person who transcended the challenges and struggles that we encounter every day of our lives. This not only makes the gadol seem ‘out of reach’, it is also simply untrue.

The Torah does not mince words when it comes to the shortcomings and failings of our greatest leaders4. This, despite the fact, that the ‘failings’ of the Biblical personalities were so subtle and exacting that for the common person those same actions may be even be considered meritorious. The Torah wishes to teach us that every person struggles and at times fails; it’s part of the human experience. What differentiates great people from the masses is that they do not allow themselves to wallow in their mistakes. They dust themselves off and get back in the ring.

Harav Aharon Feldman shlita eloquently expresses this point5: “With a few noteworthy exceptions, these books frequently ignore the self-sacrifice and dedication which of necessity must have gone into the development of every gadol. They often overlook the fact that certainly these men must have had moments of self-doubt, error, and human frailty, and that each had times when he needed encouragement, love, and friendship. Great men are humans just as much as other men; on the contrary, they are great because they faced and overcame the human shortcomings that they had. Because the book focuses its attention of the superficial picture and not on the personal details, these biographies can emerge as unreal and difficult to identify with, thus undermining their educational impact…

“When some forty years ago the Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kaheneman zt’l, decided to found a kollel in Bnei Brak with the express purpose of producing gedolim, his initial idea was to admit to this kollel only young men blessed with brilliant intellectual faculties. When he presented his plan to the Chazon Ish, the latter expressed his reservations. “Shouldn’t there be a kollel where a future Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan can develop?” he tersely asked. The Chazon Ish was implying that Rabbi Yitzcahk Elchanan Spektor, the fabled Rav of Kovno, author of major halachic works and recognized as the undisputed leader of European Jewry at the turn of the (19th) century was not a natural genius. By restricting his kollel to gifted minds, the Chazon Ish was saying, the Ponovezher Rav might be denying the next generation of leaders of this caliber.

“True, many gedolim in Jewish history were blessed with prodigious mental gifts, but this was not why they grew to be gedolim. Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt’l, founder of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., and a full fledged genius if there ever was one, used to cherish Edison’s adage (which one of his students once cited to him) that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” It was obvious to listeners that he held his own accomplishments to be, not the result of his instantaneous grasp and phenomenal memory, but of his hard work.”

The brief anecdotes mentioned at the beginning are inspiring and intriguing. But they involve individuals who went on to achieve great physical accomplishment and distinction. It was because they were persistent and did not succumb to their previous failings that they eventually persevered. But their situations are a far cry from the spiritual world in which effort alone is invaluable. If the individuals mentioned at the beginning would not have achieved greatness they would have been relegated to the dust-heaps of history. But in the spiritual world it is predominantly effort that matters and creates greatness.

True greatness is not accomplished overnight. It takes persistence, relentless effort, powerful ambition, and most importantly, resilience in the face of setbacks.

The invaluable stones needed for the Mishkan were listed after all of the other materials, because they required the least effort, and therefore contained the least spiritual value.

Like any really valuable commodity in life, to become a Woman of Valor or a gadol requires work and sweat. It takes great people to build great families to ensure the continuity of our great nation. Only those who are up to the challenge can build a House of G-d.

“Shoham stones and stones for the settings”

“Far from pearls is her value”

1. Yoma 75a
2. The word עשו literally means ‘made’, thus the verse reads, “many women have made themselves into Women of Valor”
3. ‘Gadol’ literally means ‘great one’; the word is used to refer to our greatest Torah leaders
4. It is most interesting to note that in the New Testament there is never a mention of sin attributed to their “great ones” (so I have heard).
5. Quote from his new book, “The Eye of the Storm: A calm view of Raging Issues”

Thursday, February 11, 2010


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:



A woman and her husband interrupted their vacation to go to the dentist. The man walked into the office and announced, "Look doc, I need you to extract a tooth, but I’m in a big rush so I have no time to wait for Novocain. Just get the tooth out as quickly as possible, and we'll be on our way." The dentist was impressed. "You're certainly a courageous man," he said. "Which tooth is it?" The man turned to his wife, "Show him your tooth, dear."

Rabbi Aryeh Levine zt’l, “the tzaddik of Jerusalem”, once walked into the doctor’s office with his wife and said, “Doctor, my wife’s foot is hurting us!”

In regards to the Temple Service there seems to be an emphasis on halves:

  • Each Jew was obligated to contribute a half-shekel in order to take a consensus of how many Jews there were1.
  • The special meal-offering was brought, “half it in the morning and half of it in the afternoon.2
  • The dimensions of the Holy Ark that rested in the Holy of Holies were, “two and a half cubits its length; a cubit and a half its width; and a cubit and a half its height… a cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits its length; and a cubit and a half its width…3

What is the significance of ‘halves’ in regards to the Divine Service?

At the conclusion of parshas Mishpatim, the Torah records the events that occurred at the time of the giving of the Torah at Sinai.4 “Moshe came and told the people all the words of G-d and all the ordinances, and the entire people responded with one voice and they said, ‘All the words that G-d has spoken, we will do.”… He sent the youths of the Children of Israel and they brought up elevation-offerings, and they slaughtered bulls… Moshe took half the blood and placed it in basins, and half the blood he threw on the altar. He took the Book of the Covenant and read it win earshot of the people, and they said, ‘”Everything that G-d has spoken we will do and we will hear (na’aseh v’nishma).”

What changed in the nation’s response that at first they responded that they would do everything G-d commanded, whereas after Moshe divided the blood they responded with the legendary words, ‘We will do and we will hear’?

The Be’er Moshe explains that G-d created the world based on a system of ‘provider-recipient’. No one is self-sufficient and we all need each other in different ways.5 Everything in the world is nourished and sustained based on this system.

The verse in Bereishis states6, “Male and female He created them.” The male represents the provider of the raw materials, while the female represents accepting those materials and nurturing them, bringing them to their full potential. Only together do they compose the complete entity that G-d intended, “He created them male and female. He blessed them and called their name – Adam on the day they were created.7” The first man and woman as a synergistic union were called ‘Adam’, and represented composite perfection. In that sense, the primordial couple is the prototype for all future unions.

The gemara states that a cow wishes to express its milk to its calf even more than the calf wishes to nurse from its mother. This is true in regards to all such relationships. The ‘provider’ requires and benefits from the ‘receiver’ even more than the receiver requires the provider. The giver-provider connection is inextricable and both draw strength and inspiration from their respective roles. The receiver is granted new materials or knowledge that he requires, and the provider is granted a sense of innate purpose and satisfaction through giving and helping another.

If we desire that G-d shower us with blessing and goodness, we have to initiate that process by assist others.

In this sense every individual must view himself as a half. The novelty is that not only should the receiver see himself as deficient without his provider, but the provider himself must view himself as deficient without the receiver. It is this repeated cycle that unites us and creates a sense of closeness and bonding.

The Mishkan was a perennial microcosmic representation of the Revelation of Sinai8. At Sinai, the nation achieved an uncanny level of complete unification, which was a prerequisite for their receiving the Torah. In order to remind them of the need to always feel that sense of fraternity there were many halves in the measurements of the Mishkan. Those halves served as a reminder that no one is complete when he stands alone.

When Moshe divided the blood he was symbolizing this idea. The two halves of the blood together represented completion. The nation’s declaration “we will do” represents this world, the world of action and physical accomplishment. The declaration “we will hear” on the other hand, represents the higher realm, the world of intellect and wisdom in which the voice of reason, based on the Word and Will of G-d, dominate.

Originally the nation pledged to do all of the mitzvos by fulfilling everything demanded of them. After all, the Torah was being given to a physical world of action. But when Moshe divided the blood before them, it symbolized that there is a need for another component in their acceptance – a level of depth and understanding. It isn’t enough to act in isolation, or even to perform actions with others. There is a need for understanding and connection – not only physically, but moreover on a spiritual level. Thus, the next time they added that they would do and they would hear.

This idea is applicable to many facets of life. But it is perhaps no more true than in marriage – the ultimate union9.

Megillas Esther relates that when Queen Esther risked her life and approached King Achashveirosh unlawfully, it was a moment of incredible peril. Essentially, the future of the entire Klal Yisroel was in limbo. “When the King noticed Queen Esther standing in the court, she won his favor. The King extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the tip of his scepter.10

The words “in his hand” seem to be extraneous. Where else would the scepter be?

Rabbi Shimshon of Antropoli zt’l explained that a scepter has two parts. The top of the scepter represents the authority and august majesty of the king, and therefore always remains in the hand of the king. The bottom of the scepter was used as the extension of the king’s hand, to symbolize whether the king was pleased with the person’s presence or not.

When Achashveirosh saw Esther standing before him he was so taken by her charisma, sincerity, and persona that he did something unthinkable. He turned the scepter around so that the top portion which always remained in his hand was facing Esther, as if to say that she was worthy of all his power and prestige. In her extreme humility and wisdom Esther walked up to the king and touched the bottom of the scepter (which was now facing him), symbolizing that she deferred to his authority and majesty.

This exchange between Esther and Achashveirosh represents an ideal marriage. A husband must be ready to forgo his honor to his wife, while she defers it back to him, both with unyielding love and admiration for the other.

The Sages explain that every time the word “hamelech (the king)” appears in the megillah it is an allusion to G-d, the King of Kings. The King represents G-d while the Queen represents us who receive G-d’s blessing and goodness.

Rabbi Hirsch explains that when Moshe divided the blood and placed half on the altar and half in the basin he was symbolizing that there is a deep relationship between us and G-d, as it were. “The one half of the blood had already been thrown on the Altar and now Moshe threw the other half towards the nation. This would express the idea, that every drop of blood, every ounce of our forces, that we give up to carry out G-d’s Will on earth, is given back to us in full measure that we give it to G-d. We receive it back from G-d, and we only really have true possession of ourselves if we offer ourselves to G-d.”

There is a new custom that has gained a following in the distorted world of feministic Judaism. They decided that the noise of groggers being spun at the mention of the name of Haman was obnoxious and disturbing (basically it’s too ‘manly’). So they created flags that have a depiction of Esther on one side and Vashti on the other side11, and little bells on the bottom. Whenever the names of Vashti or Esther are read, they wave the flags gently.

Such distortion of holy customs emanates from a lack of regard and appreciation for the Torah’s viewpoint of the woman’s role. In a marriage built on love and trust, such feelings do not arise because the husband ‘turns the scepter’ towards his wife, while she directs it back to him. It is only when a marriage is not built on mutual respect and love, that feelings of inferiority and inadequacy arise.

The Kav Hayashar quotes the Zohar which relates the following: “Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Abba were guests in someone’s home one evening. At midnight they arose to study Torah. The daughter of their host got up and lit a torch so that they could study Torah. When Rabbi Abba saw her actions he began and he said: (The verse in Mishley (6:23) says) “For a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light.” The woman is commanded to light the Shabbos candles, and not the man. The reason is the woman corresponds to the Divine Presence. “Torah is light”, meaning, the Torah that her husband studies, for a man is commanded about the study of Torah. That gives tremendous light like the mitzvah of Shabbos candles. What emerges is that both of them create the light of Torah and Shabbos.”

In a proper home the spiritual light is created by the joint efforts of both the husband and wife.

Parshas Shekalim always marks the imminent commencement of the month of Adar12. The gemara13 states, “When Adar arrives we increase joy.” There is much discussion about exactly what this means and how one increases joy. But one thing is for certain. Whenever we are able to help another person in any way it fills us with an indescribable feeling of contentment and joy.

The reading of the Shekalim reminds us that we all need each other, not only on a physical level, but also (and perhaps even more so) on a spiritual/psychological level. It is our ability to feel worthy and needed that gives us a sense of purpose and mission14.

When we appreciate each other we will realize why, as a nation, we are united. The joy that emanates from that awareness is why we were able to reaccept the Torah on Purim and why the joy of Purim is unparalleled.

“Moshe took half the blood”

“When Adar arrives we increase joy”

1 This is discussed in the special reading for Parshas Shekalim. Shemos 30: 11-16
2 Vayikra 6:12; This meal offering was offered by every Kohen once in his lifetime , the first time he performed the Temple Service. In addition, the Kohen Gadol brought this offering every day.
3 Shemos 25:10-22
4 Shemos 24:1-11; There is a dispute among the commentaries exactly when this account transpired. According to Rashi it occurred prior to the giving of the Torah. Ramban, Ibn Ezra, and Rashbam however opine that it occurred after the giving of the Torah.
5 This is all the more true in regards to our relation with G-d as we are completely reliant on His beneficence.
6 Bereishis 1:27
7 Bereishis 5:2
8 See Ramban (Parshas Terumah)
9 I heard the following thought from Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer shlita, Kehillas Bais Avrohom (Monsey NY), Shabbos parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim 5762, in honor of the occasion of my afruf.
10 Esther 5:2
11 They have decided that Vashti is an underrated heroine because she refused her husband’s demand that she appear in public completely immodestly. Apparently, in their ineptitude, they feel that the fact that the gemara says that she was an incredibly wicked and immoral woman is subject to change.
12 Parshas Shekalim is read the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh Adar
13 Ta’anis 29a
14 When elderly or disabled people feel that they can no longer be of benefit to others and are merely a burden, it can be overwhelmingly disheartening for them. When such a person asks to help, perhaps our best response should not be “it’s okay” because we don’t want to burden them. By allowing them to help out we may just be giving them a spark of life.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

YISRO 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:




Martin comes to Dr. Saul, the veterinarian, with his dog. “Doctor, you gotta help my dog; he’s got a real problem.” The doctor looks at the aging canine, “What’s the problem?” “Well doc, he’s a Jewish dog. His name is Irving and he can talk.” The doctor looks quizzically at Martin, “He can what?” “Just watch this”, says Martin. He calls out to the dog, “Irving, fetch!”

Irving gets up, wags his tail, and walks aimlessly around the room. He walks towards the door, then turns toward Martin, grunts, and says, “Why are you always bossing me around like this? It’s embarrassing the way you order me about like I am your slave. Do you ever consider my arthritis or stop to think how I’m feeling? No, it’s always about you and your silly ideas, trying to show me off to all your friends. Then you put me on that terrible diet. You claim it’s for my health, but that dog food stuff is so bad it’s going to kill me. You take me out for a walk only once every three days, and even then it’s only for a few minutes. I should roll over and play dead and see if you would even care.”

Dr. Saul’s mouth is agape, “That is absolutely incredible. What’s the problem?”

Martin sighs, “He has a hearing problem. I said ‘fetch’ not ‘kvetch’!”


Prior to its account of the giving of the Torah at Sinai the Torah introduces us to Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe.

Rashi1, quoting the Mechilta, notes that Yisro had seven names. Rashi proceeds to list and explain the reason for four of those names. He explains that Yisro was called ‘Yesser2’ because a portion was added to the Torah based on Yisro’s suggestion to Moshe. When Yisro saw the masses lining up before Moshe to present their halachic inquiries, he feared that the people would become weary and frustrated with the lengthy wait. To remedy the problem, Yisro suggested to Moshe that he establish a hierarchy of judges to address the various inquiries that would arise.

Rashi explains that an extra portion was added to the Torah by referencing the verse which begins, “ואתה תחזה – And you shall discern”3. It is perplexing that Rashi quotes this verse, because Yisro’s conversation with Moshe actually began five verses earlier when Yisro pointed out to Moshe that his current system was faulty and wanting. “The father-in-law of Moshe said to him, “The thing that you do is not good…4

Why does Rashi quote the later verse to demonstrate the fact that in Yisro’s merit a portion was added to the Torah?

The Imrei Emes5 was invited to attend a rabbinical conference in Warsaw to discuss some of the major issues confronting the Torah world at that time. There was one individual at the meeting who presented many issues in an acerbic and accusatory tone. Then, whenever a potential idea or proposal was raised, he shot it down dismissively.

After some time the Imrei Emes turned to the man and presented him with the aforementioned question regarding Rashi’s explanation about Yisro’s name “Yesser”. The man admitted that he had no answer to the question.

The Rebbe explained that it is no big deal to discuss issues and problems. Anybody can be cynical and skeptical of virtually any concept or idea. But it is far more difficult and challenging to be able to find solutions and ideas to solve those problems.

The first five verses of Yisro’s conversation with Moshe record Yisro’s presentation of the problem. Yisro is not remembered for those five verses! Anyone could complain about a system by noting its flaws. But Yisro had a wise plan, an idea that Moshe could feasibly carry out to eliminate the problem. It is for that constructive idea – which begins with the later verse, “ואתה תחזה – And you shall discern” that Yisro merited the addition of a portion in the Torah.

Rabbi Moshe Sherer zt’l6 was a tremendously ambitious person with little patience for a naysayer or undue negativity that would not generate results. He would tell everyone in attendance at his meetings that they were welcome to present issues and express their opinions, albeit only if they had a solution and were ready to work to accomplish their ideas.

He would quote the words we recite in the daily prayers in which we describe the conduct of the angels when they sing their celestial song before G-d. We initially describe them as those who, “do the will of their Maker with dread and reverence.” We then continue and state, “And they all open their mouths in holiness and purity.” First one must resolve to do, to roll up his sleeves and be ready to invest time and effort, only then can he open his mouth.

Rabbi Sherer would also quote this idea about Yisro. He would note that Yisro is commended only for his constructive suggestions, not for his preceding criticism. This reminds us that criticism is cheap and easy; if it’s not accompanied by concrete and logical ideas it isn’t worth anything.7

This is an integral lesson for all human relationships. The wise person only notes flaws and shortcomings when the goal is to effect change and improvement, which can conceivably be accomplished. But if it’s something that cannot be changed, addressing it and harping on it only breeds rancor and resentment. What an invaluable lesson for marriage and child-rearing!

The Chofetz Chaim discusses the main ‘catalysts’ which cause a person to speak negatively and malign others8. One of those negative traits is “narganus – pervasive negativity”. There are people who are wont to find fault at every opportunity and criticize every petty detail in which they can find fault. Such people never give anyone the benefit of the doubt and assume that every oversight is deliberate and malicious. One who views everything in such a light will constantly speak negatively about others, because he views everything that occurs as a personal attack.

The greatest tragedy about a negativist is that in many instances he needs to grumble and complain in order to maintain his sanity. A person who lacks self-esteem feels threatened by every accomplishment and positive achievement of others. To protect his own fragile identity he needs to minimize and speak disparagingly about what others have accomplished9.

In Chumash Devorim, when Moshe recounts the egregious sin of the spies he uses the words, “ותרגנו באהליכםAnd you stirred one another up in your tents and said, ‘Because G-d hates us He has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt to give us into the hand of the Amorites to exterminate us.10

It seems unfathomable that the generation who had witnessed such incredible miracles, stood at Sinai, learned Torah from Moshe, and lived supernaturally in the desert on a daily basis could even express such a sentiment.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the word ותרגנו refers to an agitator who, under the guise of self justification, stirs up feelings of dissatisfaction and disloyalty in others. This idea is expressed in the verse in Mishley which states, “The words of an agitator sound as if they were taking up their own quarrel, but sink into the innermost feelings of others.”

The pessimist does not only hurt himself; his negative attitude is potentially menacing to all those around him. He can have a very deleterious effect on everyone in his inner circle and cause others to feel dissatisfied as well.

How can one tell if he is being needlessly negative or if he is truly being constructive? By ascertaining if he has ideas for improvement and ways to rectify the issues he presents. If one truly has the benefit of another in mind, he will only complain and point to flaws that he feels can be solved and eliminated. Otherwise he will keep quiet and just compliment whatever has been accomplished.

One of the many lessons that emerges from Yisro is that a complete Jew always maintains a positive attitude about himself, and ultimately about others as well. But one who finds flaw in everything will, G-d forbid, find flaw in Torah and his spiritual obligations as well. This is a timeless idea which one must understand before he begins to study Torah: It’s all a matter of attitude!

“You stirred one another up in your tents”

“You shall discern”

1 18:1
2 Yesser literally means ‘to add’
3 18:21
4 18:16
5 Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Alter zt’l , the third Gerrer Rebbe
6 the legendary leader of Agudas Yisroel and one of the premiere spokesmen for Torah Jewry
7 Rabbi Sherer, Mesorah Publications, p. 246
8 The Chofetz Chaim explains that the words "?? ?????" (All Purgatory) is an acronym for the root causes of gossiping: Ka’as (anger), leitzonus (scoffing), ga’avah (arrogance), yiush (despair), hefker (feeling lawless), narganus (negativity), and omer mutar (saying it is permissible)
9 Unfortunately we all know people like this.
10 Devorim 1:27