Friday, May 28, 2010


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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

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My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita related that there was a woman who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and the Concentration Camps, but lost everything including friends and family. For years she would go through the trouble of peeling vegetables and cooking up a pot of soup every day. Then when it was finally ready she would angrily spill it down the drain to ‘spite G-d’ for all the pain and agony she had suffered.

Rabbi Wein commented that although some would say her act was an act of brazenness, he would view it from a different perspective. Despite all that she had gone through she still maintained her unwavering belief that everything that occurred to her was the Hand of G-d. She was angry at that Hand but she knew, unquestionably, that it was all G-d’s work!

After the Torah was given with all its pomp and grandeur, it was finally time for the nation to travel forth from Sinai. But from that point onward there seemed to be one tragedy after another. The gemara says that when the nation departed from Sinai they did so “like children running away from school”1. They were afraid that more laws and restrictions would be imposed upon them. Shortly after, a group of complainers aroused tension and unrest among the masses, igniting G-d’s wrath. A fire raged within the camp causing much damage.

When that debacle concluded another tragedy occurred. “The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also wept once more and said, ‘Who will feed us meat?’2” They complained that the manna was trite and unfulfilling, and they desired real food. That event too ended in severe tragedy with many dying a horrible death.

Rabbi Yecheskel Abramsky zt’l was once asked the following question:

Our forefathers who witnessed the exodus, revelation of Sinai, and the omnipresent miracles in the desert were known as the “Dor De’ah – Generation of knowledge”. There never was, or will be, a generation that had such a deeply rooted connection with their Creator as that generation. Every single member of that generation merited being a progenitor of the eternal Chosen Nation. Yet when studying the events that transpired throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert there seems to be a glaring lack of faith and connection with G-d. If they were indeed so connected how could they complain and fall prey to sin repeatedly?

Rabbi Abramsky answered by relating that one year during the reading of Megillas Esther on Purim, Rabbi Abramsky noticed a young boy who did not shake a grogger when the name of Haman was read in the Megilla. Later on he asked the boy why he didn’t make noise like all the other boys his age. The boy replied that he did not have a grogger. When the Rabbi asked him why not, he replied that he was an orphan and had no one to ask to procure a grogger for him.

Rabbi Abramsky explained that the greatness of that generation was that they truly felt that G-d was their father who cared about every petty detail in their lives. Therefore, as soon as there was anything in their lives that bothered them they turned to their Father and voiced their dissatisfaction. Thus it was their incredible faith and connection with G-d which caused them to subtly lose perspective and complain to G-d inappropriately. In other words, it wasn’t a lack of faith that caused them to sin, but an overwhelmingly stark realization of their connection with G-d, albeit which caused them to forget their boundaries.

Rabbi Abramsky added that when the nation gathered en masse to donate materials for the construction of the Mishkan the verse says3, “The Children of Israel brought a donation to G-d.” The Torah is testifying that when they brought their donations to Moshe it was solely “for G-d”, i.e. without any ulterior motive. They were not interested in personal fame and honor, only the honor of G-d.

The greatness of that generation was their deep-rooted knowledge that G-d is truly our loving Father. They understood that when one has complaints or doubts in lives, ultimately the only One who can help is G-d.4 To them it wasn’t mere polemics; they lived with that realization!

Some years ago a young yeshiva student wrote a letter to Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt’l. The boy wrote about certain serious issues that he felt were impinging his growth, and he turned to Rabbi Pinkus to solicit his advice. Rabbi Pinkus’ response is characteristic and legenendary5:

“To the precious student…

“I received and read your letter. I must say that I have not reached a level where I can give advice to people, telling them exactly what to do. However, I will reply and respond to your remarks according to my limited understanding.

“It seems to me that you are trying very hard to grow in Torah and Yiras Shamayim (Fear of Heaven) and that you are certainly fulfilling your required efforts and hishtadlus in this regard. However, you now find yourself in a position where you simply need help from outside. The logical explanation for this is simply because all lofty and spiritual pursuits require special assistance above and beyond our physical capabilities. Therefore, I am providing you with the name and address of someone who can surely help you.

“They call Him G-d.

“He is very strong, since in truth, He created everything! I also know with certainty that He loves you personally very much, and that He especially desires that you should turn to Him. You will have no problem finding Him, since He is everywhere, in the simplest form of understanding. In fact, even now as you read this letter, you can simply turn to Him.

“I write this because many people mistakenly think that this understanding is only attained through Prayer, good deeds, and exalted levels…. This is all true. However, it is not the main requirement. Rather, the main requirement is to understand that G-d is not a “concept”, Heaven forfend. Rather, G-d is real, alive, and eternal and we can forge a personal relationship with Him!

“The more that we realize this, the more we will turn to Him - and the stronger our relationship with Him will become. We will simply share our problems with Him and ask Him to help us over and over…

“If someone will give you different advice it is a waste of your time to pursue it. Simply turn to the One who can truly help you (Hashem Yisborach) and grab hold of Him and never let go until you achieve that which your heart desires!

“I sign with honor for a Ben Torah who is searching for the truth, but simply doesn’t know where to look!

----Shimshon Dovid Pincus”

It should be noted that Rabbi Pincus did not merely preach these ideas. He lived them every day of his life.

There is a story6 told about a couple who lived in Ofakim7 who were not blessed with children. Years went by and despite all their efforts they still did not have a child.

One day the man approached Rabbi Pinkus and cried bitterly as he poured out his heart before him. Rabbi Pinkus replied that he was going to pick him up that evening to take him to a special place to daven.

The man wondered what kind of mystical and holy place Rabbi Pinkus knew of that he was going to take him to in the dead of night.

That night Rabbi Pinkus borrowed his neighbor’s car and, around midnight, drove up to the man’s house and picked him up. They drove out of Ofakim into the nearby desert. After driving for some time they came to a deserted area. Rabbi Pinkus told the man that he should get out of the car. Then he looked at the befuddled young man and said emphatically, “It is night and it is dark and ominous! Don’t look for a road to take you home because there is nothing out here. Now it’s just you and the Master of the World! I am leaving you here and I will return. Do not speak to G-d, don’t cry, and don’t pray. Rather scream out to G-d! Pour out your heart and soul and bessech him with prayer. In that way you will receive the slavation you seek. I will be back in a half-hour.” With that Rabbi Pinkus drove off into the night.

He returned a half-hour later and gazed at the shaken young man’s face. “I’m sorry; I see that you have not cried sufficiently. Cry! Beg! Speak with G-d and tell Him your request!” With that he again drove off.

About an hour later he returned again. This time he noticed that the man’s clothes were drenched with sweat and tears. Rabbi Pinkus smiled, “This is what I meant. You will see that your prayers will be answered.”

Today that young man is the father of a beautiful family.

The Gemara8 says “Anyone who has no wisdom, it is forbidden to have mercy on him.” Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explained9 that this surely does not refer to someone who lacks intelligence or is mentally lacking aptitude. Rather it refers to one beset by travails, disease, and difficulties who does not consider that it is G-d who is behind everything that is transpiring to him. If a person obudrately refuses to acknowledge that everything that occurs in his life is a message from G-d, he misses the whole point of his suffering and therefore does not dersve the mercy of others.

The personages mentioned in the Torah may have been cuplable of various sins (on their level), but they remain our foremost role models, because they understood how to live a life of connection with their Creator. Ultimately the struggle and pursuit incumbent upon every one of us is to live by their example. To truly believe and internalize the notion that G-d is our father and king, and only He has the ability to truly grant us our needs and desires.

“Who will feed us meat?”

“Our Father in Heaven”

1 Shabbos 115b
2 11:4
3 35:29
4 Their ‘sin’ was that on their great level they should have presented their complaints in a more refined and respectful manner.
5 The letter is printed in the original Hebrew in Nefesh Shimshon (Igros Umichtavim). Please note that the translation is not my own. I am grateful to whoever it was.
6 Quoted in ‘Rabboseinu Shbadarom” a biography about Rabbi Pinkus, page 144
7 the community where Rabbi Pinkus was the Rabbi
8 Sanhedrin 92a
9 Commentary to Yeshaya 27:12

Thursday, May 13, 2010


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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:




During my final day in Eretz Yisroel two weeks ago, I went with my brother Yaakov to Har Menuchos, the vast and renowned cemetery overlooking the hills of Yerushalayim. Although there are innumerable great and holy people buried there, being that my time was limited, I particularly wanted to visit two plots: my Zayde, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, and Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l.

I knew exactly where my Zayde was buried and have been there on several occasions in the past. It was uplifting to pray there, especially with my brother Yaakov standing at my side.

Although I never merited meeting Rav Pinkus while he was alive, I consider him a personal Rebbe and he has had a profound impact on me through his books and recordings. For that reason I very much wanted to daven at his kever. The only problem was that I had no idea where it was.

The only thing I knew is that he is buried on Har Tamir, the mountain adjacent to Har Menuchos where my Zayde is buried. Despite numerous phone calls and inquiries no one else that I asked seemed to have any more precise details about where Rav Pinkus is buried. Normally that isn’t an issue because there is an office at the entrance of the cemetery and they have on file the location of every plot. But the day we were there was Yom Ha’atzmaut and the office was closed.

We spent a frustrating hour under the hot beating sun asking every person we passed if they knew where Rav Pinkus was buried, but no one had any clue. At one point while we were walking aimlessly I said aloud, “Rav Pinkus, I want to come daven at your kever but I can’t find it.”

Finally we dejectedly headed down to the entrance. I told Yaakov that we would ask one more person, and if he didn’t know we would leave.

The person we asked motioned that we should ask another person in a car who was driving away slowly. I debated if I should even bother to ask, but in the end I abruptly walked over to the car and asked. In my mind I was waiting the same answer I had received. But to my surprise the man took out his phone and made two phone calls, then he motioned or me to get in his car.

Your browser may not support display of this image. It is always encouraging when someone does a chessed for you, simply for the sake of doing chessed. With nothing but altruistic motives in mind, the man drove us back up the hill to the plot where Rav Pinkus was buried. Amazingly, it is only three sections over from where my Zayde is buried.

I randomly opened my Tehillim to say three or four psalms. It opened to chapter 61 and without thinking much about it I began davening. At the conclusion of the chapter it says the word "מן"1, which is compelling because Rav Pinkus’s father-in-law’s name was Rav Man zt’l.

I continued davening until I reached chapter 63. In the middle of the chapter, my eyes widened and I was utterly dumbstruck. I reached a verse which I am familiar with only because I had heard it quoted by Rav Pinkus on a few different tapes and in his writings. It was literally a chilling moment for me. I don’t know if there is any other verse in all of Tanach that I know so well only because of Rav Pinkus2. The following is the beautiful thought he shared in the name of the Malbim:

The verse (Tehillim 63:4) states, כי טוב חסדך מחיים שפתי ישבחנוך" – For your kindness is greater than life, my lips will praise you. The Malbim explains this verse with a Parable: Imagine a man who is extremely ill and is admitted to the hospital for emergency care. There is one particular doctor who takes responsibility for the man, performing numerous procedures and surgeries until the man’s health is restored. The doctor is also a very kind-hearted man and the patient develops a deep friendship with the doctor. If someone approached the man after he was discharged from the hospital and asked him what happened while he was in the hospital, the man would reply that the doctor saved his life. He might also add that afterwards he became very close friends with the doctor. If one would ask the man what was more precious to him - the new friendship or the fact that the doctor saved his life - the man would surely reply that, although he is really excited about the new friendship, his life is far more precious. After all, what good is having a new friend if you’re dead?!

The Malbim explains that Dovid HaMelech was stating that the closeness he felt to G-d, as it were, was even more precious to him than the kindness and goodness that G-d granted him. “For your kindness is greater than life itself”. To which kindness was he referring? To the mere fact that, “My lips will praise you”, i.e. that Dovid could pray to G-d and know that G-d listens and cares about his every whim. That was more valuable to him than anything else in the world, even life itself. Life is finite and transitory but a relationship with G-d is eternal and Divine.

At the beginning of parshas Bamidbar the Torah records the national consensus of the nation conducted by Moshe. Rashi explains that the count reflected G-d’s love for His Nation. Just as one carrying precious gems will constantly pat his pockets and take out the gems and count them repeatedly to ensure that they are all there, so did G-d repeatedly count His Nation.

When the Torah records each tribe it begins with the words, “לבני – For the Children of -”. It then mentions the name of the tribe and continues to list the tallied population of its members. However, when the Torah records the tally of the final tribe – Naftali – it says “B’nei Naftali…” without the preceding ל.

The AriZal explained that truthfully there was no need to have an official tally of the tribe of Naftali. Since the final tally of the entire nation was already known, by simply adding the totals of the rest of the tribes and reckoning how much was missing Moshe could have figured out the numbers for the tribe of Naftali without bothering to count each one. Yet every member of Naftali was counted to demonstrate the fact that G-d loves and values every individual.

The Medrash3 notes that Klal Yisroel is analogous to the stars. The verse in Tehillim states4, “Praise Him every star of light.” Though some stars appear to be dim or even dark every star contains a tremendous force of illuminating energy, it just may be too distant to be seen with the naked eye.

Every Jew is analogous to a star in that every Jew contains a holy spark that illuminates within. At times that light may be dimmed but, like every star, the light never completely ceases to exist.

For the last couple of years a company has been advertising that you can name a star after someone and present it to them as a gift for a fee. They will enter the name in the ‘Star Registry’ and it will be an eternal gift that the receiver will always cherish. For the provider it is a smart way to make easy money with virtually no cost5.

Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer6 once noted that aside from whether one wants to spend money on such an idea, the names we decide are not accurate. “He counts a number for the stars; to each one He calls a name.7” G-d Himself names each star. In truth every time we perform a mitzvah or perform a good deed we create a star8. Those stars bear our name and receive their light from our actions and deeds.

Every Jew must realize his own innate unique greatness, and that he has a portion of Torah that no one else in the world is privy to. That understanding is a vital prerequisite for accepting the Torah. One must realize that G-d not only allows us to draw near to Him, as it were, but He awaits it.

The holiday of Shavuos celebrates not only our collective acceptance of the Torah as the Chosen Nation, but our personal acceptance as well.

“For your kindness is greater than life”

“He counts the stars; each one He calls a name”

1 חסד ואמת מן ינצרהו
2 The truth is that the entire chapter 63 is really appropriate for Rav Pinkus. The chapter describes longing and yearning to be close to G-d, which is how Rav Pinkus lived his life. His foremost message was that we can and must develop a real relationship with our Creator Who loves us more than we can know.
3 In parshas Shemos and Bamidbar
4 148:3
5 I was told that anyone can name a star and copyright it under the USA copyright laws if they want.
6 Our family’s Rav when he was the Rabbi of Kehillas Bais Avrohom in Monsey, NY.
7 Tehillim 147:4
8 Perhaps from a spiritual vantage point that is why the universe is constantly expanding

Thursday, May 6, 2010


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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:




Once upon a time, in Somewhereville, America a group of atheists filed a legal discrimination suit against the religious leaders in their community. They claimed that while everyone had their own religious holidays the atheists had no such days.

The judge deliberating the case listened to their claim and immediately dismissed their suit. When the atheist’s lawyer requested an explanation the judge replied that indeed the atheists had a day on the calendar that was dedicated just to them.

The judge promptly opened up the Bible to Psalm 14:1 and read it aloud, “The fool says in his heart that there is no G-d.” The judge continued, “According to the Bible every atheist is a walking fool, and everyone knows that April First is All Fools Day!”

In parshas Bechukosai the Torah warns of the doom that would befall Klal Yisroel if they do not properly adhere to the Torah. When the Torah delineates the horrors that would occur there is one concept mentioned repeatedly, i.e. Klal Yisroel serving G-d "בקרי", with nonchalance, casualness, and lack of passion.

“If you behave causally with Me, and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you… If despite this you will not be chastised toward Me, and you behave causally with Me, then I too will behave towards you with casualness… If despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave towards Me with casualness…”

The Rambam1 writes: “It is a positive commandment from the Torah to cry out and blow the trumpets for any tragedy that befalls the congregation… If they will not cry out, and they will not blow, but they will say this thing (tragedy) is a natural occurrence which has befallen us, and this pain is just happenstance, this is a path of cruelty and causes people to cling to their evil ways and add further tragedies and calamities in the future. This is what the Torah says, “If… you behave towards Me with casualness, I will behave towards you with a fury of casualness.” As if to say, when I will bring upon you a tragedy so that you will repent, if you will assert that it is merely a chance occurrence, I will increase against you the wrath of that casualness.”

What does the Rambam mean that one who views a tragedy as happenstance has adopted a path of cruelty? To whom is he being cruel? If the Rambam refers to the cruelty of sinning which warrants retribution and punishment, that is true regarding all iniquities, for every sin is deserving of punishment. Why does the Rambam state here specifically that this attitude is a path of cruelty?

Sir Bertrand Russel, the well-known philosopher and agnostic, once quipped to a cleric that he could not believe in a G-d in whose world a child cries out in pain. The cleric responded that he in turn could not believe in a world in which a child cries out in pain and there is no G-d to justify it.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l2 explains that the Rambam is not referring to a heretic or non-believer who denies that there is a Supreme Power who created the world. Rather, he refers to the one who believes in an Almighty Creator, but he doesn’t believe that the pain and suffering of this world could have been orchestrated by that Creator. He concludes that the evil of this world must all be chance occurrences.

The Rambam warns that believing that all of the challenges and struggles of life are only happenstance is not only a lie, but it is also downright cruel. Such a belief espouses that the pain and suffering of this world is ultimately futile and worthless.

A believer understands that G-d is only good and everything that occurs is for the best, the fact that many events that occur in his life defy logical comprehension not withstanding.

Recently I had the privilege to hear a lecture from Rabbi Ezriel Tauber shlita. Rabbi Tauber quoted his rebbe, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandel zt’l who said that a Torah Jew should know what is happening in the news, but that he should only read the headlines. He explained that it is important for a person to be aware of the events that are transpiring in the world because the news is ‘G-d’s mussar shmooze’3. However, one should not read the editorials because they contain the biased and adulterated views of the columnists, and reading their views and opinions will quash our ability to contemplate the divine message behind the event.

We live in an unsettling and disconcerting world. There are events transpiring constantly that are simply incredible and unimaginable. To name just a few: The Icelandic volcano which shut down air travel across Europe for a week, the deadly tornado that tore through the Midwest killing more than ten people, the winter that just ended replete with incredible storms and unprecedented snowfall in certain areas, the current strained US-Israel relations, the recent bomb-scare in Times Square, and at this moment tons of gallons of oil are flowing into the Gulf of Mexico threatening the ecology of the entire area with potentially disastrous results.

If one lives a godless life he cannot afford to ascribe divine motives to these occurrences because doing so would shake him to the core. But a Torah Jew has the obligation to view everything as a message.

In Lashon Hakodesh every word defines its essence. This is not true in other languages, including Modern Hebrew. When one wants to understand something he asks “Why?” The word “why?” essentially has no bearing on the answer. The same is true with the word “por qué” in Spanish, and “pourquoi” in French.

But in Lashon Hakodesh the word is “מדוע madua” or “למה lamah”. The word “madua” can be read as “mah deiah - what is the wisdom?” and lamah can be read as “limah – for what?” In other words, whenever something difficult or challenging occurs our outlook must be to try to define what growth and message there is in what transpired. The ‘why’ has to be viewed as trying to understand the higher purpose. In the words of one philosopher, “He who has a why can endure any how.”

Part of our problem is that everyone seems to know the message that G-d intends for everyone else. But no one can seem to figure out the message that applies to himself!

No one can know exactly why G-d does what he does. But we must realize that there is a “because” which we are not privy to. If one does not recognize that truth he is a cruel person for he is willing to believe that suffering is without purpose and meaning. But a believer clings to his faith during challenging times, taking solace in knowing that everything that happens has a divine reason and purpose. There can be no greater comfort than knowing that every trivial event and occurrence has meaning and purpose.

“If you behave causally with Me”

“A path of cruelty”

1 Beginning of hilchos Ta’anis
2 Tiferes Torah al haTorah
3 i.e. G-d reveals to us messages through current events