Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The following is excerpted from the introduction of “The Last Lecture”, by Randy Pausch:

“While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I only have a few months left to live.

“I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams. While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn’t do them, or me, any good.

“So, how to spend my very limited time?

“The obvious part is being with, and taking care of, my family. While I still can, embrace every moment with them, and do the logistical things necessary to ease their path into a life without me.

“The less obvious part is how to teach my children what I would have taught them over the next twenty years. They are too young now to have those conversations. All parents want to teach their children right from wrong, what we think is important, and how to deal with the challenges life will bring. We also want them to know stories from our own lives, often as a way to teach them how to lead theirs….

“Both the lecture and this book are my attempts to do exactly that.”

Commissioned by Balak, King of Moav, Bila’am sets out to curse the unsuspecting Jewish nation. But when Bila’am ascends a mountain and peers at the Jewish camp, he is divinely overwhelmed by the holiness and regality of the Jews. Unwittingly he spews the most beautiful blessings, lauding the Jewish nation, and foretelling their eventual triumph over all of their adversaries at the end of days.

During one of his bouts of prophesy Bila’am calls on the Patriarchs with misplaced nostalgia. “Who can count the dust of Yaakov or a quarter of Yisroel? My soul should die the death of the ישרים (upright), and may my end be like his1.”

Who are the “upright” whom Bila’am refers to? The Ba’al Haturim explains that the numerical value of the wordישרים (560) is equivalent to the numerical value of the words אבות העולם (the Patriarchs of the world)2. When Bila’am eyed Klal Yisroel he envisioned how their founders, the patriarchs, died with tremendous honor and respect. He pined to have similar honor accorded to him when he died.

Seforno, commenting on Bila’am’s words, explains that Bila’am was saying that if he would be able to die like the upright ones he would be willing to die immediately, so that he could merit eternal life in the afterworld.

The Chofetz Chaim notes that Bila’am wanted to die as a Jew, but he didn’t want to live as a Jew. Bila’am recognized that the life of a Jew is fraught with challenges and struggles. A Jew’s life is rigidly regimented with myriad laws and expectations. Throughout his life he is encouraged to never grow complacent with his accomplishments, and is always expected to keep striving.

The believing Jew is catapulted by the knowledge that it is all worth it because when he leaves this world he continues on to the world of truth where he will reap the benefits of his efforts. Therefore, the Jew does not fear death because he knows he is only going home. But to the non-believer death is overwhelming and frightening as he is unable to have the same confidence in his future.

Bila’am desired to die with the serenity and confidence that the patriarchs had when they departed from this world, but he did not wish to alter his life to live with their principles and morals. The Chofetz Chaim concludes, “Ubber es iz nit kayn kuntz tzu shturben vee a Yid; der grester kuntz iz oys tzu lebben aleh yuhrin vee a yid – But, it is no ‘trick’ to die like a Jew; the greatest ‘trick’ is to live all of one’s years like a Jew.”

On another occasion the Chofetz Chaim quipped, “It’s very difficult to make a living. They say that people need a livelihood so that they have what to live with. But I wonder if they have what to die with!

In Koheles, the wisest of men states3 that there is a time to be born and a time to die. Why does he not say that there is a time to live? The Chofetz Chaim explained that life is so short and fleeting that there is hardly any time to live!

One of the most well-known prophecies of Yirmiyah involved the prayers of our Matriarch Rachel. The Midrash4 describes the fascinating scene that transpired as the Holy Temple was burning. G-d Himself was weeping, as it were, "Where are my children, my prophets, my priests? I feel like someone whose only son died suddenly under his wedding canopy." G-d then instructs the prophet Yirmiyah to summon the patriarchs and Matriarchs so that they could intercede on behalf of their exiled children.

Avraham is the first to speak. He rips his hair, rents his garments, and places ashes on his forehead and laments, "Master of the World, You granted me a child when I was a hundred years old. Yet, when You asked me to sacrifice him on the altar I did so without hesitation." But G-d would not hearken to his call. Yaakov then appeared before G-d and declared, "I worked for my duplicitous brother-in-law Lavan for twenty-one arduous years. Upon leaving I was confronted by my brother Eisav who wanted to kill me and my children. Yet I stood before them and was prepared to die to protect them." Still G-d was not pacified. Moshe arose and stated, "I spoke on behalf of Your people for forty years, and yet, I died before entering Israel. Let my death substitute for them and enable them to return to the Holy Land."

Finally Rachel arises and implores on behalf of her children, "Yaakov had initially worked for me for seven years. My father Lavan cajoled me to allow Leah to trick Yaakov. I could not bear the shame that Leah would have experienced had Yaakov seen through the sham. So I gave up my husband to my sister to spare her from shame and embarrassment.” The Medrash relates that it was Rochel’s plea that broke the decree.

What was it about the cry of Rochel that afforded it greater potency then the prayers of other the Patriarchs and Matriarchs? Although they all spoke on behalf of their children, they all focused on their willingness to die for the sake of G-d’s Name. Although their merits were incredible, they were insufficient to alter the harsh decree written against their descendant. Rochel however, argued that she was willing to live to sanctify G-d’s Name. She was compelled to live with the consequences of her magnanimous deed for the rest of her life. She gave up her place as the sole wife of Yaakov, and even in death she was not buried adjacent to Yaakov.

“Thus said G-d: A voice is heard on high, lamentations and bitter weeping - Rachel weeps for her children. She refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are gone.

Thus said G-d: Stay your voice from weeping and prevent your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your efforts, says G-d, and they shall return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares G-d: Your children shall return back to their boundaries.5"

Parshas Balak is always read the Shabbos before the commencement of the Three Weeks of mourning, which begin on the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tamuz. All the pain we suffer, including the fact that we are still in exile, is testament to the fact that as a nation we are not adequately sanctifying G-d’s Name. There is no doubt that throughout the millennia our ancestors, and we, have sanctified G-d’s Name as they marched to their deaths with “Shema Yisroel” on their lips. But perhaps we have not yet fulfilled our obligation to live our lives with Shema Yisroel on our lips.

“My soul should die the death of the upright”

“Rochel weeps for her children”

1 23:10
2 Ba’al Haturim then adds that the numerical values of the last letter of the name of each of the patriarchs "אברהם יצחק יעקב" (מ+ק+ב = 142) is equivalent to בלעם, a reference to Bila’am’s subsequent words, “And let my end be like his”.
3 Koheles 3:2
4 Eichah Rabbah 24
5 Yirimyah 31:14-15

Friday, June 4, 2010


Only works in Fire Fox

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:




Your browser may not support display of this image. Rabbi Avi Berman is the director of the Orthodox Union in Eretz Yisroel1. Among his other important work is his involvement with Israeli soldiers. When soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces went into combat against Hamas in Gaza last year, he spearheaded the dissemination of tefillin to over a hundred soldiers who were interested in adding a spiritual component to their weaponry. After the operation in Gaza concluded, the OU continued to be in contact with the soldiers who had received the new pairs of tefillin.

Outside enemy territory the army erects a home base. Before advancing into combat, at that base, soldiers leave all their personal belongings and valuables.

Rabbi Berman related that he was friends with a soldier who was killed during the Gaza campaign. When they gathered his personal belongings they found on his camera a video which was taken just before he had set out with his unit, on what would be his final mission. The video showed the soldier and members of his unit dancing intensely with their unit’s Army-Rabbi and singing -"עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה" - The eternal nation does not fear the long road2.”

During the Shabbos I was in Eretz Yisroel a number of weeks ago with a group of Rabbis from across America and Canada, we had the privilege to eat Shalosh Seudos at the home of Abba and Pamela Claver. The Clavers live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim, and their roof provides an absolutely magnificent view of the Kosel and the Temple Mount.

But what made the experience truly special was the fact that we ate together with a regiment of religious soldiers. In fact, we sat interspersed among the soldiers, and had a chance to get to know them a bit. One of the highlights of the meal for me was when we sang the aforementioned song "עם הנצח" together. Defending Eretz Yisroel, being and living as a Torah Jew, and seeking to gain any level of mastery in Torah study, the noblest pursuit of all, all entails perseverance along “the long road”. The eternal people must always proceed without fear!

The nation stood at the threshold of Eretz Yisroel and their entry into the land was imminent. Twelve of the greatest leaders of the nation, one leader representing each tribe, were dispatched to survey the land. The results of that mission were catastrophic.

Ten spies reported that the inhabitants of the Land were an implacable foe. They surmised that the enemy possessed insurmountable strength and resources, and were simply impregnable. Two spies however, returned preaching that for a nation of believers in an omnipotent G-d they would be able to vanquish the inhabitants and drive them from the land, despite the odds.

Ten spies lamented that, “We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us”, and two spies countered, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it.” Ten spies cried, “It is a land that devours its inhabitants… we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes”, while two spies retorted, “If G-d desires us, He will He will bring us to this Land and give it to us… You should not fear the people of the Land for they are our bread… G-d is with us. Do not fear them!”

It is uncanny that the same people who saw the same thing could have had two diametrically different experiences. How could ten spies return full of dread and pessimism, while the other two were filled with sanguinity and excitement?

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’l3 explained that one’s level of bitachon4 in G-d is based on the context of his perceived relationship with G-d. If one truly believes that G-d loves him and he feels a deep connection with G-d, he will react and relate to the events of life with a far more optimistic attitude, than one who believes G-d hates him and is ‘out to get him’ (heaven forefend).

On their great level, the ten spies felt a certain spiritual/psychological aloofness from G-d. They did not feel worthy enough of G-d’s love and protection5. Therefore, when they saw the challenges that they would face upon entry into the land they saw them as insurmountable, impending disasters.

Yehoshua and Calev however, saw the same land through a lens of closeness to G-d. Their bitachon in G-d was whole-hearted, and they felt that G-d’s love for them, and all of Klal Yisroel, was uncompromised and unconditional. Therefore when they viewed those same challenges, they saw them as opportunities that would undoubtedly yield Divinely-ordained victories.

Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita, the Lakewood Mashgiach, quipped6 that in Israel today there is a “Sar Habitachon - Minister of Defense” who is in charge of ensuring the security of the country. But Torah Jews have greater confidence in the “Sha’ar Habitachon”7. It is our sense of bitachon that grants us the ability to feel a sense of security and tranquility in an insecure world.

Rabbi Salomon continued by quoting a poignant thought from Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm. He noted that it is commonly believed that the difference between a hero and a coward is that the coward is beset by fear, while the hero is not afarid. But this is a fallacy. If the hero indeed had no fear, either he would not proceed into battle in the first place, or even if he did, he would not fight with adequate gusto and determination.

In truth, both the hero and the coward may be intimidated and frightened by the prospects of the unknown they are facing. The difference is however, that the coward flees from the source of his fear, while the hero is propelled forward by his fear. Both are afraid, but while the coward is paralyzed by his fear and seeks avoidance, the hero is confidently driven by his fear, determined to confront the source of his fear with every asset available to him. The coward seeks the path of least resistance, while the hero relentlessly readies himself for a long arduous journey.

To become a hero one must feel that sense of security which breeds optimism and hope. And to have that level of bitachon in G-d there must be requisite feeling of connection with G-d and a penetratingly deep realization of how much G-d loves us and desires that connection.

The roads of life are indeed daunting and ominous. But when one feels securely in the Hands of G-d he can proceed, because he is not afraid to confront fear itself!

“G-d is with us. Do not fear them!”

“The eternal nation does not fear the long road”

1 I had the privilege to meet, and be inspired, by Rabbi Berman during my recent trip to Eretz Yisroel.

2 This well known song sung by religious soldiers was written during the Disengagement from Gaza by the settlers as they were being evacuated. It is sung to the popular tune commonly sung to the words, “Oz V’hadar l’vushah”.

3 Alei Shor, Volume 2, p. 576

4 Bitachon is the highest level of trust in G-d. It is a deeper and higher level than emunah (faith). Bitachon literally means security; one who has bitachon in G-d feels completely secure no matter what happens to him because he sincerely feels that he is in G-d’s Hands. Chazon Ish explains that emunah is an intellectual belief, while bitachon is an emotional belief, and therefore is much stronger.

5 The Chofetz Chaim develops this idea at length. He explains that the spies felt misplaced humility, figuring that they were unworthy of divine intervention and miracles. The Chofetz Chaim continues that this is a common tactic of our own Evil Inclination; he seeks to make us feel unworthy and distant from G-d, which in turn affects all of our Service to G-d.

6 Torah Umesorah Convention – Iyar 5769/May 2009

7 Literally the “Gates of Trust (in G-d)”; a reference to the section with that title in the great ethical work Chovas Halivavos (Duties of the Heart)