Friday, August 27, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Kehillat New Hempstead

Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

If you know anyone interested in receiving Stam Torah via email each

week, send their address to:




One hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.

His father, working in the yard, saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear, he ran toward the water, yelling to his son as loudly as he could.

Hearing his voice, the little boy became alarmed and quickly turned to swim toward his father. It was too late. Just as he reached his father, the alligator reached him.

From the dock, the father grabbed his little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. A horrible tug-of-war ensued. The alligator was much stronger than the father, but the father was much too passionate to let go.

A farmer happened to drive by, heard the screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator.

Remarkably, after weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack. And, on his arms, were deep scratches where his father’s fingernails dug into his flesh in his effort to hold on to his son.

The newspaper reporter, who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked if he would show him his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs. Then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. These marks are because my Dad wouldn’t let go.”

Shortly prior to his death, Moshe related to Klal Yisroel the chilling and frightening prophecy of the horrors that would befall them if they would not hearken to the Torah and its commandments. It is known as “the Tochacha- Rebuke”. Before the Torah recounts the dire consequences that would result from the nation’s sins, it states the multitudes of blessings that they would be showered with if they observe the Torah properly. The blessings commence with the following opening:

“It shall be that if you hearken to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, to observe, to perform all of His commandments that I command you this day, then Hashem, your G-d, will make you supreme over all the nations of the earth. ובאו עליך כל הברכות האלו והשיגוך All of these blessings will come upon you and they will overtake you.” (28:1-2)

What does the Torah mean that the blessings will overtake you?

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pershischa zt’l explained that, at times, people are blessed with goodness that they cannot, or do not, appreciate. Either they do not realize the magnitude of the blessing or they don’t appreciate what they have been granted. The promise of “והשיגוךthat “the blessings will overtake you” is that G-d will ensure that one will have the ability to realize, appreciate, and enjoy the great blessings bestowed upon him.

Rabbi Avrohom Schorr shlita notes that the Torah utilizes the same terminology in reference to the curses and punishments of the tochacha. "והיה אם לא תשמעו בקול ה' אלקיך.. ובאו עליך כל הקללות האלה והשגוך". – But it will be that if you do not hearken to the voice of Hashem, your G-d… then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you (28:15). According to the explanation of Rabbi Simcha Bunim how are we to understand the concept of והשגוך in reference to the curses? How can a person be expected to appreciate curses that befall him?

The holy Skulener Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal zt’l was a man of incredible compassion, concern, and love for his fellow Jew. When he was a young man he did everything in his power to convince young Jewish men not to enter the Romanian army, because of the deleterious effect such a post would inevitably have on one’s spiritual state. Instead, he convinced them to go to a yeshiva where they could learn Torah. When the Romanian authorities got wind of his “sedition” they incarcerated him in a dank prison cell.

It was well known that when the Rebbe would pray he would do so with incredible passion and concentration. With nothing else in the squalidness of his cell he began to pray by heart, focusing and pondering every word he said. When the Rebbe was reciting the “Baruch She’amar (Blessed is He who uttered)” prayer, recited as the opening prayer of pesukei d’zimrah (Verses of Praise), he reached a phrase that troubled him. “Blessed is He Who uttered and the world came into existence… ברוך גוזר ומקיים - blessed is He Who decrees and fulfills.” These words just don’t seem to fit in. The whole prayer is a song of praise to G-d for His blessings and goodness. Decrees on the other hand, are generally harsh and unpleasant. Why mention them here? Furthermore, why is it a great praise to say that G-d fulfills His decrees; doesn’t any honest person keep his word?

After pondering the question for some time the Rebbe had an epiphany. The word, “ומקיים (umikayem)” does not only mean “and He fulfills” but it also means “and He sustains”. In other words, G-d makes decrees that are often harsh and seemingly overbearing but He also infuses the recipient of the decree with the strength to endure and persevere despite the difficult conditions. “Blessed is He who decrees and sustains”, i.e. He sustains the subject of the decree.

A few days later the Rebbe was released from his imprisonment. Every year on the anniversary of his release he would recount this thought and remind his followers that, although we are often challenged with tests and difficulties in life, we must remember that the same G-d who put us in the predicament also grants us the strength and fortitude to bear it and persevere.

The curses of the tochacha are severe and frightening. Indeed, less than a century ago our people bore witness to their veracity. We do not have explanations for any of those events and, in this finite world, we never will. We cannot fathom why a million innocent holy children were brutally murdered in the most savage manner, nor can we imagine why even one pure child suffers and is r’l taken from this world. It is simply beyond us. However, we take solace in the knowledge that G-d who loves us in the most profound manner gives us the strength to endure it and suffers along with us. The pain may not be mitigated, the nightmares may persist, and the personal anguish may linger perpetually, but somehow one is able to go on. One need look no further than at how the Torah world has rebuilt a scant 65 years after the horrors of World War II. It is undoubtedly the greatest display of resilience in the history of the world. “Blessed is He who decrees and sustains.”

The Torah states that if Klal Yisroel does not hearken to the commandments of G-d, the curses will overtake them. As the Skulener Rebbe explained, G-d grants us the strength to withstand our trials and tribulations and somehow foster resilience to live on. That is the promise of the curses “overtaking you”. Blessings are only meaningful if one has the ability to appreciate them and reap their benefits. In a similar vein, tragedies and challenges become invaluable growth experiences when we are able to grow because of them.

The verse in Tehillim (22:2) foreshadows the desperate prayer that Queen Esther beseeched of G-d as she was unlawfully perparing to enter the chamber of King Achashveirosh in order to plead for the lives of her people, קלי קלי למה עזבתני – My G-d! My G-d! Why have you forsaken me?”

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l comments that the word “למה (lamah)” should be read, “Limah – for what”. It should be read as a question, “My G-d! My G-d! For what (purpose) have you forsaken me?” In other words, in the face of tragedy and challenge one should ponder what G-d expects of him at that time. How can he grow from the experience and elevate himself because of it. What growth does G-d want to see from him through this event?

At a speech he gave at last year’s Torah Umesorah convention (June 2008), Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Lob (Chicago) related the following story: Throughout his life the holy Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, better known as the Ba’al HaTanya, would be the ba’al koreh (the reader of the Torah) in his shul (synagogue).

The year after his death, a different member of the congregation became the ba’al koreh. When it came time to read the tochacha the ba’al koreh began to read it quickly and in a low tone, as is customary. Not long after he began, Rabbi Dov Ber, the son and successor of the Baal HaTanya, let out a sigh and promptly fainted. They quickly revived him, but as soon as the ba’al koreh resumed reading the tochacha the Rebbe fainted again. Needless to say it was a very painful experience. Afterwards, the Chassidim asked Rabbi Dov Ber why he had been so shaken by the tochacha. True they were frightening words but they were the same words that he had heard his father read for so many decades. The Rebbe shook his head and responded, “It’s not the way my father read it!”

Rabbi Lob offered the following explanation of the Rebbe’s cryptic response: When we read the horrific account of the tochacha one may think that, heaven forbid, G-d is punishing out of wrath, adopting punitive measures and seeking retribution for the iniquitous. However this is an egregious misunderstanding. Chazal explain that G-d suffers along with us, as it were. “When he calls on Me, I will answer him; I am with him in distress, I will deliver him and honor him.” (Tehillim 91) It is the concept of shechinta b’galusa – that the Divine Presence descended into exile with us and will remain with us until the final redemption. Furthermore, whenever one is suffering G-d’s presence rests alongside him/her and they weep together, as it were.

When the Ba’al haTanya read the tochacha, his son was able to hear the pain of G-d, as it were, behind the curses. He detected the heartache of a loving father forced to chastise and discipline his son in order to ensure his son’s maturation, in a manner which the child cannot comprehend. Painful and horrible as it was, the feeling of love behind the rebuke made it tolerable to hear. But when another person read the words, Rabbi Dov Ber did not hear the love behind the rebuke. He only heard the chilling and terrifying words and, therefore, he could not bear to listen to it.

No one wants to be tested and surely no one wants to suffer pain and anguish. But one must always remember that when, G-d forbid, one does suffer, his Eternal Celestial Father suffers and cries along with him. It is not a hyperbolic statement, but rather a truism. That knowledge alone is the greatest source of consolation and inspiration.

The gemara (Megilla 31b) states that the tochacha is read close to the conclusion of the year to symbolize our hope that the year conclude with its curses so that the new year can begin with its blessings, "תכלה שנה וקללותיה תחל שנה וברכותיה". We not only pray for a year of blessing but also for the insight and ability to appreciate all of the blessings that we have, especially the blessing of being a Jew, who possesses a special relationship with His Father in Heaven.

“My G-d! My G-d! For what have you forsaken me?”

“I am with him in distress; I will deliver him and honor him”

Thursday, August 19, 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:




Phil and Mike were part of a team of construction workers building a skyscraper in the middle of the city. When it was time for their lunch break they sat down together with their feet dangling twelve stories from the ground. Phil opened his lunch box and peered in, “Peanut butter and jelly?! Again peanut butter and jelly! I have had enough! If I get peanut butter and jelly again tomorrow, so help me I’m going to jump right off this structure.” Mike then opened his lunch box and peered in, “Tuna fish?! Again Tuna fish! I can’t take it anymore. If I have tuna fish for lunch one more time I’m going to jump off with you.”

The next day when it was time for their lunch break, the duo sat down together and opened their lunch boxes. Phil was aghast, “Peanut butter and jelly again! That’s it!” With that he leapt off the building. Mike then looked in his lunch box. “Tuna fish again! That’s it!” And before anyone could stop him, he too jumped off the building.

The families decided to hold a joint funeral for Phil and Mike. Before the eulogies began Mike’s wife walked up to his casket sobbing, “Michael, I didn’t know you didn’t like peanut butter and jelly. If I would have known I never would have given it to you for lunch.” With that she walked away crying bitterly. Then Phil’s wife walked over to his casket, “Phillip… you made your own lunch every day!!!”

It sounds like a silly inane joke. But perhaps there is more truth to the joke then it may seem. The sefer Sha’ar Bas Rabim1 relates a powerful insight: He explains that every person wants to be created exactly as he/she is created. Before a soul descends into the body of a newborn baby, the soul is shown what it needs to rectify and what its unique role is while it is alive in this world. The soul then decides what it requires - i.e. its familial, social, economic, intellectual, and physical state, and G-d responds accordingly.

Thus when challenges arise in life and one questions G-d, “Why me? How could You do this to me?” the question is really misdirected. In truth it is not G-d who has determined his situation, but rather the person himself, from the pure vantage point of heaven, before descending into this world. Essentially, we make our own lunch.

The Torah instructs (22:5), “A woman shall not wear the garments of a man, and a man shall not wear the dress of a woman, for it is an abomination of Hashem, your G-d, anyone who does these things.”

Targum Yonason explains the verse: “The clothing of tzitzis and tefillin, which are affixed for men, should not be donned by women… for it distances one from before Hashem, your G-d, anyone who does these things.”

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l commented that the Torah is reminding us that each person has his own mission to fulfill in life. For one person performing a certain task can be extremely holy, while for another person performing that same task can be considered an abomination. Every person needs to foster feelings of joy and appreciation for his own uniqueness and abilities. How can one compare himself to another if his role is so vastly different?! A man needs the constant spiritual injections of holiness that are garnered through wearing tefillin and tzitzis. A woman however, does not require those measures2, and therefore for her to wear tefillin and tzitzis can be deemed an abomination.

There are many conscientious students in school who struggle with the notion that their peers have superior scholastic acumen than they do. They work and struggle much harder for grades and do not score as well as others who achieve high grades with minimal effort. Those students must be taught that G-d gives every person what he needs. [Truthfully, those who are trained to struggle and expend effort to reach levels of success are better suited and prepared for the challenges of life. Often it is the students who did not have to work hard during their formative years that are in for a rude awakening when they step into ‘the real world’.]

In life we must constantly remind ourselves of the veracity of this concept. We are created with the gifts and tools we need, and therefore we cannot compare ourselves to others.

It is well-known that ‘Mazal Tov’ is an expression of congratulations among Ashkenazic Jews. At a wedding, bar mitzvah, bris milah, and even when one purchases a new home or is honored at a dinner, we wish the celebrators Mazal Tov.

The origin of the expression is unclear3. Moreover, the meaning of the expression is perplexing. Mazal is commonly defined as ‘luck’, thus ‘Mazal Tov’ means good luck. It would seem that luck has nothing to do with ‘congratulations’. Why then, do we wish people Mazal Tov at every joyous event?

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler zt’l4 explained that defining Mazal as “luck” is a misnomer. Rather, Mazel refers to a person’s unique purpose in this world. Because a person’s economic status, or health, is a matter of Mazal, some people misinterpret Mazal as luck. But in truth, it is a matter of fulfilling one’s tafkid, his unique purpose in the world. Wealth, poverty, and illness are all examples of tools that a person must utilize to fulfill one’s tafkid.

Therefore, whenever a person is blessed with something new we wish him “Mazal Tov”. Essentially, we are blessing the person that he utilizes the new commodity – an honor, a new home, or reaching a milestone - to help further his fulfillment of his tafkid. At a wedding too, we bless the newlyweds that each should utilize their newfound union to further their personal and joint growth in fulfilling their destinies in life.

The month of Elul is devoted to preparing for the imminent Days of Judgment. The Shelah hakodosh writes the well known mnemonic that Elul alludes to the verse5, “Ani ldodi vdodi li- I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.”

Our first task during Elul is to appreciate the first word of the verse, “ani – I”. One must understand his own greatness and then realize that G-d created him in that manner because that is what he needs for optimal growth.

It is only with this cognizance that one can commence the process of repentance. If one does not realize his own value and how much G-d loves him, he will hardly want – or feel worthy – to build a connection with G-d.

Every person has to do his/her best with the cards he/she has been dealt with. It helps to remember that we ourselves are the dealers who dealt ourselves the cards we have been endowed with, before we descended into this world. G-d grants us what we felt we need to help serve Him in the optimal manner possible throughout our lives.

“A woman shall not wear the garments of a man”

“And my beloved is to me”

1 Parshas Vayishlach, on the pasuk “shalchayni ki ala hashachar” in a footonote, based on a quote from the gemara Rosh Hashanan (11a)
2 Women have certain levels of innate holiness that men do not possess. That is part of the reason why they recite the beautifully worded blessing that G-d “has created me according to His Will”. Men require greater levels of growth before they can reach a level of “according to His Will”. But that is a lengthy discourse that cannot be conveyed in a footnote.
3 It does not appear in the gemara, rishonim, or early acharonim.
4 Michtav MaEliyahu chelek 4, p.98, in the footnote
5 Shir Hashirim 6:3

Thursday, August 12, 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:




Melburn McBroom was a domineering boss, with a temper that intimidated those who worked with him. It may not have been so terrible if McBroom worked in a factory or in an office. But McBroom was an airline pilot.

One day in 1978 McBroom’s plane was approaching Portland, Oregon, when he noticed a problem with the landing gear. McBroom went into a holding pattern, circling the field at a high altitude while he fiddled with the mechanism.

As McBroom obsessed about the landing gear, the plane’s fuel gauges steadily approached empty. But the copilots were so fearful of McBroom’s wrath that they said nothing, even as disaster loomed. The plane eventually crashed, killing ten people.

In his noted work, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman uses this story to argue the importance of ‘emotional intelligence’: “Imagine the benefits of being skilled in the basic emotional competencies – being attuned to those feelings we deal with, being able to handle disagreements so they do not escalate, having the ability to get into flow states while doing our work. Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal. And, in terms of managing our own career, there may be nothing more essential than recognizing our deepest feelings about what we do – and what changes might make us more truly satisfied with our work.”

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities – which Hashem, your G-d gives you – for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone’s presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise, and make just words crooked. Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue, so that you will possess the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.” (Devorim 16:18-20)

The Chofetz Chaim notes that if someone says about another individual that he is ‘wealthy’, we cannot be too sure that it’s true. After all, perhaps the labeler is himself poor and his standard of wealth are a far cry from those of society1. However, if Baron de Rothschild would refer to someone as wealthy we can be confident that the individual is truly wealthy. Rothschild was well-known as one of the wealthiest individuals in Europe, so he is a good barometer of wealth.

In a similar vein, if someone refers to another individual as a wise person, we cannot be sure that he is truly an erudite individual. The labeler may not be very intelligent himself and so his measure of wisdom may not be too accurate. However, if Rabbi Akiva Eiger was to declare that a certain individual was wise we could rest assured that he is truly brilliant. Rabbi Akiva Eiger was himself a brilliant scholar of unparalleled proportions, and so he can know the true measure of wisdom. How much more so if King Solomon, the wisest of men, testified about another person’s wisdom!

As the adage goes, “It takes one to know one!”

If the measure of wealth and wisdom can be so defined by mortals who possess great wealth or wisdom, how much more can be said about G-d Himself. If the Creator of the world, who Himself grants all wealth and wisdom, were to testify about a certain individual that He possessed superior knowledge or wealth we would have no doubt about the veracity of those titles. Conversely, if G-d were to declare that a wise person had forfeited his wisdom or that a wealthy individual lost his wealth we would have no doubt that it was true.

Thus, explained the Chofetz Chaim, we must appreciate the Torah’s declarations about the deleterious effect of bribery. The Torah declares that bribery blinds the eyes of the wise person. This is an individual whom the Torah itself declares to be a wise and righteous person. Yet - the Torah warns - even such a person will be unable to objectively offer a judicial ruling if he was offered the most minimal bribe.

The beginning of parshas Shoftim seems, prima facie, solely dedicated to judges and officers. In truth however, it contains a poignant and vital message for every individual. We all pass judgment myriads of times each day. We view events and actions, and react accordingly. We must realize how much we are biased and influenced, even unwittingly. We are prodded to act based on our desires and penchants, and by events that transpire.

During my high school days in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, a rebbe would deliver a lecture based on the parsha each Thursday night. Each Thursday evening we (the students) would ask the Menahel, Rabbi Dovid Katzenstein, who was speaking. Normally he would respond in kind by telling us the name of the rebbe. But every few weeks he would respond that ‘a close relative of his’ would be speaking. We knew that that was his way of saying that he was delivering the lecture that night.

The wise Sages declared that every individual is related to himself! In fact, we are our own closet relative, even more than our own parents and children. If we are naturally inclined to care about our relatives and those we feel close to, how much more so are we blinded by ourselves.

The Washington Post promotes its circulation with a classic slogan: “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it!”2 A person who is candid with himself must realize that in regards to his own shortcomings he can ‘never truly get it’ That is why we need to be able to hearken to the gentle criticisms of friends and loved ones, for they have a more objective view of our behavior and can be the ultimate guides towards our greatest growth.3

Even the greatest therapist and parenting expert needs to solicit the advice of others when it comes to his/her own children. In regards to ourselves we must realize that we are always contending with our own biases and emotions, and therefore need the advice and guidance of others.

The Master Ethicists note that the aforementioned verses at the beginning of parshas Shoftim are an exhortation to every person. Those words remind us that we must enact our own personal safeguards and protections from sin.

It is hardly coincidental that parshas Shoftim is read at the beginning of the month of Elul, when we commence our efforts towards repentance and spiritual renewal. Before one can embark on any path he must be able to visualize where he is headed. And that can only be feasibly accomplished if one is willing to solicit advice and guidance from others.

“For bribery will blind the eyes of the wise”

“If you don’t get it, you don’t get it!”

1 Years ago when I was in yeshiva, there was a worker who wasn’t of the brightest ilk. He was once asked how much he thought someone’s home (a particularly expensive home) cost. His response was, “That’s an expensive house; it’s gotta cost at least a hundred dollars.”
2 Heard from Rabbi Pinchos Idstein, Camp Dora Golding’s esteemed Head Counselor, a resident of Silver Spring, MD. Rabbi Idstein often repeats the quote when a situation (or individual) warrants it.
3 In fact that is one of the greatest gifts of a proper marriage. The Sages explain that G-d created the institution of marriage – two people with such diverse backgrounds and temperaments - joining together in building a family, so that they can help build each other in a loving manner.

Thursday, August 5, 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 Texas rancher was visiting a farm in Israel. The proud Israeli farmer was showing the Texan around. “Here is where I grow my tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Over there I built a clubhouse for my children, next to the shed I built, on the side of the flower garden.” The Texan was surprised by how much the Israeli had cultivated on such a small tract of land. “Is this all your land?” the Texan asked.

“Yes” replied the Israeli proudly, “every bit of it is mine.”

“No, I mean this is it? Is this all of it?” asked the Texan incredulously.

Betach! It really is all mine!”

“Well son”, replied the Texan, “back home I’d get in my car before the sun’d come up and I’d drive and drive, and when the sun set, why, I’d only be halfway across my land.”

“Oh yes,” replied the Israeli wistfully, “I know exactly how you feel; I used to have a car that ran the same way.”

Moshe Rabbeinu pined to enter the Land until the day he died. Ultimately he was only allowed to gaze at the Land from afar. But throughout his final will and testament to his beloved people, which comprises most of the book of Devorim, Moshe reminded the nation of the physical and spiritual delights of the land. At the same time he repeatedly cautioned them to maintain the sanctity of the Land by observing the Torah. Otherwise, he warned, the Land will repulse them and they would suffer greatly as a result. In the palace of the king one must act with greater vigilance and respect.1

The timeless words of the Torah contain the key for our ultimate return to the Land. The Land must be purged from all impurities of idols and other gods. The laws endemic to the Land must be adhered to with precision, such as shemittah (sabbatical year of the Land) and the various tithes. If Klal Yisroel will fulfill those dictums they will live in unhindered peace and the land will flourish. “You shall cross the Jordan and settle in the Land that Hashem, your G-d, causes you to inherit, and He will give you rest from your enemies all around, and you will dwell securely2.”

In bentching3 we thank G-d, not only for the food He allowed us to enjoy, but also for the Holy Land from which all blessing emanates from. “We thank You Hashem, our G-d, because You have given to our forefathers as a heritage, a land which is desirable, good, and wide.”

That the land is desirable and good is clear. But how can it be said that it is a spacious land? The square footage of Eretz Yisroel is less than the relatively small state of New Jersey4. Even with if the Biblical parameters of Trans-Jordan included, the land is dwarfed by any one of the surrounding Arab countries5. Despite how much we love the land and how connected we feel to it, it is not a physically spacious land?

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita6 related the following beautiful explanation: Reuven meets his friend Shimon one afternoon and excitedly tells him that he has just recently purchased some real estate. “That is wonderful”, replies Shimon, “How much land did you buy?” Reuven smiles, “A foot of land!” Shimon gazes at him incredulously, “A foot of land is practically insignificant. For that you are excited? I think you were duped into a silly deal.”

We would all agree that Reuven does not possess much business acumen. But what if Reuven approached Shimon and told him that he purchased a foot of diamond. Undoubtedly Shimon would be most impressed, for a foot of diamond is invaluable. The disparity between a foot of land and a foot of diamond is diametrically different. The smallest diamond is very valuable, and every added inch of diamond is worth exponentially more.

Eretz Yisroel is described as, “a land that Hashem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it…7” Every inch of land in Eretz Yisroel is priceless and invaluable. Thus, because it is “a land which is desirable and good”, it is wide and spacious. Perhaps geometrically, in comparison to other lands, it is physically a small land. But as the land which is G-d’s Palace, as it were, it is a huge land, a veritable treasure.

The truth is that one need only travel the roads of Eretz Yisroel to know the veracity of these words. Today the cities of Eretz Yisroel are congested and bustling with Jews, thank G-d. It can be difficult to find living space or even to merely get around the city roads. However, once one drives slightly beyond the city limits (which are constantly expanding) there is open landscape for miles and miles.

This phenomenon is extremely noticeable in Yerushalayim. “Jerusalem, mountains surround it, and G-d surrounds His people, now and forever8.” The hills surrounding Jerusalem are breathtaking. Houses and settlements, literally, jet out of the sides of the mountains creating ornate beautiful neighborhoods. But if one is driving down Highway One, passed Har Menuchos on the left heading out of western Jerusalem, once one has passed the outlying neighborhoods of Ramot which appear atop the adjacent hills, there are wide gaps of land before the next settlements appear on the horizon.

The same holds true to the east. When one travels beyond the ever expanding neighborhood of Har Chomah, the rolling hills of the Judean desert come into view, with the settlements of Gush Etzion in the distance.

Similarly, if one stands above the Mount of Olives in the Arab village of , in one direction is a magnificent view of the Temple Mount. In the other direction is nothing but miles of desert.

But even desert land does not seem to be an impediment to us. During the previous sixty years, areas which were nothing but desert are today beautiful tracts of oasis land with Jews living comfortably there.

It may be the land is crowded and population is increasing constantly. Yet the land still beckons to us and awaits our return with open arms… and open land.

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi expressed his nostalgic love for the Land with unparalleled prose and eloquence9: “Would that I could wander among the places where G-d revealed to your seers and envoys. Who could make wings for me so that I could wander afar and spread the broken pieces of my heart between your broken pieces (i.e. ruins)? I will fall to my face upon your land and treasure your stones and treasure your soil. I will even stand near the graves of my forefathers, and be in wonder in Hebron, the site of the graves of your chosen ones… Living souls are the air of your land, flowing myrrh the dust of your soil, and dripping honey your rivers…”

When I was in Eretz Yisroel a few months ago I had the opportunity to see many beautiful places and special people, but I did not have a chance to pray at Kever Rochel. On the final afternoon of my visit with an eleven p.m. flight rapidly approaching, I had about three hours left before the taxi would arrive to drive me to Ben Gurion airport.

I stopped the next cab that passed and asked him how long it would take and how much it would cost for him to drive me to Kever Rochel and to wait for me to enter and daven and then to drive me back. In typical harried Israeli dialect he replied, “One hundred shekel; one hour. Get in, let’s go!” It was a great deal and well worth the price to have the opportunity to daven in one of the holiest places in the world, and we set off.

The driver was not a religious man, but it was clear that he had tremendous respect for Torah and tradition. The Israeli radio was playing in the car, but it wasn’t too loud so I didn’t ask him to shut it. As we drove towards East Jerusalem we conversed about living in Yerushalayim and how fortunate he was to be there.

When we arrived at the security check point barrier outside Bethlehem, he suddenly shut off the radio and quipped, “Zeh makom kadosh; kahn ayn radio – This is a holy place; here there’s no radio!”

All of Eretz Yisroel is holy and ever inch of the land is invaluable. It is the land of Torah10, a land of spirituality, and the land from which our hearts never left.

Those who were involved in the formation of the state were dubbed Zionists. Truthfully however, a Zionist is one who loves the land because he/she recognizes that it is the Palace of the King from where His Presence never completely left. A Zionist is one who seeks to restore the land to its glory, not merely by aesthetically and physically beautifying the land, but by promulgating and studying Torah, the very fabric of the land.

“Who could make wings for me”

“A land which is desirable, good, and wide”

1 It is also not coincidental that the parshios read during the Shabbosos following Tisha B’av discuss and describe the greatness of Eretz Yisroel.
2 12:10
3 Grace after Meals
4 Israel is 8,522 square mile; New Jersey is 8,729 square miles
5 With the exception of Lebanon (4,035 sq. miles)
6 In his sefer “Tzion V’areha” (Zion and its cities). The sefer is a collection of Rabbi Wolfson’s explanations and thoughts, based on the wisdom of the Sages, regarding Eretz Yisroel generally and about many of its cities.
7 Devorim 11:12
8 Tehillim 125:2
9 Tisha B’av Kinnah 36 – “Zion halo Tishali” [I have a sign hanging in my office with a beautiful picture of an eagle soaring through the air with the verse, “Who could make me wings…” written underneath it.]
10 The kabbalistic works explain that every four amos (cubits) of land in Eretz Yisroel corresponds to a specific part of Torah.