Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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He was world-renown as one of the most successful and wealthy individuals in the country, and his fame seemed to grow as quickly as his profits. He was the envy of his acquaintances, the bane of his competition. So when the accusations were leveled against him it was an absolute shock. He was accused of murdering a seventeen year old girl and the evidence against him was incriminating.

He hired the best defense lawyer, perhaps in the world. The introductory fees alone were upward of five million dollars. But it was pocket change for the defendant and the lawyer was surely worth it.

The prosecution knew that they would be hard pressed to defeat the defense lawyer. To date, the lawyer had never lost a case, even when his client’s case was weak at best. A young District Attorney took up the challenge as the prosecuting lawyer.

The case quickly morphed into a media sensation. Journalists from all across the world were on hand to hear ‘the case of the century’. The D.A. did a masterful job interrogating and proving the prosecution’s case. When he completed his litigation the defense lawyer arose to present his defense. But to the shock of the court he began asking the witnesses seemingly ridiculous questions. “How do you know the murder took place at 3 P.M.? What kind of watch was it? What color? How do you know the battery wasn’t dying and the time was off?”

The spectators couldn’t believe what was happening. The prosecution objected to the defense lawyer’s questions on grounds of irrelevance, and the judge was quick to sustain the objection. The judge repeatedly demanded that the lawyer explain the logic for his inane questions.

The case dragged in for weeks, and the same pattern recurred repeatedly. The D.A. would present poignant litigation and proof for their accusations. Then the defense lawyer would follow with trivial and ridiculous questions. The defendant himself was convinced that his lawyer had lost his marbles and that he was a goner.

Finally, after many weeks, it was time for the closing remarks. The D.A. faced the jury and made his impassioned statement. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the face you are looking at is the face of a murderer. We have offered conclusive and undeniable proof that he has committed this heinous crime. But he did not just murder a seventeen year old girl. He also murdered her children and her children’s children, and all of the lives she could have touched, but now never will.”

When he sat down and the defending lawyer arose to make his closing remarks the tension in the room was palpable. Yet the lawyer was as calm and composed as ever. With finesse and poise he emphatically stated, “Your honor and distinguished members of the jury, it is hardly a secret that for the duration of this case I have made a mockery of the trial. I now reveal to you that the reason I did so is because this trial is indeed just that - a mockery. You see the girl was never murdered. I have been in contact with her all along. She feigned the whole story so that she could run away from home without being followed. To prove it in ten minutes she will walk through the door and enter the courtroom.”

A collective gasp escaped the room as the defendant smugly sat down. They all waited with bated breath as the minutes ticked by. But then ten minutes turned into twenty, and then thirty, and then an hour. Finally the judge ordered the defense to present some proof or he would be held in contempt of court.

The defense lawyer arose again. “Your honor, and ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you are all well aware the law states that a defendant cannot be prosecuted unless it can be proven - beyond a reasonable doubt – that the defendant committed the crime. My friends, by virtue of the fact that you have all been wordlessly staring at the courtroom door for the last hour proves that you all have a reasonable doubt. Therefore, I believe you cannot prosecute my client.”

The courtroom was launched into an uproar. The journalists could not get over the brilliance of the lawyer. He had outfoxed the prosecution and the jury would have no choice but to pardon the obviously guilty defendant. Indeed the jury returned after a mere five minute recess with their verdict.

The room was silent as the head juror made his statement, “We find the defendant… GUILTY… of first degree murder.” The courtroom again burst into a frenzy. The judge smashed his gavel down and called for order. Then he asked the jury for an explanation. The head juror turned to an elderly juror who arose and explained, “Your honor, the defense indeed presented a most convincing argument based on the virtue of the fact that we were all watching the back door. But you see, while everyone else was staring at the door I was staring at the defendant. I noticed that he did not even glance at the door once during that hour. Do you know why? Because he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the young woman was not going to walk through that door. He knew that because he himself must have killed her!”

The courtroom quickly began to empty out as people murmured about the amazing proceedings they had witnessed. As the police officers handcuffed the defendant the lawyer looked at him angrily and quipped, “You dumb fool. If you would have only looked at the door one time, you would be a free man now. But if you yourself don’t believe the alibi, or at least demonstrate your belief in the alibi, how can you expect anyone else to believe it?!”

From Rosh Chodesh Elul we begin a month long process of introspection and preparation. We scrutinize our actions and ponder how we can improve ourselves in a lasting manner during the coming year. During the week of Rosh Hashanah we commence the recitation of selichos pleading with the Almighty that He prolong His justifiable wrath with our foibles, and exercise His attribute of mercy.

On Rosh Hashanah we reaccept upon ourselves our unyielding allegiance to G-d’s eternal Kingship, replete with the blowing of the shofar, as the first step of our repentance. During the subsequent Days of Penitence we prepare for the awesome and holy day of Yom Kippur, begging our Father and King to grant us a tabula rasa, wherein we can begin anew.

The conclusion of Yom Kippur immediately segues into an exciting four days of preparation for the holiday of Succos. The succah itself must be built according to halachic parameters, then furbished, and decorated. The Four Species must be painstakingly analyzed for perfection and then purchased. This is all aside from all the other Yom Tov preparations that must be done.

The holiday itself is termed “Z’man Simchasaynu – The season of our joy.” Although there is an obligation to be in a state of joy during every festival, there is no explicit commandment to feel joy written in regards to Pesach. The obligation is written once in regards to Shavuos. Conversely, in regards to the holiday of Succos the Torah states three times that one must rejoice during the festival!

The commentators explain that the joy of Succos is inextricably bound to the blissful delight of having achieved atonement and forgiveness on Yom Kippur. The joy of Succos is manifest in so many ways, including taking the Four Species during each day of the holiday, the Simchos Bais Hashoayvah2 celebrations virtually every night of the festival, and culminating with the uninhibited joy of Simchas Torah.

But there is an added dimension to the emphasis of joy during Succos. If one does not feel a sense of happiness on Succos it is seemingly indicative of his lack of confidence in the veracity of his efforts during the Days of Awe. He is analogous to the defendant who did not look at the door because he knew the alibi was false.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach a’h asked why we recite the blessing “Selach Lanu – Please forgive” in the prayers following Yom Kippur. If one did not achieve forgiveness from the passionate prayers of Ne’ilah it is hardly likely that he will do so from the prayers afterwards?

He answered that in the prayers after Yom Kippur we must ask G-d’s forgiveness for not believing in our own efforts. We spent the day immersed in prayer and repentance, and conducting ourselves like angels. Yet we are skeptical and wonder if perhaps G-d does not love us and does not accept our prayers. For that skepticism we must beg forgiveness after Yom Kippur is over. We have an obligation to believe that G-d, who loves us dearly, awaits to accept our prayers and to grant us atonement.

Our joy on Succos reflects that confidence and therefore is a vital continuation of our efforts on Yom Kippur. Perhaps that is why the judgments that were sealed on Yom Kippur are not dispatched to the world until Hoshanah Rabbah3. G-d waits to see if we believe in our own efforts before He dispatches the sealed verdict to this world. Even one who did not emerge meritoriously from the precise judgments of the Days of Awe, has a chance to accrue merits and alter the decree before Hoshanah Rabbah.

If one demonstrates genuine inner joy at the opportunity afforded to him to reconnect with His Creator during these days, that itself is an incredible merit which can alter the judgment.

“You shall rejoice on your festival...

A seven day period shall you celebrate…

And you will be completely joyous4

1 The following essay is based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, second day of Succos 5770. I originally heard the story from Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein.
2 Literally ‘the joy of the water drawing’, our celebrations commemorate the magnificent celebrations that transpired during the days of Succos when the Bais Hamikdash stood in Yerushalayiom. Those vents were centered around the pouring of the water libations down the side of the Altar, hence the name of the event.
3 The seventh and final day of Succos (immediately followed by the new holiday of Shemini Atzeres) has an aura of judgment and has many similarities with Yom Kippur, as revealed to us in the holy and mystical Zohar. We recite added prayers and there is an added dimension of solemnity that merges with the joy of the holiday.
4 Devorim 16:14-15

Friday, September 17, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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




The Dubner Maggid1 was legendary for his uncanny ability to answer virtually any question with an engaging and apropos parable The Vilna Gaon2 once asked the Maggid the secret of his skill to imagine innovative parables on the spur of the moment. True to his legacy, the Maggid replied by relating a parable:

There was once a prince who desired to master the skill of archery. He spent hours each day studying the acumen of the greatest archers in the kingdom. With time the prince himself became renowned for his precision and exactitude as an expert archer.

One day the prince was traveling through the forest when he noticed an arrow which cut right through a bull’s-eye on a nearby tree. At first the prince thought nothing of it, but then he noticed numerous bull’s-eyes throughout the area. The prince could not get over it. What marksmanship this archer must have! The prince insisted that his men seek out who was responsible for the incredible display of talent.

After some time they returned to the prince with an unkempt child. The prince was astounded, “Was it really you who hit every bull’s-eye in this forest? Please tell me your secret. I have never seen anyone with your talent and ability.” The child began to laugh, “Your graciousness, I will show you the great secret of my talent.” With that he pulled out an arrow and shot it haphazardly at a nearby tree. After the arrow landed clumsily, the child took out some chalk from his pocket and drew circles around the arrow, until it appeared like a perfect bull’s-eye.

The Maggid concluded, “You see I too first imagine my parables. It is only later that I seek a question which can be answered with the help of the parable!”

The Shulchan Aruch states that even one who is not particular to only eat Pas Yisroel3 during the year, should be particular to do so during the Ten Days of Penitence.

What is the meaning behind this law? Are we trying to fool G-d during this intense time of judgment and scrutiny? Why should one engage in seemingly hypocritical acts during these days, when he is well aware that he has absolutely no intention of maintaining these stringencies after Yom Kippur is over?

In the pizmun4 recited on the morning prior to Yom Kippur we beseech G-d, “O gracious One, favor Your people who believe in Your Name, assign for me an advocate (angel) who will conceal my inadvertent sin; who will suppress my guilt with his left hand, and elevate my merit with his right… On the morrow, may this sign be.”

Why do we ask that our sins be concealed; would it not be more logical to request that our sins be obliterated completely, as the prophets stated5?

After having sought refuge from his brother Eisav’s wrath for over two decades, Yaakov Avinu began his journey back home. When he finally encountered Eisav, the Torah6 relates, “Eisav ran to greet him, and he embraced him, and he fell upon his neck, and he kissed him and he cried.”

Rashi, quoting the Sifrei, offers two very diverse explanations of Eisav’s ironic behavior. One opinion is that Eisav’s emotional display was an insincere external front. However, the other opinion is that at that moment Eisav was overwhelmed with compassion for Yaakov and indeed Eisav embraced Yaakov wholeheartedly.

The Shelah explains that both opinions are true:

Chazal7 note that the word Satan (שטן) has a numerical value of 364. This alludes to the fact that Satan has the ability to prosecute us in heaven during 364 days of the year. However, there is one day a year when he is not granted permission to speak negatively about the Jewish people, and that is on Yom Kippur.

The Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer8 states, “When Satan sees that he is not allowed to prosecute on Yom Kippur, he comes before G-d in order to be a good advocate, and speak in defense of Klal Yisroel. He says, “Master of the World, You have one nation analogous to the ministering angels in heaven. Just as the ministering angels do not eat or drink, so too the Jewish people do not eat or drink on Yom Kippur; just as the ministering angels are barefoot, so are the Jewish people barefoot on Yom Kippur… Just as the ministering angels are pure of sin, so are the Jewish people pure of sin on Yom Kippur”.”

This is an absolutely astounding thought. It is inconceivable that Satan – the angel devoted to prosecuting against us in heaven constantly – should suddenly become a passionate advocate on our behalf, simply because he is denied his usual role. How can the prosecutor become our supporter in our greatest moment of need?

There is a known adage in the world of education that the worst thing a “spirited child” can do for himself is to have a perfectly behaved day in school. For inevitably his parents and teachers will use that day against him, constantly pointing out that, “See you could do it if you really put your mind to it. Remember that other day when you had a perfect day? That means the rest of the time you’re just not trying enough!”

The reality is that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”, i.e. even a child who has a very difficult time in school will have a good day on occasion. But for such a child, the good day is the anomaly, not his usual rambunctious behavior.9

The Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi BenZion Halberstam shlita, explains10 that in truth Satan has no intention of being an advocate for us. In fact, au contraire, he remains true to his mission. However, on Yom Kippur his prosecution is stated with devious deceit.

Satan stands before G-d and preaches about the holiness and purity of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur. He emphasizes their sincerity and devotion on this most sublime of days. The implication is that if the Jews can reach such a level on Yom Kippur, they could be living on such a level throughout the rest of the year. The fact that they do not proves their unworthiness and insincerity throughout the rest of the year.

This is essentially what occurred during the fateful encounter between Yaakov and Eisav11. Eisav ran towards Yaakov and kissed him wholeheartedly because his compassion was truly aroused at that moment. That feeling was actually rooted in Eisav’s apathy and disdain for Yaakov, and that encounter symbolically foreshowed what occurs every year. On Yom Kippur Satan embraces us with seeming love and devotion. Truthfully however, that love really masks his efforts to destroy Yaakov completely in a most vile and deceitful manner.

It is for this reason that we ask that our sins be concealed but not totally eradicated. We want to impede the cunning prosecution of the evil inclination on Yom Kippur. Let him not be able to say that we have no sin. Rather, that we have transcended our sins and raised ourselves close to G-d, despite our mishaps and failings. Indeed we hope that G-d will pardon and forgive our sins completely, but Satan should not be able to use that against us.

During the days preceding Yom Kippur and on Yom Kippur itself we behave above our usual level of observance and adherence.

It is analogous to a woman who comes down the steps one morning, completely disheveled, and still half-asleep. As she walks past the mirror she is appalled by her appearance. “What has happened to me?” she wonders. But then in the corner of her eye she sees her wedding picture hanging next to the mirror. There she stands alongside her new husband, beautifully made up, and looking her best. She realizes that the woman in the picture is her, and that she is truly that beautiful - if she only took the time and had the patience to make herself look like that again.

It is true that we do not live on the same level as we do during the Ten days of Penitence. But throughout the year, in our lowest moments, when we feel distant and frustrated with ourselves and our spiritual state, we suddenly remember the levels we reached during the sublime Days of Repentance. We remember that we truly are great people, if we only have the fortitude and confidence to raise ourselves back to those levels.

In that sense Yom Kippur is the bull’s-eye, around which we must paint our year. At times we may feel that we have strayed, even to the perimeter of those surrounding circles. But as long as Yom Kippur remains the center point, we are still somewhere ‘on the mark’.

“And he kissed him and he cried”

“On the morrow, may this sign be”

1 Rabbi Yaakov Kranz 1740-1804; Dubno was a village in Lithuania
2 Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, 1720-1797
3 Bread baked by a Jewish baker; although Pas Akum – bread baked by a non-Jew for private use may never be eaten by a Jew, Pas-Paltar – commercially baked bread by a non-Jew (e.g. Freihoffers, Thomas, etc.) is permitted. During the Tens Days of Penitence the custom is to refrain from eating Pas-Paltar as well.
4 Liturgical prayer containing a refrain, and recited responsively between chazzan and congregation
5 e.g. Yeshaya 43:25 “I, only I, am he who wipes away your willful sins for My sake, and I shall not recall your sins.”
44:22 “I will have wiped away your willful sins like a thick mist, and your transgressions like a cloud; return to Me, for I will have redeemed you!
6 Bereishis 33:4
7 Yoma 20a, and Vayikra Rabba 21:4
8 Perek 45
9 This obviously does not apply to most children (thankfully). This was only said regarding the child who is simply ‘not wired’ for the classroom.
10 Erev Yom Kippur 5766
11 Satan is the angel of Eisav

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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week, send their address to:





Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandel zt’l miraculously survived the Nazi inferno and escaped to America, after losing his wife and five sons. Rabbi Weissmandel moved to Williamsburg and would travel from shul to shul warning about what was transpiring in Europe and begging American Jewry to do whatever they could to help their brethren.

After the war ended, Rabbi Weissmandel remarried and was blessed with five more sons, each of which became Torah scholars.

At the b’ris of the fifth son in Mount Kisco, NY, Rabbi Weissmandel related the following: “We say in the kedusha prayer, “Nikadesh es shimcha ba’olam – We will sanctify Your Name in this world”, “K’shem shemakdishim oso b’shmei marom – Just as they (the angels) sanctify it (Your Name) in the celestial heavens.”

“This morning I thought of a new understanding of those words: “We will sanctify Your name in this world”, i.e. we will raise our sons to sanctify the Name of G-d in this world, “Just as they” – my five previous sons who died sanctifying G-d’s Name – “are sanctifying His Name in the celestial heavens”. My efforts with my five sons in this world will parallel what my five sons are accomplishing in the World of Truth.”

The Torah reading for the two days of Rosh Hashanah are two events from the life of our Patriarch, Avrohom Avinu. Each reading describes an event which demonstrates Avrohom’s unequivocal dedication to Kiddush Hashem - sanctifying the Name of G-d1.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah we recount the miraculous birth of Yitzchok. After living most of their life devoid of children, Avrohom and Sarah - already beyond childbearing years - are informed that they will merit a child. Word about Yitzchok’s birth spread to the entire civilized world and it was a tremendous sanctification of G-d’s Name. The man and woman who dedicated their entire life to promulgating the Word of G-d were graced by G-d with a child.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we recount the seminal events of Akeidas Yitzchok. It is the account of when Avrohom selflessly bound his beloved son Yitzchok upon the altar, reading him to be offered as a sacrifice to G-d.

It is hardly a coincidence that these two narratives were designated as the Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah. The Sages explain that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of man. Being that “there is no king without a nation” G-d’s title as King essentially began on Rosh Hashanah, the day when man was created enabling him to accept the yoke of G-d’s monarchy upon himself. Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah it is incumbent upon us to reaccept upon ourselves that yoke and to proclaim our unyielding dedication to G-d’s eternal Kingship.

Despite the fact that the two days of Rosh Hashanah are the first two days of the Ten Days of Penitence, there is no mention of iniquity, contriteness, or confession in the Rosh Hashanah service. The process of repentance commences with a cognizance of the august majesty of G-d and how integral it is that we pledge our sole allegiance to the Torah and all that G-d expects of us.

It is only after we have reaccepted upon ourselves that premise during Rosh Hashanah that we can continue with the basic steps of repentance during the remaining eight days.

Thus it is apropos that the Torah readings of Rosh Hashanah are narratives about the life of Avrohom, for Avrohom lived his entire life in order to sanctity G-d’s Name and to proclaim His monotheistic greatness throughout the world. Both events were incredible sanctifications of G-d’s Name, albeit in very different ways.

What exactly defines Kiddush Hashem?

The kabalistic writings explain that when G-d created the world, He constrained some of His Presence, as it were. Although the entire world is composed of Divinity and is all a manifestation of G-d’s Will which maintains the existence of the world every moment, the Hand of G-d is hidden behind the laws and processes of nature. Therefore, in its very essence the physical world is an obscuration of G-d2. As the prophet Yeshaya stated,3 “It is true that You are the Almighty who hides Himself.”

Our responsibility in this world is to uncover that mask and reveal the Divine Light to the world through our actions and the manner in which we live our lives. Whenever we are able to reveal some of that hidden light in this world it results in “Kiddush Hashem”, and the entire world benefits from the act.

However, contrary to popular belief, Kiddush Hashem need not be done in public. In fact the more private and altruistic an act is the greater the resultant Kiddush Hashem. Rambam4 writes that any act performed for no other reason other than because G-d commanded that it be done – not out of fear, and not for the pursuit of glory –is considered the greatest Kiddush Hashem.

This means that the spiritual revelation that emerges when one accomplishes Kiddush Hashem is not a physical measurable force. The extent of Kiddush Hashem takes into account intent and motivation, which is indiscernible to the human eye. Thus, what may seem to the human mind to be a tremendous Kiddush Hashem may pale in comparison to an act done in private that no one is aware of other than G-d Himself5.

Towards the end of the Second World War as the Nazi war machine began to capitulate and surrender en masse to the advancing Allied forces, the Concentration Camp inmates began to realize that liberation was imminent. But the extent of the nefariousness of the Nazi barbarians knew no limits. Just a few hours prior to the liberation of one particular camp, a Nazi commander ordered all the camp inmates to gather for one final roll call. When they were all gathered together he ordered one saintly inmate to step forward.

He looked at the helpless inmate with apathy and said, “For five years you have survived the most heinous conditions and now you are just moments away from liberation. I know how much you sacrificed to maintain your faith throughout these years and I know how many times you were ready to die for your faith. Well now you will have that chance again. Eat this piece of pork that I am placing before you, or I will kill you right now!”

The inmate was torn; if he ate it he would be free in just a few minutes. But at this moment he was being challenged to violate his faith in front of everyone. After a moment’s deliberation the heroic Jew refused. In characteristic malice the Nazi killed him. His fresh blood continued to flow even as the Allied forces burst into the camp.

The martyr’s daughter survived the war and began searching for her family. When she heard about the brutal manner in which her father was killed, she vowed that she would never follow the Torah again.

She immigrated to Eretz Yisroel and raised her children and family to be completely secular, devoid of any semblance of religion. To ensure that her children would have no connection with religion she would often send them to Tel Aviv to purchase pork to bring home to eat.

One day she sent one of her sons on one of such errands. As he was standing outside the non-kosher deli in Tel Aviv about to enter it suddenly struck him: “What am I doing? Am I going to buy meat for which my grandfather gave up his life because he would not eat it, moments before he would have been free?”

At that moment he decided that he would never again eat non-kosher meat and that he would seek to understand the values for which his holy grandfather had died. Today he is a Torah observant Jew with a religious family.

One analyzing this story could perhaps argue that the inmate was wrong to give up his life at that moment. In fact, prima facie it seems he caused a terrible Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d Name) by causing his daughter to renege her faith because of his sacrifice. It was only a generation later that it became clear that the man’s actions were the catalyst for his grandson’s return to a life of Torah.

Our responsibility is to sanctify the Name of G-d, regardless of what the outcome may be. It is G-d’s World and He will run it as He sees fit. Our responsibility is merely to do as we are commanded.

In our time, our timeless values and principles often become befuddled with the values of an undulating society. Recently there was much discussion about the fact that a Jewish man proudly wore a yarmulke and tallis at his wedding, where his bride was a well-known non-Jew6!

Commenting about the ordeal, an influential Modern Orthodox Rabbi wrote7: “What the world saw is that a fully attired – proud? – Jew could get right to the top of American society… that there were Sheva Brachot, a chupa, a k’tuba, and that tallis and kipa, for the world to see. Doesn’t that put the wedding in the category of Kiddush Hashem as well.”

What an egregious error! To think that demonstrating a sense of pride in Jewish identity while committing the greatest act of treachery to one’s faith is a Kiddush Hashem is a terrible distortion.

“We have become so desensitized to right and wrong as defined by our Torah, that we now easily substitute its superlative standards of divine nobility with the cheap moral standards of the media. Political incorrectness has become to many a more serious transgression than Chillul Hashem. Even intermarriage has become "normal;" it is the disapproving comment about it that is criticized more than the act itself. Kiddush Hashem has become a tool for Jewish public relations instead of it being a very clearly and objectively defined tenet of the Torah. Any action of a Jew that the public applauds is considered Kiddush Hashem, any that the public disapproves of is thought of as Chillul Hashem.

“Let's not forget that the most basic Chillul Hashem is doing any sin, and the most basic Kiddush Hashem is doing any mitzvah or refraining from doing a sin, even when no one is looking. Once we are doing mitzvos, then the public image of the way we do them, the style with which we do them, and the reactions of others to them, become relevant. Public opinion is a gauge of style and sanity, but never one of morality. Positive public opinion is no substitute for the moral compass provided to us by halachah.8

Perhaps one of the most poignant lessons about Kiddush Hashem can be gleaned from the life of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe, the consummate leader who devoted his entire life to the welfare of his beloved nation, was barred entry into Eretz Yisroel, the land he so coveted. G-d told Moshe that he was being punished “Because you (ma’altem) trespassed against Me among the Children of Israel at the waters of Merivas-Kadesh… because You did not sanctify Me among the Children of Israel9.” Rashi explains, “You caused that I was not sanctified, for I said to you ‘And you shall speak to the rock’. But they struck it, and needed to strike it twice. But if they would have spoken to it and it would have given forth its waters, the Name of Heaven would have been sanctified for Israel would have said ‘If this rock which is not destined for reward or punishment… fulfills the commandment of the Creator in such a manner, how much more so must we!”

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l notes that the Torah accuses Moshe of “me’ilah”, which implies misuse and misappropriation. The truth is that that ordeal caused an incredible Kiddush Hashem, for the nation witnessed water flowing from a rock. However, had Moshe adhered to his original instruction that he merely speak to the rock it would have caused an even greater Kiddush Hashem.

We see that one who does not accomplish as much as he is able to is labeled by the Torah as committing a sin of me’ilah against Hashem. If one has the ability to accomplish more, why was he slothful? Here where Moshe effected a great Kiddush Hashem he was held culpable for not accomplishing even more!

During the life of Avrohom he faced tremendous adversity and pressure because of his socially erratic and radical beliefs. Yet he held strong and persevered. The world saw that G-d was with him and wrought miracles on his behalf. Avrohom’s emergence from the furnace of Nimrod, his victories in the great battle against four mighty empires, and the birth of Yitzchok were unquestionably great sanctifications of G-d’s Name. It is about the latter of those great events which we read about on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

On the second day however, we read about a very different event. Avrohom was clandestinely instructed to commit an act which to the rest of the world sounded appallingly barbaric. It was a commandment that logically made no sense. Slaughtering Yitzchok would destroy the future of the Jewish people, and thereby eradicating any hope for a Bais Hamikdash, or a future Messiah. Yet Avrohom did not waver. He immediately set out to fulfill the Will of G-d with alacrity.

That act accomplished a very different level of Kiddush Hashem. It was done privately without fanfare or publicity and - were it not for the Torah’s account - no one would have known that it even occurred. It would seem that Yitzchak’s birth was a far greater event than the akeidah, for it was a far more public display of G-d’s greatness. But the opposite is true. The miracle of Yitzchak’s birth required no human involvement. The akeidah however, entailed incredible self sacrifice. For thousands of years, and even in our time, we continue to beseech G-d to recall the akeidah and to grant us favor and compassion on its account. The merit of fulfilling G-d’s will altruistically trumps all else and therefore it remains the ultimate merit for his progeny.

“Blow before Me with the shofar of a ram, in order that I will recall for you the binding of Yitzchok, the son of Avrohom, and I will consider it for you as if you had bound yourselves before Me10.”

Rosh Hashanah is the day when we proclaim the re-carnation of G-d’s eternal monarchy over the world. We remind ourselves that our role vis-à-vis G-d’s kingship is to reveal His Omnipotence into a world which obscures it. That revelation is the result of our fulfillment of His Will, even – or perhaps especially – when no one else is watching11.

“We will sanctify Your Name in the world”

“The world is filled with His Glory”

1 The following thoughts about Kiddush Hashem and how it emerges from the Torah readings of Rosh Hashanah is based on an essay by Rabbi Ezriel Tauber shlita, Pirkei Machshava, Yerach Ha’aysanim
2 The word Olam – world is similar to the word he’elam – hidden
3 45:15
4 Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 5:10
5 For example, a person who averts his gaze from a forbidden image in his path as he walks down the street may be a far greater Kiddush Hashem than one who performs a mitzvah in front of hundreds of people.
6 Marc Mezvinsky married Chelsea Clinton
8 Quote from Rabbi David Lapin,, Parshas Re’eh 5770, “Has Modern Orthodoxy lost the plot?”
9 Devorim 32:51
10 Rosh Hashanah 16a
11 This is not to detract from the incredible merit and tremendous Kiddush Hashem accomplished by one who inspires others to serve G-d, But it must also be realized that Kiddush Hashem has a physically invisible yet spiritually uplifting effect which is not bound to our value judgments.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The Stranger

Author unknown

"A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.

As I grew up I never questioned his place in our family. In my young mind, each member had a special niche. My brother, Bill, five years my senior, was my example. Fran, my younger sister, gave me an opportunity to play 'big brother' and develop the art of teasing. My parents were complementary instructors -- Mom taught me to love the word of G-d, and Dad taught me to obey it.

But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spell-bound for hours each evening.

If I wanted to know about politics, history, or science, he knew it all. He knew about the past, understood the present, and seemingly could predict the future. The pictures he could draw were so life like that I would often laugh or cry as I watched.

He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. My brother and I were deeply impressed by John Wayne in particular.

The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind-but sometimes Mom would quietly get up, while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places, go to her room, read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave.

You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house-- not from us, from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge the stranger was never confronted. My dad was a teetotaler who didn't permit alcohol in his home - not even for cooking. But the stranger felt like we needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often.

He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (much too freely) about private relationships. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man-woman relationship were influenced by the stranger.

As I look back, I believe it was the grace of G-d that the stranger did not influence us more. Time after time he opposed the values of my parents. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave.

More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive. He is not nearly as intriguing to my dad as he was in those early years. But if I were to walk into my parents' den today, you would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.

His name? We always just called him TV."

“For this commandment that I command you today – it is not hidden from you and it is not distant… Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it.” (30:11-14)

In discussing the deleterious effect of bribery, the gemara1 quotes Rava who explained bribery unwittingly creates a certain bond between the giver and the recipient, causing a complete impairment of the receiver’s judgment.

The Torah warns emphatically that if a judge accepts a bribe he will be unable to render a proper judicial decision in a case involving the briber. The gemara further warns that even if the judge is particularly wise, if he accepts a bribe he will not inevitably create a certain perverse reasoning which will plague him throughout his life.

The gemara continues and explains that even the smallest favor or minuscule gift is considered a bribe that brings with it devastating effects.

With this in mind, how it is possible for a person to repent or ‘see the light’? Every individual is responsible to be a judge of himself, i.e. he must reckon and determine whether his outlook on life and whether his deeds are on par with his obligations. But it is undeniable a human being is ‘bribed’ by his own desires, negative character traits, and evil inclinations which propel him towards sin. If the most subtle bribe destroys the rationale of even the greatest judge, what hope is there for us in judging ourselves, when we are drowning in a morass of self-deception?

Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv shlita2 answers that logically there should indeed be little hope for our spiritual growth. However, the Torah promises us that if we seek the truth G-d will ensure that we not be overwhelmed in the natural manner by our own negative whims and thoughts. This is what the verse means when it states, “It is not hidden from you and it is not distant”, for truthfully it should be too distant to achieve. However, “The matter is very near to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it”. Despite our penchants and proclivities, G-d has invested within us a supernatural ability to transcend and overcome our self-deceit.

Our evil inclination not withstanding, we have the ability to become close with G-d and ascertain the truth. However, we can only achieve that if we are willing struggle to discover it. The first step is for one to realize his innate deception and then pray to G-d to help him overcome it.

At some point during the school-year I read the above article to the tenth grade literature class I teach at Yeshiva Shaarei Arazim. My students are always very impressed by the article and enjoy its subtle ironic message. I challenge them to explain what makes the article so brilliant? What wily technique does the author use in driving home his message?

We discuss the fact that if the article began by stating that the author wanted to convey just how terrible television is, most of the message would have already been lost. Because we are so bribed by our inclinations and desires, a person who watches television does not want to hear about how terrible it is. He goes through life making up excuses for himself why ‘it’s not really so bad’.

But the author does not begin with any introduction. Rather he immediately launches into the story, capturing the attention and piquing the interest of the reader. By the time the reader has neared the end of the article he has arrived at his own conclusions about the terrible stranger. He can not help but wonder why the family sanctioned such an awful influence in their home? If the stranger made the parents nervous why did they not ever demand that the stranger leave?

Then in the final line - nay in the final two letters - of the article the entire story makes sense. And at that moment the potent message of the story is undeniable. It is only in retrospect that the reader realizes who the stranger is and by then it is too late to deny the strong negative thoughts and feelings he evoked for ‘the stranger’. The author allowed the reader to unwittingly draw his own conclusions about the evils of TV.3

It is hard for us to be objective when it comes to judging ourselves. But the Torah assures us that it can be done if one is truly candid with himself and is prepared to battle the falsities within him. If one is up to that challenge he can be confident that, with G-d’s help, he can be successful.

Just prior to his demise Moshe tells his beloved student and successor Yehoshua, “Hashem – it is He Who goes before you; He will be with you; He will not release you nor will He forsake you; do not be afraid and do not be dismayed4.”

Truthfully Moshe related that message to every single Jew for all time. One need only begin the search earnestly and diligently. But once one has rolled up his sleeves and sets a trajectory in motion, he will realize that he is not alone in his quest and efforts.

“In your mouth and in your heart to perform it”

“Hashem – it is He Who goes before you”

1 Kesuvos 105
2 Divrei Aggadah
3 See Shmuel 2, chapter 11-12 where the prophet Nosson utilizes a similar tactic in getting Dovid Hamelech to realize the mistake he made, by allowing Dovid to draw his own conclusions in a made up analogy which Nosson presented to Dovid.
4 31:8