Friday, November 26, 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:




Yosef Begun, the noted Russian refusenik, wrote of his experiences:

“It was in the grim Russian winter of 1971 that I celebrated my first real Hanukkah, in prison.

“I was confined in the notorious Moscow prison, Matroska Tichina, in the company of a rather large number of fellow Jews. Needless to say, a Moscow prison is not the most auspicious place to celebrate a Jewish holiday…

“Hanukkah was approaching. Getting into the spirit, we enthusiastically discussed battles and the ultimate triumph of the Maccabees. One of our more Judaically advanced cellmates gave us insightful lessons about the laws and customs of the Festival of Lights. It goes without saying that we had no prayer books or other items with which to celebrate a Jewish holiday. Hanukkah is supposed to be a holiday of gift-giving, family gatherings, dreidels and songs. We had no practical means of celebration, and that saddened us deeply.

“Fortunately, we had among us a man who was a wizard at handicraft. Valery Krijzak - now an engineer living in Jerusalem - had truly golden hands….

“For Hanukkah, Krijzak made a wonderful dreidel out of bread, engraving the four Hebrew initials for ness gadol haya sham ("a great miracle happened there"). But it was the day before Hanukkah and we still didn't have any candles with which to fulfill the mitzvah of the Festival of Lights to commemorate the Jewish victory of over two thousand years ago. And without those lights, Hanukkah is not Hanukkah.

“But then the miracle of Hanukkah took place in our days in our cell.

“Without saying a word to us, Krijzak began to bang on the cell door, calling for the guard. When the small aperture was opened, he began to wail, "Call the doctor. I'm in terrible pain." Within ten minutes, the prison medic arrived. Krijzak moaned, "Doctor, I am having a terrible hemorrhoid attack. Please give me some suppositories."

“Fifteen minutes later, Krijzak received several suppositories. Now we had the material from which to make candles. The rest was purely technical. We pulled out threads from our prison garb and rolled them together to make wicks. Then we placed the wax-based suppositories on our aluminum spoons and lit them with matches (prisoners were permitted to have cigarettes and matches) and melted them down. We placed the makeshift wicks into the wax, which we then shaped into candles. We stuck the candles on a plate, which we then placed on the table.

“Filled with pride, we sat around our glowing table and sang Maoz Tzur. We sang more Hanukkah songs, talked about the Maccabees' revolt and spun the dreidel. We all had an immense feeling of closeness to each other and a strong sense of unity with our fellow Jews.

“We may have been cut off from the rest of the world, enclosed behind thick steel doors, but we were still with our people.”

The story of Yosef and the brothers is from the most captivating accounts in the entire Torah. The dispute between these most righteous of men is almost incomprehensible. The explanations of the great commentaries not withstanding, we still are left with a vague understanding of what transpired.

It is not only the Torah’s narrative of the story of Yosef which is difficult to understand, but also the story of Yehuda. The Torah interrupts its detailed account of the story of Yosef to relate what occurred with Yehuda.

The brothers were aware that the future monarchy was destined to emerge from Yehuda and they granted him a certain level of leadership. It was Yehuda’s suggestion that they sell Yosef to passing merchants. When the brothers saw Yaakov’s unmitigated grief and refusal to be consoled they challenged Yehuda’s leadership; “Had you told us to bring Yosef home we would have listened to you.” As a result of their disenchantment with Yehuda he departed from the brothers and settled in Abdulam.

In Adulam Yehuda married and had three sons. His oldest son Er married a woman named Tamar and died. Then his second son Onan married Tamar and he died as well. Yehuda feared for his third son Shaylah’s life and sent Tamar back to her father’s home.

Tamar was a righteous woman and knew, through Divine Prophecy, that the Davidic monarchy was destined to descend from her. She understood that Satan was doing his utmost to prevent that union from occurring. She decided that she had to utilize unconventional means to lure Yehuda into being with her. She posed as a woman of ill repute and sat at the fork of the road as Yehuda approached.

The Medrash1 relates that under normal circumstances Yehuda would never have succumbed to desire. “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘Yehuda sought to pass by Tamar. The Holy One, blessed is He, dispatched the angel of desire to entrap him. The angel said to Yehuda, ‘Where are you going? From where will kings arise? From where will great men arise?’ Yehuda then detoured to her by the road. He was coerced, against his good sense.”

After their encounter Yehuda could not locate the woman. “He inquired of the people of her place, ‘איה הקדשה - Where is the kedasha, the one at the crossroads by the road’? And they said, ‘לא היתה בזה קדשה - there was no kedasha here’.2

It is intriguing that the Torah uses the word ‘kedasha’3 to refer to ‘the woman of ill-repute’, as the word is strikingly similar to the word ‘kedusha – holiness’4. How can the same word refer to the epitome of sanctity and to the crassest of iniquity? What is the essence of the concept of kedusha?

Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l5 noted that, in his opinion, the greatest challenge our generation faces is ‘desacrilization’. In his words, ’desacrilization is the violation and disintegration of the boundaries of sanctity’.

The Hebrew word for sacred is ‘kodesh’. The opposite of kodesh is chol, which means ordinary, mundane, and commonplace. Shabbos is a day of kedusha, while the rest of the week or days of chol. To understand the depth of that distinction we must understand the etymology of the words.

The word Chol also means sand6. What is the connection between weekdays and sand? The most prominent feature of sand is its particularity. Sand is composed of innumerable miniscule particles, each being its own separate entity. If a person takes a handful of sand and allows it to run between his fingertips, there is nothing to hinder the flow of the sand as it drains from inside his hand. Each grain is on its own.

The word kodesh symbolizes the opposite. The concept of kedusha is to connect and unite disparate elements. Although the word kodesh is most notably used to refer to holiness and sanctity, it has other meanings as well. When the Torah states the prohibition of planting kilayim – mixtures of different seeds that take root together it uses the word tikdash. “You shall not sow your vineyard with a mixture, פן תקדש - lest it become forbidden - the growth of the seed that you plant and the produce of your vineyard7.” The verb tikdash connotes gathering two diverse things together, albeit in a forbidden fashion.

Planting two seeds in the ground and merging them is an abused form of kedusha. On the other hand, the commandment that we sanctify ourselves also utilizes the word kidshu, because in doing so we are connecting ourselves with G-d, the source of all sanctity.

That is why the days of the week are called chol while Shabbos is kodesh. During the first six days of creation, every element of creation was disparate. There was no harmony or synergy between them. The world was in a state of chaotic agitated turmoil, like free-flowing sand. But with the arrival of Shabbos G-d ‘rested’, i.e. He infused into the world the energy and ability to revitalize and regenerate itself.

Suddenly the world had meaning and purpose. The entire cosmos was transformed from various energies and powers into an entity that was suited to be a catalyst for the sanctification of G-d’s Name. That is the meaning of kedusha; cohesion and perfect integration8.

A woman of ill repute connects herself with another person in a malevolent and detrimental manner. Through her luring she fosters an egregious misuse of kedusha, but it is kedusha nonetheless.

The moments when we light the Chanukah candles are nostalgically special. After lovingly kindling the hallowed lights we recite the ancient declaration ‘Haneiros hallalu’. In that paragraph we declare, “הנרות הללו קודש הם - These candles are kodesh – holy, and we have no permission to use them; only to see them alone, so that we will thank, and praise, Your great Name, for Your miracles, for Your wonders, and for Your salvations.”

The Chanukah candles are not lit merely to commemorate an ancient event. In a deeper sense those miniscule lights are great unifiers, creating an invisible bond between every Jew in all four corners of the globe. When we hold our candle to the wick atop our menorah, wherever we may be, we are binding ourselves to our brethren, as well as our ancestors throughout the millennia of exile, dating back to the Hasmonean Maccabees themselves.

Every Jew who lights the Chanukah candles merges his light with the lights of the Menorah of the High Priest, of Hillel and Shami, Abaye and Rava, Rashi, Rambam, Maharal, Ba’al Shem Tov, Vilna Gaon, Chofetz Chaim, and all of our ancestors – from Babylonia to Crusade-ridden Europe, from Spain to Poland, from Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz to the gulag in Siberia, to the Israeli soldiers who light the candles at their army post far from home.

The Chanukah candles are kodesh, for they connect us to an internal spark within each of us. Other religions may also have great displays of light for their holidays, and those displays may be more impressive than our candles. But their lights are chol; they are disparate and unrelated. The Chanukah candles reflect a resplendent internal flame that is luminescent within the heart of every Jew. It is the spark that our foes could not extinguish and continues to glow in all of its radiance.

“Cut off from the rest of the world, but still with our people”

“These candles are kodesh

1 Bereishis Rabbah 85:8
2 38:21-22
3 As opposed to the more common word ‘zonah’, as used in verse 15
4 Rashi explains that, as opposed to a holy person who designates themselves to spiritual matters, such a woman is ‘mikudeshes – designated’ and prepared for licentiousness.
5 Rabbi Freifeld Speaks, p. 140
6 See Bereishis 32:13
7 Devorim 22:9
8 See the remainder of Rabbi Freifeld’s essay entitled “A Higher Kind of Fear” (Rabbi Freifeld Speaks, p. 140) where he eloquently and magnificently explains how our world has lost its sense of synchronism and cohesion, which has caused rampant ‘desacrilization’.

Thursday, November 18, 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:




King Louis XIV of France once asked Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher of his day, to prove to him that miracles occur. Without a moment's hesitation, Pascal answered, "Why, the Jews, your Majesty-the Jews."

“What is the Jew?...What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?!

The Jew - is the symbol of eternity. ... He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear.

The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

- Leo Tolstoy What is the Jew?

“The struggle for world domination is between me and the Jews. All else is meaningless. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on the world: Circumcision for the body and conscience for the soul. I come to free mankind from their shackles.”

- Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler

“Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”

- Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain

“I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations ... They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”

- John Adams, President of the United States (Letter to F. A. Van der Kemp, Feb. 16, 1808)

After over two decades in the home of his father-in-law Lavan, Yaakov Avinu finally departed. Despite his having arrived with literally nothing but his walking stick, Yaakov left with a beautiful family, tremendous wealth, and spiritual vibrancy. The time had finally come for the fateful encounter with his insidious brother Eisav.

As they set up camp for the night Yaakov realized that he forgot some jugs on the other side of the river. When he journeyed back alone to retrieve them he was confronted by the Angel of Eisav. Their dynamic confrontation foreshadowed and symbolized the epic perennial struggle between Yaakov’s descendants and Eisav’s descendants.

“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Yaakov’s hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him… Therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the Gid Hanasheh (the displaced sinew) of the hip-socket to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip-socket on the displaced sinew.1

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explained that the word “nasheh” means a creditor. When one owes someone else money he is subservient and indebted to the lender. In that sense the Gid Hanesheh is the sinew of submission and lack of resistance. When the Angel dislodged that sinew he robbed Yaakov of control over the muscle of the hip, which attaches to the bone to control the leg. That caused Yaakov to lose some of his footing and control, and forced him into a certain level of submission. The tendon was still there, the muscle was still there, and the leg was still there, but its use was hampered. But Yaakov immediately regained his composure, and although injured, he eventually persevered and defeated his implacable opponent.

The Torah forbids us to eat that sinew because of what it symbolizes. Its dislocation of it represented the Angel of Eisav gaining the upper-hand and stymieing Yaakov, if even for a moment. A Jew must realize and know that the Spirit of Eisav can NEVER vanquish Yaakov or even cause him to falter.

We traverse exile with a certain measure of dignity and fortitude. True, there have been many times in our long and painful history when we have been subject to unspeakable pain and domination. However, we do not view domination as Eisav’s physical superiority, but as our spiritual inferiority.

“Yaakov falls… not because he is not equal to Eisav in material power. Rather, because he has not understood how to retain the protection of G-d for himself. If Israel stands, it stands not because of its strong material power, but because G-d bears them aloft on the eagle wings of His Almightiness.”

A short time later Yaakov met up with Eisav himself. Eisav was so overwhelmed by Yaakov and his family that, incredibly, his relentless rage dissipated. When Eisav then suggested to Yaakov that they proceed together, Yaakov refused, stating that his family would not be able to keep up the pace. “So Eisav returned on that day to his way, to Seir.2

Rabbi Hirsch comments that this was the final time that Yaakov and Eisav appeared together. From that moment when they took leave of each other they would never again be united. Eisav returned on his path, while Yaakov proceeded on his own path, each towards his own divergent destinations.

One of the reasons for the joy of an upsherin3 is that the child’s payos (edges, i.e. sideburns) are not cut4. A Jewish male’s payos are an external symbol of the separation we maintain from the rest of the world. We are different and we are proud of what/who we are!

Someone once asked the Brisker Rav why people remark that at an upsherin, “payos machin” (literally, ‘we make payos’). It would seem that not cutting the sideburns is merely adhering to a prohibition, not fulfilling a command. We do not ‘make payos’ we simply refrain from cutting them.

The Brisker Rav replied by quoting the vernacular of the Rambam5 in his quotation of this law: “We do not shave the corners of the head like the nations of the world do…” The Rambam associates this law with our desire to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the nations. Thus by refraining from cutting the sideburns we are actually “making payos”, fulfilling an active obligation to demonstrate our separateness and uniqueness.6

The day when the boy receives his first haircut there is an additional beautiful custom, for the father to bring his son – wrapped in a tallis – to a rebbe who teaches young children.7

On the day the child is introduced to the study of Torah he is also taught that we are special and different. We are not merely a nation among nations. We are the Children of Yaakov, the Chosen Nation. The two ideas are inextricably bound.

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita notes that the gematria (numerical value) of the words כף ירך יעקב - Yaakov’s hip-socket8 (was dislocated)” is the same as the words להדליק נר חנוכה- To kindle the Chanukah candles”.

During the period of Greek culture’s surging influence the Greeks sought to destroy the notion that Jews were unique and elite. They invited the Jews to take part in all of their activities and rituals to demonstrate that they were all the same.

The Medrash9 relates that the tyrannical despot Antiochus passed an edict which obligated all Jews to write on the horns of their oxen, “You do not have a portion in the G-d of Israel.”

Maharal10 offers a poignant explanation for this bizarre edict. One of the darkest moments in Jewish history was the sin of the golden calf. Hardly five weeks after they had witnessed the unparalleled revelation at Sinai the nation committed the egregious sin with dire consequences. But after Moshe implored the Almighty on our behalf, G-d acquiesced and promised that He would not destroy us, and that we would be forgiven.

The Greeks wanted to ingrain within us that although at one time we were indeed destined to be special and different, we had forfeited that position when we committed the sin of the golden calf. An ox is a mature and grown-up calf, and therefore the Greeks compelled every Jew to inscribe on the horns of their oxen that they had no connection with the G-d of Israel, the G-d of an elite people. The Greeks espoused that the (golden) calf had never died or been overcome and the Jews never transcended that sin.

The Greeks submitted that with all of their sophistication and advancements in medicine, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, drama, they had become the Chosen people. Therefore, if the Jews wanted to be special they would have to join with them.

The Greeks loved wisdom and did not seek to impede the Jews from studying Torah, albeit as long as they studied it as a subject of academia. Jews and Greeks could even study Torah together. The Greek’s chief goal was “to make them forget Your Torah”, i.e. that the Torah was G-d’s and not merely another subject of study.

The Maccabean revolt was driven by those who fought for the purity of Torah. They were consumed by a religious zeal fueled by the knowledge that they were indeed special and different. It is for that reason that the miracle of Chanukah involved the light of the Menorah, for the lights of the Menorah symbolize the spiritually pristine light of Torah.

The lights of Chanukah serve as the antithesis and rectification of what the Angel of Eisav tried to accomplish during his struggle with Yaakov. He tried to demonstrate that Yaakov is subservient to Eisav. But the Chanukah candles resplendently symbolize that we rise above Eisav and his pernicious efforts to vanquish us – spiritually and physically.

Thus, on the day when we begin to teach our son Torah we must also symbolize to him that we – as a people – are different. It is through pure Torah study that we maintain our uniqueness as a holy nation. Torah study without that appreciation is severely remiss. We are an eternal people; the secret to our eternity being our binding to the holy Torah.

It is appropriate that we conclude with the timeless words of the great Rabbi Yaakov Emden zt’l in the preface to his commentary on the Siddur11

“No nation has been as pursued as we have. How great have been our difficulties, how overwhelming were our enemies. From the very inception of our history, they have been bent upon utterly destroying and eradicating us. This was due to the hatred that they had for us because they were jealous of us…. (Despite) our many enemies, they were never successful in destroying or eliminating us. (I swear) by my life that when I ponder these wonders, I deem them to be greater than all of the miracles and wonders which Hashem did for our forefathers in Egypt, in the desert and in Eretz Yisroel. The longer this exile lasts, this miracle receives even greater affirmation and the might and power of G-d.”

“Eisav returned on that day to his way, to Seir”

“Therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the Gid Hanasheh”

1 Bereishis 32:25-33
2 33:16
3 This week we celebrated the upsherin of our dear son Avrohom Yosef (Avi). There is an ancient custom not to cut a young boy’s hair until he is three years old. There is much depth and meaning behind this custom. When he turns three the family celebrates the child’s ‘upsherin’, i.e. his first haircut.
4 See Vayikra 19:27
5 Hil Akum 12:1
6 Nitei Gavriel, Tiglachas Hayilodim (hakdamah)
7 The father places the child in the rebbe’s lap and the rebbe learns the letters of the Aleph Bais with the child. The letters are read from a chart which is coated with honey. Each time the child recites a letter he is given some honey to eat. This inculcates in the child the feeling that Torah is sweet and delectable.
8 512
9 Bereishis Rabbah 2:4

Thursday, November 11, 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:




Alice had volunteered to bake a cake for the Ladies' Group but forgot to do it until the last minute. She remembered on the morning of the bake sale and panicked. After rummaging through cabinets, she found an angel food cake mix and quickly made it while drying her hair, dressing, and helping her son pack up for school.

When Alice took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured. She said, "Oh dear, there isn't enough time to bake another cake." This cake was important to Alice because she wanted to fit in with her new community of friends.

Being innovative, she looked around the house for something to build up the center of the cake. She took a roll of bathroom paper and plunked it in and then covered it with icing. Ironically the finished product looked beautiful.

Before she left the house to drop the cake by the bake sale and head for work, Alice woke her daughter Amanda. She gave her some money and specific instructions to be at the bake sale the moment it opened at 9:30 and to buy the cake and bring it home.

When Amanda arrived at the sale however, the attractive cake had already been sold. Amanda grabbed her cell phone and called her mom. Alice was beside herself. Everyone would know!

What would they think? She would be ostracized, talked about, ridiculed! All night, Alice lay awake in bed thinking about people pointing fingers at her and talking about her behind her back.

The next day, Alice promised herself that she would try not to think about the cake and that she would attend the fancy luncheon at the home of a neighbor and try to have a good time. Alice did not really want to attend because the hostess was a snob, but having already sent her RSVP, she couldn't think of a credible excuse to stay home.

The meal was elegant, and the company was upper class. Then to Alice's horror, the cake in question was presented for dessert! Alice felt the blood drain from her body when she saw the cake! She started out of her chair to tell the hostess all about it, but before she could get to her feet, the Mayor's wife said, "What a beautiful cake!"

Alice still stunned, sat back in her chair when she heard the hostess say, "Thank you, I baked it myself."

Forced to flee the wrath of his brother Eisav, Yaakov sought refuge in the home of his brother-in-law Lavan in Charan. The Medrash1 relates that despite the fact that Lavan was legendary for being wily and duplicitous, Yaakov was not intimidated or afraid of living in his home. “If for deceit he is coming, then I am his brother (i.e. rival) in deceit. And if he is a decent person then I too am a decent person.”

From the Torah’s account of Yaakov’s experiences in Lavan’s home however, one can’t help but feel that Yaakov’s confidence was somewhat misplaced. Lavan in fact duped Yaakov in a most egregious fashion. After Yaakov specified that he would toil ceaselessly and tirelessly on Lavan’s behalf for seven years so that he could marry his younger daughter Rachel, Lavan successfully manipulated Yaakov to end up with his older daughter Leah. The incident is even more intriguing because Yaakov was wary of the fact that Lavan would try to accomplish that switch. How was Yaakov able to be fooled by Lavan? What happened to Yaakov’s assertion that, “I am his brother in deceit”?

Rabbi Sholom Shwadron zt’l explained that in order to understand what truly occurred one must first understand who Lavan really was. The Medrash relates that Lavan was known as “Lavan Ha’arami”. Although the term simply means “Lavan the Armenian”, there is a deeper meaning and significance of his ignoble title.

The Medrash relates that at the wedding when Yaakov (unwittingly) married Lean, Lavan duped his entire town. Lavan gathered all of the townsfolk and told them, ‘You know that we have had a water shortage, and that since this righteous one (Yaakov) has arrived we have enjoyed bountiful water’. He then revealed to them his deceitful plan to cause Yaakov to marry Leah which would force Yaakov to stay for an additional seven years in order to marry his coveted Rachel. To ensure that no one would reveal the plan to Yaakov, Lavan solicited from every person in town an object for security. He then took all of those expensive objects, sold them, and used the proceeds to pay for the wedding. Anyone who wanted back his security had to purchase it from the storeowner who had accepted it as payment.

The Medrash concludes, “Woe! Why was he called Lavan2 Ha’arami? Because he deceived3 his entire village.”

Based on the aforementioned story, we must wonder why he is termed “the deceitful one” and not “the wicked one”? It would seem that tricking one’s own neighbors and friends is not only sly but blatantly malicious and evil?

We must also wonder how Lavan had the temerity to do what he did. Did he have absolutely no conscience whatsoever, as to be able to hoodwink those who he was closest with? Even the most imbecilic individual would have more sense than to swindle all of his friends on the night of his daughter’s wedding, and then dance and dine with them using the money he stole from them?

Rabbi Shwadron explained that the Torah defines people based on their true inner self. The commentaries expend great effort to explain the details and particulars of individual behavior. But the Torah pinpoints the origin, the source of all of an individual’s life behaviors and experiences.

Eisav is dubbed ‘Eisav the wicked’ because wickedness and cruelty was his core shortcoming. Indeed he committed many crimes out of desire for money and hatred for holiness, but at his core was an unconquered moral depravity and corruptness.

Lot is dubbed the ‘desiring one’ because ultimately it was his lusts and desires that prevented him from reaching greatness. Although he too committed sins as a member of Sodom that could be viewed as wicked he is called the ‘desiring one’ because that was his primary inadequacy.

Lavan too committed many acts that made him deserving of many alternate titles. But the Torah reveals to us that the primary catalyst of his behavior was his unrestrained deceitfulness.

Although Lavan was innately a man of deceit the true depth of his treachery lay in the fact that his greatest victim was… himself!4 Whenever Lavan conjured up a new plan of action, a new way to solicit money or goods from a hapless victim, he immediately justified his actions in his own mind. So seduced was he by his own schemes and machinations that he wholly convinced himself that what he was doing was not only not a sin but it was the proper course of action. He was absolutely sure that what he did is what needed to be done at that time and in that situation.

It is in that sense that Lavan is titled5 “the father of all charlatans”. Lavan was not merely the master charlatan, he was in a league of his own. Because he so convinced himself of the veracity of his cause and motives his deceit knew no limits. That was why he was able to dupe his entire city and then dance with them at the wedding which they paid for. That was also why he was able to turn to his daughter at her own wedding and tell her to go back home because her sister was going home with the groom.

When Yaakov entered the home of Lavan he declared that he was prepared to deal with the trickery of Lavan and he was confident that he would not fall prey to Lavan’s deceit. But Yaakov failed to realize that he was not dealing with a charlatan - at least not in Lavan’s mind. Yaakov was wise and wary enough to outfox Lavan’s antics and foibles but Lavan did not present with antics and foibles. In Lavan’s own mind he was genuine and sincere, truly believing he was justified in all that he did. Yaakov had no way to rival a person who felt he was righteous and just.

When Yaakov indeed confronted Lavan and asks him, “Why have you deceived me?” Lavan did not even acknowledge the accusation. Instead he responded, “That is not the way it is done in our places, to give the younger one before the older one.” Lavan’s response reverses the accusation onto Yaakov, as if to criticize him for trying to breach the communal custom.

Arguing with Lavan was an exercise in futility. There can be no negotiation or discussion with an evildoer who believes he is righteous.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often relates that the events that the Torah records are not ancient history. We encounter the likes of Lot, Lavan, and Eisav in our everyday lives. We have to analyze and contemplate the ways in which the Patriarchs dealt with each of these challenging individuals to understand how we must respond as well.

On a deeper and more profound level we must realize that there is a bit of Lavan, Lot, and Eisav within ourselves. It is incumbent upon us to learn from these epoch narratives how we can grow and overcome our own shortcomings.

In an article entitled, “Torah Revitalized: Writing A New Chapter6, the Los Angeles Times reports that a congregation in Northridge, California is undertaking the rectification of an ancient Torah scroll. The Torah is over 300 years old, having survived the Holocaust. After lying in a deserted warehouse with many other abandoned scrolls for over three decades in a deserted synagogue in Prague, it was rescued by a British philanthropist. One scroll eventually made its way to the congregation in California where to date it is used very rarely because of its fragile state. When it is fixed it will be used more regularly.

The leader of the congregation is quoted as saying, “Torahs are meant to be used… read from… and studied from. Restoring the Torah shows the commitment we have to keeping a Torah in kosher condition, in working order, so we can read, learn, and study from it.”

What I found intriguing about the touching story is that the congregation belongs to a Reform Temple. How incongruous that they are looking to a restore a scroll, whose content they distort! How ironic that they will beautify the words which read “Remember the day of Shabbos to sanctify it” while they themselves do not observe the holy day according to the dictates of that scroll7.

It must be said that we gain little by pointing out the foibles of our well-meaning, yet grossly misguided brethren. The truth is we have to take a candid look at ourselves to determine how/when we delude ourselves! How often do we convince ourselves that what we are doing is proper, when others (and perhaps even the Torah) do not view it that way?

Yaakov was able and ready to counter all of Lavan’s ploys, but even he could not outwit a person who was convinced his actions were righteous and pure.

Sometimes the person we fool most is ourselves!

“I am his brother in deceit”

“The father of all charlatans”

1 Bereishis Rabba 70:13
2 “Lavan” means white. He would commit all of his antics and yet show a face of innocence and purity, as if he was white and pure (see Medrash 60:8).
3 A ‘ramai’ is a deceitful individual.
4 Rabbi Shwadron explains that “Arami” is a verb, as in who is deceitful to others. But “Ha’arami” is a noun, connoting one who is himself a deceived person… deceived by himself.
5 Tanchuma, beginning of parshas Vayishlach
6 The article is dated October 16, 2010
7 I surely do not mean to denigrate what the congregation is doing. It is a beautiful idea to restore a Torah scroll to its glory. But it is unquestionably a far greater, and more important, restoration of the beauty of Torah to renew commitment to its laws.

Thursday, November 4, 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:

This edition of Stam Torah is lovingly dedicated in memory of my rebbe and Zayde:

R’ Yaakov Meir ben R’ Yosef Yitzchok zt’l, whose yahrtzeit is on 27 Cheshvan.




World War II.

Nazi occupation of Poland.

Thousands of Poles were forced to leave their homes to work in German factories. Jews were sent en masse to Concentration Camps.

Typhus is an infectious disease spread by body lice that is often fatal. At that time there was no cure and vaccinations were scarce. The German army dreaded the disease because in unsanitary wartime conditions, it could race through a regiment. So doctors who suspected that a patient had typhus were required to submit blood samples to German-controlled laboratories for testing.

Jews who tested positive were shot and their houses burned. Non-Jews were quarantined or sent to special hospitals.

Suddenly in the city of Rozwadow in Southeastern Poland non-Jews began testing positive for Typhus. With time the Germans were forced to quarantine Rozwadow and the surrounding villages. The quarantine kept the beastly German soldiers out of the area and spared its residents from German brutality.

It was too late for the Jews who lived in Rozwadow who had already been sent to the Camps. But for many Jews who were hiding out around the villages, the fact that the Nazis didn’t enter that area for the duration of the war saved them.

Years after the war it was discovered that the epidemic was a hoax.

When the Nazis overran Poland in World War II, 29 year old Dr. Eugene Lazowski yearned to find a way to fight back, to protect human life, and he seized upon a paradoxical instrument of salvation--the German army's profound fear of disease. Lazowski slyly used medical science to save the lives of thousands of Jews and other Poles in twelve Polish villages. He and a fellow physician - Stanislaw Matulewicz, - faked a typhus epidemic that forced the German army to quarantine the villages.

The accepted test for typhus at that time consisted of mixing a certain strain of killed bacteria with a blood sample from the patient. Under proper laboratory conditions, if the patient had typhus, the blood sample would turn cloudy.

Matulewicz devised a way to do the test on his own, and in the process he stumbled upon a curious discovery--if a healthy person were injected with the bacteria, that person would suffer no harm but would test positive for typhus.

Lazowski and Matulewicz injected the killed bacteria into every non-Jewish patient who suffered from a fever or exhibited other typhus like symptoms. They did not do so to Jewish patients knowing what the consequences of such a prognosis would be for the Jew. They sent blood samples from the patients to the German-controlled lab. And, sure enough, every patient tested positive for typhus.

So as not to draw suspicion to themselves, the two doctors referred many of their patients--after injecting them with the bacteria--to other doctors who weren't in on the ruse. These doctors would "discover" the typhus on their own and report it separately. Better yet, when a patient really did have typhus, Lazowski and Matulewicz publicized the case as much as possible--but only if the patient was not Jewish.

Within a few months, the Germans became alarmed. One by one, "Achtung, Fleckfieber!" (Warning, Typhus!) signs went up in surrounding villages, until a dozen towns with a total of about 8,000 people were under quarantine.

The deportation of workers to Germany from these areas was stopped. German troops kept their distance. Villagers began to feel more relaxed. And only Lazowski and Matulewicz knew there was no epidemic.

They told no one, not even their wives. They saved hundreds of lives by inventing the first – and only – benevolent germ warfare.

After years of prayers and tears, G-d finally hearkened to the prayers of Yitzchak and Rivka and Rivka became pregnant. “The children struggled within her, and she said, ‘If so, why am I thus?’ And she went to inquire of G-d. And G-d said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated; the might shall pass from one regime to the other, and the elder shall serve the younger’.1

It is clear that this ordeal was not simply a matter of Rivka being unable to tolerate the intense pains of pregnancy. Rivka understood that the children she would bear would be responsible for the continuity of the traditions and lifestyle of her husband and father-in-law. Therefore when she sensed an incongruity in the child’s behavior while yet in the womb, she panicked.

When the children were born their diverse personalities were immediately apparent. “Esav became one who knows trapping, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents (of Torah)2.” The Torah relates that Yitzchok possessed a special love for Esav, while Rivka loved Yaakov.

Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l explains that Rivka’s prenatal concerns and the subsequent seeming preferential love that Yitzchak and Rivka had for their respective sons, is inextricably connected to the seminal first encounter between them.

“Yitzchak went out to speak in the field towards evening and he raised his eyes and saw, and behold camels were coming! And Rivka raised her eyes and saw Yitzchak; and she fell off from on the camel3.”

The Medrash4 explains that Yitzchak’s ‘speech’ was actually prayer, as the gemara5 relates, “Avrohom enacted the morning prayers, Yitzchak enacted the afternoon prayers, Yaakov enacted the evening prayers.”

A Jew stands in prayer before his Creator three times every day, to ask for his needs, and to strengthen his faith. In addition, the three time-periods of prayer symbolize three eras of time in Jewish history.

The morning prayers, recited when the sun is rising and the world begins to become illuminated, symbolize the golden ages of our people, when our monarchy was established, the Temple stood in Jerusalem, and Torah was abided. Conversely, the evening prayers symbolize the most ominous times in our history when things were bleak and frightening during the many periods of destruction and exile that we have endured.

These two periods do not detract us from prayer. When life is good and we are physically and spiritually secure we call out to G-d in thanksgiving, and clearly feel His embrace. When we feel frightened and forlorn too we cry out to G-d for salvation and redemption, knowing that we have no else to turn to but Him.

Dovid Hamelech expressed these two diverse sentiments when he declared6, “Pain and sorrow I have encountered, and the Name of G-d I will call; A chalice of salvation I will raise and the Name of G-d I will call.” Both in times of sorrow and salvation we turn to G-d.

However, there is an interim period that is neither day nor night. That is the time that our Sages refer to as bain hashmashos (twilight). The day has begun to wane and the sun is making its rapid descent beneath the horizon, but the darkness of night has not yet shrouded the skies. It’s a period of confusion - neither day nor night, a reality of its own.

This period of the day reflects times in our history of spiritual befuddlement and confusion. It is a time when we enjoy certain freedoms and widening of our limitations, yet at the same time suffering from precarious and perilous ensnaring that we must be wary of.

It was during this uncertain period that Yitzchak went out to the field to pray. The Mincha prayer is recited in the afternoon when the sun is beginning to set but the night has not yet arrived. It was specifically Yitzchak, who personifies spiritual strength and is undaunted by the luring temptations of this world, who is able to pray and connect with his Creator during that time of day.

The Torah relates that Rivka and Eliezer were riding camels when she saw Yitzchak in the distance for the first time. A camel is one of the few animals which possess one of the symbols that render an animal kosher but not the other7. In that sense the camel represents the time period of perplexity - when the boundaries of pure and impure are somewhat obscured. It is while camels approach in the distance that Yitzchak recites Mincha to strengthen within himself the demarcation between light and dark, pure and impure.

Rivka, truly worthy of her role as the great Matriarch, realized the symbolism of this dynamic encounter. She understood the time period for which Yitzchak prayed and she was seized with fright. When things are unclear and boundaries become clouded it is ever so much harder to maintain one’s faith. Thus, “she fell off from on the camel,” she feared the consequences of a world symbolized by the camel and how hard it would be to maintain faith during that time.

When Rivka became pregnant and realized that within her womb was a fetus that contained both a penchant for good and evil, the fear she felt at the time of her initial encounter with Yitzchak was reawakened. She feared that she had a child who would be confused, possessing both a desire for spiritual greatness and an insatiable craving for sin. She feared that her child would be unable to withstand such an inner challenge, and so she sought the Word of G-d.

Yitzchak however was undaunted. He did not share his wife’s fears of what might become of such a child because he personally was able to withstand such confusion.

Rivka was then informed that there were in fact two different children – two different worlds – that would emerge from her womb. Despite the pain of hearing that one of her children would have an inclination for evil, Rivka was assuaged. She understood that a child who sets out on an evil path may one day repent and return, but a child who is befuddled may never realize how spiritually ill he is and may never repent.

The difference in outlook between Yitzchak and Rivka manifested itself in their relationship with their children. Yitzchak, the symbol of strength and spiritual control, saw the potential within Eisav and so he loved him dearly. He wanted to give Eisav the blessings to help keep him true to his mission and destiny. But Rivka who grew up in the lap of wickedness and sin understood that Eisav would be unable to withstand the tests he would face and so she loved Yaakov, who possessed the light of Torah and its study.

The Shacharis prayer is recited before one engages in his daily affairs while the Ma’ariv prayer is recited after one has concluded his work and is returning home. Many people have fixed study sessions before leaving to work while others have sessions in the evening after a full day at the office. But Mincha is recited in the middle of the day. While we are in the middle of engaging in our daily pursuits replete with meetings, deadlines, phone-calls, etc. we have an obligation to put everything on hold so that we can spend a few moments in quite meditation and reflection praying to G-d. That is the prayer of Yitzchak, the clarity of prayer in midst confusion and distraction.

This idea should sound very familiar to us because our world is “a world of Mincha”. In the Western World we enjoy freedoms and comforts that our ancestors could hardly dream of. We have achieved notoriety, success, and wealth that no previous generation had. At the same time our generation is spiritually feeble and in grave danger. The insidious distractions of the outside world have crept into our communities and threaten us very deeply.

Perhaps the greatest example of this concept is symbolized by the internet. In our time internet has become virtually ubiquitous. There is so much value on the internet, including endless amounts of Torah – audio, video, and written. Yet at the same time the lurking dangers of the internet hardly need to be enumerated. There is hardly a more glaring example of a confusion of the greatest good and the greatest evil. It is of the greatest challenges our people has ever faced.

In our society things which appear to be good can be noxious, and vice-versa. Ours is a world of confusion and shades of gray.

It was of challenges such as this, and of such a society, that caused Rivka to fall off her camel in fear. Yitzchak taught us that at such times we must pray Mincha.

The gemara says that Elijah the prophet’s prayers were answered during the time of the Mincha prayers8. The gemara explains that Mincha is an especially propitious time for one’s prayers to be answered. It is a time of day when we are harried and busy. Yet we devote a few moments to remind ourselves that all of our efforts are in the hands of G-d. Those prayers are especially potent and valuable.

In that sense we can say that in ‘a world of Mincha’, a stressful world of busyness when we are so bedraggled and overwhelmed and it is so challenging to find clarity and remain faithful, all of our prayers are so valuable and precious before G-d. We pray that we have the spiritual vitality of Yitzchak to not be intimidated “by the dawn’s early light”. We believe that very soon the dawn will turn to eternal day, but until then we need to remain firm and committed.

“Yitzchak went out to speak in the field”

“Rivka fell off from on the camel”

1 25:22-23
2 Ibid, v. 27
3 24:63-64
4 Bereishis Rabbah 60:14
5 Berachos 27b
6 Tehillim 116
7 A camel chews its cud but does not have split hooves
8 Berachos 6b – during the ‘showdown’ with the false ba’al prophets atop of Mount Caramel