Thursday, June 23, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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In 1978, Michael Aun won the Toastmaster’s International Speaking contest in Vancouver. He remarks that although he is well-known for winning the contest in 1978, he lost it in 1977 in Toronto, because he went seven seconds over his allotted time. In his words, “Do you know what you do after you lose a contest because of seven seconds? You go up to your hotel room and you cry. But after a while, you realize that you can go for it again. A year later I won it in Vancouver. I often say that we have to remember that you often have to go through Toronto in order to get to Vancouver.” That’s the way winner’s think. Winner’s focus on their strengths; losers focus on their weakness. Winners are challenged by defeat while losers are paralyzed by defeat. What everyone remembers about Michael Aun is his triumph in Vancouver. But they soon forget the defeats.

Losers spend their time in the pursuit of happiness; winners spend their time in the happiness of the pursuit.

Winners search for the challenges; losers search for security!

The tragic rebellion of Korach is of the saddest accounts of the nation’s travails in the desert. Rashi2 asks, if Korach was such a distinguished and clever individual what prompted him to mount a rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of Klal Yisroel?

Rashi answers that Korach’s eyes caused him to err. Korach prophetically saw that holy leaders and great individuals would emerge from his progeny, including Shmuel Hanavi, who in his time, was as great as Moshe and Aharon combined3. Korach concluded that if such greatness was to emerge from him he could not allow himself to be denied greater prestige and influence. He was convinced that the merit of his erstwhile descendants would protect him, and that he had a responsibility to achieve greater renown for their sake.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l4 noted that Korach should have reached the exact opposite conclusion. If he was to father such great personages he should have seen it as beneath his dignity to incite an imbroglio against Moshe. He should have concluded that it does not befit the ancestor of Shmuel Hanavi to dispute the leader of Klal Yisroel over honor and glory.

The true initiator of Korach’s tragic rebellion was his wife. She would deride him for being silent and unassuming. “Whenever Moshe blows the trumpet, you and your fellow porters come running to schlep the Holy Ark to its next location. For someone so distinguished you are treated like a nobody. Moshe ensured that his closest family members have all of the most distinguished positions, but you get nothing!” Eventually her inflammatory remarks provoked Korach to challenge Moshe’s authority.

The verse5 states “One who is impatient to become rich will not become exonerated.” The Medrash6 applies this verse to Korach. Korach couldn’t wait to enjoy the honor and greatness he anticipated from his descendants and so he tried to grasp it prematurely. The results proved disastrous.

The prophet7 warns that “One who amasses wealth unjustly will lose it in the middle of his days.” Prima facie, the prophets foreboding words seem puzzling. Aren’t there many individuals who employ unethical means to achieve wealth and prominence, and then seem to enjoy the fruits of their unscrupulous actions in comfort?

Rabbi Pam explained that such individuals represent the greatest tragedy of all. There are individuals who are predestined to become wealthy for whatever divine reason8. G-d has ordained that somehow they would become rich. Had they not succumbed to immoral activities they would have had their money anyway. Thus they gained absolutely nothing by being dishonest and deceitful. What a tragedy that they could have enjoyed their wealth and not have had to be punished for it in the next world. When the prophet warns of those who will lose their wealth rapidly he is referring to one who is not predestined to become wealthy. All of his schematic efforts will ultimately prove futile and “he will lose it in the middle of his days.”

This concept is not limited to wealth but to honor and prestige too. One can only achieve what G-d wills him to achieve, and all of his efforts will accomplish nothing if it is not meant to be. This was the root of Korach’s fallacious thinking. G-d had planned a glorious future for him, albeit through his descendants. But Korach was impatient and impulsive, and he thought mounting a coup-de-tat could alter his destiny. The error cost him not only his life and the lives of his family and followers, but also his share in the World to Come.

In our world we are infatuated by dreams of striking it big in a hurry. There are numerous advertisements for programs and jobs which can make you rich and successful quickly. “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” As if in one moment all of your problems can be solved. It is not uncommon for people to forfeit their life’s savings in one of such luring programs.

This mode of thinking seeps into the world of spirituality as well. We search for ‘instant wisdom’ and yearn for quick ways to become righteous and scholarly. The reality is however, that greatness is the product of struggle and perseverance.

In our impatient world many often conclude that if they cannot master Torah or levels of greatness quickly they must not be ‘cut out’ for it. The verse9 states “Wealth gathered by hand will accumulate”. Ibn Ezra explains that only when one works hard at gradually accumulating wealth will he be successful.

Rabbi Pam notes that the same applies to Torah knowledge and Serving G-d. Every little bit of toil and effort is part of the arduous journey toward greater levels of spiritual attainment. But one must be ready for the journey and not seek shortcuts.

There is a great quote which states that, “Success is a road not a destination, and the road is always under construction.” There is no sure-fire, universal road that everyone can take. Everyone must painstakingly seek out his own path and be prepared for the expedition. But above-all one must have patience with himself. Korach wanted to have it all, and to have it now, and that proved to be at the root of his tragic downfall.

Dovid Hamelech stated10 “The joyous heart is the one which seeks G-d.” Happiness lies in the pursuit, fraught with all of its challenges and difficulties. One only senses joy when he takes up the journey.

“And Korach took”

“One who is impatient to become rich will not become exonerated.”

1 Based on lecture given at Kehillat New Hemsptead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Korach 5770, in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of Yisroel Shlomo Friedenberg.
2 16:1
3 See Tehillim 99:6
4 “Rav Pam on Chumash” by Rabbi Sholom Smith
5 Mishley 28:20
6 Yalkut Shomini, Mishley 962
7 Yirmiyahu 17:11
8 See Niddah 16b
9 Mishley 13:11
10 Tehillim 105:3 (Also Divrei Hayamim I 16:10)

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




A student of Yeshivas Shor Yashuv in Far Rockaway once missed shachris during two consecutive mornings. Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva, approached the student and quipped that he missed him. The student proceeded to lie about his whereabouts. Rabbi Freifeld did not respond and the conversation ended there.

Six months later (!) Rabbi Freifeld approached the student, “Do you remember the conversation we had about missing shachris six months ago?” The student nodded. “And do you remember that at the time you said something untrue?” The student nodded again. The room was silent for a long moment before the student asked, “Why did Rebbe wait so long to say anything about that?” Rabbi Freifeld brilliantly replied, “Six months ago you had not yet grown ears. Now you have ears.”1

When the Torah commences its narrative about the debacle of the spies it opens with G-d’s words to Moshe, "שלח לך - send for yourself2. Rashi explains that Moshe was instructed to send out the spies "for your own sake". In other words, G-d told Moshe that the spies were not necessary, and no good would come out of sending them.

Even if the nation had aggressively demanded that spies be sent, G-d could have made it clear to Moshe that it was an imprudent idea. If G-d knew the disastrous result of the spies’ mission why did He allow Moshe to proceed with it?

Rabbi Mottel Katz zt’l3 explained that the nation was not on the spiritual level to hear such a response. Even if G-d would have emphatically told them that it was a bad idea they would not have accepted it. They would have countered that it is imperative for any nation to gather as much intelligence as possible before embarking on a mission of conquest and there was no reason they should be any different. G-d knew that Moshe’s efforts to dissuade them would be futile.

Rabbi Katz noted that sometimes educating requires 'not educating'. In other words, at times a parent or teacher must NOT react. Even though the situation really warrants a comment or reaction, sometimes it will be counter-productive to react.

The gemara expresses this idea:4 "Just as it is a mitzvah to say something (rebuke) which will be heard and accepted, so too it is a mitzvah to not say something which will not be heard and accepted".

Under the circumstances, there was no recourse but to concede to the nation’s demand, despite the fact that they were bound for disaster. They had to learn the lesson on their own and Moshe could not save them from themselves.5

This concept is invaluable in education. Many parents get caught up in the “Parenting Paradox”. They feel that if they tell, show, and direct their children constantly their children will listen and improve.

We would like our children to learn life's lessons easily, and we desperately want to protect our children from the challenges and frustrations of life. So we instruct our children to listen to our sagacious advice based on our experience. We hope that in doing so we will spare them the need to learn the lessons we were forced to learn the hard way.

Our motives are undoubtedly noble. They reflect the very reason we became parents, to guide our children toward a happy and fulfilling life. But somewhere along this path we became stuck in the paradox – “if I don't help you how will you ever learn?” On so many occasions when we offer to help things get worse, not better.

One of the most important ideas of education is to train ourselves to bite our tongue and watch and listen. It can be extremely frustrating to keep quiet, especially when we know our advice can save untold aggravation. But the challenge of education is to realize that one learns best from his own mistakes and we have to give our children room to learn from their own decisions… and mistakes.

How much distress and disaster could have been averted if G-d would have told Moshe not to send the spies. But the young nation did not yet have the ears to hear that message. They had to make the mistake themselves and suffer the dire consequences of their decision.

The Mishna6 states סייג לחכמה שתיקה" - a fence (protection) for wisdom is silence”. The Kotzker Rebbe once quipped that the ‘fence’ around wisdom is when one has nothing to say and therefore remains silent. Wisdom itself is when one has something to say and remains quiet anyway!

Education is not merely about knowing what to say. More importantly, it’s about knowing when and if to say. It’s about knowing when it’s best to remain hidden away in the background, available when approached, but not rushing in unsolicited.

“A mitzvah not to say what won’t be heard”

“Send for yourself”


1 From the invaluable book, “Reb Shlomo” about the life and times of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l
2 Bamidbar 13:2
3 1894-1964, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe
4 Yevamos 65b
5 Heard from Rabbi Yissochor Frand
6 Avos 3:13

Thursday, June 2, 2011

NASO 5771

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


NASO 5771


On June 1, 1925, a young baseball player named Lou Gehrig was sent to pinch hit for shortstop Paul "Pee Wee" Wanninger. The next day, June 2, Yankee manager Miller Huggins started Gehrig in place of regular first baseman Wally Pipp. Pipp was in a slump, as were the Yankees as a team, so Huggins made several lineup changes to boost their performance. For the next fourteen seasons Gehrig did not miss a game.

In 1939 Gehrig felt himself rapidly weakening. He was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis1, the disease that would take his life. On May 2, 1939 Gehrig told manager Joe McCarthy to take him out of the lineup. Incredibly, Gehrig, ‘the Iron Horse’ had played in 2,130 consecutive games.

On July 4, 1939 the Yankees proclaimed ‘Lou Gehrig day’ at Yankees Stadium. Special presentations and speeches were presented in honor of the dying slugger. The New York Times said it was "perhaps as colorful and dramatic a pageant as ever was enacted on a baseball field [as] 61,808 fans thundered a hail and farewell."

But undoubtedly the most memorable part of the day was Gehrig’s own speech to the overflowing crowd. In a quivering yet empathic voice his words reverberated throughout the stadium: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

... So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Throughout their forty years in the desert, the Jewish nation had to be prepared to travel at a moment’s notice. At any time the Divine clouds could suddenly rise and proceed further into the desert. As soon as that occurred the entire nation had to immediately dismantle their camps, gather their children and belongings, and begin to travel in perfect formation along with their tribe.

The Levites had the added responsibility of dismantling the holy Tabernacle and preparing it for travel. The tribal leaders donated wagons and oxen to the Tabernacle which Moshe apportioned to two of the Levite families – Gershon and Merori - to use for the transportation of the Tabernacle and its vessels. The third Levite family however – the prestigious family of Kehas – were not given any wagons. The Torah explains2, “And to the sons of Kehas he did not give; since the sacred service was upon them, they carried it upon the shoulder.” Since they were responsible for the Holy Ark and the other holiest vessels it was not proper for those vessels to be placed in wagons. Rather, they were carried directly, upon their shoulders.

After the Jewish Nation had settled in Eretz Yisroel for a few hundred years, during the time of Eli the High Priest, the Holy Ark was captured by the Philistines. The Philistines held it for a short time, and then sent it back to Israel. For many years after its return the Holy Ark remained in Kiryas Yearim, in the home of a man named Avinadav3.

When King David conquered Jerusalem he was determined to bring the Ark home. He commissioned that it be transported in a wagon pulled by oxen. Uzzah, the son of Avinadav walked alongside the wagon. At one point, when the Ark appeared to be falling Uzzah jumped in to straighten it. It was deemed an affront for him to even entertain the notion that the Ark could fall because “the Ark carried those who (appeared to) carry it”. Because of that act Uzzah was immediately killed.

The gemara4 asks what wrong King David had committed that he was indirectly responsible for Uzzah’s death. The gemara explains that it was retribution for the words King David said5, "Your statutes were music to me in the house of pilgrimage." It was unbefitting for King David to refer to the words of Torah as a song. As punishment he was made to forget a law blatantly recorded in the Torah. The verse says that the Children of Kehas were not given wagons because they carried the Ark on their shoulders. Yet King David placed the Holy Ark on a wagon, instead of having it carried upon Uzzah’s shoulders.

Horav Yehonasan Eibeshitz, zt’l explains that the prohibition to place the Holy Ark in a wagon symbolizes that Torah must be studied with diligence and toil. One must exert himself physically and emotionally to attain a true level of Torah acumen. He cannot ‘set it down comfortably before him as he walks leisurely’. Rather, he must ‘carry it upon his shoulders’, bearing its full weight with devotion and love.

When David compared Torah to music, he unwittingly implied that adherence to Torah is effortless and can be mastered with nonchalance, much as one sings an enjoyable song6. To demonstrate David’s fallacy G-d caused him to forget the law which symbolizes the opposite of his words. Torah indeed requires effort because one can easily forget it and be the cause of serious transgression, as Dovid forgot a simple law.

Rabbi Elazar Shach zt’l asked7 that if, in fact, David erred when he referred to Torah as music, why is that verse included in the book of Tehillim?

Rabbi Shach explained that comparing Torah to music/song reflects two different ideas: First, it suggests that observing G-d’s mitzvos are as simple and natural as melodious music. That is simply not true as it is often challenging to perform mitzvos, and there are often many impediments that one must contend with.

Second, the spiritual pleasure and ultimate reward one experiences through Torah study is so great that no earthly pleasure can measure against it. One who engages in deep sincere Torah study enjoys a feeling of fulfillment and joy that cannot be expressed in words.

It is the second meaning that we refer to when we repeat King David’s words in Tehillim. True, it is not always easy to keep the Torah. However, one who does so realizes that Torah is like a song which bursts forth from within the deepest recesses of his soul like a harmonious ensemble.

Rabbi Shach then relates that, as a young boy, he was very poor. He was sent to the renowned Slutzker Yeshiva where he had no food, no drink, and no clothes. He had only Torah.

When the First World War broke out, the Jews of Lithuania were exiled and dispersed throughout Europe, and the students of the yeshiva were sent home. Rabbi Shach however, had no idea where his parents were and therefore had nowhere to go. He made the town shul his home, sleeping on the benches and living off whatever food he could solicit. He only had one change of clothes, which he washed every Friday on the roof, and then waited for them to dry. Few people noticed him or cared much for him and his hair grew long. This went on for a number of years until the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zt’l welcomed him into his home.

Rabbi Shach then concludes, "If I were to write down all the agony and misery that has been my lot throughout my life, I would fill volumes that would be much thicker than my Avi Ezri. I can honestly say that I never had a good day in my life! I never had any pleasure in this world. ובכל זאת מיום עמדי על דעתי עד היום אני הבן אדם הכי מאושר בעולם - Yet, despite everything, from the day I began to understand things until today, I am (consider myself) the luckiest man on the face of the earth. There has never been a moment in my life that I have not been filled with joy. Why? Because I learn Torah!"

Every person has goals and aspirations, and those aspirations and hopes largely define who he is and what is important to him. Every person has a different response to the question of ‘Who is a lucky person?’ and ‘what would it take for one to ‘consider himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth’?’ It depends on one’s value system and priorities.

One man considered himself the luckiest man on earth because he was an all-star player with a legendary sports franchise, and gained tremendous fame and acclaim throughout his career. Another man stated that he did not have ‘a good day in his life’ and yet he too considered himself the luckiest man in the world, because he was bound with the eternal meaning of life and enjoyed the greatest fulfillment possible. Interestingly enough, their weltanschauung could not have been more diverse and, they would never have traded places.

The Yom Tov of Shavuos is a relatively short holiday. The gemara8 states that on Shavuos one is obligated to eat a lavish meal and enjoy the day physically to demonstrate that the Torah enriches our physical lives too.

It is a one day9 celebration of what is truly important to us and why we - the eternal people – are truly the luckiest people on the face of the earth.

“Your statutes were music to me”

“They carried it upon the shoulder”

1 Later to be known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’
2 7:9
3 See Shmuel I 7:1
4 Sotah 35a
5 Tehillim 119:54
6 Although this was surely not King David’s intent he was held accountable for its implication. Great personalities are held accountable with extreme precision.
7 In his preface to his magnum opus, Avi Ezri on the Rambam
8 Pesachim 68a
9 According to the Torah it is only a one day holiday, and that is how it is observed in Eretz Yisroel; outside of Eretz Yisroel we observe an extra day, like all major holidays