Thursday, November 24, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The late Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l was legendary for his tremendous dedication to unbridled Torah study, passionate Avodas Hashem, and deep love for every Jew. He accomplished all this despite the fact that he suffered deeply from Parkinson’s disease.

The fact that Rabbi Finkel was responsible for the financial stability of the largest Torah institution in the world, consisting of thousands of students, did not deter him, despite his feeble state. There were nights when he would have to lie flat on his coach because he was too weak to move, and could barely speak. And yet, even then, he would continue to grant students and visitors an audience with him.

One night a Rabbi from America whose wife was extremely sick came to Rabbi Finkel to solicit a blessing for his wife. At the time Rabbi Finkel was lying on his coach and motioned for the Rabbi to tell him why he had come. When the Rabbi finished relating the severity of the situation, Rabbi Finkel motioned for him to remove a Tehillim from the shelf. In a barely audible voice, Rabbi Finkel whispered, “You say Tehillim and I will cry along with you.”

For a few minutes the Rabbi recited the words slowly, while Rabbi Finkel listened intensely with tears coursing down his cheeks, as he wordlessly prayed for a woman he never met1.

During their formative years of life, Yaakov and Eisav lived in similar fashion. Once they reached adolescence however, their lives became very divergent. Yaakov remained in the tents of Torah, studying day and night. Eisav however, took to the fields, not only forsaking the physical House of Study, but its morals and values as well.

On the day of his holy grandfather’s death, Eisav committed five cardinal sins2. Yet Eisav managed to mask his sins from his father Yitzchak. Chazal explain that by asking Yitzchak complex halachic questions, Eisav cunningly duped his father into believing that he was learned and righteous. In fact, Yitzchak was prepared to give Eisav his blessing for world domination and eternal prosperity. How was that possible? How could Yitzchak, our holy forefather, have been so completely fooled by Eisav?

When Eliezer set out to find a wife for Yitzchak, his litmus test was that the young woman be prepared, not only to offer him water to drink, but to all of his servants and camels as well. The truth is that the entire event is extraordinary. Rivka, a young girl, chances upon an entourage at the foot of the well in the middle of the day. It was apparent that the leader of the group was a nobleman who had no dearth of capable servants to draw water for him and his camels. Still-in-all, Rivka immediately offered to do everything herself. So, while she was drawing and dragging bucket after bucket of water from the well for a group of complete strangers, the rest of the group was sitting on the side watching. It must be realized that drawing water from a well is incomparably more difficult than opening a faucet. Moreover, camels have the capacity to drink enough water to satisfy themselves for eleven days while traveling in the parched desert! The exhausting work must have taken Rivka a few hours in the midday sun.

If Rivka had asked for help, or if she gave up after three hours, or if she only offered water to Eliezer and his men but not the camels, would she no longer have been worthy to marry Yitzchak. Are we demanded to go to such outrageous lengths for the sake of chesed for a complete stranger?

On the third day after his circumcision, ignoring the intense pain he felt, ninety-nine year old Avrohom Avinu anxiously sat outside his tent despite the scorching heat of the day. When he noticed three Bedouins in the distance, he ran to them and implored them to join him. He catered to them like they were dignitaries and he prepared a feast for them as fitting.

Here too, we must wonder if we, the descendants of Avrohom, have the same responsibility in regard to performing acts of chesed. Are we obligated to search for lowly guests to invite them into our homes, and then to serve them so magnanimously?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that there is a preliminary fundamental dynamic that must be understood when one studies Chumash Bereishis. He explains the difference between the patriarchs and their descendants with a metaphor: There is a vast differentiation between pure unadulterated fire and the fire that we use for our daily use. The fire we use is combined with earth, water, and wind3. Our fires are limited as to the extent of how hot they can become, and they have a yellowish-orange tinge because of the other physical elements that combine with them. Genuine unadulterated fire however, contains limitless heat and is also colorless.

The difference between pure fire and the fires we come into contact with is the difference between the patriarchs and their descendants. Each of the patriarchs was the paragon of a fundamental characteristic which they instilled into their progeny. In a sense, their actions represented the unadulterated manner of service to G-d.

When Avrohom, and consequently Rivkah, performed acts of chessed, it was in the most perfect and extreme manner possible. Similarly, Yitzchak’s devotion and fear of G-d as well as his complete self-abnegation to G-d transcended normal human capacity. No matter what occurred, Yitzchok never questioned G-d. When he heard the voice of Yaakov but felt the hands of Eisav, he was perplexed, yet he gave his blessing anyway. When the ‘Palestinians’ openly lied and filled up his wells, Yitzchak picked up and left without ever answering them. Yitzchak lived with an intense awareness of G-d in every facet of his life.

Similarly, Yaakov’s devotion to truth and his staunchness in his morals and values which never wavered even in the house of Lavan for over two decades was uncanny.

A train can have many coaches but it will only be able to move all of them if the locomotive engine has sufficient power to overcome the initial inertia. If the engine is able to inject enough energy into the train to set the train’s trajectory in motion, the rest of the coaches will begin to follow suit.

Our patriarchs are the metaphoric engine at the front of the train. They had to excel in their unique characteristic to such an extent that it would be imbued into the genes of their descendants until the end of time.

Rabbi Pinkus then states that we must realize that we are NOT the disciples of the patriarchs. Rather, we are the children of the patriarchs. A teacher teaches his children how to behave; a parent initiates the proper path which their children should follow. Our patriarchs went well above and beyond the call of duty, in order to trail-blaze the path of life which we must follow. But they are not our teachers per se, in the sense that our actions don’t have to be on the same level as theirs.

With this in mind, we can also comprehend how Eisav duped Yitzchak. Just as our patriarchs excelled in their life’s mission, so too, did their opponents excel in their life’s mission. Eisav was no simple person. Just as Yaakov reached a level of perfection in righteousness, so too did Eisav reach a level of perfection in his deviousness and iniquity. In fact Eisav’s wiliness was so extreme that he was even able to fool his righteous father! Just as Avrohom, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were the paragons of kindness, spiritual strength, and truth so too, Eisav, Lavan, and to a certain extent Lot, were ‘paragons’ of chicanery, duplicity, and sin.

It is only Moshe who was crowned with the title ‘Rabbeinu- our teacher’ for he transmitted and taught Klal Yisroel Torah. Our patriarchs contributed the vital building blocks of the future Chosen Nation and that is why they are eternally the patriarchs. Our greatest leaders too demonstrate for us the extreme levels we must aspire for.

Our responsibility is to emulate their attributes, albeit not to the extent that they did. They were/are the engines that pull the eternal train called Klal Yisroel. Our responsibility is to make sure we are ‘coupled to their engine’ for then we can be confident that we will be pulled in the right direction toward the path of Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim.

“The voice is the voice of Yaakov”

“When will my actions reach the actions of my forefathers?”

1 Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman during a eulogy he delivered in memory of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Finkel zt’l.
2 He murdered, committed adultery, sold and disgraced his rights as the firstborn, denied the existence of G-d, and denied the concept of the eventual resurrection of the dead (Bava Basra 16).
3 Rambam (Hil. Yesodei HaTorah) writes that everything in the universe is composed of various levels of the combined forces of fire, water, earth, and wind.


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos/ Mevarchim Chodesh Kislev

28 MarCheshvan 5772/November 25, 2011

This past Sunday morning as I was delivering my weekly Rambam shiur after shacharis, my family neighbor from my youth, R’ Akiva Lane, walked in and sat down to listen. At the end of the shiur, he handed me a small notebook and said, “We were cleaning out our basement and we found this; it belongs to you.” I peered down at the cover of my fourth grade notebook! I should mention that the Lane family made aliyah a number of years ago. I have no idea how my notebook ended up in their home in the first place, but somehow it remained with them all these years.

By nature I am a copious note-taker and have many binders and notebooks full of notes from classes and lectures I have heard over the years. I try to write my notes in a manner that others could read my writings and understand them. Part of my inspiration for writing in such detailed fashion comes from my Zayde. Truthfully, it is not because he had such beautiful notes, but rather the opposite. His handwriting is very difficult to decipher, and he wrote brief thoughts on any pieces of paper he had available. There are short thoughts jotted on the back of invitations, tax forms, school papers, and advertisements. Those papers were left in his sefarim.

Over the years I have spent considerable amounts of time trying to decipher his writings. I have been successful in understanding some of them, but there is so much more that I still can’t quite make out. Whatever I have been able to understand is extremely precious to me.

Ben Franklin famously wrote:

“If you would not be forgotten, As soon as you are dead and rotten;

Either write things worth reading, Or do things worth writing.”

The Mishna in Avos states וקנה לך חבר" – Acquire for yourself a friend.” One of the commentaries offers a novel interpretation of these words: A קנה can also be translated as a reed, which used to be used as a quill for writing. Thus the Mishna is saying, “Your pen – will be your friend.”

When something is written, it’s documented forever (as long as you don’t lose it). I have letters that I received from my Grandmothers when I was a camper in camp as a child which are so precious to me, as well as letters from my parents, and even copies of letters I sent to others. The memories contained in those writings are invaluable. When I read them I find myself momentarily transported back to a different time and place in my life.

It was a fascinating experience to open the notebook and see my writings from so many years ago, from such a vastly different stage in my life.

That is a bit of the feeling I had when I opened up my fourth grade notebook with my old address - 19 Echo Ridge Rd - and our classic phone number 578-5787 (what a phone-number!) written in my nine year old handwriting on the front cover. That notebook had the steps of the korbanos which were brought in the Mishkan. Rabbi Shlomo Breslauer, my fourth grade rebbe, had us memorize all the steps, many of which I still remember.

It’s amazing how many memories are hidden away in old letters and an old notebook.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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“The train chugged monotonously down the tracks bearing its human freight. It was a Friday afternoon in the early summer of 1941. That morning, the Nazis had burst into Amsterdam and rounded up all the Jews, snatching them from basements, attics, closets and any other hiding places. Now, as the train dragged on in lugubrious silence, the stifled occupants sank deeper and deeper into despair and misery.

“As the sun began to set, someone announced that it was time to pray. Some of them began to recite mincha from memory. Then, someone began to recite Kabbolas Shabbos. They sang the inspiring hymn “Lecha Dodi- Come by beloved, let us greet the Shabbos Queen” in melodious unison. For many, this would be the last time they would sing those words. The prayers ended, darkness descended, and with nothing else to say or do, a mournful silence enveloped the speeding train.

“Suddenly, an elderly woman began to shuffle. With great effort, she managed to pull out her bag and open her last remaining possessions in the world. Laboriously, she drew out the two challos that she had been baking that morning when the Nazis burst into her home. One of the men recited Kiddush on the two challos. Then, everyone in the train car shared the two challos.

“Far greater than the little physical nourishment that they had from the small piece of bread that they received, they had the opportunity to ingest a small piece of the ethereal sanctity of Shabbos.”2

After a long arduous journey Eliezer realized that Rivkah was destined to become Yitzchok’s wife. Her integrity, kindness, and devotion were immediately apparent. “And Yitzchak brought her to the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rivkah, and she was for him a wife; he loved her, and Yitzchok was comforted after (the loss) of his mother.3” Rashi notes that, as long as Sarah was alive, three miracles were ubiquitous in her tent: Her Shabbos candles continued burning until the following Friday night, her dough was blessed that the loaves remained fresh all week, and a Cloud of Divine Glory rested above the tent. When Sarah died, those three blessings ceased. When Rivkah married Yitzchak all three blessings returned, and therefore, Yitzchak was able to be comforted for the loss of his mother.

The Maharal4 explains that these three blessings are directly connected with the three mitzvos that are primarily the responsibility of the woman. The Mishna5 states that women die in childbirth on account of the violation of three transgressions: For not being careful with the laws of family purity, for not separating challah from their dough, and for not being particular to fulfill the mitzvah of kindling the Shabbos candles properly.”

Women have a special affinity with these three mitzvos because they are especially endemic to her and to the home, of which the woman is considered the mainstay6.

Sarah, the consummate woman of virtue, was undoubtedly vigilant to fulfill these three mitzvos to the best of her ability. Therefore, in the merit of her dedication to these three mitzvos, these blessings were apparent in her tent. In the merit of lighting candles properly, Sarah’s candles continued to give light throughout the week. Because she was careful to separate challah, her dough remained fresh throughout the week. Finally, in the merit of her dedication toward proper observance of the laws of family purity, the Divine Presence rested on her tent.7

The Gemarah (Shabbos 119b) relates, “Rabbi Yosi bar Yehuda said: On Friday evening two angels - one good and one bad - accompany every Jewish man from shul to his home. When they enter the home, they look to see if the candles are lit, the Shabbos table is set, and the bed is made. If they are, the good angel announces, “May it be this way the following Shabbos as well!” Upon hearing the blessing, the bad angel has no choice but to respond, ‘Amen’. However, if these three criteria are not met, the bad angel announces, “May it be this way the following Shabbos as well!”, and the good angel has no choice but to respond, ‘Amen’.”

Why is it specifically these three things which the angels search for on Friday evening? Why don’t they look to see if the house is clean and if the silver was polished?

Perhaps, these three criteria are symbolic of the three mitzvos which are the women’s responsibility. When the angels look to see that the candles are lit, they are not only looking to see the physical light of the candles, but also if the home has been suffused with spiritual light. The gemara8 explains that the reason for the obligation to light candles is to promote peace and serenity in the home. When there is ample light, it lends a spiritual aura, as well as physical comfort to the home. When the angels enter the Jewish home they search for such an atmosphere of peace and love. When the man of the house returns home on Friday night, the angels await to see what kind of atmosphere pervades the home. They want to see that the light of the candles is more than physical illumination.

When the angels look at the beautifully set Shabbos table, it is not merely to see the beauty of a set Shabbos table adorned with one’s finest. They also search to see if all of the halachic obligations have been fulfilled so that this meal is truly fit for a (Shabbos) Queen. This is symbolized by the two loaves of bread, majestically lying beneath a splendid cover at the head of the table. A portion of dough had to have been removed from the loaves to fulfill the mitzvah of challah before the dough was baked.

When the angels search to see that the bed is made they are searching for an aura of holiness. The intimacy of a husband and wife is analogous to the intimate relationship between G-d and Klal Yisroel. When there is careful adherence to the laws of family purity, the angels recognize that, “the bed is made”.

Thus the blessing that the angels relate on Shabbos is dependent upon the efforts of the woman of the home. It is specifically the fulfillment of ‘her’ mitzvos which merit this most unique blessing.

The holy day of Shabbos plays a central role in the life of a Jew. The holy day infuses those who observe it with purpose, direction, and an opportunity to refocus on one’s aspirations and mission in life.

In the Shabbos zemer (song), “Baruch Kel Elyon” we sing, “It is holy for you the Shabbos day, into your homes it descends, to leave behind its blessing…” When Shabbos is observed properly, the entire home is transformed and elevated. And since the woman is the spiritual mainstay of the home, the fruits of her efforts are most apparent on Shabbos.

On Friday night, prior to the recitation of Kiddush, the custom is to sing the concluding verses of Mishley, extolling the virtues of the “Eishes Chayil- the Woman of Valor”9.

The Medrash10 notes that the words of ‘Eishes Chayil’ were first said by Avrohom as his eulogy for Sarah, the first of our Matriarchs11.

Each Friday night, just prior to proclaiming the sanctity and holiness of the day, we pay heed to the mainstay of the home, as we anticipate the blessings which will fill our home as a result of her efforts.

“The woman of valor… far from the value of pearls is her value.”

“Into your home, to leave a blessing”

1 The following is based on a speech I was privileged to deliver at a Neshei (Woman’s League) Tea on behalf of our Yeshiva, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch on November 22, 2005.
2 From the introduction of “The Shabbos”, by Dayan Grunfeld, Feldheim Publishers
3 24:67
4 Gur Aryeh
5 Shabbos 2:6
6 See Bereishis Rabbah, end of parsha 17; Shabbos 32a; Yerushalmi Shabbos, end of perek 6
7 Maharal explains that G-d’s Holy Presence rests in a place of spiritual holiness and purity. The laws of ‘family purity’ are a vital source for the infusion of that unique spiritual holiness.
8 See Shabbos 23b
9 Chapter 31, 10:31
10 Tanchuma, Chayei Sarah
11 Some say the Woman of Virtue is actually a metaphor for Shabbos, others explain that it is a metaphor for the Torah.


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah

21 MarCheshvan 5772/November 18, 2011

I’m sure it’s happened to almost everyone at one time or another. You’re sitting at some sort of reception or simcha schmoozing with a friend, when you start to feel thirsty. A quick perusal of the table and you notice that the Coke is too far away, so you settle for the only beverage within reach, a closed bottle of Seltzer. While your friend continues explaining his theories about life you maintain eye contact while trying to slowly ease the bottle open. And then it happens!

The room seems to grow quiet, conversations stop, and all eyes turn to you. You are sitting with a goofy look on your face, seltzer dripping down your sleeves and all over your shirt. People look at you with pitiful eyes that seem to say, ‘What a nebuch! He can’t even open a bottle of Seltzer without it exploding. Why didn’t he just take water?’ And there’s always that one clown who calls out jovially, “Quick pour some seltzer on it before it stains!”

And yes, I am writing about this because it happened to me recently…

You can’t just open a bottle of Seltzer. You must bear in mind that the contents of the bottle are under pressure. Therefore, you must open it slowly, allowing just a bit of air to escape before pulling the whole cap off.

There are many times in life when a certain measure of pressure is necessary. A parent needs to pressure his/her child, a husband needs to pressure his wife or vice-versa, an employer needs to pressure his employee, etc.

The golden rule is that one must always ‘open slowly’. Pressure must be added gently, incrementally, soothingly, and understandingly. If someone is always pressuring another, without thinking about the effects of his words, the results can cause an explosion and, G-d forbid, prove disastrous.

At the same time a certain amount of pressure is certainly necessary. Parents who don’t pressure their children deny their children the opportunity to realize their true self-worth and the feeling of accomplishment. There is no point of having the bottle on the table if it remains closed and unused.

The key is to find the happy medium - not too much and not too little – but finding that medium is not always easy.

By the way, for those who are questioning my right to lecture about Seltzer, I should mention that my Zayde (whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday, 27 Cheshvan)’s father, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Willamofsky zt’l hy’d was the Rav and spiritual leader of the town of Seltz in Russia. Had that position remained in our family I may have actually become the Seltzer Rav. And that would unquestionably have been a groyseh shpritz!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, November 11, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Before coming to America, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l was the Rav in Luban, White Russia. In the winter of 5682 (1922), one of the members of his community was bedridden with a fatal disease that caused inflammation of his throat and infection in his mouth. When the man felt his end was nearing, he requested a private meeting with Reb Moshe.

When they were alone, he related to Reb Moshe the following story: “Last Shabbos I was learning the week’s parsha, Parshas Vayera. When I came across the Torah’s narrative of how the daughters of Lot caused their father to become intoxicated so that they could ‘live’ with him, I publicly questioned how it was possible that our ultimate savior (Moshiach) would descend from two women who, not only committed such an act, but had the audacity to publicize it by naming their children - Moav1 and Amon2 - based on the ordeal?

“That night I had a dream in which two elderly women whose faces were veiled appeared to me. They introduced themselves as the daughters of Lot and informed me that they heard my complaints and had come from the World of Truth to explain the motive for what they had done.

“They related that, because they were members of the distinguished family of Avrohom Avinu, and had just been miraculously saved from the destruction of Sedom, no one would believe that they could/would have committed such a sinful act. People would rather conclude that the children must have been from G-d Himself, heaven forbid. When they would have been born, they would undoubtedly have been worshipped as ‘children of G-d’.

“Therefore, in order to ensure that no such desecration of G-d’s Holy Name occurs, they accepted upon themselves the personal humiliation of publicizing what they had done, by giving their children names that alluded to what occurred. It was in the merit of that self-imposed humiliation that they were worthy of being the progenitors of Moshiach.

“They then told me that I had committed a great sin by speaking about them in a degrading manner and that I would be punished like the spies who spoke slanderously about Eretz Yisroel. That is the reason why I am suffering with this strange disease in my mouth and throat.”

As soon as he completed recounting his dream, the man turned toward the wall and died. Rav Moshe accepted this man’s explanation as truth and would repeat it frequently.3

Throughout his life Avrohom sought to promulgate the teachings of G-d and to sanctify His name in any way possible.

When Lot’s shepherds allowed their sheep to graze in the surrounding Canaanite fields, a dispute erupted between them and the shepherds of Avrohom. The shepherds of Avrohom reasoned that the Land did not yet belong to Avrohom and therefore they had no right to allow their sheep to graze from it. Lot’s shepherds countered that since the Land was promised to Avrohom they had the right to begin grazing immediately.

As a direct result of that argument Avrohom decided that he and Lot would have to go their own separate ways. It seems surprising that Avrohom distanced himself from his orphaned nephew just because of one petty argument?

The Be’er Yosef explains that, in truth, Avrohom never wanted Lot to accompany him in the first place. When G-d instructed Avrohom to leave his father’s home, Avrohom understood that he had to leave behind all of his family members, including Lot. However, the Torah says, (12:4) ”וילך אברם כאשר דבר אליו ה' וילך אתו לוט - Avrom went when G-d spoke to him and Lot went with him.” In other words, Lot accompanied Avrohom on his own volition. When Avrohom saw Lot’s persistence and sincerity he allowed Lot to join him.

However, when Avrohom saw that Lot, who looked exactly like him, was not careful enough to avoid situations of potential theft, he felt that it was a threat to his integrity. Avrohom feared that even a seemingly trivial argument could have potentially negative ramifications to his efforts to teach people about G-d. If Lot presented any level of potential compromise to his efforts, Avrohom felt he could not risk allowing him to continue with him.

Parshas Vayera commences by relating that G-d appeared to Avrohom in “Elonei Mamre- the plains of Mamreh”. Rashi explains that the Torah lists Avrohom’s location to honor Mamre, who had advised Avrohom to undergo the circumcision as G-d commanded4.

Why did Avrohom need advice in the first place? Throughout his life he never wavered or hesitated to fulfill any of G-d’s commands. Why should circumcision be any different?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explained that Avrohom’s question to Mamre was not whether he should fulfill G-d’s command, but rather whether he should do so publicly or privately. Avrohom was tremendously influential, and renowned throughout the civilized world5. Avrohom’s prestige and influence contributed greatly toward his ability to convince people to believe in G-d. Avrohom was concerned that if people heard that at his age he had undergone circumcision they would think he had ‘gone crazy’. Such a feeling could severely hinder his ability to further proselytize the masses.

Mamre reassured Avrohom that if G-d commanded him to perform a mitzvah he need not be concerned with its consequences. Avrohom had to do what was incumbent upon him. G-d would take care of the rest.

After departing from the home of Avrohom the three angels proceeded to Sedom, which was slated for imminent destruction, in order to save Lot. Since time immemorial, there has been no shortage of wicked and corrupt people and societies. Yet only Sedom and its neighbors were singled out for miraculous destruction. Why the dubious distinction?

Rabbi Michael Bernstein6 postulates that perhaps because Avrohom had saved those cities from the four kings, the cities became associated with Avrohom. People would remember those cities as the ones which Avrohom had saved. Yet those cities maintained lifestyles that were the antithesis of everything Avrohom stood for. Therefore, the continued existence of such sinful cities was a blemish on the impeccable reputation of Avrohom.

In fact, it is logical to assume that the cities were destroyed specifically following the angels revelation to Avrohom and Sarah that they were about to be blessed with a child. Avrohom was about to father the nation that would be a light unto all others. Therefore, it was imperative at that point in time that no sinful nation be even remotely associated with Avrohom. Therefore Sedom and its neighbors had to be destroyed.

Every single act that Avrohom did was propelled and guided by his indefatigable desire to sanctify G-d’s Holy Name. It is no wonder that the daughters of Lot were convinced that civilization would quicker believe in supernatural intervention than to accept that a member of his extended family had acted immorally.

Following is a more recent story about a woman who was dedicated to infusing the values of Torah and sanctification of G-d’s Name to her family:

R’ Avrohom Yitzchok Gold arrived in America in 1913 seeking to make enough money to bring over his wife Rochel and their young son Jack (Yaakov) from Poland. With the outbreak of World War I however, it wasn’t until 1922 that the family was reunited on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Mrs. Gold was determined that her family maintains the spirit and values of Torah in America. The day after she walked off the boat in New York (!), she announced to her husband - whom she had not seen in almost a decade - that their son immediately had to resume learning Torah. She found out that there was only one Yeshiva at the time - Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef (RJJ). She proceeded down to the office with Yankel and explained to the principal that she needed to get her son into Yeshiva as soon as possible. The principal replied apologetically that it was absolutely impossible to get her son in to the school; it was too full.

Mrs. Gold was incredulous, “Well maybe you can pair him up with another child. He won’t mind sharing a seat.” The principal explained that every desk already had two children. The most he could do was to put him on a waiting list. When she anxiously asked how long he would have to wait, he replied that it would take two years. Mrs. Gold was beside herself. “Two years? But he needs to learn Torah immediately.” The principal shook his head dolefully and replied that there was nothing more he could do.

Mrs. Gold and Yankel left the school, returning a short time later and sitting down on the steps. Mrs. Gold brought some books while Yankel watched the horse and buggies noisily make their way down the street. If she couldn’t get Yankel enrolled in the school at least he could be in Torah environment.

After some time a class came outside for recess. The Rebbe noticed the mother and son sitting on the steps and asked if he could be of any assistance. “We’re just waiting”, she replied. Assuming she was waiting for someone or something the Rebbe walked on. But after a few hours, when the Rebbe noticed that they were still sitting in the same place he asked her who she was waiting for. “Oh, we’re not waiting for anybody. We’re waiting to get Yankel into yeshiva. The principal said it will take about two years. Can you help?” The Rebbe went into the principal and told him what was going on outside. The principal looked out his window and was shocked to see that the mother and son he had met hours earlier were sitting there.

In fact, during the next three days the principal watched as Mrs. Gold and Yankel sat on the steps the entire day ‘waiting' After that, somehow they found room in the yeshiva for Yankel!

Mrs. Gold’s descendants are Torah observant and continue the legacy she left behind. I should know because Mrs. Rochel Gold a’h is my great grandmother7.

This Monday, the 17th of Cheshvan, is the yahrtzeit of my Savta, my father’s mother, Mrs. Minnie Staum a’’h, a daughter of the aforementioned Rochel Gold.

“Savta Minnie” as we called her took great pride in the accomplishments of her children and grandchildren and she had tremendous nachas from us. We continue to miss her and hope that she will be a maylitz yosher for her family. Tehi zichrah baruch!

“Avrom went when G-d spoke to him and Lot went with him”

“In the plains of Mamreh”

1 ‘From my father’
2 ‘The child of my nation’
3 Introduction, Igros Moshe, Chelek 8
4 When G-d instructed Avrohom to undergo circumcision, Avrohom consulted Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre to ask their opinion. Anew and Eshkol both advised Avrohom not to undergo the procedure. It was only Mamre who advised him to adhere to G-d’s command.
5 Rashi (14:17) writes that after the battle of the five kings against the four kings, they all accepted Avrohom as their king.
6 Windows to the Soul, Shaar Press
7 This past March, at my sister Shoshana’s wedding, I had the opportunity to review the details of this story, as well as other beautiful stories about my great grandparents with my cousin, Rabbi Avie Gold, a noted writer for Artscroll Publications, and the son of Jack (Yankel) Gold a’h.
Rabbi Gold noted that the reason why Mrs. Gold took her son Jack to yeshiva and not his father was simply because she didn’t trust her husband! After not seeing him for many years, when he was a young man alone in the spiritual wasteland of America, she was skeptical of his religiosity, despite his outward appearance. She therefore insisted that she be the one to bring him to yeshiva. With time she realized that her concerns about her husband were unfounded. Incredibly, he had not forfeited one iota of his customs and ideals despite the challenges of the day.

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera

14 MarCheshvan 5772/November 11, 2011

Natti was your typical American yeshiva boy. He was born in 1943 and raised in his native Chicago in the world of baseball and hotdogs. He was the starting center on his high school basketball team, Ida Crown Jewish Academy. In his eighth grade yearbook, next to his photo it said ‘Ambition: Undecided’ with the quote, “Kind hearts are more than coronets.” Natty was well liked and was a good student but he wasn’t particularly brilliant.

When he was fifteen he went to visit Eretz Yisroel for the first time. While there he stayed in the home of his cousin, an illustrious Rosh Yeshiva, and spent some time visiting the yeshiva. Natty was immediately drawn to the atmosphere of the yeshiva and he wanted to stay longer. But his mother wanted him to return to Chicago until he completed High School.

If a fortune-teller would have appeared during his graduation procession from High School to reveal his future, Natti would probably have discounted his words, and told the fortune-teller that he was out of his mind. This is what the fortune-teller might have said:

“Natti you will return to Eretz Yisroel to live in the home of your cousin, the Rosh Yeshiva. You will fall in love with the yeshiva and you will remain attached to it for the rest of your life. You will begin to apply yourself and study with unbridled enthusiasm and uncanny dedication, raising your knowledge and proficiency in Torah to incredible levels. The Rosh Yeshiva will be so enamored with you that he will arrange for you to marry his granddaughter.

“You will raise a beautiful family of thirteen children. Your wife will bring your children to the yeshiva to see you during the week so you can continue to learn uninterrupted. After a few decades your father-in-law will hand over the reigns of the yeshiva to you just prior to his passing. Despite the fact that by then you will be afflicted by Parkinson’s Disease, causing you to suffer constant pain and physical challenges, you will undertake the challenge. The yeshiva will continue to grow under your tutelage at a mind-boggling rate, until it boasts a student-body of three thousand. You will become a role model for Torah Jews the world over, a beloved personality and an inspiration to all. Your tremors, and a times violent shaking, will only seek to strengthen your myriad students’ love and admiration for you. Your shiurim will be packed with talmidim who will strain to hear the pearls that flow from your (physically) weak voice. You will become the foremost symbol of learning and loving Torah despite all challenges.

“Then suddenly, to the shock of the Torah world, on the yahrtzeit of our matriarch Rochel Imeinu, you will have a massive heart attack at the age of 69 and leave this world. Your passing will tear apart the hearts of your beloved people. The greatest Torah leaders of the day, including esteemed rabbanim thirty years your senior, will eulogize you and mourn your passing together with a hundred thousand of your orphaned students in a funeral that will paralyze the bustling city of Yerushalayim. The world will hear about the death of a humble rabbi named Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, and understand that the Jewish people suffered an irreplaceable loss.”

“The day will come when an American yeshiva boy will no longer be able to blame his lack of growth on the fact that he grew up in America, because they will point to you. But for now why don’t you go enjoy your graduation ceremony with the rest of your family.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Rabbi Simcha Wasserman zt’l, a master educator and a beloved rabbinic personality, related that a man who had been the head of the history department at a large American university for over fifty years once entered a yeshiva to recite kaddish.

After davening, the teacher began conversing with the Rosh Yeshiva. He mentioned that he felt very lonely at that juncture of his life. The Rosh Yeshiva was surprised and asked him how many students he had taught during his lengthy career. The man replied that he had taught over 30,000 students. The Rosh Yeshiva then asked him if out of the 30,000 students any of them had invited him to their wedding. The professor shook his head sadly, “Not even one.”

Rabbi Wasserman noted that almost every yeshiva student invites his Rosh Yeshiva to his wedding1.

The world had been obliterated by the great flood because of rampant sin. Yet, within ten generations the world was again dominated by a pervasive apathetic attitude toward the Word of G-d. In that morally depraved world, Avrohom Avinu ‘recognized his Creator’. Avrohom not only contemplated and pondered until he discovered the truth but he made it his mission to teach others as well. One man - with confidence and dedication - forever altered the course of mankind.

Noachis often contrasted with Avrohom. The Gemarah (Sanhedrin 108a) quotes the opinion of Reish Lakish that Noach was only righteous relative to the people of his generation. Had he lived in a different generation however, he wouldn’t have attained any level of prominence.

Noach is an enigmatic personality. On the one hand, the Torah refers to him with unusually glowing accolades, “Noach was a righteous man, he was complete in his generation; Noach walked in the ways of G-d.” Yet, Noach is also criticized for not saving his generation and preventing the flood from occurring.

When Noach left the Ark after the floodwaters subsided, he sacrificed offerings to G-d. At that point, G-d vowed that He would never again send a flood to destroy the world. As a symbol of that promise, G-d displayed a rainbow.

How does the rainbow symbolize that message?

Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l2 explains that when the sky is overcast and cloudy gloomy it may seem that it will be a long time before the sun will again shine. But then suddenly, there can be a lull in the clouds allowing a streak of sunlight to shine through. The raindrops and clouds serve as a prism, separating the sun’s light into individual colors causing a rainbow to appear across the horizon. Then, within a few minutes, the clouds part and the sun shines in all of its radiant beauty.

The emergence of the rainbow is symbolic of certain periods throughout history. Sin and corruption were rampant as the world a spiritual decline. But then, at that bleakest of times, a dynamic rousing personality emerged with an indomitable spirit, who was not afraid to speak the truth. He had the incredible ability to stem the tide of spiritual decline and arouse a wave of repentance.

These great leaders are analogous to the streak of sunlight peering through the clouds which creates the rainbow. After the rainbow appears, the sunlight soon returns in all of its resplendency, just as these leaders replenished the world with the spirituality it lacked.

The rainbow contained a very poignant message to Noach. Noach had built the ark for one hundred and twenty years. The purpose of the lengthy construction was so that people would notice his actions and question him, in the hope was that he might be able to awaken them to repent.

Yet, Noach was unable to influence anyone, not a single person. Noach was respected and renown in his time. He had invented the plow and other farming tools that mitigated the exhausting labor that farming entailed. He was also known as being sagacious and G-d-fearing. How is it possible that not a single person was influenced by his efforts and words?

Rabbi Shapiro explains that, Noach’s personal greatness notwithstanding, he did not believe that he could conceivably have any lasting effect on anyone else. When G-d commanded him to build the Ark, Noach immediately set out to fulfill his task, thinking that it was only a matter of time before the inevitable would come to fruition. He did not have faith in his generation’s ability to change. It was that attitude which caused Noach’s failure. He should have been the preverbal ray of sunlight that bursts through the clouds and creates the rainbow. But his lack of confidence in his own abilities to influence others, and in their ability to truly change, ensured that he would indeed be unable to do so.

When G-d showed Noach the rainbow, He was sending him a dual message. The first message was a demonstration of where Noach went wrong for not being ‘the rainbow of his generation’. The other message was G-d’s promise that there would never again be a flood. Essentially, G-d was guaranteeing that there will never again be a generation that does not have the symbolic and proverbial protection of the rainbow. In other words, there would never again be a generation who lacked at least one leader who had the ability to rouse his brethren. Therefore, there will never again be a generation deserving complete destruction, as did the generation of Noach.

In this regard, Avrohom Avinu was the polar opposite of Noach. Avrohom never gave up on anyone. When G-d was ready to destroy the morally depraved cities of Sodom and Amorrah, Avrohom ‘bargained’ with G-d to spare them. Those cities were the living antithesis of everything Avrohom stood for, and yet he would not allow them to be destroyed without exercising every effort to save them. That is why Avrohom was so successful in drawing masses of people close to G-d.

It is for this reason that the Sages concluded that if Noach lived in a different generation he would not have been as great. In the generation of Avrohom, Noach’s piety and greatness would have been overshadowed by Avrohom because Avrohom believed in his generation, while Noach did not.

Perhaps Noach’s lack of faith in his generation stemmed from the fact that Noach was a celebrity-like personality from the moment he was born. The Medrash relates that Noach was the first to be born with separate fingers3. His father immediately recognized that Noach was predestined for greatness when he named him Noach, “saying this one will comfort us…” Noach grew up with the admiration and respect of his generation.

Avrohom however, grew up in a home of idolatry. His father manufactured and sold idols. When Avrohom ‘recognized his Creator’, he literally, ‘pulled himself up from the bootstraps.’ He left behind his family, friends, and all of the society he was familiar with, in order to adhere to G-d’s command. Avrohom’s personal saga contributed to his belief in the ability to reach and touch every person. Noach, on the other hand, who had always been a respected and great individual, may have not understood the human capability and capacity for change and repentance.

The idea of believing in others is especially vital in the field of education. In the words of one educator, “I have been teaching students for many years. When I think about the students that I have been unsuccessful with throughout my career, there is always one common denominator: In my mind, I had written those students off. Whenever I myself felt that a student was too far gone, I was never able to connect with him.”

When teaching and educating - children or adults – one must believe that he has the ability to reach his charges in a most profound way. He must believe in himself and he must believe in them.

The Chiddushei Harim offers a novel explanation of the conclusion of the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, “Baruch atah Hashem Mogen Avrohom- Blessed are You, G-d, the shield of Avrohom.” The Rebbe explained that, we not only thank G-d for protecting our patriarch Avrohom, but for preserving and safeguarding the “Avrohomkeit”, i.e. the spark of our patriarch Avrohom, that resides within every one of our souls. No matter how far a Jew strays, that glowing spark remains somewhere waiting to be rediscovered4.

The spark of Avrohom is, at times, the sole ray of sunlight in an otherwise gloomy existence. It is the flickering light of the rainbow which re-heralds the resplendent ethereal glow of the sun. And that spark never fades.

“Noach was a righteous man”

“Blessed are You, G-d, the shield of Avrohom”

1 “Reb Simcha Speaks”, Artscroll Publications
2 Immrei Da’as
3 Until then, everyone’s fingers were webbed together
4 The ‘Spark of Avrohom’ is also referred to as ‘The Pintele Yid’.

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha

7 MarCheshvan 5772/November 4, 2011

Do you have that one friend who always seems to be one step behind? He’s the person who is very sincere but a bit too gullible (the one who believes you when you tell him that they took the word ‘gullible’ out of the dictionary); the one who never laughs at a joke because he needs the punch line explained to him. He’s the fellow who just ‘doesn’t get it’ unless it’s spelled out for him.

But perhaps on some level that describes all of us.

In 1985, the U.S.S.R. was - as it had been since the conclusion of World War II - the United States’ most implacable foe. Behind what Churchill dubbed ‘the Iron Curtain’ was the joint forces of the communist world. Led by such nefarious leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, it was an impenetrable power.

At the same time Saddam Hussein was the dictatorial ruler of Iraq, as he had been since 1973. He had instigated a war with neighboring Iran that caused the death of hundreds of thousands. Mummar Gaddafi was the tyrannical dictator who dominated Libya since 1969. He financed and supported Palestinian militant organizations against Israel, and was dubbed ‘Public Enemy number one’ by President Reagan.

If you would have told someone then that by the year 2011 the U.S.S.R would already be a historical entity for over two decades, that Saddam Hussein would have already been captured in a farm house, put on trial for his crimes against humanity, and subsequently executed, and that Gadaffi would be dragged out of a drainpipe by rebel forces who toppled his forty-year reign, and would be beaten and killed, they wouldn’t have believed you.

Add to that that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind responsible for the September 11th and America’s Most Wanted enemy since 1998, who was killed in his Abbotabad Mansion in a gutsy raid by American Marines that lasted just a few hours.

Dovid Hamelech stated, (Tehillim 49) “Do not fear when a man grows rich, when he increases the splendor of his house. For upon his death he will not take anything, his splendor will not descend after him.”

Saddam Hussein had a net worth of over two billion dollars, Gadaffi was worth an estimated one billion, and Bin-Laden had a net worth of about fifty million dollars. [The U.S.S.R was completely bankrupt when it disbanded under Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost.]

In the last few years we have witnessed the incredible downfall of three powerful leaders and a world power, all of whom paralyzed their respective nations with intense fear and intimidation. They deified themselves to the masses and ensured everyone’s complete allegiance solely to them. Any opposition was brutally crushed and they inundated their masses with propaganda and lies. They maintained personal wealth that boggles the mind, living in palatial wealth while many of their subjects suffered abject poverty.

And now they are all dead, killed in a most ignominious fashion, and all of their decades of wealth, might, and power are gone too.

But that is all old news already. We want to hear the latest about the storm cleanup and what is happening in sports. Thank heaven the Giants didn’t lose to the winless Dolphins.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum