Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          Rav Shmelke of Nikolsberg once approached his Rebbe, Rav Dov Ber, the great Maggid of Mezhritch, with the following question: The Mishna[1] states that one must bless G-d for the bad just as he blesses G-d for the good. How does one reach such a level of belief in G-d? The Maggid did not reply but instructed Rav Shmelke to visit his disciple, Rav Zushya, to ask him for an explanation.
Rav Zushya lived in abject poverty. Yet when Rav Shmelke approached Rav Zushya and explained to him that the Maggid had sent him, Rav Zushya was surprised. “I cannot comprehend why the Maggid sent you to me. What do I know about blessing G-d for the ‘bad’, I have all I need in life and don’t know from bad!” Having received his answer, Rav Shmelke turned around and went home.
          The family stands around in excitement. Mr. Kleineman, an eighty-six year old Holocaust survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, and Bergen Blesen, eagerly awaits the entrance of his grandchildren. His only son, Dovid, who was born when Mr. Kleinman was well into his fifties, is hosting a very special occasion. He is making three brissim! After many childless years of marriage, Dovid and his wife were blessed with healthy triplets.
Mr. Kleinman cannot contain his emotions; tears trickle down his pain-ridden cheeks as the babies enter and the Mohel begins the ritual. Then a deadly silence fills the room as everyone leans over to hear the names of the babies. A gasp is heard and Mr. Kleinman practically faints. His new grandsons are named “Auschwitz Yehuda”, “Treblinka Moshe”, and “Shloime Warsaw Ghetto”.
          To any rational person, this story sounds absurd. Mr. Kleinman may have been a survivor and surely wanted his children to preserve the memories of his horrific ordeals. However, there is no way he would want his children to be named after the infamous horrors he endured. Who in their right mind would name their child such tragic and painful names?
Actually, there was someone in the Torah who did just that - Binyamin, the son of Yaakov Avinu. The Torah[2] relates that when Yosef first saw his brother Binyamin after so many years he was overwhelmed. “His compassion for his brother had been stirred and he wanted to weep; so he went into the room and wept there.”
Rashi records the conversation that ensued between Yosef and Binyamin that had so moved Yosef: “Yosef asked Binyamin, “Do you have a brother from your mother?” He replied, “I had a brother but I do not know where he is” “Do you have sons?” Binyamin replied, “I have ten sons.” Yosef said to him, “What are their names?” He said to him, “Bela, Becher, etc.” Yosef said to him, “What is the nature of these names?” He said to him, “They are all (allusions) to my brother and the troubles he encountered. ‘Bela’ because he was swallowed up among the nations; ‘Becher’ because he was the firstborn of his mother; ‘Ashbel’ because G-d made him a captive; ‘Gera’ because he sojourned in an inn; ‘Na’aman’ because he was exceedingly pleasant; ‘Echi’ and ‘Rosh’ because he was my brother and he was my chief; ‘Muppim’ because he studied from the mouth of my father; ‘Chupim’ because he was not able to attend my wedding nor was I present at his wedding; ‘Ard’ because he descended among the nations…Immediately (when Yosef heard the names) his compassion was stirred.”
Five of Binyamin’s ten sons were named after tragic occurrences in Yosef’s life. How could Binyamin have given his children such morbid names?
          When Yaakov Avinu realized that his days were numbered he summoned his holy sons to receive his final blessing. The Torah records the blessings of Yaakov which helped define the individualization of each tribe. Each tribe would fuse different strengths into the collective whole of Klal Yisroel “E Pluribus Unum - out of many (different tribes) emerged one”, i.e. a united force called Yisroel.
After recording each tribe’s individual blessing the Torah leaves a space to separate each one and to demonstrate the uniqueness of each. After the Torah lists the blessing of Binyamin however, the Torah does not leave a space. In fact, following the blessing of Binyamin there is no space until the end of Chumash Bereishis, a few verses later.
Following Binyamin’s blessing the Torah describes Yaakov Avinu’s passing and the tremendous funeral rite that was accorded to him. Then, the Torah relates that Yosef reassured the brothers that he would protect them and not exact vengeance against them. Finally, the Chumash concludes with the Torah relating about Yosef’s passing and burial. With Yosef’s passing Chumash Bereishis - the genesis and foundation of Klal Yisroel - comes to a close, and sets the stage for the ensuing Egyptian exile.
A space in the Torah always connotes a pause. If the Torah does not leave a space between Binyamin’s blessing and the subsequent events until the end of the parsha it seems that they are inextricably bound. With the death of Yaakov - the venerable spiritual leader of Egypt, and the death of Yosef - the enabling force of Egypt, the exile began to take root. If the Torah connects the blessing of Binyamin with the death of Yaakov and Yosef it must be demonstrating that there is a connection between Binyamin’s blessing and the onset of the exile. It is therefore logical to assume that somehow in the blessing of Binyamin lies the key to the survival of the Jewish people in the Egyptian exile and, consequently, all future exiles.

At first glance, Binyamin’s blessing seems terse and unimpressive. (49:27) “Binyamin is a wolf who will maul; in the morning he will devour spoils and in the evening he will distribute plunder.”
Rashi explains that the morning is a metaphor for the time when Klal Yisroel shines with glory, such as at the time when Saul, a descendant of Binyamin, was crowned the first monarch of Klal Yisroel. The evening is a metaphor for when the sun of the nation’s glory has set, after the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash at the behest of Nebuchadnezzar. At that time, Mordechai and Esther - also descendants of Binyamin - guided the Jews to victory against Haman, during the Purim saga.
The story of Purim demonstrates the resiliency, unyielding faith, and spiritual strength of Binyamin, as manifested in the heroic efforts of Mordechai and Esther.
 Rabbi Mordechai Rogov zt’l[3] explains that this strength is the foundation of our national survival: “And so is the ability and strength of the Jewish nation who possess the great vitality of Binyamin. It has been nearly two thousand years since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and we are still wandering in exile, bearing the oppression and brutality of every nation at whose mercy we have fallen. We have so many unanswered questions and contradictions about the ways of G-d yet we only have one response, “G-d is righteous in all his ways.” We may not understand but we still believe.”
This ability to tenaciously cling to our beliefs and ideals is the contribution of Binyamin. It is particularly Binyamin who infuses resiliency and courage into Klal Yisroel. Binyamin has the ability to rouse the troops from the deluge of despair, to counterattack with vim and vigor.
After the vile decrees of Haman were proclaimed the Jews sunk into the worst national depression they had ever known since the inception of their nationhood. Yet, Mordechai and Esther were able to awaken them, bringing about a wave of repentance which was the spiritual conduit that precipitated the downfall of Haman.

We can postulate why Binyamin named his children as he did, but we would be remiss if we do not notice that it is an inherent part of his genetic makeup. In relating the tragic story of Binyamin’s birth[4] the Torah relates that as Rochel felt her soul departing, she named him, ‘Ben Oni- the son of my pain’. Yaakov then revised the name to the more benign, ‘Binyamin’ (“the son of my right”). How could Rochel name her son after her anguish and tragedy?
          While it is true that normally it is inappropriate for one to name a child after a tragedy, it seems that this is not the case with Rochel and her descendants. Rochel embodies and personifies resilience. Rochel and her progeny have an innate ability to thrive in the darkest and most bleak situations. Where people plunge into despair, Rochel and her descendants rise to the occasion. The prophet Jeremiah expressed this with his famous prophecy, “A voice on high is heard; Rochel is crying for her children, she refuses to be consoled.” ‘There is hope’, proclaims G-d to Rochel, ‘because of your tears and unyielding strength’.
She names her own son ‘Ben-Oni’ and that son names five of his children after the tragic loss of his older brother. To Rochel the pain and anguish of life do not lead to despair, but rather demand determination to rise to the occasion.

          The Gemara[5] notes that the ‘hint’ to Esther in the Torah can be found in the verse[6] “And I will conceal (“haster aster”) my face from you on that day” referring to G-d’s concealment in exile, as it were.
The Gemarah then says that Mordechai too is alluded to in the Torah in the Targum[7] which translates one of the spices used in making the Temple incense as ‘mayra dachya’ (‘mayra’ literally means bitter). At the time of Purium when G-d’s Providence was concealed and the unfolding events appeared bitter, Mordechai and Esther became the hero and heroine. They alone viewed the strange occurrences as a Divine tapestry of events orchestrating the salvation of Klal Yisroel, and were able to infuse confidence into the souls of every Jew.

          Binyamin is ready to attack in the dark of night and he will not be intimidated! It is that strength that has guided and preserved Klal Yisroel through two millennia of exile. We refuse to be deterred and we will not allow anyone or any ideology to obscure our quest to be the Torah Nation. Our matriarch Rochel, was the paragon of this ideal.
To Rochel the light is not only at the end of the tunnel. Rochel sees the light while she is still in the tunnel.  

          “Binyamin is a wolf who will maul”
“Rochel is crying for her children”

[1] Berachos 9:1
[2] Parshas Vayigash 47:30
[3] Ateres Mordechai
[4] Bereishis 35:18
[5] Chullin 139b
[6] Devorim 31:18
[7] Shemos 30:23

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi
15 Teves 5773/December 28, 2012

Mr. Alex Gold, the indefatigable and devoted director of Camp Dora Golding began his orientation to the campers this past summer by recounting the following personal vignette:
One day I was walking towards my car in Brooklyn, and as I took my car keys out to open the car door the keys slipped out of my hand and fell straight down into a sewer. I was able to see my keys just sitting there, but they were out of reach and there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t like I could just have another key made because the key has a magnetic computer chip inside it and costs $300 to replace.
I was quite frustrated as I called Chaveirim for help. Within a few minutes a representative showed up. He reassured me that this happens all the time and he would be able to retrieve my keys within a minute or two. Sure enough he lowered a powerful magnet attached to a cord, hooked on my keys and handed them back to me.”
Mr. Gold concluded his story in his inimitably witty manner by saying, “Why did I tell you this story? It really has nothing to do with what I want to talk about now. But I got all of your attention, so now I’ll begin.”
In my opinion however, there is a beautiful message contained in this story (aside from the obvious J…)
Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l related that in the shtetles in Europe the impoverished Jews would say that in America there is gold and diamonds in the streets. Rav Pam explained that the statement is indeed true. But it is not something to be proud of. Many of our young men and women have been exposed to the relentless depraved influence of the streets and have been drawn to it. They are the gold and diamonds that are in the streets. Our job is to get them out of there; to reach out to them lovingly, to draw them back to a life of Torah and mitzvos. 
Tragically, many of our children live in the doldrums of spiritual void. The keys to their souls have fallen into the muck of the sewers. But we know that no Jewish soul is ever lost.
In camp there were campers who listened to the music of a particular Jewish singer whose lyrics are not very Jewish, to say the least. When a camper told the camp Mashgiach, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman, that it was ‘Jewish music’, Rabbi Finkelman replied that the fact that a Jew sins doesn’t mean that we should join him. Rather, we should pray for him when we say the blessing of Hasheveinu (Repentance) in Shemoneh Esrei.
It takes an adroit person who has the expertise, and more importantly the love and devotion, to reach down into the sewer and draw out those keys. But once the keys are in the right hands, there is no limit to how far they can go.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Friday, December 21, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          A photographer was once describing to his friend the extreme poverty of a poor Native-American hamlet. “The women were pregnant, the children were sick and malnourished, and the men had no work. So they sat around and drank themselves into a stupor. The village was in ruins the squalid living conditions were deplorable and the poverty was unimaginable.”
The friend listened wide-eyed and asked, “So what did you do?” The photographer nonchalantly responded, “I shot them in color.”

          The epic confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda reaches its crescendo. Yosef can no longer bear the pain of his brother’s degradation. He dismisses everyone from the room and emphatically declares, “I am Yosef!” The brothers reel in shock as they try to digest the words they heard. But then Yosef adds, “Is my father still alive?”
 The commentators are puzzled by Yosef’s inquiry. Did he not know that Yaakov was alive in Canaan? Was that not one of the main points of discussion from when the brothers first appeared before Yosef? Did Yehuda not, moments before, warn Yosef of the dire consequences Binyamin’s failure to return would have on Yaakov?
In the beginning of his magnum opus, Chovas Hatalmidim[1] explains that education is not about conveying dry facts and instruction during the child’s youth and to subdue his behavior so that he can be socially appropriate. Rather, it is to inculcate within a child an appreciation and deep connection to what he is being taught, so that he can appreciate its value and how it enriches him as an individual. Dogmatic instruction is only a tool but it must be coupled with emotional connection. Shlomo Hamelech wrote[2] “Educate each child according to his way; even in his old age he will not forsake it.” True education speaks to the child so deeply that it remains a part of him throughout his life.
The word chinuch connotes a new beginning. In reference to children it refers to our efforts to open the heart of a child in order to reveal his inner beauty. The only way to accomplish such an approach towards education is through loving the child and seeing his uniqueness and then helping him recognize it and ultimately foster it as well.

Rabbi Yissochor Frand related the painful story about a yeshiva student whose father had abandoned his family. The student was completely ‘turned off’ and showed no interest in anything that the Rebbe taught. The Rebbe tried his best to engage the child with incentives and individualized attention, even inviting him to his home for a Shabbos meal. But all his efforts were to no avail. The frustrated Rebbe allowed the troubled student to sit in the back of the class in his own world. The Rebbe hoped that the student would absorb some of the lesson.
A few months passed and the Rebbe was teaching his class Parshas Vayigash and the ordeal of Yosef revealing his identity to his brothers. He asked his class the obvious question - why did Yosef ask if Yaakov was alive if he knew he was?
The class sat silently as they pondered the question. Then, a hand shot up from the back of the room. The Rebbe was surprised to see that it was his ‘lost student’. When he immediately called on him the student explained: “Yosef was telling the brothers a message. I know YOUR father is still alive and I know YOUR father is still involved in your lives; but what about MY father? Has MY father given up on me? It’s been twenty two years since I last saw him. Does he still care about ME? Is MY father still alive?”  

We live in a narcissistic, impatient world that looks for the quick-fix. We do not like solutions that require patience, methodology, or selflessness. The tragic product of such a world is a society which has lost the art of human communication and empathy. The depth of that narcissism constantly shocks us. The egregious shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut this past week is a painful case in point. 
But Chinuch requires tremendous patience and love. It is far more than academia and scholarship; it requires soul-connection, which results from passionate teaching, not dogma. It entails reaching into the soul of each student and drawing out the inherent beauty that resides within.
“Even in his old age he will not forsake it”
“Is MY father still alive?”

[1] Duties of the Student authored by the Piaseczno  Rav, Rav Klonimus Kalman Shpiro zt’l hy’d. He was a trendbnous Torah leader murdered by the Nazis.  
[2] Mishlei (22:6) "חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנו"

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
8 Teves 5773/December 21, 2012

The Jewish people always have the last laugh. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to recognize it, but it never fails.
Pharaoh tried to control our population by forcing us into extreme slave labor, but the more he oppressed us the more our population exploded. Haman tried to destroy us and plunge us into national melancholy, and his efforts resulted in Purim, a deeply joyous celebration of our national survival. Antiochus tried to eliminate our spiritual Avodah, including stopping the Menorah from being lit in the Temple, and as a result there is a menorah lit in every Jewish home for millennia throughout the world for over a week. Hitler tried to eradicate us and all of Jewish life, and here we are, with more quantitative Torah study than ever before in our history.
I would like to add an additional ‘last laugh’ to the Chanukah holiday. It is well known that the ancient Greeks had great respect for the external human body. Spartans prided themselves on their might as fierce soldiers, and Greek culture placed great emphasis on the gymnasium and being trim and fit. So we spend eight days of Chanukah eating latkes and jelly donuts fried in oil so that by the time Chanukah is over we all resemble a Jelly donut, much to the chagrin of our Greek adversaries. Take that you silly Greeks! 
Whenever a holiday comes to an end we have to question what we are taking with us from the holiday. What indelible impression has the holiday made upon us that will continue to inspire us throughout the year? Is it merely added calories and a bulging waist that we take with us (a waste indeed), or have we nourished our soul as well?
Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook zt’l wrote (Arpilei Tohar) “The pure and righteous – don’t complain about wickedness, rather they increase righteousness; they don’t complain about heresy, rather they increase faith; they don’t complain about foolishness, rather they increase wisdom.”
When Chanukah ends the fast of Asarah B’Teves is not far behind. The gemara states that on the eighth of Teves when the Septuagint was created “darkness descended to the world for three days”. The only way to counter that darkness is with the symbolic light of Chanukah. Chanukah is a celebration of light – of courage to stand up for our mission to serve Hashem and remain steadfast in our unyielding dedication to unadulterated Torah observance. The dark days of Teves mourn our loss of that dedication. 
Our world became darker this week. It is appalling and frightening that a person can be so narcissistic that he can mercilessly snuff out the lives of multiple children. Our response must be to add more light. Ultimately discussing the horror that occurred will not change anything. But another good deed, another prayer, another few moments of Torah study, another mitzvah, another kind word, that will return some of the light we have lost.
Even as we return our Chanukah menorahs to their shelves, we can hardly afford to allow its light to darken. It must continue to illuminate our lives and our world. That is the only way we can fight the darkness.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          June 1942 was an ominous and perilous time. On all fronts the Axis powers seemed unstoppable. After their successful attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese conquered the Philippine islands, and then Hong Kong, Burma, Malaya, and French Indochina. Meanwhile, the German blitzkrieg successfully ravaged and decimated Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium. France collapsed, as Operation Sea Lion threatened the survival of Britain. With Operation Barborossa the vast Russian army made hasty retreats until Germany began the Siege of Leningrad.
In Northern Africa, Nazi General Erwin Rommel known as the Desert Fox brilliantly maneuvered his troops as he hoisted the Swastika in country after country. As he made his way through Egypt he set his eyes on the strategic Suez Canal. The Allies feared losing the canal because it was their lifeline to India. For the Jews however, the fall of the Suez had far greater implications for if the Suez would fall, Palestine would quickly succumb, placing the entire population under the dominion of the Nazis, G-d forbid.
          The Jews in Eretz Yisroel trembled as they listened to every news report. The British forces kept retreating and it seemed clear that they would not be able to withstand the might of Rommel’s forces.
          One afternoon during this bleak period, the Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Shlomo Kahaneman zt’l, met Rabbi Betzalel Zolty zt’l[2]. The Rav told Rabbi Zolty that he had just borrowed five hundred pounds and purchased land in B’nei B’rak where he planned to establish a new Yeshiva. Rabbi Zolty was shocked, “Is the Rav not aware of the terrible situation we are in? In a few days all of Eretz Yisroel can be destroyed. Is this the time to worry about building a Yeshiva?”
The Ponovezher replied by pointing out an occurrence in Sefer Yirmiyah. The Navi describes that in the eighteenth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian army surrounded Yerushalayim. Although the Jewish settlement of that era was about to be destroyed and the Jews exiled, Hashem instructed Yirmiyah that when his uncle Chanamel offered to sell him land he should purchase it. Not only did Yirmiyah purchase the land but he wrote up a deed complete with witnesses, ensuring that the document possessed judicial validity. Then Yirmiyah proclaimed to the Jews that in the future when their descendants would return this land would be awaiting them.
The Ponovezher Rav continued, “The Torah only records those prophecies that were not only relevant to that time but also to the future. If the Navi records this transaction in such vivid detail it is teaching us a lesson in current events. We cannot give up in the future even when the present seems bleak. Therefore, I purchased this plot because Eretz Yisroel will have a future and we must be ready for it.”
          At the famous battle of El Arish the British General Bernard Montgomery finally penetrated Rommel’s forces and began to drive him back across Libya into Tunisia. Rommel’s greatest victories were behind him. 

Chazal compare the culture of Greece to darkness.  The verse[3] states “There was darkness on the face of the deep”. The Medrash[4] explains that this darkness is a reference to the Greeks who darkened the eyes of Klal Yisroel with their decrees.
I always found this Medrash enigmatic. Greece boasted the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the epic Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, the magnificent architectural advancements of the acropolis and the Parthenon, the aesthetics of Pericles’ Athens, the military prowess of Sparta, the tragic playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and the comedies of Aristophanes. In fact, Western Culture with all of its advancements in medicine, science, engineering, art, drama and architecture owes much to the ancient Greeks[5]. Perhaps we can justifiably say that the Greeks did not act appropriately with the Jews and were an oppressive regime. Perhaps we can also say that many of their beliefs and morals are heretical to us. But how can we rationally say that Greece is analogous to darkness? How can we say that the most enlightened and advanced culture in the history of man, from whose wisdom we benefit today, is compared to sinister and bleak darkness?
          Pharaoh, the mighty monarch of Egypt, has a dream; in fact he has a nightmare. It is such a disturbing nightmare that Pharaoh is shaken to the core and is very bothered by it (“Vatipa’em rucho”). In his dream, Pharaoh watches seven beautiful fat cows emerge from the Nile. They are the most healthy and robust cows that Pharaoh has ever seen in Egypt. Then seven feeble sickly and gaunt cows emerge from the Nile. Their grotesque appearance is nauseating and they can hardly be looked at. Suddenly, the seven weak feeble cows consume the robust healthy cows.
Though very upset by his dream, Pharaoh coaxes himself back to sleep only to suffer another vivid nightmare that again shakes him to the core. This time Pharaoh watches a similar scene unfolding with stalks of wheat; seven weak chaff-like stalks consume seven strong stalks. After the second dream however, Pharaoh cannot go back to sleep. He is so upset by his dreams that he summons every advisor he has to interpret his dreams. As the Torah describes, Yosef was the only one who could grant Pharaoh an explanation that he felt acceptable, landing him a seat in the monarchy, second only to Pharaoh himself. 
What was it about his dreams that so shook Pharaoh and consumed him so much that he could not relax until his dreams were explained? It seemed like an innocent silly dream. What was the big deal?
Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l explained that Pharaoh’s dreams undermined his entire ideology. Pharaoh - the reigning monarch of the greatest superpower in its time - fancied himself a deity. He felt protected by his glory, prestige, and wealth. He had the whole country believing he was divine and that his monarchy was godly. In Pharaoh’s dreams, when the feeble and emaciated cows/stalks consumed the powerful healthy cows/stalks it challenged Pharaoh’s whole weltanschauung. His dream represented the notion that supremacy, vitality, and dominion were all fallible.
Pharaoh saw in these dreams a threat to his imagined omnipotence. It was horrific for Pharaoh to watch the weak overcame the strong, the repulsive vanquish the beautiful, and the healthy decimated by the famished. He desperately searched for a sagacious individual who could reassure him that he was reading the dream wrong. He wanted to hear that there could be a different meaning of his dreams that would not call his ideology into question.
With this in mind, we can appreciate the beauty of why Parshas Miketz is always read on Chanukah or just after it. The message of Chanukah is that one should not be too impressed by military might or the aesthetics of this world. The mighty Greek army with all of its military training fell into the hands of a cadre of unskilled untrained ‘fighters’. The Greek culture, with all its glamour and physical beauty, was unsuccessful in its attempts to lure the Jews away from Torah and a life of holiness.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l quipped that the greatest darkness in the world comes from light! He explained with the following analogy: Let us imagine that Reuven becomes thirsty and decides to get a drink. He goes into his kitchen and finds a glass on the counter. He isn’t sure if the glass is clean or not so he holds it up and examines it. When he sees that it is indeed clean he fills up his glass with water and drinks. It doesn’t take long before Reuven is lying on the floor howling in pain. His wife immediately dials hatzoloh as she horrifyingly realizes that Reuven used the glass that she had filled with ammonia to clean the house. Although the ammonia was used up there was still residue on the bottom of the glass which had mixed with Reuven’s water.
If we had to analyze what occurred, what would we say caused Reuven to hurt himself? When Reuven looked carefully at the glass he surmised that it was clean because he did not see anything in the glass. In other words, it was his eyes and ability to see that got him into trouble.
It is undeniable that the ancient Greeks made incredible advancements in many areas. They probed the world, intellectualized life, and analyzed every facet of creation. However, the more enlightened they became the more they drifted from their belief in G-d. The more scientifically acclaimed they became, and the more of a grasp they felt they had over the world, the more they were convinced of their own greatness and sought to convince themselves that there was no concept of a Holy Immortal True G-d. They believed in polytheism and that their gods have corporeal characteristics because that posed no direct threat to their free and, often immoral, lifestyle. So, in a sense the light of their wisdom and progressiveness blinded them from recognizing the true light of G-d and His hand in the physical world. That is why they are referred to as darkness.

We express our gratitude in the prayer Al Hanisim, “You gave over mighty into the hands of the weak, the multitudes into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, the spiteful into the hands of those who engage intensely in Your Torah.”
The miracle of Chanukah was the fruition of Pharaoh’s nightmare. It demonstrated that there is indeed a G-d above and He wills who possesses power and wealth and no one is above His discretion. It was the victory of light – the light of truth – over the darkness and limits of human logic. 

“There was darkness on the face of the deep”
“Let there be light”

[1]The following is excerpted from my book “STAM TORAH: Perspectives and Reflections on Chanukah and Purim”. [It was originally Stam Torah for parshas Miketz 5766.]
[2] later Chef Rabbi of Yerushalayim
[3] Bereishis 1:2
[4] 2:5
[5] The United States Capitol in Washington D.C. is modeled after the Greek style of architecture.

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz – 6th day of Chanukah
Rosh Chodesh Teves 5773/December 14, 2012

I love bakeries. I love the rows of pastries, each in their own shape and colors. But most of all I love the smell. When I go to the bakery and it’s my turn on line and I am asked what I would like to order, I often reply that I want ‘whatever it is that is making that smell.’
I have to also say that I like when a baker is – I guess the best word I can use is the Yiddish word - ‘zavtig’, loosely translated as ‘pleasantly plump’. I want to see a baker who appreciates what he is selling, and in fact loves it so much that he can’t stop sampling the goods. That’s the best advertising, because it tells me that these pastries are seriously delicious. When a baker is skinny on the other hand, I often think that if he won’t eat his own products maybe I shouldn’t either.
I think most people would agree with my point. You wouldn’t want to use a dentist who had rotted or crooked teeth. Nor would you use a doctor who chain smokes, drinks, or abuses drugs.
Before our wedding, when we were looking to hire a band, my father suggested a certain musician. I was surprised that he had wanted to suggest anyone. He explained that he had seen that musician play at other weddings and that he looks like he enjoys what he’s doing. At some weddings a musician may appear bored and uninterested while playing, and it is clear that he is only doing it for the money. My father was insistent that we hire someone who enjoys what he does and smiles occasionally while he plays, because you can feel it in the music.
As Torah-Jews we have a responsibility to not only observe Torah and mitzvos, but to be ambassadors of Torah and mitzvos. Simply by our behavior and conduct we want others to be inspired and to want to join our ranks.
But if we walk around with a scowl on our face and don’t seem to appreciate the greatness of what we are doing everyday, we are not being very effective ambassadors. I have heard people complain that sometimes religious people look too serious. Without a doubt there is a certain seriousness we must maintain while engaged in our spiritual responsibilities. But throughout the rest of our day we have to ensure that we appear pleasant and ebullient, that we enjoy what we do.
When we light the Chanukah candles we are symbolizing ourselves. Our mission in this world is to spread light in an unsatisfied and unmotivated world, which is full of darkness, emptiness, and misery.
That light has to shine and resonate from within us. We have to look like we enjoy what we do, so that everyone is going to want to buy what we are selling.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos/Good Chodesh
Lichtige Chanukah/Chag Orot Samyach,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Friday, December 7, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


As a five-year-old child in a Polish village, Laizer Halberstam violated an unwritten rule by befriending a young Polish gentile neighbor. The two of them swapped stamps, coins, and one fateful day, they decided to swap prayers. Their parents would have been mortified had they known, but the two friends kept it a secret. Laizer taught his Polish friend a Jewish prayer and the friend taught Laizer a Christian prayer.
Ten years later, Laizer was fleeing the Nazis, traveling across Europe disguised as a Christian. One day a Nazi officer boarded a train that Laizer was on and demanded to see everyone’s documents. Laizer had forged document, which had helped him get this far, but for some reason this Nazis suspicions were aroused. The Nazi looked at him contemptuously, “Really? You say you are a good Christian? Well then why don’t you recite for me a Christian prayer that every good Christian knows?” Fortuitously, the prayer he was asked to recite was the same prayer Laizer had been taught by his Polish friend ten years earlier. Thanks to his good memory, he was able to recite it flawlessly, to the Nazis satisfaction[2].

          The brothers of Yosef ruled that according to Jewish law, Yosef was deserving of death! By relating his dreams, Yosef boldly predicted that he would become the reigning monarch over the family. The tribes viewed the dreams as an affront and open challenge to the future monarchy of Yehuda.
 The punishment for challenging the monarchy of a Jewish king is death. Therefore, as a valid judicial court they decided that it was their responsibility to impose the death penalty upon Yosef. The verse relates that Reuven intervened and sought to save Yosef from their clutches. He advised them to cast Yosef into a nearby pit and leave him to his fate. Not realizing that there were venomous snakes and scorpions in the pit Reuven silently hoped to deter the brothers long enough so that he could return to the pit and bring Yosef home after the shevotim had left.
          Yalkut Shimoni[3] makes a fascinating observation: The Torah teaches us appropriate conduct that when one performs a mitzvah he should do so with pure motives and a happy heart. Had Reuven realized that G-d would record in the Torah that he had sought to save Yosef, he would have carried Yosef on his shoulders and personally delivered him safely to Yaakov.
The Medrash continues, that if Aharon knew that the Torah would record that he went out to the desert of Egypt while the Jews were still enslaved there, in order to greet his brother Moshe who was returning from Midyan, he would have come to greet Moshe with drums and tremendous fanfare. Finally, if Boaz knew that the Prophet[4] would describe the provisions he provided for Rus, he would have given her delicacies and foods fit for aristocracy. The Medrash concludes that today we do not have a prophet to record our actions, so who does so? Eliyahu Hanavi and Moshiach, and  G-d seals it.
          What is the meaning of this Medrash? Is it possible to think that Reuven, Aharon, and Boaz were selfishly motivated and driven by fanfare and honor? These were three of the most distinguished personalities in Klal Yisroel whose righteousness is legendary and stands as a model for us. It is foolish to entertain the thought that these great men acted out of selfish motives.
          Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l offers the following insight: When Reuven went to save Yosef he thought he was merely saving his younger brother from harm. He had no way of realizing the far-reaching implications and consequences of his actions. By saving Yosef, Reuven prevented an ordeal that would have had catastrophic consequences. Without Yosef the whole future of Klal Yisroel would be called into question. On the other hand, had Reuven finished the job and brought Yosef safely back to Yaakov immediately, the whole tragedy of Yosef’s descent to Mitzrayim and consequently the descent of Yaakov and all of Klal Yisroel to Mitzrayim, could have been averted.
          When Aharon came out to greet Moshe he had no way of realizing that he was giving encouragement to Moshe to fulfill his mission which culminated with the exodus from Egypt en masse. Similarly, Boaz had no way of realizing that his involvement with Rus was laying the foundation for the eventual birth of Moshiach. It was their union that produced Dovid Hamelech and ultimately his descendant, Moshiach.
Had they realized the extent of the significance of what they were engaged in they would have left no stone unturned until they completed their mission in the most glamorous manner possible.
The Medrash concludes with a poignant message for us. Today Eliyahu and Moshiach record our actions. This means that our actions, which we wave off with the back of our hand as insignificant and worthless, may actually be the foundations and the progenitors for the future redemption. If we knew that Moshiach was recording our actions we would do them with greater alacrity, precision, devotion, and enthusiasm.
          The Gemara Shabbos[5], in its discussion about the holiday and laws of Chanukah, quotes two statements in the name of Rav Kahana. The first is that one who lights a Menorah more than twenty cubits off the ground has not fulfilled his obligation. The Gemara explains that one normally does not strain his eyes to look above twenty cubits. The purpose of the Chanukah lights is to publicize the miracle and, therefore, if the candles are beyond the range of the common person’s view the mitzvah has not been fulfilled.
          The second statement is based on the verse which states that Reuven suggested to his brothers that they cast Yosef into an empty pit that had no water. Rav Kahana deduces from the superfluous words “the pit was empty - it had no water” to mean that although it was devoid of water it was full of scorpions and snakes.
          What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated concepts?[6]
          My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, explained that there is an additional connection between the story of Yosef and Reuven and Chanukah, based on the aforementioned Medrash.  In a certain sense Reuven came up short. He did not realize the greatness of the moment and didn’t take advantage of his opportunity. The heroic epic of Chanukah is the ‘antidote’ for Reuven’s ‘mistake’. Chanukah is a lesson in seizing the moment and rising to the occasion. The Syrian-Greeks were an implacable foe with powerful well-trained armies fighting against a comparatively laughable force of Maccabees.
In the third battle of Emmaus, a Greek force of 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry went out to fight a paltry 7,000 Jews who were poorly equipped and untrained fighters. In the fourth battle at Bais Zur, Antiochus dispatched an army of 60,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry to fight a Jewish force of 10,000. The Jews were outflanked and hopelessly outnumbered. It’s analogous to Yeshiva students closing their volumes of Gemarah and bonding together to battle the Syrian army. Yet, the Chasmonaim prevailed.

          When he was a Rabbi in Miami Beach, Rabbi Wein had the distinct privilege of being the chauffeur of the great Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Shlomo Kahaneman zt’l. Rav Kaheneman would occasionally come to Miami to solicit funds for his renowned Yeshiva.
On one occasion, the Rav related to Rabbi Wein the following story: Once, the Chofetz Chaim was collecting for a particular charity and he arrived at the home of a wealthy individual. The Chofetz Chaim explained to the man the worthiness and importance of his cause, but the wealthy man was unmoved. “I’m sorry, Rebbe. But things are tight right now. Maybe in a few months it will be easier for me to give. But at the moment I cannot help you. ” The Chofetz Chaim was forced to move on.
World War I broke out and the world changed forever. In 1919, soon after the Great War ended, the Chofetz Chaim walked into a shul where many refugees were sleeping on benches. The Chofetz Chaim noticed that wealthy man sitting among the other beggars and he realized that the man had lost his wealth and was now reduced to a pauper. The Chofetz Chaim quickly looked away so as not to embarrass the man. However, the man noticed the Chofetz Chaim and approached him. The man asked the Chofetz Chaim if he recognized him. When the Chofetz Chaim admitted that he did, the man said, “Rebbe, ich hub a taynah oiyf dir (Rebbe, I have a complaint against you).” The Chofetz Chaim looked at him incredulously, “You have a complaint against me?” The man emphatically replied, “Rebbe, when I had the money you should have grabbed it out of my hands! Now I have nothing, not even the mitzvah.” 
The Ponovezher Rav looked at Rabbi Wein and concluded with a twinkle in his eye, “Rabbi Wein, there will be times when you will need to rip the money out of their hands!” 

G-d sends us unlimited opportunities every day. The question is, what do we do with those opportunities? Reuven, Aharon, and Boaz, great as they were, were somewhat remiss because they did not adequately seize the moment. The Chashmonaim however, stood poised for battle with nothing other than prayer and belief in G-d. They acted upon their inner feelings of religious zeal and did not allow their passion to fizzle and fade.

Noted psychologist Erik Erikson[7] described old age as the time when one must overcome the crisis of ‘integrity versus despair’. Tragically, many adults reach their golden years with deep feelings of regret and despair. “If only I would have” and “Why didn’t I” abound. Healthy senescence entails a feeling of integrity, stemming from an inner feeling of accomplishment for a life lived with meaning and purpose; a life which filled the world with a little more light.

“If only Reuven had known…”
“If only we would know… “

[1] The following is excerpted from my book “STAM TORAH: Perspectives and Reflections on Chanukah and Purim”. [It was originally Stam Torah for parshas Vayeshev 5766.]
[2] Story related by Rabbi Laizer’s daughter, Yitta Halberstam, in her introduction to “Small Miracles of the Holocaust”
[3] Vayikrah Rabbah, 34:8
[4] Shmuel who recorded Megillas Rus
[5] 23a
[6] [Many commentators explain that the Gemarah is reinforcing its ruling that one may not light a Menorah more than twenty cubits high. It is proving that the naked eye does not focus on sights that are more than a distance of twenty cubits. If Reuven wanted to save Yosef why did he cast him in a pit full of venomous snakes? We must conclude that because the pit must have been more than twenty cubits deep, Reuven was unaware of what was at the bottom.]

[7] Eriskon is most famous for his theory that different stages of life present a person with different ‘crises’ that he must traverse

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev
23 Kislev 5773/December 7, 2012

What a delightful Holiday Chanukah is; a holiday of light and a celebration of the divine. The customs and traditions of Chanukah add to the joy of the day, as we play dreidel and then eat latkes and donuts until we ourselves feel like an unbalanced dreidel.
But I would like to call your attention to the week before Chanukah when there is an extraordinary series of days which most of us hardly think to associate together:
The nineteenth of Kislev is a day of great celebration for Chabad Chassidim. It is the anniversary of the release of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, the holy Ba’al HaTanya, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, from jail in 1798. Lubavitcher Chassidim consider the day the ‘Rosh Hashana of Chassidus’ and celebrate it with great fanfare. [In addition it is the yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezritch, one of the greatest students of the Ba’al Shem Tov, who died on 19 Kislev 26 years before the Ba’al Hatanya’s release from prison.]
The twentieth of Kislev is the yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l, the legendary Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin. Rav Hutner was a deep and profound thinker who inspired thousands of students through his unique and penetrating analysis of many ideas contained in the Torah, specifically connected to the holidays. Rav Hutner possessed a regal bearing and exuded the majesty of Torah.
The commemoration of his yahrtzeit is not only observed in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin but also has connection with other yeshivos founded by Rav Hutner’s disciples, such as Yeshiva Sha’ar Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, founded by his student Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt’l, and Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, founded by his student Rav Noach Weinberg zt’l.
The twenty first of Kislev is a day of celebration for Satmar Chassidim. It is the anniversary of the day of the release of the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, from the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp on December 4, 1944. The Rebbe was one of 1,685 people who were part of the famed ‘Kastner train’ which Dr. Rudolph Kastner arranged through clandestine negotiations (bribing) with the infamous Nazi, Adolph Eichmann.
[On a more humorous note, this year the night of December 4th coincided with 21 Kislev. In ma’ariv prayers of that night we began reciting ‘V’sayn Tal Umatar’ during Shemoneh esrei, an addition of two words. It has been said that on that night Yekkishe Jews1 tell their wives that they will return home from ma’ariv late due to the insertion of two added words…]
For some time my Zaydei, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, was the Rav of the Slonimer Shul in New York’s Lower East Side. On one occasion he was invited to speak at a sheva berachos of a most unique marriage. The groom’s side was of Satmar Chassidic descent, while the Bride’s side was a blend of Litvishe and Chabad descent.
My Zaydei noted that their marriage granted him a new insight into the great dream of Yaakov Avinu (recorded in Parshas Vayetzei, Bereishis 28:12-17). The verse states that in his dream Yaakov envisioned a"סלם" (sulam - ladder) that was implanted in the ground with its head reaching the heavens. My Zaydei explained that he noticed that the first letters of the word sulam are an acronym for Satmar, Lubavitch, Misnaged2”. In his dream Yaakov envisioned the unity of these three groups, and that was at the root of the ladder which leads to the heavens.
In the week before Chanukah there are consecutive days of celebration/observance for these three groups. Each of these groups, along with every other sect of Torah-Jewry are a lamp upon G-d’s Menorah. It is incumbent upon us to respect the light of each of those candles. We may not agree with each other nor do we observe each other’s customs, but we have to respect the light they add to G-d’s Menorah. 
That indeed is the ladder that leads to heaven, and the key to the ethereal light hidden in the Chanukah candles.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Lichtige Chanukah/Orot Samyach,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425
1 i.e. Jews of German descent known for their exactness and punctiliousness
2 The Jews of Lithuanian descent were often called Misnagdim – ‘opposers’, because of their early opposition to the Chassidic movement during its early years.