Thursday, January 26, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




Among the masses of graves on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple Mount, is the grave of a Jew named Rabbi Eliezer Yosef Lederberg, who passed away on 23 Sivan 5714 (1954).

On his tombstone is engraved: “He taught Torah to the masses. He learned and reviewed the tractates of Rosh Hashana and Beitzah four thousand times.” Then on the bottom it says, “In his Will he wrote that it’s worth engraving this on my tombstone, so that perhaps the reader may accept upon himself to do the same.”

Eight plagues had ravaged Egypt. The once infallible Super-Power stood in ruin. Its economy had been decimated, masses were dead, and the morale was low. And yet Pharaoh obstinately refused to allow the Jewish people to leave.

(10:21-23) “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens, and there shall be darkness upon the land of Egypt, and the darkness will be tangible’. Moshe stretched forth his hand toward the heavens and there was a thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt for a three-day period. No man could see his brother nor could anyone rise from his place for a three-day period; but for all of the B’nai Yisroel there was light in their dwelling.”

In regard to each of the plagues, the pasuk makes it a point to state that the plague did not affect Klal Yisroel. In regard to the plague of darkness however, the verse adds the converse, i.e. that there was light in their dwelling. Why here does the Torah point out that not only was there an absence of the negative, but also a surplus of the positive?

The Medrash2 relates a dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemia about the source of the darkness that descended upon Egypt. Rabbi Nechemia is of the opinion that it was the darkness of Gehonim. Rabbi Yehuda however says that the darkness emanated ‘from above’. What does that mean? Aren’t the heavens composed of pure light?

The Medrash3 discusses how G-d created light in the world. The Medrash quotes Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman who explained that G-d cloaked Himself in light, as it were, and the shine radiated from one end of the world to the other.

Although the true meaning of the Medrash is beyond our comprehension, even on a simple level the Medrash seems enigmatic. Normally, if one wants to reveal something, he removes the cloak or covering which is concealing it. If G-d wanted to bring light into the world, why did He cloak Himself in it, as it were?

In this world, punishment and reward come from diverse sources. Something that serves as a reward cannot be used for punishment, and vice versa. However, the Gemara4 relates that in the future5 there will be no Gehonim. Rather, G-d will remove the sun from its ‘casing’ and it will light up the world. The wicked will suffer from the light while the righteous will bask in its ethereal glow. In other words, the reward of the righteous and the retribution of the wicked will emanate from the same source.

In the vernacular of Chazal, a blind person is referred to as a ‘sagee nahar’, which literally means someone who contains ‘too much light’. Simply understood, saying that a blind person contains too much light is a euphemism. However, there is a deeper meaning to the expression of Chazal.

If one of someone’s senses becomes flooded with stimulation, that sense will be as useless as not having the sense at all. For example, if one sits right next to the band at a wedding the person will not be able to hear what the person next to him is saying. Even more extreme, if a Boeing-747 jet were to fly fifty feet over a person’s head, he would not be able to hear anything for some time. His ears will be so overwhelmed by the sounds that, for the moment, he is as good as deaf.

The same concept holds true for all senses, including sight. When there is too much light, one’s vision becomes blurred. If one stares directly at the sun, the rays are so strong that he will be blinded for a few moments.

G-d is Pure Spiritual Light, as it were. That incomprehensible and imperceptible Light is so penetrating that it would completely blind the world. Thus, the Medrash wonders how G-d could infuse the world with light. Why doesn’t that light overwhelm us? To that inquiry, Rabbi Shmuel responded that G-d cloaked Himself in order to conceal most of the light so that only a small amount of it remained.

This is analogous to a person who needs to plug in an electrical appliance. If he sticks the plug into an electric pole, he is going to be instantly electrocuted. There will be an overabundant flow of electricity which will instantly overwhelm him and his appliance. However, if he plugs it into an outlet in the wall, only a minimal flow of electricity will be generated and the appliance will work beautifully.

G-d minimized the revelation of His Light into this world, as it were, so that we can enjoy that light and not be overwhelmed by it. If G-d had not done so, the light would completely blind us and a materialistic existence would be impossible.

The Kedushas Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev zt’l, offers a unique interpretation of the plague of darkness: He explains that the plague of “darkness” was not darkness at all. In fact, au contraire! G-d removed the darkness6 so that Egypt was completely exposed to the Divine Light. For the Egyptians, who were steeped in the physicality of this world that light destroyed them.

Depression, in its most severe form, can completely debilitate a person. One may lose all of his motivation and drive so that he is almost physically unable to pull himself out of bed. His self-doubt and negative emotions are so powerful that he may question the purpose of everything he does, “Oh, what’s the use?” “Does anyone really care about me or what I do?” “Would anyone really care if I just disappeared?”

This sense of bleakness descended upon Egypt during the plague of darkness. With the Light of Truth revealed before them they recognized that their entire lives were futile, their very existence lacking meaning or purpose.

For Klal Yisroel however, it was a radically different experience. For the nation anticipating liberation so they can assume their role as the Chosen People, the revelation of the Divine Light was a spiritually blissful experience. Thus, while the Egyptians were overwhelmed by the Divine light, plunging them into a deep psychological darkness, for the Jews it was a spiritually delightful experience. “For all of the B’nai Yisroel there was light in their dwelling”.7

The plague of darkness was, in actuality, a plague of “overexposure”. When one walks out of a dark room into a brightly lit room, it takes a few minutes for the pupil of his eye to contract and adjust to the sudden surge of light. In a similar vein, the sudden revelation of the Divine Spiritual Light was too much for the hedonistic Egyptians causing them to lapse into a debilitating ‘darkness’.

The Egyptian plague of darkness bears striking similarity to a common human failure. At times we blind ourselves by exposing ourselves to too much light. For example, if one decides to learn two new pages of Gemarah, the chances are that he will accomplish his goal. However, if he decides that, “Right now I am going to finish the entire Talmud!” the chances are that he will close the volume within five minutes. He has flooded himself with a light that is too bright for him to adjust to by setting for himself a goal too overwhelming and daunting.

We have a terrible habit of wanting to take on too much, too quickly. Then, when the inevitable failure occurs we become despondent and throw in the towel.

Light - even spiritual light - can overwhelm a person if he doesn’t pace himself. One who tries to climb a ladder too quickly and skips a few rungs, will most likely end up on the ground bruised and aggravated.

In the words of the Chazon Ish: “כי באמת אין כל עצב בעולם למי שמכיר אור האורות של האמת - For truthfully, there is no sadness in the world, to those who recognize the ultimate light of truth.” That light can only be attained with patience and constant review - step by step, rung by rung.

“A thick darkness throughout Egypt”

“For the Children of Israel there was light in their dwelling”

1 Based on a shmooze by Rabbi Aharon Lopianski shlita, Yeshiva of Greater Washington, Silver Spring, MD, Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo 5758
2 Shemos Rabbah 12:2
3 Bereishis Rabbah, 4:3
4 Avodah Zarah 3b
5 when Moshiach comes
6 i.e. the shades of darkness He originally created in order to protect this world from being overwhelmed by the Divine Light
7 Perhaps this is why the Egyptians did not stop the Jews when the Jews searched their homes for their treasures and money. With the Divine Light in front of them, their possessions no longer had any meaning to them, and so they had no motivation to stop the Jews from searching through their possessions.



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo

3 Shevat 5772/January 27, 2012

For the last days of Succos this past year we hosted eleven staff members from Camp Dora Golding, who came to enhance our Yom Tov and our kehilla’s Simchas Torah.

Shemini Atzeres morning was a beautiful day and the sun shone brightly. We set the tables, and tried to figure out the best way to squish everyone into our little canvas Succah. When we finally gathered around the table for Kiddush we quickly realized that a few more unaccounted guests would be arriving.

At first it didn’t seem to be such a big deal, after all what’s a Succos meal without a bee? We shooed him away and continued. But when he returned with reinforcements we knew we were in trouble. Within a few minutes bees were swarming all around the succah, buzzing excitedly around the delicacies on the table, in our cups, and on our forks. The bees finally prevailed, forcing us back into the house. [It was a situation of ‘Mitzta’er’ for which one is exempt from succah, especially on Shemini Atzeres.]

It’s amazing how much havoc those little bees could cause. Throughout the summer we try to stay out of their way as they busily go about their business. And then the temperature drops, and the bees disappear for the winter. They return to their hives subsisting on the honey they made the previous summer.

However, I have come to the realization that bees do not completely disappear during the winter. Perhaps the buzzing yellow jackets with pointy stingers vanish from view, but their counterpart ‘synonyms’ rears its insidious face, appearing on children’s report cards at distinct intervals throughout the academic winter. What am I talking about? I’m referring to the dreaded grade: ‘B’.

It seems that the challenge of perfectionism and feelings of academic inadequacy are becoming an even more prevalent problem in our schools. When I was a student I had classmates who would voice their annoyance when they ‘only’ scored a 94 on a test. But today there are students who become absolutely miserable and even depressed because they did not get the best grade in the class. And if they should - Heaven forefend - get one B on their report card? Forget it, their life is ruined!

What a terrible pressure for a student to feel and what an erroneous perception of what constitutes success. A child who put in effort, studied, and scored an 84 on a test – the equivalent of a B on a report card – should be made to feel that he/she has done well. [Imagine how much better our society would look if people worked to 84% of their capacities…] We need to teach our children, and ourselves, that personal greatness is measured in terms of effort, not achievement. They will have plenty of time to suffer from the malady of ‘only accomplishment counts’ in the corporate world. In school they need to be taught what truly matters is self-esteem and the feeling of accomplishment which stems from giving it your all.

In my opinion there is a much more significant danger for a child who is genuinely afraid of getting a B on his report card than the momentary pain of getting stung by a bee.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




The following is the text of a lecture delivered by Rabbi Berel Wein shlita in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah to the students on Thursday evening, Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era 5766 (January 1996). I have tried to preserve much of the dialect of the speech, in order to capture his unique style and delivery. Its message is as applicable and poignant as it was when he presented it, 16 years ago:

The conclusion of Parshas Shemos and the beginning of Parshas Va’era involves the subject of disappointments, a universal aspect of human experience. How a person endures disappointment is - to a great extent - a mental and spiritual measure of the person. How does one deal with them? How does one understand them? Kiveyachol (so-to-speak), why does G-d do it to us?

At the conclusion of Parshas Shemos, the Torah relates the difficult experience Moshe had during his first encounter with Pharaoh. Afterwards, Moshe had a personal complaint that he never asked for the job and, in fact, had tried to get out of it. But G-d, so to speak, had cajoled Moshe, “I’ll give you miracles! You’ll transform sticks into snakes, your hand will instantly become afflicted with leprosy, and you’ll transform water into blood.” Moshe was assured and G-d had appointed him to be the emissary to bring about the redemption of Klal Yisroel, so he set out on his mission brimming with confidence.

On the desk in my study at home, I have a clothespin that holds my bills1, and on it is a quote which reads, “Confidence is the feeling you have until you realize the problem!” Very often we are full of confidence until we run into impediments and difficulties.

Moshe appeared before Pharaoh and made his grand speech, insisting that Pharaoh free the Jewish People. But Pharaoh was unimpressed. He mockingly demonstrated that the Egyptians could also perform those tricks. “Who are you? Who is G-d? Why are you coming to distract the people from their labor?”

The pasuk then records Pharaoh’s reaction to Moshe’s plea, “And the King of Egypt said to them, ‘Why are Moshe and Aharon disrupting the people from their work?” Pharaoh was not only unmoved but he was downright angry with Moshe and Aharon. He ordered that the intensity of the already unbearable workload be increased. Now the Egyptian slave labors would not provide raw materials, although the daily quota remained the same.

At that point, the Jewish People weren’t very pleased with Moshe. “And they said to them, ‘May Hashem look upon you and judge, for you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants, to place a dagger in their hands to murder us.’”

When the Jewish People complained to Moshe, Moshe turned to G-d. “And Moshe returned to Hashem and he said, “Hashem, Why have You made it bad for this nation? Why have you sent me? Why have you done evil to this people? And You have not saved the nation?”” Moshe could not comprehend why G-d did not yet fulfill His part of the deal.

The whole ordeal seems to be one mass depression; no one has any hope left.

G-d then responded to Moshe, “Why are you disappointed? Why have you lost faith? Why have you come to the conclusion that all I have promised you will not come to fruition?” Parshas Shemos concludes with the beginning of G-d’s response to Moshe, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for through a Strong Hand he will send them out, and with a Strong Hand he will drive them from his land.” Parshas Va’era commences with the continuation of G-d’s response to Moshe, “I appeared to Avrohom, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov as Kel shakkai, but with my name Hashem I did not make myself known to them.”

Rashi explains that G-d’s Name, ‘Hashem’, the name G-d used when He revealed Himself to Moshe, as it were, represents G-d as the One Who carries out His promises, for G-d was now prepared to fulfill His promise to redeem Klal Yisroel. G-d was telling Moshe that although He had revealed Himself to the patriarchs utilizing the same title ‘Hashem’, the Patriarchs never realized the fulfillment of those promises, for the Holy Land was not inherited by their descendants during their lifetimes. G-d admonished Moshe that despite the unfulfilled promises, the Patriarch’s faith in G-d never wavered, and therefore, Moshe too should not be skeptical.

There is an old bad joke told about a Rabbi who approached one of his wealthy congregants and told him that he was collecting money for a destitute family who desperately needed financial assistance. The Rabbi requested that the wealthy man give a sizeable donation to help the collection. The wealthy man replied, “Listen Rabbi, I have a terribly impoverished sister living in Eretz Yisroel and she lives in a run-down shack with her whole family. I have an uncle living in a nursing home and he is about to be evicted because he cannot afford to pay the bills. My neighbor, who has been my best friend for fifty years, has no money and they are about to foreclose on his house. Yet, I am not helping any of them, so why should I help the family you’re collecting for who I never met?”

At first glance, G-d’s response to Moshe seems similar. “I promised the forefathers and they never lived to see Me fulfill My Word, so why are you questioning me?” G-d individually promised Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov the entire country of Eretz Yisroel. Yet, when Avrohom’s wife died, he had to contend with the B’nai Ches and pay four hundred silver shekel in order to purchase a burial plot for her. When Yitzchok moved to Gaza, a land contested until our time, every time he dug a well, the Palestinians filled it up. Yaakov too had to pay one hundred kesitah to purchase land outside of Shechem. Yet, they never complained or became cynical!

G-d seemed to be holding Moshe to task for not learning the lesson of the forefathers to take it all in stride. This seems enigmatic. Why didn’t Moshe reply, “If they decided not to say anything, that’s their decision. But what happened to the promises you made me?”

The truth is that such situations surface frequently and one has to learn how to react and handle the vicissitudes of life.

Many years ago, I had a friend who attended Law School together with me in Illinois. When we finished our studies we prepared to take the Bar Exam. We attended a Bar Review course for three months - June, July, and August, for ten hours a day. The course was a review of all three years of law school packed into those three months. As hard as I worked during the course, my friend worked much harder. He was determined to become a lawyer and he was very excited about it.

On the day of the exam, people were very nervous. Four students fainted from anxiety2. The exam lasted three days for six and a half hours each day. Then, you had to wait three months to find out the results and, even then, they wouldn’t tell you your grade, rather it was published in the Chicago Tribune. Finally, the day came and my name was in the paper and my friend’s name was not. I remember him telling me, “It’s not fair. I studied much harder than you did and we had the same grades throughout Law School…” He was very crushed and upset by it. He took the exam a second time and then a third time, but he kept failing. It became Mount Everest for him; he just couldn’t climb to the peak.

He went into business and started a family. He was successful and today he is a grandfather. Recently, when I was in Chicago I saw him and he reminded me - with all of the emotion still pent up within him - “I wasted three years in Law School! I couldn’t pass the Bar Exam!” Although many years had passed he still can’t get over it.

Disappointments in life are very hard to overcome and it’s not always fair. The great motto of the Jewish People is, “Zeh lo fair!” and the truth is that they are right; it’s not fair and don’t let anyone convince you that life is going to be fair! People jump off the roof because the Chicago Bears are not going to win the Super Bowl. The fact that the person may have everything in the world doesn’t help his depression about the Chicago Bears3.

What is the meaning behind G-d’s response to Moshe? Moshe seemed to have a very valid argument. “I was comfortably working for my father-in-law and I didn’t want to be the leader. But, G-d, you insisted that this was my role and that I was to appear before Pharaoh, and You assured me that You will be with me. But then, when I went, Pharaoh became annoyed with me and increased the workload so that now all of Klal Yisroel is angry with me as well. Then when I questioned what occurred, I was told that the Avos never complained, so what right do I have to complain?”

In Jewish history, there is a great deal for us to complain about. In our time, the situation in Eretz Yisroel is very disappointing. Land that Jews struggled to attain with blood and determination is being given back to our enemies as if it’s worthless.

I read in an Israeli paper that this year many of the major department stores in Tel Aviv will carry Christmas decorations to make the season more festive. Is that why we waited nineteen hundred years to have a homeland, so that we can sell Christian holiday decorations? One must conclude that it is very disappointing.

The Ribbono Shel Olam tells Moshe the story of the Avos because Hashem wants Moshe to realize and understand how he relates to, and runs this world. Things do not happen based on our plans and calculations of how they should proceed. G-d runs the world with a Divine Plan that is - more often than not - beyond our comprehension. The measure of a person is based on how he responds to the situation that arises.

The Avos never complained, “Lo hirharo achar meedosay”. Although the promises were not fulfilled during their lifetimes they had no complaints, because they understood that G-d has His schedule. This was the lesson that Hashem was teaching Moshe. Life often contains difficulties and challenges, but we have to know that G-d runs the world in a specific Divinely ordained manner.

The great Moshe Rabbeinu rises from this incident and learns the lesson G-d is teaching him. Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishley, “Sheva yipol tzaddik v’kom- the righteous man stumbles seven times and he gets up.” If the righteous man stumbles seven times, why is he any better than the wicked man who also stumbles seven times? The answer lies in the final word, ‘v’kom’, the tzaddikm rises. He dusts himself off and learns from his mistakes how to become a better and greater person.

It takes the rest of Klal Yisroel a lot longer to learn this lesson. They are still questioning, and are full of disappointments throughout the forty years in the desert. But Moshe never complains about unfulfilled promises again. Moshe learned that to be the leader you can’t complain because that gets a person nowhere. Furthermore, when a person puts himself in a ‘feel sorry for myself’ mood, he falls into the worst of all emotional maladies, because, if one gives up, what can he accomplish?

When I was twenty-one years old, my wife and I needed some extra money so I accepted a weekend job as an assistant Rabbi of a shul in Chicago. They paid me seventy dollars a Shabbos and I spoke in shul, learned with their children etc.

After six months they fired me4. I thought I was pretty good but they had a different opinion. I was disappointed because we needed the money, but more importantly, my ego was very hurt and I began to feel sorry for myself. My Mother told me not to be foolish; I was young with a wife and a newborn baby. I was going to get a job in a law firm, and I had my whole life ahead of me. But none of that meant anything to me because I felt sorry for myself.

Finally, I went to my Rebbe, Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l. I told him that I felt very disappointed and embarrassed by the whole ordeal. With his sparkling blue eyes and laughing expression, my Rebbe responded as only he could, “Every Rav gets fired once. You were lucky; you were fired the first time. There are Rabbis who are fired at the end and that’s much worse. We all get fired at some time. For you it happened right away. Great! You’ll never get fired again!” But then he added, “If you feel sorry for yourself, you’re worthless. You’ll never be able to accomplish, if you can’t pick yourself up off the floor.”

The beginning of Parshas Va’era comes to teach us this vital lesson. It’s a message that we have to keep in mind constantly. G-d replied to Moshe, “What are you complaining about?! I don’t work based on human schedules or calculations and I don’t seek to placate your agenda. My Word doesn’t have to be fulfilled based on your calculations and schedules. The world is run based on a Divine Plan and things occur exactly when they are supposed to transpire.”

In a sense, this is G-d’s message to each and every one of us. “You want to be a great Talmid Chochom? First I’ll show you fifteen Tosafos that you absolutely can’t decipher. After you have encountered and dealt with that frustration, then we can talk about becoming a scholar.” “You want to get married, I’ll show you three girls who won’t even go out with you5.” G-d isn’t obligated to follow our definitions and interpretations. ושמי ה' לא נודעתי להם"”. The Avos never witness the fulfillment of G-d’s promises. Still, they remained steadfast to G-d and fulfilled G-d’s command, התהלך לפני והיה תמים - Walk Before Me, and be complete.”

If a Jew subjugates himself to G-d’s word and to the mission that G-d has set out for him to accomplish, there is no room for disappointment. “ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש - And you shall be for Me a Monarchy of Priests and a Holy People.” “Ashreinu mah tov chelkaynu umah naim goralaynu umah yafah yirushasaynu. Ashreinu she’anachnu mashkimim uma’arivim erev vavoker v’omrim b’chol yom: Shema Yisroel- Praiseworthy are we and how wonderful is our portion, how pleasant is our lot, and how beautiful is our inheritance. Praiseworthy are we that we arise in the morning and go to sleep at night every single day by exclaiming “Shema Yisroel”.” That is the perspective of life! When one recognizes his greatness, he cannot, and must not, feel sorry for himself.

The lesson of Parshas Va’era requires much review. It is a vital message that can only be appreciated by those who believe it and understand it. “The righteous stumbles seven times and he gets up.” It is the ability to start over and not be overwhelmed by the impediments along the way. We must be able to dust ourselves off and proceed by searching and revealing the inner greatness that lies within each and every one of us. This is especially true of those who are, and will become, the leaders of Klal Yisroel.

The Ribbono Shel Olam works by His Schedule, in His time and in His way. When the time was ripe, the redemption came. So too, it will certainly come in our time when we will merit together to witness, “nechomas tzion ub’inyan Yerushalayim- The comforting of Zion and the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.”

1 a rather large clothespin
2 I wanted to get their names so I could sue the makers of the exam
3 And the Chicago Bears are not going to win the Super Bowl
4 They didn’t know they were firing the great Rabbi Wein and the great Rabbi Wein didn’t know he was the great Rabbi Wein
5 and the fourth one that does, you’ll be sorry


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era

25 Teves 5772/January 20, 2012

One of the most exciting experiences of my youth was visiting Eretz Yisroel for the first time. I was eight years old and my Aunt Miriam was going to Eretz Yisroel for the unveiling of my beloved Zayde at the end of August. My older brother was away in camp so my parents offered me the opportunity to accompany my aunt for the eleven day trip.

I was enamored by everything along the way. I loved the plane, especially because the seats were so roomy. [The next time I flew a few years later the seats shrunk immeasurably…] When we finally landed, my Bubby, Uncle, and cousin met us at the airport. Bubby was so excited to see me she hugged me and lifted me off the ground (the only time I remember that happening.)

The ten hour flight and all of its excitement were a bit much for an eight year old and at that point I was hungry and cranky. We went to an Italian restaurant in Yerushalayim but I refused to order anything. After a few minutes of negotiations my Aunt finally convinced me to order an Italian Pizza. After all what could be bad about pizza?

When the pizza arrived I promptly announced that I wasn’t going to eat it. My exasperated Aunt asked me why not? “Because”, I explained, “it smells like the shmattas (rags) in Bubby’s house.” My aunt tried to convince me that I was being ridiculous but I was emphatic about my refusal. My cousin took the pizza and sniffed it, whereupon he burst out laughing, “It’s true, it smells like shmattas!” My Aunt took one bite and admitted that we were right. It was real Italian cheese and pizza, not for our American taste buds.

I found something else to order and everyone continued eating. When we finished we noticed that the pizza was gone. Had the waiter taken it back? Bubby shrugged us off, “I don’t know what you’re all complaining about. The pizza was delicious.”

Throughout the years, we periodically laugh about the shamattah-pizza, and how Bubby couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t eat it.

In our home, we teach our children that when you don’t like something you don’t announce, ‘Oh that’s gross!’ Rather you politely say, ‘That’s not my taste.’ It is not only insulting to disparage food that someone else worked hard to make, but it is insensitive to speak negatively about something you don’t like when someone else may enjoy it.

Such an expression does not only apply to food but to anything else in life. Just because you don’t like a game, place, or idea, doesn’t make it wrong or bad. It may not be your taste, but someone else may find it pleasurable.

The idea of tolerance is extremely important. Our society would like to believe that it is politically correct and accepting of difference. But underneath all its social babble, our world is extremely intolerant and impatient with differences of others.

That intolerance infiltrates our camp as well. Our exile began because of intolerance which bred contempt and enmity, and it is apparent that we haven’t rectified that malady yet.

What may be a shmattah to one person may be delicious to someone else. What one person may find inadequate another may find appealing and acceptable. We don’t have to agree with other’s opinions, but we still have to learn to tolerate differences.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, January 13, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




Henry Ford, the wealthy Detroit entrepreneur who created the automobile assembly line, was not only infamous for being an anti-Semite but also for being a narcissist who admittedly never did anything for anybody.

On one occasion, Ford was walking with a friend when they heard howling nearby. In the distance, they saw that a dog was caught in a barbed wire fence and was howling in pain. Ford immediately walked over and lifted the fence so that the dog could scurry away. Afterwards, the man accompanying Mr. Ford asked him why he bothered to help the dog, “Don’t you brag that you never do anything for anybody?” Ford wittily answered, “I didn’t do that for the dog; I did it for myself. His cries were bothering me.”

Chumash Shemos commences with Klal Yisroel in a far different predicament than they were at the conclusion of Chumash Bereishis. As Bereishis concludes, many of the illustrious sons of Yaakov are still alive, and the burgeoning Jewish nation is enjoying prosperity and comfort in the exile. Although Yosef had just died, the nation was still enjoying some measure of prominence, political power, and influence. At the beginning of Chumash Shemos however, the state of affairs has changed drastically and dramatically. All at once the Jewish nation has been forced into oppressive labor in inhumane conditions with an impossible work quota. Suddenly they became the bane of society, whose very presence made the Egyptians loathe them.

“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef.” What an incredible concept! Yosef had single handedly saved Egypt from the ravages of hunger and financial and economic ruin. He faithfully served Pharaoh and increased the monarchial treasury many times over. How is it possible that Pharaoh forgot about Yosef? Could the United States forget George Washington and all that he did for the union in 1791, right after his tenure as president concluded.

Rashi explains that Pharaoh, “made it as if he forgot about Yosef.”

During the winter of 5767, I had the privilege to meet the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum zt’l, while he was in Lakewood celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson.

On Friday night the Rosh Yeshiva was sitting at his son’s table sharing Torah insights. Among the many other pearls he related, he questioned why Pharaoh had to create a charade as if he did not know who Yosef was. Pharaoh was a virulent anti-Semite, the Hitler/Stalin of his day. Why did he have to pretend that he did not know who Yosef was? If a great Torah leader such as the Chofetz Chaim had somehow been the chancellor of Germany and saved the country during World War I, would Hitler have felt the need to pretend he didn’t know who he was?

Rabbi Birnbaum answered the question succinctly, “Pharaoh - wicked as he was - was still human!” In other words, he didn’t claim to forget about Yosef because of the Jews, but because of his own conscience. No matter how much of a tyrannical heartless maniac Pharaoh was, he would not be able to live with the fact that he was “stabbing in the back” the man who saved the whole country. Therefore, he quelled his feelings of guilt by tactfully forgetting about Yosef and downplaying his accomplishments. We can imagine that he launched a propaganda campaign which publicized the fact that there were really others who had saved the country and Yosef was no more than a figurehead to whom Egypt owes nothing to.

In essence, the Nazis utilized the same tactic. How could they convince an entire nation to destroy a people who had so benefited society? How could they convince the German population to annihilate bankers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, veterans, high ranking army officials and politicians? Furthermore, how could the Nazis themselves committed such macabre crimes against innocent people, especially babies? How could human beings become so barbaric that they could torture and torment millions of people while committing mass genocide in the most horrid and inhumane manners?

The answer is that the Nazis simply, “no longer recognized Yosef”. Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda campaign was extremely successful in depicting the Jews as horrible and dangerous people. Distribution of books such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Hitler’s hysterical ranting, so vilified the Jews that in the minds of the Nazis and Germans they were no longer people. They saw the Jews as objects of such vile contempt that their very existence became abhorrent. The same nation that prided itself for its etiquette and precise adherence to cultural protocol, were able to justify the inconceivable crimes that they were committing.

Indeed, after the war Adolph Eichman altered his identity and assumed a new personality as Ricardo Klement, and continued his life with relative peace of mind, feeling satisfied with the carnage he was responsible for, even after he was apprehended by the Mossad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1960.

The change from Chumash Bereishis to Chumash Shemos contains another important transition. Chumash Bereishis is primarily the “Book of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs”. It details the lives of our forbearers and teaches us how they lived their elite lives. It is the story of the birth of our greatness and why in our genes we are destined to be he Chosen People.

Chumash Shemos details the post-Patriarchal generation. The Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and the Tribes had all died and now their descendants were quickly becoming a nation. However, the nation was persecuted and tormented by evil captors and they were in desperate need of salvation. In that dismal time arose the need for Jewish leadership.

Moshe is not our forefather per se, but rather, he is our teacher, our guide, and our light. The beginning of the Chumash introduces us to the family from whom leadership was destined to emerge.

Moshe Rabbeinu grew up in the lap of luxury, a godson to Pharaoh himself who loved him. Moshe was educated and cultured under the most elite Egypt had to offer. His life lacked nothing. But Moshe was aware that his brethren were suffering and he refused to allow himself to be pampered while his people were being slaughtered and oppressed. He left the safe confines of the palace to help bear the burden of his brothers.

In doing so, Moshe risked his life. It was undoubtedly a capitol crime to assist enemies of the state, especially for a member of the nobility, and especially if he was a surrogate member of the royal family.

It also must be noted that Moshe was not merely acting out of pity. Although good deeds committed out of pity are also virtuous, they pale in comparison to the merit of good deeds committed out of true kindness.

The difference is that when one acts out of pity, he is doing so to satiate the pain and hurt he feels in his heart. When one sees a destitute sickly child on the street, it breaks his heart and his conscience gnaws at him to do something – anything - to help ease the horrible plight of the child. However, when one acts out of kindness, his motive is altruistic and his desire is chiefly to help the other person and not to simply to quell his own inner pain.

Before I was married, I was a counselor in camp for a number of summers. When I would receive my bunk list just prior to the camper’s arrival on the first day of the camp season, invariably it was apparent from the names of the parents that a few of the boys came from broken homes. My superiors would relate the camper’s difficult home situation and caution me to provide extra TLC and attention.

I often felt so pained by their tales of woe that I couldn’t wait for them to arrive so I could try to compensate for their difficult lives by giving them the summer of their lives. Ironically, in many instances within a week or two much of my compassion was gone.

As is sometimes the case, some of the children who had these difficult backgrounds had difficult personalities as well, and could be behavioral challenges too. The original compassion which resulted from the pain I felt was overwhelmed by my feelings of fatigue, and annoyance by the antics and misbehavior of those boys. At that point, the way to maintain my patience and emotional sensitivity toward that boy was to try to switch to ‘chessed mode’. I had to constantly remind myself that I needed to be there FOR THE BOY. I had to continually tell myself that despite my frustrations, I needed to be supportive and patient.

Moshe Rabbeinu knew the peril he was placing himself in when he left the palace. When personal danger is involved, compassion will almost invariably be insufficient because inner pain is overwhelmed by the fear of external danger. But Moshe’s chesed was altruistically motivated by a sincere desire to help others. That is why he was worthy to be the leader.

From where did Moshe learn about chessed and altruism? The Torah relates that two Jewish women, Shifra and Puah, would risk their lives to help Jewish mothers give birth safely, despite Pharaoh’s edict mandating all male Jewish babies be killed. Shifra was Yocheved, Moshe’s mother and Puah was Miriam, Moshe’s older sister. Being selfless and giving was in Moshe’s genes.

On a deeper level, it was specifically Moshe, who personified and understood the extent of chesed and how one must always contemplate the plight of others and share their burden, who was chosen as the leader to destroy Pharaoh and his nation of ingrates, who egregiously refused to acknowledge their obligation of gratitude.

“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef”

“Moshe grew up and he went out to his brothers.”



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos

18 Teves 5772/January 13, 2012

I remember it like two days ago. It was Shabbos morning and davening had just ended. I had just left shul with my father, older brother, and two neighbors, and we were heading home. I am not sure what the catalyst was but my older brother (who shall remain nameless for the sake of anonymity) slugged me (though I have no doubt that it was his fault). I remember that it didn’t hurt physically as much as it hurt my pride, but I dropped to the ground and refused to get up. The crowd stopped walking and turned to see what happened. As they were standing nearby trying to cajole me into getting up so we could proceed, I heard someone say, “You better get up, there’s a cop coming.” Good tactic I thought, but I still remained on the ground. Then my father said, “Dani, seriously, a cop is coming.”

I was still a bit skeptical but was contemplating concluding my theatrical drama when I heard a car stop and a commanding voice call out, “Everything okay here?” Someone replied, “Just a bit of sibling rivalry. He’s totally fine.” I picked my head up in time to see the cop turn to my older brother (who is still maintaining his anonymity) and say, “Son, you better be careful. He’s going to keep eating his Wheaties, and one day he’s going to come after you.” Then with a laugh from everyone (except me) he drove off. [I never liked Wheaties which is why I never had a chance to get back at him… until now J.]

If you happen to live in close walking distance to shul this essay is not for you. But for those of us who have a bit of a walk to shul there are benefits to be had. Aside for the obvious advantage that you could afford to eat an extra piece of cake and kugel at the Kiddush with a little less guilt (as long as your spouse doesn’t find out about it), the walk home is a great time to think about important things in your life (like why you don’t live closer to the shul).

When I am walking to shul alone I verbally say the derasha that I will be saying in shul. When I pass people along the way I pretend that I was humming a tune out loud.

Most importantly, if one is blessed to have children who accompany him to shul, the walk is a great opportunity for bonding time. Although every child is different and every child enjoys different things, if parent and child can decide on an enjoyable cognitive activity to share along the way home the walk can be a special experience. I know I have been successful in this regard when my children tell me that the walk home from shul felt ‘so short’.

Aside for preparing derashos for Shabbos, I try to make sure I have a good story on hand to share with our oldest son Shalom while we are walking way home. I try to make sure the story has a good lesson, especially apropos for Shabbos. Recently, Shalom and I have begun to review the Mishnayos he learns in school by heart while walking (he gets a quarter for every Mishna he knows; I get nothing).

At times there may be others walking with us. During those times I have to try to make sure that at least part of the walk is dedicated to my ‘walking session’ with Shalom. Showing that I value our conversation is meaningful to him as well.

So for all of you unfortunate souls who live right next door to the shul (and therefore stopped reading this article three paragraphs ago), you don’t know what you’re missing. (Um, also please have me in mind when you start your seudah).

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern zt’l1 once accompanied Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurebach zt’l to his home after davening shacharis. It was a particularly blustery day in Jerusalem and as they walked, Rabbi Aurebach’s beard and payos blew freely in the wind.

As they stood on the steps about to enter Rabbi Aurebach’s home, the Rav stopped and straightened his beard and payos. He turned to Rabbi Stern and explained that a woman does not deserve to see her husband unkempt and disheveled. When a man enters his house he should look neat and put together and he should have a pleasant countenance.

When recounting that incident Rabbi Stern would admiringly comment that even though Rabbi Aurebach had been married over fifty years, he was so meticulous and careful to greet his Rebbitzin with a happy demeanor, looking neat and respectable.”

Prior to his death, Yaakov Avinu summoned each of his holy sons in order to individually bless them. In his blessing to Yehuda, Yaakov said, חכלילי עינים מיין ולבן שיניים מחלב - His eyes are red from wine and his teeth are whiter than milk.” Based on this blessing, the Gemara2 notes that when a person displays the white of his teeth to his friend by smiling warmly, it is more beneficial than giving him a cup of milk to drink. Avos D’Rabbi Nosson (13) adds, “Even if a person is unable to give his friend anything, if he greets him pleasantly it is as if he has given him all the gifts in the world.”

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l3 emphasized the importance of smiling and maintaining a genial disposition toward others. The ability to perform acts of chessed is not limited to those with time and money. A person can do chessed with a smile or a friendly word. With minimal time or effort, one can brighten a person’s day. The opposite is also true. Walking around with an unhappy expression on one’s face can cause other people pain4.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt’l5 would say that one’s face has the status of a reshus harabim- public domain. If one walks around with a dour look on his face, his face is a bor b’reshus harabim- a pit in a public area, and he is responsible for any damage caused to someone who falls or hurts himself on account of his ‘pit’.

Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer zt’l6 related that, one year on Erev Yom Kippur, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter passed a righteous man on the street. The man’s fear of G-d and the impending awesome judgment was so apparent that tears were noticeably coursing down his cheeks. When Rabbi Salanter asked him about a certain pressing matter, the man was so focused on Yom Kippur that he simply did not respond and he continued walking. Afterwards, Rabbi Salanter commented, “After I passed this man I thought in my heart, ‘Why am I at fault because he has Fear of ‘Heaven’ and trembles from the Day of Judgment? Why is that relevant to me? Aren’t you obligated to pleasantly answer my question, because that is the proper conduct according to the paths of goodness and kindness?’”

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt"l7 writes that even a tiny infant recognizes and reacts to different facial expressions. If his mother smiles at him his face lights up and he returns the smile. But if she stares at him angrily he immediately begins to cry.

Milk helps a child grow physically, but the constant smiles and love a child sees helps him grow emotionally and spiritually. Just like a plant can't grow with water alone, but requires the sun's rays for nutrients, so does a child need constant smiles to nurture his spirit and infuse him with vitality.

The same applies as we mature and throughout life. We enjoy and seek to be around people who are positive and pleasant and we draw strength and encouragement from being in the vicinity of positive and pleasant people.

The Mishna8 states,”V’hevei mikabeil es kol ho'odom b'seiver panim yafos -Greet every person with a pleasant countenance." Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l explained that the Mishna’s vernacular represents a three-step process in greeting people properly:

The word סבר is an expression of ‘sevara’, which in Talmudic vernacular refers to a thought process. When one focuses his gaze on another person it should be noticeable that he is thinking about him and acknowledging him.

The word פנים means face. One should turn to the person and make eye contact with him as he greet him.

יפות means beautiful. It is not enough merely to show one’s face when he greets another, he should have a radiant and pleasant smile upon is face.

When a person greets another in this manner it is tremendously powerful and encouraging.

Rabbi Pam relates that Rabbi Yechiel Michel Gordon zt’l, the Lomza Rosh Yeshiva, was on a fundraising trip in the United States when World War II broke out. His wife and children had remained behind in Lomza and he anxiously awaited news about their precarious predicament in Nazi-occupied Poland.

One day, a Jew from Lomza who had miraculously escaped the Nazi inferno came to see Rabbi Gordon. He related that he had witnessed the massacre of most of Rabbi Gordon’s family. One can hardly imagine the anguish and pain that Rabbi Gordon felt upon hearing that his worst fears confirmed.

A few moments after hearing the news, a guest, who was unaware of what had just occurred prior to his arrival, came to see Rabbi Gordon. When Rabbi Gordon noticed his guest his countenance immediately changed and he greeted his visitor with a hearty welcome and a warm smile. The conversation lasted a few minutes and then the guest departed. The man who had related the tragic news to Rabbi Gordon could not believe that Rabbi Gordon was able to completely mask his personal pain and greet someone with a warm smile and then carry on a conversation. Rabbi Gordon explained by quoting the aforementioned teaching of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter. “If a person’s face is part of the public domain, one has no right to open a pit!”

Rabbi Pam concluded that although we may not be on the level of Rabbi Gordon, we must strive to be positive people. When a husband comes home from a very difficult day at the office, it is not easy for him to put a big smile on his face as he enters his home. A human being is not a machine where, with the press of a button, the whole picture can change. Nevertheless, many things can be accomplished through repetitive actions. With practice, one can get used to having a cheerful smile on his face and thereby greet every person in a pleasant manner.

If one realizes that replacing a ‘sour’ face with a smile is an act of chessed, it becomes easier to do.

“A smile costs nothing, but gives much. It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and none is so poor but that he can be made rich by it. A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and is nature's best antidote for trouble. Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give.”9

“His teeth are whiter than milk”

“Sever panim yafos”

1 the Kamintzer Mashgiach
2 Kesubos 111b
3 quoted in the book “The Pleasant Way” by Rabbi Sholom Smith
4 Sefer Yereim (mitzvah 51) says that just as it is forbidden to inflict pain with sharp, critical words so too it is forbidden to hurt others with a “sour” face.”
5 Father’ of the Mussar Movement of the late nineteenth century
6 Nesivas Ohr; Rav Blazer was one of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter’s most acknowledged disciples
7 Alei Shur
8 Avos 1:15
9 I have seen this idea quoted in the name of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch but I do not know the source within his writings.


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi

11 Teves 5772/January 6, 2012

The first day of sixth grade. We apprehensively shuffled into our seats, trying to surmise what kind of teacher she was going to be. After introducing herself, our teacher immediately told us that she wasn’t sure if she was going to remain as our teacher. Her first day, and it may very well be her last. Now there’s a vote of confidence!

Besides those endearing opening words, I will never forget something else she told us that day. She was explaining the concept of time zones and the International Date Line. She related that once while on vacation she had traveled across the Date Line. However, instead of returning the way she came, she proceeded forward circling the globe until she arrived home. She then sadly exclaimed, “Isn’t that sad? I lost a day of my life!”

I remember being very intrigued by that comment. Did that mean her life would be one day shorter? How did that make sense? If someone is born on the 30th of Kislev (a date that doesn’t occur every year) or on February 29th he won’t have a birthday every year. Does that mean he won’t age?

It took some time before I concluded that she had not lost a day from her life, but rather she had lost a calendar day.

Now, she is in good company. The weekend came sooner than usual for the tiny South Pacific island nation of Samoa this past week. When the clock struck midnight this past Thursday, the country skipped over Friday and moved 24 hours ahead – straight into Saturday, December 31. The time jump meant that Samoa's 186,000 citizens were the first in the world to ring in the secular New Year, rather than the last.

Samoa aimed to align its time zone with key trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region by shifting west of the International Date Line. Now they will be on the same day as their neighboring countries of New Zealand and Australia, instead of being a day behind them.

It only took Samoa 119 years to catch up (in 1892 U.S. traders persuaded local Samoans to align their islands' time with nearby U.S.-controlled American Samoa and the U.S. to assist their trading with California). In doing so, they have forfeited Friday December 30, 2011 forever.

In the Psalm of ‘Moshe the man of G-d’ (Tehillim 90), Moshe Rabbeinu asks G-d: “To count our days, so teach us, then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.” It’s been said that one should not count his days as much as he should make his days count. There is a reason why the present is so aptly called. Each day of life is a gift, and the one who possesses a wise heart seeks to take advantage of his every day.

During the funeral of the Sefas Emes of Ger, his eldest son, the Imrei Emes turned to his younger brother, Rav Moshe Betzalel, and quipped, “Our father had arichus yamim – lengthy days”. Surprised, Rav Moshe Betzalel replied, “But father wasn’t even sixty years old?” The Imrei Emes responded, “I didn’t say he had lengthy years, but that he had lengthy days. He made every day count.”

The Torah says about Avrohom Avinu that he came with his days (Bereishis 24:1; the same expression is used about Dovid Hamelech – Melachim I 1:1). His every day was utilized to the fullest, and therefore he ‘owned’ every day and took it with him.

What enriched lives we would lead if we could foster that feeling with ourselves.

By the way, our teacher never did come back after that first day. I think she went to search for the day she lost.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum