Thursday, February 23, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




“Please find a place to read the next few pages where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Clear your mind of everything except what you will read and what I will invite you to do. Don’t worry about your schedule, your business, your family, or your friends. Just focus with me and really open your mind.

“In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers…You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.

“As you walk down to the front of the room and gaze at the name of the deceased, you see your own name on the casket. This is your funeral, three years from today. All of these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.

“As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended- children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your… [Shul] where you’ve been involved in service.

“Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

“What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?

“Begin with the end in mind!1

“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the B’nei Yisroel and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion.2

S’forno explains that the need for the Mishkan was a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. Ideally, after the Revelation of Sinai the Mishkan should have been unnecessary. At Sinai, each Jew had achieved a level of prophesy and was worthy of the Divine Presence resting upon him individually. However, when the Jews committed that egregious sin, they forfeited a great level of that inner holiness. At that point, it became necessary for there to be a centralized place where the Divine Presence would be ever-present.

The materials, parameters, designs, craftsmanship, and dimensions of the Mishkan are meticulously outlined in the verses. Because the sin of the Golden Calf was a transgression of the Word of G-d, the Mishkan - which came to rectify that sin - had to be designed and constructed with precise adherence to G-d’s exact commands.

When one reviews the Torah’s instruction regarding the construction of the Mishkan, there are several questions that arise:

The parsha commences with a list of materials that could be donated for usage in the Mishkan. Rashi (25:2) writes that, in all, there were thirteen different materials that could be donated. However, if one counts the materials listed there are fifteen materials mentioned? Also, the vernacular of the opening verse seems strange. What does it mean to, “Take for Me a portion”? Doesn’t one usually give or donate a portion?

In constructing the structure of the Mishkan and all of its vessels, there were three vessels that had to be hammered out of one block of solid gold: The Keruvim that rested atop the Holy Ark, the Menorah, and the golden Trumpets3.

What is the significance of these three vessels that they had to be painstakingly chiseled from one solid block and could not be molded or cut?

Medrash Tanchuma writes that the construction of the Menorah from one solid block of gold was so difficult that Moshe could not visualize how it would appear. G-d showed Moshe a Menorah of fire, but even then Moshe despaired that he would be able to construct it properly. Finally, G-d told him to just throw the gold into the fire, and the completed Menorah emerged miraculously.

If at the end the Menorah had to be constructed miraculously, what was the point of showing Moshe the image of the Menorah out of fire?

On the aforementioned pasuk, 25:40, “See and make, according to their form that you are shown on the mountain”, Ba’al HaTurim notes that there are three times in Scripture that the word “וראה- And see” appears. The first time is here in regard to the Menorah. The other two are found in Tehillim: (139:24) “וראה אם דרך עצב בי - And see if there is a path of sadness within me” and, (128:6) “וראה בנים לבניך – And your sons shall beget sons.” What is the connection between these three verses?

Whenever one sets a goal for himself it is vital that he maintain a vision for what he hopes to accomplish. Just as one does not embark on a journey without first having an idea of where he wants to end up and how he plans on getting there, so too one cannot venture out onto the roads of life without first envisioning what he hopes to accomplish Only when he has that vision is he ready to pursue his dreams and aspirations. Perhaps he won’t accomplish everything he intends to, but it is a far easier journey when one has some sense of direction.

Truthfully, it was impossible for Moshe to construct the Menorah with all of its different components and intricate designs from one block of gold. However, G-d insisted that Moshe develop a vision and a plan for what he was trying to create.

There is an old quip that “heaven helps those who help themselves”. If one sits around listlessly awaiting Divine Intervention, it may never come. It is only when one initiates the effort and sets out to fulfill his plans that he can be worthy of Divine Intervention and Guidance.

The verse mentions the word ‘וראה - and see’ in regard to three vessels which symbolize three important concepts. The Menorah symbolizes that one must always have a vision. The second mention of the word is in regards to sadness. Life invariably contains moments of disappointments, frustrations, and sadness. Dovid Hamelech declared that G-d always helps one in a sad and difficult situation. But that help is contingent on “And see”, i.e. the vision of the future and one’s hopes for improvement when he/she emerges from their difficult predicament.

The final mention is in regard to child-rearing. Raising children is a daunting task. Even children from the best families who received the best education and had decent friends, sometimes do not develop as their parents hoped. Nevertheless, one must begin with a vision of what he hopes his family will look like. Especially when one begins a new family, there must be goals and aspirations - a path with a destination. That path will inevitably be filled with impediments and circuitous turns, but the path must be in place nonetheless, if there’s any hope for success.

If one analyzes the fifteen materials that could be donated for use in the Mishkan, there are two which should not have been available to them in the desert. One of the materials was Shittim wood. Why would they have Shittim wood in the desert; there were no trees there?

Rashi quotes a Medrash which explains that many years prior, our Patriarch Yaakov foresaw that his descendants would construct a Mishkan in the desert and would need Shittim wood. Therefore, he planted cedar trees that would bear Shittim wood and instructed his children to bring the cedar trees down to Egypt and replant them there. When the Jews left Egypt, they took those trees along with them. In other words, the Shittim wood was a product of the foresight of Yaakov Avinu!

Another one of the materials to be donated was the ‘Techasim’ skin. Rashi explains that the Techashim was a type of beast which was only created so that its skin could be utilized for the Mishkan. The whole purpose of the creation and temporary existence of the Techashim was only so that it would be available to produce a covering for the Mishkan. Thus, as opposed to the other thirteen materials, these two were only accessible through foresight and Divine Intervention. The message of the Shittim wood and Techashim skin is the importance of having a vision and preparing for the future. Once that is accomplished one must pray for Divine Assistance and Guidance to help him accomplish his mission, just as the Techashim were only available through Divine Intervention.

This is the message of the opening pasuk of the parsha. “Speak to the B’nei Yisroel and let them take for Me a portion”. When building a Mishkan it is not sufficient to merely give, it must be an emotional experience wherein one takes and draws from within his inner self. To build a structure of holiness requires an internal vision and understanding that ultimately, without Divine Assistance, we can’t accomplish anything.

There were three materials that had to be chiseled out of one block of pure gold, because they each symbolize things that must retain their pristine form. The Keruvim which had the angelic form of children, symbolize educating and preparing our children for the future. The golden Menorah represents the Torah, the ultimate authority that dictates every facet and nuance of our lives. The golden trumpets which were blown to alert the people that it was time to travel, represents the sojourns one endures along the paths of life.

Every time gold is melted the quality weakens somewhat. These vessels had to maintain their original vitality and purity to symbolize that, in regard to children, Torah, and traversing the vicissitudes of life, there are no shortcuts. The only way to be successful is through foresight, vision, and an unwavering belief In G-d4.

“Of pure gold, hammered out”

“Take for Me a portion”

1 Stephen Covey, “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, Habit 2
2 The following is the text of a speech delivered by our family friend Rabbi Leibi Grohman. in honor of our Sheva Berachos on the evening of 9 Adar 5762
3 Bamidbar, 10:1-10; the trumpets were used to alert the nation that the Divine Presence had begun to travel and they had to break camp and follow
[Rabbi Grohman concluded his speech by connecting it to our simcha with a fantastic gematriah (numerical value). I would be remiss if I quoted his speech and left out his conclusion:
The gematriah of the words, “V’asu li Mikdash (and they shall make for me a sanctuary)” (866) plus the 15 materials used for the construction of the Mishkan is 881, the exact gematriah of “Doniel Alexander haLevy Chanah Rivkah”.
Rashi on the aforementioned words, “V’asu li Mikdash” writes, “V’asu lishmeey bais kedushah (And you shall make for the sake of My Name a House of Holiness)”. The gematriah of those words is 1589, the exact gematriah of “Hachosson Doniel Alexander haLevy v’hakallah Chanah Rivkah Staum”.]


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah

Rosh Chodesh Adar 5772/February 24, 2012

New Yorkers have found out that there is a New York NBA team after-all. They found it out because of a 23 year old Asian-American named Jeremy Lin.

It’s been a while since New York basketball fans have had much to cheer about. The postponed beginning of this season because of financial greed didn’t help matters, and when the Knicks began with a dismal start falling well below 500 there was even less for fans to be excited about.

But then suddenly a player arose, literally from the shadows. In fact Lin had been around for some time but had never had the opportunity to prove himself. After receiving no athletic scholarship offers out of high school and being undrafted out of college, Lin headed to Harvard University (!). After graduating he signed a partially guaranteed contract deal with his hometown Golden State Warriors.

Lin made the Warriors' opening day roster for the 2010–11 regular season, but received little playing time during the season. In December Lin was claimed off waivers by the Houston Rockets. After playing seven minutes in two preseason games the Rockets waived him, at which point the Knicks claimed him off waivers to be a backup.

The Knicks considered releasing Lin before his contract became guaranteed. However, after the Knicks squandered a fourth quarter lead in a February 3 loss to the Boston Celtics, coach Mike D'Antoni decided to give Lin a chance to play. "He got lucky because we were playing so bad," said D'Antoni. Lin had played only 55 minutes through the Knicks' first 23 games.

On February 4, 2012, Lin had 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists—all career-highs—in a 99–92 Knicks victory over the New Jersey Nets. During the next 6 games Lin was lights out, leading the Knicks to six consecutive victories, and enthralling fans by his galvanizing leadership on the court.

Much has been written and discussed about Lin’s extraordinary fairy-tale like story, about how one never knows what can happen. I believe there is another important lesson here:

In 1978, Michael Aun won the Toastmaster’s International Speaking contest in Vancouver. When he speaks he remarks that although he is well-known for winning the contest in 1978, he lost it in 1977 in Toronto, because he went seven seconds over his allotted time. In his words, “Do you know what you do after you lose a contest because of seven seconds? You go up to your hotel room and you cry. But after a while, you realize that you can go for it again. A year later I won it in Vancouver. I often say that we have to remember that you often have to go through Toronto in order to get to Vancouver.

Rabbi Dr. Twersky, noted author and lecturer has written over 60 books. He relates that when he was ready to publish his first book during the 1970s he was rejected by 30 publishers.

In an age where production and accomplishment are all that are valued, there is little patience for fruitless effort and failures. But the facts of life are that one cannot be successful until they have struggled, made mistakes, learned to be patient with himself, and have accepted that he is not perfect. Any success not achieved through grit and challenge is ephemeral and transient.

You can’t publish books without getting rejected first, you can’t go to Vancouver until you’ve gone through Toronto, and you can’t become great without learning how to sit on the bench and watch the spotlight pass over you. But if you have the patience and endurance to stay the course, the road eventually leads towards the fulfillment of your dreams and hopes.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




Almost ten years ago, my family celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of my younger brother, Yaakov Meir. At the reception, my older brother R’ Yitzie, spoke and shared the following thought: “Let us imagine a family on their way to a vacation. The car is completely packed with suitcases and provisions for the getaway. After a few hours of driving and six bathroom breaks, the atmosphere in the car is becoming quite tense. The younger kids are getting rowdy and k’vetchy, the older kids are beyond restless, and the parents are at wits end. They have been traveling down the seemingly endless Thruway for three hours, passing nothing but the continuous blur of bare trees.

Just then, the father announces that their exit is not too far ahead. “It’s starting to get dark so I am having a hard time seeing the signs. Everyone, please look out your window and let me know if you see a sign for Exit 392.” All at once, the car becomes completely silent. Faces are pressed against the glass as all family members eagerly search for the first appearance of a sign heralding the imminent “Exit 392”. Suddenly, the first sign comes into view and everyone starts screaming in a frenzied tone, “There it is!” “There is the sign!” “It’s three miles ahead!” “We’re almost there!” “Yippeeee!” More signs come into view and the excitement in the car keeps mounting - two miles, one mile, a half-mile, and then….Exit 392 in all of its glory!

“The father stops the car and everyone jumps out to marvel at the sign. They have been waiting for this exit for so long and here it is at long last. They stop a passing car and ask the driver to take pictures of them huddled in front of the sign. They gleefully take out their barbecue to prepare a delicious supper replete with steaks, burgers, and franks. As they eat, they reminisce about the lengthy trip and how long it took them to get there, how many times they had to stop along the way, and how they had thought they would never get there.

“When they finally finished the celebration, they packed everything up and gathered back into the car. With a final look at the sign, they slammed the van doors shut. The father pulled back onto the Thruway and continued down the highway into the oblivion of headlights and the blur of bare trees.

“It seems like a ridiculous story. The family had finally arrived at the exit but they failed to realize what that meant. They celebrated finding the exit, but they didn’t get off the highway. What’s the use of finding the exit it you don’t follow it?”

At this point, my older brother turned to the new Bar Mitzvah and said, “Yaakov, today you are becoming a Bar Mitzvah! Many people celebrate their Bar Mitzvah with gala celebrations, beautiful receptions, and tremendous fanfare. But as soon as the guests leave and the lights in the hall are dimmed, they return to their daily lives and the whole shebang becomes an expensive memory. In a sense, such people are no different than the family who found the exit but, after pictures and supper in front of the sign, got back on the highway.

“A Bar Mitzvah, and any other joyous occasion, must be viewed as an exit. The celebration is wonderful but the real greatness is dependent on you. You have to follow this exit as it leads you to a new road - a road of spiritual pursuit, which will help you develop the greatness that you innately possess. All of tonight’s celebration is merely externals. It’s the other component, the one that remains hidden from view, i.e. the commitment you accept upon yourself tonight in utilizing this ‘exit’, which comprises the focal point of your Bar Mitzvah celebration.”

The transmitting of the Torah at Sinai was an unprecedented and unrepeated Revelation of G-d’s Omnipotence and Divinity. When the event was over, Moshe Rabbeinu began the arduous task of teaching the young nation the many laws and commandments that they would now have to abide by.

Parshas Mishpatim commences with G-d’s introductory statement to Moshe, “And these are the judgments that you shall place before them.” Rashi explains that the pasuk begins with the conjunctive “and” to show that the laws in the parsha are a supplement to the previous statements or events. Thus, Parshas Mishpatim, which delineates many of the myriad laws that now must be learned and practiced, has an inextricable connection with the Revelation of Sinai and the conclusion of Parshas Yisro.

Just prior to the transmission of the Torah, G-d related to Moshe, (19:9) “Behold, I am coming to you through the thickness of a cloud in order that the people shall hear when I speak to you and also in you they will believe eternally.” What is the meaning of this guarantee that the people will maintain their faith in Moshe perpetually from this day forward?

After the conclusion of its listing of the laws and prohibitions, Parshas Mishpatim continues by reverting to its narration of the events that transpired at Matan Torah. The Torah explains that the masses offered special offerings to G-d. (24:6-8) “And Moshe took half of the blood (from the sacrifices) and he placed it into a bowl, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar…And Moshe took the blood (from the bowl) and he sprinkled it on the people and he proclaimed, ‘behold, this is the blood of the covenant that G-d has made with you for all of these things’.” What was the significance of the fact that Moshe divided the blood and sprinkled half on the altar and half on the people?

“Parshas Shekalim” is the first of four unique Torah portions read during various Shabbosos prior to Pesach. The portion of Shekalim recounts the half-shekel tax which every Jew was obligated to contribute to the Temple treasury prior to the month of Nissan. After Klal Yisroel entered Eretz Yisroel and the Bais Hamikdash was built, just prior to the beginning of the month of Adar, the courts would send out emissaries to remind the people of their obligation to contribute a half-Shekel to the Temple treasury1. In commemoration of that injunction by the courts, we read Parshas Shekalim during the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

“This shall they give – everyone who passes through the census- a half-Shekel of the sacred Shekel…half a Shekel as a portion to Hashem…The wealthy shall not increase and the destitute shall not decrease from half a shekel…2

The vernacular of the pasuk seems redundant; why does the Torah repeat that the required contribution was a half-shekel within the same pasuk?

The Yerushalmi (Shekalim 1:4) relates in the name of Rabbi Meir that G-d took out a ‘fiery coin’ from beneath His Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe declaring, “like this you shall give”. The commentators question why this was necessary. What was so complex about a tax of a half-shekel that Moshe couldn’t comprehend without a Divine demonstration?

In order to answer the aforementioned inquiries, we must preface with a final question: The punishment for transgressing any of the negative commandments in the Torah is – unless otherwise noted – lashes. The pasuk states, “With forty lashes he shall be smitten”3. However, the Gemara4 utilizes a scriptural exegesis to conclude that in reality only thirty-nine lashes are given to the culpable sinner. Why would the Torah state that forty lashes are mandated, if in reality the Torah only wanted the person to receive thirty-nine?

In order to answer this question, the Shinova Rebbe zt’l referenced a Gemarah in B’rachos (7a). The Gemarah states that one feeling/thought of humility and subjugation is more valuable than one hundred lashes. In other words, when one sins he creates a certain distance between himself and G-d, as it were. He has blemished his pure soul and has infused within himself a certain degree of impurity and waywardness. The point of lashes or any form of punishment is to make the sinner cognizant of the spiritual damage he has wrought. In a sense, it is to “beat it out of him” so that he will be motivated to repent and repair his spiritual breaches. If the whole point of the lashes is to only awaken within the sinner a sense of contriteness and humility before G-d, than surely the emotion itself is more valuable and precious than the lashes.

The Shemen Rosh5 expounds on the explanation of the Shinova Rav to explain our questions. Ultimately, the point of all the judgments, laws, and commandments that the Torah demands of us, is to create within us a sense of responsibility, humility, and subjugation before G-d. It is to inculcate within us the notion that we are not a lawless people. Rather, we must be disciplined and regimented in all of our daily affairs. To a great extent, that is the goal of our observance and adherence to Torah law.

Ramban6 writes that it is possible for one to be a repulsive individual even though he meticulously observes all of the mitzvos. Such an individual adheres to the letter of the law, but completely neglects the spirit of the law. Thus, Parshas Mishpatim - which begins the discussion of the laws and commandments as they apply to the daily and mundane affairs of a Jew’s life - begins with the conjunctive “and”. The point is to reinforce the fact that, no less than the great revelation of Sinai with all of its wonders and open miracles, the purpose of all of these laws too is so that, “the people shall hear when I speak to you and also in you they will believe eternally.”

When Moshe divided the blood of the sacrifices offered after Matan Torah, he was symbolizing this message. Just as all of the thirty-nine lashes are only administered in order to achieve the “fortieth” lash, i.e. the internal feeling of contriteness and repentance, so too the atonement that is achieved from a sacrifice is not in the offering itself as much as in the inner awakening of emotions that transpire in the heart of the one who offered the sacrifice.

“And Moshe took the blood7 and he sprinkled it on the people and he proclaimed, ‘behold, this is the blood of the covenant that G-d has made with you for all of these things.” The essence of the covenant was that they come to the realization that ‘all of these things’ was to reach a level of internal devotion and connection with G-d, as it were. It is not the rituals of the sacrifice that matter most but the contrite heart and the spiritual catharsis it generates.

When G-d commanded that each Jew offer a half-shekel as atonement, it was to symbolize that the physical giving was only half the job. Were they commanded to give a full shekel, they might feel that the act of giving was itself a complete act and they have now achieved full repentance. The half-shekel reminded them that the remainder of their ‘giving’ was on a very personal level, within the heart and soul of each individual.

When G-d originally commanded Moshe to instruct the Jews to contribute the half-Shekel, Moshe wondered why they were not expected to give a complete Shekel. G-d showed Moshe a coin of fire to symbolize that indeed each Jew was expected to give a complete Shekel. However the second half of the coin had to emanate from the internal flames of passion within one’s heart.

With this in mind the verse is not redundant at all. When the verse repeats that the amount to be given is a half-Shekel, it is referring to the second half - the spiritual/emotional component, of the Shekel. “This shall they give – everyone who passes through the census- a half-Shekel of the sacred Shekel”. If one will wonder about the second half of the coin, the verse continues, “half a Shekel as a portion to Hashem”, the other half remains clandestine and is only realized by G-d and the person himself.

In our time, we remain in exile and do not have the merit to fulfill this obligation to contribute a half-Shekel to the Temple treasury. Still, we have the ability to contribute the second and more vital half of the Shekel.

Like so many components of Judaism, the physical action of performing the mitzvah also helps us achieve a spiritually emotional ascension, as it were. Each mitzvah in its own unique manner guides us and helps us feel a certain level of connection with our Creator, as it were. The universal goal of all of the mitzvos and Torah observance, is for one to always feel loved in the eyes of G-d.

The introduction for the months of joy and redemption, Adar and Nissan, is with the reading of the giving of the half-Shekel.

It is not merely the symbolisms, rituals, and customs which we must be vigilant to adhere to, but also the internal message and spiritual potential that these mitzvos provide.

“This shall they give”

“Half a Shekel as a portion to Hashem”

1 (It seems that even historically this was a busy season for accountants and tax collectors…)
2 Parshas Ki Sisa, Shemos 30:13-15
3 Devorim 25:3
4 Makkos 22a
5 Harav Asher Katz – the Viener Rebbe shlit’a
6 beginning of Parshas Kedoshim
7 from the bowl



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim-Shekalim

24 Shevat 5772/February 17, 2012

“Did you hear what happened to my neighbors?” “No I didn’t hear anything. What happened?” “She wasn’t feeling well and her doctor told her she needed a certain medicine. After she began taking the medicine and began having severe headaches and seizures the doctor realized he put her on the wrong medicine.” “Did she sue? And is she feeling better?”

In America it seems the first question is always ‘did they sue?’

But here’s the fascinating truth. The risk of being sued for malpractice has very little to do with how many mistakes a doctor makes. Analysis of malpractice lawsuits shows that there are highly skilled doctors who are sued numerous times, and there are low profile doctors who make more mistakes and are never sued. In addition, most people who suffer injury due to shoddy medical care never sue at all.

Dr. Eric Campbell of Harvard Medical School recently conducted a survey of 1900 doctors and discovered that 20 % of doctors did not fully disclose a mistake to a patient, because they were afraid of being sued.

In his bestseller Blink, Malcom Gladwell notes that the reality is that patients who sue due so not only because of shoddy medical care, but also because they feel they were not sufficiently treated personally and courteously by the doctor. Patients don’t sue doctors they like. On average, surgeons who had never been sued spent more than three minutes longer with each patient than those doctors who had been sued did.

This concept rings true in the corporate world too. There is a definite bias towards employees who are more personable, friendly, and pleasant to be around. If a manager has to choose between two prospective employees, one of whom is slightly more experienced while the other is more likable and sociable, chances are the latter will land the job.

This all points to the old truism that we like being around people who make us feel good, and we don’t like being around people who make us feel uncomfortable.

When I discuss the concept of friendship with the fourth graders in Bais Hachinuch I note that a true friend is someone who – when you’re with him – makes you feel good about yourself!

The good news is that people are always able to improve socially if they are so inclined. Doctors may not need to have legible signatures, but there is definitely something to be said about his/her bedside manner.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




The well-known entertainer Jimmy Durante, was once asked to participate in a show for World War II veterans. He agreed to do it but, because his schedule was very busy, he mentioned that he could only spare a few minutes to perform a brief comical monologue.

When he got on stage however, the performance dragged on much longer than had been planned. His monologue continued for fifteen minutes, then twenty minutes, and then a half hour. The crowd was enthralled as was reflected by their rousing applause. Finally, he took his final bow and exited the stage.

When he walked backstage, one of the producers asked him what happened, “Mr. Durante, I thought you only had a few minutes to spare?” Durante replied, “The truth is I did not really have the time, but when I got out there I felt I had to stay longer. Come with me and I’ll show you why.” Jimmy took the producer to the edge of the stage and told him to peer into the front row of the audience. Two veterans were sitting there, each of whom had lost an arm in combat; one had lost his right arm and one had lost his left arm. Every time the crowd applauded the two soldiers did so as well…together! “When I saw that”, concluded Jimmy, “I felt compelled to entertain these great men a little bit longer.”

(19:1-2) “In the third month after the Children of Israel left Egypt, on this day they arrived at the desert of Sinai. And they traveled from Rephidim and they came to the desert of Sinai and they camped in the desert, and Israel camped there opposite the mountain.”

Prima Facie, the verses seem redundant. Why does the Torah have to mention that they came to Sinai and then repeat that they came from Rephidim to Sinai? Also, there seems to be a few discrepancies between the way the Torah introduces the new encampment and how it refers to it again in the same verse. The verse begins by saying and they camped (vayachanu), but continues by saying, and he (Yisroel) camped (vayichan)? Also, the verse begins by stating that they arrived at the ‘desert of Sinai’ but then says that ‘they camped in ‘the’ desert’? Also, the Torah initially refers to the mountain as ‘Sinai’ but then refers to it anonymously, simply stating that “they camped opposite ‘the’ mountain”?

Kli Yakar explains that the Torah is alluding to the fact that Klal Yisroel was not worthy to receive the Torah until they were unified. Were they to accept the Torah in a state of discord and disunity, everyone would have a different interpretation of what was taught and they would never be able to reconcile their views.

The verse begins by mentioning that they arrived at Sinai in the third month, because the zodiac symbol of the third month (Sivan) is twins. To accept the Torah there had to be a feeling of unity, despite their differences.

The Torah relates that they departed from Rephidim because the name Rephidim is similar to the word ‘Pirud’ separateness. To receive the Torah they had to travel away from Rephidim by overcoming that separateness.

Kli Yakar continues that at the root of all feuds are fragile egos and the drive for self-aggrandizement. When Klal Yisroel saw that Sinai was a ‘low mountain’ it symbolized to them that - despite their individual greatness - they had to be humble. They had to put aside their own selfish motives and pursuits to become a cohesive people. That humility enabled them to love and respect each other.

The verse begins by referring to ‘their’ camping at the foot of the mountain because when they first arrived at the mountain they were still divided. This is also why the verse reiterates that they camped in the desert. A desert is a barren wasteland which cannot sustain life. At that point, Klal Yisroel was as of yet not ready to receive the Torah and therefore they were analogous to a spiritual wasteland. The verse concludes, ‘Yisroel camped there opposite the mountain’ to show that after they peered at the mountain they internalized its symbolic message of humility. Only then were then ready to receive the Torah.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Halberstam zt’l1 comments that the exodus from Egypt only transpired because the Jews were able to reach an elevated level of unity. At the beginning of Chumash Shemos, Rashi2 explains that when the Jew that Moshe saved from the Egyptian taskmaster reported what he did to the Egyptian authorities, Moshe declared that he then understood why the Jews were being subjected to such unbearable servitude. It was because they quarreled amongst themselves. In fact, the reason the Jews originally descended to Egypt was a direct result of the strife and enmity between Yosef and the tribes.

To rectify this glaring deficiency, just prior to the exodus, when Moshe relayed G-d’s commandment that the Jews sacrifice the Paschal lamb and to eat it with matzah and marror, they were commanded to do so with their neighbors. The Paschal lamb could not be eaten in isolation, rather families had to join together in harmonious joy and gratitude for the past miracles and for the imminent redemption.

The Medrash relates that at first when the Jews arrived at the banks of the raging Sea of the Reeds with the entire Egyptian infantry right behind them, the sea refused to split. On the verse in Tehillim, “The sea saw and it fled”, the Medrash comments, “What did the sea see? It saw the coffin of Yosef.”

The Klausenberger Rebbe explained that when the sea saw that all of the tribes were carrying the bones of Yosef together, it symbolized that they had transcended the discord which had caused the exile. Therefore the sea split for them.

After emerging safely from the Sea and witnessing G-d’s candid revelation, they sang together. Still-in-all, it was not until they arrived at Sinai and internalized the message of the mountain itself that they achieved complete oneness. In the timeless words of Rashi, they became “like one man with one heart.” That was when they were worthy to receive the Torah.

This process repeated itself more than a millennia later after the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash when the Jews were settled in Babylonia and Persia. The Medrash3 explains that the heinous decrees of Haman were only able to be passed because of the discord that was present among the Jews at that time. If Haman thought that the Jews were unified, he never would have even attempted to destroy them. Subsequently, their salvation was only possible because they unified and heeded the call of their leaders, Mordechai and Esther.

Thus, included in the great holidays of Purim and Pesach is the celebration of great brotherhood which was present and, in fact, enabled the miracles and the salvation to transpire.

This is in contrast to the tragic day of Tisha B’av which commemorates the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. The oft-quoted Gemara4 relates that the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of abounding baseless hatred among the Jews at that time. The Chofetz Chaim writes that the Bais Hamikdash has not been rebuilt and the final redemption has not arrived because we have yet to rectify this tragic sin. It is in our hands to bring the redemption closer.

Howard Schultz is the chairman and chief global strategist of Starbucks. A number of years ago, Mr. Schultz received the Columbia Business School's Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics. The following article is excerpted from his acceptance speech. It was originally published in Hermes magazine, the magazine of Columbia Business School, Spring 2001. The article is entitled, “A blanket of trust”:

“Think about all our experiences every day. How often does anybody honor us as a consumer? Rarely. But when it does happen, the power of the human spirit really does come through. At the end of the day, when business is really good, it's not about building a brand or making money. That's a means to an end. It's about honoring the human spirit, honoring the people who work in the business and honoring the customer.

“When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there. I had never heard of him and didn't know anything about him. We went into his study and waited ten to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.

“What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson's disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn't want to embarrass him.

“We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: "Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now." Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, "I have only a few minutes for you because I know you're all busy American businessmen." You know, just a little dig there.

“Then he asked, "Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?" He called on one guy, who didn't know what to do-it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, "We will never, ever forget?" And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away-you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: "We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander."

“The rabbi said, "You guys just don't get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.

"As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.

"After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

"As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, 'Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'"

“And Rabbi Finkel says, "It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others."

Your browser may not support display of this image. “And with that, he stood up and said, "Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people."”

“On this day they arrived at Sinai”

“Like one man with one heart!”

1 Shefa Chaim
2 Shemos 2:14
3 Tanchuma, Netzovim 1
4 Yoma 9b


Your browser may not support display of this image.


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro

17 Shevat 5772/February 10, 2012

Man's marimba iPhone ring stops Mahler symphony dead

“Do you ever forget to turn your cell phone off when you go to the movies or to a play? Someone did just that on Tuesday night, January 10, 2012, causing the New York Philharmonic conductor to put down his baton and stop the orchestra.

“Just as conductor Alan Gilbert was leading the orchestra through the final movement of Mahler's 9th, the culmination of the 82 minute long symphony, an audience member's cell phone rang.

"It was more than annoying. It was completely destructive. There was no way the music could go on," said Gilbert. "And I knew it was going to continue, because I have the same ring tone. I use the same tone for my alarm when I wake up in the morning.'

“It was identified as the Marimba ring tone, right in the front row. The maestro did something he has never done in his entire career. He put down his baton and stopped the show.

    In the ensuing pause, some in the audience reportedly called for blood, shouting: "Kick him out!" and "$1,000 fine!"

“Gilbert quietly employed shame until the offender confirmed that the phone was off.

"It's shocking when you do that, because you just don't expect the natural flow of the music to be interrupted, so I said, "I know it's embarrassing to turn it off. You're going to have to admit that it's your phone. Just do it so we can get back to the music.'"

"I think that people need to take that extra second, third look at their phone, because it can be incredibly disruptive, especially like Mahler," said one patron.

“Gilbert received a standing ovation following the performance.

“This was the first time Gilbert has stopped the orchestra for a violation of the "cell-phones off" rule, a media contact at the symphony said, but at least the second time that it has happened in the symphony’s history.”

Our Sages view davening as a symphony of celestial music. After reciting the Pesukei D’zimrah – Verses of Song in which we describe the mellifluous songs that the world sings by its very existence, as well as the melodious songs which flow from our soul, we continue by describing the songs of the myriads of angels before the Throne of Glory. Following that we recite the Shemoneh Esrei, our own private song of praise, supplication, and gratitude to our Creator.

There is no greater song than tefillah. If a ringing cell-phone was enough to cause the conductor to pull the brake on an entire symphony, what about a ringing cell-phone in the middle of davening?

To add, what would have happened if the fellow at the philharmonic would have answered his phone and made some grunting noises to show that he couldn’t talk at that moment? What about if he would’ve answered and replied in a rude undertone for a minute before hanging up?

Mahler’s 9th couldn’t handle the obnoxious interruption, should our 3 prayers each day be any less?

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch





Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l, the Maggid of Yerushalayim, related the story about Moshe, a young ba’al teshuvah attending a yeshiva in B’nei Brak, who was about to make a siyum on a masechta1 for the first time. Although Moshe’s parents were completely secular, he had made the spiritual journey towards a Torah life. As he sat surrounded by his Rabbeim and friends a feeling of joy permeated the air.

The only exception was Moshe’s father, who sat dolefully watching the events with apparent chagrin. Truthfully that was the last place he wanted to be. He had only come because Moshe had begged him profusely.

Each Rebbe spoke of the great strides Moshe had made since he had joined the Yeshiva. When Moshe himself spoke, copious tears flowed down his face as he expressed his gratitude to his friends, Rabbeim and most importantly to G-d. As he spoke, Moshe stole a quick glance at his father who seemed perturbed.

Just before it was time to bentch, Moshe’s father stood up and asked if he could say a few words. The crowd looked at the man donned in shorts and a cap with respectful but curious silence:

“I have been watching this event for the past two hours and I did not think I would enjoy it at all. In fact I was hesitant to come at all. But now that I came, I am happy I did. I’ll explain why by sharing a story with you:

“I come from Russia. Although I was completely assimilated Jew, the Russian authorities hated me all the same. To them, a Jew is a Jew. They accused me of disloyalty to Communism and they deported me to a slave labor camp in Siberia. For a year I worked alongside another inmate. He was as afraid to talk to me as I was afraid to talk to him, and for the entire year we never uttered one word to each other. We froze together, worked together, and starved together, but we never spoke.

“At the end of the year, I was granted my release. I felt that I should at least say goodbye to my silent companion. When I did, he told me that he wanted to tell me a story. I never understood the story - perhaps he was afraid to explain it. But tonight I think I finally comprehend its message.

“There once was a beautiful apple orchard. The trees in the orchard grew beautifully and the apples were as delicious as they were lustrous. Each year the crop that grew was even tastier and more beautiful than the previous year.

“One summer day, one of the gardeners mentioned to another that he had a novel idea. “The roots of the trees are filthy and unsightly and yet they produce such beautiful apples. If we would uproot one of the trees and turn it over so that the beautiful part of the tree was in the ground, imagine how much more magnificent the orchard would look.” The second gardener agreed and they uprooted a few trees and turned them upside down.

Soon the roots were skyward, while the beautiful leaves and branches were embedded in the ground. To their chagrin, nothing grew. Convinced of the veracity of their logic, they tried again with a few more trees. When that failed, they tried with even more trees, until the entire orchard looked horrible. Worse yet, no apples grew. Within a short time there was nothing left of the magnificent orchard that had been there, aside for one solitary apple that remained from the previous crop. Somehow, the seed from that apple was planted. The next year a sapling grew, and from that sapling the orchard began to grow anew.

“That was the end of the story and I never saw the man again. He remained behind and I left to freedom.

“I never knew what he meant by that story, but tonight I think I finally understand. My generation had great ideas. We were going to overturn all of the ideals of our predecessors. We had new modern ideas that would guide the lives of man and the course of civilization. We contemplated “isms” that would create new governments and produce a better future. But it all failed abysmally. Every one of those new ideas produced disastrous and calamitous results. Yet one apple remained and that one apple contains the seed from which will emanate the hope of the future.”

The crowd sat spellbound as they listened to Moshe’s father’s words. He paused as he tried not to lose his composure. He looked at his son and with a quivering voice choked with emotion he said, “My son, you are the future! I am proud of you.” With that, he embraced his son and wept.

In Parshas Shoftim (Devorim 20:19) the Torah states, “כי האדם עץ השדה - For man is like the trees in the field.” Maharal2 explains that although man is in many ways analogous to a tree, he is actually ‘an upside down’ tree. While the main structure of a tree stands majestically above the ground, the roots of the tree are planted firmly in the ground. Through the process of osmosis, the tree sustains itself with the nourishment that emanates from the ground and travels through its roots. Man is just the opposite. While man lives on earth and nourishes his physical body from the physical earth, his real inner being is his soul, which is rooted in the heavens.

The Gemara3 relates that Rav Yosef the son of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi fell ill and was at the brink of death before he was healed. When Rav Yosef regained consciousness his father asked him what he had seen in the upper worlds while he had been comatose. Rav Yosef replied, “I saw an upside-down world. Those who were on top here are on the bottom there; and those who are regarded as lowly here, are exalted in heaven.” Upon hearing his son’s remarks, Rabbi Yehoshua replied, “My son, you have seen the true world.”

Perhaps this too is a reference to the idea of the Maharal that the tree’s vibrancy is rooted in the earth while man’s vibrancy is rooted in the heavens. A spiritually connected man is upside down from what grows in this world.

Rabbi Yosef Leib Nenedik zt’l hy’d4 explains that there are two forces that dominate a person’s psyche - his heart and his mind. These forces are analogous to a government comprised of two different branches, with all political decisions requiring the input and consent of both branches. Both branches will constantly be vying for control and influence. On occasion, one branch will convince the other that its opinion is correct and a ruling will be made, or vice-versa. Very often however, the two branches are at odds and remain at different ends of the political spectrum. In such instances, until the standoff is somehow resolved, no government decisions can be rendered and everything remains status quo.

In a similar vein, within the psyche of man, a person’s logic and reasoning are constantly struggling with his emotions for control over his actions. If one’s conviction is that he must ‘follow his heart’ his emotions will dictate his actions, whereas if common sense is more compelling, logic will dictate his actions. If a person is indecisive he will end up doing nothing.

As the ten plagues were occurring, Pharaoh had this inner recurring struggle. Logic and reasoning argued that he should allow the Jews to leave, but emotionally he remained obstinate and inflexible. His emotional stubbornness was the catalyst of the cycle of empty threats and neglected promises, until the final plague when Pharaoh’s will was broken and he implored them to leave.

At that point, Pharaoh was thoroughly convinced of G-d’s Might and Omnipotence. Still-in-all, in his heart he wanted to pursue and destroy them. He restrained himself only because he knew that the pursuit would bear painful consequences for him and his army. Therefore, Pharaoh ended up doing nothing. But when Pharaoh was informed that the Jews seemed to be wandering aimlessly in the desert and were traveling backwards, he was convinced of their vulnerability. At that point, emotion overwhelmed logic and he geared up for the pursuit which ultimately landed the Egyptians at the bottom of the sea.

Rabbi Nenedik explains that this is an important lesson. One must always strive to ensure that his actions are guided by logic and straightforward thinking, that he is not overcome by emotions which blind him and lead him down a slippery slope.

He explains that this is a fundamental difference between the righteous and the wicked. In reference to the wicked Haman the verse5 states, “Vayomer Haman b’libo- Haman said within his heart.” In regard to the righteous Chanah however, the verse states, “v’Chanha hee midaberes el libah- And Chanah spoke to her heart.” Although Chanah’s emotions played a significant role in her actions, they did not dictate her behavior. Rather, she “spoke to her heart”, i.e. she did not lose herself to the tempest of emotions. Haman on the other hand, was completely dominated by his heart and therefore he was not vigilant enough with his words and decisions.

Popular culture and society seems to be lost in the pursuit of irrational emotional bliss. The popular creed is that one should always ‘follow his heart’. The relentless pursuit of hedonism, glamour, fame, and “love” has so inundated our culture that religion, family, and values play second-fiddle to them. In fact, our culture’s definition of love has little - if no - connection with the true meaning of love. Many of our culture’s heroes and role models are crass, uneducated, and undignified people who live immoral valueless lives. They are immortalized because they have the ability to entertain us and our culture will play any price for entertainment. Ours is truly an inverted world.

The truth is that emotions play a vital and potentially positive role in one’s behavior. One is only passionate and emotional about things which are precious and dear to him. Is there any Jewish parent who does not want to inculcate within their child a passionate and emotional connection to Torah, Shabbos, and G-d?!

Still-in-all, before one develops an emotional connection with something he must be sure that it is something worth being emotional about. We understand the value and the importance of Torah and Judaism and therefore we know logically that it is something we want to be emotional about. Tragically, our culture is passionate about many things that are transient and futile. Man is an upside-down tree in the sense that although he lives in this world, his nurturance comes from the world of truth above.

Chamisha Asar B’Shvat6 is an esoteric and mystical holiday, whose true depth is shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, the day contains special meaning for Klal Yisroel and is considered a minor holiday.

Many commentators point to the aforementioned pasuk, “Ki ha’adam aitz hasadeh” in explaining our connection to Chamisha Asar B’shvat, the “New Year” for trees. However, the Maharal points out that the analogy of man and trees is not perfect for they are nurtured from opposite extremes. It would seem that the reason our society lacks moral and ethical values, is because they do not pay heed to this fundamental idea of the Maharal. They indeed view man as being exactly the same as a tree who seeks to ‘nourish’ himself from all that the physical earth has to offer.

Pharaoh destroyed his monarchy and his people because he allowed his heart to dominate him. The commentators question how G-d could harden Pharaoh’s heart after each plague. Doesn’t every person have free choice? Perhaps Pharaoh’s free choice was not really taken away at all. The Torah never says that Pharaoh was forced into any decisions, only that G-d hardened his heart. It was Pharaoh’s own deficiency that he allowed his heart to control him and dictate his decisions which caused his downfall.

Chamisha Asar B’shvat is always in close proximity to the reading of Parshas Beshalach, the Shabbos known as Shabbos Shira- the Shabbos of Song7. It is only when one truly feels deep emotional bliss that he can elevate himself to sing. Klal Yisroel had witnessed the revelation of G-d’s Might and they KNEW that His Word was true. Once they ‘recognized G-d’, they were able to develop an emotional connection with Him which elevated them to sing a song of blissful joy.

“For man is like…. An upside down tree”

“My son, you have seen the real world.”

1 completing a tractate of Talmud
2 Netzach Yisroel chapter 7
3 Pesachim 50a
4 Mashgiach of the Yeshiva of Kletzk
5 Esther 6:6
6 the fifteenth day of Shevat (Tu B’shvat)
7 referring to the song that Klal Yisroel sang on the banks of the Sea of Reeds



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach- Shabbos Shirah

10 Shevat 5772/Febuary 3, 2012

A number of years ago I was in Eretz Yisroel staying at the home of cousins for a week during this time of year. One Sunday evening my host invited me to join him for a Super Bowl party at the home of one of his neighbors. His wife explained that the party began at about 1 a.m. (remember there is a seven hour time difference). Her husband and his friends get together for a late night rendezvous, replete with hot dogs, hoagies, tons of chips and soda. They eat, cheer, and yelp until the wee hours of the morning. Then they spend the next day at work complaining that they’re tired and don’t feel well. I politely declined.

The Super Bowl is not only an American event, but it seems to capture the attention of millions of viewers the world over. Super Bowl XLV in 2011 set an all-time record with 111 million viewers (I counted).

The Super Bowl is not only about the game itself, but also all the hype surrounding it. A big component of that hype involves the commercials aired during the game. An average commercial, consisting of 30 seconds of air time during the Super Bowl, costs 3.5 million dollars.

Creating a commercial is serious business. Companies that purchase commercials do their utmost to get the most bang for their buck, trying to ensure that their product will resonate with the viewer long after the program ends. There is a tremendous amount of psychology employed in advertising to figure out how to create an impression in the mind of the viewer in so short a time. Also, at the present time commercials are louder than the program itself in order to capture the viewer’s attention. Just a few weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed regulations that will go into effect in a few months requiring broadcasting stations to maintain constant volumes even during commercials.

The concept of commercials is poignantly analogous to our own lives. As the world moves more rapidly pulling us in so many directions, there seem to be more and more ‘commercials’ in our lives that detract us from our ‘main program’. The plethora of abounding distractions causes us to lose sight of our real goals and aspirations in life. Those distracting commercials are very glamorous, exciting, and alluring, and it is exceedingly difficult to ‘stick to the program’. They detract us from our spouses, children, prayers, mitzvos, Torah study, and sometimes cause us to unwittingly compromise on our values.

A Rebbe of mine once quipped that an American student conceptualizes purgatory as being forced to watch endless commercials, and never getting back to the main program. We can be sure that purgatory is far different, but unfortunately sometimes we live our lives in that manner – endless commercials, never getting back to the main program.

It is no simple feat to tune out when commercials of life appear with all of their noise and color. One must have tremendous self-control and focus wherever they go and do. But such people are great, in fact, they are giants!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum