Thursday, April 26, 2012


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


          At a gathering for alumni of Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim a few years ago, Rabbi Yisroel Bodenheim shlit’a, one of the Yeshiva’s esteemed Rabbeim, related the following story:
“This story happened over sixty years ago. There was a student in the Yeshiva who was a survivor of the Concentration Camps and the Holocaust. One night he had to take care of something important and he arrived at the Dining Room for supper a half-hour late. When he walked in, he immediately noticed that the tables were bare with only crumbs remaining in the empty bread baskets. To his chagrin, there was no cheese, eggs, or even vegetables for him to eat either.
He went over to one of the other students and asked him what happened to all the food; usually there would at least be some leftovers? The other student replied, “Oh, you missed some supper tonight!” He explained that although normally the Yeshiva provided the students with ‘black bread’ which was of relatively inferior quality and not as tasty, that afternoon the bakery ran out of the cheaper bread and the Yeshiva had to purchase the far more delectable ‘white bread’ for the students. To add to the feast, the cook decided to provide the boys with halavah to eat with the bread. “White bread with halavah! We practically had a party for supper. That’s why there’s not a morsel left over. It was consumed in record time.”
          The student was now extremely annoyed. Not only did he miss the ‘supper of the year’ but he was also still famished and there was nothing for him to eat. He rummaged through the cabinets and shelves until he found three hard stale pieces of bread. He wasn’t too pleased with his find but, realizing it was all he was getting for supper, he went to wash his hands. He sat down to eat his stale bread with a cup of tea, feeling very upset. As he chewed on the hard bread he began to contemplate, “Who am I angry at? I can’t be angry at the boys in Yeshiva or the baker; they aren’t expected to know to save food for me. Am I angry at myself? It wasn’t my fault that I came late either. I had something important to take care of.” The student suddenly realized, “Oiy! Woe is to me! I can only be angry at G-d! Two years ago while lying in my bunker in the Concentration Camp, I dreamed of eating three pieces of stale bread with tea and sugar; it would have been a delicacy of the greatest proportions. Now that G-d has provided me with so much more, the one night when I have to eat stale bread should I have complaints against him?!”
          The student later related that after that revelation he ate the rest of the bread with tremendous happiness. When he finished, he bentsched[1] with more intense concentration and appreciation than he ever had before in his life.
          Rabbi Bodenehim pointed out that that student fulfilled the timeless words of the Chovas Halvovos who explains that the reason why we lack appreciation to G-d and do not thank and bless Him properly is because we are either too used to the good He provides us with, or because we are frustrated since we want more than what we have[2]. “If a person wants white bread, then even though he has fresh black bread he feels like he has nothing! However if a person doesn’t desire more than what he has he will appreciate whatever he is graced with.”
          Rabbi Bodenheim concluded, “I have tried many times to emulate that occurrence. It is very difficult. Still, the lesson of appreciation that that student taught me has made a deep impression on me.”    

          Parshas Tazria commences with a discussion of the post-partum purification process of a new mother. As soon as a woman gives birth, she becomes ritually impure for a specific amount of time. The purification process is completed when she has waited the designated time and has offered a special offering in the Bais Hamikdash. 
          (12:6) “Upon the completion of the days of her purity for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a sheep within its first year for an elevation-offering and a young dove or turtle-dove for a sin-offering to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the Kohein.”  
The Birchas Ish[3] notes that the ‘tropp’[4] of the words, “for a son or for a daughter” is ‘zarka munach segol’ with the segol on the words, “for a daughter”. He explains that there is an important message here. Very often expectant parents are somewhat hopeful that their newborn will be a boy, for various reasons[5]. When one is blessed with a girl, despite the joy of the birth, there is often a tinge of disillusionment as well. It is for this reason that the tropp is a ‘segol’ for the word segol comes from the root-word segulah, a treasure[6].
Rabbi Shain explains that one must contemplate in his heart the pain and anguish he would have felt if, Heaven forbid, his daughter was born ill or diseased. How much money and effort would he be willing to expend to seek a cure for her! How much time would he spend searching for advice and traveling to specialists to ensure the best care for his precious yet feeble daughter! How many nights would he be forced to sleep away from home in hospitals or in homes of gracious hosts because of necessary travels and unaccommodating doctor appointments!
Imagine too if after many months of aggravation G-d blessed their efforts and the child recovered and became healthy. We can hardly imagine their feelings of thanksgiving and euphoric gratitude to G-d.
Bearing this in mind, if G-d endowed a family with a healthy vibrant girl at birth and spared them the travails and emotional angst of caring for a sick baby, they should recognize the blessing they have been granted. When they see that their child has every limb intact and all functioning properly their hearts should swell with sheer joy, thanking G-d for His great kindness, and the gift that He has blessed them with.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l lived his life with incredible appreciation for the miracles of nature and life. He often spoke about our obligation to recognize the supernatural miracles involved in the most commonplace nuances of our daily functioning.
During one of his lectures, Rabbi Miller quoted the Mishnah[7] which states that the world was created with ten ‘utterances’ from G-d, as it were. The Gemara[8] asks that in the Torah’s description of Creation it only mentions nine utterances from G-d[9]? The Gemarah answers that the first verse of the Torah, “In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth” was the first utterance of G-d. It differs only because the Torah doesn’t record it as a direct command like the other utterances.
The actual creation ex nihilo was the most remarkable of all. If so, why indeed did the Torah not write, “Vayomer Hashem yehi olam- And G-d said let there be a world”? What is the reason for the Torah’s unique recording of the first utterance?
Rabbi Miller explained that G-d wanted the command, “Let there be light” to be the first statement in the Torah. Therefore, G-d concealed the first utterance so that “Let there be light” would appear to be first. He explains, “The entire world is worthless unless you look at it and see it… Light conveys objects to our eyes; it enables us to see, and seeing is so very important to this world, because we must appreciate the great gift.
“Our function in this world is to look. We have to look at the sky, at the earth, at the trees, at ourselves… and be surprised at this miracle. It is only by seeing that a person can fulfill his obligation, which is to thank G-d for this world. Don’t think this obligation is a characteristic of the overly-pious; don’t think it’s for the very righteous. Every human in this world is obliged to look at this world and thank the Creator.” 

There is undoubtedly much pain and suffering in our world. However, that does not detract from the abounding beauty and blessing inherent in creation and in our own lives.
It’s not what we have but how much we appreciate it! Better is one who has less but appreciated more than one who has more but appreciates less.

“For a son or for a daughter”
“Let there be light!”

[1] recited Grace after Meals
[2] See Hakdamah to Sha’ar Habechinah
[3] Rabbi Avrohom Shain shlita
[4] cantellation marks for reading the Torah
[5] e.g. family name, customs, etc.
[6] Klal Yisroel is called ‘Am Segulah- the treasured nation’
[7] Avos 5:1)
[8] Rosh Hashanah 32b
[9] “And G-d said ‘let there be…’”

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis zt’l, Rav of the Chareidi community in Yerushalayim, was known as a great Torah scholar who utilized his every available moment to study Torah. Every year, he would gather a minyan to celebrate his annual siyum (completion) of the Talmud.

One afternoon, a few weeks after he made his yearly siyum, Rabbi Bengis again gathered a minyan for another siyum on Shas. The assemblage was surprised; even an extraordinary scholar like Rabbi Bengis couldn’t possibly have completed the entire Talmud in such a short amount of time.

Rabbi Bengis explained that this siyum was for the completion of a completely different cycle of learning.

“I am often invited to attend and participate in many joyous celebrations, such as circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, weddings and sheva berachos. Frequently there is a delay before the proceedings begin. Many years ago, I decided to dedicate those moments to a unique study of the Talmud. A few days ago, while attending such an event, I completed the entire Talmud. Therefore, I am celebrating today with a special siyum.”

“It was on the eighth day, Moshe called Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aharon, ‘take for yourself a calf as a sin-offering and an unblemished ram as an elevation-offering and offer them before G-d.’” (Vayikra 9:1-2)

The Mishkan was finally ready for its inauguration. Beginning with Moshe’s mass appeal for the necessary raw materials through the meticulous construction of the Mishkan, followed by seven days of preparation, the ‘eighth day’ was a long time in coming. Moshe conveyed to Aharon the unique korbanos that were to be offered in the initiation of the Service of the Mishkan.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l asked why Aharon was instructed to bring these offerings without prior preparation. The law is that both the Paschal lamb offered prior to Pesach as well as the daily tamid sacrifice offered twice daily, required four days of analysis and inspection to make sure the animal was fit to be offered on the altar. If so, why were the instructions for these offerings thrust on Aharon so suddenly, not allowing him to ensure that the animals were valid?

Rabbi Feinstein answers that it was to demonstrate the importance of beginning a new mitzvah as soon as one concludes the previous one. The eighth day marked the conclusion of the previous seven days which themselves were unique days of preparation and training for the Divine Service. As soon as that period was completed, the new mitzvos had to commence without any time lapse. This is such an integral idea that it was worth it for Aharon to lack the usual preparation time to demonstrate this idea.

Rabbi Feinstein concludes by writing that this is an important concept in regard to all spiritual endeavors and service to G-d. One should never think that when he concludes the performance of one mitzvah or good deed, he is entitled to a break or a vacation. One must immediately seek to begin a new mitzvah and continue his never-ending quest for spirituality.

This is the reason why our custom is that as soon as we conclude one section of Torah, we immediately begin the next one, to remind us that Torah study - as well as all aspects of a Jew’s spirituality - is constant and boundless.

At the conclusion of the Torah’s recording of the Shiras Hayam[1], the final verse states “כי בא סוס פרעה ברכבו ובפרשיו בים... - For the horse of Pharaoh, along with its rider and chariot, entered the sea and G-d turned upon them the waters of the sea; and B’nei Yisroel went on dry land into the sea.[2]

In the Torah the shirah is written in a unique structure, which is discernable even from afar. While the verses in the Torah are generally written in block form, the shirah is recorded with a definitive structure consisting of large even spaces in a pattern known as “areach al gabei livaynah- a half-brick on top of a complete brick”[3]. The aforementioned verse is the final verse written in this unique prose-like form which seems to indicate that it represents the conclusion of the shirah.

In our daily prayers however, it seems that the previous verse is the final verse of the shirah. The custom to repeat a verse symbolizes that that verse is the concluding verse[4]. During the morning prayers we repeat the preceding verse, “ה' ימלך לעולם ועד - G-d will rule for all of eternity[5]” which implies that it is the conclusion of the shirah?

In addition, the final verse, “כי בא סוס פרעה- For the horse of Pharaoh…” seems be a repetition of the opening words of the shirah, in which they made reference to the horses and chariots being cast into the sea. Why repeat it at the end?

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l[6] explained that although the shirah essentially indeed concludes with the verse, “ה' ימלך לעולם ועדanother verse was added in order to connect with the opening verse of the shirah. This is to symbolize that the shirah never really ends, because our obligation, passion, and excitement to express our gratitude and praise to G-d is limitless.

Maharal notes that anything that has a specific beginning and a defined conclusion lacks ‘shleimus’[7] In order for the exalted shiras hayam to have a status of shleimus it must transcend limits and boundaries. Thus, although the original words and concepts of the shirah conclude with the verse which depicts the eternity of G-d’s Monarchy, “ה' ימלך לעולם ועד”, the ‘structure’ of the shirah (i.e. as it is written in the Torah) concludes with the following verse, which returns to the opening of the shirah, symbolizing that the shirah has no beginning or end.

Although the holiday of Pesach has concluded and we no longer recite hallel each day, or observe the laws endemic to Pesach, our feelings of gratitude to G-d cannot fade. The shirah concludes with the ideas mentioned at the beginning to demonstrate that shirah never ends[8].

In fact, as long as one is alive and breathing, he has not completed his quest for growth and accomplishment. As long as he is part of the ‘circle of life’ he must seek to promote his ‘inner circle’ of spiritual growth and vitality.

Perhaps, this is part of the reason why there is a unique custom to bake and eat ‘schlissel challah’ during the Shabbos after Pesach[9]. Not only do we unlock blessings for physical well-being and sustenance, but our efforts during the holiday of Pesach grant us the ability to transcend blocked doorways of spiritual heights.

The gemara writes that sins create a barrier between us and G-d. With the opportunities afforded to us throughout Pesach via its many mitzvos and prayers, we have the key to dismantle those barriers.

That opportunity is in our hands. If we allow the holiday of Pesach to fade into oblivion, those keys become nothing more than digested Challah. But if Pesach is part of a circle of greatness and shirah to G-d, then we retain our possession of the keys which help us open spiritual doorways and reaccept the Torah anew on Shavuos.

“And it was on the eighth day”

“The horse and its chariot were cast into the sea”

[1] The song Klal Yisroel sang in exultation to G-d for splitting the sea and the other miracles that transpired at the Sea of the Reeds

[2] Shemos 15:19

[3] Gemarah Megillah 12b

[4] This is why we repeat the verse, “Kol Haneshamah tihallel Kah Hallelukah” during Pesukei D’zimrah, doing so demonstrates that we have reached the conclusion of the Psalms recited in Pesukei D’zimrah.

[5] Shemos 15:18

[6] Pachad Yitzchak, Pesach, Ma’amer 38

[7] Although shlemius is loosely translated as ‘completion’ it also connotes perfection and eternity

[8] The Kotzker Rebbe explained that this is why there is a prevalent custom to recite Adon Olam after davening on Shabbos and Yom Tov - to demonstrate that although we have completed the text of davening we feel that we have hardly fulfilled our obligation to praise G-d; it is as if we are still at the beginning reciting Adon Olam.

[9] Schlissel means a ‘key’ and there is a prevalent custom on the Shabbos after Pesach to either bake a challah in the shape of a key, bake a challah with a real key wrapped up inside it, or shape seeds on top of the challah in the form of a key.

The accepted reason is that the Shabbos after Pesach is an opportune time for one to merit ‘unlocking’ blessings for sustenance and success.



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini – Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar

28 Nissan 5772/April 20, 2012

A few months ago, my father – who is the Administrator of the Friedwald Center for Rehab and Nursing, located about a five minute drive from our home - called me to tell me about an interesting experience he had. Earlier that day while making his daily rounds, which includes greeting patients and residents, he introduced himself to a new patient who had just been admitted.

My father asked the patient where he was from, and he replied that he lived in Hillcrest. When my father asked him which street, he insisted that it was a small street and my father never heard of it. But at my father’s prodding he said that he lived at 5 Landau Lane. My father smiled, “I believe you live next door to my children.” The patient looked up, surprised, “You mean you’re Ronnie and Kani’s dad?” (At least he remembered that our names rhyme…)

When I heard that my neighbor was there I bought a tray of candy and went to visit him. He didn’t look well at all but he was very appreciative and touched by my visit.

The following Shabbos morning when we returned home from shul there was a small package at our door – a card with a bow taped to a bottle of Manischewitz wine, a sentiment of gratitude from our neighbors.

Although they forgot the matzah balls and the gefilte fish, when I saw the bottle of Manischewitz wine I felt very ‘Jewish. I told Chani that after Shabbos we should hold up the bottle and see if we can hear a distant hum of Hava Nageela.

I recently heard a fascinating statistic: Over 70 % of American Jews fast on Yom Kippur. Considering how assimilated American Jewry is that is pleasantly surprising. What was even more astounding is that 92% of American Jews state that they have some sort of Seder on the first night of Pesach. Perhaps many of those sedarim are replete with chometz and non-kosher food, but at least they are sitting at a Seder. Obviously the holiday of Pesach and the symbolism of the Seder tugs at the heartstrings of even distant Jews.

Pesach is not merely a week-long celebration, and the Seder is not merely for 1-2 nights. Rather they are experiences which help define a Jew’s observance and what being a Jew means to him/her.

To some Judaism is a culinary experience. The tantalizing aromas, the glimmer of the table, the amicable conversations and family time, the Maxwell House haggadah, and of course the symbolic foods – matzah, chasroses, (Manischewitz) wine, chicken soup, and matzah balls, all create a nostalgic emotional holiday experience.

But if that’s all the holiday is it’s a tragic loss of a much deeper, enriching experience. Pesach represents internal freedom, the liberty to serve G-d and uphold the banner of Torah. We don’t merely ingest the symbolic foods, we internalize them as well.

Going through the motions and experiencing Pesach superficially is like leaving a bottle of wine in its pretty wrapping at the door. What a tragedy not to bring the bottle into the house, open it, and enjoy its contents.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

Ronnie and Kani

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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The Seder has an inextricable connection with questions. In fact, there are many unusual customs and rituals that we perform at the Seder solely so that the children will be motivated to ask. Some even have the custom to disseminate nuts to the children to play with and eat. Rambam writes that there is a custom to remove the Seder plate from the table during the recitation of the hagaadah. Thus, one can easily imagine the frustration of the Belzer Rebbe when, one year at the Seder, he could not motivate his son to ask any questions. After trying all sorts of methods, the Rebbe finally resorted to donning a tattered robe and a walking stick and pretending to be a wandering beggar leaving Egypt. When the child continued to watch in silence the Rebbe finally asked him, “Doesn’t something look strange? Don’t you want to ask me something?” The boy shook his head, “No Totti (Father), we were taught that we never question our father!”

Arguably, the highlight of the seder for children is their opportunity to recite the Mah Nishtanah, “Why is this night different from all other nights?[1]” The child then mentions four particular anomalies endemic to the seder: the obligation to eat matzah, the obligation to ear marror, our custom to dip twice before the meal[2], and the obligation for one to eat the matzaoh and drink the four cups of wine while reclining.

When the children finish asking the Mah Nishtanah, we continue by reciting the paragraph Avodim hayinu, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but Hashem our G-d took us out from there with a Strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm. Had G-d not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, then we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt…the more one increases his recounting of the exodus from Egypt, the more he is praiseworthy.”

Simply understood, Avodim Hayinu is the answer to the Mah Nishtanah. It is our attempt to explain why this night is indeed so unique and unusual. However, if that is true, our response seems to be remiss. In the Avodim Hayinu paragraph, we do not directly address any of the specific points that the child mentioned in Mah Nishtanah. We do not explain what our servitude has to do with matzah, marror, dipping, or reclining?

The Be’er Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Salant zt’l, explains that the Mah Nishtanah is not four separate questions but one general inquiry with four examples that help emphasize the main question.

It behooves us to understand why we invest so much energy trying to prod our children to ask. On Succos we sit in the succah and shake the Four Species, and Purim is a one day celebration fiasco in a most unique and unusual manner and yet we do not place strong emphasis on questions. Although we surely passionately explain the significance of each holiday and ensure that the children have some understanding of the uniqueness of the day, we do not make it our goal to try to get them to question our actions and customs. In fact, we want them to understand the essence of the holiday before it arrives. Furthermore, there are many mitzvos that we perform although we are not privy to understanding the reason why we are commanded to do them. We teach our children to perform those mitzvos anyway, simply because G-d has decreed that we do so.

Yet, on Seder night we seek to generate an atmosphere of befuddlement and eccentricity. What is the reason that we try to encourage questions?

The Be’er Yosef explains that essentially this is the child’s underlying question: “Why are you acting strangely just so that I should ask? Why are my questions tonight such an integral part of the seder?” He then proceeds to list four of the abnormalities of the evening to back up his point:

1. Normally when one bakes bread, he adds yeast or another leavening agent to stimulate the bread’s growth and to give it its characteristic texture. There were historically many times when leavening agents were hard to come by and people endured great difficulty trying to obtain them. So why tonight do we demand that none of these normally sought-after leavening agents be used and insist instead on flat, plain, almost tasteless matzah?

2. Salad is a normal staple of our diet and we carefully choose our vegetables to create the best salads. If so, why tonight do we look for bitter marror?

3. Although we often dip our foods in special dips, we never dip foods before the meal even begins. In fact, the whole point of a dip is to dip the food prior to eating the meal. Why tonight do we dip twice before the meal even commences?

4. There was a time when reclining symbolized royalty and aristocracy. In contemporary times however, reclining is uncomfortable and tedious. Even the wealthiest noblemen today do not recline while eating. Why is there an obligation to recline at the Seder even if one is impoverished or uncomfortable?

Thus the overriding question is: Why do we try to be different tonight?

The Be’er Yosef explains that the key to understanding the response of Avodim Hayinu lies in understanding the words, “And he took us out with a strong Hand.” What does it mean that G-d used ‘a strong Hand’ when taking us out of Egypt? For an Omnipotent G-d, splitting the sea is no different than making trees grow.. Why would the exodus require a ‘strong hand’, as if to say that it necessitated greater exertion and effort?

When G-d created the world, He created the laws of nature, wherein the world runs its course based on certain rules, ensuring a balance and homeostasis. The sun rises and sets each day, the ocean tides wax and wane, plants grow through photosynthesis, and human life thrives based on those natural rules. When G-d ‘interferes’ with the rules of nature that He Himself employed, He is breaching His own system, as it were. In that sense, it requires a ‘strong hand’, not because it is any more difficult for G-d, but because - as far as the world is concerned - G-d is overriding His own system.

As a general rule, G-d does not ‘change or bend the rules’. However, when His beloved nation is in need of salvation which requires miraculous intervention, G-d will indeed utilize a ‘mighty hand’ and breach the rule in order to save them.

Throughout the plagues that ravaged Egypt, G-d uninhibitedly employed such a ‘mighty hand’. Each plague candidly challenged the norms of nature, clearly demonstrating G-d’s Supreme Power. Water in a Jew’s cup changing into blood as it entered the mouth of an Egyptian, frogs jumping into ovens, wild beasts from around the world coming to Egypt although they were not physically adapted to Egypt’s climate, hailstones with water and fire combined etc., were all clearly abnormal events.

With this in mind, we can understand our response to the child’s inquiry of Mah Nishtanah. The child asks: “Why is this night different and why do we seek to emphasize its eccentricity?” Our unequivocal response is, “Because G-d took us out of Egypt with a Mighty Hand!”

In other words, G-d orchestrated the redemption by causing myriad abnormal and supernatural events to occur. In so doing, G-d demonstrated that the love He feels towards His nation was, and is, paramount to all of creation. Despite the fact that He Himself employed certain laws and forces of nature to control the world and despite the fact that as a matter of policy He does not alter those rules, when it came to saving His children - nature not withstanding – all rules and norms were subject to change.

In order for us to generate an appreciation of how G-d drastically altered the rules of normalcy on our behalf, to a certain extent we act strange and eccentric as well. Then, when our child asks why this night is so ‘purposely’ different, our response is because that is how G-d orchestrated the exodus.

The Torah mentions that the exodus was performed ‘with a strong hand’ numerous times[3]. It serves to remind us of G-d’s infinite love for us as His People. This is also why there is a mitzvah to remember the exodus every day of our lives[4]. The mitzvah is not merely to express appreciation to G-d for all the kindness He performed on our behalf when He redeemed our bodies and souls. If that was the purpose, a once-a-year mentioning would suffice. Rather, the purpose is also to infuse within ourselves and our children an appreciation of who we are, how G-d values us, and (therefore) our obligation to live up to our greatness in fulfilling G-d’s Will.

In other words, we indeed do not address the specific points that the child mentioned in Mah Nishtanah[5]. Rather, the paragraph Avodim Hayinu is addressing the more encompassing question of why on this night do we stress eccentricity.

Perhaps this is what we refer to in the later paragraph V’hee Sheamdah, “And it is what has stood by our forefathers and us; for in every generation they have stood up against us to destroy us… but the Holy One, Blessed is He, has saved us from their hand.” What is the ‘it’ that has stood up for us in our darkest moments? G-d’s commitment and love for us, and His readiness to alter all of creation and its rules to preserve us and ensure that we will endure.

At times, G-d has bent all the rules against us, utilizing the unabashed enmity of our enemies to remind us of who we are. The Nazi Holocaust was an example of how an evil man was granted almost supernatural ability to inflict the most horrific and heinous atrocities on an innocent people, while the world stood idly by. Despite the fact that how it could occur is beyond our puny comprehension, we are aware that it was G-d’s Will.

On the other hand, we have survived, persevered, and rebuilt from the ashes in a manner beyond belief and with resilience that belies human capacity. Torah Judaism is thriving in the Diaspora, with shuls and yeshivos growing and expanding constantly. Kiruv movements are experiencing uncanny success, and - despite its constant travails and vicissitudes - Eretz Yisroel is a haven for Torah learning and Torah life. All of that too, is a clear manifestation of G-d’s ‘strong hand’.

There is no question that we are still in exile and that we have a long way to go. But just as we have come this far through the grace of G-d’s “Mighty Hand” so will we merit the ultimate redemption when the world will once again recognize the “Mighty Hand” of G-d - this time eternally.

Perhaps even this year, we will merit the words we recite at the end of our recitation of Maggid, “And we will eat there from the Paschal Sacrifices and from the holiday sacrifices, whose blood will touch the corner of the altar, to fulfill Your Will”.

And he took us out with a strong hand”

“Like when I took you out of Egypt I will show you wonders”

[1] Some commentators understand this opening line to be a statement of wonderment rather than a question. In other words, it is a passionate observation, “How different is this night from all other nights!”

[2] the karpas vegetable in salt-water and the marror into charoses

[3] E.g. it is mentioned in all four of the parshios of tefillin, in the Ten Commandments in Parshas Vaeschnan

[4] and, as we know from the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah and Ben Zoma, every night of as well

[5] Some of those points, such as the matzah and marror, are addressed toward the end of the recitation of the haggadah. It is worthy to note that according to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurebach zt’l the leader of the Seder should himself, in his own words, explain the other two points- the reason why we dip twice and why we recline at the seder at some point during the Seder



Erev Shabbos Kodesh/Erev Pesach

14 Nissan 5772/April 7, 2012

This year I have the privilege to write a weekly column in Hamodia of brief thoughts based on the weekly parsha. Although it is a bit of a challenge to remain 3-4 weeks ahead - such as writing about Pesach the week before Purim - it has been a rewarding experience. The only real significant challenge I have had to contend with is the word-limit.

Readers of Stam Torah are aware that my writings are not exactly short. The length of Stam Torah can range from 1400 words to upwards of 2200 words. In my Hamodia column I am limited to absolutely no more than 800 words, including sources and my short bio. There are weeks when I have to painstakingly review my article a few times in order to minimize words to fit my quota. It is not infrequent for me to have 799 or even 800 words.

The experience has definitely helped me appreciate the value of every single word!

The Ben Ish Chai notes that the word ‘Pesachis a conjunction of the words Peh Sach – a soft tongue. One of the greatest challenges of the Egyptian exile was that it robbed the Jews of their ability to pray. They were unable to express their inner pain or pour out their hearts to G-d. The redemption granted them not only physical, spiritual, and psychological freedom, but also the ability to express their innermost feelings.

He adds that it is for that reason that we refer to the holiday as Pesach even though the Torah refers to it as Chag Hamatzos. All of the many mitzvos of Pesach have specific requirements, measurements, and limitations involved in their fulfillment. This includes matzaoh from which one must eat a certain amount and within a certain time-frame. The title Chag Hamatzos connotes the limitations involved in the matzah, while the name Pesach symbolizes the newfound unbridled freedom of expression which was granted to the nation at the time of the exodus.

One of the hallmarks of a Jew is his adeptness and adroitness with words. A Jew is a master of speech. He knows how to encourage others, how to give chizuk, how to pray, and how to express his deepest thoughts – in Torah and personal in articulate eloquence. As our patriarch Yitzchok said, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov”, the power of the mouth is the domain of the Jewish People.

That great ability is something we need to reclaim.

A recent study showed that the vast majority of teens admit that they would rather text their best friend then speak to them face to face. As people rely more heavily on gadgets to communicate, including using emoticons to express feelings, there is a diminishment in the ability to aptly express one’s inner feelings. Udies show that there are even disruptions in thought patterns in the brain.

Slavery rendered us speechless; redemption gave us back our speech.

Today we are again in danger of losing our speech. “The hands are the hands of Eisav” – when our speech comes from means that are in our hands we are in great peril of forfeiting our most potent tool.

“Whoever increases in telling over about the exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy.” On Seder night there is no word-limit. But its not enough to read the text. We have to relate and convey stories, beliefs, feelings, and values, and to do so we must have the words to express ourselves!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Chag Kasher V’samayach,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum