Thursday, May 17, 2012


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

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          In the back of his Haggadah, Maggid Mishnah, Rabbi Menashe Klein zt’l recounts some of his experiences during the Holocaust.
          He and his family arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the first day of Shavuos. Although they were not yet aware of their fate, they felt as if they had entered the gates of Purgatory. Menashe, his parents, his sister, and her six children were greeted by Nazi barks of “Schnell! Schnell!” They quickly formed two lines and stood before the heinous Angel of Death, Dr. Joseph Mengele. He stood at the head of the line emotionlessly announcing ‘rechts’ or ‘links’ (right or left), motioning with his finger toward body-breaking labor or immediate death in the gas chambers.
          Within a short time, Menashe was separated from his family. As he walked toward the labor camp he turned to gaze at his family one final time as they headed toward the crematorium. He contemplated to himself, “Today is Shavuos when our nation received the most precious gift from G-d. Today G-d is receiving a most precious gift in return. My family will not merit having Jewish burial. Much like Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon who died when a spiritual fire consumed them while they were performing the Divine Service in the Mishkan, they will ascend to heaven in a cloud of smoke, straight up to You, Hashem.”
          A short while later, Menashe was indoctrinated into Auschwitz when the numbers A8274 were branded into his arm. At a later point when he was transferred to Buchenwald, the numbers 121926 were branded into his arm. Menashe contemplated the hidden personal meaning of both sets of his numbers. He realized that if he added up the numbers of each set, both equaled 21 - the numerical value of one of G-d’s Divine names, “Ehekeh[1].
          Menashe reminded himself of this message every time he looked at the numbers on his arm throughout the war. “Ehekeh asher Ehekeh- I will be that which I will be”. No matter how bleak and ominous things seemed “I shall not fear evil because You are with me.”

          Parshas Bechukosai includes the “tochacha- rebuke” which includes all of the frightening retribution Klal Yisroel would suffer if they do not heed to Torah and mitzvos properly. Tragically, we have been witness to the veracity of every foreboding warning.
          In the middle of the tochacha, there is one verse which seems to be out of place. (26:42) “And I will remember My treaty with Yaakov, and I will remember My treaty with Yitzchok, and I will remember My treaty with Avrohom, and the Land I will remember.”
It seems that this verse is a call for consolation. G-d is stating that despite all that Klal Yisroel would suffer, He would recall the treaties He forged with the Patriarchs and ensure that the nation survive and endure.  After that verse however, the Torah adds a final verse of tochacha:, “And the land will forsake them…because My judgments they have repudiated and their souls have become repulsed by My laws.”
Following that final verse, the Torah guarantees the eternity of the Jews despite their tribulations and oppression. Based on the fact that the Torah places the verse which invokes the memory of His treaty with the forefathers before the conclusion of the tochacha that it is part and parcel of the tochacha[2]. How is this verse part of the curses of the tochacha? 
          At the conclusion of Parshas Emor, the Torah records the incident of the blasphemer. (24:10-11) “And there went out the son of a Jewish woman, and he was the son of an Egyptian man, and he quarreled in the camp…and he cursed the Name…”
Toras Kohanim questions the vernacular of the pasuk, “From where did he go out?” Torah Kohanim answers by quoting Rabbi Berachya who said, “He went out from the immediately preceding portion in the Torah.”
The blasphemer was disturbed by the previous verses which discussed the lechem hapanim[3]. The lechem hapanim were placed on the Shulchan at the onset of Shabbos and remained there until the following Shabbos, when they were replaced. The blasphemer was bothered by the fact that G-d was being “served” week-old bread. Shouldn’t the King be served fresh, warm bread, not bread that was out in the open for a whole week?
The Medrash states, “He had difficulty dealing with the concept of lechem hapanim, until he came to curse G-d.” What does the Medrash mean? 
Oznayim LaTorah[4] notes that had the blasphemer waited until the end of the week before ‘mouthing off’, he would have seen that the bread was not hard or stale. He would have seen that it miraculously remained perfectly fresh as the moment it was taken out of the oven. If he had waited until then, he would have had no questions and his whole attitude would have been different, and he would never have come to curse G-d.
The problem of the blasphemer was a question on the Divine, something that would have answered itself had he allowed himself the patience to investigate the matter properly. But he impulsively demanded an immediate answer which he could not find. When his question was not resolved he felt that his questions undermined everything about G-d.
Rabbi Yissochar Frand comments on Rabbi Sorotzkin’s words that there are many times in life when we cannot comprehend G-d’s conduct: “We don’t understand sickness; we don’t understand why the righteous suffer; we don’t understand things like Jewish history; we don’t understand the Holocaust! We don’t understand! It makes no sense to us. But the main thing to remember is “it makes no sense to us”. G-d, we believe, has His Master Plan.”       
          The first time that Moshe Rabbeinu appeared before Pharaoh in Egypt, demanding the release of the Jews, it was an abysmal failure. Pharaoh was angered by Moshe’s request and he increased their already unbearable workload. When their lives became more embittered the Jews rebuked Moshe for meddling. Moshe in turn, questioned G-d for not fulfilling the promises He had guaranteed him.
          G-d responded to Moshe, (Shemos 6:2) “I appeared to Avrohom, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov as Kel shakkai, but with my Name Hashem I did not make myself known to them.” Rashi explains that G-d’s Name, ‘Hashem’, the name G-d used when He revealed Himself to Moshe, as it were, represents G-d as the One Who carries out His promises, for G-d was now prepared to fulfill His promise to redeem Klal Yisroel.
G-d was telling Moshe that although He had revealed Himself to the patriarchs utilizing the same title ‘Hashem’, the Patriarchs never merited witnessing the fulfillment of those promises, for the Holy Land was not inherited by their descendants during their lifetimes. Yet the Patriarch’s faith in G-d never wavered. Therefore, Moshe too should not be skeptical. 
          My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, explained that G-d told Moshe the story of the Patriarchs because He wants Moshe to realize and understand how He relates to and runs this world. Things do not happen based on our plans and calculations of how they should proceed. G-d runs the world with a Divine Plan that is - more often than not - beyond our comprehension. The measure of a person is based on how he responds to the situation that arises.
Although the promises were not fulfilled during their lifetimes the Patriarchs had no complaints, because they understood that G-d has a Divine Plan that is beyond human finite comprehension. They understood that G-d’s Word would come to fruition when the time was right.
          Perhaps, when the tochacha mentions the treaties with the Patriarchs, it is alluding to this idea. One of the most painful and gut-wrenching questions that people ask is, “Where was G-d during the Holocaust?” The truth is that the question is improperly phrased.
All of the anguish, pain, torments, and grief we have been subjected to is all written in the verses of the tochacha. The more appropriate question is, “How could G-d allow those things to happen?” There is no doubt that G-d was there and orchestrating all that occurred. The question rather is only why we were deserving of such a fate? The answer however, is beyond the grasp of our finite minds.
 One who possesses the faith of the Patriarchs understands this idea.  Although he will surely be deeply pained and haunted by the terrible events he witnessed and suffered, and will also be plagued by the question of “Why”, however he has some measure of comfort in knowing that there is indeed a reason, although it’s beyond him.. 
          “And I will remember My treaty with Yaakov, and I will remember My treaty with Yitzchok, and I will remember My treaty with Avrohom, and the Land I will remember.” G-d states that He will remember those who had faith in Him and were able to see past their own premonitions and questions. But those who do not contain such faith will be further plagued by incessant doubt and skepticism about G-d. That itself is one of the curses of the tochacha, i.e. to lack the ability to have faith!
          If only the blasphemer had patience to wait a few more days, his questions would have been rendered obsolete. If only we have the patience, our justifiable questions will soon be rendered obsolete as well.

“I will be that which I will be”
“And I will remember My treaty”

[1] In Parshas Shemos when G-d first “introduced” Himself to Moshe, as it were, He revealed Himself as “Ehekeh asher Ehekeh- I will be that which I will be.” Rashi explains that G-d’s message to Moshe was, “I am the same G-d who at certain points bestows limitless blessing on My People and at certain points seem to deal harshly with them and withholding goodness and blessing from them. I am the same loving G-d!” G-d was expressing to Moshe that despite the fact that the Jews were then suffering the travails of exile at the behest of the evil Egyptians, it was part of G-d’s Divine Plan, no less than the imminent glory of the Jews which was soon to be revealed at the time of the exodus.
[2] this is in fact how the holy Shelah understands that verse
[3] the twelve showbreads placed upon the golden Table in the Mishkan
[4] Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin zt’l



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Behar-Bechukosai Pirkei Avos – perek 5
26 Iyar 5772/May 18, 2012 (41st day of the Omer)

If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims! (badda baddam)
Actually, at least as far as the Monsey community is concerned, May flowers brings Pirchei Sunday afternoon baseball. “Take me out to the ballgame (on the other side of town), take me out to the soggy rain-soaked field, bring along a folding chair, and extra Super Snacks, I hope it ends soon cuz I need to get back. It’s root, root, root, for my kid, if he strikes out it’s a shame, cuz it’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven foul tips at the Pirchei games”
It’s a sight to see on Sunday afternoon as both teams converge on the field, readying the beginning of the game. These young men – our future – arrive wearing colored jerseys, caps, pants, and cleats, holding their gloves, with batting gloves sticking out of their pants. They also carry water bottles or Gatorade to keep the fluids pumping during the course of the intense showdown. Many players bring their own bats, which has just the right length and weight to compliment his batting style. The coaches arrive with duffel bags bringing all possible necessities for the game, including bases, helmets, catcher equipment, umpire’s face-mask, and some spare utility players (they stay in the bag unless needed). 
It reminds me of the time I was watching such a game set to begin with all of the aforementioned equipment (and then some). Finally the umpire gave the clarion call ‘Play Ball’, and the home team took the field. The fielders leaned in, poised and ready, as the pitcher arrived on the mound. The batter stepped in the box, gathered some dust, spit in his hands, and gripped the bat with menacing eyes. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Casey was back in Mudville seeking revenge.
But then the pitcher called out “Where’s the ball?” The ball? Hello? Who’s got the ball? Oops, one minor detail. If you think about it, it’s the minutest part of the game. They had bases, bats, gloves, helmets. They had forgotten one thing. But without a ball, there is no game. So Casey, mighty Casey, couldn’t even get a pitch.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l noted that our generation boasts more Torah learning than ever before in exile. We have incredible chesed programs, and beautiful mitzvah observance with unparalleled stringency and alacrity. There is a plethora of taharas hamishpacha lectures, chinuch forums, and kiruv organizations. With all that we have achieved, we are only missing one thing, i.e. we have left out G-d. In his words, ‘We have cultivated a Judaism and have left Hashem out of the equation’. 
In baseball they say that the key to good hitting is to ‘Keep your eye on the ball’. We need to keep our eye on the proverbial ball by constantly reminding ourselves of the purpose of all we do: “Shivi Hashem l’negdi samid – I place G-d before me constantly.” We need to remember who we are davening to, why we live in the way that we do, and we need to speak about G-d throughout our day. There is nothing more important than that truth in our lives.
If we can maintain that focus than we are truly the winners.

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


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