Thursday, July 26, 2012


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


On one occasion, the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hakohain Kagan zt’l, was traveling on a train together with Rabbi Meir Don Plotzky zt’l, the Keli Chemdah. At one of the train-stations in Poland a tremendous crowd amassed hoping to catch a glimpse of the saintly Chofetz Chaim. When they reached that station a message was sent to the Chofetz Chaim asking if he could disembark from the train for just a few moments so the crowd could greet him. The Chofetz Chaim adamantly refused. When Rabbi Plotzky asked him why, the Chofetz Chaim poignantly replied, “How could they beseech of an old man to accept such honor? When one is accorded honor it is a spiritually dangerous test for the person!” The Chofetz Chaim then quoted Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid who stated that the pleasure one enjoys in this world does not necessarily detract from the eternal reward that one receives in the World to Come. The reason is that the physical pleasures of this world are diametrically different from the spiritual pleasures of the next world. However, when one is accorded honor, which is more of a spiritual benefit, it indeed does detract from one’s eternal reward.
Rabbi Plotzky replied, “Although I understand the Rebbe’s hesitation, I would like to offer two refutations of the Rebbe’s argument. Firstly, I would venture to say that despite the peril of honor, it is worth it for the Rebbe to lose some of his eternal portion in order to accede to the request of a group of Jews. Secondly…” Before Rabbi Plotzky could continue, the Chofetz Chaim interjected, “Stop! You need not continue! Your first reason was sufficient! Your opinion is ‘da’as Torah’[1] and I am prepared to accept it despite my own opinions and premonitions.” With that, the Chofetz Chaim stood up and made his way toward the waiting crowds.

The entire book of Devorim is Moshe Rabbeinu’s last will and testament to his beloved Klal Yisroel, and was recited during the final five weeks of his life.
Moshe commenced his discourse by recounting the many sins that the nation had committed during the previous forty years. However, in order not to embarrass or offend his listeners, Moshe did not mention the sins explicitly, but rather alluded to them discreetly. There were however, two sins that Moshe recounted candidly, explicitly mentioning both sin and consequence. First, Moshe lamented his inability to deal with the burdens of the nation on his own. “I said to you at this time saying: I cannot carry you alone…How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels? Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well-known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as our heads.[2] Moshe was pained that the nation requested and required judges and officers who could transmit the Word of G-d to them. Now the people would be taught by ‘students’ instead of the ‘teacher’.
Moshe also addressed the pernicious sin of the spies. “All of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land, and bring word back to us’…the idea was good in my eyes, so I took from you twelve men, one man from each tribe…But you did not wish to ascend and you rebelled…You slandered in your tents and said, ‘Because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us in the hands of the Amorite to destroy us’…[3]
The night when the spies returned and delivered their slanderous report, causing the nation to weep and lose faith, was the ninth of Av. Rashi relates that G-d responded, “You cried tears for nothing, I will cause you to cry for generations.[4]” The ninth of Av became a harbinger of the numerous tragedies we would suffer throughout the exile. The endless rivers of tears that our nation has shed in exile are compensation for the unwarranted tears that our ancestors shed on that night.   
Rashi notes that the tragic outcome of the debacle was rooted in their approach. The nation approached Moshe in a disorderly and disrespectful manner, with the youth pushing ahead of the elders, and the elderly pushing ahead of the leaders. S’forno adds that while their request was not completely outlandish, it should have been broached by the sages and leaders, not demanded by a raucous and rambunctious mass.
Rabbi Yitzchok Sorotzkin zt’l notes that Rashi’s insight is the key to understanding why both of these particular events were explicitly stated. Both sins are interconnected, in that they both essentially resulted from the same initial mistake, i.e. their approach! In both instances, they were convinced of the veracity of their arguments and they demanded compliance. Both times they undermined the leadership of the nation and sought to enervate the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu. When Klal Yisroel loses respect for its leaders it is a tragedy of utmost proportions. Therefore in referring to these two particular sins Moshe chose to be clear and unequivocal.

Twice a year during the liturgy of our prayers we recount in detail the tragic debacle of the Asarah Harugei Malchus – the Ten Martyrs. On Yom Kippur, after reciting the procedure for the Service in the Bais Hamikdash, we recite a piyut (liturgical poem) beginning with the words “אלה אזכרה – These I shall recall.” On Tisha B’av too, we recite a kinah (lament) detailing their tragic deaths, that begins with the words “ארזי לבנון אדירי התורה – Cedars of Lebanon, Mighty ones of Torah.”
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l[5] explained that although the basic story is the same, there is a difference in our reason for mentioning it during the prayers of these two days.
On Yom Kippur however, our focus is on repentance and forgiveness. The gemara[6] states that the death of the righteous effects atonement for the sins of Klal Yisroel tantamount to the sacrificial service. After reviewing the procedure of the Service that was performed in the Bais Hamikdash on Yom Kippur, we recount the story of the Ten Martyrs in order to further bolster our prayers and hopes that G-d will grant us atonement. Therefore, throughout the piyut of Yom Kippur there is constant beseeching that G-d forgive us[7].
The gemara[8] also states that the death of a righteous person is a tragedy tantamount to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. On Tisha B’av when we mourn the epic loss of the Bais Hamikdash we also mourn the untimely and tragic deaths of these ten great men, each of whose passing was a loss equivalent to the loss of the Bais Hamikdash. On Tisha B’av we mourn our lost glory, which includes the loss of our Torah leaders. This is why the kinnah opens by depicting the great sagacity and scholarship of the Ten Martyrs, and refers to them with glowing adjectives, e.g. “The most desirable in Israel; the holy vessels”.

The Medrash[9] states, “Rabbi Akiva said: Klal Yisroel is analogous to a bird. Just like a bird cannot fly without its wings, so too Klal Yisroel can accomplish nothing without its elders.”
The ninth of Av symbolizes and encapsulates all of our national and personal pain and tears. It is a day of lamentations, national remembrance, and mourning. At the root of it all was our unwitting failure to appreciate our leadership. That was the sin that set the trajectory of the tragedy of Tisha B’av into motion.
When Moshe lamented his inability to bear the burdens of our nations it portended Yirmiyahu’s anguished cry centuries later, “Alas! She sits in solitude; the metropolis that was bustling with people has become like a widow.[10]” The destruction of the Bais Hamikdash could have been averted had Klal Yisroel hearkened to Yirmiyahu’s message. There too the tragedy began because of the nation’s unwillingness to heed the cry of its leader.
The Chofetz Chaim noted that the final redemption is imminent. Just a few more decades, years, perhaps even days or hours before the Messianic era will be ushered in. Our descent into exile was rooted in failure to rally to the call of our leaders; the key to redemption lies in our strengthening our respect and appreciation for their leadership.

This week Klal Yisroel suffered the loss of Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv zt’l, the 102 year old venerated Torah leader and halachic authority. Tisha B’av and Yom Kippur simultaneously arrived early this year. Another piece of the glory and splendor of our people has been lost from our world, leaving us bereft. But if we seek to internalize some of the greatness he epitomized we can achieve atonement from our epic loss and in so doing we can restore some of the greatness for which we still mourn. 

“How can I alone bear your contentiousness…?”
“Like a bird cannot fly without its wings”

[1] i.e. the opinion of a great a venerated Talmudic Scholar to whom one is obligated to subjugate his own opinions to
[2] 1:9-13
[3] 1:22-27
[4] Tehillim 106:27
[5] Harerei Kedem Vol 2, p. 309
[6] Mo’ed Katan 28a
[7] In addition, in the Yom Kippur piyut there is a long introduction which details how Rabbi Yishamel Kohain Gadol ascended to heaven to ascertain whether their death was a decree from Heaven. Once he was informed that it was indeed a heavenly decree, he the other martyrs willingly accepted their bitter fate. We invoke their subjugation to the Will of G-d in our pleas for forgiveness.
[8] Rosh Hashana 18b
[9] Vayikra Rabbah 11:8
[10] Eichah 1:1


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim Pirkei Avos, perek 3
Shabbos Chazon - Tisha B’av 5772/July 27, 2012

Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, our Mashgiach in Camp Dora Golding (as well as the Mashgiach in Yeshiva Ohr HaChaim in Queens, NY), related that at a Torah Umesorah Convention he attended some years ago, he was privileged to hear a lecture from Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l on the topic of educating children. Rav Schwab mentioned that he felt that a parent should give an occasional potch to their child when necessary, to demonstrate disapproval. He added that the point of the potch is not to hurt, in fact once it does so it may defeat the purpose. Rather it is for the child to see that his behavior needs to be corrected.
[It must be noted that Rav Schwab strongly opposed ever embarrassing a child. He insisted that the misbehaving child be (respectfully) separated from his peers before the ‘potch’ is administered.]
Rabbi Finkelman then noted that shortly after hearing that lecture he was preparing a lecture of his own in his home office with limited time, when his young son decided to play ‘Ocean Parkway’ with his little matchbox cars on the floor of the office. Rabbi Finkelman gently explained to his son that the noise of his playing with all the little cars driving (and probably honking and double parking) was disturbing. His son ignored him and continued playing. Remembering Rav Schwab’s advice, Rabbi Finkelman walked over to his son and softly but firmly said ‘I told you that it was disturbing and you didn’t listen, so now I have to give you a potch”, whereupon he took his hand and gave him a soft potch.
The boy’s immediate response was almost to be expected “Didn’t even hurt!” Rabbi Finkelman replied “It wasn’t supposed to hurt. I just wanted you to know how bothered I am by your disrespectful behavior.” A minute later the young son picked up all of his cars and quietly moved Ocean Parkway into the other room.
The laws of the Three Weeks, particularly of the Nine Days, are somewhat austere and restricting. However, sometimes people will comment that ‘it’s not such a big deal’. They like milchigs better anyway, they don’t really like swimming, their clothes feel dirty five minutes after they put them on during the summer anyway, and they like a good cold shower.
The point of the laws, and all of halacha generally, is not to ‘hurt’ or punish us. During this time period it behooves us to focus on the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, and all of our national losses, and halacha abets that process by helping us maintain that focus. [This surely does not mean that it is within our purview to decide whether those halachos are necessary. We are obliged to follow the laws whether we agree with them or not, but it is helpful to realize that there is an underlying goal and direction to it all.] Similarly, the laws of the Yomim Noraim and Yom Kippur help us maintain our focus on our primary avodah during those days – of teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.
There is no question that at times it can be arduous and cumbersome to keep some of these halachos. But halacha serves as a guide to help us achieve the underlying purpose of every times period, and of every day of our lives.  
This year we have a Tisha B’av of the future – a Tisha B’av when we eat meat, drink wine, and sing zemiros in a state of Shabbos joy. Here again halacha dictates our behavior. On the actual day of Tisha B’av the intense laws of mourning are deferred in honor of the holy Shabbos.
We wait and pray for the day when Tisha B’av will be a Yom Tov in its own right, and always have the spirit of Shabbos, even during the week. Perhaps we will merit it this coming Sunday.

              Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
              An easy and meaningful Fast,
                R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, July 19, 2012


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


Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l, the great Maggid of Yerushalayim, related the following parable: There was an ignorant farmer who decided to visit the big city for the first time. When he arrived at the city he was amazed by the hustle and bustle, the gigantic buildings, and the endless congestion of traffic. He spent his day staring at the crowds who hastily brushed by him without giving him much of a second glance.
When he arrived at the outskirts of the city he began to walk through the fields that ran adjacent to the city limits. While doing so, he noticed a long metal pole at his feet that continued as long as his eyes could see. About two feet away he noticed a parallel pole that was embedded in the ground evenly distanced with the first one. In between the two poles were slabs of wood attached to the poles with shiny looking buttons. The farmer decided that one of those shiny buttons would make a perfect memento for his trip to the big city. So he set down to work trying to pull out the stubborn button.
As the farmer busied himself with the “button”, a locomotive was barreling down the tracks at full speed. When the conductor noticed a man on the tracks in the distance, he urgently tugged on the train’s whistle with all his might. Two powerful blasts resonated and caught the attention of the naive farmer. In the farmer’s town they only played music at a wedding or a festive occasion. The farmer decided that a celebration must be approaching so he folded his arms across his chest and began dancing the ‘k’zatzka’ on the tracks. The conductor could hardly believe his eyes; some lunatic was dancing on the tracks! He frantically tugged on the whistle with all his might. But the more the whistle blew the faster the farmer danced.
The conductor was forced to pull the emergency brake. The locomotive stopped inches from the dancing farmer. Two security guards immediately jumped off the train and began hauling the farmer off the tracks. As they did so, one commented to the other that the crazy dancer must be deaf. The other one disagreed, “He is not deaf at all. In fact, he is dancing because he heard the whistle. It’s not that he didn’t hear; it’s that he doesn’t understand what it is that he is hearing!”

Before the conclusion of Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah records Klal Yisroel’s forty-two encampments from when they lefty Egypt until they stood poised to enter the Promised Land. “These are the journeys of the B’nei Yisroel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.[1]Rashi, quoting the Medrash Tanchuma, offers an analogy to a king who traveled with his ill son to seek a remedy for his dreaded disease. When the prince was cured and they were returning home to the palace, the king began to recount all of their travels along the way, “Here we slept, here we were cold, and here your head was hurting, etc.”
If one analyzes the names of the places listed, it seems that some of the most important events that transpired are not mentioned, including the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the Manna that descended from the heavens each morning. Also, there seems to be some trivial events that are haphazardly interspersed between the listing of their travels. “And the Egyptians were burying those among them whom Hashem had struck, every firstborn, and on their gods Hashem inflicted punishments.[2] Why was it important to re-enumerate that Hashem destroyed the gods of Egypt?
 “They journeyed from Etham and it turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is before Baal-Zephon, and they encamped before Migdol.[3]Why was it necessary for the Torah to give such precise detail about where Pi-hahiroth was located? “They went on a three-day trip in the wilderness of Etham, and they encamped in Marah.[4] This is the only time in the parsha that the Torah mentions how long they camped at a distinct location. What was the significance of those three days in Etham? “They journeyed from Marah and arrived in Elim; in Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they encamped there.[5] What do the springs and date palms have to do with the travels of the Jews? The following verses detail the occasions when the nation lacked water as well as the death of Aharon. What is the underlying message of the detailing of the travels of the nation throughout the forty years?     
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l[6] explains that the Torah never intended to detail a “crash review course” of the previous forty years. Rather, it was to recognize the Hand of G-d or the message/lesson that they should have realized. Now, as the nation was on the threshold of Eretz Yisroel, the Torah recounts the times that they remained stoic in the face of potential inspiration.
This is what the Medrash[7] means, “He counted for them all of the places where they angered Me (G-d)” and this is the meaning of the Medrash’s analogy: “Here we slept” refers to the places where the Jews “slept away” an inspiring event, failing to contemplate and recognize the miracles G-d had wrought on their behalf. “Here we were cold” refers to the times when the nation allowed their inspiration to fade and wither. “Here your head was hurting” is a metaphor to the times when one of the nation’s leaders died and they were bereft of a leader, one of the “heads” of the nation.
When the verse recounts that the Egyptians busied themselves burying their firstborn it is an acerbic rebuke of the nation for failing to realize the greatness of the event. Although the perennial Egyptian custom was to embalm the dead and not bury them, after the death of the firstborn, they buried them because it became clear - even to the idolatrous Egyptians – that their gods were futile and that Hashem was Omnipotent.
In a similar vein, when the Jews needed water in the parched desert, twelve springs, one for each tribe, miraculously appeared along with seventy date-palms, corresponding to the seventy elders of Klal Yisroel. There too, they did not fully appreciate the significance of those numbers either.
When the nation arrived in Ba’al-Zephon shortly after the exodus, it was merely three days after the splitting of the sea, and yet, “here we were cold”, i.e. they allowed the inspiration they felt from the incredible events at the Sea of the Reeds to fade when they complained about the dearth of water. Also, in Rephidim when the nation questioned “Is Hashem in our midst?” it was immediately after the Manna began to fall. Despite the fact that such incredible events had just occurred, the nation’s belief in G-d was somewhat dubious.
Aharon’s death was a tremendous blow to the nation because he was a beloved leader, “Here your head was hurting.” They saw Aharon’s death as an ominous harbinger of negative events that were to follow.

My family has been fortunate to spend many summers in Camp Dora Golding in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, where I am a Division Head. This past Sunday was Visiting Day in camp. Hundreds of parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and even a couple of dogs swarmed the camp, making the spacious campus feel small. The camp buzzed with excitement, hugs and kisses were exchanged, and endless boxes of nosh, water, and soda were piled up on beds.
Until a few years ago, my Bubby, Rebbitzin Frances Kohn, came to camp with my parents on Visiting Day for many years. Five years ago was the last time she came up. Although she spent a lot of the day in her classic position, i.e. sitting and knitting, at one point, I invited her to accompany me for a ride on my ‘gator’[8] around camp to see the campus. After driving around for a few minutes, Bubby began to marvel about the multitudes of children and families. At one point she wiped away a tear and said, “It was worth coming just to see all these Jewish boys. It makes me want to cry.” She repeated her feelings to all of the staff members and administrators that I introduced her to.
Bubby is a survivor of Siberia and a refugee from the nefarious horrors of the Second World War. She often tells us the oft repeated sentiment of survivors that the resilience of Klal Yisroel in our generation is nothing short of miraculous. Bubby and I both sat on the Gator and saw the same thing that Visiting Day. But, we conceptualized it very differently. I saw a lot of people, some of whom made my day more difficult. But Bubby saw our posterity and the revenge of the tormentors and a sight of emotional beauty.

Life is full of messages. We must realize that G-d is constantly speaking to us, albeit not always in our dialect. When the whistles of life blow some people choose to begin dancing instead of realizing its message.
The elucidation of the travels of Klal Yisroel is a lesson about the tragedy of missed opportunities. As great as our forbearers in the desert were, they could have been even greater.  

“Here we slept, here we were cold, and here your head was hurting.”
“These are the journeys of B’nei Yisroel.”

This past Monday, 26 Tammuz, was the yahrtzeit of my mother-in-law’s father, Mr. Jacob Kawer, R’ Yaakov Meir Shalom ben Berachya z’l. Like my Bubby, he was a survivor of those horrible years and events. He arrived in America literally with nothing other than the shirt on his back!
A widower who survived Auschwitz, Dachau, and other infamous Concentration Camps, he possessed the inner fortitude and courage to rebuild. I never merited to meet him but his legend is apparent from all who knew him and admired him. They tell me that a smile never left his face and he had a genial and amicable personality. Our generation must learn the lessons that such people personified; the eternity of our people and the guarantee of our posterity despite all odds!
T’hay nafsho tzerurah b’tzror hachaim.

[1] 33:1
[2] 33:3
[3] 33:7
[4] 33:8
[5] 33:9
[6] Ma’ayan Bais Hashoaivah
[7] Bamidbar Rabbah 23:3
[8] the blissful vehicles that the ‘high and mighty’ camp administrators drive in camp


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Matos-Masei Pirkei Avos, perek 2
Rosh Chodesh Av 5772/July 20, 2012

A friend of mine related that one summer night, he walked passed a few boys who were laying on the ground in an open field staring at the clear night sky, and he overheard one of them say, “Wow, it looks just like a planetarium!”
I remember as a child scouring our bungalow colony with my siblings for salamanders. We would gleefully amass impressive collections of the spotted critters and bring them home in buckets. [No matter how many we brought home, by morning they were always gone. I always suspected that my mother was an accomplice in their mass escape each night.] At times we would also stare at the clouds and imagine what they liked like.
Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) writes that appreciating nature draws a person closer to loving and fearing Hashem.
In our generation we have a tremendous opportunity to utilize this approach due to the incredible scientific advancements of the previous century. It is therefore ironic and tragic that, despite the uncanny secrets of nature and the world that we are privy to, we spend far less time contemplating the august majesty and miracles of the natural world.
Here in Camp Dora Golding, we are fortunate to have an excellent instructor for our ‘Nature and Pioneering’ activity named R' Yossi Sirote.
R’ Yossi trained as a forager under the acknowledged ‘Wildman’ Steve Brill. R’ Yossi told me that he can be dropped off by helicopter anywhere along the east coast of the USA with absolutely no provisions and he can survive in the wilderness. 
Throughout the summer I often see R’ Yossi walking around the campus near the forests and bushes, touching and analyzing leaves. He often teaches the campers about the incredible secrets of smell, taste, texture, and benefits (including some natural remedies) that lie behind the leaves and trees that we pass numerous times each day without giving them a second thought.
At the beginning of this summer he mentioned to me that he was disappointed that a small bush had been chopped down in front of one of the recreation halls. He noted that there were small cherries on that bush and he had wanted to show it to the boys. I replied that I wish I had such an appreciation of nature to be bothered by a small bush being cut down.  
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “When I brought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, daffodils, and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.”
Richard Louv wrote a bestseller whose title says it all “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”.
But these days, who has time and patience to stare at trees or lizards? The leaves don’t change color every five seconds nor do they shoot anything. Why would a child shut off his DS, ipod, or wii to stare at some boring foliage? Why would he want to recognize the miracles of G-d’s world when he could just continue his attention-capturing electronic game?
And in the adult world who has time to shut off their cell phone or blackberry to appreciate a beautiful sunset or clouds above?
There is a great deal of inspiration we can glean from staring at a ‘blackberry’, albeit the type that grows on trees.

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

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