Thursday, August 23, 2012


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


Rabbi Yisroel Klein was a saintly Jew from Yerushalayim who passed away in his mid 80’s. While the family was sitting shiva, a steady stream of visitors came to pay their respects to Rabbi Klein. One night during shiva a man quietly walked into the room and sat down next to the mourners. He waited to be acknowledged and then told the mourners the following story.
“I was a young man - perhaps sixteen years old, when I was deported to Auschwitz. I was starving and practically delirious. I was rummaging through the garbage heaps searching and hoping for a morsel of food. After a short while I realized that my search was in vain and I was terrified that I would die from hunger. Then I saw another man, who was slightly older than I was, also searching. He came over to me and asked me what I was looking for. When I begged him for some food he replied that he too was searching for food but had not been able to find any. Then he walked over to me and embraced me. He looked at me with loving eyes and said, “This is what I can give you. I can give you a hug because you are a Jew and I love you and you must remember that Hashem loves you just because you are a Jew.”
The man dabbed at his eyes as he continued. “After the war I went through many difficult times and my religious convictions teetered. But I always remembered that hug and the warm words that that man said to me. Eventually I moved to Eretz Yisroel and I remained religious until today because of him. Today I came today to pay my respects to your father for that hug![1]

In parshas Mishpatim the Torah instructs that there had to be courts to resolve disputes[2]. In Parshas Shoftim the Torah gives a formal command that such courts be established in every city of Eretz Yisroel. In addition, the Torah requires the appointing of officers of the court who have the responsibility to enforce the rulings and decisions of the judges.
“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities- which Hashem, your G-d, gives you – for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment… Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.[3]” Rashi comments, “It is worthwhile for you to appoint valid judges that will give life to Klal Yisroel and return them to their homeland.” What is the connection between maintaining a judicial system, our posterity, and returning to Eretz Yisroel?
The preceding parsha, Parshas Re’eh, concludes with a discussion of the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos. That too needs to be understood; what is the connection between the celebration of the festivals and the enactment of a judicial system?      

In Parshas Yisro the Torah records that Moshe told Yisro, “When they have a matter, one comes to me, and I judge between a man and his fellow, and I make known the decrees of G-d and His teachings.[4]” Ohel Yaakov explains that there are two distinct forms of cases that can be presented in court for litigation. The first is the classic dispute between two individuals. One party claims that something belongs to him while the other claims that it belongs to him. Or one person claims that the second person owes him money and the other denies it, etc. The second category of cases is when the opposite occurs. Two individuals enter the court both claiming that something belongs to the other.
The Medrash[5] relates such a vignette about two men – Reuven and Shimon - who had a dispute over a small treasure. Reuven sold a piece of property to Shimon. Shortly after, Shimon discovered a small fortune hidden away on the property. Reuven adamantly claimed that Shimon had purchased the land and everything on it and, therefore, the fortune belonged to him. Shimon countered that he feared transgressing the prohibition of stealing and, therefore, Reuven had to take the treasure since he was unaware of it when he sold the land. Since he was unaware of it, there is no way he could have intended to include it in the transaction.
The Ohel Yaakov continues that there is a difference between the adjudication in these two types of cases. In the former case where both sides claim ownership, both parties will need to be present in court to present their claims and ensure that a fair trial is held. However, in the latter case where the paramount concern of both parties is to determine the truth, only one person needs to be present in court to state what transpired. If the true goal is to ascertain who the rightful owner is we need not be afraid that the presenter of the case will skew or misrepresent the events.
It is about this second form of litigation that Moshe was referring to. “When they have a matter, one comes to me”. In other words, since they are dedicated to discovering the truth only one member of the dispute need appear before me, “and I judge between a man and his fellow, and I make known the decrees of G-d and His teachings.”
The Yitav Lev utilizes this idea to explain the opening pasuk of Parshas Shoftim. The literal translation of the pasuk reads, “Judges and officers shall be given to you…” In other words, the judge shall be given to you – an individual. If you present your case because you want to know if the blessing that Hashem, your G-d, has given to you, truly belongs to you or if it really belongs to another member of your tribe, then - when one’s concern is that, “they shall judge the people with righteous judgment,” it is deemed a virtuous court. Such a case seeks truth not merely validation.

The Bayrach Moshe[6], explains that when the Torah instructs about the celebration of the holidays, it mentions a specific commandment, (16:11) “You shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d - you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite who is in your cities, the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow who are among you – in the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose to rest His Name.” Rashi notes that the Torah lists eight categories of people that a Jew should include in his own joy; four of them are poor and four are members of his own household. G-d says, “Your four, i.e. those of your household, correspond to My four, i.e. the poor. If you gladden my four, I will gladden your four.”
The Torah is teaching us that one of the main purposes of a holiday is to promote unity and love among Klal Yisroel. Every Jew has a responsibility to contemplate the plight of his brethren and to do all he is able to ensure that his fellow Jew enjoys the holiday as well.
This is the connection between the festivals and the judicial system. If Klal Yisroel observes the holidays properly by adhering to the spirit of the law and assisting their fellow Jews, then they will develop a sense of unity. Such feelings will breed a desire to ensure the welfare of others which will cause the court-cases that follow to be of the latter nature, wherein the litigants pursue truth. “Judges and officers shall be given to you”, i.e. one litigant will be sufficient.
With this in mind we can understand the depth of Rashi’s words. “It is worthwhile for you to appoint valid judges that will give life to Klal Yisroel and return them to their homeland.” The Mishnah[7] states, “Jealousy, desire, and honor take a person out of this world”. Also, the Gemara[8] writes that because of the sins of jealousy and enmity our forefathers were exiled from their homeland and our Bais Hamikdash was destroyed.” Therefore, when we promote love and unity for each other, as is demonstrated by the proper observance of the holidays, and we enact a judicial system devoted to the pursuit of truth, it will grant life to Klal Yisroel, because it will mitigate the selfish pursuit of jealousy, desire, and honor. Once there is no longer jealousy or enmity the eternal Bais Hamikdash will descend from heaven with the advent of Moshiach.

“I can give you a hug because I love you”
“It is worthwhile for you to appoint valid judges”

[1] Rabbi Paysach Krohn
[2] Shemos 21:22, 22:8
[3] 16:18-20
[4] Shemos 18:16
[5] Vayikra Rabbah 27:1
[6] Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Tetielbaum zt’l
[7] Avos 4:21
[8] Yoma 9b

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim – Pirkei Avos, perek 6
6 Elul 5772/August 25, 2012  
   The Siyum Hashas at Metlife stadium three weeks ago generated a great deal of worthy discussion and deserved fascination. Also, like everything else, by now its discussion has begun to fade, as new occurrences warrant our attention.
   Personally, I feel that the profundity of the experience can only be appreciated after the fact. It was a privilege and a merit to be part of the event, but even more than that night itself, looking back and reviewing it in my mind garners new appreciation each time I think about it. It’s analogous to one’s wedding which passes all too soon and can hardly be appreciated in the moment. But the memories of the event cause a surge of nostalgic joy to the choson, kallah, and their families perpetually.       
   One of the greatest aspects of the Siyum for me, even beyond the diversified yet unified crowd, and even beyond the inspiration of hearing some of the greatest Torah leaders of our time, was the moments of silence. Stadiums by definition are created to be arenas of noise and fanfare. The cries and ovations of the throngs of crowds who seek emotional outlets and entertainment are commonplace during such events. The mere murmurs of tens of thousands of people, even without raucous cheering, itself lends to a high level of noise.
   Yet on the night of the Siyum there were moments of almost absolute silence. The entering crowds, despite constant rain, long lines for parking and security checks, was emotionally charged and excited. Yet as soon as kaddish was said following ashrei during Mincha a hush descended on the burgeoning crowd. The stadium was silent.
   Hours later, after impassioned speeches, vivacious dancing, and energized camaraderie, when it came time for Shemoneh Esrei during Maariv, again a hush descended upon the stadium, as the remaining tens of thousands swayed gently in the stands in silent concentration.
   In addition, each time one of our great Torah leaders arose to speak, instantly the 92,000 strong rose to their feet and, for a few moments, the packed stadium was utterly silent.
   To me those moments of silence spoke more volumes than all of the clapping and responses throughout that august evening. That silence symbolized the respect and reverence we maintain for the Torah and for what we were celebrating.
   In that stadium, and in all sports stadiums, victory celebrations are conducted by the victors with open bottles of champagne being exploded in all directions, along with whopping and jovial shouting. There is no silence during those moments. Suffice it to say that our celebrations are vastly different. While the celebration may not be silent, it incorporates a sense of reverence for its accomplishment. 
     The great Siyum included not only many powerful and inspirational words but also very powerful and inspirational silence. That silence is something we need to capture in our noisy busy world. It is a silence which allows us to think about the blessings we have, the greatness of our accomplishments, and our responsibilities towards the future.
   We need to hear that silence, especially in Elul, as we prepare for a new year of blessing and growth!  
      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum 
  720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425


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