Wednesday, February 27, 2013


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


          In the 1980’s the San Francisco 49ers dominated the National Football League. In fact, they established themselves as one of the greatest football dynasties in N.F.L. history. There is no question that much of their success lay in the immense talent of their players[1], but that alone would not suffice to create a dynasty. The 49ers coach, Bill Walsh, was once asked to what he attributes his success. He responded pithily, “It’s not that our guys know how to win, but that they know how to lose.”

          The Gemara[2] relates that inside the holy Aron, underneath the second set of Luchos[3] lay the broken shards of the first Luchos that Moshe had shattered.
Why would the fragments of the first Aron, which symbolized the nation’s calamitous sin of the golden calf, be placed alongside the second Luchos in the holiest place within the Mishkan?
          Chazal relate that our world is not the first that G-d created. “Hakadosh Boruch Hu borah olamos umachrivam- G-d created prior worlds and destroyed them.” What is the meaning behind this enigmatic statement? It is indeed a normal human trait to have numerous rough drafts before the final copy is written, but G-d is infallible. Why did He create worlds that He knew wouldn’t last?

          G-d created the entire cosmos with a single utterance of the letter ‘heh’[4], and He surely could have created the world perfectly the first time. However G-d wanted to demonstrate that in the physical world one cannot attain completion and perfection in one fell swoop. Just as one cannot wake up on the morning of the marathon and decide to run twenty-one miles without any prior preparation, so too one cannot instantly transform himself into a pure and righteous Jew.  
For mortals there is only one way to attain any level of perfection, and that is through struggling, and invariably falling. It is only from one’s pitfalls that one learns his vulnerabilities, and can properly prepare himself for his next bout within himself.

Some time ago, an older Yeshiva student wrote a letter to Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l expressing feelings of despondency and spiritual defeat. The young man described that as a youngster he aspired for greatness and wanted to become a Torah scholar. But now that his teenage years were behind him, he felt like a failure. Though he was learning and accomplishing, he felt that his personal character faults were too numerous as would befit a future leader. He was very down on himself and turned to Rav Hutner for advice. 
Rav Hutner’s response is legendary[5]. He began by stating that the root of the writer’s pain lies in a common misconception of what constitutes greatness. People think of greatness in terms of sitting comfortably and studying Torah and doing mitzvos while basking in the glow of spiritual euphoria. The biographies of our leaders sometimes depict men of angelic greatness and perfection.
The problem is that our impressions of these spiritual giants stem from our familiarity with their stature and greatness generally in their old age, after decades of personal struggle and effort. But those struggles aren’t publicized. Rav Hutner noted that while we are all familiar with the towering greatness of the Chofetz Chaim and his vigilant tongue that never uttered an improper word, we do not know of the many internal battles he waged in order to accomplish that great level.
          The wisest of men noted that, “Shevah yipol tzaddik v’kom- A righteous person falls seven times and gets up.[6]The fool thinks the righteous person gets up despite his falls; the wise person understands that he can only ‘get up’ and grow because he falls.
At the conclusion of creation just prior to Shabbos, the verse states, “And G-d viewed all that He created and behold it was very good.” Rashi explains, “‘Good’ refers to the good inclination; ‘very good’ refers to the evil inclination.” It is only through vanquishing one’s evil inclination that he can reach his potential. In that sense the evil inclination is deemed ‘very good’.
Rav Hutner continues, “You have fallen numerous times, and you will fall again numerous times. That is not, G-d forbid, a negative prediction, but a fact of life. But there is a concept of ‘losing a battle yet winning the war’. You can fall to your evil inclination time and time again. But as long as you are resilient and dust yourself off and continue to fight, you have not been defeated, and you’ll ultimately prevail and win the war.”

This concept is true, not only regarding individuals but even to Klal Yisroel as a whole. In Kabbalah this concept is compared to a seed which only grows after it begins to rot. It is at the point when it looks like the seed has ceased to grow that the growth process actually begins.
In our long and painful history we have seen the fruition of this idea many times. After many of the lowest points of our history we have emerged to rebuild from the ashes.
The shards of the first Luchos were kept within the Aron to remind us that although the sin of the golden calf was a very dark page in our national book, it was also a catastrophe that we overcame. In that sense, the tragedy of the first Luchos contributed to Klal Yisroel’s ultimate growth.

The Purim story began to unravel for Haman when he begrudgingly was forced to humiliate himself parading his archenemy, Mordechai, through the streets bellowing repeatedly, “Such shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor.” When the ordeal was finally over, Haman returned home and reassured his wicked wife Zeresh that despite that day’s occurrences he would still prevail. Zeresh however, was not convinced.
 The Megillah (Esther 6:13) records her response to Haman, “If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is from the seed of the Jews, you will not prevail against him, but will undoubtedly fall before him.” What made Zeresh so sure that Haman was a sure goner just because he had suffered a slight defeat to someone of Jewish descent?
The Ben Ish Chai notes that Zeresh did not say Haman was doomed if Mordechai was from the ‘children’ of the Jews, but rather from the ‘seed’ of the Jews. Zeresh understood that Klal Yisroel possesses this seed-like quality. As soon as they have been persecuted to a certain point and ‘cracks begin to appear in the wall’, there is no way to stop them. Once their resilient “growth process” has begun G-d sends their salvation in the blink of an eye.
If Mordechai belongs to the ‘seed of Klal Yisroel’ and Haman has begun to fall before him, the rotting process is over and a period of immense growth will inevitably follow.  Just as wicked Zeresh warned, the completion of Haman’s downfall was soon too follow.  

The Gemarah in the second perek of Bava Metzia cites a lengthy halachic discussion whether or not we hold ‘Yiush shelo mida’as - One can relinquish ownership of an object subconsciously.” In a rare event the Gemarah agrees with the position of Abaye over Rava that one can indeed relinquish ownership of an object subconsciously and thus, ‘finder’s keepers’.
The Kotzker Rebbe sees a lesson in the title of this topic by reading it homiletically, “Yiush- one who gives up”, i.e. on himself, “Shelo mida’as- (it’s because) he is lacking knowledge,” i.e. he has not contemplated his situation deeply enough.

Parshas Parah details the process of purification for one who became ritually impure via contact with a dead body. Death means the end, the absolute conclusion of life. The process of purification symbolizes renewal and resilience. The concept of purity reminds us that a person can always achieve a spiritual revival, even when he feels a sense of spiritual death.
The prophet expresses this concept in beautiful eloquence, “And I shall sprinkle pure water upon you… and I shall give you a new heart, and a new spirit shall I put within you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your flesh…[7]” 

A Jew can never give up on himself. So often it’s at those moments when he feels lost, that the rotting seed begin their rapid growth.
After three months of virtually complete inactivity upon the barren winter-laden trees, buds have begun to form on the trees outside our New York homes. The bitter cold winter is paving the way for the advent of the rebirth of spring.

“If Mordechai is from the seed of the Jews”
“A righteous person falls seven times and gets up”

[1] Including Joe Montana and Jerry Rice
[2] Bava Basra 14b
[3] Tablets of the Law
[4] see Rashi, Bereishis 2:4
[5] Pachad Yitzchok, Igros Umichtavim, 128
[6] Mishlei 24:16
[7] Haftorah for Parshas Parah; Yechezkel 36:25-27


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Sisa/Parah
19 Adar 5773/March 1, 2013

Late Purim afternoon, a close friend of ours came to deliver shalach manos to our home with his children. He had that frazzled look many of us have as we try to deliver as many shalach manos as we can, while racing against the fleeting Purim clock, and battling the unmanageable Purim traffic.
My friend noted that he was sure his children’s teachers had convened before Purim to decide when they should each be available on Purim day for their students to come to their homes. “You live in Park Ave, at the southern tip of Monsey, so you should be available from 11:15 a.m. – 11:23 a.m. You live in Wesley Hills, at the northern end of town, so you should be available from 11:25 a.m. – 11:43 a.m. Then you live on Cameo Ridge, in the heart of gridlock-ville, and should avail yourself from 1:50 p.m. until 2:06 p.m….”
It can be quite frustrating and there’s not much recourse. Being that both Chani and I have students, we told our students we would be home after 2 p.m. After I finished laining Megillah in our home at 10 a.m. we packed everyone into the car to make our rounds. Most of our stops were at our children’s rebbes and teachers so that we could express our appreciation to them for all of their hard work. 
When we finally arrived home just before 2 p.m., we had the same sinking feeling we have every year when we find shalach manos at our door. This year among the other packages, there was one package that didn’t have a name on it, and we had no idea who it was from.
According to the Manos Halevi (Rav Shlomo Alkabetz) the main purpose of shalach manos is to foster feelings of friendship between giver and receiver. [It is somewhat ironic that we are trying to build friendship while dealing with the aforementioned frustration of trying to get around town to deliver the shalach manos on Purim. Maybe that’s why Chazal instituted that one drink a lot when he sits down to his seudah after spending the day fighting Purim traffic…]
Since we didn’t know who the giver was, it could have been anyone. It caused us to feel friendlier to every Jew in the world. [In truth, Chani did call one neighbor who we were pretty convinced was the deliverer to thank her. But it wasn’t from her family. It worked out better this way, because we hadn’t given them, and now we didn’t need to feel guilty about it.]
All of this gave us a great idea for next year. We are going to leave anonymous shalach manos all around town. This way no one will know who gave it and everyone will have to love everyone more, because they might have given it. What an idea! Before you know it, there will be such an incredible proliferation of Ahavas Yisroel abounding. What a revolution.
And no, I didn’t write this while I was drunk. 

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

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013


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


Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg, Rabbi of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Long Island, related the following incredible story: The son of one of his congregants went to learn in Eretz Yisrael, and decided to enroll in a Hesder Yeshiva, which combines Torah study with military service. He joined the Israeli army and achieved a position of leadership in the Israeli Defense Forces.
In the summer of 2005, during the Gaza Disengagement, the army had to forcibly remove Jewish settlers who refused to leave. This American soldier was very distraught about the assignment, but, as a solider he followed orders and participated in the forced evacuation.
When his unit arrived at one of the settlements, his job was to ensure that the settlers boarded the buses to be evacuated. He worked in tandem with the Rabbi of the settlement. The settlers gathered in the town's synagogue where the Rabbi spoke, followed by the soldier. They all wept together, and then they all filed out of the shul and boarded the bus.
Before the bus left, this soldier took out a siddur from his backpack, dug a hole, and buried it there. When the Rabbi asked him why he was doing so, he replied that perhaps at some point in the future someone will return and may find the siddur, and will realize that they had left begrudgingly, and that they left their hearts and prayers behind.
Eleven months later, in the summer of 2006, Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas militants in Gaza. When Israel decided to reinvade Gaza in an attempt to find him, the unit of that American soldier was sent back into Gaza, to set up a base of operations.
They entered Gaza under the cover of darkness and although they did not know exactly where they were, they set up camp in a deserted area.
The next morning, the soldier looked around, disoriented, not recognizing anything. Everything had been destroyed. Still he knelt down on the ground and started digging. To his shock he found the siddur he had buried.
He was shaken by the experience and called his father in America to recount to him the uncanny story. He asked his father to ask his Rabbi to interpret the significance of what had occurred.
Rabbi Ginsberg himself was mystified by the story and arranged for the soldier to have a private meeting with Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita.
Rav Chaim asked him what he did when he found out that he would have to evict the settlers. The solder replied that he had begged his commanding officers to abandon their plans, and he davened fervently that the evacuation be aborted. Rav Chaim then asked him what he did when he found out that he would have to proceed with the evacuation. The soldier replied that once he was told they were going ahead with it, he stopped davening for it not to happen.
Rav Chaim replied that Hashem was sending him a message that one should never stop davening! “You buried the siddur because you felt it was futile to continue to pray. G-d returned it to you so you should realize that it’s never too late, or too hopeless, to pray.”

When the Megillah introduces Mordechai, it relates the names of his ancestors as well, “Mordechai the son of Yair, the son of Shimi, the son of Kish[1].
The gemara[2] explains that each name refers to another facet of the greatness of Mordechai’s power of prayer –““ben Yair” – he lit up the eyes of the Jews through his prayers, “ben Shimi” – G-d hearkened to his petitions, and “ben Kish” – he knocked on the doors of Mercy.”
The Vilna Gaon explains that of a person’s four primary senses - sight, hearing, smell, and speech, three of them are necessary for Torah study. One sees the text, listens to the lessons of his teachers, and uses his power of speech to teach others.
The sense of smell however, has no connection to Torah study. Rather, it is related to the Divine Service in the Temple. The Torah continually refers to the aromatic scent of the offerings as, “reiach nicho’ach l’Hashem – pleasant smell to G-d”. In our time, when we no longer have that Service, prayer takes its place.
The gemara[3] asks where there is a ‘hint’ to Mordechai in the Torah. The gemara answers that he is alluded to in the Torah’s listing of the spices used to create the anointing oil[4]. The first of the spices is called “mar deror – pure myrrh”, which Targum translates into Aramaic as “mara dachya”, which sounds like Mordechai.
The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah is alluding to the fact that, in a sense, Mordechai is the choicest of all of the spices. Mordechai’s greatest strength was his power of prayer which corresponds to the sense of smell. In fact, the reason the gemara lists three of his ancestors whose names symbolize his strength of prayer, was to demonstrate his usage of all of his senses in prayer:  He lit up their eyes (giving them, hope and encouragement) through prayer, G-d heard his prayers, and through verbalizing his prayers it had the power to ‘knock on the celestial doors’. His very name and essence symbolize that his prayers were the epitome of a “pleasant smell to G-d”

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro shlita explains that the word ketores is related to the Aramaic word “kitra - knot”. When G-d created Adam HaRishon and breathed life into his nostrils, the point of contact - the knot - between body and life-giving breath was through the source of the sense of smell.[5]
The greatness of Mordechai was his deep inextricable connection with G-d. He was not daunted or intimidated by social pressure or demands. His primary concern was always about his responsibility as a Jew. His greatest fear was jeopardizing that divine-bond.
Esther was also known as Hadassa. The hadas is the myrtle branch taken with the lulav on Succos. It is known for its pleasant aroma[6].
Rabbi Moshe Shapiro explains that the hadas grows in the shape of a braid. It is symbolic of the braid, or knot, between G-d and His people. Esther too was extremely committed above all to maintaining that sense of connection with G-d, and was therefore a fitting wife for Mordechai[7].

Our sense of smell is our most powerful sense, even though we often neglect it in comparison with our usage of our other senses, such as sight and hearing. Dr. Daniel Amen[8] notes that the olfactory system – responsible for our sense of smell – is the only one of the five sensory systems that goes directly from the sensory organ to the place where it is processed in the brain. The other senses however, travel to a ‘relay station’ before they are sent to their distinctive parts in the brain. Because smell goes directly to the Limbic System where it is ‘sensed’, it is understandable why smells have such a profound impact on our emotional state[9].
The Limbic System is also involved in bonding and social connectedness, as well as motivation and drive.

During the period prior to the miracle of Purim the Jewish nation underwent national depression. When they were exiled from Eretz Yisroel and the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, they thought they had been banished perpetually. They began to view themselves as just another nation, and no longer saw themselves as special and elite. When Nebuchadnezzar erected an idol of his likeness the Jews saw no reason why they shouldn’t bow to it with all of the other national representatives. When Achashveirosh made his feast, the Jews of Shushan saw no reason not to attend with all of the other citizens of Shushan.
The celebration of Purim is rooted in the realization that our uniqueness and eliteness as the Jewish people is eternal, and is not endemic to any particular time or place. Even in the harrowing divine obscurity of exile, we can rest assured that G-d always maintains a deep vested interest in us, and is always with us. Our connection is eternal!
Above all, it was that sense of connection that Mordechai and Esther reawakened within an almost despondent nation. They guided the nation to cry out to G-d in passionate heartfelt supplication and prayer, successfully storming the gates of the heavenly Bastille, as it were, annulling the evil decree.
Mordechai and Esther are hinted to in the Torah with references to the sense of smell, because they were able to awaken the nation to the profound power of prayer. Prayer is the greatest means of connection, and that connection is symbolized by the nostalgic power of smell.  

In the introduction to his commentary Ohr Chadash, Maharal explains that the miracle of Purim transpired because G-d hearkened to their prayers.  He adds that there was no other redemption in history where the Jewish people were in such danger and they cried out to G-d, and He heard their prayers like at the time of Purim.
This theme is highlighted in Shoshanas Yaakov[10], where we declare that we read the Megillah “… to make known that all who hope in You will not be shamed; nor ever be humiliated, those taking refuge in you.”
Chasam Sofer notes that prayers on Purim are so powerful that G-d answers any heartfelt prayer on this special day, even if one doesn’t deserve it.[11]

In Parshas Terumah the Torah details the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels. Parshas Tetzaveh then details the intricate manner in which the Priestly vestments were made, as well as the Kohanim’s induction ceremony. There is one exception. At the end of Parshas Tetzaveh, the Torah details the construction of the inner/golden Altar, upon which the ketores was offered.
S’forno explains that the purpose of the divine Avodah generally, was to establish a dwelling place for the shechina in the physical world. The ketores, however, was offered in honor of the fact that the shechina rested on the Mishkan. In other words, it was offered solely to give honor to G-d. Because it served a unique role, it is mentioned separately from all of the other vessels.  
Much of what we do as Torah Jews is to fulfill our responsibilities. But there is an added level of service wherein we do things beyond the call of duty, simply to give honor to G-d. 
Purim is a celebration of ‘connection’. The greatest danger Amalek proposes is to employ feelings of disconnect, spiritual isolation and distance. Since prayer is the greatest means of connection, Purim is an especially propitious time for heartfelt prayer.
Amongst all of our personal prayers, we should pray for the restoration of G-d’s Glory, with the ultimate destruction of Amalek and evil, when we will merit a time of perpetual joy, when the bliss of Purim will never end.

“A pleasant smell to G-d”
“to make known that all who hope in You will not be shamed”

[1] Esther 2:5
[2] Megillah 12b
[3] Chullin 139b
[4] At the beginning of parshas Ki Sisa; Shemos 30:23
[5] It is for this reason that the distinction between life and death is detected by the odor that is given off. The aroma of a newborn baby is filled with life, with freshness, while the odor of a deceased human body is putrid. 
[6] The gemora (succah 45b) states that one who takes the lulav along with the hadas on Succos is as if he built an altar and offered upon it a sacrifice. The gemara succah 35b notes that the hadas is also referred to as a hoshana (salvation). 
[7] The Vilna Gaon explains that when Esther approached Achashveirosh to beseech him for the life of her people, although in a physical sense she was standing before him, in reality she was far, far away. She was focused on the place of the Holy of Holies and she stood there, in front of her king, Hashem, and was speaking only to him. When Achashveirosh queried, “Who is the man who has plotted such despicable evil?” She attempted to point towards Achashveirosh. Miraculously, an angel redirected her hand. She was so focused on her bond with G-d, that she was not at all cognizant of where her physical self was situated. She saw with clarity that life lay in the direction of Hashem, and not in her plea to Achashveirosh. Her bond with Hashem was total and complete.
[8] “Change your Brain, Change your Life”
[9] The multi-billion dollar perfume and deodorant industry is based on the fact that beautiful smells evoke pleasant feelings, which draw people towards their source. Unpleasant smells repel people, like almost nothing else.
[10] the classic liturgical song that is recited publicly in the synagogue after the reading of the Megillah on both Purim night and day
[11] He bases this idea on the Ritva in his commentary to Megillah 7a, who quotes Yerushalmi which explains regarding the fulfillment of the obligation to give matanos la’evyonim, gifts to the poor, on Purim, that “kol ha’posheit yado leetol yitnu lo - we give to anyone who extends his hand to receive”. On Purim we give to everyone who asks, without first checking to see if they truly are poor.
The Chasam Sofer writes that just as we are not particular if the people to whom we give charity on Purim are truly deserving, and whoever extends his hand gets helped, so, too, does G-d listen to all our prayers on this special day.


                       “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh/Zachor
12 Adar 5773/February 22, 2013

Cleaning ladies – don’t even get me started! Once, or maybe twice a week she is welcomed into my house, to decide where everything should go and how things should be arranged. Invariably, when I come home after she’s cleaned, while the house looks pretty clean, it’s usually because she decided to discard half of our stuff.
Later that night, I’m sure to find some of my son’s clothing in my drawer (sometimes my daughter’s stuff too), our dresser has been completely rearranged, and heaven knows where my clothes are. Magazines I’m in the middle of are discarded, and things left out disappear forever. Our cleaning lady must have heard me complaining about her last week, because when I went to turn on the shower it was facing the wrong way, and shpritzed me right in the face.
For a number of years, on the desk of my Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch office, I had what looked like a spilled bottle of red nail polish. The applier was placed strategically atop the fake spill, and it looked real. It was a great conversation starter which is important for a therapist to have, “Umm, your nail polish (?) spilled…”
Then, about three years ago, towards the beginning of a new academic year, I came into my office one morning to find the bottle closed and the fake spill gone. It took some time before I realized that the yeshiva had hired a new janitor who apparently ‘cleaned up’ the mess. Someone should’ve told him that not all messes are meant to be cleaned up!
So why do we have a cleaning lady, you ask? That’s a silly question. This is America; it’s a constitutional obligation. The Bill of Rights dictates that the military cannot sleep in your home, and you have freedom of speech and religion, but it’s contingent on you having a cleaning lady who rearranges your home consistently.
Each week before she comes, I try to hide everything I want to keep so that it doesn’t get ‘cleaned up’. I have even had nightmares about my cleaning lady chasing me with a vacuum cleaner and Windex, yelling at me for leaving my pen on the dresser. When I went to call a therapist to ask for help he told me he couldn’t schedule an appointment because his cleaning lady threw his appointment book in the garbage.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little. But there was one time when I really couldn’t fault the cleaning lady for throwing something out. Each night of Chanukah, when I would clean out the used cups of oil and remove the wicks from the night before, I would place the wicks onto a piece of tin foil, so I could burn them as halacha dictates. [I usually burn them with my chometz, and lulav, on Erev Pesach.]
This year, the day after Chanukah ended I came home to find the table and Menorah cleaned off, and all of the wicks gone. I sadly realized that the cleaning lady had thrown them away. This time I had no one to blame but myself. How could I have expected her to think otherwise? Why would there be any inherent specialness in a pile of used wicks?
As Jews we understand that even after certain things become worn out they maintain holiness, and must be disposed of properly. Chazal teach us that because the light of the menorah is symbolic of the eternal light of Torah, the wicks used to light those candles cannot merely be discarded.
It is intriguing that our enemies often have a better understanding of us than we do. The Vilna Gaon explains that Haman wanted, not only to destroy us as a people, but also to destroy our dead bodies, similar to the Nazi crematoriums. Haman recognized that even the physical shell of a Jew is ‘contaminated with Jewishness’.
His decree should help us realize us that every Jew is special and invaluable, just because he/she is a Jew, and there always remains a spark within. A non-Jew does not have a connection to such an idea. If Menorah wicks retain holiness, how much more so the physical body of a Jew! On Purim we celebrate the greatness that resides in every one of us. On Purim we love each other simply because we are part of the same family!
By the way, if you don’t get shalach manos from us, it’s definitely because the cleaning lady took apart the baskets we made and put everything away. We’ll be sure to have you in mind as we eat it.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos --- Freilichen Purim & Purim Sameach to every Jew,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, February 14, 2013


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


          Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l was a beloved educator, legendary for his ability to forge deep connection with his student and developing a love and passion for Torah and Avodas Hashem. However, when he first arrived in a Yeshiva high school in Chicago from Europe in 1946 he looked a bit lost.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, was one of the talmidim present when Rav Mendel arrived that first day. Rav Mendel had little connection to the mentality and outlook of American boys, aside from the fact that he hardly spoke a word of English. The boys told their parents they didn’t think the new Rebbe would last long.
Rav Mendel however, was not one to be daunted. The next day he walked into shiur with a copy of that day’s Chicago Tribune tucked under his arm. The class was stunned as he pulled it out and announced, “Today you will teach me English and I am going to teach you how to read a newspaper.” After the class recovered from disbelief, Rav Mendel began one of the most unique discourses ever given in a Yeshiva. The boys read the stories in English very slowly while Rav Mendel followed along with his index finger on the place, just as he did when he learned Gemara. The boys who knew some Yiddish struggled to translate what they were reading.
At the conclusion of each article Rav Mendel would interpret the events from a Torah vantage point as only an erudite Torah scholar could. By the end of the day Rav Mendel learned over fifty American idioms and a fair amount of English grammar. At the same time his students learned philosophic and Talmudic themes that underlie contemporary worldly events.   
Every day after that, the pattern repeated itself. They taught their Rebbe how to speak English and he taught them about life. By the end of the semester he had learned English and his students learned that Gemara was much more than an ancient text[1].

It is no easy task to construct the House of G-d. G-d instructed Moshe about the minutest detail that was to be adhered to with utmost precision when constructing the Mishkan. Each vessel had to be built with painstaking exactness utilizing the proper materials.
The Aron[2] was to be placed in the Holy of Holies. It was to be constructed out of Shittim wood, and placed into a larger box constructed out of pure gold. Then, a small gold box was placed inside the wooden box, completely covering the wooden box with gold. On top of the Aron were the two Cherubim chiseled out of pure gold. “You shall make two Keruvim out of gold- hammered out you shall make them- from both ends of the cover.[3]
Ba’al Haturim notes that when the Torah writes the word Keruvim in this verse it is without the letter vov so that the word can be read as ‘kiravim’ which, in Aramaic, means children. The Gemara[4] notes that the Keruvim were actually golden images of two young children facing each other. Ba’al Haturim makes reference to a verse in Hoshea[5]Ki na’ar Yisroel v’ohavo- For Yisroel is a youth and therefore I love them.”
Our society idolizes youth because our culture values vigor and aesthetic beauty above all else. But we can hardly attribute such shallowness to G-d. What does the prophet mean that G-d love us because of our youthfulness?  
The Alter from Kelm, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv zt’l, quotes Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt’l who explained that the greatness of youth lies in a child’s willingness to learn. A child feels somewhat lost in the world around him and is constantly trying to make sense out of everything going on. Any parent with young children is familiar with the constant badgering of curiosity, questions of When? Why? What? When? and How? Unlike most adults who are constantly tired, a child generally will resist being put to sleep at night[6]. A child is filled with such curiosity and does not want to stop exploring, probing, and learning.
G-d loves us, Klal Yisroel, because we possess that sense of wonderment and excitement for Torah and mitzvos. To us the ancient texts remain exciting and engaging, as we constantly seek new insights from the same passages we have learned tens of times. Like children who can’t satiate their sense of wonder, Klal Yisroel passionately studies Torah, pining for yet another novel interpretation and insight[7].
Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky zt’l adds that the Torah concludes its discussion about the Aron by stating that G-d’s voice will resonate from atop the Aron, as it were. “It is there that I will set my meetings with you from atop the cover, from between the two Keruvim that are on the Ark of Testimonial-tablets, everything that I shall command you to the B’nei Yisroel[8].” Even when the Aron was erected in the Holy of Holies, the voice of G-d would not resonate unless the Keruvim were atop the Aron. The Keruvim, which represent the exuberance and the wide-eyed excitement of youth, serve as the conduit for the Voice of G-d.

Douglas MacArthur quipped that, “Youth is not a time of life; it’s a state of mind!” A person can be chronologically old and yet be ‘old’ in the sense that he has lost his passion to grow and learn. On the other hand, someone can be older and yet still possess the fountain of youth, because they haven’t lost their ambition.
A number of years ago, Rabbi Yissocher Frand was one of the featured lecturers at a Destiny Foundation event[9]. Rabbi Frand began his speech by expressing his admiration for Rabbi Wein. Even after decades of accomplishments as a Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi, author, and lecturer in America, he not only continued teaching in Eretz Yisroel but also to initiated new programs.
Indeed, that is the symbol of youth.

The holiday of Purim is a celebration of rebirth and renewed passion. When Klal Yisroel recognized G-d’s Hand orchestrating the ‘coincidental’ events that led to Haman’s downfall, they were filled with a renewed vim and vigor for Torah and Mitzvos.
Perhaps that is part of the reason why there was a national reacceptance of the Torah at the time of the Purim miracle[10]. The voice of G-d can be heard only by those who contain the alacrity, excitement, and passion of youth, as symbolized by the Keruvim. On Purim when Klal Yisroel attained a renewal of those emotions on a national scale, it was inevitable that they would also merit a renewed connection and dedication to Torah.

“I will set my meetings with you from between the two Keruvim”
“For Yisroel is a youth and therefore I love them”

[1] Vintage Wein, by Dr. J. Weiss
[2] Holy Ark
[3] 25:18
[4] Succah 5b
[5] 11:1
[6] Every parent of young children is more than familiar with bedtime battles…
[7] It never ceases to amaze me that there are constantly new seforim published with novel insights. When Daf Yomi commences a new tractate, a plethora of new commentaries and elucidations suddenly surface. Similarly, before every holiday every single year tens of new books are published with fresh insights and observations about the holiday.
[8] 25:22
[9] The Destiny Foundation was founded by Rabbi Berel Wein
[10] see Gemarah Shabbos 86a


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah
5 Adar 5773/February 15, 2013

Once upon a time, when you wanted to go somewhere, you needed to first find out  directions from someone who knew the way. You would try to speak with someone who was proficient with roads, knew traffic patterns, and which was the best route to take. Then, a few years ago, Mapquest, followed by Google Maps, came into vogue which maps out the route for you. All you had to do was print it out and take it along.
And then came the GPS! No longer does anyone need to know anything more than the destination address. Just plug it in and voila! Follow the little car on the screen. In the words of Rus, “Where you go I will go.” It not only tells you how to get there, it tells you how long it should take, how fast you are going, and what the approaching roads look like.   
Much has been written about the GPS and the many lessons to be derived from it. But I wish to speak about a seemingly insignificant accessory to the GPS - the holder upon which the GPS is mounted. It may not seem to be too important but I have learned that without it relying on the GPS can be dangerous. 
Recently, the holster which secured our GPS to our dashboard broke. Now whenever I need to use our GPS it becomes an arduous process of trying to balance it in a way that it won’t fall. But no matter how I position it, invariably within a short time it falls off the dashboard, leaving me at a total loss of where to go next. So here is this amazing piece of technology replete with all the information I need to get to where I am going, and I can’t access any of it, because it has fallen beyond my view.
In our advanced society we have been blessed with many resources to help us learn Torah and do mitzvos with convenience and ease. The drawback is that oftentimes when it’s too accessible and available we don’t feel a pressing need to invest the effort to internalize that wisdom and knowledge. After all, it’s right there whenever we need it. It’s like having a GPS not fastened to the windshield. It will do nothing for you if you don’t have it on display where you can constantly refer to it.
A navigation system can only guide you if you are watching its instruction and following its lead. The captain who keeps his compass in his pocket could have just left it at home.
The Torah is there for the taking. “It is not distant from you... For the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” But only if you keep it in view.
In conclusion I should add that I don’t have the EZ pass stickers on my car either. But that’s a whole separate issue. 

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

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


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


          There is a concept in the world of academia known as Bible criticism. It is the belief that the ‘Bible’ is subject to polemics, analytical review, criticism and reinterpretation. One of their core beliefs is that the Bible is completely outdated. One needs to look no further than at the first civil law mentioned in the Bible involving Jewish slavery. The whole concept of Jewish slavery is totally outdated and unheard of in our time. Therefore, they conclude that the Bible needs revision and elucidation since certain portions are no longer applicable.
          We, Torah Jews, scoff at the naiveté and foolishness of those who even entertain the notion that the Eternal Word of the Al-mighty is subject to review of mortals. The Torah is the eternal guide for life, and every word is eternal.
          That being said, we may wonder why the Torah needs to command Klal Yisroel about how to treat slaves. After all, Klal Yisroel had just recently been released from the travails of an exile where they were subject to brutal servitude and degradation. If anyone would know how not to treat a slave it would be those that were recently freed themselves. Why does the Torah deem it necessary to give austere regulations regarding the proper treatment of a Jewish slave?
          Oznayim LaTorah[1] explains that the Torah is teaching us an invaluable lesson about the human psyche. While it may be true that logic would dictate that those who just emerged from being subject to unbearable oppression would not need to be instructed about being careful not to become oppressors, the nature of man teaches us otherwise. History has demonstrated time and again that yesterday’s oppressed become tomorrow’s oppressor.
During the French Revolution beginning in 1789 the revolutionaries promised liberty, equality, and fraternity. However, as soon as they rose to power they plunged the country into an age of terror and France become a bloodbath more horrific than it had ever known.
Fidel Castro fought under the mantra of equality and rights; today, he rules a ruthlessly communist Cuba.
Lenin, Trotsky and their fellow communist revolutionaries fought for the rights of the proletariat and the masses. Then when they assumed the reigns of power they massacred millions.
Saddam Hussein murdered King Fasiel to promote equality and became one of the most heinous dictators in the recent past.  
          Shlomo Hamelech[2] warns that three types of people cause the world to tremble. One of the three is a former slave who assumes the monarchy. History has proven that we must be wary of the underdog’s rise to power.
          Numerous studies show that those who were abused as children have the greatest proclivity of becoming abusers as adults. It is inconceivable that one who suffered the torments and trauma of any form of abuse would inflict the same pain on another, but logic is often at odds with human nature[3].

          At the beginning of Parshas Yisro, the Torah records Yisro’s rejoining the Jewish nation together with Moshe’s wife and sons. The verse states the names of Moshe’s sons and the reasons for the names, “…Of whom the name of one was Gershom, for he said, ‘I was a stranger in a foreign land’; and the name of the other was Eliezer, ‘for the G-d of my father came to my aid, and He saved me from the sword of Pharoah.[4]
          In Parshas Shemos, after the Torah records how Moshe ended up in the home of Yisro, and subsequently married Yisro’s daughter Tzipporah, the Torah relates that Moshe named his son Gershom, “for he said, ‘I was a stranger in a foreign land’”[5]. Why was it necessary to repeat verbatim why Gershom was so named[6]?
          It is one thing to recognize and appreciate the fact that one was able to persevere despite being a wanderer and a loner when it is fresh on his mind, and he is still beginning to recover from that ordeal. It is a far different challenge to remain cognizant of one’s humble beginnings after one has achieved great success and public repute.
When Moshe originally named Gershom he was still relatively alone. Although he had been welcomed by Yisro and his family, he was still away from his family and his nation. He was very aware of the greatness of his accomplishments despite the travails of his travels. However, when Yisro sought to join the nation in the desert, Moshe had already achieved incredible distinction as the leader of the Jewish people, and as G-d’s emissary. He had been G-d’s liaison with Pharaoh himself, and ultimately had led the nation out of Egypt amidst incredible miracles. The greatness of Moshe was that he never forgot his roots. His original feelings of appreciation to Yisro had never diminished[7]. It was that sense of gratitude and uncanny humility which promoted Moshe himself to go out into the desert to greet his father-in-law. When Yisro arrived Moshe treated him with the same level of respect that he had treated him when he lived in his home[8]
          The Torah never grows obsolete. The meaning behind the simple words traverses all time and place. The Torah begins its treatises of the laws of Jewish society with the laws of maintaining a Jewish slave. The fact that Klal Yisroel had recently been granted freedom was not a reason to omit these laws, but all the more reason to teach it.  It is especially those who tasted the pain of servitude who must be cautious not to impose that pain on others.
          People tend to forget humble beginnings. The Torah teaches us that we must ensure that that does not happen. “Do not oppress a stranger; you know the feeling of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.[9]

“I was a stranger in a foreign land”
“If you acquire a Jewish slave…”

[1] Harav Yitzchak Sorotzkin zt’l
[2] Mishlei 30:21-22
[3] Adapted from the drasha of Rabbi Alfred Cohen, Kehillas Ohaiv Yisroel, Friday night, Parshas Mishpatim 5765
[4] Shemos 18:3-4
[5] Shemos 2:22
[6] My dear student Yoni Herschmann (5th grade, Ashar) asked me this question last week.
[7] It is common that the more gratitude one owes to another the less he shows. Therefore, Moshe’s tremendous gratitude to Yisro at that juncture was a testament to his greatness. 
[8] Heard from Rabbi Laibel Chaitovsky
[9] Shemos 23:9


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim/Mevarchim Chodesh Adar
28 Shevat 5773/February 8, 2013

Written for “ASHREI NEWS” – Ashar’s weekly newsletter – Parshas Mishpatim 5773

It’s the biggest game of the year! There is no greater emotional hype in the world of sports than the Super Bowl. Players and fans count down the days until the showdown. The game begins with exhilarating passion as both sides play their hearts out. It’s what every kid dreams of and every player hopes for. It’s what motivates them throughout the season. Once the game actually starts nothing could stop the momentum. Nothing at all! Well almost nothing…
Much of America saw it happen last Sunday. It was an unprecedented and unimaginable event. The lights went out during the big game and everything came to a screeching halt. All of the hype, all of the psyche, and all of the momentum, it all stopped. The players returned to the sidelines, fans sat back from the edge of their seats. Without those massive lights the game could not continue. In the middle of the third quarter of Super Bowl XIVII, the Ravens and 49ers had to wait it out. It was, what we would dub, ‘a yeshivishe matzav’.
Parshas Mishpatim seems somewhat out of place. Since the beginning of the Torah, way back after Simchas Torah, every parsha has been filled with glorious stories, many miraculous, of our forefathers and ancestors. Then in Chumash Shemot the story becomes more incredible as miracles become commonplace throughout the plagues and Yetziat Mitzrayim, the splitting sea, manna falling from the heaven, the war against Amalek, and the great revelation of Matan Torah. And then suddenly the story seems to come to a screeching halt.
“These are the laws that you shall place before them”. Klal Yisroel is taught the laws of getting along with others, responsibility for property, laws of damages, and laws of money.
It seems incongruous. What is the connection between the laws of daily living and the exciting stories that precede them?
Being a Torah Jew does not only involve the excitement of the Chagim and enjoying the beauty and meals on Shabbat. Being a Torah Jew entails living like a mentch every day of your life. It includes how you act towards others, how you speak to others, and how much you care about others. Being a Torah Jew must shape and define every facet of your life. 
It is not enough to perform in your Avodat Hashem when you are centerfield and everyone is cheering you on. It’s not enough to learn Torah just to get good grades in yeshiva and to make your parents proud. Being a Torah Jew means learning how to perform when the lights are out - in the darkness when no one is there except you and Hashem.
If a Jew doesn’t familiarize himself/herself, not only with the letter of the laws of Parshat Mishpatim, but also with the spirit of the laws of Parshat Mishpatim, he/she has not fulfilled his/her responsibility. 
Throughout our lives we must not allow ourselves to become intimidated by our opponents, even when the odds are against us. All we need is to get that first down, and then to keep advancing. We must not fear the line of scrimmage by being confident that we can break through the defense. But most importantly, in life we must never stop playing the game and we must never leave the field. Even when the lights go out we must still be there battling.
Go Giants – future Torah Giants of Ashar J

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

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