Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch
           To most of the world, Gora-Kalwaria is a small insignificant Polish town twenty miles southeast of Warsaw. In the Torah world however, it is the village of Ger, where the great dynasty of Gerrer Chassidus began with the leadership of the saintly Chiddushei Harim in 1859.
          My first internship as a social work student a number of years ago, was with Bikur Cholim’s department for Holocaust survivors[1]. One of my clients was an elderly secular Jew, a survivor who was well into his 90’s. As is sometimes the case with elderly people, though his mind was no longer very lucid, when we spoke about the past he would perk up. He was a pleasant man who smiled whenever I would come to see him. We spoke of good times before the war and we spoke about the horrors he endured during the war and in the horrors of the camps. I only saw him cry one time.
We were speaking about Poland and I mentioned that my family’s roots were in Ger. Tears welled up in his pain-ridden eyes and he said, “I saw the Rebbe of Ger! I remember the Rebbe of Ger!” He repeated his statement twice and seemed lost in a different world. That was all he said. It was a moment I cannot convey in words but I sensed the nostalgic admiration and awe he still had for the Rebbe, even so many years later.
          The Chassidim in Poland would joke that the Immrei Emes[2], had ten thousand Chasidim who ate on Yom Kippur. It was true – the Rebbe had more than ten thousand Chassidim under the age of Bar Mitzvah.
When survivors reminisce about what Yom Tov was like in Ger it sounds fantastical. The whole town was packed with people and in the Bais Medrash people literally climbed the walls, and hung from windows, to get a glimpse of the Rebbe. There were people in every corner and on every rooftop of the small village.
On February 25-26 1941, the Nazi’s deported well over one-hundred thousand Gerrer Chassidim from Ger to the Warsaw Ghetto. The overwhelming majority of those deportees were destroyed.
          The Immrei Emes escaped to Eretz Yisroel but he was deeply pained by the unbearable losses of most of his followers. He died in Yerushalayim on Shavuos in 1948 as the holy city was being shelled by the Jordanians during Israel’s War of Independence.
His son, the Bais Yisroel, assumed the mantle of Gerrer Chassidus. Under his influence and guidance the great legacy of Ger rebuilt from the ashes. Today it has flourished into one of the largest Chassidic sects in the world.
          The Bais Yisroel possessed a fiery and staunch personality. People who stood in his presence describe the incredible awe they felt. He was not a man who showed emotion; his Chassidim knew he was dedicated to them and he loved them but his indomitable personality was unyielding.
There was one time however, that the Rebbe, who had lost a wife and two children during the war[3], showed a hint of emotion. By Shalosh Seudos one Shabbos the Rebbe quoted the verse which describes the saga of Noach and the flood. The Torah writes, “Noach did ‘all’ that Hashem had commanded him, so he did[4]”. Rashi explains that ‘all’ refers to the fact that Noach built the Ark.  However, a few verses later when the Torah seems to repeat the same words, (7:5) “Noach did all that Hashem had commanded him”? Rashi explains that the second verse refers to the fact that Noach entered the Ark. Was it not obvious that after building the Ark Noach would enter it to escape the raging flood?
          The Bais Yisroel explained, “When Noach saw that the destruction of the world was imminent, he had little will to survive. Noach understood that his whole world, and everything familiar to him, was about to be eradicated and he did not want to live. But Hashem commanded him to enter the Ark! G-d willed him to survive and rebuild, and therefore it was his Divinely-ordained mission. The greatness of Noach was that he complied against his will.”
          The message of the Bais Yisroel was clear. It was not easy to emerge from that world of terror and indescribable pain. In a sense, it would have been far easier to have perished in the smokestacks of the crematorium than to have to live with those horrific images, and to bear witness to the atrocities they endured. It was almost too daunting a task to rebuild and not allow themselves to fall prey to despair and despondency[5]. But G-d miraculously saved each survivor and plucked them from the Ark. Therefore, they had a mission to rebuild.     
Just as Klal Yisroel were designated to be an elite and holy nation, so too, the Kohanim were chosen to be the elite of the elite; the Chosen Leaders of the Chosen Nation. Along with privileges comes added responsibility and more austere restrictions.
One of the more difficult laws imposed on the Kohanim was the prohibition for them to come into contact with a dead body. A Kohain may only become impure from a dead body if the dead person is one of his seven closest relatives[6] or if there is no one else who can bury the dead person (mais mitzvah). However, if the Kohain’s best friend or an uncle whom he was close with dies, the Koahin may not attend the funeral, because it will render him impure.  
          When the Torah relates these laws it commences with an introductory verse. “G-d said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people.[7]” Rashi quotes the Gemara in Yevamos[8] which addresses the apparent redundancy in the verse, “say to the Koahnim…and you shall say to them”. The Gemara explains that G-d was instructing Moshe that there must be a double ‘saying’ (i.e. instructing) here. Not only was Moshe himself to instruct these laws to the Kohanim but he was also, “lihazhir hagedolim al hak’tanim”, to admonish the adult Kohanim to ensure that these laws be safeguarded by the younger Kohanim as well. Simply understood, the Torah is cautioning the older kohanim to be vigilant that the younger Kohanim not defile themselves.
          Rabbi Aryeh Leib Schneinbaum[9] views the Gemarah’s admonishment homiletically: Why is it necessary for the Torah to reprimand the elders regarding the youth specifically in regard to the laws of death and contamination?
During challenging times of personal grief and anguish we have a proclivity to become so absorbed in our pain and loss that we tend to neglect the needs of those who depend on us and need us. In his vernacular, “we tend to say ‘kaddish’ for the deceased and neglect to say ‘kiddush’ for the living”.
          In times of loss it is a daunting task for one to maintain his objectivity and to reflect upon the needs of others, especially the needs of those who are suffering from the same tragedy. Children, more than adults, struggle to make sense out of life and the world, and they often irrationally internalize much of the external evil they see around them[10].
This difficulty is further compacted by our underestimation of the perceptivity of a child; children see much more than we’d like to think they do. Therefore, in stressful times of pathos and pain, the times when we may neglect to fully address the fears and experiences of our children, that is the time that our love and comfort is most crucial.

          The days of Sefiras Ha’omer contain an almost paradoxical mood of anticipation and excitement, balanced with mourning and sorrow. The gemara[11] relates us that twenty-four thousand disciples of Rabbi Akiva died during this time period, because they did not treat each other with adequate respect as befitting men of such great stature. The loss of such a magnanimous group of Torah scholars was incredibly debilitating. The Torah world reeled in shock, stunned at the sudden loss of the most budding scholars of their generation. But surely no one’s grief paralleled that of Rabbi Akiva himself.
          The story of Rabbi Akiva is one of the most beloved passages of Talmudic lore. Akiva was an ignorant shepherd who had a deep-rooted enmity for Torah scholars. At the age of forty, his life literally began anew. Within a relatively short time he rose to become a scholar of unimaginable proportions, dwarfing the erudition of scholars twice his age. For twenty-four years Rabbi Akiva taught Torah, ultimately amassing twenty-four thousand students….and then it was all gone! All he had toiled and strove to accomplish was destroyed. Would anyone have a complaint against Rabbi Akiva for giving up at that point?
          Rabbi Akiva however, did not surrender to his grief. With brazen resilience Rabbi Akiva gathered five new students and began anew. An uncompromising sense of mission drove Rabbi Akiva and he taught those five students who ultimately preserved the unbroken chain of Torah tradition.
          The post- Holocaust generation often did not speak about the atrocities they had endured during the war. Not only did they not want to burden their children with the pain they had suffered, but they had to focus on rebuilding and could not afford to wallow in their anguish.
It was a generation of tenacious resilience, who personified the legacy of Rabbi Akiva[12].

The world of technology is constantly in flux, improving our quality of life. And yet, at the same time, there is a dearth of emotion and love. Our devices have touch screens, while our generation, and especially our children, suffer from being out of touch with the inner reality and emotional selves.
Dr. William Glasser[13] notes that every human being struggles to create a reality that makes sense to him/her. Psychosis occurs when one creates a reality in an unhealthy or destructive way. A healthy reality requires one to feel valuable and valued and the ability to love others and to feel loved.
If every human being requires love and a sense of inner value, children require it even more. Youth is a time of maturation, but it is also a period of great uncertainties and vulnerability. It is incumbent upon those who have endured more of life’s challenges to guide and encourage those who need it most.

“Noach did all G-d had commanded him, so he did”
“To admonish the older ones about the younger ones.”

[1] H.E.A.R.T.s – Holocaust Education and Relief team. Working there was an incredible opportunity to have the chance to meet and hear a bit about the struggles and challenges of a few holy survivors.
[2] the third Gerrer Rebbe and the son of the Sfas Emes
[3] he remarried but never had children after the war
[4] Bereishis 6:22
[5] as many survivors did, and who can blame them?
[6] wife, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter
[7] 21:1
[8] 114a
[9] Peninim al HaTorah, Volume 5
[10] They may even blame themselves, as that is the only rational explanation they can accept. “Somehow it must be my fault” can become the unfortunate conclusion of many a child whenever he faces a situation he cannot comprehend, especially when, G-d forbid, there is a lack of parental harmony in his home.
[11] Yevamos 61b
[12] [In our time however, when we have rebuilt unimaginably, and as survivors are painfully fading, we have an obligation to educate our youth about those horrific times.]
[13] “Reality Therapy”


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor
16 Iyar 5773/April 26, 2013 – 31st day of the Omer
Pirkei Avos – perek 4

Spring has definitely sprung. More important than the stunning budding trees and return of life, is the buzzing activity on the golf course I pass on my way to shul. The hibernating golfers have come out of their caves and resumed their ancient traditions of trying to whack a little ball into a little hole.
For our son Shalom the golfers add a dimension of excitement to his walk home from shul on Shabbos. He was told by some neighborhood friends that as he walks home, he should keep his eyes trained on the ground to find some stray golf balls that inadvertently overshot their targets by a long way. [A neighbor across the street from the course related that on two different occasions a golf ball crashed through his living room window. I was told that those golfers did not make it to the U.S. Open.] When I arrived home from shul this past Shabbos, Shalom proudly held up his loot – two golf balls. 
In his introduction to Mesillas Yesharim, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato details the ultimate recipe for spiritual growth, as taught in the gemara by Rabbi Pinchos ben Yair. “Watchfulness leads to alacrity, alacrity leads to spiritual cleanliness, cleanliness leads to purity…” One of the important ideas he elucidates is that growth can only be accomplished incrementally, step by step, level by level.
In Yaakov Avinu’s epic dream atop Mount Moriah, he envisioned a ladder with its feet planted on the ground leading up to the heavens. A ladder contains rungs upon which one climbs in order to ascend. If one tries to skip a few rungs he will probably end up falling hard, and land up at the bottom. One can only get to the top if he first has a sense of direction of where he wants to end up, and then slowly ascending, one rung at a time.
The days of Sefiras Haomer are meant to be days of growth. Counting each day reminds of the invaluableness of each day. It entails forty-nine steps to arrive at Matan Torah, one day at a time.
As one progresses in his climb, it is inevitable that he encounter setbacks and periods of darkness which seek to impede his progress. It is during those times when one must find light in the darkness, avenues of encouragement that help him maintain his vision and direction.
The fires of Lag Ba’omer reflect those deep penetrating lights. Those fires are the physical representation of the spiritual light of the holy Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon revealed many of the esoteric secrets of Torah, and taught that there is more to every individual and to the world than meets the eye. Therefore, one must always dig deeper to find truth. The fires of Lag Ba’omer represent the final push, impelling us beyond any hurdles, carrying us all the way to Sinai.
A person must always pace himself in his spiritual growth. If he doesn’t invest adequate effort he ends up in the banality of the daily grind. But, if he sets his goals too high he is setting himself up for disappointment and deep personal frustration. Hitting the ball too hard will only ensure that it clears the course and ends up out of the game. To stay in the game he must maintain focus on the goal, and then hit the ball with just the right amount of energy. [Then he gets into that little white car and drives to the next hole…]
It takes a golf expert to hit a hole in one, and it takes wisdom and patience to become one who is whole and complete. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, April 18, 2013


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


          Late one night, Rabbi Yaakov Haber[1] was alone driving down Route 17 toward Monsey. As every driver knows, after dark the desolate highway can provide a perilous trip for the lonely and fatigued driver.
Overcome with exhaustion, Rabbi Haber pulled off the highway into the local New Jersey village in search of a late-night store where he could purchase a coffee. He finally spotted a small store and walked in. He immediately felt an uneasiness about the place and was about to walk out when he heard the man behind the counter speaking Hebrew. Hearing the familiar dialect Rabbi Haber turned around and greeted the man with the traditional, “Shalom Aleichem”. The man looked up in surprise and then replied (in Hebrew) that Rabbi Haber’s choice of words was grammatically incorrect. The Hebrew word ‘Aleichem’ is used when addressing more than one person. As he was only one person, the man insisted that Rabbi Haber should have said ‘Shalom Alecha’[2].
Thinking quickly Rabbi Haber poignantly replied, “The verse in Tehillim (91:11) states, ‘For He will command His angels to protect you in all your ways’. Our sages teach that a person is never alone for G-d dispatches his elite angels, Michoel (who stands on one’s right) and Gavriel (who stands on one’s left), to accompany and protect every person. Therefore I was not only addressing you with my greeting but I was also addressing your entourage.” The man seemed satisfied with the explanation, so Rabbi Haber purchased his coffee and continued on his way.
          About two months later Rabbi Haber again found himself traveling the weary Route 17 with his eyelids threatening to close, so he decided to head back to the diner to see his ‘old friend’. As soon as he walked in the man behind the counter recognized him, “Atah! Atah mikalkel et hachaim sheli- You! You have ruined my life!” Rabbi Haber was stunned; what could he possibly have done to ruin this man’s life? The man continued, “Atah ‘Shalom Aleichem’ nachon? - You are the one who said ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to me, correct?”
Rabbi Haber nodded. The man explained that soon after Rabbi Haber left the diner that night he picked up his sandwich to eat it. True it wasn’t Kosher but he had never thought twice about it before. But as he was about to bite into it he thought to himself, ‘how can I eat this with the holy angel Michael standing next to me?’ Sometime later as he prepared to go somewhere he thought that the angiel Gavriel who is with him would not be too happy with his going there. The man complained that since that day his conscience has been nagging at him incessantly and he could no longer enjoy many of the things he had always done. Therefore, “Atah mikalkel at hachaim sheli”.

          Idolatry is one of the three cardinal sins a Jew can commit. It is so egregious that if one is forced to choose between life and worshipping idolatry, he is obligated to give up his life. The Torah makes this unequivocally clear in the second of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not recognize the gods of others in my presence”.
If so, why does the Torah add a specific prohibition to worship the idol known as ‘Molech.’ “Any man from the B’nei Yisroel…who shall give of his seed to the Molech, shall be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones. I shall concentrate My attention upon that man, and I shall cut him off from among his people, for he had given of his offspring to Molech in order to defile My Sanctuary and to desecrate My Holy Name.[3]” Why is serving Molech so terrible that it warrants its own individual warning?
          Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explains[4] that the service of Molech entailed offering one’s child as a sacrifice on a blazing pyre in front of the Molech idol. Despite the severity of the sin of idolatry, the transgressor can at least purport that he sinned because he was overcome by his desires. To serve Molech however, necessitated a rational decision to go against one’s nature. A person naturally loves his child more than himself. To offer a child as a sacrifice takes a tremendous amount of psychological and mental preparation. One who ‘works on himself’ to perform such a heinous sin is spitting G-d in the face, as it were. Such a despicable act demonstrates total disregard and antipathy for G-d. Therefore Molech is more severe than any other form of idolatry.       

          When the Torah records the narrative of the sin of the golden calf, the Torah[5] states, “Yehoshua heard the sound of the people in its shouting…” Targum Yonason Ben Uziel explains that the sounds Yehoshua heard were, “Kad miyabivin b’chedva kadam iglah- When they cried with rejoicing in front of the golden calf.” What does it mean ‘they cried with rejoicing’; crying and rejoicing are paradoxical emotions?
          Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz zt’l, the Mirrer Mashgiach, once told his disciples, “I don’t know if you will merit the great rewards of the World to Come, for that depends on how you live your life. But one thing I can guarantee: As a student of the Yeshiva you will never be able to fully enjoy the physical pleasures of life.”[6]
In a similar vein, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt’l once commented to his students, “The moment you put your hand on the doorknob of the Yeshiva’s front door, you forfeited full enjoyment of the base pleasures of this world.”
Oznayim LaTorah explains that the sin of the Golden Calf transpired shortly after Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah. Therefore, even though they rejoiced over their sin, the revelation of Sinai had so inspired them and developed within them a conscience that their joy in sinning could not be complete. That is what the Targum is conveying. They tried to rejoice with the golden calf, but their souls cried out from within them, marring their celebration.  

The Chofetz Chaim was once asked why he expended so much effort to publish his magnum opus about the laws of Loshon Hora if people still speak Loshon Hora? The Chofetz Chaim replied that, because of his sefer, people will at least have a conscience and feel bad when they speak Loshon Hora. For that alone it was worth all the effort.                                                                                                  

Rabbi Mordechai Schwab zt’l was a beloved educator and Torah leader, especially in the Monsey community.
A former student who had left the ways of the Torah once approached his former Rebbe and told him that he hated him. He explained that although he had long ago forsaken the path of his fathers, every time he was about to commit a sin, the sweet and gentle voice of his Rebbe from so many years prior reverberated in his ears, depriving him of any real pleasure and satisfaction from his sins.      

Perhaps the most intriguing point of all is that Hitler himself recognized this idea when he declared that he hates the Jews because they gave the world a conscience.

This ‘conscience’ is what we call the ‘Pintele Yid,’ i.e. the inherent spark that is never extinguished. One can bury his Pintele Yid and cover it with all sorts of spiritual debris, but somewhere beneath it all that inner voice will keep crying out.
The opening blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, the central portion of all of our prayers, concludes with the words, ‘Blessed are You, Hashem, the shield of Avrohom.” The Chiddushei Harim explains that there is an inner ‘Avrohom-keit,’ a spark of our patriarch Avrohom, within the heart of every Jew. That spark is preserved by G-d despite anything one does. It is for that special spark that we thank G-d.
One who actively tries to quell his inner spark actively has committed the greatest sacrilege of all. But even such a person will never be fully successful. His inner conscience, Pintele Yid, spark of Avrohom, will continue to yearn for spiritual nourishment.     
“To defile My Sanctuary and to desecrate My Holy Name”
“When they cried with rejoicing in front of the golden calf”

[1] Former Rabbi of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey. He is currently the Rav of Kehillat Shivtei Yeshurun in Ramat Bait Shemesh. I am appreciative that Rabbi Haber took the time to read and confirm the story.
[2] ‘Alecha’ being the word used when addressing an individual.
[3] Vayikra 19:2-3
[4] Ma’ayan Bais Hashoaivah
[5] Shemos 32:17
[6] Rabbi Yeruchom was alluding to the fact that incorporated into the Yeshiva curriculum is a strict set of morals and ethics with intense study and discourse about self-improvement and self-control. One exposed to such rigorous study will inevitably develop a strong conscience that will never allow him to enjoy sin or over-involvement in physical pursuits.

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim
9 Iyar 5773/April 19. 2013 - 24th day of the Omer
Pirkei Avos – Chapter 3

A number of years ago I gave a presentation for an educational institution. A few weeks later, an envelope arrived in the mail from that institution. You can only imagine my surprise when I opened it to find a bill enclosed for the session I had given. It’s one thing not to like my presentation, but to bill me for it – I think that’s a little extreme! I don’t think it could’ve been that bad. 
There’s an old adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’. Sometimes our best intentions do not have the results we anticipated, to say the least. But Chazal remind us that often the chesed we do for another is more beneficial to us - the doer- than it is for the receiver.
A number of years ago I was listening to a lecture from Rav Matisyahu Salomon shlita about this very topic. He mentioned that sometimes heaven arranges for us to have an opportunity to perform a chesed because we need the merit for one reason or another.
This is definitely a poignant thought to bear in mind when we are presented with an opportunity to perform a chesed, especially when we are not in the mood.
Soon after listening to that lecture, I picked up a hitchhiking elderly Jew along the side of a road of Monsey. My car did not have a tape deck (actually to be honest I think it had a tape deck that didn’t work) though I had plenty of cassette tapes. So I had an old walkman in the car, and I kept one earphone in my ear (similar to having a Bluetooth in one ear). When my passenger noticed it he began to lecture me about the folly of what I was doing and that it was dangerous. My immediate reaction was of tremendous annoyance. “What an ingrate! How dare he give me advice about what I do in my car when I invited him in?!” But then I remembered the lecture I just heard from Rabbi Salomon. So I nodded and pulled the earplug out of my ear.  I can’t say I would always react that way, but at least that one occasion I was able to maintain perspective.
If we are not yet on the level of doing truly altruistic chesed, we can do it for selfish reasons (as long as the recipient isn’t made to feel like a ‘chesed case’), knowing that we stand to gain much from the chesed we perform.
Oh, and about the bill I received for my workshop, I ended up being paid the full amount I had been billed. I guess my presentation wasn’t so bad after all.

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

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


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


          The coach of Penn State’s football team, Joe Paterno, relates that one day, while looking in the mirror, he asked his wife how many great football coaches she thought there were. She immediately replied, “One less than you think.”

          The gemara[1] notes that the spiritual affliction of tzara’as is, not only a punishment for slander, but also for the sins of murder, taking a false oath, immorality, haughtiness, robbery, and selfishness.
The common denominator between those sins is a lack of sensitivity or regard for others - physically, emotionally, or financially.
          When one notices what appears to be tzara’as, on his home, clothes, or skin he is obligated to show it to a kohain for evaluation. If the kohain surmises that it is indeed tzara’as, the metzora is temporarily expelled from his home and community, and must spend a specific amount of time in isolation. During that time he is to contemplate his mistreatment of his fellow man.
          When the tzara’as is finally healed, the metzora must bring a korban (offering) along with various other specified materials to the Bais Hamikdash, including a crimson thread and hyssop.
“The kohain shall command; and for the person being purified there shall be taken two live, clean birds, cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop.[2]” Rashi comments that the thread is wool dyed with a pigment made from a lowly creature, a type of insect or snail, whose identity is unclear. Hyssop comes from a lowly bush. Thus, both ingredients symbolize the penitent’s newfound humility.  
          There is a notable difference between the symbolism of the hyssop and the crimson thread. Although the hyssop comes from a humble bush, it is above ground. The string of crimson wool however, receives its color from an insect which crawls beneath the earth. It would seem then, that the crimson wool represents a more extreme level of humility than the hyssop. If so, why was it necessary for the penitent metzora to bring both materials; why couldn’t he just bring the crimson wool?
          Brichas Ish[3] explains that humility is a difficult character trait to master. By nature we crave attention and enjoy asserting our superiority above others. It entails a very healthy sense of internal self-worth and pride to reach a level where one does not feel the desire to advocate his merits and worthiness.
          The crimson dye used for the metzora’s thread comes from a creature that lives underground. The insect is not stuffed into the ground, but goes there on its own volition. The crimson thread symbolizes to the metzora that he should not always be seeking external glory and honor. He must build self-confidence, until he no longer constantly needs the approval and accolades of others. However, even this great level of humility leaves something to be desired.
          The lowly hyssop bush grows just a few inches above the ground. It is constantly trampled on by others, easily sways in the wind, and when it rains the hyssop is forced to wallow in the mud created surrounding it. The hyssop symbolizes to the metzora that true penitence will be achieved when he achieves the humility of the hyssop. It takes true humility for one to bear his degradation in silence, i.e. to be able to ‘grin and bear it’. The sins of the metzora, caused by conceit and an attitude of cavalier apathy, is rectified by his developing an unassuming nature, by reaching a level where is ‘above’ caring about the negative comments of others.  

          Humility is not achieved when all is well and life is peachy but rather when times are trying and challenging. There are those who mistakenly think that humility includes self abnegation and belittlement. What a tragic misunderstanding! In truth, the humble person has a strong appreciation for himself and therefore does not feel a need to promote himself and therefore is not shaken by hurtful comments. The truly humble person is not abashed to shoulder blame and to admit his failures. It is this great level of humility which the metzora must strive for. When he achieves such a level of humility, he will no longer feel a need to say negative comments about others, or seek to asset his superiority over others.  

In Parshas Shemini, the Torah records that when the “seven days of practice” were completed it was time for the inauguration of the Service on the first day of Nissan.  
          "Moshe said to Aharon, ‘Approach the altar and perform your sin-offering and your burnt-offering, atoning for yourself and for the people…’.'"[4]
          Rashi explains, "Moshe had to instruct Aharon to do so, because Aharon was bashful and afraid to approach the altar. Moshe said to him: 'Why are you ashamed? For this you have been chosen’!”
          Moshe was telling Aaron that this was his role in life, his calling, and he shouldn't be ashamed, but should come forward and accept it.
          The Arizal explained that Moshe was telling Aharon “For the very fact that you are ashamed[5], that’s why you have been chosen’. Had Aharon approached with a more cavalier attitude then he would not be the one for the job. It was precisely because he regarded himself as inadequate and unworthy for the job that he was chosen for it.
          Many of our greatest leaders did not regard themselves as worthy of leadership. It was only when it was cast upon them that they embraced the role.
The Chazon Ish, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz zt’l, lived a life of extreme Torah scholarship and saintliness out of the limelight until the last decades of his life.
 Rav Aharon Leib Steinman was virtually unknown outside of B’nei Brak until the last two decades. Rav Chaim Kanievsky holds no official position. The world flocks to him for advice and guidance which he graciously gives. But personally, he would unquestionably rather be learning peacefully and uninterruptedly.
They did not pursue honor and in fact shunned it, until they saw that it was their destiny to fill the vacuum of Torah leadership, and they begrudgingly accepted it.

Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l noted[6] that humility is not defined by actions, nor is it a mode of behavior. Humility is rooted in one’s mindset and internal attitude.
There are people who ‘run away from honor’. They do not accept public honor or recognition, and they shy away from the limelight. Such people may even offer to be called up to the Torah for the aliyah containing the harsh tochacha, claiming that such things don’t bother them. However, if someone would reproach them gently for something they did, they may become very angry and respond harshly.
Or perhaps they may even appear to not care about negative comments made to him, but inside he may be burning with rage that he is embarrassed to express because it will hurt his humble façade. That is not humility.
The truly humble person is one who has invested requisite effort in working on his character traits, until he has gained a level of mastery over himself. It is only such a person who will truly not be offended when a harsh comment is made to him.
The humble person does not remain silent in the face of a personal affront because he is shy and lacks assertiveness. He remains silent because he is truly not offended or bothered by the comment or action.[7] 
Rav Pam quotes the story of Rav Nachumka of Hurdina who was once collecting money for tzedakah. When he approached one fellow and requested a donation, the fellow responded by brazenly slapping Rav Nachumke across the face. Without batting an eyelash, Rav Nachumke replied, “That’s for me. But I also need something for the poor people.”
The Rambam wrote a letter to a scholar who had taken upon himself the defense of the Rambam’s honor from harsh critics. The Rambam wrote that, “even if I heard with my own ears my shame, I wouldn’t be particular about it. I would forgive it immediately.” The Rambam continued that one should not waste time defending his own honor. It’s too trivial, and there are better ways for one to utilize his time. 
Rav Pam notes that this idea must be reiterated and understood: Humility is not defined by actions, but by one’s attitude and mindset!

“For the person being purified… crimson thread and hyssop”
“For this you have been chosen!”

[1] Arachin 16a
[2] 14:4
[3] Rabbi Avrohom Shain shlita
[4] Vayikra 9:7
[5] The first word of Rashi, simply read as ‘lamah – Why” can  also be read “limah – for the fact“
[6] Haggadah Mareh Kohain, p. 223
[7] Telling a child who is constantly being offended to ‘just ignore it’ is not 


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tazria-Meztora
2 Iyar 5773/April 12, 2013 - 17th day of the Omer
Pirkei Avos – perek 2

Public Service Announcement: If you have a gray Honda Accord and you see a stranger getting into your car, please don’t call the cops too quickly; it may be me. [Depending who you are when you notice that it’s me you may want to call the cops even faster. And I know who you are…]
On more than one occasion (two to be exact) I have tried opening the door to a car that looked like mine, but wasn’t. One of those times I sat down in the car before I realized that it wasn’t mine.
I felt better when a fellow teacher in one of the schools I work in sheepishly told me that she had gotten into my car before she realized that it wasn’t hers.
Even worse, a certain close relative of Chani’s who shall remain nameless, was once sitting in what she thought was her car waiting for her husband to come out of the supermarket, when someone opened the door and began screaming at her to get out of his car!
What is it that usually gives it away that you got into the wrong car (assuming you don’t remember your license plate numbers, like me)? The stuff inside! You can learn a lot about a person from the inside of his/her car– not only from how neat and organized it is, but also what kind of ‘stuff’ are in the car, (including the kind of music and radio pre-sets).
Before Pesach, you really get a good window into what people have in their car, when it all comes out for cleaning – pens, tehillimtefillas haderech, business cards, cassette tapes (what’s that?), lipstick, etc.
It’s often said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The Mishna in Avos expresses it this way: “Don’t look at the jug, but at its contents.” And I say ‘Don’t judge a car by its exterior, but by the stuff inside’. The time I had unwittingly sat down in someone else’s car, I realized it wasn’t my car when I saw that it wasn’t my stuff inside. 
It’s yet another reminder that in our superficial world we shouldn’t be so shallow as to judge people by their exteriors - (especially because they may just be dressing in a certain way to look like someone else…) but rather by the stuff inside which defines us to a large extent.
But the truth is that the stuff inside is not completely definitive because it can be changed. We can straighten up and clean out the garbage from inside. We can change the radio presets, or shut the radio off completely. 
During these days of Sefiras Haomer we count up towards our reacceptance of the Torah. We do so by working on our character traits, and trying to clean out our stuff.
I should also add that if it’s not your car, the car key won’t work, which is very symbolic as well. Only you have the key to start your ignition; unless of course you lose it, but that’s a different story.

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

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