Thursday, June 27, 2013


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

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For almost two decades, Camp Dora Golding, where our family has spends its last nine summers, was graced with the presence of Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman1. A number of years ago, at a staff meeting, Rabbi Finkelman related the following personal vignette:
Rabbi Finkelman has relatives who are not Orthodox Jews. Still, he attempts to attend all family simchos in order to maintain the family bond and to try to draw them closer to a Torah way of life.
On one occasion, he attended the b’ris for the son of a relative who is a Conservative Jew. Rabbi Finkelman described how different the whole spirit of the b’ris was from an Orthodox b’ris. The Sandek, the baby’s grandfather, came in wearing surgical scraps including a face-mask. He was not allowed to hold the baby; rather he placed his hands underneath the table on which the baby was lying. The Mohel, who was also wearing full surgical gear, announced every single step of the way what was happening.
At one point, he announced that the mother of the baby was going to hand the baby to her husband2. Rabbi Finkelman felt that although many of the proceedings were unusual, since nothing was blatantly against halacha, there was no reason to say anything. However, at this point when the Mohel announced publically that they were to do something forbidden by halacha, Rabbi Finkelman felt it was his duty to protest. In an undertone so that no one but the Mohel would hear, Rabbi Finkelman whispered to him, “That is against halacha.”
The Mohel finished what he was doing and then he said loudly so that everyone could hear, “You know, it’s you long-bearded people who make everyone else not want to be religious!” Not wanting to allow such a vehement quip to go unanswered Rabbi Finkelman replied loudly, “Oh no! It’s people like you that rip halachos out of the Shulchan Aruch who don’t allow good people like these to have the opportunity to keep the Torah properly.”
As soon as the b’ris was completed, the Mohel stormed out of the home. However, the father of the baby mentioned to Rabbi Finkelman that the next time he had a boy he would allow Rabbi Finkelman to choose the Mohel and make all the arrangements for the b’ris.

When Bila’am realized the futility of his efforts to curse Klal Yisroel, he informed Balak that he knew the real secret to destroying the Jews. The only one who could destroy the Jewish people is the Jews themselves. If Balak would be able to lure the Jews to immorality, they would be vulnerable to G-d’s wrath.
The plan worked and the Jews were dealt harsh retribution for the sins they committed with the Moabites. Were it not for the efforts of Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon HaKohain, the devastation would have been even greater.
At the conclusion of Parshas Balak, the Torah relates that ‘a Jewish man’ brought ‘a Midyanite woman’ into his tent in full view of ‘the entire assembly’ in order to have a forbidden relationship with her. When Pinchas saw what was occurring, he grabbed a spear. (25:8) “He followed the Jewish man into the tent and pierced them both, the Jewish man and the woman into her stomach – and the plague was halted from among the Children of Israel.”
After reading about this tragic tragedy, Parshas Balak concludes. We wait a week before we read Parshas Pinchas, which continues where Parshas Balak left off. There, at the beginning of Parshas Pinchos the verse relates the reward that Pinchas received for brazenly standing up to defend the Glory of G-d. At that point the Torah also reveals the identity of the anonymous Jewish man and woman whom Pinchas killed: Zimri, the Prince of Shevet Shimon, and Kuzbee, a Midyanite Princess.
It seems strange that when the Torah actually mentions the event it omits the identity of the sinners. It is only when the Torah reveals the reward of Pinchas that we are informed that the sinners were high-ranking individuals. What is the point of the initial vagueness in regard to the identities of Zimri and Kuzbee?
Perhaps the Torah is demonstrating the extent of the greatness of Pinchas’s act that we would otherwise not fully appreciate. Rashi, at the beginning of Parshas Pinchas, explains that Pinchas was not hailed a hero for what he did. In fact, au contraire; he was immediately scorned. The people accused Pinchas of committing wanton murder. They protested that Pinchas who was a descendant of Yisro who, “fattened calves to be sacrificed as idols” had no right murdering a prince of Israel.
Pinchas had lived through the forty years in the desert and was well aware of the challenges Moshe encountered from the nation throughout that time. When he zealously grabbed a spear he must have understood that he was going to be censured for committing the deed. Even if Zimri was not well respected Pinchos knew his actions would invite opposition. The fact that he was a leader would only increase the level of hostility he would encounter. 
Yet, Pinchas did not waver. He ignored the fact that his own honor and reputation was at stake, and stood up for G-d’s honor.
Perhaps that’s why when the Torah records what actually occurred it does so without identifying the perpetrators. In a sense, Pinchas made himself blind to their identities. To him they were an anonymous man and woman who had desecrated the Glory of G-d. It was only later, when the Torah describes the heroism of Pinchas that the Torah expounds on what really happened, to demonstrate just how courageous and zealous Pinchas was.

The Chofetz Chaim relates a parable about a wealthy landowner who was leaving town for a business venture for an extended period of time. Before embarking on his trip, the landowner appointed an overseer to supervise his land during his absence. He left the overseer with a detailed ‘to do’ list, and instructed him to read the list each morning.
When the landowner returned, he was shocked to find his properties in disarray. It seemed as if nothing had been done since his departure. The landowner called the overseer into his office and severely chastised him for being derelict with his responsibilities. The overseer defended himself, “But I read the list that you left with me every single morning, just as you instructed.” The landowner’s face turned colors, “When I left you to oversee, I didn’t realize I was leaving an imbecile in charge of my properties. Reading the list without ensuring that the instructions were carried out is completely worthless.”
The Chofetz Chaim explained that the same is true about those Jews who are meticulous to study Torah and the Shulchan Aruch but aren’t very particular to implement what they study. They are analogous to the overseer who reads the list but does nothing about it.
Pinchas did not merely study Torah to know its truth but he also sought to live a life of truth. The Torah he learned wasn’t merely polemics; it was how he lived his life.
At times we may be apologetic when explaining halacha or mitzvos to those less familiar. The legacy of Pinchos is that we should be proud of who we are, and never be ashamed to stand up for its honor.

“The Jewish man and the woman”
“Pinchos turned back my wrath from the Children of Israel”
1 Rabbi Finkleman shlita is the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Ohr HaChaim in Queens and a beloved mechanech, who teaches more by example, than through all of the pearls of Torah he conveys. He is also a man of unyielding integrity who is unabashed to emphatically promote and demand strict adherence to the Torah view and law in regard to all facets of life.
2 It is forbidden for the first few weeks after a woman has given birth to hand anything directly to her husband, as per hilchos niddah


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos
20 Tammuz 5773/June 29, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 1

He was seven years old living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His parents were concerned about his stubbornness; there was just no changing his mind. His parents felt he had to learn how to give in, and that he couldn’t always have it his way.
Then one fateful Shabbos afternoon his mother placed a piece of veal on his plate. When he promptly announced that he wasn’t going to eat it, his parents replied that he was absolutely not to get up until the meat was eaten. So he sat. The meal ended and everyone left the table. But he continued to sit at the table that had nothing on it except for one plate of veal.
His mother took his siblings down to the park, but he remained playing with the little buttons on the back of the brown chair. His father’s chavrusa came and his father wheeled him into the kitchen where he continued to sit aimlessly in front of the plate of veal.
It was getting dark when his father stood above the garbage can emptying the plate of veal into it. “What’s going on?” asked the incredulous youth. “You win” replied the father in a defeated his voice, shaking his head. Indeed he did; six and a half hours later!
The family of the seven year old moved to suburbia shortly thereafter. In yeshiva the boy’s rebbe taught the class about the mitzvah of sleeping in the succah. The young boy came home and emphatically told his parents that he planned to sleep in the succah that year. Their succah was not attached to the house, and the parents weren’t too keen about him sleeping there alone (his father had sciatica which precluded him from sleeping in the succah). But sleep there he did, all alone.
The next morning his mother told him how proud she was of him. “You used your stubbornness in the right way, and did not allow anything to get in your way of performing a mitzvah.”
When Klal Yisroel committed the egregious sin of the Golden Calf, G-d informed Moshe that He planned to destroy the nation, because “they are a stiff-necked people.” The nation would not let go of its slave mentality, which caused them to panic when they thought Moshe was delayed in returning from Sinai.
In the selichos of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz we state: “We were stubborn so catastrophe increased upon us.” It was only Moshe’s prayer and his interceding on the nation’s behalf that saved them from destruction. And yet the only reason we as a nation have survived two millennia of exile of endless abject persecution is because of our incredible stubbornness. The more they have tried to wrestle us away from our ideals and beliefs the more we have obdurately increased our commitment to them.
So, like every character trait, stubbornness is not necessarily a flaw if one knows how and when to use it. One who is too proud to hear anyone else’s opinion can destroy his relationships. But one who is too resolute to compromise on his principles ensures that they will long endure.
When we as a nation learned how to properly utilize the innate stubbornness that almost destroyed us, it became the guarantee of our eternity as a people.
By the way, the young seven year old boy who wouldn’t eat the veil, grew up, and wrote a column relating the experience from his youth.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013


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


When visiting the city of Vienna a few years ago, Rav Dan Segal shlita, was shown the following story, recorded in the city’s ‘Sefer Kehillos’1:
The young girl from the Shiff family had an unusually beautiful voice. However, for a religious girl in Vienna, Austria during the early 1900’s her stunning voice didn’t afford her much opportunity. Then one day an agent for the opera got wind of the young Jewish wunderkind and offered her the incredible opportunity to sing in the renowned Vienna opera.
The girl was thrilled beyond words but, when her parents heard the offer, they were crestfallen. All of their efforts to convince their daughter that the opera was no place for a Torah-observant girl fell on deaf ears. Her father brought her to their Rav, R’ Shlomo Baumgarten, who also tried to convince her that she should not pursue the tantalizing offer. When R’ Shlomo saw that he could not sway her, he suggested to her father that he bring her to R’ Yitzchak Meir, the Kapichinitzer Rebbe, who was in Vienna at the time.
Immediately, father and daughter set out to visit the Rebbe. The young woman was certain that the Rebbe would lambaste her about how evil she was for even contemplating such a career, and she prepared herself for the confrontation. To her surprise the Rebbe’s reaction was vastly different. After he heard the situation he remarked that he understood how hard it was for her and what a difficult predicament she found herself in. Then he asked her, “Tell me, mein tachter - my daughter, why do you want to join the opera so badly? Is it for the money?”
She thought for a moment and then replied that it wasn’t the money but the opportunity for fame. If she joined the opera everyone would know her name.
The Rebbe closed his eyes, deep in thought, and then replied: “Listen closely, my daughter. It is the dream of every Jewish woman to merit a child who will illuminate the world through his Torah learning. What if I promise you that if you sacrifice your chance at fame, you will be blessed with a child whose Torah will light up the world, and will be one of the greatest halachic authorities of his time. You will have nachas from him, not only in this world, but even when you leave this world as well. Your fame will come, but it will be through him. Would you give up the offer for such a guarantee?”
  She wiped away her tears and nodded that she would indeed give it all up. When she left the Rebbe she informed the agent that she was no longer interested. All of his cajoling and persuading could not shake her adamant resolve. She forfeited the chance of a lifetime for a guarantee of eternal nachas. 
When Rav Segal finished the story he wanted to know what became of the Rebbe’s promise. After doing some research he discovered that this girl eventually married and had a son by the name of Shmuel. Today he is Rav Shmuel Wosner shlita, Av Beis Din of B’nei B’rak, author of the Shevet Halevi, and one of the outstanding halachic authorities of our time.
  When Rav Segal approached Rav Wosner to ask if the story was true, Rav Wosner emotionally replied that although his mother indeed had a stunning voice, she had never recounted that story to him. Then, with tears in his eyes, Rav Wosner explained that it made sense. “When I left home to learn in the famed Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, my mother begged me to never stop learning. She told me then that she gave up everything for my Torah learning. I now understand what she meant.”

“Bilaam said to Balak, ‘Build for me here seven altars and prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams.2
Rashi3 explains that Bila’am’s intent was to build altars and offer sacrifices corresponding to the altars and sacrifices offered by the Patriarchs. In doing so, he planned to counterbalance their merit, so that he would be successful in his mission to curse the Jews.
The Medrash concludes that G-d rejected all of Bila’am’s offerings and declared that He would only accept offerings from Klal Yisroel.
Why indeed were Bila’am’s numerous offerings to G-d, including the lives of his own son and daughter, rejected by G-d?

Earlier this year I was teaching my Ashar fifth graders the beginning of Parshas Bo. The pasuk there states that Moshe warned Pharaoh about the imminence of the eighth plague of locusts which would devastate whatever produce had not been destroyed by the previous plague of hail. Pharaoh’s advisors were beginning to grow weary of the relentless plagues and they urged Pharaoh to figure out a way to pacify the Jews to end the ravaging of Egypt.
Pharaoh told Moshe that he was amenable to their going to serve G-d, but he first wanted to know who would be going. Moshe replied, “With our youngsters and with our elders shall we go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flock and with our cattle shall we go, because it is a festival of G-d for us.” Pharaoh replied that it was not in the nation’s benefit for everyone to leave. “Let the men go now and serve G-d for it is what you are seeking.” With that offer presented, Pharaoh promptly and discourteously banished Moshe and Aharon from before him.   
What was the meaning behind the negotiations between Moshe and Pharaoh? Why was Pharaoh willing to allow the men to leave? Also, Pharaoh should have said “for it is them that you are seeking”. Why does it say “for it is what you are seeking”?
I explained to my class that Pharaoh and Moshe had vastly different understandings of the motive behind serving G-d. It is analogous to the difference between sweeping the floor and doing exercise. If a woman tells her husband that the kitchen floor needs to be swept, presumably the woman doesn’t care who sweeps the floor. If the husband has one of his children, or the cleaning lady, do it, his wife will be perfectly happy.
However, if during a well-visit one’s doctor sternly tells him that, “there needs to be a half-hour exercise done every day”, the man can’t go him and order his cleaning lady to do the exercise for him. The exercise is not something that ‘needs to get done’, but something that he himself needs to do for his own health.
Pharaoh understood serving the gods in the same vein as most polytheistic nations did in the ancient world. The gods were very powerful and also very temperamental. They needed to be worshipped and served so that they will be pacified and not harm the world in their anger.
Therefore Pharaoh informed Moshe that only the men needed to leave to serve G-d in the desert. Like sweeping the floor, serving god was something that needed to be done, and it was the men who did that sort of work. “Let the men for it is what you seek” – ‘it’ referring to the pacification of god by performing its service.
Moshe replied that Pharaoh had a radical misunderstanding of how/why they served G-d. Serving G-d wasn’t something that ‘needed to get done’, but something every individual needed to perform in order to maintain a connection with G-d and to realize his/her divine mission in life. Serving G-d is the spiritual exercise every individual requires to maintain focus on his goals and direction in life. Therefore, sending just the men was insufficient; every woman and child, and even their possessions were to serve G-d upon their exodus from Egypt.  
Maharal4 explains that Bila’am understood that the purpose of bringing offerings to G-d was for G-d’s sake, since He must get pleasure from the offering. Therefore, Bila’am reasoned that if he brought more offerings than the patriarchs that would appease G-d to an unprecedented level, and he would surely win over G-d’s favor.
Bila’am failed to realize that G-d gains nothing from offerings, for if He did He would instruct the pure celestial angels to bring Him offerings. Rather, the offering is for the sake of the one who offers it, for it connects him with His Creator. It is a great source of merit for man that G-d grants him ability to bring Him an offering!
Therefore, G-d repudiated Bila’am’s offerings and declared that He would only accept offerings from Klal Yisroel, because only they had the humility to understand that their offerings, as well as all of the mitzvos they performed, were for their own benefit.

It is no coincidence that Bila’am was one of the three chief advisors of Pharaoh. Like Pharaoh, Bila’am had the same fallacious understanding of the purpose of G-dly Service.
We however understand that we are the beneficiaries when we serve G-d. We state each morning “We are fortunate – how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage! We are fortunate for we come early and stay late, evening and morning, and proclaim twice each day: Shema Yisroel…”
It may not be easy to be a Torah Jew, but nothing valuable ever comes easily. We wouldn’t have it any other way!

“Build for me here seven altars”
”With our youngsters and elders, our sons and daughters…”
1 Before Shavuos, the Nikolsburger Rebbe honored the 5th-8th graders at Ashar by delivering words of chizuk. The Rebbe related this incredible story to the girls.
2 Bamidbar 23:1
3 Based on Medrash Tanchuma Balak 11, Tzav 1
4 Nesiv Ha’avodah, Chapter 1


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak
13 Tammuz 5773/June 22, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 6

What an ego boost! From the moment a young man and woman become engaged until the end of the week of Sheva Berachos, they are the center of attention. Wherever they go, people heap blessings upon them and wishes of mazal tov. Then during sheva berachos friends and family can’t stop relating the accolades and praise of the young newlyweds.  
To temper the over-inflated ego of the young suitors, immediately following their marriage a husband attends weddings of his wife’s friends, and the wife attends weddings of her husband’s friends. Suddenly, the former star of the show stands sheepishly aside at a wedding filled with people who hardly pay him/her any attention. It is a humbling experience indeed.
When Chani and I were young newlyweds I was attending one such wedding of one of her friends. I knew no one so I joined the circle once and then stood on the side watching the lively and jubilant dancing. It struck me then as to just how beautiful and special our weddings are. That night I was an outsider looking in, and it was truly a beautiful sight. The beauty and transcendence of the chuppah, the simcha that resonates on people’s faces, the excitement that fills the hall, and the energetic dancing are something special that we don’t always appreciate.
I particularly enjoy reading Parshas Balak each year. The wicked Bila’am sought to curse the Jews, but when he peered at their camp as an outsider looking in he unwittingly could not contain his admiration, and beautiful blessings burst forth from his lips.
This year on Shavuos, one of the members of our shul related to me that after learning through the entire night he was making his way to the mikveh before davening (as encouraged by the Arizal). The first breaks of morning were visible upon the horizon and he saw the Jewish houses lit up, some with candles still burning in the window, white table cloths adorning the tables. In contrast, all the other homes were completely dark. In the distance he saw some shuls where people were still hunched over their seforim enagaged in Torah study. He told me that it was a rare perspective which filled him with a genuine sense of pride that he was part of such a regal group.
There are many complicated challenges and issues that our community faces. But periodically we should step back and view ourselves like an outsider looking in. We would see the beauty of Shabbos, the selfless chesed that traverses all boundaries, the dedication we have to serving Hashem despite tremendous financial burdens.
When we view ourselves through that prism we won’t be able to hold ourselves back from feeling a sense of pride that we are part of such an elite group.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013


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

L’zecher nishmas Leah ben R’ Avrohom a’h 


It wasn’t much of an island, but at least it was dry land, and he was alive. He shuddered as he recounted the violent tempest that had decimated his ship midway through its voyage across the ocean. He knew he had to find food and shelter or he wouldn’t be alive much longer. He gathered all the sticks and twigs he could find and built himself a makeshift hut; at least he had a place to sleep and shelter himself from the blazing sun. He placed his only remaining possessions - his drenched wallet with a picture of his wife and children - inside the hut. 
Weeks passed and he began to acclimate to life on the isolated and forsaken island. He accustomed himself to subsisting on the berries that grew nearby and drinking from the brook that flowed through the island. But the loneliness gnawed at him.
Then one day, as he was returning from picking berries, he smelled smoke. To his utter horror he found his hut ablaze. He watched as his only remaining possessions in the world and his only remaining connection to this family, burn to the ground. He could no longer contain himself.
He cried endless tears until he lapsed into a pitiful and disturbed sleep. Suddenly, he was startled by the unmistakable sound of an approaching helicopter. Remarkably, a few minutes later he was en route back to civilization. As the helicopter took off, the pilot screamed over the hum of the engine to his stunned passenger, “That was brilliant. We would never have seen you without your smoke signal.”

The Torah describes in detail the vicissitudes the young nation encountered throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert, including both internal challenges and external threats and wars. However, there is one particular event that is hardly mentioned in the Torah. In fact, without the Medrash we would not even be aware that the event occurred.  
As the nation neared the border of Moav, they had to pass through a gorge between two mountains. The Amorites, a Canaanite nation, were hiding above in mountainous caves waiting for Klal Yisroel to traverse the gorge so they could hurl huge boulders down on the unsuspecting travelers. Miraculously, the cliffs that formed the walls of the gorge merged together, with stones from one side protruding into the caves on the other side crushing the Amorites. Klal Yisroel was oblivious to the miracle that transpired until they saw blood flowing down from the mountains above them.
Not long after the miracle of the Amorites, the nation approached the territory of Moav. It was at that point that Balak, the king of Moav, hired Bila’am, the nefarious prophet, to curse the Jews. All of Balak’s efforts proved futile when Bila’am discovered that whenever he opened his mouth to curse the Jews, beautiful poetic blessings spewed forth.
At that point, Bila’am related to Balak that the secret to overcoming the Jews was not in cursing them, but through luring them to succumb to promiscuity. “Their G-d abhors immorality,” Bila’am declared. The nations of Moav and Midyan wasted no time sending even their princesses to lure the Jews into sin. Bila’am’s advice proved correct and many Jews succumbed. G-d’s wrath was ignited and a plague broke out killing thousands until Pinchas avenged G-d’s honor and quelled the plague.
In regards to the debacle of Bila’am and Balak too, the nation was completely unaware of how G-d protected them. They were only aware of the disastrous sin and plague that occurred, but knew nothing of the miracle of Bila’am stunted speech in his efforts to curse them.
The hidden idea expressed here is extremely profound. Klal Yisroel was to suffer terribly at the hands of the Moavites and Midyanites so Hashem ensured that preceding the plague they would be blessed and protected.
The P’nei Menachem1 notes that in Parshas Balak the Torah states about three different personalities, “Vaya’ar - and he saw”. The parsha commences with, “Vaya’ar Balak”. Balak saw that the armies of the Amorites - who relied on the protection of the mighty giants Sichon and Og - had been vanquished by the Jews. Later in the parsha, it says2 “Bila’am lifted his eyes and he saw”. Bila’am lifted his eyes to see the degradation of Klal Yisroel but was compelled to bless them. At the conclusion of the parsha it says3 that Pinchas saw what Midyan and Moav had wrought and he avenged the honor of G-d, as it were.  
Three people “see” but each in his own distinct manner. Each saw what his heart wanted him to see and each reacted based on what he saw.

One of the most extraordinary mitzvos in the entire Torah, is that of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. When someone came into contact with a corpse he was rendered impure. He could only become pure when the ashes of the Red Heifer were sprinkled on him in the manner detailed in the verses.
It is well known that Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of men, understood the intricacies and esoteric meanings behind all mitzvos and laws, even those which the Torah does not reveal the reasons for. Yet, in regard to the laws of Parah Adumah he declared4, “I said I would be wise, yet it is far from me.” Specifically, he could not comprehend why those who were impure become purified when the ashes of the Parah Adumah were sprinkled upon them. Yet, the pure Kohain sprinkling the ashes is rendered impure by doing so.
Be’er Yosef5 explains that the very concept of Parah Adumah is an exercise in faith. It reminds us that we too have little comprehension of the inner workings of this world. Parah Adumah tells us that we cannot understand why bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. Just as we accept the laws of Parah Adumah though we don’t understand them so we must accept that the travails of life are often beyond us.6

The Parshios of Chukas and Balak contain many verses written in prose.7 Perhaps the unusual amount of poetic prose that appear in these parshios connect with this same idea. Prose can not be understood at face value. When one reads a poem he must contemplate the message and meaning that the author is trying to convey. If one misses the poet’s point the whole poem seems like an unintelligible jumble of verbosity. However, when one understands what the poet is trying to convey, the message is far more potent and dynamic than it would have been if not written in poetic form.
If the parshios of Chukas and Balak are indeed emphasizing the message that life is often beyond our comprehension, then the overabundant usage of prose is extremely apropos. Life too, can not be taken at face value and one must understand that he will not always comprehend the message of the “Divine Poet”.
Could there be a better time to review this vital lesson than just prior to the onset of the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash? When we mourn all of our national losses of our nation throughout two thousand years of exile, and recall the torrents of tears and blood that has flowed freely throughout, we cannot forget the Divine Hand behind every event.
For every attack of Sichon and Og, there are numerous Amorites who fail from the onset. For every attempted curse by the Bila’am’s of the world, numerous blessings take effect instead.

The Ramban had a nineteen year old disciple who was terminally ill. When the Ramban went to visit him, the dying student cried to his Rebbe that he could not comprehend why this was happening to him. The Ramban sadly replied that he had no answer. But, he requested that his student return to him in a dream and explain it to him when he reached the World of Truth. Shortly after the student died, and indeed returned to the Ramban in a dream. He told his Rebbe that he was not permitted to reveal why it happened to him. In heaven they do not want such secrets revealed in this world of tests and challenges. He added that the only thing he could reveal was that when he arrived in the World of Truth he simply had no more questions. The truth was just so clear.8

The parshios of Chukas and Balak9 remind us how much we don’t realize! We are completely unaware of how much G-d protects us – how many machinations and plots of our enemies He foils. At the same time we must remember that we also cannot understand the meaning and purpose behind the unbearable suffering that abounds all around us. But we must remember that nothing is haphazard or random. For all that we see there is much more that we don’t see.

“And he saw”
“I said I would be wise, yet it is far from me”

1 Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Altar zt’l, the previous Gerrer Rebbe
2 24:2
3 25:7
4 Koheles 7:23
5 Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Salant zt’l
6 The mitzvah of Parah Adumah is inextricably bound to impurity rendered by a dead body because it is in regards to death that we struggle most to comprehend and grasp why things occur as they do.
Be’er Yosef adds that this is why many hold that reading the portion of Parah Adumah shortly prior to the onset of the month of Nissan, is a Biblical requirement. (See Shulchan Aruch Oh’c 685:7 & 146:2). In exile when we lack the Bais Hamikdash and the ability to offer the Parah Adumah we lose the potent message it carries. The only way for us to keep its vital message fresh on our minds is to at least read the portion and remind ourselves of it.
7 The conclusion of Chukas describes the previously mentioned miracle that transpired with the Amorites and the song that the Jews sang when they realized what had occurred. It also alludes to the battle waged against the Amalkites who sought to dupe the Jews by dressing in foreign garb. Both of these miraculous events, as well as the recollections of the landmark battles against Sichon and Og, are written in cryptic prose that can not be understood without explanation from the commentators.
Parshas Balak quotes the four sets of blessings that Bila’am inadvertently bestowed upon Klal Yisroel. They too are written in poetic prose that cannot be understand without the commentaries.
8 The following is the conclusion of the Stam Torah as I wrote it in July 2006: Last week, we were informed of a terrible tragedy that occurred in Monsey. One of my wife’s dear students, Leah Ausband, an eleven year old girl, was fatally struck by a car as she was leaving Day Camp. My wife described Leah as an exceptional girl, a ba’alas middos, and class leader. She had been a student in my wife’s fifth and sixth grade classes, two years ago and this past year. Such events leave us reeling in shock and without comment. There is simply nothing to say. The message of Chukas-Balak is that there is so much blessing and goodness in life that we are not aware of. There is also tremendous pain and anguish that befuddles us. The Parah Adumah reminds us that we must learn to live with doubts. One day, we will understand and we will no longer have any questions. But until then we must wait and believe that despite what we see there is a vision beyond.
9 which are often read together on the same Shabbos


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas
6 Tammuz 5773/June 15, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 5

They say the truth will set you free, but more often than not, the truth will confuse you and distort your perception of reality. In fact, very often ‘the truth’ is not the truth at all.
Listening to the ‘news’ can be a very frustrating experience. News stations seek shock-value in the stories they follow. Stories that not too long ago would be taboo are today reported openly on the radio. A wise parent exercises caution when listening to the radio with children in the car.
But beyond that, even if (!) the news relates a story factually, they do not always portray reality. One bad apple does not invalidate the whole basket. Yet isolated stories or events are used to classify entire groups of people, while other facts are blatantly ignored. Too much exposure to the news will convince anyone that there is no semblance of goodness left in the world - Conservatives are evil, Israel is a pariah apartheid state, and the ultra-orthodox (whatever that means) are insular kooks and cheats.
The first Rashi in the Torah states that the purpose of Chumash Bereishis is to demonstrate that the world belongs to G-d and that He has the right to decide who should inhabit all lands. Therefore, our right to the Promised Land is Divinely Ordained.
Many of the commentators note that the Torah is not interested in teaching the world that the Land belongs to us. [The Arabs dob’t really care what it says in Chumash Bereishis.] Rather, the Torah wants to remind us that it is our land! We too are influenced by the propaganda campaign of the media and their messages invariably seep into our consciousness and we begin to buy in to their lies. We ourselves can begin to grow dubious of our own legitimacy.
Psychologists warn about the danger of overexposure to media, especially following a tragedy. The graphic images repeatedly displayed can cultivate a traumatic effect. But in truth it’s not just frightening images, but many of the point of views espoused are equally damaging.
Recently I was driving down a road which had a sign which has a great message for life in general: “Limited Sight Distance”. It was cautioning drivers that their visibility will be restricted because of twisting road and hills ahead. I would have to say that often the truth can only be discovered when one closes his eyes and ears to everything around him.
The evil prophet Bila’am was blind in one eye, and it was through that blind eye that he was able to envision prophecy and see truth. His ‘working’ eye was so polluted with immorality and corruptness that he could not see prophecy through it.
If reality is based on perception, who wants his/her reality to be based on the perception of a bunch of biased and corrupt political pundits?
This was best summed up by a friend who quipped that he looks at the news to be informed, but after doing so he invariably ends up feeling deformed!
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, June 6, 2013


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


In the End1

In the end, man destroyed the heaven and the earth. The earth had been tossing and turning, and the destructive spirit of man had been hovering over the face of the waters. And man said: Let me have power over the earth. And it was so. And man saw that the power tasted good, and so he called those that possessed power wise, and those that tried to curb power he called weak. And there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.

And man said: Let there be a division among all the peoples of the earth. Let there be a dividing line, or a wall, between those that are for me and those that are against me, and it was so. And there was evening and there was morning,
 the sixth day.

And man said: Let us gather all of our resources into one place, and let us create instruments of power to defend ourselves: Let us make a radio to mold men's minds, and a draft to control their bodies, and flags and symbols of power to ca
pture their souls. And it was so. And there was evening, and there was morning, the fifth day.

And man said: Let there be censorship to divide the light from the darkness. And it was so. And man made two great censorship bureaus, to control the thoughts o
f men, one to tell only the truth that he wanted to be heard abroad, and one to tell only the truth he wanted to be heard at home. And it was so. And there was evening, and there was morning, the fourth day.

And man said: Let us create weapons that can ki
ll millions and hundreds of millions from a distance, and let us make clean bombs, and let us learn sanitary germ warfare, and let us make guided missiles. And it was so. And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day.

And man said: Let us make God in our image. Let us say that God thinks what we think, that God wants what we want, that God commands what we want Him to command. And man found ways to kill, with atomic power and with radiation fallout, those that were living, and those that were not yet born, and he said: This is God's will. And it was so. And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day.

And then, on the last day, a great cloud went up over all the face of the earth, and there was a great thunder over all of the fac
e of the earth, and there was a great cry that reached up from over all of the earth, and then man, and all of his doings, was no more. And the earth rested on the last day from all of man's labors, and the universe was quiet on the last day from all of man's doings, which man in his folly had wrought. And there was nothing. There was no more evening, and there was no more morning--there was no more day.

It is mind-boggling that despite Moshe’s warning to Korach and his followers of what would occur if they persisted in their rebellion, they did not waver or even hesitate. “Moshe said, ‘Through this shall you know that G-d has sent me to perform all these acts, that it was not from my heart…. G-d will create a phenomenon and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they will descend alive into the pit – then you shall know that these men have provoked G-d.2” Korach’s assembly was composed of people who had witnessed all the miracles Moshe initiated, including his standing atop Sinai during the revelation of the Giving of the Torah. Yet here they brazenly persisted in their coup, undeterred. It seems analogous to imprudent sailors who refuse to abandon their sinking ship even as it plunges into the depths with safety boats available.
The gemara3 states that “even at the doorway of purgatory, the wicked will not repent.”A person can be so utterly blinded by his opinions and feelings that he may fail to adhere to logic and reason. He can become so consumed and convinced by the veracity of his mission that there is no convincing him otherwise, even though the truth of where he is heading seems so glaring to everyone else. This does not hold true merely for simpletons and naïve people. Even the greatest of men can - and do - fall prey to their own machinations and intrigues, as did Korach and his worthy followers.
Rav Shlomo Levinstein relates4 that a person once approached the Tchebiner Rav, Rav Yissocher Dov Berish Weidenfeld zt’l, to inform the Rav that he had appointed himself a Rebbe, and he planned to invite people to seek his blessing and advice.
The Rav knew the man well and knew that he was far from worthy of such a title. When the Rav asked him why he felt he was worthy of the position, the man emphatically replied, “Why not? If the Bais Yisroel can be the Gerrer Rebbe, and Rav Aharon Rokeach5 could be the Belzer Rebbe, why can’t I become a Rebbe as well?”
The Tchebiner Rav6 was stunned by the man’s words. He replied to the man by quoting the aforementioned statement from the Gemara in Eiruvin which states that the wicked do not repent, even at the doorstep of purgatory.
The Rav asked him how it is possible for a wicked person not to repent when he sees an ignominious end awaiting him?
The Rav explained that we are taught that at times a sinner whose soul has been sent to Gehonim to be purged of its iniquities may be on the verge of being released, but still requires a little more time. But then the soul of a righteous person being led to Gan Eden may be led past Gehonim, so that he sees those lingering souls he can seize them and insist that they ascend with them.
The Rav looked into the self-appointed Rebbe’s eyes and said, “A wicked person while being led into purgatory will still not repent because he will continue to delude himself of his righteousness. Even at that fateful moment, he will be convinced that he is being led towards Gehonim so that he can rescue the lingering souls while on his way to his eternal reward. He won’t even be able to fathom his own culpability.”

G-d has endowed man with a power of imagination that can help him build worlds and accomplish incredible feats. Yet, at the same time, if left to its own devices, without seeking the opinions and guidance of others, man can destroy himself and his world in the most horrific manner.
The Torah7 states that “the sons of Korach did not die.” Rashi8 explains that although Korach’s sons were at first part of their father’s rebellion, while the dispute was unfolding they had thoughts of repentance. Therefore, “a special place was designated for them in purgatory where they still dwell.”
Rav Shalom Schwadron zt’l noted that if the sons of Korach repented before the punishment began they would not have been affected at all. If they repented after the ground opened up beneath them, it would have been too late. So why does it say that they have ‘an elevated place in purgatory’? When exactly did they repent?
We must conclude that they repented as the earth was opening beneath their feet. They saw that they were about to be swallowed up, and, at that moment, they began to contemplate that they may have been mistaken. Even at that moment their repentance accomplished something.
What is truly frightening is that the rest of the rebels, including Korach himself, did not harbor any such thoughts of repentance, even then!
Moshe had warned Korach and his adherents about what would transpire if they didn’t desist, yet even when they saw it begin to happen, they obdurately maintained their position, even as they descended into Gehonim.
We often read about the tragedies of our ancestors in the Torah with a certain measure of disregard for the folly of their actions. We would be wise to realize that these ‘sins’ were committed by people of stature, righteous individuals, people who were privy to the greatest miracles ever performed. If they could stumble so profoundly we are surely far more vulnerable.

The Mishna9 states that “Jealousy, desire, and honor remove a person from the world.” The tragedy of the spies10 was the result of the pursuit of honor11, the rebellion of Korach was the catastrophic result of unbridled jealousy, and the tragedy in Shittim12 was the result of intemperate lust/desire. These three tragic accounts are generally read on consecutive Shabbosos during the weeks preceding the Three Weeks of mourning for the Bais Hamikdash 13: Parshas Shlach contains the story of the spies, Parshas Korach relates the story of the rebellion, and (Chukas-) Balak contains the story of Shittim.
These accounts demonstrate that even the greatest of people must be wary of the dangers of their own passions and pursuits. One always needs to seek the guidance and counsel of teachers and mentors to ensure that the path he is following and the pursuits he is engaged in are not the results of his own foolish machinations, despite his best intentions.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, noted that the twentieth century was a ‘century of Korach’. In his words, “Rebellion against tradition and the old and the veneration of new theories of social engineering, morality and religion have been the unfortunate hallmark of this, the bloodiest of all centuries. Nowhere has this been more noticeable than in Jewish life. Socialism, Communism, Secularism, Nationalism, atheistic Zionism, Reform, Conservatism, Reconstructionism, Femininism and other assorted theories and movements arose in this century to claim the place of prominence in fashioning the Jewish people and its future. All of them have proven themselves to be woefully inadequate for the task set forth.
“Much of the ruin currently clearly visible in the Jewish world is directly traceable to the rebellion against Moshe and his Torah, against Holyoke and tradition, which marks every one of these theories and movements and is in fact the common denominator for all of them. From our perch just above the abyss of Jewish destruction and assimilation, there are determined Jews who shout out loudly that "Moshe is true and his Torah is true."
“But there are many sons of Korach who still maintain the belief in the false shibboleths of this past century. After an intermarriage rate approaching seventy percent in America, one strains to hear the admission of error from these groups. Unless there is an honest reappraisal of theory and belief on the part of these groups, these sons of Korach will not survive.”

“Even at the doorway of purgatory…”
“The sons of Korach did not die”


1 by R’ Jack Riemer
2 Bamidbar 16: 28-30
3 Eruvin 19a - האמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש: רשעים - אפילו על פתחו של גיהנם אינם חוזרין בתשובה
4 Umasok Haohr
5 Known as Rav Arele Belzer
6 who considered himself an adherent of Rav Arele Belzer. [After the passing of Rav Dovid Moshe of Tchorkov, the Tchebiner accepted Rav Arele as his primary Rebbe.]
7 Bamidbar 26:11
8 quoting Gemara Megillah 14a
9 Avos 4:21
10 Who gave a negative report about Eretz Yisroel – Parshas Shelach
11 According to Zohar the spies gave a slanderous report so that the nation would remain in the desert, and they – the spies, who were princes of their tribes – would retain their positions of authority (which they knew they would forfeit upon entering the Land).
12 At the conclusion of Parshas Balak, after the wicked prophet Bila’am failed in his efforts to curse the nation, he advised Balak that the only way to truly cause the Jews’ downfall was to cause them to bring destruction upon themselves by causing them to sin with immorality. The princesses of Moav enticed and lured the Jewish men to sin and caused a terrible plague to ensue among the Jewish camp, until Pinchos quelled G-d’s anger as it were, by killing Zimri ben Salu, the prince of Shevet Shimon, and Kazbi the Midyanite princess. 
13 More often than not Parshas Chukas and Parshas Balak are read together


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Rosh Chodesh Tamuz - Parshas Korach
29 Sivan 5773/June 8, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 4

The beautiful month of June has finally arrived. The comfortable weather that New Yorkers flock down to Miami to find during the winter has finally made its way up the East Coast. [A quick shout out to our friends in Florida who are melting in the heat. Good luck with that; see you in New York soon!] 
During this time of year one appreciates the beauty of landscaping. Many homes boast meticulously manicured lawns with colorful bushes and flowers adorning the front of their yards. I should also mention that while most of us in suburbia have to mow our lawns or employ a service to do so, I have friends in Brooklyn who cut their lawn with a pair of scissors once a month. 
As any homeowner is aware, grass grows very fast and therefore has to be mowed consistently. It will look neat and trimmed for only a short while before it starts looking unkempt again.
Last week we noticed that our grass was unusually high and looked somewhat messy. I called our landscaper who reassured us that it was only because of the inclement weather that lingered for a few days that they didn’t mow our lawn. But they would be back soon enough. Indeed, by the next afternoon it was mowed neatly.
It’s quite fascinating that a whole yard covered in grass can be cut in a relatively short amount of time. Contrast that with other yard work which can be much more tedious and take far longer. For example, tree stumps and branches left over from hurricanes and storms can take weeks, and in some cases months, before being completely disposed of.
Dovid Hamelech compares the ascent of wicked to positions of prominence to wildly growing grass (Tehillim 92:8). It may appear incredibly thick and strong in such a short time, but in the long run they are utterly and completely destroyed. Like grass which is so easily felled and cut down, so do the wicked eventually fall and fall hard. 
Perhaps the greatest example of this was the sudden and rapid fall of the impenetrable Iron Curtain in 1991. The great and mighty Soviet Union was disbanded quicker than anyone could have fathomed. It was truly a divine landscaping!
We have many implacable foes who strike fear within us. We don’t see how we will ever triumph over the threats of so many surrounding and abounding enemies.
And yet Dovid Hamelech reminds us that all we need is the right landscaper! 
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Good Chodesh,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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