Thursday, July 25, 2013


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


The ninety-two graduates walked in tandem, filing into the already crowded auditorium at Washington Community High School in Washington, Illinois on May 21, 2001. With gowns flowing and the traditional caps perched proudly on their heads, they took their designated seats in the front of the room. Fathers swallowed hard behind broad smiles, as Mothers freely brushed away tears.
There would not be any prayers offered during the commencement speeches, not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. After eighty years of commencement exercises at Washington High, this would be the first in which G-d was not mentioned.
The principal and several students were careful to stay within the imposed guidelines. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned Divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families. The speeches were nice, but they were banal and routine... until the final speech.
The graduate walked proudly to the microphone. He stood silently for a long quiet moment staring at the crowd. And then he sneezed!  On cue, every one of the ninety-two graduates shouted in unison, “G-D BLESS YOU!” He then walked off stage to a thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

 “Hear Yisroel, today you cross the Jordan, to come and drive out nations that are greater and mightier than you, cities that are great and fortified up to the heavens.1” Moshe then described the seeming impenetrable might of the Canaanites, and continues, “But you know today that Hashem, your G-d… He will destroy them and He will subjugate them before you; you will drive them out and cause them to perish quickly, as Hashem spoke to you.2” Throughout Sefer Devorim, Moshe repeatedly encouraged the nation to remain courageous and valiant when entering the land.
Maharil Diskin explained Moshe’s repeated references about the conquest of Canaan with a parable:
There was once a merchant who would travel from town to town selling processed animal hides. He would purchase a simple hide for twenty-five rubles and would sell it for fifty rubles.
One day, just as he arrived in the market, all of the other hides sellers in the city agreed to simultaneously raise the standard price of a hide to a hundred rubles. The merchant was excited by his good fortune; in one day he had doubled his profits.
A few days later, the merchant traveled to another country in which the king himself was looking to purchase new hides. As soon as the king wanted something, all of his subjects wanted it too and the price immediately surged upward. Again the merchant made a tremendous profit on his sales. A few days later, his luck continued when a devastating fire ravaged one of the major hide warehouses. Once again the merchant watched his earnings rise. His serendipity continued until the price of a simple hide reached the exorbitant sum of one thousand rubles. By the end of the year, the merchant was a wealthy entrepreneur.   
If at the end of the year we were to analyze the earnings of the merchant, we would probably conclude that he had great mazal. The market is constantly in flux and he was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end. We would not view his earnings as beyond the normal laws of nature.
However, if someone were to tell the hide merchant at the beginning of the year that in a few months people would beg him to sell a hide for the ‘bargain price’ of nine hundred rubles, he would undoubtedly think the person was mocking him. The merchant would reply that such a thing would be a miracle.
As Klal Yisroel stood poised to enter Eretz Yisroel, the conquest of thirty-one kings in Canaan seemed quite daunting. They were a nation of weary travelers for forty years and were being informed that their beloved leader Moshe would not be entering the Land with them.
If Moshe would not have repeatedly mentioned the imminent conquest of Canaan however, the nation may never have fully appreciated the incredibility of the miracles that transpired. In retrospect, they would have rationalized how and why they were able to overcome the Canaanites through brilliant maneuvers and military tactics. They would undoubtedly have admitted that G-d’s Hand guided them, but it wouldn’t have been as clear in retrospect as it was when the events were foreshadowed.

The miracles closer to our time profoundly demonstrate this idea:
In early June 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol made a public radio address in an attempt to boost the depleted national morale. The speech had the opposite result; Eshkol’s bumbling and nervous delivery reinforced to the frightened nation the extent of the peril of their predicament, with pending invasion of the joint forces of Pan-Arabic forces of Egypt and Syria, in a two front war. Mass loads of body bags were being imported in anticipation of the catastrophic losses expected.
When the Israeli armies were uncannily victorious in six days, including the recapturing of the Temple Mount, and the decimation of the Jordanian forces, the world was stunned. If Prime Minister Eshkol would have told the Israeli public on June second that by June tenth, the U.N. would call for an immediate cease-fire to stop the Israelis from marching on Cairo and Beirut, no one would have believed him.
In retrospect however, the war can be explained militarily. In a daring and successful preemptive strike, the Israelis destroyed the Egyptian air forces while they were on the ground. In the North they were able to force back the Syrian forces and they valiantly fought off the Jordanians house to house in the Old City of Jerusalem. No one doubts that G-d guided the Israelis, but the sense of it being completely miraculous and a Divine war is somewhat lost in hindsight.
The same could be said about the formation of the state of Israel in 1947. It was the only time the United States and Russia voted the same way in the United Nations3. During the subsequent War of Independence the Israelis were unequipped and untrained4. That victory too was miraculous. 
When Eretz Yisroel was attacked on Yom Kippur in 1973, the army, and country, was completely caught by surprise. A shaken Moshe Dayan told Golda Meir that, “the Third Temple is being destroyed.” The resurgence of the Israelis was nothing short of miraculous.
How often has our generation heard survivors say, “If you would have told me in 1945 when I walked out of the camps that there would ever be a revival of Torah anywhere, especially in Eretz Yisroel, I would have told you, that you were delirious.” There are more people learning Torah in the world today than there have been since the time of the formation of the Talmud in Babylonia.
We have a hard time appreciating the miraculous greatness of what we are witnessing, because we can conjure up rational explanations.
The truth is that if we would look back at almost any interval of our lives and imagine that we are able to go back in time and tell ourselves what will happen in the future, both to ourselves personally, and the world generally, we would not believe it. But in retrospect it all seems logical, and we have a hard time appreciating the profundity of what has occurred.

Moshe repeatedly exhorted the nation to be mindful of the events that would transpire when they entered Canaan so they could appreciate the greatness of what they were part of.
We often fail to appreciate how much we are guided from Above. Often when faced with a daunting and overwhelming life challenge, we cry out to G-d because we cannot see any way out. But then, when things improve and we have traversed the difficulty, we look back and convince ourselves that we were able to pull it together by ourselves.

A man stood on the beach with his five year old son watching the crashing waves. All of a sudden, a tremendous wave engulfed him and his son and within seconds his son had been swept out to sea. “G-d”, the man cried out, “PLEASE SAVE MY SON! I’ll do anything! I’ll become more observant! I’ll pray every day and I’ll dedicate my life to Your teachings! I’ll do anything! Please give me back my son!” Suddenly, a second wave came crashing onto the shore spitting the unharmed young boy onto the beach. The man grabbed his son and hugged him and kissed him. As they walked off together the man looked heavenward, “Never mind G-d; he’s okay. I don’t need Your help!”

No matter how hard they try to mask G-d’s Presence from our lives, it is there. Whether the world will admit it or not, we all live by the words, “G-d bless you”!  

  “Hear Yisroel”
  “Know today that Hashem will destroy them from before you”
1  Devorim 9:1-3
2 Devorim 9:3
3 Russia thought Israel would become a socialist state and so they voted for the state
4 The Israelis resorted to psychological warfare like the ‘Davidka’ - a homemade mortar that made tremendous noise and sounded like heavy artillery fire. The noise it generated was totally disproportionate to the limited damage it could inflict.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


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



Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman zt’l hy’d traveled from Baranovich, Lithuania to America to raise funds for his yeshiva. His attendant arranged for him to meet with a wealthy and influential secular Jew who was the owner of a large textile garment factory.
As soon as Reb Elchanan walked into the meeting, he and the owner recognized each other; they had learned together in Cheder in Europe. They shook hands warmly, and then the owner asked Reb Elchanan why he had come to America. Reb Elchanan replied that the button on his kapoteh1 had become loose, and he came to America to have it tightened. The owner looked at him incredulously. “Are you telling me you traveled half way across the world, lived on a boat for two weeks, just because your button was loose? I own this whole factory. I can have a beautiful new kapoteh made for you in an hour” Reb Elchonon shook his head. “No, I just need the button fixed. That’s all.” The owner immediately summoned one of his tailors, who fixed the button in a moment. Reb Elchanon thanked his old friend, shook his hand, and politely walked out, leaving the wealthy owner flabbergasted by the awkward exchange.
Reb Elchanan’s attendant was equally shocked. “Rebbe, it was very hard to procure that appointment. Shouldn’t we have at least asked him for a small donation?” Reb Elchanan replied that he was confident that he would see the wealthy man again imminently.
Sure enough, a day or two later the wealthy owner came to visit Reb Elchanan at the home of his host. “Chuna, tell me the truth. Why did you travel so far to come to America? It wasn’t for a button!” Reb Elchanan looked pointedly into the eyes of his old friend. “Do you know that one’s soul travels a long distance to arrive in this world? You agreed that it was absurd for me to travel so far just to tighten a button. Yet, look at how you are living your life! Do you think your soul traveled so far so that you can cast off the yoke of Torah and mitzvos which you learned about in your youth, to run a factory and have a lot of coins clinking in your pocket? As you yourself said, it is absurd that one would travel so far just for a button.”
  The generation that traveled through the desert and endured the travails of the forty year sojourns, is titled the ‘Dor De’ah- the Generation of knowledge.” Moshe declared to that generation, “You have been shown in order to know that Hashem, He is our G-d! There is none beside Him! From heaven He caused you to hear His voice in order to teach you and on earth He showed you His great fire and you heard his voice from the midst the fire!”2
Rashi explains, “When G-d gave the Ten Commandments, He opened the heavens above and the nether below, so that it would be clear to every Jew that there is only one G-d.” Never again would there be another generation who could literally point with their finger and proclaim, “This is my G-d and I will adorn Him”3.
Yet in Tehillim4, Dovid Hamelech paraphrases G-d who proclaimed, “For forty years I was angry with the generation; then I said, ‘They are a people that err in their hearts and they do not know my ways. Therefore I have sworn in my anger that they shall not enter into my [land of] contentment.” If this generation were those who saw G-d more clearly than anyone else, how could they not understand G-d’s ways?
Furthermore, this chapter of Tehillim serves as the melodious introduction for Kabbolas Shabbos - the prayer which marks our greeting Shabbos each Friday night. Although the psalm begins with the enchanting words, “לכו נרננה לה' Come let us exult to our G-d and sing out to the rock of our salvation, the conclusion seems counterintuitive of the mood we wish to engender at the onset of the holy Shabbos?
The Torah relates that as long as the nation remained in the desert, they lived a miraculous existence.5 The manna fell from heaven each day, they had a limitless supply of water flowing from the rock which accompanied them, and their clothing remained clean and fitted on their body. They had no need to invest any effort in their sustenance. This allowed them to spend their days listening to the teachings of Moshe and Aharon, and deepening their understanding of G-d.
They understood that upon entering the Promised Land everything would change, for they would be forced to work the land to provide for their families. At that point it would entail a great struggle to devote time to spiritual pursuits, such as study and prayer.
Zohar notes that this was the fallacious rationale behind the Spies’ negative report about the Land. They wanted the Nation to remain in the desert so they could continue to learn and grow spiritually, without worry or other responsibilities. Therefore they spoke negatively about the Promised Land, hoping that doing so would cause the nation to remain living miraculously in the desert, where they could continue living completely dedicated to spiritual pursuits.
Their mistake was that they didn’t realize that this was not the Will of G-d. Despite the fact that staying in the desert would afford them greater opportunities to serve G-d without worries, that was not their destined mission.
This is what Dovid Hamelech meant when he declared, “They did not understand my ways,” If G-d wanted us to have the ability to learn and pray all day unencumbered, He could have arranged it. But that is not our task in this world. Rather G-d expects us to live a physical life, toiling to provide for our families and yet living spiritually-oriented lives. G-d wants us to live within the confines of nature, and yet to live elevated lives.
The elite generation that witnessed the revelation of Sinai ‘saw’ G-d as no one else ever did or will. However, they failed to recognize the true ‘way of G-d,’ of entering the Land and yet bearing the yoke of Torah.
This idea is a fundamental component of Shabbos observance. The prophet Isaiah6 stated, ”You shall proclaim the Shabbos a delight.” The purpose of Shabbos is not to divorce ourselves from the physical world, and to completely engage in spiritual pursuits. Such an attitude is reserved exclusively for Yom Kippur. Rather on Shabbos we enjoy delectable foods, upon a regally set table, in the glow of the Shabbos candles, surrounded by family and friends. The liturgists describe added rest on Shabbos as being ‘praiseworthy’ and the clothing of Shabbos reflect a majestic aura of greatness7.
Maharal explains that the number seven represents the highest number within nature8, while eight symbolizes a realm beyond the physical world. Circumcision is performed on the eighth day after a male is born, because circumcision symbolizes one’s ability to triumph over his nature, and not be subjugated by his every whim and temptation. Shabbos however, is on the seventh day, not the eighth day, because the purpose of Shabbos is to elevate the physical world, not to disregard it.
The generation who lived in the desert couldn’t enter the Promised Land because they failed to realize that in this world our mission is to transform and elevate the physical world via Torah and mitzvos, by overcoming the obstacles that hinder us from doing so.
This idea is hidden in the opening psalm of Kabbolas Shabbos each week. There is no more appropriate introduction to Shabbos than to remind ourselves that the purpose of Shabbos – the lesson which that elite generation failed to appreciate – is that we transform the physical world into a conduit for holiness and spiritual growth.            

Our greatest leaders did not live in oblivion to the world around them. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l offered halachic rulings on all aspects of technology and contemporary issues. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurebach zt’l ruled about countless laws regarding electricity on Shabbos. The Chazon Ish and the Steipler gave precise advice, not only about all aspects of Torah, but even about health and life generally.
The same holds true for every one of our Torah leaders. They understood that everything is hidden in Torah for one who knows how to decipher its eternal messages.
Being a Torah Jew is not always easy. It’s a struggle that requires a sense of mission and commitment. But it is an endeavor which uplifts us and gives us a sense of purpose and mission, every day of our lives.     

“Come let us exult to our G-d”
“You have been shown to know:
There is none beside Him!”
1 Rabbinic jacket
2 4:35-36
3 Shemos 15:2
4 95:9
5 The following explanation was related to me by my eleventh grade Rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Feuer, when I posed the aforementioned questions to him. Prior to offering me the novel thought below, he prefaced that we must realize is that it is a great honor for that generation that we learn from their mistakes how to improve our service to G-d, by not repeating their mistakes.
6 58:13
7An amazing transformation occurs on Shabbos when those who dress in work clothes all week, e.g. a plumber, electrician, builder, don their Shabbos clothes and look regal.
8 When one stands at any given point there are six directions surrounding him – north, south, east, west, up, down (as represented by a person shaking the Four Species on Sukkos). The person in the center represents the seventh, central point.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


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


The Rema1 records2 that when King Nebuchadnezzar came to destroy the first Bais Hamikdash, the prominent Greek philosopher Plato accompanied him. After the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, Plato found the great prophet Yirmiyahu near the fresh ruins of the Bais Hamikdash crying uncontrollably. Plato asked him, “You are an eminent and revered sage and prophet. Is it befitting a man of your intellectual stature to cry over destroyed stones? Furthermore, the building has already been destroyed so why cry over the past? There is nothing your tears can accomplish anyway.”
Yirmiyahu responded, “Plato, as a world-renowned philosopher you surely have many perplexing questions. Why don’t you share some of your questions with me?” Although Plato assumed Yirmiayhu was avoiding his own questions, Plato humored Yirmiyahu by relating a plethora of his most perplexing philosophical enigmas. Patiently and humbly, Yirmiyahu resolved each question with a few terse sentences. Plato was stunned, “I don’t understand how a mortal can be so wise!” Yirmiyahu replied, “All of this profound wisdom I have derived from the destroyed building behind me and that is why I cry and mourn for its destruction. As for your second question, “Why do I weep over the past?” this is something I cannot answer you, because you will never be able to comprehend the answer.”

Shulchan Aruch3 states that tachanun4 is not recited on Tishah B’av because the verse in Eichah5 refers to Tisha B’av in the same vein as the Torah refers to all holidays, - as a ‘Mo’ed’6. The correlation between Tisha B’av and the other moa’dim is perplexing. The Torah refers to holidays as ‘Moadim’ because they are times of ‘meeting’ between G-d and His nation, as it were. During each holiday we recall and even re-experience the Divine love, closeness, and salvation that G-d granted at the time of the miracle.
Tisha B’av however, is quite different. While the pasuk does refer to Tisha B’av as a ‘time of meeting’, the meeting it refers to is a meeting, “to destroy My chosen ones”. The remembrance of the destruction of our people conjures up the polar opposite emotions of what we feel when we commemorate the redemptions of all other mo’adim. How can Tisha B’av even be classified together with other holidays?
It must also be noted that the entire day of Tisha B’av seems to be an inherent paradox. Tisha B’av is a day of national mourning for two millennia in exile. We lament crusades, inquisitions, holocausts, Cossacks, Church injustices, and numerous blood libels. The lights in shul are dimmed, the curtain is removed from the Holy Ark, shoes are not worn, we neither eat nor drink, and we refrain from various forms of pleasure. We sit on the floor as mourners as we recall the flowing rivers of blood throughout our exile. The night and morning of Tisha B’av continue with this sad atmosphere while the pages of kinnos (lamentations) are recited.
Then the clock strikes chatzos (midday). Benches are turned upright, lights are put back on, the curtain is replaced, and an inaudible sigh of relief escapes the shul. The most stringent level of mourning is over and, although most restrictions still apply, there is a noticeable reduction in the level of mourning.
What sense does this make? Why would the laws of mourning which were so strict until now suddenly begin to mitigate at the precise time when the sanctuary of the Bais Hamikdash was engulfed in flames? If anything, this should be the time of the most intense mourning!
If the laws of mourning begin to relax, it is indicative of the fact that the most intense mourning has concluded. Somehow the collective Jew can commence the process of consolation for her magnanimous losses. How does the process of consolation begin?
There is another aspect of Tisha B’av that requires explanation. When, G-d forbid, one loses a close relative, there are different stages of the mourning process. The laws immediately following the death are very stringent, and begin to mitigate as time goes on7.
Time heals and, although one never forgets a deceased relative or friend, time has a way of reducing the initial numbness and shock so that one can move on. Therefore, it is logical that as one’s personal pain mitigates, so do the laws of mourning.
In regard Tisha B’av however, the process is reversed. The fast of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz ushers in the mourning period of the Three Weeks, which are analogous to shloshim. Rosh Chodesh Av begins the ‘Nine Days’, which bear certain resemblance to ‘shiva’. The actual week of Tisha B’av8 has added stringencies like the first three days of shiva. Finally, the night and morning of Tisha B’av are analogous to when the mourner must contend with the overwhelming grief felt at the moment he is informed of the tragedy that has befallen him.
On Tisha B’av we do not don talis and tefillin, leather shoes are removed, and we do not greet others. It is as if the Jew People are in a state of oninus, mourning for a parent who has not yet been buried. However, on Tisha B’av itself we begin to accept consolation. By midday of the day after Tisha B’av we are again permitted to listen to music, shaving, taking haircuts, and doing laundry. Shabbos Nachamu - the Shabbos after Tisha B’av – has a measure of added joy.
What is the meaning behind the enigmatic and rapid turnabout that occurs after Tisha B’av concludes?

Chasam Sofer notes that the concept of national mourning is itself unusual. Throughout the course of history there have been many great empires that achieved global domination and unrivaled might. With the passage of time they have faded into oblivion. Their glorious past has become relegated to the history books and scholarly debate. There aren’t any rituals which recall that past greatness. Let bygones be bygones!
The Turks do not cry about the loss of the mighty Ottoman Empire. Greece and Italy benefit greatly from the tourism generated from its ancient ruins, but the nation does not mourn the death of Caesar and the demise of the Academy. The Iberian Peninsula has forfeited its glorious empires during the Middle Ages, and Contemporary Iran and Iraq have little connection to the mighty Persian and Babylonian empires of yesteryear.
As the world turns, empires rise and fall. Only the Jewish People refuse to let go of their ancient glory. Why the obstinate refusal? It is true that in the time of Shlomo the ancient Israelites had a great empire, with every king in the world paying homage to him, but now that is all ancient history. For two millennia we have been wandering the globe, persecuted, victimized, and hated. What is the point of continuing to mourn our fallen glory?
Chasam Sofer explains that G-d created a blessing called ‘forgetfulness’. After any unbearable tragedy, the immediate sorrow and pain is unbearable. The ability to resiliently get past it and continue with life is only due to that gift of forgetfulness that G-d endows.
However, if the relative one presumes to be dead is really alive, there is no ‘blessing of forgetfulness’ and the mourner will have a far more difficult time coping.
Yaakov Avinu mourned the loss of his beloved son Yosef for twenty-two years. The Torah records that after Yaakov came to the conclusion that Yosef had been killed, “All of his sons and all of his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, and said: ‘For I will go down to the grave mourning for my son’.9” Rashi10 explains, “One is unable to accept consolation for someone who is alive if he (the mourner) presumes him to be dead. This is because the decree of ‘forgetfulness from the heart’ was only for a dead person, not one who is alive.’
The reasons why no nation mourns the demise of its former glory is because ‘you can’t cry over spilled milk.’ Ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, Byzantine Empire, Napoleon’s France, Bismarck’s Germany, the British Empire etc., will never again reacquire the dominance and superiority they once had. When something is perpetually lost it naturally is slowly forgotten. Life unavoidably moves on, and there is no purpose agonizing over the past.
Klal Yisroel however, cannot be consoled because our glory and prominence is not gone! What we lost with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash is not permanent, and we believe our greatest glories are yet to come.
Yirmiyahu commences Eichah lamenting the fact that Jerusalem, the once proud metropolis, “has become like a widow”. She has become like a widow, however she is not truly a widow because her husband is not dead. He is far away - battered, bruised, and shaken. But he is not dead, and she knows he will one day return11.
The mere fact that Klal Yisroel mourns on Tisha B’av is the greatest testament to our future revival. By virtue of our tears and national grief, despite almost two thousand years in exile, we have the greatest proof that what was destroyed is not permanent. The Gemara Megillah states that the sanctity of the Temple Mount was never lost and the Divine Presence continues to rest there, even today. That holiness will yet have its resurgence and will return to its former glory with the advent of Moshiach.
It is in this sense that Tisha B’av is a mo’ed. True, it is a day when we recall all of our painful losses and anguish, but the very fact that we still mourn is itself the greatest consolation. That we still feel there is a purpose in our tears and that we obdurately refuse to forgive and forget is the greatest solace. It is a strange phenomenon: as we cry and mourn on Tisha B’av we are simultaneously filled with hope in our hearts. It is in deference to that hidden joy that we omit reciting tachanun on Tisha B’av. 

There is a legend that Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France and conqueror of most of Europe, was walking down the street one summer afternoon with an entourage of officials. As they walked, they passed a shul and heard the sounds of muffled sobs and voices chanting prayers sadly. When Napoleon asked what was happening, one of his officials mockingly told him that it was the day when the Jews sit and mourn the destruction of their Temple seventeen hundred years earlier. Napoleon was impressed. He is purported to have replied, “A nation that can still mourn its downfall will live to see its return to glory.” There is great merit and truth in those words.

With the explanation of the Chasam Sofer, perhaps we can now understand the other enigmas regarding Tisha B’av. It is now understandable why the laws of mourning begin to relax on Tisha B’av itself. When we ourselves realize that we have spent a night and a morning crying and lamenting our fallen glory, therein lies the consolation. The day itself grants credence and validity to our hopes and dreams for Hashem’s Glory to someday be realized by all.
As we realize that the anniversary of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash is imminent, we are filled with sadness that the redemption still has not arrived. As Tisha B’av approaches our sadness increases and the laws of mourning intensify until it reaches its climax on Tisha B’av itself. But the day’s sadness gives us hope and fortitude and we are able to jovially proclaim, “Be consoled! Be consoled My nation!”
It is not inappropriate that we seem to cast off the mourning process the next day. Our ability to be joyous so soon after reminding ourselves of all our pain in exile stems from our belief that our tears are the foundation and guarantee for our future joy. The fact that we cry when we read the warnings of the prophets is the reason why we can rejoice when we read the promises of the prophets about the salvation to come. When we cry together it symbolizes that all our hopes have not been lost and will yet be realized.
Plato, great intellectual and philosopher that he was, was not a Jew. He could never comprehend that the basis of Jewish hope lies in their refusal to cease mourning. A Jew feels it in his heart; he knows what he must cry for. But one who lacks a Jewish soul cannot relate to such an idea.
Tisha B’av is not an easy day, but it is a very meaningful day. In a sense, Tisha B’av gives us more strength to withstand the travails of exile than any other Yom Tov. If we must spend Tisha B’av on the floor again this year, we will take comfort in knowing that the eternal redemption is imminent.

“For Hashem shall comfort Zion, He shall comfort all her ruins.
He shall make her wilderness like Eden,
 And her wasteland like a garden of Hashem;
Joy and gladness shall be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music.” 
1 Rabbi Moshe Isseles of Krakow
2 Torah HaOlah
3 O’ch, 559:4
4 the supplication recited each weekday, but omitted during holidays in deference to the joyous atmosphere
5 1:15
6 lit. place/time of meeting
7 Until burial, the mourners are in a period of ‘oninus’ when they are completely exempt from the performance of all mitzvos. Following burial, the mourners ‘sit shiva’ – a week of sole mourning. Following the week is the period of ‘shloshim’ which ends thirty days after the burial. If, G-d forbid, the deceased was a parent there is an additional mourning period that continues until a complete year has elapsed.
8 Beginning on Motzei Shabbos prior to Tisha B’av
9 Bereishis 37:35
10 quoting Gemara Pesachim 54b
11 See Sanhedrin 104b

Thursday, July 4, 2013


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



Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman zt’l hy’d, the Baranovitcher Rosh Yeshiva, had a friend who had learned with him in Yeshiva and then went into business. The friend was very successful and became very wealthy.
One day, the friend came back to the Yeshiva to visit Reb Elchanan. After conversing for a few minutes the friend turned to Reb Elchanan and said, “Look how successful I have become and how comfortably I live. We both know that you have far greater capabilities than I do and are much smarter than I am. If you would enter the business world, you would surely become far more successful than I am. You would have the ability to support your family without worry and you wouldn’t be badgered by incessant financial strains. Isn’t that better than living in poverty as you do now?” Reb Elchanan shrugged and skirted the issue, as the conversation turned to other topics.
After a few hours, it was time for the friend to leave and Reb Elchanan escorted his guest to the train station. At the station there were two platforms where two trains were scheduled to arrive at the same time. One of the approaching trains was relatively new, with comfortable plush seats and added leg-room. The second train pulling in to the opposite platform was also heading in the opposite direction. It was a far older train and the seats were not as comfortable. Graffiti tainted the walls and the seats were closer together. The older train was the one heading to the friend’s town so he stood on the platform waiting for that train.
As Reb Elchanan stood next to his friend waiting for the train he said, “I don’t understand. The train you are waiting for is decrepit and dilapidated. The one pulling in to the other track is nicer and more comfortable. It is not befitting for a wealthy person like you to ride on such an outdated train. You really should walk to the other track and wait for the nicer train.”
The friend laughed and replied, “Surely you realize that the nicer train is going in the opposite direction of my home.” Reb Elchanan was persistent, “So what? I still feel that it is unbecoming for a person of your stature to ride such a train.” The friend looked at Reb Elchonon incredulously, “Why are you talking such nonsense? What sense would it make for me to have a comfortable ride if it would be taking me in the wrong direction? Should I be comfortable for a few minutes if afterwards I am going to be extremely far from where I need to be?”
Reb Elchanan poignantly replied, “Listen to what you are saying! The main focus is not on the ride but on the direction in which you are heading. One must be wary of where he needs to end up. You asked me before why I don’t leave the Yeshiva to enter the business world. Let me explain it to you this way: Riches and wealth may allow me to enjoy the ride so that I will be able to provide for my family comfortably. But I am worried where I will end up. When the ride is over, will I have reached my destination or will I find that I have traveled in the wrong direction completely?”

Forty years passed and Klal Yisroel were camped just a few days march from Eretz Yisroel. The Torah reviews the forty-two places where the young burgeoning nation had traveled over the course of the previous forty years.
Parshas Masei commences (33:1-2) “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions…Moshe wrote (motza’ayhem l’ma’asayhem) their findings according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem, and these were (masa’ayhem l’motza’ayhem) their journeys according to their findings.”
The commentators are puzzled by the reversal of the words within the same verse. The verse begins by announcing that the following are, ‘their findings according to their journeys’ but concludes by saying, ‘these were their journeys according to their findings’. Also, why does the Torah refer to their travels as ‘findings’?
The Dubner Maggid explained with the following parable1:
There was once a young widower who married a new wife, hoping she would care for him and his orphaned son. It wasn’t long before the young orphan realized that his father’s new wife was not too fond of him. She treated him disdainfully, shouting and beating him on a regular basis. All of the young boy’s complaints to his father fell on deaf ears. The father insisted that he was overreacting and needed to get used to having a new woman in the house. 
Years passed, and the young boy got used to being the subject of his stepmother’s wild and unjust punishments. One day, the father announced that he had met a wonderful girl from a distant city who came from a reputable and respected family. The girl would be the perfect match for the son. On the day of the wedding, father and son traveled together in a horse-drawn coach to attend the chasunah. Along the way, both of them kept badgering the driver how much longer the trip would take. However, they each had different motives for asking. The father was ecstatic that he was about to marry off his only son to a wonderful girl so that they could build their own family together. The son on the other hand, was not really as excited about the marriage as he was about getting away from the home of his sinister mother-in-law. The father was most excited about the destination, while the son was most excited about the departure. 
Dubner Maggid explained that Klal Yisroel had suffered years of persecution in Egypt. Although the nation was excited about entering the Promised Land, first and foremost they were glad just to be out of the clutches of their nefarious oppressors. To them their forty-year sojourns were primarily travels, as they distanced themselves further and further from Egypt.
Moshe however, had a different perspective. To him, the nation’s spiritual growth and imminent entry into Eretz Yisroel was paramount.
The verse expresses both viewpoints. ‘Moshe recorded their findings according to their travels’. To Moshe their “findings” - their spiritual discoveries and growth - were most important. “Their travels” - their increasing distance from their previous exile - was also important, albeit secondary. But, the verse concludes, ‘And these’ - to Klal Yisroel - they viewed it as, ‘their travels according to their findings’; to them their travels were most important.
My father added that at a b’ris there are conflicting emotions. The soul of the young baby pines to return to the womb where it was taught the entire Torah by an angel. It yearns to remain in its state of pristine purity and not become tainted by the challenges of this world. The parents and family however, look to the future and to the potential for accomplishment and growth. At the b’ris we bless the child that just as he entered the covenant of Avrohom Avinu, so may he enter into other spiritual endeavors, of Torah, marriage, and performing good deeds. The purity of the past is now a thing of the past, but the potential for the future is there for the taking.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains the verse in a similar vein: The first phrase expresses how G-d viewed their travels. Whenever G-d instructed the nation to ‘go forth’ and travel, He wanted them to progress to the next level of growth. Each time the nation traversed one challenge and learned the lessons they were destined to garner from that location, G-d commanded them to move on. They were to continue to ‘journey’ toward the destiny He planned for them - L’motza’ayhem l’ma’asayhem; G-d wanted them to go forth on their journey.
The people however, viewed it differently. It is human nature to be impatient with status quo and to constantly seek new adventures. Whenever they camped in one place for too long, they became impatient and dissatisfied. When the time came for them to ‘journey’ they rejoiced simply because they had the opportunity to ‘go forth’. Ma’asayhem l’motza’ayhem, their purpose was not their destination, but the journey.

Nesivos Shalom quotes the Ba’al Shem Tov who related that just as the Torah records the nation’s forty-two encampments from when they left Egypt until they entered Eretz Yisroel, so too every individual must endure forty-two ‘travels’ in his lifetime. Not all of those travels are physical, but every Jew encounters forty-two challenges that confront him.
One who understands that life is a process of growth, views every challenging situation as a potential conduit of achieving greater heights.

26 Tammuz is the yahrtzeit of my wife’s mother’s father, Mr. Jacob Kawer a’h. ‘Zaydei’ was a gentle soul who was admired and respected by the Lakewood community on the ‘other side of the lake’. I never had the zechus to meet him but whenever I meet someone who knew him they smile sadly and tell me what a special person he was.
He was not abashed to learn new things from people far younger than him. They would teach him things he didn’t know and he would teach them about life and how to serve Hashem with a smile. Zaydei Kawer was a survivor, who could have counted far more than forty two travels in his lifetime. He endured the horrors of the camps and he arrived in America penniless and without a soul. Yet he knew how to smile. My wife relates that he had a smile that could light up a room.
How can a person who endured so much pain, sadness, and loss live with such pleasantness and love? It must have been part of his incredible resiliency. He was able to recognize that he had triumphed over his tormentors, witnessing and participating in the rebuilding of a destroyed world, seeing that his family was staunchly proud Torah Jews. As his neshama rises to greater heights we pray that he be an advocate for us and that he guide us to learn from his example how to smile always.

“Moshe wrote their findings according to their journeys”
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel”
1 I heard this parable from my father at the b’ris of my nephew, Aharon Staum, nine years ago.