Thursday, August 29, 2013


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


Rabbi Binaymin of Radin related the following parable just after the conclusion of Yom Kippur: When Russia shared a border with Poland, there was a city just over the Russian border and another city two miles away across the Polish border. A miser who lived in the Polish city realized that if he could smuggle some of his wares across the border into the Russian city, he would be able to sell them for a hefty profit.
One night, under the cover of darkness, he filled up a bag, heaved it over his shoulder, and set out. As he neared the border he noticed a soldier patrolling in the distance. The miser threw the bag away and froze. He was sure the soldier would approach him and demand to know what he was carrying. But to his pleasant surprise, the soldier didn’t budge. After a few tense minutes, the miser approached the bag he had cast away. Slowly, he lifted the bag over his shoulder and again began to cautiously edge toward the border. Meanwhile, the soldier continued to stare listlessly. The miser assured himself that he was safe, and that the soldier was probably just a statue placed there to scare people off.
As the miser neared the border, he began to walk with added confidence. When he was but a few steps from the border and already thinking about what the tremendous profits he would garner, he was startled to hear a shout, “Hey! What have you got in that bag?” The miser looked up and saw the soldier walking briskly in his direction. The officer brandished his sword in the miser’s direction, motioning him to get home fast.
As the miser hurriedly changed direction, he muttered under his breath, “You wicked soldier! You saw me immediately as I approached the border and you understood good and well what I was up to. You should’ve stopped me right away. I know why you remained mute until the last moment, because you wanted me to break my back underneath this heavy load for as long as possible. You had every intention of turning me back but you wanted to and make me feel worse that it was all an exercise in futility.”
Rabbi Binyamin noted that the Gemara1 states that the Evil Inclination is so wicked that even its Creator calls it evil. What does the Gemara mean? Didn’t G-d create it for the purpose? How could be held in contempt for doing his job?
He explained that the Evil Inclination allows us to serve G-d throughout Elul. He even allows us to perform the steps required for repentance. Throughout the Ten days of Penitence and even on Yom Kippur he allows us to indulge our spirit in G-dly Service. But as soon as Yom Kippur is over, he attacks with full force. With the cries of “Hashem hu haElokim” still fresh on our lips he sets out to destroy the spiritual bulwarks we have erected.
We sit down to eat, ravished from the long fast, and he convinces us to rush the food into our mouths without reciting a proper blessing. Within minutes, the wily Evil Inclination has dragged us back into the morass of banal G-dly Service, lacking feeling and emotion. Then the Evil Inclination makes us feel guilty for allowing ourselves to let go of the lofty levels we achieved on Yom Kippur, and we are right back where we started before Elul began.“ 

After hearing the litany of horrific curses that would befall them if they did not hearken to the word of G-d, Klal Yisroel was frightened. Rashi, quoting a Medrash, writes that their faces turned green from fright. Despondently they cried out, “Who can survive such terrifying punishments?” Moshe encouraged them not to despair with the declaration, “You are all standing here today.2
Moshe’s message was that after forty turbulent years wandering in a desert wasteland they had survived, and even flourished as a people. Despite the numerous times they had challenged G-d, including the sin of the golden calf, the spies, the rebellion of Korach, etc. they had endured. Thus, they need not fear the severe rebuke and its ninety-eight macabre curses.
Moshe’s message is perplexing. His reassurance is analogous to a teacher who gives strict warning to her students that they better behave or else they would face severe consequences. But then, when she sees the horrified look on her student’s faces, she softens, smiles reassuringly and tells them, “Don’t worry, the punishments are not such a big deal.”
If the point here is to give the nation dire warning foreboding severe consequences for not fulfilling the mitzvos properly, their fear was warranted. Why would Moshe calm the nation and reassure them that they need not fear the rebuke?
There is a fundamental difference between fear and hopelessness. The pasuk in Tehillim says, “Praiseworthy is the man who is constantly fearful.” It is a positive attribute to be concerned about the future and apprehensive of the struggles it will bring, for it is reckless to live in blissful ignorance. However, when one becomes so consumed by his fears of the future that he becomes despondent, it is extremely destructive. Hopelessness breeds demoralization, depression, and debilitation.
Moshe recognized that the nation had reached a level of despondency. When they heard the rebuke, they lost heart and were skeptical of their ability to survive. Therefore, Moshe had to reassure them that they would endure. Moshe had no intention of negating their fear, but he wanted to ensure that they were fearful, not despondent.
The gemara3 states that after the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, “all the gates of prayer were sealed, except for the Gates of Tears.”
The Kotzker Rebbe questioned why there is a need for a gate for tears at all. If tears are never turned away, why can’t the entranceway be wide open?
The Rebbe explained that certain tears are barred entry from the celestial spheres – those tears which are shed out of desperation and hopelessness. As long as one cries out with hopeful resignation to G-d, believing that He is the only avenue of salvation, those tears can pierce the Heavens and transcend all barriers. However, when one is ready to throw in the towel and cries out of bitter despondency, the gates of tears are sealed from those pessimistic tears.

Psychologists explain that there is a vital difference between shame and guilt. The guilty person says “I feel guilty for something I have done.” The shame-filled person says “I feel shame for what I am.”
“Why is this distinction so important? Because people can apologize, make restitution, make amends, and ask forgiveness for what they have done; they can do pathetically little about what they are. Alchemists during medieval times spent their lives futilely trying to convert lead into gold. A person feeling shame doesn’t even try, thinking, I cannot change my substance. If I’m made of inferior material, there is no reason for me to make any effort to change myself. It would be an act of futility. Guilt can lead to corrective action. Shame leads to resignation and despair.
 “Shame is not only unproductive but also counterproductive. Suppose you had an automobile that as operating well, but a part became defective. You would replace the defective part, and the car would run well again. If, however, you found your car was a lemon and each time you corrected a problem something else went wrong, you might throw up your hands in disgust. You might justifiably conclude there is no purpose in getting the car repaired.”
“This is what happens in addictive thinking. The profound shame that addicts feel results in their thinking that it is futile to change their ways. Guilt might have been undone by making amends, but amends cannot change the defective material addicts feel they are made of. 
“Remorse in the addict is as common as dandelions in the spring. The addict’s tears can be heartrending. Any listener unaware of the addictive thinking would swear that this person will never again touch another drop of liquor or take another drug.4

Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l, in his treatise about Elul and the process of teshuva called Kol Dodi5 devotes many pages to a lengthy discourse about how our Evil Inclination tricks us into thinking we have repented sufficiently in order to hinder us from truly repenting.
He explains that the Evil Inclination takes on many forms. At times, he appears to us as a seductive friend convincing us that a particular sin is not so terrible. At other times, he comes to us dressed like a righteous scholar and mocks us for wanting to serve G-d more devoutly. “You?! The lowly you, think you can be more stringent and observant!?” he tells us.
In Elul and Tishrei, he approaches us as a righteous penitent, urging us to read some of the classic writings about ethics, and perhaps to even shed a tear out of regret for our sins. Then, he pats us on the back for reaching such lofty levels of repentance making us feel like we have accomplished true repentance and are now spiritually complete. In doing so he successfully assures that we fail to realize that our repentance is lacking a vital component.
Rav Shalom explains that repentance is only complete when one actually changes his ways. The prophet says6 “The wicked one will forsake his ways, and the iniquitous one his improper thoughts, and he will return to Hashem and He will be merciful toward him.” All other forms of repentance are analogous to one who immerses himself in a mikvah and emerges holding an object that renders him impure. True, he submerged himself in the purifying waters, but he accomplished little in doing so7.
Why don’t we change? It is because we are set in our routines, and real change makes us uncomfortable.
One of the reasons change is so hard is because we feel shame for our actions, not guilt. Although we know that we have many areas that require improvement, deep down we may be convinced that we cannot change. We rationalize that, “this is who I am and if I changed at all I would be fooling myself.” Thus, the guilt we feel on Yom Kippur, the guilt that makes us feel like a true penitent, may not be guilt at all. It may really be shame, one of the most debilitating emotions. 
A Jew must NEVER lose heart, especially with himself. While seeking to repent, a Jew must contemplate if his tears are out of repentance or resignation. True repentance requires a belief in one’s own capabilities and potential, the belief that ‘I can accomplish and fulfill my hopes and aspirations’.

 “You are all standing here today”
“…Except the Gates of Tears”
1 Kiddushin 30b
2 Devorim 29:9
3 Bava Metzia 59a
4 Addictive Thinking; Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky.
5 Printed posthumously based on his lectures
6 Yeshaya 55:6
7 See Sha’arei T’shuva, Sha’ar 1 :2

Thursday, August 22, 2013


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


“A shortcut is often the quickest way to some place you weren’t going.1

Rabbi Shimon Russel2 related the following anecdote:
There was once a young boy who would walk through the busy city streets each morning on his way to school. As he walked, he would marvel at the men and women, who he deemed the ‘successful people’, rushing through the streets on their way to work. He was impressed by their formal dress, shiny shoes, leather briefcases and fresh newspaper in hand.
As soon as the boy graduated, he decided that he too wanted to be a ‘successful person’. He borrowed his father’s old suit, grabbed an old briefcase, and walked briskly, pretending to be rushing like everyone else. He followed the ‘successful people’ down to the subway and got on line to purchase a ticket for the train. When it was his turn, the ticket-master asked him where he was going. The boy shrugged, “I want to go where all the successful people are going.” The ticket-master impatiently snapped, “Sir, everyone is going to a different place; tell me where you want to go!” The boy repeated that he had no specific destination in mind, “I don’t care where I end up. I just want to get on the train.” The ticket master tried in vain to explain to the boy that he could not give him a ticket unless he knew where he wanted to go. After a few minutes, the ‘successful’ person behind the young boy impatiently shoved him out of the way and proceeded to the window. Many trains came and went that morning and from the platform the dejected young boy watched all of them whiz by without him.
Rabbi Russel concluded: “If you have no idea where you’re going, how are you going to get there? How can you head toward a destination in life, if you haven’t decided where it is that you’re heading?”
Dr. Stephen Covey, in his acclaimed New York Times best-seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, notes the importance of ‘beginning with the end in mind’3. “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction…It is possible to be busy – very busy- without being very effective…the carpenter’s rule is, ‘measure twice, cut once’.” 

“Moshe, and the Kohanim and the Levi’im, spoke to all of Yisroel saying, “Haskays ush’ma Yisroel- Be attentive and hear, O Yisroel, This day you have become a people to Hashem, your G-d.4
Rashi5 explains that when Moshe gave his newly written Torah scroll to the tribe of Levi for safekeeping, the rest of the nation immediately protested. They feared that some day the Levites might say that the Torah is theirs exclusively, pointing to the fact that the Torah scrolls are solely in their possession. Moshe rejoiced when he heard the nation’s complaint because it demonstrated their love and reverence for Torah. When Moshe saw that they had such a deep love and desire for Torah he stated that on that day they had matured into a people.
What did Moshe mean when he told the nation to “be attentive and listen?”
S’forno explains that the word, ‘haskays” connotes a deeper meaning than simple attentiveness. It entails mental imagining, to picture in one’s mind what is being expressed.
Shem MiShmuel6 explains that S’forno’s explanation highlights a fundamental idea in regard to spiritual growth. One cannot begin his quest for accomplishment before he has a clear picture in his mind of what he wants to accomplish. He explains that this is why the pious men of yore7 would wait an hour before beginning to pray8. They utilized that time to contemplate what they wanted to accomplish via their prayers and what they wanted to pray for.
Shem MiShmuel concludes that this concept also forms the basis of why the month of Elul precedes the awesome Days of Judgment. The purpose of the thirty days of Elul is to grant one ample time to contemplate what he wants to accomplish through the mediums of Tishrei, i.e. what he wants to achieve through the mitzvos of shofar, penitence, prayer, tashlich, succah, four species etc. All of these mitzvos are mediums for greater personal growth and are not merely ends unto themselves.

Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l9 quotes ‘a Torah leader’ who quipped that the purpose of all of our spiritual efforts throughout the month of Tishrei, with all of the unique mitzvos endemic to each holiday, is so that when we utter verse, (Devorim 4:35) “Atah harysah lada’as - You have been shown in order to know that Hashem, He is the G-d! There is none beside Him!” on the eve of Simchas Torah10 we should be able to truly feel the veracity of those words.
One needs to have that goal in mind at the outset. Only one who knows his ultimate destination, and appreciates where it is that he wants to end up prior to embarking on his journey, can eventually hope to get there.“Haskays” be attentive, and then, “Sh’ma Yisroel”. Contemplate and reflect upon the true joy of Simchas Torah, especially in achieving a level of truth faith in G-d, and then embark on the road of Elul and Tishrei that will lead you there. 
Each mitzvah and each holiday is a guide and a map. A tourist can study a map and know the directions perfectly, but if he remains in his hotel room, he will return home after his vacation is over, having cheated himself out of the most important part of his trip.
When we implore G-d not to return us empty handed from before Him11, we are begging G-d not to allow us to begin the winter without a deeper emotional connection with Him. We are praying He guide us during this elite time period to develop within our souls an appreciation of the love He has for us, and the merit we have to develop a genuine connection with Him.

Be attentive and hear… This day you have become a people”
There is none beside Him!”

1 Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, Addictive ThinkingHazelden, 1997
2 An acknowledged therapist from Lakewood, N.J.
3 Habit 2
4 27:9
5 29:3
6 Ki Savo 5672
7 ‘chassidim harishonim’
8 Berachos 30b
9 Sichos, Yomim Noraim
10 just prior to the commencement of hakafos
11 "אבינו מלכנו נא אל תשיבנו ריקם מלפניך"

Thursday, August 15, 2013


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


My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, related an apocryphal anecdote about an emergency meeting convened in the Knesset some years ago to discuss the dire state of the Israeli economy. Unemployment was rampant, the shekel was dropping, and the national deficit was burgeoning. The Knesset members debated their options, but every idea was voted down. Finally, one member proposed a radical idea. “My friends, I know this will sound crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I propose that we declare war on America.” A gasp escaped the room but the MK continued, “As soon as we strike, the Americans will strike back with punishing force. As soon as we surrender the Americans will pump billions of dollars of aid into Israel for reparations and recovery. It is an infallible plan. The country will be rebuilt by American dollars, no less than Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.”  After a few moments of discussion it was agreed that the crazy plan was their best option. There was an almost unanimous vote to move ahead with the plan until one aged Knesset member raised his hand to ask his question which stumped the room: “What if we win?”

War is never pleasant or as glorious as it is depicted. Even in victory a nation suffers destroyed land, tremendous financial strain, and most importantly broken lives and families. The Torah addresses the idea of warfare, “When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your G-d, will place them in your hand, and you will take captives.”
Rabbi Wein mused that the American Jewish community is less than one hundred years old. An overwhelmingly disproportionate number of congressmen are Jewish. Jews are indistinguishable in law, medicine, media, and control much of Hollywood. Jews have achieved unprecedented levels of wealth, glory, and power. But nationally, the Jewish spiritual focus is almost negligible. Out of few million people who admit to being Jewish, perhaps a million can identify who Rashi is, and know what Shabbos is about.
In Eretz Yisroel today it is also frustrating. The Israelis were victorious in four bloody and costly wars despite being outflanked and out-manned by numerous hostile Arab enemies. Not including oil, Israel’s economy is far superior to all of the Arab countries combined. Yet as a country, the spiritual influence in Eretz Yisroel is poor. Despite the heroic and successful efforts of the many kiruv organizations, the overwhelming majority of the country is devoid of much connection to Torah and mitzvos.
In the hamlets and shtetles of Europe, life was extremely difficult to say the least. Poverty was rampant, food was scarce, and Jews were persecuted. But Jews understood what being Jewish meant.

Parshas Ki Setzei begins with the discussion of three seemingly unrelated topics. The parsha commences by speaking about a soldier at war who captures a beautiful woman and desires to marry her. The Torah prescribes the process that would allow him to marry her. The Torah then discusses the inviolable right of a firstborn son to a double portion of his father’s inheritance1. The third concept discussed is that of the incorrigibly wayward and rebellious son, who is put to death before his thirteenth birthday. 
Rashi explains the juxtaposition of these three topics. Although the Torah allows the soldier to marry the beautiful woman, the Torah is only doing so in order to satisfy and quell the soldier’s desires. In the vernacular of Sifrei, “The Torah only spoke in response to the Evil Inclination.” The Torah seeks to warn a person what can happen if he adopts such a desperate measure in order to satisfy his desires by demonstrating what the consequences of such a union can be. The implication is that there is a chain reaction here. Improper infatuation with a captive woman will lead to the man hating his wife which, in turn, can lead to rebellious and wayward children.
If a nation is vanquished in war there is no discussion of what to do with the losers, as there is no fighting about how to divide the spoils. Victory and success, on the other hand, brings all sorts of complications. The danger is magnified by virtue of the fact that those challenges are often not realized until it’s too late.
There are numerous accounts of families thrust into fortunes that were torn asunder by vehement arguments about how to deal with their newfound wealth.
Rabbi Wein concludes that we all have a plan for defeat. People, and especially Jews, know how to bond together in times of need. However, when life is less demanding and there is an atmosphere of success and complacency, humanitarianism and spirituality often are left at the wayside.
The parsha begins with a discussion of victory. The question is how does one respond to success and blessing? Does he use it for his own selfish aggrandizement and pursuits, or to seek and promote greater Torah adherence and love of G-d.

“When you will go out to war” 
“And Hashem will place them in your hand”
1 The Torah mentions the law specifically in regard to a scenario where a man had a polygamous marriage and the eldest son was from a wife that the man hated.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


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


There is a legend told about two brothers who owned fields on opposite sides of a hill. The first brother had a large family, while the second brother lived by himself. One night towards the beginning of the harvesting season, the first brother thought to himself that his brother probably could use some extra grain. “I have a wife, sons, and daughters, to assist me in the fields but he must work alone.” So late that night the first brother clandestinely went out to his field and dragged some of his biggest bags of grain across the hill into his brother’s field. Meanwhile, at the same time, the second brother was also thinking. “I live by myself and so I don’t require much food for the long winter. But my brother has many mouths to feed.” So the brother went out to his field and quietly dragged his biggest bags of grain into his brother’s field. The scenario kept repeating itself for many nights until one night they met. They instantly realized what was happening and they embraced. The legend concludes that it was on that hill that the Bais Hamikdash was constructed1.
There is an apocryphal legend that serves as a sequel to the first legend: There were once two brothers who owned fields on opposite sides of a hill. The first brother had a large family, while the second brother lived by himself. One night towards the beginning of the harvesting season, the first brother thought to himself that his brother surely doesn’t need all of his grain. “I have a wife, sons, and daughters, and I must feed them all while he only needs to feed his selfish self.” So late that night, the first brother clandestinely went out to his brother’s field and dragged some of the biggest bags of grain across the hill and into his own field. Meanwhile, at about the same time, the brother was also thinking. “I live by myself and so I don’t have anyone to help me while my brother has so many people to assist him.” So the brother also went out to his brother’s field and quietly dragged the biggest bags of grain into his own field. The scenario kept repeating itself for many nights until one night they saw each other. They instantly realized what was transpiring and they began screaming and shouting at each other. The neighbors heard and began to take sides until tremendous enmity developed, and it was on that hill that the Israeli Knesset was built!

The Torah places a great deal of emphasis on leadership and a strong judicial system. “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities- which Hashem, your G-d, gives you – for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment… Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.2
What is the reason for the verse’s seeming redundancy; what is the point of repeating the word ‘righteousness’ (‘tzedek’)? Also, the Torah seems to emphasize that righteousness and a proper judicial system are a prerequisite to living in Eretz Yisroel. Why?
Previously3, Moshe instructed the nation, “Safeguard and hearken to all these words that I command you, in order that it be well with you and your children after you forever, when you will do what is just (hayashar) and good (v’hatov) in the eyes of Hashem, your G-d.”
K’sav Sofer notes that G-d does not merely demand justice but also a level of goodness that transcends actual justice. If one is too particular to adhere to the letter of the law, it is inevitable that at times he will be remiss in following the law. Therefore, one must conduct himself beyond the letter of the law. One must take into account not only the court ruling but also the ramifications of the verdict on the other litigants.
One can be legally justified, yet remiss by Torah standards which demand that he behave with a level of goodness. This is what the verse is demanding, “when you will do - not only - what is just – but you will also seek to do what is – good in the eyes of Hashem your G-d.” Goodness often takes a person far beyond what can legally be demanded of him.
The Medrash4 relates that there were once two men who came to court to present their argument before judges. The first man explained that he had purchased an old decrepit house from the second man and had subsequently found some valuable treasures in the house. The man insisted that he had only purchased the home, not the valuables and therefore they belonged to the original owner. The second man countered that he too feared taking something that didn’t belong to him. He felt that he had sold the home with everything in it, so the valuables belonged to the purchaser.
Based on the explanation of the K’sav Sofer, his great-grandson the Da’as Sofer explains that it is this level of righteousness which the verse refers to. A Jew is obligated to not only pursue justice, but also a level of righteousness beyond justice, i.e. to go beyond the letter of the law, lifnim mishuras hadin. This exhortation is not addressing the elite but is vital to all inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel, “so that you will live and possess the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.”
The Gemara5 states that Jerusalem was destroyed because of their extreme meticulousness to justice and maintaining the letter of the law. The commentators explain that they were overly meticulous to the letter of the law, and disregarded the feelings, situation, or needs of the litigants. No one was willing to take a loss to benefit someone else if legally he did not have to.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, would note that sometimes a person can wait forever to make a turn at an intersection, because no other driver will yield to him. The truth is that according to the law a driver is not obligated to allow a second driver to go ahead of him. However, society – especially a Torah society – cannot endure where people don’t care about each other.   

The Beirach Moshe of Satmar zt’l utilized a similar approach to explain the Torah’s juxtaposition of the laws of enacting a judicial system with the Jewish holidays listed at the conclusion of the preceding Pasha, Parshas Re’eh.
The Torah states, “You shall rejoice on your festival – you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite, the proselyte, the widow, and the orphan who are in your cities.6” Rashi explains that the Torah lists eight categories of people that a Jew should include in his own joy. Those eight can be divided into two subgroups. In essence, G-d is saying, “Your four - the four of your household, correspond to my four - the Levite, proselyte, orphan, and widow. If you will gladden my four I will gladden your four.” The purpose of Yom Tov is not for selfish joy but to ensure and enhance national joy. It is incumbent upon every Jew to contemplate how he can spread joy to others, especially to gladden those who are downtrodden and troubled.
After discussing the holidays which obligates every Jew to think about the welfare of others, the Torah continues by instructing every community to have a judicial system. But that system is not only to maintain peace and order. Rather, its mission is to ensure that every Jew is cared for.

Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, the former Satmar Rebbe, was a person of incredible Torah erudition and insight. He was also an incredible lover of his people, regardless of their background or views. There are countless stories which demonstrate this point.
The Rebbe was the founder of many charity organizations and endless lines of people would approach him begging for financial assistance daily. On one occasion, a man came to the Rebbe and cried bitter tears as he related his bitter plight about financial, familial, and health issues. When the man completed his tale of woe, the Rebbe gave him a sizeable donation and a heartfelt blessing.
About five minutes after the man left, the Rebbe’s Gabbai burst into the Rebbe’s office and announced to the Rebbe that the man was a fraud. The Rebbe looked up tremendously relieved, breathing a sigh of relief. “You mean that whole story wasn’t true? Boruch Hashem!”

Rashi (16:20) quoting Sifrei comments, “It is befitting for you to appoint valid judges to enliven Klal Yisroel and to return them to their land.” Beirach Moshe concludes that our Sages note that jealousy, enmity, and discord destroy the fabric of our nation. The Gemara7 states that the sins of jealousy and hatred were the catalysts for our exile and the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Therefore, when we have judges and leaders who guide us to live based on a Torah-based weltanschauung of justice and righteousness, it promotes love and unity.
It is not sufficient for a Jew to be righteous. He must also seek goodness and a level of righteousness beyond the letter of the law. In the concluding words of Megillas Esther8, “He sought the good of his people and espoused peace for their progeny.”

“Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue”
“To do what is just and good in the eyes of Hashem”

1 Note that this story does not seem to have any source in Chazal.
2 Devorim 16:18-20
3 Devorim 12:28
4 Vayikra Rabbah 27:1
5 Bava Metziah 30b
6 Devorim 16:14
7 Yoma 9b
8 in reference to Mordechai -  Esther 10:3

Thursday, August 1, 2013


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


Rabbi Noach Sauber1 related the following personal anecdote:
“When I was a young man learning in Yeshivas RJJ in Edison, New Jersey, there was a Rebbe in the Yeshiva who did not drive. Whenever that Rebbe needed to get anywhere, the boys in the yeshiva would offer to drive him.
“On one occasion, I offered to drive him where he needed to go. I told the Rebbe that I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there, but he reassured me that he would find out directions. I was confident that he would tell me when to get off the highway and I eased my way into the left lane, cruising at a standard highway speed. Every couple of minutes I glanced at the Rebbe to see if it was time to start moving into the right lane to prepare to exit. But his face remained stoic, as he continued staring ahead.
“Suddenly, as we were about to pass an exit, the Rebbe pointed at the little green sign and announced, “Here!” An immediate panic overtook me as I contemplated slamming the brakes and trying to shift across four lanes of oncoming traffic. It would be quite an unpleasant experience trying to merge off the highway at full speed with about three and a half seconds so as not to miss the exit. I prudently decided not to try. I apologized to the Rebbe for the slight detour and went to the next exit.
“When reflecting on that experience, I thought about how different the experience would have been if the Rebbe had given me adequate notice about the exit. It’s no big deal to merge off the highway when one knows two miles in advance. After reducing speed, one looks into his mirror and patiently makes his way back into the right lane. Then with plenty of time he can get onto the exit ramp and settle into the local traffic pattern. But when one tries to do all that in less than three seconds, suffice it to say, it’s not going to be a comfortable ride.”
Yom Kippur is the conclusion and culmination of the time-period dedicated to penitence and atonement, and beseeching G-d for a new year of blessing and goodness. The process begins forty days prior on Rosh Chodesh Elul. The shofar is sounded throughout Elul, and selichos are recited beginning a week before Rosh Hashanah. The awesome Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, is itself replete with special prayers, shofar, symbolic foods, tashlich, and ‘Kapparos’.
  Those who do not heed the call of Rosh Chodesh Elul, but bide their time to awaken to the process of teshuvah on Yom Kippur eve as the Chazzan begins Kol Nidrei, have wasted a significant opportunity2.
One who ‘wakes up’ on Yom Kippur eve is analogous to the driver who tries to get off the highway at full speed, from the left lane, just as he is passing the exit. He has ignored the numerous signs that urged him to prepare himself for the approaching exit. He foolishly ignored the signposts and now is trying to slam on the brakes and exit in a hurry.
Rosh Chodesh Elul is the first signpost. It’s message is that it’s time to prepare to exit slowly and comfortably, as we ready ourselves for introspection and spiritual growth in the coming new year.

When Yaakov Avinu died in Egypt, his twelve sons accompanied his body to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah in Chevron. The Medrash3 relates that when they arrived at the mouth of the cave, Eisav tried to impede their entrance, demanding to see their proof of title. The sons dispatched Naftali, who was an extremely swift runner, to run back to Egypt to bring the deed. In the meanwhile Yaakov’s body lay outside disgracefully. When Chushim, the deaf son of Dan, realized that his great-uncle Eisav was interfering with the burial of his saintly grandfather, he immediately grabbed a sword and chopped off Eisav’s head.
The question is why the other brothers weren’t incensed by the disgrace of their father that Eisav was causing, as Chushim was. Why didn’t they stand up for the honor of Yaakov?
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l4 explains that because Chushim was deaf he did not hear Eisav’s arguments. Chushim saw the degradation of his grandfather and couldn’t understand the reason for it. Therefore, he acted immediately to stand up for his grandfather’s honor. The rest of the family however, heard Eisav’s arguments and became embroiled in debate as they sought to prove the futility of Eisav’s claim. They became ‘accustomed’ to the fact that Yaakov’s body was lying unburied outside the cave. Chushim, who was never able to hear Eisav’s arguments, was appalled by what he saw and therefore acted immediately. He never became sidetracked by Eisav’s arguments and therefore he remained committed to their mission to bury Yaakov with dignity and respect.
Sometimes circumstances call for action rather than negotiation. At times, it is important to focus in order to accomplish. When it is time to act one will only be deterred by debate and rationalization.

Parsha Re’eh begins with a subtle exhortation: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today…5” What did Moshe mean that the nation should SEE the blessing and the curse that was before them. Why did he emphasize their sense of sight over any of the other five main senses?
Perhaps Moshe’s message is connected with the aforementioned concept. In our psyche most of us recognize the real truth. We see the august nobility of our Torah leaders and admire the internal happiness of those who dedicate their lives to Torah. We see the naïve and simple joy of children as they recite blessings and perform mitzvos and as parents we feel proud when we watch the transmission of our heritage to the next generation. Still-in-all, we do not always live our lives in the manner that we ourselves truly desire. We have doubts about living ‘too holy’ and we are skeptical of those who we feel ‘lose touch with reality’ because they are too submerged in a Torah lifestyle.
This skepticism comes from our exposure to outside ideas and external influences. We confuse our morals and ethics with those of the rest of society causing spirituality and G-dliness to become befuddled in our minds. We rationalize, contemplate, and try to conceptualize Judaism, G-d, Torah, and mitzvos. In doing so, we seek to bring everything down to our level and what we cannot fully comprehend makes us uncomfortable.
Moshe was calling on Klal Yisroel to ‘blind themselves’ from the false reality around them so that they could see clearly6. We become sidetracked by the influences surrounding us and it clouds our sense of purpose and mission. Chushim ben Dan was blind and deaf to everything around him, and therefore maintained his direction and dedication to his mission. In order to maintain our own sense of direction and mission, we sometimes need to adopt that approach as well.

There was once a king who wanted to help his impoverished subjects. However, he was concerned about giving money freely to anyone who is poor because he is aware that he has many poor subjects who are simply lazy and by giving the money he fears that he will only encourage their slothfulness.  
One of his ministers suggests that the king open his treasure house for one day to all the poor folks in the kingdom. However, right outside there would be a symphony playing the most pleasant music in the world. All of the lazy people would be sidetracked by the music and they would forget about the jewels and diamonds inside. Then when the music would stop, the doors of the treasure house would close and it would be too late for anyone to take any money. The king was fond of the idea. It ensured that his deserving subjects would receive desperately needed assistance while those who were undeserving would realize their foolishness. On the great day when the treasure-houses were opened, most of the visitors were indeed quickly enraptured by the music and they forgot what they came for. One man ran home and returned with pillows tied tightly around his ears. Everyone laughed at him but he couldn’t hear their taunts or the music. He spent the day amassing as much money as he could. By the time the music stopped, the man was a millionaire while the rest of the people were as destitute as they were when they first arrived.  
The man with the pillows around his ears may have looked silly but he was able to remain goal-oriented because he wasn’t sidetracked by any external stimuli7

Without the Bais Hamikdash as the center point of our world, we lack a certain sense of clarity. Moshe beseeched the nation to try to see beyond the clouded vision of exile. To see with simplicity- as if with childlike wonder- the blissful inner fulfillment of one who adheres to the commandments of the Torah.
As the second verse of the parsha states8, “The blessing: that you will listen… And the curse: If you do not listen…” Living a life of Torah is itself the greatest blessing, while living not in accordance with the dictates and demands of the Torah is the greatest curse, ensnaring one into a web of sinful living. 
The Shabbos when Parshas Re’eh is read is often Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Elul. In order for one to begin the process of teshuvah and to try to get off the highway of daily life, one must begin to see clearly! To do so often entails blinding and deafening one’s self from all of the other sights and sounds which impel us in other directions.

See I present before you today a blessing and a curse”
“That you hearken to the commandments of Hashem”
1 Assistant Principal in the Rabbi Teitz Mesivta Academy (R.T.M.A.) of Elizabeth New Jersey and a personal mentor
2 Surely even one sincere prayer uttered during the final moments of Yom Kippur can accomplish tremendous things in heaven. Nevertheless, it pales in comparison to teshuvah performed step by step, with reflection, introspection, and contemplation for forty days.
3 Bereishis Rabbah 97
4 Sichos Mussar, 5732, Ma’mar 32
5 11:26-28
6 Some explain that we cover our eyes when we recite the first verse of Shema, because in order to accept upon ourselves the Yoke of Heaven and state our unwavering belief in G-d, we need to obscure the false ‘realities’ surrounding us.
7 Parable related by Rabbi Yitzy Erps, “Tell me a Tale
8 If read with different punctuation than the simple meaning and understanding of the verse