Wednesday, September 25, 2013


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


Rabbi Fishel Shechter related the following story:
“I once met an elderly Slovakian man. He related to me that before the Second World War, the secular winds of enlightenment had a spiritually negative influence on him.
“One day, his father called him and his brother into a room. “There is going to be a war soon”, his father began. “No one knows what will happen or who will survive. But I want to tell you one thing: If you ever forget that there’s a G-d who runs this world and you send your children to a non-Jewish school, I don’t care what world I’m in, I’m going to find you and make sure you know that I am displeased.”
“Not long after that, the Second World War broke out, along with all the heinous evils that occurred. Somehow the man survived the war, though the rest of his family was destroyed. He emerged a broken, bereft, and angry person.
“For the first few months after the war, he found himself in the same Displaced Persons camp as Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe zt’l, who had also survived after losing most of his family during the war. The Rebbe would conduct tischen1 and try to strengthen the morale of the survivors.
“The man recalled that at that point he was angry with everything, especially with G-d. He was looking for a good fight so that he could vent some of his deep-rooted pain. He decided he would come to the Rebbe’s tisch and stand close to the table without a yarmulke. He would wait for the Rebbe to chastise him, so that he could yell back and start a commotion.
“He walked to the edge of the table with his arms folded haughtily and his long uncovered hair flowing. When the Rebbe noticed him he looked at him and calmly called out, “Are you not afraid of your father?!”
“The man recalled that upon hearing the Rebbe’s prophetic words recalling his father’s warning he melted. At that moment, all of the tears he had pent up poured from his eyes unabatedly. The man has been a Torah observant Jew ever since.”   

Human proclivity to sin and fall prey to the wily schemes of our Evil Inclination is as ancient as man. When Adam and Chava partook in the forbidden fruit in Gan Eden their sin had negative ramifications for their progeny for all eternity.
Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato notes before Adam ate from the forbidden fruit, his evil inclination was exterior, in the form of a serpent who spoke to him. When Adam ingested the forbidden fruit however, he ingested the evil inclination with it. Forevermore, the evil inclination became an internal component of man, initiating the perennial internal struggle between holiness and sin.
The Torah recounts that the serpent initiated conversation by asking Chava if she was not allowed to eat from any of the fruits in Gan Eden. Chava replied that although they were allowed to eat from all of the fruit in the garden, they were forbidden to touch the ‘Tree of Knowledge’. If they did they would touch the tree they would immediately die. As soon as Chava finished relating to the serpent about the prohibition, the serpent pushed her into the tree. When nothing occurred, he told her that just as nothing happened when she touched the fruit so too nothing would occur if she ate from the fruit.
Rashi comments that, in truth, G-d had never prohibited them from touching the tree. He had only warned them not to eat from the tree. Chava’s appendage to the prohibition ended up being the catalyst for her catastrophic sin.
The event seems perplexing. The first mishna in Avos teaches that one should always seek to enact ‘protective fences’ around the Torah, i.e. safeguards to protect himself from sin. It is not sufficient to follow the dictates of the Torah, but one must seek additional protective regulations that ensure that he maintains a spiritually safe distance from sin2. If so, how could Chava’s appendage to the prohibition be viewed as the catalyst for sin? Wasn’t it noble that she added to the original prohibition?
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l explains3 that herein lies a vital fundamental lesson regarding the practice of Torah and mitzvos. It is obvious that Chava did not add the prohibition about touching the tree on her own, for if so, the wily scheme of the serpent wouldn’t have worked. If she knew that she herself had made up the prohibition against touching the tree, she would not have been fooled by his wily scheme and she would never have progressed to actually eat from the fruit. Rather it was Adam who had told her that they were forbidden from merely touching the tree.
Avos d’Reb Nosson4 records that Adam’s intentions were noble. He wanted to ensure that Chava would not fall prey to sin so he added to the prohibition without telling her. But because he didn’t tell her that the prohibition against touching the tree was his own precautionary measure, when she was pushed against the tree she was under the impression that she had already transgressed G-d’s command.
Adding to G-d’s commands is a slippery slope. To safely enact spiritual safeguards, the line of demarcation between what is the actual prohibition and what is the added safeguard must be clear! Although we are charged to create spiritual safeguards in order to distance ourselves from sin, it must be very apparent what is the actual sin and what is our protective measure.
The Torah5 states, “Moshe called all of Yisroel and he said to them, ‘listen Yisroel to the laws, and the judgments that I am speaking in your ears today; you shall learn them and you shall guard them to do them’.” Rav Yaakov explains that the verse is instructing us that it is incumbent upon every Jew to study the mitzvos so that he has a clear understanding of what is a Biblical prohibition or commandment, what is a Rabbinic prohibition or commandment, what is a Rabbinic safeguard, and what is merely a familial or local custom. The only manner to guard and adhere to the mitzvos properly is by studying them, and becoming adequately familiar in this area.
Rabbi Yaakov continues that even if one’s father was a righteous scholar, it is not appropriate for a person to simply assume that by naively doing whatever his father did, he is serving G-d properly. If one does do so, he will not understand what is considered unequivocal law and what is merely tradition or family custom. The danger of not knowing the difference is that when one sees other Jews who do not practice the mitzvos in the manner that he does, he may begin to think negatively of them. He may begin to suspect their adherence to Torah and he may begin to question their level of observance.
The reason one must observe his family’s customs is based on the verse6 “Heed, my son, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the guidance of your mother.” One is only required to observe a custom if it is indeed, ‘the guidance of your mother’. If it is not a family custom, there is no obligation to observe that custom. In fact, it is imperative that one observe the customs of his own family because, very often, different customs can blatantly contradict each other. Still, it is not an indication of the veracity of one custom over another.
The idea behind a custom is to strengthen a specific area of Torah observance. Therefore, one community may have accepted a custom to strengthen themselves in one facet of Torah observance while another community accepted a different custom to strengthen a different facet of Torah observance.7

The mistake of Adam was not that he enacted a safeguard, but that he didn’t inform Chava that it was a safeguard.
Customs claim a particular affinity in our hearts. Our family and communal customs connect us with our predecessors and our ancestors in a unique manner. Still-in-all, it is imperative that we recognize that our customs are not law and that Rabbinic law is not the same as Biblical law8. It is important to know what to do when one is confronted with a situation where there are two conflicting laws telling him to do opposite things. Only one who is familiar with the levels of law can recognize which one should gain superiority.9

Although it is always important to connect with one’s father, it is paramount that one connect himself with his Father in Heaven, by knowing what is actually His commandment and what was enacted to ensure proper adherence to those commandments!  

“The Tree of Knowledge… you shall not eat of it nor touch it…”
“Make a fence for the Torah”
1 meals on Shabbos with songs and Torah discourses
2 This is the basis for many of the Rabbinic prohibitions. They were implemented to protect the masses from transgressing a Biblical prohibition.
3 Emes L’Yaakov, Pirkei Avos
4 1:35
5 Devorim 5:1
6 Mishlei 1:8
7 Rabbi Yaakov offers two examples that elucidate this point: The Gemarah (Shabbos 11a) relates that Shammai and Hillel enacted eighteen decrees. One of them was that one should not read by candlelight on Shabbos because, while engrossed in his reading, one may absent-mindedly tilt the candle to ease the flow of oil into the wick in order to strengthen the light. In other words, since touching a flame or enhancing a fire is forbidden on Shabbos, they also prohibited reading by the fire’s light to prevent someone from inadvertently tilting the lamp. The question is what happened until Shammai and Hillel made their decree? Why was it permitted to read by candlelight until they prohibited it? If there truly is reason to fear that someone may tilt the candle, why was this prohibition not enacted until now? Also, why is there no concern of someone tilting the lamp on Yom Kippur, as there is on Shabbos?
The Mishnah (Damai 4:1) states that we suspect an ignoramus of not properly tithing his foods throughout the week and, therefore, it is forbidden to eat from the food of an ignoramus during the week. However, on Shabbos everyone is trustworthy and one is even permitted to eat from the food of an ignoramus who is generally not so scrupulous in his performance of mitzvos. The reason for the leniency on Shabbos is that in days of yore there was a deep appreciation and awe for the heightened sanctity of Shabbos. This respect was so prevalent that even an ignoramus who normally is not vigilant in regard to tithing his food, would not transgress the law during the holy day.
In a similar vein, there was no concern that one would tilt a lamp while reading on Shabbos, for the trepidation for the day’s holiness was so ingrained in the consciousness of even the simplest Jew, that there was no concern even for inadvertent transgression. However, in the generation of Shammai and Hillel they recognized that this sense of admiration for the holiness of Shabbos was beginning to fade. In their time, they noted that on Shabbos the masses were becoming somewhat derelict in their adherence to the laws. They sensed the need to add new precautions to ensure proper adherence to the laws. Yet, despite the fact that they felt a need to safeguard the sanctity of Shabbos, they did not deem it necessary to do so in regard to Yom Kippur. The admiration that the average Jew possessed for the holiness of the great and awesome Day of Judgment was still potent enough that added precautionary measures were unnecessary.
The second example involves the custom of conduct for Shabbos Chazon, the Shabbos before Tisha B’av. There were many communities throughout Europe who had the custom to wear weekday clothes to shul on Shabbos Chazon. They would sit on the floor as if already in mourning and sing slow somber tunes. Other communities treated Shabbos Chazon as they did every other Shabbos of the year, with nary a trace of the impending day of sadness later that week.
If one entered one of the former communities wearing Shabbos clothing, he would be seen as a heartless individual with no feelings for the exile and the destroyed Bais Hamikdash. On the other hand, one who would enter one of the latter communities in weekday clothes would be seen as one who has no respect for the sanctity of Shabbos.
The reason for the varying customs is based on where in Europe the community was situated and its level of affluence. In communities where they were well-off and comfortable, the Rabbinic authorities feared that there was a lack of sensitivity toward the mourning period. To stress the exile and the heightened sadness of the time, they enacted that even on the holy Shabbos, mourning would be communally observed. However, in communities where they constantly suffered from wicked marauders who inflicted pogroms and other horrific crimes against them, the potency of the exile was palpable and they didn’t require any added reminders. Therefore, they observed Shabbos normally. 
Rabbinic decrees, safeguards, and customs were enacted based on the time and place. Some were enacted as law for every Jew and some were decreed by the local courts as custom, but each was based on the Rabbi’s assessment of the spiritual level of adherence to the Torah by the community at large.
8 Although under normal conditions we are obligated to observe Rabbinic commandments with the same alacrity and precision as Biblical commandments
9 This is an incredibly important idea, that is often not realized. To give a contemporary example, as a community we struggle mightily with acceptance of modern technology versus keeping our families safe from potentially harmful effects. It is foolish in our circles to merely tell our children that all technology is evil, especially when we ourselves are busy with it constantly. Rather, we must inform them of the dangers involved and our own protective measures that we are taking to protect ourselves.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


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


Rashi2 explains the underlying reason for having a separate holiday of Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah immediately following the conclusion of Succos. “It is comparable to a king who invited his sons for a meal for a specific amount of time. When the time came for them to depart he (the king) said, “I am begging of you, detain yourselves and spend one day with me; it is difficult for me that you are departing.”
The commentators question what the king gains by detaining his children for one more day if it merely pushes off the inevitable pain of departure until the following day?

Jeremy was a young man who had grown up on the streets. Throughout his youth he was constantly getting into trouble with the law. Although his crimes were only petty misdemeanors, like spraying public buildings with graffiti, and shoplifting, the police had a large dossier on him.
As Jeremy matured he began to feel remorse for his actions and his way of life. He also feared getting caught again. He realized that although he had been able to finagle his way out of trouble in the past, he might not be so lucky next time. He dreamed about changing his lifestyle and he pondered how he could “give back” to the city.
One day he had an epiphany. He decided that he would build a concert hall right in the middle of the city slums. It would be a massive edifice and a beautiful state-of-the-art structure, the likes of which the city had never seen. There would be a huge stage that could host the largest concertos and symphonies from around the world, with an audience capacity of over ten-thousand.
Of course one cannot simply construct a beautiful building in a run down area of town, and Jeremy realized that he would first need to clear an entire three block area. He planned to demolish all the buildings that were in the vicinity and then turn the area into an aesthetic oasis right in the middle of the slums. He hoped that doing so would trigger a process of urban renewal, in which the new area and concert hall would spark dramatic improvement of the area. With a plethora of concerts attracting the rich and famous, upper-class stores would be constructed in the vicinity and the surrounding real estate would skyrocket. It would cause gentrification - rapid increase in property value and an influx of revenue and income in the area. Eventually the slums would be completely replaced by the new beautiful section of the city.
Jeremy was convinced that his idea was infallible and he spent years tirelessly campaigning for it. When he had finally generated enough contributions to finance the project, the process began. The first step was to totally destroy everything in the vicinity. Wreckers used dynamite and huge wrecking balls to raze every building. The deafening sounds of explosions, demolition, and shattering glass filled the air. Tens of trucks were needed to haul away mountains of debris, until finally the area was clear.
The problem was that the stench of the slums that had been there for decades still filled the air. Rats and vermin ran freely through the empty area which looked like a war zone. Jeremy realized that a serious process of beautification was necessary before the construction could even begin. Aesthetic experts were brought in and Jeremy spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on landscaping, planting trees, shrubbery, and flower gardens. Historic looking streetlights were erected with expensive flowers lining the pavement, with ponds and pools of water constructed around beautiful statues. It took months for them to finish, but when they did the area was completely transformed.
At that point they began building the concert hall itself. Jeremy hired the best construction crews in the world, along with top engineers to plan every minute detail. The construction crews laboriously constructed the foundation and the steel outline of the hall. When the frame of the building was up, they began the arduous task of building the interior. When finally done it was an incredible sight. Every detail had been taken into serious consideration - the acoustics, the stage, the seats, the rooms backstage, the windows, the curtains, etc. It was truly magnificent.  
The grand opening was a tremendous celebration. Politicians, dignitaries, statesmen, entrepreneurs, and journalists from every major media outlet were in attendance. Thousands of people showed up, not only to celebrate the opening of the most beautiful concert hall in the country, but also to celebrate the uncanny transformation that had taken place in the area. There was great confidence that within a short time the rest of the slums would follow suit and the most dangerous section of the city would become a bad memory. The festivities lasted for hours, with people singing and dancing with euphoric joy. The mayor presented Jeremy with a medal of honor and the key to the city. It was almost dark when the music and celebration died down.
A few weeks went by and the concert hall stood in quiet grandeur. Everyone was eagerly awaiting the first concert. People excitedly checked the newspapers daily to find out when they could purchase tickets. But no concerts were scheduled. Many great orchestra and band leaders tried to book the hall but the office was always closed. Eventually they stopped trying.
As the months passed, the grime of the slum gradually began to creep back into the three block oasis. Graffiti began showing up on the walls of the expensive buildings, the flowers and shrubbery were uprooted and trampled on, and gang activity resumed around the statues and fountains.
One day, one of the wealthy financers of the project went to visit Jeremy to find out what had gone wrong. He was shocked when Jeremy downplayed his concerns. Jeremy unabashedly explained that he had done the major work and now felt that he needed a long break. The entrepreneur jumped up in a fury, “Are you out of your mind? The whole project was only created for concerts. The profits from those events that will be used to further beautify the area. The more people come, the more the area will be enhanced. But if you are allowing the building to remain unused, not only will your efforts not pay off, but they all will have been a waste. We will have pumped millions of dollars into a wasted opportunity. You must act NOW! There is no time to lose; we can still salvage all our efforts if we can fill the hall with music. But if we wait any longer we will have to start all over again and it will only become harder.”

Throughout the year we are on some level of “spiritual automatic pilot.” We do mitzvos out of rote and we lack proper fear of G-d. Our evil inclination gets the better of us and we often fall prey to sin. Perhaps we do not commit any major sin per se, but we involve ourselves in sinful ‘misdemeanors’ that obstruct our relationship with G-d.
As Elul approaches along with the imminence of the annual celestial judgment, we begin to realize how far we have strayed spiritually. We begin to pine that closeness with G-d that we have compromised. We seek repentance and a way to break down the barriers that we have erected.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that the sound of the shofar is the sound of destruction and demolition. [The choppy teruah sounds like a drill penetrating walls.] The shofar symbolizes the obliteration of all the barriers between us and G-d. It is the demolition crew clearing out the slums.
Despite the fact that our sins and iniquities have been pardoned, we are still faced with a big problem. The stench and repugnance of our sins is still noxious and overpowering. Although we have been forgiven, the negative impression our sins made on our souls bars us from approaching the inner chambers of the King. Yom Kippur is a beautification process. “For on this day He will atone for you, in order to purify you, from all of your sins, before G-d you will become purified.”
Yom Kippur is not merely the day when we “take out the garbage”; rather, it is the day when we “clean up the dump”. G-d Himself wipes our slates clean and grants us the opportunity to begin (literally) fresh. Flowers line the streets, fountains are erected, and a spirit of regal serenity seems to permeate the air. 
It is only at that point when the construction can actually commence. The mitzvos of the holiday of Succos represent some of the basic tenets of Judaism. Sitting in the Succah under the protection of G-d reminds us of the vanity of materialism and the physical world. The entire holiday celebrates our spiritual existence and the sublime joy of a Torah life. The four species represent every category within the Jewish people. We bind them together to symbolize the fact that united we stand and divided we fall. Throughout the holiday of Succos we are building within ourselves these fundamental foundations. “One nation, under G-d!”
On the final day of the glorious process, we celebrate in a most ostentatious manner. Young and old gather in shul to rejoice in sublime happiness. Although Simchas Torah is often seen as the final day, in an important sense, it is really opening day! For now the building is complete and ready for usage. The time has come to bring in the symphonies and to play the music. We are all members of G-d’s symphony, as it were. Our Torah learning, mitzvah observance, and Service to G-d is the melodious music that we play.
If we do not take advantage of all we worked so hard to accomplish throughout the months of Elul and Tishrei then we are analogous to Jeremy who failed to realize that the main point of all his work was only beginning. Now is the time to fill the hall and play the music!

This is the reason why the holiday of Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah follows Succos. When the imminence of departure is realized, the King calls out to his children, “Why must we take leave of each other? True, you can no longer remain in my palace. But I can return to your homes with you and be near you all year long. Wait one more day before you leave so that we can spend a day working out the details, i.e. where I will stay and how you will be able to host me.”
As the period of repentance and joy comes to its conclusion and we return to our daily lives, G-d calls out to us, as it were, “We do not have to be apart! I can come home with you if you will only welcome Me in. Spend this final day of the holiday - which has no mitzvah connected to it other than being in a state of complete joy - and figure out how you will maintain all you have gained. Contemplate how you will transform your home into a worthy resting place for My Presence.”
We make our homes into sanctuaries of holiness when they are filled with Torah study, adherence to halacha, and mitzvah observance. Therefore, on the holiday of Shemini Atzeres we celebrate Simchas Torah, our connection to Torah and our privilege to be the nation that bears the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. It is not merely a celebration of the completion of a cycle of Torah reading, but it is a celebration of our perennial connection with the Torah and its Author. 
On Simchas Torah we celebrate the opportunity afforded to us to renew our dedication to Torah study, to live a Torah lifestyle, and to begin a new cycle of learning on an elevated level; a step up from our study in the past. One who can hold on to the great joy of Simchas Torah throughout the year will be able to continue building, and will not have to begin again from scratch next Elul .
1 The following is the text of the speech I had the privilege to deliver in Kehillat New Hempstead on Simchas Torah eve 5764. The parable is my own.
2 Vayikra 23:36


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


On any tombstone you will see two dates - the date of birth and the date of death. All that separates those two dates is a Dash. Just a simple, single line that represents everything that person did from birth to death.
I don't know how long my Dash of life will be, no one really does. For some, it’s a quick sprint while others have a long, long journey. But, I can have an impact of what that Dash represents on my own tombstone to people that met me and knew me. I can try to understand and feel for other people. I can be quicker to smile and slower to anger. I can show respect and be ready to lend a hand. I can try to live according to Oaths I've memorized.
When I die, as every one of us eventually will, that Dash will mean something to everyone that knew me. Do what you can to make your Dash meaningful.
Or, as Linda Ellis wrote,
 'It matters not how much we own,
the cars, the house, the cash :
What matters most is how we live
and how we spend our dash.'         

The holiday of Succos with its endemic plethora of unique mitzvos and customs, is termed, “z’man simchasaynu- the time of our joy”. It is a weeklong celebration of our newfound closeness with G-d after being granted forgiveness and atonement on Yom Kippur. When the week is over and the holiday of Succos concludes, a new holiday – Shmini Atzeres begins.
Rashi2 explains the added holiday: “It is comparable to a king who invited his sons for a meal for a specific amount of time. When the time came for them to depart he (the king) said, “I am begging of you, detain yourselves and spend one day with me; it is difficult for me that you are departing.”
What is the point of keeping them for one more day; it only pushes off the inevitable for one more day day?
During the holiday of Shemini Atzeres, we also celebrate our annual completion of the weekly Torah reading3. All of the Torah scrolls are removed from the Holy Ark and a festive joyous atmosphere permeates the shul. The men dance around the bimah4 with older children, while younger children ride atop shoulders, carrying flags and mini Torah scrolls, along with bags of nosh.
The concept of celebrating the completion of Torah seems enigmatic, if not blatantly inappropriate. In regard to in-depth Gemarah (Talmud) study, one never truly completes or masters a topic or tractate. Every time one revisits a sugya5 he can develop new insights and perspectives despite the fact that he has learned the same folio dozens of times. This is evident in the fact that even the greatest Torah scholars do not grow weary of its study. In fact, au contraire, they approach their study with childlike excitement. If there is indeed no end to Torah study, what is the point of celebrating the completion of a cycle of the Torah reading? Why celebrate the completion of something infinite and virtually impossible to master?
The holiday of Succos seems to have a particular connection with congregational circles. During each day of Succos in the Bais Hamikdash, the assemblage in the Temple Courtyard would hold their Four Species and make a circular procession (hakafah) around the Altar. During the procession they would pray for G-d’s blessing, punctuating each phrase of the prayer with the word “Hoshanah- please save”. Because of the constantly-repeated word, the entire prayer came to be known as Hoshanos.
Although during every day of Succos they circled the bimah once while reciting one hoshanah prayer, on the seventh day of Succos, known as Hoshnanah Rabba6, the custom is to circle the bimah seven times and recite seven hoshanah prayers. After the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, there was a universally adopted custom to continue those circuits in every synagogue as a perennial remembrance of the service in the Bais Hamikdash.
In addition, throughout the seven days of Succos there are festive celebrations, commemorating the great Simchos Bais Hashoeivah7 that was held during the time of the Bais Hamikdash. The Jewish custom since time immemorial is to dance in a circle while holding hands8. During the hakafos of Simchas Torah too we dance around the bimah with all of the Torah scrolls. What is the connection between circles, particularly around the bimah, and the holiday of Succos?

The sixth hoshanah prayer recited on Hoshanah Rabbah is entitled “Adamah Mayerer- The ground from accursedness.” The prayer is a supplication to G-d that He save every living being on earth from the particular dangers that threaten its individual homeostasis and growth. “Beast from aborting…grain from scorch…vineyard from worms…flocks from leanness, fruits from the east wind, sheep from extermination…”
In the prayer we beg G-d to save, “nefesh mibehalah- soul from panic.” It is curious that of all the catastrophes and dangers man faces, we are particularly concerned with behalah. The word “behalah” connotes confusion, tumultuousness, unsettlement, and instability. We pray for inner peace and tranquility, for there is no greater malady that plagues and engulfs man than doubt, anxiety, and inner turmoil.
Megillas Koheles is read on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos. The author of Koheles is Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of men9. In the Megillah he relays his observations about life and the accomplishments of mankind. The Megillah’s dour and dismal portrayal of life is intriguing. Koheles seems to paint a picture of a pointless, inane, and worthless existence. (1:2) “Futility of futilities! – said Koheles – Futility of futilities, all is futile!” (1:14) “I have seen all the deeds done beneath the sun, and behold all is futile and a vexation of the spirit.” The spirit of man is his vitality and zest for life. Koheles observed that man’s very spirit is inherently vexed and perplexed, because it lacks direction.
Koheles portrays the world as an endless circle of nature, with no beginning or end. (1:5-7) “The sun rises and the sun sets – then to its place it rushes; there it rises again…All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place where the rivers flow there they flow once more.” In essence, Koheles is describing the continuous hydrologic cycle. Runoff from land and all water bodies eventually flow to the sea. Then the processes of evaporation and condensation lead to precipitation; the water returns to the earth and begins the cycle anew. Koheles then comments on human life. (1:4) “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.” It is a hopeless cycle of events; people are born, they live, procreate, and pass on. The world continues with nary a memory of their existence.
The whole description of Koheles is of a world of behalah - confused, aimless, and futile! It is tantamount to a hamster running on a wheel. The hamster is expending a great deal of energy, but without purpose.
For man to have fulfillment in life, he must find direction and meaning. He must be able to discern and comprehend the root of life. Koheles declares that, “there is nothing new under the sun.” He implies however, that what originates above the sun, in the celestial heavens, in the realm of the Divine, has constant newness and vitality.
The prophet Yeshaya10 states, “For just as the rain and snow descend from heaven and will not return there, rather it waters the earth and causes it to produce and sprout, and gives seed to the sower and food to the eater.” The believer understands that there is a beginning and a source of the natural cycle. Every step is Divinely ordained and is regenerated constantly. It’s not merely evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. Rather, it is a process that is orchestrated by G-d. “You open your Hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.11
In this respect the spiritual world is diametrically different from the physical world. The physical world is a whirlwind, an endless cycle devoid of meaning. But when the physical world is viewed as a medium for spirituality and growth, then it has great purpose and direction.   
This concept is characterized by the hakafos of Succos. The hakafos themselves represent the continuous circle of life and nature, while the encircled bimah represents the focal point and foundation around which all of life and nature revolve.  The circle goes on and on, albeit around its source!
In a similar vein, the walls of a succah may be constructed from any material. The s’chach which covers the succah however, has many more rigid and specific laws regarding what may or may not be used. The walls of the succah represent nature which surround and affect us in every facet of life. The s’chach represents G-d Who descends into our world and rests His Divine Presence among us. The succah as an entity12 symbolize the fact that although we live within the confines of nature, ultimately we live in “the shade of G-d”, the source of life.

Anyone somewhat proficient in the study of Gemara is aware that one can feel despondent and lost in his studies too. It can be disheartening to know that every approach one conjures up to reconcile a difficult question on a particular passage of Gemara may be “schlugged up” (refuted) at a later time, perhaps even by the person himself.  The endless pages of commentary on every page of Gemara can be daunting to even the most accomplished scholar, and the intense raging debate among the myriad commentaries can befuddle the most adroit intellectual. It was for this reason that the Gemara was written in increments, i.e. sugyahs, chapters, tractates, and orders. Although one knows that he can never truly master a Gemara with absolute finality13, he can have the satisfaction of knowing that he has at least achieved a rudimentary understanding of a specific segment of it.
It is commonly thought that when one makes a siyum14 the celebration is bi-faceted. There is joy in completing as well as joy of continuing and beginning anew. In truth, this is a misnomer, for there is no such thing as a celebration of the completion of Torah study, per se. Rather, a siyum grants one the opportunity to begin learning on a higher and more scholarly level. It is merely the excitement of beginning fresh, with new commitment and vitality. A siyum is a stopping point to ensure that Torah study does not end up being reduced to an endless confusing cycle where one gets lost in the vast ocean of Talmud and Torah law. Torah study too must be protected from the malady of behalah.
Perhaps this is the deeper meaning behind the parable Rashi mentioned. Succos always coincides with the harvest. It marks the end of the arduous and difficult farming season that began in the spring, and continued through the arid and hot summer. The farmer’s main toil is now complete and he can return home to enjoy the fruits of his labor throughout the winter.
So now what? Is he simply supposed to await the first sign of spring so that he can begin his work anew and recommence the endless cycle all over again? That is the curse which Koheles speaks of: “Behold all is futile and a vexation of the spirit”. The added day of Shmini Atzeres is an opportunity to contemplate and focus on that central point which infuses meaning and direction into our otherwise vapid and futile existence.
G-d says, “Detain yourselves and spend one day with me”, i.e. spend the day understanding that when one lives life “with Me”, his life transcends the dismal existence that Koheles portrays.
On Succos there are so many mitzvos to observe that one can become swept up in the hype and excitement. The holiday of Shemini Atzeres was added so that one can simply rejoice with G-d. There is no longer a mitzvah of succah15, or shaking of the four species. The day is dedicated merely to joyous celebration; a celebration that our lives revolve around a focal point and therefore can have direction and meaning.
S’forno16 explains that the holiday is called “Atzeres- assembly” because its whole purpose is to spend the day retaining and absorbing the lessons of Succos. So that one, “dedicate himself to the service of G-d, study His Word, and sojourn in His sanctuary before returning to everyday life.”
In the concluding verses recited after the daily hoshanah prayer, we state: “In order that all of the nations shall know that Hashem, He is the G-d, there is none other!” Similarly, the hakafos of Simchas Torah commence with the verse, “You have been shown in order to know that Hashem, He is the G-d! There is none beside Him!”  It is through the circles of Succos and Simchas Torah that one gains insight and clarity to his purpose on earth.
It would seem that it is highly inappropriate to read Megillas Koheles, with its morbid and disheartening outlook on life, during the holiday known as, “the time of our joy”. However, the opposite is true. Koheles enlightens and awakens man to recognize his vulnerability and the futility of a purposeless life. If one realizes what a meaningful life is he can strive for it and retain the joy of the holiday throughout his life. Koheles concludes with the timeless words that serve as the mantra for that meaningful existence: “The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: fear G-d and keep His commandments, for that is man’s whole duty.”

“Detain yourselves and spend one day with me”
“That all of the nations shall know that Hashem, He is the G-d”
1 The basic idea recorded below was based on a discourse given by Rabbi Dovid Trenk in Kehillas Kol Chaim, Lakewood, N.J., at the Neilas HaChag, Simchas Torah 5767
2 Vayikra 23:36
3 [Outside of Eretz Yisroel this is done on the second day of the holiday, called Simchas Torah.]
4 Torah reading lectern
5 Topic of Talmudic study
6 literally- a lot of Hoshanos
7 Joyous procedure of the ‘drawing of the water’
8 The basis for this custom is the Gemarah Ta’anis which says that in the future, Hashem will make a circle with the righteous. The Divine Presence will rest inside the circle, and the righteous will point towards the center of the circle and declare, "This is my G-d, we will rejoice in His salvation.”
9 Koheles is one of Shlomo Hamelech’s pseudonyms
10 55:10
11 Tehillim 145:16
12 i.e. the walls and the s’chach together
13 A clear demonstration of this can be seen in watching elderly scholars who have spent their entire life engaged in Talmudic study, intently studying an open page, in a similar fashion to a young student studying the same page.
14 a celebration for the completion of Talmud or Mishnah study
15 although outside Eretz Yisroel the Shulchan Aruch writes that one does eat in the succah on Shemini Atezeres without a blessing, that is a Rabbinic decree
16 Vayikra 23:36

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


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


When the Staum children were younger, they would periodically engage me in a game of “chase me”. I was assigned the role of ‘monster’, which meant that my job was to chase them with slow deliberate steps, my hands outstretched in front of me, while they gleefully ran away. After a few trips around the kitchen and living room they would begin to tire and slow down. But when they would turn around I would still be slowly approaching, my hands menacingly outstretched, mumbling that I was going to catch them.
When they had no more strength to run, they would freeze for a moment, not knowing how to proceed. Then they would look at me and run back towards me, poised for a hug, with a big smile on their face. At that moment I would melt. I would bend down and scoop them up and give them a big hug and kiss. Some scary monster I turned out to be….

Every special day on the Jewish calendar possesses its own ‘flavor’, laws, and uniqueness. The festivals are days of external celebration and joy, while public fast days are doleful times dedicated to repentance.
The great holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur however, are somewhat enigmatic. They seem to possess dichotomous, even paradoxical, emotions.
The Gemara1 states that Hallel2 is not recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Gemara explains, “Is it possible that the King is sitting on His Throne of Judgment, with the books of life and death open before Him, and Klal Yisroel will recite song?”
On the other hand, the Tur3, quoting a Medrash explains that, although normally when one has to stand trial he dons black clothing, and does not shave or put on freshly laundered garments, “Klal Yisroel is not that way! They don white and they cloak themselves in white. They shave their beards, and they cut their fingernails and they eat and drink on Rosh Hashanah, because they know that G-d will perform a miracle on their behalf.”   
From the Gemara it is clear that the High Holy Days are a time of such intense fear and trepidation that it is inappropriate to sing songs of praise to G-d. Yet the Medrash portrays Rosh Hashanah as a time when we are brimming with confidence that we will be victorious in the meticulous judgment of the day. What is the proper emotion that one should feel on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - fear or joy?
In the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah we state, “ממך אברח אליך  From you I flee to you. In a similar vein, the Mishna4 states, “He who leads the services on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah, the second chazzan causes the shofar to be blown; but when Hallel is recited, the first chazzan recites the Hallel.”
In his commentary of the Mishnah, Rambam writes, “The Mishnah states ‘at the time of Hallel’ because they did not actually recite Hallel – not on Rosh Hashanah and not on Yom Kippur5. This is because they are days of service, submission, fear, and trepidation from G-d. We fear Him and we flee and escape to Him. We engage in repentance, supplication, and implore Him for forgiveness and atonement. With all of these concepts, it is inappropriate to be joyful and jubilant.”
The Rambam echoes the idea mentioned in the prayers which seems to make no sense. How can one flee from something by running to the source of the fear? If we are afraid of G-d, how can we escape Him by going back to Him?
The Brisker Rav explained that, truthfully, the precision and meticulousness of the judgment should fill a person with excessive fear and trepidation. When one is confronted with something frightening his natural inkling is to try to escape the source of the fear. We too seek refuge from the terror which envelopes us on the Day of Judgment. However, since G-d is the Supreme Judge and, “The whole earth is filled with His Glory”, it is impossible to escape Him.
There is only one possible way for us to mitigate our fear and dread, and that is by becoming close to G-d. When one feels connected to G-d he can feel secure that “Our father our King” loves him and wants the best for him. Therefore, “From you I flee” - from the terror of the infallible judgment, I escape - “To you,” by drawing myself close to G-d through repentance, contrition, and submission.
Based on this, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik shlita6 explained that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are indeed days of intense fear and dread. However, we believe that our repentance and prayers help us draw closer to G-d and, in turn, G-d protects us from retribution and punishment. The feeling of vindication that stems from being in the embrace of G-d, as it were, is cause for internal joy. Therefore, although it is a day of awesome trepidation, our hearts are also filled with a surge of joy because our souls have the opportunity to reconnect with its true source - the source of eternal life.
Rabbi Soloveitchik continues that this idea is essential in understanding the flow of the unique prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At first glance, the prayers seem to portray conflicting emotions. We recite somber, penetrating prayers immediately followed by joyous exultations of G-d’s Glory, sung to jovial, cheerful tunes.7
When the Sages enacted the structure of the prayers, they did so in a manner that reflects the inner “emotions” of the day, in order to help us relate to the day. It is a combination of fear from the terror of the celestial judgments and the joy of being able to feel close to the infallible and eternal Judge. But more importantly, the Judge is our loving father who awaits our repentance and the opportunity to hear our prayers.
“From you”, from the terror of all that is mentioned in “Unsaneh Tokef”, “I flee to You”, to “Melech Elyon- the Supreme King” whose reign is eternal, because “Ayn Kitzva Lishnosecha- There is no end to Your Years”.

If one analyzes the Ashrei prayer8 recited thrice daily, the entire prayer seems to be grammatically inconsistent. Of the twenty-one verses in the prayer, eleven are written in second person, where we address G-d directly as, “You”. In the other ten verses, we address G-d in the third person, as, “He” or “His”. In fact, throughout the entire chapter, there is a vacillation between addressing Hashem in the second person and the third person.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l explained that there are two ways in which one can relate to G-d. One is through love, in which a person feels close to Him, and the other is through fear, in which one is awestruck by His Omnipotence and Omniscience. As one immerses Himself in Avodas Hashem (Service to G-d), he feels a burning desire to come ever closer to G-d, as it were. But as one is drawn closer he reels back in awe and fear of the Master of the Universe. The greater one rises in spiritual heights the more he realizes the greatness of G-d and the more he is seized with fear and awe. Thus, there is a constant fluctuation of emotion, shifting between a passionate desire to draw closer to G-d followed by being gripped with awe and fear from His Majesty and Glory.
Dovid Hamelech, who surely experienced this inner turmoil and conflict, expressed it in the Ashrei prayer. The prayer begins in the second person, as Dovid Hamelech addresses G-d directly, in an expression of endearment and love, as one who is drawing nearer to Him. But then, he suddenly shifts into third person, addressing G-d as “Him” and “He”, as if speaking from a distance. It is the expression of one who is seized with fright, and escapes back from the source of the fear, and only later relates, with awe and reverence, the awesomeness of what he experienced.
Rabbi Schwab explains that this is part of the reason why there is an ancient custom for Jews to “shuckle”, to sway back and forth, while davening. The forward motion expresses one’s desire to draw close to G-d, while the backward motion symbolizes one’s reeling back in awe and fright from G-d’s Awesome Presence. The repeated swaying represents this repeated experience of love and joy followed by fear and awe.

The selichos prayers recited prior to and following Rosh Hashana commences with the recitation of Ashrei in oreder to preface our supplications with words of praise for His Goodness and Kindness. With Rabbi Schwab’s explanation in mind, we can offer a novel understanding of why we begin the selichos prayers with the recitation of Ashrei.
The selichos prayers are our manner of beseeching G-d, not only to forgive us for our many sins, but also to enable us to feel His embraceThe central prayer of selichos is the thirteen Divine Attributes of G-d, which describe G-d’s infinite kindness, including withholding anger, mercifulness, compassion, truthfulness, and goodness. As one describes those attributes, it should fill him with a passionate desire to be close to the Being that possesses such perfection and goodness. But, at the same time, when we deepen our understanding and appreciation of G-d’s perfection and greatness, it gives us cause to fear.
Ashrei, which expresses this internal emotional seesaw, embodies the inner emotions we aspire to feel through the recitation of selichos. “Serve G-d with awe; rejoice with trepidation.9” Therefore, Ashrei is the most appropriate prayer with which to begin selichos.

The elite period of the High Holy Days are a time of fear and joy intertwined. However, they are not conflicting emotions. Rather, a progression of joy, love, and closeness, which inevitably leads to fear, trepidation, and “reeling backwards”. Still, the feeling of spiritual bliss that resulted from that initial triumph propels the person to seek it again, thus beginning the cycle anew.
As Yom Kippur concludes, we muster our remaining strength and cry out the fundamental declarations of a Jew’s faith. “Shema Yisroel”, “Boruch Shaym”, and“Hashem hu HaElokim”! During those precious moments our soul momentarily transcends our physical bodies and reconnects with its source. They are a moments that must carry us through the year!

“Praiseworthy are those who dwell in Your House”
  “From you I flee to you”
1 Arachin 10b
2 the chapters of praise and thanksgiving recited during joyous holidays
3 581
4 Rosh Hashanah 4:7
5 i.e. the Mishnah is referring to the other holidays when Hallel is recited
6 Kuntrus Hamo’adim
7 For example, in the prayer, “L’bochayn levavos b’yom din- For He who tests all hearts on the Day of Judgment” we delineate the precision and exactness of the frightening judgment. Yet, moments later we buoyantly sing, “Melech Elyon- The Supreme King” and “Atah hu Elokaynu- You are our G-d”, in which we speak of the magnanimity of the opulence and majesty of G-d, as He sits surrounded by myriad legions of angels.
Similarly, in the Mussaf prayer we recite the soul-stirring and frightening prayer of “Unsaneh Tokef kedushas hayom- Come let us describe the sanctity of the day” which describes the terror and fright that grips the angels in heaven on the Day of Judgment. The prayer continues with a description of the exactitude of the judgment, that every person’s actions are weighed individually, and ultimately judged about all that will transpire during the coming year. But, immediately afterwards, the mood drastically transforms to one of sublime joy as we sing the prayer, “Ayn Kitzvah- There is no end” which expresses the Eternity and Omnipresence of G-d’s Kingship, to an upbeat, march-like tune.
8 Tehillim 78:38, 144:14 & 145
9 Tehillim 2:11

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


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


In March 2006, the Torah world was excitedly preparing for the Siyum HaShas1. That Siyum HaShas was to be the eleventh and the largest ever up to that time. The main events were to be divided between Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and Nassau Coliseum in the Meadowlands, with many other cities and countries throughout the world hooked up via satellite.
My father was finishing his third cycle of Daf Yomi and purchased tickets for me and my two brothers to accompany him to the momentous event. Anyone who was there was moved by the experience. It was uncanny to be in a world-renown sports and entertainment arena, listening, and watching some of the greatest Torah leaders of our time. Our seats were high up in Madison Square Garden, but with the giant video screens it was like we were up close.
At one point, my friend Akiva Kraus called me on my cell phone and asked if I was at the Siyum HaShas. When I replied that I was, he told me that he was in section 222 and that I should come meet him. At first I shrugged him off because I was much higher up than he was. But at some point later I decided to go for a walk to section 222.
I searched through the faces of the entire section, but couldn’t find Akiva. I called him on his cell phone and he told me he would stand up and wave and that I should do the same. But after a few minutes of waving to an entire section of bewildered onlookers, I told Akiva to just meet me at the entrance to the section.
After waiting impatiently for a long ten minutes, I called him and asked where he could possibly have gone. He replied that he was wondering the same thing about me, stating (with conviction) that he was standing just outside the gate. I hastily walked to all three gates on either side and, when I still could not find him, I thought perhaps he was one flight up or down. When that proved to be wrong as well, I told Akiva that he should enjoy the Siyum and that I would see him back in Monsey.
As I was walking back to my seat, I suddenly had a revelation. I called him back one last time, “Akiva, which building are you in?” He replied, “I’m in Nassau Coliseum! Don’t tell me you’re in Madison Square Garden….”

[The following thoughts are based on a discourse given by Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pinkus zt’l. The content of the discourse is typical of Rabbi Pinkus who constantly emphasized that our relationship and closeness to G-d can and must be developed into a tangible experience.]
In Melachim, the Prophet Elisha admonishes his disciples, “Lo zeh haderech v’lo zeh ha’ir- This is not the road and this is not the city.2” If one wants to travel, there are two things he must clarify prior to embarking on his journey. He must first locate the highway, because if he tries to drive toward the city without a road he will end up banging into trees and anything else in the way. Second, he must locate the city where he wants to end up so that he can ascertain which roads will lead him there. If a person gets on the highway but has no idea where to get off, he will never reach his destination. If someone gets onto I-80 in order to drive from New York to Cleveland, if he doesn’t know which exit to take, he may end up going all the way to California.
In a similar vein, to accomplish anything one needs to figure out the means that will help him reach that goal. If one does not have a goal, or if one has trouble meeting his goals, efforts will be futile. If a person wants to open a store he must first purchase inventory so that he has quality merchandise to display and sell. He must also rent space for his store, and he must advertise his store. But at the end of the day, everything the storeowner does is with one goal in mind, i.e. to generate profit. If the storeowner successfully leases space in a beautiful building, fills his store with quality merchandise, runs a successful advertising campaign, and his store is packed with customers, but is not able to even break even with all of his expenses, his store is a failed endeavor.
The months of Elul and Tishrei are unique on the Jewish calendar. They are a time of special Service, replete with rituals, prayers, and customs. Every Torah-Jew is familiar with the “road” of this time-period. It begins with the recitation of the psalm “L’Dovid Hashem Ori” and the blowing of the Shofar each day throughout the month of Elul, the recitation of Selichos the week prior to Rosh Hashanah, the symbolic fruits eaten on Rosh Hashanah eve, the recitation of Tashlich at a flowing body of water, the unique prayers of the Ten Days of Penitence, the Shabbos Shuva derasha (discourse), Kapparos, Yom Kippur – beginning with Kol Nidrei and concluding with Neilah, the holiday of Succos, sitting in the Succah, waving the Four Species, Simchas Bais Hashoeivah, climaxing with the celebration of Simchas Torah.
The fifty-two days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Simchas Torah are a spiritual superhighway leading us on a beautiful and uplifting journey.  But all of that is merely the road leading us on our spiritual journey. We have to know in advance what our destination is. When the holidays conclude and we bid each other a good winter and life resumes its routine, what do we want to have accomplished that we can take with us for the rest of the year? In the vernacular of the prophet, we know the road, but what/where is our city and destination?3
The verse states, “Ki tov chasdecha maychayim sifusay yishabchenucha- For your kindness is greater than life; my lips will praise You.4” The Malbim explains this verse with a Parable: A man was extremely ill and was admitted to the hospital for emergency care. There was one particular doctor who took responsibility for the patient, performing numerous procedures and surgeries until the man’s health was restored. The doctor was also a kind-hearted man and the patient developed a close friendship with the doctor.
If someone approached the man after he was discharged from the hospital and asked him what happened while he was in the hospital, the man would reply that the doctor saved his life. He might also add that afterwards he became very close friends with the doctor. If someone would ask the man what was more precious to him - the new friendship or the fact that the doctor saved his life - the man would surely reply that, although he was really excited about the new friendship, his life is more precious. After all, what good is having a new friend if a person is dead?
The Malbim explains that Dovid HaMelech was stating that the closeness he felt to G-d was more precious to him than the kindness and goodness that G-d granted him. “For your kindness is greater than life itself”. The mere fact that, “My lips will praise you” - that he could pray to G-d and know that G-d listens and cares about his every whim, was more valuable to him than anything else in the world, even his life. Life is finite and transitory but a relationship with G-d is eternal and Divine.

The objective of the great days of Elul and Tishrei is that one emerge from the holidays feeling he has a genuine relationship with G-d. The experience of all the beautiful added prayers, the repentance of the High Holy Days, and the joyous celebrations of Succos and Simchas Torah, should imbue within one’s soul a deep-rooted connection with his Creator. That is the city which the roads of Elul and Tishrei lead to.
It is imperative that one realize this from the onset so that he can work toward his destination, because if one “goes through the motions” fulfilling all the laws and customs, but does not feel an elevated relationship or closeness with G-d, he has missed the exit. Tragically, he will end up right where he started; the journey becoming a mere distant memory relegated to the photo albums.
The holidays are a progression that assists us in developing that camaraderie with G-d, as it were. Our situation is analogous to a man who is trying to create a friendship among two strangers he knows. The only way that can happen is if he can foster a relationship between them. If there is an iron barrier between them that cannot be accomplished until the wall is demolished.
Chazal explain that when we sin we create an iron barrier between us and G-d. Blowing shofar awakens within us feelings of repentance, granting us the fortitude to tear down the barriers between us and G-d. In fact, the shofar5 sounds like a specialized tool piercing into a wall. Rosh Hashanah and the shofar grant us the ability to reunite with G-d, as it were.
Even after the two men are finally in each other’s proximity, they will not want to talk to each other if one of them has terrible body odor. In such a situation, the malodorous man must be showered and given fresh clothes so that the other man will not be repulsed by his mere presence.
Our sins blemish our soul and render us repulsive in the upper worlds. Through the Yom Kippur Service, G-d purifies us and purges our souls of the stench of our sins. “Praiseworthy are you Yisroel! Before Who are you purified and Who purifies you…Your Father in heaven!6
After all barriers and external impediments have been removed, the two men can finally sit together in seclusion and can get to know one another in a very personal manner. During the holiday of Succos, we leave our homes and dwell in Succahs under the sole protection of G-d. We enter a hut consumed with the Divine Presence, and we live in the ‘shade of G-d’ for the duration of the week-long holiday.
Then, on Shemini Atzeres, we seek to take all that we have accomplished - especially the relationship that we developed with G-d - back into our homes in order to incorporate it into our daily lives. At that point, we can dance with the Torah, our omnipresent connection to G-d.
However, all of this ‘relationship building’ is only possible if the two men actually talk to each other. But if they ignore each other, then the barrier breaking, showers, and even sitting together in seclusion will be for naught. A relationship stems from sharing feelings and views, when two people feel secure and comfortable being together.
One can observe all of the holidays with all of the customs and laws yet emerge with the same flimsy relationship that he began with. If one doesn’t ‘grab the moment’ and literally, “talk to G-d”, pouring out his feelings into his prayers, and observing the rituals and laws with passion and devotion, the journey will end right where it began.
At the conclusion of the Yom Kippur Service, in the waning moments of Neilah, we gather our wits and our remaining strength we proclaim seven times, “Hashem hu haElokim- Hashem, He is the G-d!” The commentators explain that G-d’s presence, which had descended into this world to hear our prayers and repentance is, at that moment, returning to its place on high, and therefore, we recite that refrain seven times to accompany G-d back through the seven heavens. However, there is an ulterior idea that we should be thinking about when we recite those words at that lofty moment: “G-d, I am not allowing you to leave! I will not allow the relationship and closeness that I developed with You these last few weeks to become a fleeting memory! Hashem, He is the G-d, and His Presence will stay right here!” As the verse states, “I will grab hold of Him and I will not let go, until I have brought Him into my mother’s home.78
We seek to emerge from the journey of Elul and Tishrei as greater people than when we entered.

This week our family had the great merit to enter our newborn son into the covenant of Avrohom Avinu. We had the added merit to name him Shimshon Dovid after Harav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l. As the essay above symbolizes Rav Pinkus dedicated his life to teaching that the relationship and love Hashem has for us, and that we need to develop for Him, is the most real thing in the world. Hashem loves us and values everything we do.
We are gratified that Shimshon Dovid Staum carries such an illustrious name and pray that he and his siblings live up to his namesake, living a life which brings nachas ruach to Hashem.

“This is not the road and this is not the city.”
“For your kindness is greater than life.”

1 the celebration of the completion of the study of the entire Talmud by those who learn Daf Yomi, one folio of Talmud every day, throughout the seven and a half year cycle
2 Kings II 6:19
3  Rav Pinkus noted that the truth is that this is a very personal question and everyone must answer it in his/her own way. He added that whatever is said from this point onwards is his personal opinion and sentiment for every person must seek out his own “city” and spiritual destination.
4 Tehillim 63:4
5 Particularly the teruah blasts
6 Yoma 8:9
7 Shir HaShirim 3:4
8 At this point Rabbi Pinkus offered a practical suggestion to help a person accomplish this goal of feeling closer to G-d: He suggested that one invest effort in training himself to concentrate on the b’rachos (blessings) he recites by thinking about our gratitude for whatever it is that he is reciting the blessing for. He added that “I guarantee you that it will change your life!”