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!”


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