Thursday, December 25, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


Although some may feel that the story has a happy ending, in my mind it is one of the saddest stories I ever read[1]. The end does not justify the means! Years of lost opportunities and inner grief can never be replaced:  
A Rabbi in Long Island was approached by a young man to have kaddish[2] recited for his recently departed father. The young man made it clear that he would not be saying the kaddish himself but would pay for the Rabbi to arrange for someone else to say kaddish on his deceased father's behalf.
        Some time passed and the young man suddenly began showing up in shul and reciting kaddish himself. The Rabbi asked the young fellow what had changed. He sighed and told the Rabbi the following story:
“When I was growing up, my father never showed me any warmth or affection. He was always cold and uninvolved. However, there was one incident that epitomized to me just how aloof my father was. When I was in fifth grade, we had a paper airplane contest in school and I worked hard to make a great airplane. When it was finished I wrote DAD on it with a bold blue marker. The plane won First Prize.
When I came home I was really excited. I ran over to my dad, gave him the plane and told him I won. To my dismay, he showed no reaction. Without saying a word or even cracking a smile, he took the plane and shoved it in his drawer. That incident concretized what I already knew, i.e. that my father didn't care about me. I knew then that he didn't love me.
        “When he passed away, I just could not bring myself to say kaddish for him. I knew that I had an obligation so I came to you to arrange for the kaddish to be said by someone else. This way kaddish would be said for my father’s soul but I wouldn’t have to bear the pain of saying it.
        “Yesterday, I went downtown to his office to clean out his desk. His secretary let me into the room and I immediately began clearing away his things. When I opened his top drawer I was shocked to find the paper airplane that I made in fifth grade. I picked it up and held it. I stared at it. When I eyed the word DAD written in blue, a lump formed in my throat. At that moment, his secretary walked into the room and said to me, "Your father used to stare intently at that plane with the exact same misty-eyed look you have now. I always wondered what was so special about that plane." I wanted to answer her but I couldn't speak.
        “I realized that my dad cared about me all along, but he was never able to express it. He didn't show his emotions and I had no way of knowing how he felt. But now I understand that he always loved me. So today I came to say kaddish for my dad.”

          [3]After the dramatic confrontation between Yosef and the brothers reached its crescendo, Yosef revealed his identity to them. Consequently there was a tear-filled reunion. “He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.”[4]
The Medrash comments, “Just as Yosef was only able to pacify his brothers with tears, so too, Klal Yisroel will only be redeemed (when Moshiach comes) with tears.”[5] What do the tears of Yosef and the brothers have to do with the future redemption?
Kesav Sofer explains that when Yosef was sold into slavery by his brothers, his anguish at being separated from his father and his family was unimaginable. But throughout his years in Egyptian exile and solitude, his pain diminished somewhat. It was that painful realization that prompted Yosef to name his first child Menashe. “For I have forgotten (nashani) all of my pain and my father’s house.” By naming his son as he did, Yosef hoped to awaken feelings of nostalgia and connection with his family, so that they would not completely fade.
At the time of the reunion with his brothers, Yosef realized the extent of how much he had lost by being away for so long. Therefore, he wept upon their shoulders. The joy of reunification was deeply marred by the painful realization of the magnitude of his irreplaceable losses.
          The greatest tragedy of exile is that we have no idea what we are missing. The elongated exile has dulled our senses, so that we have no inkling of the grandeur and glory that has been rendered obsolete. We mourn the loss of the Temple, without really feeling a sense of depravation. We never experienced the beauty and trepidation that was palpable in the Temple courtyard. We never participated in the offering of the Paschal sacrifice followed by a seder, culminating with the singing of Hallel on the rooftops of Yerushalayim. We never enjoyed the unparalleled joy of the Simchas Bais Hashoayvah during each of the intermediary nights of Succos. We were never privy to watch the Kohanim perform the Divine Service to the backdrop of the song of the Levites. We have grown accustomed to the notion that we are wandering Jews while uttering the morose refrain, “Nu, that’s life in exile!” 
When Moshiach finally arrives and hails in the Messianic era and the rebuilding of the Temple we will realize how much we have been missing. Along with the incredible joy of redemption, we will feel that painful sadness as well.
This is the meaning of the verse in Tehillim “Gladden us like the days of our affliction; the years we saw evil.”[6] We pray to G-d that, not only will He end our pain and suffering, but He will somehow comfort us for what we lost out during the exile. When we merit the redemption we will need to be comforted for all that we could not achieve during those years.[7]

          The reading of Parshas Vayigash invariably coincides with the week of the fast of the Tenth of Teves. Our Sages relate that the fast of the Tenth of Teves commemorates tragedies that occurred on the eighth and ninth of Teves as well. With the melodious and beloved songs of Chanukah still ringing in our ears, the fast almost seems incongruous.[8]
The joyous Chanukah holiday concludes on the second day of Teves[9], a scant five days later, we commence a three-day period of tragedy and mourning. But in a sense those paradoxical emotions are constant within the heart of a Jew in exile. On the one hand, we praise and thank G-d for the opportunity to be able to serve Him in the darkness of exile. That is the great message of the Chanukah candles, that we can create sparks of light in a world of ominous darkness. But, at the same time, we are aware that our celebration is very remiss, for we are an imperfect people in exile.
Despite the fact that historically the events of the Eighth of Teves transpired first and was a significant event in the Greek exile against which the Chashmonaim fought, the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated prior. Chanukah gives us the fortitude to not become despondent by the darkness of the forthcoming days of Teves. Although the Chashmonaim could not undue all the damage and havoc that the Hellenists and Greeks wrought, they were successful in proving the eternity of Torah and Klal Yisroel. They demonstrated that our light will outshine all of their wisdom and culture.
On a more painful note, the holiday of Chanukah also deepens our understanding of the losses of Teves. The celebration and the feelings of closeness that the Chanukah celebration cultivates, helps us realize how much we are missing by being in exile. We can only imagine how much more fulfilling and special our celebration will be when our entire lives are lived with that heightened sense of closeness and endearment.
The tears of the future are for the pain of the past.

“He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them”
“Gladden us like the days of our affliction”

[1] I read the story in a d’var Torah dated parshas Vayigash 5761, authored by Rabbi Baruch Lederman, Rabbi of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego, California
[2] Kaddish is a memorial prayer that brings merit to a departed soul.
[3] A number of years ago during Chanukah, my cousin, Izak Cohn, recounted to me a lecture that he heard from his Rav, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman shlita. Rabbi Wachsman had been invited to the West Coast to address a group of wealthy individuals at a Melave Malka. Many of the entrepreneurs were secular Jews with little or no affiliation with religion. Rabbi Wachsman shared with them the following insight.
[4] Bereishis 45:15
[5] Bereishis Rabbah 93:13
[6] 90:15
[7]There is a wry addendum to Rabbi Wachsman’s lecture. After he returned home, Rabbi Wachsman received a message from one of the individuals who attended the Melave Malke with his wife. The man told Rabbi Wachsman that his wife was so inspired by his words that she went home, and made matzah balls. The most tragic part of the story is that she is not Jewish! It’s hard to be more inspired than to feel like making matzah balls…
[8]On the eighth of Teves, a few decades prior to the miracles of Chanukah, seventy Jewish elders were compelled to translate the Torah into Greek by King Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) of Egypt. That translation, known as the Septuagint, breached the Jews’ exclusivity to the Torah. It opened the Torah to misinterpretation and misunderstandings. In fact, it was the catalyst for the creation of the New Testament and the King James Bible, a few centuries later.
The ninth of Teves is the anniversary of the death of Ezra the Scribe. Ezra’s leadership was invaluable at the time of the building of the second Bais Hamikdash. He was the driving force behind the return of much of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel from exile and the start of the second Temple era. 
The tenth of Teves marks the day when the wicked Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege around Yerushalayim. Essentially, the siege was the beginning of the end. On the ninth of Tammuz Nebuchadnezzar’s forces finally penetrated and breached the city’s walls[8], and on the ninth of Av they destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash.]
[9] During some years Chanukah ends on the third day of Teves, depending on whether there is 1 or 2 days of Rosh Chodesh Teves. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


A group of Chassidim once approached the legendary Rebbe, Rabbi Levy Yitzchok of Barditchev, and expressed their amazement and admiration for the incredible wealth and profligacy of a certain Russian prince who was known to bathe in a tub full of champagne every night, simply because he could afford it.
One day, in the middle of the summer, the prince decided that he wanted to go skiing. Being that he had no interest in traveling to the slopes, he decided that the slopes should come to him. So he imported thousands and thousands of truckloads of sugar until a steep mountain had been formed. Then the prince geared up with his skis, climbed to the top, and went skiing in the middle of the summer. The Chassidim admiringly commented that the prince really knew how to ‘live it up’. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok responded with incredulous annoyance, “Does he really know how to live it up? Did he ever feel the inner enjoyment of lighting Chanukah candles? Has he ever performed a mitzvah with zeal and passion? How can you say he knows how to live it up if he never experienced the feeling of doing any mitzvah?”
Rabbi Feuer noted that, when he wanted to demonstrate the incomparable bliss of performing a mitzvah, Rabbi Levy Yitzchok particularly mentioned the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles[1]. Rabbi Levy Yitzchok’s words were reminiscent of the introductory words of the Rambam to his account of the Laws of Chanukah: “מצות נר חנוכה מצוה חביבה היא עד מאד The mitzvah of the candles of Chanukah is exceedingly beloved.” Rabbi Feuer also mentioned that Rabbi Levy Yitzchok did not speak with poetic hyperbole. He truly could not fathom how the Chassidim could be impressed by the prince who never felt the euphoria of serving G-d.

The holiday of Chanukah is unusual in the sense that it does not have a tractate of its own. The laws and discussions regarding Chanukah are incorporated into the Gemara’s discussion about what kinds of oils and wicks are valid for use for lighting the Shabbos candles.
There the Gemara (Shabbos 21a) explains the holiday of Chanukah: “What is Chanukah? For the Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev are the eight days when we do not say eulogies. For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they rendered all the oil in the Temple ritually impure. When the Kingdom of the House of the Chasmonaim overpowered them and were victorious, they searched, but they found nothing other than one jar of oil that was laying with the seal of the High Priest. The jug only contained enough oil to burn for one day. A miracle occurred and they lit from it for eight days. The next year, they enacted and made them holidays of thanksgiving and gratitude.”[2]
The commentators are troubled by the Gemara’s account of the story, which glaringly omits all of the incredible miracles that transpired during the wars. It is even more enigmatic that the Al Hanisim prayer recited on Chanukah is almost completely devoted to recounting those miraculous victories, with a mere mention of the miracle of the candles. Why does the Gemara neglect to mention an integral component of the formation of the holiday?
The Chida[3] writes, that he saw in a sefer, ‘Gaon Tzvi’, that the author wrote that heaven revealed to him in a dream that he should pay heed to the vernacular of the Gemara which asked, “What is Chanukah?”, as opposed to, “For what reason do we celebrate Chanukah?” Thus, we see that the question is about the title, “Chanukah”?”
[In other words, the Chida is explaining that when the Gemara asked, ‘What is Chanukah?’ it never intended to define the essence of the holiday. Rather, the Gemara was seeking to explain the name of the holiday. “What is Chanukah?”, i.e. why do we call the holiday Chanukah?]
It is well-known that the Ran[4] explains the word Chanukah as a merging of the words, “Chanu – chof hay- They rested on the twenty-fifth”, a reference to the fact that the Chashmonaim were victorious and ‘rested’ from battle on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev.
We must understand why the holiday was named after their resting from battle and not after the actual victories. Why don’t we call the holiday, “Nitzchuchad- they were victorious on the twenty-fourth?”
The Meshech Chochma[5] explains a very fundamental concept regarding all Jewish holidays. Normally a nation/country will enact an annual holiday to celebrate a noteworthy victory over their enemies. The victory symbolizes the tenacity and resilience of its people and infuses them with feelings of nationality and patriotism. Jewish holidays however, do not celebrate victories and conquests. Rather, we celebrate our newfound ability to serve G-d and perform His Mitzvos on a higher level, and in a more grandiose manner than we were able until now. The war is viewed as a mere means to achieve greater spiritual heights. But in and of itself, military victories are no cause for celebration.
The Meshech Chochma continues that when the Sages wanted to enact the celebration of the holiday of Chanukah for posterity they were concerned that it would indeed devolve into a festival commemorating their miraculous military victories. It was for this reason that the central mitzvah of the holiday involves lighting the menorah which commemorates the unnatural miracle that occurred when the contents of one jug of oil continued burning for eight days. About that miracle, there was no denying that it was supernatural and metaphysical.
The celebration of the war is inextricably bound to the miracle of the Menorah to ensure that we do not make the fatal error of forgetting that the Maccabeean victories were completely miraculous. Were it not for the miracle of the Menorah, as time passed, inevitably there would arise groups of people who would praise the superior military acumen of the Maccabeean warriors. They would laud their brilliant and cunning usage of guerilla warfare to defeat a far larger army, ignoring the fact that their victories were naturally unfeasible.[6]
History has demonstrated that smaller, less equipped armies led by brilliant military strategists, can indeed defeat superior armies. The fact that the Maccabees were Talmudic scholars with absolutely no military background, and were composed of an army of military ignoramuses, would do little to persuade skeptics of the overwhelming Divine Hand involved in their victories.[7]
It was for this reason that the Sages titled the holiday “Chanukah”, invoking the idea that the holiday begins on the day when they rested from battle. The conclusion of the battle has little bearing on us today, some twenty-four hundred years later. What does continue to impact us is the resurgence of Torah life and observance of mitzvos which they were able to commence. That resurgence began on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, when they reentered the Bais Hamikdash and began to rededicate it. 

The truth is that the Sages worst fears were tragically realized. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish world misunderstands the holiday of Chanukah. They have unwittingly misconstrued its meaning, by failing to realize its significance, and how it contributes to our sense of identity.
In his book, Days of Deliverance, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l, bemoans the rampant misunderstanding of Chanukah: “Chanukah… everyone is glad to associate themselves with the Maccabees and the Hasmoneans – be they half-Jews, whole Jews, assimilated Jews, atheists, agnostics, and even those who are Jew haters, all are spiritually enriched by the holiday.
“I remember that in the late 1920s I happened to pass the Sunday Temple on Johannes Street in Berlin to which the assimilated Jews of Germany belonged, Jews who genuinely despised the Jewish people. (many of them were members of the League of National German Jews [Verband nationaldesutscher Juden], the so called Naumann group, an organization dedicated to German patriotism and Jewish assimilation.) I noticed that the temple was richly illuminated and decorated for a holiday. I was curious, so I went into the temple, where I found them having a Chnukah celebration. The rabbi lit the menorah, all eight candles – as I remember, it was the third night of Chanukah – and then gave a clever speech. The highpoint of the sermon was that the true heirs of the Hasmoneans, of Matisyahu and his sons, were actually the National German Jews, who were at that time conducting a campaign to expel from Germany the Ost-Juden – the Jews from the East, generally Poland.
“That same Chanukah, I happened upon another curiosity. In the Jewish community library on Oranieburger Street, I chanced upon a copy of the Moscow Newspaper Der Emes (truth), the newspaper of the Yevsektsiya, the Jewish department of the notorious Soviet NKVD. This newspaper also had an article on Chanukah and the Hasmoneans. With every means at its disposal, the article argued that Chanukah was actually a communist holiday, and the Jewish bourgeoisie and clerical world had no right to celebrate Chanukah. Judah the Maccabee was the first Yevsektsiya member.
“Actually, I need not go deeply into my memories to find such paradoxes and absurdities; American Jewry is full of them. How many Chanukah candles will be lit in temples on the Shabbos of Chanukah, after the reciting of Kiddush, with people singing Maoz T’zur to the sounds of the organ – singing songs of gratitude to the Hasmoneans, who fought for Shabbos observance, the celebration of Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision? How many enthusiastic sermons about the Maccabees and “freedom of religion” will be given at non-Kosher banquet?” 

Chanukah is the celebration of our ability to be a spiritual and holy people in an impure world that stands in stark opposition to our morals and values. The holiday of Chanukah symbolizes our unyielding faith and our steadfastness to our mission with iron resolve.
There was perhaps no one who personified the ‘perseverance of Chanukah’ more than Yosef Hatzaddik. Abandoned by his family, he arrived in Egypt as a slave, a teenager in a foreign lonely land. Yet, throughout his difficult sojourns and arduous journey, he never forfeited his image as a G-dly person. Yosef was an island of sanctity in an ocean of impurity. Eventually Yosef became the viceroy of Egypt. The mightiest empire in its time was completely at his mercy.
Yosef’s dominion over Egypt embodied the fulfillment of the words we recite in our Chanukah prayers, “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of your Torah.”
It is therefore no coincidence that Chanukah coincides with the reading of the Torah’s account of the saga of Yosef. Yosef, who was undaunted by all of the external forces which engulfed him, was an inspiration to the Maccabees who battled a culture which was completely antithetical to the pristine purity of Torah.

The Chanukah candles represent this battle. The pasuk[8] states, ”נר ה' נשמת אדםThe soul of man is the flame of G-d.” The Ba’al HaTanya explained that the pasuk compares the soul of man to a flame because fire is the only element that seems to defy gravity. The flame on top of a candle seems to dance, seemingly trying to jump off the wick and spring upwards, despite the fact that doing so would instantly cause it to become extinguished. In a similar vein, our soul pines to return to its celestial source. It yearns to break free from the shackles of its material body which binds it to this world.
The dancing flame symbolizes our dancing souls and our soul’s longing to “go home”. Our goal in this world is to enable our souls to feel at home while we are in this world. This can only be accomplished by seeking to ward off the invasive forces of impurity that ravage us constantly. 

A number of summers ago when I was in camp, I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful young man named Lavi Greenspan. Lavi davens with incredible passion and seems to exude friendliness and warmth to everyone around him. What is most unique about Lavi is that, at the age of 26, he lost his eyesight and is now completely blind.[9] Lavi spoke to the campers about his challenges and the difficulties he encounters because of his blindness. But there was one comment that really struck a chord within me. Although it was during the summer, I have thought of his comment every year on Chanukah. He related that his blindness really hit home on Chanukah when he could no longer see the lustrous glow of the candles.  “What I wouldn’t give to be able to see those candles just once more!”
In a sense, his words represent the tragedy of how Chanukah has been misunderstood by so many Jews. Although most Jews are thankfully able to see the Chanukah candles that they light, they are deaf and cannot hear the message of the candles. They fail to comprehend the poignant message that the candles cry out as they dance above the wick.  

“Chanu – chof hay - They rested on the twenty-fifth”
“The mitzvah of (lighting) the candles of Chanukah is exceedingly beloved.”

[1] The story took place during the summer so the holiday of Chanukah was not particularly on his mind.
[2] "מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכ"ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון. שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל, וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום, בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פח אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותנו של כהן גדול, ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד, נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים, לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה".
[3] Harav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai zt’l (1724-1807)
[4] The Ran is one of the early authorities, 1308-1376
[5] Parshas Bo (12:16)
[6] The Maharl (Ner Mitzvah) similarly explains that the main miracle that we commemorate on Chanukah is the miraculous victories that the Maccabees had in battle. That miracle continues to effect us even in our time, for had they lost, Torah would have been forgotten and the greatness of the Jewish people would have been lost. However, it is the miracle of the Menorah which ensures that we never forget the Divine Hand that they experienced and felt during that time. Without the miracle of the Menorah the holiday would have lost its meaning, becoming ‘just another military celebration’, no different than many other secular holidays. Such celebrations are a far cry from the depth, beauty, and eternal significance of each of our holidays.  
[7] My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita, notes that this tragedy has surfaced in our time. After the Israeli War of Independence and after the Six-Day War, the world admitted that we had been privy to numerous miracles as well as a miraculous victory. But, as is wont to happen, in our time those sentiments have been all but lost. People talk about the brilliant maneuvers and adroitness of the Israeli forces, forgetting that those victories were humanly impossible. That is what happens when a miraculous victory is not followed by the overt miracle of the Menorah.
[8] Mishley (20:27)
[9] There is a great article worth reading on about Lavi entitled, “Blindness and Light”, authored by Gavriel Horan.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


A friend is someone who sees the first tear, catches the second, and stops the third.” (unknown)

A colleague once related to me the following poignant thought: “True friendship is achieved when one friend is willing to give up the friendship for the sake of the other friend.” He explained his statement by relating the following personal anecdote:
 “When I was a student in yeshiva years ago, I had a close friend who was struggling with certain personal issues. We spoke often and I realized that, although I was unable to help him deal with his issues, the yeshiva’s Mashgiach[1] would be able to help him. When I suggested to my friend that he speak with the Mashgiach he adamantly refused and - knowing me well - he warned me that if I went to the Mashgiach on his behalf he would be very angry with me, and he would terminate our friendship. At that point, I was unsure how to proceed. On the one hand, I had a way to help my friend and he really needed the help. But on the other hand, if I helped him I would lose the friendship which I so cherished.
I finally decided that I couldn’t watch my friend stumble when I had the ability to help him. I cared about him enough that I was willing to forfeit the friendship so that he could get the guidance he needed. I approached the Mashgiach on behalf of my friend and it wasn’t long before the Mashgiach summoned my friend to his office.”
My colleague concluded, “In the end, the Mashgiach was able to help him as I thought he would. Today that friend and I are extremely close, probably closer than we would have been had that event not occurred. But I must reiterate that even if I would have lost him as a friend, I still believe that it was my responsibility – as a friend- to help him.”

The debacle of Yosef was well underway. As per the suggestion of Yehuda, the brothers sold Yosef to a passing caravan, essentially eliminating him from their lives. When Yosef did not return Yaakov was brokenhearted, convinced that his beloved Yosef had been ravaged by a ferocious beast. Yaakov refused to be consoled and would not desist in his mourning. When the brothers realized the ramifications of what they had done they deposed Yehuda from his position of leadership.
“It was at that time that Yehuda went down from his brothers and turned toward an Adullamite man whose name was Chirah.”[2] The Torah continues by detailing the challenges that Yehuda faced in his self-imposed exile from his family. Two of his sons married and died soon after, and then his own wife died as well. Yehuda was left a widower with one remaining son. “…When Yehuda was consoled, he went up to oversee his sheepshearers – he and his Adullamite friend, Chirah…” [3]
The Torah relates that as Yehuda was traveling he met a woman who was dressed like an ‘illicit woman’. Yehuda was unaware that the woman was Tamar, his former daughter-in-law and he desired to have a relationship with her[4]. He pledged to compensate her with a goat and he offered her his signet, wrap, and staff as collateral. Afterwards, when Yehuda sought to fulfill his pledge “Yehuda sent the kid of the goats through his friend, the Adullamite, to retrieve the pledge from the woman; but he did not find her.”[5] Begrudgingly, Yehuda told his friend to give up the search.

There is a noted principle espoused by Rabbi Tzadok Hakohain of Lublin that the first time a concept is mentioned in the Torah, therein lies its definitive essence and true meaning.
It is in regards to this incident with Yehuda that the Torah introduces the concept of friendship. In fact, Yehuda’s friend Chirah is mentioned twice as his friend, the Adullamite (the second time the verse doesn’t even say his name, only that he was “his friend the Adullamite”). What was the significance of their friendship and how did their camaraderie represent true friendship?    
Sha’arei Orah[6] explains that friendship is built primarily on a sense of trust and security. The true test of a friendship is when one is able to reveal something extremely personal and confidential to his friend without it having any negative bearing on the friendship.
This is essentially what occurred with Yehuda. At the beginning of its narrative the Torah relates that Yehuda met Chirah and engaged in business ventures with him. The Torah then relates the enigmatic events that occurred in Yehuda’s private life, and that Yehuda sent the compensation with “Chirah, his friend the Adullamite”. Yehuda obviously had to reveal to Chirah what had occurred and why he was sending payment to an ‘illicit woman’. Yet, Chirah was still called, “his friend the Adullamite.” Despite what Chirah now knew about his distinguished friend, the friendship was not diminished whatsoever. 
The Rambam[7] explains the concept of friendship in a similar vein: “Acquire for yourself a friend, that he should be beloved to you so that you would trust your soul with him; you should not need to guard yourself (when you are with him) not in word or action; you should be able to reveal to him all of your endeavors – the good and the degrading, without fear that it will cause a deficiency in the friendship.”

One of the seven benedictions recited during the week-long celebration after a wedding reads, “כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם שמח תשמח רעים אהובים - Make exceedingly joyful the friends who are beloved, just as You gladdened Your creation (Adam, i.e. by creating Chava) in the Garden of Eden in days of old. Blessed are You, G-d, Who gladdens groom and bride.”
We bless and pray that the newlyweds reach the ultimate level of matrimonial bliss, which is achieved when the marriage is built on true friendship.
A man once approached the Chazon Ish, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz zt’l. The man cried that when he married his wife he was sure that she deeply respected Torah learning and that she would absolve him from household responsibilities so that he could fully devote himself to his studies. But alas, she was constantly badgering him to help her with household responsibilities. He was upset about his Torah learning which he felt was now being diminished, and that his wife was not the person he originally thought she was.
The Chazon Ish listened patiently and smiled. The man was shocked; it was highly uncharacteristic for the sensitive and saintly Chazon Ish to smile at someone else’s tale of woe. The Chazon Ish explained, “It is possible for a person to fool everyone around him, but there are two who cannot be fooled – G-d and his wife. One’s spouse understands a person like no one else. If your wife is asking you to assist her it’s not because she doesn’t value your learning. She has a keen awareness of the intensity with which you apply to your studies, and she obviously detects a slackening. She was willing to forgo your participation in household activities so that you could study, not so that you could be unproductive. Strengthen your Torah learning and you will see that your wife truly values Torah learning and will indeed stop asking for your help.”[8]   
When one is dating and throughout the process of engagement, there is a great deal about one’s fiancée that is vague and unclear. But after marriage, every aspect of a person’s personality and character slowly becomes apparent. The goal of an optimal marriage is for both spouses to accept each other for who they are and to compliment each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That is a marriage composed of, “Friends who are beloved”.

The verse[9], “Love your friend as yourself” is well-known. Rashi has a novel interpretation of the “friend” which the Torah refers to. On the verse “Your friend and the friend of your father do not forsake,”[10] Rashi comments, “Your friend is G-d Who is called the ‘friend of Israel’, and the Friend of your fathers because He loved your fathers.”
According to Rabbi Bergman’s definition of friendship, it is understandable why G-d is our truest friend. We are constantly beseeching G-d to forgive us and to help us grow and to serve Him better. Yet despite our repeated iniquities, G-d continues to love us unequivocally and pardons us over and over. No matter how low we fall our connection with G-d is never severed. That’s a real friend!

Each Jewish holiday celebrates and joyfully reminds us of a different aspect of that “Divine Friendship.” The holiday of Chanukah celebrates one of the most dynamic components of that relationship. It was a time of austere persecution, when the observant few felt forsaken and forlorn. It was in that melancholic gloom that G-d performed the miracles of Chanukah which signified His Omnipresence even at times when His Mighty Hand is concealed.
Chanukah symbolizes that even in the most ominous moments of life, when we feel abandoned and alone, our “Friend” is still with us. The little Chanukah candles symbolize - and are a testament of - that eternal bond. 
In the unique prayer “Al Hanisim” recited on Chanukah we thank G-d, “For the miracles, for the salvation, for the mighty deeds, and for the battles, which You preformed for our forefathers, in those days at this time.” We thank G-d for His eternal Friendship which the holiday symbolizes. It is for that Friendship which the holiday was enacted, as the prayer concludes, “They established these eight days of Chanukah, to express thanks and praise to Your Great Name.”
This is also why Rambam[11] writes, “מצות נר חנוכה מצוה חביבה היא עד מאד - The Chanukah candles are very very dear.” The Chanukah candles are “very very dear” because they symbolize a friendship which is “very very dear”.

I conclude with one of my favorite quotes[12]: “A true friend is someone who really knows you… and likes you anyway!”

“Yehuda… and his Adullamite friend, Chirah”
“Your friend and the friend of your father do not forsake”

[1] Mashgiach means overseer/watcher. The Mashgiach in a Yeshiva is responsible for the general well-being of the students beyond the academic sphere- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
[2] Bereishis 38:1
[3] 38:12
[4] The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 85:8) explains that this event was an anomaly in the sense that Yehuda was forced into it. His free choice was temporarily suspended to ensure that the union of Yehuda and Tamar would be consummated. The Davidic dynasty and the Messiah descended from that fateful union.
[5] 38:20
[6] Harav Tzvi Meir Bergman shlita, son-in-law of Rav Shach zt’l
[7] Peirush Mishnayos, Avos (1:6). Some of the beauty of the Rambam’s diction gets lost in the translation.
[8] Story quoted in Bayis Umenucha from Rav Moshe Aharon Stern zt’l
[9] Vayikra (19:18)
[10] Mishlei 27:10
[11] Hilchos Chanukah (1:1)
[12] Attributed to Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), American writer, author, and philosopher

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


          A number of years ago,, the wonderful website of Aish HaTorah, hosted a powerful one minute video about Dr. Rachamim Melamed-Cohen. I was very inspired by his story and wanted to know more about him. I came across an article written by the noted author, Sara Yocheved Rigler[1], in which she describes a meeting that she was privileged to have with him. In the article she offers many more details about his unbelievable story.
After reading Mrs. Rigler’s article, I took advantage of his offer and contacted Dr. Melamed-Cohen to inform him of how moved I was by his story. He replied warmly by asking me for my home address so that he could airmail me one of his books (a wonderful sefer which provides educational ideas and insights gleaned from the weekly parsha). When I contacted him again this week to ask his permission to write about him, he replied, “YOU CAN WRITE ABOUT ME IF YOU THINK IT WILL HELP PEOPLE.”
The following is merely a glimpse into his story, paraphrased from the aforementioned article. I encourage anyone who would like to be inspired to read the article in its full context.
 As a fifty-seven year old man Dr. Melamed-Cohen was quite successful. He had a beautiful family and, with a Ph.D. in Special Education, held a leading position in Israel's Ministry of Education. He also served as Head of the Education Department in a Jerusalem college, and pioneered Special Education programs throughout Israel. But his life came to a screeching halt when he was diagnosed with ALS, better known as the dreaded ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’. Doctors informed him that his body would begin to progressively atrophy and eventually he would become completely paralyzed with no control over any of his faculties. They told him he had five years to live. That was well over a decade ago.
Although he is completely paralyzed, Dr. Melamed-Cohen is still going strong. “Since the onset of his illness, he has written seven books[2], the latest by means of a computer that types by his eye movements. Until a year ago, when he could still speak clearly, he gave lectures on educational methodology to students in his living room. He maintains a voluminous email correspondence with readers who look to him for encouragement and wisdom. He prays thrice daily and attends synagogue every Shabbat. And he and his wife go out regularly ….
“At 68, Rahamim's daily schedule would daunt many healthy people his age. He starts out his day by praying Shacharit, the morning service. His friend Yitzchak comes daily to put tefillin on him. Then he and Yitzchak learn Torah for an hour.
“Then he works: writing his books, which sometimes entail considerable research, either on the internet or in the comprehensive Judaic library he has on disc; answering his email correspondence (he receives on average ten letters a day); and doing artwork on computer.
“In addition, he administers a small yeshivah founded by his late father. This entails determining the curriculum, examining the applicants, paying the staff, and keeping daily track of the attendance and progress of each student. He also reads books and newspapers. Twice a week he has physiotherapy. At 4 PM, visitors start arriving -- his four siblings, six children, 26 grandchildren, friends, or former colleagues…
“Dr. Melamed-Cohen, who lacks the most rudimentary functions that the rest of us take for granted, advises everyone: "DON'T DESPAIR, BE OPTIMISTIC, AND WORK ON SIMCHAH [JOY] IN YOUR HEART. NO MATTER WHAT YOU'RE LACKING, THINK OF WHAT'S POSSIBLE TO DO IN YOUR PRESENT SITUATION."
“Dr. Melamed-Cohen's life is animated by his desire to disseminate this message to the world. When asked what his plans for the future are, he responds: "I want to stay alive for many more years and not miss out on even one moment of my life. I want the opportunity to actualize the true me, to enjoy others and to be enjoyed by others, and to convey the message of optimism and that life is holy…”[3]

After twenty years in the home of his duplicitous father-in-law Lavan, and after surviving the encounter with his wrathful brother Eisav, Yaakov Avinu reached a heretofore unsurpassed level of greatness. “Yaakov arrived unimpaired (complete) at the city of Shechem.”[4] But Yaakov’s travails were far from over.
While living in the city of Shechem, his daughter Dinah was abducted and violated by a young man named Shechem, the prince of the city. Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, avenged the honor of their sister by killing all the males in the city. When Yaakov heard what Shimon and Levi did he chastised them, “You have discomposed me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land… I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated – I and my household.”[5] 
Rashi[6] quotes an opinion that Yaakov was indeed compelled to go to war against the surrounding nations who sought to avenge the carnage of Shechem. At the end of Yaakov’s life he moved down to Egypt where he lived under the tutelage of his son Yosef, the viceroy of the country. Yosef came to visit his ailing father, accompanied by his two sons, in order to solicit Yaakov’s blessing. After blessing them, Yaakov turned to Yosef and said, “And as for me, I have given you Shechem – one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.” 
Why did Yaakov feel it was necessary to tell Yosef that he had procured the city of Shechem by means of battle? If Yaakov meant to give Yosef the city as a gift, what was the difference how he had taken possession of the city?
Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel zt’l[7], the legendary Mashgiach of Lakewood, explained that Yaakov wanted to convey to Yosef the reason why he had been successful throughout his life. It was because Yaakov never stopped struggling!
One must always be prepared to face both the internal and external challenges that constantly arise. One who is not poised for battle at any given time has little hope for spiritual survival.
In the words of the Ba’al Hatanya: “The body is likened to a small city: like two kings who wage war over a city, each desiring to capture it and rule over it, that is, to govern its inhabitants according to his will so that they obey him in all that he decrees for them. So do the two souls, the G-dly [soul] and the animal [soul], wage war against each other over control of the body and its organs and limbs. The desire and will of the G-dly soul is that it alone should rule over the person and direct him, and that all his limbs should obey it and surrender themselves completely to it and become a vehicle for it, and serve as a vehicle for its ten faculties [of intellect and emotion] and three "garments" [thought, speech and action]... and the entire body should be permeated with them alone, to the exclusion of any alien influence, G-d forbid... While the animal soul desires the very opposite...”
Yaakov’s message to Yosef was that he had merited the city of Shechem because he was ready for battle, not only in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense as well. In his translation, Onkelos explains that the sword and bow which Yaakov referred to when he mentioned his conquest of Shechem, is actually a reference to prayer, the true weapon of a Jew. Thus, the battle over Shechem represented a metaphor for Yaakov’s entire life, a never ending struggle.
The gemara[8] offers an astounding explanation of a verse in parshas Vayishlach. "He [Yaakov] set up an altar there and proclaimed, `Kel, the Kel of Israel'."[9] The literal translation of this verse suggests that Yaakov called G-d (Kel), "the G-d (Kel) of Israel." However the Gemarah reads the verse completely differently: "He called him `El.' The G-d of Israel." In other words, "He called Yaakov, ‘El’. Who called Yaakov ‘El’? The G-d of Israel." How can the Gemara even insinuate that G-d Himself called Yaakov a title of G-d? What does that mean?
Tosafos[10] explains that when we refer to G-d as ‘Kel’ we are referring to His great strength with which He provides sustenance and infuses life into all of creation. Perhaps it is in that sense that Yaakov merited being called “Kel” by G-d. Through Yaakov’s unwavering spiritual strength and commitment, despite the challenges that confronted him, he achieved such an extreme level of greatness that, in that sense, his resolve and strength bordered on the Divine. G-d is called Kel in reference to His unmitigated and unfaltering strength. Yaakov had achieved a level of imitatio dei, so much so that G-d Himself testified about Yaakov’s strength that it was on the level of ‘Kel’.

In truth, Yosef too had prevailed and transcended overwhelming challenges throughout his years in Egypt. It is uncanny that a young teenage boy abandoned by his family in a licentious country could remain resolute and firm in his ideals and beliefs. More than all his brothers, Yosef personified the notion that life entails relentless struggles.
In addition, throughout history - and even in our time - the city of Shechem has remained a city of turmoil and instability[11]. From its inception onward it remains a symbol of life’s instability and our need to constantly be wary of, and be ready for, its challenges and struggles.

The holiday of Chanukah is inextricably connected to this idea. Shem MiShmuel[12] explains that the time-period prior to the Chanukah miracles was extremely precarious. The few Jews who remained loyal to Torah and mitzvos were disgraced, forced to hide in dank caves, and constantly flee the Syrian-Greek soldiers. Myriads of Jews were tortured and killed daily, and those who taught Torah put themselves and their families in great peril. The masses conceded to the enemy’s pressure and Hellenized themselves, choosing to live a completely secular lifestyle devoid of Torah and its traditions. The Jewish world was in a state of despondency and despair. It was in that bleakness that the righteous Chashmonaim (i.e. the Maccabees) began their religious revolt for the right to practice Torah and mitzvos.
The prophet states, “ועוררתי בניך ציון על בניך יון ושמתיך כחרב גבור -And I will awaken your sons Zion against your sons Greece; and I will make you like a warrior’s sword.”[13] The prophet utilized an expression of “awakening” because the Maccabean revolt was not a battle of wits and superior acumen of war. More notably, it required a resurgence of hope and faith in the veracity of their cause. They had to rally the faithful and reawaken with them the belief that the salvation of G-d could come at any moment. They also had to realize that until salvation came, they had an obligation to fight to the death for their right to serve G-d. It was much more than a physical battle. It also required a mental and psychological battle to rekindle the spark of pride and passion which the Syrian-Greeks had all but extinguished.
This is the essence of the holiday of Chanukah. We may not need to battle the evil Syrian-Greeks each year, and we may no longer have a Temple-Menorah to light, but the deeper symbolism of those events are as prevalent as ever. The diminutive lights of Chanukah represent the omnipresent struggles of life. It symbolizes the victories they achieved at a time of terrible darkness and despair. The holiday of Chanukah is the holiday which celebrates our struggles and obdurate refusal to give up.
Chanukah is not a grandiose holiday as Succos and Pesach are. It is a “weekday holiday”; a holiday that seeks to infuse the mundane with sanctity. Inherent in the holiday of Chanukah is the key to our resilience throughout exile. Its message is that even one who has fallen into the doldrums of despair can rise again if he is willing to persist in fighting the battle.

Rabbi Wachtfogel adds that “the foundation of man is battle”, i.e. it is part of his genetic makeup. He explains that that is why people become so attached and involved in sports. Competition and rivalry are an inherent aspect of humankind, and therefore we have an internal disposition toward it. However, sports are a diversion from the true battle which rages within every individual constantly.[14]
Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz zt’l once mused that a person who is not committed to battle – even if he is the wisest of men and the most righteous individual – can stumble even regarding simple matters.
Until the moment when we have taken our last breath, we are soldiers in combat fighting the battle of life. Chanukah celebrates our acknowledgement of that constant battle and our willingness to never cease fighting. 

“I have given you Shechem which I took with my sword and with my bow.”
“I will awaken your sons Zion against your sons Greece

[1] Her article is also on the Aish website. It is entitled “The Hero within”
[2] He has written another three books since Mrs. Rigler wrote her article, ten books in total!
[3] I found that Dr. Melamed-Cohen now has a website:!home-en/c24b1
[4] Bereishis 33:18
[5] Bereishis 34:30
[6] parshas Vayechi 48:22
[7] Leket Reshimos, Chanukah
[8] Megilla 18a
[9] Bereishis 33:20
[10] Rosh Hashana 17b
[11] See Rashi (Bereishis 37:14)
[12]  ליל ב' תרע''ח
[13] Zechariah 9:13
[14] It is worth noting that sports were an essential component of Greek culture. In every land they conquered they constructed a gymnasium to glorify and deify the human body and sports, which were played while the athletes were unclothed.