Thursday, January 30, 2014


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


In the faint light of the attic, an old man, tall and stooped, bent his great frame and made his way to a stack of boxes that sat near one of the little half-windows. Brushing aside a wisp of cobwebs, he tilted the top box toward the light and began to carefully lift an old worn out journal from the box.
“Hunched over to keep from bumping his head on the rafters, the old man stepped to the wooden stairway and made his descent, then headed down a carpeted stairway that led to the den.
“Opening a glass cabinet door, he reached in and pulled out an old business journal. Turning, he sat down at his desk and placed the two journals beside each other. His was leather-bound and engraved neatly with his name in gold, while the old worn out journal was his son's. His son’s name, "Jimmy", had been nearly scuffed from its surface. He ran a long skinny finger over the letters, as though he could restore what had been worn away with time and use.
As he opened his journal, the old man's eyes fell upon an inscription that stood out because it was so brief in comparison to other days. In his own neat handwriting were these words:
Wasted the whole day fishing with Jimmy. Didn't catch a thing”

          With a deep sigh and a shaking hand, he took Jimmy's journal and found the boy's entry for the same day, June 4. Large scrawling letters, pressed deeply into the paper, read:
          “Went fishing with dad. Best day of my life.”[1]

“G-d spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to the B’nai Yisroel and they shall take for me a portion; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My portion.”
Why does it say that “they shall take for me a portion” and not “they shall give for me a portion”?
The Apiryon[2] explains that although normally a person does something in order to achieve the result of that action, at times, one may do something because of a tangential benefit that will result.
As a result of the Service performed in the Mishkan[3] the world was filled with blessing and goodness. In fact, since the Temple’s destruction many of the blessings that were omnipresent while it stood have ceased from the world. When the Torah speaks about donating materials for the construction of the Mishkan it does not mention the direct purpose, but the personal benefit that they would have from the construction of the Mishkan, i.e. the bounty and blessings that would result from the Divine Service being performed. Thus, their giving was essentially “taking”, for they were taking the blessing that would result from having a Mishkan.      
The Sages explain that whenever one selflessly donates or gives of his resources, finances, efforts, or energy he benefits in innumerable ways that he is not aware of.

In Birchas Hamazon we petition G-d, “ונא אל תצריכנו ה' אלקינו לא לידי מתנת בשר ודם - Please – make us not needful – Hashem, our G-d, of the gifts of flesh and blood…” Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, the Satmar Rebbe, offered a poignant explanation of this request. The Gemara[4] states that there are three partners that contribute to the creation of every person: father, mother, and G-d. One’s bones, sinews, blood, and flesh are the contributions of the parents, while the soul is from G-d. It is G-d’s contribution that composes the essence of life, for the body is merely an external garment/receptacle which houses the soul while it resides in this world.
When one gives charity begrudgingly and with a heavy heart, he is giving solely on a physical level. In a similar vein, if one gives out of guilt or embarrassment, his spiritual/emotional self does not participate in the giving; it is a heartless gift. Normally when one contributes in such a manner he does so with a sour face and an angry demeanor, inevitably causing grief and shame to the receiver. However, one who gives exuberantly and wholeheartedly does so with passion and warmth. Such charity is given with heart and soul, not merely the hand.
In our prayers we beseech G-d that even if we, G-d forbid, are forced to beg for charity and alms, our contributions should be given not merely by “flesh and blood”, i.e. heartlessly and unemotionally. Rather, it should be given with love and care; a contribution of the flesh and blood coupled with the Divine spark of love and brotherhood.

There is an age old question why there is no special blessing recited prior to giving charity? If the mitzvah of giving charity is so important shouldn’t it warrant a unique blessing?
In addition to the many halachic reasons proffered, Sefas Emes relates a practical psychological reason. Reciting a blessing before contributing alms to a poor man creates an invisible barrier between the giver and the recipient. The Torah demands that one relate to a needy person as a subject, not merely an object. The giver must see the poor man as a dignified and valuable human being, not merely an excuse or medium for the giver’s selfish performance of a mitzvah that will enhance his religious experience.
Can one imagine how a needy person would feel if a contributor, check in hand, closed his eyes, and began to recite a blessing with tremendous fervor and concentration? A collector is not an esrog! No matter how important and special the recitation of a blessing is, it cannot interfere with the dignity of another person, the largesse of the contributor not withstanding.
The Sfas Emes’s explanation has important implications for all human relationships. When I was in Yeshiva, an older mentor would often comment that, “nobody wants to be your project”. In other words, if one wants to help someone who is troubled, confused, or downtrodden, he cannot approach him as his “chessed case”. If one does so he will be met with little success, if not downright resistance. He may even be told to “mind your own business”.
The only way to reach or touch another person emotionally is by truly caring about them. Superficial love is detectable and invariably bears resentment. This is one of the most important rules of kiruv[5]. In order to connect with others one needs to sincerely and genuinely care. Before one can have any effect on another he must cast aside his personal agenda of “helping” and focus on loving deeply.
In the words of Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt’l: “If you want to draw someone closer to Torah and you invite them to your Shabbos table, don’t give long-winded speeches at the table. Give him a good piece of hot potato kugel. Then he’ll want to come back!”

When one gives charity it is not enough for him to give with his hands; he must also give with his soul. Despite the loss one incurs when giving, one must remember that at the same time he is “taking” and gaining far more than he seems to be giving. The difference between giving with one’s hands and giving with one’s heart is the difference between a giving that fosters love versus a giving that breeds embarrassment and resentment.

“And they shall take for me a donation”
Went fishing with dad. Best day of my life.”

by Mac Anderson and Lance Wubbels.

[2] Rabbi Shlomo Gantzfried zt’l
[3] (Tabernacle) and later in the Bais Hamikdash (Holy Temple)
[4] Niddah 31a
[5] teaching unaffiliated Jews about Torah observance

Thursday, January 23, 2014


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


          On one occasion, the Shach[1] had a monetary disagreement with a prominent member of the Vilna community. The man was justifiably concerned to challenge the great Shach in a court where the judges were familiar with the Shach’s legendary erudition and sagacity. The Shach agreed to travel to the court of the tzaddik, Rabbi Avrohom Abba, the Rabbi of the city of Narvadok. Being that the Shach had never met Rabbi Avrohom, the dignitary was confident that Rabbi Avrohom would be impartial and unbiased in his ruling.
          Prior to the court-case, the Shach reviewed all the laws and passages in the Talmud pertaining to the case. Based on his own research the Shach was confident that he was correct and that the ruling would unquestionably be in his favor.
After both litigants presented their case, Rabbi Avrohom spent a great deal of time deliberating. When he finally concluded that the dignitary was correct the Shach was stunned. After stating that he unequivocally accepted the ruling, the Shach asked Rabbi Avrohom if he could explain the logic behind his decision. Rabbi Avrohom replied that at first he himself was unsure of the halacha. However, in a halachic compendium recently published he found this exact question discussed, and the ruling was clearly in favor of the other man. When the Shach saw the sefer that Rabbi Avrohom was referring to, he was shocked. It was a copy of Sifesi Kohen, the sefer that he himself had published less than a year prior. The Shach commented that, at that point, he was able to appreciate the wisdom of the sage’s adage “One does not see his own liabilities”[2].

          The Torah states: “Do not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind those who see and corrupt words that are just.[3]” Shulchan Aruch rules, “A judge must be extremely cautious not to accept any bribes, even from the victorious litigant.[4]” S’MA explains that it is impossible for a judge’s opinion not to be swayed to judge in favor of the briber. It is inevitable that a gift of any sort will cloud the logic and rationale of a judge.
          In Ta’am Voda’as, Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch shlita relates that a widow once approached Rabbi Yehoshua MiKutna zt’l requesting that he summon a certain individual to court. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she explained that the man had wronged her and should be compelled to compensate her for the losses she incurred on his account.
          Rabbi Yehoshua replied that he was unable to preside over her case because her tears had moved him emotionally, and was therefore tantamount to his acceptance of a bribe.
          Ta’am Vada’as concludes that a bribe need not be a monetary gift. Anything that may influence a judge’s ruling on any level is included in the prohibition that prohibits a judge from accepting a bribe.

          Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains, “Bribery kills the intellectual and moral force of the one who receives it… bribery would make even an honest judge, who wishes nothing but what is right and just, not as clear and firm and decisive as he should be in giving expression to what is right. His sight becomes clouded; his word faltering…
“The idea of bribery in the spirit of Jewish law is given the widest extension. Not only money or goods but the smallest most unimportant favor, service or attention, the brushing off of specks of dirt from the coat, the kicking away of a piece of dirt which happens to lie in front of the foot of the judge, etc. has caused the Jewish judge to declare, “I have become unfit to be your judge”.”

          The Ba’alei Mussar[5] explain that the blinding effect of bribery manifests in many personal ways. Our own decisions and “rulings” are strongly influenced and tainted by our own emotions and sensitivities. Jealousy, desire, unbridled pursuit of honor, as well as a desire to live like everyone else in society are all examples of deleterious forms of bribery. The inevitable result of all such drives and emotions is the same, “for the bribe will blind those who can see and corrupt words that are just.” The prohibition against bribery accentuates the importance of realizing this dynamic. Our decisions and actions are invariably influenced by our surroundings and penchants.
          The greatest peril of personal bribery is that it can lead a person to self-deception. This occurs when one convinces himself that his actions are just and logical. Korach was the prototype of such self-deception. His pursuit for self-aggrandizement and esteem blinded him from recognizing the ineptitude of his challenge to Moshe’s authority and leadership. His downfall was a direct result of his staunch belief that he was correct, and that he was acting nobly for the sake of national welfare.
          The Torah’s prohibition against a judge accepting bribery is not limited to the judicial system. It is a warning about the nature of man, who is predisposed to pretext and excuses. He justifies his dereliction to fulfill his responsibilities and spiritual indolence. In order for one to be candid and honest with himself he has to look beyond his negative emotions, drives, and inclinations.
          The most challenging self-interest to overcome is intellectual and spiritual inertia. It is far easier for one to consign himself to mediocrity than to challenge himself on a conscious and preconscious level. It is daunting for one to contemplate his spiritual accomplishments and to assess if he has met his own goals and aspirations. However, neglecting to do so is equivalent to accepting the most noxious bribe of all - the bribe of self-inflicted blindness.         
          The Mishna[6] advises, “Do not judge your friend until you are in his place.” The Mishna is essentially saying that one cannot judge his friend until he is in the same situation, i.e. in his friend’s, “shoes”. Sefas Emes notes that even if someone finds himself in the exact same predicament as his friend and all conditions are equal, he still cannot judge his friend. Although the external situation may be the same, every person has vastly different temperament, emotions, sensitivities, dispositions, inclinations, and fears. One’s life experiences, family upbringing, religious values, personal life’s mission, and sense of morality all have a strong affect upon his decisions and choices. The response one chooses in any situation is strongly (if not primarily) affected by his internal component, far more than the external situation and events. Therefore, even one if one is in the same predicament as another he cannot fully comprehend his friend’s actions in the given situation.
Sefas Emes is deriving a poignant message from the Mishnah. Essentially he is saying that one may never judge another for, “even if he is in his friend’s shoes, he still doesn’t have his friend’s feet”.

          The prohibition against bribery is a reminder of how deeply we are affected by our emotions and internality. One must always be wary of the fact that his judgment is somewhat impaired by the bribery of his evil inclination who seeks to corrupt his vision of justice, morality, and accomplishment. Ultimately, every individual is the judge of his own life and is responsible for the decisions he makes.    

“Do not judge your friend until you are in his place”
“For the bribe will blind those who see”

[1] The great halachic authority, Rabbi Shabsi HaKohen of Vilna (1622-1633), is known as the Shach, an acronym for the sefer he authored, Sifsei Kohen. Sifsei Kohen is one of the classic commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch.
[2] Shabbos 119a
[3] Shemos 23:8
[4] Choshen Mishpat 9:1
[5] Master Ethicists
[6] Avos 2:4

Thursday, January 16, 2014


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


A news report from January, 22, 2008/ 15 Shevat 5768:
“A secular Israeli farmer in the northern city of Tiberius, whose chief produce is bananas, decided that he would undertake to keep Shmitah[1] this year. When he approached Keren HaShviis[2] for assistance, they stipulated that they would register him in their program only if he would also undertake to be Shomer Shabbos[3] throughout the Shmitah year. When he agreed, Keren HaShviis agreed to cover his farming expenses. In return, all of his produce became the property of the Jewish Court Treasury, to be distributed in full accordance with Jewish law.
Israel has suffered a significant cold spell over the past 2 to 3 weeks which has caused significant damage to its banana crop. When bananas are still growing and get hit with frost, they turn brown and become rock-solid.
“The banana farmer realized that he would incur significant losses because of the relentless cold. He began to receive calls from neighboring farmers, complaining bitterly that their entire banana crop had been destroyed by the frost.
“When he went to inspect the orchards, he was shocked by the extent of the damage. Not a single fruit had survived; no tree was spared. Yet, when he arrived at his orchard, he was awestruck! ALL of his bananas were yellow and green; it was as if his orchard was subject to a different climate. His orchard bordered those of his neighbors, but not a single tree of his was affected by the frost. He immediately called his contacts at Keren HaShviis and yelled into the phone, “Karah Nes! Karah Nes! – A miracle occurred! A miracle occurred!”
 “Keren HaShviis reports that farmers who have until now refused to keep Shmitah, have been turning to the Keren following the losses suffered as a result of the frost. Many are now ready to commit to Shmitah observance.”

          “Yisro, the priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and Yisroel, His Nation, that G-d had taken out Yisroel from Egypt…Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law…and Moshe told his father-in-law all that G-d had done to Pharaoh and Egypt on account of Yisroel, all the happenings that had transpired along the way; and G-d had saved them...”
          What is the meaning behind the seeming redundancy of the whole account? The Torah states that Yisro joined Klal Yisroel because he heard the miracles that G-d did, “for Moshe and Yisroel”. If so, why did Moshe repeat the whole story again when Yisro arrived? Furthermore, after hearing Moshe’s account, the Torah relates that Yisro was happy, “that He (G-d) had saved the nation from the hand of Egypt.” This time Yisro did not mention Moshe. What did Moshe add that caused Yisro to omit Moshe’s name when he expressed his joy following Moshe’s account?
          In the 1700s the American colonists living in the ‘new country’ were fed up with England and King George III. England had raised the colonist’s taxes to compensate for their substantial losses during the Seven Years War. The colonists declared that there could be, “No taxation without representation”. If they had no representation in the English parliament it was unjust for them to be taxed by Parliament. Eventually, the colonists signed the Declaration of Independence, plunging them into war against England.
          On October 17, 1781 the English General, Lord Cornwallis, surrendered to Colonist General George Washington, essentially ending the war. The colonists had achieved the unthinkable; they had created a nation dedicated to, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

           In France 1789 there was growing discontent with the reign of King Louis XVI and the domination of the clergy and nobility. The majority of the country, composed of the bourgeoisie and peasants, deeply resented the fact that most of the country’s prosperity was held by a 2% minority, who represented the upper echelon of the French population.
On July 14, 1789 eight hundred Parisians stormed the Bastille, a grim medieval fortress that served as a prison for political and other prisoners. When told of the attack, King Louis asked, “Is it a revolt?” “No Sire”, replied a noble, “It is a revolution!”
The “National Assembly” issued the “Declaration of the Rights of Man”, declaring the revolution’s creed, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. By 1793 King Louis was dead, ushering a volatile period of terror and uncertainty led by Robespierre. This was followed by the rise of Napoleon who, at least temporarily, restored glory to France.

          For many decades the great Romanov monarchy, known as the Czars of Russia, failed to lead their immense nation adequately. After a failed attempt at Revolution in 1905, a successful revolution was mounted in 1917, while World War I was yet raging. Led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known to the world as Lenin, the Bolsheviks promised the impoverished nation, “Peace, Land, and Bread.”
Just a few months after the Romanov dynasty ended with the March Revolution, the Bolsheviks mounted a successful coup against the interim government and assumed control of the country during the November Revolution.
Upon Lenin’s death, the infamous Joseph Stalin became his successor, locking the country behind, “the iron curtain of Communism”.

America, France, and Russia: three separate revolutions which undermined the old order, and forged a completely new path and direction for their respective countries. They were revolutions that impacted all of mankind and changed the fate of millions of people.     

          Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pershischa zt’l explains that Yisro was a worldly person. In fact, he had experimented with every idol and god in the world before he realized the veracity of the One supreme G-d. Since time immemorial, there were coup d’états, revolutions, and rebellions. When Yisro was informed of all the miracles that occurred, and about the departure en masse from Egypt he was happy for the Jews because they were liberated from tyranny and oppression. The nation, which until now was subjected to the rule of a despotic autocrat, was now free from his nefarious clutches. From that point onward they were subject to the democratic and more tolerant rule of the benevolent Moshe.
In other words, Yisro conceptualized the redemption as a, “Jewish Revolution”, an overthrow of the old regime. In Yisro’s mind, Moshe had become the ruler of the Jews and, therefore, Yisro “heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and Yisroel”.
          When Yisro arrived, Moshe explained to him that he had misunderstood the entire event. The purpose of the exodus was not to be a revolution at all. Rather, it was a complete transformation of the nation. Until now they were a scorned servile group of slaves, with elite ancestry whose memory had all but faded. When the exodus occurred, they were elevated into a Holy People, a nation who was destined to receive the Torah and became “the rose among thorns”, an example for the rest of the world.
          In order for Yisro to comprehend this concept, Moshe had to start from the beginning and explain how every detail - the slavery, plagues, exodus, and the splitting of the sea - were all vital components of the burgeoning nation’s formation and growth. Moshe elucidated for Yisro the Divine Providence that was involved in every step of the process that culminated with their freedom. He explained how the exile and exodus was a shift of attitude and a vital prerequisite for their acceptance of the Torah, their raison d’être. Moshe noted that he was merely an emissary, and G-d was the leader of the Jews, as it were.
 When Yisro heard Moshe’s explanation he realized the true greatness of all that had occurred. “Yisro said, ‘Blessed be G-d! Who has saved you from the hands of Egypt and from the hands of Pharaoh, that He has saved the nation from the hand of Egypt.” This time Yisro omitted Moshe’s name, for now he understood that Moshe did not replace Pharaoh. Rather, Moshe was the representative of G-d whose mission was to teach the nation all they needed to know in order to fulfill their newfound unique role. Moshe was a member of Klal Yisroel, no different than every other Jew.
          The message that Moshe taught Yisro was that Klal Yisroel is not “just another nation.” As the Nation of G-d, they are guided by unique Providence.
In the opening verse of Parshas Va’era, G-d responded to Moshe’s complaint that his initial contact and appeal to Pharaoh was a dismal failure. G-d replied, “I appeared to Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov as the All-Sufficing G-d, but through my Name G-d I did not make Myself known to them.” Essentially, G-d was explaining to Moshe why the lives of the patriarchs were continually challenging and difficult.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains that G-d was revealing to Moshe a fundamental lesson about the Jewish people and G-d’s relationship with them. “Instead of letting Avrohom beget a son in his hundredth year, I could have caused a family to be raised by him by the time he had reached seventy, and allowed his descendants to flourish in happy favorable circumstances to a powerful nation on its own native soil. But then the nation would not have been just the people of G-d, not Am Hashem, the nation that reveals G-d as Hashem. Then this nation would be no different from all other nations, would have developed like them from ordinary natural causes.
“Like them (other nations) they would stand on material visible firm ground, would find the source of power and greatness in material power and greatness, and only aspire to be spiritual and moral, as far as their materialism left space for it, and as far as it fitted in with their materialism. But, in contrast to the other nations, this nation is to get its land, and have its foundation, solely in G-d. Freely of its own will,  they were to carry out G-d’s Will, and only to have material substance and its own land, from and for this G-d and this aspiration…
“That is why this nation had to start where other nations finish. It had to lie stricken in the ground, weltering in its blood, with nothing but despair and loathing itself – “B’gal nafshecha” – and only rise up into a People through G-d’s creative call, so that the very existence of this People proclaims to the world: “I am G-d!”     

“Yisro… heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and Yisroel”
 “Blessed be G-d! Who has saved you from the hands of Egypt.”

[1] the laws of the seventh year, including allowing all land in Israel to remain fallow and uncultivated (5775 will be a shemittah year)
[2] a charity organization that helps support farmers who observe Shmitah
[3] Sabbath observant

Thursday, January 9, 2014


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


“Among the positive mitzvos (commandments) of the mind are: To believe the world has a Creator; He created it out of nothingness; there is none like Him; to accept upon ourselves His oneness; to serve Him with our hearts ; to contemplate the wonders of His creations in order that they be a sign to (remind us) of Him.”
(Introduction to Chovas Halvavos)

“We fulfill this mitzvah when we see the wonders of G-d in everything we look at. For instance, when we see an apple, we wonder why it turned red, when it became ripe, and why it became sweet. We ask ourselves why it has seeds inside and why it has such a beautiful and airtight skin. We wonder how the apple came into existence from a piece of wood and we realize that everything involved in the making of an apple is miraculous. And so we become excited over the wonders of all G-d’s creations.
“When we put a piece of bread into our mouths, we know that it will be broken up into thousands of different components and transported throughout the body by the blood stream. We know that every organ, every cell will get the nutrients it needs from this piece of bread. How does one simple piece of bread turn into a thousand different components? In our surprise and delight at the wonders of G-d’s creations we are fulfilling a mitzvah in the Torah.
“The purpose of all these wonders (e.g. the apple, the piece of bread, and everything else in creation) is to make us aware that G-d is there and that He is the one who brought these wonders about. That is the only reason for the brilliant design, engineering, and logistics that we see in everything.”
(Commentary of Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l)

“My soul shall bless G-d…He established upon the earth its foundations…He sends the springs into the streams, between the mountains they flow. They water every beast of the field…near them the birds of the heaven dwell, from among the branches they give song…how abundant are your Works G-d, all of them with wisdom You made; the earth is full with Your possessions…” (Tehillim 104)

          Throughout the year there are several Shabbasos that have a unique title, e.g. “Shabbos Hagadol”, “Shabbos Chazon”, “Shabbos Shuva”, “Shabbos Zachor”. The titles are based on the haftorah[1] or an added Torah reading[2]. The Shabbos when Parshas Beshalach is read has the distinction of being the only Shabbos that has a special name based solely on the routine weekly Torah reading. The Shabbos is aptly called “Shabbos Shirah” because the great shirah (song) of Az Yashir, which Klal Yisroel sang at the banks of the Sea of the Reeds, is included in Parshas Beshalach.   
          It is intriguing that the following parsha, parshas Yisro, which contains the seminal event of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, does not merit a special name.
There must be an inextricable connection between the Song of the Sea and the holiness of Shabbos. The confluence of the reading of the shirah and Shabbos somehow elevates the entire Shabbos.  Why does this Shabbos merits a unique name?
          Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l related the following beautiful thought[3]:
          The prayers of Kabbolas Shabbos[4] repeatedly make reference to song. The prayer commences, “Come let us sing joyfully to G-d, let us call out to the Rock of our salvation.” The following chapter commences, “Sing to Hashem a song that is new; sing to Hashem everyone on earth.” We follow the recitation of six psalms by melodiously singing the enchanting song of Lecha Dodi in unison, “Come my beloved to greet the bride; the presence of Shabbos let us welcome!” The prayer reaches its crescendo with the recitation of, “A psalm, a song for the day of Shabbos. It is good to thank Hashem, and to sing praise to Your Name, O Exalted One.”  The very song of the holy day itself praises the Shabbos as a day of song!
          Why is Shabbos so connected with song?
          The basis of human communication is through the medium of speech. If one wants to convey his thoughts he does so through verbal expression. However, there are concepts and ideas that simply cannot be explained with words; mere words cannot convey the depth of passion, emotion, and inner feelings. For example, if one is suffering from an unusual form of pain he cannot explain his suffering merely by describing it. When he states that he is in pain, everyone in his vicinity conceptualizes his pain based on their own prior experiences of pain. Only one who has suffered the same disease can begin to comprehend the nature of his pain because he himself had a similar experience[5].
          In a similar vein, it is impossible to explain the pleasure of taste to one who lacks a sense of taste. Saying that something is sweet or bitter is meaningless to a person who has never experienced the sensation of tasting something bitter or sweet. The same holds true for a person born blind. He cannot imagine what the beauty of a sunset looks like, no matter how many adjectives are used to explain it to him.
          When someone is enveloped with emotion, those feelings cannot be adequately expressed with words[6]. The greatness of music is that it transcends words. Music and song have the unparalleled power to stir the soul and awaken deep internal emotions. The beauty of a melody sung in perfect harmony transcends words and mundane verbal expression.
          When the sanctity of Shabbos envelopes the world with the setting sun on Friday eve, one is elevated to feel inner euphoric joy. He now has the opportunity to devote the holy day to sanctity, divinity, and closeness with His Creator. At that point emotions transcend verbal expression. That joy can only be expressed with song, a language whose meaning goes beyond words. “A psalm for the day of Shabbos. It is good to thank Hashem and to sing praise to Your Name, O Exalted One.” Shabbos is inherently a day of song for it is a day whose essence can only be expressed with the language of the soul – the power of song!

          With this thought from Rabbi Pinkus, we can offer the following thought: After Klal Yisroel witnessed the splitting of the sea and the decimation of the remainder of the Egyptian army, they stood spellbound and awed. “Yisroel saw the Great Hand that G-d wrought against Egypt and they believed in G-d and in Moshe, His servant.” At that moment the nation pined to express their sublime joy and gratitude to G-d; they wanted to articulate their elation at becoming the Nation of G-d. But words were insufficient.
The only medium they could employ to convey their feelings was with song. “Then Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang this song to G-d and they said, saying: ‘I will sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant; the horse with its rider He hurled into the sea’.” Song which utilizes prose, esoteric allusions and the euphoria of harmonious unison, was the only conceivable manner that they could utilize to express their true feelings.
          The beauty and depth of song can be most appreciated on Shabbos, the day of song. In the zemiros of Shabbos[7], we sing, “בשבת יושבת בזמר ושבחה – On Shabbos we sit in song and praise.” The sanctity of the day compels us to immerse ourselves in song, for that is the only manner in which we can express our exuberance and joy.
          Although the transmission of the Torah at Sinai was the most significant and important event that ever transpired, it does not maintain the same inextricable connection with Shabbos as the Song of the Sea. Although undoubtedly the Torah one studies on Shabbos takes on much greater significance and contains special merit[8], Torah is not exclusive to Shabbos. Every moment of every day in the life of a Jew is dictated and guided by the Torah. Therefore, the Shabbos when Parshas Yisro is read does not merit special distinction, for acceptance of Torah is a daily event.
Parshas Beshalach which contains the Song of the Sea however, indeed has a special connection with Shabbos, for it is only when steeped in the sanctity of Shabbos that our souls can emotionally connect with the song our ancestors sang at the banks of the Sea. It is therefore all the more appropriate that following the splitting of the sea, Klal Yisroel was commanded to observe Shabbos[9]. Shabbos granted them a medium to contain the emotions that they felt when they sang the Song of the Sea.

          The fifteenth day of Shevat[10] is a minor holiday. Although it is a mystical day, whose true meaning and depth is hidden, on a simple level it is the day when all “fruit tithes” from the previous year had to be separated[11].
          Tu B’shvat is also the “New Year for Trees”[12]. The Torah compares man to a tree[13]. Based on that verse the commentaries explain that the New Year for trees has special significance and symbolism for man. On Tu B’Shvat the sap begins to rise inside the tree. Although the weather is still cold and winter is far from over, the trees and the natural world have begun to prepare for spring and the rebirth that will transpire. In that sense, Tu B’Shvat is also a celebration of nature and the ubiquitous miracles of the natural world.

Perek Shirah[14] states:, “The trees of the field say, “Then the trees of the forest will sing before G-d who will come to judge the land”.” Perek Shirah teaches us that the whole world is in a perennial state of song. The sun, moon, oceans, trees, and humankind sing to G-d through their mere existence. Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees, is inevitably connected with the song of the natural world.
          The holiday of Tu B’Shvat invariably coincides with the Shabbos when parshas Beshalach is read[15]. On Shabbos, the whole physical world is elevated. The food, sleep, and general enjoyment of Shabbos all become conduits of holiness and Service to G-d. In other words, on Shabbos the whole world becomes part of the “song of Shabbos”.
When Klal Yisroel sang the Song of the Sea they were able to recognize how everything was part of a Master Plan, including the exile and servitude. All of their pain and anguish now became part of their song. Tu B’Shvat is a day to take note and appreciate the beauty and greatness of the natural world which we constantly take for granted. It is a day to internalize the timeless words of Dovid Hamelech, “My soul shall bless G-d” and to appreciate the fact that all of G-d’s creations are part of a song of praise to His Eternal Name.

“Then Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang this song to G-d”
“On Shabbos we sit in song and praise”

[1] portion read from the prophets
[2] i.e. the Four Parshios – Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, Hachodesh
[3] Nefesh Shimshon – Shabbos. Essay is entitled “Kabbolas Shabbos- Kabbolas p’nei haShechinah (Accepting Shabbos- Accepting the Divine Presence)”
[4] the special prayer recited at the onset of Shabbos
[5] It is for this reason that a woman can never adequately describe the pain of childbirth to one who has never felt labor pains.
[6] It’s often said that words are simply inefficient to explain the feeling of sublime joy that a parent experiences on the night of a child’s wedding. The only way the parent can express it is by dancing with his/her entire body.
[7] in the zemer, Yom Zeh l’Yisroel
[8] It is also noteworthy that the Torah was given on Shabbos
[9] Moshe informed the nation that although one portion of manna fell each day, on Friday a double potion would descend as no manna would fall during Shabbos.
[10] Tu B’Shvat/Chamisha Asar B’Shavt
[11] i.e. Tu B’Shvat is the deadline. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l notes that the reason for our joy on Tu B’Shvat is to celebrate the completion of the mitzvah.
[12] Rosh Hashnana 1:1
[13] Devorim 20:19-20
[14] Perek Shirah, literally "A Chapter Of Song," is an ancient text that is at least two thousand years old; some commentaries even attribute its authorship to King David! It takes the form of a list of eighty-four elements of the natural world, including elements of the sky and of the earth, plants, birds, animals, and insects, attaching a verse from the Torah to each. The concept behind Perek Shirah is that everything in the natural world teaches us a lesson in philosophy or ethics, and the verse gives a clue as to what that lesson is. The result is the "song" of the natural world, the tapestry of spiritual lessons for life that the natural world is telling us.
[15] either the week prior or the following week

Thursday, January 2, 2014


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

STAM TORAH                                  

Six years ago on a Sunday evening, the Staum family was sitting together in our Living Room. Our (then) five year old son Shalom was listening intently to a children’s tape which dramatizes the events of the exodus from Egypt. The tape included a song with the lyrics, “We are free! We are free! No longer slaves to Pharaoh, we are free!” Shalom asked me “Who was free?” When I explained to him that the B’nei Yisroel were free, our (then) three year old daughter Aviva Rochel chimed in, “I also free. I not two-and-a-half anymore! I free!” 

 “One more plague I shall bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that He shall send you forth from here. Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels.”[1]
Rashi, quoting the Medrash, notes that G-d requested that Moshe appeal to the Jews that they request valuables from their Egyptian neighbors, so that our patriarch Avrohom would not have a complaint against G-d, as it were. Otherwise Avrohom would say that G-d carried out in full measure the prophecy that his offspring would be oppressed, but not the companion promise that the Jews would leave their captivity laden with great wealth.[2]
Was G-d only concerned that Avrohom would have a justifiable complaint? Doesn’t any decent person strive to keep his word?
The Dubner Maggid offers a novel explanation based on a parable: There was a young child prodigy who had uncanny musical talent and was invited to play his violin in a prominent symphony orchestra. At the end of a month of performances the conductor handed the young wunderkind a sizeable check. The young boy arrived home crestfallen. When he handed his father the check the father immediately understood his son’s deep disappointment. He set up an appointment to meet with the conductor in his office. The father explained, “Although you have been most generous and have paid my son well, he does not yet understand the value of paper money and checks. In his mind, all of his hard work was paid off with a silly piece of paper. Therefore, I am requesting that you give him a bag of lollipops and give me the check. I will put the check into a savings account so that when he matures he will be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor. But until then he will feel more satisfied with a couple of sweets.”
When G-d promised Avrohom that his children would emerge from Egypt laden with great wealth, he was not referring to material wealth. Rather, he was referring to Torah, the greatest treasure in the universe; the very purpose of creation. However, at the time of the exodus the nation was spiritually immature and could not yet appreciate the value of the supreme treasure they were destined to receive.
Although G-d never wavered on his original promise to grant them great wealth, to the Jews at that time receiving the Torah was tantamount to an immature child receiving a check. G-d was concerned that Avrohom, their loving father, would prevail upon G-d to grant them ‘wealth’ they could appreciate, material physical wealth. He would counter that just as the first portion of the prophecy was fulfilled in a manner that the Jews could comprehend, so too the conclusion of the prophecy should be fulfilled in a manner that they could comprehend and appreciate. The real treasure was detained until they were spiritually mature enough to appreciate its value at Sinai. In the meanwhile G-d granted them material wealth to placate their father.  

The narration of the haggadah on Seder night commences with the declaration, “הא לחמא עניא די אכלו אבהתנא בארעא דמצרים - This is the bread of poverty that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.”
Ibn Ezra notes that matzah was the actual food that the Egyptians served the Jews when they were enslaved, because it was satiating and cheap. Yet, at the conclusion of the narration, when we elucidate the central foods of the seder - the pesach sacrifice[3], matzah, and marror - we describe the matzah as the food that symbolizes redemption. The haggadah states, “Matzah - why do we eat this unleavened bread? Because the dough of our forefathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed is He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them…”
What is the true symbolism of the matzah? Is it the food of lowly tormented slaves or is it the food of a dignified and proud freed nation?
The transition that transpired at the exodus was not one of slavery to freedom. Rather it was a profound shift from one form of servitude to another. The Gemara[4] explains that the celebration of the exodus was based on the fact that now the nation was free to serve G-d. “Praise Him - the servants of G-d, and not the servants of Pharaoh.” 
The Shelah Hakadosh notes that the purpose of the Egyptian bondage was to ingrain in the burgeoning Jewish nation the concept of complete subjugation to a higher authority. The servitude to Pharaoh, with all of its barbarism and cruelty, laid the groundwork for their acceptance of the yoke of G-d with complete devotion and subjugation. Thus, although the exodus redeemed the Jews from tyranny, it did not exonerate them from servitude. Rather they were able to be slaves to the Master they desired, G-d.  
It is only when one wholeheartedly dedicates himself to Torah, with all of its dictates, laws, and expectations that he can truly experience freedom from the lure of materialism. The exodus from Egypt, which allowed the Jews to accept upon themselves the yoke of G-d, granted them the ability to transcend their desires and earthly whims.
Matzah is the bread of slaves! At the beginning of the haggadah the matzah represents our involuntary slavery to Pharaoh, while at the end of the seder it represents our joy for the opportunity to become G-d’s slaves!

The gemara[5] relates that there is an obligation for one to juxtapose prayer[6] with a detailed mention of the redemption[7]. The gemara states that one who fulfills this law is guaranteed a place of residence in the World to Come.
Rabbeinu Yonah explains that G-d redeemed us from Egypt solely so that we could become His Servants. Therefore, immediately after mentioning the exodus it must be followed with prayer, the greatest expression of our subservience to G-d. There cannot be a pause between redemption and prayer just as there was no lull in our subservience at the time of the exodus. The subservience to Pharaoh was immediately transformed into complete subservience to G-d. One who appreciates this concept will live his life in complete subjugation to G-d, and will inevitably merit a portion in the World to Come.

The holiday of Pesach celebrates our freedom, albeit not freedom from servility. Our greatest national joy is for the opportunity to carry the banner of Torah aloft, the greatest spiritual treasure.
Perhaps we could not appreciate the Torah’s value at the moment of the exodus, but at Sinai we recognized that it was then that we were receiving the true wealth promised to Avrohom Avinu. By becoming slaves of G-d alone, we had, and have, the opportunity to penetrate and free ourselves from the shackles of physicality and hedonism, to which our culture is enslaved!

“We are free! We are free!”
 Praise Him - the servants of G-d, and not the servants of Pharaoh”

[1] Shemos 11:1-2
[2] see Bereishis 15:14-15
[3] symbolized by the roasted shank-bone on the Seder-plate
[4] Megillah 14a
[5] Berachos 4b
[6] specifically the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, which represents the central component of prayer, incorporating the supplications for our daily needs
[7] סומך גאולה לתפילה