Thursday, May 29, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          A man was driving down an old country road one afternoon, when his car suddenly sputtered and stopped. He jumped out of his car, and flipped up the hood to survey the situation. He surmised that if he only had a screwdriver he would be able to fix everything and be back on the road in mere minutes.
The man noticed that down the road there was an old farmhouse. The man was overjoyed and he began walking toward the house. The man reassured himself that the farmer was sure to have a screwdriver and would surely not mind lending it to him for a few minutes.
          As the man walked down the street he thought to himself that the farmer, noticing his desperation, may decide not to be altruistic. “Perhaps he’ll charge me to use his screwdriver. That would not be very nice, but what can you do?” he reasoned, “I guess at the moment the screwdriver is worth a couple of dollars to me.” Soon the man was walking past the gate in front of the little old house. He continued thinking, “What if the farmer decides to charge me twenty-five dollars for the screwdriver? How disgusting! But, I guess I would cough up the money. After all, what choice do I have out in this forbidden town?”
          Walking up the little path, the man agitatedly thought that perhaps the farmer will charge him fifty dollars for the usage of his screwdriver. “Can you imagine the audacity? To take such advantage of a weary traveler! How can anyone be so heartless?” “Still,” the man thought, “what is my other option?”
As the man walked up the steps and began knocking at the font door he continued thinking, “What if the farmer doesn’t stop at fifty? What if he decides to charge me a hundred dollars? A HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A LOUSY SCREWDRIVER?! THIS GUY MUST BE COMPLETELY NUTS!”
Suddenly, the door swung open and the farmer smiling jovially and gregariously said, “Howdy”. But before he could say anything more the man slammed the door back in the stunned famer’s face and shouted, “YOU CAN JUST KEEP YOUR DUMB SCREWDRIVER YOU SELFISH OLD MAN! I AINT PAYING YOU A DIME!” With that he made an about face and stormed off.   

The concept and procedure of the Sotah is unusual, not only because it involved supernatural intervention, but also because it seems to defy the Torah’s normal judicial process[1]. In a Jewish court, for testimony to have credence two witnesses must testify[2]. If so, why are two witnesses not sufficient to prove the Sotah’s innocence?
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l explained that the reality is that once a husband begins to suspect his wife his trust will not be restored even if the court rules that she is innocent. Legal decisions do little to alter human emotions. In fact, even if a prophet would prophesize to the husband of his wife’s innocence the husband would remain skeptical. Despite the fact that there is an obligation for one to believe every word that a prophet says, the deep scar of even mere suspicion can only be removed when one is absolutely sure that the allegations are unfounded. Only the authentication of G-d Himself, as it were, has the capacity to assuage the anger that stems from the husband’s suspicions.  
It is for this reason that G-d allowed His Ineffable Holy Name to be erased for the process of the Sotah. The point of the Sotah process was not to punish the adulterer. Au contraire! The point was to prove the blamelessness of the innocent so that she and her husband can once again live in peace and harmony and without doubts. The gemara[3] expresses this sentiment when it states: “How great is peace between husband and wife, for the Torah says that the Name of the Holy One, blessed is He, which is written with holiness, should be erased in the waters.”    

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski relates that he was once reading a letter that someone sent to him. In the letter the writer described the deep pain of being the subject of spousal abuse. The writer described the how controlling and emotionally abusive the spouse was. Rabbi Twerski wrote that by the time he finished reading the article he was seething at the husband and was filled with all sorts of negative thoughts about him. But when he came to the end of the letter he realized that the husband was the writer and his wife was the abuser.
Rabbi Twerski continued that he had to reread the entire letter bearing that new bit of information in mind in order to completely change his perspective and mental attitude regarding the situation and the individuals involved. It was not enough just to “take in” that new piece of information. He had to reread the letter so that he could undo all of the negative emotional feelings that had been triggered. Undoing emotionally rooted ideas and feelings is a challenge.

Human beings are primarily driven by our emotions. The ideas that we form in our heads, rational or not, create the reality we experience. At times we find ourselves arguing with someone who just “doesn’t seem to get it”. Our rationale and logic can be crystal clear and yet the other person obdurately refuses to acknowledge it. The reason is because the debate has entered the realm of emotions. Once an argument becomes emotional logic is no longer adequate to prove one’s point. When it becomes an emotional matter, those emotional needs (e.g. pride, empathy, validation, ego, etc.) must be met before logic can be used to settle the issue.

The peril of the Sotah is that the husband’s suspicious are deeply emotional. A good marriage is built on trust. When that trust has been breached the pain is very deep. G-d Himself must intervene before the damage can be rectified!  
If the Sotah is the symbol of faithlessness and fickleness than Klal Yisroel’s commitment to Torah is the symbol of faith and conviction. When G-d offered Klal Yisroel the Torah, the nation exuberantly proclaimed in unison, “we will do and we will hear”. It was far greater than an intellectual or logical declaration. It was an emotional and passionate avowal and affirmation of a faith that would transcend time, place, and all challenges.
The gemara[4] relates that a Sadducee once witnessed the great Amoraic sage Rava immersed in his learning. Rava was so engrossed in his study of Torah that he was completely oblivious to the fact that he was sitting on the fingers of his hand and causing blood to rush to the surface. "Impulsive people that you are!" the Sadducee mocked. "You were impulsive when you put your mouths before your ears[5], and you are impulsive now in your self neglect. You first should have determined whether the Torah you were being offered did not demand more of you than is possible and only then accept it."
Rava well understood that the heathen was interpreting his seemingly superhuman concentration on Torah study as evidence that the Jewish People had ‘bitten off more than they could chew’ when they accepted the Torah.
Rava responded by explaining the difference between the non-Jewish attitude of suspicion toward G-d’s offer of the Torah and the Jewish attitude of total trust.
Rashi explains the reply of Rava with inimitable eloquence: "We related to G-d with total trust in the manner of those who act out of love. We relied upon Him that He would not impose upon us any responsibility which we were not capable of fulfilling."
Rava essentially answered that Klal Yisroel was not guilty of being impulsive. They rather had complete confidence that when the Creator offers a challenge He also provides the ability to meet it. It may be true that from a rational vantage point the acceptance of the Torah seemed illogical. However, the Jews were emotionally connected and therefore no impediment could hinder them from accepting its yoke with love.
The holiday of Shavuos marks the anniversary of our initial willingness and eagerness to accept the Torah. Perhaps the most important aspect of Shavuos is our demonstration that we too are ready to accept the Torah with emotional excitement and love, despite the challenges that such a commitment entails. During the over 3320 years since our ancestors stood at Sinai, rivers of our blood have ‘spurted out from our fingers’. Yet we remain immersed in the study of Torah and living by its dictates, the jeers and mockery of our enemies not withstanding.
The gemara[6] relates that although there is a Tannaic dispute about how one should conduct himself during Jewish holidays, everyone agrees that on the holiday of Shavuos - the holiday when we received the Torah - one must eat lavish meals, and rejoice in an external ostentatious manner. It is not sufficient for one to accept the Torah out of coercion or even rote; it must be done with excitement and joy. One must demonstrate “tzufreedinkeit”, i.e. extreme happiness, that he was granted the opportunity to bear the yoke of the Torah and to be a member of the Chosen people with a unique mission. Shavuos is the celebration of our having been chosen for that special mission. “You have chosen us from among all of the nations, you have loved us, and You wanted us.”  

“How great is peace”
“We will do and we will hear”

[1] The Torah’s discussion of the Sotah (wayward wife) is among the most fascinating passages in the Torah. The passage deals with a married woman who behaved in an indecorous manner, giving her husband good reason to suspect her of engaging in an adulterous relationship. The Torah delineates a miraculous process which proves that she either did sin which would result in both her and her illicit partner dying a vile death, or conclusively show that she was faithful, thereby restoring the trust and love in her marriage. If she was unfaithful, the mere fear of being forced to drink the Sotah waters would hopefully be sufficient to induce her confession. If she did confess the marriage would end in divorce but there would be no further punishment because there was no judicial evidence of her guilt.    
The Sotah was brought to the Temple and forced to drink the ‘Sotah-waters’. The Torah passages that discuss the Sotah were written on special paper and dipped into the Sotah-waters. All of the writing on the document - including the Holy Name of G-d - would be erased when it was submerged in the water. If the woman was guilty she would die in a grotesque fashion.
[2] In fact, the testimony of two witnesses is tantamount to having testimony written and sealed on an official document.
[3] Chullin 141a
[4] Shabbos 88a
[5] i.e. when you declared at Sinai "we shall do" before you said "we shall hear"
[6] Pesachim 68a

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


A man once found an eagle’s egg and put it in the nest -
of a barnyard hen. The eagle hatched and grew up with the rest
of a brood of chicks and though he didn’t look at all the same.
He scratched the earth for worms and bugs and played a chicken’s game.

The eagle clicked and cackled; he made a chicken’s sound.
He thrashed his wings, but only flew a few feet off the ground.
That’s high as chickens fly, the eagle had been told.
The years passed and one day when the eagle was quite old-

He saw something magnificent flying very high
Making great majestic circles up there in the sky
He’d never seen the likes of it; “What’s that?” he asked in awe
While he watched in wonder the grace & beauty that he saw.

“Why that’s an eagle,” someone said. He belongs up there; it’s clear
Just as we- since we are chickens- belong earthbound down here.”
The old eagle just accepted that- most everybody does.
And he lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

--Charles Osgood

        “G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner, according to the insignia of their fathers’ household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of the Meeting, shall they encamp.”[1]
        Throughout their forty-year sojourn through the desert, Klal Yisroel maintained a specific marching formation, with specific tribes paired with others on their defined side of the Mishkan. Each tribe also possessed a unique flag that proudly symbolized and heralded the unique characteristics of that tribe.
        The Medrash on this verse cites a conversation between the nations of the world and Klal Yisroel, based on verses in Shir HaShirim: “Holy and great were the Jews (when they marched) with their flags. All of the nations gazed upon them and wondered about them, “Who is this that gazes down from atop, (brightening like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, brilliant as the sun, awesome as the bannered Host of Kings)?”[2] The nations said to them (i.e. the Jewish nation), “Turn away; turn away, O who is perfect!” Cling to us and to come to us and we will transform you into rulers and dignitaries… “Turn away; turn away and we shall choose nobility from you!”…Yisroel however replies, “What can you bestow upon us, the complete ones”, what greatness can you give us, perhaps (you can grant us greatness that parallels our marching in the desert when we) “encircled the camps!”[3]
        The nation felt great pride because of their unique formation of encampment in the desert and their flags. What was the greatness of the flags?
        Ateres Mordechai, Rabbi Mordechai Rogov zt’l, explained that the key to the greatness of the flags is to be found in a meticulous reading of the verse’s terminology, “Each man by his banner.” Klal Yisroel was prideful of the fact that each tribe maintained its own banner, representing their efforts to fulfill their tribe’s individual goals and objectives. Each man, each tribe, accepted his banner's mandate with enthusiasm. They did not dissent their position or protest, nor did they attempt to exchange their responsibility for that of another. There was no jealousy or envy. Everyone performed what was expected of him and did not impinge on anyone else.
Rabbi Rogov continues by citing a poignant story that reinforces this idea: One Erev Yom Kippur after the Ma’ariv service, the Bais HaLevi[4] noticed one of the community's wealthiest members reciting Tehillim in the back of the synagogue. The Bais HaLevi approached the man and asked him what the punishment is for one who deserts the army? The surprised wealthy replied that a deserter is condemned to death. The Bais HaLevi then asked him what the punishment is for an infantryman who decides to desert his post and join the cavalry? The wealthy man again replied that he too is deemed a deserter and is condemned to death.
The Bais HaLevi then informed the wealthy man that he himself is culpable of the same crime. He explained that G-d has various divisions within His People. There are those who are foot soldiers. They are the impoverished who lack the ability to support others. Their task is to recite Tehillim and to serve G-d despite their poverty. Then there are wealthy folk who ride in elegant coaches pulled by mighty steeds. They are granted wealth by G-d so that they can engage in good deeds and selfless kindness. Their role is to support and sustain others.
The Rebbe explained: “Tonight, is the eve prior to the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. In our city of Brisk, there are countless people who are so destitute that they lack basic needs. Someone who possesses your financial capacity should be out on the streets, seeking out those in need and offering assistance. You should work so tirelessly helping others that you should be so emotionally and physically drained that you simply lack the strength to recite Tehillim.
“From the fact that I see you here reciting Tehillim, it is clear that you have not fulfilled your duty. Leave the Tehillim for somebody else; go out and perform your responsibility while you still can!"

The Mishna in Avos[5] states, "Who is a strong man? One who overcomes his evil inclination!" The Bais HaLevi noted that the vernacular of the Mishna was specifically that one must overcome his evil inclination, as opposed to the evil inclination of someone else. The rich man must overcome his inclination to withhold charity, while the poor man must defeat his evil inclination which restrains him from reciting extra Tehillim. Every individual has his own role and every individual is faced with his own unique challenges and hindrances.

The Gemara[6] expounds the verse[7], “Has He not created you and firmed you?” with two homiletical interpretations. The first explanation is, “G-d made bases (Kenim) in man. If those physical bases are reversed, man cannot live.” The second explanation was stated in the name of Rabbi Meir: G-d made Yisroel like a great city that has everything: Kohanim , prophets, ministers, and kings.
Rabbi Rogov explained that both explanations are connected. The reign of all kings, and the fulfillment of all various roles, can only be accomplished if every individual is performing his own task. When every man recognizes the “base” that G-d has given him and embraces his role, then kings will be kings, prophets will be prophets, and priests will be priests. However, when one individual tries to usurp the flag of his friend that is the beginning of the downfall of the entire nation.

Flags have been a symbol of human achievement since time immemorial. They have been used to lead armies to victory, to claim ownership of vast territories, and to crown mankind's greatest achievements. Flags stir up emotions within us that few other symbols can. A flag bearing the insignia or a representation of its people, blows in the wind  representing that nation’s staunchness to stand up to the tempests of time and not to be daunted by the gales and vicissitudes inevitable to national growth. That piece of colored cloth bears powerful significance. That is why burning a flag is such a potent statement. To one who sees the flag as a symbol of something great, burning it is a vicious and heinous affront.

Every Jew has his own inherent flag. It is incumbent upon him to recognize the value of his flag and to hoist it proudly at full mast. The role of parents, teachers, and educators is to help each of their children realize the splendor and beauty of his/her unique flag. Every person must be proud of the individuality of his flag while realizing that his flag is a part of a much greater flag as well.
The verse in Tehillim[8] states, “He (G-d) is the Healer of the brokenhearted, the One who binds up all their sorrows. He counts the number of the stars, to each He assigns names.” What is the connection between the fact that G-d heals broken hearts and that He has a name for every star?
One of the greatest forces that debilitate and paralyze growth is despair and a sense of worthlessness. When a person does not recognize his own value he becomes skeptical of what he can contribute.
When one looks at the stars which are so vast and boundless he becomes completely overwhelmed by their seeming infiniteness. Yet, G-d has a name for each and every one. Every star was strategically placed, granted a certain magnitude of strength, and has its own mission. To us the sky may seem like a conglomerate of small lights, but to G-d each of those sparkling lights is a star with a special name and mission. The stars symbolize that we too possess our own uniqueness. On the one hand we are part of a greater whole, but on the other hand, each part of that whole maintains its own greatness.
There is no greater way to heal a broken heart than to help that heart realize that its beating has immeasurable value. The significance of our individual lives is of utmost importance. Without any one of us the Kingship of G-d would be incomplete; the flag of Klal Yisroel would only fly at half-mast.
“Each man by his banner”
“He counts the number of the stars, to each He assigns names”

[1] Bamidbar 2:1-2
[2] Shir HaShirim 5:10
[3] Shir HaShirim 7:1
[4] Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l (1820-1892)
[5] 4:1
[6] Chullin 56b
[7] Devorim 32:6
[8] 147:4

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          A cow and a chicken were walking down the street together one afternoon. They were admiring the sights when, suddenly, the chicken became very excited. “Hey cow, take a look at that billboard. Do you see the advertisement? We are famous!” The cow slowly turned its head to see an advertisement for quality beef and eggs. The cow studied it for a moment and then dejectedly turned its head back down and continued walking silently.
The chicken squawked, “Aren’t you proud to be a celebrity?” The cow wryly replied, “I understand why you are excited, for you it’s just a small contribution. But for me that requires a full commitment!” 

          The final parsha of Chumash Vaykira commences with a beautiful detailed list of blessings that Klal Yisroel would merit, “If My ways you shall follow.” Rashi explains that following in G-d’s ways entails “ameilus baTorah” toiling to study and comprehend Torah.
          The commentators question the vernacular of the pasuk. The root-word, “chok” refers to laws that were commanded without explanation or reason. Mitzvos such as shaatnez[1] and Parah Adumah[2] are classic examples of chukim. We adhere to such laws simply because G-d commanded us to do so. Toiling in Torah study however, hardly seems like a precept without reason.
Torah was the purpose of creation, the infallible Word of G-d, which transcends time and place. It seems rather obvious why it is important to constantly engage in study of Torah. If so, why does the Torah utilize the word “b’chukosai”, which has an implication that it is a commandment we observe without understanding the reason?
          The word “chok” is the root of the word “chakuk” which means to engrave[3]. When something is written on a piece of paper, although the writing is visible on the paper one cannot say that the words are part of the paper. They are merely written on the surface of the paper. However, when something is engraved onto a piece of silver or burned into a piece of wood, the writing becomes an inextricable component of the vessel/slab. The writing becomes fused into it. 
          When the Torah instructs us to perform specific commandments without offering a logical reason it is called a ‘chok’ in the sense that the mitzvah must be “chokuk” upon our hearts. It must be engraved on our hearts and ingrained in our souls so that we perform them out of sheer devotion to the Word of G-d.
          It is for this reason that toiling in Torah is referred to as “b’chukosai”. Although we understand that Torah study is so vital, our reason for immersing ourselves in constant study must transcend logic and rationale. Our attitude toward Torah study must be because we recognize that it is our spiritual lifeline and, therefore, it must be ingrained in our hearts.
“For it is our life and the length of our days and in it we will toil day and night.” “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it and its supporters will become wealthy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all of its pathways are peaceful.” We must appreciate and recognize the centrality of Torah in our lives and in the creation and continuation of all of humanity.
          The gemara also explains that chok is an expression of sustenance[4]. Torah is our spiritual nourishment; the sole guarantee of our eternity as the Nation of G-d[5].

          The holiday of Lag BaOmer includes the celebration of the life and legacy of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The Gemara[6] relates in detail the story of Rabbi Shimon’s escape from the hands of the Romans who wanted to execute him. Together with his son Rabbi Elazar, they hid in a cave for thirteen years. They sustained themselves from a brook of fresh water and a carob tree. Throughout that time they did nothing but study Torah and pray.
          Rabbi Shimon is the author of the holy and mystical Zohar, the source of kabbalah, which reveals the esoteric spiritual ‘secrets’ of Torah. When he revealed those hidden parts of Torah to the world, he also revealed a powerful spiritual light. It is for that reason that we light fires and “add light” on Lag BaOmer with great bonfires.   

          Shulchan Aruch[7] notes that the holidays of Purim and Lag BaOmer always fall out on the same day of the week, indicating a connection between them. Both are weekdays, and both are holidays of intense joy. Both allude to the essential holiness of even the simplest “weekday” Jew and both are holidays when one has the ability to reignite his spiritual spark.
          On a deeper level, the victory of the holiday of Purim precipitated a mass wave of repentance and reacceptance of Torah. In fact, the reacceptance of Torah on Purim was, in a sense, deeper and more vital than the original acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. Although at Sinai the Jews exuberantly accepted the Torah, there was a level of coercion. After the Purim miracle however, they recommitted themselves to Torah out of sheer joy, devotion, and love[8]. The Purim holiday is a celebration of nationally renewed reaffirmation of our allegiance and complete subjugation to Torah. 
          Lag BaOmer too is the celebration of a complete commitment which brought about a revelation of Torah. Rabbi Shimon’s total immersion in Torah allowed him to gain access into the greatest secrets of Torah and to reveal many of those secrets to his disciples.
          Lag BaOmer also marks the beginning of the final third of Sefiras HaOmer. It is essentially the final stretch before the holiday of Shavuos, the annual celebration of our acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. The lesson of Lag BaOmer is that Torah requires complete commitment. It must be ingrained within us in order to become part of our essence. 

          Rabbi Shimon was a disciple of the great Rabbi Akiva. One of the many legendary statements of Rabbi Akiva is quoted in the final Mishnah in Tractate Yoma: “Rabbi Akiva said: Fortunate are you, O Israel! Before whom do you cleanse yourselves? Who cleanses you? Your Father in heaven! And it says: “The mikveh (ritual bath) of Israel is G-d.”[9] Just as a mikveh purifies the contaminated, so does the Holy One, blessed is He, purify Israel.”
          The waters of the mikveh symbolize the amniotic fluids that surround a fetus in its first experience of life. When one emerges from the mikveh it is a symbol of rebirth, a chance to begin anew reinvigorated. In order for one to purify himself in a mikveh, he must completely submerge himself in its waters. If even a finger remains above water, his entire body remains in its state of impurity.
          In order for one to merit spiritual cleansing he must totally commit himself to G-d. Even if one whose actions are lacking, if he is mentally committed, that is sufficient to warrant some level of connection with G-d. The only caveat is that it must be a true commitment, not merely a few trite contributions!

“If My ways you shall follow”
“Fortunate are you, O Israel”

[1] not wearing clothing that contain a combination of wool and linen
[2] the law that necessitates one who is impure via a dead body to be sprinkled with the ashes of the Red Heifer
[3] see commentary of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, Bereishis 49:10
[4] see Beitzah 16a
[5] The previous thoughts were based on the derasha  of Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bechukosai 5767.
[6] Shabbos 33b (It is fascinating that the saga of Rashbi is found on daf 33, in that the day we celebrate Rashbi’s life is the 33rd day of the Omer)
[7] 428:1
[8] See Shabbos 88a
[9] Yirmiyah 17:13

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          In one of the European shtetlach (villages) in days of yore, there was one particularly rambunctious youth who was causing an uproar in his cheder (school). He was a sharp child but he was also vivacious and impulsive, with little interest in listening to what his melamed (school-teacher) was teaching. Finally, in desperation, the young boy was brought before the sagacious Dayan (judge) of the town.
The Dayan began by giving the young boy a harangue about the importance of time, the holiness and immeasurable value of Torah study, and the detriment of not studying adequately. The Dayan quickly noticed that his words were falling on deaf ears and he would have to utilize a novel approach if he had any hope of imparting any message to the boy.
“You know, I am the Dayan of this town,” he began again, “and I would like to solicit your advice about a pending case awaiting my adjudication.” When the young boy heard that the Dayan wanted his opinion he perked up. The Dayan continued, “It’s a most unusual case. The litigants are the shoes of the village versus the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls). Not too long ago the shoes approached me and voiced a strong complaint. They explained that there were a group of ten cows who were raised together on a farm. All the cows ate the same food and engaged in the same labor. There was absolutely no difference in value, robustness, or quality between any of the ten. Then one day, a distinguished looking Rabbi with a long coat and a sparkling white beard appeared on the farm. The Rabbi informed the farmer that he wished to purchase five cows; he needed their hide so that he could produce parchment in order to write a Sefer Torah.
“The first five cows were selected to go along with the Rabbi. After a few months they were indeed transformed into Torah scrolls. From that point onward they led a regal life. When they would enter a room, every person would jump to his feet and stand with silent reverence. The people would kiss the Torah as it was lovingly carried to the special lectern made for its reading. For decades to come people will embrace it, occasionally even sing and dance with it, according it the utmost respect. Then when it falls into disrepair it will be laid to rest respectfully.
“The remaining five cows however, were purchased by a shoemaker. They were sliced into bits of leather and made into shoes. They are trampled on and they wallow in the mud and debris of the streets. When people arrive at home, they throw off the smelly shoes at the door and leave them there until it is time for their next excursion. When the shoes wear out they are haphazardly cast into the garbage.
“The shoes complained that they had the same right to become Sifrei Torah as their comrades. It was unfair that they had become lowly shoes while their friends had been elevated into holy scrolls.”
          As he concluded his narrative, the Dayan asked the young boy how he would rule in this case?
The young boy quickly responded that he ruled in favor of the shoes. “Their complaint is justified. Collect all the shoes and transform them into Torahs and transform the Torahs into shoes!”
The Dayan gently replied, “I hear what you are saying. But as the Dayan of this city I want to tell you how I ruled. I explained to the shoes that although perhaps they have the same right to become Torah Scrolls, they must understand the arduous process involved in creating Torah Scrolls. When the hide is stripped off the cow it is beaten repeatedly until it becomes a relatively thin sheet. The different parts of the hide have different names, statuses, and laws (e.g. duchsusya, klaf, etc.) When the hide has been sufficiently processed and prepared the scribe uses a razor to painstakingly etch thin lines across every single column. The laws of the writing are extremely complex and it is a slow meticulous process before the Torah is finally completed.
“I told the shoes that they can become Sifrei Torah if they are willing to endure the travails and pain necessary for that transformation to occur!”
The Dayan smiled, “When the shoes heard my proposition they rescinded their argument. They agreed that it was far easier for them to remain lowly shoes than to have to suffer through the process of becoming holy Torah scrolls.”
The Dayan looked poignantly into the eyes of the youngster sitting enraptured before him. “You – my young friend - must decide what you want to become in life. Do you want to take the path of least resistance and become a pair of shoes, or are you ready to undergo the process necessary to transform yourself into a living Sefer Torah?!”
The young boy was so moved by the Dayan’s innovative message that he dedicated himself to his studies with incredible gusto and enthusiasm. He later became a beloved Rebbe in the noted Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Yerushalayim for over sixty years.

The Torah instructs that every seventh year “shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for G-d; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.” This requirement to observe the laws of shemitah - the sabbatical year - is challenging, to say the least. For a farmer whose chief livelihood comes from the production of his land, to allow his fields to remain fallow and uncultivated for an entire year requires tremendous conviction.
The Torah prefaces its directive regarding shemitah by stating that, “G-d spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai[1]. Rashi wonders why the Torah points out that this commandment was issued on Mount Sinai. “What is the connection between shemitah and Mount Sinai; weren’t all the mitzvos commanded at Sinai? (This reference teaches us that) just as the general laws as well as the finer details regarding the laws of shemitah were instructed at Sinai, so too all of the general laws as well as the finer details of all the mitzvos were instructed at Sinai.”
What is the inherent lesson of shemitah? Why was shemitah chosen as the mitzvah that represents this vital concept that, not only the general commandment, but even the details involving every commandment, were instructed at Sinai?
The Medrash[2] quotes the verse “The mighty ones with strength who fulfill His Word”[3], and offers two explanations: “To what is this verse referring? Rabbi Yitzchok said it refers to those who observe shemitah.” The Medrash explains that most mitzvos entail performing an action for a day, a week, or a month. But shemitah is a far greater challenge. The farmer must not work his field for an entire year. His protective fences must be left open and he must overcome his natural tendency to say anything in protestation to those trampling his field and freely taking its produce.
The second explanation of the verse is quoted in the name of Rav Huna b’shem Rabbi Eliezer. “(To what is this verse referring?) To Klal Yisroel at the time that they stood at Sinai and prefaced “doing” to “hearing”, i.e. when they stated una voce, “All that G-d has commanded we will do and we will hear.”[4] [This was an unprecedented declaration of obedience and subjugation. In effect, they agreed to “do” whatever was demanded of them, even before “hearing” the explanation and the reason for it.]
Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr zt’l explained that according to the Medrash the most salient aspect of shemitah involved the self-control of the farmer. It particularly refers to the farmer’s silence as he watched others aimlessly parading across his field.
Rabbi Schorr adds that the Medrash does not refer to a farmer who watches agonizingly while biting his lip. Rather, it refers to the farmer who is completely calm and collected, at peace with the entire situation. The fact that he has allowed the source of his livelihood to be open to all does not faze him. It is the Sabbatical of G-d and he has complete faith that G-d will compensate and provide all his needs.
The purpose of Shemitah was to infuse the farmer with this sense of faith that would carry over to the other years as well. The message of Shemitah had to resonate within the farmer so that his faith in G-d would never waver.
How could a farmer be expected to reach such an incredible level of faith? That ability was infused into every Jew at the time of the revelation of Sinai! At the moment when Klal Yisroel unflinchingly and devotedly agreed to accept the Torah sine qua non, they displayed an unprecedented level of desire to connect with G-d. They understood that accepting the Torah entailed accepting a rigid way of life, replete with laws and higher expectations. Yet, they were excited to undertake the yoke of Torah in order to become the elite Nation of G-d.
          This is the meaning of the two explanations of the Medrash. “The mighty ones with strength who fulfill His Word” refers to Klal Yisroel at Sinai as well as to the farmer who observes Shemittah. Both required a certain level of self-abnegation and a desire to place the Will of G-d before personal desires. This is also what Rashi refers to when he explains the inextricable connection between Shemittah and Sinai. Sinai represents the epitome of spiritual strength, overcoming personal motives and desires, and complete subjugation to G-d’s Word. The observance of Shemittah is only possible if the farmer is able to draw inspiration from the example set by his forbearers at Sinai. To fulfill not only the general law, but also all the details and minutiae associated with the mitzvah, required unyielding devotion.

          Pesach Sheni was the day when the second offering of the Korbon Pesach was offered in the Bais Hamikdash. Those who were ritually impure when the Korbon Pesach was offered just prior to the holiday of Pesach were granted an opportunity to offer it thirty days later, on the fourteenth of Iyar.
          Rabbi Yaakov Emden zt’l (Siddur Ya’avetz) explains why the second offering of the Korbon Pesach was specifically offered on the fourteenth of Iyar. “It was revealed to me from the heavens that on this day the matzos which the Jews had baked as they were departing Egypt were used up”. He explains that the spiritual light that emanated at the time of the miracles of the exodus continued to be palpable until then. When the original supply of matzoh was depleted it symbolized that the “spiritual light” of the miracles of the exodus and the holiday of Pesach had faded as well. Therefore, at that point, those who had been unable the first time were able to bring the Korobon Pesach and, so-to-speak, reawaken the “spiritual light” of the holiday again.
          Why did the inspiration from the miracles of Pesach only last thirty days?
          The Shem MiShmuel, quoting his father, the Avnei Nezer, explains that the official time period for preparation for the holiday of Pesach begins thirty days prior.[5]
The effect of something is equal to the magnitude of preparation done beforehand. The more one readies himself and prepares himself for any event, the more he will appreciate the event and the longer it will continue to resonate within him. Since the preparation for Pesach is thirty days, the effect of the holiday lingers for thirty days as well.

          In this world nothing of value can be achieved without sweat, effort, and toil. A healthy marriage, positive relationships, raising good children, being good at a trade, the ability to educate others, and most importantly, becoming a Torah scholar and a Servant of G-d, requires consistent devotion and dedication. The more one invests the more he will reap its benefits.
          The mitzvah of Shemittah - which symbolizes all the mitzvos given at Sinai - serves as a reminder that accepting the yoke of Torah requires self-sacrifice and a genuine desire to fulfill the word of G-d.
“A pair of shoes…or a living Sefer Torah”
“All were instructed at Sinai”

[1] Vayikra 25:1
[2] Vayikra 1:1
[3] Tehillim 103:20
[4] Shemos 24:3
[5] The law is that one commences the study of the laws of every holiday thirty days before the holiday.