Thursday, July 31, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Camp Dora Golding


The king walked into his private chamber one morning to find his son cutting a colorful paper into small pieces. As the king continued approaching and took a closer look at the shredded paper he was mortified. “What are you doing?” he shrieked. The bewildered prince sheepishly replied, “I found this paper with a mess of colors, dots, and words and figured it was an old document. Was it something important?” The king angrily replied, “That paper was a gift from a close friend who is an artist. He presented me with a map of my entire country, completely labeled and color coded. Whenever I feel sad or overwhelmed I love to gaze at the map and admire the borders of my kingdom. But now you have destroyed it. You should have asked me before you cut it.”
The prince felt terrible. “Father, I will reconstruct the map and I will tape it back together.” The king smiled meekly, “That is very kind of you my son; but I’m afraid that will be impossible. There are simply too many fine details and small pieces. You will never be able to properly reconnect all the pieces.” With that the king morbidly left the room.
The king was shocked when the prince approached him a scant twenty minutes later with the entire reconstructed map. “How could you have possibly put it all back together in such a short amount of time?” The prince grinned, “Father, you didn’t realize the true uniqueness of your map.” The prince carefully turned the map over to reveal a portrait of the artist. “When your friend presented you with the map he drew a picture of himself on the reverse side. You were right that I would never be able to reconstruct the map itself. However, when I flipped over the pieces I was easily able to see what parts of the face belonged where. When I finally finished putting the portrait back together I merely had to flip over the paper to see that the map was perfectly in order.”
In his introduction to Chumash Devorim, Ramban writes:
“The subject of this book (Devorim) is known that it is a review of the Torah… But before Moshe began the elucidation of the Torah he began to rebuke them and remind them of their sins – how often they defied him in the wilderness, and yet how much Hakadosh Boruch Hu dealt with them with the attribute of mercy. This (concept was presented to them in order to) call attention to G-d’s kindness towards them, and, in addition, so they would not be chastened by his words, so that they not return to their previous state of corruption… Our teacher Moshe, peace be upon him, therefore informed them that Hakadosh Boruch Hu is compassionate and full of mercy, for forgiveness and pardon are bestowed by Him, may He be blessed...”
          Moshe Rabbeinu was now beginning his soliloquy to the nation. His elongated last will and testament was meant to invigorate the nation and prepare them for the challenges that lay ahead when they began their conquest of Canaan without him. He commenced his discourse with a recounting of the events that occurred throughout their sojourns during the previous forty years. That recounting was a subtle reminder to the nation of all of their mishaps and iniquities.

          Mesillas Yesharim[1] explains that the first step along the path to greatness is the characteristic of zehirus[2]. In order for one to adequately distance himself from sin he must be wary of the tactics of his evil inclination, as well as his own vulnerabilities. One who does not pay heed to his own actions in order to contemplate his undertakings is inferior to an animal which is wary of what is detrimental to it and distances itself from those things.
“One who walks this world without considering whether his way of life is good or bad is like a blind man walking along the seashore, who is in very great danger, and whose chances of being lost are far greater than those of being saved. For there is no difference between natural blindness and self-inflicted blindness, i.e. the shutting of one’s eyes because of his wills and desires- both present the same peril.”
“The prophet Jeremiah lamented about the evil of the men of his generation, about their being plagued with this affliction that their eyes were blind to their actions, their failure to analyze them in order to determine whether they should be engaged in or abandoned. He said about these men ‘No one regrets his wrongdoing…They all turn away in their course like a horse rushing headlong into battle’[3].”

The gemara[4] relates that during the final forty years before the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash there were numerous ominous omens that served as harbingers of imminent devastation and destruction. The historian Josephus wrote that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem red lights flashed across the sky, symbolizing the bloodshed that lay ahead. Visions of chariots galloping across the sky were also noticeable. The kohanim had to struggle mightily to close the doors of the Sanctuary each night. It was as if the doors were swinging open, inviting the enemy to invade and ravage the city.
During the final years of the first Bais Hamikdash too, the prophet Yermiyah exhorted the nation to repent and alter their ways so they would not have to be exiled and the Bais Hamikdash could be spared. But the nation did not hearken to his pleas. They rather believed in their false sense of security and self-righteousness.
In exile G-d does not reveal His messages to us through clear revelation. Rather, His face is “painted on the reverse side of the puzzle”, as it were. If one wishes to seek it he can discern the hidden Hand of G-d emblazoned all over creation.
Moshe began his final message with words of rebuke. However, his integral rebuke was not stated emphatically but was alluded to. One of the ideas Moshe was conveying to the nation is that one must seek out the message. It is not always presented clearly.
That idea transcends all times. We often think that if we were privy to open miracles we would be greater believers. But human nature is not that way. Belief is contingent upon inner heartfelt connection. One can witness the most miraculous events and yet deny the hand of G-d.
The tragedies of Tisha B’av are rooted not only in our original sins, but more profoundly, our rigidity and failure to recognize our need to change and improve. In order to rectify that wrong we must contemplate, analyze, and recognize the Divine Hand and its message as it applies to us in our daily lives.
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Yisroel, on the other side of the Jordan.” Moshe’s seemingly benign recounting was in actuality a strong rebuke, but only to one who internalized its message.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, related that when his Rebbe, Rav Mendel Kaplan zt’l, walked into his Chicago classroom for the first time he hardly spoke a word of English. Rabbi Wein relates how he and his classmates thought the European Rabbi who couldn’t communicate with them didn’t stand a chance. But the next day Rabbi Mendel walked into the classroom with a Chicago Tribune tucked under his arm. In his broken English he told them, “You boys will teach me English and I’m going to teach you how to read the newspaper like a mussar sefer[5]”.
Rabbi Wein would constantly impress upon his students the need to seek out G-d’s Hand in the events that transpire daily, beyond the explanations of political pundits. Although we may be far from worthy from interpreting the Divine reason behind all events, we must still be able to recognize that there is a Divine plan that shapes and directs all events.       

The Shabbos prior to Tisha B’av is titled ‘Shabbos Chazon’ because the haftorah of that Shabbos commences with the words, “Chazon Yeshayahu- the vision of Isaiah”. The haftorah contains the poignant and bitter message that Yeshayah had to convey to Klal Yisroel. In it the prophet related to the nation that His indignation and contempt for their mitzvah observance which had become mere external exercises, ‘going through the motions’, without any passion or ardor.
Nesivos Sholom notes that the word “chazon” connotes an open vision, and revelation. What did G-d reveal to Yeshaya in His harsh diatribe and chastisement against Klal Yisroel?
Nesivos Sholom explains that the prophecy of Yeshaya - along with all of the oppression we have endured throughout our long and bitter exile – demonstrates G-d’s extreme love for His Nation. If G-d did not love us so dearly he would have allowed us to fade into the oblivion of faded glory long ago, like so many other nations. The fact that our punishments and suffering are so severe demonstrates that we are the bearers of a higher purpose and mission. No one enjoys pain and suffering and no one can comprehend the reasons why good people suffer and why there is so much pain in our world. However, it is undeniable that our pain is indicative of the fact that we are unique.
A father maintains a unique relationship with his child in two ways: In the way he demonstrates his love for his child and in the way he punishes his child. Both are done out of love and both are vastly different than the manner in which one rewards or punishes someone else’s child.
It is for this reason that Tisha B’av is also deemed a “mo’ed” and enigmatically has some status as a holiday. During the holidays of the year we recognize G-d through the miracles and blessings that He bestowed and bestows upon us. On Tisha B’av we recognize G-d through the harsh punishment and pain that He has wrought upon us.
This is the vision that Yeshaya was privy to and sought to convey to Klal Yisroel. It is a vision that is only visible to one who searches beyond the surface and seeks to see “the face on the other side of the map.”
Tisha B’av is a painful and sad day. However, it is an integral day on the calendar. In a sense Tisha B’av has preserved us as a people more than any other time of the year, for it jolts us out of our nonchalance and reminds us who we are.
The collective tears that we shed on Tisha B’av are themselves our greatest consolation. Rabbi Akiva expressed that it is because we have witnessed the fulfillment of all the dire and harsh prophecies, we can be confident that we will witness the prophecies which promise the bliss of the eternal redemption when Zion will be consoled along with all the mourners of Israel and Jerusalem![6]

   “Like a blind man walking along the seashore”
 “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Yisroel”

[1] the timeless and classic ethical work of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato zt’l
[2] loosely defined as watchfulness/vigilance
[3] Yermiyah 8:6
[4] Yoma 39b
[5] a source of Torah-based ethics
[6] Makkos 23a

Thursday, July 24, 2014


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


A number of years ago, I was a member of the staff of an organization which suffered from a very heartbreaking tragedy. It was a shocking and painful experience that sent the entire organization into turmoil. Although it was a very sad experience the resilience of the members, as well as the support and encouragement that everyone offered each other was unbelievably inspiring.
 The next year I wrote a detailed diary-like emotional recounting of the events that had occurred. I wanted to disseminate it among those who had been there in order to preserve the closeness we had felt and to remember the tragedy.
Before doing so, I showed it to Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[1], and asked him his opinion. After reading it Rabbi Finkelman replied that although he felt it was worthwhile and penetrating he did not think it was prudent to circulate it at that time. He explained that after a tragedy occurs, G-d forbid, one’s focus must be on recovery and moving on. The goal is to be resilient and not stunted by the potentially debilitating events. Although the tragedy and its lessons must not be forgotten, the immediate response must be to put it on the back-burner, as it were, so that the main focus can be on the organization’s continued growth.
Sometime later I was reading an article that corroborated Rabbi Finkleman’s advice. The author of the article was discussing why there has been a sudden push in recent years for a Torah perspective of the Holocaust to be taught and studied in yeshivos, whereas for the past six decades the topic seemed almost taboo. The author quoted the Novominsker Rebbe shlita who explained that the Torah leaders of the previous generation felt that if we were to dedicate the proper attention that those events warranted and speak about it constantly it would stifle the vital growth that was necessary in the post-war era.
The extent of the resilience of the Torah world is mind-boggling. The incredible amount of students learning Torah today as well as the numerous burgeoning Torah institutions and Torah-awareness being fostered throughout the world is nothing short of miraculous. But that was only able to occur because the survivors who had endured such unspeakable horror and brutality were insistent that they rebuild from the ashes. Had they allowed themselves to wallow in their pain and misery, and justifiably so, our world would look far different. The fact is that many nations who have suffered terrible atrocities were never able to recover.
Klal Yisroel has suffered so much pain and disgrace and has been the subject of so much mockery and disdain, and yet we continue to endure. One of our most potent strengths is our ability to transform our pain into the source of our national pride.[2] We are a nation that will not be destroyed! We avenge our spilled blood by virtue of our eternity and infallibility. That has only been possible because our forbearers have made the incredible sacrifice to squelch their inner pain so that the nation could resiliently recover and rebuild, even after the greatest tragedies.[3]
It is for that reason that the previous generations would not allow itself to overly focus on the unspeakable atrocities that occurred. The utter ghastliness of it all would have been simply too overwhelming and we would never have been able to rebuild. However, at this point over sixty years later, when we have rebuilt to unimaginable proportions, and as the generation who witnessed those unspeakable events is rapidly fading away, we must seize the opportunity to study and preserve what occurred.
We learn it not merely because it is a riveting story of humanity at its best and worst but because of the tremendous lessons that we must personally glean from the heroics of our brethren who suffered. And, because in one way or another, history always repeats itself! 
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.”[4]
The Jewish nation had been wandering in the desert for forty years. They were finally camped just a few days march from the Promised Land. Prior to Moshe delivering his last will and testament[5], the Torah summarizes the entire route that the nation had followed throughout the forty years. The encampments mentioned are not merely a detailed list containing names of places. Rather, each name mentioned alludes to a challenge or test that the nation had faced. Each destination was another opportunity for potential growth, although it often ended up in tragedy or disaster.
It is specifically when the nation was poised to enter the Land, that the Torah mentions this detailed list with all of its vague messages and references. Throughout the forty years there was much growth that the nation had to achieve and they could not focus on their mishaps and sins. But now they could and needed to learn and internalize the lessons of the previous forty years.[6]

After the Torah concludes its narrative of the history of the nation’s travels, it states the laws of one who murders inadvertently. The ‘murderer’ must escape to one of the ‘cities of refuge’ (ir miklat) and remain there until the Kohain Gadol dies. If the murderer leaves the confines of the city a relative of the deceased has permission[7] to avenge the blood of his deceased relative.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, explains that, in essence, parshas Masei represents the culmination of the nation’s sojourn in the desert. The fact that the Jewish Nation was poised to enter the Holy Land also meant that they would have to adjust to a more natural existence. Manna would cease to fall, and the miraculous wells of water would no longer accompany them. The nation would be compelled to work the land and toil for sustenance and survival.
The laws of the inadvertent murderer seem pretty mundane in comparison with the experiences of the previous forty years, including miracles, plagues, battles, the construction of the Mishkan, the Temple Service, and severe and immediate retribution. But prior to entering the land the people had to be reminded that life is more about the mundane than it is about the supernatural. The challenge of life is to find meaning and excitement in the daily grind and not wait for those rare moments of inspiration. The message to the nation was that the rarified spiritual existence in the desert was ending and that they would be challenged to create a just, moral, upstanding, and even holy society in a natural world.[8]
To help this transition occur, memory of the past is vital. The new experiences in the land would have to be viewed from the perspective that sees Jewish life as a continuum following the footsteps of its ancestors. In Rabbi Wein’s words:
 “Faith and confidence will dominate Jewish life when the Jews recall the history of their existence and their survival and triumph over daunting odds.
“Part of the difficulty that Israel faces today in attempting to build a “normal” state and nation is that the early founders of secular Zionism not only denigrated the experiences of the Jewish exile but attempted to erase them from the memory of the “new” Jew they wished to create. Thus, the problems that challenge and disturb us today here in Israel – boundaries and demographics, value systems, and the creation of a kinder, gentler Israel -  are compounded by the lack of memory that could help us make reference to previous generations’ wisdoms and strengths…Amnesia is the greatest malady of our day. All the problems and difficulties that we face are in reality byproducts of that amnesia. Maasei teaches us that we should remember where we have been so that we have a sense of faith and confidence in where we want to now go.”     

Parshas Maasei is always read during the Three Weeks, shortly before Tisha B’av. If there is one ‘holiday’ during the year which jolts the collective Jewish memory it is the tragic and sad day of Tisha B’av. On the day when we mourn the destruction of both Temples as well as every tragedy that has befallen us since time immemorial, we are infused with an appreciation of our identity. Our collective pain raises an inner awareness of who we are and the special mission we bear. We refuse to forget and to allow bygones to be bygones because we emphatically believe that the tragedies of the past are not bygones!
We understand that every event is part of a Master puzzle whose pieces are incomprehensible until the puzzle is completed. Every piece is a vital component of the final picture and therefore no piece can afford to be lost. The morbid and sobering mourning period that culminates with Tisha B’av reminds us that the puzzle is nearing completion and it’s only the final pieces remain to be put in place.  
“Amnesia is the greatest malady of our day”
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel”

[1] Mashgiach In Ohr Hachaim in Queens, and a personal rebbe and mentor
[2] As an example, the Nazis forced the Jews to wear yellow stars so that we could be singled out for debasement and contempt. But many Jews wore them proudly as badges of honor.
[3] This is not to say that they were able to completely bury their pain. There is no one who emerged from the Nazi inferno who did not suffer permanent emotional and/or physical scars. However, their focus was on the betterment of the world of their children. Those who dedicated their lives to rebuilding what was lost - not only physically but also spiritually - did so with superhuman self-sacrifice.
[4] 33:1
[5] i.e. Chumash Devorim, Deuteronomy
[6] In the words of humorist Sam Levenson, “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself!”
[7] according to one opinion he has an obligation
[8] It would take four centuries, until the time of the prophet Shmuel, and the era of King Dovid, and King Shlomo, before that challenge was successfully achieved.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


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

STAM TORAH                                                       

During the summer of 2008, Camp Dora Golding[1] was graced with a four-day visit from basketball star Tamir Goodman. Tamir came to camp to run ‘basketball clinics’, giving tips and instruction drills to help campers improve their game. But far more important than the basketball he taught was the powerful message he conveyed.
Tamir gained popularity when he was featured by the American media for being an unusually talented basketball player who, as an Orthodox Jew, refused to play on Shabbos, and insisted on playing with his yarmulke and tzitzis.
He earned recognition in Sports Illustrated and was interviewed by ESPN, 60 Minutes, and Fox sports. When he was in 11th grade he was ranked the twenty-fifth best high school player in the country. Tamir was dubbed “JJ”, the Jewish Jordan, a title that he has been trying to downplay.
At the age of 16, Tamir received a full scholarship to the prestigious University of Maryland, which boasts one of the top-ranked basketball teams in the country. However, when the University insisted that Tamir play on Shabbos he handed back the scholarship. Almost immediately after returning the scholarship the media went into a frenzy with his story. He had 700 video requests in one week, including many of the major broadcasting stations. The country was enamored by the fact that a person would proudly forfeit his dreams because of his religion and beliefs.   
I asked Tamir how he, as a sixteen year old, had the inner fortitude to turn down such an offer, which was his dream come true. He replied that in the 60’s his father was the first lawyer to walk around corporate Baltimore with a yarmulke on his head, and his grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. He also added that he always has a mental image of his Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l, who he met a few times, at the fore of his mind. He added, “If I walk out onto a court and seventeen thousand people start jeering at my yarmulke and tzitzis, I think of the Rebbe and that gives me courage. Then, I let my game do the talking!” 
Tamir later accepted a scholarship from nearby Towson University. The team was committed to working around Tamir’s religious needs. The coach had marked down on his schedule the time for candle-lighting each Friday afternoon, and no games or practices were scheduled for Shabbos. Each Friday afternoon the team would get together and shout in unison, “1-2-3-4, Good Shabbos”, before walking off the court for the weekend.
Tamir emphatically concluded his talk with his important message: “Be so proud of who you are! Use your talents - whatever they may be – to serve Hashem (G-d). My motto is ‘Always remember that Hashem is with you’. I tell it to my children every time I leave them. And whatever you learn apply to your life and live it!”

The battle against Midyan was to be Moshe Rabbeinu’s ‘swan song’, the final national action he would lead on behalf of his beloved people.
“G-d spoke to Moshe saying, “Take vengeance of the Children of Israel against the Midyanites; afterward you will gather to your people (i.e. you will die).”[2] Rashi notes that although Moshe understood that he would die shortly after this war he did not tarry. He led the nation into war with alacrity in fulfillment of G-d’s command.
The Medrash[3] comments: “Our Teachers said, ‘It is written in reference to Yehoshua (1:5) ‘Just as I (G-d) was with Moshe I will be with you’. Yehoshua was to have lived 120 years like Moshe Rabbeinu. Why was his life shortened ten years? Because at the time that G-d instructed Moshe, “Take vengeance of the Children of Israel against the Midyanites; afterward you will gather to your people”, although he was informed that his death would follow the war, he did not delay but enthusiastically dispatched the troops. However, in regard to Yehoshua, when he was battling the thirty-one Canaanite kings he rationalized that ‘If I kill them all immediately then I will die sooner, just as Moshe Rabbeinu did.’ Therefore, he began to delay the wars… The Holy One, blessed is He, replied, ‘Is this what you have done? I will shorten your life by ten years. This is in accordance with what King Shlomo wrote “Many are the thoughts within the hearts of man, but the counsel of G-d, that is what will endure!”[4]
Harav Henoch Leibowitz zt’l[5] notes that it is obvious that Yehoshua’s motive in delaying the battles was noble. Yehoshua understood that after his death the nation would stray from G-d and engage in sin. In fact, Moshe himself had warned the nation prior to his death, “For I know that after my death you will become corrupt and you will turn away from the path that I have commanded you, and evil will befall you at the end of days.[6]” Rashi there notes that Moshe was referring to the period after Yehoshua’s death, for as long as Yehoshua was alive it seemed - in regards to the nation’s spiritual level - as if Moshe was still alive. Therefore, Yehoshua wanted to detain his own death for as long as possible in order to detain the retribution that would follow when they began to sin.
If Yehoshua’s intentions were so noble why was he punished so severely?
Rabbi Leibowitz answered that one is obligated to perform every mitzvah with alacrity and enthusiasm. That law applied to Yehoshua as much as it applies to anyone. G-d had commanded him to wage war and he was obligated to do so as quickly as he could, his personal rationalizations not withstanding. Even though Yehoshua seemed to have a very valid and even laudable reason to delay the wars, his task was to adhere to G-d’s Word.
One must always remember that this is G-d’s World and He is responsible for its upkeep, as well as the preservation of the eternity of His people. We cannot be “more religious than G-d”. If G-d instructs us to do something we must not allow our personal rationalizations to interfere with our fulfillment of those commandments. Our obligation is to fulfill the letter of the law as dictated to us in the Shulchan Aruch[7] and not concern ourselves with what the ramifications of keeping G-d’s commandments may be in the future.

Rabbi Leibowitz further expounds on this pivotal concept in parshas Vayera. The Medrash[8] records that when G-d commanded Avrohom Avinu to circumcise himself, Avrohom was unsure if he should proceed. He sought the advice of his three confidants - Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Aner and Eshkol both tried to dissuade Avrohom; it was only Mamre who encouraged Avrohom to fulfill G-d’s command. Avrohom hearkened to the advice of Mamre.
The Medrash is shocking. Did Avrohom, the great monotheist and prince of faith, really have a thought to disregard G-d’s Word?
Rabbi Leibowitz quotes the commentary of the Taz on the Torah which states that, in truth, Avrohom was not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah. G-d told him that if he did so the world would continue, and if he didn’t the world would cease to exist. However, whether he fulfilled the mitzvah or not was entirely his prerogative. In other words, the perpetuity of mankind was contingent on whether Avrohom would adhere to G-d’s command and circumcise himself.
The statement of the Taz is enigmatic. If the continuation of the world was contingent on Avrohom circumcising himself why would he even contemplate not fulfilling it?
Avrohom had reason to fear that if he circumcised himself he may not survive the difficult ordeal, thus destroying his legacy and his vital message. If Avrohom circumcised himself – which he was not clearly commanded to do – and died, he would no longer have the ability to fulfill any commandments or continue to perpetuate his message of faith. Thus, Avrohom was unsure if he would proceed because he had never been blatantly instructed to do so.
We see from here, continues Rabbi Leibowitz, that the future of the world and the continuation of man and Klal Yisroel is not our concern. That is G-d’s domain and somehow He will care for it and ensure its eternity, even if to us it is inconceivable. Our task is to fulfill what G-d has obligated us to fulfill and not allow our own rationalizations and skepticism to interfere. If we have done what is incumbent upon us, then we need not be worried or troubled that our actions may have negative repercussions.
Many of the greatest tragedies that occurred throughout the Torah can be attributed to great men who rationalized against the Word of G-d. Our task is merely to fulfill our responsibilities and leave the Divine for the Divine.

“Take vengeance, afterward you will gather to your people”
“Many are the thoughts of man, but the counsel of G-d will endure!”

[1] Where our family enjoys our summers and I serve in the capacity of Division Head
[2] 31:1-2
[3] 22:6
[4] Mishlei 19
[5] Chiddushei Halev
[6] Devorim 31:29
[7] the Code of Torah law for the last five centuries
[8] Bereishis 42:8

Thursday, July 10, 2014


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


For a brief period during my late adolescence, I learned in the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, MD.
One of the yeshiva’s greatest assets is its Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Aharon Lopianski. Rabbi Lopianski is revered not only for his dynamic lectures which are always full of depth and insight, he is also beloved for his ability to create deep bonds with his students.
On Friday night of one of the Shabbosos I was there, after the Shabbos seudah, Rabbi Lopianski invited me to join him for a conversation on a bench in the park adjacent to the yeshiva[1]. It was a beautiful night and stars filled the sky. Rabbi Lopianski asked me about myself and my family and we schmoozed for quite some time about many various topics.
Although I am recounting a small tidbit of that conversation here, the warmth and listening ear he gave to me that night cannot be recorded in words.
Rabbi Lopianski spoke about the importance of always maintaining a spirit of life and never becoming embittered. He explained that ironically those who struggle and battle difficulties and challenges and are not inhibited by them, are the most vivacious and spirited years later. One who does not learn to deal with the inevitable challenges of life can become stagnant and often embittered.  
 Rabbi Lopianski pointed to a personal mentor and Rebbe of mine who is also a Rebbe in the yeshiva who had lost his father when he was twenty-one years old. Today, that Rebbe is one of the most energetic and vigorous people I know, with a passion to accomplish and inspire others. That magnitude of determination and spirit resulted from his ability to ‘rise to the occasion’ and not be deterred by the inevitable vicissitudes of life.
He continued that the challenges I was facing and would face throughout my life, would help me understand others and help others deal with their own personal challenges and difficulties. That would in turn help me always maintain a drive to accomplish and grow.
In the years since then I often think about the truth of those words.

In parshas Pinchas the special Mussaf (lit. added) offerings that were offered on the Altar during the holidays are delineated. Our holidays are not merely days of vacation and relaxation but integral times for spiritual rejuvenation. Each holiday possesses its own endemic service, commandments, and spiritual blessing, and each is an opportunity for growth.
When Blia’am was riding on his donkey en route to curse Klal Yisroel, an angel impeded their path causing the donkey to crush Bila’am’s foot against the wall. When Bila’am wrathfully struck his donkey, the donkey miraculously spoke and said to Bila’am, “What have I done that you have struck me these shalosh regalim – three times?”
Rashi notes that the verse uses the word “regalim” not the more commonly used word, “pe’amim”. This is an allusion to the great merit of Klal Yisroel that they observe the great holidays of Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos, commonly referred to as the “shalosh regalim- three festivals”.[2] The message to Bila’am was that he would never be able to destroy a nation which constantly strengthens itself through celebration of the holidays which infuse them with renewed strength and spiritual focus.

The verse describes Rosh Hashana as “Yom Teruah yihyeh lachem- a day of shofar-sounding for you.”[3] The gemara states that on Rosh Hashanah when we blow shofar, Satan becomes frightened that the shofar blowing may be the shofar of Moshiach, heralding the final redemption.[4]
Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer zt’l wonders how Satan could be fooled every year. Does he not know that there is a mitzvah to blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah every year? If Klal Yisroel blew shofar last year and it did not herald the final redemption, why should Satan think this year will be any different?
Rabbi Blazer answers that each year Satan is afraid that perhaps this year Klal Yisroel will hearken to the wailing of the shofar and internalize its heartrending message. Perhaps this year they will repent properly and will indeed be worthy of redemption. Despite the fact that each year until now the call of the shofar has gone somewhat unheeded, Satan is still afraid that this year may be THE year.
Rabbi Blazer continues that there is a tremendous lesson to be gleaned from Satan’s apprehension. We ourselves have lived through many Rosh Hashanas and Yom Kippurs. We have made numerous resolutions and perhaps have not fulfilled many of them. Year in year out, we have made commitments to transform ourselves and to live the lives we truly want to live but come up short in our personal aspirations and dreams. We have heard the cry of the shofar so many hundreds of times and yet we have allowed its call to go unheeded. And so we become despondent. We allow ourselves to live the life that happens instead of the life we truly desire![5] But even after so many years and so many squandered opportunities, Satan still fears that we may finally fulfill our potential. Shouldn’t we have at least the same confidence as Satan that perhaps this year will be the year?

Harav Shlomo Freifeld zt’l was an insightful and beloved educator. Once on a Shabbos afternoon, Reb Shlomo was speaking to his students about man’s omnipresent ability to effect change at any time he wholly commits himself to do so. In the middle of his speech he grabbed his gray beard and shouted, “I am the youngest one here.” The message he was conveying to them was that if they were skeptical about their ability to change and improve, then they were old and withered. Being ‘old’ is based on a state of mind more than it is based on a biological clock!
In a discourse during the Ten Days of Penitence, Reb Shlomo recounted a conversation that he had recently had with an elderly woman named Mrs. Gingold. Mrs. Gingold was a Russian woman who was over a hundred years old and living in a nursing home. When Reb Shlomo had gone to visit her, he noticed that she wasn’t eating her lunch. When he inquired about it she explained that she had recently undertaken to fast ba’hab.[6] Reb Shlomo was quite surprised. Those fast days are a stringency undertaken solely only by righteous individuals. It was virtually unheard of for a woman to undertake them, surely not an elderly frail woman.
Mrs. Gingold tearfully explained, “Barbara has been my nurse for many years. She has cared for me faithfully and has always been there for me. One day last week however, she was tired and when she gave me an injection she was somewhat clumsy. She pricked me with the needle and in my pain I shouted at her. She has been my nurse for so long, yet I berated her for making one mistake. Although I apologized to her numerous times I was beside myself that I could have lashed out at her as I did. Therefore, I have accepted upon myself these fasts as a way to repent for my inappropriate behavior.”
When Reb Shlomo finished relating the story he paused and looked around the room before continuing. “Who is old and who is young? You, who are in your twenties but are cynical and mistrustful about your ability to change, are old. Mrs. Gingold, who is still working on herself, is young.” Then he added, “I hope to grow up to be as young as her!”[7]

The fountain of youth is rooted in the desire to always accomplish more. Life is a perennial struggle and one who is ready to undertake the challenge guarantees himself vibrancy and vigor. But one who decides that he has done enough and he rests upon his laurels allowing his life to coast on cruise control, places himself in danger of colliding with apathy and indifference.

“A day of shofar-sounding for you”
Shalosh regalim – three times”      

[1] He subsequently told me that he has had many such conversations on that bench in the park
[2] Although the word ‘regel’ literally means foot, it is used to refer to the three seminal joyous holidays because, in many respects, they are the base and the foundation of a Jew’s spiritual service, just as one’s feet support his entire body.
[3] 29:1
[4] When Moshiach comes Satan will no longer have any purpose and will be destroyed.
[5] Paraphrase of a classic quote from Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
[6] Baha’b are the tri-faceted ‘Monday-Thursday-Monday’ fast days after the holidays of Pesach and Succos. Righteous individuals fast during those days to repent in case they conducted themselves with excessive levity during the preceding joyous holidays.
[7] From the classic book, “Reb Shlomo”

Thursday, July 3, 2014


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


My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily
Oftentimes he weaveth sorrow,
And I, in foolish pride
Forget he sees the upper
And I, the underside

Not till the loom is silent
And the shutters cease to fly
Shall G-d unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful Hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

But when the cloth is done
I stand with awed respect
On vicissitudes transcended
With admiration I reflect

Every painful stitch
Threads on every side
Now composite beauty
Part of my joy and pride

The challenge overbearing
At last – the arduous design
Now the joy of perseverance
Of my refusal to resign[1]

Among the blessings he unwittingly conferred upon Klal Yisroel, Bila’am praised Klal Yisroel as a People guarded solely by G-d, unaffected by constellations and natural forces which affect other nations. “For there is no divination in Ya’akov and no sorcery in Yisroel. Ka’ays yayamer l’Ya’akov ul’Yisoel mah pa’al Kel - At this time it is said to Yaakov and Yisroel what G-d has wrought.”[2]
The Chofetz Chaim notes that this verse contains an allusion to an integral concept regarding faith. When a sentence begins with the word “mah- what”, it can be understood either as an emphatic exclamation or as a poignant question.[3]
In exile, Bila’am’s words are read as a question: “At this time about Yaakov and Yisroel, “What has G-d done?” In other words, it is a rhetorical question, for we cannot comprehend why tragedies occur. However, we live with the absolute conviction that there will come a time when that question will be transformed into a statement: “At this time about Yaakov and Yisroel, what has G-d done!” When Moshiach comes we will review all the heretofore incomprehensible events and recognize how it was all just and good. The painful question, “What has G-d done? will be utterly transformed into a joyous exultation that all recognize “What has G-d done!”

In Biblical times, there were people who recorded the details of noted battles in the form of poems or aphorisms. At the conclusion of parshas Chukas, the Torah relates the manner in which the poets recounted the battles against the forces of Sichon. “Regarding this the poets would say: “Come to Cheshbon – let it be built and established as the city of Sichon.”[4]
Rashi explains that the ‘poets’ referred to here are Bila’am and his father Beor. Until this point, Moav had been successfully resisting Sichon’s efforts to invade and overtake Moav. But then Sichon hired Bila’am and Beor to curse Moav, and shortly thereafter Sichon indeed vanquished Moav’s forces. They celebrated Sichon’s victory by composing a poem which declared that Cheshbon, the city which had been the Moavite stronghold, now became Sichon’s capital. From Cheshbon, Sichon was able to vanquish all of Moav’s forces.                
The gemara[5] views this verse as an ethical exhortation. “Regarding this, those who dominate[6] will say: Let us calculate[7].” The gemara expounds: “Regarding this, those who dominate their spirit (i.e. maintain self-control) will say: Come let us make a calculation of the world, i.e. the reward one will receive for performing a mitzvah versus the relatively paltry amount one must expend for the physical expenses necessary for the performance of the mitzvah, and the gain from sin versus the ultimate retribution he will suffer for committing the sin.”
It seems strange that the Torah would derive such a fundamental ethical lesson from a statement made by the depraved Bila’am and Beor regarding the victories of the wicked Sichon? What do spiritual calculations have to do with Sichon and the fact that he conquered the city of Cheshbon?
Birchas Ish[8] and Harav Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita[9] offer the following explanation: After Sichon was finally able to vanquish Moav he was undoubtedly hailed as a great warrior. Bila’am too received great adulation and honor because clearly his efforts were directly involved in that victory.
But “He Who sits in Heaven laughs”[10], for there was a hidden reason why Sichon was granted mastery over Moav. The Torah forbids Klal Yisroel from antagonizing the nation of Moav[11],and therefore, Klal Yisroel is not allowed to wage war against Moav. When the nation arrived at the border of Moav they would have been unable to proceed. In order to solve this problem, G-d allowed Sichon to conquer Moav, solely so that when Klal Yisroel defeated Sichon they would be able to conquer the lands which had formerly belonged to Moav as well.
To the physical eye it seemed that Sichon’s victory was a demonstration of his military prowess and of Bila’am’s evil abilities. However, to those who “make a calculation of the world” and recognizes the Hand of G-d will realize that the victory of Sichon was divinely orchestrated for the benefit of Klal Yisroel.
This is why the Torah alludes to the concept of contemplating the Hand of G-d and the concept of reward and punishment specifically in its mention of these wars. So often one tries to understand why G-d has allowed something to happen, or what the purpose of an event was. Most of the time one is unable to understand the ways of G-d. The seemingly unimportant war of Sichon and Moav were actually only so that Klal Yisroel could inherit all of their land.
Rabbi Nebenzhal continues that this is a lesson about faith. The world is filled with the prosperity of the wicked and the triumph of nefarious evil against the righteous and holy. But beneath the surface, beyond what is discernible to the naked eye, is the realm of the divine. It is G-d’s Omnipotent Hand which guides every event of the world toward the fulfillment of its purpose and mission. One must always make ‘calculations of the world’, but he must remember that even when his calculations don’t ‘add up’ he must rely in his faith that somehow everything G-d does is for the best!   

When tragic events occur we wonder how such things can happen and how the nefarious schemes of evil people can come to fruition[12].  As a nation we all join the painful mourning of the Shaar, Frenkel, and Yifrach families for the tragic loss of their beloved sons – Gila’ad, Naftali, and Eyal hy’d. 
Our only solace is the knowledge that G-d controls all that transpires. Despite the pain that lingers in our hearts as we wonder, “To Yaakov and Yisroel what G-d has wrought?” we live with the faith that there will come a time when we will rejoice in the understanding of, “To Yaakov and Yisroel what G-d has wrought!”, even for this tragedy.
The debacle of Bila’am and Balak and Bila’am’s failed attempt to curse Klal Yisroel is always read shortly prior to the onset of the three weeks, which mark the commemoration of our mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent two centuries of exile.
The blessings that Bila’am unwittingly gave to Klal Yisroel contain timeless concepts about the greatness of Klal Yisroel as a people and the secret to our eternity. Often an outsider ‘looking in’ has a more candid view than the ‘inside view’. Bila’am himself was astonished by Klal Yisroel’s unyielding faith. One of those great messages is the message of faith, that somehow behind the shadows lies a great light which will soon penetrate the world and illuminate all darkness, quickly in our time. And beyond that light our three beloved brothers/sons will be awaiting us.  

          “At this time it is said… what G-d has wrought!”
”Those who dominate their spirit will say: Let us calculate.”

[1] The first four stanzas of the following poem have made the rounds as being “of unknown authorship”. The concluding three stanzas are my own addition
[2] Bamidbar 23:23
[3] For example, the pasuk states (Devorim 10:12), “(Now, O Yisroel) mah Hashem Elokecha shoel mayimach- What does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you (only to fear Hashem, your G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him…)” The verse can be understood both as a question and a statement. As a question it would read, “What does G-d ask of you?”, as if to say there is so much more that He can demand. Therefore, see and appreciate that He has only demanded these criteria. As a statement it is to be understood as saying, “What does G-d ask of you!”, i.e. as a statement worthy of note. It is incumbent upon every individual to comprehend these fundamental concepts that G-d demands every individual to master.]    
[4] Bamidbar 21:27
[5] Bava Basra 78b
[6] the word moshlim can also refer to a sovereign ruler
[7] the word cheshbon can also refer to thoughts and calculations
[8] Rabbi Avrohom Shain
[9] Rav of the Old City of Yerushalayim
[10] Tehillim 2:4
[11] Devorim 2:15
[12] When I originally wrote this essay – parshas Balak 5768 - this was the painful sentence that followed: Last week, an evil Israeli-Arab construction worker, committed a heinous act by purposely driving the plow he was driving into cars, pedestrians, and a bus before he was shot and killed.