Thursday, October 30, 2014


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


The Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Spira zt’l, was one of the revered Torah leaders of the previous generation. He was also a survivor of the horrors and travails of the Holocaust.
One day during the war when still a prisoner, the Rebbe was chopping logs in the forest when he saw a new train pull into the camp’s station. As the new inmates were quickly unloaded, he noticed that there were many young mothers clutching infants. A Nazi officer demanded that all mothers holding infants immediately assemble in a public square. It was clear to all that they were going to be sent off for immediate extermination.
Suddenly, the Rebbe heard a woman cry out, “A messer, a messer (A knife, hand me a knife)”. The Rebbe quickly ran over to the woman. He tried to persuade her that despite the grim situation she should not resort to unacceptable acts, such as taking her own life or that of her child. The Rebbe gently but firmly explained, “A child is granted to us by G-d, but it still belongs to G-d. No one, not even a parent, has the right to jeopardize that child’s life. Ending someone else’s life is a breach of trust.”    
Before the Rebbe had a chance to finish a Nazi struck him on the head and barked, “What conspiracy are you a part of, you Jewish dog?” The Rebbe calmly replied, “I am not a traitor nor a conspirator. This woman requested a knife and I explained to her that it is forbidden for her to take her, or her child’s, life”. The Nazi looked suspiciously at the woman, “Why did he think you were about to commit suicide?” The woman corroborated the Rebbe’s words, “Because I requested a knife.”
An evil smile spread across the Nazi’s face. He relished the opportunity to watch a woman who had given up hope kill herself and her child. He took out a sharp knife he was carrying from its case and handed it to the accepting mother.
The woman clutched the knife and, without a trace of fear or sorrow, she opened her baby’s diaper and exclaimed with deep emotion: “Father in Heaven, you have given me a Divine gift, a pure soul. The only thing that I, as a simple woman, know is that you have granted me a holy unblemished soul and I must return him to you as a holy soul. G-d has given and G-d has taken, may His Holy Name be blessed forever and ever.”
With that she fervently proclaimed the appropriate blessings and circumcised her son. Then she handed the blood-stained knife back to the dumbfounded Nazi.

October 30, 1988 (16 MaCheshvan 5749) marked the fiftieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the ominous night that served as the prelude for the Holocaust. It was the final warning of the imminent destruction of European Jewry, and all the horrors endemic to it.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l, leader of the Jewish-German community in Washington Heights, New York, gave an address in his renowned synagogue, Khal Adath Jeshurin, in commemoration of that night.
Rabbi Schwab questioned why the night has been immortalized as “Kristallnacht” which, although is loosely translated as “The night of broken glass”, literally means, “Crystal night”. It is certainly true that during that night hundreds of Jewish stores were ransacked and the glass from the front windows were shattered and littered the streets. However, that seems like a trivial detail in comparison with the other ghastly events that occurred. Hundreds of synagogues throughout Germany and Austria were torched, including hundreds of Torah scrolls and thousands of holy books. Scores of innocent Jews were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night, in full view of their families, and many were brutally killed. The broken glass that lay strewn on the streets was insignificant compared to the other atrocities that occurred. Glass could be swept up and cleaned, but the lives and synagogues that were destroyed were irreparable.
Rabbi Schwab explained that by calling this night Kristallnacht we unknowingly express a profound truth. Crystal is a precious white diamond, and it resembles the glittering glass used for fancy vases, chandeliers, and expensive vessels. It is also most fragile and, when not handled with utmost care, can shatter into a thousand pieces. 
The Jews who lived in Germany during the decades prior to World War II felt deeply connected to German culture, and even its people. For over one hundred and fifty years, from when they were emancipated, the Jews blended with their neighbors.
“Most of them felt that they wished to be part and parcel of “the Fatherland”. They were enthralled by the poetry and philosophy of Schiller, Goethe, Kant, and Schopenhauer. They were enamored of the Deutsche punctuality, music, order and other traits. However, all this was just pure glitter, a beautiful illusion. But then the synagogues were set aflame and innocent people were hauled away, and there was no active response from the disciples of Schiller, Goethe, Kant, and Schopenhauer, or by any of the European nations which subscribed to western culture. This magnificent glass was smashed to smithereens, and Germany became again the land of darkness… Kristallnacht was the night that these false illusions burst.”[1]  

In the year 2047 from Creation, Avrohom Avinu[2]  was ninety-nine years old. Avrohom had already established himself as the great believer and champion of monotheism. He had multitudes of disciples and had withstood every challenge and test that had been posed to him.
G-d appeared to Avrohom to establish a new covenant with him. He informed Avrohom that he was to become, “Av hamon goyim- a father of a multitude of nations,” and then permanently altered his name from Avrom to Avrohom.
G-d continued, “I will sustain my covenant between Me and you, and between your descendants after you throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant… I will give to you and your offspring after you the land of your sojourns- the whole Land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession; and I shall be a G-d to them.”[3] The revelation concluded with G-d commanding Avrohom to circumcise himself and all of his future male offspring when they are eight days old. Despite Avrohom’s advanced age and the difficulty involving undergoing such a procedure, Avrohom did not waver and fulfilled G-d’s Command dutifully.
The Netziv of Volozhin derives from these verses profound and fundamental ideas regarding the role and destiny of Klal Yisroel, the ‘Chosen descendants’ of Avrohom. He explains that Avrohom was to become, not only the progenitor of the Chosen People, but also a shining example for the entire world. Although his mission was not to transform everyone into members of the Chosen People, he still had to infuse all of mankind with an understanding and belief that there is but One True Eternal G-d. In this sense Avrohom was deemed “the father of a multitude of nations”. Just as a father guides his son along the proper path so would Avrohom teach the world the truth.
   Immediately after G-d instructed Avrohom about the unique role he would play vis-à-vis all of humanity, G-d commanded him to circumcise himself. The Netziv explains that this commandment symbolized a vital distinction that Avrohom and his descendants had to comprehend. Despite the fact that Avrohom was to be an example for the nations he still had to maintain a level of separateness from those nations. Being the ‘lodestar for the world’ did not entail that Avrohom equate himself and mingle with all of the heretical nations. Rather, by maintaining his uniqueness and by remaining steadfast to the laws commanded to him, that alone would allow Avrohom to become an example of divinity and the representative of G-d, as it were, in the world. 
G-d also then reiterated His assurance that Avrohom’s descendants would inherit the Promised Land. Although G-d already pledged Canaan to Avrohom during the “Covenant between the pieces” (b’ris bein hab’sarim), when Avrohom was commanded to be an example for the nations, he may have worried that he would then be forced to live among the nations in order to fulfill his role. Therefore, G-d repeated that Avrohom and his progeny would merit the land. When Klal Yisroel lives in their homeland and abides by the laws of the Torah, that alone is a symbol to the rest of the world of the Eternity and Oneness of G-d.

Rabbi Schwab explained that the ‘crystal’ shattered on the heinous night of Kristallnacht in Germany represents the obliteration of their fragile sense of trust and false ideologies. On that night the lies they had come to believe as truth came crashing down before them.
We can contrast that with Avrohom whose entire life was “Kristalleben - a crystal life.” Avrohom, the example for the whole world, was to be the crystal which would reflect the iridescent glow of its prism upon the entire world. Wherever Avrohom went he left behind him a trail of ‘shattered crystals’, of destroyed illusions in the belief in idolatry and polytheism. Through Avrohom’s life and daily conduct his message resonated, espousing that there is a Creator, a Master who stands behind His work and oversees it all.  

“A father of a multitude of nations”
“An everlasting covenant… the whole Land of Canaan

[1] Rabbi Shimon Schwab “Selected Speeches”
[2] then known as Avrom
[3] 7:7-8

Thursday, October 23, 2014


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


The pre-war Torah community of Telshe, Lithuania boasted the great Telshe Yeshiva[1]. On one occasion, the heads of the Yeshiva as well as the leaders of the community convened to discuss what they felt was a breakdown in the level of respect and reverence which the students and youth maintained for their teachers and elders. Many of the leading Rabbinic figures of the Yeshiva expressed their indignation for the rising level of disrespect, and offered viable solutions about how to remedy the situation.
When the meeting was about to adjourn the assemblage turned to the father of the Telshe Rav[2] who was the eldest of the group. In deference to his seniority as well as his personal righteousness they asked him to offer a closing thought. The elderly Rav stood up and related a concise but poignant five-word speech: “א מכובד איז מנען מכבד – To a respectable person people give respect.” With that he sat down.
His message was that the esteemed assemblage themselves had to bear some responsibility. The breakdown of respect stemmed from the fact that they, the leaders, were not as deserving of respect as their predecessors were. If they would increase their own level of respectability the students would indeed respect them more.[3]   

After the floodwaters had subsided and the inhabitants of the Ark departed to rebuild humankind, the Torah records that Noach made a tragic mistake. “Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. Cham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brother’s outside. And Shem and Yafes took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned away and they did not see their father’s nakedness.”[4]
When Noach awoke from his stupor and realized what had occurred he prophesized by foretelling the destiny of his children.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explained that these prophecies were the most far-reaching prophecies ever uttered. Noach essentially encapsulated the entire course of human history: “Cursed is Canaan; a slave of slaves he shall be to his brothers…Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Shem, and let him be a slave to them. Let G-d extend Yafes, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem; may Canaan be a slave to them.”[5]
Why does the Torah reiterate that Cham was “the father of Canaan” before mentioning the inappropriate debacle with his father?
Rabbi Hirsch explains that two of the greatest adversaries Klal Yisroel would face at the genesis of our nationhood were Mitzrayim (Egypt) and Canaan. The Egyptian and Canaanite nations - who were both descendants of Cham - were exceedingly corrupt, with rampant debauchery and immorality.
In this seminal event, where Cham shamed his father, lies the root of his descendant’s degeneracy and depravity. In the eloquence of Rabbi Hirsch: “The whole world of humanity is built on the relation of children to their parents…. As long as children see in their parents the depository of G-d’s mission, do not regard the bodily material, but the spiritual being in them, out of whose hands they receive their spiritual being, for so long mankind flourishes like a tree. But if, on the other hand, this factor is quite absent from the minds of the children… if reverence of the child for its parent is absent, then the stem is cut through which out of the past should make the future spring forth even nobler. Then, the younger generation considers itself only as the יורש (inheritor) of the older and, as the more vigorous, supplants the older decrepit generation and steps into its shoes. ירש to dispossess someone…
“In Israel, the relation is to be of one generation following the other, נחלה, a stream, a flow; there the older generation hands over its strength and powers, its spiritual and material treasures, to the younger. Elsewhere, each generations wants to start afresh, does not want to learn anything from the past, each generation is a new and different aspect of life on earth, and what the future will be remains to be seen. There[6] the source of strength and power comes from above, the stream flows; the spiritual mission is handed over from the older, through the middle, to the younger generation… Kibbud av v’em is the foundation for the development of mankind.”
When children have no reason to respect their parents it upsets the foundation of tradition. The new generation does not wish to be connected with a past that is unworthy and therefore it looks away from its roots and seeks to forge its own path with its own ideas. They seek to sever the bond that would otherwise connect them with their illustrious ancestors and heritage.
In his commentary a few verses later Rabbi Hirsch captures the root of the depravity of the nations of Canaan and Mitzrayim: “It is deeply affecting that Noach pronounces the curse for Cham in his child, and this expresses the momentous warning: If Cham does not wish to be punished for the future of Canaan, let him not sin against Noach. The sin which children commit against parents punishes itself by the way their children treat them. And just as in private families, this law applies to the development of whole generations of mankind. Only where the younger generation stands with respect on the grave of the by-gone one, draws a cloak over its lapses but takes to itself all that it had of nobility, truth, and greatness as a valuable inheritance on which to build further of its own life, is the development of the generations a tree that progressively develops in new blossoms.
“But as soon as the younger generation gloats over the “nakedness” of the fathers, and because of their human frailties mocks at their great spiritual; traditions; as soon as the future jeeringly tears asunder the bond with the past, their own future is also a dream, and just as they jeer at the memories of their forefathers so will their grandchildren jeer at them – Cham is always the father of Canaan.”[7] 

The reason why Canaan and Egypt became so immoral is because Cham saw his father in a negative fashion, as a spiritually feeble individual. Rabbi Hirsch concludes: “When Israel had been led to the border of the land whose inhabitants were to be cleared out for Israel to build up a pure mode of life, degeneration and its results were shown to them, and they were told: ‘See, this degeneration had its beginnings in the first disrespect with which the ancestor of this nation behaved towards his father’.”
It is not merely a matter of custom that a man sits at the head of his Shabbos table. He has an obligation to earn the position. It’s a privilege that is attached to the responsibilities that come with being the ‘man of the house’. One must be a role model for his children, a guide for his family, and a proper husband. A father has a responsibility to be a leader and a guide for his family, a worthy recipient of the respect that is accorded to him.[8]  

In a sense, the father’s responsibility and the importance of the relationship he forges with his children, goes a step further. From a psychological standpoint it is well-known that a person’s connection with G-d and religion is strongly influenced and impacted by his connection with his parents, most notably his father. This is most obviously true because in numerous prayers we refer to G-d as our Heavenly Father. Furthermore, our first and foremost connection to a “being” which loves us unconditionally but yet demands and expects of us, is our parents. Thus, on an emotional and subconscious level, our conception of G-d is interconnected with our relationship with our parents.[9] A father therefore has the added responsibility of being loving and devoted to his children while at the same time being firm and unyielding in regards to his expectations and the values he holds dear.
All of these important components were missing from the patriarchy of Cham’s family.  In a poetic fashion we can conclude that when Cham sits at the head of the table the children at that table will grow up to be Mitzrayim and Canaan.[10]

"א מכובד איז מנען מכבד
“Cham, the father of Canaan, saw…”

[1] Today the Yeshiva has been supplanted in America in three different locations, near Cleveland Ohio, Riverdale NY, and Chicago, Illinois
[2] I assume it was   Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Gordon, the father of Rabbi Lazer Gordon zt’l.
[3] Heard from Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, who heard it second-hand from Harav Mordechai Gifter zt’l.
[4] Bereishis 9:20-23
[5] Bereishis 9:25-27
[6] i.e. in Klal Yisroel however
[7] My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, captured this idea in one succinct quote: “G-d pays back all children by making them parents.”
[8] I heard this idea from my friend and colleague, Rabbi Donny Frank. He related to me that he mentioned this point during a lecture he gave about marriage to a group of young men.
[9] It is tragically not uncommon for a child raised by abusive, overly austere, or derelict parents to have a difficult time with religious observance and belief in G-d. 
[10] It is important to note that blaming one’s parents for one’s failures and lack of accomplishment in life is a tremendously futile and purposeless. Even when it is true, one has the responsibility to invest the effort to transcend his challenges and to build himself into a worthy individual to the best of his ability. The Skverer Rebbe shlita notes that in the opening verse of the parsha it states, “These are the descendants of Noach: Noach…” Noach himself was his own greatest offspring. As Rashi writes, “For the descendants of the righteous are their good deeds.” Despite the fact that Noach lived in a world of utter corruption and lawlessness, he himself was a righteous and G-d-fearing person because he transformed himself into such an individual. He was his own greatest disciple! 


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


“Isn’t it ironic that kids whose parents fail to set and enforce limits feel unloved and angry? Although they tend to test and protest, we have learned over and over again that limits are what kids really want. Invariably, when we talk with out-of-control teenagers or adults who were juvenile delinquents and lucky enough to survive, we ask them, “If you could go back to when you were a child, what would you change?” Most of them say something like, “I wish my parents had reeled me in when I was a kid. Why didn’t they make me behave?”
“A counselor we know sat down with a teenager we know who led a pretty rough life. She had been… in trouble with the law. She went on to describe how she had smoked… with her dad as a ten-year old. When the counselor asked her what she thought about it, her eyes lit up with rage and she said, “I hate him!” Surprised, the counselor said, “You had so much freedom. Why do you hate your father?” Even more surprised, the teen responded, “I hate him ‘cause he let me do anything I wanted. He never made me behave. Look at me now!”…..
If you want your children to have internal controls and inner freedom, you must first provide them with external controls. A child who is given boundaries, and choices within those boundaries, is actually freer to be creative, inventive, active, and insightful. How you expose your kids to the life around them – how you encourage them to use their creativity within limits, by using yours – is key to developing their personal identity and freedom. Setting limits does not discourage inventiveness. The world is full of limits within which we must all live. Give your children a gift. Teach them how to be creative within these limits.”[1] 

“In the beginning of G-d’s creating…..G-d saw that the light was good…And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
“…And the earth brought forth vegetation… And G-d saw that it was good… And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
“…Let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heaven… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
“…Let the waters teem with living creatures, and fowl that fly… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
“…Let the earth bring forth living creatures…And G-d saw that it was good…Let us make man…And G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.”

The Medrash[2] discusses the difference between what the Torah deems “good” (throughout the six days of creation) and what the Torah deems “very good” (after the creation of man). The Medrash offers a few explanations: “’Very good’ refers to sleep, because when one sleeps a little he is able to toil exceedingly in Torah study. “Good” refers to when things are going well; “very good” refers to affliction. “Good” refers to the Garden of Eden; “very good” refers to purgatory. “Good” refers to the Angel of Life; “very good” refers to the Angel of Death.”
This Medrash is perplexing. How can all of the pleasantries of life be referred to as ‘good’ while all of the dreaded facets of life be referred to as, “very good”?

The idea that this Medrash is espousing contains the basis for the implosion and unraveling of Western Society. When a society does not know how to set limits and “Just say No” then it is doomed to failure. The mighty empire of Rome which ruled the ancient world for centuries eventually succumbed - not so much to external forces - as it did to internal hedonism. The insatiable drive for narcissistic gratification and indulgence destroyed the fabric of its society until it was no longer able to maintain itself. The surrounding invading forces were simply the final blow to an already decrepit society.
Our permissive society seems to be heading down that same slippery slope. All agree that, “we need change”. It has become the mantra and battle cry of all political parties. The disagreement is about what change is necessary. There is nothing that can salvage and save a morally bankrupt society except for the implementation of morals and restraint. Sadly, all of the vapid ideas that we hear presented will do little to stem this trend.
Blessings are wonderful and we all pray that we merit a life of goodness and prosperity. But if one does not know how to handle the blessings he is granted, they can quickly become the most detrimental forces in a person’s life.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often quips: “I have been in the Rabbinate now for many decades. In that time I have seen how money can rip apart families, destroy parents and children, best friends, even grandparents and grandchildren. So everyone says, ‘let me blessed me with that curse’. But I am witness to the fact that it is indeed often the greatest curse.”
When “good” is unbridled and without limit, it can have the most disastrous results. Within one thousand years of creation, in the generation of Noach, the world had sunk into spiritual bankruptcy beyond rectification. There was no longer any respect for people or property. The only thing that mattered was money, gratification, and indulgence. The world, which G-d founded on kindness and giving, could not continue to exist when its inhabitants became completely self-absorbed. The only hope for life and mankind was for that world to be destroyed and begun anew.
For the “good” of life to truly be positive forces there must be built in restraints and protections so that one does not lose themselves in that good. It is only with those protective barriers that “good” becomes “very good”. Surely no one wants to suffer, but it is only because there challenges that we are able to appreciate our health and our wellbeing.
If man never needed to stop and rest, he would quickly forget his fragility and vulnerability. His need for sleep constantly reminds him that he is a temporal being with a mission to fulfill.    
The creation of the world is the first subject read when the new cycle of Torah-reading begins. The lesson of what is “good” and what is “very good” touches on the greatness and centrality of Torah in our lives. Without the precise boundaries and guidelines that the Torah dictates regarding every aspect of our lives, we would be unable to enjoy the wondrous and majestic creation that G-d created during those first six days.
If it can be eloquently said regarding child-rearing that, “If you want your children to have internal controls and inner freedom, you must first provide them with external controls”, it is surely true regarding life in general. If we want to have internal control and inner freedom, we must be meticulous to follow the ‘controls’ that the Torah provides.

“G-d saw that it was good… There was evening and there was morning”
“G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good”

[1] Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, Jim Fay & Charles Fay
[2] Bereishis Rabba 9:6

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


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


The following thoughts were written in memory of our former neighbor, Mr. Ayeh Leib (Leopold) Joseph:[1]
“If rain began falling (into the succah) when is one permitted to leave (and go back into his house)? From when the (rainfall is so intense that the) porridge becomes ruined (from the rain). They illustrate (the concept of rain falling on Succos) with a parable: To what is the matter comparable? To a slave who comes to dilute wine for his master[2], and the master poured the pitcher (of water) on his (i.e. the servant’s) face.”[3]
The parable is poignant. By casting the pitcher of water back in his servant’s face the master has clearly rejected his servant’s service. On Succos when it rains and we are unable to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah, it is a demonstration of G-d’s rejection of our efforts to fulfill the precious mitzvah of succah.
It seems strange however, that the Mishna utilizes a parable about a servant who was coming to dilute his master’s cup of wine. Why couldn’t the parable be where the servant was brining his master a cup of wine in the first place, instead of the servant coming to dilute the cup of wine that his master was already holding?
The Gra[4] explains that the High Holy Days - beginning Rosh Hashanah and culminating with Yom Kippur - are days of exacting judgment. The entire world is analyzed and subsequently judged by G-d Himself. All that will transpire throughout the coming year is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur.
The holiday of Succos which immediately follow those intense days of awe, is termed “the season of our joy”. There is a plethora of mitzvos, customs, and laws endemic to this most jovial holiday, including dwelling in the succah and shaking the Four Species. The holiday of Succos presents us with an opportunity to arouse divine mercy and to “sweeten the judgment”, through the performance of the holidays’ mitzvos. To the extent that we fulfill the laws and mitzvos of the holiday is the extent of the ‘sweetening’ of the precise judgment exacted during the previous week.
If it rains during the holiday of Succos and we are deprived of the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of succah, then we have also been deprived of our ability to “dilute” and “sweeten the judgment”. It is as if G-d is declaring that His desire is that the original judgment remains, and not be ‘diluted’ with mercy.

The kabalistic writings reveal that the seventh day of Succos, known as Hoshana Rabba, is interconnected with the Days of Awe. The Zohar[5] states: “On the seventh day of the holiday (Succos) is the conclusion of the judgment of the world. On that day the rulings are dispatched to the ministering angels to administer.”
Although the judgments for the coming year are written on Rosh Hashana and sealed on Yom Kippur, they are not sent down to this world, as it were, until Hoshana Rabba. Thus, there is still a certain level of rectification and repentance one can accomplish through the service of Succos and its mitzvos.
The Shulchan Aruch states that although Hoshana Rabba is the final one of the intermediary days of the holiday when work is permitted to be performed, the day has an added dimension of holiness. Prayers are added, candles are lit, and the chazzan wears a kittel, as he does on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Also, the Bimah, which the entire congregation circles once throughout the other days of Succos while reciting the “hoshana” prayer, is encircled seven times, and many additional prayers are recited. Many have the custom to remain awake the previous evening in prayer and reciting special readings/prayers.
What does it mean to ‘sweeten the judgment’? How can our efforts on Succos have any bearing on the judgment which was already sealed on Yom Kippur? What is the added dimension of Hoshana Rabba?

There was once a powerful but benevolent king who was loved, respected, and admired by all his subjects. One day one of his ministers who was heretofore not known by the king appeared before his majesty to present his idea for a program which would spread the prestige and renown of the king. The king was excited by the minister’s ideas and invited him to remain with him for a week.
Throughout that week, the king and the minister spent a great deal of time together. As the week progressed the king was impressed with the unwavering devotion and love that this minister had for him. The minister was constantly speaking about the king’s greatness and was always excited and passionate to serve him in every way. They ate together and rejoiced together, and by the end of the week the king was sorry that the minister had to leave.
“Promise me”, ordered the king, “that you will come to visit me constantly and that you won’t be a stranger.” The minister bowed humbly before the king, “Your highness, as you know there is nothing that would bring me greater joy than to serve you and be close to you. However, there is a death sentence on my head. Just a few weeks ago your majesty’s High Court condemned me to death for treason against you.” The king was shocked, “Treason against me? Surely it’s a mistake. There is no one more loyal. But Alas! Once the High Court has issued its ruling, I am powerless to counter it.”
The king sat morbidly lost in thought for a few moments. Then suddenly his eyes lit up. He turned to one of his guards, “Quick, bring me the signed decree of this minister.” The guard hastily returned with the official document. The king read it aloud, “He is condemned to starvation!”  
The king then invited the minister to view the palace with him. The king and the minister walked together as the king led a tour, pointing out all the opulence and grandeur of his palace. After seven hours of walking the minister thought he would collapse. The king turned to him and asked him if he was hungry. The minister replied, “Yes, your highness, I am famished.” The king then ordered another guard to show the minister the king’s armies and legions.
By the time they returned to the palace the minister was pale. The king asked him what was wrong. The minister replied that he felt weak from hunger. The king smiled broadly, “Well my friend, in that case the evil decree has been fulfilled. We have starved you. Now be off on your way with my blessings and hopes that we will see you again soon.”
A sealed decree is surely very serious. However, there are times when loopholes can be employed by a scrutinizing and meticulous eye. In the Jewish world everyone loves a good “koontz”[6]. In fact, talmudic study is virtually built on such expositions and derivations[7].[8]

The Succos holiday affords us the opportunity to demonstrate our true love and devotion to G-d. At times even one who is unable to take full advantage of the Days of Awe can merit great levels through the service of Succos, with joy and festivity. One who takes advantage of the mitzvos of succah and shaking the four species, and performs every aspect of the holiday with love and unmitigated joy demonstrates to G-d that he is a confidant of the King, as it were, and that he is devoted to the King heart and soul.
Even after the decrees of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have been sealed it still remains to be seen how the decrees will be physically manifested in this world.
If a person who has demonstrated his great love and devotion to G-d throughout the days of Succos, then when the decrees of the Days of Awe are dispatched to this world on Hoshana Rabba, even if he has been sealed for an unfavorable year, they can “find a loophole” and transform the decree.

This concept is interwoven into the basis of the mitzvah of succah. There is a kaballistic prayer customarily recited prior to one’s fulfillment of the mitzva of succah: “May it be Your Will Hashem, My G-d, and the G-d of my forefathers, that You cause Your Presence to reside among us….. And in the merit of my leaving my house to go out – and I will enthusiastically pursue the path of Your commandments – may this be reckoned as if I have wandered afar… May you seal the Book of Life for our benefit, and allow us to dwell many days upon the land, the Holy Land, in Your service and in Your reverence…“
Peskita d’Rav Kahana explains that if G-d decreed that Klal Yisroel was deserving of exile during the coming year, we pray that our exiting our homes and “exiling” ourselves into the succah be a sufficient fulfillment of the decree.

“A slave who comes to dilute wine for his master”
“May you seal the Book of Life for our benefit”

[1] Mr. Joseph a’h was our neighbor for the five years that we resided in our apartment in Blueberry Hills Condominiums, until his passing on Hoshana Rabba 5768.
Mr. Joseph lived alone for many years (his wife had passed away over a decade before he did). Despite the fact that he survived the horrors of the Holocaust he never lost his pleasantness and the golden smile etched on his face, which hid the pain that was embedded on his heart. Erev Shabbos when his grandchildren would come to visit him, our children and his grandchildren would run back and forth between our apartments, much to his pleasure.
It was a Shabbos ritual for us to see Mr. Joseph walking alone slowly home from shul clutching his tallis. My children and I would race out of our apartment to wish him Good Shabbos. He would walk slowly up the steps, put his hand on the mezuzah and kiss it gently. Then, when he noticed me and my children, his eyes would light up. They would give him a handshake and a kiss, and he would happily wish them Good Shabbos and ask them how they were doing. He would ask me about how I was doing and how my wife was feeling. When I would return the question his response was always the same, “Everything is alright!” Then with a smile and a wave that hinted to the fact that it wasn’t all alright he would wish me ‘good Shabbos’ and disappear into his apartment.
On Hoshana Rabbah 5768, as we were preparing to leave for Yom Tov, I was alerted to the fact that he had not answered his phone or answered his door that morning. I went to his window and opened it from the outside, where I found him peacefully lying on his bed. May his memory be for a blessing!   
[2] In earlier times, wine was very thick and highly concentrated and needed to be diluted with water before it could be drunk.
[3] Mishna Succah 2:9
[4] Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (Vilna Gaon). His yahrtzeit (anniversary of the day of his death) is on the third day of Chol Hamoed Succos. 
[5] Vayikra 31:72
[6] A chapp/ koontz imply a witty twist that forces a person to say “aha” with a certain level of satisfaction.
[7] The classic physical symbol of gemara learning is a closed fist with the thumb out being turned through the air at 180 degrees.
[8] We find this concept in regards to the story of Purim. After Haman was killed by King Achashveirosh, Queen Esther pleaded with the king that he absolve Haman’s wicked decree which called for the eradication of the entire Jewish Nation. The king replied that he could not do so because once a decree was sealed with the stamp of the king it could not be retracted. The solution was that although they could not retract the decree which stated that the Jews were to be killed on the thirteenth day of Adar, there was no reason why a second decree couldn’t be passed that said the Jews could defend themselves.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


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


·         “Happiness is a Swedish sunset--it is there for all, but most of us look the other way and lose it.” (Mark Twain)
·         “A person tends to be as happy as he makes himself” (Abe Lincoln)
·         Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get." (Dave Gardner)
·         "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." (Oscar Wilde)

·         “Real happiness is what you experience when you are doing what you should be doing. When you are moving clearly along your own road, your unique path to your unique destination, you experience real happiness. When you are moving along the path that leads to yourself, to the deep discovery of who you really are, when you are building the essence of your own personality and creating yourself, a deep happiness wells up within you. The journey does not cause happiness, the journey is the happiness itself.” (Rabbi Akiva Tatz)

The following thoughts were adapted from a lecture I was privileged to hear from Harav Meir Rogosnitzky shlita, on the second evening of Succos 5768 in Kehillas Kol Chaim, Lakewood, NJ.[1] 

 “In succos (huts) you shall dwell for seven days; every citizen in Yisroel shall dwell in succos. In order that your generations shall know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in succos when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, your G-d.”[2]
The gemara quotes a disagreement between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer as to why we live in succos for the duration of the seven day festival. Rabbi Eliezer opines that it is in commemoration of the Clouds of Glory which enveloped and protected our forefathers during their forty year sojourns in the perilous desert. When we sit in our succos we assert our belief that, just as G-d was the sole protector of our ancestors in the desert, so too ultimately G-d is our only protector. Rabbi Akiva argues that our succos commemorate the physical huts which our ancestors constructed in the desert to serve as their temporary homes.
Rabbi Akiva’s opinion begs explanation. Why should we dwell in huts just because they dwelled in huts? What is the point of imitating their mode of lifestyle when they had little else, if we have the ability to live in a far more comfortable manner?
Rashbam explains that the desert is a vast wasteland, devoid of production or protection. During their forty years in the desert the nation subsisted on manna and supernatural miracles because there was nothing else available to them. However, as soon as they entered the Promised Land they were able to build homes, have fields and vineyards, and live more comfortable lifestyles. However, that lifestyle presented a grave spiritual danger. When one supports himself from the production that comes from his own efforts he can easily grow haughty and ‘forget G-d’. Therefore, each year - right in the middle of the season of the harvest - we leave our homes and move into huts.
As we sit in a succah as our forefathers did, we remind ourselves of the complete faith that they had in G-d when they were in the desert. This allows us to maintain a proper perspective about our own successes. It reminds us that it is G-d who grants blessing and bounty, all of our efforts not withstanding. According to Rashbam the succah is no more than a physical reminder to help us maintain our faith during this season. 
Ramban offers a similar explanation about the mitzvah of succah. However, he adds a key point: “And G-d was with them; they lacked nothing.” In other words, the reason why we must recall the fact that they lived in huts in the desert is to remind us that, despite the fact that they were in the desert, G-d provided their basic needs to the extent that they lacked nothing.
According to Ramban, the purpose of living in the succah is to remind us that G-d provides for our basic needs, and that those who trust in Him don’t feel deprived in any way. The joy of Succos is not a joy of physical pleasures and enjoyments. Rather, it is a joy that emanates from an inner realization that we are indeed lacking nothing.
It is for this reason that Megillas Koheles is read on Succos[3]. The overriding message of Koheles is that all of the physicality and pleasures of this world are futile. One who pursues a hedonistic and pampered life will find that he is unable to satiate his soul. In order to achieve real inner happiness one must recognize where happiness does not come from. Once one understands that this world “is futile of futilities” then he can seek happiness where it truly lies, from inner spiritual quests.[4]

In order to truly appreciate what happiness is one must understand the root of its opposite - sadness and mourning. In our current exile, the symbol of our national mourning is the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash. The gemara[5] explains that although during the second Temple era there was a plethora of Torah scholars and Torah scholarship, the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred, i.e. the lack of peace and harmony among Klal Yisroel. Tosefta[6] writes that although the people of that time toiled in Torah and were meticulous about removing the requisite tithes, they were exiled because they hated each other and loved money.   
The commentaries question how the Sages can assert that the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of hatred and love of money, when in the tochacha[7] in parshas Ki Savo[8] the Torah states: “All these curses will come upon you and pursue you and overtake you, until You are destroyed… because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.”[9] If the Torah itself states that retribution comes because of a lack of joy how can the Sages offer ulterior explanations?
Inner joy and happiness are rooted in feelings of purpose and direction. When one feels that he plays a unique role and that he is a necessary piece of a bigger puzzle, then he develops internal satisfaction, which breeds inner joy and contentment.
If a person lacks constant impetus and motivation then he will, G-d forbid, lapse into depression and despair. Therefore, one who lacks that internal sense of purpose will be forced to seek validation and purpose from external forces in order to maintain his motivation and drive. If he cannot find meaning within he will seek it without. He will pursue superficial sources of joy, which offer momentary instant gratification.
Thus develops the pursuit of materialism, economic success, prestige, and the amassment of wealth and assets. When one becomes involved in the relentless pursuit of financial and lucrative endeavors, it leads to insatiable greed, desire, and jealousy. Once one has become trapped in the throngs of those evil emotions hatred and enmity are never far behind.[10]
One whose entire identity and sense of purpose is invested in his material possessions and level of prestige will feel threatened by anyone who challenges what he has attained. His acrimony towards others stems from his unmitigated desire to preserve his self-identity, which is enmeshed with his amassments and achievements. His lack of true joy is essentially a result of his failure to appreciate his inner greatness and beauty.[11]
The Torah is the book of life; it teaches us the roots of all human behavior. The Oral Law is the commentary which allows us to comprehend the deeper meaning behind the actual words recorded in the Torah. The Oral law explains that the reason why the second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed was because of greed, jealousy, enmity and the relentless pursuit for money and self-aggrandizement. That was indeed the bottom line and the reason why it was destroyed. However, those were merely the symptoms of a deeper malady. The Torah itself delineates the root of the problem. How did a holy nation such as Klal Yisroel who studied Torah and were meticulous about its laws fall into such a lowly state of baseless hatred and lack of harmony? “Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart”.
Despite all of their greatness in Torah and performance of mitzvos they did not comprehend their own greatness, the importance of what they were engaged in, and how vital their role was. They did not have an adequate sense of internal self-worth and therefore they were forced to seek it in external endeavors. The downward spiraling of the nation resulted from that subtle initial failure to recognize their own value.

On Tisha B’av when we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, we also mourn the root of the destruction - our lack of self-appreciation and self-worth.
After the mourning process concludes we begin the process of consolation, i.e. the recognition that despite all of our iniquities we are not lost and that we have the capacity to rebuild ourselves and recapture what we forfeited when we sinned. Gaining this confidence is the foundation for teshuva and the process of re-creation, as it were, which commences at the beginning of the month of Elul[12].
One of the most important components of the repentance process is the recitation of the “יג' מדות – the thirteen Attributes (of G-d). The first two are “ ה' ה'” (the Name of G-d repeated). The gemara[13] explains that the two names of G-d refer to two different Attributes of G-d, “G-d before man sins, and G-d after man sins.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l[14] explains that when G-d created the world it did not have the ability to bear sin, which counters the foundation of creation. As soon as man sinned the world should have become obsolete and returned to its original state of nothingness. In His infinite mercy, G-d enacted an immediate recreation of the world, as it were, so that as soon as man sinned there was a second “emergence” of the world, a world of “G-d after man sins”. All of the following eleven attributes of G-d’s Mercy can only be effective if there is a world in existence. The second mention of the name of G-d, which represents the recreation of the world after man sins, is the foundation for all the other Attributes. Thus, repentance is not merely the G-d given ability for one to erase his past, but it is a recreation and a new existence of himself and the entire world.
On Yom Kippur we abstain from eating, drinking, and other basic physical enjoyments and needs. In so doing, we demonstrate our understanding that because we are sullied with sin we are undeserving to partake in the pleasures of this world, and even to exist at all. However, through the service of the day and through our painstaking efforts to repent and repair the damage our sins have caused, we merit becoming new creations. We emerge from the awesome day like a child with a tabula rasa. After undergoing that purification process we are again worthy of enjoying the physical world.
When we have reached that level of rebirth after Yom Kippur we can begin to reflect upon our value and importance. With the opportunity for “rebirth” that Yom Kippur affords one can reach the internal level of inner joy and happiness that was forfeited at the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.
Succos is called the “time of our joy” because the realization of our internal greatness and our importance as members of Klal Yisroel leads to the most sublime level of genuine joy.
When one has a true sense of inner joy he will not need to pursue it in external superficial pursuits. Thus during the holiday of Succos we exit our homes and leave behind the temporal pleasures of this world which falsely give us a sense of meaning throughout the year. This allows us to focus on true joy, relieved from the burden of material competitiveness, and internally content that we lack nothing.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains similarly that the essence of the mitzvah of succah is to demonstrate to its adherents that true joy results from spiritual pursuits, not physical commodities or pleasures. He explains that this concept is the root of many of the laws pertaining to the s’chach (the covering of the succah).
“The products of earth cut off from nature and lacking the stamp of Man’s power is exactly what the law prescribed for the s’chach which form our succahs. It must be a product of the earth (gedulai karka) but it must be neither joined to the earth (mechubar), so that he who places himself under it would be committing himself to the protection of the powers of the earth, nor may it be susceptible to halachic impurity (mekabel tumah), such as fruits or vessels which bear the imprint of Man’s mastery.
“So that our succah-roofing has either the signs of the Clouds of Glory, they too, have their origin in the ground – and still has neither the character of the power of the earth nor that of Man; or it brings to mind literal huts (succos mamash- the opinion of Rabbi Akiva mentioned earlier), it has the character of the wilderness, the abandonment of the normal assistance of Nature and Man, it may be neither from the threshing-floor nor the wine-press (goren v’yakav), the normal means of food and enjoyment, but it is the refuse from the threshing-floor and the wine-press (p’soles goren v’yakav), that which people throw away as being empty of nourishment or enjoyment.”
In regards to the succah there is a unique exemption, metztaer patur min hasuccah - one who is in extreme discomfort because of the succah is exempt from it. Rabbi Hirsch explains that the objective of the succah is for one to contemplate and realize the joy and bliss one can achieve without fleeting temporal comforts. But one who is in distress will be unable to appreciate that essential lesson and, therefore, is exempt from it.     
The joy of Succos is the joy that stems from the recognition that every person is invaluable, a vital asset to Klal Yisroel. When we sit in the succah we focus on our personal worth, protected and loved by G-d. When we shake the four species, which symbolize the binding of all of Klal Yisroel together in harmony and peace, we focus on our importance as part of that binding. Thus, these two central mitzvos of the holiday, the succcah and the Four Species, symbolize the basis of our joy.

The holiday of Succos represents the true antidote for the mourning of Tisha B’av. It is truly the conclusion and culmination of the consolation and comfort process. We sinned because we failed to realize our greatness; now we celebrate because we have arrived at an understanding of how individually great and valuable we all are.

“You did not serve Hashem amid gladness and goodness of heart”
 “In succos you shall dwell for seven days”

[1] Rabbi Rogosnitzky was a Rabbi in England and co-director of a kollel in Amsterdam before coming to Lakewood. Besides being an erudite scholar he is also a deep thinker. This lecture contains a powerful thought that connects many of the different aspects of the glorious holiday of Succos. I hope I have done it justice.
[2] Vayikra 23:42-43
[3] It is read on Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos
[4] Based on a thought from Harav Yaakov Neiman zt’l in Darkei Mussar
[5] Yoma 9b
[6] Menachos chap. 13
[7] ‘verses of rebuke’
[8] Ramban writes that the rebuke of Ki Savo refers specifically to the calamities that would befall the nation at the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash.
[9] Devorim 28:45-47
[10] As someone mentioned to me on Yom Kippur, “I pray that G-d should give prosperity and blessing to all of Klal Yisroel, EXCEPT my competitor who should be blessed with financial ruin speedily in my days.”
[11] Based on a thought from Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, Rosh Kollel in Miami, FL
[12] Although the “three weeks” end on the tenth of Av, during the following seven weeks the haftoros (portion from the prophets read after the Torah reading on Shabbos morning) contain words of consolation and comfort. They are aptly termed the ‘shiva d’nichemta- the seven of comfort’.  The final of the seven is read during the final Shabbos of the year (i.e. the Shabbos prior to Rosh Hashnana). Thus the process of mourning which began on Shvia Asar B’Tammuz and continued until Tisha B’Av, does not truly end until we are well into our process of repentance. It is clear that the mourning/comfort and repentance processes are inextricable connected.
[13] Rosh Hashana 17b
[14] See Pachad Yitzchak, Yom Kippur 1:5 where this concept is explained in detail.