Thursday, January 29, 2015


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


Reb Dovid Blinder was a noted scholar in Russia in the late 1800s.[1] He taught children Torah when the egregious Cantonist decrees were in place[2]. To hide from the soldiers, Reb Dovid would learn with his students in underground cellars. One day, while studying with a student, a soldier standing near the house heard his voice. The soldier immediately burst into the cellar and rushed at the child. But before the soldier was able to apprehend him, Reb Dovid pushed the soldier to the floor, and rescued the child from conscription.
          As can be imagined, Reb Dovid’s actions were viewed as treasonous, and it took a tremendous amount of political effort and ‘string pulling’ to protect him form being imprisoned.
The next time the Bais HaLevi[3] met Reb Dovid, he asked him how he had the courage to assault a soldier. Reb Dovid sheepishly replied, “The truth is that I had no idea that he was a soldier. All I knew was that I was trying to teach my student Torah and someone barged in and impeded my lesson. So, without thinking more about it, I shoved him.”

          After the splitting of the Sea, “The nations heard... fright gripped them”[4]. Every nation was overwhelmed by the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Sea. At that point, no one would have the audacity to attack the Jews, save one nation. Defying logic Amalek, the nemesis of Klal Yisroel, attacked.
          Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains that this strident unprovoked attack was a continuation of the epic battle that began centuries earlier. Prior to Yaakov’s confrontation with Eisav he was challenged by Eisav’s Angel. That battle was essentially a struggle for supremacy and superiority as to whose philosophical outlook would reign supreme. Was Yaakov and his devotion to holiness and divinity the true dominator of the world or was it Eisav and life by the sword? Although Yaakov triumphed over Eisav’s Angel he had not vanquished him. Now, centuries later, when Yaakov’s descendants were redeemed from the Egyptian exile, they were immediately greeted by Eisav’s grandson, Amalek. 
          The struggle between Yaakov and Eisav, which re-manifested itself in the struggle between Klal Yisroel and Amalek, is the ongoing struggle between holiness and impurity.
Rabbi Hirsch asserts that even Pharaoh, who sanctioned ruthless slavery, could be a promoter of freedom if it served his interests. Amalek however, will never allow his sword to rest as long as Klal Yisroel exists. The mere existence of Klal Yisroel is an anathema to Amalek.
          “In Israel he sees the object of moral hate and complete disdain, where one dares to think the sword is dispensable, where one dares to trust in spiritual-moral powers, powers of which the sword has no idea, and which are beyond its reach. In the representative of the idea of the greatness which Man can attain by peace, Amalek sees the utter scorn of all his principles, sees in it his own real enemy, and senses somehow his own ultimate collapse… Attacked by Amalek, Israel had to wage war, but it is not Israel’s sword but Moshes’ staff that conquers Amalek; and it is not any magical power in the staff but the faith which is expressed and brought to the minds of the people by the uplifted hand, the giving oneself up with complete confidence to G-d that achieved the victory.”                   
          Rabbi Hirsch continues, “It is not Amalek who is so pernicious for the moral future of mankind but zecher Amalek, the glorifying of the memory of Amalek which is the danger.“
He explains that as long as mankind glorifies those who accomplish their objectives through violence and force Amalek will endure. Only when the divine laws become the sole criterion for the worth of man and society will Amalek finally be vanquished. Only when there is no longer any trace of his nefarious agenda, i.e. his memory is blotted out, that Amalek himself will cease to exist.
          Klal Yisroel is involved in a perpetual war with Amalek. Amalek’s greatness lies in ‘destruction’. This is in stark contrast with the Jewish nation whose mission is ‘building’, the peaceful human development of everything earthly up to G-d.
One of the great lessons of the commandment that we blot out the memory of Amalek while at the same time remembering the havoc that he wrought[5] is to realize that “building” will at times require battle. Our mission to be the nation of builders entails that we be prepared for combat to defend our cause. The war maybe fought with an unconventional arsenal of weapons, but it is a war nonetheless.

          On September 30, 1938 English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact with Adolph Hitler. The pact, part of the Allies’ efforts at appeasement, granted Hitler the Sudetenland. When he returned to England, Chamberlain addressed throngs of cheering crowds. He concluded his address with haunting words: “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time… Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”[6]
His words were immediately challenged by his foremost critic, Winston Churchill, who declared: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor; you will have war!”
          The Amalek of our time is as virulent and enmity-filled as ever, but there are many who refuse to believe it. We simply have a hard time believing the extent of the evilness of Amalek. How much blood has been spilled trying to pacify and appease Amalekites who never had or have any intentions of making peace?
          Judaism is not a “religion of love”[7]; Judaism is a religion of G-d and fulfillment of the Divine Will. The wisest of men stated, “There is a time to love and a time to hate[8]”. Our mission is to spread holiness and to wage war against those who seek to destroy it.

          In the late 1960s during the era of hippies, flower children, and free love, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l told a self-proclaimed ‘lover of humanity’ that he was paying lip service to an ideal that he didn’t really believe in.  He continued with a powerful thought: “You say that you are in love with everything. But if nothing makes you angry, then you don’t really love. If you don’t hate you can’t love! Ohavei Hashem sinu ra- Those who love G-d abhor evil!”
          When someone loves someone passionately he wants to honor and glorify that person as much as possible. If someone dedicates himself to defaming the person he loves, he will inevitably feel disdain for that person. If one does not feel such strong emotions his love isn’t genuine.

          Our battle against Amalek has not yet reached its resolution. It serves as a reminder of the capability of man to descend into a state of human beastliness. We maintain our enmity for Amalek, not merely for the sake of our own welfare, but because Amalek has dedicated itself to the desecration of all that is holy and Divine. Amalek may wear a different mask, but his mission has not changed at all.
Our sages warn that one who has misappropriated mercy for an evil person will end up suffering and regretting it.[9] This was demonstrated by the debacle of King Shaul. Shaul had been instructed by the prophet Shmuel to destroy all of Amalek, including all women, children, and animals. Out of compassion Shaul spared the sheep. Shaul did not realize that the Amalekite King, Agag, had utilized witchcraft to transform himself into a sheep and thus escape the sword. From Agag descended Haman, the villain of the Purim story.    
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to accompany a friend who was driving Rabbi Aharon Schechter shlita[10] to a wedding. It was shortly after Yasir Arafat had died. I asked the Rosh Yeshiva how a Torah Jew should view Arafat’s death. Rabbi Schechter replied succinctly by quoting the verse: “ובאבד רשעים רנה – And when the wicked are destroyed (there is) joy.”[11]

          The Mishna[12] relates that Tu B’shvat[13] is the ‘New Year for Trees’. Every tree’s production during the coming year is decided on that day.
In order to produce growth and vegetation, any farmer knows that it is not sufficient for him to put seeds in the ground and water it. He must also pull up the weeds around his vegetation and prune the unnecessary branches on his fruit-bearing trees.
          The physical world is a metaphor for the spiritual world. As the Chosen Nation it is not enough for us to engage in altruistic acts of kindness and holiness. We also have an obligation to weed out the evils of this world and chop away at those who seek to undermine our message.    
          Tu B’shvat is not only a holiday in and of itself, but it also ushers in a joyous period of celebration. Tu B’shavt is thirty days prior to Purim[14] and Purim is thirty days prior to Pesach, which begins the count toward our annual (re)acceptance of the Torah on Shavuos.[15] The winter may still be casting its bitter cold and dark days, but within the trees the sap is beginning its ascent in its preparation for the rebirth of spring.
          In a spiritual sense as well, we recommit ourselves to our unyielding love for G-d and His Service and our passionate enmity for those who have committed themselves to its opposition.
The destruction and undermining of evil is a cause for celebration and song. The Shabbos when we read about the destruction of the Egyptians and the weakening of Amalek becomes “Shabbos Shirah”, a Shabbos of song!     

“Those who love G-d abhor evil”
       “If you don’t hate you can’t love”

[1] He was called ‘Blinder’ (blind man) because he never lifted his head to look outside his immediate area. Among his other achievements, he had the distinction of teaching Rabbi Chaim Brisker in his youth.
[3] Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik zt’l (1820-1892), the saintly Rabbi of the town of Brisk and the father of Rabbi Chaim Brisker.
[4] Shemos 15:14
[5] See Devarim (25:17) “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road when you left Egypt.”
[6] Winston Churchill commented that “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last”.
[7] As the Ramban mentioned in his famous debate against the renegade Jew, Pablo Christiani in 1267 in front of Spanish King James I of Aragon, “How much blood has been shed and how much have we suffered at the behest of the so-called “religion of love”?”
[8] Koheles 3:8
[9] וַיַּחְמֹל שָאוּל וְהָעָם עַל אֲגָג [שמואל א' טו:ט]. אמר רבי שמעון בן לוי: כל שהוא אכזר על רחמנין סוף שהוא נעשה רחמן על אכזרים. כל שהוא רחמן על אכזרים סופו ליפול בחרב
מדרש שמואל --
[10] Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn NY, and one of our America’s Torah leaders
[11] Mishlei 11:10
[12] Rosh Hashana 1:1
[13] [The Hebrew letters טו (Tu) have the numerical value of fifteen. Tu B’shvat is the celebration that occurs on the fifteenth day of Shevat. Many refer to the day as Chamisha Asar B’Shvat.
[14] except in a Jewish leap year
[15] There are opinions that directly connect the joy of Tu B’shavt with the imminent days of joy.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


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


          The verse in Parshas Bo states: למען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך... וידעתם כי אני ה'" – In order that you will relate in the ears of your sons and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt and the signs that I placed in them, and you will know that I am G-d.”
Relating the story of the exodus is an integral part of the process of instilling within one’s children knowledge and faith in G-d.
Why does the verse say “in the ears of your sons and your son’s sons”? If every person has an obligation to teach his own son, what obligation is incumbent upon the grandfather?
Also, why does the pasuk say one should, “relate the story in the ears of his son”? To what other organ would one relate the story?
Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried zt’l[2] explains that the obligation to educate one’s child is not merely about imparting information and details about past occurrences. Rather, education entails conveying lessons that will excite a child and speak to his heart. The lessons must be taught in a way that the child will internalize the message.
Personalized education cannot be taught in a collective forum; it must be taught on an individual level. Thus the pasuk says that one must relate the seminal story of the exodus to his son in a manner which will passionately excite him. Then, years later, he will relate it to his own son with the same passion and excitement.
We can add that it is for this reason that the verse states that one must speak “in the ears of his son”. It is alluding to this lesson, that one cannot teach faith with generic collective lessons. It must be tailored toward each child, spoken into his own ear. In that way, the son will want to convey that same emotional excitement about his faith to the next generation.

                   In the haggadah four different types of sons are addressed. This is itself an important principle in education. One must speak to each child in the manner in which he can hear it. One cannot speak to the wise son the same way that he speaks to the wicked son nor can one speak to the simple son using the same words he uses to engage the ‘son who does not know how to ask’.
In the recitation of the haggadah, when the Four Sons are introduced, the vernacular of the haggadah is, “חכם מה הוא אומר... רשע מה הוא אומר... - The Wise Son what does he say…The Wicked Son what does he say?...”  It does not say “what does he ask?” but “what does he say?”
A father must realize how his son is asking his question. He must extrapolate the deeper unstated message that his son is conveying. What does his question and attitude convey about where he is holding? From the son’s question one must hear not only the words he uses, but also, “what is he saying”. What depth of character and soul is he expressing through his question?

When Klal Yisroel arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah, the verse states, “בחדש השלישי לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני" – In the third month after the Children of Israel departed from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Desert of Sinai.” Rashi explains that the words “ביום הזה - on this day” are superfluous. They teach us that, “the words of Torah must be renewed upon you as if they were given that day.”
There are two points that require explanation: In parshas Ki Seitzei[3], Rashi quotes a similar teaching, “Each and every day they (the words of Torah) should be in your eyes as if they are new; as if they were commanded to you today.” Why is it necessary for the Torah to repeat this idea?
Furthermore, the aforementioned verse refers to the first day of Sivan when the weary nation first arrived at Sinai. Aside from arriving at the foot of the mountain no other significant event occurred on that day; the actual process of giving the Torah essentially did not begin until the following day. It seems incongruous to learn that the Torah must feel ‘like new’ each day from the verse discussing the day prior to the giving of the Torah?
The Torah is like a super highway that is immutable and unchanging. Torah is called, “mesilos bilev- pathways in one’s heart”. However there are many roads, paths, byways, overpasses, and underpasses that lead to, and are adjacent to, that major highway. In order to remain headed in the right direction without losing one’s way it is often vital for one to learn those adjacent byways and pathways.
In parshas Ki Setzei the Torah is indeed exhorting every Jew to view the Torah as if it was given that day. However, here[4] the Torah is alluding to a different fundamental idea. “כחדשים – as if it were new” here refers not to Torah itself but how one relates to Torah. Each and every day requires a new assessment of the optimal way to teach and relate to Torah that day.
One day a Rebbe may assess that a specific student cannot be pushed to learn too much for whatever reason. The next day however, it may be necessary for the Rebbe to put added pressure on that student because the Rebbe realizes that on that day the student can accomplish more.
A teacher must know well the temperament, capabilities, and capacities of each student in order to know how to relate to that student, and how much can be demanded of that student. Every day that assessment must be made anew.
G-d had been waiting to give the Torah since before the world was created. Why did G-d not immediately commence the process when Klal Yisroel arrived at Sinai? Why did He wait until the next day; was that not a needless waste of time?
The answer is that G-d understood that Klal Yisroel was weary from the journey. Accepting the Torah required their full concentration and involvement, which would be tremendously challenging for them at that point. So despite G-d’s great desire to give the Torah, as it were, He waited until the next day. Therefore, it is wholly appropriate to learn the lesson of reassessing one’s capabilities each day specifically from that verse. That verse demonstrates that G-d Himself granted the nation leeway because He recognized their inability to accomplish more on that day. Every educator must make that same assessment about his own students, children, and selves.

This idea of viewing the Torah “kachadashim- like new”, i.e. by constantly reassessing one’s abilities each day, has far reaching implications. It is true not only of an individual but about our general approach to Torah and our Service to G-d.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler zt’l[5] writes that each generation has its own challenge that is dissimilar to the challenge of previous generations. For example, in the generation of the Rambam the major challenge was maintaining faith. At that time there was great admiration for the teachings of Aristotle and Aristotelian philosophy. Whenever his teachings contradicted Torah there were many who preferred to believe that the Torah was mistaken (G-d forbid) than to think Aristotle’s logic was faulty. It was for this reason that the Rambam wrote his great philosophical work, “Moreh Nevuchim- A Guide for the Perplexed” to counter this tide. In it he discussed the veracity of Torah especially when Aristotelian thought countered it.
If this is true why do we not teach Moreh Nevuchim on all college campuses? Why do we not mass print it in English and have everyone read it. Wouldn’t that solve all the crises of faith?
The answer is that the challenge of our generation is vastly different.[6] Our challenges and tests of faith are far different than the challenges of the generation of the Rambam and, therefore, what worked for his generation will not work for our generation.

A few other examples of this idea:
When the Jewish Nation was preparing to leave Egypt, G-d commanded them to take clothing from the Egyptians and put it on their daughters and sons. This seems shocking! One of the three merits which made the nation worthy of redemption was that throughout the exile they did not alter their mode of dress to look like the Egyptians. How is it possible that at the moment of redemption they would don their children in clothing that they had distanced themselves from throughout the exile?
The answer is that this was a powerful message to Klal Yisroel. G-d was showing that it was not particularly the Egyptian’s clothing that was bad; the fabrics and colors were not inherently evil. Rather, it was what they represented. Throughout the years of exile if a Jew would don Egyptian clothing it would symbolize his desire to be similar to the Egyptians and to shed his uniqueness as a Jew. But at this point after Egypt was ravaged and decimated and it was “no longer hip” to look like an Egyptian, the Egyptian clothing no longer bore that negative symbolism. Therefore, at this point there was nothing wrong with the Jews wearing them.
The lesson was that even something which is absolutely abhorrent today (“treif chazir”) can be perfectly acceptable (“glatt kosher”) tomorrow! It depends on the implication and the symbolism. It wasn’t the clothing of the Egyptians that was the problem per se, but what they represented.

When I was a student in Yeshiva in Miami in the 1960s I had classmates who grew their hair long. It was very hip at that time for men to have long hair like the drummer of the band, the Beatles (the two-legged Beatles, not the six-legged beetles). One Friday the dean of the Yeshiva called the boys in and told them they had until Sunday to get a haircut or they would not be allowed back in to class. The wily boys countered, “But Rebbe, we want to be like the Nazir who grew his hair long”[7]. The wise dean stood his ground and merely repeated that they had until Sunday.
Truthfully there may be nothing halachically wrong with a man having long hair. A Nazir was indeed obligated to have long hair. It is not long hair itself that is a problem but what it represents. The Nazir’s long hair was a sign of holiness, a crown of spirituality. But the long hair of the boys in yeshiva represented their desire to imitate an outside influence that had absolutely no connection to Torah.

When the Chinuch Atzmai Yeshivos were first opened, there was a major dispute about the language in which classes would be taught.[8] The founders were convinced that they would not be teaching in ivrit (Modern Day Hebrew) as there had been tremendous opposition to ivrit, especially by Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt’l when the state decided to adopt Hebrew as its official language.[9]
They were shocked when the Chazon Ish ruled that they should indeed teach in Hebrew. The Chazon Ish explained with a parable: Imagine if during World War II A retired war hero from World War I was summoned to assist the military strategists with his sagacious advice. The general immediately set to work drawing up plans of brilliant maneuvers utilizing box planes and other primitive weaponry used in World War I. We can well imagine that they would throw his plans out the window and send him home. His ideas were simply worthless. The rules of war had changed and weapons then included fighter jets, tanks, and even sonar radar. You can’t fight WWII with WWI weapons!
In the same vein, the Chazon Ish explained that when it was first decided by individuals who had abandoned Torah that Hebrew would be the language of choice in the newly formed country, the Torah leaders of that time waged a holy battle against it. They battled to preserve the holiness and sanctity of Torah against those who were completely antithetical to its values. However, some decades later when the Chinuch Atzami schools were founded, its students were completely ignorant of Torah. Their parents too had grown up in secular homes devoid of all traces of Torah values. If they wouldn’t teach in the language the children spoke, they would not be able to relate to the students and would not be able to meet their goals.
Rabbi Sonnenfeld’s battle against Hebrew was to preserve the spirit of Torah. But a few decades later preserving Torah entailed adopting Hebrew. The weapons had changed and the battle had to change with it!

The first time that I was in Yerushalayim for Succos, I was shocked when I saw that they were selling x-mas lights still in the original packaging, as decorations for the succah. I realized that to them those lights had absolutely no significance other than being a beautiful decoration for their succah. In fact, I would venture to think that if a real Jerusalemite Jew happened to be in New York at the beginning of the winter he would think that the Americans stole their succah decorations….

          Even the manner in which one learns and explains Torah must be suited to that generation and an understanding of its challenges.
Whenever the gemara is left with a question for which it has no answer, the gemara states, "תיקו" – an acronym for "תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות"- Eilyahu HaTishbi (Elijah the Prophet from Tishbi) will answer all questions and unresolved difficulties.” Why is Eliyahu destined to answer all unresolved questions and not Moshe, the Rebbe of all of Klal Yisroel, or Rabbi Akiva, the consummate teacher of Torah?
          The answer is that our Sages tell us that Eliyahu never died, but rather ascended to the heavens alive. Since he has lived throughout the generations and understands first-hand the challenges and difficulties of each individual generation. He is most capable to answer all questions.[10]
In two of his teshuvos (respona), Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l - one of the foremost Torah authorities of the previous generation - wrote that he would not give a final ruling about a specific halachic matter because it was chiefly an ‘Eretz Yisroel issue’ and therefore the Torah leaders there had to decide. [11]

In connection with the Jewish King, we are taught: "And it shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah (Mishneh Torah) in a scroll, from before the Kohanim, the Levites"[12].
Rashi interprets the phrase “Mishneh Torah” as referring to two Torah scrolls -­ one which he places in his treasury and one that enters and goes forth with him.
Rav Elya Meir Bloch zt’l explains that the reason why a king needs two Torah scrolls is because a monarch must always be sensitive to what his generation can accept.
We would never suggest that Torah should be corrupted and halacha should be compromised to be palatable to the lowest common denominator in society. But it is important to know that sometimes a particular generation may not be able to accept all of Torah all at once. The king must be aware that he cannot overload the people with a burden that surpasses their spiritual capabilities at that moment.
Rav Elya Meir Bloch cites a pasuk from Prophets that suggests this same idea: " ה' נתן לי לשון למודים לדעת לעות את יעף דבר יעיר בבקר בבקר יעיר לי אזן לשמע  כלמודים - My G-d, Hashem/Elokim, has granted me a tongue for teaching, to understand the need of the times in conveying matters to those who thirst (for knowledge)"[13]. The prophet or king or Jewish leader must realize that there are certain situations when he must strengthen the people and he might need to do it in a way in which he does not do it all at once. The masses do not always operate at the level at which it will be productive to demand the maximum of them in every instance.
The king must have a special Torah that goes out with him and comes in with him. This must be the scroll he uses when he preaches to the nation. This is the scroll that teaches him what should be said and what should not be said. But then the king needs also a pristine Torah scroll that never leaves the ivory tower of his treasury house. This is the "master copy" that he must always look back at as a reference point. He must always have in mind the "gold standard" of Torah in his treasury house, despite the fact that he may be preaching from a different Torah scroll when he goes out amidst the masses.
The real perception of Torah must be the king's reference point that can never be totally pushed aside.

“In order that you will relate in the ears of your sons and your son’s sons”
“My G-d has granted me… to understand the need of the times”

[1] The following thoughts are my personal notes from a lecture given by renowned speaker and educator Rabbi Zev Leff shlita, at the Torah Umesorah Convention this past May. In this lecture he elucidated some important ideas about contemporary education, drawing from his characteristic anecdotal wit and vast repertoire of Torah knowledge and insights. 
[2] Apiryon
[3] (Devorim 26:16) derived from the words, “on this day G-d is commanding”
[4] in parshas Yisro at the Giving of the Torah
[5] Michtav MaEliyahu
[6] “Today people think Aristotle must be the name of some rock star. Hardly anyone is familiar with the philosophies of Aristotle and other great thinkers. Our great philosophical debates are whether to put mustard or ketchup on my hotdog. And that decision is not easy for many people…”
[7] A nazir is a Jew who took the ascetic vow described in Bamidbar 6:1-21. The term "nazir" means "consecrated" or "separated".  This vow required the man or woman to observe certain stringencies throughout their period of nezirus, including abstaining from wine, cutting hair, and becoming impure from contact with a dead body.
[8] Chinuch Atzmai was founded in 1953 by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel in Israel) to serve as an alternate school system for Orthodox children in Israel.
[9] [There is a legend that Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld once met Eliezer “ben-Yehuda”[9] on the street. Ben-Yehuda asked him, “isn’t it wonderful that we revived the Hebrew language in our land?” Rabbi Yosef Chaim replied, “Wine is a wonderful thing. We use it to perform all sorts of mitzvos. Yet, if it falls in to the wrong hands, the whole bottle becomes forbidden for usage and we spill it all out. So too, Lashon Hakodesh (lit. the Holy Tongue) is the most wonderful language. But now that it has been tampered with, it has become defiled.
Ben-Yehuda replied by angrily muttering, “Harav omer Shtusim (The Rav is saying stupidity)”. Rabbi Yosef Chaim immediately replied, “B’ivrit omrim shtuyot (In proper grammatical Hebrew the word for stupidity is shtuyot)” Unsurprisingly, Ben Yehuda walked away irate.]

[10] Based on Bais Elokim, Shaar Hayesodos, perek 60  
[11] "והנה להלכה למעשה צריך לידע מגדולי ישראל שבא'י איך לנהוג בכל דבר בעניני שמיטה ולעשות כמו שנהגו גדולי ישראל שהיתה דירתם קבועה בא'י וגם הגרי'ז מבריסק והחזון איש היו שם וידוע ודאי לבניהם ותלמידיהם איך שנהגו"  (אג''מ,יו''ד ג:קלא)
"הארכתי בזה לבאר דעתי לדינא אבל חס לו להקל בא'י לאלו שאוכלין אותן כיון שהדר'ג הורה כן ויודע יותר דרך תושבי א'י" (אג'מ, או'ח ד:עז)
[12] Devorim 17:18
[13] Yeshaya 50:4

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


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


“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” (Albert Einstein) 

A man once came to a psychiatrist for a consultation. “Doc,” the man began, “I live in a beautiful mansion, located on a spacious two hundred acre countryside. I have a housekeeper, a gardener, a maid, a private chauffeur, and two luxury limousines.”
The psychiatrist was becoming impatient. “I don’t need to hear about all your wealth. Why did you come here?” The man smiled sheepishly, “I was just getting to that. You see, I only earn $200 a week! Do you think you can you help me?”  

“G-d spoke to Moshe…. I have heard the groan of the Children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am G-d, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; and I shall rescue you from their service; and I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be for a G-d to you…”[1]
The Medrash[2] notes that the four expressions of redemption that G-d utilized corresponded to four nefarious edicts that Pharaoh decreed against the Jews. In commemoration of those four expressions of redemption we drink four cups of wine at the Seder on the night of Pesach.

Ramban explains that each expression of redemption corresponded to a different component of the redemption. “I shall take you out” referred to G-d’s promise that He would take them out from the land and they would no longer have to bear the brunt of the servitude.
“I shall rescue you” referred to the fact that the Egyptians would no longer rule over them at all. When the Jews would leave they would have absolutely no obligations to their former captors.
“I shall redeem you” referred to G-d’s infliction of severe retribution and judgment upon the Egyptians. It would continue until the Egyptians cried out in desperation, ‘Here is Israel for you. Set them free as redemption for our souls!’ Ramban adds that the metaphoric “outstretched arm” alluded to the fact that G-d’s arm would remain outstretched unremittingly against the Egyptians until they sent the Israelites out.
Finally, “I shall take you” referred to the nation’s arrival at Sinai where they received the Torah.”
Seforno offers a similar explanation[3]. However, he explains that the expression, ‘I will redeem you’ refers to the Egyptians drowning in the sea. It was specifically then that the Jewish nation began to view themselves as a free people and not as a band of fugitives.

Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l questions why the third expression/level of redemption was necessary. If the servitude had ceased and the nation had left the physical confines of the country, why was there a need for the decimation of the remaining soldiers in the Egyptian army? Furthermore, why did G-d harden Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh pursued the Jews, despite the fact that his country was in a state of smoldering ruins due to his obstinate refusal to liberate them sooner?
In addition, Seforno’s explanation that the Jewish people did not feel free until the Egyptians were destroyed is enigmatic. The Jews knew that they descended from worthy lineage and that they were destined for greatness. If the Egyptians no longer had any dominance over them why would the Jews continue to feel any sense of subservience to them?
Rabbi Leibowitz answers that the human mind does not always work in tandem with reality. The truth is that were it not for that final miracle, which brought about the utter obliteration of the Egyptian army, the Jews would have indeed continued to view themselves as slaves. The reality is that even after a slave is freed it takes a significant amount of time before the slave can rid himself of the slave mentality.
This is true about people generally. It is incomparably more difficult to effect a physical change than it is for one to change the manner in which he views himself.
The Jews were intellectually aware of their pedigree and their destiny. However, after two centuries of being at the bottom of the totem pole, they could not undo their distorted psychological perceptions of their identity. The Egyptians did not merely enslave the Jews physically. They also succeeded in causing the Jews to view themselves as an underprivileged caste of untouchables.
G-d ensured that the Jews witness the physical decimation of the Egyptian army to ingrain within their hearts and minds that they no longer maintained any connection with their former tormentors. Not only were the Egyptians forces destroyed, they had also been humiliated and disgraced.
Rabbi Leibowitz asserts that without the level of “I shall redeem you” and G-d’s Outstretched Arm, even consequentially receiving the Torah at Sinai would have been insufficient to remove their skepticism of their newfound privileged status. The third level of redemption, “I will redeem you”, symbolized the concretization of their psychological redemption.
Rabbi Leibowitz concludes that it is important to realize just how difficult it is for one to change his perceptions and views, especially views one has maintained throughout his life. Human nature is to cling to one’s opinions and views, at times even after realizing that they are erroneous. The Jews surely wanted to view themselves as a free people. But even after witnessing miracles and many supernatural occurrences, they still could not fully accept what they were already intellectually aware of.    

This idea has important educational implications. There is much worthy talk about the need for self-esteem. However, positive self-identity is never fostered through mere speeches and constant reassurance. Self esteem is the result of accomplishment, recognizing one’s abilities, and struggling through challenges and meeting with some level of success.  It is the result of recognizing and utilizing one’s potential.
The irony is that, at times, individuals who seem to have much reason to feel good about themselves do not. Even when they have succeeded in accomplishing and meeting goals and expectations, they continue to struggle to see themselves in a positive light. Immediately after the exodus the young burgeoning Klal Yisroel had to contend with this internal struggle as well.
The Mishnah[4] states, “Beloved is man for he was created in G-d’s image; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in G-d’s image… Beloved are the people of Israel… It is an indication of greater love that they are described as children of the Omnipresent…”
It is one thing to be privileged. It is another thing to recognize and appreciate that privilege.

 Our contemporary challenge seems to be the converse challenge that our forefathers faced in Egypt. They had a hard time accepting the notion that they were a free nation, and we have a hard time remembering that we are still in exile. The two millennia that we have spent in exile have bred a national identity crisis. Many of the Jews in Germany prior to World War II viewed themselves foremost as Germans, until that notion went up in the smokestacks of Auschwitz. They then realized that they weren’t German Jews- Germans who happened to be Jews, but Jewish Germans – Jews who happened to be living in Germany.
The Kotzker Rebbe commented that it is far easier to take a Jew out of exile than it is to take the exile out of a Jew!
When Moshiach arrives he will not only herald a time of blissful Divinity, physical exodus, and newfound spiritual awareness, but also a period of “redemption”. The redemption from Egypt included the eradication of fallacious identities and a simultaneous newfound sense of mission. It was the realization that we had possessed greatness all along, but it had been masked by a façade of servility. The imminent final redemption too, will include a resurgence of our national awareness of who we are and of our elite destiny. In a world of democracy we must remind ourselves that we are still far from home.

“I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm”
“Like the days when you left Egypt I will show you wonders; I am G-d[5]

[1] Shemos 6:1-7
[2] Shemos Rabbah 6:4
[3] Also see Seforno’s commentary to Shemos 14:7
[4] Avos 3:18
[5] Michah 7:15