Thursday, March 26, 2015


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


          Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky zt’l was a noted orator and Rosh Yeshiva in Chadera, Israel. One day as he was saying shiur some years ago, he received a message that the local Chief of Police wanted to see him at Police Headquarters. As soon as Rabbi Galinskly walked into the station a noticeably irreligious man began to verbally attack him, yelling loudly and spewing a vicious invective about religious people. But he was talking so animatedly and quickly that no one could understand what he wanted.
          After a few minutes the Chief of Police was able to get the man to settle down somewhat. The man looked at Rabbi Galinsky with venomous enmity. “You are brainwashing my son! My son is a student in your yeshiva, living according to the laws of religion, totally contrary to the way his mother and I raised him. You have indoctrinated him so well that he does not want to even leave your institution. I demand that you send him back home!”
          Rabbi Galinsky was shocked by the accusation. He knew the boy well and knew that the boy had entered the yeshiva on his own volition. Sometime earlier, the boy had begun learning with someone and decided that he wanted to pursue his studies in a religious environment. He had entered the yeshiva and was thrilled to be there. Rabbi Galinsky tried to explain to the man that his son was free to leave whenever he desired, but the man was so irate he wouldn’t even listen. He kept screaming that his son had been brainwashed and was being forced to remain in the yeshiva.
          The Chief of Police tried to calm the situation, until Rabbi Galinsky was able to maintain a more congenial conversation with him. The man explained that his father had been a Sokolover chassid, but that he himself had run away from that ‘insipid and insular lifestyle’. He had grown up on a kibbutz where he was able to live ‘freely’. “All I want is that my son should follow in my ways”, exclaimed the father, becoming angry again.
          “But he is doing just that”, retorted Rabbi Galinsky. “You rebelled against your father and now your son – like you – is rebelling against his father!” [1]

Parshas Vayikra, the opening portion of Chumash Vaykira discusses the various korbanos (offerings) from the vantage point of the person bringing the offering. Parshas Tzav, the second portion, discusses the offerings from the vantage point of the Kohain who performed the Service in the Temple.
Throughout parshas Vayikra the Torah refers to “the sons of Aharon, the kohanim” or “the Kohain” as being the one who performed the Service.[2] It does not say that Aharon himself performed the Service. The Medrash[3] notes that Moshe questioned G-d about the fact that the commands were not directed at Aharon. G-d replied, “I swear, that because of you I will draw him close. Furthermore, I will make him (Aharon) primary and his children secondary. (This was fulfilled in the beginning of parshas Tzav-) “G-d spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Command Aharon and his sons…’”
The first Service performed each morning in the Mishkan was Terumas Hadeshen – separating the ash. This entailed removing a portion of the previous day’s ashes from the Altar. The Kohain scooped up a shovelful from the innermost ashes on the Altar and placed it on the floor of the Courtyard, east of the ramp that lead to the top of the Altar. In regards to this Service, the Torah addresses the command to Aharon (and his sons).
How does this Service demonstrate that Aharon was the ‘primary performer’ of all of the Service?
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explained that by taking a portion from the previous day’s service and placing it on the side of the Altar prior to beginning the new day’s Service, it symbolized that the new day’s Service was a continuation of the previous day’s Service.
Although new offerings were not brought at night, the night had its own Service. All of the fats and limbs from the offerings of the day were burned, so that the fire upon the Altar continued to burn through the night, fueled by the remnants placed upon it. Thus, every day maintained a connection with the previous day, ensuring that the Service was perpetually connected to the original Service commanded by G-d.
Rabbi Hirsch expresses this idea in his typically brilliant diction: “It would give the idea, as the introduction to the Service of the day, that today brings no new mission, it has only to carry out, ever afresh, the mission that yesterday too was to accomplish. The very last Jewish grandchild stands there, before G-d, with the same mission of life that his first ancestors bore, and that every day adds to all its predecessors in the whole passing of the centuries, his contribution to the solution of the task given to all the generations of the House of Israel. That Jewish today has to take its mission from the hand of its yesterday.” 
 Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt’l utilizes this idea to explain the significance of terumas hadeshen and why it particularly assuaged Aharon. Terumas hadeshen symbolized continuity, that every step of the Service had to be attributable and ‘connected’ to the traditions initiated by Aharon. The terumas hadeshen symbolized that every Kohain for all time would be performing the “Service of Aharon”.

The Shabbos prior to Pesach is known as “Shabbos Hagadol – the Great Shabbos”.[4] The commentators wonder why the miracle that transpired at that time is commemorated specifically on the week date (i.e. Shabbos prior to Pesach), and not on the calendar date when it occurred (i.e. 10 Nissan)?
The Torah writes that observing Shabbos serves as an inherent reminder of the two most seminal events in history. In its first recording of the Ten Commandments[5] the Torah states “Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it… For in six days G-d made the heavens and the earth…and He rested on the seventh day…” In its second recording of the Ten Commandments[6] however, the Torah offers an alternative explanation for observing Shabbos. “Safeguard the Shabbos day to sanctify it… And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Hashem, your G-d, has taken you out from there with a Strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm; therefore, Hashem, your G-d, has commanded you to make the Shabbos day.”[7]
Rambam[8] explains that the first luchos record the reason why the day of Shabbos is inherently a day of holiness and sanctity. Since G-d completed the process of creation and ‘rested’, the day became sacred. The second Tablets explain the reason why the holiness of Shabbos is exclusively endemic to the Jewish people. According to the reason inscribed on the first Tablets, it would seem that the entire world should be obligated to observe Shabbos. To dispel that notion, in the second luchos the Torah states that only the nation whom G-d freed from servitude and oppression and thereby chose to be ‘His People’, are obligated to observe Shabbos. A Jew keeps Shabbos as a reminder of the fact that G-d has a personally vested interest in him, as it were.[9]

With this in mind we can offer the following explanation[10]: The Medrash[11] relates that even during the darkest days of the Egyptian exile the Jews observed Shabbos. But while they were still prisoners in Egypt their Shabbos served solely as a remembrance of the fact that G-d created the world.
On that fateful Shabbos just prior to the exodus, when the Jews set aside the offerings they would bring as their Korbon Pesach, the Jews demonstrated their unyielding belief in G-d and their fearlessness of their former captors. That courageous act symbolized that the Jews were worthy of redemption, and essentially served as the underpinnings of the imminent exodus. It was that valor and courage that set the trajectory of redemption in motion. During that Shabbos, for the first time there was an added reason for the observance of Shabbos. On that Shabbos, all future Shabbosos were infused with the added dimension of being a testament to the fact that G-d had chosen us to be His Nation.

What is the meaning of gedulah- greatness?
Greatness connotes something beyond normal. Everything in our finite world is bound to the limitations of time and space. Therefore, anything that transcends normal limits and confines possesses a certain measure of greatness.
A person is able to accomplish a limited amount within a normal lifetime. As soon as one dies his ability to accomplish and to influence ceases. “His spirit departs from him, he returns to the earth; on that day all his calculations are lost.[12]” Therefore, if one is able to continue to influence and accomplish postmortem, he has achieved greatness.
The second aspect of Shabbos - as a symbol of the exodus - reminds us of our status as the Chosen Nation. As the descendants of those who lived the exodus, we are the bearers of that heritage. In this sense Shabbos binds all generations of Klal Yisroel together. Our observance of Shabbos is inextricably bound to the Shabbos observance of our deceased predecessors, dating back to our forbearers who left Egypt.
Although every Shabbos contains greatness[13], Shabbos Hagadol has an added level of greatness[14]. It was during this Shabbos that every Shabbos forevermore attained added greatness. Shabbos was no longer merely a commemoration of creation. Now it was also a celebration of the exclusivity of Klal Yisroel.

The aforementioned idea espoused by Rabbi Hirsch about the terumas hadeshen connects beautifully to this idea about Shabbos Hagadol. In the words of Rabbi Hirsch, “Jewish today has to take its mission from the hand of its yesterday.”  This second facet of Shabbos, which was realized jut prior to the time of the exodus, demonstrates the continuity and permanence of the Jewish People. 
When I recite Kiddush on Friday night, I often try to picture in my mind my ancestors reciting Kiddush in the shtetls of yesteryear, as well as Jews reciting the same words throughout the world. Shabbos observance binds us all together; from the simplest Jew to the most sublime.
The Shabbos when that ‘greatness’ was first realized becomes crowned with the title ‘the Great Shabbos’. 

The holiday of Pesach is deeply connected with this idea as well. The night of the seder is the night of tradition, transmission, and faith. The theme of the night is, והגדת לבנך" - And you shall tell your sons”. More than any other time of the year, Pesach is a time of connection.
A number of years ago[15], my Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein mused, “At my seder, my father[16] attends, as well as many of my children and grandchildren. My father remembers his grandfather, and, G-d willing, my grandchildren will live to see their grandchildren. During the seder my father shares with us thoughts and insights that he heard from his grandfather, who was a disciple of a disciple of the great Gaon of Vilna[17]. So there is essentially representation of three hundred years of tradition - past, present, and future - that are sitting at our seder table. If you count eleven families like that you have reached back 3300 years to Sinai and the exodus!”
Pesach is about tradition and maintaining our connection with our illustrious past, as well as our guaranteed future. That process begins the Shabbos prior to the exodus. The ashes of yesterday ignite the fire of today, and continue to burn into the future. Shabbos symbolizes that perpetual bond.

There is yet a third aspect of Shabbos. Our Sages relate that Shabbos is a ‘taste of the World to Come’; a window into a world of Divine bliss when “You are one, and Your Name is One, and who is like Your Nation Israel, one nation on the earth!”[18]
When we observe Shabbos, and remember the creation of the world and that we are the Chosen People, we are also reminded that the eternal redemption is imminent. The time will come when G-d will fulfill His pledge, “like the days when you departed Egypt I will show you wonders![19]” 

“G-d spoke to Moshe saying: command Aharon and his sons”
“A memorial of the exodus from Egypt

[1] Source: Rabbi Paysach Krohn, “Around the Maggid’s Table”
[2] In regards to the Mincha offering it says it shall be eaten by Aharon and his sons. But when it mentions performing the service it says that it will be performed by the sons of Aharon.
[3] 7:1
[4]The Tur at the beginning of his discussion of the laws of Pesach (Siman 430) records, “The Shabbos before Pesach is known as “Shabbos HaGadol-the Great Shabbos”. The reason for the unique title of this Shabbos is because of the great miracle that transpired during this Shabbos. In Egypt, on the tenth of Nissan, just prior to the exodus, G-d commanded the Jews to choose and set aside the lamb they would offer as their paschal Sacrifice. If the actual exodus transpired on the fifteenth of Nissan which was a Thursday, then the tenth of Nissan occurred on Shabbos. Every family gathered their own lamb and tied it to their bed posts. When the Egyptians saw what the Jews were doing they demanded an explanation. The Jews explained that G-d had commanded them to set aside a lamb to be offered as a sacrifice to Him. When the Egyptians heard that the Jews were going to offer their god as a sacrifice (the lamb was the god of Egypt) they became incensed, yet their teeth were blunted and they were powerless to say or do anything to impede the sacrifices from being offered. In commemoration of that great miracle the Shabbos became known as ‘Shabbos HaGadol-the Great Shabbos’.”
[5] inscribed upon the first set of luchos - Shemos 20:8-12
[6] inscribed upon the second set of luchos
[7] Devorim 5:12-15
[8] Moreh Nevuchim (2:31)
[9] This idea is reflected in the Kiddush recited each Friday Night at the onset of Shabbos. “Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d… His holy Shabbos – with love and desire – He gave us as a heritage, a remembrance of creation. For that day is the prologue to the holy convocations, a memorial of the exodus from Egypt. For us did you chose and us did You sanctify from all the nations. And Your holy Shabbos, with love and desire did You give us a heritage. Blessed are you, G-d, Who sanctifies the Shabbos.”  
At first glance it would seem that the blessing is redundant. Why do we repeat the fact that G-d chose us with desire and love and granted us Shabbos as a heritage? Truthfully however, two different aspects of Shabbos are being reflected. The first mention of Shabbos refers to it as, “a remembrance of creation”. But that reason alone is insufficient, as it does not explain why the rest of the world doesn’t keep Shabbos. So we continue by mentioning that Shabbos is the starting point from which all other holy times emerge a, “memorial of the exodus from Egypt”. It is because of that second facet of Shabbos that, “us did you chose and us did You sanctify from all the nations. And Your holy Shabbos, with love and desire did You give us a heritage”; specifically ‘us’ the Chosen people, and not the other nations.
[10] Based on a lecture by Harav Nosson Gestetner zt’l (L’horos Nosson (Moadim vol. 2, Shabbos Hagadol 5765), with some variance.
[11] Shemos Rabbah 1:28
[12] Tehillim (146:4)
[13] as we state in the bentching of Shabbos (in the retzay prayer), “The great and holy Shabbos”,
[14] The Gerrer Rebbe termed this Shabbos ‘gadol sheb’gadolim – the greatest of the great.’ 
[15] Nissan 5766 (1996)
[16]  the late Rabbi Zev Wein zt’l
[17] 1720-1797
[18] From the Shemone Esrei of Shabbos Mincha
[19] Zechariah 7:15

Thursday, March 19, 2015

PARSHAS VAYIKRA/Hachodesh 5775

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


          In the wonderful biography of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l[1], the following story is recorded:
          “A student recalled the evening in 1970 when he learned of the death of a well-known rock singer. He was a big fan of the musician and mourned his death intensely. He was suffering, but he didn’t think it was appropriate to share the depth of his pain with his rebbi.
          “He was surprised when Reb Shlomo called him over to invite him to his house the next evening. “And bring along a record, please,” Reb Shlomo told him. That evening, the student entered his rebbi’s house, the album in his hand.
          “Reb Shlomo sat down near the record player and together they listened. Reb Shlomo sat quietly, totally lost in the experience of listening, his eyes closed. After it was complete, Reb Shlomo smiled apologetically. “I need to think for a little bit; would it be okay if we put on some of my music now?”
          “Reb Shlomo turned on a beautiful album of classical music, a rousing, exhilarating symphony that lifted their spirits. Reb Shlomo was obviously lost in thought as the notes swirled around them. Finally, he spoke. “Now I understand why he is so popular; the music defines a generation in turmoil. You should know that it’s disturbing music, indicative of struggles and discontentment.”
          “”That was all he said,” remembers the student, “but his message penetrated.””

          After the Mishkan had been constructed, the next step was to teach the Service that was to be performed in the Mishkan. Chumash Vayikra is dedicated to the laws that applied to the priests, specifically regarding the various offerings that were offered upon the altar on a constant basis.
          The Mishkan’s primary function was to serve as the focal point where every Jew could feel connected to G-d. Many of the offerings were offered after one sinned. Bringing the offering precisely as commanded, afforded the sinner the opportunity to rectify the spiritual damage that was caused.
          The Torah is very candid about human nature. Nobody is immune to sin or mishap, even the greatest of men. “אשר נשיא יחטא (asher nasi yecheta) - When a ruler sins, and commits one from among all the commandments of Hashem, his G-d, that may not be done – unintentionally – and becomes guilty. If the sin that he committed becomes known to him, he shall bring his offering…”[2]
          On this verse, the sages[3] commented that אשר is related to the word אשרי (fortunate). This implies that “fortunate is the generation whose leader brings an offering for inadvertent sins”. This observation is surprising; why is a generation whose leader succumbs to sin laudable?
          The great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk[4], explained that Klal Yisroel is comprised of the multitudes who strive to be good Jews to the best of their abilities, as well as its great leaders, who stand apart because of their extreme piety and devotion.
As a nation we are led and guided by our leaders who reveal to us what G-d demands of us in all situations. However, at times our leaders may have a hard time relating to us. Their unyielding dedication to every commandment, as well as their fierce and passionate love to serve G-d and learn Torah constantly, can make it difficult for them to comprehend the petty and comparatively paltry issues and worries of the masses.
          How does G-d resolve this problem? How can that spiritual chasm be bridged so that our leaders can guide us on our level?
Reb Elimelech explains that G-d causes the righteous to stumble in “minor sins” so that they too are compelled – on their level – to engage in repentance and seeking atonement. When they are in such a state of contrition they are better able to relate to the challenges and struggles of those on inferior levels of spirituality. [Their ‘descending’ is for the purpose of helping other ascend with them (yeridah l’tzorech aliyah).]
          Tanna d’vei Eliyahu offered a parable to elucidate this point: A poor maid once inadvertently dropped her earthenware jug into a well. She was beside herself with grief because she knew how angry her master would be with her for losing the jug. She also knew that there was no way for her to retrieve the cheap jug, and so she begrudgingly resigned herself to the fate that awaited her. However, just before she walked away, a princess arrived at the well, and she too inadvertently dropped her jug into the well. The difference was that the princess’s jug was made of pure gold. When the maid saw what happened she rejoiced. She knew that the princess would surely dispatch her servants to descend into the well to retrieve her priceless jug. While they were down there already, it would hardly be an added bother to scoop up her earthenware jug as well.
          This is the meaning behind the Sages’ comment: Fortunate is the generation whose leader brings an offering because of inadvertent sins. That generation has merited a leader who will be able to understand their follies and will be better suited to relate to their followers and disciples. When a righteous person descends spiritually, as he strives to repent and ‘re-ascend’, he can guide and assist his followers to ascend with him.  

          This idea that the Noam Elimelech discusses is important in regards to education as well. In order for a parent or teacher to exert an influence on a child, the child must feel that the educator is able to relate to him. If a child feels that the lessons being taught are archaic or unrealistic, than he will not internalize what he is being taught.
          It is well known that one cannot educate one generation in the same manner as a previous generation, because each generation possesses its own unique set of challenges.
A number of years ago, Rabbi Lazer Shach zt’l, commented that in our day and age, every two years had to be viewed as a new generation![5] For many centuries the world was basically stagnant in its external appearance. In the past two centuries however, there has been an explosion of revolutionary changes that have drastically altered the world. In our time, the rapidity of the improvements of technology causes society to change at a dizzying pace. The spiritual dangers of today are different from what they were just a few months ago, and that trajectory doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. 
          An educator has the responsibility to ensure that he is able to relate to his children, just as a Rabbi or community leader must be able to understand and relate to his congregation.
          Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l, once witnessed a snowball fight taking place at recess in the yeshiva’s yard where he was a rebbe. He mused to a student standing nearby half-jokingly, half-sadly, “In our generation, a Rosh Yeshiva has to smile when he sees students having a snowball fight. In the next generation, the Rosh Yeshiva will have to pick up a snowball and join in.”  
          One of the most well-known passages recited at the seder, is that of the Four Sons. Before “introducing” the Four Sons, an introductory paragraph is recited. “Blessed is the Omnipresent; blessed is He. Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His nation Yisroel; blessed is He.” How does this statement of gratitude to G-d segue into the subsequent topic of the Four Sons?
          One of the sons that we confront at the seder is the Wicked Son. It would seem that a son who is so full of malice and bitterness towards all that we are doing at the seder, should not be invited to the seder at all. But that is not the case. Although we deal with him cautiously, he still has a place at the seder.
Why/how are we able to do so? Because the Omnipresent has granted us His Infinite Torah, which teaches us the ways of life and the world, including how to deal with human shortcoming and iniquity. The wisdom of the Torah guides us how to respond to each of our children, in the manner that they require. Therefore, we would be remiss if we did not express our appreciation for the Torah, before proceeding to discuss how we relate to each child, especially the Wicked Son.

An educator must understand the needs and capacity of every one of his children. “What can this child accomplish today?” “What can he accomplish this year?” An educator must be able to relate to each child as an individual.
          I conclude by quoting a powerful well-known article that serves as a potent reminder about how careful we must be in our demands and expectations of our children:

Listen, son:
I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and your blond curls on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
These are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross with you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, 'Goodbye, Daddy!' and I frowned, and said in reply, 'Hold your shoulders back!'
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive - and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. 'What is it you want?' I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that G-d had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding - this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of yours was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: 'He is nothing but a boy - a little boy!'
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

W. Livingston Larned,

“When a ruler sins”
“Fortunate is the generation”

[1] By Rabbi Yisroel Besser
[2] Vayikra 4:22
[3] Rashi quoting Sifra and gemara Horayos 10b
[4] Noam Elimelech, Vayechi
[5] We can assume that today he would have said that every few months must be viewed as a new generation!

Thursday, March 12, 2015


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


The holy Chassidic master, Rabbi Zushya of Aniploi, once mused[1], “When I was young I set out to change the world. Then, I became a bit older and I realized that I would not be able to fix all of the world’s problems, but I could surely fix my own community. When I became even older I realized that my community’s problems were beyond me as well. Still, I was confident that I could rectify the issues in my own family. Now that I have reached old age, I realized that I should focus on fixing myself!”

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to spend a Shabbos at the New Springville Jewish Center in Staten Island. The rabbi of the shul, Rabbi Nate Segal, is a veteran and insightful educator, and has also had great success in his efforts to draw unaffiliated Jews back to their roots. At shalosh seudos I was invited to say a few words. When I finished speaking Rabbi Segal commented to me, “I see that you’re young and vivacious. Let me give you a piece of advice: Go out and change the world! I am already older and so I know that I can’t do it. But you’re young and don’t know that yet. So go out and do it; change the world!”

The Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei are most unique, in the sense that they are almost a complete repeat of the earlier portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh. The former portions present the detailed instructions of the precise dimensions and materials to be used for the construction of the Mishkan and the vestments of the High Priest. The latter portions record, with almost exact redundancy, how the Mishkan was indeed constructed as G-d commanded.
There are myriad laws that the Rabbis extrapolate from careful exegesis of every extra letter in the Torah. The Torah writes every word and letter sparingly and with incredible exactitude. The fact that the Torah deemed it necessary to repeat two entire portions, almost exactly as was stated earlier, is indicative of the fact that there is a great lesson to be gleaned from here.[2]

לך ה' הגדולה והגבורה והתפארת והנצח וההוד כי כל בשמים ובארץ לך ה' הממלכה והמתנשא לכל לראש - Yours, G-d, is the greatness, the strength, the splendor, the triumph, and the glory, even everything in the heaven and the earth; Yours, G-d, is the kingdom and sovereignty over every leader”[3]. Chazal explain that this verse refers to seven attributes of G-d[4], through which G-d manifests Himself in this world, as it were.
However, the verse seems to separate the seventh attribute “kingship” from the other attributes. The verse begins by stating that all of the following attributes are G-d’s. But then, before mentioning the seventh, it reiterates that this attribute belongs to G-d. How does the attribute of kingship differ from the other six?
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explained that every characteristic and attribute has two components: The first component is the desire and yearning to accomplish. For example, one may have a deep desire to do acts of kindness and beneficence. However, despite one’s best intentions and desires, he may lack the ability and capability to fulfill those noble goals. He may simply not have funds or resources with which to do acts of kindness.
The second component is the actualization of one’s inner desires. It is the ability to bring one’s hopes to fruition. Desiring and accomplishing are very different.
The first six attributes are all in the realm of the first component. G-d maintains a deep desire, as it were, to do acts of kindness, and to demonstrate His strength, splendor, glory etc. to us constantly. The seventh attribute, kingship, represents the ability to accomplish all of those desires. A king by definition has the ability to produce and make things happen. He can raise and lower taxes, he can proclaim war or peace, he can honor or disgrace, and he is known among all his subjects as their leader and guide. In a word, a king is appointed to accomplish. Every one else in the kingdom can pine, ponder, and debate. But the king has the ability to proceed and to produce.
The actualization of G-d’s desire to bless His world and His creations is represented by His attribute of Kingship and His Monarchy. Thus, kingship merits its own category for it is the fulfillment of all of the previously mentioned attributes. It is the “crowning glory” that rests above all else, for without kingship all other attributes remain unfulfilled hopes and desires.
The Torah portions of Terumah and Tetzaveh contain G-d’s commands to Moshe regarding the Mishkan and all of its vestments. But desires, plans, hopes, aspirations, and good intentions, are a far cry from accomplishment and actualization. The fulfillment of all of those commands is recorded in the portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei.
The Torah could have easily stated in one encompassing verse that everything was created as was commanded. But the Torah does not take for granted one iota of what was accomplished. Every single vessel, material, and clothing that was constructed as was commanded merited to be repeated on its own. Therefore, the words, “And he made… as G-d commanded Moshe,” are repeated again and again. In this sense Vayakhel and Pekudei represent the “kingship” of the Mishkan.

The construction of the Tabernacle was completed on the twenty-fifth of Kislev[5]. However, the service did not actually begin for almost three months. During the final week of Adar, Moshe performed the Service, during what was known as the ‘shivas yimei meeluim- seven days of meeluim (inauguration)’. Then, on the first of Nissan[6], the Service began to be performed by Aharon and the priests.
 The Mishnah[7] states that the first of Nissan is the “new year for kings”[8]. With the aforementioned idea from Rav Pinkus in mind, we can offer a homiletical understanding of the Mishna’s words: Nissan is the New Year for kingship because Nissan is a time of actualization and accomplishment, as was symbolized by the fact that the Service in the Mishkan began in Nissan, despite the fact that it had been completed well prior. In that sense it is a month of regal bearing.
This can also be seen from a passage recited in the Haggadah. “ברוך שומר הבטחתו לישראל - Blessed is He Who maintained His promise to Israel.” G-d had promised Avrohom that his descendants would be slaves and that afterwards they would be redeemed with great wealth. The fulfillment of that promise was accomplished in Nissan at the time of the exodus.[9]   

On Seder night we all are granted the status of kings. According to the explanation of Rabbi Pinkus, a king is one who accomplishes - galvanizing and actualizing his potential. To truly become a monarch we have to merit that distinction.
As someone once said, “The only thing that stands between a person and what he wants to accomplish in life is the will to try and the faith to believe it’s possible.
And finally, “Whether you think you can or you can’t… you’re right!”

“Yours, G-d, is the kingdom and sovereignty over every leader”
“The new year for kings”

[1] This saying has also been attributed to Rabbi Chaim of Sanz, and the Ohaiv Yisroel of Apt, and others.
[2] Every word and letter in the Torah contains endless explanations and esoteric meanings. There are undoubtedly myriad ideas and mystical teachings that are hidden in the extra verses. Our objective here is merely to understand on a simplistic level what lesson we can derive from the Torah’s lengthy repetition.
[3] Divrei Hayamim I, 29:11
[4] These seven attributes were personified by the “seven shepherds” of Klal Yisroel. Avrohom was the paragon of kindness, which is referred to as greatness; Yitzchok was the paragon of spiritual strength; Yaakov was the paragon of pride (the perfect balance between kindness and strength); Moshe was the paragon of triumph/eternity (he transmitted the eternal Torah to Klal Yisroel) ; Aharon was the paragon of glory (he performed the Service which is described as pride); Yosef was the symbolism of faith even when he was alone in Egypt, symbolizing that “everything in the heaven and the earth” are in G-d’s Hands; and King Dovid is the consummate king and sovereign leader. 
[5] which was destined to become the holiday of Chanukah
[6] Which the Torah calls “the eighth day”, including the seven days of the meeluim.
[7] Rosh Hashana 1:1
[8] i.e. the year of the reign of a Jewish monarch began anew in Nissan
[9] When this essay was originally written in 5769, the readings of Vayakhel-Pekudei coincided with Parshas Hachodesh. It was also the year when Birchas Hachama was recited. The following is the continuation of the essay as it appeared there:
Every person has dreams and aspirations. But life seems to have a way of sidetracking us and distracting us from those dreams. The final of the four unique Torah portions read during the weeks prior to Pesach, is parshas hachodesh. The bulk of the portion discusses the laws pertaining to the Pesach sacrifice brought just prior to the holiday and eaten at the seder on Pesach night. But the portion begins with the words, “החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים – This month shall be for you the head of all months.” Our sages note that the word החודש also means renewal. This month, the month of Nissan, is a time of regeneration and revitalization.
Nissan, the month of monarchy and fulfillment, is a time for us to take stock of how many of our own goals and dreams we have fulfilled. It is a chance for us to appreciate what we have accomplished and to renew our pursuit of the dreams that are dormant or have fallen by the wayside.
 In Nissan, as the world of winter bursts into spring, and rejuvenates itself in majestic opulence and splendor, we need to be inspired to go out and change the world, (the fact that we cannot do so not withstanding).
This year we have the added merit of reciting the “blessing of the sun” on the morning before Pesach. The blessing is recited once every twenty-eight years, on the day when the sun returns to the exact spot on the horizon on the same day that G-d created it, 5769 years ago.
A blessing, or any ritual, performed/recited only once in twenty eight years, gives a person reason to pause. It is a time to reflect upon where one was twenty-eight years ago when the blessing was last said. How many of one’s hopes and goals has he accomplished and how many of his dreams remain nebulous dreams? On the other hand, it is also a time of hope when one contemplates the next time, G-d willing, he will recite the blessing. Where does he hope to be then and what does he hope to accomplish during the next twenty eight years?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


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


I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest asset or your heaviest burden.
I will push you up to success or drag you down to failure.
I am at your command.
Many of the things you do, might just as well be turned over to me,
for I can do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed; just be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done,
after a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great men.
And, alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine,
though I work with the precision of a machine,
and the intelligence of man.
You may run me for profit, or run me for ruin.
Show me how you want it done.
Educate me.
Train me.
 Lead me. 
Reward me.
And I will then do it automatically.
I am at your mercy.

Who am I?

I am a HABIT!

The sin of the golden calf was of the greatest disasters in Jewish history. Our sages note that we continue to suffer a certain measure of backlash from the sin, even today. Still, it is inconceivable to naively believe that the sin was merely mass idolatry. The nation, who had personally witnessed the revelation of Sinai weeks earlier, would surely not have stumbled to that degree.
Moreover, it was Aharon haKohain, who had suggested that they amass their gold and cast it into a blazing fire. To believe that his intentions were anything but noble is preposterous. For this reason the commentators expend great effort to explain the logic and motive behind the creation of the golden calf[2].
Rashi notes that the entire debacle was precipitated by the “airuv rav- the great mixture”. When the Jews left Egypt at the time of the exodus, there was a group consisting of people from various nationalities, who joined the Jews.[3] They were enamored by the supernatural miracles and events they had witnessed and wanted to join the ascending Jews. Moshe allowed them to accompany the Jews without consulting G-d. That decision proved to be a tragic error.
When the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, it was G-d who informed Moshe about it. At the time Moshe was still in heaven learning all of the Torah. “G-d spoke to Moshe: Go, descend – for your people that you brought up from the land of Egypt has become corrupt”[4]. Rashi notes that G-d called them “your people” because He was specifically referring to the members of the airuv rav. They were called ‘your people’ because it was Moshe who had allowed them to join the Jews. 
If the sin was caused by this spiteful group, it seems illogical that the Torah would not have any allusion to the identity of the perpetrators. How did the sages derive that it was the airuv rav who incited the nation and brought about the sin of the golden calf?   
Rabbi Itzeleh of Volozhin (Peh Kadosh) explains that the exodus from Egypt is always called, “יציאת מצרים (yetzias Mitzrayim) – going out of Egypt.” The Torah itself refers to it as a “yetziah” whenever it mentions those events. “It was at the end of four hundred and thirty years… all of the legions of G-d left Egypt.”[5] That is also the terminology used in all prayer liturgies, including the Kiddush recited at the commencement of Shabbos and holidays.  
The expression “going out” connotes a permanent departure. It implies leaving with intent of never returning. Just prior to the exodus, the Jews had sunk into a morass of impurity that threatened their spiritual existence. “Going out of Egypt” allowed them to leave behind their formers ways of life and transcend the impurities that had engulfed them. They were destined for elite greatness and they knew it. When they traversed the physical confines of the country, they also transcended the crassness and vulgarity of Egyptian culture forever!
It is noteworthy that throughout the Torah’s narrative of the debacle of the golden calf, the exodus is referred to as, “העלנו מארץ מצרים - going up from the land of Egypt”. “For this man Moshe who brought us up from Egypt, we do not know what has become of him… They have made themselves a molten calf, prostrated themselves to it, and sacrificed to it, and they said, ‘This is your god, Israel, who has brought you up from the land of Egypt…”
The aggregate that amassed around Aharon and demanded that he do ‘something' referred to the exodus, not as “going out”, but as “going up”. That subtlety is very crucial. It is well known that “what goes up must come down.[6]” In other words, they viewed the exodus as a transient victory. It was an exuberant and wonderful event, but it lacked permanence.
The sages understood this terminology as a clear indication of who its authors were. It was unquestionably the lexicon of the ‘airav rav’ who failed to appreciate the true greatness of the exodus. They saw miracles and ‘joined the bandwagon’ but they had no intention of remaining aboard when the going got tough. If Moshe, the emissary who had brought them up from Egypt, was out of the picture, they needed a quick-fix to keep that high going. They did not appreciate the eternal quality of the redemption and the fact that it was an ‘eternal freedom’[7] on a spiritual level.

The laws of ritual contamination and purification are intricate and, at times, complex. The whole concept of spiritual purity and impurity, symbolizes an integral aspect of a Jew’s belief system, i.e. that there are potent forces that affect us, despite the fact that they are indiscernible to the human eye.
The “Parah Adumah - Red Cow” serves as the quintessential symbolism of this lofty idea. We have no idea why the ritual offering of the Red Cow and the sprinkling of its ashes serves as the purification for one who became impure via a dead body. What’s more, Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of men, declared that certain aspects of the Parah Adumah[8] remained a mystery even to him.
Still-in-all, there are lessons we can glean from its process. After being slaughtered and its blood sprinkled in the direction of the Temple, the entire Parah Adumah was burned, along with certain enumerated materials[9]. Then water from a fresh spring was mixed together with the ashes. The ash-water was subsequently sprinkled upon the contaminated person on the third day and seventh day of his contamination.
The color red symbolizes sin.[10] The Red Cow which was completely burned symbolizes the eradication of one’s past. It is then mixed with water from a flowing spring, which symbolizes continuity.[11]
Homiletically, we can explain that the mixing of the ashes of the Red Cow with flowing water, symbolizes the process of life. The past is unalterable and irretrievable. Yet, we cannot ignore the foibles and mishaps of the past. We take the “ashes of the past” and mix them in flowing water, symbolizing the need for continuity. Life is not a stagnant process. One must move beyond the pitfalls of the past, into the hopes of the future.
That is the process of purification from contamination via a dead body. Many people, who are alive physically, are ritually dead. They have become fixated with the past and are not able to maintain a sanguine attitude for the future. Such a person has given himself a death sentence, despite the fact that he is still breathing.
One must always view life as a dynamic process. There are ups and there are downs, there are highs and there are lows, but life is never stagnant. The lows and the downs are all part of going forward. Even the ashes must become part of the flowing waters.

The holiday of Purim, like all holidays, presents us with an opportunity for a unique form of spiritual growth. Purim is the celebration of life itself and, specifically, what life means to us as Jews. Haman’s heinous decree called for unequivocal genocide of the entire Jewish nation. G-d spared us and preserved us. What do we do with that gift and what value do we attach to it? The answer to that question – which may be different for different people – is what we celebrate on Purim.
One who celebrates Purim but then slides right back into his daily affairs as if it never happened, has lost out. He has allowed the holiday to fade into a heap of ashes, like burning embers that will eventually fizzle out completely. But one who is able to maintain the spirit of the holiday, and take the joy with him, along with all of the feelings of love and unity that he felt on Purim, has mixed those ashes with the living water which continues to flow with unstoppable force.

We all cruise along the roads of life. Along the way there are many stop signs. Sometimes we stop because of challenges and difficulties that arise, and sometimes we stop to celebrate and enjoy, but stops are inevitable. At those junctures our task is to look both ways, take in what is happening around us, and then to proceed. At a stop sign, we do not go backwards. We stop (completely!) so that we can then move on[12].

Those stop signs are vital because otherwise the road would become monotonous and unemotional. When our Service to G-d is out of rote and habit, we know it’s time to stop before we proceed. Habit is a wonderful thing, but not for our Service to G-d.
The airav rav failed to realize that every juncture of life presents us with opportunities for unalterable growth. Life can never regress, even at moments of challenge and struggle. We did not ascend from Egypt, we left Egypt!
In a similar vein, we cannot simply celebrate Purim; we must internalize Purim. From Purim one looks ahead excitedly to the holiday of Pesach and reacceptance of the Torah on Shavuos.
The ashes of the past blend into the unstoppable flow of water, and life becomes a revitalizing process of constant growth.   

“They shall take some of the ashes… and put upon it spring water in a vessel”
“It was at the end… all of the legions of G-d left Egypt

[1] Please note that this essay was written in 5769 when Parshas Ki Sisa coincided with Parshas Parah. This year (5775) Parshas Parah is the week of Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei.
[2] Most notably, see Bais Halevi
[3] Egypt was the capital of the ancient world. There were dignitaries, citizens, and, most of all, slaves from countries around the world at the time of the Jews’ imprisonment. The ‘Great Mixture’ was composed of members of various nationalities and denominations, as the verse says, “And also a great mixture went up with them” (Shemos 12:38).
[4] Shemos 32:7
[5] Shemos 12:41
[6] Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity
[7] As we say at ma’ariv each night, “"ויוצא את עמו ישראל מתוכם לחרות עולם
[8] i.e. that its ashes purify those who were contaminated; yet those who engage in its preparation became contaminated themselves.
[9] all of which had symbolic significance
[10] See Yeshaya 1:18
[11] The coronation of a king is performed at a water-front to symbolize the hope that his reign continues uninhibited, like flowing water.
[12] Sometimes you do stop all the way, but someone else thinks you didn’t, like Officer M. Claton who thought I didn’t stop fully at the stop sign on Shushan Purim morning (5769), on my way home from davening in New Square. I think he had one to many drinks.