Thursday, April 30, 2015


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


In sixteenth-century Cracow, there lived a Jew named R’ Isserl (Yisroel Isser). Isserl was a scholar, philanthropist, and a well-respected community leader. He made a fine living manufacturing and selling fine silk. Many member of the Polish nobility were his customers.
Late one Friday morning, a nobleman entered Isserl’s store to make a substantial purchase. He spent a great deal of time picking out various amounts of many of the most expensive materials in the store. By the time he had chosen his fabric it was already noon, and the fabric still had to be measured and cut.
Isserl gently explained to his customer that he did not operate his store past noon on Friday, because he had to prepare for Shabbos. He promised to open his store early on Sunday morning so that they could complete the purchase. 
The nobleman became incensed. He was not used to waiting for anything and he surely did not want to wait until Sunday to get his order. He insisted that the order be completed immediately. He reasoned that it would only take another fifteen minutes and Isserl would be netting a tremendous profit on the deal. The nobleman threatened that if he did not get his order right away he would take his business elsewhere.
Isserl humbly apologized again and insisted that he was not going to change his mind. “In all my years of business I have never deviated from my practice of not working after noon on Friday. I cannot compromise on that now.”
The nobleman stormed out of the store in a huff. The deal was off.
Sometime later Isserl and his wife were granted a son, whom they named Moshe. It was revealed to Isserl that Moshe would become a great Torah leader in the merit of the sacrifice he made for the honor of Shabbos. Indeed, that son became the legendary Rema[1], the foremost Ashkenazic halachic authority for the last five hundred years.

“G-d spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I am holy, Hashem, your G-d. Every man shall revere his mother and his father and you shall safeguard My Shabbos – I am Hashem, your G-d.”[2]
The Torah juxtaposes the commandment that one reveres his parents and Shabbos observance. Rashi explains that it is to teach us that although one is obligated to honor and respect his parents that obligation does not supersede one’s obligation to observe Shabbos. If one’s parents instruct him to violate Shabbos he may not obey.
          The Chofetz Chaim offers an alternative, extraordinary explanation: Shabbos is referred to as a bride[3], and the Jewish people as its groom. If a groom adequately honors and cares for his bride then his father-in-law will take care of him and provide for his needs. Seeing that his daughter is well cared for fills him with joy and he will want to shower his son-in-law and daughter with gifts.
So too, when we honor and glorify Shabbos - the daughter of G-d as it were - He showers us with blessing, as the verse says, “And G-d blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it.” The pasuk juxtaposes fearing one’s parents with the mitzvah of Shabbos to symbolize the idea that in a sense G-d is the ‘father of the Shabbos Queen’ and if we care for His daughter He will provide for us.

          The gemara[4] states, “Anyone who delights in the Shabbos is given an inheritance without boundaries… Anyone who delights in the Shabbos is granted all the requests of his heart.” All of the delicacies and customary foods that we eat on Shabbos are not extraneous, but are vital components of our Shabbos observance.
What is the meaning behind the concept of Oneg Shabbos (enjoying and ‘taking delight’ in the Shabbos). If Shabbos is such a holy day, why don’t we spend the day in meditation and prayer, as we do on Yom Kippur? Isn’t indulgence in food and physical enjoyment antithetical to spirituality and holiness?
          Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[5] explains that there is a fundamental difference between the holiness of Shabbos and the holiness of Yom Kippur. In parshas Achrei Mos the Torah details the lengthy service that the Kohain Gadol performed throughout Yom Kippur. At the conclusion of its narrative the Torah concludes, “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, from all of your sins, before G-d you shall be purified.” Yom Kippur is a gift that G-d granted us as a means for us to purify our tainted souls so that we can achieve atonement. In order to express our desire to reconnect with G-d and right the wrongs we have committed we temporarily forfeit our earthly needs to symbolize our true desire.
          Shabbos on the other hand, is not our day. Shabbos is G-d’s day![6]
          Rabbi Pinkus explains with a parable: Imagine if you are invited to the home of a great and holy individual such as the Chasam Sofer[7]. The Chasam Sofer loves you dearly and is extremely excited to see you. As you walk into his home his face lights up and you can tell from his countenance that he has been waiting for your arrival. He immediately invites you into his dining room and insists on serving you lunch. 
          He walks into his kitchen and announces to his wife, “Did you hear? He has finally arrived. Please prepare a delicious banquet consisting of all of your fanciest dishes in his honor.”
          When the meal was ready the Chasam Sofer personally sets it down in front of you, and invites you to enjoy.
At that moment, would anyone be foolish enough to reply, “I’m sorry Rabbi, but I am working on myself spiritually and I have been employing self-flagellation to train myself to stay away from earthly pleasures. I appreciate all of the Rabbi’s efforts but all I want is some crusty bread and a half cup of water.” Certainly not! Although it is unquestionably valuable for a person to train himself not to indulge too much in physical pleasures, in the home of a distinguished person one adheres to his instruction. If he invites me to enjoy what he has provided, I cannot have the audacity to refuse, all my noble intentions notwithstanding.  
Rabbi Pinkus explains that on Yom Kippur we are involved with ourselves, i.e. our sins and our atonement. But on Shabbos we are “not in the picture”! Wherever we are in the world - even at our own tables - on Shabbos we are literally guests sitting at the table of G-d. [The Sages[8] explain that all of one’s expenditures in honor of Shabbos are not detracted from the total amount of money that he is destined to receive that year.] G-d is our host and He instructs us to indulge and enjoy, and therefore we must oblige. When one’s enjoyment is divinely commanded every bit of that enjoyment infuses him with holiness.    

Every groom knows that the firs time he spends a Shabbos at the home of his future in-laws he must make a good impression. He wants his future in-laws to believe that he can and will provide properly for their daughter. If he can do so he knows his in-laws will do their best to help him as well.
With the combined ideas of the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Pinkus we can say that on Shabbos we go to the in-laws. Once there, nothing gives the “Father-in-law” more pleasure and enjoyment than to see his son-in-law groom doting over his daughter.

The Chofetz Chaim related a parable to explain the folly of those who desecrate Shabbos in order to pursue their livelihood: There was once a farmer who did a lot of business with a certain merchant. The merchant would periodically collect bushels and pay off his bill at the end of six months. In order to keep an exact count of the bushels he had taken, the merchant would throw a penny into a bowl for every bushel he took. After six months the merchant and farmer would count the coins in the heaping bowl and the merchant would pay one hundred dollars for every penny in the bowl.
As the weeks wore on and the bowl began to fill, the silly farmer was entranced by the shiny coins. Finally, he could not restrain himself any longer. When the merchant wasn’t looking he grabbed a handful of pennies and stuffed them into his pockets. The farmer was delighted when he realized that the merchant had not noticed. He gleefully and smugly patted his pocket, not realizing the thousands of dollars he had cheated himself out of.
So too, explained the Chofetz Chaim, Shabbos is “מקור הברכה- the source and generator of all blessing.” If one desecrates the Shabbos so that he can earn a few more coins, he is unwittingly cheating himself out of far greater blessing.

One important way in which the groom exhibits his love and devotion to his bride is that he demonstrates his desire to be with her as much as possible. In regard to Shabbos we express that love by preparing for and anticipating the arrival of Shabbos by entering into the holy day respectfully with serenity.
          On the Shabbos of Succos a special hoshana prayer, which enumerates many of the laws and customs regarding Shabbos, is recited[9]. One of those stanzas in that prayer reads, הושענא יושבת וממתנת עד כלות השבת- Please save (in the merit of) those who sit and wait until the conclusion of Shabbos.” These words are very perplexing. Is it a merit for one to anticipate and wait for the conclusion of Shabbos?
          The Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, explained that the prayer is not referring to one who excitedly waits for Shabbos to end. In fact, it means the opposite. It refers to one who sits and waits - with patience and tranquility – even as Shabbos is ending. In other words, he is not counting down the minutes for Shabbos to end while thinking about his plans for the night. Instead he is taking advantage of every moment of the waning holy day. Even as the sun is setting after an entire day of Shabbos he is still quaint and calm enjoying its final moments. In the merit of those who love Shabbos so passionately that they wish to extend it as long as possible we beg G-d to grant salvation.

          In one of the beautiful Shabbos zemiros (songs), we sing, “כי אשמרה שבת קל ישמרניWhen I guard the Shabbos, G-d will guard me.” It has often been said that in exile “Shabbos has done more to preserve the Jew than the Jew has done to persevere the Shabbos.” Rabbi Pinkus explains that “Shabbos” is a pseudonym for the Divine Presence.
The holiness of Shabbos is an ethereal extension of the holiness of G-d, as it were, much as a daughter is an extension of her parents. The Torah reminds us that if we take care of the daughter, her Father will take good care of us.

“Every man shall revere his mother and his father… safeguard My Shabbos”
“An inheritance without boundaries”

[1] An acronym for “Rabbi Moshe Isserl’s” 1520-1572, i.e. Rabbi Moshe the son of Isser
[2] Vayikra 19:1-3
[3] As we state in the Shabbos prayers,  - לכה דודי לקראת כלה פני שבת נקבלה Come my beloved to greet the bride the face of Shabbos we will accept.”
[4] Shabbos 118a
[5] Sichos, Shabbos Kodesh, “V’karasa l’Shabbos Oneg”
[6] To buttress this point - Our sages explain that whereas the holiness of all holidays (including Yom Kippur) is based on the ruling of the Jewish courts (who have jurisdiction over the Jewish calendar which in turn is the determining factor of when holidays occur), the holiness of Shabbos is completely Divinely ordained. Its holiness which commences at sunset each Friday is fixed and set. [It is for this reason that in the blessing recited at the conclusion of the recitation of Kiddush on Shabbos “Yisroel” is not mentioned.]   
[7] Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) was one of the foremost Torah leaders in his generation. One who cannot relate to this parable can substitute the Chasam Sofer for any great revered leader held in extremely high esteem. 
[8] Gemara Rosh Hashana 16a
[9] During each day of Succos, the prevalent custom is to circle the bimah, holding the Four Species, reciting a passionate prayer that commences with the word, “"הושענא (please save). During the Shabbos of Succos, although the Four Species are not taken, a special hoshana prayer is still recited.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


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


            Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman related the following story:
          A number of years ago Rabbi Wachsman was in Miami assisting his ailing father. One morning he accompanied his father to a local shul where virtually all the members were retired and elderly, aside for one young man who noticeably stuck out.
After davening ended the young man - who obviously recognized Rabbi Wachmsan - approached Rabbi Wachsman and asked him if he could offer his wife some words of encouragement. They walked to the entrance of the shul where a young woman was sitting in a wheelchair. It was apparent that she had some serious health issues. Rabbi Wachsman felt somewhat uneasy conversing with them in front of his father so he wrote down the man’s number and told him that they would be in touch.
Later that day, Rabbi Wachsman went to meet with them. The woman explained to him that, despite her young age, she had suffered a stroke. [The chances of such a thing occurring are one in a couple hundred thousand.] She had become completely paralyzed on one side of her body and could not speak at all. The doctor had told her that with a great amount of therapy, over time she would hopefully regain most of the faculties she had lost. However, her speech would likely be the last faculty she would regain, if ever.
A group of her close friends decided to undertake a “machsom l’fi” in merit of her recovery. They accepted upon themselves to be extremely vigilant not to speak any negative words, especially loshon hora (gossip) for a few hours each day over a certain period of time.
 Incredibly, on the day that their machsom l’fi ended, a half hour after the allotted time she regained complete usage of speech! She herself explained to Rabbi Wachsman (in perfectly un-slurred speech) that she is in constant contact with others who suffer similar conditions and she can testify that speech is always the last faculty to return.

The disease of tzara’as is most unique for although it is a physical malady it is the external manifestation of spiritual sin[1]. One afflicted with tzara’as had to follow a precise protocol. He had to show the afflicted areas to a kohain and then, if condemned, he had to dwell outside the main community in isolation for a defined period of time.
When the tzara’as finally healed, the afflicted individual had to undergo a purification process. Among the other materials and animals that he had to bring to the Temple, he was obligated to bring two birds. “The kohain shall command; and for the person being purified there shall be taken two live, clean birds…”[2] The Torah explains that one bird was ritually slaughtered. Part of its blood was sprinkled on the Altar while the rest of the blood was sprinkled on the individual. The other bird was then set free in an open field.
Rashi explains that because tzara’as was commonly a punishment for gossiping, the purification process involved live birds who chirp and twitter.
What was the purpose of the second bird; the symbolism of the bird’s chirping could be accomplished with one bird? Furthermore, why was it necessary to bring a bird to the Temple, only to set it free as soon as its companion was slaughtered? 
The Apiryon[3] offers a poignant answer: The gemara[4] states, “Rabbi Yitzchok said: What is the meaning of the verse “Indeed silence? Speak righteousness. Judge people with fairness.”[5] What is the trade of man in this world? He should make himself like a mute. Perhaps you will think that even includes speaking words of Torah? This is why the verse continues, ‘Speak righteousness’ [i.e. talk in Torah study]. Perhaps the Torah scholar is permitted to become arrogant? This is why it continues, ‘Judge people with fairness’.”
Ramban explains that the purpose of bringing an offering to the Temple was to create an emotional experience. As the owner of the offering watched his animal being slaughtered, its blood caught and sprinkled, and its limbs burnt on the Altar, he would realize that the innocent animal was merely a replacement for himself. He was culpable of not being vigilant enough in his mitzvah-observance, and therefore it was his blood that should have been sprinkled and his limbs that should be burning on the Altar. That experience would surely penetrate and resonate with him for a long time.
Thus, according to Ramban, the point of offering a korbon was so that it would serve as a symbolic message to the owner, a vicarious atonement for his sin. 
If the metzora were to offer merely one bird which was slaughtered on the Altar, he would conclude that speech is dangerous, and that he had to learn to always remain silent. However, that is a mistake. One must realize that although negative speech is extremely detrimental and can literally destroy lives and tear relationships asunder, when used properly it can have the opposite effect as well. Words spoken with compassion, empathy, understanding, and love can offer encouragement, advice, and the expression of one’s innermost feelings.
Therefore, the metzora must bring a second bird to the Temple and then set it free. As the owner watched the bird soar upward chirping its melodious song, it would symbolize to him that he must utilize his ability to speak properly to create, build, and elevate.
The pasuk in Mishlei[6] expresses this idea when it states, “Life and death are in the hand of the tongue”.
One bird was led off the slaughter, the other bird was set free. It is indeed a powerful analogy to the power of words and speech.[7]    

The commentators call attention to the fact that the aforementioned gemara refers to silence as a ‘trade’. Rabbi Avorhom Erlanger shlita[8] quotes the gemara Kiddushin[9] which details the responsibilities that every father has in regards to his son – circumcise him, redeem him (if he is a firstborn), teach him Torah, marry him off, and teach him a trade.  Rashi explains that if a father fails to teach his son a trade the son will have no means with which to support himself or his family, and he will invariably resort to abusing and stealing from others.
Rabbi Erlanger explains that it is in this sense that the art of silence is called a trade. Just as one must learn a trade in order to have means for physical sustenance, so too must he be provided with the necessary means to sustain himself spiritually. One who is not taught how to utilize his powerful ability of speech is no less a danger to society than one who lacks physical sustenance. In life there are countless examples of people who destroy lives (their own as well as the lives of others) because they lack verbal restraint.
 Just as parents are willing to expend tremendous amounts of money and resources towards the education of their children, so must they invest energy and resources to teach their children how - and when - to speak!
The Chofetz Chaim[10] wrote that in order to learn a trade and become a professional one must have experience and a great deal of training and practice. To learn the “trade of silence” one must also have practice, training, and experience.

The message to the metzora is that he must not only learn how to curb and restrain his speech, but he must also learn how to use it properly. If one chooses to remain silent at the wrong time the results can be damaging, if not downright disastrous.           
During his fierce battles for racial equality, Martin Luther King Jr. once quipped that, "In the end, we will remember, not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
His words ring true in the ears of the Jewish people. A very moving song from the first JEP album[11] captured this idea with the haunting words of its chorus, “For six million tears fell to the ground; the world stood still… didn't make a sound!”
Time and again we have been subject to horrific cruelties at the mercy of our adversaries, and virtually no one has stood up in our defense. Indeed at times silence is anything but golden.

On the other hand, we are all too aware of the tragedies that have occurred, and occur, on account of slander and gossip.
In the haggadah we state that our patriarch Yaakov descended to Egypt, “forced based on the word”. Most commentators explain that Yaakov was compelled to descend to Egypt against his will by “the Word” and Instruction of G-d. The Plotzker Maggid[12] however, offered a novel interpretation. He explained that Yaakov was forced to descend to Egypt as a result of the words of slander that Yosef had spoken against his brothers. [It was those slanderous reports that set the trajectory in motion which eventually landed Yosef in Egypt as viceroy and Yaakov’s ultimate descent to Egypt to meet his forlorn son.]
The message to the healing metzora is that as he resumes his place in society he must learn - not only the art of silence, but also the art of speech. 

Words! Speech!
To build, or destroy!
To slaughter, or to soar above the horizon!

“The trait of man in this world”
“For the person being purified two live clean birds”

[1] Rabbi Hirsch explains in detail that the common translation of tzara’as as leprosy is completely erroneous.
[2] Vayikra 14:4
[3] Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886)
[4] Chullin 89a
[5] Tehillim 58:2
[6] 18:21
[7] The Apiryon adds that the reason why the bird is set free specifically in a field is to allude to an idea expressed in the gemara (Eiruvin 21b). The Gemara compares a Torah scholar to a farmer. Just like the farmer ekes out his living by the sweat of his brow working in the field, so too the Torah scholar often sacrifices material comforts, in his relentless pursuit to achieve success in his Torah studies.
 The bird was set free in a field to symbolize this metaphor. Speech is a vital and invaluable gift when it is used for Torah study by scholars who are tantamount to the farmer in the field. 
[8] Birchas Avrohom –ma’amarim, vol. 3
[9] 29a
[10] Shmiras Halashon 2:1
[11] JEP (Jewish Education Program) sings “Reach Out”, released January 1980
[12] “Maggid Tzedek” (quoted in Tallilei Oros haggadah). 

Thursday, April 16, 2015


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


          My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often reminisces about his relationship with Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg z’l, founder of the kashrus division of the Orthodox Union, and its administrator for thirty years. When he began working for the O.U.’s kashrus division, Rabbi Wein shared an office with Rabbi Rosenberg for a number of months.
          Whenever a proprietor would propose a new idea to Rabbi Rosenberg he would quietly listen without uttering a word. When the person finished, he would always ask, “Und vos zugt Gott- And what does G-d say?” Rabbi Wein would impress upon his students that a Jew should always live his life asking himself that question, “Und vos zugt Gott”. Ironically, we often don’t take G-d into the equation.
          In Rabbi Wein’s words, “While he was training me for the job before his retirement, he had impressed upon me the importance of our work. ‘Kashrus is more than checking chickens’, he used to say, ‘The job of the O.U. is to pay attention to G-d.  “Und vos zugt Gott” is the main concern. “What would G-d say about this?” That is the question that must always be answered before making any decision.”

          The conclusion of parshas Shemini discusses how to distinguish kosher animals from non-kosher animals. The Torah offers a detailed list of the credentials an animal requires to render it permissible for consumption.
          At the conclusion of those laws the Torah writes, “…And you shall not contaminate your souls through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth. For I am Hashem Who elevated you from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; you shall be holy, for I am holy.”[1]  
          The gemara[2] states: The academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught, G-d said, "Had I not brought the people of Israel up from Egypt except for this thing, that they do not contaminate themselves via creeping insects, it would have been sufficient.” The gemara then asks, “Is the reward for refraining from impurity of creeping insects greater than that of refraining from usury, false weights, or wearing Tzitzis? The gemara answers, “Even though the reward is not greater, they are exceedingly disgusting to eat.”[3]
          What is the added merit of refraining from eating something because it is repulsive and disgusting?
          Kesav Sofer explains that ideally the reason why a Torah Jew refrains from eating crawling insects should not be because they are abhorrent, but because G-d commanded us not to eat them since they contaminate and enervate our souls. The goal of a Jew is to live his entire life as G-d commanded, because G-d commanded. In other words, the motive and driving force behind all of ones actions, even those actions that he would perform without the Torah instructing, should be because it is the Will of G-d. Ultimately, one must honor his parents, maintain his integrity in his business dealings, and seek to be a moral person, not because it makes sense, but because that is what the Torah demands. If one adheres to the Torah’s rulings only when he can comprehend the logic in doing so, he is perilously hovering atop a slippery slope.
          The reason why we practice the laws of kashrus has nothing to do with physical health[4]. We keep kosher simply because the Torah instructs us to do so.
          In a similar vein, our Sages state[5], “One should not say I could never eat the meat of a pig (i.e. because it is disgusting to me)… Rather he should say, ‘I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to’… Thus, one who separates himself from sin accepts upon himself the yoke of heaven.”[6]
          It is for this reason that there is (potentially) more reward for refraining from consuming insects then from refraining from usury, faulty weights, or wearing tzitzis. Most people would not entertain the notion of eating insects because the idea is utterly loathsome. But one who is able to instill within himself the notion that he doesn’t eat insects because that is G-d’s Will, has reached a far greater level.

          The holiday of Pesach is called, ”Chag Haemunah- the holiday of faith, and matzah is termed, “מיכלא דמהימנותא – food of faith.” The holiday which celebrates the revelations, miracles, and plagues that G-d demonstrated in Egypt at the time of the exodus, impresses upon us the Divinity, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence of Hashem, the One G-d.
Seder night is the jovial celebration of the transformation that occurred within us at that time. We were no longer slaves to Pharaoh and his tyranny. We became free men; free to be slaves to G-d. 
The final step of the Seder is “Nirtzah”, in which we sing lyrical songs which extol the greatness of G-d and our exuberance in becoming His Chosen Nation. One of those songs is, “Echad mi yodea – Who knows One?” Prima facie, it seems like a children’s song, with little profundity. But after an entire seder, replete with special mitzvos and a unique atmosphere, it if foolhardy to believe that we would conclude the glorious evening with children songs. What is the significance of this song?
A fellow once proposed the following question to Harav Gedalia Schorr zt’l: The gemara (Chullin 89a) states: “Techeiles[7] is similar (in color) to the sea, the sea is similar to the heavens, and the heavens are similar to the Throne of Glory.” Thus, the techeiles on one’s tzitzis are supposed to serve as a constant reminder to its wearer about G-d. Does any person really think in that manner – that the techeiles trigger images of the sea, which triggers images of the sky, which reminds him of G-d’s Throne?  
Rabbi Schorr replied, “The gemara[8] also states that it is forbidden to stare at colored clothing belonging to a woman because it may conjure up forbidden thoughts in his mind. That also seems a bit far fetched. But that point most people do seem to understand! Why isn’t that far-fetched? The reason is because we are easily reminded of things that we are focused on. That is the way our minds work.[9] When one allows himself to think about inappropriate things, even staring at certain clothing can trigger inappropriate thoughts. But one who is focused on G-d and His Service will be reminded of G-d when he sees the techeiles, even though it may be a far-fetched symbolism.”
 The whole sequence and process of Seder night guides us to realize the direct involvement that G-d maintains over every aspect of our lives. By the time the Seder is over we have hopefully been emotionally and spiritually elevated and are able to see our lives and the world in a different light.
Therefore, just prior to the conclusion of the Seder we start over. We go back to the most rudimentary level of learning that we are taught in our youth, i.e. the concept of numbers. But at that point the numbers take on new meaning. We do not see one apple, two giraffes, three buildings, and four airplanes. Rather, we see One G-d, two tablets, three Patriarchs and four Matriarchs, etc. After eating the ‘food of faith’, consuming marror which reminds us that even the bitterness of exile is divinely ordained, after relating all of the events leading up to the redemption, and singing hallel to G-d with joyful bliss, everything takes on higher meaning.  

Pesach does not end after the Seder is completed. The remainder of the holiday serves to instill within our psyche all of the lessons and levels we gained at the Seder, so that we can take them with us.
Pesach has come and passed - not passed by but passed through! Now we continue our trek towards reaccepting the Torah on Shavuos with a new perspective on life. After we ingrained within ourselves that there is but One G-d in heaven and earth, and that we follow his mitzvos simply because He commanded them, we can focus on the ever integral question - “Und vos zugt Gott!”

“For I am Hashem Who elevated you from the land of Egypt
“Techeiles… the Throne of Glory.”

[1] Vayikra 11:44-45
[2] Bava Metzia 61b
[3] In other words, it is unbecoming for a Jew to eat something which is repulsive. G-d took us out of Egypt so that we can become a holy elevated nation. By consciously refraining from eating disgusting foods, we demonstrate our greatness.
[4] There are certainly many aspects of Kosher which are logical and contribute to good health. Some examples: the prohibition against eating diseased and sickly animals, checking the inner organs to ascertain that the animal is not diseased, not eating meat from animals found dead, as well as checking all sorts of food in order not to ingest bugs and insects. Not mixing meat and milk and waiting between eating them also makes good sense from a health point of view, as each entails different types and rates of digestion. But all these are "fringe benefits."
[5] Sifra (Vayikra 20:26)  -
"אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה מנין שלא יאמר אדם אי אפשי לאכול בשר חזיר אי אפשי ללבוש כלאים אי אפשי לבוא על הערוה אלא אפשי אבל מה אעשה ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי תלמוד לומר ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי נמצא הפורש מן העבירה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים".
[6] I often think about this statement during the summer, when I accompany my campers to a theme park on Trip Day. As the day wares on and hunger pangs set in, it is impossible not to smell the tantalizing aromas of the hot dog stands wafting through the air. At that point I am reminded of the words, “I would eat it. But what can I do? For my Father in heaven has instructed me not to”. 
[7] There is an obligation for a man to have a strand of techelis interwoven into his tzitzis. The techelies was a bluish dye created from a rare fish called the chilazon. There is much debate about whether we know what the chilazon is today.
[8] Avoda Zara 20b
[9]  For example, if a close friend/family member dies, G-d forbid, for some time afterwards anything can trigger a memory about the deceased.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


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


Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[1] related that in years past, while walking home from shul on Friday Night with his sons, occasionally a passerby would shout an anti-Semitic epithet from his car window as he sped away. Afterwards, Rabbi Finkelman would always make a point of telling his sons, “Boruch Hashem, it is apparent that we are Jews. We are supposed to stand out, and it is supposed to be apparent that we are different. We should be proud of who we are and that we have done our job.”

The holiday of “Pesach” received its name from the final plague that struck Egypt. G-d told the Jews, “ופסחתי עליכם – And I will skip over you.” This was G-d’s pledge that the Jewish homes would be impervious to the plague that would consume Egypt. Precisely at midnight the oldest member of every household in Egypt was afflicted with a devastating disease which caused them to writhe and thrash in sheer agony. Their families could do nothing but watch their leader die a slow horrible death.
What is the particular greatness of that miracle that it becomes central to the entire exodus? None of the ten plagues affected the Jews. If so, why is our salvation from the Plague of the Firstborn so much greater than any of the other plagues?
Prior to the final plague, Moshe instructed the Jews about the Korbon Pesach[2]. Four days prior to the actual offering, they were to bring a lamb – the Egyptian god - into their homes and tie it to their bedposts. Throughout those four days they were to carefully scrutinize the lamb to ensure that it had no blemishes. Then on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan they were to slaughter the lamb in full view. They had to catch the blood and dip reeds into the blood so they could smear the blood on their doorposts. This ‘sign’ marked their house as a ‘Jewish home’. The lamb was to be roasted on an open fire and eaten that night. During that night, the Jews remained barricaded in their homes while the rest of Egypt was ravaged by the plague. 
Maharal[3] explains that the significance of the final plague was not the miracle per se[4]. Rather, the Service that the Jews busied themselves with prior to that night in effect symbolized that they were now a people unto themselves. By smearing the blood on their doorposts, they demarked their homes as an island within Egypt. Until that time, the Jews were unwittingly part of Egyptian society. But at that point they symbolized that they had completely severed all ties with the land that served as their host-country for more than two centuries.
The final plague was decreed against all of Egypt. But the Jews were no longer part of Egypt; they had effectually become a new nation! They sat inside their homes, walking sticks in hand, ready to leave with a moment’s notice. They may have physically still been within Egypt’s borders, but mentally, psychologically, and spiritually they had already departed. 
It is not the miracle of our being spared that we celebrate, but rather the reason why we were spared. We had become Klal Yisroel! Even before we received the Torah we had accepted upon ourselves to become a special nation.
The holiday of Pesach was so named to celebrate the transformation we underwent that night. Because we had become a new nation, we were not subject to any decree levied against Egypt. We were free of Egypt on all levels - free to be the Chosen People.

Our Sages explain that those Jews who did not want to leave Egypt never did. Tragically, eighty percent of Klal Yisroel perished during the plague of darkness.
Netziv notes that the eighty percent who died included many distinguished personalities. Many of them were prepared to receive the Torah and accept the yoke of G-d upon themselves. But they saw no reason to leave Egypt. Their prevailing feeling was that they could have added responsibilities without becoming an independent people. They could receive the Torah in Egypt and continue to enjoy Egyptian prosperity and bounty. Their mistaken outlook had tragic and devastating ramifications. The Torah nation had to be a new entity, without ties to any other nation or yoke.

The gemara[5] relates that when Haman sought to malign the Jews during his propaganda campaign to convince Achashveirosh to destroy the whole Jewish Nation, he told the king, “’The laws of the king they do not keep’[6] - They go around all year claiming ‘It’s Shabbos today; it’s Pesach today!’”
Haman’s intention was to prove to the king that the Jews were never available for work because they were always claiming that it was a holiday and they were not permitted to perform any work that day. Haman argued that they did not generate any income for Persian society, and, in fact, only caused a strain on the economy. 
Rabbi Nosson Gestetner zt’l[7] notes that Haman’s diction is perplexing. What did he mean “they go around all year claiming ‘It’s Shabbos today; it’s Pesach today!’” Pesach is only one week of the year. What did Haman mean that all year long the Jews claim it’s Shabbos/Pesach?
He answers that Haman specifically mentioned Pesach because it is the celebration of the Jews’ intrinsic and extrinsic differences. Haman was saying that even when it is not actually Pesach, the Jews still claim it’s Pesach in the sense that they must always maintain certain boundaries and distinctions. It may not be the holiday of Pesach per se, but the message of the holiday remains with them continually.[8]
Haman was complaining that Jews live a life of Shabbos and Pesach. They WANT to be different, and therefore they are a public nuisance and should be disposed of.  

Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky[9] noted that during the first nine makkos the Jews were protected simply by virtue of the fact that they were Jews.
When it came time for the final plague of Makkas Bechoros however, it was no longer sufficient to just be a Jew. At that point the Jews would only be spared if they proved their unyielding and fearless loyalty to G-d.
The first nine plagues were external; there were outside stimuli that wreaked havoc upon the Egyptians. Therefore, being a Jew was enough to ward off those external forces.
Makkas Bechoros on the other hand, was an internal plague. Many of the Egyptians didn’t even know that they were firstborns. There was no outside event or stimulus that triggered the plague. It was G-d Himself who removed their spirit of life causing them to die. Therefore, to be spared from that plague the firstborn Jews had to demonstrate their internal loyalty.
Medrash relates that although the Jews were idolaters they merited redemption because they maintain their Jewish identity in three ways: they didn’t alter their language, mode of dress, and they retained their Jewish names.
Rabbi Chaitovsky noted that on the night of Makkas Bechoros, the Jews had to emphasize these three merits to prove that they were indeed different than the Egyptians.
To emphasize that they didn’t change their names, prior to offering the Korbon Pesach every Jew had to pre-register for it. They had to write down their names as belonging to a certain group offering the Korbon Pesach.  
To emphasize that they didn’t change their clothes they dressed in a distinctive manner that final night in Egypt. The Torah states that they had to eat the Korbon Pesach with their shoes on, belts tied, and walking sticks in hand.
To emphasize that they didn’t change their language they had to use their power of speech to recount and relate all of the miracles that had occurred until then, the mitzvah of haggadah.
That night they demonstrated their great dedication and loyalty and proved their worthiness to be taken out of the exile.

 “Pesach” celebrates what we became and our joy in accepting that role. G-d skipped over our homes because the decree simply did not apply to us. Pesach is the celebration of, “אתה בחרתנו מכל העמים - You have chosen us from among all the nations,” as well as our inner desire to live up the responsibility of being Chosen. 

“They go around all year claiming, ‘It’s Pesach today’”
“And I will skip over you”

[1] Mashgiach, Ohr HaChaim, Queens NY, and a personal rebbe
[2] Pascal Offering
[3] Gevuros Hashem, chapter 60
[4] When Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l quoted this Maharl he would explain, “The final plague is not about koontzin- tricks’. We aren’t impressed by koontzin and we don’t celebrate holidays simply because of a koontz.”
[5] Megilla 13b
[6] Esther 3
[7] L’horos Nosson (Moadim 2, Haggadah 132)
[8] We can add that Shabbos represents the same idea. A non-Jew is forbidden to keep Shabbos, while a Jew’s life revolves around Shabbos. The day itself symbolizes the distinction between Klal Yisroel and other nations.
[9] Eighth grade Rebbe at ASHAR and a wonderful personal inspiration