Thursday, July 30, 2015


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


During a lecture he delivered on Tisha B’av afternoon a number of years ago, Rabbi Fishel Shechter related a personal story that a woman had related to him:
“A number of years ago one of my children died and I was devastated. I became so depressed that I refused to leave my house. I was sure that I would never get over it and would never be able to get on with my life. Two months went by and things did not improve at all; in fact my misery and self-pity only deepened.
“I was invited to a wedding but I told my husband that I wasn’t going. I simply couldn’t. My husband knew how badly I needed to get out and, when he saw that he could not reason with me, he literally pushed me out of the house and locked the door. I banged on the door but my husband would not allow me back in. He called out that my dress and makeup were at a neighbor’s house and that I had to go to the wedding
“Seeing that I had no choice, I begrudgingly got dressed and went to the wedding. When I saw everyone dancing happily I became very upset. I felt that they had no right to be so happy. With a complete feeling of dejection, I walked over to a phone booth and picked up the phone. Tears streaming down my face, I said, “G-d, I don’t want to be here. Please get me out of here!”
“While I was standing there crying, one of the elderly women who was sitting at the door of the hall collecting charity noticed me and walked over to me. She placed her arms on my shoulder and gently asked me, “Mein kint, vos vaynst du- My child why are you crying?” I shot back at her, “You never lost a child!” She gently replied, “Really? I lost ten children during the war!  Why are you crying?” I looked at her in astonishment, “And you never cried?” “Oh, I cried! But I learned that there is no point of crying over the past. I learned to take advantage of my tears and to use them to cry for others. Whenever I cry I think about those who need salvation and I pray for them with my tears.”
Then she put her arms around me and said, “No one should tell you to stop crying. But use your tears and learn how to cry! Use your tears to pray for everyone you know who is suffering” Then she walked away.
For a few moments I just stood there lost in thought. Then I picked up the phone again and began to cry profusely. I thought about everyone I know who is going through a hard time and I cried for them. I thought about those who were in the hospital when I was there with my child and I cried for them. I cried for Klal Yisroel and I prayed for the future and for salvation and redemption.
“When I finished crying I never felt so happy in my life. I stepped into the center of the circle and I danced like I never danced in my life!”

נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלקיכם" – Comfort, comfort My people – says your G-d.”
The Shabbos following Tisha B’av derives its special name, “Shabbas Nachamu – the Shabbos of comfort” from the aforementioned opening words of the haftorah.  After the arduous day of Tisha B’av has concluded and we have recited the numerous Lamentations recounting our myriad pain and suffering in exile, it is appropriate that the period that follows is one of consolation and solace[1].
What is the nature of this “national nechama”? How can we be consoled after all that we have spoken about on Tisha B’av? 

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains that nechama entails a shift in perspective and perception.
After the death of Yaakov Avinu in Egypt, his sons- Yosef’s brothers - feared that there would be reprisals for what they had done to Yosef. They were concerned that perhaps until now Yosef had restrained himself from avenging his honor because he did not want to cause their father any additional pain. But now that Yaakov was gone there would be nothing stopping Yosef from seeking retribution. 
The righteous Yosef reassured his brothers that he had no feelings of malice or resentment towards them. The Torah[2] records that Yosef sought to assuage his brothers; ”וינחם אותם וידבר על לבם – And he comforted them and spoke into their hearts.”
Rabbi Hirsch explains that נחם can refer to both consolation and regret, in that they are both a complete change of feelings from the way one felt about something until this point. “Up until now one had considered something to be right and perhaps boasted about it, and then suddenly finds out that one has to be ashamed of it: regret, remorse. Similarly, real consolation is only such, that brings the conviction to one who has suffered pain and grief, that this too leads to ultimate good and everlasting happiness… which awakes the consciousness that if one were able to see through and over all the results and consequences as G-d can and does, one would not alter what has happened even if one could.
“Thus Yosef here tries to show his brothers just the opposite point of view of what happened in the past. He explained to his brothers that, “G-d used you as the instrument to bring about my own, and so many other people’s, good fortune”. And then “Yosef spoke into their hearts”. He did not merely speak “to their hearts” but “into their hearts”, i.e. his words prevailed over their feelings.
נחמה (nechama) is directed not so much to the heart as to the intelligence, and then (once one has presented a new intellectual perspective) he spoke into their hearts (it can effect a change in one’s heart and emotions as well).”

Rabbi Hirsch’s presupposition that nechama implies a change of attitude is apparent from other verses in the Torah as well.
When the Torah describes the decadence and immorality of the pre-flood generation of Noach, it writes, “G-d saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth… And G-d reconsidered(וינחם ה')  having made Man on earth” When G-d saw how deceitful and depraved man had become, He regretted His original decision to create Man, as it were. It was then that G-d decided to decimate the world with a flood and recommence creation. In order to express that ‘change of heart’ the Torah utilizes the word נחמה.
In addition, when the newly redeemed nation of Klal Yisroel marched forth from Egypt en route to Canaan, the most direct route would have been through the land of the Philistines. However, G-d purposely diverted the nation from that land in order to avoid the need for immediate war. The Torah explains[3], “פן ינחם העם – Perhaps the nation will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.” Here too the Torah utilizes the word נחמה to convey a shift of perspective and attitude, which effected a major decision and outcome.

When, G-d forbid, a person is in a state of mourning for a deceased relative, we seek to console him. The truth is that it is impossible to fully console a person as that would only be accomplished by removing the loss completely, and we cannot change the past or resurrect the dead. The consolation we seek to offer is by helping the mourner see value and purpose in his loss. When he is able to find meaning in the tragedy he has suffered then he is able to reach a level of inner peace, the anguish and pain of his loss notwithstanding.
In the opening story about the woman who lost her child, nothing in her life changed when she went to that wedding. The only change that occurred was a shift in perspective, an internal transformation. She learned to find value in her suffering, despite the fact that her actual pain had not diminished. But that sense of value infused her with fortitude and inner peace to move on.
When a person loses a close relative there is an inevitable sense of loneliness and separation. When friends and loved ones come to comfort a mourner, they sit together empathizing and sharing the mourner’s pain. That itself helps alleviate some of the feelings of isolation and loneliness. The deceased is still gone but the mourner is able to see that he is not alone. That inner psychological metamorphosis is what we call nechama.

Tisha B’av is a day of national, often cataclysmic, tragedy. It is the anniversary of many harrowing and traumatic events in Jewish history, including the destruction of both Batei Mikdash, the expulsion of the Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), and Germany’s entry into World War I[4]. During World War II, the “Final Solution” was signed into law by Herman Goering on July 31, 1941 (the night of the eighth of Av), and was enacted a year later on Tisha B’av 1942 when the first deportees from the Warsaw Ghetto were gassed in Treblinka.
 The kinnos recited on Tisha B’av depict a candid portrayal of the tribulations we have encountered. At times it is hard to even read the words. The novel barbaric ideas that our enemies utilized to terrorize us defy belief, and the magnitude of our suffering is mind-boggling. But there is a paradoxical underlying theme that emerges from our pain.
In a famous article in Harpers Magazine, Mark Twain noted that Jewish survival is nothing short of miraculous and challenges all laws of nature and ‘survival of the fittest’. He concludes by wondering, “What is the secret to his immortality?”
The horrors we recall on Tisha B’av help us realize that we are part of an immortal people who transcend natural order. That perspective which “emerges from the ashes” is an integral part of our national consolation. Tisha B’av helps us conceptualize our suffering as being analogous to a prince who is taunted and beaten. Although chagrined, bloody, and bruised, deep down the prince feels a sense of pride. He realizes that he is being targeted because he is noble and special. That realization and shift in perspective helps us find meaning in our inexplicable pain and suffering, and therein lies our comfort. 

Every year when Tisha B’av arrives and we descend to the floors, there is a sense of national exasperation and failure; “Another Tisha B’av in exile; another year of dashed hopes.”  Yet, at the same time, Tisha B’av helps us see the exile, as well as all the travails and vicissitudes of life, from a new perspective. Through the mask we are able to see the Hand of G-d guiding all the events that have befallen us, for good and for better. Thus, Tisha B’av itself segues into the period of consolation that follows. However, more than consolation for the national calamities we have suffered, Tisha B’av helps us realize that every moment of our lives is guided by the Divine Hand.  In our suffering it becomes apparent that it is G-s who has orchestrated all that we have endured[5]. When one lives with that realization and belief he lives a life of meaning and fulfillment, even with the challenges life thrusts upon him.    

“He comforted them and spoke into their hearts”
“Comfort, comfort My people – says your G-d”

[1] In fact, the haftorah for the seven weeks following Tisha B’av are all dedicated to comforting and consoling the beleaguered and tormented Klal Yisroel.
[2] Bereishis 50:21
[3] Shemos 13:17
[4] World War I was a direct harbinger for World War II and the Holocaust.
[5] Much of our suffering may be inexplicable but the knowledge that our loving Father in heaven has decided it is a tremendous comfort.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


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


          Fall 1944.
It was already apparent that the German army would be vanquished imminently. The Allied forces were rapidly closing in on the Nazi War Machine from all sides, and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before ‘the Reich that would stand for a thousand years’ would collapse. Nevertheless, the Nazis were determined to promote their nefarious objective of making Europe Judenrein until their final moments. Such was the tragic fate of Hungarian Jewry which was shipped into the crematoriums en masse during the waning months of the war.  
One day fifty young yeshiva boys were herded into a ‘bathhouse’ in Auschwitz. It was late enough in the war that the boys were familiar with the Nazi’s ruse. They knew that at any moment the showers would be turned on, but instead of water, noxious Zyklon-B gas would come out, causing them all to die of asphyxiation within minutes.
As they waited for the inevitable, one of the boys called out to his peers, “My brothers; today is Simchas Torah, the day we celebrate the conclusion of one cycle of Torah study and the commencement of a new cycle. Throughout our lives we have tried our best to adhere to the Torah and uphold its every commandment. Now we have one final opportunity to give honor and to glorify the Torah. We have no Torah scroll and we have no books. But they can never take away our pride and our feeling of connection with G-d. So now in our final moments, let us celebrate with G-d Himself, before we return our souls to Him.”
The Nazi guards were used to hearing all sorts of noises emanating from within the death chamber. Screams, prayers, pleading, and banging were all par for the course. But they had never heard the sounds of harmonious singing. The boys had joined hands and were singing “Ashreinu mah tov chelkaynu – Praiseworthy are we! How goodly is our portion!”, inside their sealed tomb.  
One of the guards asked his comrade the reason for the delay and demanded that the commandant be summoned to witness the peculiar events. When the commandant hastily approached and heard the singing he was filled with rage. He slammed open the door of the Gas Chamber and burst inside like a madman. He grabbed one boy and viciously pulled him up, “You filthy swine! Explain to me why you are singing!”
The boy looked at the Nazi unabashedly and retorted, “We are celebrating the fact that we are leaving a world where Nazi beasts such as yourself reign. And we are celebrating the fact that in moments we will be reunited with our parents whom you have murdered.”
The Commander was beside himself. “You think the Gas Chamber will be your last stop? I will torture each of you individually and slice your flesh until you die in the vilest manner possible. You will wish you had died the relatively benign death in the Gas Chamber!” He had all the boys removed and placed in a holding block overnight. He planned to begin his torture campaign the next morning.
The next morning, a superior officer drove into the camp. He needed a group of young able-bodied men to perform grueling work. As he walked through the camp he noticed the group of yeshiva men locked up in the holding block. They were exactly what he needed.
The Nazi officer pulled rank on the camp commandant who stood by and watched silently as the young boys were marched onto trucks and driven out of Auschwitz.
Survivors report that all fifty boys survived the war.[1]

The holy books of the Prophets are filled with many beautiful uplifting prophecies which detail the greatness and loftiness of Klal Yisroel. Conversely, they are also replete with foreboding warnings of the impending doom that would befall the nation if they did not repent and heed the prophet’s words.
As a rule, even the most ominous and portentous prophecies conclude with words of encouragement and consolation. Despite the fact that the road is often replete with pain and suffering, ultimately, the Jewish People prevail and transcend all the travails that befall them.
  It is enigmatic therefore, that Megillas Eichah (“The scroll of Alas”) read on Tisha B’Av eve concludes with words of punishment. The final verse reads, “For even if you have utterly rejected us, You have already raged sufficiently against us.” In fact, it is customary to repeat the second-to-last verse, “Bring us back to You, G-d, and we will return; renew our days as of old,” so that we do not conclude our reading of the Megillah on a morbid note. Still, it begs explanation: Why does Megillas Eichah conclude with such harsh and painful words? 

Unlike the normal mourning process for a deceased relative where the mourning begins at the time of the tragedy, in regard to Tisha B’av the mourning begins three weeks prior and intensifies as the day approaches. Then on Tisha B’av itself we begin to accept consolation. At midday of Tisha B’av, we don our talis and tefillin and begin to sit on regular chairs. By midday of the day after Tisha B’av all of the laws of mourning abruptly cease. We immediately resume listening to music, shaving, taking haircuts, and doing laundry.[2] How can we understand the rapid, seemingly inappropriate, conclusion of the three week mourning process on the day after the most intense mourning of all?

The Bais Halevi[3] records the following poignant thought:
The gemara (Chagiga 5b) relates that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania was once in the presence of the Caesar, together with a Sadducee[4]. While sitting there the Sadducee spitefully turned his head away from Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Yehoshua responded by stretching out his hands.
The Caesar asked Rabbi Yehoshua for an explanation about what had just occurred. Rabbi Yehoshua explained that the Sadducee had turned his head away from him to symbolize that G-d had turned away and spurned the Jewish People. Rabbi Yehoshua immediately responded by stretching out his hands to symbolize the verse[5], “עוד ידו נטויה עלינו – His Hand is still outstretched upon us.” In other words, G-d still maintains a connection with the Jewish People.
Then the Caesar asked the Sadducee to explain the exchange between him and Rabbi Yehoshua. When the Sadducee could not explain why Rabbi Yehoshua had stretched out his hands, the Caesar had him executed. 
The Maharsha questions Rabbi Yehoshua’s response. The verse Rabbi Yehoshua used actually refers to the retribution and punishment that is meted out against Klal Yisroel for not properly adhering to the Torah. The full verse reads, “And despite all that, His wrath has not been quelled, and His Hand is still outstretched upon us.” Perhaps Rabbi Yehoshua fooled the Cesar, but why did he use the aforementioned verse to prove that G-d has not spurned or rebuffed the Jewish People, when a cursory reading of the verse has the opposite implication?

The gemara (Bava Kamma 26a) discusses the halachic status of one who smashes a vessel which was thrown off the roof a building but did not yet hit the ground. The gemara’s discussion centers on whether we assume that, “מנא תבר תבר – he broke a broken vessel[6]” or not.
The Bais Halevi questions why this case differs from one who casts his vessel into the ocean ("זוטו של ים"), where the law is unequivocally clear that one who does so relinquishes ownership over the vessel, and another person may immediately retrieve the object and take possession of it. [This is true even if the original owner swears that he still wants the vessel and never intended to relinquish possession of it.] Why should casting a vessel off the roof a building be different than casting it into the ocean?
The Bais Halevi answers that the ocean is endless and, therefore, as soon as something falls into it, for all practical purposes it is lost. Therefore, when one casts his vessel into the ocean he is demonstrating that he no longer cares for the vessel. However, when one casts a vessel off a roof where it will unquestionably smash, he demonstrates that he specifically wants the object to break. If he only intended to relinquish ownership he could have thrown it into a dumpster. The fact that he bothered to ascend to a roof and throw it over the edge indicates that, for whatever reason, he wanted the vessel to break.
The Bais Halevi continues by explaining that the Sadducee turned away from Rabbi Yehoshua to symbolize that G-d had abandoned Klal Yisroel and relinquished ownership over them, as it were. Rabbi Yehoshua replied by stretching out his hands, symbolizing the harsh retribution and punishment that Klal Yisroel has suffered. In effect, Rabbi Yehoshua was replying that the Sadducee had misinterpreted the underlying message of our suffering. It is not that G-d has abandoned us. Au contraire! The fact that G-d continues to punish us so harshly demonstrates that He has not given up on us.
Our suffering is not analogous to an owner who casts his vessel into the water. Rather it is analogous to an owner who casts his vessel off the roof with the intention of breaking the vessel. G-d indeed inflicts harsh punishment upon us and we have unquestionably been subject to severe suffering throughout the millennia. But it is because our ‘owner’ knows that doing so is the only way to preserve us and refine us.

With this idea in mind, we can gain a deeper perspective into the mourning period prior to Tisha B’av, as well as to the conclusion of Megillas Eichah. The final verse of the Megillah which speaks of retribution and G-d’s wrath contains the key to our consolation.  The very fact that G-d still bothers to punish us shows that G-d wants to preserve us as His Nation. The very fact that He has been so angry with us demonstrates that,” His Hand is still outstretched upon us”, and He has not given up on us.
When one gives up on something and casts it aside, he no longer becomes angry on account of that abandoned vessel. His attitude becomes more apathetic and uncaring towards the forsaken vessel. But our pain and suffering shows that we are still the Nation of G-d and that G-d still loves us deeply enough to not allow us to falter and forget who we are.
This idea also explains why the mourning process which develops gradually until Tisha B’av seems to diminish so quickly.  The vast and numerous lamentations that we recite on Tisha B’av evening and morning depict and recount the endless suffering, tears, travails, and persecution that we have been subject to throughout the exile. However, therein lies the roots of our consolation. The persecution we have suffered symbolizes that we are still the Chosen Nation and therefore are held to a higher standard. The mourning of Tisha B’av actually contains the source of our consolation.

Chumash Devorim, the final book of the Torah, records Moshe’s words to the nation during his final weeks. Moshe began by reviewing all of the vicissitudes and events that occurred to the nation throughout their forty year sojourns in the desert. Moshe not only described each individual event, but he also demonstrated how everything that occurred connected together. Everything was part of a composite bigger picture, dictated precisely by G-d.
 Parshas Devorim is always read the Shabbos prior to Tisha B’av. The message is that nothing is random and there is no coincidence.
The rivers of Jewish tears continue to rage with incredible intensity. But there is a purpose and value in every one of those tears. It is a concept we believe although we cannot comprehend. It is that belief that has given us the courage and strength to withstand inquisitions, crusades, pogroms, holocausts, and libels. And it is that knowledge that has given us the fortitude to hold our heads high – sometimes even singing and dancing – in the face of demonic enemies and horrific challenges.
We also know that those rivers of tears will soon overflow and G-d will send Moshiach to herald in the blissful era of the Final Redemption. At that point Tisha B’av will be transformed into a day of joyous celebration. May it be this year!

“His Hand is still outstretched upon us”
“Bring us back to You G-d, and we will return”

[1] This story is recorded in “Small Miracles of the Holocaust”.
[2] Anyone who has ever spent a summer in an overnight camp knows that the Melave Malkah following Shabbos Nachamu (the Shabbos after Tisha B’av) is an extremely festive and joyous event.
It should also be noted that in a year such as this year (5769) when Tisha B’av concludes on Thursday evening, there are many laws that are mitigated already Thursday night because it is Erev Shabbos.
[3] Parshas Vayetzei & Derush 7
[4] The Sadducees were Jews who tragically denounced the Oral Torah.
[5] Yeshaya 5:9
[6] In other words, do we assume that once a vessel has been cast off a building we view it as being already destroyed, and therefore the person who smashed it before it hit the ground did not do any further damage and is therefore not halachically liable. Or do we assume that until the vessel hits the ground and shatters it is still physically intact and therefore the person who shattered it is indeed liable? 

Thursday, July 16, 2015


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


·         John D Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, gave a groundskeeper a five dollar holiday bonus. Then, when the man took the holiday off to spend it with his family, Rockefeller docked the five dollars from the man’s pay.
·         Mr. Walt Disney would time his employees’ trips to the candy and sodas machines during work and detract it from their wages.
·         Ty Cobb, the famous baseball player, was also an early investor in Coca-Cola stock. He would collect bars of soap from locker rooms and hotel shower rooms, and would send them back to his Georgia farm.
·         Clark Gable, noted movie star, would often argue with his grocer about the price of jelly beans.
·         At the time of his death, the affluent and erratic Howard Hughes left behind 1.56 billion dollars. Shortly before his death, he is purported to have stated that, “During the last thirty years I have never woken up happy!”

       “How you make your living is very different from how you make your life!”

          The Torah relates that the tribes of Reuven and Gad approached Moshe and requested the lands of trans-Jordan as their inheritance, and not cross into the land proper[1]. “The children of Reuven and the children of Gad had abundant livestock – very great. They saw the land of Yazer and the land of Gilead, and behold! The place was a place for livestock.[2]” At first Moshe was extremely chagrined by their request. He feared their request would cause the rest of the nation to become disheartened and they would lose their zeal for the imminent battles against the Canaanites.
The tribes of Reuven and Gad countered that Moshe had misunderstood their request. They were not spurning the Land, and had no intention of shirking their responsibility to fight alongside their brethren. They only wanted to receive those abundant lands as their portion.
Rashi notes that when the tribes of Gad and Reuven clarified and reiterated their request they made a tragic error. “They approached him and said, ‘Pens for the flock shall we build here for our livestock and cities for our small children’.” The wording they used revealed a deep shortcoming in their priorities. They first mentioned their intent to build pens for their livestock before mentioning that they would construct homes for their families. In other words, they mentioned their money before their children!
Moshe immediately perceived their mistaken priorities and, when he mentioned his reluctant acquiescence to their request he replied[3], “Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock;” first for your children and only then for your possessions.

When a male baby who is his mother’s first conception becomes one month old, his father must redeem him by giving five silver shekels to a kohain. The ceremony, known as Pidyon Haben, is a joyous occasion and is followed by a festive meal.
The ceremony begins with the father declaring that the baby is his firstborn son and that he is obligated to redeem him. The Kohain then asks, “Which do you prefer: to give away your firstborn son, who is the first issue of his mother’s womb, or do you prefer to redeem him for five shekels as you are required to do by the Torah?” The father replies: “I wish to redeem my son. I present you with the cost of his redemption as I am required to do by the Torah.”
The whole conversation seems ludicrous. Why does the Koahin even bother to ask what the father would rather do? Is there any person so callous as to even entertain the notion of not redeeming his son to save some money? Why does the father not simply declare that he wishes to redeem his son as instructed by the Torah?
The answer is that the new baby has transformed a young man into a father. When a person becomes a father for the first time he often pledges in his mind that he will be the greatest father for his child. He will read to his child, sing to his child, play ball with his child, and learn with his child.
Sadly enough, many of those grand plans never come to fruition. The hassles and demands of life set in and those idyllic pledges are placed on the back-burner. After-all, business is business and one cannot live without money and the wherewithal to provide for his family. It is not that spending time with one’s son is no longer de rigueur; it’s just that the pressure of paying bills and financial obligations seem more immediately pressing.
If one would ask any logical person whether money or family is more important, we can be certain that he would hastily answer that there is nothing more valuable than the time one spends with his family. Yet[4]פוק חזי" – go out and see” what occurs on a daily basis. People sell out their progeny, their most valuable treasures in the world, for transient nebulous commodities that are ultimately left behind.
Therefore, at his child’s ‘redemption’ the father must verbalize his values. It is not enough that he knows it to be true, at this critical juncture when he has just entered fatherhood he must express it outright for one and all to hear. The Koahin asks him what he would rather- money or child, and the father emphatically announces that he wishes to redeem his son.
Those words must perpetually remain with the father. He must never forget his value system; family must always be prioritized, and money must always be a distant second.  

After Avrohom Avinu vanquished the four mighty armies led by Nimrod in order to save his captured nephew Lot, the king of Sodom made a proposition to Avrohom: “[5]Give me the people, and take the possessions for yourself.”  Avrohom immediately replied that he would not take a thing. “I lift my hand to Hashem, G-d, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, if so much as a thread to a shoe-strap… So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom[6] rich’.”
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, explained that it was because of the king of Sodom’s proposition that Avrohom refused to accept any of the spoils which were rightfully due to him. Once the king offered the spoils of war in exchange for the people, Avrohom refused to have any part of those spoils. “Let it not be said that Avrohom became rich because he sold out the people.” Avrohom was an extremely wealthy and influential individual. But in becoming the Patriarch of Klal Yisroel he would never allow one cent to take priority over his family or any person.
One of the greatest messages that Avrohom espoused throughout his life was that money is worthless when measured against human life and spirit!  

This lesson is always reiterated during the Three Weeks of mourning. A Jew must always remember his value system and his priorities. All the money in the world will not be sufficient to rebuild the long-awaited third eternal Bais Hamikdash. But loving and prioritizing others, specifically our children will definitely bring us closer!

“Pens for the flock and cities for our small children”
“Which do you prefer: your firstborn son, or to redeem him?”

[1] In 1948 when the UN was drawing up its partition plan for the new state of Israel, hardliners such as Menachem Begin insisted that the Jews receive the entire country, including trans-Jordan (the modern day country of Jordan). It was based on the fact that the inheritance of two and a half tribes was in trans-Jordan.
[2] 32:1
[3] 32:24
[4] in the vernacular of the Talmud
[5] Bereishis 14:21
[6] At that point, his name was still Avrom, and had not yet been changed to Avrohom.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


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


          “In the depths of my memory, there abides an image vouchsafed to me alone. I see him now as he was then—more than half a century past—a man of stature in the full bloom of life. Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, my rebbi, scrubbing the floor on his hands and knees.
“His rebbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, had asked him to prepare the building on President Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for the inaugural of Kollel Gur Aryeh of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin. Reb Shlomo asked me to lend a hand, and there we were, all alone on our hands and knees.
“Not long ago, I mentioned this episode to a rosh yeshivah—and watched his eyes light up. “I always sensed in that kollel an overwhelming feeling of kedushah; now I know where it came from,” he said.
“But that was Reb Shlomo. He could weigh issues that stand berumo shel olam (at the apex of the universe), and he could also scrub the floor of a makom Torah.”[1][2]

Moshe Rabbeinu, aware that he would not lead his beloved nation into the Promised Land, voiced his concerns about the welfare of the nation after his passing[3].
          “Moshe spoke to G-d saying: ‘May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd’. G-d said to Moshe, ‘Take to yourself Yehoshua the son of Nun,איש אשר רוח בו   - a man in whom there is spirit, and lean your hand upon him’.”
          Rashi explains, “Moshe said before G-d, ‘Master of the World! It is revealed before you the personality of each individual; they do not resemble each other. Appoint a leader who can deal with each individual, according to his personality’.”  
          What is the significance of Moshe’s analogy to sheep without a shepherd? The nation required a leader simply because they needed someone to guide and lead them. What is added by the analogy?
          Kesav Sofer explains that Moshe was not concerned that the Jews would be left without a leader. G-d would surely not forsake His Nation and would not allow them to fall prey to the perils of anarchy. Moshe was confident that the leader would be a scholar of note, as well as a righteous and courageous individual who would lead with conviction and faith. But Moshe was concerned lest the leader be too consumed by his own agenda and mission and not be sufficiently in tune with the needs of each individual.
          Moshe wanted to ensure that the leader would be a person who loved his people and cared deeply for their needs. Rashi elucidates this point when he writes that Moshe sought a leader “who can deal with each individual, according to his personality”.
          This is the meaning of the analogy. If a flock of sheep are left to fend for themselves they are surely doomed to become dispersed and easy prey for surrounding predators. The sheep-owner does not merely seek a shepherd who will keep the sheep together and out of harm’s way. Such a shepherd may be consumed by his selfish desires to shear the sheep and eventually slaughter them. Rather, he seeks a compassionate shepherd who will love and care for the needs of each of the sheep left under his care. That is the type of leader that Moshe desired to be his successor. 

          Harav Asher Anshel Katz[4] develops this idea further. He questions why when asking about his successor did Moshe request that G-d “appoint a man over the assembly”. Why didn’t Moshe ask that G-d appoint “a leader” or “a caretaker”; why does he simply refer to him as ‘a man’? G-d responded that Moshe should appoint Yehoshua because he is, “איש אשר רוח בו   - a man in whom there is spirit.” There again seems to be an emphasis on the fact that the successor should be ‘a man’. What does that mean?
The Yitav Lev[5] was the Rabbi and spiritual leader of the village of Sighet, Hungary. In that city there lived a righteous individual named R’ Yosef Leib Kahane. R’ Yosef Leib was a scholar as well as a prestigious businessman. Because of his combined worldliness and righteousness he was appointed one of the chief officers of the city.
The Yitev Lev would quip that people often come to the city of Sighet to solicit the blessing of ‘a righteous Jew’ who lives in the city. “They think the righteous Jew is Zalman Leib so they come to me for a blessing. But they are mistaken. The righteous Jew of Sighet is really R’ Yosef Leib’.”
  When R’ Yosef Leib died, the Yitev Lev delivered the following eulogy:
The Torah records that after Pharaoh had two eccentric dreams no one was able to offer him a plausible explanation about their significance. Finally Yosef was taken out of prison and brought before Pharaoh. When Yosef offered Pharaoh an explanation that assuaged him, Pharaoh was spellbound and declared, “Could we find another like him – a man in whom is the Spirit of G-d?”[6] 
The Medrash explains that Pharaoh commented to his ministers, “If we were to search from one end of the world to the other we would be unable to find (a person) like this one (i.e. Yosef).”
The Medrash is difficult to understand. Why was Pharaoh so convinced that it was impossible for there to be anyone of greater stature and more G-d-fearing than Yosef? What about Yaakov and the other tribes?
The answer is that Pharaoh understood that there may indeed be other individuals in the world who had more of a ‘Spirit of G-d’ than Yosef. But Pharaoh was under the impression that to become a G-dly person who possessed the ‘Spirit of G-d’ one had to live in seclusion. He had to be isolated from society and temptations which detract a person from a life of sanctity and holiness.
Pharaoh could not believe that an individual like Yosef who was a slave and imprisoned for years could still maintain a semblance of divinity. Pharaoh was floored by the fact that Yosef was “a man”, i.e. a worldly cultured person, and yet possessed “the Spirit of G-d”, i.e. he was a righteous person and a staunch believer. To Pharaoh that combination was simply mind-boggling. He exclaimed that although there may indeed be greater ‘men’ in the world than Yosef, in the sense that they may be more sophisticated and urbane, and there may also be individuals who possessed more of a ‘spirit of G-d’ than Yosef, Pharaoh was sure that there could be no other person who was able to balance both of those dichotomous factions as perfectly as Yosef.
The Yitav Lev concluded his eulogy by saying, “Perhaps there are greater businessmen than R’ Yosef Leib and perhaps there are greater scholars than R‘ Yosef Leib. But there is no individual who possesses both qualities together - a ‘man’, in the sense that he was worldly, and yet who also possesses the ‘Spirit of G-d’ as R’ Yosef Leib. That explains the enormity of our loss.” 

The Viener Rav continues that this was the type of leader that Moshe sought for Klal Yisroel. Moshe was the quintessential lover of all Jews and wanted to ensure that his successor would not only be a person of valor and character, but also a person who deeply loved every Jew.
Moshe wanted his successor to be ‘a man’, in the sense that he would be in tune with the needs and idiosyncrasies of the nation. The leader had to know ‘what made them tick’, how to infuse them with passion, how to excite them and draw them close, and how to elevate them as individuals.
G-d replied that Yehoshua was the most qualified, because he was איש אשר רוח בו   - a man in whom there is spirit”. He was not only a holy and personally meritorious individual who possessed the Spirit of G-d, but he was also ‘a man’ who could intimately connect with the nation.
When Moshe was informed that Yehoshua was chosen he was assuaged, because he knew that his prized disciple was indeed a person, “who can deal with each individual, according to his personality”.

Every Friday evening, we commence the Shabbos prayers with the psalm, “לכו נרננה לה' – Let us go exult G-d”. In that paragraph we read, “For He is our G-d and we are sheep of His pasture, today if we heed His call.” It is noteworthy that the verse utilizes the same terminology as Moshe used when referring to the leader of Klal Yisroel – sheep in a flock.
Moshe sought a leader who would be analogous to a loving shepherd who cares for his flock with love and devotion. Despite the fact that by definition, a leader must be able to relate to his followers on an individual level, there is one caveat: a leader must never compromise on mitzvos. If connecting with his followers entails a breach of halacha or mitzvos, a leader must hold his ground even if that will cause him to become somewhat estranged from his followers.  
When all is said and done, we – followers and leaders – are all “followers of G-d”, and therefore must subjugate ourselves unequivocally to His Will. It is surely true that a shepherd must love his sheep and cater to their needs, but the sheep must also behave as sheep normally do. If a sheep begins to act erratically the shepherd will be compelled to discipline the sheep and treat it differently than the rest of the flock. 
Even Moshe, the consummate and ultimate leader who always tried to connect with Klal Yisroel, on occasion was forced to draw the line and seek judgment against his beloved nation.[7]
Our leaders must be able to connect with us, but as same time we must seek ways to connect ourselves with our leaders.
Parshas Pinchas is often read during the first Shabbos of the Three Weeks of mourning that culminate with Tisha B’av. It is a time when we recall all of the suffering and anguish we have suffered as a people since time immemorial. If there is one theme that resurfaces repeatedly during all times of national tragedy, it is our failure to heed to the call of our leaders and prophets.
In regards to our relationship with G-d, the rule is “If we tune ourselves to Him than He attunes himself to us”, as it were. That is the pivotal key to being part of G-d’s flock.

“Let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd”
“And we are sheep of His pasture, today if we heed His call”

[1] I should add that similar praise was expressed about Rav Mordechai Rennert zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Derech Chaim in Brooklyn, who was niftar earlier this year. At his levaya many noted his incredible humility and ability to connect with talmidim. In the early years of the yeshiva he and Rav Yisroel Plutchok shlita, the current Rosh Yeshiva, would mop the floors in the yeshiva themselves.
[2] From an article by Michael Sanders reviewing the book “Reb Shlomo” by Rav Yisroel Besser, Jewish Action, June 2009
[3] Rashi writes that one of the virtues of a righteous leader is that he puts aside his own concerns in order to prioritize the needs of his followers.
[4] Viener Rebbe, “Shemen Rosh”; the Viener Rav delivered these words during a lecture he gave in honor of the inauguration on a new dayan (judge) in his congregation in Boro Park.
[5] Harav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum zt’l
[6] Bereishis 41:38
[7] Most notably Moshe demanded swift and harsh retribution against Korach and his adherents when they rebelled against Moshe as the agent of G-d.