Friday, September 25, 2015


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


          A troubled man once approached the great tzaddik Rabbi Mordechai of Nashchiz. “Rebbe, please help me! I have a fatal disease and the doctors say they can do nothing for me. You are my last ray of hope! There must be something I can do to save my life.” The Rebbe thought for a moment, “Have you been to the Professor of Annipoli?” The man replied that he never heard of the Professor of Annipoli. “In that case”, replied the Rebbe, “you must travel to Annipoli and find the Professor immediately.” The man left the Rebbe’s home revitalized. He was sure that the great Professor would be able to help him. He rented a horse and wagon and undertook the difficult journey to Annipoli.
When he finally reached the city he excitedly asked the first passerby where the great Professor lived. The man shrugged and said he had never heard of him. The troubled man figured that the man was new in town and that’s why he was unfamiliar with the famous Professor. But when the next five people he stopped were no better, he began to feel very dejected. He reasoned that perhaps they use a different title for the great Professor. He approached a distinguished looking man and asked him where he could find the great expert in medicine in Annipoli. The man laughed, “A specialist? My friend, we don’t even have a doctor in our little hamlet.” The troubled man couldn’t believe his ears, “If you have no doctors in this city, what do you do when someone becomes ill?” The man replied, “We pray to Hashem in Heaven and beg Him to heal us.”
The troubled man realized that it was the truth. With a heavy heart, he headed back to Nashchiz. He returned to the Rebbe and related what had occurred. With tears in his eyes he told the Rebbe that his last vestige of hope had been destroyed. The Rebbe listened quietly and then asked, “So when they take ill in Annipoli they pray” The man nodded. “Don’t you see?” continued the Rebbe, “I was not mistaken to direct you to the professor of Annipoli. In Annipoli they place their trust in G-d alone; they seek no mediums. G-d Himself is the professor and healer of Annipoli! Your situation is indeed serious. Your only hope is to place your trust in the professor of Annipoli and to pray to Him with your heart and soul!”
As his final speech to his beloved Klal Yisroel, Moshe related, “Shiras Ha’azinu- the song of Ha’azinu”. In it, he summons the heavens and earth, to bear witness to the veracity of his words. The song interweaves an accounting of the past with a foreshadowing of the future. Although it bears a trace of melancholy, relating the tragedies and struggles the nation would endure, at the same time it expresses the sanguinity, immortality, and eternity of the Jewish Nation.
“When Hashem will have judged His People, He shall relent regarding His servants, when He sees that enemy power progresses, and none is saved or assisted.”[1]
Rashi explains that the pasuk is stating that when the power of Israel’s enemies grows unceasingly and exponentially, G-d will see that the Jews have no avenue of salvation through any government or other means of assistance, and He will save them. The Gemara[2] deduces from this pasuk that the final redemption will not occur, “עד שנתייאשו מן הגאולה -  until they give up on the redemption.”
Prima facie, the Gemara’s statement seems completely outlandish. In fact, it seems to counter one of the thirteen principle beliefs of a Jew. “I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach; and even though he may delay, still-in-all, I wait for him every day that he will arrive.” Rambam writes that one who does not firmly believe in any of the thirteen principles is deemed an “apikores[3]. How can the Gemarah write that Moshiach will not come until everyone becomes despondent? It is illogical that the final redemption will only occur when everyone becomes heretics and non-believers?
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l explains that the Gemarah surely does not mean that we must lose hope in the advent of Moshiach. Rather, we must be so discouraged by the severity of our situation and all of our challenges that we realize our ultimate salvation can absolutely not occur in a natural manner. As long as we place our confidence in the nations of the world and believe that they will sympathize with our cause, or that somehow we can overcome our adversaries through natural means, the redemption will not occur.
This is what the Gemara is saying. The final redemption will not occur until they give up on the redemption, i.e. until they give up on the redemption occurring naturally, through warfare, military prowess, world-conferences, or peace plans. Our firm belief in G-d alone, as the only means for salvation, is the prerequisite for the final redemption.
Rabbi Kamenetsky continues that it was for this reason that Hashem sent Moshe to appear before Pharaoh and request that he free the Jews from the Egyptian oppression and servitude. The Torah relates that, not only did Moshe’s plea not improve the situation, but Pharaoh was so enraged with Moshe that he increased their already unbearable workload. In fact, it was so severe that when Moshe approached the Jews to convey G-d’s message that the exodus was imminent, the pasuk[4] says that they did not listen to Moshe, “because of shortness of breath and hard work.”
The exile worsened at that point so the Jews would realize that there was no hope for diplomacy or a peaceful settlement. Their situation had deteriorated so severely that their only hope was to turn to G-d and pray for a supernatural redemption. Only when Klal Yisroel realized that, “אין לנו על מי לסמוך אלא על אבינו שבשמים - We have no one to rely on except for our Father in Heaven,” did G-d bring about the exodus with Divine revelation and miracles. But as long as they believed their were alternate avenues for salavation the redemption could not begin.
Despite the pain we suffer at the behest of the wicked Arabs, in our hearts we still feel secure behind the might of the Israeli Army and its superior intelligence systems. We feel protected by the American government and we feel confident of our security because we live in a progressive society which demands democracy and freedom for all[5]. But until we realize that only in G-d will we find true security and salvation, Moshiach cannot come.
On Shabbos morning, when the Torah is removed from the Aron (Ark) we state, “Our Merciful Father, do goodly - in Your Will - to Zion; build the walls of Yerushalayim, for in You alone we trust.” What does our trust in G-d have to do with rebuilding the destroyed walls of Yerushalayim? It would seem more appropriate that we beg G-d to rebuild the walls because we have suffered in exile for almost two millennia!?
According to Rabbi Kamenetsky’s idea we can explain that we are beseeching G-d to rebuild Yerushalayim because we understand that He is our only hope! Our mere cognizance of the fact that the final redemption can only occur when it is orchestrated by G-d is the forerunner for the redemption itself. Now that, “We believe in You alone,” we beg, “Build the walls of Yerushalayim!”

The great “Days of Awe”, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and concluding with Yom Kippur, are a time of reflection, introspection, and ultimately, repentance. In the Selichos prayers recited during this time-period we state, “Not with kindness or with deeds do we appear before You; (rather) like impoverished and poor people do we knock at Your door. At your doors we knock, O Merciful and Gracious One, please do not send us away empty-handed…for You are the One who hearkens to prayer.” In the first section of Sha’arei Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah records the “roots” of repentance. “The seventh root is wholehearted submission and lowliness, for one who recognizes his Creator, knows how one who transgresses His Word is meek and lowly and detracts from his internal value…and with submission one finds favor in the eyes of G-d.” Rabbeinu Yonah continues by discussing the evils of arrogance and explains that it is the root for many of our sins, for our ego blocks us from recognizing how much we need G-d in every facet of our lives.
Repentance is inextricably bound with trust in G-d. The whole concept of repentance and the ability to “return to G-d” despite one’s sins, is a complete gift. The more one realizes that fact and the more one submits himself to G-d’s Will, the greater his repentance will be. This is part of the reason why repentance is bound to redemption. When we are able to submit ourselves to G-d and recognize that our entire lives are completely in His Hands, then we will realize that redemption and salvation only come from Him as well.
After immersing ourselves in that faith through the Ten Days of Repentance and on Yom Kippur, we then celebrate that faith during the joyous holiday of Succos, a holiday which reminds us that our only true security is when we feel secure in the Hands of Hashem.
“Like impoverished and poor people do we knock at Your door”
“Build the walls of Yerushalayim, for in You alone we trust”

[1] Devorim 32:36-37
[2] Sanhedrin 97a
[3] a derogatory title reserved for those who disrespect the Torah or Torah Scholars- see Mishnah Torah l’Rambam, Sanhedrin 10:1
[4] Shemos 6:9
[5] Although undoubtedly the current administration has helped heal us of this ‘faith’ somewhat

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


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



Associated Press
Published: Sunday, April 9, 1995 12:00 a.m. MDT

An inmate who claimed he violated his own civil rights by getting arrested filed a $5 million lawsuit against himself - then asked the state to pay because he has no income in jail.
Robert Lee Brock, a prisoner at the Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake, filed a handwritten, seven-page lawsuit last month in federal court."I partook of alcoholic beverages in 1993, July 1st; as a result I caused myself to violate my religious beliefs. This was done by my going out and getting arrested," wrote Brock, who is serving 23 years for breaking and entering and grand larceny.
"I want to pay myself 5 million dollars," he continued, "but ask the state to pay it in my behalf since I can't work and am a ward of the state."
Judge Rebecca Beach Smith was unimpressed by Brock's ingenuity.
She dismissed the lawsuit Thursday as frivolous.
"Plaintiff has presented an innovative approach to civil rights litigation," Smith wrote. "However, his claim and especially the relief sought, are totally ludicrous."

© 2009 Deseret News Publishing Company | All rights reserved

The Chachmei Hakabbalah[1] explain that man has two levels of consciousness, hisרצון העליון  (‘upper will) and his רצון התחתון (‘lower will). Although there are deeper, more mystical understandings of this concept, we will analyze them from a psychological perspective[2]:
The רצון התחתון represents man’s pragmatic logic. It is the aspect of a person’s thoughts that are only interested in survival and gratification, and views the world from a very practical perspective.
Theרצון העליון  however, represents man’s cognitive, decision-making abilities. One’s ‘upper will’ seeks spirituality and a higher focus and is not limited by utilitarian and momentary concerns. It is more interested in right and wrong than it is on what is comfortable or convenient. One’s ‘upper will’ may decide to act in a way contrary to his pragmatic interests  if it feels that delaying gratification or suffering physically may yield spiritual growth.
A person is often unaware of the decisions of his ‘upper will’, because he is more in touch with his physical body. He inclines himself to his utilitarian ‘lower will’ which seeks gratification before he seeks the spiritual demands of his ‘upper will’.[3]
In the Shemoneh Esrei prayers we beseech G-d, “Us’filasam sikabel b’ratzon – And their prayers accept with favor.” We do not simply request that G-d accept all our prayers, but that He does so with favor. We often pray for things which we are confident are necessary and beneficial for us. However, only G-d can know if granting those requests will ultimately be detrimental on a physical, spiritual, or psychological level. Our ‘lower will’ may be praying for something which may be financially rewarding, but can be spiritually devastating. Therefore, we pray that G-d accept our prayers with favor, for only He can truly know which of our prayers He should fulfill[4].

The Rambam[5] rules that if a man refuses to offer his wife a divorce document the court must physically compel him until he agrees to give it.[6] The Rambam explains that the rationale for coercing someone to comply with Torah law is that, although the sinner’s ‘lower will’ is unwilling to comply with the Torah law, his ‘upper will’ wants to do what’s right. Unfortunately, the sinner himself is not in touch with his true desires and thinks that he wants to be recalcitrant. However, when we literally ‘beat it out of him’ his ‘upper will’ emerges and he himself realizes that this is truly what he wants.
This is analogous to an addict who emphatically demands that his addiction be nurtured. His true inner desire is to rid himself of the addiction which is dominating his life and destroying him. But because he is so enmeshed in the addiction and so badly craves the momentary gratification, he is unable to realize what he truly wants.
Another example where this concept emerges is in regards to the annulment of vows. A Jewish court has the right to annul a vow which was assumed voluntarily, if the court has legitimate grounds on which to absolve it. The rationale is that we assume that although the person’s ‘lower will’ accepted the vow, his ‘upper will’ never agreed to accept the vow. Torah law recognizes that, in respect to vows, the human personality also takes into account one’s ‘upper will’. It is based on that assumption, that the court can (at times) annul a vow.
With this idea in mind, we can understand why the holy day of Yom Kippur commences with the recitation of ‘Kol Nidrei’, a prayer which is nothing more than the annulment of vows. A vow is susceptible to rescission because it was not representative of the person’s true inner self, in that his ‘upper will’ was not in agreement with the vow. So too, on Yom Kippur (and whenever one seeks repentance), G-d acknowledges that whenever a mortal sins it is because he has acceded to his base ‘lower will’, and ignored his own higher calling, i.e. his ‘upper will’. The process of repentance entails our connecting ourselves with our ‘upper will’ which was never involved or tainted by sin.   
This is why immediately after Kol Nidrei we read the verse in which G-d says[7], “ונסלח לכל עדת בני ישראל... כי לכל העם בשגגה - I will forgive the entire assembly of the Children of Israel… because the entire nation’s (sins were committed) inadvertently.” Even sins which a person commits willfully are in a sense inadvertent, because such actions counter one’s own pristine ‘upper will’. Essentially, on Yom Kippur we commit to realign ourselves and be more cognizant of our ‘upper will’. Once we have made that commitment, the sins which we committed by pursuing our ‘lower will’ can be pardoned and forgiven. 

At the commencement of each of the seven hakafos celebrated and danced on Simchas Torah, a prayer is recited beseeching G-d for salvation. The prayer for the fourth hakafah states, “יודע מחשבות הושיעה נא - He Who knows our thoughts, please save us.”
One year, someone asked me why we refer to G-d as the One, “Who knows our thoughts”? If anything, it would seem that we would want to stay far away from mentioning our thoughts. Do our fantasies, daydreams, and reveries make us worthy of salvation?
I replied that we are not referring to the superficial fleeting thoughts which dominate our minds much of the time. Rather, we are referring to our innermost thoughts, the lofty thoughts which stem from the deepest recesses of our souls, and which we often forget that we feel, the thoughts of our ‘upper will’.  It is those thoughts that render us perpetually worthy of salvation.

One of the core beliefs and responsibilities of every Jew is to serve G-d with mesiras nefesh (giving over his “nefesh”). This concept is generally understood to refer to giving up one’s life for the sanctification of G-d’s Name. It is associated with mental images of martyrs marching to their deaths, their heads aloft, as they proclaimed “Shema Yisroel” in their final heroic moments. We think of those who were persecuted with gas chambers, inquisitions, pogroms, crusades, and marauding Cossacks.
Therefore, we believe that those of us who are blessed to live in a democracy and are not persecuted for Torah observance do not have the opportunity to fulfill this fundamental responsibility. But that is a fallacy.
The word nefesh refers to one’s desires. When the children of Efron negotiated with Avrohom Avinu about the sale of the Cave of Machpelah they said[8], “אם יש את נפשכם – If it is your desire.”
The greatest level of mesiras nefesh is giving up one’s life, because our ultimate desire is to live. However, any time one suppresses or overcomes a desire or a craving for the sake of G-d’s Name, he has been moser nesfeh – i.e. he has given up some of his nefesh. Therefore, we indeed have the opportunity to be moser nefesh constantly. Every time we challenge our base desires and overcome our whims we have demonstrated mastery over our animalistic self. One who averts his senses, alters his behaviors, or invests added resources and efforts into his spiritual pursuits, allows his upper will to dominate his lower will.

On Yom Kippur we completely absolve ourselves from many of our most basic physical comforts and needs. On that one day a year we go to the extreme, giving ourselves a momentary hiatus from the dominance of our lower will. In the waning moments of Neilah as the sun begins to set and our physical strength is almost completely sapped, we continue in our service unabated, with almost superhuman drive. At that point our upper will has complete reign and, for a few moments, we connect with our true selves.
Shortly thereafter, the day and all of its arduous service and august opulence concludes. Within a few hours life resumes its course and we are again busy with life[9].
If only we were able to capture a small measure of the deep emotions we feel in those waning majestic moments of Yom Kippur! What a different live we would live!
Throughout the rest of the year we must maintain a taste of the beauty of living a life dominated by one’s upper will. This will ensure that even when we stumble, we will remember that within us is a divine spark that we can always reconnect with. 

“He Who knows our thoughts, please save us”
“I will forgive because their sins were inadvertent”

[1] Scholars of kabbalah, the esoteric portions of the Torah 
[2] The explanation of ‘upper will’ and ‘lower will’ and its connection to the Rambam (hil. Gittin) and to the concept of annulling vows, was adapted from a lecture by Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l,  (Nora’os Harav, volume 16), in an essay entitled “Teshuva and Bechira”. The concept of ‘upper will’ and ‘lower will’ is found in the writings of the Ba’al Hatanya, Rabbi Shemur Zalman of Liadi.
[3] When boys in yeshiva put on tefilin for the first time shortly prior to their bar mitzvah they often celebrate by bringing in donuts for their entire class. When I am asked if I want a donut I often reply that I do and I don’t, and I will decline. I spare them the speech that my ratzon tachton definitely wants to indlulge, while my ratzon elyon is trying to convince me to desist. 
[4] As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.”
[5] Hilchos gayrushin 2:20
[6] “They beat him until he says ‘I want’”.
This is done despite the fact that a divorce document given out of coercion is invalid.

[7] Bamidbar 15:26
[8] Bereishis 23:8
[9] hopefully with the needs of the upcoming holiday of Succos

Friday, September 18, 2015


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


On January 23, 1996, Pastor Joe Wright was invited to open the new session of the Kansas House of Representatives. It was expected that he would recite a moving prayer and then step down. However, according to an article in the Kansas City Star from January 24, 1996, his prayer stirred tremendous controversy. Many criticized the prayer; one member of the legislative body even walked out. 
The following is the text of the witty and acerbic prayer that Pastor Wright related in front of the House:

 “Heavenly Father,
“We come before You today to ask Your Forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ''Woe to those who call evil good,'' but that's exactly what we have done.
“We have lost our Spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that; we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism; We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism; We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle; We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery; We have neglected the needy and called it self preservation; We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare; We have killed our unborn and called it choice; We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable; We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem; We have abused power and called it political savvy; We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition; We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression; We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
“Search us, O G-d, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of this state and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state of Kansas. Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your Will.”

“Moshe then gave orders to the Levites who carried the Ark of G-d’s covenant, saying, ‘Take this Torah scroll… that it may be there as a witness…”[1]
Rambam[2] states: “One who sits before a Torah scroll should do so with a serious demeanor, in awe and fear, because it is the faithful witness for all mankind; as it is written, ‘That it may be there as a witness for you.”
What does it mean that the Torah will be a witness? What kind of testimony can an inanimate object testify? How does the Torah bear witness for anything? Also, who does the Torah repeat its testimony to? It can’t be to G-d because G-d knows everything anyway.
Harav Avigdor Nebenzhal, Rabbi of the old city of Yerushalayim, explains as follows: Shlomo Hamelech wrote, “G-d has made man upright, but they have sought many intrigues.”[3] G-d created man in His image and invested within him an innate sense of right and wrong. Based on one’s own unadulterated intuition he can sense what G-d expects of him. It was imprinted onto his conscience and soul.
Our patriarch Avrohom bore proof to this, for he was able to sense G-d’s Will through his own logic. “G-d made Avrohom’s two kidneys serve as two teachers for him, and these welled forth and taught him Torah and wisdom.” The idea that the Sages were conveying is that Avrohom was able to understand and subsequently observe the entire Torah, even the Oral Law, based on his own ponderings and contemplations.
If man was able to achieve such greatness prior to the giving of the Torah, his potential for greatness increased exponentially after the Torah was given. The Torah is G-d’s gift to us as the guidebook and manual for life. The Torah teaches man what is expected of him, and what is moral and just. The Torah also serves as the resource that helps a person evaluate his own spiritual standing to surmise whether he has been fulfilling his obligations or not. When one reads the words of the Torah, (together with the timeless explanations of its classic commentaries) he can evaluate his own adherence or lack thereof to its demands.
When the Torahs says that it itself, “shall bear witness to you” it should be understood to mean that, “the Torah will testify through you”. The Torah will help one know himself. Thus, it serves as a witness for each individual. This faithful witness will reveal with incredible accuracy whether one’s own deeds are fueling the divine spark implanted within him, or if his actions leave something to be desired. The Torah is the ultimate self-help guide to help us bear witness about ourselves. 

The gemara[4] has a detailed discussion about the dangers of ignoramuses, the deleterious effect they can have on others. The gemara concludes that one must maintain a safe distance from them. As part of that discussion Rabbi Eliezer stated: “Were it not that they needed us for business ventures, they would murder us.”
It is one thing to say that an ignoramus is liable for not learning more and that he is worthy of censure for his indolence and lackadaisical attitude toward Torah and mitzvos. But it is another thing to assert that they are suspect of murdering Torah scholars. How can Rabbi Eliezer accuse them of being suspect of such heinous sin?
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explained that an ignoramus does not exercise his own cognition and therefore he is deeply affected by his surroundings. He does whatever everyone else is doing because he wants to ‘go with the flow’ and not stand out. If murder were to become the norm in society the ignoramus would commit murder too.
Rabbi Pinkus continued by relating a painful story involving Rabbi Michoel Ber Weismandel zt’l, a heroic G-d fearing Torah scholar who was heavily involved in trying to save Jews during the Holocaust. During the war, Rabbi Weismandel was desperately trying to raise funds in order to bribe high ranking Nazi officers so that he could smuggle Jews out of the Nazi inferno and into safe havens. On one occasion he met with distinguished and influential Professor, a nonobservant Jew, to ask for his assistance in putting together the badly needed funds. The professor replied that he could not contribute any money because it was illegal for an American to send resources to benefit the German government. The professor then added, “Besides, I am a chemist and I know for a fact that the gas the Nazis use to kill their prisoners kills them painlessly.” 
Rabbi Weissmandel later commented that if someone would voice a similar sentiment today he would be censured and condemned for saying something so heartless and disgusting. That is because in our time killing and persecuting Jews is not in vogue. At that time however, when the blood of Jews flowed like water, he was able to make such a ludicrous comment without fear.
Rav Pinkus himself continued that he understood the wisdom of the gemara based on a personal incident. During a doctor strike in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Pinkus’s son fell and cut open his knee and had to be rushed to the Emergency Room. The nurse who examined him realized that the situation was serious but she had no idea how to proceed. She asked a passing doctor to examine him. The doctor glanced at the knee briefly and concluded that he needs surgery. Then the doctor smiled and abruptly walked out.
In his own words, “I thought to myself that if my son was, G-d forbid, dying, the doctor would not have left so quickly. He would have spent the time saving his life. But that is only because the organizers of the strike did not intend for doctors to allow patients to die. However, if the organizers were so angry that they had demanded that no doctors perform any medical procedures whatsoever, a doctor devoid of personal morals would even allow the patient to die, because that is what was in vogue at the time.” 
Rav Pinkus continues that although we have three patriarchs, we have a special affinity for Avrohom Avinu. This can be seen by the fact that the opening blessing in Shemoneh Esrei concludes by blessing G-d who is the ‘shield of Avrohom’. Although we mention all three patriarchs in the blessing, the conclusion mentions only Avrohom. Why?
Avrohom was unabashed and would not be intimidated; he was willing to challenge the views and morality of the entire world. Avrohom demonstrated that his service to G-d was genuine and touched his inner core. The authenticity and realness of Avrohom’s relationship with G-d is the lodestar which we strive to reach.
Therefore, Rav Pinkus concludes, one must know himself very intimately to decide if he is truly a G-d fearing person or merely going through the motions like everybody else. The only way one can truly ascertain whether he is meeting that goal is by studying the Torah and knowing what it demands and expects.   
Our connection to Torah has to be genuine and penetrate within us. It isn’t sufficient just to be observant because everyone else is doing so.   

Take this Torah scroll…
 …that it may be there as a witness”

[1] Devorim 31:25-26
[2] conclusion of Hilchos sefer Torah
[3] Koheles 7:29
[4] Pesachim 49b

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


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


“Dip the apple in the honey; Make a b’racha (blessing) loud and clear
Shana Tova Umesuka; Have a happy, sweet new year”

            An elderly carpenter was eagerly preparing for retirement. When he informed his employer/contractor of his plans, the employer asked him if he could do him a personal favor and build one more house before he left. After so many years of working together the carpenter felt he could not refuse, and so he begrudgingly agreed. It quickly became apparent that the carpenter’s heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and he used inferior quality materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
          When the carpenter finished the house he informed his employer that the job was done. The employer smiled and handed the key to the front door to the carpenter.                
"This is your house," the employer said, "It is my personal gift to you, with gratitude for your dedication and work for so many years."
The carpenter was crestfallen! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have built it so differently. Now he would be living in a subpar home with no one to blame but himself.
We are the carpenters constructing our own lives. "Life is a do-it-yourself project.” The attitudes and choices we make throughout our lives are the nails, boards, and walls that compose the "house" we live in tomorrow. We would be wise to build carefully and adroitly!

One of the most famous aspects of Rosh Hashana is the universally accepted custom to eat symbolic foods on the eve of the holiday, and to recite prayers which incorporate a play on words with the Hebrew name of the food, to ask G-d for various blessings during the coming year. Arguably, the most beloved is dipping challa and an apple into honey and petitioning G-d for a sweet new year. In fact, along with the shofar, honey is a symbol of Rosh Hashana and of our deepest hopes for a happy and healthy new year.
Perhaps there is a deeper connection and meaning in the custom to ‘dip in honey’ on Rosh Hashana than the mere fact that honey is sweet. The very manner in which bee-honey[1] is produced serves as a powerful lesson for our main objective and focus on Rosh Hashana. 

Honeybees use nectar from flowers to make honey. Nectar is almost 80% water with some complex sugars. In North America, bees get nectar from flowers like clovers, dandelions, berry bushes, and fruit tree blossoms. [Different colors and flavors of honey are primarily based on what kind of flowers the bees use to produce their honey.]
The bees use their long, tube like tongues as straws to suck the nectar out of the flowers. Then they store it in their "honey stomachs". [Bees actually have two stomachs, their honey stomach which they use like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach.] When the honey stomach is full it weighs almost as much as the bee does. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey stomachs.
The honeybees return to the hive and pass the nectar onto other worker bees. These bees suck the nectar from the honeybee's stomach through their mouths. These "house bees" "chew" the nectar for about half an hour. During this time, enzymes are breaking the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars so that it is both more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive.
The bees then spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees help the nectar dry faster by fanning it with their wings. Once the honey is gooey enough, the bees seal off the cell of the honeycomb with a plug of wax. The honey is stored until it is eaten. In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey.

Honey is created from a transformation that occurs within the bee. The bee gathers the raw materials and then works intensely to abet the process and ensure that it is completed. The process of teshuva – repentance, which begins on Rosh Hashana, is not simply about going through the motions. Rather, it is a deeply internal and personal process. It is primarily a transformation that occurs within a person’s heart and mind, and includes a commitment to growth and improvement.

Truthfully, it seems enigmatic that the two days of Rosh Hashana serve as the first two days of the Ten days of Repentance. The prayers of the day are primarily focused on accepting and declaring the Majesty and Grandeur of the Eternal Monarchy of G-d, In fact, there is nary a mention of sin, repentance, or regret in all of the prayers of the day.[2]
It is obvious that the service of Rosh Hashana is not only integral to the process of repentance but it is also the vital starting point. How does the theme of recognizing and focusing on G-d’s Kingship relate to the repentance and forgiveness that we so desperately seek?

In order for a person to properly repent he must have an understanding of the severity of sin and the deleterious effect that it has upon his soul. He must also understand that G-d truly cares about his actions because He loves him and seeks to maintain a connection with him. Without that realization, the process of repentance is futile. One will not repent and return to something vague and emotionless.
It is for this reason that the Ten days of Repentance must begin with Rosh Hashana. The theme of Rosh Hashana, which traverses all its prayers and customs, is the realization of the greatness of G-d as the Supreme Omnipotent King of the world. At the same time we also relate the special closeness and boundless love that G-d maintains for His elite Nation. We mention that G-d’s kingship was only consummated when Klal Yisroel unyieldingly accepted the yoke of His monarchy upon ourselves, which is in effect saying that we are the progenitors of G-d’s Monarchy, as it were.[3]
When a person has an appreciation of the greatness of G-d and of the meticulous precision of the judgment, and at the same time understands that G-d loves him deeply, then he can foster a desire to reconnect himself with that Supreme Being through repentance. Thus, Yom Kippur has no meaning unless it is preceded by Rosh Hashana.
Unlike Yom Kippur which is full of external symbols, laws, and customs regarding repentance, on Rosh Hashana our ‘repentance’ is completely internal. The deep introspection of Rosh Hashana even surpasses that of Yom Kippur, for it is the service of Rosh Hashana that sets the trajectory of repentance in motion which culminates with Yom Kippur. The more one appreciates the message of Rosh Hashana the more he will be able to take advantage of the awesome opportunity granted on Yom Kippur.

Another message to be gleaned from the creation of honey is the bee’s persistence and incredible work ethic to produce every drop of honey. To gather a pound of honey, a bee flies a distance equal to more than three times around the world. Also, it takes two million flowers to make one pound of honey. Those numbers seem inconceivable to us but for the bee it is merely part of its job. It was created to perform those tasks and it has the innate capacity to do so.
The Torah states regarding repentance[4], “For the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.”[5] Sometimes we feel that we have sinned so much and have drifted so far that we can never repent. The Torah tells us otherwise. The ability to repent was built into creation and our very being, and therefore no matter how far one has strayed he can always repent. It will unquestionably require great commitment, but it is within our purview to do it.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky often repeats a classic thought: “Most people live the life that happens instead of the life they truly want.” Many of us have dreams and aspirations but we often never overcome the initial hurdles and impediments. Time drags on and we sigh as we watch our dreams fall by the wayside.    
When we dip our challah/apple into honey we should remember how much commitment, exertion and dedication it entailed for the bee to produce that honey. It was created from an inner transformation that transpired inside a diminutive insect fulfilling its nature. 
We are constantly building our own lives! Rosh Hashana affords us the opportunity to take a moment to look back at the blueprints and decide if our building is developing as planned. At the same time, we dip our challa/apple into honey and remind ourselves that the building is only as good as its blueprints. Those blueprints are composed with forethought and insight that stem from deep within one’s psyche.

Of course honey is also sticky (just ask my children), but the lesson to be learned from that I leave to you…

“Most people live the life that happens instead of the life they want”
“For the matter is very near to you”

[1] It must be noted that one may certainly use honey from dates or other types of honey. The thoughts recorded here relate to bee-honey as that is the most prevalent and widely used honey generally and on Rosh Hashana.
[2] The one exception is the opening stanza in the “Avinu Malkeinu- Our Father, Our King” prayer which states, “Our Father, Our King, we have sinned before you.” Indeed, there are halachic opinions which state that one should omit this sentence on Rosh Hashana.
[3] Surely an Infallible G-d does not need us. However, “There is no king without subjects” and so, although G-d did not change one iota when He created the world and man, it is only when we accepted His kingship that He could be called King.
[4] See Ramban on that verse
[5] Devorim 30:14

Thursday, September 10, 2015


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


          The horrific events involving the Mumbai massacre in November 2008 were shocking. Along with the other kedoshim[1] who were killed in the Chabad house, the hosts, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkie Holtzberg, were murdered by Islamic fascist terrorists, for no reason other than the fact that they were Jews.
Gavriel and Rivkie Holtzberg moved to Mumbai in 2003 as Chabad emissaries, to ensure that there was a warm and welcoming Torah home for all those passing through Mumbai. Some people stayed for a night, or a Shabbos, others for a month. But everyone who stayed in their home described the Holtzberg’s warmth and devotion to all their guests.
          During the week of shiva mourning after the massacre, a woman entered the home of Mrs. Yehudis Rosenberg, Rivkie Holtzberg’s mother, and handed her a package. When Mrs. Rosenberg opened the package she was shocked to find that it contained one of Rivkie’s nicest Shabbos dresses, as well as her diamond ring.
          The visitor explained that while she was vacationing in India some months before, she had been apprehended for illegal activities and was imprisoned. As soon as she was let out she hurried to the Chabad house in Mumbai where Rivkie welcomed her in. Rivkie urged her to escape the country as soon as possible. When the woman expressed her concern that if she was noticed by airport security she might be detained, Rivkie gave her one of her Shabbos dresses as well as her diamond ring, so the woman would look respectable and not appear like a fugitive.
          The strategy worked and the woman was able to leave the country without further issue. Now she had come to return the borrowed items. Mrs. Rosenberg told the woman that a few months before she had asked Rivkie where her ring was. Rivkie curtly replied that the ring (like her) was on ‘shlichus[2]’!  

The final parshios of the Torah contain Moshe’s last will and testament. “See – I have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil… and you shall choose life, in order that you shall live, you and your children.”[3]
It is obvious that the Torah is not referring to “life” in the classical sense, because any rational person would choose life over death. Even a young child does not need to be told to choose honey over ammonia. Moshe was obviously speaking about a higher mission of life; to choose a life of meaning and purpose.
The commentators offer many explanations, each with a poignant and integral message apropos for the days preceding the Days of Awe. The following is one such approach[4]:  

During the Ten days of Penitence from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur we add a few insertions into our prayers. In the opening blessing of Shemoneh Esrei we pray, “Remember us for life, King who desires life, and record us in the Book of Life, for Your sake, the Living G-d!” In the second blessing we insert, “Who is like you Father of Compassion, Who remembers His Creations for life in His compassion!”
The Sages explain that Shemoneh Esrei was composed to reflect the manner in which a servant would approach a king to beseech his needs. He opens by praising the king, and speaking of the king’s greatness. Then he proceeds to mention his own personal requests and needs. After he concludes his own needs, he thanks the king and speaks about the king’s kindness and beneficence.
So too, the first three blessings of Shemoneh Esrei are devoted to praising G-d and proclaiming His inimitable greatness. The middle thirteen blessings detail our petitions and requests from G-d, and the concluding three blessings are dedicated to thanksgiving and gratitude.
If so, how/why do we breach that format by inserting a personal request during the Ten days of Penitence? Why do we have the right to request life in the opening blessings which are dedicated to praising G-d?
In addition, we must understand the meaning of the prayer, “For Your sake, the Living G-d”. What is the meaning behind our request that G-d grants us life for His sake because He is the Living Eternal G-d?  

Ibn Ezra[5] writes an incredible idea: כי החיים הם לאהבה" – Because life is for love!” It is understood that true love connotes giving selflessly and altruistically. Thus, in other words, the Torah defines life as a means to perform acts of kindness, to assist others, and to promote unity and goodness.
When Moshe exhorted the nation to choose life, he was not referring to mundane life. Rather, on his final day, he was encouraging the nation to pursue a life of giving and altruism, for that would ensure the continuity of the nation and its ability to endure.
In a similar vein, when we request life in the opening blessing of Shemoneh Esrei during the Ten days of Penitence, we are begging G-d to grant us life as the Torah defines it, a life of higher purpose and Imitatio Dei.   
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains that G-d is titled the Living G-d because He is completely selfless and giving! G-d needs nothing and therefore cannot be a recipient. By the virtue of the fact that He is “All Giving”, He is a being of pristine and complete life!
We ask G-d to grant us life for His sake, because He is the Living G-d. In other words, we desire to live a life as G-d lives, devoted to giving and helping others. Asking for that type of life is wholly appropriate, even in the opening blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, because the desire to live such a life is of the greatest praise we can offer G-d.

A woman once approached noted lecturer Rabbi Leib Kellerman and told him that she was imminently traveling to the United States to undergo a procedure that would ensure she would never be able to bear children. She explained that she felt that anyone who would bring a child into our selfish and morally depraved world was themselves immoral and selfish. Before heading off, she wanted to know his opinion about the matter.
Rabbi Kellerman replied by relating to her the following parable:
An aspiring young woman decided that she wanted to become the Chief Surgeon in a prominent hospital. She worked diligently throughout High School, College, Premed, Med school, and through her internship, and residency. While her friends partied and lived it up, she was busy studying and applying herself relentlessly to her dream. She eventually began her work as a surgeon and was extremely successful. Her prestige continued to grow as did her success, and she rapidly climbed the ranks.
Finally the day arrived when she was promoted to the position she always dreamed of. After the ceremony, she was preparing to enter the Operating Room for the first time as Chief Surgeon when a young man burst out, white as a ghost. He looked at her with terror in his eyes and cried out, “Don’t go in there! It’s terrible! There’s blood and guts all over the place. The room is full of disease and the patient is so sick. For your own sanity, run the other way!”
The Chief Surgeon looked at him and calmly replied, “I know exactly what awaits me in that room. But this is what I always wanted to do. I lived my life so that I could help others in the most profound way possible. True, it is not a pretty sight. But to be able to give someone a second lease on life is the greatest gift possible.” With that, she proceeded through the double doors and disappeared. 
Rabbi Kellerman explained, “If you’re purpose on this world is for pleasure, enjoyment, and self-gratification then this world is indeed a cruel and vicious place, and you indeed have no business bringing new life into such a selfish world. However, if you view life as an opportunity to give and to provide, and if you see life as a chance to love, cherish, and comfort, then this world is replete with opportunity. If you see life in this vein then what greater world is there in which to raise children and a new generation?!”

One who lives life for his own enjoyment is truly hard-pressed to ask for life during the opening blessings of Shemoneh Esrei. But one who understands that his temporal life is a place of opportunity where he must grab every chance to assist and love others, has the right to ask for life at the beginning of his prayers!    

“And you shall choose life”
“Because life is for love!”

[1] “Holy ones”
[2] Shlichus is the term used in Chabad circles for being sent out with the mission of helping others come closer to G-d.
[3] Devorim 30:15-19
[4] The following thought was adapted from the lecture delivered by my friend and mentor, Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl in Kehillat New Hempstead, on the first day of Rosh Hashana 5769.
[5] On the aforementioned verse 30:19. The students of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’l relate that Rabbi Wolbe would repeat these immortal words of the Ibn Ezra constantly.