Thursday, October 29, 2015


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

Stam Torah is lovingly dedicated to the memory of my Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, Shprintza bas Avrohom Yitzchok, whose yahrtzeit is this Friday, 17 MarCheshvan.


          The great scholar and ethicist, Rabbi Yisroel Lipkin of Salant zt’l, was once in the home of an assimilated Jew in Vienna. The man’s daughter was an adroit and accomplished pianist, and had achieved much distinction for her musical talent.
While they were conversing the daughter entered and joined the conversation. She asked Rabbi Salanter, “We are always recounting and speaking about miracles that transpired centuries ago. If G-d is so omnipotent why doesn’t He perform such miracles today?”
Rabbi Salanter diverted the question and the conversation continued. Sometime later the man began to brag about the many awards his daughter had received and the many symphonies and recitals she had been part of. She was well known among musical experts as one of the most brilliant pianists in all of Austria.
After the man finished listing his daughters accomplishments, Rabbi Salanter nonchalantly replied, “I don’t believe you!” The man was stunned, “I beg your pardon, Rabbi?” Rabbi Salanter continued, “I am sure she knows how to play the piano but I do not believe that she is really all that good. In fact, I doubt that she really has much talent at all. If she really has any talent let her play and prove herself.”
The young woman was indignant. “I should play for you to prove myself? Listen here Rabbi, many of the greatest musicians in the world agree that my playing is exemplary. The diplomas and award hanging here on the wall attest to that. After they have given their approval, I surely do not need to prove myself to a Rabbi who has an amateurish appreciation of music at best.”
Rabbi Salanter turned to the woman and replied, “Listen to what you yourself just said. You have proven yourself to the greatest musical aficionados and so you feel no need to prove yourself to a lone skeptic. G-d revealed Himself to our forefathers and established for them the basic tenets of our faith. Do you honestly expect Him to come ‘play the piano’ for one skeptic in Vienna?”

Avrohom Avinu was a celebrity in his time. Despite the travails and challenges he consistently encountered, he became an affluent and wealthy person, and was incredibly influential in attracting myriads to his monotheistic preaching.
After his saga with Avimelech, Avrohom settled in the land of the Philistines for a lengthy period of time. The Torah relates[1], “ויטע אשל בבאר שבע ויקרא שם בשם ה' קל עולם - He planted an ‘Eshel’[2] in Be’er Sheva, and there he proclaimed the Name of Hashem, G-d of the Universe.”
Why does the Torah bother to relate about Avrohom’s planting? Furthermore, what does his planting have to do with his proclaiming about G-d?
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l explained that Avrohom taught the masses about G-d through his planting! He would call attention to the miracles of nature and use that to prove the existence of G-d. The flowering and growth of the tree, the withering and falling of its leaves in autumn, the rebirth of its buds and leaves in the spring, the miraculous growth of a fruit tree from dirt and sunlight, the process of osmosis and photosynthesis, etc. Organic life, revealed through the most basic processes of nature, is the greatest testament to an Almighty Creator. Avrohom’s greatness was that he did not only perceive G-d in the supernatural and miraculous, but he was able to perceive G-d in the mundane ‘supernatural’ processes of nature.
“In our obtuse society, man cannot see the infinite, the Creator, nor can he sense Providence. He thinks that all there is on earth is the little that physics, chemistry, and biology have described, and this knowledge is enough to understand the universe… The problem of modern man lies not in his quest for knowledge, but rather in his hubris. He carries an air of arrogance, considering himself an all-capable superhuman, not being able to admit that he knows little and understands less.”[3]
Earlier, the Torah describes Avrohom’s encounter with the three angels. On the third day after his circumcision, Avrohom sat at the doorway of his tent exposed to the intense desert heat, searching and pining for visitors with whom he could perform acts of kindness. Suddenly, he saw three figures in the distance. Forgetting his pain, Avrohom bolted towards them and implored them to stop at his tent. Assuming they were idolatrous nomads he asked them to first wash their feet, before sitting down to a delectable meal.
Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that there was a deeper significance to Avrohom asking them to wash their feet. The average mortal assumes that existence and creation is only as intricate as his eyes could see and his senses could appreciate. Avrohom assumed that these nomads were no different; that they could see no further than the dust of their own feet.
He asked them to wash their hands and feet, and to wash away their juvenile understanding of the world. “Let some water be brought and wash your feet, and recline beneath the tree.[4]” Avrohom requested that they make themselves comfortable under the tree, for it was the tree that was the basis of his teaching. As they settled comfortably, Avrohom would challenge them to consider the beauty of the tree, eventually extending beyond the treetop to the heavens, the stars, and ultimately to the vast expanse of the universe.
Man’s purpose in general and a Jew’s mission in particular, is to recognize the G-d of the universe through the leaves of the Eshel!
Ramban writes:[5] “Through recalling the great clear miracles a person acknowledges the hidden miracles (of everyday life) which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of our teacher Moshe until he believes that all our affairs and experiences are miracles; that there is no element of nature, or ‘ordinary course of the world’, whether regarding the community or the individual.”

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l was legendary for studying and preaching about the wonders of creation, and the love and connection to G-d that one can feel through such analysis and thought. He gave numerous lectures about the wonders of oranges, apples, elephants, and flies.
He related that, when he was a student learning in the famed Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania, during the summer break he often went on excursions and hikes in the nearby mountains. On one occasion he sat and stared at a flower for over an hour. He reported that it was the most spiritual experience he ever had in his life.
G-d does not need to prove Himself to us. The legacy of Avrohom, the progenitor of Klal Yisroel, is to seek out G-d in the mundane. One who can recognize the miraculous in the mundane realizes that all of life is supernatural. Conversely, one who fails to see the divine hand in the mundane may very well fail to appreciate the supernatural.
Avrohom merited many miracles during his lifetime, including emerging from a blazing furnace alive and fighting off a four-nation army almost singlehandedly. But none of that occurred until Avrohom recognized that there was a Creator through sheer logic and pondering.
          The Medrash[6] writes, “G-d said to Avram, 'Go for yourself from your land'" (Bereishis 12:1).  Rabbi Yitzchok said: This may be compared to one who was passing from place to place and saw a (birah dolekes) fortress illuminated/burning. He said, "Will you say this fortress has no governor (manhig)? The master (ba'al) of the fortress peeped out (hetziz) at him, and he said to him, "I am the master of the fortress."
“Thus, because our father Avraham would say, "Can one say this world has no governor?" The Holy One, blessed is He, peeked out at him and said to him, "I am the Master of the world”.”

The Kotzker Rebbe once commented that he cannot comprehend how people do not become believers in G-d, simply from the words of Birchas Hamazon[7], which discuss how G-d provides for the entire world.
The Chiddushei HaRim[8] added, “And I don’t understand how people do not become believers from the food they are eating itself.” If one focuses on the texture, taste, and aesthetic beauty of his food, he cannot help but be overwhelmed by the graciousness and goodness of G-d. 
As the descendants of Avrohom it is incumbent upon us to seek out G-d in every facet of nature and life. G-d can be found everywhere, but only to one who searches for Him.

“He planted an ‘Eshel’[9] in Be’er Sheva”
"I am the master of the fortress”

[1] Bereishis 21:34
[2] Rashi quotes a dispute between Rav and Shmuel whether the ‘Eshel’ was an orchard, whose fruits Avrohom served to the wayfarers, or an inn for lodging, in which he maintained a supply of fruit for wayfayers.
[3] Derashot Harav
[4] Bereishis 18:4
[5] Shemos 13:17;  this lengthy Ramban contains numerous fundamental concepts relating to the basic faith of a Jew.
[6] Bereishis Rabbah 39:1
[7] Grace After Meals
[8] Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Alter zt’l, the first Gerrer Rebbe, and a contemporary of the Kotzker Rebbe/
[9] Rashi quotes a dispute between Rav and Shmuel whether the ‘Eshel’ was an orchard, whose fruits Avrohom served to the wayfarers, or an inn for lodging, in which he maintained a supply of fruit for wayfayers.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


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

This week’s Stam Torah is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend Howard Israel a’h, Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Moshe Aharon, whose yahrtzeit is this Sunday – 12 Cheshvan.


Dear Cecil
I've noticed that when people want to "prove" that humans are capable of amazing things under stress, they often cite the 90-pound mother who lifts a car off her trapped child. I know humans can do incredible things, like the guy who chopped his own hand off to get free from a fallen boulder, but have mothers really hoisted cars? Has anyone actually seen this happen or is it an urban legend? Are we talking about a Yugo here or a 1956 Caddy? Let me know soon, I'm trying to walk more these days, and if I get run over I need to know whether to call mom or a tow truck.

The woman's name is Angela Cavallo, and she still lives in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where the incident happened on April 9, 1982. (An Associated Press account didn't appear till April 14, but Angela remembers the date because it was Good Friday.) Her then-teenage son Tony had a 1964 Chevy Impala jacked up in the driveway--he'd removed the rear suspension spring (which holds up the rear of the car) and was working on it.
A neighborhood kid burst into the kitchen door to tell Angela there'd been an accident. She rushed out to find Tony pinned under the car--something had been stuck and in trying to loosen it he'd rocked the car off the jack. Now he was clamped between the top of the rear wheel and the fender. All she could see of him was from the waist down. Ancient Chevies being big ol' cars with a lot of room around the wheels, Tony wasn't immediately crushed. But he was out cold.
Hollering to the neighbor kid to get help, Angela grabbed the side of the car with both hands and pulled up with all her strength. The AP account said she raised the car four inches; she doubts it was that much but believes it was enough to take the pressure off. She recalls nothing about the rescue, but the AP said two neighbors reinserted the jack and dragged the boy out. (Tony recovered OK.) Angela, then in her late 50s, guesses she kept the car propped up for five minutes. She describes herself as 5-foot-8, large-framed and strong, but figures she couldn't have picked the car up under normal circumstances, attributing her feat to adrenaline.

By Cecil Adams

Avrohom Avinu was undoubtedly the ‘founder of Klal Yisroel’. Employing his intellect and an innate sense of truth he ‘discovered’ G-d, as it were. Then he dedicated his life to perpetuating the Word of G-d and to living a life of holiness and goodness.  
Part of the greatness of Avrohom was that he was not born at the top of the spiritual ladder. In fact, he came from humble beginnings. His father Terach was an idol wholesaler who betrayed him to the nefarious King Nimrod because of Avrohom’s monotheistic preaching. But Avrohom was able to ‘pull himself up by the bootstraps’ undeterred. He was committed not only to seeking out the truth but also to teaching it to the masses.

The Mishnah relates, “Our forefather Avrohom was tested with ten trials, and he withstood all of them, to make known how beloved Avrohom Avinu was.”[1]
The vernacular of the Mishnah seems somewhat vague. The Mishnah does not say that the ten tests proved Avrohom’s loyalty but rather that they “made known” how beloved he was. Who was informed and “made known” about how beloved Avrohom was via the ten tests?
Ramban[2] explains that G-d does not test because He is unsure of the outcome, for G-d knows all that will happen. Rather, it’s called a test from the vantage point of the tested party. G-d creates such situations so that the tested individual will be compelled to exercise his latent greatness, and to bring it “from the potential to the actual, so that he should have the reward of a good deed, and not only a good heart.” The Ramban concludes that every test mentioned in the Torah was for the benefit of the tested party.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l expresses this idea in a similar manner. He writes that the same G-d Who revealed Himself to Avrohom and had promised him that Yitzchok would be his future, "נסה" (tested) Avrohom. Rabbi Hirsch explains that נסה is similar to the words נסע, (moving on), נסח (flinging away), and נשא (to raise up). All three connote goading something to a higher position. In the same vein, every test is a step forward, a strengthening of powers which already exist but as of yet remain latent. The test is the conduit which forces those strengths to emerge.   

Rabbi Avrohom Schorr[3] shlita explains that the purpose of the tests was to prove to Avrohom himself about his own greatness. He quotes the verse[4] להודיע לבני האדם גבורותיו The simple understanding of the verse is that it refers to G-d; “To inform human beings of His Mighty Deeds”. However, it can also be understood as a reference to man, “To inform a human being of his (own) mighty deeds”. In other words, the purpose of challenges and tests is that it is G-d’s way of forcing us to realize our own greatness and worthiness.
Avrohom Avinu knew that he had reached great levels of righteousness and accomplishment. But every time he overcame another divinely ordained challenge it proved that he was greater and more capable than he himself had realized, and that encouraged him to strive even higher.
This idea is true not only in regards to Avrohom but to every person. The Meor Aynayim[5] writes that every Jew undergoes some semblance of the Ten Tests of Avrohom throughout his/her lifetime. The verse in Tehillim[6] states, “נתת ליריאך נס להתנוסס - You have given those who fear You a banner to raise themselves.” Rashi explains that the word "נס" refers to "נסיון" a test. Thus the verse is saying, “You have tested us in many trying situations in order to provide us with the opportunity "להתנוסס" to be proven faithful in all circumstances.” Although we may not be too excited about the tests of life, it is the vicissitudes that we encounter that help us realize our greatness and capabilities that we would otherwise never believe we possess.

Rabbi Dr. Avrohom Twerki often notes that there is a great lesson that we can gleaned from lobsters. On one occasion, while sitting in a doctor’s office, he came across an article entitled, "How Do Lobsters Grow?" The article asked, if lobsters are soft animals that live inside a rigid shell, and the shell does not expand, how can a lobster increase its size?
The answer is that as the lobster grows, its shell indeed becomes confining and oppressive. The lobster retreats to an underwater rock formation where it is protected from predatory fish, sheds its shell, and produces a larger and more spacious one. Eventually, this larger shell becomes uncomfortably confining, and the lobster repeats this process several times until it reaches its maximum size.
During the stage when it is without its shell, the lobster is in great danger. A predatory fish may eat it, or a strong current may dash it against a rock. In order to grow, the lobster must risk its very life. 
The point to note is that the stimulus that enables the lobster to grow is discomfort. If not for the discomfort, the lobster would never expand its shell!
Science and technology have eliminated many sources of discomfort. Many people think there should be no discomfort in life, and if someone is uncomfortable, there must be a pill to relieve it. We seem to have lost a tolerance for discomfort, not realizing that discomfort may be a signal to us that we should grow.
Discomfort, challenges, tests, and tribulations are all unwelcomed visitors in life. But our Patriarchs have taught us that one must realize that it is only through vistas of challenge that we truly discover ourselves and realize how much endurance, perseverance, capabilities, and value we inherently possess.
“To make known how beloved Avrohom Avinu was.”
“To inform a human being of his mighty deeds”

[1] Avos 5:4
[2] Bereishis 22:1
[3] Halekach V’halibuv (Pirkei Avos)
[4] recited thrice daily in ‘Ashrei’
[5] quoted in Nesivas Shalom
[6] 60:6

Thursday, October 15, 2015


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


          A young Rabbi, who was a student of the Telsher Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt’l, once approached Rabbi Gifter and said that he had been invited to be the guest lecturer in an out-of-town community. He wanted to know if his Rebbe had any suggestions about an appropriate message that he should relate to that particular community.
          Rabbi Gifter replied by relating the following personal vignette:
Rabbi Gifter was born and raised in America, but decided to travel to Europe so that he could study in the prominent Telshe Yeshiva in Lithuania. It was an arduous journey and it meant giving up many of the physical comforts of America. Still, he was willing to undertake the challenges so that he would have the opportunity to study in the shadow of the illustrious Torah luminaries of Telshe.
Rabbi Gifter’s parents struggled to raise the money necessary to procure a boat ticket. They were only able to afford a third-class ticket. He was assigned a room at the bottom of the ship, adjacent to a massive banquet hall.   
A few days after they were out at sea there was a festive masquerade party in the banquet hall. Rabbi Gifter heard the sounds of raucous laughter and carrying on.  He peered into the hall and was astounded by the sight that greeted him. He had never before seen adults carrying on and jumping around in costumes like callow children.
Suddenly, the ship slammed into an iceberg and the all of the electricity on the boat immediately went out. This took place not too many years after the sinking of the Titanic, and the catastrophic event was still relatively fresh on everyone’s mind. As soon as the power went out, everyone pulled off their masks and put down their glasses of wine. Sounds of fervent prayer and crying filled the hall.
Three minutes later the power returned and the lights came back to life. A collective cheer erupted as the masks were re-donned, the glasses lifted, and the festivities resumed as if nothing had transpired.
Rabbi Gifter concluded his story and turned to his student, “Tell the congregation that when the lights come back on, don’t immediately resume the party!”

Although they were physically protected from the raging flood, those inside the Ark of Noach endured a harrowing experience. The sounds of desolation and intense rains were drowned out by the myriad sounds of every animal and species in the world, whose existence depended on Noach and his family.
When the waters had finally sufficiently subsided those who emerged from the Ark had the daunting task of rebuilding the destroyed world. The pasuk states[1] “The sons of Noach who came out of the Ark were Shem, Cham, and Yafes.”
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin zt’l[2] notes that when the Torah refers to the sons of Noach during the flood and immediately afterwards, they are merely referred to as “the sons of Noach”[3], without listing their names.
He notes that one would have thought that life in the Ark, as well as living through the peril and destruction of the flood, would have influenced Noach’s sons to become perfectly righteous people. But sadly, that was not the case. Cham remained steeped in coarse materialism and ultimately received a curse from his father, while Yafes remained bound to the aesthetics and externalities of life. It was only Shem who retained the righteous path and committed himself to the tents of Torah and Divine Service.
Truthfully, while they were in the Ark they indeed reached levels of righteousness. Therefore, during the flood they were classified simply as, “the sons of Noach”. Noach was described as “a righteous man, perfect in his generation”, and - at that point - all three of his sons subjugated themselves to his path of life. But once the flood concluded, and life returned to some semblance of normalcy, they returned to their own divergent paths and ideas. At that point, the oldest son Yafes, was no longer listed first. Shem, the only son to maintain the level of piety, is listed first, symbolizing his superior spiritual rank.   

It is noteworthy that Noach himself was not spared from the malady of ‘faded inspiration’. The Medrash[4] notes that Noach was originally titled, “A righteous man”, but later was reduced to “A man of the earth”[5]. The Torah says that after he emerged from the Ark, “Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard.” The great Noach, who was responsible for the survival and perpetuation of all of humanity, defiled himself by busying himself with making wine. One of the many lessons of Noach is that it’s one thing to be righteous when the world is depending on you, but it’s far more difficult to retain the same level of greatness when life has resumed its mundane course.   

The month of Cheshvan is titled MarCheshvan. There are numerous reasons given for the added prefix. One of the well-known reasons is that after enjoying a month of unique holidays, each replete with its endemic mitzvos, the void of holidays in Cheshvan is glaring and painful. In that sense, the word “Mar” is to be translated as bitter.
However, the Chiddushei Harim offers a novel insight into the name “MarCheshvan”. He explains that the word MarCheshvan is based on the Aramaic/Talmudic expression, “Mirachasin b’sifasay – His lips are still moving.”[6] Despite the fact that Tishrei’s Days of Awe and Joy are behind us, our lips are still moving with the prayers, tunes, lessons, and spiritual elevations that we enjoyed and merited throughout that time.
Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l noted that the Evil Inclination laughs and remarks, as it were, “I’ll give you the month of Elul and I’ll even give you the month of Tishrei. But as soon as Cheshvan and Kislev arrive, you’re mine!” In other words, our Evil Inclination allows us to feel the inspiration and spiritual bliss of the holidays, knowing that he will not be able to deter any good Jew from the hype of those elevated days. But he patiently waits, lurking in the shadows, for the holidays to end. Then as the succos are returned to their sheds and the esrogim begin to turn brown he sets out to work, dousing our flames of passion and inspiration. He plants seeds of dubious skepticism into our resolutions for the new year, and convinces us to throw in the towel, so that we can ‘come back to reality’. His nefarious message is that the lights have come back on and it’s time for the ‘party’ to resume.
One of the lessons of parshas Noach[7] is that one must carry the inspiration of the flood beyond. If one ensures that his lips continue to repeat the lessons and prayers of Tishrei, his MarCheshvan will not be the “bitter” and empty Cheshvan, devoid of holidays, but rather the “Moving lips” Cheshvan, where he continues to ride the waves of Tishrei across the oceanic abyss of winter.

“The sons of Noach”
“His lips are still moving”

[1] Bereishis 9:18
[2] Aznayim L’Torah
[3] See 9:8
[4] Bereishis Rabbah 36:3
[5] The Medrash contrasts Noach with Moshe who was originally called, “An Egyptian man” but was then called ‘A man of G-d”.
[6] Gemarah Berachos
[7] non- coincidentally read at the beginning of the month of MarCheshvan

Friday, October 9, 2015


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


Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, NY is an upstanding Torah institution, educating hundreds of students. Some of the Rabbeim in the yeshiva, who reside in Brooklyn and travel to Far Rockaway, drive a carpool of students who live in Brooklyn to and from the yeshiva each day. 
The drive from Brooklyn entails traveling through Arvene, NY, which is known as a dangerous crime-ridden area between Belle Harbor and Far Rockaway[1].
One day, Rabbi Leibish Langer, a Rebbe in Darchei Torah who lives in Brooklyn, was driving with a few students under the train-tracks in Arvene when his car suddenly sputtered and stalled. All of his desperate efforts proved futile; the car would not start up again. This was during the pre-cell phone era and Rabbi Langer was quite apprehensive. He told the students to get down on the floor. He then closed the windows and locked the doors, hoping that a fellow Jew would pass by soon and help him out.
A few moments later a burly African-American fellow who was more than six feet tall walked up to the car and knocked on the window. “What seems to be the problem buddy?” Rabbi Langer opened the window a crack. “I don’t know; the car stalled and won’t start up again.” The stranger instructed him to pop his hood. Not knowing what else to do, Rabbi Langer complied. He sat in his seat nervously listening to the clanging going on under his hood.
Suddenly he noticed three rambunctious teens walking towards the car. The stranger noticed them as well and called out to them, “Hey, you get out of here; I’m helping this man!” The teens stared at the stranger for a moment before turning around and walking away.
Within five minutes, he was done. He instructed Rabbi Langer to try to start the car again. This time the engine immediately revved back to life. The stranger turned around and began to walk away. Rabbi Langer hastily opened the door and walked over to the stranger and tried to hand him a few dollars. But the stranger refused the money. Rabbi Langer was incredulous, “Why would you do that for me?” The stranger replied, “Do you know Joseph and Nechama Katz[2]? I worked for them and they always treated me with such dignity and respect. Because of them I promised that if I ever see a religious Jew in need I would try to help him in any way I could.”[3]

There is no animal that has as negative a reputation in the Torah as the snake. Time and again the snake appears as the symbol of evil and malevolence.
Immediately after the creation of the world, it was the cunning snake that convinced Chava to partake of the forbidden fruit, which had a perpetually fatal deleterious effect on all of creation.
Years later, when Yosef was abducted by his brothers, they cast him into a pit. The Sages relate that the pit was devoid of water, but filled with snakes and scorpions.
When G-d first informed Moshe to appear before Pharaoh to command him to let the Jews leave Egypt, the first miraculous ‘sign’ that he performed in Pharaoh’s presence was transforming his staff into a snake. The Sages explain that Pharaoh was unimpressed by the transformation, as all of his servants and children could employ the forces of magic and do the same. However, an undeniable miracle occurred when, after all of their snakes reverted back into staffs, Aharon’s staff swallowed all of their staffs.
Shortly before the Jewish nation entered the Holy Land, towards the end of their forty year sojourns in the desert, the nation sinned. G-d was angered by their insubordination and multitudes of snakes entered the camp killing many. Moshe instructed Aharon to erect a copper snake so that when the nation would see it they would be moved to repent. It was only then that the plague ceased.
In addition, our Sages teach us that the serpent is the symbol of evil - most notably it is symbolic of Amalek - our nemesis and implacable foe.
What is the source for the snake’s unmitigated ‘venomous’ reputation?

When G-d meted out retribution to the snake for causing the primordial sin, it was given two curses, “על גחונך תלך – On your stomach you shall crawl” and “ועפר תאכל כל ימי חייך – Dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”
Prima facie, the snake’s curse does not seem to be all that bad. While man was cursed that forevermore he would be compelled to toil for his sustenance and livelihood, the snake was ensured that he would never have to struggle for food, because there is no dearth of dust anywhere.
The Chiddushei Harim explained that the snake’s curse was in actuality the severest of all. It is analogous to a wealthy man who becomes enraged with his wayward son. One day he calls his son into his room and hands him a tremendous amount of cash, a deed to a mansion in some distant country, and the keys to his new one hundred-thousand dollar car. He tells his son to take it all and to leave and never ever come back.
While it may seem that the son really wasn’t punished for his negative behaviors, in truth he has received the greatest punishment possible. He has been banished from his father who has completely severed all ties with him. What is all the money in the world worth when one is hated and despised by those he needs most?
That is essentially what G-d told the snake. He would have all of his needs wherever he went, so that he would never need to pray to G-d, for G-d was uninterested in hearing the prayers of the snake. Man indeed must suffer and struggle but those struggles force him to turn to G-d, who is only too eager to hear his prayers. Man’s punishment contained the hidden blessing in that it ensures that there will always be an inextricable connection between him and his Creator.
The second half of the curse was that the snake travel on his belly. Because the snake has no legs his only means of transportation is by slithering across its terrain in a zigzag formation. When a person sees another person walking in an un-straight manner he seeks to avoid him. Meandering in a zigzag fashion connotes deviousness and abnormality. The curse of moving in a zigzag serves to distance the snake from the rest of society who seeks to avoid it. When the snake was granted all its needs and banished from society, it became persona non grata, hated and disparaged by all.
The fact that the snake transports itself by meandering perversely, and was the instigator of the most catastrophic sin ever committed, makes it the perfect symbol of evil and perversity.
When Yosef was cast into the snake-infested pit by his brothers and he saw that they did not harm him, he saw in that a divine message that G-d was still with him, for he had maintained the path of straightness and had not succumbed to the perverseness represented by the snake.
Moshe cast his staff onto the impure floor of Egypt and it transformed into a snake, symbolizing the impurity of Egypt. But when the ‘straight staff’ of Aharon swallowed the staffs of the Egyptians, it symbolized that the straight and just Word of G-d would ultimately decimate the perverse land of Egypt
When the Jews were about to enter the Promised Land, they were reminded of this lesson again. Their complaints demonstrated a lack of belief in G-d, a form of perverseness. The snake symbolized their fallacy. They had to strengthen their faith and understanding of the straight path before they could enter Eretz Yisroel.

The Torah exhorts us, “ועשית הישר והטוב בעיני ה' And you shall do what is straight and what is good in the eyes of G-d[4].” A Jew has the responsibility to always ensure that his actions are done with ‘yashrus[5]’. He must make certain that all of his actions and words are with dignity and that he is an example for others.
 “האלקים עשה את האדם ישר והמה בקשו חשבנות רבים G-d made man straight, but he has sought many calculations.[6]” One of the tragic consequences of the sin of Adam was that it caused right and wrong to become befuddled. Our world became a conglomerate of good and bad and it is often extremely difficult to discern them. Our responsibility is to adhere to the Torah, for only in doing so can we ensure that we will remain on the straight path.

In his introduction to Chumash Bereishis, the Netziv notes that the Book of Bereishis is referred to in rabbinic literature as Sefer Ha-Yashar, the Book of the Upright/Straight.  He questions why it was not called “the Book of the Tzaddikim (righteous)” or “the Book of the Chasidim (pious)”?
The Netziv notes that at the end of the Second Temple era, the Jews could be considered tzaddikim and chasidim, because they were constantly involved in Torah study. The problem was that they were not yesharim, and it was that lack which led to the destruction of the Temple.
In his words, “Mip’nei sinas chinam b’libam chashdu es mi shera’u shenohag shelo keda’atam beyiras Hashem shehu tzeduki v’apikores - On account of the enmity in their hearts they suspected anyone who did not act like them in matters of faith to be a Sadducee and a heretic!”  Even though they might have been acting ‘for the sake of heaven’, nevertheless these actions caused the eventual destruction of the Temple.
The Netziv continues that the actions of our patriarchs were the exact opposite. Avrohom, who was called ‘Av hamon goyim –Father of the multitudes of nations’, prayed for the people of Sodom, despite their wickedness. When Yitzchok was dealt with unfairly and unethically by Avimelech he remained courteous and overly accommodating. Yaakov lived in the home of his duplicitous brother-in-law Lavan and yet always maintained his composure and patience.
The point of Bereishis is not merely to teach us that the Patriarchs spread their teachings or that they built a large family.  It is also to teach us how they acted towards others, even with the people with whom they disagreed. “Shehisnahagu im ovdei elilim mechua’rim, hayu imam b’ahavah v’chashu l’tovasam ba’asher hi kiyum hab’riah - They acted with great love towards idolaters, and were concerned for their welfare, because that is what maintains the existence of the world.”
In other words, Chumash Bereishis teaches us how to live as yesharim in a world which stands in stark contrast to those values. It is about being a light unto the nations in a world of moral darkness.
The legacy that our Patriarchs and Matriarchs personified is the opposite of what the snake represents: It is not enough to be tzaddikim and chasidim, we must also strive to be yesharim!

“On your stomach you shall crawl”
“And you shall do what is straight and what is good”

[1] ‘They say’ that if one drives through a red light in Arvene, the cops won’t give him a ticket, because they understand the desire to get out of there as quickly as possible.
[2] Mrs Nechama Katz is the cook in Darchei Torah. She and her husband Joseph are the owners of Elite Caterers, and are known to be very special and caring individuals. 
[3] Story heard from the Mashgiach, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman shlita, on 17 Tammuz 5769, in Camp Dora Golding
[4] Devorim 6:18
[5] Yashrus literally means straightness, but it connotes moral uprightness, extreme precision to ethics, and dignity. The Yiddish word “mentchlichkeit” is most apropos.
[6] Koheles (7:29)

Thursday, October 1, 2015


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


“We danced round and round in circles
As if the world had done no wrong
From evening until morning
Filling up the shul with song

Though we had no Sifrei Torah
To clutch close to our hearts
In their place we held the future
Of a past so torn apart”

“The Man from Vilna” from the album “Journeys, Volume IV” is a classic and very inspiring Abie Rotenberg composition. It tells the story of a man that Abie met on a plane, who related to him the following personal incident:
Shortly after the conclusion of the Holocaust, he found himself in Vilna. On Simchas Torah evening there was an assemblage of Jews gathered in a shul. But there were no Sifrei Torah. Alas! They had all been destroyed by the Nazis. Suddenly, he had an epiphany. He grabbed a child and began to dance with him. Others followed suit, as they danced with ‘living sifrei Torah’.
In the album’s jacket where the lyrics are recorded, it says, “Inspired by a true-life story, experienced and related by Rabbi Leo Goldman of Detroit Michigan.”
Rabbi Goldman’s son, R’ Yossi is the president of our shul, Kehillat New Hempstead. A few years ago he informed me of the sequel to that story:
 R’ Yossi related that his father was a yeshiva student and had already received his rabbinical ordination at the age of nineteen. He had grown up, and was living, in the Ukraine, which was constantly under contention between the Poles and the Russians. When the war broke out, he was conscripted into the Russian army as an artillery officer.
Through many acts of Divine Providence, he met his wife in Uzbekistan where they married.
When the war was over, he returned with his wife to Lithuania to see if any of her relatives had survived. That is how he ended up in Vilna on that Simchas Torah evening when the famous story occurred.
R’ Yossi noted that his family grew up hearing the touching story. But, a few years ago, a postscript to the story has emerged.
On the day after his wedding on August 9, 2009, R’ Yossi’s sister, Mrs. Vivian Aronson, received a call from Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the ADL (Anti Defamation League). Mr. Foxman said that he wanted to get in touch with her father. She asked him why, noting that she was pretty sure her father had not been involved in anything anti-Semitic. He replied by telling her his story[1]:
He was born in 1940, while his parents were escaping the approaching Nazis. In 1941, they were in Vilna when the Nazis caught up with them. With no other viable option, they placed him in the care of his Polish-catholic nanny. He was baptized and, for the next four years, he grew up as a devout Catholic with the name, Henryk Stanislas Kurpi. Somehow his parents both survived and came to take him back after the war. A custody battle ensued and thankfully his parents won. However, he felt very estranged and uncomfortable with Judaism.
On Simchas Torah evening his father felt that he would enjoy a happy and upbeat celebration so he brought him to shul. When they arrived, a Soviet Jewish soldier lifted him onto his shoulders and began to dance saying, “This is our Jewish flag!” He came home and told his mother that he liked “the Jewish church”.
He had found out that the soldier who had lifted him up those years ago and made such a deep impression on him was Rabbi Leo Goldman. 
Mr. Foxman mentioned that he would like to meet Rabbi Goldman and is prepared to travel to Detroit for the reunion. That meeting finally happened in 2011. A year later Rabbi Leo Goldman passed away at the age of 94[2].
“And now you now…. the rest of the story!”

Although there is no dearth of holidays on the Jewish calendar, which include an obligation for one to be in a state of joy, there is only one holiday that is termed, “the time of our joy”, i.e. the holiday of Succos. What is it about this unique holiday that, not only warrants joy, but merits the title “the time of our joy”?
In regards to the holiday of Succos the Torah states[3], “And you will celebrate it, a holiday for G-d, for seven days of the year...” What does it mean that Succos is “a holiday for G-d”; isn’t it a holiday for us?

The Alshich hakodosh[4] offers a unique perspective about the holiday of Succos[5]:
From the moment when G-d created man, the angels questioned the validity and purpose of mankind. They proposed that G-d should allow the angels to care for His world with purity, and not create a being that is wont to sin and will denigrate all of creation.
G-d, in His infinite wisdom did not pay heed to their arguments and created man. Shortly thereafter, Man sinned and indeed caused irrevocable damage to his descendants and all of creation. Ten generations after creation, G-d ‘regretted’ creating man[6], and He brought a flood to obliterate all of creation, with the exception of Noach and the inhabitants of the ark.
At the time of the exodus from Egypt, the angel of Egypt questioned G-d’s decision to save the Jews, noting, that “these (the Egyptians) are idolaters and these (the Jews) are idolaters.” He countered that the Jews were no more deserving of salvation than the Egyptians.  
When the Jews stood at Sinai to receive the Torah, the angels again questioned G-d[7]. “What is a mortal that you should remember him, and the son of man that you should recall him. Hashem, our Master, how Mighty is Your Name in the whole earth that You should place Your Glory (i.e. the Torah) on the heavens”? 
Even after the Jews selflessly accepted the Torah and reached an incredible level of unity and holiness, they again failed egregiously when they committed the sin of the Golden Calf.
Thus, from the moment Man was created, he was a walking desecration of G-d’s Name. Time and again Man proved the veracity of the angel’s assertion that Man was unworthy of existence. That all changed however, when the Mishkan was erected.
After the nation committed the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d removed His Divine Presence from them, and was ready to destroy them. Moshe implored G-d to forgive the nation and to allow them to repent. On the tenth day of Tishrei – Yom Kippur – G-d acceded to Moshe’s request and[8] “reconsidered the evil that He declared He would do unto His People.” On that day Moshe descended from Sinai with the second Luchos, symbolizing a new covenant.
The Vilna Gaon notes that for the next four days the nation busied themselves amassing materials for the construction of the Mishkan, as a place where G-d’s Holy Presence could return. By the time the fourth day arrived, there was a tremendous surplus of materials, which demonstrated their sincere remorse and desire to repair the spiritual damage they had caused. On the fifteenth of Tishrei, construction began on the Mishkan, and the Divine Presence returned. That day was the first day of Succos!
The Alshich explains that when G-d’s Presence returned, it demonstrated that the nation had achieved complete repentance and were able to reassume the lofty levels they had forfeited when they sinned. When the Mishkan was erected, it was the completion of the third, and final, pillar on which the world stands[9].
At that moment, the angels were silenced and their centuries-long complaint was refuted. Their argument was that man should never have been created, for man is by definition vulnerable and an unworthy liability. But now that Klal Yisroel had demonstrated that they could repent and triumph over iniquity and their mortal failings, they had achieved a level of greatness beyond the angels. In a sense, G-d Himself was vindicated at that moment!
The atonement of Yom Kippur, and the great gift of repentance that G-d granted Klal Yisroel, served as the conduit which stopped Man’s perpetual desecration of G-d’s Name. Therefore, the holiday of Succos is the celebration of what was accomplished on Yom Kippur as well as all of our efforts to return to G-d. It is a celebration of G-d’s vindication for creating Mankind, as it were.
Thus, while Pesach and Shavuos are holidays of celebration for what G-d granted us and for what we became, Succos is a celebration for what G-d achieved, as it were[10]. It is for that reason that the Torah writes that Succos is “a holiday for G-d”. In the beautiful words of the Alshich, ואנחנו נחוג ונשמח ונעלוז על שמחת חג ה'" – And we celebrate, rejoice, and exult for the joy of the holiday of G-d.”
This is also the reason why it is specifically the holiday of Succos that is termed the ‘time of our joy’. As a general rule, all Jewish celebrations revolve around the added perpetuation of sanctification of G-d‘s Name[11]. Succos, which is our participation in G-d’s celebration, therefore contains the greatest level of joy[12].

During the celebration of the vindication of man, it is appropriate that we put our lives into perspective and take inventory of Man’s accomplishments and failures. The joy of Succos forces us to ponder our place in the universe. If our purpose is to bring glory to G-d’s Name, then we must contemplate whether we have fulfilled our mission, and we must maintain proper perspective of our goals.
This is symbolized by the succah. We leave the security and comfort of our homes, and live under the sole protection of G-d. It is a reminder to how life in this world should be viewed.
The Alshich adds that the seven days of succos each represent a decade of life[13]. On Succos our life must ‘flash before our eyes’ - how we have lived until now, as well as our goals for the future.
It is also appropriate that we read Megillas Kohelles on Succos. Koheles[14] - the wisest of men – explains in vivid detail, that all of the temporal pleasures and enjoyments of this world are vanity and futility. When all is said and done, it is only Fear of G-d and fulfillment of His Will that grants a sense of inner joy and purpose. And therein lies the message of Succos.

With the idea of the Alshich in mind, we can understand why the celebration of the completion of the annual cycle of Torah reading transpires immediately after Succos[15]. After rejoicing for seven days with the Almighty - Who Himself is celebrating our success and ability to reconnect with Him even after sinning and failing - we truly appreciate the beauty and greatness of the Torah.
How are we able to be close to G-d? Through living and studying His holy Torah! “For it is your life and the length of your days.” Our ability to maintain our steadfast connection with Him is inextricably bound to our passionate and zealous love for the Torah.
On Simchas Torah we clutch our pride and joy close to our hearts, and we rejoice – the previous generation with the future generation. We celebrate the silencing of the angel’s complaint by hoisting our holy Torah in the air and pronouncing, “אנא עבדא דקודשא בריך הוא - I am the servant of the Holy One, blessed is He!” That no matter how low we fall, we always have the ability to pick ourselves up, by rededicating ourselves to the Torah and pledging to live its life of holiness and transcendence.

“Though we had no Sifrei Torah
To clutch close to our hearts
In their place we held those children
The Jewish People would live on
 Am Yisroel Chai”

[1] His story can be found on the ADL website:
[3] Vayikra 23:41
[4] Toras Moshe al haTorah
[5] The Alshich actually asks twenty poignant questions about the Torah’s narrative regarding the holiday of Succos, and he answers all of them utilizing his unique approach. It is beyond the scope of this essay to quote his entire explanation and all the questions. But one who does so will undoubtedly be enlightened by his beautiful words.
[6] Bereishis 6:6
[7] Shabbos 88b
[8] Shemos 32:14
[9] Avos 1:2; “Rabbi Shimon said: On three pillars the world stands: Torah, Divine Service, and good deeds.” [They already had received the Torah,. The Medrash explains that one of the reasons they were redeemed from Egypt was because they committed good deeds for each other even in their oppressive servitude. Now the Mishkan was home to the ‘avodah’, the Divine Service.]  
[10] Of course it is also a celebration of our accomplishments during the Days of Awe, but that is a secondary cause. The primary celebration is for the cessation of the desecration of G-d’s Name.
[11] Shabbos and holidays celebrate G-d’s Creation and miracles; circumcision celebrates a new member entering the covenant of Avrohom Avinu; Bar/Bas Mitzvah celebrates another member becoming obligated in the mitzvos; marriage celebrates the union of a Torah home and the potential for continuation of our heritage, etc.
[12] We can postulate that this is part of the reason why we are obligated to take the Four Species on Succos. The fact that man becomes vindicated on Succos is a celebration of the entire world, because the whole world was created for man. The taking of the Species of the earth represents the joy of the world. [The reason why these particular Species are taken has much deeper meanings and significance, as explained in the Medrash.]
[13] The verse in Tehillim states, “For the days of our years are seventy years, and with strength, eighty years.” The Alshich adds that it is for this reason that we are so much more stringent with succah/Four Species on the first day of Succos, for it represents the formative years of a person’s youth. In that first decade of life, a child is extremely impressionable, and his whole future is built on his youth.
Also, the eighth day – Shemini Atzeres - represents eternal life in the Next World.
[14] A pseudonym for Shlomo Hamelech  (King Solomon)
[15] And not on Shavuos, the holiday when we celebrate receiving the Torah