Thursday, November 26, 2015


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


Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates a beautiful story[1] about a Jerusalem Jew named Yosef Gutfarb who was extremely meticulous to always pray with a minyan. Even the worst weather could not deter Yosef, and he was invariably one of the first people to enter the synagogue whenever it was time to pray. If he had to travel he would ensure that would be able to attend a minyan along the way. 
One night Yosef arrived home at 3 a.m. and had not yet prayed ma’ariv. He traveled from his neighborhood of Shuafat, to the Zichron Moshe synagogues near the Geulah neighborhood. By the time he arrived it was 3:15 a.m. To his dismay, the place was virtually deserted, save for one man who also had not yet prayed.
R’ Yosef thought for a moment. Then he pulled out his phone and called a local taxi company. He asked the dispatcher if he could send eight taxis to Zichron Moshe. He also insisted that they all be Israeli drivers. The dispatcher replied, “Who has eight taxis available at this hour?” R’ Yosef replied, “How many do you have available?” “Five” “Okay, please send them as soon as possible. And remember, only Israeli drivers.”
He then called another taxi company and asked them to send three taxis, only with Israeli drivers. Both taxi companies were sure a wedding had just finished and many guests needed rides. The cabbies were surprised when they pulled up in front of the deserted building of Zichron Moshe.
R’ Yosef walked out to greet them. “Gentlemen, please start your meters. And then please follow me into the synagogue.” He explained to them that he needed them to complete a minyan so that he could pray ma’ariv. Although they were all familiar with reading Hebrew, some of the drivers were unfamiliar with the prayer text. They had to get yarmulkes from the glove compartment of their cars and be shown the page on which the service began.
After the prayers had concluded, R’ Yosef excitedly offered to pay each of them for their time. But none of them would accept his money!    

The great confrontation was imminent. Yaakov and his family were heading home to Eretz Yisroel, and his wrathful brother Eisav was heading towards him, with an army poised for battle. Yaakov dispatched emissaries to portend his arrival. The Torah states, “He charged them saying, ‘Thus shall you say, ‘To my lord, to Eisav, so said your servant Yaakov: עם לבן גרתי ואחר עד עתה - I have sojourned with Lavan and have lingered until now’.”
Rashi explains that Yaakov utilized the unusual terminology "גרתי" (I have sojourned) to intimate to Eisav that, although he had lived in the home of the duplicitous Lavan until now, "תריג מצות שמרתי ולא למדתי ממעשיו הרעים - The six hundred and thirteen commandments[2] I have safeguarded, and I did not learn from his (Lavan’s) evil ways.”
Yaakov’s message to Eisav is surprising. In fact, it seems to be blatantly untrue!  During his years in the home of Lavan, Yaakov married two sisters. Although Yaakov was unquestionably justified - in fact obligated - to marry both Rochel and Leah[3], still-in-all the Torah expressly prohibits one from marrying two sisters[4]. Although Yaakov may have literally been ‘above the law’ in regards to the prohibition against marrying sisters for various reasons, how could he say that he observed all 613 commandments of the Torah, when he clearly violated one[5]?

For many summers, Camp Dora Golding, where I have spent (and spend) many of my summers, would host a concert. A Jewish music star/group would perform for the delight of the campers and staff, and it was always a memorable event.
A number of summers ago, the camp hired a certain Jewish group to perform. The members of the group were known to be somewhat ‘unconventional’ in their performance, sometimes becoming hippie-like and wild.
Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[6] was then the ‘spiritual leader’ of Camp Dora Golding, and he met with the band members beforehand in order to discuss various guidelines.
Suffice it to say the guidelines were not adhered to.  
The next morning, Rabbi Finkelman spoke to the older division of campers. He explained that before the administration of the camp agreed to bring in that band to perform they had sought the counsel of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky shlita. At the time Rabbi Kaminetsky told them that if the band members were “shomer Torah and mitzvos” then they could be brought in.
Rabbi Finkelman noted that Rabbi Kaminetsky did not say if they were ‘mikayem Torah and mitzvos’ they could be brought in, but rather if they were ‘shomer Torah and mitzvos’. ‘Mikayem’ means to fulfill, and indeed refer to one who is Torah observant as a mikayem Torah and mitzvos. But a ‘shomer’ is a guard. A guard doesn’t just react when confronted. A guard must be vigilant and ready; a guard must be proactive.
Rabbi Finkelman continued by explaining that the performers who came to camp were good Jews with good hearts. They were mikayim Torah and mitzvos by observing Shabbos and putting on tefillin each morning. However, they could not be classified as ‘shomrei Torah and mitzvos’.  He explained that when they met before the concert to review some guidelines, the bandleader replied, “Rabbi, you need to understand that sometimes I just lose myself in the music!” Rabbi Finkelman countered that a Torah Jew can never justify his actions by claiming that ‘he just loses himself’. He is obligated to always maintain control over himself and his actions. One who admits to ‘losing himself’ may be observant most of the time, but he isn’t much of a guard.

With this poignant idea in mind, we can understand Yaakov’s message to Eisav. Yaakov did not say that in the home of Lavan he had observed all 613 commandments, for that would indeed be untrue. Rather, Yaakov said that in the home of Lavan he safeguarded all 613 commandments. Yaakov may not have observed the letter of the law per se, but in regards to the spirit of the law he was meticulous to a fault. There was a precise calculation to his every action and he never proceeded an iota without first ascertaining that his actions were in accordance with the Will of G-d. In that sense, Yaakov was the epitome of a shomer, vigilant and attentive, to G-d’s Will.
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’l clearly expresses this same idea. At the beginning of parshas Vayeshev, the Torah records the dreams of Yosef, which symbolized Yosef becoming the ruler over his brothers and parents. Yosef understood his dreams as being an expression of prophecy and he felt obliged to recount them to his brothers. His brothers did not take kindly to the dreams and they developed an enmity for him.
Although Yaakov externally chastised Yosef in order to mitigate the envy of the brothers towards Yosef, the Torah relates “ואביו שמר את הדבר – His father guarded the matter.” Rashi explains that the word שמר connotes that Yaakov waited and anticipated the fruition of the matter.
Rabbi Wolbe notes that when Yaakov told Eisav that he was “shomer” the 613 mitzvos, he also meant that he waited and anticipated fulfilling the mitzvos. Throughout his years in the home of Lavan Yaakov was perpetually searching, pining, and anticipating opportunities to serve G-d and fulfill mitzvos[7].
Rabbi Wolbe continues that in our daily prayers we beseech G-d, ותן בלבנו בינה להבין ולהשכיל לשמוע ללמד וללמד לשמר ולעשות ולקיים את כל דברי תורתך באהבה" – Place in our hearts understanding to comprehend and to discern, to perceive, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, and to perform, and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah with love.”
Here too, לשמר means to anticipate and to yearn. We pray that G-d not only grant us the ability to understand and perform His commandments, but that He also grant us the wisdom to safeguard ourselves from transgression and fulfill our obligations properly. To do so we cannot be ‘passive fulfillers’, we must be proactive guards.

On Shabbos morning there is a well-known zemer (song) with the refrain, השומר שבת הבן עם הבת לקל ירצו כמנחה על מחבת" – One who safeguards the Shabbos, the son with the daughter, to G-d it is desirous like a Mincha-offering on a flat pan.”
The commentators explain that the shomer which the lyricist refers to is one who anticipates and is excited about Shabbos[8]. The ‘shomer Shabbos’ passionately looks forward to Shabbos and prepares himself – mentally and physically – for Shabbos well in advance. His whole week centers around Shabbos, and he yearns for the holy day to commence. One who observes Shabbos in such a regal and excited fashion is analogous to one who offers a Mincha offering to his Creator.

The holiday of Chanukah is inextricably connected to this idea as well. In fact, the miracles of Chanukah would never have occurred if the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) did not possess this level of inextinguishable love.
After their miraculous victories over the far superior Syrian-Greek forces, the Hasmoneans entered the Holy Temple with the intention of immediately resuming the daily Service, which had been stopped by the invading enemy. While there was plenty of oil available for lighting the menorah, it had all been rendered ritually impure by the Greeks. According to halacha, the Hasmoneans had many leniencies upon which they could have relied in utilizing that oil, despite its impurity. However, they refused to do so. They insisted on searching for ritually pure oil, although finding such a bottle was virtually inconceivable. The very fact that they found a bottle of pure oil was in itself an incredible miracle[9].
If the Hasmoneans merely fulfilled the letter of the law the holiday of Chanukah would have never come about. Therefore, the Chanukah holiday is an elongated celebration that emerged because of those who were ‘shomer’ Torah and mitzvos, seeking to serve G-d in the most ideal manner possible.
It is for this reason that the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles can be performed on three different levels[10]. The holiday created out of passion and excitement contains opportunities for us to demonstrate our own desire to fulfill its mitzvos in the optimal manner.
The holiday of Chanukah is essentially a celebration of our national unyielding passion and desire to go beyond the letter of the law and prove that we not only fulfill, but we seek to safeguard as well. It is a testament that we don’t only do what we have to do, but we seek to do whatever we can, however we can do it.

“I have sojourned with Lavan, and the 613 commandments I have guarded”
“Place in our hearts understanding… to safeguard”

[1] In the Spirit of the Maggid, p. 133
[2] The numerical value of the word תריג is 613, the amount of commandments that there are in the Torah. The letters of the word גרתי (I have sojourned) are the same as in the word תריג (613).
[3] The commentaries expend great effort to explain why Yaakov had to do so. For example, Ramban writes that the Patriarchs only observed the Torah in Eretz Yisroel. It was for that reason that Rochel had to die as they were re-entering Eretz Yisroel. [That explains why it was permitted for Yaakov to marry two sisters. Many other commentaries offer lengthy explanations as to how Yaakov knew that he was expected to do so, because the Jewish people had to come from Rochel and Leah.]
[4] See Vayikra 18:18 “You shall not take a woman in addition to her sister.”
[5] I am grateful to my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl, who first mentioned this question. Rabbi Kohl related to me that his daughter had asked him this question at their family Shabbos table last year.
[6] Mashgiach, Ohr Hachaim, Queens, NY
[7] In fact, Rabbi Wolbe learns that this must be Yaakov’s intention when he said he kept all 613 mitzvos, because he clearly did not observe all 613 mitzvos, as we mentioned.
[8] He does not seem to be referring to one who guards himself from desecrating Shabbos, because he makes reference to one who guards the Shabbos from desecration later in the song (“Kol shomer Shabbos kadas maychalilo”).  
[9] Some commentators explain that although there was sufficient oil for one day’s lighting of the menorah (and thus the miracle of the burning oil would seem to have only been for seven days), we celebrate Chanukah for eight days (not seven) as the first day is a celebration of the fact that they found the jar of oil in the first place.
[10] The mitzvah itself is to light one candle each night of Chanukah. Mehadrin (beautified level) is to light a candle for every member of the family each night of Chanukah. Mehadrin min hamehadrin (the ultimate level) is to light candles for every member of the household corresponding to the night of the holiday.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


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


A few years ago, Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein[1] related the following personal extraordinary story:
“There was a popular pool-hall on the main street in Monticello that had a dance club in the back. It was a terribly sinful place where kids went to hang out. The worst was on Motzei Shabbos during the summer, when there would be a crowd of about two hundred fifty Jewish boys and girls ‘hanging out’.
“It was an untenable situation and we felt that we had to do something. I went with a few friends to discuss the matter with Rabbi Dovid Feinstein shlita. I told Rabbi Feinstein that we had an idea which we hoped could at least put a damper on the frivolous partying that was going on. A group of couples, including my wife and myself, planned to go to the pool-hall on Motzei Shabbos and mingle with the rambunctious crowds and schmooze with them. The thought was that between the eight of us, many of the boys and girls would recognize us. If they felt uncomfortable by our presence perhaps they would leave. It would at least prevent the boys and girls who stopped by to ‘see what was going on’ from joining.
“We also arranged to have the bowling alley in Kiamesha rented out for the boys, so those boys who we were able to convince to leave would have an incentive of where they could go.  Rabbi Feinstein agreed to our plan.
“On Motzei Shabbos eight couples came down to the pool-hall. It was a wild party, replete with raucous music, smoking, and gender-intermingling. After walking around and schmoozing with some of the kids, two of my friends and I decided that we should go into the club in the back to see if we could have any effect there. I knew some of my students were back there and that they would feel embarrassed if they saw me walk in. But when we tried to enter the club, the guard at the door told us “we were too old”.  I reasoned with him that we only wanted to walk through. Finally, he relented and told me that if I really thought there was ‘stuff’ going on in the back I could go in myself, look around, and leave immediately.
“I was about to walk in when suddenly the owner of the pool hall rushed over and told me I couldn’t go in. “Forget it. All of you Rabbis have to get out of here.” I told him that if he wouldn’t let me in the back I would stay and shoot pool. But he was adamant, “We don’t want your money and we don’t want you in here. Just get out!” As he said it, three bouncers began to physically shove us out. The bouncers pushed us out of the hall and literally threw us down the steps outside the pool hall.
“I began screaming at the crowd of teens gathered at the top of the steps. “Do you see how low you’ve fallen? Three Rabbis are thrown out right in front of your eyes and you don’t say a word?!”
“Meanwhile the owner of the club looked down at us from the top of the steps and condescendingly said, “Rabbis, you’re not going to win this! You don’t know who you’re messing with. I own Monticello!”    
“A police officer was standing nearby and saw what was happened. He called to us to get out of there. I couldn’t believe it. We had just been pushed out for no reason and the cop was siding with the assailant. I realized the owner must truly be very influential in Monticello.
“The ‘Rabbis getting thrown out of the pool hall’ immediately became the talk of the mountains. The next day we had a meeting and I found out that the owner of the hall owned a tremendous amount of real estate and town houses in Monticello. It truly seemed as if he owned Monticello.
So we went back to the owner and told him that we felt bad about what happened. We told him that we weren’t out to ruin the kid’s fun; we just didn’t like the sinful atmosphere that was being promoted. So we offered to rent out the pool hall for the boys and a bowling alley for girls. Everyone could have a good time, albeit separately. The owner agreed to rent the pool hall to us for a large sum of money.
“That Motzei Shabbos we invited the boys to the pool hall and twenty boys showed up (fifteen girls showed up at the bowling alley). I decided that for the next week I had to come up with a better ‘draw’, so I invited Yossi Piamenta to play in the pool hall with his band. It would be a free night of pool, music, and pizza. I was sure we would have a big crowd.
But that second Motzei Shabbos, again only twenty boys showed up.
“After the ‘concert’ the owner of the pool hall turned to me and said, ‘You see Rabbi you were wrong! The boys and girls need each other. You’re trying to stop something that you just can’t stop. You brought in Piamenta, free pizza, free pool, and look who came. You see that you’re wrong. So I’ll tell you what I am going to do. On Wednesday night I am going to host the craziest party Monticello has ever seen. I will have free beer, free admission, free food and rocking music. They are going to have the wildest time of their lives.” I pleaded with him not to do it, but he wouldn’t listen. “You can’t stop it Rabbi; they need each other!” He was right; there was nothing I could do. I left feeling very defeated.
“That Tuesday I was driving by the pool-hall when I noticed signs plastered all over the building on every side, “Closed by the Fire Department”; “Do not enter”; “VIOLATION!”; “For Sale”.
“We had no idea what happened until the next day. I have a friend who is very involved with the politicians in Monticello. The Chief of the Fire Department called him up and told him that they shut down the pool-hall. My friend replied that he had never asked them to do so. The Chief replied, “It has nothing to do with you. On Sunday morning we went into the building to perform a routine safety check. When we went into the basement we found that the owner of the pool-hall had antique cars that he was repainting and refurbishing. He had so much paint, solvent, chemicals, and gas in the basement that if one cigarette butt would have been thrown into that basement the building would have blown sky high, and you would have had over two hundred dead Jewish kids.”
“The non-Jewish Chief continued, “You should know that your G-d watches out for your children. That building was on top of a time-bomb. There was so much solvent without egress that half of Monticello could have easily blown up. I want you to know of every group that we deal with, we have never had another group that cares about their children like you Jews do.”
“That Motzei Shabbos we again rented two different bowling alleys for the boys and girls, but this time it was relatively full. About two thirty in the morning, in between driving back and forth from the girls in Kiamesha to the boys in Liberty, I drove back to the pool-hall. It was almost exactly the same time as when we were thrown down the steps just a few weeks prior, except now it was completely deserted. I stood at the bottom of the steps, looked up toward the sky and screamed, “Hashem, YOU OWN MONTICELLO![2]” 

 “Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva and he went toward Charan. He encountered the place and spent the night there… And he dreamt and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it.”
The Bais HaLevi notes that a person can travel to a new destination for one of two reasons. He can either be trying to distance himself from the city he departed from, or he may be seeking to fulfill a goal/mission in the city of his destination.
In Yaakov’s situation, he had both goals in mind. Yaakov was both fleeing the wrath of his brother Eisav, and seeking to fulfill his parent’s instruction that he go to the home of his mother’s brother in order to seek a wife for himself. The wording of the pasuk actually alludes to these dual purposes: “Yaakov departed from Be’er Sheva”; he had to escape the city of Eisav for his own safety. “And he went toward Charan” in order to fulfill his father’s instruction that he search for a wife. 
The Viener Rav[3] explains that the saga of Yaakov is symbolic of the events that transpire in every person’s life. We all have missions in this world that we are here to fulfill. At times we find ourselves in situations that we never dreamed we would be in. We must remember that there is a higher purpose that we may not be aware of, which plays a strong role on the course of life.
The pasuk in Tehillim[4] states: “From G-d, the footsteps of man are firm, his way shall He approve.” The Ba’al Shem Tov explained that at times a person will travel to another city. In his mind he is traveling there for business, with the goal of generating profit. However, in heaven they may have arranged that he end up in that city for a spiritual purpose that he may never become aware of. This is what the verse is saying. Ultimately it is G-d who prepares the footsteps of man.
This idea is also a source of encouragement for a person who sets out to accomplish something and invests a great deal of time and effort into his project, only to find that he was unable to meet his goals. Although from his vantage point his work was for naught, from the perspective of Heaven his efforts may have been a tremendous success.
To Yaakov, his journey must have seemed compulsory and distressing. He was obliged to leave behind the sanctity and purity of his father’s home because he had adhered to his mother’s instruction to dupe Eisav out of the blessings. He would now have to forge his own path, alone and far away. But in truth his journey would soon set a trajectory in motion which led to the building of the foundation of Klal Yisroel. Yaakov returned from Charan with four wives and eleven children[5], and it was those children who became the progenitors of the Chosen Nation.
This was part of the symbolism of Yaakov’s dream. At the moment when Yaakov was sleeping alone on top of Mount Moriah it seemed as if he was alone and forsaken. The vision of the ladder symbolized that there is an inextricable connection between world and the celestial world, with angels traveling up and down the ladder. Yaakov’s journey was not merely as it seemed. There was a higher purpose that would emerge from the whole ordeal, even though at that moment Yaakov could not realize what that purpose was.
As a nation we have experienced Yaakov’s odyssey many times. When we were expelled from Spain in 1492 and we fled on ships, it seemed that we were escaping a world which had deserted us. But at the same time we were forging ahead to a new world. European Jewry was being established and a new trajectory that would last four hundred years was being set in motion.
When our parents and grandparents escaped the horrors of Nazism before, during, and after World War II, they were not only fleeing the ashes of the crematoria, they were also coming to Eretz Yisroel and America and other havens to build the next chapter of Torah living and flourishing.
Yaakov’s venture symbolizes the path of life, on a national and individualistic level. Life leads us in many directions, and we must always remember that G-d prepares the path of man. Sometimes we are not privy to how/why things occur. But the ladder reaches heavenward and the angles are perpetually ascending and descending.

“Yaakov departed Be’er Sheva toward Charan”

[1] Rabbi Wallerstein is the founder of Ohr Naava for woman, as well as a noted lecturer. Rabbi Wallerstein gives two chaburas weekly, at Ohr Yitzchok for boys and at Ohr Naava for girls. His lectures can be viewed at and other forums.
[2] Rabbi Wallerstein admitted that after he made his declaration, a fellow stopped to ask him if he needed help.
[3] Shemen Rosh; Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz shlita
[4] 37:23
[5] Binyamin, the twelfth child, was born on the way back. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015


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


Years ago, when I was a student in Yeshiva, I was conversing with a younger student who had decided to switch out of the yeshiva, in order to attend a different type of yeshiva. He told me how thrilled he was to be escaping the yeshiva which he animatedly described as ‘a crazy place’. He then proceeded to list his personal grievances about the yeshiva, which included every possible component. He hated the dormitory, abhorred the food, couldn’t stand the teachers, disliked many of the students, and was even bothered by the aroma in the hallway. He was pretty convincing in depicting his stay in yeshiva as being completely untenable.
I realized how ingrained his acrimonious feelings towards the yeshiva were and I listening silently. He concluded by saying that it was so bad that he didn’t know how he had survived until that point.
 When he had completed his list, I told him that it all boiled down to one thing; in his mind he had ‘written the yeshiva off’. He had become sick and tired and, because the yeshiva was no longer a viable option for him in his mind, he allowed himself to become consumed by every minor frustration.
It was almost amusing when he returned to the yeshiva the next year. When I asked him about all of the things that he had mentioned the year prior that drove him crazy, he nonchalantly shrugged and said it wasn’t so bad.
Indeed; it’s all a matter of attitude.

Throughout their youth, Yaakov and Eisav seemed somewhat similar. Although there were glaring external differences, as Eisav was ruddy and hirsute while Yaakov had smoother and whiter skin, the colossal future philosophical and spiritual disparities between Yaakov and Eisav were hardly noticeable throughout their formative years.
When they were fifteen however, that all changed. On the day that their grandfather Avrohom died at the age of one hundred seventy five, Eisav committed numerous egregious sins.  The gemara[2]  writes that on that day Eisav murdered, coerced a young girl who was engaged, denied the fundamental beliefs of Judaism, denied that there was a concept of resurrection of the dead, and sold/denigrated his first-born rights.
It is enigmatic that the Torah does not mention any of these sins, and merely states[3], “Esav came in from the field and he was tired.” If Eisav had committed such terrible sins, how could the verse merely state that he was exhausted? Why is there no mention of the reason for his exhaustion, i.e. all the sins he had violated? Do we refer to a murderer-idolater-heretic as merely ‘tired’?
Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt’l explained that the Written Torah teaches us the root and foundation of everything. The Oral Torah clarifies the Written Torah[4], elucidating the messages and lessons that are hidden in the Written Torah. Thus, while the Oral Torah writes the actual details of what occurred by explicitly listing the sins that Eisav committed, the Written Torah records only the root-problem of why it occurred. How did Eisav, who had been raised in the home of Yitzchok and Rivka, become such a heinous sinner? Because “he was tired”. He was tired in the sense that he had lost all his drive and ambition, and no longer saw achieving spiritual greatness as a feasible goal. When one gives up on himself he is capable of committing the worst sins, rapidly debasing himself almost without limit.
The verse alludes to this idea when it writes והוא עיף" – and he was tired.” It does not simply say that Eisav arrived from the field ‘tired’. Rather, it says ‘and he was tired’, as if to imply that his entire essence was tired[5]. He was completely devoid of aspiration and passion, and that was the key to his hasty spiritual decline.
In a sense Eisav’s downfall lay in the fact that he was ‘sick and tired’. That attitude is extremely deleterious, and can have a disastrous effect.

At the time of Akeidas Yitzchok[6], Avrohom was one hundred and thirty seven years old. The Akeidah was the last of the ten tests that Avrohom was challenged with[7]. Yet Avrohom lived for another twenty eight years. If Avrohom had already traversed the ten major ‘tests’, what was left for Avrohom to accomplish during the remaining years of his life? 
Perhaps the challenge of Avrohom was to maintain his level of spiritual accomplishment and to retain the lofty levels he had achieved, even while living a mundane life, devoid of major challenges and tests.
Yitzchok had a similar challenge. When he was thirty-seven years old he was bound as an offering to G-d. For the remainder of his life he was charged with maintaining that level of holiness. He was never allowed to leave the Holy Land even in the face of a famine, nor was he able to marry a maid when his wife was unable to conceive, despite the fact that his father had done so. Yitzchok was referred to as an ‘olah temimah – a complete (unblemished) elevation offering’, even after he was taken off the altar.
It is a daunting task for one to always maintain their spiritual vitality and not allow themselves to falter in their connection with G-d.
It is no coincidence that Eisav ‘left the fold’ on the day of his grandfather’s death. Avrohom lived his life with undiminished passion and vivacity. Until the day he died he never faltered or tired in his mission to spread the light of divinity throughout the world. The prophet[8] states, “Youths may weary and tire and young men may constantly falter. But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength, they will grow a wing like eagles; they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary.”
On the day that the spark of Avrohom was lost to the world, Eisav grew ‘tired’. Avrohom, whose hope was in G-d, had proverbial wings like an eagle, but Eisav was the youth who grew weary, and thus he faltered.

The holy Shabbos is a day of renewal and rededication. Dovid Hamelech expressed the ‘song of Shabbos’ as, “It is good to be thankful to G-d and to sing to Your Supreme Name[9].” The six mundane days of the week often cause us to lose sight of our true aspirations and goals. In the befuddlement of exile and our pursuit for livelihood we often grow ‘tired and weary.’  But when Shabbos arrives we are transformed into angelic beings whose whole lives are dedicated to G-d and spiritual pursuits. Shabbos infuses us with strength and vitality so that we are able to encounter the challenges of the next week.  
On the night of the first Shabbos of a newborn baby boy’s life we celebrate the first opportunity that he has been granted to ‘taste’ the bliss of Shabbos and to be blessed with the gift of spiritual vitality. At the same time, we hope and pray that G-d will grant the newborn baby the merit and understanding to appreciate the holiness of Shabbos throughout his life and to never lose his spiritual vitality.[10]

“Esav came in from the field and he was tired”
“But those whose hope is in G-d will have renewed strength”

[1] The following is the speech I gave in our home in honor of the ‘shalom zachor’ of our dear son, Avrohom Yosef, Shabbos Kodesh, parshas Toldos 5768.
[2] Bava Basra 16
[3] 25:29
[4] The Written Torah refers to the Chumash (as well as the Prophets and the Holy Writings), while the Oral Torah refers primarily to the Mishnah and Talmud.
[5] This is similar to the gemara Megilla which explains that when Megillas Esther states,  - הוא אחשורוש" – he was Achashveirosh” it means that “he was the same wicked Achashveirosh from the beginning until the end.” All of the events and miracles that occurred during his reign did nothing to change him. His wickedness was  part of his very essence.
[6] The ‘binding of Isaac’ on Mount Moriah
[7] According to some opinions, the Akeidah was the ninth test, and the death of Sarah was the final test. The death of Sarah was immediately after the Akeidah.
[8] Isaiah 40:29-30; it is the haftorah for parshas Lech Lecha, the parsha which relates Avrohom’s ascent to greatness.
[9] Tehillim 92
[10] Thus the celebration of a shalom zachor is celebrated on ‘Shabbos shalom’.   

Thursday, November 5, 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 Zaydei, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, R’ Yaakov Meir ben R’ Yosef Yitzchok, whose yahrtzeit is Monday, 27 MarCheshvan.


Rabbi Yossi Lieber[1] related that soon after the passing of his father he was invited to speak at the Hebrew Academy of Philadelphia. He began his speech by saying that his recently widowed mother was having a hard time coping with her husband’s recent passing. He therefore requested that if anyone enjoyed his speech and was inspired by his words, instead of telling him they should be so kind to call his mother and tell her. He then announced her home phone number and began his speech.
The following day Rabbi Lieber’s mother mentioned to him that the evening prior she had received a phone call from someone who had heard his speech. The caller told her how much he had enjoyed her son’s lecture and how proud she should be.
After she thanked him for the call she asked him his name. He replied, “Shmuel Kaminetsky[2]”.  

Avrohom dispatched his trusted servant Eliezer with the sublime task of seeking a worthy wife for Yitzchok. The Torah relates, in punctilious detail, all of the events that transpired with Eliezer along his journey.
When Eliezer met Rivka he was immediately overwhelmed by her sterling character and he was convinced that she was destined to become Yitzchok’s wife. Rivka led Eliezer to her home where he sat together with her wicked father Besuel and duplicitous brother Lavan.
The Torah then records Eliezer’s narrative to Rivka’s family, which is an almost verbatim account of the events that the Torah detailed previously.
Every letter in the Torah has meaning and significance. It is therefore surprising that the Torah repeats Eliezer’s account of the events that the Torah has already recorded. To explain the unusual prolix, Rashi quotes the Medrash: “Rabbi Acha said: יפה שיחתן של עבדי אבות לפני המקום מתורתן של בנים -The conversations of the servants of the patriarchs were more beautiful before G-d than the Torah of the children, for the narrative of Eliezer is mentioned and repeated in the Torah, while many vital concepts of the Torah are merely alluded to.”
In other words, there are many important laws that the Talmud derives from analytical expositions and detailed expounding from a superfluous letter in the Torah. The Torah is exact in its wording and thus every extra letter contains myriad lessons and central laws. The fact that the Torah repeats Eliezer’s narrative in such vivid detail symbolizes how dear and beloved the patriarchs were.
Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt’l once quipped, "תורה קען מען דרשינן אבער מדות דארף מין אויס לערנן" “We can expound in regards to Torah (i.e. laws) but character traits must be taught”.
Laws are black on white and rigid. Although it is an arduous task to analyze and understand a law, once one has gained mastery over that law he can offer a halachic ruling based on that knowledge.
The development of character traits and proper conduct however, is altogether different. One must always be studying, analyzing, contemplating, and pondering how to act in any given situation. What is proper behavior in one situation may be egregiously inappropriate in another situation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to study and analyze the behaviors of our patriarchs and matriarchs so we can understand how they approached each situation. Character traits must be taught, especially by example so that they can be developed by osmosis.

One day the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l, had completed delivering his daily in-depth Talmudic shiur, when he met an old friend from Europe. After conversing for a few moments, Rabbi Shmuelevitz invited him to join him at his home for lunch. 
When they arrived at his home, Rabbi Shmuelevitz approached his wife, Rebbitzin Chana Miriam, and told her that they had a guest. She immediately set down an extra place and served both of them a bowl of soup. Rabbi Shmuelevitz finished his soup very quickly (as he was wont to do) and immediately asked his wife for another portion. He then finished his second bowl before his guest had completed his first bowl. The guest was shocked when the Rosh Yeshiva asked for a third bowl, and then a fourth bowl.
When the Rebbitzin had left the room the guest asked Rabbi Shmuelevitz to explain his behavior, which seemed unbecoming for a respected Torah leader. Rabbi Shmuelevitz replied, “You must understand that the Rebbitzin’s soup is her ‘shiur klali’[3]. When I expend time to prepare a shiur, and then after I deliver the shiur someone approaches me and asks me to repeat some of the points that I said and challenges my approach, it makes me feel accomplished and gives me a feeling of inner joy. If a second student comes to ask another question I feel even better.
“Think about the “shiur” that my wife prepared, and how much effort it took on her part. For the last few hours she was busy preparing it so that I could enjoy it when I came home. When I asked her for another portion, and then a third portion, and a fourth portion, it gave her that same feeling of accomplishment and joy.”

When the Torah records that Avrohom dispatched Eliezer, he is not mentioned by name. In fact, Eliezer’s name is not mentioned once throughout the entire narrative, but is referred to merely as, ‘the slave’
Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt’l explained that Eliezer is the symbol of ultimate servitude and subjugation to a master. Eliezer devoted every fiber of his being to the fulfillment of Avrohom’s every request, and to a great extent, Eliezer forfeited his own identity and singularity. He is therefore not identified by name because he reached such a level of devotion that his whole identity was inextricably bound with his service to Avrohom. In fact by being called the servant of Avrohom, he was indeed essentially referred to by name. 
In a Jewish court a servant cannot serve as a witness. A witness must be able to testify about what he witnessed with an unbiased perspective. A servant however, sees everything through the lens of his obedience to his master, and therefore his testimony is unacceptable. 
Eliezer symbolizes the level of devotion and servitude we must have towards G-d. Our names must be secondary to our true identity, as the loyal adherents to the commandments of G-d and His Torah.  
If the conversations of the servants of the patriarchs are replete with timeless lessons, how much more so are the actions of the patriarchs themselves. It is for that reason that the Torah does not mince words when relating the lessons of the patriarchs. Every detail mentioned must be analyzed and understood, for the lessons to be gleaned are endless. 
This idea is not only true about the patriarchs and matriarchs themselves, but about all of our righteous forbearers. A Torah leader is not merely one who has a scholarly breadth of Torah knowledge. He/she must also possess sterling character and uncanny sensitivity towards others.
At times those who were close with great Torah leaders will most nostalgically recall their glowing countenance and sensitivity, and the care and sensitivity that the scholar exuded toward everyone he encountered.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l was walking down the street in Flatbush one day when a secular looking man approached him. The man asked Rabbi Pam if he recognized him and Rabbi Pam admitted that he didn’t. The man continued, “You were my fifth grade Rebbe many decades ago. One day you caught me cheating on a test[4]. You walked over to me and whispered in my ear, “If you need help, I can help you”. Then you walked away.”
We can probably assume that this individual, who had tragically left the path of Torah, did not remember much of the Torah that Rabbi Pam had taught him. But he remembered the Rebbe’s sensitivity and patience.
In a similar vein, a secular Jew who lived on the same floor as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l in his apartment on the Lower East Side, was once asked what he remembered about Rabbi Feinstein. He replied that that whenever he would see Rabbi Feinstein walking down the street in the city and children would be playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, Rabbi Feinstein would wait until the child finished his turn before he proceeded walking. 

One can, and must, study laws in order to know how to conduct himself. But one who has the good fortunate of being close with a righteous person will learn the laws from watching the conduct of the righteous person. By watching and analyzing his every act he will see the words of the Shulchan Aruch[5] come to life. Our patriarchs and forbearers were living examples and we must follow their lead.
“And he said, ‘I am the servant of Avrohom’”
“Character traits must be taught”

[1] Rabbi Leiber was the administrator of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah for some time when I was a student at the yeshiva.
[2] Rabbi Shmuel Kamintesky is the legendary Philadelphia Rosh yeshiva and one of the most respected Torah leaders in the world today.
[3] Shiur Klali refers to an encompassing Talmudic lecture, which includes discussion involving many Talmudic opinions and intense Talmudic dialogue. Many Roshei Yeshiva, (including Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz), deliver a shiur klali on a regular basis. 
[4] To Rabbi Pam cheating or lying was an anathema.
[5] The Code of Jewish Law