Thursday, December 31, 2015


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


Rabbi Baruch Diamond, the Rosh Kollel of Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, NY, is a beloved Rebbe. Some years ago a young woman who was ‘in shidduchim’ and was close with his family asked him if he could look into a yeshiva student who was suggested to her. Rabbi Diamond decided that instead of meeting with him for a few minutes, he would invite him to his home for a Shabbos meal.
That Shabbos the young man joined the Diamond family for the Shabbos day meal. When Rabbi Diamond began singing zemiros, the yeshiva student picked up his fork and spoon and began drumming rhythmically on the table. A few minutes later Rabbi Diamond took out a bottle of schnapps and offered the yeshiva student to ‘make a l’chaim’. The yeshiva student filled up his shot glass and promptly downed the contents in one gulp. He complimented the taste of the schnapps as he filled up his cup for a second time and proceeded to down another shot in one gulp. He took a third shot, and then a fourth.
After Shabbos when the girl called his home to find out about her potential suitor, Rabbi Diamond told her to call back later. He wanted to discuss the matter with his illustrious Rebbe, Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l. When Rabbi Diamond recounted the events, Rabbi Pam wasn’t bothered by the fact that he drummed along loudly with the beat. Perhaps he had just gotten into it.  However, when he was told that the yeshiva student had drank four shots of schnapps, Rabbi Pam asked Rabbi Diamond if he served the boy each shot or if he had placed the bottle in the middle of the table. Rabbi Diamond replied that he had left the bottle for self-service. “In that case,” replied Rabbi Pam, “tell her not to date him.”
Rabbi Diamond was confident that Rabbi Pam’s decision was based on the fact that the yeshiva boy had drunk so much but he asked his Rebbe just to be sure. Rabbi Pam’s response was brilliantly insightful. “Everyone knows that schnapps is expensive. The fact that he drank four shots without asking you if you mind demonstrates that he is insensitive to your money. If someone does not consider someone else’s money, he will also not adequately consider the honor of his wife. Therefore, at the present time that yeshiva student is not ready for marriage.”[1]
The young life of the future consummate leader of Klal Yisroel was nothing short of incredible. After being rescued from the perils of the Nile by Pharaoh’s own daughter, Moshe was raised in the palace of Pharaoh himself, before being forced to escape Egypt because he had killed an Egyptian slave-master who was beating a Jew. For decades after his miraculous escape Moshe wandered, at one point even becoming a king. Eventually he ended up at the well in Midyan.
A newcomer to the town, Moshe watched as a band of shepherds began harassing a group of women – sisters, who had gathered at the well to draw water for their sheep. Moshe immediately came to the aid of the women by chasing away the shepherds.
When the sisters arrived home, their father Yisro asked them why they had come home earlier than usual. “They replied, ‘An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds, and he even drew water for us and watered the sheep.’ He said to his daughters, ‘Then where is he? Why did you leave the man? Summon him and let him eat bread![2]
Rashi explains that the word ‘bread’ is metaphoric for marriage. Yisro was telling his daughters that they should not have allowed this good-hearted individual to leave because he was worthy to marry one of them.
Onkelos however understands Yisro’s words literally. After a stranger had done them such a favor how could they not repay him? Where was their sense of appreciation? Why had they not immediately invited him to eat a bread meal with their family?
Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita[3] notes that ‘hakaras hatov’[4] was one of the hallmarks of Yisro’s character. The gemara (Sotah 11a) notes that Pharaoh had three chief advisors with whom he consulted about their burgeoning ‘Jewish problem’: Yisro, Iyov, and Bila’am. Bila’am maligned the Jews, while Yisro defended them, citing the great contributions of Joseph to the Egyptian economy. Iyov remained silent. Because Yisro had spoken in defense of the Jews he was forced to flee the country, leaving behind his wealth and prestige, to become a fugitive. The gemarah records that in the merit of Yisro’s valiant defense of the Jewish people, he merited that his descendants served as members of the Sanhedrin, the seventy-two member foremost halachic judiciary authority. 
Yisro’s unwillingness to participate in Egypt’s nefarious plot against the Jews stemmed from his steadfast hakaras hatov. He refused to ‘forget Joseph’ as the rest of Egypt had done. That character trait was the catalyst that brought Moshe to his home and eventually marry his daughter Ziporah.
Moshe agreed to marry Ziporah because he recognized not only Ziporah’s greatness and sterling character, but also of her father who taught it to her.
In seeking a partner for marriage there is nothing more important than checking into one’s character traits. There are many other petty external details that people sometimes get hooked up on. But ultimately the most important barometer for the success of a marriage lies in the personalities and character traits of the prospective spouses.
The greatest fear of each of the patriarchs was that their sons not marry a Canaanite woman, for the Canaanites were people of ignoble character. When Avrohom dispatched Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchok he specifically instructed him that if all he could find was a Canaanite woman, he was absolved of his mission, as the verse states, “Avrohom answered him, ‘beware not to return my son there.[5]” 

The Rambam[6] records a lengthy discussion about character traits. In it he discusses the importance of knowing how to act in different situations, the need for different character traits at different times, how one can improve his innate character traits, and the danger of one who does not work on improving his character traits. The Rambam titles this treatise “Hilchos De’os – the laws of knowledge/opinions”.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l explains that the fact that the Rambam labeled this section ‘Hilchos De’os’ and not the more expected “Hilchos Middos – the laws of character traits” teaches us an integral lesson: A person develops his opinions and outlook of life based on his natural character traits!
For example, a person who is naturally lazy will rationalize that taking things slowly and not becoming too excited is a positive character trait. He may convince himself that he is not actually lazy, and besides there are worse character traits than being a bit sluggish. The person may be very intelligent, but he may still fail to recognize his glaring shortcoming, because he is blinded by his negative character trait. 
This concept holds true for all character traits. Thus, before a person can contemplate the validity of his opinions and beliefs, he must first consider the source of his character. He must be brutally honest with himself in contemplating whether his character traits are as they should be or if he needs to work on improving himself. But if one is unable to see the detriment and fault of his own character, he will hardly be able to recognize the fallacy of his beliefs which are rooted in his personality and character.
The Rambam brilliantly alludes to this concept by naming his discussion about character traits “the Laws of beliefs.”
George Bernard Shaw once quipped regarding marriage: “When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most illusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”
How can one ever know if he/she should agree to commit to another person for the rest of his/her life, to share dreams and passions, and to build a family together? Undoubtedly we all pray for Divine Assistance. But the most we can do is analyze the character and personality of a potential spouse.
Moshe merited becoming our foremost leader, not only because of his integrity, virtuousness, and righteousness, but also because of his sterling character. When he stood before G-d Moshe was the humblest of men with awe etched on his face. But when he was instructed to appear before Pharaoh, gone was his humility and meekness. He stood before Pharaoh with a holy arrogance and unwaveringness towards his mission, without a trace of fear. When Moshe witnessed the servitude and oppression of his brethren he could not bear to see their suffering. His compassion towards his fellow Jews aroused within him zealousness and chutzpah to kill an Egyptian. Yet despite his love for his people, he uninhibitedly chastised a Jew who was hitting another Jew.
Moshe is not only our teacher in the sense that he transmitted and taught us Torah, but also as our example of how we can become leaders as well. Leadership is not only a matter of insight and wisdom; it is also a matter of integrity, compassion, humility, appreciation, love, and zealousness – and knowing how to utilize each trait properly.

“Beware not to return my son there”
“Then where is he? Summon him and let him eat bread!”

[1] Heard from Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein (
[2] Shemos 2:19-20
[3] Tiv HaTorah, Shemos
[4] Hakaras hatov literally means ‘recognizing the good’ but it also refers to expressing one’s appreciation for the good which they have recognized. 
[5] Bereishis 24:6
[6] In Mishnah Torah, Sefer Maddah

Thursday, December 24, 2015


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


The following excerpt is from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski’s book, It’s Not As Tough As You think, chapter 62):

“You’ve heard of the “empty nest syndrome”. Children grow up and go off to study. They marry and move to another city. The house is empty. Mothers seem to be more affected than fathers, probably because the mother is often more intimately involved with the care of the child, whereas the father is at work all day.
“At any rate, mothers may get depressed when the house empties out. There is nothing much to do in the house anymore. Most of the beds are not slept in. There is very little laundry. Cooking for two takes little time, and the couple often eat out. Why mess up the kitchen?
““Empty nest syndrome” mothers become depressed because they don’t feel useful anymore. This is where they are making a great mistake. Parents are ALWAYS useful. It is just the nature of their function that changes.
“When the child is a tiny infant, he needs constant attention: feeding, bathing, diapering, carrying, and looking after him when he is ill. As he grows older, he can dress and bathe himself. His mother still has to do the laundry, prepare his lunch, cook dinner, and clean his room. Some of this activity continues when he is off at school. His father may feel needed because he is helping out financially. But when the child marries and moves away and becomes financially self-sufficient, that’s when the parent may feel that they are no longer functional.
“How wrong, how terribly wrong! I lived six hundred miles from my parents. I was established in my practice, and my parents did not have to do anything for me. But when the baby got his first tooth or took his first steps, I called and shared these great events with them. I sent them pictures of the children, and they called to tell me that these were unquestionably the most beautiful children in the world. When the children said something cute, my parents told me that my children were the brightest in the world. They came to the bar mitzvahs and graduation. There is abundant joy in raising a family when one can share good news with parents. And of course, one can receive comfort when things do not go well.
“One of the saddest moments of my life was when I could no longer call my father or mother to share the pleasure of my children’s progress. Sure, I received many congratulatory wishes from good friends, but a parent’s good wishes are irreplaceable. I do take great pleasure in my grandchildren’s achievements, but it would be infinitely greater if I could share the joy with my parents.
“So, dad and mom, you may no longer have to diaper or pay for dental braces. But, oh, how much you are needed! Your roles may have indeed changed, but your value never changes, except, that is, it increases.”

 The Torah relates that, “Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.” After twenty-two painful years of separation, Yaakov was finally reunited with Yosef in Egypt. Yaakov begrudgingly emigrated from Canaan, transporting his entire family to Egypt.
The Medrash[1] derives from the vernacular of the verse that Yaakov truly “lived” during his final seventeen years in Egypt. They were years of “ripe old age and tranquility”. After an entire lifetimes besieged with challenges and vicissitudes, Yaakov lived out his final years enjoying the nachas and pleasure of watching his burgeoning family’s growth.
It would seem that Yaakov earned the bliss of his final years. After living and traversing the challenges of Eisav, Lavan, Dinah, and the loss of Yosef, Yaakov was surely entitled to enjoy the end of his life.
After Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav and after the abduction of Dinah and the Shechem debacle, the Medrash states that Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, whereupon G-d immediately wrought upon him the debacle of Yosef. G-d said, as it were, “Is it not sufficient for the righteous what is prepared for them in the World to Come that they seek to dwell in serenity in this world?”        
The commentators struggle to understand this statement. Yaakov surely did not seek a life of physical indulging and pampering. The tranquility he yearned for was a life free of challenge, so that he could devote himself to complete Service to G-d. What was wrong with that noble desire?
I was further bothered by the fact that at the end of his life Yaakov seems to have indeed achieved a period of blissful tranquility. Although the natural course of senescence took its toll on Yaakov, his final years were free of external challenge. For the first time in decades, Yaakov was able to devote himself solely to spiritual pursuits and the promulgation of his legacy after his passing. Why was Yaakov entitled to tranquility at this point whereas earlier he had to suffer the unbearable pain of losing Yosef?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l offers a novel interpretation of the aforementioned statement. Just prior to leaving home, Yosef, the second to youngest of Yaakov’s children was seventeen years old, practically a young adult and mature beyond his years. All of Yaakov’s sons had already achieved extreme levels of scholarliness and had developed into righteous young men. Thus Yaakov felt that his children had past the stage of life when he could educate them. He felt that from that point onward they no longer needed his constant guidance and education, and at this point he was free to reap the fruits of his labor of raising such a beautiful family. Yaakov thought that he could sit back and enjoy his family as they continued on the path he had set them upon during their formative years.
It was at that point that the debacle of Yosef began to unfold. G-d’s message to Yaakov was that it is only when the righteous depart this world that they become exonerated from their responsibility to educate their children. But as long as one is still alive he must always be a guide and educator for his children. The manner in which he gives over that education changes drastically throughout the course of life, but the idea that a parent always remains an educator never changes.
Perhaps we can utilize this idea to understand why there was no complaint against Yaakov’s years of tranquility at the end of his life in Egypt. Throughout those seventeen years Yaakov was in fact the consummate educator. The Torah relates in detail the blessings that Yaakov gave to each of his sons, and to Menashe and Ephraim as well. The aged Yaakov utilized his remaining energies to direct and guide his children.
The Torah records the end of Yaakov’s life by stating, “When Yaakov finished instructing his sons; he was expired, and gathered to his people.” The last period of Yaakov’s life may have been a time of relative calm, but Yaakov utilized the time to teach and guide his children and progeny about the future, literally until he breathed his last. It was only when he finished instructing his sons that he passed on to the world of true tranquility. 

Although as adolescents we all sure that we know more than our parents, Mark Twain quipped, “The older I got the smarter my father became.” Parents must be wise enough to know how to say things to their older children, but they must also realize that their children still need them and their guidance[2].
 In his well-known song entitled “Zaide”, Moshe Yess poignantly sang, “Who will be the Zaide of our children; who will be their Zaide if not we?”
Who will be the parents of our children if not we?!

“When Yaakov finished instructing his sons…”
“Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years”

[1] Medrash Hagadol; also see Zohar 1:216
[2] Certainly there are situations in which a parent is unable to have such a conversation with their child for various reasons. Still it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that someone close with their child has that conversation. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015


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


          In his noted “Shabbat Shalom Weekly” for parshas Terumah 5769, Rabbi Kalman Packouz[1] related the following story:
           “I once asked Reb Noah[2] for his favorite joke. He gave a little laugh and then proceeded to tell me, "There was once a man who worked the late shift. When his shift was over, he would take a shortcut home through a graveyard. One dark, moonless night he was following the path when he fell into an open grave. Unbeknownst to him, someone had dug it during the day. For an hour he tried to find a foothold or handhold to get out of the grave. Finally, he gave up, sat in the corner and decided to wait until someone came in the morning.
A short while later another man - taking the same shortcut - plops into the grave. From his seat in the corner, the first man watches as the second man searches for a foothold or handhold to get out. Figuring he'll save the guy some time - and maybe they can get out if they work together - he gets up, walks up behind the second man. He then taps him on the shoulder from behind. Zip! Zap! The second man jumps straight out of the grave!"
“After sitting there for a few moments pondering probably one of the unfunniest jokes I have ever heard, I asked Reb Noah, "Rebbe, what's so funny about that joke?"
“Reb Noah smiled his warm smile, his eyes twinkled, and he replied, "Kalman, don't you understand? We are using so little of our potential. Imagine what we could accomplish if we actually used our potential! Isn't that funny? The Almighty gives us virtually unlimited potential and we don't use it."

In parshas Miketz, the Torah records that the brothers returned to Yaakov in Canaan and related that the Viceroy of Egypt had instructed them that they could no longer seek provisions in Egypt unless their brother Binyamin accompanied them. Yaakov was beside himself and he was insistent that Binyamin not go.
Then, as time went on, their provisions began to dwindle. Reuven boldly announced that he would guarantee the safe return of Binyamin at the cost of the lives of his two oldest sons[3]. Yaakov promptly refused his offer. It was not until Yehuda pledged that if Binyamin did not return with him he would forfeit his portion in this world and the next world that Yaakov finally relented.
Why did Yaakov only agree to send Binyamin when Yehuda pledged everything away? Did Yaakov not trust him beforehand?

At the beginning of parshas Vayigash, the moment of truth arrived. The seemingly volatile Viceroy of Egypt announced that the culprit – Binyamin - in whose sack the royal chalice was found would remain a slave, while the rest of the brothers were free to leave.
The parsha opens with the words, “Then Yehuda approached him.” It is one of the most dramatic confrontations in the Torah. Yehuda approached Yosef to plead Binyamin’s case and emphatically stated that he would not leave without Binyamin at his side. “For your servant took responsibility for the youth from my father saying, ‘if I do not bring him back to you then I will have sinned to my father for all time’.” Yehuda’s arguments pushed Yosef over the edge and Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers.

 Many times we are faced with daunting and demanding situations. We struggle mightily and apply ourselves as much as we feel that we are able. But when we feel that we are no longer progressing, somewhere along the line we are forced to concede defeat so that we could invest our efforts elsewhere. When one is heavily invested in something however, he is slower to admit defeat and walk away. Even when he feels that he has exhausted his efforts and done as much as he is able, if he is truly committed, he will somehow figure out a way to try again.
Yaakov undoubtedly trusted his children and believed that they would utilize every means and invest every effort to ensure that Binyamin return home to him safely. But doing their utmost was insufficient. To Yaakov losing Binyamin was tantamount to dying himself. Thus he would not allow Binyamin to go unless he felt that someone would have that same level of commitment for Binyamin’s wellbeing as he himself would.
It was only when Yehuda put ‘everything’ on the line that Yaakov reluctantly agreed. Only then did Yaakov feel confident that Yehuda would spare no effort, in fact risk his own life, to ensure that Binyamin return home safely.
When Yosef insisted that the rest of the brothers return to Canaan in peace, the brothers might very well have reasoned that there was nothing more they could have done. They may have rationalized that the best they could do at that moment was to return to Yaakov to seek his advice before they returned and tried to formulate a plan to rescue Binyamin. But to Yehuda leaving was not an option. He had no recourse but to take up the cause immediately because to him nothing else existed besides the welfare of Binyamin. Such is the power of commitment.

On March 13, 1964, a woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York. The reason her case made headlines was because of the apathy of her neighbors. The New York Times article detailing the events was entitled, “Thirty-eight who saw murder, but didn’t call the police”.
 “For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched… three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice the chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned... Not one person telephoned the police during the assault.”
The case became symbolic of the cold and dehumanizing effect of urban life. It seemed that nobody cared enough to bother to call, and therefore all the neighbors remained indifferent even as a woman was being killed.
The truth about the case however, is somewhat more complicated and intriguing. Two New York City psychologists[4] subsequently conducted a series of studies to try to understand the “bystander problem.” They staged emergencies in different situations to see who would come forward to help. What they found was that the one factor above all else which predicted who/how many people would come forward was how many witnesses were present at the time.
For example, in one experiment a student who was alone in a room staged an epileptic fit. When there was only one person in the room next door listening, that person rushed to the student’s aid 85 percent of the time. But when the subjects thought there were four other people overhearing the seizure they came to the student’s aid only 31 percent of the time.  
In another experiment, people who saw smoke seeping out from under a doorway would report it 75 percent of the time when they were on their own, but only 38 percent of the time when they were in a group.
The conclusion was that when people are in a group, responsibility for acting becomes diffused. Everyone assumes that someone else will act, and if no one else does they assume that it must not really be a serious problem.
Thus, in the case of Kitty Genovese it wasn’t that no one called despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her screams; it’s that no one called because thirty-eight people heard her screams. Had she been attacked on a lonely street and only one person would have seen, the story may have ended differently.

There is an old quip which says that the Israeli army always fights with incredible determination and gusto because they have “General Aleph Bais”. Aleph Bais, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is an acronym for the words, “Ayn b’rayra - there is no choice!” In other words, the Israelis know against whom they are fighting, and that they are always fighting defensive wars. Surrender is simply not an option; they have no recourse but to fight until the end.
There is simply no comparison between the efforts invested by one who is committed than by one who is uncommitted. One of the shortcomings of our world is that there is a general lack of commitment to ideals and values. Any successful marriage requires a great degree of patience, tolerance, and understanding. But above all there must be a sense of commitment to ensure that those other vital characteristics can be fostered.
Our personal level of Service to G-d is also bound to our level of commitment. Those aspects of Judaism to which we are not committed often fall by the wayside as soon as the invariable obstacles surface. It is only when we are fully committed that we oblige ourselves to traverse all impediments to ensure that we maintain our obligations.

The brothers all realized the severity of what was transpiring but it was only Yehuda who stepped forward to protect Binyamin because he had committed himself to his cause.
We all have far more potential and abilities than we care to believe. But we will never realize our latent greatness unless we are ready to commit ourselves to be all that we can be. If we never step forward, the tragic joke will be on us! 

“Then Yehuda approached him”
“For your servant took responsibility for the youth”

[1] Rabbi Packouz served for 10 years as executive director of Aish HaTorah international operations, and is currently head of the Miami office of Aish HaTorah's worldwide programs.
[2] Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt’l, founder of Aish HaTorah
[3] Chasam Sofer explains that Reuven’s offer was that if he did not bring Binyamin back, not that his oldest two sons would literally die, but that they would forfeit their entitled portion in Eretz Yisroel, the “land of the living”. 
[4] Latane and Darley; quoted by Malcom Gladwell in “The Tipping Point”

Thursday, December 10, 2015


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


          The following is part of the text of the Oxford Chabad Society Joseph Graham Memorial Lecture, given by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau[1], at St Annes College, on 7 May, 2006:
“I was privileged once to meet David Ben Gurion, the architect of the State of Israel. On April 13, 1972, I received a telephone call from Ben Gurion. At the time, he was living in S’de Boker, the desert kibbutz. He was a great admirer of the Tanach, and he called to ask some questions regarding two passages in the Torah which he did not understand. He asked if we could meet to discuss these issues at S’de Boker, as rheumatism had made it difficult for Ben Gurion to walk.  I considered this a great honour indeed. When we met up, we discussed his questions for several hours, but I had one question of my own.
““David”, I asked, “For years I have been telling a story that I had heard about you during the Period of the British Mandate of Palestine. I would like to confirm if this story is true or not”.
““What is the story in question?” asked Ben Gurion.
“I proceeded to tell him what I had heard. It happened in 1937, at the time that the Peel Commission was presiding over the British mandate of Palestine, as Israel was then known, trying to decide what to do about the Arab-Jewish conflict. The Peel Committee was the only committee to suggest cancelling the British mandate, the same decision that the UN came to in 1947. At the time of the Peel Commission, Ben Gurion was the head of the Jewish Agency, and was the last witness to appear before the Peel Committee to appeal in favour of a Jewish state. Ben Gurion spent over three hours explaining the linkage between the Jews and the Land of Israel, stating, “This is our home”.
“Everybody was impressed by Ben Gurion’s testimony. Everyone, that is, except for Lord Peel. [By the way, “Peel” means “Elephant” in Hebrew.]
““Mr. Ben Gurion, may I ask you a question?” said Lord Peel.
““Of course you can; that is why I am here”, replied Ben Gurion.
““Where were you born?”
““Plonsk,” came the reply.
““Where is Plonsk?”
“A large period of silence came after the reply. Finally, Lord Peel said in the barest whisper, “Very strange indeed. All of the Arab leaders who have appeared before me were born in Palestine. Most of the Jewish leaders who have appeared before me were born in Eastern Europe.”
“Lord Peel spoke up, saying “Mr. Ben Gurion, the Arab people have a Kushan entitling them to this land.” A Kushan was an Ottoman land deed. “Do you have a document saying that Palestine belongs to you?”
“At that point, Ben Gurion became aware of the Tanach in his hand that he swore upon whilst taking the oath to be witness to the commission. He held it up triumphantly exclaiming “Here is your Kushan; here is your document! It is the world’s most highly respected book, and I believe that you British regard it with much respect too. We must have this land.”
“Back in 1973, I asked Ben Gurion in his desert home “Is this story really true? Did you hold up a Tanach and say ‘Here is your document?”
“Ben Gurion smiled and said “Emet Veyatziv”, it is true and it is certain.
“I had another question to ask Ben Gurion. I asked, “Imagine you have a document that entitles you to a land. Then you destroy it. You crumple it up, shred it, and tear it.  Try and present this document to a committee as proof of entitlement for a piece of land. The committee will not accept it in its torn and tattered condition. But look at the Jewish people. We pick and choose certain laws. We consider some laws archaic. In effect, we are destroying our own document. How can we therefore use it as entitlement to the Land of Israel?”
“David Ben Gurion was a very smart man. So smart, in fact, that he refused to answer the question!”

          מעוז צור ישועתי לך נאה לשבח" - My fortress! The Rock of my salvation, to You praise is fitting”. The opening words of the beloved hymn sung after lighting the Chanukah candles are well known. We commence by emphatically stating that G-d is our Rock, the symbol of consistency and strength, and it is only through Him that the Maacabees were able to rout the Syrian-Greek forces.
          Tragically, Chanukah has become a grossly misunderstood and politicized holiday. It has become the symbol of the weak striking back against its captors and oppressors. Chanukah has become the symbol of the triumph of the underdog who seeks to stand up for himself, despite the odds. In a sense, Chanukah has become a celebration analogous to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series[2]. It’s the loveable losers finally triumphing.
          Truthfully however, Chanukah has nothing to do with political or economic democracy. It was simply a battle for the right to serve G-d and keep His Torah. The scholarly Maacabees felt that if they were unable to keep the Torah life was not worth living. That (and that alone) was the impetus for their mission.
           In our culture fighting for religion is certainly not in vogue. Movies and media promote stories of those who give up everything, even religion, in the name of “love”[3]. Thus has the message of Chanukah been distorted and misunderstood. The holiday which symbolizes our desire for pristine untainted Torah living, and observing the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu, has virtually come to represent the opposite idea.

          Chanukah is not the only time that the idea of “Tzur Yeshuasi – The Rock of my salvation” was distorted. The term was also used in 1948 in the Israeli Declaration of Independence as a compromise between religious and secular Jews.
In Tehillim (19:14) Hashem is referred to as "צורי וגואלי – My Rock and my Redeemer."[4] The commentators explain that the "Rock" refers to G-d, who protects the Jewish people and is the center of our faith, which defines our identity and consciousness. The term indicates the trust and faith of our people in an Immutable, Unfaltering, Omnipresent G-d. However, secular Zionists have interpreted this term in a non-religious way to refer to the cultural and historical heritage that has preserved Jewish community and identity over the centuries.
The term "Rock of Israel" became a virulent subject of controversy just before the promulgation of the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. The leaders present at the ceremony who were to be signatories of the declaration believed that the declaration should express the fundamental values and principles that would define the new state, which would give the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine after 2,000 years.
The Jewish religious leaders, led by Rabbi Fishman-Maimon wanted a clear reference to G-d with the words " צור ישראל וגואלו The Rock of Israel and its Redeemer." However, a large segment of the leadership who had secular and socialist convictions sought a clear separation of ‘church and state’. Aharon Zisling, the left-wing leader of Mapam refused to sign the declaration of independence if it contained references to "a G-d in whom he did not believe." The disagreement threatened to derail the actual and ceremonial proclamation of the establishment of a Jewish state.
David Ben-Gurion, who would become the country's first Prime Minister, spent the morning of May fourteenth mediating the dispute between Rabbi Maimon and Zisling. After hours of talks, Rabbi Maimon agreed to leave out the term "Redeemer" from the text of the declaration and leave it “with faith in the Rock of Israel”. The compromise allowed each side to define that term as they saw fit and it was included without a final vote.
Later in his life Ben-Gurion is said to have explained that to him, "Rock of Israel" referred to "the Old Testament with its history and traditions", or the "Tzahal[5].
Despite Ben-Gurion's conviction that "Rock of Israel" was not necessarily a religious term, the official English translation composed by Moshe Sharet, and cited in official documents, rendered it as "Al-mighty G-d." It was not until 1962 that the Israeli government changed it to the more literal "Rock of Israel".
This tragic encounter is at the root of the distortion of the message and symbolism of Chanukah. Chanukah celebrates the eternal protection and connection that we have with the ‘Rock of Israel’. But those who define the ‘Rock of Israel’ in ulterior manners undermine the basis of our traditions and faith.

In the Chanukah prayers we state that the Syrian-Greeks wanted, להשכיחם תורתך" – To make them forget Your Torah.” How is it possible to force someone to forget something, especially something so deeply-rooted as the Torah is to the Jewish people?
At the conclusion of Parshas Vayeshev, the Torah relates the saga of Yosef in prision with Pharoah’s Chief Baker and Chief Wine-Maker. They both had disturbing dreams and could not understand their meanings. Yosef was able to explain to both of them that each dream held an integral message about their fate; the Chief-Baker would be hung while the Chief Wine-Maker would return to his post. After interpreting the dreams Yosef requested that the Chief Wine-Maker remember him and intercede on his behalf before Pharoh.
 The verse at the end of Vayeshev concludes, “And the Chief Wine-maker did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” It would be another two years before the Wine-Maker ‘remembered’ Yosef and mentioned him before Phroah, after Pharoah had two disturbing dreams that his ministers and astrologers could not interpret.  Clearly then, the Wine-maker did not totally forget about Yosef because he ultimately did mention him to Pharoah. If so, what does it mean that he forgot him?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l explained that a person remembers something when it makes an impression on him. When one is emotionally moved he does not quickly forget the impetus for that impression.
There was no question that when Yosef interpreted the dreams correctly, the Chief Wine-Maker was completely overwhelmed by Yosef, his charisma, and his ability to forsee the truth. But the Chief Wine-Maker did not want to be impressed by a Jew. Therefore, in his mind he belittled the events, rationalizing that Yosef had just ‘gotten lucky’.[6]
That is what the verse means that the Chief Wine-Maker ‘forgot Yosef’. He rationalized what happened and attributed it to natural forces, causing him to ‘forget’ how amazed he was and therefore forgetting about Yosef’s supernatural ability.
This is also the meaning of our Chanukah prayer that the Syrian-Greeks sought to compel us ‘to forget Your Torah’. The Syrian-Greeks tried to ‘chill’ our passion and utter devotion to Torah. They reasoned that Jew and Greek could live side by side and enjoy each other’s wisdom and insight. By subtly decreasing our commitment to Torah and its supremacy over every facet of our lives, the Syrian-Greeks were successful in luring the masses towards their lifestyle and culture. Without passion and devotion, our Torah observance inevitably becomes deficient. That was the starting point which led to the perilous spiritual devastation of that time.
How did the Maccabbes vanquish the enemy’s spiritual attack? In the Al Hanisim prayer we state that G-d delivered “וזדים ביד עוסקי תורתך – the malevolent ones in the hands of those who engage in Your Torah”. The Maccabean victory was bound to the fact that the revolters were those who immersed themselves in Torah study. One only engages in meticulous in-depth study of something if it is extremely valuable to him. Otherwise he would not have the patience to painstakingly decipher every dimunitive nuance.
The exile of Greece was rooted in the dousing of passion, which caused us to ‘forget’ the cebtrality of Torah in our lives. The victory came about because of those who renewed their passion and were ready to die for their cause. 
The holiday of Chanukah celebrates our belief in the Rock of Israel. We await the day when all of our bretheren will realize that the Rock of Israel refers to G-d, and He Alone.

“My fortress! The Rock of my salvation”
“In the hands of those who engage in Your Torah”

[1] former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the youngest survivor of Buchenwald [the famous picture displayed at Yad Vashem of a young child with his hands up is of Rabbi Lau as a seven year old child]
[2] Which may require a greater miracle than that of Chanukah...
[3] My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that the first nationally distributed feature film that included dialogue sequences as well as music and sound effects talking movie produced was ‘The Jazz Singer’ starring Al Jolson (1927). The protagonist of the movie, who is a cantor, falls for an Italian gentile girl. At first he is banned from the Temple. But the story ends with the protagonist leading the Kol Nidrei services with his mother and gentile wife looking on approvingly. That message of Jewish-dominated Hollywood has not changed in the decades since.
[4] The phrase beginning "Tzur Yisrael - Rock of Israel" is recited immediately prior to the commencement of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer.

[5] The Israeli army
[6] Truthfully, this is something many people do on a constant basis. We become impressed or emotionally moved by an unusual event, but after a few days we ‘get used to it’ and it loses its wonder and novelty, and we go on with life, leaving behind a message.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


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


In 1944, as the Nazi’s realized that their defeat was imminent, they escalated their barbaric efforts to eradicate as many Jews as they could. It was during that time that Hungarian Jewry was systematically transported to the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp for destruction.
One of those Hungarian prisoners was a sixty-year-old scholar named Rabbi Shraga Shmuel Schnitzler zt’l[1]. Reb Shmelke, as he was affectionately called, was an extremely pious man with a fiery and zealous love for G-d. He was exceptionally friendly and offered encouragement to everyone in the camps, especially the dispirited souls, inspiring them not to lose faith.
Even in the Nazi inferno, Reb Shmelke retained his faith and dignity. On Shabbos he would sit with the other inmates and create some semblance of Shabbos by regaling them with words of Torah and recounting stories of the Baal Shem Tov, as well as of his great-grandfather, Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg zt’l. For those few moments each week, the physically and spiritually starved inmates would be uplifted from their despondency.
His amiable ways garnered Reb Shmelke ‘special privileges’ from the ruthless Nazi commanders. Reb Shmelke used this rare privilege to ensure the proper burial of his fallen comrades. He also kept a record of the names of the deceased by scribbling them on small scraps of paper, using the charred tips of discarded matches that he collected for this purpose. In so doing he hoped to avert disastrous consequences to war widows who would be spared the agony of having to endure an agunah status[2].
With the advent of Chanukah, Reb Shmelke was determined to light a Menorah. However, he could not imagine how he would be able to gather the necessary materials.
The dilemma weighed heavily on him, even as he was in the process of burying a recently deceased inmate during the day before Chanukah. Reb Shmelke found himself short a couple of stones to complete the partitioning of the gravesite and scoured his immediate surroundings, to no avail. But from a distance a pile of rocks caught his eye. As he removed some of them, he was shocked to uncover a small bottle of oil. Shoving aside some more of the stones, he discovered cups - and soon he unearthed a pack of wicks.
A stunned Reb Shmelke could hardly believe his eyes. He recited a silent prayer of gratitude and quickly hid his newfound treasure. Later that evening, after the guards had left, a crowd of inmates stealthily gathered around as Reb Shmelke fervently and lovingly recited the blessings and lit the candles. Needless to say that moment infused the battered inmates with tremendous encouragement.
When the war ended, Reb Shmelke returned to Hungary where he would become widely known as the Tchaber Rav. He eventually immigrated to Israel and moved to Jerusalem.
Upon a subsequent visit to America, the Tchaber Rav looked up an old acquaintance, the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l. At some point during their emotional reunion, the Satmar Rebbe remarked, "You know that I too was in Bergen-Belsen but was rescued on the twenty-first of Kislev, four days before Chanukah[3]. Obviously I was unaware that I was to be saved and during my final weeks in the camp I expended tremendous effort, including bribing, to gather together oil, cups, and wicks to use for the mitzvah of Menorah. When I was saved I buried my Menorah materials in the ground. But I always felt badly that those materials were never used.
Words failed the Tchaber Rav as tears flooded his eyes. After a few moments he softly replied, “I assure you Rebbe, those materials were put to very good use.”

          The ‘Al Hanisim’ prayer inserted into our prayers on Chanukah (and Purim) is our declaration of gratitude to G-d for all the miracles our ancestors were privy to at the time of their salvation. The introductory stanza is the same for Chanukah and Purim: “For the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles, which You performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time.”
          In addition, the universally recited text after kindling the Chanukah candles begins, “These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations, and the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days at this season through Your holy priests…”
          The commentators question why we thank G-d for the battles. Why should we express our gratitude for the source of our grief and distress? Furthermore, why are the battles the final point that we mention; didn’t the battles occur before the miracles[4]?
          The Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kaheneman zt’l offered a novel and poignant explanation. The Hasmonean battles were all wars between the forces of holiness and impurity. The Hasmoneans went to battle the forces which sought to inhibit their Service to G-d and their ability to study Torah. They were unwilling to surrender their souls to an implacable foe who promised them untold glory and wealth if they would succumb to their indulging physical lifestyles.
The Hasmoneans obviously possessed indomitable will and an inextinguishable love for G-d and His Torah, and it was that passion that drove them to a war in which they merited many uncanny miracles. In other words, it was their obdurate determination and refusal to surrender that was at the foundation of the formation of the holiday of Chanukah.
          Many centuries have passed since the Chanukah miracles occurred. The ancient Greeks are nothing more than an ancient dynasty relegated to the annals of history. But their nefarious legacy vis-à-vis the Jewish people lives on. We are still battered and plagued by external forces and a glitzy ostentatious culture which stands antithetical to Torah values. We are still challenged by the luring temptations of lifestyles which possess an exciting and inviting veneer. But the fact that we have not yet succumbed is the greatest testament to our strength and will. We may lose many a battle but we have not yet raised the white flag of surrender. Our ability to sustain the perpetual battle is the legacy which we have inherited from the Hasmoneans.
          It is in that sense that we thank G-d “for the battles”, because we continue to fight those battles until this very day. We thank G-d for granting the Hasmoneans the ability to fight those wars, in spite of the odds, and never lose hope and courage, and simultaneously we thank G-d for giving us the fortitude and inner conviction to stay the course and not capitulate despite having been tripped up so many times.
          There was perhaps no greater symbol of this idea than Yosef hatzaddik. Yosef was a seventeen year old handsome adolescent, abandoned by his family and sold into slavery, who ended up in the home of a woman who badgered him constantly to perform a sin with her. In fact, she was inhumanely relentless.
Truth be told, Yosef could have performed the sin and no one would have been any the wiser. But Yosef refused to succumb. As a reward for his incredible restraint he landed in an Egyptian prison, with the crassest criminals of Egypt. Yet even there Yosef did not surrender to his grief. He won the favor of the prison wardens and earned himself some level of distinction until he was finally hauled from prison, en route to becoming the viceroy of Egypt
The Torah’s narrative of the saga of Yosef is always read prior to, and during Chanukah. One of the many correlations between the two events is the uncanny devotion to G-d and the ability to never lose sight of the cause. Yosef eventually prevailed and his dreams came to fruition because he never gave up. The Hasmoneans too, adapted that same mantra. Like Yosef they were plunged into incredible darkness and bleakness, but they battled through the darkness and their efforts bore fruit.
With this in mind we can offer a novel interpretation of a passage we recite towards the conclusion of Al Hanisim: “ולעמך ישראל עשית תשועה גדולה ופורקן כהיום הזה - And to Your nation Yisroel, You made a great salvation and redemption as this day.” What do we mean “as this day”?
The Master Ethicists explain that throughout life a person is engaged in an internal battle that rages within. It is the epic struggle between following one’s base desires or exercising his moral conscience to overcome his whims and inclinations. The most important component of that struggle is the courage, patience, and conviction to stay the course and not give up… on oneself
The verse in Proverbs (24:16) states, “The righteous falls seven times, and he gets up.” The commentators note that the difference between the righteous and the wicked is not in how often they fall, but in how quickly and resiliently they get up. We must believe in ourselves and not allow ourselves to fall into the morass of despair which our Evil Inclination lures us into so adeptly.
The key to our success lies in our courage to never surrender. The Hasmoneans eventually triumphed because they had the courage to fight on, even when things seemed hopeless. The Chanukah candles symbolize that sense of will and courage and their light reflects that sense of mission and ambition.
Thus we pray that the salvation and redemption that G-d wrought in those days should be “like this day”; that in our time too we too should merit salvation that results from perseverance and resolve. We pray that G-d help us find the inner conviction to never give up on ourselves, so that we can follow in the footsteps of Yosef and the holy Priests who were the catalysts of the Chanukah miracles.         

The holiday of Chanukah personifies the prophet’s beautiful words:
כי אשב בחושך ה' אור לי אל תשמחי איבתי לי כי נפלתי קמתי - Let my enemies not rejoice over me, for when I fall I will arise. When I sit in darkness, G-d is my light[5]” As long as we never allow ourselves to surrender on the epic battle of life, we will find the eternal light of G-d, reflected in the ethereal glow of the Chanukah candles.

“And for the battles”
“A great salvation and redemption as this day”    

[1] The Nikolsberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Lebovits shlita, is a grandson of R’ Shmelke. The Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Baruch Yehuda Lebovits zt’l, was R’ Shmelke’s son-in-law.
[2] R’ Shmelke's selfless acts indeed proved invaluable after the war, when many widows were enabled to substantiate claim of their husbands' demise to the Jewish courts.
[3] The Satmar Rebbe was saved as part of the famous “Kastner deal”. The Kastner train was a trainload of almost 1,700 Jews who, in the second half of 1944, escaped from Nazi-controlled Hungary to safety in Switzerland, while some 450,000 members of the Hungarian Jewish community were deported to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
The train was named after Rudolf Kastner, one of the leaders of the Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, who negotiated with senior SS officer Adolf Eichmann to allow a number of Jews to escape in exchange for money, gold, and diamonds. The train included passengers from all social classes and from all over Hungary. Despite Eichmann's promise that the train would go directly to a neutral country, the Jews were held in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in a special section for some months There were 40 rabbis, including the Satmar rebbe.
[4] Even if we are referring to the miracles that transpired during the battles we should not mention the battles last on our list?
[5] Michah 7:6-7