Thursday, January 28, 2016


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


Martin comes to Dr. Saul, the veterinarian, with his dog. “Doctor, you gotta help my dog; he’s got a real problem.” The doctor looks at the aging canine and asks, “What’s the problem?” Martin replies, “Well doc, he’s a Jewish dog. His name is Irving and he can talk.” The doctor looks quizzically at Martin, “He can what?” “Just watch this”, says Martin. He calls out to the dog, “Irving, fetch!”
Irving gets up, wags his tail, and walks aimlessly around the room. He walks towards the door, then turns toward Martin grunts and says, “Why are you always bossing me around like this? It’s embarrassing the way you order me about like I am your slave. Do you ever consider my arthritis or stop to think how I’m feeling? No, it’s always about you and your silly ideas, trying to show me off to all your friends. Then you put me on that terrible diet. You claim it’s for my health, but that dog food stuff is so bad it’s going to kill me. You take me out for a walk only once every three days, and even then it’s only for a few minutes. I should roll over and play dead and see if you would even care.”
Dr. Saul’s mouth is agape, “That is absolutely incredible. What’s the problem?”
Martin sighs, “He has a hearing problem. I said ‘fetch’ not ‘kvetch’!” 

Prior to its description of the giving of the Torah at Sinai the Torah introduces us to Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe.
Rashi[1], quoting the Mechilta, notes that Yisro had seven names. Rashi proceeds to list and explain the reason for four of those names. He explains that Yisro was called ‘Yesser[2]’ because a portion was added to the Torah based on Yisro’s suggestion to Moshe. When Yisro saw the masses lining up before Moshe to present their halachic inquiries, he feared that the people would become weary and frustrated with the lengthy wait. To remedy the problem, Yisro suggested to Moshe that he establish a hierarchy of judges and a judicial system to address the various inquiries that they would have.
Rashi explains that an extra portion was added to the Torah by referencing the verse which begins, “ואתה תחזה – And you shall discern”[3]. It is perplexing that Rashi quotes this verse, because Yisro’s conversation with Moshe actually began five verses earlier when Yisro pointed out to Moshe that his current system was faulty and wanting. “The father-in-law of Moshe said to him, “The thing that you do is not good…”
Why does Rashi quote the later verse to demonstrate the fact that in Yisro’s merit a portion was added to the Torah?
The Imrei Emes[4] was invited to attend a rabbinical conference in Warsaw to discuss some of the major issues confronting the Torah world at that time. There was one individual at the meeting who presented many issues in an acerbic and accusatory tone. Then, whenever a potential idea or proposal was raised he shot it down dismissively.
After some time the Imrei Emes turned to the man and presented him with the aforementioned question regarding Rashi’s explanation about Yisro’s name “Yesser”. The man admitted that he had no answer to the question. The Rebbe replied that it is no big deal to discuss issues and problems. Anybody can be cynical and skeptical of virtually any concept or idea. But it is far more difficult and challenging to be able to find solutions and ideas to solve those problems.
The first five verses of Yisro’s conversation with Moshe record Yisro’s presentation of the problem. Yisro is not remembered for those five verses. Anyone could have complained to Moshe about the way he was doing things. But Yisro had a wise plan, an idea that Moshe could feasibly carry out that would eliminate the problem. It is for that constructive idea – which begins with the later verse, “ואתה תחזה – And you shall discern” that Yisro merited the addition of a portion in the Torah.

Rabbi Moshe Sherer zt’l[5] was a tremendously ambitious person with little patience for a naysayer or undue negativity that would not generate results. He would tell everyone in attendance at his meetings that they were welcome to present issues and express their opinions, but only if they had a solution and were ready to work to accomplish their ideas. 
He would quote the words we recite in the daily prayers in which we describe the conduct of the angels when they sing their celestial song before G-d. We initially describe them as those who, “do the will of their Maker with dread and reverence.” We then continue and state, “And they all open their mouths in holiness and purity.” First one must resolve to do, only then can he open his mouth.
Rabbi Sherer would also quote this idea about Yisro. He would note that Yisro is commended only for his constructive suggestions, not for his preceding criticism. This teaches us that criticism is cheap and easy; if it’s not accompanied by concrete and logical ideas it isn’t worth anything.[6] 

The Chofetz Chaim discusses the main ‘catalysts’ which cause a person to speak negatively and malign others[7]. One of those negative traits is “narganus – pervasive negativity”. There are people who are wont to find fault at every opportunity and criticize every petty detail in which they can find fault. Such people never give anyone the benefit of the doubt and assume that every oversight is deliberate and malicious. One who views everything in such a light will constantly speak negatively about others, because he views everything that occurs as a personal attack.
The greatest tragedy about a negativist is that in many instances he needs to grumble and complain in order to maintain his own sanity. A person who lacks self-esteem feels threatened by every accomplishment and positive achievement of others. To protect his own fragile identity he needs to minimize and speak disparagingly about what others have accomplished[8].
When Moshe recounts the egregious sin of the spies he uses the words, “ותרגנו באהליכם And you stirred one another up in your tents and said, ‘Because G-d hates us He has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt to give us into the hand of the Amorites to exterminate us.”
It seems unfathomable that the generation who had witnessed such incredible miracles, stood at Sinai, learned Torah from Moshe, and lived supernaturally in the desert on a daily basis could even express such a sentiment.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the word ותרגנו refers to an agitator who, under the guise of self justification, stirs up feelings of dissatisfaction and disloyalty in others. This idea is expressed in the verse in Mishley which states, “The words of an agitator sound as if they were taking up their own quarrel, but sink into the innermost feelings of others.”
The pessimist does not only hurt himself, his negative attitude is potentially menacing to all those around him. He can have a very deleterious effect on everyone in his inner circle and cause others to also feel dissatisfied.   
How can one tell if he is being needlessly negative or if he is truly being constructive? By ascertaining if he has ideas for improvement and ways to rectify the issues he presents. If one truly has the benefit of another in mind, he will only complain and point to flaws that he feels can be solved eliminated. Otherwise he will keep quiet and just compliment whatever has been accomplished.
One of the many lessons that emerges from Yisro is that a complete Jew always maintains a positive attitude about himself, and ultimately about others as well. But one who finds flaw in everything will, G-d forbid, find flaw in Torah and his spiritual obligations as well. This is a timeless idea which one must understand before he begins to study Torah: It’s all a matter of attitude!

“You stirred one another up in your tents”
“You shall discern”

[1] 18:1
[2] Yesser literally means ‘to add’
[3] 18:21
[4] Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Alter zt’l , the third Gerrer Rebbe
[5] the legendary leader of Afudas Yisroel and one of the premiere spokesmen for Torah Jewry
[6] Rabbi Sherer, Mesorah Publications, p. 246
[7] The Chofetz Chaim explains that the words "כל גיהנם" (All Purgatory) is an acronym for the root causes og gossiping: Ka’as (anger), leitzonus (scoffing), ga’avah (arrogance), yiush (despair), hefker (feeling lawless), narganus (negativity), and omer mutar (saying it is permissible)
[8] Unfortunately we all know people like this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


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


During the 1990s a Jewish advertising executive in New York had an epiphany[1]. If he could get funding to advertise the time for lighting Shabbos candles each Friday in the New York Times - considered the world's most prestigious newspaper – it would raise a great deal of Jewish awareness and pride.
            He contacted a Jewish philanthropist and sold him on the idea. It cost almost two thousand dollars a week, but he did it. And for the next five years, each Friday, Jews around the world would see 'Jewish Women: Shabbat candle lighting time this Friday is -. Eventually the philanthropist had to cut back on a number of his projects, and in June 1999, the little Shabbat notice and stopped appearing in the Friday Times. From that week on it never appeared again, except once.
On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And then they had a third front page projecting future events of January 1, 2100. This fictional page included things like a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba, as well as a discussion whether robots should be allowed to vote.
In addition to the fascinating articles, on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody paid for it. It was added by the Times.
The production manager of the New York Times - an Irish Catholic - was asked about it. He replied, "We don't know what will happen in the year 2100, as it is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing we can be certain. In the year 2100 Jewish women will still be lighting Shabbos candles!”

The Shabbos when parshas Beshalach is read has the unusual distinction of being titled with a special name based on the Torah reading, “Shabbos Shirah – the Shabbos of song”. Aside from the fact that no other Shabbos receives a unique title based on the Torah reading[2], every Shabbos is a day of song as we sing in the liturgy of Friday night, “בשבת יושבת בזמר ושבחה, שבת מנוחה - We spend the Shabbos in song and praise – Shabbos of contentment.” Why is this Shabbos granted a special name and what is the significance of the name?
As G-d created the world, throughout the initial six days of creation the world seemed to be an end unto itself. It was a magnificent creation, with endless depth and brilliance in every facet and nuance, and it seemed complete and perfect. However, on the seventh day when G-d desisted from creating further, and ‘rested’ as it were, G-d demonstrated that the entire world was only a means to a greater end. As soon as Shabbos began there was a drastic shift of perspective and it became abundantly clear that what had seemed to be the focal point was only secondary and tangential. With the arrival of the Shabbos, it became clear that the entire cosmos and everything contained in it was only created as a means for one to achieve eternal rest through the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos, symbolized by the holy Shabbos.
The greatness of Shabbos can only be appreciated by one who contains intellect and has the ability to prioritize. It is a realization that can only be understood by one with wisdom and an appreciation of values.[3]  
During the time of the exodus of Klal Yisroel from Egypt, there was a ‘furtherance’ and second level of the “shift of perspective” that had occurred at the time of the genesis. Though G-d ‘rested’ on the seventh day, symbolizing the radical shift of perspective, the entire world was not privy to understanding that transformation. It was only those who were destined to be the Chosen People who would be able to comprehend the depth of the symbolism of Shabbos. 
Throughout their bitter enslavement in the Egyptian exile, it seemed that the mighty and dominant Egyptians were the Chosen People, while the pitiful lowly Jews were nothing but a band of contemptible slaves. However, with the miracles of the plagues and the exodus, culminating with the Splitting of the Sea, the world realized that their earlier conclusions were deeply flawed. It was Klal Yisroel who was destined to become the Chosen Nation, while the Egyptians were only nebulous pawns in the saga of the Jews’ ascent to greatness.
When the exodus occurred, the transformation that had occurred that first Shabbos of creation repeated itself, as the lowly and tangential became the focal point! The shift of perspective symbolized by the original Shabbos could only be realized and appreciated by Klal Yisroel, who themselves had experienced the same shift of perspective in the eyes of the nations of the world.
With this idea in mind, the vernacular of the Kiddush recited on Friday Night takes on new meaning: “Blessed are You… and with love and favor gave us His holy Shabbos as a heritage, a remembrance of creation. For that day is the prologue to the holy convocations, a memorial from the exodus from Egypt. For us did You choose and us did you sanctify from all the nations.” 
Prima facie, the connection between Shabbos and the exodus seems perplexing. However, as we have explained, our connection with Shabbos and the exodus are inextricably bound, for it was at the moment of the exodus that it became apparent that we were the Chosen Nation who were responsible to safeguard the Shabbos and what it symbolizes. The fact that, “For us did You choose and us did you sanctify from all the nations” demonstrated that the “remembrance of creation” was OUR heritage - and ours alone!

With this in mind, perhaps we can understand why this Shabbos is titled “Shabbos shirah”. The concept of shirah[4]  has little expression in this world. One can only truly sing shirah when he is able to appreciate ‘the bigger picture’ and how every detail that transpired makes sense. In this world, it is extremely rare that we are granted such an opportunity. Therefore, the concept of shirah is primarily reserved for the future when the purpose and direction of all events will be universally realized.
 However, such a moment did occur when Klal Yisroel merited the incredible miracles at the Splitting of the Sea. When the young nation saw their former captors dead on the shores of the sea, they were able to realize how the entire process of exile and redemption - all of the vicissitudes, suffering, and pain, together with the triumph, vengeance, and miracles - were all part of a Master Plan that ultimately was orchestrated for their benefit. At that moment of ultimate clarity, “when a maid witnessed greater prophecy than Yecheskel ben Buzi[5]”, the nation was able to unite and sing shirah in complete elation. 
Every Shabbos is a microcosm and foreshadowing of the future utopian world. When Shabbos begins we cease to involve ourselves in the matters that consume our lives throughout the six days of the week. In so doing we devote ourselves to a higher purpose. On Shabbos we enjoy a twenty-five hour sublime experience when we are intellectually and emotionally transported to a different world.
Shabbos grants us the opportunity to step back and see life from a metaphysical vantage point which transcends the mundane of life. In that sense Shabbos is inherently a day of Shirah, for Shabbos is a day when we see life from a perception of perfection and completion. “A psalm, a song for the Shabbos day: It is good to thank G-d and to sing praise to Your Name, O Exalted One.”
Parshas Beshalach contains, not only the Song of the Sea, but also the commandment and observance of the first Shabbos observed by the new nation after the exodus.
That first Shabbos observed by Klal Yisroel marked the continuation of the transformation that had occurred 2,448 years prior when G-d ‘rested’ that first Shabbos. Shabbos is a day of song for it is a window into a future world of perfection. And Klal Yisroel – the nation which observes Shabbos – maintained, and maintains the vision of that utopia throughout the millennia.

The holiday of Chamisha Asar (Tu) B’Shvat celebrates the rebirth and revival of the earth after the lengthy desolate winter. In Eretz Yisroel, the majority of the winter rains have already fallen, and the sap now begins its ascent up the tree in anticipation of spring[6].
The irony is that winter is still very much a reality. The buds have not yet opened, the winter rains have not completely ceased to fall, and the sounds of spring are still a few weeks away. Yet we celebrate the advent of spring because we understand that beneath the surface the ‘groundwork’ for spring is being laid.
It is not a coincidence that the holiday of Tu B’Shvat always coincides with the week of Shabbos Shirah[7]. If every Shabbos is a day of celebration when we feel ‘a taste of the future’, Shabbos Shirah celebrates the commencement of our involvement in that process.
The holiday of Tu B’Shvat symbolizes this idea as well. It is a day which celebrates future glory by enjoying a ‘taste’ of that beauty even before its time has arrived, because the foundations are being laid.   
When Shabbos Shirah literally coincides with Tu B’Shvat it is a day of complete and perfect song, a day which foreshadows a world which will achieve ultimate perfection and eternal rebirth. It is a day which contains a window into a time when all will realize that Torah and mitzvos, which may seem secondary and tangential in this world, are in reality the priority and focal point. As for everything else that money (and Mastercard) can buy, it is all transient and fleeting. 
“Then Moshe and the Children of Israel will sing”
“A psalm, a song for the Shabbos day”

[1] A friend of mine emailed me this beautiful story. I have been trying to verify its authenticity, but so far have been unable to do so. Still in the hope that it is true, and because its message is definitely true, I am including it.
[2] With the exception of “Shabbos Bereishis” all other Shabbosos that have a unique name, derive their titles from the haftorah (reading from the Prophets) or an added Torah reading.
[3] See Pachad Yitzchak, Shabbos 1- quoted in Stam Torah, parshas Ki Sisa 5768
[4] an extreme level of ‘song’ expressed with soulful, uninhibited and unbridled joy, and a feeling of connection with G-d
[5] Wording of the Medrash; Yechezkel, one of the great prophets, and merited a vision of the Chariot of G-d, as it were.
[6] R’ Tzadok explains that even those Jews living in the Diaspora celebrate Tu B’Shvat, because the blessings of the entire world commence and are rooted in the blessings of Eretz Yisroel.
[7] Tu B’Shvat always falls out the week before or after Shabbos Shirah.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


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


            During the Communist regime in Russia, Rav Yaakov Galinsky zt’l, the beloved maggid from B’nei B’rak, was imprisoned in Siberia. Every morning he and the others in his unit would be marched off to backbreaking slave labor. When they returned at nightfall, they would collapse from sheer exhaustion. Days and nights merged and there was no relief from their dismal existence. Among the prisoners in their unit was a distinguished-looking gentile gentleman, who somehow managed to retain his dignity, even in that purgatory.  
           One night, while everyone was sleeping, Rabbi Galinskly was awakened by the sound of faint movement. He saw this prisoner arise, and from under the mattress, remove a packet with what appeared to be medals. He then took out a mirror, studied himself, whispered a few words, saluted, removed the medals and returned them to the package, and went back to sleep. 
            Rabbi Galinsky waited to see if the bizarre ritual would be repeated the following night. When it indeed did, Rabbi Galinsky decided to ask the man for an explanation. The man turned ashen; he was terribly agitated at having been detected.  
            But Rabbi Galisnky reassured him that his intention was never to betray him. Rather, it was only to understand what he was doing.
             “The man confided that, prior to his arrest, he had been a general in the Polish army. He explained that in the dehumanization of Siberia, it's easy to lose sight of who one really is. “So I made myself a promise. Every night, I would put on my medals, look in the mirror, and remind myself who I really am."
             When Rabbi Galinsky heard the man’s explanation he began to cry. “Surely, this is a message to me. If this man goes to such lengths to remember that he was a general in the Polish army, what must I do to remind myself that I stood at Sinai, that I heard the voice of G-d, and that I belong to the nation that sealed His covenant, that I am part of Mamleches Kohanim, a priestly kingdom; Goy Kadosh, a holy nation."

As Klal Yisroel began to prepare for their imminent exodus from Egypt, G-d instructed Moshe to relate to the people a most unique command: "Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels.[2]" When the Jews fulfilled this commandment they became extremely wealthy, and they left Egypt with most of the country’s wealth.
The command was a fulfillment of G-d’s promise to Avraham "Afterwards[3] they will leave with great wealth[4]". In fact, the Talmud makes the point that G-d had to "request" of Moshe that he "please speak in the ears of the people" so that it not be said that the years of slavery were endured but the promise of great wealth was not fulfilled.
If one ponders what transpired it is simply mind-boggling. The Jews had been incarcerated in a relentlessly oppressive and unbearable servitude for generations. For over two centuries they had been born and died with a slave mentality, knowing nothing other than servility and degradation. We can well imagine that they possessed a deeply ingrained fear of their former oppressors. Now they were instructed to knock on their former master's doors and emphatically declare that they wanted them to give over all of their most prized possessions.
Why did they have to receive the wealth of Egypt in this manner? Why did G-d instruct us to receive everything by "borrowing" it and not returning it?
The exodus was far more than a means to physical liberation. The burgeoning nation understood that they were destined for the ultimate greatness, which they achieved a mere seven weeks after the exodus when they stood at Sinai and received the Torah.
The Torah could not be given to a group of ‘liberated slaves’. Those who would accept the Torah and represent all future generations had to have a strong sense of pride and uncompromised dignity. They had to be people of august stature and regal bearing who had the ability to appreciate their inherent greatness, as well as the profundity of what they were receiving.
An ex-con who was incarcerated for decades, doesn’t walk out of jail and become president of the country two months later. But essentially Klal Yisroel had to do just that!
If the Jews had merely received compensation in a miraculous manner after centuries of oppression and bitter enslavement, it would not have given them back the self-esteem that was depleted during the years of brutal slavery. It did not suffice to merely leave Egypt with their money; they had to leave with their pride as well. For that it was necessary for them to overcome their intense fear and knock on the doors of their former masters and to demand all of their wealth. It was for that reason that G-d commanded them to request the wealth as a loan. They had to ask for it with the same confidence as one who asks his trusted friend for a loan.
The very process of the plagues helped undermine and destroy the fear that the former slaves had of their former captors. G-d could have easily brought one massive plague to destroy Egypt in one fell swoop, compelling Pharaoh to drive the Jews out immediately[5]. But G-d purposely did not do so. Throughout the period of the plagues the Jews saw their former tormentors in the most compromising, humiliating, and debased positions and situations, which had a strong effect in mitigating their sense of awe for them. The act of borrowing their money was yet another step in that progression.   
Before the final plague struck Egypt, Moshe instructed the nation about the final procedures and commandments to be fulfilled in Egypt. This included all men circumcising themselves, as well as the preparation and offering of the Paschal Lamb.
The lamb was one of the gods of Egypt. The Jews had to select their lamb four days prior to slaughtering it, and then tie it to their bed posts. When the Egyptians heard the lambs inside the Jewish homes they asked about the peculiar scene. The Jews informed them of their intention to slaughter their god. Such a deed was tantamount to a concentration camp inmate burning an effigy of Hitler in full view of his comrades[6]. It was the ultimate act of treason.
When the Jews finally did slaughter the lambs they were commanded to gather the blood and to ritually smear it along their doorposts. In doing so, the Jews demonstrated their pride that “this is a Jewish home”. What had for years been a sign of degradation and debasement, had now become a symbol of glory. The Jews were only too proud to promulgate the fact that they were members of the Jewish nation. This was the ultimate symbol of the incredible and uncanny transformation that had occurred within the Jewish psyche.
By the time they traversed the physical confines of Egypt at the behest of Pharaoh, Klal Yisroel had already been transformed into a spiritual and psychological nation of free men, who were now ready to commence their ascent to ultimate greatness.   
Parshas Bo has many timeless lessons (as does every verse in the Torah), but if we were to search for one lesson that Parshas Bo teaches us, it is the lesson of Jewish pride. Before the nation could leave Egypt they had to have a strong sense of identity and mission. 
Parshas Bo concludes with the commandment of tefillin. “And it shall be for a sign on your arm, and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand G-d removed us from Egypt.” One of the meanings contained in the idea that G-d delivered us with “a Strong Hand” is that He caused the exodus to unfold in a manner which ensured the rebuilding of our dignity. The tefillin which every adult male wears every weekday morning is a testimony to our pride in being members of the Chosen Nation. It is insufficient to be a Jew in action; one must be a Jew intellectually and emotionally as well, utilizing his mind and heart. That is the symbolism of the tefillin.     
The holiday of Pesach, as well as our constant mentioning of the exodus, serves as a reminder, not merely of our physical salvation, but of the spiritual/emotional/psychological salvation as well.
At the Pesach Seder we declare that had G-d not redeemed us from Egypt, “we, our sons, and our son’s sons would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” The commentators question the veracity of that statement. Wasn’t it possible that a future benevolent ruler would have freed us from servitude? The answer is that while it is true that we may have been physically freed, but if G-d had not redeemed us utilizing the process He used, on a spiritual level we would still be enslaved. We would not have been able to overcome the slave mentality and we surely could never have been ready to accept the Torah.
At the conclusion of our recitation of Maggid at the Seder we state, “Therefore, it is our duty to thank, praise, pay tribute, glorify, extol, exalt, bless and acclaim the One who performed all these miracles for our fathers and us.” It is not only our forefathers who benefited from the exodus. The pride that we feel as Jews who uphold the banner of Torah and mitzvos is directly attributable to the miraculous and schematic unfolding of the exodus. 

“Let each man request silver vessels and gold vessels”
“A sign on your arm, and an ornament between your eyes”

[1] Based on the pre-mussaf speech I was privileged to deliver at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bo 5769
[2] Shemos 11:2
[3] i.e. – after the fulfillment of their allotted enslavement
[4] Bereishis 15:14
[5]Had G-d wanted He could have caused an even stronger earthquake to decimate Egypt in seconds.
The Vilna Gaon writes that the intent of the first nine plagues was never to get the Jews out of Egypt but rather to teach the Jews specific lessons of faith, as well as to serve as retribution against Egypt. It was only the final plague that was brought to cause the exodus, which in fact transpired the next morning.
[6] In America, perhaps it is tantamount to burning money - the American god. As the saying goes, “In G-d we trust; all others pay cash.” 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


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


The following excerpt is from an article entitled, “For Everything a Blessing”, by Dr. Kenneth Prager. It was printed in the Journal of American Medical Association[1]:

“Over the years, reciting the asher yatzar has become for me and opportunity to offer thanks not just for the proper functioning of my excretory organs, but for my overall good health. The text, after all, refers to catastrophic consequences of the rupture or obstruction of any bodily structure, not only those of the urinary or gastrointestinal tract. Could Abayei[2], for example, have foreseen that "blockage" of the "cavity," or lumen of the coronary artery would lead to the commonest cause of death in industrialized countries some 16 centuries later?
“I have often wondered if other people also yearn for some way to express gratitude for their good health. Physicians especially, who are exposed daily to the ravages that illness can wreak, must sometimes feel the need to express thanks for being well and thus well-being. Perhaps a generic, nondenominational asher yatzar could be composed for those who want to verbalize their gratitude for being blessed with good health.
“There was one unforgettable patient whose story reinforced the truth and beauty of the asher yatzar for me forever. Josh was a 20-year-old student who sustained an unstable fracture of his third and fourth cervical vertebrae in a motor vehicle crash. He nearly died from his injury and required emergency intubation and ventilatory support. He was initially totally quadriplegic but for weak flexion of his right biceps.
“A long and difficult period of stabilization and rehabilitation followed. There were promising signs of neurological recovery over the first few months that came suddenly and unexpectedly: movement of a finger here, flexion of a toe there, return of sensation here, adduction of a muscle group there. With incredible courage, hard work, and an excellent physical therapist, Josh improved day by day. In time, and after what seemed like a miracle, he was able to walk slowly with a leg brace and a cane.
“But Josh continued to require intermittent catheterization. I know only too well the problems and perils this young man would face for the rest of his life because of a neurogenic bladder. The urologists were very pessimistic about his chances for not requiring catheterization. They had not seen this occur after a spinal cord injury of this severity.
“Then the impossible happened. I was there the day Josh no longer required a urinary catheter. I thought of Abayei's asher yatzar prayer. Pointing out that I could not imagine a more meaningful scenario for its recitation, I suggested to Josh, who was also a yeshiva graduate, that he say the prayer. He agreed. As he recited the ancient b’racha, tears welled in my eyes.
“…Josh is my son.”

It is often frustrating to arrange a meeting with a busy and important person. One of the most effective means is to learn the busy person’s routine and schedule, in order to figure out where/when he will be available for a few precious moments.
When G-d commanded Moshe to instruct Pharaoh to let the Jews go free, He informed Moshe of a well-kept secret about where he could ‘catch Pharaoh’. “Go to Pharaoh in the morning – behold! He goes out to the water – and you shall stand opposite him at the river’s bank, and the staff that was turned into the snake you shall take in your hand[3].”
Rashi, quoting the Medrash, explains that Pharaoh went down to the Nile to fulfill his normal bodily functions. Because Pharaoh proclaimed himself to be a god he had to pretend that he had no bodily needs. Thus, each morning he would furtively head down to the Nile to ‘take care of his ungodliness’.
In Egypt, the serpent symbolized the authority and might of the Pharaoh[4]. That was part of the reason why G-d instructed Moshe to carry the staff which had previously been transformed into a snake in the presence of Pharaoh and his court, when he went to meet Pharaoh. At that prior meeting, after the Egyptians demonstrated that they too could transform a staff into a snake, the staff of Aharon swallowed up all of their staffs. The hidden message to Egypt was that the staff, which represented G-d’s Word, would ultimately decimate the serpent, which represented Egyptian authority.
The Nile River whose life giving waters sustained all of Egyptian agriculture and economy was also an Egyptian deity. Pharaoh claimed that he controlled the Nile which made him a god. In truth, while Pharaoh and the Nile did share a ‘relationship’, however, it was not a relationship of divinity, but Pharaoh in his most debased humanity.
Now as Moshe stood before a chagrined Pharaoh and held up the staff, the gods of Egypt were being exposed as mere forces of nature to be reckoned with.
Pharaoh’s decision to deify himself is perplexing. We can imagine that there were times during the day when it must have been a challenge for him to maintain his divine image, as there must have been occasions where the charade weighed heavily upon him (in more ways than one). Even if Pharaoh was not a god he would still have been respected as the totalitarian almighty ruler of the mightiest empire of the ancient world. Why did he feel the need to project himself as divine?
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l explained that this is an example of the extremes people will go to for the sake of garnering honor and aggrandizement. Despite the fact that Pharaoh would have commanded incredible respect as a mighty ruler, his insatiable desire for glory compelled him to reach for an even higher level of admiration, as a deity. For that insignificant difference, Pharaoh deemed it worthwhile to suffer the pain and aggravation necessary to pretend to be a god.
The fact that Pharaoh’s charade involved obscuring his bodily needs is no coincidence. Our Sages teach us that our need and miraculous ability to release the waste inside of us should be an incredibly humbling experience. The lengthy blessing recited after one fulfills his bodily needs, helps us to tune in to the incredible process.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l[5] notes that it behooves us to be aware of the miraculous endowment which G-d grants us in the form of the human body. When we contemplate the miraculous workings of the organs in our body, such as the trachea, esophagus, respiratory system, and circulatory system, and we realize that any sudden rupture, or blockage, would place us in a situation of mortal danger, we would be humbled by the healthy functioning of our organs.
The Mirrer Mashgiach, Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz zt’l, would humorously quip that ideally every student should send a telegram to his parents after each time he goes to the bathroom, to tell them that thankfully all went well, and he is still healthy.
The verse in Iyov (19:26) states, “From my flesh I see G-d.” When one contemplates the workings of the body, he cannot help but be overwhelmed by the incredible genius of its architect and preserver.    

The hubris of Pharaoh forced him to obscure the very function which should have helped him realize his humanity. Pharaoh was caught up in Freud’s most well-known defense mechanism; in the words of Mark Twain, “Denial aint just a river in Egypt.”
G-d promises that if we adhere to the laws and commandments of the Torah[6], “All the diseases that I placed upon Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am G-d, your healer.” Adherence to the Torah with a sense of servitude is the antidote to the deification of Pharaoh, which ultimately led to his downfall as well as the destruction of Egypt.
If we pay heed to the miracles of our body and it fosters within us humility and subjugation to G-d, all the maladies of Egypt - which were retribution for the arrogance and conceit of Pharaoh and Egypt will not befall us, because we understand that it is only G-d who is our ultimate healer.

“Go to Pharaoh in the morning – behold! He goes out to the water”
“From my flesh I see G-d”

[1] Kenneth Prager, M.D., F.A.C.P.; Professor of Clinical Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical care Medicine;
Prager K. "For everything a blessing." A Piece of My Mind column, JAMA. 1997;277:1589.
[2] See Berachos  60b, where the gemarah mentions that Abayei was the author of the asher yatzar blessing recited after one has fulfilled his bodily functions
[3] 7:15
[4] In Ancient Egypt, the serpent or “uraeus” was a symbol of the king’s authority. The famous hooded cobra that adorned the headdress of Pharaoh represented his kingship and, according to Egyptian thought, his implied dominion over the world.
[5] Rav Schwab on Prayer; “Asher Yatzar”
[6] Shemos 15:26