Thursday, April 14, 2016


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


A number of years ago, a student in Yeshivas Sha’ar Yoshuv in Far Rockaway acted in a manner that disgraced himself and the entire yeshiva. It was inevitable that he was going to be asked to leave the yeshiva.
He was sitting in the Bais Medrash when he was summoned to the office of the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l. Other students watched as he walked to the office with his held high.
He emerged from the office a few minutes later, white faced and visibly shaken.
He later related to a close friend that he had entered the office poised for a confrontation. But when he walked in Rabbi Freifeld stood up and walked around the table to where he was sitting and said in a broken voice, “I am sorry that I couldn’t inspire you to be bigger!”
The student admitted, “I had no defense against his awesome humility. He simply broke me.”
No battle, no confrontation, no argument.[1]
The purification process for a metzora was very methodical. The Torah describes in precise detail special materials that needed to be gathered, the manner in which his offerings were brought, how the blood of the offering was placed on the right earlobe, the thumb on his right hand, and the big toe on his right foot, and the sprinkling of oil.
The Torah then concludes its detailing of the laws by stating, “This is the law for every tzaraas affliction…להורות  – to rule on which day it is contaminated and on which day it is purified; this is the law of tzaraas.”
The word "להורות"  not only means ‘to rule’ (i.e. to render halachic decisions) but also to instruct. In the words of the Toras Kohanim, “this verse teaches that a Kohen may not examine tzaraas afflictions until his teacher has instructed him how to do so.”                                                                                                                                                                                        
The Oznayim LaTorah explains that while there are many things that can be learned from a book, certain things can only be properly learned from observing a live example. The art of examining tzaraas falls into the latter category. The reason is because the Kohen’s role was not only to render a forthright halachic decision, but also to admonish the metzora. He was to say to him, “My son, the affliction of tzaraas results from the sin of harmful speech.[2]” One can only rebuke another if he knows how to do so in a gentle manner that can potentially influence the recipient. If one admonishes another without knowing how to touch his soul he has only served to exacerbate the problem.
This idea was demonstrated with the story of Iyov (Job). After Iyov suffered the loss of his wealth and children, his three close friends sought to console him by preaching to him about morality. They were reprimanded[3], “Because you did not speak correctly to Me like My servant Iyov.” Rashi explains that G-d told them, “Weren’t Iyov’s sorrow and suffering enough that you had to add to them… and criticize him.”   
Every Kohen had to learn from his teacher how to convey to the metzora, not only the actual ruling, but also the message the metozra needed to glean from the spiritual malady he was afflicted with. The Kohanim had a long-standing tradition of how to speak to others with sensitivity and love from their ancestor and forerunner Aharon. The Mishna[4] relates that Aharon was the quintessential man of peace, “he loved peace and pursed peace; he loved people and brought them closer to Torah.”  There was no one who knew the language of the heart better than Aharon, and, therefore, there was no one who could effectively reprimand others like Aharon. He taught those lessons to his children and their children to their children.
The Oznayim LaTorah adds that the Kohain did not only have to be proficient in knowing how to admonish the metozra at the time of the pronouncement of his affliction. He also had to know how to speak to the metzora on the day when he was pronounced purified. When the Kohain reexamined the metzora and found that his symptoms no longer rendered him impure the Kohain had to offer him words of encouragement balanced with words of gentle warning that he not repeat his imprudent actions/words which caused him to become afflicted.
Thus when the Torah states, “to rule on which day it is contaminated and on which day it is purified”, it can also be read as, “to instruct on the day when he is contaminated and on the day when he is purified.” The Kohen must be proficient in connecting with his constituents in all situations. “On the day when he is contaminated” the Kohen must know how to simultaneously sympathize and instruct, and “on the day when he is purified” he must know how to rejoice along with the metzora and encourage him for the future.
It was not enough for the Kohain to offer his ruling, he also had to instruct and guide. It took just as much (if not more) time, patience, and diligence to learn the language of the heart, than it was to learn the complex and detailed laws of all the shades and complexions of tzaraas.

At the Seder, there is great emphasis and focus given to the Four Sons. The commentators note that the varied response we give to each child is itself an integral educational lesson. Each child must be addressed individually, in a manner which speaks to him.
This is based on the well-known verse[5], “Educate a youth according to his way, even when he becomes old he will not move away from it.” Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explained that our approach to educating a child must be with an eye to the future. We must try to tailor our educational approach to what we anticipate the child can become. An educator must seek to understand the individuality of a child so that he can educate him according to his own unique capabilities and capacities.
A careful analysis of the text of the haggadah reveals a poignant message. The vernacular of the haggadah reads, “Corresponding to four sons does the Torah speak: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple, and one does not know how to ask.”
The haggadah does not say that there are four sons, but rather that the Torah speaks about four sons. In truth, no child fits into perfect neat categories.[6] There is a little bit of each of the Four Sons in every child (and adult). No only must the educator know how to address each child individually, but he must also know how to address the different components of the child’s personality.  
Instructing others is an art that must be studied and learned from example. The mtzvah of Seder night, “And you shall tell your son” is an injunction that we must convey the lessons of the exodus to each of our sons in a manner which speaks to his heart and soul.
“To instruct… this is the law of tzaraas”
“Corresponding to four sons does the Torah speak”

[1] From “Reb Shlomo: The life and legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld”. [One of the greatest books I have ever read.]
[2] Toras Kohanim
[3] Iyov 42:7
[4] Avos 1:12
[5] Mishlei 22:6
[6] This is one of the notable and justified complaints against labeling children. While doing so is often necessary in order to diagnose a child so a treatment plan for the child can be developed, no child (or adult) can be perfectly categorized into premade classifications. Every person is a world unto himself/herself.   

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


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


Two Friends
By David Ignatow

I have something to tell you.
I'm listening.
I'm dying.
I'm sorry to hear.
I'm growing old.
It's terrible.
It is. I thought you should know
Of course and I'm sorry. Keep in touch.
I will and you too.
And let me know what's new.
Certainly, though it can't be much.
And stay well.
And you too.
And go slow.
And you too.[1]

A friend of mine related that he recently heard a comment which left him stunned. A colleague told him that his mother, a survivor of the atrocities and horrors of Auschwitz, who had recently become widowed from her husband of over five decades, quipped to her son, “You should know, being alone is worse than Auschwitz!”

At first glance, parshas Tazria seems to have limited relevance to our daily lives. Although the lesson of the severity of slander and gossip are as applicable as ever, the details about the laws of the metzora and the process of his purification seem to be non-applicable without the Bais Hamikdash. However, if one thinks about the process more deeply there are tremendously pertinent ideas to be gleaned from the Torah’s timeless words.
The law is that the metzora is obligated to leave the Jewish camp and dwell in solitude until the tzara’as is pronounced healed by a kohain. “All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.[2]
Rashi[3] explains that the affliction of tzara’as is punishment for slander, which causes husbands to become distanced from their wives and friends to become distanced from one another. Therefore, it is fitting that he be punished by being isolated from society.[4]

The feeling of loneliness is not only the result of the metzora’s sociological state, as an outcast who was rejected from the community. On a more profound level the loneliness is internal, a sense of being scorned and banned from society. The metzora may in fact not have been completely alone; there may have been other metzoraim in his vicinity[5]. Yet his alienation ensures that he will still feel that he is essentially ‘alone’ and estranged.
This tragic and painful experience has existent parallels in our community. One of the tragic realities of our world is of adolescents searching for identity and a social network falling into the depraved world of drugs and street-life. Their search to feel connected and part of something erroneously leads them to the mirage of brotherhood that the streets present. They have their ‘love-hug’ (“show me some love”), but it’s all disingenuous[6]. They may have fun together and they may even feel protected and connected but it’s not real. The ‘love’ is a bond of commonality at best. They may be sitting together, but they are still all alone. 
The book of Eicha (Lamentations), which expresses the profound grief that the city of Jerusalem experienced after the destruction of the Temple and the exiling of the Jewish people, begins “Alas, she sits in solitude!” There is no greater pain than solitude and loneliness. That is the greatest tragedy of all.

Our society which seems so ‘connected’ is actually mired in loneliness. People define their social circle based on how many Facebook friends they have, how many people like their Tweets, and how many contact numbers are in their cellphones. But the overwhelming majority of those friendships are tenuous and superficial[7].
Oprah Winfrey once quipped, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” 
Our technologically advanced generation is so lonely – yearning for empathy, sensitivity, warmth, and care. The sense of community and the security of family is often sorely lacking.

Parshas Hachodesh[8] details the laws of the Korbon Pesach brought upon the altar just prior to the onset of the holiday of Pesach. The law is that the meat of the offering must be eaten with a group of pre-registered members. If one did not register before the offering was brought, he could not partake of its meat. “Speak to the Assembly of Israel saying: On the tenth of this month, they shall take for themselves, every man a lamb, according to their father’s household, a lamb for a household. If the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is near to his house shall take, according to the number of people; everyone in proportion to his eating, shall you be counted for the lamb[9].”
One of the underlying themes of the Korbon Pesach was fostering a sense of community. As the burgeoning nation made its final preparation for the mass exodus the following day, they were to sit together with their families and neighbors, not only in a display of freedom and fearlessness from their former captors, but also with a mood of camaraderie and closeness. They were not a band of freed slaves who would be leaving Egypt, but a proud nation.
In the eloquent words of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, “A people, a nation, a ‘social’ community, a state, should arise from this redemption, whose whole ‘social’ existence was to have its roots in G-d, to be built up by Him, rest on Him, be arranged and constituted by Him, and be dedicated to Him. With the Pesach offering, G-d laid the foundation stone of this edifice.” 

A person can be surrounded by people, he can even be the center of attention, such as a professional athlete with thousands of people cheering for him, and yet feel completely alone. Conversely, a person may be physically alone - far from his friends and family - and yet feel very connected to something beyond himself.
The Metzora who caused dissidence and strife among others must suffer the feeling of loneliness. He must leave, not only the physical borders of the community, but the psychological feeling of belonging and being connected.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Korbon Pesach. It promoted a feeling of connectedness - that every Jew, no matter where he is in the world - is part of a nation and a community, who genuinely care for each other and feel that they are inextricably bound to each other.  

“He shall dwell in isolation”
“He and his neighbor shall be counted for the lamb”

[1] For those readers who have a hard time understanding poetry (as I did when my eleventh grade English teacher gave this out to our class) this poem is about two conversing ‘friends’ who obviously don’t really care about each other.
[3] Quoting the gemara Arachin 16b
[4] A few years ago I had the privilege to spend a week in Eretz Yisroel as part of the Orthodox Union’s Rabbinic Mission. It was the Shabbos of parshas Tazria, and on Friday night after the seudah we had the pleasure of hearing some thoughts from Rabbi Jonathon Rosenblatt who joined us on the tour. The basic idea presented here is based on that discussion.
[5] There is a discussion among the Poskim whether metzoraim are allowed to be together in their place of isolation.
[6] Rabbi Rosenblatt noted that the insincerity of the ‘love’ becomes apparent when funds run out. “Hey buddy, do me a solid and lend me on credit.” “No man, I need the cash!”
[7] Some of those friendships fall into the category of “I’ll let you list me as a friend if I can list you as one of my friends.”
[8] Special reading from Parshas Bo read the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh Nisan.
[9] Shemos 12:3-4