Thursday, July 28, 2016


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


The following story was written by Rabbi Binny Freedman[1]:
 “A number of years ago, I met a wealthy businessman from Caracas, Venezuela who was spending Pesach with his family at a hotel in Florida. Over the course of the festival, we struck up a friendship, and I discovered he was a Holocaust survivor who had been first in the Janowska road camp and later in Auschwitz. Towards the end of the week I summoned up the nerve to ask him if there was anything in particular that stood out in his mind as the reason he had survived. Without hesitation, he responded: "It was one mitzvah; the Sukkot I spent in Auschwitz.
“I guess my face must have registered surprise, because he immediately explained. When he arrived in Auschwitz in the middle of his thirteenth winter, one of the Kapos took a liking to him, and arranged for him to be in charge of the daily rations to be given out to the prisoners at the end of the day. It was a job that would save his life. He spent the days in a small shed attached to the large barracks, responsible for dividing up the bread and soup to be given out to each inmate at the end of the day. In addition to having access to food he was also often put into difficult situations having to respond to prisoners desperate for food....
“One day, while preparing the rations in the dark winter night, he heard banging on the door of the shed, and opened it up to discover a man he knew to be a great Torah scholar and one of the eminent Rabbis of his area before the war, standing in the snow.
“Before he could turn the man away (sure that he wanted scraps of bread), the man stepped into the shed, telling him that he needed a favor.
"You know tonight is the first night of the festival of Sukkos, and I need two whole loaves of bread before you cut them up... so I can fulfill the special custom of making the Hamotzi blessing over two whole loaves in the sukkah."
"I was in shock", he recalled, “at the request. Not only was he asking for two whole loaves of bread, but he was even planning somehow on fulfilling the mitzvah of having a 'meal' in the Sukkah!"
"You have to understand", he explained, “a whole loaf of bread in Auschwitz was like a million dollars today. Can you imagine someone walking in off the street and asking for a million dollars? Even though he promised he would only take a bite, (the equivalent of his own ration) and then return the loaves to me, giving away those loaves would effectively mean I was risking my life."
“Even more intriguing however, was how on earth this Rabbi had managed to build a sukkah in Auschwitz- Birkenau.
“As it turned out, that summer and fall of 1944 the Nazis were bringing hundreds of thousands of Jews[2] in a last-ditch effort to complete the 'final solution' before the war would end.
“In the twisted organizational logic of the lager camps world, the Nazis needed to have additional barracks to hold the new prisoners for labor until they could be exterminated. As such, prisoners were dismantling tiers of bunks in the barracks (prisoners there literally began sleeping in piles of bodies on the floor of the barracks) while rows of bunks were being reconstructed in the central parade ground.
“Seeing the rows and rows of bunks outdoors and realizing the festival of Sukkot was coming, this rabbi had managed to secure some s’chach (plant shrubbery) and place it atop some of the boards of the semi-constructed bunks beneath the open sky in such a way as to construct a minimally kosher sukkah (booth) for the festival. However, the mitzvah of living in the sukkah can only be fulfilled by either sleeping (which was out of the question) or eating in the sukkah, which was his aim.
“Seeing the hesitation on the boy's face, and desperate to fulfill this mitzvah against all the odds, the rabbi begged him for the loaves, if only for a few minutes.
"I will give you these loaves", said the boy, “but only on condition you take me with you to fulfill the mitzvah of the sukkah."
“The rabbi, shocked by the impetuous response, began to attempt to dissuade the boy from this condition. He would be risking his life by walking outside after curfew, and again for carrying two whole loaves of bread, and of course for attempting to sit in a sukkah. But nothing he could say would dissuade the boy, so together the two of them, an old Rabbi and a young man, risked their lives and sat, for a few brief moments, in a sukkah in Auschwitz.
“As an interesting post-script, he told me that many years later he was in Chicago on business and got stuck there for Shabbat whereupon his host took him to the Tish of that same Rebbe[3], who happened to decide to tell this very story that very same night...”

Bila’am was hired by Balak to curse Klal Yisroel. Although he feigned piety, Bila’am was only too happy to fulfill his impious mission. Along the way Bila’am’s faithful donkey, frightened by the vision of a sword-bearing angel, crushed his foot against the wall. Bila’am, who wasn’t privy to the frightful sight, could not comprehend why his donkey was veering off the road and crushing his foot, repeatedly beat his hapless donkey. Miraculously, the donkey turned to its master and reprimanded him, “What have I done to you that you struck me these three times?[4]
Rashi notes that the donkey’s dialect, as recorded in the Torah, is unusual. When the donkey asked Bila’am why he had struck him three times he used the words "שלש רגלים" instead of the more common "שלש פעמים". Rashi explains that it was an underhanded message to Bila’am. He was setting out to curse a nation that observes the three major holidays[5] which would certainly provide them with protection and merit.

After Bila’am’s mission proved to be an epic failure, Balak was exasperated and infuriated. He admonished Bila’am saying[6]לקב אויבי קראתיך והנה ברכת ברך – To curse my enemies did I summon you, and behold! You have continually blessed them.”
Chasam Sofer, quoting Rabbi Akiva Eiger, notes that the numerical value of the word לקב' ‘ is 132, while the numerical value of the word ‘'ברך is 222. Out of the 354 days on the lunar calendar, there are 132 days when we do not recite the tachanun[7] prayer[8].
Balak hoped that Bila’am would arouse the attributes of judgment against the Jewish nation to such an extent that even the 132 days of increased favor and compassion for the Jewish nation would become days of intense scrutiny and divine judgment. When G-d transformed the curses into blessing it accomplished the exact opposite, i.e. that even the 222 mundane days then possessed increased divine favor and mercy for the nation.
This is alluded to in Balak’s harsh reprimand to Bila’am, “To curse -  לקב(132) - my enemies I summoned you”, i.e. to mitigate the divine favor and closeness of the Jewish holidays, “And behold! You have continually blessed – ברך (222) them”, i.e. even the rest of the year has become spiritually elevated because of your failed attempts[9].
It is evident that Balak and Bila’am had a particular abhorrence for the Jewish holidays and were particularly intimidated by them. Indeed the merit of the nation’s observance of the holidays was one of the merits which protected the unsuspecting Jewish nation. What were Bila’am and Balak so fearful of?

Each time Bila’am stood atop a mountain overlooking the Jewish camp in order to curse them he told Balak to first “Build for me here seven altars and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.”[10]
The Medrash[11] notes that Bila’am sought to bring offerings corresponding to all the offerings brought by the patriarchs. “He said ‘From the creation of the world until now, seven altars were built, and I will bring seven (offerings) equivalent to them’”. The Medrash continues that G-d replied, as it were, “Wicked one! If I had wanted offerings I would have said to (the angels) Michoel and Gavriel, and they would have brought before Me. I will only accept offerings from Israel.”
Maharal[12] explains that G-d contemptuously rejected Bila’am’s offerings because of his flawed attitude regarding them. Bila’am was under the impression that G-d received personal benefit from the offerings[13]. The truth is that G-d gains nothing from anything anyone does or says. If G-d really received benefit from offerings he would have the angels bring endless offerings to him with pristine purity.
If so, what is the purpose of offerings? They provide us with a conduit through which we can draw closer to G-d. By fulfilling His Will in bringing offerings, according to His dictated laws and commandments, we are able to feel more connected with G-d. Offerings – and fulfilling any of the mitzvos – are for our benefit!
Bila’am felt that the more offerings he brought the more he could ‘pacify’ G-d and make G-d inclined to hearken to his words. In truth however, G-d was disgusted by Bila’am’s offerings and they had the opposite effect. Offerings create a connection between the one who brings them sincerely and G-d. But G-d wanted to have no such connection with the immoral and dissolute Bila’am.
G-d concluded that He would only accept offerings from Klal Yisroel because they understand that the offering is for them. G-d has pleasure from an offering, as it were, because of the pure desire of the one bringing it.
Today when we no longer have a Bais Hamikdash and cannot bring offerings, prayer takes their stead[14]. An infinite and omnipotent G-d surely does not need our prayers. But we need prayer as a vehicle for us to maintain perspective of our finite limitations and our need for G-d in every facet of our lives. Prayer serves to keep us balanced and humble, and not become too conceited.
Our holidays afford us added opportunity to draw closer to G-d, with particular blessings endemic to each festival throughout the year. Bila’am and Balak, who sought to sever the nation’s connection with G-d in order to enervate and destroy them, had a particular fear of our holidays.
In parshas Pinchos the Torah details all of the offerings brought during each holiday. Those unique offerings represent the added opportunity for connection and devotion afforded to every Jew during each holiday.
When holidays arrive there is a palpable excitement that pervades the homes and communities of all Torah-abiding Jews. It is not merely an excitement for food and vacation, but for the special mitzvos associated with each holiday. It is a chance to renew our spiritual batteries and recommit ourselves to love G-d and fulfill His Torah and mitzvos.  

Holy sources write that the 22 days of the ‘Three Weeks’[15] correspond to the 22 days of the major holidays[16]. The Nesivos Sholom explains that before an artist paints a picture he draws an outline without color, so that when he is ready to draw the actual picture he will only to need to fill in the colors. The Three Weeks are days when we reflect upon our bi-millennial loss, so that it will inspire us to pine for what we cannot achieve in exile. It is a time to take stock of the spiritual devastation ravaging our people and to seek to feel the pain of the Divine presence, of which the overwhelming majority of our people is completely oblivious. 
Parshas Pinchos, which contains the laws of the offerings brought during each holiday, is always read the week when the Three Weeks begin. The reading reminds us of what we are missing. The pining which the reading creates hastens the redemption and is the outline of the future Temple. All that is left is for G-d to fill in the colors.        

“These are what you shall make for G-d on your appointed festivals[17]
“Behold! You have continually blessed them”

[1] Succos edition of  “A weekly Byte from Isralight” 5771
[2] including the remaining 400,000 Jews of Hungary
[3] I am pretty sure it was Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Meisels zt’l, the Veitzner Rav
[4] Bamidbar 22:28
[5] Succos, Pesach, and Shavuos, known as the ‘shalosh regalim’
[6] 24:10
[7] Lit. ‘Supplication’; on any days considered a holiday (even minor) the tachanun prayer is omitted because those days inherently possess greater divine compassion and so the passionate supplication is not necessary.
[8] The following is my calculation of the 132 days that have holiday status throughout the year: 52 Shabasos, 2 days Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, 8 days Succos, Isru Chag Succos, 8 days Chanuka, 2 days Purim, 29 days of the month of Nissan, From Rosh Chodesh Sivan until 6 days after Shavuos (13 days), Tisha B’av, Tu B’shvat, Tu B’av, Pesach Sheni, Lag Ba’omer, 12 more days of Rosh Chodesh (not including Tishrei, Teves, Nissan, Sivan which have already been included, there are 8 more months with 4 of them having 2 days of Rosh Chodesh).
[9] The Mashgiach, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman shlita noted that the word לקב is composed of the same letters as בלק. The 132 festival days posed a particular challenge to Balak. 
[10] 23:1, 23:14, 23:29
[11] Tanchuma, parshas Tzav
[12] Nesiv Ha’avodah, chapter 1
[13] In Greek mythology the gods had human emotions and therefore humans had to ensure that the gods were pacified and content, because if they became angry they would cause great damage and wreak havoc on the human world. Perhaps Bila’am had a similarly distorted understanding of G-d, despite his superior level of prophecy.
[14] Hoshea 14:3
[15] The Three Weeks contains the 22 days of mourning beginning on the fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz and concluding with the fast of Tisha B’av, the day when both Holy Temples were destroyed (the mourning period actually extends to midday of the tenth of Av).
[16] Rosh Hashana (2), Yom Kippur, Succos (9), Pesach (8), Shavuos (2). It is interesting that the 22 days correspond to the 22 festival days observed outside Eretz Yisroel (in Eretz Yisroel there are only 19 major festival days).
[17] Bamidbar 29:39

Thursday, July 21, 2016


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


At the turn of the twentieth century, two of the wealthiest and most influential personalities in America were Jewish brothers named Nathan and Isidor Straus. They owned R.H. Macy Department Store and founded the A & S (Abraham & Straus) chain. They were multimillionaires, renown for their philanthropy and social activism. 
In 1912 the brothers and their wives were touring Europe when Nathan, the more ardent Zionist of the two, decided that they should visit (what was then called) Palestine. In those days the country was ravaged by disease, rampant poverty, and famine.
The brothers had a strong sense of solidarity with their less fortunate brethren, but after a week of touring Isidor Straus had had enough. Isidor tried to convince Nathan that it was time to leave but Nathan refused. He was extremely moved by what he saw and wanted to be more involved in the settlement and betterment of the Holy Land. He felt a tremendous burden of responsibility and felt he could not turn and walk away when there was so much more he could accomplish.
Isidor tried to convince Nathan that they could send money from abroad but Nathan wouldn’t hear of it. He was adamant that he had to remain longer to personally involve himself in the welfare of the Land and its people.
Finally, Isidor decided to return to Europe with his wife Ida, while Nathan and his wife remained traveling the country, creating programs and investing tremendous amounts of money to help the needy.
After a few weeks Isidor sent an urgent telegram to Nathan. He and Ida were preparing to return to America on an ocean liner for which he had made reservation for Nathan and his wife. “You must leave Palestine at once. If you don’t return here as soon as possible, you will miss the boat.”
Still Nathan tarried. He remained involved in his work until the last possible moment, unable to tear himself away from his feeling of responsibility. By the time he returned to London on April 12 the Ocean-liner had already left the port at Southampton with Isidor and Ida Straus aboard.
Nathan had indeed missed the boat as his brother had warned. The beautiful ocean-liner sailed majestically across the Atlantic without Nathan and his wife… until it hit an iceberg and sunk. Because of his involvement in helping his people, Nathan Straus had missed the Titanic! 
Nathan was grief-stricken when he was informed of what occurred. But more than ever he felt a sense of duty and responsibility. The knowledge that he had escaped death permeated his consciousness for the rest of his life and he renewed his philanthropy and commitment to his people with incredible intensity. By the end of his life he had given away most of his fortune to causes in the Holy Land.
The beautiful city of Netanya is named after Nathan[1], in memory of a man who learned to prioritize his people over his personal fortune, which eventually saved his life!

The nation of Moav watched in absolute fright as the Jewish Nation advanced through the desert decimating all of their enemies. Not only were they frightened of the might of the young nation which had just ravaged the two most powerful forces of the time – those of the mighty giants Sichon and Og – but they were completely disgusted by the success of the professed ‘Holy People’[2].
Balak, the king of Moav, was in a state of panic. He knew his forces were miniscule compared to Sichon and Og and he had no chance of overcoming the Jews with military might. He contrived a novel plan that would call upon the forces of evil to counter the source of the Jewish greatness, which lay in their holiness and purity. He employed the infamous prophet Bila’am to curse the Jewish people. Balak understood that Bila’am’s word had tremendous potency and therefore he hoped (futilely) that this would be the solution to his predicament. 
“Bila’am went with Balak… Balak slaughtered cattle and sheep and sent to Bila’am and to the officers who were with him. And it was in the morning: Balak took Bila’am and brought him up to the heights of Ba’al, and from there he saw the edge of the people. Bila’am said to Balak, ‘Build for me seven altars and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams’.”
The Aderes Eliyahu points out that while Balak made sure to send an elegant and elaborate feast to Bila’am and his entourage, he only slaughtered to G-d the next day when Bila’am instructed him to. Balak’s approach was contrasted by Yisro. After Yisro rejoined his son-in-law Moshe and the Jewish people the Torah says[3], “Yisro… took an elevation-offering and feast-offering for G-d; and Aharon and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with the father-in-law of Moshe before G-d.” Yisro first gave offerings to G-d and only then sat down to feast with Moshe and Klal Yisroel.
Rabbi Chaim Zaitchik zt’l notes that if one wants to understand the spiritual and moral level of a person, he should see what the person prioritizes. What comes first on his personal hierarchy of responsibilities and values? Is his primary concern his spiritual well-being or his physical comfort? 

The gemara[4] states: “The first hour (of the day is the meal time of) the Ludim[5]. The second hour is the (meal time of) thieves. The third hour is the (meal time of) those who inherit (great wealth). The fourth hour is the (meal time of) laborers. The fifth hour is the (meal time of) all other people… The sixth hour is the (meal time of) Torah scholars.”
Rabbi Zaitchik explains that a person who eats an elaborate meal immediately upon awakening on a regular basis is so self-absorbed that the moment he awakens he can think of no one other than himself and his own gratification. The Ludim were narcissistic to an extreme, and therefore they committed the most horrific of crimes. 
Torah scholars on the other hand, are at the opposite extreme. They don’t live for themselves. They begin their day with prayer, study, and chesed for others. Only then do they sit down to eat, in the sixth hour.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, related that a man who was becoming Torah observant was learning the laws of a Jew’s daily conduct including reciting Shema in the morning, the time to recite the morning prayers, and the prohibition of eating before praying. In astonishment he asked Rabbi Wein, “Does this mean to say that a Torah observant person can never have breakfast in bed?” Rabbi Wein replied that indeed it does. We have an ulterior set of priorities, and we must thank and pray to G-d before we engage in fulfilling our own physical needs.  

Rav Mordechai Gifter zt’l noted that in the first word of the Torah - “Bereishis”[6] – there is a hidden lesson. We often lose focus of our true priorities in life, and what is the most valuable in life often is relegated to a secondary focus at best. Money and material comforts are often prioritized over family, and physical growth is often idealized over spiritual growth.
The word ‘Bereishis’ can be read ’Bais[7] - Reishis’, i.e. make what is your bais (secondary) into your raishis (first and foremost). Take what is often secondary (spiritual obligations) and make that into your priority – your ‘reishis’.[8]

Balak did not think to offer anything to G-d until Bila’am told him to do so. His first concern was to make sure that Bila’am and his cohorts were happy, after-all he needed them to help him carry out his vile plan. Yisro on the other hand, would not partake of a meal, even with the greatest leaders of Klal Yisroel, until he had expressed his gratitude to G-d. Their priorities demonstrate much about their personality and inner essence.
What does one prioritize when he is looking to purchase a new home? What criteria does he use to determine what school/camp to send his children to? What are his primary concerns when he goes on vacation? The answers to these questions reveal a great deal about what truly matters to him.
“Balak slaughtered cattle and sheep and sent to Bila’am”
“Yisro took an elevation-offering and feast-offering for G-d”

[1] January 31, 1848–January 11, 1931
[2] The jealousy, disgust, and revulsion for our successes by our enemies has not changed in four thousand years
[3] Shemos 18:12
[4] Shabbos 10a
[5] Rashi explains that the Ludim are a cannibalistic tribe. They were gluttons and would eat at the first opportunity they had.
[6] Which literally means “In the beginning”
[7] as in the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet
[8] Heard from Rabbi Pinchos Idstein; quoted in Pirkei Torah 

Thursday, July 14, 2016


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


Rabbi Chaim Kreisworth zt’l, the beloved Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, related a story from his days as a yeshiva student in Lithuania. In those days the yeshivos lacked funding to provide food for their students so the students would eat their meals at different families in town[1].
Rabbi Kreisworth was physically weak and shy by nature. He also loved to learn and having to busy himself with those arrangements detracted precious time from learning.
One day a wealthy man built a beautiful house across the street from the Bais Medrash. He built a private room with a separate entrance at the side of his home which he designated for one student. The faculty decided that Rabbi Chaim was worthy of the convenience. Rabbi Chaim was thrilled with the room that possessed all the amenities available at that time which enabled him to learn as much as possible.
For two years he lived in that room with his learning virtually uninterrupted and worry-free. Then one semester as he settled back into his room, he noticed a blind boy among the new students. Rabbi Chaim went to greet him and asked him about his background. The boy explained that he had just arrived and had no arrangements, nor was he familiar with the system. In an act of supreme selflessness, Rabbi Chaim replied that there was an available room right across the street for him, which would have everything he would need, including three nourishing meals.   
The blind boy’s face lit up. He never dreamed he would be able to find such comfortable accommodations and so suited for his particular needs.
Rabbi Chaim himself however, had a very challenging time. After two years of being pampered it was extremely difficult for him to fend for himself. Nevertheless, he never regretted his decision.
Several weeks later the Nazis invaded and the world fell apart. They stormed into the yeshiva and demanded from the office staff a list of every student. As soon as they had it they began summoning each student to the office, one at a time. When the boy entered the office the Nazi asked his name and town of origin. Then he pointed his rifle at the student who barely had a chance to scream ‘Shema Yisroel’ before the officer pulled the trigger.
The remaining boys heard the cries and the shots and understood what was awaiting all 250 of them. The lifeless bodies were cast out the window like slaughtered chickens.
Then a voice rang out “Number 31, Kreisworth, Chaim”. As he walked tremblingly to the office Rabbi Chaim begged G-d to help him in the merit of his sacrifice for the blind boy. As soon as he walked in the officer said to him, “Do you have a father?” He nodded. “Do you have a mother?” In a barely audible voice he replied that he did. In a surprisingly mild tone the Nazi continued, “Do your parents miss you?” Rabbi Chaim nodded again, “Of course they do.”
The Nazi continued, “Do you miss them?”
“Most certainly.”
“When the war ends will you return to your family?”
“Look, I too have parents and I miss them terribly. I can’t wait for the war to end so I can go back home. I understand your plight and I won’t kill you. But there are other officers here, so here’s what I will do. I will shoot a bullet to the side of you. You will fall to the ground and then jump out the window. Make sure you are never seen here again.”
          249 young promising students were brutally murdered that day. But “number 31, Kreisworth, Chaim” survived. Rabbi Kreisworth was convinced that it was only in the merit of his sacrifice for the blind student. 

          The laws of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) are the ultimate Chukas HaTorah, laws of the Torah which are beyond the capacity of human comprehension. This particularly referred to the paradox involved in the offering of the Parah Adumah, in that its sprinkled ashes purified those who were impure yet rendered impure the sprinkler who had been pure. It was about this enigma that the wisest of men declared[2], “I said I would be wise, but it was far from me.”
          Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorki stated that the essence of Parah Adumah is the mitzvah that one must ‘love your neighbor as yourself[3]’. His grandson, Rabbi Mendel, explained that the priest who undertook the sprinkling of the ashes understood that by doing so he was going to cause himself to become impure. He understood that he would have to undergo the whole purification process and would be prohibited from entering the Temple and eating the sacrificial foods until the process was done. When someone is willing to altruistically help others even at the cost of his own convenience, that is the greatest expression of love and kindness.

The Mishna[4] quotes Rabbi Shimon who said “The world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah (Service), and gemilas chasadim (bestowing kindness).” It is noteworthy that the mishnah does not say ‘gemilas chessed’ in the singular but ‘gemilas chasadim’.
The Me’am Loez explains that whenever one performs an act of kindness for another, the recipient is also helping the doer. Performing acts of kindness affords the doer tremendous merit and no one can know how much blessing he merits in his own life because of an act of kindness he did for someone else.
In addition, whenever we perform an act of chesed for another we are repaying our debt to G-d, as it were, for all of the chesed he does for us. In truth, we are obligated to thank G-d for every breath we take. The way we express our gratitude to G-d is by doing acts of kindness with others. Every act of chesed we do corresponds to the myriad acts of chesed He does for us. For these two reasons, every act of chesed is really a double act of chesed and is so termed ‘gemilas chasadim’.

In parshas Chukas the Torah records the death of Aharon. “When the entire assembly saw the Aharon had perished, they wept for Aharon for thirty days, the entire House of Israel[5].” Rashi notes that when the Torah records the death of Moshe it says that the nation mourned[6], but it doesn’t say “the entire assembly mourned” because they mourned Aharon even more than they did Moshe.
Aharon was the quintessential lover of his people. He was able to promote peace and unity because he spoke to everyone with pleasantness, respect, and love. It was for that reason that the Mishna[7] exhorts us to be from the disciples of Aharon “who loved peace and pursued peace”.

This week Klal Yisroel lost a true disciple of Aharon with the passing of Rabbi Michel Lefkowitz zt’l, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh l’tzirim. Though he was 97 years old, his passing is a painful and tragic loss. Not only was the Rosh Yeshiva a noted scholar and author of many scholarly works on the Talmud (Minchas Yehuda) he also possessed a deep love for every Jew and made every person in his presence feel exalted and special.  
I had the privilege to meet Reb Michel once and I will never forget the respect he accorded me and my friends, as well as his characteristic sweetness and pleasantness. May his memory be for a blessing and may we learn from his legendary example.

“The entire House of Israel”
“Loved peace and pursued peace”

[1] This practice was known as ‘teg’
[2] Koheles 7:23
[3] Vaykira 19:18
[4] Avos 1:2
[5] Bamidbar 20:29
[6] Devorim 34:8
[7] Avos 1:12

Thursday, July 7, 2016


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


In 1978, Michael Aun won the Toastmaster’s International Speaking contest in Vancouver. He remarks that although he is well-known for winning the contest in 1978, he lost it in 1977 in Toronto, because he went seven seconds over his allotted time.
In his words, “Do you know what you do after you lose a contest because of seven seconds? You go up to your hotel room and you cry. But after a while, you realize that you can go for it again. A year later I won it in Vancouver. I often say that we have to remember that you often have to go through Toronto in order to get to Vancouver.”
That’s the way winner’s think. Winner’s focus on their strengths; losers focus on their weakness. Winners are challenged by defeat while losers are paralyzed by defeat. What everyone remembers about Michael Aun is his triumph in Vancouver. But they soon forget the defeats.
Losers spend their time in the pursuit of happiness; winners spend their time in the happiness of the pursuit.
Winners search for the challenges; losers search for security!

The tragic rebellion of Korach is of the saddest accounts of the nation’s travails in the desert. Rashi[2] asks, if Korach was such a distinguished and clever individual what prompted him to mount a rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of Klal Yisroel?
Rashi answers that Korach’s eyes caused him to err. Korach prophetically saw that holy leaders and great individuals would emerge from his progeny, including Shmuel Hanavi, who in his time, was as great as Moshe and Aharon combined[3]. Korach concluded that if such greatness was to emerge from him he could not allow himself to be denied greater prestige and influence. He was convinced that the merit of his erstwhile descendants would protect him, and that he had a responsibility to achieve greater renown for their sake.
Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l[4] noted that Korach should have reached the exact opposite conclusion. If he was to father such great personages he should have seen it as beneath his dignity to incite an imbroglio against Moshe. He should have concluded that it does not befit the ancestor of Shmuel Hanavi to dispute the leader of Klal Yisroel over honor and glory.
The true initiator of Korach’s tragic rebellion was his wife. She would deride him for being silent and unassuming. “Whenever Moshe blows the trumpet, you and your fellow porters come running to schlep the Holy Ark to its next location. For someone so distinguished you are treated like a nobody. Moshe ensured that his closest family members have all of the most distinguished positions, but you get nothing!” Eventually her inflammatory remarks provoked Korach to challenge Moshe’s authority.
The verse[5] states “One who is impatient to become rich will not become exonerated.” The Medrash[6] applies this verse to Korach. Korach couldn’t wait to enjoy the honor and greatness he anticipated from his descendants and so he tried to grasp it prematurely. The results proved disastrous.
The prophet[7] warns that “One who amasses wealth unjustly will lose it in the middle of his days.” Prima facie, the prophets foreboding words seem puzzling. Aren’t there many individuals who employ unethical means to achieve wealth and prominence, and then seem to enjoy the fruits of their unscrupulous actions in comfort?
Rav Pam explained that such individuals represent the greatest tragedy of all. There are individuals who are predestined to become wealthy for whatever divine reason[8]. It has been pre-ordained that somehow they would become rich. Had they not succumbed to unscrupulous tactics they would have had their money anyway. Thus they gained absolutely nothing by being dishonest and deceitful.
What a tragedy that they could have enjoyed their wealth and not have had to be punished for it in the next world. When the prophet warns of those who will lose their wealth rapidly he is referring to one who is not predestined to become wealthy. All of his schematic efforts will ultimately prove futile and “he will lose it in the middle of his days.”
This concept is not limited to wealth but to honor and prestige too. One can only achieve what G-d wills him to achieve, and all of his efforts will accomplish nothing if it is not meant to be. This was the root of Korach’s fallacious thinking. G-d had planned a glorious future for him, albeit through his descendants. But Korach was impatient and impulsive, and he thought mounting a coup-de-tat could alter his destiny. The error cost him not only his life and the lives of his family and followers, but also his share in the World to Come.   

In our world we are infatuated by dreams of striking it big in a hurry. There are numerous advertisements for programs and jobs which can make you rich and successful quickly. “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” As if in one moment all of your problems can be solved. It is not uncommon for people to forfeit their life’s savings in such alluring programs.
This mode of thinking seeps into the world of spirituality as well. We search for ‘instant wisdom’ and yearn for quick ways to become righteous and scholarly. The reality is however, that greatness is the product of struggle and perseverance.
In our impatient world many often conclude that if they cannot master Torah or greatness quickly they must not be ‘cut out’ for it. The verse[9] states “Wealth gathered by hand will accumulate”. Ibn Ezra explains that only when one works hard at gradually accumulating wealth will he be successful.
Rav Pam notes that the same applies to Torah knowledge and Serving G-d. Every little bit of toil and effort is part of the arduous journey toward greater levels of spiritual attainment. But one must be ready for the journey and not seek shortcuts.

There is a great quote which states that, “Success is a road not a destination, and the road is always under construction.” There is no sure-fire, universal road that everyone can take. Everyone must painstakingly seek out his own path and be prepared for the expedition. But above-all one must have patience with himself. Korach wanted to have it all, and to have it now, and that proved to be at the root of his tragic downfall. As the old paryer goes, “Lord, grant me patience, and give it to me now!”
Dovid Hamelech stated[10]: “The joyous heart is the one which seeks G-d.” Happiness lies in the pursuit, fraught with all of its challenges and difficulties. One only senses joy when he is prepared for the journey.

“And Korach took”
“One who is impatient to become rich will not become exonerated.”

[1] Based on lecture given at Kehillat New Hemsptead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Korach 5770, in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of Yisroel Shlomo Friedenberg.
[2] 16:1
[3] See Tehillim 99:6
[4] “Rav Pam on Chumash” by Rabbi Sholom Smith
[5] Mishley 28:20
[6] Yalkut Shomini, Mishley 962
[7] Yirmiyahu 17:11
[8] See Niddah 16b
[9] Mishley 13:11
[10] Tehillim 105:3 (Also Divrei Hayamim I 16:10)