Thursday, August 25, 2016


Rabbi Dani Staum

Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber zt’l was a legendary leader of Russian Jewry for over three decades. He remained resolutely firm in his faith and practicing of Torah and mitzvos throughout his arduous years behind the Iron Curtain, even in the brutality of a Russian Labor Camp. His autobiography “To Remain a Jew”[1] is his incredible account of how he remained faithful to G-d even under the most trying circumstances. It is an incredibly inspiring story of a true unassuming Torah hero. The following is just one anecdote from the many recorded in the book:
I managed to relay a message to my wife to buy the smallest pair of tefillin that she could buy in Kazan. In October my wife came to visit me in the camp with the children. Sarah, who was then four years old, was permitted to sit in my lap. The three guards did not take their eyes off us. I knew that one of Sarah’s felt boots contained the tefillin for the arm, while the other contained the tefillin for the head. I sat her down on my knees, putting her legs directly above mine (I wore large felt boots). I held my girl and removed one of her boots. The tefillin fell from her boot into mine. I then maneuvered it under the sole of my foot. I repeated everything with the second shoe. Done!
“The visit came to an end and I was searched. They found nothing. The next task was to arrange a hiding place for my precious tefillin. I scouted the entire camp… finally I came across a barracks that housed a huge pile of torn-up felt boots. There was a place – about 30-40 centimeters wide – that was closed off by a curtain. I said to myself, “Hashem prepared this barracks especially for the storage of my tefillin.” I approached the head of this barracks and said, “Mikhail Ivanovich, I want to live in your barracks… It’s your responsibility to wash the floors and bring six buckets of hot water in the morning and six of them in the evening. I’ll take care of the buckets and I’ll help you wash the floors.
“We closed the deal… Every morning I would put on my tefillin there, hiding them afterwards in my coat pockets. Later I would put my coat in a guarded storage area, where the prisoners kept their valuables… So at 5:30 AM I would take my coat, put on my tefillin, and daven, and then return my coat. What they thought of my comings and goings did not concern me.
“As a result of this use for my coat, during the two years I was in the camp, I always worked outside wearing only my jacket, even during the harsh winters of Tataria, when the temperatures would fall to -5F to -30F. My ears and hands suffered terribly, but I never caught a cold. (However, after I left the camp I dressed very warmly – and caught pneumonia.)”

Every morning we pray[2] that G-d grant us, “The light of Your Countenance” and we add, “For with the light of Your countenance You gave us – Hashem, our G-d – the Torah of life and a love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, life, compassion, and peace.”
In a similar vein, every evening we state, “For it (the Torah) is our life and the length of our days, and in them we will engage day and night.”
Why do we refer to the Torah as ‘the Torah of life’ and ‘our life and the length of our days’? It sounds like a lofty sermonic concept. But what is the depth of that terminology?

The Niagara River is a connecting channel between two Great Lakes, Erie and Ontario. The river eventually flows to the majestic Niagara Falls, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. The rapids above the Falls reach a maximum speed of 25 mph, with the fastest speeds occurring at the Falls – at times up to 68 mph. The deepest section in the Niagara River is just below the Falls where the depth equals the height of the Falls above 170 ft.
When one looks at the mighty Horseshoe Falls, it's difficult to imagine any force strong enough to stop this gigantic rush of water - yet it did stop in 1848.
In March of that year, local inhabitants, accustomed to the sound of the river, were greeted by a strange, eerie silence. Niagara had stopped!  For thirty long, silent hours, the river was blocked by ice which became lodged at the source of river. It blocked the channel completely causing the Falls to completely cease to flow. Those who were brave enough walked or rode horses over the rock floor of the channel. Then, with a roar that shook the earth, a solid wall of water, cresting to a tremendous height, curled down the channel and crashed over the brink of the precipice, as Niagara Falls roared back to life.
For six months in the summer and autumn of 1969, Niagara’s American Falls were “de-watered”. The USA Army Corps of Engineers conducted a survey of the falls’ rock face, concerned that it was becoming destabilized by erosion. During that period, while workers cleaned the former river-bottom and drilled test-cores in search of instabilities, a temporary walkway was installed twenty feet from the edge of the dry falls, and tourists were able to explore this otherwise inaccessible landscape.
During that time the water was diverted over the main Horeshoe Falls by way of Ontario Hydro Control dams and turbine tunnels. 

Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l[3] explained that for certain types of tumah (ritual impurity)[4] one must immerse in ‘mayim chayim – living waters’, i.e. water that emanates from a freshwater spring.
When the gemara discusses the qualifications of mayim chayim it explains that its water must flow uninterrupted. If there is a steady stream that flows from a freshwater spring, but stops once in seventy years it is no longer considered mayim chayim. It is an incredible concept. A spring which bursts forth with uninhibited force but stops for just one day, forfeits its title as mayim chayim, because it lacks the necessary consistency. 
If the mighty Niagara Falls ceased to flow for six months a mere 42 years ago that would invalidate it from having the status of mayim chayim[5]. Mayim Chayim are, by definition, waters that are ‘alive’. In regards to our own physical lives, it is our continuous heartbeat which keeps us alive. Living waters too must flow with vibrancy and unhindered force.
The ultimate definition of life is eternity. Anything less is a form or a microcosm of life, but it is not life itself. The Codex Romanus, Roman Code of Law, which governed the mightiest empire in the world for hundreds of years has had a strong influence on European and American culture. But it is not a ‘living code of laws’ because it is largely no longer applicable.
The Torah however is a book of life itself. It is as applicable now as it was when it was given at Sinai 3,323 years ago. It has never stopped ‘flowing’ and will continue to do so until the end of time.
Moshe Rabbeinu exhorted Klal Yisroel to never forsake the words of the Torah. “Hashem, your G-d, shall you fear, Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave, and in His Name shall you swear. He is your praise, and He is your G-d…[6]
Moshe repeatedly told the nation that as long as they remain steadfast in their Torah observance they would be victorious and successful. “It shall be if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today… then I shall provide… For if you will observe the entire commandment… to love Hashem, your G-d, to walk in His was and to cleave to Him. Hashem will drive out all these nations from before you…[7]”  

A stream which gushes like a powerful geyser but stops briefly is not deemed living. Similarly the ‘living Torah’ must encircle our lives and encompass every aspect of the way we live - now and forever.
This is what we refer to when we exclaim that ‘it is life and the length of our days’. It is the consistently overriding force in our lives. It dictates how we live, how we conduct ourselves, how we dress, how and what we eat, who we associate ourselves with, and how we raise our families. 
Everything else that seems to be ‘life’ is a farce because it is not eternal. But the Torah and its mitzvos stand the test of time, and its observance connects us with true life.

“The Torah of life”
“Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave”

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

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[1] Published by Feldheim
[2] Final blessing of Shemoneh Esrei
[3]In Search of Greatness: The shmussen of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld”, Judaica Press
[4] See Mikvaos 1:8 – a Metzora and a Zav need to immerse in mayim chayim and mayim chayim must be added to the Parah Adumah mixture. Mayim Chayim is the highest level of purification in that it can be used for all impurities.
[5] My intention here is to make a point. One would have to question a halachic authority with expertise in this area to know if the Niagra Falls is really not considered mayim chayim. [Perhaps it’s different if the waters were purposely stopped?] I am also pretty confident that no one is using the Falls for purposes of ritual purification.
[6] 10:20-21
[7] 11:13-25

Thursday, August 18, 2016


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


On January 6, 2011, the Gluck family - a wonderful family in our community and personal friends - celebrated the wedding of their daughter Reina to Yaakov Chaifetz of Brooklyn NY, in Ateres Charna in Spring Valley, NY.
During Shabbos Sheva Berachos I met Mrs. Liz Gluck, the mother of the kallah, walking with her family. After I wished her mazal tov, she excitedly related to me the following extraordinary story:
“During the 1970s a young boy named Shlomo was a student in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin. When his father died as a young man, his mother simply could not afford to pay Shlomo’s full tuition. She made an agreement with the administrator of the yeshiva to help the yeshiva in any way she could. She would run fundraisers and help organize the yeshiva dinner, etc.
“Throughout those years she would often remark to Shlomo that she was so touched by how the administrator treated her. He never spoke to her disparagingly or made her feel badly about her predicament. In fact, he always smiled when he saw her and warmly thanked her for all of her efforts, according her tremendous dignity and respect. 
“The young Shlomo from the aforementioned story is my husband, Shlomo Gluck. This week our daughter married Yaakov Chaifetz, the son of Rabbi Aryeh Laib Chaifetz, the administrator of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin. When our daughter first began to date and someone mentioned Yaakov as a potential shidduch[1] for Reina the name resonated and we wondered whether Yaakov was related to Rabbi Chaifetz from Yeshiva Chaim Berlin. When we found out that he was we decided to pursue the shidduch above all else.
Rabbi Chaifetz could never have known that the widow to whom he accorded such respect was the grandmother of his future daughter-in-law!” 

The oft-quoted gemara[2] relates, “During the second Temple era they were engaged in Torah, mitzvos, and good deeds. So why was it (the second Temple) destroyed? מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חינם  - Because there was in it (the generation) sinas chinam - baseless hatred[3]. This teaches us that baseless hatred corresponds (in severity) to the three (most stringent) sins – idolatry, immorality, and murder.”
It’s been noted many times that, if we are still in exile and the Temple has not yet been rebuilt, it is indicative of the fact that sinas chinam is still rampant among us.
The vernacular of the sages is always very precise. Why did they choose to term disunity ‘sinas chinam’? Anyone engaged in a personal feud or who possesses feelings of enmity or resentment for another sect of Jews will counter that they have a perfectly valid reason for their bad feelings. They may even agree that baseless hatred has a pernicious effect on the Jewish people as a whole. But they will justify themselves by claiming that their hatred is warranted, and therefore surely does not fall into the category of ‘baseless hatred’. The sages could have easily referred to it as ‘disharmony’ or ‘disunity’. Why did they choose to refer to it as ‘baseless hatred’ or ‘hatred for/of nothing’?
We offer three different approaches to this question[4]:
1. The Chofetz Chaim writes that people only speak loshon hora about others because they fail to realize the greatness of the person they are slandering. If one who was about to speak disparagingly about his neighbor suddenly is informed that one of the leading Torah sages has regular correspondence with that neighbor, he would hesitate before relating his negative remarks. ‘If such a righteous person feels that my neighbor is such a worthy person, perhaps I was wrong about what I surmised about him.’
The Torah[5] states, “For you are a holy people to Hashem, your G-d; Hashem, your G-d has chosen you to be for him a treasured people above all the peoples on the face of the earth. Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did G-d desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples. Rather, because of G-d’s love for you and because He observes the oath that He swore to your forefathers…”
The Chofetz Chaim explains that just as G-d loves each and every Jew unconditionally, we must foster such love for each other, because we are all special and holy. If we appreciate how valuable and precious every Jew is we will view others in a different light, even in the face of their personally vexing shortcomings and idiosyncratic annoyances.
A person does not hate someone he admires and reveres. If we have feelings of hatred for others it is because we view them as ‘a nothing’. We fail to recognize their true value and greatness. That is one meaning of ‘sinas chinam’ – hatred that emanates from nothing, i.e. from viewing others as valueless ‘nothings’, by failing to appreciate them.
2. President Abe Lincoln was once asked why he doesn’t destroy his enemies if he has the ability to do so. He replied that he seeks to build a relationship with his enemies and develop feelings of friendship and camaraderie with his enemies. “If I make my enemies into friends, am I not essentially destroying my enemies?”
We do not hate those we love. We may, at times, become very annoyed, and even angry, with our closet friends. We may even hate what they do and be extremely frustrated with their way of life. But we do not hate them personally.
We only hate people with whom we feel no connection, or a negative connection. Such feelings are termed, sinas chinam – hatred of nothing, because there is nothing, i.e. no relationship between them[6]. If one is able to build a relationship with the person he dislikes it often helps him uproot negative feelings from his heart.
3. Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita offered the following analogy to explain the detriment of sinas chinam: A teacher was delivering a lesson to his class when he noticed one student playing with his pencil, making a big mess and causing a significant disturbance. The teacher warned the student to put away the pencil but he ignored the teacher. The teacher then walked over to the student, grabbed his hand and slammed it into his desk until the bone literally broke.
The next day the irate parents burst into the classroom screaming at the teacher, “What in the world is the matter with you? You broke our son’s hand for no reason?” The teacher looked up incredulously, “How can you say it was for nothing? I made sure he stopped playing with his pencil didn’t I?!”
Rabbi Salomon explained that everyone understands that although the teacher may technically have had ‘a reason’ for breaking the student’s hand, the punishment was so outlandishly harsh relative to the crime it was for nothing. So too, if we understood how detrimental disunity and enmity is to us as a people, and how much punishment and pain it causes us nationally and globally, all of our reasons would fall by the wayside. Our Sages termed disunity sinas chinam to remind us that there is nothing that justifies enmity among Jews.
This all does not mean that we have to love everything all Jews do. It also does not mean that we don’t have a responsibility to protest – at times loudly – against our brethren when we feel that they are desecrating the Torah. There are also extreme situations when it may not be possible to build a relationship with another person for various reasons. Still-in-all, we must strive to love others as people, simply because they are Jews. If someone’s child was, G-d forbid, acting inappropriately and even humiliatingly, the parent would abhor what the child was doing and denounce his acts. However, the parent would continue to love the child. Every Jew is a child of G-d, our brother and sister.

Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita relates a powerful incredible story which demonstrates the power of peace and unity in protecting us from danger:
There were two women who were involved in personal feud for a number of years. One day one of the women attended a lecture she heard about the importance of peace. She was deeply inspired by what she heard and she decided that the time had come for her to end the feud and make peace. She approached her former rival and told her how much she regretted their long standing quarrel. She explained that it was so important to her that they build a relationship that she was inviting her to her daughter’s wedding which was to take place in a few weeks. The second woman was excited by the invitation, but when she heard the date she replied sadly that she would be unable to attend because she was to have surgery that day.
The first woman was so steadfast that her new ‘friend’ attend that she approached a distinguished Rabbi and asked him if it was appropriate for her to push off the wedding so her friend could attend! The Rabbi replied that, not only was it permissible, but it was laudable for her to do so.
The first woman was indeed able to arrange that the wedding be detained so her friend could attend.
Incredibly, the original date and location of the wedding was the Versailles Wedding Hall in Jerusalem on Thursday, May 24, 2001, the exact time and place of the infamous wedding disaster when the third floor of the four story building collapsed, killing 23 people and injuring 380.[7]  

After recounting on Tisha B’av many of the traumatic suffering we have endured throughout the exile, we read the prophet’s clarion call, “’Console! Console My people!’ says your G-d.” It is a national consolation. We have been made to suffer as a people and therefore we can only be comforted as a people. But that depends on whether we are ready to stand united.
It was baseless hatred that was the catalyst of the destruction of the Temple, and it is unequivocal – and oftentimes underserved – love that will bring it back.

“Because there was baseless hatred”
“For you are a holy people to Hashem”

[1] ‘match’ for marriage
[2] Yoma 9b
[3] Literally “Hatred of/for nothing”
[4] From the sefer ‘Otzaros Hatorah –Tisha B’av’
[5] Devorim 7:6-8
[6] It’s a fairly common experience that one who doesn’t like someone else for whatever reason may voice his feelings to another. Then if he becomes friendlier with the person he vilified prior he will feel badly for everything he said before they became familiar with each other.

[7] This story in no way minimizes or detracts from the horrific tragedy during the wedding of Keren and Asaf Dror. However, for the woman in our story, her decision to pursue peace saved her and her family.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


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


Aharon Barnea, a well-known news anchor in Israeli media, related the following story about a high level Palestinian militant leader named Salah Tamari[1]:
Tamari was a fierce fighter for the Palestinian cause who was caught after the Israeli Lebanese invasion in 1982. He was subsequently held captive in Israeli prisons for almost two years. As he languished in prison he began to lose heart in his cause. He came to the realization that they would never be successful in dislodging the Jews from their state. He decided that the Palestinians’ best option was to cut a deal with the Israelis and try to garner as much land as they could, and be done with the whole struggle. He shared his views with the thirty fellow terrorists who were inmates with him in the prison.
Then on the first night of Pesach he saw one of the prison guards eating a pita bread sandwich. “Aren’t you Jewish?” he asked the guard. The guard nodded that he was. Salah looked at him incredulously, “Then why are you eating pita? Don’t you know you’re not allowed to eat bread on Passover?” 
The guard was momentarily stunned by the question. But he quickly gathered his wits and replied sharply, “I have no obligation to commemorate events that happened to my ancestors over three thousand years ago.”
Salah was absolutely floored. He stayed up all night digesting the magnitude of what he had just heard. The next morning he summoned his comrades and told them what had transpired. “If these people feel no connection to the past, if they are willing to disregard their age-old national traditions, then they have severed their roots to this land. I retract everything I told you before. We must renew our mission with vigor and fortitude. We can be victorious over them. We must fight until we achieve victory. There is no room for compromise. They cannot stop us.”

Chumash Devorim, the final book of the Torah, contains Moshe Rabbeinu’s recounting of the experiences and lessons that the nation had learned along their forty-year journey through the desert. “It was in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, when Moshe spoke to the Children of Israel, according to everything that G-d commanded him to them.[2]”  
Moshe described their sojourns from the Sea of the Reeds to Mount Seir, where the descendants of our ancestor Yaakov’s archrival and brother, Esau, lived. “We turned and journeyed toward the wilderness towards the Sea of the Reeds, as G-d spoke to me, and we circled Mount Seir for many days. G-d said to me, saying, רב לכם סב את ההר הזה פנו לכם צפנה - Enough of your circling this mountain; turn yourselves northward’.[3]” 
The Medrash explains that when G-d said, “Turn yourselves צפנה (northward)” it is a hidden reference to the Torah[4]. Moshe conveyed to the nation that when G-d told them to turn northward He was alluding to the fact that the nation should turn towards the Torah.
Rabbi Mordechai Rogov zt’l[5] explains that the verse and its Midrashic expounding contain a vital lesson regarding the history and future of the Jewish people. He explains that there have been many times throughout our history when we have sought to ingratiate ourselves with the nations of the world so we could fit in with them. We have symbolically ‘circled Mount Seir’ pondering how to become part of their way of life. We were confident that doing so would provide us with protection and stability.
To our chagrin and amazement however, all of our machinations were futile. The more we sought to connect ourselves with the society around us the more our neighbors seemed to resent us. Their envy and enmity made us loathe in their eyes and they sought to rid themselves of our presence like we were vermin.
It is to that generation that G-d calls out, as it were, “Enough of your circling this mountain!” If you really want the nations to be tolerant of you, or more so, to revere and respect you, there is only one effective manner, “Turn yourselves צפנה - to the Torah.” That is where our only hopes for glory and grandeur lie. Either we are the lodestar of the world or the bane of society. It depends how much we respect ourselves.

In Chumash Vayikra the Torah records G-d’s instructing Moshe about the unique laws endemic to Kohanim regarding ritual purity and the added precautions they must adhere to. The verse begins[6], “G-d said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a dead person among his people…”
Rashi notes that the glaring redundancy (‘Say to the Kohanim… and say to them’) contains a vital lesson that the elders have a responsibility to teach the youngsters. Moshe was to ‘say’, i.e. instruct the older Kohanim that they had a responsibility to teach their special laws to the younger generation[7].
This lesson does not only apply to Kohanim but to all Jews. It is from this verse that we learn that adults are responsible to educate and train their children in the proper modality of Torah observance. The whole concept of Chinuch - educating our children from a young age to observe Torah laws is derived from the ‘redundancy’ in the aforementioned verse.
The Kohanim comprise less than 10% of all Jews. Why is the elementary mandate of chinuch derived specifically from the laws of ritual purity pertaining to Kohanim? Why isn’t it learned out from laws which are universally pertinent to all Jews, such as the holidays?
Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg zt’l explained that one of the most difficult questions a Torah-observant parent must answer to his children is ‘Why do I have to be different? Why do I have to do it if everyone else isn’t doing it?’
He offers the following analogy: A young kohain is heading out to play baseball with his friends one summer afternoon during the time when the Bais Hamikdash still stood. As he grabs his bat and baseball glove, his mother asks him where he’s going. When he responds that he’s going to the park down the block, she shakes her head sadly, “I’m sorry but you can’t go to that park because to get there you have to pass through the cemetery and we’re having terumah[8] for supper. He becomes annoyed, “Mom, it’s not fair! All of my friends are going to that park. Last night you didn’t let me go to the other park because there are sheratzim[9] there. No one else had those restrictions. Why do I?” The mother responds, “Because you are not like everyone else. You have an elevated status as a kohain. So you have to maintain greater levels than everyone else. You are special!”
That is the attitude every Jew must convey to their children, and that is the fundamental basis of proper chinuch. We must convey to our children that the reason why we perform certain rituals and refrain from doing many things that are the norm in society is because we are special. We have an elevated status and lofty responsibilities and therefore we have to act accordingly. Observing the Torah may be difficult at times, but we must view it as a privilege, and we must impart that feeling to our children[10].   

In the Kinnos of Tisha B’av[11] we state “איכה תפארתי מראשותי השליכו – O how they have thrown the splendor from my head.” With the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, and throughout our prolonged exile, we have lost a great deal of our inherent grandeur and pride. In our time, perhaps we ourselves have cast off a great deal of our own pride. Too often Jews are embarrassed by their differences, as they seek to fit in with the rest of society.
There is no doubt that we have to learn how to live with the nations of the world courteously and respectfully. We live among them, maintain business relationships with them, and have dealings with them continuously. But we must not be apologetic for our differences. We must remember that we are different because we are special. Our pride lies in our Torah observance and if we seem peculiar at times we are proud to bear that banner aloft.
Trying to obscure our differences in order to be like everyone else is not the solution, but a further deepening of the exile. Anyone who reads the history of our people in Europe prior to World War II will realize how frighteningly true that is. Our pride has been cast aside in exile and our obligation is to reclaim it. We are a nation that stands alone, even while we live among the nations of the world, and we must be proud of who we are.
On Tisha B’av we lower ourselves to the floor and mourn all we have lost. Yet as we shed tears for all of our suffering we gather solace in the knowledge that we have been made to suffer because we are special. That is why, after reciting lamentations in a state of intense mourning for the night and morning of Tisha B’av, at midday we are able to rise from the floor. We don our talis and tefillin[12] and recite the ‘nachem’ prayer, beseeching G-d to console the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Through our recounting of all of our sorrow and grief we realize that the reason we are persecuted is because of our exalted status as the Chosen Nation. Through tragedy and tears, Tisha B’av reminds us that we are special. And that itself is the source of our consolation.

“O how they have thrown the splendor from my head.”
“Enough of your circling; turn towards the Torah”

[1] Barnea is the author of a book titled, “Mine Enemy” about his friendly correspondence with Tamari.
[2] 1:3
[3] 2:1-2
[4] Devorim Rabbah (1:19) "ואין צפנה אלא תורה שנאמר 'יצפן לישרים תושיה'(משלי ב:ז)"
[5] Ateres Mordechai
[6] The opening verse of parshas Emor (Vayikra 21:1)
[7] Yevamos 114a
[8] Terumah is the special tithed food given to a kohain. It can only be eaten by Kohanim in a heightened state of ritual purity
[9] Crawling insects which cause ritual impurity to one who touches them
[10] Heard from Rabbi Yechiel Weberman, Camp Dora Golding chinuch va’ad, 5771
[11] Kinnah 9
[12] Which are not worn at shacharis because of our status in the highest level of mourning – like a relative whose deceased has not yet been buried r’l

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


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


Drop a pebble in the water: just a splash and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples, circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling, where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water: in a minute you forget,
But there's little waves a-flowing, and there's ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing to a great big wave have grown;
You've disturbed a mighty river just by dropping in a stone.

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples, circling on and on and on.     
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading from the center as they go,         
And there is no way to stop them, once you've started them to flow.              

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute you forget;
But there's little waves a-flowing, and there's ripples circling yet,
And perhaps in some sad heart a mighty wave of tears you've stirred,
And disturbed a life was happy where you dropped that unkind word.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: just a flash and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Bearing hope and joy and comfort on each splashing, dashing wave
Till you wouldn't believe the volume of the one kind word you gave.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: in a minute you forget;
But there's gladness still a-swelling, and there's joy circling yet,     
And you've rolled a wave of comfort whose sweet music can be heard         
Over miles and miles of water just by dropping one kind word.              

~James W. Foley (1874-1939) ~
Yom Kippur, the day of pristine purity and contriteness and forgiveness, begins with the prayer of Kol Nidrei. The very words Kol Nidrei seem to stir us. We are reminded of the intensity of the moment when young and old, men and women, are gathered in somber silence. The elders and scholars surround the chazzan clutching the holy Torah scrolls against their chest. There is a palpable tenseness as the congregation awaits the commencement of the ancient haunting melody.
And yet the words of Kol Nidrei seem to be surprisingly basic. The paragraph does not discuss the foibles of man, the greatness of G-d, or our deepest desire to improve and become greater. Not at all! The prayer is merely a reiteration of the annulment of vows that was recited by each individual man on the morning prior to Rosh Hashana. The prayer contains a lengthy listing of all variant forms of vows and oaths expressed in numerous manners. It then concludes with a declaration that all those oaths – uttered willfully or inadvertently from last Yom Kippur until now - should be null and void.
It is only after the paragraph has been recited three times, slowly and meticulously, that we even utter our first impassioned plea that G-d forgive our sins.
Why is Kol Nidrei the appropriate introduction to the great and holy day?

“Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying… If a man takes a vow or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.”
When one vows to do something, or to refrain from doing something, the Torah views that pledge with tremendous seriousness. Violating one’s word is referred to as a ‘desecration of one’s word’.

The Gemara[1] relates, “Before a Jew is born an oath is administered to him in heaven charging him, ‘Be righteous and be wicked; and even if the whole world is judging you by your actions and tells you that you are righteous, regard yourself as wicked’.”
Throughout our lives we are adjoined to the oath we accepted upon ourselves at the moment before our souls first descended to this world. Then, when a person leaves this world he must testify whether he fulfilled his original vow or not.
At the moments when we usher in Yom Kippur in a sea of white reminiscent of the purity of the beginning and end of life, we conjure up the subliminal memory of our original oath. All other oaths can be annulled but that original oath can never be negated, and it must remain at the fore of our conscience.
Moreover, our entire service on Yom Kippur is based on our speech. We certainly must change and improve our actions. But the first step is the words we utter with passion and feeling, imploring G-d for forgiveness and accepting upon ourselves to try to be better this year. 
In a world which does not appreciate the value of words the Torah reminds us that words are the most precious commodities we have. The world preaches that ‘talk is cheap’, but that is a terribly erroneous statement. In truth, talk may be easy - but its implications and consequences can be extremely expensive and costly.
Before we begin the Yom Kippur service, the ultimate day of prayer, we remind ourselves just how precious our words are. We can create new realities with our words. We can utter a vow which we are bound to observe, though we would have had no such obligation were we not to have said anything. In the time of the Bais Hamikdash, with a mere declaration one could sanctify an animal by declaring it sanctified to be brought as an offering. Were he to then use that animal for his personal benefit he would transgress a serious sin, because of his own words. That realization is vital on Yom Kippur and therefore it is the introduction of the holy day.

Words of Torah, words of prayer, words of encouragement and support – build and rebuild. Malicious words, painful words, hurtful words – destroy and cause irreparable damage.
This lesson is especially pertinent to the Three Weeks. The gemara relates that the second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred. From the fact that we are still in exile it is apparent that we have yet to rectify that sin within our national soul. The austere laws of vows and oaths remind us of the Torah’s perspective about the value of our words. With our words we can connect to G-d and to others. At the same time, with our words we can sever connections and destroy relationships.
The power is in our mouths! 

“An oath is administered to him: Be righteous and not wicked”
“He shall not desecrate his word”

[1] The gemara (Niddah, chapter 3) begins with the word “Tanya (they taught in a baraisa)”. The holy sefer haTanya commences with this baraisa. The opening paragraphs of the sefer discuss in detail the meaning of this beraisa, including how one can be expected to think of himself as wicked if our Sages teach that one is not allowed to regard himself as a wicked person.

MASEI 5776

World War II was finally over but there was much to be done. Aside from the smoldering ruins of decimated European Jewry, there were many survivors and refugees who needed help.
The Va’ad Hatzolah[2] in America was informed that there were twenty four young men in Italy who were in a desperate situation. They had originally been in contact with an influential man, who had agreed to expedite the process of procuring the necessary documents for them to leave Europe. But the man had fallen under suspicion and could no longer help them. The students were now in imminent danger of being deported back to Poland, which was a dangerous place for Jews even post-war.
The Va’ad convened an emergency meeting and came to the conclusion that the only viable avenue of help could come from the Mafia. Contacts were made and a meeting was arranged between Rabbis Aharon Kotler, Avrohom Yoffen, Avrohom Kalmanovitz zt’l, and the Va’ad’s director Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro with Mafia head, Joe Bonnano. 
The Va’ad decided that Rabbi Aharon would speak first in Yiddish and then Rabbi Shapiro would translate. They brought along twenty thousand dollars in case the Mafia needed added incentive.
When they arrived in Bonnao’s office he was dressed in a suit and robe and smoking a cigar. “What do you want?” he snapped.
Rabbi Kotler began speaking in Yiddish about the ordeal of the students in Italy. When Rabbi Shapiro began to translate, Bonnano silenced him. “I like the way the Rabbi talks. Let me hear him.”
It was only when Rabbi Kotler completed explaining the entire situation that Bonnano allowed Rabbi Shapiro to translate and explain the urgency of the situation.
Bonnano stared at them for a moment. Then he asked, “Do you want the boys to come by boat or by plane?” Rabbi Kotler turned to Rabbi Shapiro, “Vus zugt ehr – (what did he say)?” When Rabbi Shapiro relayed the question, Rabbi Kotler replied that they had to be rescued in any way as soon as possible, so they won’t be sent back to Europe.
Bonnano nonchalantly replied, “No problem. Today is Wednesday; we’ll have them here by Friday!”
Rabbi Kotler told Rabbi Shapiro to ask him how much it would cost. Bonnano thought for a moment. “Tell the Sage he should give me a blessing instead[3].”
In his inimitable genius Rabbi Kotler immediately replied, “Du zolst shtarbin in bet – You should die in bed.” Bonanno was very excited by the blessing. The meeting was adjourned and two days later the twenty four students were safely transported to America. The students later described how they were suddenly rounded up in the middle of the night and taken to the airport.
As for Bonnano, he was in jail once, and shot at on three occasions. Yet he lived into his eighties and died of a heart attack, in his own bed

Rabbi Kotler’s daughter, Rebbitzin Sarah Schwartzman a’h, related that when her father was criticized for working with a noted secular Jewish leader during the war years he replied, “Ich volt mishtateiach geven far’n Poips, tzu rativin di nuggel fun a Yiddishe kint – I would prostrate myself before the Pope himself to save the fingernail of a Jewish child.”

The Torah teaches that if someone kills another person accidentally, the relatives of the deceased have the right to avenge the murder[4]. The murderer would only be protected if he fled and remained in one of the six designated Cities of Refuge or any of the 48 Levite cities.
The Torah then warns that we have a responsibility to maintain its laws and decrees of justice. “ולא תחניפו את הארץ - You shall not bring guilt upon the land in which you are, for the blood will bring guilt upon the Land…[5]
The Sifrei quotes an exegetical understanding of the verse: “You shall not flatter (חניפה) a wrongdoer.” Shaarei Teshuva[6] discusses the severity of the sin of flattering a sinner. The most egregious form of sinful flattery is when one tells an evildoer that his deeds do not constitute sinful behavior. If one minimizes the severity of his sin, or worse negates the sin completely, he is in effect encouraging the transgressor to repeat his sin.   
A righteous person has an obligation to despise the actions of miscreants and sinners and to promulgate the folly of their views and actions. A leader must feel responsible to stand up and defend the honor of the Torah. The gemara[7] states, “Whoever is able to protest against wrongdoings… and fails to do so, is held accountable for his behavior.” 

In recent years there has been much worthy attention devoted to the vexing issue of bullying in schools. There are students who are afraid to walk down the halls of their school or go out to recess because they are subject to physical/verbal bullying on a regular basis.
Experts explain that the chief motivation behind a bully’s aggression is his need for attention. His macho persona and the image of bravado that he tries to foster is usually his unconscious attempt to mask his inner feelings of extreme vulnerability and lack of self-esteem. He attempts to prove to himself that he is not subjected to his inner feelings of inferiority by preying on those who are socially/physically weaker and inferior to himself. That is why 99% of bullying is done in public. The bully seeks a platform so he can garner the attention he seeks to assuage his own bruised self-image.
If that is true, the real focus of our efforts to stop bullying is by targeting the spectators who view the bullying in shameless silence. Quite often the spectators are afraid to defend the victim out of fear that doing so will make them the next target. But even if they are afraid to speak up they can help the victim by walking away and refusing to be part of the viewing audience[8].
There is a school with a very unique anti-bullying policy. The rule in that school is that if there is a fight, anyone caught watching the fight is subject to very strict disciplinary measures, sometimes even more so than the fighting parties. It’s an amazing thing to see: As soon as a fight breaks out in the school everyone in the vicinity runs away.
In the world of sports it is common that a team will have a better winning record when they play on their home field/court than they do on the road. When one is playing in front of multitudes of cheering fans it is enthusing and motivating, prompting the athlete to play that much harder. Conversely, playing in front of crowds of people who hope and cheer for the player’s failure and abysmal performance is at least somewhat psychologically debilitating. We play and work harder when we know we are being watched.
In regards to a bully or one who acts inappropriately or sinfully, those who do not protest his wrongful deeds, or at least seek to take away his platform, are compliant in his actions, whether they intend to be or not.  It is an unwitting violation of the prohibition  to have any connection with flattery.

It is not easy to stand up for what’s right. But when one witnesses or hears someone saying something that is contrary to the Torah’s outlook, or when one hears another shaming a Torah scholar or promulgating false ideas in the name of the Torah, he has an obligation to speak up for the honor of the Torah – sometimes indignantly and emphatically. Remaining silent at such a time is a violation of the Sifrei’s understanding of the verse which forbids one from flattering a wrongdoer.

A few summers ago, Rabbi Aryeh Rodin, a veteran and beloved Rabbi in Dallas, Texas, joined the talented staff of learning rabbeim at Camp Dora Golding. At one point, I was walking together with him and I asked him what quick philosophical advice he would give to a younger Rabbi. He replied, “I’ll tell you the same thing that my Rebbe, Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l, told me when I began my rabbinic career over two decades ago: לא תגורו מפני איש' – Do not tremble before any man’[9]. Stand up for what you feel is the truth and don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by anyone.” The words of the pasuk contain the most poignant lesson of all.

“You shall not flatter a wrongdoer”
“Do not fear any man”

[1] With gratitude to Rabbi Avrohom Jablon who inspired this thought
[2] “Committee of Salvation”
[3] What blessing should one give a Mafioso? 
[4] Rabbi Akiva’s opinion (Mishna, second perek Makkos) is that it is a mitzvah for the relative to pursue and kill the murderer if he is outside the City of Refuge.
[5] 35:33
[6] 3:187-199
[7] Shabbos 44b
[8] Of course if there is physical aggression involved it is the responsibility of everyone to try to help for the victim immediately.  What I refer to here is what sadly happens when people gather to see a fight for their entertainmen, sometimes even cheering on the fighters. 
[9] Devorim 1:17