Thursday, September 29, 2016



Rabbi Elya Meir Bloch zt’l, the Telsher Rosh Yeshiva, was once in the Chicago train station with a few of his students, waiting to board the Pacemaker to New York. A few feet away stood the Sunshine Express to San Francisco.
Rabbi Bloch asked his students, “How far apart are these two trains?” They speculated whether there was a distance of eight or ten feet between them. Rabbi Bloch disagreed. “These two trains are 3,000 miles apart; because one is headed to California while the other is headed to New York.”

Moshe Rabbeinu stood before his beloved nation on the final day of his life and cautioned them to remain faithful to G-d:
“Perhaps there is among you a man or woman, a family or tribe, whose heart turns away from being with Hashem, our G-d, to go and serve the gods of the nations; perhaps there is among you a root flourishing with gall and wormwood.”
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l asked that it seems as if Moshe grouped together two vastly different individuals. The first is a pagan idol-worshipper who has completely renounced his faith, while the second merely has a ‘bad root’ within him. In fact, Ramban explains, that at the present moment he is still an observant Jew. His only flaw is a spark of rebelliousness stirring in his heart.
Rabbi Leibowitz explained that the Torah juxtaposes them because there indeed exists a much deeper connection than what appears. If in the heart of the believer there is a slight yet unchecked feeling of treachery and rebelliousness, he deserves to be grouped with the idolater. They may appear to be worlds apart but if the mindset of the believer has veered, he has placed himself on a path which leads to the gravest sins. Perhaps at this moment he has not done anything wrong. However, the Torah – the guidebook to life – understands human nature. If he is headed in the wrong direction and does not immediately seek to rectify his erroneous attitudes and mindset, he will end up an idolater.
Moshe Rabbeinu was warning Klal Yisroel that if a ‘bad seed’ is allowed to germinate in someone’s psyche, even if only subconsciously, it may remain dormant for years, but eventually it will sprout.
In the epic story of Megillas Rus, after Rus and her sister Orpah’s husbands died, the sisters decided to return to Israel with their mother-in-law, Na’ami. Na’ami tried to reason with them that it was pointless for them to remain with her. Both Orpah and Rus wept along with Na’ami. Orpah eventually hearkened to Na’ami’s words and returned home, while Rus remained determinedly resolute.
The name Orpah means ‘turned her back’, because of her reaction at that juncture. Rabbi Leibowitz notes that the tears of Orpah and Rus were both genuine. However, there was ‘a root flourishing with gall and wormwood’ within Orpah which led her astray at that most critical moment.
Although to the naked eye it may have appeared as if Rus and Orpah were both standing together alongside Na’ami, in truth they stood worlds apart. The distance between them was as vast as the distance between their descendants, Dovid and Goliath.

The gemara Succah[1] relates, “Rabbi Yehuda expounded: In the future G-d will bring the Evil Inclination and slaughter him in view of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it (the Evil Inclination) will appear like a high mountain; to the wicked it will appear like the hair of a needle. These (the righteous) will cry and these (the wicked) will cry. The righteous will cry and proclaim, ‘How were we able to conquer this high mountain?’ The wicked will cry and proclaim, ‘How were we unable to conquer this hair of a needle?’ Rabbi Yose said: The Evil Inclination at first appears like the thread of a spider, and at the end he appears like cart ropes.”
Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l explained this gemara by relating a personal story: “On one occasion I was traveling on a boat when we approached a city well known for its grandeur and beauty. As we neared, the passengers amassed on the deck to get their first glimpses of the city.
“I trailed slowly behind them to see if there was anything special to see. When I was able to see the city I was bothered by the many houses of worship that I saw and I quickly returned to my cabin.
“Some time later I was again traveling when my boat neared that same city. This time when there was an excited rush to the deck I felt more of an urge to join and again see the city. I realized that when I saw the city the second time I wasn’t as repulsed by it as I had been the first time.
“The third time I was on a boat passing that city I was surprised to find that for a moment I too was marveling at the beauty of the city along with everyone else.”
Rabbi Schwadron noted that the incident brought to mind a thought he heard from the Brisker Rav. When Moshe Rabbeinu warned Klal Yisroel about the dangers of falling prey to idolatry he says, “For you know how we dwelled in the land of Egypt and how we passed through the midst of the nations through whom you passed. And you saw their abominations and their detestable idols – of wood and stone, of silver and gold that were with them.[2]
The Brisker Rav explained that, in his carefully chosen words, Moshe was warning the nation of the rapid progression of sin. When the nation was first exposed to idolatry no doubt they were repulsed by what they viewed as “abominations and detestable idols.” But with time when they became more accustomed to the notion of idolatry the idols were no longer as horrid to them as they once were. At that point they seemed like harmless pieces of ‘wood and stone’. Then, as more time passed, they came to respect and revere the idols until they became valuable like ‘silver and gold’.”
Rabbi Schwadron explained that his experience - which parallels the Brisker Rav’s explanation of the verse - reflects the workings of our Evil Inclination. He knows he cannot lure us into sin in one fell swoop. So he lays his traps in steps. “Today he says do this and this; until he says to serve idolatry[3].” In his crafty and wily manner our Evil Inclination enervates our resolve and deceptively entices us into sin without us realizing that he has ensnared us down a slippery slope.
This is what the gemara is conveying. How are the righteous able to desist from the machinations of the Evil Inclination? It is because they are acutely aware of the danger of doing those things which ‘aren’t so bad’. True, the act itself may not be so terrible, but the righteous look ahead and contemplate the potential effect such an act can have.
There are certain drugs which are dangerous, not as much because of their own inherent dangers, but because they are known as ‘gateway drugs’. Taking that first drug more often than not leads to taking other drugs which are far more perilous. 
In that same vein our Evil Inclination employs the usage of ‘gateway acts’. He leads us to commit acts which may not even be considered a sin, however, can easily lead to more sinful behavior.
The wicked live in the moment. They seek to enjoy hedonistic gratification available now, and do not contemplate the long-term consequences of their actions. Such a mindless attitude ensures that even a simply avoidable act can quickly metamorphose into ‘mountains’ of sins, which become almost insurmountable.
Thus, in the future when the truth becomes evident, the wicked will morbidly and regretfully look and contemplate the original actions they performed and see how much simpler it would have been if they had restrained themselves before their actions grew progressively worse.

Perhaps the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah symbolize the crying of the righteous and wicked in the future. The tekiah - the elongated single blast - represents the pure tears of the righteous who weep in reverent joy for their ability to remain pure and unsullied in sin.
The shevarim and teruah blasts - which are fragmented and intermittent - represent the tears of the wicked who allowed their lives to become fragmented by blindly following the whims of their Evil Inclination.
 On Rosh Hashanah, all blasts commence and conclude with a tekiah to represent that even if one has fallen prey to his Evil Inclination, and even if he is mired and sullied with sin, as long as he is alive he can repent and rectify. He can still join the ranks of the righteous whose tears are complete and whole. The first step is to make sure he is heading in the right direction.    

“A root flourishing with gall and wormwood”
“How were we unable to conquer this hair of a needle?”

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

[1] 52a
[2] 29:15-16
[3] Shabbos 105a

Thursday, September 22, 2016



Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt’l would often relate that what he felt was the key to everlasting happiness could be understood from the following story:
“Imagine someone is standing on the ledge of the seventieth floor of the Empire State Building in New York, perching to jump.
“You scream to him, "Stop! Don't do it!"
“He turns to you and says "Why shouldn’t I? My business went bankrupt and I’m under indictment for fraud. My wife left me and my children won’t talk to me. All my friends turned their back on me and left me all alone. And this morning the doctor told me I have a rare form of cancer. And to top it off I’m blind from birth. So tell me why should I go on living?"
“You freeze not sure how to respond. Then suddenly the man lets out a cry of joy. “I can see! I don’t know why, but suddenly I can see!”
“Do you think he’ll still jump?
“Of course he wouldn’t” explained Rabbi Weinberg. “He would be so taken and transfixed by the beauty of the world and the joy of seeing that he would be excited by the idea of just walking and staring at every thing in sight. None of his many troubles have gone away and his situation is still grim. But the sense of wonder and exhilaration would make it all worth it.
“And therein lies the secret of eternal happiness. It is hidden in the sense of wonder and excitement of everything we have at our disposal regularly.
                   “"Your eyesight is worth at least five million dollars. You're a rich man!"
If you really appreciate your eyesight, the other pains are insignificant. But if you take it all for granted, then nothing in life will ever truly give you joy.”

In parshas Ki Savo, Moshe Rabbeinu related the tochacha, the ninety-eight frightening curses that would befall the nation if they do not observe the Torah properly. The parsha also repeatedly mentions the obligation for one to be happy:
“You shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem, your G-d, is giving to you.[2]
“And you shall slaughter peace offerings and you shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d.[3]
“Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and a good hear, from an abundance of all.[4]

In Harvard University, the most widely-attended class is a course about happiness - what it is and how to achieve it. It is taught by an Israeli-born psychology professor named Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. The first such seminar, which he conducted in 2002, began with eight students. Within five years, the course’s attendance grew to 1,400 registered students.
In his bestseller, “What is Happiness?” Ben-Shahar notes that Psychologist Phillip Brickman analyzed the level of happiness people felt after winning the lottery. Within as short a time as a month, lottery winners returned to their base-level of well-being. If they were unhappy before winning they were again that way shortly after. Similarly, and perhaps more surprisingly, accident victims who became paraplegics were often as happy as they were prior to the accident, within as little as a year after the accident.
In addition, Psychologist Daniel Gilbert extended these findings to demonstrate how poor we are at predicting our future emotional states. We think a new house, a promotion, or a publication would make us happy, when in fact these achievements only lead to a temporary spike in our level of well-being. The same applies to negative experiences. The emotional pain that comes with the end of a relationship, losing our job, or the failure of our political candidate does not last long – we soon return to being as happy or unhappy as we were prior to the experience.

Dr. Ben-Shahar describes how, at age 16, he won the Israeli national squash championship, an event that brought the subject of happiness into sharp focus in his life.
During the five years while he was training for the event he felt that something important was missing from his life. He was sure that winning the title would alleviate that empty feeling and help him achieve real happiness.  In his words, “After all, it seemed clear to me that the mental and physical exertion were necessary to win the championship. Winning the championship was necessary for fulfillment. Fulfillment was necessary for happiness. This was the logic I operated under.”
When he won the championship, he was indeed ecstatic, happier than he had ever imagined feeling. Following the final match he went out with his family and friends, and celebrated together.
He goes on to describe that after the celebration, he went to his room, sat on his bed and wanted to savor that feeling of supreme happiness. Then suddenly, without warning, the bliss disappeared, and the feeling of emptiness returned with a vengeance. The tears of joy shed only hours earlier turned to tears of pain and helplessness. He tried to convince himself that he was feeling a temporary low following an overwhelming high. But as the days and months unfolded, he did not feel happier; in fact, he was growing even more desolate as he began to see that simply substituting a new goal would not in itself lead him to happiness. It was that experience which compelled him to seek a deeper understanding about happiness.

People often believe that we will truly be happy if they had just a little more. Psychological studies confirm what the Torah taught us long ago – happiness is based on an attitude of appreciation and acceptance, not on how much one owns or how prominent one is. In fact, our Sages warn us that the more one has the more one wants[5]. Therefore, the truly wealthy person is the one who is happy with what he has[6].
Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l once quipped that, “People are always looking for the city of happiness, but they don’t realize that happiness is a state of mind!”

The gemara[7] notes that Ezra Hasofer enacted that the harsh verses of rebuke be read shortly prior to Rosh Hashana so that ‘תכלה שנה וקללותיה - the year should end along with its curses’.
Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky zt’l asks how Ezra could be sure that every year would have curses? Ezra made this enactment shortly after the second Temple had been constructed. It seems like a dismal prediction to say that we must read the curses at the end of the year because every year will have curses? Is it not possible that there would be a year of prosperity, when there would be no curses?
Rabbi Galinsky answers that the definition of blessing and curse is very objective. What one person sees as a wonderful blessing another person may view as a terrible curse.
He explains that when he was a prisoner in Siberia they had hardly any food and suffered terribly from pangs of hunger. The winters were absolutely frigid and the only clothing he had was inadequate to protect him from the brutal cold. He, and the other prisoners, lived with the constant danger of becoming frostbitten.
As Rosh Hashana approached their dream of ‘the year ending with its curses’ meant that they would have a little bread so they wouldn’t starve, and a full set of shoes that weren’t ripped. And if G-d really wanted to shower them with blessing, He would allow them to somehow procure a coat with a warm lining and a scarf. That would be the greatest blessing.
Then, when G-d saved him from Siberia and he returned to more of a life of normalcy where he had enough food to survive, and clothing to at least keep him warm, the definition of blessing and curse changed. At that point ‘the year ending with its curses’ entailed that the following year he would have more money and better food.
The next year such a person could desire a bigger house with a nicer coach, etc.
People will always feel that there are curses, no matter how much they are blessed with. Unless one trains himself to appreciate what he has, he will always be dissatisfied and see his ‘lack’ as a curse. It is that negative outlook that we hope we will be able to eradicate from within ourselves as the new year concludes. In that sense it’s up to us.
One person may view a certain lifestyle as a curse, but if that person is able to feel happy with what he has, it is he who is rich! 

There was once an acknowledged artist who invited his friends to his gallery to witness the uncovering of his new painting entitled “The Door to Happiness.” When he presented the painting the assemblage marveled at the beauty and color, the wood grain captured on canvas, and the outstanding craftsmanship. The painter announced that there was a flaw in the painting and he wanted to see who was keen enough to notice it. Try as they might no one could find any flaw in the masterpiece, until one clever observer remarked that there was no handle on the door. Everyone gasped when they realized the now glaring omission. The artist smiled confidently, and explained, “This is the door to happiness. It is opened from the inside.”

“You shall rejoice with all the good that G-d is giving to you”
“May the year end with all of its curses”

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

[1] Based on the speech given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Savo 5770
[2] 26:11- when a farmer would bring his bikkurim (‘first fruits’) to the Bais Hamikdash
[3] 27:7 – when setting up the altar on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival
[4] 28:47 – the reason the curses befall the nation
[5] See Koheles Rabbah 1:13; 3:10
[6] Avos 4:1
[7] Megillah 31b

Thursday, September 15, 2016



One day during the summer of 2011/5771, our family visited Quiet Valley Historical Farm in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. It is a historic farm preserved exactly as it was in the early 1800s after a German Lutheran family settled it in the late 1700s.
The tour was especially meaningful because so many concepts mentioned in the Gemara relating to agriculture and production of textiles came to life. Many of the 39 forbidden categories of labor on Shabbos are directly related to primitive methods of farming and making clothes. It is generally difficult to visualize those concepts in our world of modern technology when most people no longer live on farms. But as I listened to the guides discuss and demonstrate their way of life I saw the words of the Talmud come to life[1].
In one home the guide described the process of making clothes. She described how after they sheared the sheep, they dyed, combed, and spun the wool. She also described the process of making linen from the flax plant. The seeds are removed (rippling), the outer stalk is retted to get to the strong inner fibers. It is then crushed (scotching), and the fibers straightened by pulling them through a metal comb (hackles).
She then demonstrated how the wool and linen was mounted onto the loom, one as the woof, the other as the warp. At that point I asked why they preferred to use a mixture of wool and linen (called linsey woolseys). She replied that the linen provided greater strength while the wool provided greater warmth. Then she quipped, “Now I know some of you don’t mix plant and animal. But we German Lutherans do!”   
It took me a moment to realize that she was referring to the Biblical prohibition of wearing sha’atnez: “You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together.[2]” I was intrigued by the fact that she referred to the prohibition as being a mixture of plant (linen, a derivative of the flax plant) and animal (wool, which comes from sheep). I had never thought of sha’atnez in that manner and I wondered if any of the commentaries explained it as such. 
I found it indeed explained in that vein by Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch. He explains that within man’s makeup there is an ‘element’ of plant and an ‘element’ of animal. A plant is a source of nutrition which contains within itself the ability to reproduce. An animal has the added ability of perception and mobility. An animal utilizes its unique capabilities of perception and mobility in its quest to gratify its vegetative desires of nutrition (food) and reproduction.    
Man however, must subordinate his plant-like needs to his animalistic abilities. In other words, he must use his superior perception and mobility to control his base desires through his ability to understand, distinguish, and conceptualize. Rabbi Hirsch explains that man is a pyramid containing certain components of plants and animals. His goal is to elevate those components so he can stand upright before G-d. His plant-like abilities subordinate themselves to his animalistic capabilities, which he in turn subjugates to the fulfillment of his responsibilities as superior man.
The prohibition of sha’atnez symbolically reflects this idea. Wool represents the animalistic element within a human, while linen represents the vegetative element in man. In man, the animalistic abilities of mind and will power, must not be inclined toward the vegetative urges for reproduction and food (nutrition). Rather, these two components must be separated so that it is not used “downwards towards vegetative sensuality, (but) upwards towards the pinnacle of Mankind.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l offered a beautiful explanation for the universal custom that a groom gives his bride a diamond ring: At the time of Creation, mankind was charged with the maintenance and furtherance of the world. “Let us make man in our image… they shall rule over the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the animal, the whole earth, and every creepy thing that creeps on the earth.[3]” When G-d initially created the world, “He saw that it was good[4]”. But after He created Man, “G-d saw all that He had made, and it was very good[5].”
There are four levels of life in the world: inanimate, plant, animal, man. Plant and animal serve Man by providing him with food and clothing. How do minerals and the inanimate serve Man? One way is that man wears precious stones and diamonds as ornamental jewelry. The beauty of the human countenance is enhanced by the evocative quality that gems and diamonds provide.
When man dons inanimate objects as jewelry it is the greatest demonstration of man’s ability and responsibility to elevate all of creation. It symbolizes that the highest level of being in this world elevates even the basest level of being in this world.
At a wedding the second of the seven special blessings recited is “Blessed are You… the fashioner of the Man.” When a man and woman bond in marriage they are embarking on a journey to produce the next generation of mankind. Therefore, at the moment when they agree to commit themselves to that process, he gives her a diamond to symbolize that through their marriage they have the ability – and responsibility - to elevate all of creation[6].

Twice a year – on Tisha B’av and Yom Kippur – it is forbidden for a Jew to wear shoes made from leather. What is the reason behind this prohibition?
Divrei Shaul[7] explained that man wears leather constructed from the hides of animals as a symbol of his dominance over animals. With every step he takes he asserts his superiority and dominance over all of creation.
However, during two days we are removed from that symbolic dominance. On Tisha B’av when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, and we were shamefully banished into exile, we lost our superiority over creation. Thus we remove our shoes to symbolize that loss of greatness and status. On Tisha B’av we forfeit our elevated status.
On Yom Kippur we seek to temporarily divorce ourselves from our physical selves so that we can spend the day focusing in spiritual meditation. On Yom Kippur we remove our shoes to symbolize that on this day our focus is not on dominating this world but on living an other-worldly life, divorced from our animalistic urges and drives. 
In a sense on Tisha B’av our shoes were removed from us; on Yom Kippur we remove our shoes willingly[8]

A Jew is charged with elevating, not only the plant and animal components within himself, but also to elevate all of creation. He does so by adhering to the laws of the Torah and mitzvos. Through his deeds and actions the whole world merits blessing and prosperity.
May we indeed be the conduits to merit such blessing and goodness.

“You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together”
“Let us make man… they shall rule the whole earth”

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

[1] When I mentioned this to one of the guides, she retorted, “You know, you’re the fourth person today to tell me that!”
[2] Devorim 22:11; also in Vayikra 19:19 “And a garment that is a mixture of combined fibers shall not come upon you.”
[3] Bereishis 1:24
[4] Ibid 1:4
[5] Ibid 1:31
[6] Note: he cannot give her a diamond ring under the chuppah because at that point she is agreeing to a halachic acquisition through her acceptance of the ring. She must therefore know about how much the ring is worth, otherwise she can claim that she only agreed to the marriage on the assumption that the ring was worth much more. To avoid this problem, under the chuppah she is given a ring which she has a relative idea of how much its worth. At the engagement however (or sometime thereafter), the custom us to give her a diamond because of its symbolism.
[7] Derush l’Shabbos Shuva 5631
[8] The Divrei Shaul utilizes this idea to explain why chalitzah is performed with the removal of the Yavam’s shoe.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Rabbi Dani Staum

I have heard the following story related by Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman on a number of occasions[1]:
There was a fifty-year-old man whose health had been becoming progressively worse for a few years. His eyesight was blurred, and his hands and legs became less and less coordinated, causing him to lose his balance, even as he walked in the street. Finally, his doctor told him and his wife the grim prognosis: He had a debilitating disease and had only six months to live. 
As can be imagined, they were extremely distraught. The wife called a young man whom she knew had a relationship with the previous Skolya Rebbe, Rabbi Dovid Yitzchok Isaac Rabinowitz zt’l, and asked him to please speak to the Rebbe on their behalf.
When the young man recounted to the rebbe what the doctor had said, the rebbe became very agitated. He exclaimed that on the Torah’s words[2] “He shall provide for healing” the gemara[3] expounds, “From here a doctor was granted permission to heal”[4]. “A doctor only has permission to try to heal someone. But who gave him permission to rule about death?”
The rebbe then asked the young man if the patient was an eved Hashem (servant of G-d)? The young man replied that the man went to shul to daven three times a day and had a fixed time to study Torah every day. “In that case”, replied the rebbe, “there is a verse in the Torah that applies to him. “You shall worship Hashem, your G-d, and He shall bless your bread and your water, and I shall remove illness from your midst”[5]. Tell the patient’s wife to prepare for him a piece of bread and a glass of tea. He should recite a blessing and eat them, and G-d will bless him with longevity.”
The wife did so, and within three days of eating the bread and the tea he began to feel better. With time he regained most of his eyesight and the use of his hands, although he never really regained the usage of his feet.
Rabbi Finkelman would conclude the story by saying, “I don’t know what happened to the doctor. But I know that the patient is still alive, and still going to shul each day and learning Torah.”
That is the way I had heard the story from Rabbi Finkelman on a number of occasions. At the end of the summer of 5771, Rabbi Finkelman’s father, Mr. Shmuel Finkelman, passed away. In his eulogy during the funeral, Rabbi Finkelman recounted the story and then added:
“I never related who the story was about for fear of causing an ayin hara (evil eye). But now I can say that the patient in the story was my father, and I was the one who went to the Skolya Rebbe at the request of my mother. My father lived 35 more years after the rebbe’s blessing.”[6] 
May his memory be for a blessing.

Moshe Rabbeinu instructed the nation[7], “Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourselves.” Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita[8] notes that to some degree every person naturally craves a sense of subjugation. It gives a person a certain measure of comfort and inner security to know that he can turn to, and has to answer to, a higher authority. It is also comforting for a person to have someone to guide and instruct him, so that he does not feel alone. Although we all crave independence and chafe excessive authority, too much freedom can lead to anarchy if not harnessed and controlled. When a person becomes completely lawless and ‘free’ he feels wild and unbridled.
This is a very poignant concept in education. Children resist authority constantly and struggle mightily against structure, chores, and rules. But deep down they feel loved when they are granted guidelines and limits. Conversely, children who are granted too much freedom and lack structure often become emotionally unstable and lack self confidence[9]. They begin to feel that they are uncontrollable, and they act accordingly.
Thus the obligation that one imposes judges and officers is not only for the sake of maintaining peace and judicial law. It is also so that one has mentors and teachers to whom he turns to for guidance and direction in life.

Our Torah leaders do not merely teach us the Torah’s laws and matters of policy. They direct us how to live our lives according to the dictates, and within the parameters of the Torah. They show us how to live within the spirit of the law, and not merely the letter of the law.
The Torah instructs us to adhere to the word of the sages even if we feel they have erred. “According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left.[10]” Sifrei expounds, “Even if they will tell you about the right that it is left, and the left that it is right (you must hearken to their instruction)”.
It is noteworthy that the Sifrei’s example – regarding right and left - is a matter of direction and perspective, for one person’s right is on the left of the person standing opposite him. On a deeper level, the Sifrei is teaching us that if our leaders tell us right is left, they are teaching us that we are viewing the matter backwards. We are seeing right and left inversely because we are viewing the matter from a falwed perspective.
If one were to enter the Mishkan[11] the Shulchan[12] would be on his right side while the Menorah[13] would be on his left. It seems incongruous that in the Holy Temple the vessel representing physical success was on the right side (symbolizing priority), while the vessel representing spiritual greatness was positioned on the left?
The Bais Halevi explained[14] that the vessels were only positioned in that manner when one entered the Mishkan. However, after one had walked through the Sanctuary and experienced the embrace of G-d’s Presence, as it were, when he subsequently turned to leave the Menorah was now on his right while the Shulchan was on his left. The experience of being in such proximity to holiness was sufficient to shift one’s perspective and priorities. 

Iyov said[15], “When you speak a decree it shall be fulfilled for you; and a light will shine upon your path.” The gemara[16] explains, “The righteous one decrees it and the Holy One, blessed is He, fulfills it.” Countless stories demonstrate that at times G-d alters celestial decrees based on the blessings and prayers of the righteous.  

In the center of every town in Europe there was a clock hanging from a tower. Most people would rationalize that the reason why the clock was so high up was so everyone could see it. Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l noted that there is an added reason why the clock was so positioned. If the clock was lower and more accessible, a passerby may notice that the clock was two minutes faster than his watch. So he would walk to the big levers behind the clock and simply move it two minutes ahead. A minute later another fellow would walk by and see that the clock was three minutes slower than his watch. So he too would reset the clock to match his watch. Throughout the day the time on the clock would constantly be changing, as every person ensured that the clock was set correctly according to his own watch.
But if the clock is high up and inaccessible, a passerby who notices that the time on the big clock does not match the time on his watch will have no choice but to change his watch to match the time on ‘the big clock’. Because of its position the big clock sets the standard, and not vice versa.
Rabbi Hutner explained that this is the perspective we must have of our leaders. A Torah leader is not a politician who alters his rulings and tailors his speeches to pander to the fancies of his constituents. He is not seeking votes or candidacy for office. A Torah leader’s sole interest must always be only to espouse the unadulterated truth. Therefore, his followers have to subjugate their views and opinions to his, and not vice versa. He is the proverbial clock that towers above all else and therefore everyone else lifts their gaze towards him.
Our leaders, like the Sanctuary itself, teach us how to shift our weltanschauung from society’s view to the vastly different perspective of the Torah. It is in their shadow, and according to their direction, that we live our lives.

“Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourselves”
“You shall not deviate right or left”

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

[1] Rabbi Finkelman is the Mashgiach at Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim in Queens, and a legendary educator. I am privileged to consider myself a talmid of Rabbi Finkelman from his many years at Camp Dora Golding.
[2] Shemos 21:20
[3] Berachos 60a
[4] From the fact that the Torah obligates one who inflicts a wound on another to pay his doctor bills, we see that a doctor is allowed to practice medicine. This is the source which permits (and obligates) one who is sick to go to a doctor.
[5] Shemos 23:25
[6] During the shiva, Rabbi Finkelman’s brother, Rabbi Shimon, related that after his father began feeling better their mother sent him back to the rebbe to tell him the good news (Rabbi Shimon was not yet married and was still living at home). The rebbe became very excited with the good news. He explained that people often come to him and relate the pain on their hearts. But very rarely do they return to tell him the good news. [I have heard this sentiment expressed in the name of other tzaddikim as well]. 
[7] 16:18
[8] Aleinu L’shabayach
[9] There is much empirical (and anecdotal) evidence to support this
[10] 17:11
[11] Technically speaking, as only the Kohain Gadol was permitted to enter the Sanctuary on specific occasions
[12] Table which contained the twelve Showbreads and represented the livelihood of the Jewish people
[13] Whose light represented the light of Torah
[14] Note that I heard this beautiful thought in the name of the Bais Halevi but was personally unable to find it in the sefer
[15] 22:28
[16] Kesubos 103b