Thursday, October 27, 2016



          Rabbi Emanuel Feldman relates the story about a Jewish adolescent who was raised by his irreligious parents in the assimilated life of the city. One summer his parents sent him to live with his Orthodox grandparents in the suburbs. Throughout the summer his Bubby and Zaydei instilled within him an appreciation for the beauty of a Torah life. He kept Shabbos, ate only Kosher, prayed three times a day, and put on tefillin each morning. Then, on the final day of the summer vacation his parents arrived to bring him back home. With tears in his eyes he placed his hand on the mezuzah, kissed it, and called out, “Goodbye G-d! I’ll see you next year!”
          Rabbi Sholom Shwadron zt’l, the great Maggid of Yerushalayim, remarked that the wily Satan is aware that during the days of awe he will not be wholly successful in deterring Klal Yisroel from their passionate confession and remorseful repentance. So he makes a nonverbalized pact with every one of us: “Elul and Tishrei are yours; but as soon as Cheshvan comes, you’re mine!” He bides his time until the holidays have ended, and life resumes its normal course. Then he seeks to thwart all our attempts to improve by resorting us to the way things were before.  
So how do we combat this overwhelming evil inclination that ‘attacks’ us as soon as the holidays are over and the cold chill of winter sends a shiver down our spine?

Someone once met Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l after Yom Tov and cordially asked him how his Yom Tov was. Rav Mendel shrugged, “I don’t know.” He then smiled and told the puzzled questioner, “Come back to me in a few months and ask me then how my Yom Tov was.
 Yomim Tovim are meant to be times of spiritual service and soulful elevation, when a Jew counts his blessings and seeks a closer connection with G-d.
Every Yom Tov has its own unique blessing and each fills our spiritual chalice with unique spiritual blessing to help us endure the vicissitudes and challenges of the year. This is the meaning of the prayer we recite during Yom Tov, “ והשיאנו ה' אלקינו את ברכת מועדיך- Hashem our G-d may You load us up with the blessing of Your holidays.” Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l would quip that one who says ’Yom Tov is over’ has missed the point of Yom Tov. It is not just an event, but rather an experience.
This is the message Rabbi Mendel was conveying. If in a few months he still felt the impression of the Yom Tov, only then he can know that it was ‘a good Yom Tov’. 

 After eating the fruit from the Eitz Hada’as (Tree of Knowledge), the Torah relates that Adam become cognizant of the fact that he was unclothed. Hashem then called out to him with the word - “Ayeka- Where are you?”[1]
The Maharal explains that when the pasuk says that Adam realized he was unclothed it does not mean physically, but spiritually. He had one commandment to fulfill, and he was now bereft of that mitzvah. When Hashem called out to him, “Ayeka,” He was lamenting Adam’s pitfall from pristine purity to a state of sin.
Meiam Loez notes that it was this same complaint that G-d made to Klal Yisroel some three and a half thousand years later at the time of the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. Yirmiyahu Hanavi cried out - “Eicha”. The word ‘Eicha’ is composed of the same Hebrew letters as ‘Ayeka’. In essence, G-d’s complaint to Klal Yisroel was the same as His complaint to Adam: “My children, where are you? How could you have allowed yourself to fall into such a sad and denigrated state?”

Chazal say that the Satan becomes ‘confused’ through the blowing of the shofar and the shaking of the lulav. Tosafos explains that his confusion is the result of seeing the overwhelming zeal and burning passion of Klal Yisroel to perform these mitzvos. His greatest prosecution is to claim that all of our actions are only out of habit and rote. So when he sees our excitement in performing the mitzvos he becomes stymied. However, Satan is no novice. Instead he waits patiently until the “Holiday Season” is over, and then he makes his move.  

Perhaps that is why the month immediately following Tishrei is known as ‘MarCheshvan- Bitter Cheshvan”. Being that the month of Cheshvan possesses no holidays or ‘marked times’ it is deemed a ‘bitter’ month.[2] It is perplexing that the month be given such a harsh title, perhaps it should be called, “Stam Cheshvan - the plain Cheshvan”. Why bitter?
The Ba’alei Mussar explain that there is no such thing as ‘spiritual stagnancy’.[3] No one remains on the same spiritual level for any period of time. Either one is rowing or he is slipping.
The Jewish people learn not only from its triumphs, but also from its downfalls and defeats. Thus, even the days marked as ‘tragic’ days on the Jewish calendar carry lessons, and specific pathway for growth.
Throughout the year a Jew learns to channel every one of his emotions in a spiritual way. Adar/Purim is a month of laughter, while Tisha B’av is a time of hopeful tears. Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur are days of awe, while Succos is a holiday of blissful joy, etc. Even tragic holidays and the “minor holidays” contain endemic lessons: Asarah B’teves is the darkest time of the year when the enemy laid siege around Jerusalem, symbolizing the siege around our souls in exile. On Tu B’shvat the sap begins climbing the trees, representing hope and revival. The list continues throughout every month of the year.
The month of Cheshvan however, lacks this mode of unique and specific growth. Because Cheshvan does not have this modality for growth it is deemed as a month of bitterness.[4] When there is such holiness and greatness gained during the previous months and now there is a void, there is inevitably ‘bitterness’.  

So this is our challenge. As we bless and welcome the month of Cheshvan, we also seek to sweeten the bitterness of the month, by growing with our every day, despite not having any special holidays. Cheshvan affords us an opportunity to focus more on the sanctity and incredible gift of Shabbos each week. As we commence the reading of the Torah we also grow with the beautiful lessons of our holy Avos, and remind ourselves how to live a life of Kiddush Hashem even amid challenges.
May we keep the flame of Tishrei and all of its holidays with us, to warm us throughout the winter, and throughout the year.      
Ayeka- Where are you?”
“Load us up with the blessing of Your holidays”

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

[1] Bereishis 3:9
[2] Sefer HaToda’ah. See there where he adds a second explanation beased on the fact that the word Mar also means a raindrop (See Yeshaya 40:15). The month is called MarCheshvan because it is when the rainy season begins.
[3] In the words of Rav Hutner  (Purim 1976) “There is no Switzerland in the neshama; no neutrality!”
[4] Although the month of Elul may not have a specific holiday, the whole month carries with it a special spiritual service that is vital to the yearly cycle of a Jew.

Friday, October 14, 2016



He was world-renown as one of the most successful and wealthy individuals in the country, and his fame seemed to grow as quickly as his profits. He was the envy of his acquaintances, the bane of his competition. So when the accusations were leveled against him it was an absolute shock. He was accused of murdering a seventeen-year-old girl and the evidence against him was incriminating.
He hired the best defense lawyer, perhaps in the world. The introductory fees alone were upward of five million dollars. But it was pocket change for the defendant and the lawyer was surely worth it.
The prosecution knew that they would be hard pressed to defeat the defense lawyer. To date, the lawyer had never lost a case, even when his client’s case was weak at best. A young District Attorney took up the challenge as the prosecuting lawyer.
The case quickly morphed into a media sensation. Journalists from all across the world were on hand to hear ‘the case of the century’. The D.A. did a masterful job interrogating and proving the prosecution’s case. When he completed his litigation the defense lawyer arose to present his defense. But to the shock of the court he began asking the witnesses seemingly ridiculous questions. “How do you know the murder took place at 3 P.M.? What kind of watch was it? What color? How do you know the battery wasn’t dying and the time was off?”
The spectators couldn’t believe what was happening. The prosecution objected to the defense lawyer’s questions on grounds of irrelevance, and the judge was quick to sustain the objection. The judge repeatedly demanded that the lawyer explain the logic for his inane questions. 
The case dragged in for weeks, and the same pattern recurred repeatedly. The D.A.  would present poignant litigation and proof for their accusations. Then the defense lawyer would follow with trivial and ridiculous questions. The defendant himself was convinced that his lawyer had lost his marbles and that he was a goner.
Finally, after many weeks, it was time for the closing remarks. The D.A. faced the jury and made his impassioned statement. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the face you are looking at is the face of a murderer. We have offered conclusive and undeniable proof that he has committed this heinous crime. But he did not just murder a seventeen-year-old girl. He also murdered her children and her children’s children, and all of the lives she could have touched, but now never will.”
When he sat down and the defending lawyer arose to make his closing remarks the tension in the room was palpable. Yet the lawyer was as calm and composed as ever. With finesse and poise he emphatically stated, “Your honor and distinguished members of the jury, it is hardly a secret that for the duration of this case I have made a mockery of the trial. I now reveal to you that the reason I did so is because this trial is indeed just that - a mockery. You see the girl was never murdered. I have been in contact with her all along. She feigned the whole story so that she could run away from home without being followed. To prove it in ten minutes she will walk through the door and enter the courtroom.”
A collective gasp escaped the room as the defendant smugly sat down. They all waited with bated breath as the minutes ticked by. But then ten minutes turned into twenty, and then thirty, and then an hour. Finally, the judge ordered the defense to present some proof or he would be held in contempt of court.
The defense lawyer arose again. “Your honor, and ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you are all well aware the law states that a defendant cannot be prosecuted unless it can be proven - beyond a reasonable doubt – that the defendant committed the crime. My friends, by virtue of the fact that you have all been wordlessly staring at the courtroom door for the last hour proves that you all have a reasonable doubt. Therefore, I believe you cannot prosecute my client.”
The courtroom was launched into an uproar. The journalists could not get over the brilliance of the lawyer. He had outfoxed the prosecution and the jury would have no choice but to pardon the obviously guilty defendant. Indeed, the jury returned after a mere five-minute recess with their verdict.
The room was silent as the head juror made his statement, “We find the defendant… GUILTY… of first degree murder.” The courtroom again burst into a frenzy. The judge smashed his gavel down and called for order. Then he asked the jury for an explanation. The head juror turned to an elderly juror who arose and explained, “Your honor, the defense indeed presented a most convincing argument based on the virtue of the fact that we were all watching the back door. But you see, while everyone else was staring at the door I was staring at the defendant. I noticed that he did not even glance at the door once during that hour. Do you know why? Because he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the young woman was not going to walk through that door. He knew that because he himself must have killed her!”   
The courtroom quickly began to empty out as people murmured about the amazing proceedings they had witnessed. As the police officers handcuffed the defendant the lawyer looked at him angrily and quipped, “You silly fool! If you would have only looked at the door one time, you would be a free man now. But if you yourself don’t believe the alibi, or at least demonstrate your belief in the alibi, how can you expect anyone else to believe it?!”

From Rosh Chodesh Elul we begin a month long process of introspection and preparation. We scrutinize our actions and ponder how we can improve ourselves in a lasting manner during the coming year. During the week of Rosh Hashanah, we commence the recitation of selichos pleading with the Almighty that He prolong His justifiable wrath with our foibles, and exercise His attribute of mercy.
On Rosh Hashanah we reaccept upon ourselves our unyielding allegiance to G-d’s eternal Kingship, replete with the blowing of the shofar, as the first step of our repentance. During the subsequent Days of Penitence, we prepare for the awesome and holy day of Yom Kippur, begging our Father and King to grant us a tabula rasa, wherein we can begin anew.
The conclusion of Yom Kippur immediately segues into an exciting four days of preparation for the holiday of Succos. The succah itself must be built according to halachic parameters, then furbished, and decorated. The Four Species must be painstakingly analyzed for perfection and then purchased. This is all aside from all the other Yom Tov preparations that must be done.
The holiday itself is termed “Z’man Simchasaynu – The season of our joy.” Although there is an obligation to be in a state of joy during every festival, there is no explicit commandment to feel joy written in regards to Pesach. The obligation is written once in regards to Shavuos. Conversely, in regards to the holiday of Succos the Torah states three times that one must rejoice during the festival!
The commentators explain that the joy of Succos is inextricably bound to the blissful delight of having achieved atonement and forgiveness on Yom Kippur. The joy of Succos is manifest in so many ways, including taking the Four Species during each day of the holiday, the Simchos Bais Hashoeivah[2] celebrations virtually every night of the festival, and culminating with the uninhibited joy of Simchas Torah.
But there is an added dimension to the emphasis of joy during Succos. If one does not feel a sense of happiness on Succos it is seemingly indicative of his lack of confidence in the veracity of his efforts during the Days of Awe. He is analogous to the defendant who did not look at the door because he knew the alibi was false.
The Chiddushei HaRim questioned why we recite the blessing “Selach Lanu –Forgive us” during Shemoneh Esrei of ma’ariv following Yom Kippur. If one did not achieve forgiveness from the passionate prayers of Ne’ilah it is hardly likely that he will do so from the prayers afterwards?
He answered that in the prayers after Yom Kippur we must ask G-d’s forgiveness for not believing in our own efforts. We spent the day immersed in prayer and repentance, and conducting ourselves like angels. Yet we are skeptical and wonder if perhaps G-d does not love us and does not accept our prayers. For that skepticism we must beg forgiveness after Yom Kippur is over. We have an obligation to believe that G-d, who loves us dearly, awaits to accept our prayers and to grant us atonement.

Our joy on Succos reflects that confidence and therefore is a vital continuation of our efforts on Yom Kippur. Perhaps that is why the judgments that were sealed on Yom Kippur are not dispatched to the world until Hoshanah Rabbah[3]. G-d waits to see if we believe in our own efforts before He dispatches the sealed verdict to this world. Even one who did not emerge meritoriously from the precise judgments of the Days of Awe, has a chance to accrue merits and alter the decree before Hoshanah Rabbah.
If one demonstrates genuine inner joy at the opportunity afforded to him to reconnect with His Creator during these days, that itself is an incredible merit which can alter the judgment.

“You shall rejoice on your festival...
A seven-day period shall you celebrate…
And you will be completely joyous[4]

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

[1]The following essay is based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, second day of Succos 5770. I originally heard the opening story from Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein.
[2] Literally ‘the joy of the water drawing’, our celebrations commemorate the magnificent celebrations that transpired during the days of Succos when the Bais Hamikdash stood in Yerushalayim. Those events were centered around the pouring of the water libations down the side of the Altar, hence the name of the event.
[3] The seventh and final day of Succos (immediately followed by the new holiday of Shemini Atzeres) has an aura of judgment and has many similarities with Yom Kippur, as revealed to us in the holy and mystical Zohar. We recite added prayers and there is an added dimension of solemnity that merges with the joy of the holiday.
[4] Devorim 16:14-15



Rav Elimlech Biderman shlita repeated a story that someone related to him[1]:
“One Rosh Hashanah I was hospitalized and someone was blowing the shofar in my hospital room. There was a non-religious Jew in the bed next to me who was intrigued by the shofar. He asked us a lot of questions, because he wanted to understand what it was all about.
Then he told us his story: "I served in the Israeli Navy," he said, "in a submarine. Under the water, the means of communication is with the Morse code. (Morse code is a signal system comprised of sounds. Two sharp beeps represent one letter, two long beeps is another letter. One long beep and one short one is a third letter, and so on.) I was an expert in the Morse code. I could send and decipher messages very quickly.
"A couple of years after serving in the navy (and after spending a long time in India) I saw an advertisement: The army was looking for a Morse code expert to be in charge of several submarines. To apply for the job, we had to be at a certain office between 10:00 and 12:00 in the morning.
“I arrived at 11:50. I saw a packed room with applicants, but no one was being called inside. There was music was playing in the background and I sat down for a few moments, and listened. Then I got up, brazenly opened the door to the office and announced that I was there for the interview. "There are many people waiting in line ahead of you," the secretary said. "And you just came. Wait your turn." "But I didn’t listen to her. I marched into the room and began conversing with the person in charge. After speaking for a few moments, he hired me on the spot."
“The interviewer went out to the waiting room and told everyone that they could go home, because I was already hired. The other people were very upset and protested. "It isn't fair. This man came in last. Why did you interview him before us?"
“The man in charge replied, "Did you pay attention to the music that's playing? Don’t you get it? It is in Morse code and it's saying, 'If you've come for the interview, just open the door and walk in.' This man heard the message. You didn’t hear, so you're obviously not fluent enough in the language."
 “That's how the irreligious man in the hospital understood the meaning of shofar. The shofar is conveying to us a powerful message - "Just open the door and come inside. Change your ways and improve your connection with Hashem."
“The man also told us that one person waiting in the waiting room claimed that he heard the message in the music, but he didn’t walk in, because I didn’t see anyone else who did. The interviewer told him that it was not a valid excuse. "If you heard the message, you should have come in. Why do you care what other people are doing?"
“Similarly, concerning the shofar, it’s inexcusable for us to say that we heard the message but didn’t follow through because we saw that other people weren’t doing teshuva either.  That's not a valid excuse. If we understand the shofar's message, we have an obligation to open the door and come close to Hashem, regardless of what others are doing.”

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt’l once went with his students to be menachem avel one of his students who was sitting shiva. After a few minutes of sitting in silence, Rav Yisroel initiated a conversation, and the student sitting shiva began to converse with him.
After they left the shiva house, one of the students asked Rav Yisroel how he was allowed to initiate a conversation if halacha clearly says that one may not speak until the avel speaks. Rav Yisroel looked at his student with surprise, “You didn’t hear? His heart was screaming out in pain. That was enough of an initiation for me to continue.”

A few years ago, just prior to Erev Rosh Hashanah, I heard a rebbe tell his students: “Make sure you’re in shul on Erev Rosh Hashana so that you hear that they do NOT blow shofar.”
Similarly, my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein once quipped: “For years I’m trying to get my congregants to hear the things I don’t say, more than the things I do say!”
Rabbi Wein also quotes his rebbe who said that in the back of the Shulchan Aruch one finds G-d. One must always also focus on the white part, in between the text, where G-d speaks to us. 
The timeless Shiras Ha’azinu, the great “song”, which Moshe conveyed to Klal Yisroel, on the final day of his life, begins “Pay heed heavens and I will speak; and the earth will hear the words of my mouth.”
Perhaps the opening of the shirah reminds us that that the heavens constantly sends us messages, but they aren’t clear. They are the messages that are implicit and vital, but never verbalized. It is incumbent upon us to pay careful heed, to discern those celestial messages through Torah study, and the guidance of our Torah leaders. Only if we pay heed to those heavenly messages can we on earth hear the words that are actually verbalized and expressed. 

[2]Judaism is full of special berachos that we recite at various times and situations throughout the year. Each of those unique berachos begins by first thanking Hashem for sanctifying us through the performance of His mitzvos (asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav), prior to mentioning the specific mitzvah we are about to fulfill.
Those berachos include actions such as eating (matzah/marror), reading (megillah on Purim), lighting (Chanukah candles), sitting (in the succah), taking (the lulav – and other species), separating (terumah/ma’aser), circumcising, affixing (a mezuzah), etc.
However, there is only one blessing throughout the year which specifically includes hearing – the mitzvah of hearing the blowing of the shofar.
Rambam writes that if one hears shofar on Rosh Hashanah without having specific intent to fulfill his obligation, he does not fulfill his obligation, and must hear shofar again. 
Thus, on Rosh Hashanha, we all listen intently to the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, with complete focus. The day and the holiday when we emphasize listening is a stark reminder for us of just how important, and how remiss, we are when it comes to listening.

William Ury, an expert negotiator and motivational speaker, explains[3] that there are three important reasons why it’s important to listen during any negotiation or conflict: Firstly, it helps us understand the perspective of the other person/party. Negotiation is an exercise in influence, trying to change someone else’s mind, and to accomplish that, listening is the key. Secondly, it helps us build rapport and trust, by showing that we care. Finally, listening to someone makes it more likely that the person will then listen to us. It’s the golden key that opens the door to human relationships.
Generally, when we listen to others we are simultaneously thinking about where we agree or disagree, and what our response will be. In other words, the focus is upon ourselves. In genuine listening, however, the spotlight moves to the other person. We put ourselves in their shoes, and try to tune into their wavelength. We listen from within their frame of reference, not just ours. It’s easier said than done.
Ury points out that in genuine listening, we listen not just for what’s being said, but also for what’s not being said. We listen not just to the words, but to what’s behind the words - the underlying emotions and needs of the other person.
In Ury’s words: “So this is my dream. A listening revolution that can turn this Age of Communication into an Age of Listening…
“What if we taught listening in school, like we teach reading, as a core skill? Imagine a world in which parents learn to listen to their children. What better way after all, is there for us to teach our children to listen to us than for us to listen to them? What better way for us to show our children that they truly matter? What better way is there to show our love?
“And as an extra bonus, maybe we’d see happier marriages and fewer divorces, as couples learned to listen to each other. Imagine a world in which leaders learned how to listen to their people. What if we chose leaders based on their ability to listen, not just talk? What if listening became the norm in our organizations and not just the exception? What if on radio and TV we had not just talk shows, but listen shows? What if we had not just peace talks, but peace listens? I firmly believe that we’d get to ‘yes’ a lot more often. We might not eliminate all conflict, but we would avert a lot of fights and wars. And everybody would be much better off. I, very happily, might be out of a job. That’s my dream...
“In your next conversation with a colleague, or client, a partner, or a child, a friend or a stranger, give them your full attention. And listen to the human being behind the words. Because one of the biggest gifts we can give anyone is the gift of being heard. With the simple power of listening now, we can transform our relationships, our families, and our world for the better, ear by ear.”

The Medrash famously notes that the Four Species taken on Succos represent four major organs in the body. The lulav represents the spine, the hadassim the eyes, the aravos the lips of our mouth, and the esrog the heart.
Why is there no species representing the vital sense of hearing?
Perhaps the representation of hearing stands alone. In fact it is the perquisite for all of the other organs, symbolized long before Succos ever begins, in the shofar of Rosh Hashanah.
If we are unable to listen and hear G-d’s message to us, we will never be able to even approach G-d to serve Him with our eyes, lips, heart, and spine. It is analogous to the emphatic declaration of na’aseh v’nishma that paved the way for Kabbolas HaTorah.

“Pay heed heavens and I will speak”
“Sanctified us… to hear the sounds of the shofar”

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

[1] Be’er HaChaim – Rosh Hashanah 5777 (Rav Biderman’s beautiful thoughts can be received via email each week. Send request to:
[2] The following is based on the speech I gave at Kehillat New Hempstead, prior to shofar blowing, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5777.
[3] TED talk “Turning No to Yes” 

Monday, October 10, 2016



The Dubner Maggid[1] was legendary for his uncanny ability to answer virtually any question with an engaging and apropos parable The Vilna Gaon[2] once asked the Maggid the secret of his skill to imagine innovative parables on the spur of the moment. True to his legacy, the Maggid replied by relating a parable:
There was once a prince who desired to master the skill of archery. He spent hours each day studying the acumen of the greatest archers in the kingdom. With time the prince himself became renowned for his precision and exactitude as an expert archer.
One day the prince was traveling through the forest when he noticed an arrow which cut right through a bull’s-eye on a nearby tree. At first the prince thought nothing of it, but then he noticed numerous bull’s-eyes throughout the area. The prince could not get over it. What marksmanship this archer must have! The prince insisted that his men seek out who was responsible for the incredible display of talent.
After some time, they returned to the prince with an unkempt child. The prince was astounded, “Was it really you who hit every bull’s-eye in this forest? Please tell me your secret. I have never seen anyone with your talent and ability.” The child began to laugh, “Your graciousness, I will show you the great secret of my talent.” With that he pulled out an arrow and shot it haphazardly at a nearby tree. After the arrow landed clumsily, the child took out some chalk from his pocket and drew circles around the arrow, until it appeared like a perfect bull’s-eye.
The Maggid concluded, “You see I too first imagine my parables. It is only later that I seek a question which can be answered with the help of the parable!” 

The Shulchan Aruch states that even one who is not particular to only eat Pas Yisroel[3] during the year, should be particular to do so during the Ten Days of Penitence.
What is the meaning behind this law? Are we trying to fool G-d during this intense time of judgment and scrutiny? Why should one engage in seemingly hypocritical acts during these days, when he is well aware that he has absolutely no intention of maintaining these stringencies after Yom Kippur is over?  

In the pizmun[4] recited on the morning prior to Yom Kippur we beseech G-d, “O gracious One, favor Your people who believe in Your Name, assign for me an advocate (angel) who will conceal my inadvertent sin; who will suppress my guilt with his left hand, and elevate my merit with his right… On the morrow, may this sign be.” 
Why do we ask that our sins be concealed; would it not be more logical to request that our sins be obliterated completely, as the prophets stated[5]?

After having sought refuge from his brother Eisav’s wrath for over two decades, Yaakov Avinu began his journey back home. When he finally encountered Eisav, the Torah[6] relates, “Eisav ran to greet him, and he embraced him, and he fell upon his neck, and he kissed him and he cried.”
Rashi, quoting the Sifrei, offers two very diverse explanations of Eisav’s ironic behavior. One opinion is that Eisav’s emotional display was an insincere external front. However, the other opinion is that at that moment Eisav was overwhelmed with compassion for Yaakov and indeed Eisav embraced Yaakov wholeheartedly.
The Shelah explains that both opinions are true:
Chazal[7] note that the word Satan (שטן) has a numerical value of 364. This alludes to the fact that Satan has the ability to prosecute us in heaven during 364 days of the year. However, there is one day a year when he is not granted permission to speak negatively about the Jewish people, and that is on Yom Kippur.
The Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer[8] states, “When Satan sees that he is not allowed to prosecute on Yom Kippur, he comes before G-d in order to be a good advocate, and speak in defense of Klal Yisroel. He says, “Master of the World, You have one nation analogous to the ministering angels in heaven. Just as the ministering angels do not eat or drink, so too the Jewish people do not eat or drink on Yom Kippur; just as the ministering angels are barefoot, so are the Jewish people barefoot on Yom Kippur… Just as the ministering angels are pure of sin, so are the Jewish people pure of sin on Yom Kippur”.”
This is an absolutely astounding thought. It is inconceivable that Satan – the angel devoted to prosecuting against us in heaven constantly – should suddenly become a passionate advocate on our behalf, simply because he is denied his usual role. How can the prosecutor become our supporter in our greatest moment of need?
There is a known adage in the world of education that the worst thing a “spirited child” can do for himself is to have a perfectly behaved day in school. For inevitably his parents and teachers will use that day against him, constantly pointing out that, “See you could do it if you really put your mind to it. Remember that other day when you had a perfect day? That means the rest of the time you’re just not trying enough!”
The reality is that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”, i.e. even a child who has a very difficult time in school will have a good day on occasion. But for such a child, the good day is the anomaly, not his usual rambunctious behavior.[9]

The Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi BenZion Halberstam shlita, explains[10] that in truth Satan has no intention of being an advocate for us. In fact, au contraire, he remains true to his mission. However, on Yom Kippur his prosecution is stated with devious deceit.
Satan stands before G-d and preaches about the holiness and purity of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur. He emphasizes their sincerity and devotion on this most sublime of days. The implication is that if the Jews can reach such a level on Yom Kippur, they could be living on such a level throughout the rest of the year. The fact that they do not proves their unworthiness and insincerity throughout the rest of the year.
This is essentially what occurred during the fateful encounter between Yaakov and Eisav[11].  Eisav ran towards Yaakov and kissed him wholeheartedly because his compassion was truly aroused at that moment. That feeling was actually rooted in Eisav’s apathy and disdain for Yaakov, and that encounter symbolically foreshowed what occurs every year. On Yom Kippur Satan embraces us with seeming love and devotion. Truthfully however, that love really masks his efforts to destroy Yaakov completely in a most vile and deceitful manner.
It is for this reason that we ask that our sins be concealed but not totally eradicated. We want to impede the cunning prosecution of the evil inclination on Yom Kippur. Let him not be able to say that we have no sin. Rather, that we have transcended our sins and raised ourselves close to G-d, despite our mishaps and failings. Indeed we hope that G-d will pardon and forgive our sins completely, but Satan should not be able to use that against us.  

During the days preceding Yom Kippur and on Yom Kippur itself we behave above our usual level of observance and adherence.
It is analogous to a woman who comes down the steps one morning, completely disheveled, and still half-asleep. As she walks past the mirror she is appalled by her appearance. “What has happened to me?” she wonders. But then in the corner of her eye she sees her wedding picture hanging next to the mirror. There she stands alongside her new husband, beautifully made up, and looking her best. She realizes that the woman in the picture is her, and that she is truly that beautiful - if she only took the time and had the patience to make herself look like that again.
It is true that we do not live on the same level as we do during the Ten days of Penitence. But throughout the year, in our lowest moments, when we feel distant and frustrated with ourselves and our spiritual state, we suddenly remember the levels we reached during the sublime Days of Repentance. We remember that we truly are great people, if we only have the fortitude and confidence to raise ourselves back to those levels.
In that sense Yom Kippur is the bull’s-eye, around which we must paint our year. At times we may feel that we have strayed, even to the perimeter of those surrounding circles. But as long as Yom Kippur remains the center point, we are still somewhere ‘on the mark’.
“And he kissed him and he cried”
“On the morrow, may this sign be”

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

[1] Rabbi Yaakov Kranz 1740-1804; Dubno was a village in Lithuania
[2] Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, 1720-1797
[3] Bread baked by a Jewish baker; although Pas Akum – bread baked by a non-Jew for private use may never be eaten by a Jew, Pas-Paltar – commercially baked bread by a non-Jew (e.g. Freihoffers, Thomas, etc.) is permitted. During the Tens Days of Penitence the custom is to refrain from eating Pas-Paltar as well. 
[4] Liturgical prayer containing a refrain, and recited responsively between chazzan and congregation
[5] e.g. Yeshaya 43:25 “I, only I, am he who wipes away your willful sins for My sake, and I shall not recall your sins.”
44:22 “I will have wiped away your willful sins like a thick mist, and your transgressions like a cloud; return to Me, for I will have redeemed you!
[6] Bereishis 33:4
[7] Yoma 20a, and Vayikra Rabba 21:4
[8] Perek 45
[9] This obviously does not apply to most children (thankfully). This was only said regarding the child who is simply ‘not wired’ for the classroom.
[10] Erev Yom Kippur 5766
[11] Satan is the angel of Eisav 

Thursday, October 6, 2016



[1]“There was a wonderful Jew I knew named Reb Moshe Chaim Berkowitz z’l, who passed away on Succos 1997. He was a Holocaust survivor and as an incredible ba’al tzedakah.[2] His brother, Reb Elya Berkowitz, is 92 years old ka’h and lives in Monroe, NY.
“I once heard that when Moshe Chaim was on the infamous Nazi death march with his brother Elya, at one point he dropped to the floor. He had no energy to go on and he resigned himself to the bitter fate of anyone who stopped moving.
“Elya bent down and quickly whispered in his brother’s ear “Before you die, let’s learn one more mishna together.” They learned the mishna quickly. After they did so, Moshe Chaim felt revitalized and arose to continue marching. He survived the war and built a family of Torah observant Jews. 
“I once asked Moshe Chaim’s son, Abby Berkowitz, if the story is true. He replied that, not only was it true, but there were other instances during the war when his father’s life was saved because his uncle learned ‘one last mishna’ with him.
“When I related this story to Rabbi Eitan Feiner[3], he immediately replied that I should check up the Ohr Gedalyahu on Yom Kippur, page 28.
“Rav Gedalyah Schorr there explains that one can feel an incredible chiyus (vitalization) from a mitzvah commensurate with how much chiyus he invests in performing that mitzvah.
Rav Schorr explains that Nadav and Avihu died when they offered a fire in the Mishkan on the day of its inauguration, because they had not been commanded to offer that fire. Normally when one invests their complete selves into the performance of a mitzvah, the mitzvah returns the favor, and infuses the doer with an infusion of vivaciousness and life. But in this situation when Nadav and Avihu brought the fire on their own volition and there was no mitzvah, their actions caused their own death.
“When one invests in a mitzvah, he is the greatest beneficiary of that mitzvah!”

Every morning when we recite birchas haTorah we bless Hashem as the "מלמד תורה לעמו ישראל" - the one who teaches Torah to His nation, Yisroel. The truth is that Hashem gave us the Torah at Sinai, and since then it’s been transmitted by the sages of each generation. How can we still declare that Hashem is still teaching us Torah?
Reb Aryeh Kastenbaum[4] offered the following explanation: The beracha begins with us beseeching Hashem, "והערב נא", that Hashem allow us to feel and appreciate the sweetness of Torah. The one who shows someone the sweetness of Torah, which in turn instills within that person a desire to continue learning, he is responsible for all of that person’s Torah learning! Therefore, because Hashem makes the Torah sweet for us, He is our ultimate teacher of Torah!
It’s an amazing concept! The implication of this idea is that a Rebbe who inspires students, is not only meritoriously accountable for all of the Torah he actually taught those students, but he is also responsible for all of the Torah that the student learns, due to that Rebbe’s helping him recognize the geshmak of Torah. A fifty-year-old man with children and grandchildren who doesn’t miss a day of learning with a chavrusa, may attribute his love and passion for learning to one particular elementary school rebbe who kindled that love through his own passionate love of Torah. That elementary school rebbe isn’t just a past memory. On a certain level he continues to be the rebbe of that fifty-year-old man, and may well continue to be for all of his life. 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to have a discussion with my rebbe and Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein, various issues regarding chinuch in contemporary society. During that discussion I noted how challenging it is to try to teach students in a world of so many competing interests and distractions. In passing I said something about ‘inspiring my students”. At that point Rabbi Wein stopped me and said “That’s it! That’s our main objective today; to inspire!” That has to be our main goal – if we can inspire our students then we have a chance. 
These days we have a proliferation of inspiration and there’s no dearth of captivating speakers and inspirational messages, with beautiful graphics and pictures. There’s more inspiration readily available for us today than there was even a few years ago. And yet we seem to need so much more chizuk.
The reason is because inspiration will only carry a person so far. The only way inspiration can have any lasting effect is if we put in the effort to contemplate and review the idea. But if we hear the ideas, enjoy them, and then move on, they will be like an illuminating candle, which casts its light and then melts into the shadows.

On the day of his death, Moshe Rabbeinu instructed Klal Yisroel with the final of the 613 mitzvos:
“Now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to B’nei Yisroel, place it in their mouth…”[5]
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt’l[6] relates that if a world-renown professor or doctor comes to visit a town, and it’s announced that he will be delivering a lecture on the intricate workings of his area of greatest expertise, most laymen would have little interest in attending. The common person realizes that without much background in that area he will probably have no idea what the lecturer is talking about.
However, if a great musician or conductor would arrive in a city to perform, even those who do not know the fine intricacies of music, may come to enjoy the music. They may not appreciate the depth and intricacy of the symphony, but they can still enjoy the music on their own level.
Hashem instructed Moshe to teach Torah to B’nei Yisroel as a song which can be ‘placed in their mouths’. The Torah should not be taught as a scholarly work which can only be studied by scholars. Rather, the Torah can and must be appreciated on all levels, like a melodious song which can move everyone. The Torah must be taught and transmitted in a manner in which it touches and reaches the heart of every Jew, whatever level he or she is on.
The Torah is our ultimate treasure and the greatest conduit of our ability to connect with G-d, as it were. That itself is sufficient reason to cherish its every word.

 “Write this song… place it in their mouths”
“Please make it sweet – Hashem, our G-d, the words of Your Torah, in our mouths…”

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

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[1] This story and the subsequent idea about Hashem being considered our teacher of Torah, I heard from my friend, Rabbi Yechiel Weberman - Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei 5775
[2] Rabbi Yochanan Zweig’s yeshiva in Miami was renamed in his memory.
[3] Rabbi of the White Shul, Congregation Knesseth Israel, of Far Rockaway
[4] Rabbi Weberman related that Aryeh (Leonard) Kastenbaum lives in his neaighborhood. Aside from the fact that he is respected as a tremendous ba’al tzedakah, his davening is a sight to behold. He doesn’t daven, he literally speaks to Hashem. Davening starts at 7:30 and he continues his ‘conversation with Hashem’ until 9:00. In Rabbi Weberman’s words, “He is the sincerest person you will ever meet”.  

[5] Devorim 31:19
[6] Derech Aggadah