Tuesday, May 30, 2017



The following are my notes from lectures given by Rabbi Berel Wein, (then) Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, Monsey, NY, to the students of the yeshiva, on Erev Shavuos 5756 & Erev Shavuos 5757. I have largely tried to preserve the Rosh Yeshiva’s vernacular:

Of the three main holidays of the Jewish year, Shavuos is unique. Firstly, Shavuos has no calendar date; it is the fiftieth day of the sefirah. It is essentially the conclusion of the holiday of Pesach, and Sefiras Ha’omer serves as the connection between them.
In fact, the Chasam Sofer points out that the first Shavuos ever celebrated was fifty-one days after the exodus from Egypt, not fifty days. This is clear because it is known that the Nation left Egypt on a Thursday, and the Torah was given on a Shabbos. Therefore, the second day of the holiday of Shavuos, which is celebrated exclusively in the Diaspora (Yom Tov sheni shel gulios), has a different halachic status then the other “Yom Tov sheni shel golus” of Succos and Pesach. The Yom Tov Sheni of Succos and Pesach have no historical antecedent for celebrating the second day. [They are observed because of sefaika d’yoma – a doubt what date the holiday should actually begin.] Shavuos however, has a historical antecedent, because the first Shavuos actually was celebrated on the second day of the holiday. Therefore, the Chasam Sofer rules, many of the leniencies that exist on the second day of Yom Tov of Succos and Pesach, don’t apply to the second day of Shavuos.
Also, there are no specific mitzvos attached to Shavuos. There’s no matza, seder, lulav, or succah. In that sense, Shavuos is a strange Yom Tov.
The reason for the lack of added mitzvos is because Shavuos is the anniversary of “Z’man Mattan Torasainu”. An anniversary implies that on other days the event lacks the same value and meaning. On one’s birthday he expects gifts and parties; it’s a special day of celebration. Married couples celebrate anniversaries and it is a special day. But if every day was an anniversary then every day would be just as special, and the actual anniversary would lose its uniqueness.
That is essentially the message of Shavuos: Every day is Kabbolas HaTorah, and Torah must be the one constant in our lives. It’s not like the other holidays because the same mitzvah of learning Torah which exists on Shavuos, exists before and after Shavuos too. The Torah wanted to emphasize the continuity of Torah, and therefore did not attach any mitzvos to the holiday, in order to demonstrate that it is an ever-present force of good within our lives.
 There is no day in a Jew’s life that he does not learn Torah. Even on Tisha B’av we study passages that are permitted to be learned. There is no moment during one’s life that a Jew should exist without the consciousness of Torah, and that his life is guided by Torah, and what it stands for. One is always limited by the boundaries that the Torah dictates.
Shavuos is the conclusion of Pesach. When Moshe first undertook the role of leadership G-d informed him, “b’hotzaysee es ha’am miMitzraim ta’avdun es haElokim al hahar hazeh – When you take the nation out of Egypt they will serve G-d on this mountain.” The purpose of the exodus was to reach Sinai. Pesach without being followed by Torah has no purpose; Succos without Torah also has no purpose. All the great events in a person’s life - birth, coming of age, maturity, education, marriage, parenting, grandparenting, and even the final moment of life - have purpose only because of Torah. Without the balance of Torah being present, everything happens in a vacuum, and it leaves us confused and devoid of meaning.
Many nations have achieved freedom. But very few nations have been able to do much with their freedom. Numerous nations have exalted ideas of what should be accomplished, but few have realized the fruition of their ideas, because those ideas are always conceptualized in a vacuum.
The fourth of July in this country is a tire sale and Memorial Day is a barbecue. A memorial for whom? For what? Today, no one appreciates the dead of the Civil War for which the day was created. It became meaningless. We see in our own time that sadly Yom Ha’atzmaut means little in Israel and outside of Israel. It’s only forty-eight years since the country achieved independence, but “all the air is out of the tire”, because it lacks the continuity necessary to carry it through.
The reason there is a Pesach is because there is a Shavuos. The reason that z’man cheiruseinu (the time of our freedom) has meaning is because it’s followed by z’man mattan Torasaynu (the time of the giving of our Torah).
Everything in life has purpose. We often confuse means with ends. We think that if we obtain the means then we have achieved the end. We think if we have money we have it made. But the question is what are you going to do with that money? People recover from illnesses, but the question becomes, what do you do with your newfound health? People want to marry - what do you accomplish with your marriage? People get a degree and become a career person - what will you do with it?
Those are the questions of life, and these are the questions that Shavuos addresses. Shavuos emphasizes the constancy of Torah in our minds and that everything must have a purpose. Shavuos reminds us that unless one has this solid view of life, then the greatest events of life turn out to be meaningless and disappointing.
We have counted the days of sefirah in order to arrive at this great holiday. That is a general concept of life. Dovid Hamelech beseeches of G-d, “Limnos yamaynu kayn hoda v’navee l’vav chachma”- give us the knowledge to know how to count our days and that will bring us a heart of wisdom.” G-d wants us to count our days!  In order to be able to do something with our days, not just to exist, but to accomplish major, holy, and eternal things, we need to appreciate the incredible value of time.
Shavuos should be viewed, not as commemoration of ancient events, but as the continuity of Torah and its influence on our lives, and how it illustrates everything that happens to us. “Ki haym chaynaynu v’orech yamaynu- For it is our life and the length of our days.” It’s not merely an ancillary concept; it’s the central component in our lives.
Yom Tov should pass with study, holiness, good food, good company, and a spirit of Yom Tov. But, most importantly, at the end of Yom Tov we must take this sense of continuity with us.  

When one studies the Jewish calendar, the unique quality of the Yom Tov Shavuos is noticeable. The other two major holidays share a common feature. Pesach which marks the commemoration of our exodus from Egypt, and Succos which marks the protection of G-d in the midbar, are both weighed down heavily with symbolism. In general, a historical event on its own, will not stand the test of time. Commemoration of an event must bear symbolism. Therefore, in commemorating the miracles of Pesach, we have the four cups of wine, with matza and maror etc. Succos enjoys the four species, as well as the succos we build for ourselves.
The Holocaust which is only about 50 years old is in much greater danger of being forgotten than Tisha B’av which commemorates events of 2,000 years ago. That is because Tisha B’av has a category in the Shulchan Aruch dedicated to it, while the Holocaust does not. With time, the greatest and most significant of miracles and events can fade away. The only way to preserve it is through symbolism.
It is therefore interesting to note the greatness of Shavuos. The holiday commemorates the greatest event in world history - the giving of the Torah on Sinai, and yet there is no mitzva to assist in its commemoration. It is therefore incrediblle that it has survived.
However, out of the three holidays that mark the Jewish calendar, Shavuos is the most neglected. Outside of Orthodoxy, it is non-existent. Last week an irreligious man called me up complaining that two of his Orthodox workers claimed they couldn’t work because of a holiday he never heard of. The man wanted to know if Shavuos existed.
Shavuos must stand alone without a section in the Shulchan Aruch because it represents the Torah itself and that will always stand the test of time on its own.
There are two great lessons to be taken from the holiday of Shavuos:
The first lesson is that Torah in itself will always remain. All our decorations and flowers are merely exteriors and customary. The Torah doesn’t need any human representation because the Torah itself is the representation of all life.
The second lesson is that we must always value our time. As Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehilim: "limnos yomaynu kayn hoda – To count our days, may you help us to know". Society today has no respect for time, but time is the most precious gift we have. There are no pockets in the shrouds! What we don’t accomplish today, we may not have that second chance later on. Therefore, one must appreciate his time, which includes being at the right place in the right time and using our time wisely.
The holiday of Shavuos, can only come after a careful counting of fifty days, in order to demonstrate how important our every moment is. The acceptance of Torah entails that one learns how to value, and take advantage, of his time.

 “To count our days, may you help us to know”
“For it is our life and the length of our days”

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017



          During a visit to Eretz Yisroel a few years ago, on my last day there, I went with my brother Yaakov to Har Menuchos, the vast and renowned cemetery overlooking the hills of Yerushalayim. Although there are innumerable great and holy people buried there, being that my time was limited, I particularly wanted to visit two kevarim (plots): my Zaydei, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, and Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l.
          I knew exactly where my Zaydei was buried and have been there on several occasions in the past. It was uplifting to pray there, especially with my brother Yaakov standing at my side.
          Although I never merited meeting Rav Pinkus while he was alive, I consider him a personal Rebbe, and he has had a profound impact on me through his sefarim and recorded lectures. For that reason, I very much wanted to daven at his kever. The only problem was that I had no idea where it was.
The only thing I knew is that he is buried on Har Tamir, the mountain adjacent to Har Menuchos where my Zaydei is buried. Despite numerous phone calls and inquiries, no one that I asked seemed to have any more precise details about where Rav Pinkus is buried. Normally that isn’t an issue because there is an office at the entrance of the cemetery and they have on file the location of every plot. But the day we were there was Yom Ha’atzmaut, and the office was closed.
We spent a frustrating hour under the hot sun asking every person we passed if they knew where Rav Pinkus was buried, but no one we asked seemed to have any clue. There are tens of thousands of kevarim, and unless one knows where he is going, it is virtually impossible to ‘stumble upon’ a particular grave. At one point while we were walking aimlessly I said aloud, “Rav Pinkus, I want to come daven at your kever but I can’t find it.”
Finally, we dejectedly headed down to the entrance. I told my brother Yaakov that we would ask one more person, and if he didn’t know, we would leave.

The person we asked motioned that we should ask another person in a car who was driving away slowly. I debated if I should even bother to ask, but in the end, I did. In my mind, I was waiting the same answer I had received until now. But to my surprise, the man took out his phone, made two phone calls, and then motioned for us to get in his car.
It is always encouraging when someone does a chesed for you, simply for the sake of doing chesed. With nothing but altruistic motives in mind, the man drove us back up the hill to the plot where Rav Pinkus was buried. Amazingly, it is only three sections over from where my Zayde is buried.      
I randomly opened my Tehillim to say three or four psalms. It opened to chapter 61 and without thinking much about it I began davening. At the conclusion of the chapter it says the word “Mon” which is compelling, because Rav Pinkus’s father-in-law’s name was Rav Mon zt’l.
I continued davening until I reached chapter 63. In the middle of the chapter, my eyes widened and I literally felt a chill go down my spine. I placed my hands on the matzeivah (monument), to hold my balance. I reached a verse which I am familiar with only because I had heard it quoted by Rav Pinkus on different tapes, and in his writings. I don’t know if there is any other verse in all of Tanach that I know so well only because of Rav Pinkus[1].
The following is the beautiful thought he shared in the name of the Malbim:
The pasuk[2] states, כי טוב חסדך מחיים שפתי ישבחונך" – For your kindness is greater than life, my lips will praise you.
Malbim explains the pasuk with a Parable: There was a man who was extremely ill and was admitted to the hospital for emergency care. There was one particular doctor who took responsibility for the man, performing numerous procedures and surgeries until his health was restored. During the time that the doctor faithfully worked on his patient, they developed a deep friendship with each other.  
Someone approached the man after he was discharged from the hospital and asked him what happened while he was there. The man replied that this doctor saved his life. Not only that, he also became close friends with the doctor.
The man on the street asked the patient what was more precious to him - the newfound friendship, or the fact that the doctor saved his life. The man smiled; it’s always valuable to have good friends, but what is the purpose of having friends if one is dead? Surely, the fact that the doctor saved his life was more valuable to him than the friendship.
The Malbim explains that Dovid HaMelech was stating that the relationship he felt toward G-d, as it were, was even more precious to him than all other goodness that G-d granted him. “For your kindness is greater than life itself”. About which kindness was Dovid referring? To the mere fact that, “My lips will praise you”, i.e. that Dovid could pray to G-d and know that G-d listens and cares about his every whim. That was more valuable to him than life itself. Life is finite and transitory, but a relationship with G-d is eternal and Divine.

At the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar the Torah records the national consensus of the nation conducted by Moshe. Rashi explains that the count reflected G-d’s eternal love for His Nation. Just as one carrying precious gems will constantly pat his pockets and take out the gems and count them repeatedly to ensure that they are all there, so did G-d repeatedly count His Nation.
When the Torah records each tribe, it begins with the words, “לבני – For the Children of”. It then mentions the name of the tribe and continues to list the tallied population of its members. However, when the Torah records the tally of the final tribe – Naftali – it says “B’nei Naftali…” without the preceding ל.
AriZal explained that, truthfully, there was no need to have an official tally of the tribe of Naftali. Since the final tally of the entire nation was already known, by simply adding the totals of the rest of the tribes and reckoning how much was missing, Moshe could have figured out the numbers for the tribe of Naftali without bothering to count each one. Yet every member of Naftali was counted to demonstrate the fact that G-d loves and values every individual.
The Medrash[3] notes that Klal Yisroel is analogous to the stars. The verse in Tehillim states[4], “Praise Him every star of light.” Though some stars appear to be dim or even dark every star contains a tremendous force of illuminating energy, it just may be too distant to be seen with the naked eye.
Every Jew is analogous to a star in that every Jew contains a holy spark that illuminates within. At times that light may be dimmed but, like every star, the light never completely ceases to shine.
For the last number of years, a company has been advertising that you can name a star after someone and present it to them as a gift for a fee. They will enter the name in the ‘Star Registry’ and it will be an eternal gift that the receiver will always cherish. For the provider, it is a smart way to make easy money with virtually no cost[5].
Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer[6] once noted that, aside from whether one wants to spend money on such an idea, the names we decide are not accurate. “He counts a number for the stars; to each one He calls a name.[7]” G-d Himself names each star. Every time we perform a mitzvah, or perform a good deed, we create a star[8]. Those stars bear our name and receive their light from our actions and deeds.
Every Jew must realize his own innate unique greatness, and that he has a portion of Torah no one else in the world is privy to. That understanding is a vital prerequisite for accepting the Torah. One must realize that G-d not only allows us to draw near to Him, as it were, but He awaits it.
The holiday of Shavuos celebrates not only our collective acceptance of the Torah as the Chosen Nation, but our personal acceptance as well.

“For your kindness is greater than life”
“He counts the stars; each one He calls a name”

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

[1] The truth is that the entire chapter 63 is really appropriate for Rav Pinkus. The chapter describes longing and yearning to be close to G-d, which is how Rav Pinkus lived his life.  His foremost message was that we can and must develop a real relationship with our Creator Who loves us more than we can know.  
[2] Tehillim 63:4
[3] In parshas Shemos and Bamidbar
[4] 148:3
[5] I was told that anyone can name a star and copyright it under the USA copyright laws if they want.
[6] Our family’s Rav when he was the Rabbi of Kehillas Bais Avrohom in Monsey, NY.
[7] Tehillim 147:4
[8] Perhaps from a spiritual vantage point that is why the universe is constantly expanding

Thursday, May 18, 2017



Once upon a time, in Somewhereville, America a group of atheists filed a legal discrimination suit against the religious leaders in their community. They claimed that while everyone had their own religious holidays the atheists had no such days.
The judge deliberating the case listened to their claim and immediately dismissed their suit. When the atheist’s lawyer requested an explanation the judge replied that indeed the atheists had a day on the calendar that was dedicated just to them.
The judge promptly opened up the Bible to Psalm 14:1 and read it aloud, “The fool says in his heart that there is no G-d.” The judge continued, “According to the Bible every atheist is a walking fool, and everyone knows that April First is All Fools Day!”

In parshas Bechukosai the Torah warns of the doom that would befall Klal Yisroel if they do not properly adhere to the Torah. When the Torah delineates the horrors that would occur there is one concept mentioned repeatedly, i.e. Klal Yisroel serving G-d, בקרי, with nonchalance, casualness, and lack of passion:
“If you behave causally with Me, and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you… If despite this you will not be chastised toward Me, and you behave causally with Me, then I too will behave towards you with casualness… If despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave towards Me with casualness…”
Rambam[1] writes: “It is a positive commandment from the Torah to cry out and blow the trumpets for any tragedy that befalls the congregation…  If they will not cry out, and they will not blow, but they will say this thing (tragedy) is a natural occurrence which has befallen us, and this pain is just happenstance, this is a path of cruelty and causes people to cling to their evil ways and add further tragedies and calamities in the future. This is what the Torah says, “If… you behave towards Me with casualness, I will behave towards you with a fury of casualness.” As if to say, when I will bring upon you a tragedy so that you will repent, if you will assert that it is merely a chance occurrence, I will increase against you the wrath of that casualness.”      
What does the Rambam mean that one who views a tragedy as happenstance has adopted a path of cruelty? To whom is he being cruel? If the Rambam refers to the cruelty of sinning which warrants retribution and punishment, that is true regarding all iniquities, for every sin is deserving of punishment. Why does the Rambam state here specifically that this attitude is a path of cruelty?

Sir Bertrand Russel, the well-known philosopher and agnostic, once quipped to a cleric that he could not believe in a G-d in whose world a child cries out in pain. The cleric responded that he in turn could not believe in a world in which a child cries out in pain and there is no G-d to justify it.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[2] explains that the Rambam is not referring to a heretic or non-believer who denies that there is a Supreme Power who created the world. Rather, he refers to the one who believes in an Almighty Creator, but he doesn’t believe that the pain and suffering of this world could have been orchestrated by that Creator. He concludes that the evil of this world must all be chance occurrences.
The Rambam warns that believing that all of the challenges and struggles of life are only happenstance is not only a lie, but it is also downright cruel. Such a belief espouses that the pain and suffering of this world is ultimately futile and worthless.
A believer understands that G-d is only good and everything that occurs is for the best, the fact that many events that occur in his life defy logical comprehension not withstanding.

Some time ago, I had the privilege to hear a lecture from Rabbi Ezriel Tauber. Rabbi Tauber quoted his rebbe, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandel zt’l who said that a Torah Jew should know what is happening in the news, but that he should only read the headlines. He explained that it is important for a person to be aware of the events that are transpiring in the world because the news is ‘G-d’s mussar shmooze’[3]. However, one should not read the editorials because they contain the biased and adulterated views of the columnists, and reading their views and opinions will quash our ability to contemplate the divine message behind the event.
We live in an unsettling and disconcerting world. There are events transpiring constantly that are simply incredible and unimaginable.[4]
If one lives a godless life he cannot afford to ascribe divine motives to these occurrences because doing so would shake him to the core. But a Torah Jew has the obligation to view everything as a message.

In Lashon Hakodesh every word defines its essence. This is not true in other languages, including Modern Hebrew. When one wants to understand something he asks “Why?” The word “why?” essentially has no bearing on the answer. The same is true with the word “por qué” in Spanish, and “pourquoi” in French.
But in Lashon Hakodesh the word is “מדוע madua” or “למה lamah”. The word “madua” can be read as “mah deiah - what is the wisdom?” and lamah can be read as “limah – for what?” In other words, whenever something difficult or challenging occurs our outlook must be to try to define what growth and message there is in what transpired. The ‘why’ has to be viewed as trying to understand the higher purpose. In the words of one philosopher, “He who has a why can endure any how.”   

Part of our problem is that everyone seems to know the message that G-d intends for everyone else. But no one can seem to figure out the message that applies to himself!
No one can know exactly why G-d does what he does. But we must realize that there is a “because” which we are not privy to. If one does not recognize that truth he is a cruel person for he is willing to believe that suffering is without purpose and meaning. But a believer clings to his faith during challenging times, taking solace in knowing that everything that happens has a divine reason and purpose. There can be no greater comfort than knowing that every trivial event and occurrence has meaning and purpose.

“If you behave causally with Me”
“A path of cruelty”

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

[1] Beginning of hilchos Ta’anis
[2] Tiferes Torah al haTorah
[3] i.e. G-d reveals to us messages through current events
[4] When this article was first written in May 2010, this was the following paragraph: “To name just a few: The Icelandic volcano which shut down air travel across Europe for a week, the deadly tornado that tore through the Midwest killing more than ten people, the winter that just ended replete with incredible storms and unprecedented snowfall in certain areas, the current strained US-Israel relations, the recent bomb-scare in Times Square, and at this moment tons of gallons of oil are flowing into the Gulf of Mexico threatening the ecology of the entire area with potentially disastrous results.”

Thursday, May 11, 2017



Seven years ago, I was privileged to be invited to join an Orthodox Union Rabbinic mission to Eretz Yisroel, co-sponsored by “Hachavayah HaYisraelis” The Israel experience.” Along with twenty-five Rabbis from across America (and South Africa), I spent a week touring fascinating places across the country with wonderful tour guides[1], who helped us appreciate the historical beauty of everything we were seeing, based on a Torah perspective.
One of the many places we had the opportunity to visit was the Nevatim air force base in the Negev. Although it is an exclusive army base and off limits to the public we were granted special permission to receive a brief tour of part of the area.
On the wall of one of the rooms at the base was a sign that bore their mantra:
אין מקום רחוק מידי; אין משימה קשה מידי- No place too far; no mission too difficult!”
An inspirational lesson that speaks for itself!

Our tour guide, a wonderful highly-trained experienced soldier named Shakid, allowed us to board a C-130 Hercules fighter jet in order to view the cockpit. These were the types of planes used in missions such as the Entebbe raid and Operation Solomon (Ethiopia). There was an incredible plethora of buttons and dials in the cockpit, which every air-force soldier must be intimately familiar with.
Shakid explained to us that every jet has a minimum of a five-man crew: The Captain, Copilot, Flight Engineer, Navigator, and Load Master. Each has his own role that must be executed perfectly for a mission to be successful.
He then added that the most important person on the plane is unquestionably the navigator. All the expertise and knowledge required to fly the plane is worth nothing if the plane is not directed to where it needs to be!

“G-d said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim… each of you shall not contaminate himself to a dead person among his people, except for the relative who is closest to him…”[2]
“The Kohen who is exalted above his brethren – upon whose head the anointment oil has been poured… he shall not come near any dead person… he shall not leave the sanctuary…”[3]
Rabbi Meir Rubman zt’l[4] notes that the discrepancy in halachic status between kohanim and the rest of the nation, and between the Kohain Gadol and the rest of the kohanim, reminds us that every person must serve G-d based on his own level. 
The Mesillas Yesharim[5] commences with timeless words: “The foundation of piety and the root of complete service is that it be true and clear to every person what is his obligation in this world.”
It does not say that one must know ‘man’s purpose in the world’, but ‘his own purpose in the world’. Piety and ultimate Service to G-d is rooted in understanding one’s own uniqueness and mission in life.  

The gemara[6] records the epic saga of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Elazar his son. After being forced to flee for their lives from the pursuant Roman forces, they took refuge in a cave where they remained for twelve years. They spent their days completely immersed in Torah and prayer, sustaining themselves from a stream of water and a carob tree that grew miraculously in the cave.
When they finally emerged from the cave and saw people plowing and working the fields, they were aghast. They had reached such transcendent levels of holiness and purity that they could not fathom how one could busy himself with the mundane needs of this world. The gemara records that whatever they looked at immediately became consumed with fire. Whereupon a heavenly voice emanated and said, “Did you leave (the cave) to destroy My world? Return to your cave!”
They returned to the cave for another year. When they emerged Rabbi Elazar again caused everything he gazed at to become consumed with fire, but this time Rabbi Shimon was able to save whatever was consumed by Rabbi Elazar’s gaze.
Rabbi Rubman explained that when Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar emerged from the cave initially after the twelve years were over, they viewed the world through the perspective of their own lives. Therefore, they could not comprehend that anyone would give of his time to engage in earthly pursuits. They were then instructed to return to the cave so that they could learn to live in G-d’s world without destroying it. This entailed learning to understand that every person has his own distinct mission and path in life. Thus when they emerged the second time, Rabbi Shimon understood that although for him physical pursuits were anathema, for the people in the fields it was a necessity.   
The greatness of Rabbi Shimon was that despite his personal extreme greatness, he learned to tolerate and appreciate that every person has his own path in life, and not every person could be expected to live according to his lofty levels.
Before I left Eretz Yisroel during that visit, I had the privilege to go with my brother Yaakov to visit Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer[7], in his home in Yerushalayim.
While there, Rabbi Feuer shared with us the following thought:
The Mishna[8] states, “Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa said: Anyone that his fear of sin exceeds his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone that his wisdom exceeds his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure.” It is worthy to note that the Mishna does not state, “If one’s fear of sin exceeds wisdom, his wisdom will endure”. Rather it says, “Anyone that his fear of sin exceeds his wisdom, his wisdom will endure.” Rabbi Chanina was teaching us that it is not sufficient for one to be G-d-fearing, but one’s fear of G-d must be commensurately superior to his own level of wisdom. Two people may be equally G-d fearing yet one of them may not merit being called a G-d fearing person because he is wiser than he is G-d-fearing. The more wisdom and insight one is endowed with the greater is one’s obligation to raise his level of fear of G-d to ensure that he not be swept away by his own brilliance.

In regard to the counting of the omer in anticipation of the holiday of Shavuos, the Torah commands, “You shall count for yourselves… seven weeks they shall be complete.[9]
The commentators derive from this verse that to fulfill the obligation of counting one must recite each night’s counting by himself, and cannot rely on the principle of שומע כעונה (hearing is like answering).
Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt’l noted that the Torah exhorts us to count the omer in a personal manner, because counting the omer is not about counting days, but about making days count! When we count the days of the omer we are essentially counting the value of our days and how much we invest in our days. Therefore, the counting is a very personal experience, and one must count for himself.

The celebration of the holiday of Lag Baomer is inextricably bound to the celebration of the life and legacy of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Part of the greatness of Rabbi Shimon was that despite the fact that he had reached the epitome of holiness and sagacity, revealing the esoteric secrets of kabalah in the Zohar, he was able to tolerate and understand the divergent and unique mission of every Jew.
Stephen Covey once remarked that the most important ingredient for success in life – even more than having a positive attitude – is having a roadmap.[10] To be successful one must know and understand the course and direction that his life must take for him to be successful.
When all is said and done, each of us walk our own path in life. For one to achieve personal greatness he must first find that path and then never waver from it as he navigates his way through life.

“You shall count for yourselves”
“That it be true and clear what is his obligation in this world”

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

[1] Ruchama Alter and Shuli Mishkin
[2] Vayikra 21:1-2
[3] Vayikra 21:10-12
[4] Zichron Meir, quoted in Yalkut Lekach Tov
[5] “The Path of the Just” authored by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, one of the greatest works of mussar (Torah ethiucs) ever written
[6] Shabbos 33b
[7] Rabbi Feuer was our family’s Rav when he was the Rabbi of Kehillas Bais Avrohom in Monsey, NY.
[8] Avos 3:11
[9] 23:15
[10] Stephen Covey is the famed author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  I thank Rabbi Hershel Becker of Miami, FL for sharing this insight with me. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017



Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[1] related:
“When I was an eighth grade rebbe I found out that one of my students was bringing comic books to yeshiva. Then one day he brought in a catalogue of comic books. As a rule, superheroes are not dressed modestly, so I took the catalogue away. I told the boy “I'm not a thief and I have no interest in holding onto your stuff. But I want your parents to be aware of what you are looking at. If one of your parents comes in to meet with me I'll give it back to them.”
“The next day the mother came in and told me that her son only sells the comics as a hobby. But he isn't interested in the pictures. I replied to her, "Mrs. X, is your son a normal healthy thirteen-year-old? If he is, then he is looking at the pictures. It's the result of a yetzer hara that Hashem placed within us."
“The next day the father came in and wanted to speak with me immediately. Although it was while I was teaching my class, the Menahel was willing to cover the class and the father and I went to speak privately in the Menahel's office. 
“The father began, “Rabbi Finkelman, you are an extreme Jew. But our family is middle-of-the-road Jews. For my son those books are okay.”
“I replied, "I would like to qualify and explain your statement. It's true that I am an extreme Jew. I choose to wear a hat for davening, although if one looks in the Mishna Berura it's not an absolute obligation in our time.[2] In addition, I only eat Cholov Yisroel and pas Yisroel, but there are reliable poskim who state unequivocally that there is room for leniency. 
“You choose to be a middle-of-the-road Jew who doesn't keep the same stringencies as I do, and that's perfectly fine. In fact, it's very possible that Hashem has more nachas from your observance than mine. Perhaps your prayers are considered more potent and precious in heaven than mine.
“But one thing I do know, and that is that both you and I recite kerias shema twice a day. In it we state “And do not stray after your heart and after your eyes.”  
“In regard to that prohibition you and I are equally obligated. The Shulchan Aruch has very clear guidelines about the laws of modesty, and those laws apply to all of us equally.”
“I guess the father was unsure what to say, because after I concluded my response, he simply stood up and walked out.
“Six months later the mother called me on the phone crying hysterically. "You were right! You were right! I found magazines in his knapsack. He is looking at those things. I also found a notebook full of lewd and disgusting poetry that he is composing. What can I do?”
“I calmed her down and explained that he isn't the one who composed that lewd poetry. It's the brilliant, yet filthy, artistic lyrics of the songs he listens to on his headphones. 
“We discussed the matter and tried to figure out what we could do to help her son.”

Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[3] noted that every person is obligated to fight evil. However, one must realize the great danger that exists in doing so, because it entails confronting those forces, which presents spiritual danger.
The Ba’alei Mussar would warn that “a Mashgiach must not make himself into a broom.” In other words, while seeking to ‘sweep out’ negative forces and ideologies, one must be careful not to absorb bits of what he is trying to dispose of, much like a broom becomes dirtied from the dust it is clearing.
On Yom Kippur, one of the significant services of the day, was sending off the goat for Azazel. “Aharon shall lean his two hands upon the head of the living he-goat and confess upon it… and send it with a designated person into the desert.”[4]
The concept of azazel, which symbolizes the removal of sins, contains important ideas about how one must fight evil. Firstly, the azazel was entrusted to a pre-designated individual. One did not lead the azazel blindly or spontaneously. He prepared himself for the challenge, physically and mentally, and understood his role was before he was assigned to it.
More profoundly, as the designated man led the azazel into the desert, there were pre-arranged, specified rest stops, and someone would accompany him for one rest stop to the next.
The symbolic lesson is that one should never seek to ‘go it alone’. To fight evil, one must be connected to a strong and encouraging leader or circle of positive friends, from whom he can constantly draw encouragement and spiritual support.
Rav Pinkus concludes that one must always bear in mind that although fighting sin and impurity is important, one’s own life – physical and spiritual – takes precedence. One must always ensure that he is ready and geared up for war before heading into battle.
The Torah states[5] that because when Yaakov Avinu struggled with the malach of Eisav, his gid hanashe became dislocated, “Therefore, the B’nai Yisroel do not eat the gid hanashe.”
If a person’s thigh is injured in a fight, should his descendants never eat the thigh of the chicken? Why should the descendants of Yaakov not eat gid hanashe because that’s where Yaakov was injured during his struggle with the malach of Eisav? What did they do wrong?
The reason the malach confronted Yaakov at that particular time, was because Yaakov was most vulnerable since he was alone. The question against Yaakov’s children is how they allowed that to happen? How did they allow their father to cross the river at night all alone?  That is why they maintain a certain degree of culpability for Yaakov’s injury, and that’s why they do not partake in the gid hanashe.
The prohibition of eating gid hanashe serves as a reminder that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that a Jew is never left alone, especially in regard to his personal struggles against the Yetzer Hara, (symbolized by the malach of Eisav)[6].

In Parshas Vayeira, the Torah records that Sarah realized Yishmoel was being a negative influence on Yitzchak. She was adamant that Avrohom banish Yishmoel from their home. Avrohom however, was hesitant, until Hashem instructed him “all that Sarah has said to you, listen in her voice.”
Why was Avrohom hesitant? Did he not realize that Yishmael was a negative influence on Yitzchak?
Rav Aharon Kotler zt’l[7] explained that Avrohom reasoned that Yitzchok wasn’t being influenced by Yishamel, because every time Yishmael acted inappropriately or unbecomingly, Yitzchok was careful to distance himself from Yishamel. Therefore, Avrohom felt it was unnecessary to actually banish Yishmael from his home which was his only chance at doing teshuva.
Sarah replied that, while it may be true that Yitzchak will not be influenced by Yishamel, that is only because Yitzchok is so vigilant and careful to ensure that he not be influenced. But all the energy that Yitzchak was utilizing to distance himself from Yishamel he wasn’t able to use to grow in a positive manner.
Hashem told Avrohom “Listen to her voice”. Do not allow Yitzchak to drain energy that he could be using for good to be fighting bad!

In the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim, the Torah commands, “You shall be holy”. One would think that holiness entails performing “holy acts” and that the more good deeds one does, and the more holy behaviors one adopts, the holier he becomes. Surprisingly however, Rashi explains otherwise. Rashi defines holiness as separating oneself from immorality.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l[8] explained that just prior to getting married under a chupah, a very unusual beracha is recited, thanking G-d “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us about the laws of forbidden relationships.” In general, we do not recite a beracha thanking G-d for something which is forbidden, and therefore accomplished passively. Why do we do so just prior to a marriage, in regard to the laws of morality?  
Rabbi Schwab explains that maintaining a distance from immorality is unlike abstaining from eating forbidden foods or wearing forbidden clothing. The desire for immorality is so prevalent and alluring, that abstaining from it is as great as physically performing a mitzvah. When one overcomes the yester hara for immorality, it is analogous to performing a holy act.
The Steipler Gaon wrote letters of chizuk for those struggling with morality issues, and controlling their eyes. He expressed a similar idea:
If one is successful in learning he feels uplifted, and that motivates him to learn more. However, when somebody avoids temptation he doesn’t feel particularly holy. He thinks that all he did is what he is obligated to do. However, he should realize that whenever he distances himself from immorality it is considered a holy act, and is viewed as heroic in the heavenly courts. That knowledge alone can be a great source of chizuk to someone to maintain the struggle.[9]

It's all part of the endless struggle to be holy in an often unholy world. To be successful we have to be vigilant and plan accordingly, with constant guidance and chizuk.  

“Therefore, the B’nai Yisroel do not eat the gid hanashe.”
“Aharon shall send it with a designated person into the desert”

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

[1] Mashgiach, Ohr Hachaim, Queens, NY, and a personal rebbe
[2] Mishna Berura states that one must dress for davening as he would when he visits a gadol. In our time, there are people who will visit Gedolei Yisroel without a hat on.
[3] Tiferes Torah
[4] Vayikra 16:21
[5] Parshas Vayishlach (Bereishis 32:33)
[6] Heard from Rabbi Leible Chaitovsky
[7] Mishnas Rav Aharon
[8] Me’in Bais Hashoeivah
[9] I would venture to assume that the same ca be said for a woman who struggles to maintain the laws of modesty.