Thursday, January 25, 2018



While visiting Eretz Yisroel with our son Shalom two years ago, in honor of his bar mitzvah, our trip coincided with Tu B’Shvat. On the night of Tu B’Shvat we attended the Belzer tisch[2], where thousands of chassidim packed into the room surrounding the Belzer Rebbe. Based on the connections of a friend[3], I was able to get a coveted seat at the head table.
At one point, after some songs were beautifully sung together, boxes upon boxes of different fruits were hurried in, and placed it in front of the rebbe. In matter of minutes the entire massive head table was covered with more fruits than I had ever seen together in my life. Within another few minutes, the fruits were disseminated to the throngs of eager chassidim throughout the room, until the boxes were completely empty.
The entire resurgence of Belzer Chassidus is itself a complete miracle.
Rav Aharon Rokeach zt’l[4], was the fourth rebbe of Belz. During his reign the Holocaust occurred, and most his chassidim were murdered by the Nazis, including his wife, children, and grandchildren. As a leading rabbinical figure, he was high on the Nazis ‘most wanted’ list. He himself miraculously survived, and escaped to Eretz Yisroel, and remarried, but had no children from his second wife. Most thought Belz did not have a future.
The rebbe’s half-brother, Rav Mordechai, escaped with him, remarried, had a son, and died a few months later. Rav Aharon raised that son – Yissochor Dov, and groomed him to become his successor.
Today, Belz has had an incredible resurgence under the leadership of Rav Yissochor Ber, with more than fifty-thousand chassidim, and numerous yeshivos, and institutions throughout the world. 
Sitting at a Belzer Tisch is itself a symbolism of the miraculous resurgence of the Jewish people, and a testament to the unfaltering eternity of our people.

The first Shabbos after the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon, arrived in Eretz Yisroel during the winter of 1944, was the week of Parshas Beshalach. That Shabbos, the Rebbe held a tisch. Most of the small assemblage were survivors who had just recently, barely escaped with their lives, having lost most of their families and communities. It was quickly apparent that they were in no mood of singing.
In an effort to rouse their spirits, the rebbe related the following thought:
The Torah says that the Jewish Nation left Egypt “Chamushim”. Simply translated as ‘armed’, Chazal note that it also means ‘a fifth’. Only a fifth of the nation emerged from Egypt; 80% had died in Egypt[5].
This means that when the nation sang the Song of the Sea, most of the nation was not present, because they had died shortly before the exodus. It seems likely that every family had lost numerous close relatives and friends.
When Moshe arose to sing, many of them must have been overwhelmed by the anguish of their raw losses, and did not want to sing. That is why the Torah introduces the shirah by saying “Az Yashir” which literally means “Then Moshe and B’nei Yisroel will sing,” in future tense.
Moshe explained to the nation that their story is far from over. While history is generally defined as the story of the past, for the Jewish people history is defined also by the future.
The Jews in Egypt had died, but their souls were alive, and would return with the resurrection of the dead. Moshe urged them to sing, not because there is no pain, but because despite the pain, their story is far from over.
This is the uniqueness of Jewish history. Since Jews are certain that redemption will come, they go back and redefine exile as the catalyst for redemption and healing.
For us, the future defines, and gives meaning to the past too.

Just prior to their departure from Egypt at the time of the exodus, the Torah relates, “B’nei Yisroel did according to the word of Moshe; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing. Hashem granted the nation favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they asked.”[6]
However, there were a few individuals who were busy collecting other important ‘materials’, and put aside the amassing of personal fortunes:
 “Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, because he had made the Bn’ei Yisroel swear saying ‘when Hashem will surely remember you, and you will bring up my bones from this land with you’.”[7]
The Medrash contrasts what Moshe brought up with that of the rest of the nation: “All of Yisroel busied themselves with silver and gold, but Moshe was preoccupied with Yosef’s bones, to which the Holy One, blessed is He, applied the verse ‘He who is wise of heart takes mitzvos’[8].” 
After the nation sang shirah, after witnessing the final decimation of their final captors at the sea, the pasuk relates that the women also sang shirah: “Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”[9]
Yalkut Shimoni[10] notes that Miriam, and many other righteous women, were confident that there would be cause for celebration in the desert that would warrant their having instruments. So, while the nation was preparing to leave, they made sure to take instruments with them.
In Parshas Terumah, when the Torah describes the different materials that were donated for the construction of the Mishkan, one of the materials listed is acacia wood (atzei shittim).
The Medrash[11] asks how they were able to procure acacia wood in the desert? The Medrash answers that prior to his descent to Egypt, Yaakov Avinu carried acacia trees down to Egypt, prophesizing that the nation would one day need them for a Mishkan. He replanted them there. When the nation was about to leave Egypt, there were those who chopped down those trees, and carried the acacia wood with them into the desert.
Moshe took the bones of Yosef, Miriam and righteous women took instruments for celebration, and some individuals took the replanted acacia wood.[12]
In a sense, these three important ‘materials’ represent one of the most important components of a people – connection to its past, purpose in the present, and goals for the future.  
Moshe took the bones of Yosef, representing the nation’s connection to its illustrious past, and holy ancestors. Miriam took instruments with confidence and faith in the glory that was to come. The wood that was used for the construction of the structure of the Mishkan symbolized the ongoing need for the nation to have a centralized place for the Divine Presence to rest among them constantly.
There are people who get stuck in the past. They may have suffered trauma and abuse, mental anguish, and suffering, and cannot get past it. They are stuck in the morass of their past, and may suffer from insurmountable depression.
There are others who become paralyzed by fear of the unknown in the future. Anxiety of what tomorrow will bring overwhelms them, and they are filled with dread about how they will deal with the challenges that will confront them.
The goal is for a person to be able to build on his past, even the traumas and pain of the past, and utilize them, taking advantage of the present, to create a hopeful future, helping others and serving Hashem.
The three objects taken out along with the wealth of the Egyptians, represents this vital need in the formulation and growth of a burgeoning nation.

The Shabbos when Parshas Beshalach is read, is titled “Shabbos Shirah – Shabbos of Song”. It generally also coincides with the week when the holiday of Tu[13] B’Shvat is observed.
Tu B’Shvat is the “New Year for trees” in regard to certain areas of halacha[14]. Therefore, it is a time when we reflect upon the wonders of the trees, particularly regarding the analogous connections between trees and humankind[15].
Every tree grew from the seeds of previous trees. At the same time, every fruit contains within it the seeds for future trees and fruits.
The song of our lives is built upon the foundations upon which were built by our ancestors. With a sense of mission and responsibility for our progeny, we prepare the next generation, serving as the continuing link on our never-ending chain of eternal tradition. 

“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him”
“Miriam took a timbrel in her hand”

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

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beshalach 5777.
[2] A tisch is a formal Chassidic gathering, in which chassidim sing together, and listen to inspiring words of Torah from the rebbe.
[3] Fred Brinn, then Mayor of New Hempstead
[4] 1880-1957
[5] During the plague of darkness, all of those Jews who did not want to leave Egypt, died.
[6] Shemos 12:35-36
[7] Shemos 13:19
[8] Mishlei 10:7
[9] Shemos 15:20
[10] Shemos 253
[11] Bereishis Rabbah 94:4
[12] I saw the idea about taking these three ‘materials’ in an article by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
[13] The Hebrew letters ט''ו (Tu) numerically correspond to the number 15, since it is on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat
[14] Particularly about taking ma’aser, the mandatory annual tithes
[15] Based on the pasuk in Devorim 20:19   


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