Thursday, June 28, 2018



Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l related that a granddaughter of the Chofetz Chaim was lured by secular influences. She eventually left the life of Torah and went to University.
During that time, she came to visit her saintly grandfather. She told him about the incredible innovations and how the world was progressing. She reasoned that it was time for him to leave the insular life of the shtetl and the antiquated life of Torah, so that he could be part of the progressive world.
The Chofetz Chaim replied, “Tochterel (my daughter), I want you to know that with all of their innovations and inventions, they will eventually be able to develop a bomb that will kill thousands of people in a moment. Ubber mir machen mentchen! But we are making people.”  

The Torah relates that Balak hired Bila’am to curse Klal Yisroel, but Hashem protected them and foiled his plans. Throughout the story Bila’am presented himself as being a loyal servant of G-d. But Chazal relate that Bila’am was a lowly and despicably immoral person driven by lust and a desire for money and honor. 
The Mishna Avos[1] states:
“Any person who has these three traits is from the disciples of Arohom Avinu, and [any person who has] three other traits is from the students of Bila’am the evildoer. One who has a good eye, a humble spirit and a meek soul is from the disciples of Avrohom Avinu. Those who have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a greedy soul are among the disciples of Bila’am the evildoer.
How are the disciples of Avrohom Avinu different from the disciples of Bila’am the evildoer? The disciples of Avrohom Avinu enjoy the fruits of their good deeds in the next world… But the disciples of Bila’am the evildoer inherit Gehinnom (Purgatory) and descend into the well of destruction…”
The wording of the Mishna seems somewhat verbose. Why does the Mishna introduce that there are three definite character traits of disciples of Avrohom and three of Bila’am, and only then relate what those character traits are? Also, why does the Mishna need to specify that there are three traits at all; anyone can count for themselves?
In addition, the very question about the difference between the disciples of Avrohom and Bila’am is peculiar. Would anyone ask about the difference between the energy of a turtle in contrast to that of a rocket ship? They are not comparative in the least bit.
The Nesivas Shalom explains that the Mishna is not contrasting a righteous Jew with a wicked non-Jew. Rather, the Mishna is teaching us about the value and importance of having good character traits. Both the disciples of Avrohom and the disciple of Bila’am that the mishna refers to are Torah and mitzvah-observant Jews. The difference is that the disciples of Avrohom possess the enumerated three sterling character traits, while the disciples of Bila’am have the opposite traits.
Rav Chaim Vital writes that developing good character traits is a necessary prerequisite for growth in Torah. The more one refines his character, the more the Torah he learns can penetrate and elevate him. The Noam Elimelech similarly writes that one descends into this world with a divine mission to challenge his nature, as well as his negative proclivities and desires.
The Mishna stresses that students of Avrohom Avinu have three character traits, to emphasize that a complete Jew requires all three traits to achieve greatness.
Having a good eye means he is able to view others positively on an intellectual level. He trains himself to see the good in others, and to generally view life positively.
All negative character traits stem from arrogance which leads to a narcissistic outlook on life. The humble spirit is one who doesn’t always put himself first but is able to prioritize the needs and wants of others.  
Having a meek soul means he is not always seeking his own selfish gratification and fulfillment.
The Mishna asks what the difference between the disciples of Avrohom and Bila’am, not regarding the next world, where there is indeed no comparison. The Mishna is delineating the difference between them in this world. The disciples of Avrohom exert great energy to challenge and refine themselves. However, the result is that they are able to appreciate and enjoy life.
The disciples of the evil Bila’am however, can never enjoy the pleasures of this world because their insatiable desire for more as well as their jealousy and lust give them no peace or satisfaction.

The Navi[2] relates that Yoav and Avner were the two greatest generals in the time of Dovid Hamelech. Avner had been the loyal general of Shaul Hamelech, but sometime after Shaul’s death he joined the forces of Dovid Hamelech. Yoav, the original general of Dovid Hamelech, was not happy that Avner was joining with them. Avner had killed Yoav’s brother Asa’el and Yoav wanted revenge. Yoav cunningly lured Avner into a trap and stabbed him through his fifth rib, straight into his heart.
The Medrash[3] states that Avner was so powerful that even as he lay dying he was able to seize Yoav in a death grip, threatening to kill him. At that moment Avner desperately wanted to kill Yoav. Klal Yisroel entreated Avner, “Master! If you kill Yoav we will be orphaned without a father and the Pelishtim will plunder us and our wives.” Avner acquiesced and he released Yoav and allowed him to live.
Rav Yechiel Perr[4] notes that the Medrash is a parable. It is relating the feeling that rose in Avner’s consciousness in those waning moments of his life. He realized that only he and Yoav had the ability to successfully lead the Jewish army and protect the nation from the Pelishtim. If he would kill Yoav the nation would be left defenseless, and so he released Yoav.
In Rav Perr’s words: “I envision myself in Avner’s position, staring my assassin in the face as my heart pounds its last few beats. You murderer! You didn’t kill a person I happen to know. You didn’t even kill a close friend, or a relative. You killed me! You made an end to all my dreams! It was me that you killed!...
“What does the entire world matter anymore? The world is dead to me! I am standing alone on the plain of swiftly gathering darkness. Already the edges of my sight are dimming, and I can feel my life ebbing away! I should let you go because you will be a good general? Ill be a corpse, decaying in the ground, surrounded by nothing but gravestones and worms, as you lead the Jewish army, surrounded by Klal Yisroel’s elite! You killed me, and I shouldn’t snap your neck like a toothpick?
“A self-immersed egotistical person could never hear the pleas of the Jewish nation spring unbidden into his mind. How could his thoughts have room to consider the future of the nation? Was he not overwhelmed by the tragedy of his own death?
“If a person is self-centered, he has no room for others in his mind. You think a person who has spent a lifetime thinking about himself will suddenly change at the moment of death? Nonsense… people can change over the course of their lifetimes, but not instantaneously…
“Avner was able to prioritize the Jewish nation at the moment of his death, because that was how he lived his whole life!... A lifetime of slogging up the mountain of altruism brought Avner to this glorious, elevated peak as he let his enemy slip through his fingers.”

The disciples of Bila’am may seem to live a more glamorous and idyllic life. But beneath the surface, only one who develops within himself the character traits of Avohom Avinu can achieve internal happiness and satisfaction in life. 
To have the incredible grace of character that Aver possessed in his dying moments, one must live their life constantly seeking to refine their character.

“The students of Avrohom Avinu enjoy the fruits of their good deeds”
“Mir machen mentchen!”

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

[1] 5:22
[2] Shmuel II chapter 2
[3] Yalkut Shimoni, Yirmiayhu 285
[4] Rosh Yeshiva, Derech Ayson of Far Rockaway, from his powerful book “Mind over Man”

Thursday, June 21, 2018



It wasn’t nice, but that’s the way it was. Everyone in school and in his town called him Mike the Moron. It wasn’t that he was stupid, as much as that he just never seemed to use common sense. He was impulsive, had no patience for details, and was socially inept. It seemed that almost daily Mike ended up being the laughingstock of his friends and community.
After somehow graduating high school, Mike was determined to change his reputation. He decided he would leave town for a year and would study social appropriateness. During that year he studied the actions of socially successful people and expended great effort training himself to pay attention to detail.
Finally, after a year of arduous work, he was ready to prove to everyone that he was a different person. He put on nice clothes, combed his hair, and mustered up the courage to walk into the first store he saw.
He didn’t recognize the owner of the store, and he greeted him warmly. The owner returned the greeting, after which Mike engaged in some pleasantries and small talk. When the owner asked how he could be of assistance, Mike pleasantly replied that he needed eggs, milk, orange juice, and a loaf of bread.
The owner peered at him for a moment. “Sir, before I try to help you with what you need, can I ask you a question?” Mike smiled, “Of course; ask me anything!” The owner looked at him again, “Are you by any chance Mike the Moron?”
Mike was beside himself. “I spent a whole year working on changing my image. I never even met you before. How could you possibly know?”
The owner replied, “Mike, this is a hardware store!”

The ironic truth is that in the famed Novardok mussar yeshiva, the Alter[1] would often send his students into a drug store to ask for nails. In those days drug stores weren’t also convenience stores; they only sold medicine. Everyone would laugh at the yeshiva student who was asking for nails.
The Alter wanted his students to be accustomed to not caring about the ridicule of others. In order to ensure that they would develop courage to do what was right even in the face of mockery and derision, he trained them to disregard public image when it interfered with one’s integrity.

The account of Moshe Rabbeinu hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, and consequently being informed that lifelong dream of entering Eretz Yisroel would be denied, is of the most difficult passages in the Torah. It is clear that the great Moshe was being held to an incredibly exacting standard, as the most righteous are. It is also clear that national interests were also a major factor.
The commentators expend great effort to understand what exactly Moshe was being punished for. We review and study the mishaps of Moshe, and all our greatest leaders, because the lessons we glean from them are personal and timeless.[2]
Hashem chastised Moshe, “Since you did not believe in Me to make me holy before the eyes of the B’nei Yisroel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the land which I gave them.”[3] These seem to be very harsh words. In what way did Moshe fail to sanctify G-d? After all, hitting a rock to produce water is not much less of a miracle than speaking to a rock to produce water? 
The Alter of Novardok[4] explains that the key to understanding what happened, is based on the Medrash[5], which states that Hashem indicated to Moshe that there was a specific rock which Moshe was supposed to speak to in order to bring forth water. There were Jews who began to mock Moshe saying that if this was really a miracle, why couldn’t he bring water from any rock? They reasoned that he was trying to bring forth water from that specific rock because he must have known there was a stream underneath it.
Moshe was in a quandary. If he fulfilled what Hashem instructed him, it would end up causing a chillul Hashem because the mockers would deny that it was a miracle. The whole purpose of the event would not be achieved. Moshe therefore reasoned that if he proved them wrong, it would produce a far greater kiddush Hashem.
The Alter noted that Moshe was not intimidated in the least bit by the masses. He had no qualms about facing 600,000 people and telling them off. To Moshe, the entire world was meaningless in the presence of Hashem. It wasn’t the opinion of the masses that Moshe was concerned about, but rather about bringing about honor to Hashem. Moshe rationalized that by veering somewhat from what he was commanded, he could silence the mockers and create greater kavod shomayim.
Moshe’s quandary is something many of us face on occasion. At times we are confronted by situations when it seems breaching halacha somewhat will bring about a far greater kiddush shem shomayim. On the flip side, at times observing halacha may seem to risk causing people to become ‘turned off’ from Hashem or Torah. How should one proceed in such a situation?
Moshe opted to try to bring about a greater kiddush Hashem, and so he spoke to a different rock and instructed it to give water. However, because it wasn’t the rock G-d had commanded him to speak to, it did not give forth water. At that point Moshe struck the rock twice and water began to flow.
This was the incredible test of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe should have recognized, that despite how it may have seemed to his eyes, it was impossible that there could come about a greater kiddush Hashem other than what Hashem commanded. Had Moshe not have followed his speculation, the water would have eventually flowed from the rock based on his directive alone. His noble and selfless rationalizations notwithstanding, Moshe came up short because he did not wholly fulfill the exact instruction of G-d.

In Sefer Yehoshua, the Navi States “Yehoshua waged war with all these kings for a long time.”[6] Radak and Rashi quote the Medrash[7] which sees this verse as finding fault with Yehoshua. Hashem had assured Yehoshua that he would live to conquer and distribute the land. Therefore, Yehoshua tarried with the conquest to prolong his life.
The Medrash notes that Yehoshua’s actions were contrasted by those of Moshe, who was told that he would die after the battle with Midyan. Nevertheless, Moshe waged war against Midyan with alacrity, to immediately fulfill the command of Hashem. Because Yehoshua sought to prolog his life in this manner, his life was shortened by ten years.
Maharzu explains that Yehoshua prolonged the conquest because he knew that as long as he was alive, the nation would not sin. Nevertheless, despite his noble intentions, he was held to task for doing so. One is charged in life with fulfilling Hashem’s Will, and not substituting his own judgement with that of the divine.[8]

The Alter concludes, “When the eye of intellect can not see clearly any longer, one must judge in accordance with his faith in the word of Hashem…Just as darkness cannot emanate from light, a desecration of G-d’s Name cannot come from obeying His command.”

One summer Rav Mandel Kaplan zt’l[9] stayed at a kiruv summer camp which worked with youth from nonreligious backgrounds. At times he felt the camp went overboard in its attempts to give the campers a good time. He asked the camp directors why they always had to provide them with so much ‘fun’?
On one occasion, the camp was planning on taking the boys to the country fair, which Rav Mendel felt was not a proper place for them to attend. The director told Rav Mendel that this was the only way to get those children interested in Torah observance. When the director quipped that, “If we don’t do this, we will lose them”, Rav Mendel curtly replied, “So you’ll lose them.”
At first the camp director was shocked by Rav Mendel’s response. This was especially true because Rav Mendel was so full of love and concern for every Jew. But with time he understood Rav Mendel’s point: if the goal was to covey to the students that Torah has supremacy in a Jew’s life, how could the camp underhandedly convey that having fun was its greatest ideal? Such an approach would produce observant Jews who paid lip service to Torah values but didn’t truly internalize it.
Our ultimate responsibility is to uphold Torah and halacha to the best of our abilities.[10] There is no greater way or any alternative way to promote kavod shomayim!

“Since you did not believe in Me to make me holy”
“Desecration of G-d’s Name cannot come from obeying His command”

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

[1] Rav Yosef Yozel Horowitz zt’l (1847-1919)
[2] That itself is one of the greatest indications of the veracity of Torah as the guide to ultimate truth. The Torah doesn’t mince words from telling us about the failings of our greatest leaders. There is only one divine being who is flawless. Although it doesn’t deserve to even be mentioned together, it’s worth noting that in the “New Testament” none of the ‘leaders’ ever seemed to err…
[3] Bamidbar 20:12
[4] Madreigos Ha’adam; beirur hamiddos
[5] Bamidbar Rabbah 19:9
[6] Yehoshua 11:18
[7] Bamidbar Rabbah 22:6
[8] This point about Yehoshua is not mentioned in this context by the Altar. I came across it with siyata d’shmaya this morning, shortly before I was going to send out this Stam Torah.
[9] Rav Mendel (1913-1985) was a legendary educator and Rosh Yeshiva. He was one of my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein’s, rabbeim. Whenever Rabbi Wein speaks of him it is with great nostalgia, admiration, and love. Artscroll published a beautiful biography entitled “Reb Mendel and his wisdom” about his life and legacy.
[10] There are undoubtedly situations which do warrant exceptions. But such unusual situations require the input and guidance of a halachic authority and gadol.

Thursday, June 14, 2018



I heard the following story, and then found it written by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein. It is taken from It is a story that could only happen in Eretz Yisroel:

It was right after Rosh Hashanah, in Bnei Brak, one of Israel’s most densely populated communities, and thousands of visiting families of every age and description were congregating around the ubiquitous Israeli bus stops eagerly waiting to get home. The bus stop reserved for the 402-express line to Jerusalem was extremely crowded as tired seniors, parents blessed with many children and crying infants were waiting none-too-patiently for a bus that was nowhere in sight.
After what seemed an eternity, an Egged bus could finally be spotted in the distance. But relief turned to dismay as the bus pulled into the station. It was #318, heading for Rechovot, not Jerusalem. The poor driver was besieged by the disappointed passengers. “Look at the size of this crowd! Can’t you help us get to Jerusalem!” they begged. “Have mercy on our senior citizens who have been standing here forever,” they asked. The driver, while sympathetic, pointed to the numbers 318 and said, “This bus goes to Rechovot and there’s not much I can do about it.”
The parents of a wailing infant approached the driver and said, “Have you no heart at all? Please for the sake of the babies who are suffering here by the roadside…”
This plea seemed to resonate with the driver, who actually got up from his seat and announced with some resignation in his voice, “Okay, okay. We’re going to Jerusalem,” as he fiddled with buttons that transformed the bus into a 402 Express.
Smiles broke out and the crowd spontaneously cheered. As they climbed aboard, the passengers thanked the driver profusely for his extraordinary kindness and wished him the traditional holiday blessings reserved for those we love and hold dear.
“May you live a long, healthy life,” wished a Hasidic older gentleman. “May you prosper greatly,” said a grateful young mother. “May your children become leaders of Israel,” a rabbi said.
The packed bus left the station as the maximum number of allowable standees gripped the bars. A gentleman approached the driver and asked if he could use the public-address system for a special announcement. After the slightest hesitation, the diver said, “Sure, why not.”
The man clutched the mic and launched into a masterful speech about just what kind of man this bus driver must be, sprinkling his remarks with adjectives like “a saint,” “a giant of a man,” “someone of sterling character who deserves our everlasting gratitude…”
Loud applause capped the man’s eloquent speech and things began to settle down. Just minutes before reaching the central bus station in Jerusalem a young man approached the driver and asked, “Do you mind if I asked you a question?”
“Not at all,” said the driver.
“Despite your really beautiful act of kindness, I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you were prepared to probably lose your job over what you did. No self-respecting bus company would ever let a driver get away with changing his route on the fly, regardless of how nice a gesture it is.”
The driver responded with a chuckle. “Let me tell what really happened. Back at the depot we’ve got cameras trained upon all the busier bus stops. At some point my supervisor saw the swelling crowd at the 402 stop and how the mob was beginning to turn ugly. The kids screaming, their parents complaining, he yelled out to the waiting drivers, ‘Who wants to do the Jerusalem run?’
“My friend Dovid says, ‘Not me. I don’t want to be cursed by all those cranky people.’ My buddy Shimon calls out, ‘You wouldn’t believe the abuse I got on the 402 last Saturday night. Not me!’ And so it went with all the drivers.
“I called out, ‘I’ll take it and I bet you I can transform the curses and complaints of all those frantic Jews into heartfelt blessings!’ They looked at me like I was nuts, but I just climbed onto the bus changed the numbers to 318 and it worked like a charm! I haven’t been blessed like that since my Bar Mitzvah!”
The best way to transform misery into blessing is simply to drop the sense of expectation and entitlement, and just like the driver of bus 318/402 and his passengers, live (more) happily ever after.

A rebbe shared that there was a sign hanging by the yeshiva’s secretary’s desk: “Don’t complain about what you didn’t get; just be happy you don’t get what you deserve!”
Our level of happiness and satisfaction in life are interconnected with our expectations. When we look at what others have and feel that we are lacking, we are unable to fully appreciate the blessings we have.
Not too long ago, it was in vogue for families living in the city to leave their apartments and homes for the two months of summer to head up to the Catskills Mountains. Truthfully, it is still common, as is apparent by the fact that one can easily find parking on 13th Avenue in Boro Park or Avenue J in Flatbush during July and August. However, years ago families would crowd into dilapidated, run-down, mice infested two room bungalows for the summer, as my family did during my youth before we moved to Monsey. Despite the lack of comfortable accommodations, we all looked forward to the time we spent in the bungalow colony surrounded by friends in a carefree atmosphere.
Today, most people wouldn’t be able to handle those bungalows. Many people have summer homes in the mountains that are nicer than their apartments in the city. One of the main reasons is that years ago, most people who went up to the mountains tolerated, and even enjoyed that life. When everyone around us is living based on a certain standard, we can be happy doing it too. But as soon as people start living on a higher standard, it causes a ripple effect, and within a short time no one is happy with what they used to be content with.
When we live with a feeling of entitlement, it impedes us from enjoying what we have.
Korach was one of the carriers of the holy Aron, a member of Shevet Levi, and a respected wealthy individual.
What drove him to rebel against Moshe and earn him a place of infamy for all time? Chazal say, “his eyes fooled him”. He looked beyond himself and, instead of appreciating the greatness he attained, he enviously saw what more others had attained.
When it’s never enough, one can never feel content with what he has.
The gemara[2] relates that when certain Amoriam would take leave of each other they would bless each other, “May you see your "עולם" during your lifetime.”
Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l explained that the word עולם is an expression of ha’almah – hiddenness. Every person possesses innate talent and capabilities. When we are young those talents are hidden, until we discover them. The blessing they conferred upon each other was that they recognize their internal greatness, and that they see their ‘hidden qualities’ during their lifetimes, so they could utilize them to serve Hashem and His people.
The Mishna[3] states: “Rabbi Elazar Hakappar said – jealousy, desire, and honor remove a person from the world.”
We can add the blessing they conferred upon each other was also that they should be able to be content with what G-d has granted them – in regard to whatever prestige, acumen, finances, and social standing they were blessed with. If one is not smitten by the curse of envy, avarice, and lust they will be able to enjoy and appreciate the life/world that G-d has granted them.
Korach was destroyed because of his pursuit of what was beyond him. One can only be content when he doesn’t set his expectations too high. Our society bombards us with messages about how ‘we deserve it’, and are lacking if we don’t have what everyone else has. Our generation doesn’t seem happy or content.
The Torah teaches us to learn to be satisfied with the blessings we have been granted, including our intelligence, family, community, finances, and health.

“His eyes fooled him”
“May you see your world during your lifetime”

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 Korach 5777.
[2] Berachos 17a
[3] Avos 4:21

Thursday, June 7, 2018



Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman is known as "the Disco Rabbi" due to his amazing success at reaching out to boys and girls in their own "habitat" and bringing them closer to Hashem and His Torah. There are many amazing stories about this remarkable person and his unconditional love for every single Jew. The following was published by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat who witnessed it:
“Allow me to share with you a story from my previous life in the exile of the West Side of New York City, which taught me how the word can bring sanctity into the most unlikely of places:
“In the early 1970's, a disco opened up in a window storefront building on 72nd Street and Broadway; despite the fact that it was called the Tel Aviv Disco and was owned by Israelis living in New York, it remained open every night of the year, even Kol Nidre night. I must have placed at least two dozen calls to the owners to try to persuade them to close at least on the night of Yom Kippur, only to have finally received a message from their secretary informing me that the owners would not speak to rabbis!!
“During this period, Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman - a beloved and respected friend who is the Rav of Migdal Ha'Emek - spent Shabbat with us at Lincoln Square Synagogue. He is a charismatic religious leader who is well-known for the many prisoners and other alienated Jews whom he has brought back to religious observance.
“After a delightful Friday evening meal at my home, replete with inspiring Hassidic melodies and words of Torah, he suggested that we go for a shpatzir (Yiddish for a leisurely walk). I tried to explain that the general atmosphere of the West Side streets of Manhattan were hardly conducive to Sabbath sanctity - but to no avail. His steps led us in the direction of 72nd Street and Broadway, right in front of the window revealing the frenzied disco dancers.
“Did you ever see a mosquito captured in a glass jar?” he asked me in Yiddish (our language of discourse). “The mosquito is moving with all sorts of contortions and appears to be dancing. In reality, however, the mosquito is gasping for air. That is the situation of those “dancers” in the disco. They are really gasping for air, struggling in their search for a real Shabbos. Let's go in and show them Shabbos.”
“Before I could say anything, he was inside the disco. As a good host, I felt constrained to follow him. He sported a long beard and side-locks and was wearing a shtreimel (fur hat) and kapute (silk gaberdine), and I was dressed in my Sabbath Prince Albert, kippa and ritual fringes out. As we entered the disco, the band of Israelis immediately stopped playing. I immediately recognized three young men from the Synagogue - who seemed totally discombobulated; two ran out covering their faces, and the third tried to explain to me that he wasn't really there, that his mother had had some kind of attack and he thought that her doctor might be at the disco…
“Rav Grossman began to sing - Sabbath melodies. Almost miraculously, the men danced on one side, the women on the other. After about twenty minutes, he urged me to speak to them in English. I told them of the magical beauty, the joy, and the love of the Sabbath, and they listened with rapt attention. Rav Grossman led them in one more song - and we left.
“I cannot tell you that the miracle continued, it didn't take five minutes, and we could hear the resumption of the disco band music. However, before the next Yom Kippur, the Tel Aviv Disco closed down. I don't know why, because the owners wouldn't speak to rabbis. And for the next two years, at least a dozen young singles joined Lincoln Square Synagogue because they had been inspired by our Disco visit!”

The Sefer Yetzira explains the significance of each of the twelve Jewish months of the year, including which physical sense it corresponds to, as well as which of the twelve tribes it corresponds to, as well as other symbolisms. It states that the month of Tamuz corresponds to Reuven, the oldest of the tribes, and to the sense of sight[2]. The month of Av corresponds to Shimon and the sense of hearing.[3]
The months of Tamuz and Av contain the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. The Three Weeks begin on the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz and end with the fast of the ninth of Av. The primary causes of the destruction of the Batei Mikdash were because we failed to use our eyes and ears properly. Therefore, the rebuilding and consolation will occur when we rectify those shortcomings. That is the primary spiritual effort of these (summer) months – to channel and utilize our vision and hearing properly.
The sense of vision makes us particularly vulnerable because we are quick to trust what our eyes see, although we are often not privy to seeing the entire picture. In addition, how we interpret what we see is skewered by our preconceived notions.
At the beginning of parshas Shelach, Rashi asks why the Torah juxtaposes the narrative about the tragic story of the Spies with the story of Miriam contracting tzara’as, at the end of the previous parsha? Rashi answers, “Because she was afflicted due of matters of speech, for speaking against her brother. And these wicked ones saw and didn’t learn the lesson[4].”
What is the connection between the loshon hora Miriam spoke about Moshe[5] and the negative report the spies gave about Eretz Yisroel?   
Why did Miriam feel justified to speak to Aharon about what she felt was a shortcoming in Moshe?[6]
There is no question that Miriam was aware of Moshe’s greatness as a tzaddik and a prophet. But Miriam was also a great leader and prophetess. The poignant rebuke that Hashem told her is that she didn’t adequately recognize her younger brother’s greatness. True, she and Aharon were also prophets, but Moshe’s prophecy was on a higher level. Aharon and Miriam had failed to see what was beyond their purview, that Moshe had achieved levels of greatness beyond what they had attained. “Not so my servant Moshe; in My entire House he is trustworthy.”

The verses in three of the five chapters in Megillas Eicha form an acrostic based on the letters of the Aleph Bais. However, the letter פ precedes the letter ע. The gemara[7]explains that it is to hint that they (the spies) spoke with their mouths[8] what their eyes did not see[9].
Maharal[10] explains that the gemara doesn’t mean that the spies blatantly lied. When it talks about what they saw it isn’t referring to physical sight, but to things one understands through contemplation, pondering, and analyzation.
When the spies returned from Eretz Yisroel, they in fact related exactly what they saw. But their physical vision hadn’t presented them with the real truth. They were great men and should have seen beyond the surface to recognize what was really happening. It was true that the land was unconquerable, but that was without G-d’s promise and assurance. It was true that there were great people dying wherever they went, but that was as a favor to them, so they shouldn’t be noticed by the grieving citizens.
In that sense, the sin of the spies mirrored the sin of Miriam. Just as Miriam had not recognized greatness beyond what was immediately apparent, so did they did not realize and appreciate greatness beyond what they saw. They jumped to conclusions without contemplating the deeper meaning of what they were seeing.

The AriZal writes that when a farmer offers Bikkurim, it serves as a rectification for the sin of the spies. The Torah relates that the spies brought back pomegranates, dates, and grapes. When the Mishna[11] describes the process of bringing Bikkurim, it says: “A man goes down into his field and he sees a ripened date, a ripened cluster of grapes, a ripe pomegranate, he ties it with a string and declares “These are bikkurim”. The fact that the Mishna specifically uses as examples the same three fruits that the Spies brought back, demonstrates that they are connected.
When a farmer sets aside his first frits to be brought as Bikkurim, it demonstrates that he is seeing beyond the physical fruit before him. It symbolizes his awareness that the growth of his produce is not merely the result of his tireless efforts, but a result of the blessing of Hashem.
The spies looked at Eretz Yisroel with a physical perspective and saw negatively. The one brining Bikkurim recognized the sanctity of his produce, and that the greatness of the land traverses its physical landscape. That was the rectification for the sin of the Spies.

Our world is not only judgmental and opinionated, it is also often emphatically condemnatory. We are quick to forward articles about others, and to spread news, which maligns other individuals or groups that we may not agree with. We are very smug and confident that we know what’s best for everyone else and for the world. But the truth is that there is a world beyond what we see, and we are less privy to the full picture than we care to believe. It requires a modicum of humility to submit to the notion that what we see isn’t the whole truth.
Someone once asked Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita how he could judge someone favorably, when it seemed like the person did something wrong? Rav Nebenzhal’s poigniant response was: לא צריך לדון אותו  - you don’t have to judge him! If one is not a judge, or a parent, or teacher, or employer, in that situation, why should he judge him at all? Let Hashem do the judging in that case, and we can go back to trying to judge our own lives.

The month of Tamuz is a time to reflect and improve upon our vision – to realize that there are other perspectives and viewpoints besides ours, and to remember that there is far more going on in other people’s lives than we know. The mistake of Miriam, and subsequently the Spies was, that they thought they had a fuller picture than they in fact did.
A close friend often remarks how often one thinks he knows someone well, until he finds out that there was so much he didn’t know.
We must remember that there is much to see beyond what we see, and know that only Hashem can see everything.

   “Not so my servant Moshe”
   “These are bikkurim”.

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 Shelach 5777.
[2] The name Reuven means sight; Reuven was so named because his mother Leah declared that G-d had seen her pain.
[3] The name Shimon means hearing; Shimon was so named because his mother Leah declared that G-d had heard her prayers.
[4] Literally “take discipline”
[5] When Eldad and Mediad began prophesizing unexpectedly, Zipporah, the wife of Moshe, commented to Miriam that she felt bad for their wives because now that they were prophets they would have to physically separate from her. Miriam then repeated to Aharon what Zipporah had said and noted that she and Aharon had not separated from their respective spouses, and they too were prophets. So why did Moshe have to separate from Zipporah? The Medrash notes that Miriam only spoke out of concern, she spoke about her beloved younger brother, and Moshe was not slighted in the least bit. Yet she was punished with tzara’as. It is a painful reminder about the severity of speaking loshon hora.
[6] It must always be reiterated that we proceed with awe and caution when we speak about the flaws and shortcomings of our greatest leaders. We only do so in order for us to learn the vital lessons we can relate to on our level.
[7] Sanhedrin 104b
[8] The letterפ  is called “peh” which means mouth
[9] The letter ע is called “ayin” which means eye. The gemara is explaining that in Eicha the peh comes before the ayin to symbolize that the spies – who gave their evil report on the ninth of Av – gave a report about things they didn’t actually see.
[10] Netzach Yisroel chapter 9
[11] Bikkurim 3:1