Thursday, August 30, 2018



Rav Yankel Galinsky zt’l related that in Europe many chazzanim introduced the prayer “Ribbono Shel Olam[1]” with a song that began “Yum bum bum”.
One year, the town chazzan came to the Rav and announced that he had a new “Ribbono Shel Olam”[2]. The Rav smiled and replied, “You better hope the Ribbono Shel Olam doesn’t have a new chazzan!”

The Tolna Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg shlita, related[3] that on one occasion the Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, related to his grandfather[4] the following thought:  
When the Torah states the frightening curses of the tochacha, it interjects that all the curses will transpire, “tachas asher lo avadeta es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha uv’tuv levav – being that you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and goodness of heart.”
The commentators question why the punishments of the tochacha are the result of failing to serve Hashem joyously? In fact, nowhere in the Torah does it say that one is obligated to serve Hashem joyously. Perhaps serving Hashem in an unemotional manner isn’t correct, but does that warrant the infliction of the horrors warned about in the tochacha? 
To answer this question, Rav Henoch of Alexander related the following anecdote:
There was a teacher who taught young cheder children in the shtetl how to read. One day he began testing his young students to see how well they knew the letters of the aleph bais and the nekudos. The boys did very well, until the rebbe called on Shmuli. After Shmuli correctly identified the letter the rebbe was pointing to as the letter hei, the rebbe asked him what was beneath the hei. Suddenly, Shmuli froze and the color drained from his face. The rebbe affectionately again asked Shmuli what was beneath the hei, but Shmuli just stood there. When the rebbe asked a third time, Shmuli replied that his father had forbidden him to answer.
Later that day, the rebbe saw Shmuli walking with his father. The rebbe related to the father the strange occurrence that happened earlier when Shmuli refused to answer. The father immediately became incensed with his son’s disobedience, and he began to remove his belt. When Shmuli saw that he was about to “get it”, he cried out, “under the hei is a calf!”
The rebbe realized immediately what had occurred. In Yiddish (as in English) there is a lot of hay[5] upon the floor of the barn. Shmuli’s father had stolen a calf and had hidden it in the family’s barn beneath the hay. He warned Shmuli that if he knows what’s good for him, he better not tell anyone what’s underneath the hay. When the rebbe asked Shmuli what was under the hei, Shmuli fearfully replied that his father forbade him to answer.
Rav Henoch explained that when the Torah says that rebuke will happen “tachas” that you didn’t serve Hashem joyously and good heartedly, it doesn’t mean that the rebuke is a punishment for lack of joy. Rather, the word tachas is to be read literally, “underneath”. At the time of the fulfillment of the tochacha, invariably we will wonder how we become so degenerate as it sin so egregiously that we became worthy of such horrible punishments. How did a nation of such regal bearing, lose sense of its mission and resort to such base iniquity? The answer is that it is a result of unemotional, rote Judaism. Beneath our external piety and noble actions, was internal apathy and disconnect. That lack of emotion, which at first was subtle and indiscernible, is what eventually caused the nation to lose its direction and become seeped in the morass of sin.
The Tolna Rebbe recounted that the Bais Yisrael was conveying to him that even when one is going through a painful or stressful time in his life, he must always strive to feel and radiate simcha.

Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook zt’l explained[6] that “simcha” refers to the joy one feels about the greatness of Torah. “Goodness of heart” refers to one’s feeling of personal connection to the Torah.
Rav Kook explains that one without the other is insufficient. If one feels personally connected to the Torah but doesn’t realize its infinite greatness, he is lacking simcha in his service to Hashem. On the other hand, if one recognizes the greatness of Torah, but doesn’t realize that he has a personal connection and portion of the Torah, he will lack the goodness of heart necessary to personally grow in Torah.
Every person must recognize that Hashem loves him and values everything he does. That realization will infuse him with joy and feelings of connection.

When we “bentch Rosh Chodesh” the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh each month, we recite a prayer asking Hashem for a month of life. We then specify: “long life, life of peace, life of goodness, life of blessing...”
Towards the end of the prayer, we seem to repeat one request twice - “life that contains fear of heaven and fear of sin... a life of love of Torah and fear of heaven...” Why is ‘fear of heaven’ mentioned a second time?
Rav Asher Weiss shlita related that most people read the prayer incorrectly. We are not requesting “life of love of Torah, and fear of heaven” but rather “a life of love - of Torah and fear of heaven.” In other words, we are asking Hashem to endow us with - not only love of Torah, but also love of being G-d fearing.
Rav Weiss added that although various explanations have been offered to explain the redundancy, in his opinion this is the true explanation. If it’s such a simple explanation, why is it not more universally known?
Rav Weiss explained that it’s because we have a mistaken notion that being G-d fearing entails being stoic, rigid, and morbid. But that is a fallacy. One who is truly G-d fearing lives a life of inner joy, knowing that he is living with integrity within the parameters of halacha. He lives with the happiness of knowing that he is fulfilling his divinely-ordained mission to the best of his ability.
During these weeks, we strive to do teshuva and rebuild our connection with Hashem that we compromised with our sins and moral failings throughout the year. It requires arduous internal self-introspection. However, it too must be performed with joy, the joy of knowing that we are always wanted at home, and can always find our way there, if we seek it. 

“Underneath it was that you did not serve Hashem with joy.”
“A life of love of Torah and fear of heaven”

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

[1] “Master of the World”
[2] In other words, he had a new introductory tune for the ‘yum bum bum’
[3] Dibros Kodesh, Ki Savo 5774
[4] Rav Yochanan Twersky zt’l (1906-1999) was the previous Tolna Rebbe
[5] which sounds the same word as the Hebrew letter hei
[6] Mussar Avicha

Thursday, August 23, 2018



Smartphone Detox: How To Power Down In A Wired World
February 12, 2018 5:03 AM ET
Heard on Morning Edition, NPR
 “If the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov were alive today, what would he say about smartphones? He might not think of them as phones at all, but instead as remarkable tools for understanding how technology can manipulate our brains…
“Pavlov originally set off to study canine digestion. But one day, he noticed something peculiar while feeding his dogs. If he played a sound — like a metronome or buzzer — before mealtimes, eventually the sound started to have a special meaning for the animals. It meant food was coming! The dogs actually started drooling when they heard the sound, even if no food was around.
Hearing the buzzer had become pleasurable.
“That's exactly what's happening with smartphones, says David Greenfield, a psychologist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut.
When we hear a ding or little ditty alerting us to a new text, email or Facebook post, cells in our brains likely release dopamine — one of the chemical transmitters in the brain's reward circuitry. That dopamine makes us feel pleasure, Greenfield says.
"That ping is telling us there is some type of reward there, waiting for us," Greenfield says.
“Over time, that ping can become more powerful than the reward itself. Research on animals suggests dopamine levels in the brain can be twice as high when you anticipate the reward as when you actually receive it.
“In other words, just hearing the notification can be more pleasurable than the text, email or tweet. "Smartphone notifications have turned us all into Pavlov's dogs," Greenfield says.
“The average adult checks their phone 50 to 300 times each day, Greenfield says. And smartphones use psychological tricks that encourage our continued high usage — some of the same tricks slot machines use to hook gamblers.
"For example, every time you look at your phone, you don't know what you're going to find — how relevant or desirable a message is going to be," Greenfield says. "So you keep checking it over and over again because every once in a while, there's something good there." (This is called a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement. Animal studies suggest it makes dopamine skyrocket in the brain's reward circuity and is possibly one reason people keep playing slot machines.)
A growing number of doctors and psychologists are concerned about our relationship with the phone…
Consider a digital detox one day a week
Tiffany Shlain, a San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker, and her family power down all their devices every Friday evening, for a 24-hour period.
"It's something we look forward to each week," Shlain says. She and her husband, Ken Goldberg, a professor in the field of robotics at the University of California, Berkeley, are very tech savvy. But they find they need a break.
"During the week, [we're] like an emotional pinball machine responding to all the external forces," Shlain says. The buzzes, beeps, emails, alerts and notifications never end.
Shutting the smartphones off shuts out all those distractions.
"You're making your time sacred again — reclaiming it," Shlain says. "You stop all the noise."
"The days felt much longer, and we generally feel much more relaxed," says Goldberg. When they started the digital break about nine years ago, which they call "Tech Shabbat," Saturdays suddenly felt very different. The family's not religious, she says, but they love the Jewish Sabbath ritual of setting aside a day for rest or restoration.
Their daughter, Odessa Shlain Goldberg, a ninth-grader, says the unplugging takes some of the pressure off.
"There's no FOMO — fear of missing out — or seeing what my friends are doing," Odessa says. "It's a family day."
The teen says the perspective she gains from the digital power-down carries over into the rest of the week. For instance, she thinks differently about social media. She realizes the social media feeds often make other people's lives appear more exciting or glamorous….
A recent study of high school students, published in the journal Emotion, found that too much time spent on digital devices is linked to lower self-esteem and a decrease in well-being…

Parshas Ki Setzei contains the most mitzvos of any parsha in the Torah. One of the common themes that runs through many of the mitzvos is our obligation to live on an exalted level as a holy people. A Jew must maintain his sense of holiness even in the throes of war, laws of morality, financial honesty, judicial honesty, etc.
One of the most unusual topics the parsha discusses is that of the Ben Sorer Umoreh – wayward and rebellious sin. In many ways it is an enigma. The wayward and rebellious son is sentenced to death even though he has not actually committed any capital sins at this point.
Ramban explains that he is culpable of disrespecting his parents and of violating the command “You shall be holy”[1], and “Him you shall serve and to Him shall you cleave”[2]. One who is a drunkard and glutton “does not know the way of G-d.” He is not killed because of what he is destined to do at the end. It’s not only about the actions one is doing, but also about where one is heading, and the path one is on.
When delineating the steps towards teshuva, Rabbeinu Yonah[3] writes that the second step of teshuva is to “forsake the sin”, i.e. stop committing the iniquitous act: “That he forsakes his evil ways and resolve with his entire heart to never again return to that path… as it says, “Let the wicked one forsake his way”[4].”
In doing teshuva one must be wary of his direction, before he can truly repent. Rabbeinu Yonah emphasizes that the penitent must not only cease his sinful acts, but he must seek to leave the path which has led him towards sin.
One of the challenges we struggle with is that we become used to our lifestyles and don’t like altering our daily habits.
One of those areas which we are all aware needs improvement, is our habituated lifestyle regarding overuse of technology.[5]
With this in mind, I present the following powerful lecture. It is my personal notes from the derasha of Hagaon HaRav Aharon Feldman shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, MD.[6]
It was delivered at the Torah Umesorah Convention, Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Behar, May 2014/ Iyar 5774:

"עד מתי פתים תאהבו פתי ולצים לצון חמדו להם וכסילים ישנאו דעת: תשובו לתוכחתי הנה אביעה לכם רוחי אודיעה דברי אתכם"  (משלי א:כב-כג)

“How long O simpletons, will you love folly? And scoffers covet mockery for themselves? And fools hate knowledge? Return to my reproof! Behold, I will express my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.” 

The Gra explains that when someone speaks devarim b’taylim[7] a ruach of tumah[8] envelops him, and it doesn’t let him rest until he speaks more devarim b’taylim.[9]
The next pasuk continues that if someone speaks words of kedusha, it will fill him with a ruach kadosh[10] which will not allow him to rest until he speaks more words of kedusha.
Why is speaking devarim b’taylim so serious that it causes a person to become filled with ruach hatumah?
Kuzari explains that all tumah is rooted in the loss of potential for life[11]. Tumah of a corpse, niddah, a woman who gives birth, keri – all of these involve the loss of life, or something that can promote life. A Metzora denigrates his tzuras ha’adam[12] and therefore also generates tumah.[13]
What is an adam/human?
Onkelos defines Adam as “Ruach Mimalila” a spirit that speaks.[14] The world believes that humans are thinking beings. But Torah defines Adam as a speaking being. Why?
The purpose of man in this world is to express his neshama in this world. That is the sod ha’adam[15]! The expression of one’s neshama occurs through one’s power of speech. One can take his thoughts – which are developed in his neshama – and bring them to life in this world by verbalizing those thoughts. If they are never verbalized they remain within one’s neshama, and don’t enter the realm of the physical world.
The Gra writes that one should use his ability of speech only for Torah and Chesed.[16]
That is the purpose and motive of man – to bring his neshama into this world, which happens through speaking words of Torah and words of chesed.
[Of course, we must do acts of chesed as well. But animals also perform ‘acts’. The ultimate expression of man’s humanness is through speaking Torah and chesed, because speech is unique to man.]
That’s why tumah sets in when one speaks devarim b’taylim. When one speaks about nonsense he has destroyed part of his humanity; he has negated part of his essence as a human.
Chesed includes making a friend feel good, promoting friendship, givng chizuk, a kind word, etc.
The Chofetz Chaim was known to be a loquacious person, but he only used his words to speak about Torah and chesed.
When one speaks many devarim b’taylim he turns into a purposeless human being!
The Mishna[17] states: “I have found nothing better for the body than silence.” The Mishna doesn’t say for the soul, but for the body. A body filled with devarim b’taylim contains a damaging ruach hatumah which leads the person to perform more aveiros (sins), which eventually destroy the person.
What does this have to do with the Torah Umesorah Convention?
A principal recently related to me that the biggest problem facing us today involving youth and the internet – even more than looking at forbidden images – is the proliferation and acceptance of engaging in devarim b’taylim. The ruach hatumah it engenders is tremendous and is becoming an ever-deepening issue.
Our society is addicted to texting, and chatting endlessly. It’s a world engaged in devarim b’taylim.
Someone said in a girl’s seminary they classify level of frumkeit based on whether the girl texts on Shabbos. Soon on wedding invitations they will write "הכלה הבתולה המהוללה השומרת [18]שבת"
The Yetzer Hara has flared up in our time, much like a candle flares up just before it becomes extinguished. We are almost at the time of Moshiach and the Yetzer Hara is grasping mightily with his last surge of strength.
The Yetzer Hara capitalizes on usage of internet and cell phone, destroying our basic humanity, and the רוח ממללה which is supposed to be dedicated to Torah and chesed.
The nisayon (test) of our time is devarim b’taylim!
How can we overcome this?
The best chinuch is by example. We have to be the role models. We have to stop prattling on the phone and allowing ourselves to become subhuman.
It’s appropriate that one of the major forums of social media is called Twitter. A bird twitters and chirps incessantly. We too prattle and twitter endlessly about needless information.
The challenge is that our children want to imitate us!
We can’t allow that ruach hatumah to invade our lives.
But beyond that, in regards to actual education too, we must convey to our children the idea of kedusha. Just as we are struggling to convey appropriately about kedushas haguf[19], so must we teach about kedushas hapeh[20]. It is a chiddush to most children, but we must teach it.
When I was a young boy my father told me[21] that a person only has a certain amount of words to use during his lifetime, aside from Torah and chesed. When he uses up that allotment he will die (perhaps at least in a spiritual sense).
There are ways to keep children away from phones, and we must employ those ways.
The mouth is a davar kadosh. We need to be wary of that, and then our words will influence others.
Mnay years ago, I met Rav Avrohom Shkop z’l, the grandson of Rav Shimon Shkop zt’l. Rav Avrohom related to me that as a bochur he had once accompanied his Zayde to a meeting of Roshei Yeshiva to spread the building of Yeshivos Ketanos[22] in Europe.
At the gathering the elderly Chofetz Chaim addressed them. He quoted the pasuk we recite in the haftorah of fast days:
[23] "כי כאשר ירד הגשם והשלג מן השמים ושמה לא ישוב כי אם הרוה את הארץ והולידה והצמיחה..."
“For just as the snow and rain descend from heaven and will not return there, unless it waters the earth and causes it to produce and sprout…”
Once Hashem sends rain into this world it will not return unless it makes things sprout and grow. That is how Hashem created the world – that the hashpa’ah (influence) He dispatches to the world has an effect.
"כן יהיה דברי אשר יצא מפי לא ישוב אלי ריקם"
“So shall be My word that emanates from My Mouth…”
So too the Word of Hashem which descends into this world must ‘give birth’ to something; it must have an effect in this world.
Every mechanech (educator) should know that every words he/she speaks in Torah must – by ‘natural law’ – have an influence on the student who is listening. Never give up or despair on the level of influence you can have on the student. It’s a pesik raysha[24] that it must have some effect.
We can add to the Chofetz Chaim’s words that, how much of an effect one’s words will have, is dependent upon the speaker’s level of kedushas hapeh!
The prevalent addictive ruach hatumah nags at us and draws us down – taking along with us our children and society.
The only way to fight back is with kedushas hapeh and training ourselves and our talmidim about it.[25]  

[1] Vayikra 19:2
[2] Devorim 13:5
[3] Shaarei Teshuva 1:11
[4] Yeshaya 55:7
[5] This is not only a religious matter (although as Torah Jews it has even greater importance), but something the world recognizes to be a serious challenge. This is not only true with children and technology, but adults as well.
[6] I hope I have presented the ideas properly.
[7] Foolish speech/ Wasteful words
[8] Spirit of impurity
[9] גר''א – "והטעם מפני שבכל דבר שאדם עושה נותנים לו רוח ממרום והוא המסייע אותו לעשות דברים עוד כאלה וזה הרוח אינו נח ושקט עד שעושה עוד דברים כאלה והוא נהנה מהם ומזה יש לו נחת רוח הן בדבר מצוה או בדבר עבירה וזהו עבירה גוררת עבירה ומצוה גוררת מצוה וכל דבר עבירה שהיא גדולה גם הרוח הבא ממנה היא גדולה ומתאוה יותר לעבירה עוד וכן בדבר מצוה גדולה בא רוח ממקום קדוש מאוד ומתאוה מאוד למצוה ונהנה מאוד מחמת זה ממצות"
[10] Holy Spirit
[11] הכוזרי (מאמר שני, ס'): "אחר בקשת הסליחה מאת הא-לוה ומתוך הימנעות מהכרעה - אני אומר: ייתכן כי הצרעת והזיבות תלויות בטומאת המת, כי המוות הוא ההפסד הכללי לגוף, והאבר המצורע דומה למת. וכן הזרע הנפסד, כי יש בו רוח חיים טבעי ובו ההכנה להיות לטיפת דם ממנה יתהווה האדם - הפסדו של זרע זה הוא, אם כן, ניגוד לתכונת החיות ורוח החיים
[12] Literally – form as a human
[13] Tumas Sheretz is a separate category and needs a discussion of its own
[14] Bereishis 2:7
[15] Secret of man
[16] He doesn’t mention tefillah because the Gemara Shabbos says that tefillah is part of chesed.
[17] Avos 1:17; it is the statement of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel
[18] “The praiseworthy kallah who is Shabbos observant”
[19] Physical sanctity
[20] Oral sanctity
[21] I’m not sure what his source was
[22] Elementary schools
[23] Yeshaya 55:10
[24] An inevitable consequence
[25] Subsequent to the derasha, the Rosh Yeshiva clarified to me that texting is the same as speaking in this regard (Kesiva k’dibbur dami) and texting devarim b’taylim brings about the same ruach hatumah as speaking them.