Saturday, September 22, 2018

Erev Z’man Simchaseinu


Erev Z’man Simchaseinu  

14 Tishrei 5779/September 23, 2018


Every person is divinely endowed with certain strengths and capabilities. At the same time, every person is not endowed with certain other strengths and capabilities.

One of the capabilities that I was absolutely not endowed with is being handy.

After a few years of marriage, my in-laws gifted us with their old canvas succah. It was simple enough to assemble. An uncomplicated metal frame needed to be screwed together, and then draped and strapped with a massive canvas. 

Uncomplicated that is, if you have any idea what you are doing. As mentioned, I don’t. It took me an extraordinarily long time to put it together, including putting the wrong poles in the wrong place, and putting the canvas on backwards. It was also quite flimsy and would move around our driveway. But it worked, and we appreciated it and enjoyed it.

On one occasion, we arrived home on Chol Hamoed to find the entire succah on its side in our backyard, with the blown off schach on the driveway. It was then we knew that we had to invest in a more stable succah.

Baruch Hashem, we have enjoyed a sturdy wooden succah on our porch the last few years. Although not adept with construction, I am able to schlepp. So each year after schlepping up the succah boards, I hire someone to do the actual construction. My contractor is a yeshiva bochur who arrives alone and with a drill, wood, and a few screws basically puts up the entire structure by himself.

I am always intrigued by people who are handy. I am also intrigued by people who are artistic. I guess it’s because I’m so untalented in those areas. 

I should note that the bochur who builds my succah is blessed with the gift of Torah study and the ability to build. The same is true of one of my rabbeim who constructed his entire office (including painting, wiring, and insulating) by himself! Hashem grants each of us what we need.

At a recent Agudah convention, Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff related a powerful thought from the Breslover Mashpia, Rav Motte Frank:

There is a beautiful tefila recited by women after lighting Shabbos candles each week for her children’s spiritual growth. During that tefila she prays “v’zakaynei ligadel - give me the merit to raise children and children’s children, wise and understanding, lovers of G-d, G-d fearing, people of truth, holy seed, who cling to G-d, and who light up the world with Torah and good deeds, and all the work of the service of the Creator.” (As Rabbi Lieff noted - it’s a tefila that men never knew about until Baruch Levine composed his classic song to those words.) 

Rav Frank asked, isn’t Torah our highest ideal? Why doesn’t the mother’s prayer end with her hope that her children light up the world with Torah?

He answers that the question itself is indicative of a significant shortcoming in our spiritual outlook. What about those children who don’t have the wherewithal to excel in Torah? What about those who aren’t going to be the future scholars of K’lal Yisroel? What about those members of Chaverim who come running out to change your tire at 2 a.m.? What about those who wake up early to learn the daf, work hard all day, and then rush off to meetings to help the public? Have we written those children and adults off as inferior Jews?

There is no doubt that Torah is the primary focus on our lives and that our greatest leaders are those who are immersed in Torah. But we cannot neglect those who use their G-d given talents to perform “good deeds, and all the work for the Service of their creator.” It is incumbent upon us to recognize their contribution to the Jewish people and their mesirus nefesh as well.

Hashem has given us His Torah which necessitates all talents and abilities in its performance. The Yom Tov of Succos reaches its crescendo with the celebration of Torah. (That celebration includes everyone’s learning - the scholar on his level, and the layman on his level). But along the way we celebrate the building and decorating of the succah, picking out daled minim, the setting up, cleaning up, and playing music during Simchas Bais Hashoeivah, arranging Chol Hamoed outings, and of course all the food preparation for the many Yom Tov meals.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why it’s a holiday of such intense joy - for it includes and necessitates the contributions of every single Jew.


Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Tuesday, September 18, 2018



Rabbi Nate Segal related the following story[2]:
Whenever there is a difficult situation in Eretz Yisroel I like to be there. When I am in Eretz Yisroel I wake up for vasikin (sunrise) and walk through the shuq (marketplace) in the Old City towards the Kosel.
When I was there at the beginning of the intifada, my family begged me not to walk through the shuq, but I wouldn’t hear of it. However, when I entered the Old City under the shadow of darkness and arrived at the entrance of the shuq, and I began to have second thoughts. It was still dark, and I was wondering if perhaps it was indeed not so prudent to walk through the empty alleyway by myself. Still, I really didn’t want to walk all the way around. I debated if I should just walk around and tell everyone that I walked through the shuq.
As I stood there deliberating, I suddenly felt a hard slap on my back. I turned around to see a short old Yerushalmi Sephardic Jew. He obviously realized my dilemma and he called out loudly and jovially, “AL TIFACHAYD (don’t be afraid)!”
He walked brusquely past me while still calling out “AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD!” I thought to myself, “Follow that man!” But, try as I might, I could not keep up with him. Finally, he was out of sight and I walked in the darkness, his voice still echoing in the distance reverberating off the ancient walls, “AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD”.
And so, my friends I say to you, “AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD! AL TIFACHAYD!”

Throughout Tanach, no less than 49 times are we instructed not to be afraid.
At the end of his life, Moshe instructs Klal Yisroel and then again his successor Yehoshua, “Be strong and be courageous; do not fear and do not be disheartened from before them, for Hashem, your G-d, is going with you; He will not fail you and He will not forsake you”[3].
Yet, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we daven “Uv’chayn tayn pachdecha – And so too, Hashem, our G-d, instill Your awe upon all Your works, and Your dread upon all You have created…” Is fear laudable or is fear something one must overcome?
A prominent psychiatrist once told Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik zt’l that he wished he could abolish the passage uv’chein tein pachdecha from the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After all, fear is one of the main causes of mental illness. Why pray to be afflicted with it? 
Rav Yoshe Ber noted that although he is not a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist’s comment helped him understand the significance of this prayer. He told the psychiatrist, “I see many people who have various fears. Some fear losing their money and status, others fear illness and weakness. In past generations, people were terrified of leprosy; today they fear cancer. If they’re feeling pain, they’re afraid to go to a doctor for fear that he might diagnose them with ‘that disease.’ 
“Man is full of small fears. But I know there is one big fear that overwhelms all other fears, including fear of failure, poverty, old age, illness, or lack of popularity. That is the fear of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. And that is why we pray, Uv’chein tein pachdech. We ask Hashem to help us attain this one sublime fear that will negate all others.” [4]

The Shulchan Aruch paskins[5] that a sofer (scribe) who writes tefillin must be a yarei shamayim. The smallest mistake could invalidate the tefillin, and not all mistakes are rectifiable. A sofer invests tremendous time and energy into each pair of tefillin, and if he makes an irreparable mistake it will be tempting for him to fix it and sell it, without anyone knowing. Only a true yarei shomayim will admit that they are invalid.
It would seem that a sofer who would sell halachically invalid tefillin is a thief, not just lacking fear of heaven. Why does the Shulchan Aruch emphasize the need for yiras shomayim?
The difference between kosher and invalid tefillin can be very subtle. The ethical dilemma that a sofer faces is not whether or not to cheat. Only a truly dishonest sofer would repair tefillin that were completely invalid. The dilemma arises when there is a gray area in halacha and there are opinions who are lenient. Only one who has yiras shomayim will unequivocally decide to not use the tefillin he worked so hard to write if it is not proper to do so, despite the fact that he can technically find a halachic loophole. 
The same applies to a shochet, a cook, or a businessman. The greatest moral challenges we face involve gray areas. When it’s not so clear cut, and there is room to rationalize. When  we know in our hearts that we shouldn’t compromise, that is when our level of yiras shomayim will be the true barometer.
After Sarah was abducted by Avimelech and Avimelech was punished harshly, he realized that Sarah was Avrohom’s wife, not his sister. When Avimelech asked Avrohom why he told him she was his sister, Avrohom replied, “For I said that there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will kill me for the matter of my wife.”
Avrohom Avinu was espousing an incredibly important principle: When a person’s values are flexible, his ethical compass is weakened, and he will often redefine halacha to meet his own interests. Avrohom was saying that the tendency to rationalize in order to justify one’s self-interest is a slippery slope, that can eventually even lead to murder. When one’s morals are not defined by an immutable infinite and divine source, there are no set boundaries or definite limits. Values change with time based on social norms. In Nazi Germany one who saves a Jew is a traitor to the Reich, while one who keeps Torah and mitzvos in Soviet Russia is a criminal. In our society one who speaks out against relationships deemed abominable and deviant in the Torah is considered an intolerant religious extremist. 
It is such societal attitudes that allow a Princeton bioethics professor to publicly promote legalizing killing of severely disabled infants.[6] What was once abhorrent and immoral can become not only acceptable but seen as progressive and the betterment of society. The boundaries never stop getting pushed.[7]
In the words of Rav Shalom Schwadron zt’l: “Where there is no Fear of Heaven, people remain animals. No matter how much you try to refine animals, the moment their drives take charge, they go on a rampage.”
Rav Baruch of Mezhbuzh would say that far more than an actual act of sin, he fears the spiritual repercussions of sin. He feared compromising his deep connection with Hashem which would invariably result from sin. Committing a sin which grants momentary pleasure but causes a far more profound spiritual loss, is analogous to Eisav who sold the holy birthrights for a bowl of soup.[8]
In Mishlei, Shlomo Hameleceh states “Praiseworthy is the person who fears constantly.”[9] What fear does Shlomo refer to? The fear of what a person can do to himself. It is the fear of wasting his life, and passing up on opportunities for growth and accomplishment. It is fear that results from the stark realization that we can make poor choices and waste our potential and utilize our talents and capabilities foolishly.
“Fear of Heaven means that you realize that Hashem created a system of reward and punishment, and that there are no loopholes. He does not want you to commit spiritual suicide, but He will not prevent you from doing so, because He provided you with free will.
“Fear spiritual disaster… Fear what you can do to yourself if you don’t take part in Hashem’s system. Fear yourself!”[10]
We can summarily say “We have nothing to fear but we ourselves!”[11]
Rav Shabsi Yudelevitch zt’l related that he once met a secular police officer who was the same age as he was. They began conversing about society generally. The officer noted that his generation never thought that things would spiral as they did. True, they wanted to abolish Shabbos observance and tefillin, but they never thought society would become so permissive and directionless. 
Rav Shabsi replied by sharing the following parable:
The Kolbo Shalom tower in Tel Aviv was the first skyscraper in Israel. One day someone was walking by the tower when he noticed someone standing on the balcony of the thirtieth floor, with one foot out poised to jump. The man on the ground screamed up to him not to jump and end his life. The man on top waved him off. “Don’t worry. I’m only jumping down two floors.” 
Rav Shabsi smiled. “Did your generation really think it can jump off the plateau of Jewish values and standards, and be able to control exactly where it landed? Did you think you can hold onto the luchos with your right hand, even as you shattered them with your left hand? Once you breach the concept of yiras shomayim, there is no telling where you might end up.”

During these incredible days we daven that Hashem grant all of mankind His fear and awe. If we possessed that fear, we would not need to fear anything else. It is a prayer that Hashem help us to become more dedicated to His holy Torah, to help us adhere to halacha properly, and to help us navigate the challenges of a morally decadent society that envelops us.
The only hope for us to retain the purity and holiness that has marked our people, is by strengthening ourselves with yiras shomayim. That is accomplished through prayer, learning sifrei mussar which help us navigate our way through the morass of this world, and by strengthening each other.

“For I said there is no fear of G-d in this place”
“Be strong and be courageous”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver following Kol Nidrei, Shabbos Kodesh-Yom Kippur 5777, Kehillat New Hempstead.
[2] This was the conclusion of a speech he gave at the Friday night seuda at the Torah Umesorah Convention, May 2009/5769. The theme that year was “Fostering security in an insecure world”.
[3] Devorim 31:6,7
[4] Quoted by Rabbi Moshe Grylack, Mishpacha September 18, 2017 “Winds of Fear”
[5] Oh’c 32:20
[6] Peter Singer, 2015
[7] Last year shortly before Yom Kippur one of the initiators of the greatest pornographic institutions died at 91. I was shocked to hear on the news headlines that he was hailed as a visionary, and a person who sought the betterment of people’s lives by helping to overturn the puritanical moral code of middle America.
This was a person who was personally responsible for countless damaged lives and destroyed marriages. He lowered the dignity of humans, especially women, and negatively affected millions of people. To call such a degenerate person a visionary is a terrible indictment of our society.
[8] Osef Amarim, Purim, HaRav Yaakov Meir Schechter (p. 477)
[9] Mishlei 28:14
[10] 6 Constant Mitzvos, Rabbi Yitzcahk Berkowitz, Artscroll
[11] Paraphrasing the famous quote of President Roosevelt during World War II, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

Thursday, September 6, 2018



It was the seventh of Adar; the final day of Moshe Rabbinu’s life. He had begun conveying his last will and testament five weeks earlier, on Rosh Chodesh Shevat. His epic words to the nation are recorded from the beginning of Chumash Devorim through the end of Ki Savo. Now he was coming to the end.
Moshe began by declaring, “You are all standing here today, before Hashem, your G-d.” He was forging a new covenant with the nation predicated on arvus - responsibility for each other. A Jew is not merely obligated to personally observe the Torah and fulfill his spiritual duties, but he is responsible to do his utmost for his fellow Jew as well.
This became a fundamental tenant of our faith. We are a nation who must stand together. The collective good of the nation affects us all, and we dare not turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the needs of our brethren.
We live in a very selfish world![1]
Everyone today is busy on their phones and various other devices. You can hardly have a conversation today that merits anyone’s full attention. There is also a prevalent sense of entitlement, and a lack of patience for the requite struggles needed to achieve success. That’s why there’s hardly any concept of a starter home; everyone wants to go straight to the top.
We see it in sports too. There was a time when someone scored a touchdown, and then moved on. Today, the scorer performs an arrogant dance ensuring that everyone know how wonderfully he did.

The Mishna in Avos says אם אין אני לי מי לי" – If I am not for myself, than who will be for me?” That means every person has fulfill his role in life. But the next line of the Mishna states וכשאני לעצמי מה אני" - if I’m only (thinking) about myself then what am I (worth)?!”
In the introduction to Shaarei Yosher, Rav Shimon Shkop zt’l explains[2]:
“In my opinion, this idea is hinted at in Hillel’s words, as he used to say, “If I am [not] for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I?” It is fitting for each person to strive to be concerned for himself. But with this, he must also strive to understand that “I for myself, what am I?” If he constricts his “I” to a narrow domain, limited to what the eye can see [is him], then his “I” – what is it? Vanity and ignorable. But if his feelings are broader and include [all] creation, that he is a great person and also like a small limb in this great body, then he is lofty and of great worth.”
In other words, according to Rav Shimon, to Hillel the word “ani - I”, has a specific technical meaning. In the ideal, “ani “, a person’s sphere of concern and self-interest, can include the entire world. It will essentially include whoever one allows his sense of “ani” to include.
It’s been said that EGO is an acronym for Easing G-d Out!
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less!

Rav Zev Leff notes that it isn’t a coincidence that Avrohom, who was the paragon and ultimate doer of chesed, was also the first to recognize and truly believe in Hashem. When there is place in one’s heart for others, then one can come to believe in G-d too. But when one’s “ani” is limited to himself and doesn’t include anyone else, it cannot include Hashem either.

A couple once came to Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach zt’l to receive a brachah following the birth of their son and to discuss a disagreement they were having. The father wanted to name his newborn son Yehonasan, but the mother adamantly refused. “There’s an ayin hara on that name!” she asserted. “Our upstairs neighbors had a son named Yehonasan and he passed away at the age of eight.”
The father dismissed his wife’s concerns. “Do you think that whenever someone passes away at a young age no one else can ever be given the same name?” he demanded.
Rav Shlomo Zalman listened to the couple and congratulated them on the birth of their son. Regarding how to name the child, he thought for a moment, closed his eyes, rested his head on his fist, and finally said, “It isn’t a good idea for you to name your son Yehonasan.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman then bade the couple a warm farewell, declining their invitation to serve as the sandek at the bris and offering a suggestion of someone else who could fill that role. The father left Rav Shlomo Zalman’s home in a state of shock and disappointment. While he had readily accepted the ruling, he also found it puzzling. A short time afterward, the father happened to daven at Yeshiva Kol Torah, and as he was leaving, he encountered Rav Shlomo Zalman emerging from one of the classrooms. The father hurried to accompany the gadol out of the yeshiva, and as they walked, he reminded Rav Shlomo Zalman of their conversation at his home. The gadol remembered the discussion, but uncharacteristically did not smile. Unable to contain himself, the avreich asked, “Is the rov actually worried about ayin hara?”
“Not all that much,” Rav Shlomo Zalman replied, this time smiling his familiar smile.
“Then why did the rov tell us not to name our child Yehonasan?”
Rav Shlomo Zalman placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder and said, “You told me that your upstairs neighbor had a son named Yehonasan, correct?”
“Yes,” the man confirmed.
“And he passed away,” Rav Shlomo Zalman continued.
 “Just imagine what would have happened in a few years,” Rav Shlomo Zalman concluded. “When your son is playing downstairs and your wife wants him to come home, she will call from the window, ‘Yehonasan, come back upstairs!’ Just think for a moment about how your neighbor would have felt upon hearing those calls.”

After the passing of the Mir Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel z”l, R’ Mordechai Grunwald, the executive director of Yeshivas Mir and close talmid of R’ Nosson Tzvi, was asked to deliver a hesped at the Yeshiva Gedolah of Teaneck. Amongst many stories that he told about R’ Nosson Tzvi, he related the following:
Approximately 15 years before Rav Nosson Tzvi’s passing, there was a family from New York who lost their father, a distinguished Talmid Chochom, and talmid of the Mir. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l had a particularly fond relationship with the deceased father and took it upon himself to ensure that his orphans will have a fatherly figure to turn to and that they will receive proper chinuch. He told the children to correspond with him through letters and that they can ask him any question that they have on their minds or write to him about any issue they may encounter. R’ Nosson Tzvi kept photos of these orphans in his pocket as a constant reminder of his “other” family.
The children took advantage of their surrogate father and would correspond with him about everything. Rav Nosson Tzvi, with great difficulty due to his Parkinsons disease, would write back letters in response. This went on for many years until the boys grew up and came to Eretz Yisroel to learn in Yeshivos. R’ Nosson Tzvi got the boys into various Yeshivos that catered to each one’s uniqueness. Every Friday night, the boys could be found enjoying their Shabbos Seudah at the table of the Rosh Yeshiva.
After R’ Mordechai Grunwald completed the hesped, he was approached by one of the kollel yungeleit of Yeshiva Gedolah of Teaneck who related the following: “The story about the orphans is unbelievable, but it doesn’t end there… There was an 8-year-old girl among those 4 orphan boys. Unlike her older brothers, she didn’t know how or what to write to R’ Nosson Tzvi. After a while of not receiving any letters, she was saddened that she didn’t have a close relationship with the Mir Rosh Yeshiva. That sadness was transformed when her mother handed her a letter from Yerushalayim addressed to her. She excitedly opened the letter and pulled out the paper inside. It was a hand-drawn picture of a large heart shape with a loving message to her, signed by Rav Nosson Tzvi on the bottom. Since her father had passed away, she never felt so loved. That little girl was my wife, and to this day she recalls how happy that letter made her feel.”

A kallah on her wedding day dressed in her gown was seen making rounds from bed to bed in a hospital. When asked why she explained that she was taught that on the day of her chupah she has an incredible power to give berachos, and so she wished to share that power with those sick in the hospital.

When we speak of gedolim and people of greatness, it’s never only about their stature in Torah, but also their incredible sensitivity. It’s also about how their “ani” encompasses all of Klal Yisroel.
We may not be on the level of gedolim, but every one of us has a responsibility to live beyond ourselves. We stood at Sinai together and accepted the Torah. Then we stood again in unity on the outskirts of the Promised Land, on the final day of the life of our greatest leader. There we pledged to be a nation - united in purpose, heart, and soul.
Rav Yisrael Salanter quipped that the greatest merit one can have when being judged in the celestial courts, is to be a person needed by others.
There can hardly be a greater merit for us on Rosh Hashanah.

“If I’m only about myself then what am I?”
“You are all standing here today, before Hashem, your G-d.”

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

[1] The following are the remarks delivered by Rabbi Noach Sauber (learning director of Camp Dora Golding), at Camp’s Closing Shabbos for the Camp administration and families, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim 2015/5775
[2]ולדעתי מרומז ענין זה במאמרו של הלל ע״ה שהיה אומר “אם [אין] אני לי מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי מה אני?” היינו שראוי לכל אדם להתאמץ לדאוג תמיד בעד עצמו, אבל עם זה יתאמץ להבין שאני לעצמי מה אני, שאם יצמצם את ה״אני״ שלו בחוג צר כפי מראית עין, אז ״אני״ זה מה הוא, הבל הוא ובאין נחשב, אבל אם תהיה הרגשתו מאומתת, שכללות הבריאה הוא האדם הגדול והוא ג״כ כאבר קטן בגוף הגדול הזה, אז רם ונשא גם ערכו הוא"