Thursday, December 26, 2019


“ON ME!”[1]

In his book, Echoes of the Maggid, Rabbi Paysach Krohn recounts the story of a fourteen-year-old girl named Esther Haas who was forced on one of the Nazi’s infamous death marches. Beaten, overworked, and malnourished from the time spent in the Concentration Camp, she was feeble, and her strength was ebbing away.
She felt she couldn’t go on and she collapsed. A moment later the figure of a Nazi loomed over her and mercilessly barked, "Will you walk to the barracks?" Esther meekly replied, "I want to work for the Reich". The Nazi was unimpressed. "If you want to work, then get up now. Otherwise you are dead right here! We have no use for weak people." Esther desperately tried to move but she couldn’t. She waited with bated breath knowing that at any moment she would become another name on the Nazi’s endless list of martyrs.
Then suddenly Esther felt herself walking. From out of nowhere she felt a surge of strength and was able to walk back to the barracks and collapse into the arms of her shocked and teary-eyed comrades. Even after the war ended and Esther was liberated, she couldn’t explain from where she drew the strength to get up and continue walking.
After the war, Esther related: "The Nazis convinced us that every girl in the world was imprisoned in Concentration Camps worldwide. We did not know that in Britain, America, and Eretz Yisroel, Jews were still free. Every night I recited the same prayer: ‘Hashem, help me get out alive and I promise You, I will get married, have a family, and raise my children as devout Jews. The Jewish nation will revitalize itself through me. This is my promise, if You will only give me the chance.’"
 Rabbi Krohn commented to Mrs. Haas that her pledge was similar to the words of King Yeshayahu who, upon recognizing the devastation and desolation of Torah in Eretz Yisroel at the end of the first Temple era, stood up and proclaimed, "Alay l’hakim- It is incumbent upon me to uphold it (i.e. the Torah)"[2]. He then began a wave of unprecedented repentance throughout the country until his untimely death. Rabbi Krohn concluded that perhaps it was the merit of her feeling "Alay l’hakim" that made her worthy of being saved.

          After Yosef finally revealed himself to his brothers in parshas Vayigash and they reported the news back to Yaakov, Yaakov prepared himself to descend to Egypt to reunite with his long-lost son. Before leaving, the pasuk states, “Yehudah he sent before him to Goshen, to instruct ahead of him in Goshen."[3] Rashi explains that Yehuda was sent ahead to establish a yeshiva in Goshen from which law and instructions would be taught.
    Why was Yehuda, of all the tribes, chosen to be the one to establish the Yeshiva in Goshen? Aside from the fact that Reuven was the eldest, Shimon’s descendants were destined to teach children Torah and Levi’s descendants were the Kohanim and Levi’im. In addition, Yissachar was blessed to sit and learn with tenacity and devotion. Would it not have been more appropriate for one of them to establish the Yeshiva?
The Mishna[4] teaches that at the age of thirteen, a Jewish male becomes obligated in all commandments. The Rav MiBartenura explains that the source of this law is derived from Shimon and Levi about whom the pasuk[5] refers to as men when they killed out the city of Shechem, although they were merely thirteen years old at the time.
After they had killed out the city, Yaakov was afraid that there would be reprisals from the surrounding nations who would avenge the massacre of Shechem.[6] Yaakov viewed their act as impulsive and imprudent. If so, why do we learn this fundamental concept concerning a child becoming bar mitzvah from this act of Shimon and Levi?
The answer is based on why a thirteen-year-old boy has a different halachic status than a twelve-year-old boy. The Torah views a thirteen-year-old boy as being responsible enough to feel the yoke of Heaven on his shoulder, and that is why he is obligated to perform all mitzvos.
The Gemara[7] states: "Greater is the one who performs a precept that he was commanded to do than one who performs a precept without having been commanded to do so." Prima facie, this seems strange; isn’t it a greater expression of love to do something without having been asked?
Ritva explains that when one is commanded to do something, he immediately feels a desire to not do it. We innately want independence and don’t like being instructed what to do. Therefore, it is harder to fulfill one’s obligations than to go beyond the call of duty.    
 Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky zt’l explained that the only difference between an act performed by one who was instructed to do so, and one not instructed to do so is in the attitude and mindset. One who has an obligation feels a sense responsibility and therefore, it weighs down on his conscience until he fulfills his obligation. One who is not obligated however, doesn’t feel that is incumbent on him to act.
Until the age of thirteen, the Torah does not view a child as being mature enough to bear that yoke and to feel that burden of responsibility. When the child reaches thirteen however, he is mature enough to be responsible and have a sense of obligation. The Torah derives this distinction from Shimon and Levi. Their action may have been rash and improper, but it was the result of a feeling of deep responsibility to stand up for the honor of their sister. What separates the men from the boys (literally) is having that sense of responsibility.

           When Yosef demanded that Binyamin be brought down to Egypt, Yaakov was crestfallen. He refused to allow Binyamin to go with them, even when Reuven placed the lives of his sons on the line. It was only when Yehuda boldly proclaimed, “I will guarantee him; of my own hand you can demand him. If I do not bring him back to you and stand him before you, then I will have sinned before you for all time."[8] With that statement, Yehuda put everything on the line, including his share in the eternal world, as a guarantee that Binyamin would return home safely. Only then did Yaakov relent.
In order to build and establish houses of Torah study, one must have a deep sense of mission and be willing to accept responsibility. One can possess the sharpest mind and the greatest drive for learning but if he cannot state with conviction, "Alay l’hakim- It is incumbent upon me to establish it," he will never be successful in building a house of Torah study.
It was specifically Yehuda who was chosen to establish the Yeshiva in Goshen because Yaakov knew Yehuda was a person of responsibility. This is also the reason why the monarchy and the eventual birth of Moshiach descend from Yehuda. A monarch must bear the responsibility of his entire kingdom which Yehuda fostered and transmitted to his progeny.

          During the period of the Greek occupation of Eretz Yisroel, it was only the minority who stubbornly refused to forsake the ways of their forefathers and tenaciously clung to the Torah and its teachings who suffered the oppression and torture of the Greeks.[9]
The miracle of Chanukah was the result of the loyalists who had a feeling of, "Alaynu L’hakim". They were ready to die for that mission. It’s that unyielding sense of mission and responsibility that we celebrate on Chanukah.

          “I will guarantee him”
          “They established these eight days of Chanukah”

Rabbi Dani Staum LMSW
Rebbe, Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck, NJ
Principal, Ohr Naftali, New Windsor NY

[1] This essay was taken from the book “Stam Torah: Perspectives and Reflections on Chanukah and Purim” which I was privileged to publish a few years ago.
[2] See Melachim II, Chapter 23
[3] Bereishis 46:28
[4] Avos 5:21
[5] Bereishis 34:25
[6] Bereishis 34:30
[7] Kiddushin 31a
[8] Bereishis 43:9
[9] The tragic and painful truth was that most Jews Hellenized and chose to submit to the Greek culture. The Maccabees had to fight against the Hellenists as well.

Thursday, December 19, 2019




          As World War II raged in Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman zt’l, stood atop a barren hill in B’nei Brak and announced his plans to construct a large Yeshiva, which would eventually be surrounded by a bustling Torah community. Those who heard his grandiose ideas brushed him off and said, "Rabbi, you’re dreaming!" The Ponovezher Rav replied, "I may be dreaming but I am not sleeping!"
          In Chumash Bereishis, there is a recurring theme of dreams. In parshas Lech Lecha, G-d revealed Himself to Avrohom Avinu in a dream, showing him visions of the future exile and redemption of his descendants. In parshas Vayetzei, as Yaakov was traveling to the home of his deceitful uncle Lavan, he envisioned a ladder with angels ascending and descending its rungs. In parshas Miketz the Torah describes at length the dreams of Pharaoh, which foretold the future of Egypt.
Included, were the dreams of Yosef in parshas Vayeshev that he shared with his brothers and his father. The brothers saw Yosef’s dreams as a threat, and they felt subtle jealousy and enmity. Those deep-rooted feelings were the catalyst of his lonely and tragic descent to Egypt.
Not realizing the severity of the situation, Yaakov dispatched Yosef to seek the welfare of his brothers and to report back to him. When the brothers saw Yosef approaching in the distance they convened and plotted, “So now, come and let us kill him, and let us throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him’. And we shall see what will become of his dreams.”[2]
Rashi notes that it was not the brothers who uttered the words ‘and we shall see what will become of his dreams’. Rather it was G-d Himself, as it were. It was as if He responded, "You think you will destroy his dreams by ridding yourselves of him, ultimately, you will bring about their fulfillment.”
The Jewish people have long survived because of a dream. To remain a Torah-Jew in a world that stands in stark contrast to its values and morals is a formidable challenge. Yet, throughout the generations, we have persevered because we have maintained those dreams. Our exile has included many utterances by our foes – verbal or not - of, "So now, come and let us kill them." We have endured because G-d has always countered their call by stating, "And we shall see what will become of his dreams. You will see that your schemes and machinations will only preserve the people you seek to eradicate.”
  When the Satmar Rebbe zt’l instructed his Chassidim in America to retain their Chassidic garb in the spiritual wilderness of America, he was dreaming. When Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt’l arrived in Lakewood N.J. and founded a yeshiva for a few young men to devote their days to uninterrupted Torah study, he was dreaming. When the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l sent out emissaries to all corners of the earth to disseminate Torah, he was dreaming.
They were all dreaming, but they were not sleeping.
We continue to thrive today because of the dreams and persistence of our forbearers. The brothers understood that the dreams of Yosef were not merely superficial visions that would fade. They realized that Yosef’s dreams were tantamount to prophecy and therefore they felt threatened by them.

The Kotzker Rebbe points out that when the Torah relates the two dreams of Pharaoh[3], it says that Pharaoh awoke after the first dream[4], and then he went back to sleep and had a second dream. When the Torah relates the dream of Yaakov on Mount Moriah[5] however, it says that Yaakov awoke and declared that he had not realized the holiness of his surroundings.
The Rebbe explained that the Torah subtly alludes to the underlying difference between a great individual and a failure. A great person “wakes up” after having a dream he analyzes it, seeks out its meaning and devotes himself to its fulfilment. One who is a failure on the other hand, dreams throughout his life but never seeks to bring his dreams to fruition. He procrastinates by “going back to sleep”, allowing his dreams to wither away.
The Torah repeats the dreams in chumash Bereishis to demonstrate that our dreams are the foundation of success. If one wants to accomplish anything in life, he must first have a dream, from which he can forge a path toward its fruition.

 The She’iltos[6] quotes a halachic opinion that one should light the Chanukah candles on the left side of the doorway. This way he will be surrounded by mitzvos; the mezuzah hangs on the doorpost on his right side, the Chanukah candles shine on his left side, and he stands in the middle donned in his tzitzis.
What is the connection between these three unique mitzvos?
 These three mitzvos represent the three tools a Jew must possess in order to remain dedicated to Torah: The mitzvah of tzitzis represents the concept of always keeping one’s goals and aspirations in focus. In regard to the mitzvah of tzitzis the pasuk states, "It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not stray after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray."[7] The mitzvah of mezuzah represents the idea that one must always be steadfast and unyielding to his convictions and dreams. The blessing recited when one affixes a mezuzah on his door is, "Likvoah mezuzah- To set up a mezuzah." The mezuzah remains perched on the door and does not budge, affording spiritual protection for the home.
 Finally, the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles represents the concept of always seeking to improve and rise to greater heights. No other mitzvah, Biblical or Rabbinic, possesses such varying degrees in regard to its fulfillment as the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles. The actual obligation is merely to light one candle each night for the entire household.[8] Our custom that every member of the house lights the Menorah, adding another light corresponding to the night of Chanukah, is the fulfillment of “hiddur mitzvah- beautifying the mitzvah”. This represents the attitude a Jew strives for – not to be satisfied with merely fulfilling his obligations to the letter of the law. Rather, he seeks to enhance each mitzvah, performing them with joy and alacrity.
In our time we are still challenged by enemies, internal and external, who seek to eradicate that dream and snuff out our inner flame. We continue to fulfill the dream of our national mission, with the knowledge that our flame will never be extinguished. The miracle of the candles burning despite the odds then, continues and will continue until the end of time.

“So now, come and let us kill them”
"We shall see what will become of his dreams".

Rabbi Dani Staum LMSW
Rebbe, Heichal HaTorah, Teaneck, NJ
Principal, Ohr Naftali, New Windsor NY

[1] This essay was taken from the book “Stam Torah: Perspectives and Reflections on Chanukah and Purim” which I was privileged to publish a few years ago.
[2] Bereishis 37:20
[3] Parshas Miketz
[4] Bereishis 41:5
[5] parshas Vayeitzei
[6] authored by Rav Hai Gaon
[7] Bamidbar 15:39
[8] See Shabbos 21b