Thursday, February 28, 2019



Mr. Alan Rosenstock is the President of Tomchei Shabbos in Rockland County. One morning a few years ago, when I was still a rebbe there, Mr. Rosenstock spoke to the students of Ashar. I was very moved by his message, the gist of which follows:
“I often ask people what they think the message of Tomchei Shabbos is. Most people don’t get it. It’s not only about the many food packages we deliver to people who need it each week, or the tzedakah given, or the many acts of discreet chesed that are performed.
“The main message of Tomchei Shabbos is about participation and becoming involved. The Jewish people need the diverse talents, abilities, and efforts of every single Jew. Everyone has something to give.
“Tomchei Shabbos is not comprised of people who do what they can do, but of people who do what they need to do!
“One of the classes here in Ashar collected 660 cans for Tomchei Shabbos. Tomorrow morning, hundreds of families who wouldn’t otherwise have breakfast, will be enjoying the cans that were collected. If I asked those students before they started if they thought they could collect 660 cans, I would imagine most of them would have replied that there was no way. But that class did what they needed to do.
“For a few years, I had the zechus to be a personal driver for Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l. His shul, K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights, had a choir that would perform every other year at a concert that took place in the shul’s social hall.
“Following one of the concerts, Rav Schwab explained that we recite in Shema, “You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all of your [2]מאד.” מאד refers to anything that a person feels very connected to; anything that is “very much” for that person. i.e. whatever talents and capabilities one has, they must be channeled and used in the service of Hashem, which includes bringing joy and benefit to others.  
“When I was driving Rav Schwab afterwards, I asked him why in the second paragraph of Shema, it repeats that one must serve Hashem with all his heart and soul, but doesn’t include that one must serve Hashem with all of his מאד?
“He replied that whereas the first paragraph of Shema is speaking to the individual, the second paragraph of Shema is directed at the collective whole. Every individual has unique talents, and the Jewish people need the investment of every one of those talents. Our role is to figure out what unique contribution we have that can benefit the public. The mandate to give מאד was specifically instructed to each individual.”

What is the ideal manner in which one should serve G-d?
“Take from among you donations for Hashem, anyone whose heart elevates him shall bring for the donation of Hashem, gold, and silver, and copper…”[3] There were a total of thirteen materials that could be donated to the Mishkan. Of those materials, anyone could donate as much as he wanted. The only exception was silver, from which there was a mandated silver half-shekel that had to contributed.[4]
Sfas Emes notes that the word kesef (silver) is similar to the word kisuf (yearning). By nature, every Jew is created with an innate feeling of love for Hashem. The only reason a person may not feel that love, is because he has dulled it or buried it beneath the morass of sin. But if one repents, he will rediscover that the innate yearning to connected with the divine. Every Jew had to contribute an equal amount of kesef symbolizing every Jew’s innate kisuf. All other materials, representing all other talents, could be contributed at will. Every person has his own unique talents and resources and those are up to him to decide how much to donate.

Every Friday night, a woman lights the Shabbos candles ushering in the sanctity of the holy day. Then, she recites a beautiful tefillah, praying for the spiritual growth of her children[5]. “May I merit to raise children and children’s children, wise and understanding, lovers of G-d, those who fear G-d, men of truth, holy progeny, who cling to G-d, and light up the world with Torah and good deeds, and all of the work of the service of the Creator.”
At last year’s Agudah convention, Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff related the following poignant thought in the name of Rav Motta Frank:
Our greatest value is Torah study. We recite each day, “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam – Torah study is equal to all of the rest of them[6]”. When a woman prays for her children, it would seem appropriate that she conclude by praying that their children light up the world with Torah. Why does the prayer continue that her children light up the world with “good deeds, and all of the work of the service of the Creator”?
In conveying the answer, Rabbi Lieff raised his voice, “My friends, the very question demonstrates a deficiency in us. What have we done to ourselves? We have undermined the contributions and efforts of many wonderful people. What about the young man who does not have the capability to sit and learn all day but performs acts of chesed?! Does the fellow from chaverim who comes to change your tire on the side of the road at 1 a.m. not light up the world?! Yes, our ultimate dream is for our children to be Torah scholars. But there are other forms of the service of the Creator, and we dare not undervalue and underappreciate them.
As a woman lights the Shabbos candles, she beseeches G-d to help her children light up the world, foremost in Torah, but beyond that, in any manner and form of service to G-d.

The message of the mandatory half-shekel tax is that we all need each other. On our own, we are halves lacking completion. We need the contributions of every single Jew in fulfilling “all the work of the service of the Creator”. The most basic trait we must externalize is our yearning for greatness and connection with G-d. Once we are in touch with that natural emotion, we can bring forth the other materials/talents we uniquely possess – each on his own level.
The Mishkan was built by a nation whose hearts were elevated to participate. We continue to maintain the communal sanctuary of the Jewish people through our collective efforts.

“You shall love Hashem with all of your ‘very much’”
“Who light up the world with all the service of the Creator”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Vayakhel/Shekalim 5776
[2] The actual meaning of מאדך refers to one’s resources, that one must love Hashem with all of his money/resources. Rav Schwab’s explanation was based on the literal translation of the word מאד – very much.
[3] Shemos 35:5
[4] Rashi (Shemos 25:3) explains there were three separate portions of silver donated. The first was the mandatory half-shekel given by every Jew, which was used to create the silver sockets that supported the massive beams which surrounded the Mishkan. The second was the annual mandatory half-shekel given by every Jew which was used to purchase the communal offerings brought in the Mishkan. The third portion was optional donations of silver which were used to create the various silver vessels used in the Mishkan.
[5] Men are grateful to R’ Baruch Levine who enlightened us to the text of this powerful tefillah through his well-known, moving song to these words. Before that song was produced most men weren’t aware of the tefillah.
[6] i.e. all of the other virtues and mitzvos enumerated in that Beraisa (Shabbos 127a)

Thursday, February 21, 2019



Quebec man told his $13.5M winning lottery ticket void because he was seven seconds late
The Canadian Press, January 29, 2015

MONTREAL -- A lot can happen in seven seconds. Just ask the Quebec man who says that brief period cost him $13.5 million.
Joel Ifergan bought two lottery tickets in May 2008 -- but the one with the eventual winning combination popped out of the terminal seven seconds after the 9 p.m. deadline…
As the 9 p.m. deadline loomed on May 23, 2008, Ifergan made the purchase: the first ticket came in before the deadline but the ticket with the fateful numbers burped out seven seconds after the cut-off.
Ifergan alleged the transaction was concluded on time and that both tickets were in the system at 8:59:47. What cost him, he says, is the 10 seconds it takes for a ticket to emerge...
Ifergan was out for ice cream and made a split-second decision that evening to buy a few Quick Pick tickets at a local convenience store.
The owner informed Ifergan the second ticket was for the following week and asked if he wanted to keep it. He replied in the affirmative.
Asked on Thursday why he waited until the last minute, he replied: "I'm entitled to."
"Football games are won with the last-second field goal, basketball games are won with a desperation shot," he said.

One of the recurring themes in Megillas Esther is hurriedness. The Megilla makes note of the fact that many of the events that transpire, happen in a frenzied rush:
·         “And they hurried to her cosmetics and her portion…”[2]
·         “The runners went out in haste based on the word of the king, and the law was given throughout Shushan the capital”[3]
·         “Rush Haman to fulfill the word of Esther”[4]
·         “The king said to Haman, ‘hurry, take the clothes and the horse like you have spoken, and do as such to Mordechai the Jew…’”[5]
·         “They were still speaking with him, and the emissaries of the king arrived, and they rushed Haman to the party that Esther made.”[6]
There seems to be an undercurrent of impatience and quickness throughout the story.
The Megilla also relates that Haman’s intention was “to confuse them and to destroy them.”[7] Haman wanted to cause the Jews to become so frightened that they would lose their equilibrium. When people are swept away in a tumult of fear and panic, they are unable to accomplish anything productive. Haman was confident that they would be so frightened that they would not be able to mass together in prayer or figure out a logical strategy to impede his nefarious plan.
The greatness of what occurred is that the Jewish nation did not fall prey to his diabolical scheme. They humbled themselves before Mordechai and followed his instruction even when it seemed outlandish, accepting that all men, women, and young children fast for three days and nights. That adherence is what allowed the salvation to occur.
Part of the hilarious irony of the story, is that there indeed was someone who was destroyed by being swept away by being hurried and harried. Haman, the progenitor of that plan, was brought down by his own scheme. The gemara relates that Haman had an unparalleled ability of persuasion. He could talk his way out of anything or convince anyone of anything. Throughout the opening chapters of the Megilla, Haman played Achashverosh like a puppet, convincing him to do his bidding. Vashti was killed because of Haman and Achashverosh signed a decree of genocide because of Haman.[8]   
Haman had everything he could have wanted, except for one old Jew who refused to bow before him. His wife and advisors suggested that he build huge gallows to hang Mordechai on. Haman was so excited by the idea, that he had the gallows built even before consulting with the king. When the construction was completed, he impulsively decided to stand in the courtyard of the king in the dead of night, in the hope that the king would notice him and summon him.
When that actually occurred, Haman was overjoyed with how everything played into his hands. When the king asked Haman how he could honor someone he felt indebted to, Haman launched into a description of a parade befitting his arrogance and conceit.
It’s amazing to think about what Haman’s final day was like. At the moment that he was speaking with the king in the middle of the night, he was at the pinnacle of his greatness. The last thing he lacked – Mordechai’s submission - was about to be obliterated, and he was absolutely sure that the king was about to accord him unprecedented honor. A moment later events started happening with such fury that Haman never had a moment to catch up with what was going on, before he was hanging on the gallows.
Within a few hours Haman was parading the archenemy that he wanted to have killed through the streets. By the time he arrived home, he was humiliated, and his daughter was dead. Before he could sit down, he was whisked off to the palace to Esther’s second party with the king. He barely made himself comfortable there when Esther revealed her identity and accused Haman of personal attack.[9] The king stormed off in fury, only to return to see what he perceived as Haman attacking Esther. The nail in the coffin came immediately after when Charvona directed the king’s attention to the gallows Haman constructed, which the king was never informed about. Moments later, Haman was hanging from those gallows.
If at any point during those last hours, Haman had a few minutes to think and to get a word in edgewise, he would have connived his way out and figured out how to absolve himself and cast the blame upon someone else. Part of the miracle was that he never had that opportunity. He wanted to destroy the Jews by robbing them of their equilibrium and causing them to panic, but that was exactly what destroyed him!

We are taught that zerizus – alacrity, is a very important component and trait in serving Hashem.[10] If so, we must understand the difference between the virtue of zerizus and the deleterious trait of behala[11].
The difference lies in whether one’s acts are thought out or if they are done impulsively. When one acts on a whim because he is swept away by emotions which cause him to act without thinking through all the ramifications of his actions, that is behala and pezizus (wildness). Zerizus however, is the result of reflection and understanding the importance of an endeavor. That insight generates a rush of excitement and a desire to perform at the earliest possible time. Zerizus is the result of a decision or conclusion reached with peace of mind, while pezizus is mindless rushing that results from not weighing all options.
The sin of the golden calf was the result of pezizus and behala. Moshe Rabbeinu had informed the nation that he would return after forty days. The nation thought the forty days began immediately when he ascended the mountain, not realizing that that first day was not counted. When Moshe didn’t return on the fortieth day following their (mis)calculation, they panicked. Instead of asking for direction, they demanded immediate action based on what they felt was the proper course. The results were disastrous. Chur was killed, the golden calf was created, the luchos were shattered, and the nation was almost wiped-out.
The ultimate contrast to that tragic encounter, was the Purim story. At that time, they didn’t allow their strong emotions to overpower them. They fasted, prayed, and repented as per Mordechai and Esther’s instruction. After Haman’s death, they waited patiently for eleven months until they struck down their enemies in self-defense on the day Haman had designated for their demise. Not one Jew provoked an earlier attack, despite the fear they felt from the decree which had never been completely nullified.
The gemara[12] states that although there was some level of coercion when the nation accepted the Torah at Sinai[13], “they returned to accept it (the Torah) during the days of Achashverosh”. After the incredible salvation and turnabout that occurred at the time of Purim, the nation felt a newfound connection with Hashem, and reaccepted the Torah with love and complete dedication.
It seems strange that the gemara would say that they reaccepted the Torah ‘during the days of Achashverosh’. While it’s historically true that Achashverosh was the king, how is that connected to their reacceptance of the Torah? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for it to say that they reaccepted the Torah during the days of Mordechai and Esther? Wasn’t it Mordechai and Esther who were the catalysts of the national wave of teshuva that brought about the reacceptance of the Torah? 
Perhaps the answer is that when the salvation occurred, the nation could have reasoned that now that Haman was dead and their enemies vanquished, it wouldn’t be long before the prophecy of Yirimyahu would be fulfilled[14] and the Bais Hamikdash will finally be rebuilt. When that occurred, they would then reaccept the Torah upon themselves fully, and rededicate themselves to the Torah and its values. They could have rationalized that it wasn’t worth investing so much effort at that point, when the completion of the redemption was imminent.
The problem with such an attitude is that inspiration is like a fleeting candle. If it doesn’t ignite another spark, it will quickly fizzle out. Had the nation waited until things would improve even more, it’s possible that their incredible rededication to Torah would never have occurred. Their greatness was that they reaccepted the Torah during the days of Achashveirosh. They didn’t wait until after he was no longer king, in the hope that his successor would allow them to return to Yerushalayim (as he in fact did). They acted based on their emotional inspiration and didn’t allow it to fade.
The great celebration of Purim is the result of those who grabbed the moment. They did not act out of haste or impetuousness, but rather out of calculated excitement and passion.  The zerizus they demonstrated was a core component of the celebration and the intense joy that resulted.  
The disastrous sin of the golden calf was a result of impulsive emotions run wild; the celebration of Purim is the result of intellectually based emotions overflowing. The difference between them is the difference between tragedy and triumph.

“Rush Haman to fulfill the word of Esther”
“They returned to accept it during the days of Achashverosh”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Ki Sisa 5778
[2] Esther 2:9
[3] Esther 3:15; see also 8:14
[4] Esther 5:5
[5] Esther 6:10
[6] Esther 6:14
[7] Esther 9:24
[8] Both decrees were inane. Achashverosh did not have any royal blood, so his only legitimacy to the throne was because he married Vashti, a princess. Killing her robbed him of that connection to royalty. Agreeing to genocide was also politically foolish because it can cause other minorities to become afraid that they will be next, which would cause them to rebel. As the king of one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, rebellions were always simmering just beneath the surface. 
[9] Rav Yonasan Eybschitz notes that Haman wore a small idol around his neck. The divine Presence will not reside in a place of idolatry. Therefore, at the first party Esther did not sense the divine Presence and so she asked Achashverosh and Haman to return the next day. Before the parade, Haman removed his idol, with the intent of putting it back on before the party. But because he was hurried out by the king’s emissaries, he never had the chance. Therefore, at the second party Esther felt the divine Presence with her and that gave her the confidence to incriminate Haman.
[10] For example, the Torah notes that Avrohom ‘woke up early’ to perform the akeidah.
[11] ‘behala’ is the vernacular used in the megillah for hurrying in all of the aforementioned examples. But as opposed to zerizus, behala connotes hurriedness from panic and confusion.
[12] Shabbos 81a
[13] G-d held Har Sinai above their heads and warned that if they didn’t accept the Torah, they would be buried there
[14] That the exile would last seventy years after which the Bais Hamikdash would be rebuilt

Thursday, February 14, 2019



Arnie and Ethel were married for fifty-six years. Ethel finally convinced Arnie that fifty-five years after their honeymoon, it was time for him to take her on vacation for a few days. During their vacation, they ate lunch in a restaurant. When they got back into the car and were heading back towards the hotel, Ethel told Arnie that she forgot her glasses on the table in the restaurant. As he turned off to go back to the restaurant, Arnie launched into a diatribe about how Ethel was always forgetting things, and after all these years was still so irresponsible. His speech lasted all the way back to the restaurant. As Ethel got out of the car to retrieve her glasses, Arnie called out, “While you’re in there, I left my hat on the chair!”

The gemara[2] explains that each of the eight bigdei kehuna – vestments that the Kohain Gadol wore, atoned for a different sin. The gemara explains that the tzitz[3] served as atonement for brazenness.
The Shemen HaTov notes that some explain that the tzitz did not actually atone for brazenness, but rather one who saw the Kohain Gadol wearing the tzitz would be so humbled that he would not be able to be brazen and arrogant.  
The Mishna[4] states: “Yehuda ben Taima said: Be bold like a leopard, light like an eagle, run like a deer, and strong like a lion to fulfill the Will of Your Father in heaven. He would say: One who is brazen will go to purgatory, while one who is bashful will go to Gan Eden. May it be You will, Hashem, our G-d, that you rebuild the Bais Hamikdash quickly in our days, and grant us our portion in Torah.”
The Mishna seems very strange. What is the connection between the beginning and the end? In addition, why does the Mishna begin by speaking about what will happen to a brazen person, and then end with a prayer for redemption?
Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains that one cannot excel in Torah without a certain level of brazenness. One who is meek and easily embarrassed will not assert himself and will therefore not ensure that he properly understands what he is learning[5].
The gemara says that the Jewish people are the most brazen of all the nations. We would be unable to keep Torah and mitzvos and stubbornly maintain our values in a society so antithetical to those values, without that chutzpah.
The gemara says that in the generation before Moshiach, chutzpah will be rampant[6]. Rav Tzadok Hakohain explains that before Moshiach’s arrival it will be extremely challenging to maintain one’s faith and to observe Torah and mitzvos according to the demands of halacha. It requires fortitude, confidence, and chutzpah to stand up to society and not submit to its trends. 
It is only when Moshiach will come that the world will recognize the truth that brazenness will no longer be necessary to serve Hashem. Thus, although generally a brazen person will end up in purgatory as the Mishna states, regarding spiritual matters one needs some level of brazenness. But we hope and await the day when that will no longer be a prerequisite. That is why the Mishna concludes with that prayer fro Moshiach.
Shemen HaTov explains that it was specifically the tzitz which contained the words “Holy for Hashem” that atoned for brazenness. Brazenness is generally a negative character trait, but in regard to being “holy for Hashem”, it becomes necessary.

As the Purim story unfolded, the Esther we are introduced to at the beginning of the megillah, seems to be very different from the Esther we are told about at the end of the megillah. When we are first introduced to Esther, she seems very passive. She is the wife of Mordechai, and accepts all instructions from him. The megillah also defines her by her external beauty.[7] She requests nothing and allows things to happen to her and with her.  
Yet, at the end of the Megilla, Esther is the heroine who bravely stands up to her egotistical and volatile husband, and brings about the downfall of Haman. She becomes the catalyst of the entire story.
What brought about the drastic change in Esther?
In the fourth chapter of the Megilla, Mordechai tells Esther that she must violate protocol and approach Achashveirosh, even at the peril of her life. He instructs her that this is her moment, her destiny, and responsibility. Throughout her life until this point, Esther fulfilled her responsibilities, righteously but passively. Now she was told that she was charged with taking an active role, and that the fate of the entire nation rested upon her shoulders. 
We can hardly imagine how difficult it was for Esther to fulfill Mordechai’s instructions. It wasn’t merely the fear of what might happen to her, but also the incredible pressure and challenge of challenging her nature to fulfill her newfound role. She was also a descendant of Shaul Hamelech, who allowed his piety and bashfulness to impede him from fulfilling his mission of destroying Agag, the king of Amalek, generations earlier. Based on her nature and her nurture it was completely contrary to Esther’s very being to fulfill what she was being told to do.  
In our lives, we are occasionally placed in positions that demand us to take on roles that we might not be comfortable with and that challenge our nature. The measure of greatness is when someone can overcome his personality in order to fulfill what is being demanded of him.
Esther did not ask for this mission, nor did she want it. She had been the rebbitzin of one the greatest Torah leaders of her day[8], renowned among her people for her piety, modesty, and adherence to halacha. Suddenly she was instructed to marry an evil despot who hated her people and had sold them to the devil. It entailed incredible brazenness for her to rise to the occasion. 
Many of the incredible chesed organizations in our communities were founded by people who found themselves in challenging situations and instead of resigning themselves to a difficult situation, pledged to help others in similar predicaments.
It’s been said that, “The comfort zone is a wonderful place, but nothing grows there.” Perhaps there was no one who personified this more profoundly than Esther.
Part of the joy of Purim is the celebration that resulted from heroes who fulfilled their divinely mandated roles and embraced the challenges that doing so entailed. Purim is indeed a brazen celebration.
It is also a reminder to us that, until Moshiach comes, we must utilize brazenness to withstand the spiritual challenges being a Torah observant Jew entails.

 “You shall make a tzitz of gold, and engrave upon it the seal: Holy for Hashem”
“Be bold like a leopard”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Tetzaveh 5778
[2] Zevachim 88b
[3] The ‘headplate’ of the Kohain Gadol which had a gold plate with the words “Holy to Hashem” engraved upon it
[4] Avos, Chapter 5
[5] See Avos 2:5
[6] Sotah 49b
[7] The following idea is based on an essay by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt’l in the book, “By His Light”. The essay is entitled, “If you remain silent at this time” 
[8] The gemara says Esther was married to Mordechai before she was taken to the palace