Wednesday, June 26, 2019



          In our world, we often ask others what they do, where they work, or who they work for?
          When attending an upscale event, such as a wedding or dinner, it is not unusual for there to be young men or women who serve as waiters and waitresses, doing the coat check, or working as attendants for valet parking. They wear uniforms and cordially bow to you when they serve you, and pleasantly wish you a wonderful evening. They are patient, gracious, and dignified.
          Yet if you met those same people a few hours later, after they have finished working, and have removed their work uniforms, their behavior would likely be quite different. In fact, the contrast may be shocking.
          While they are working, those young men and women are aware that they represent their company and must therefore act accordingly. But when they finish their shift, they revert back to their default mode of behavior, which is vastly different.
          I remember one evening when I was 10/11 years old, arriving at shul for mincha with my father and older brother. As we were getting out of the car my brother and I were horsing around (he definitely started!) and I bolted out of the car to try to get into the shul building first. In my excitement and haste, I ran right past an elderly gentleman who was being helped up the steps into the shul, and almost knocked into him. The elderly man was quite annoyed as could be imagined. He asked me what yeshiva I attended and if that’s what they taught me there. I shamefacedly admitted that they didn’t at all promote such behavior.
          I remember thinking then that I had embarrassed my whole yeshiva, and that this man was going to call the hanhala and it would be downhill from there. More significantly, the idea that I represented my yeshiva and its values stuck with me.

          Parshas Shelach relates the tragic story of the spies; great men who committed a great error. “And Moshe sent them forth from the desert of Paran at G-d’s command...”[2]
          It seems from the Torah’s wording that It was Moshe who dispatched the spies, based on G-d’s instruction. In Parshas Devorim however, when Moshe recounts the event at the end of the forty years, it seems that it was the nation’s initiative to send the spies. “All of you approached me and said, ‘let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land...’ The idea was good in my eyes, so I took from you twelve men...”[3]
          The Chasam Sofer explains that this discrepancy in the pesukim reflects upon the root of their tragic and costly error, i.e. they forgot whose emissaries they were! Moshe dispatched them based on G-d’s instruction לתור״ - to scout out” the land. They were to strategize the best way to attack the inhabitants upon their entering the land. They were to seek out the inhabitants’ vulnerabilities and deficiencies, to make their advances as easy as possible.
          “And you shall see the land, what is it? And the people that dwell in it - are they strong or weak? Is it few or numerous? And how is the land? ...”[4]
          But the scouts went to determine IF they should attack at all, and IF they had a chance at being victorious. That was what the nation wanted them to do, but that was not what Moshe had sent them to do.[5]
          That was why upon their return they reported back to the entire nation. “They went and came to Moshe and Aharon and to the entire assembly of B’nei Yisroel... and brought back the report to them and the entire assembly...”[6] If they were messengers of Moshe and Aharon on behalf of the nation, they should have only reported to Moshe and Aharon. But they decided they were actually messengers of the entire nation.
          Calev tried to rally the nation and refocus them to the real purpose of the spies’ mission, but he was unable to stem the tide; once the negative momentum began it quickly spiraled out of control.
          Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski relates that he once attended a meeting of recovering alcoholics where a thirty-five-year-old woman presented. She had started drinking at twelve and drugging at fifteen and had lived a delinquent, decadent lifestyle for years. Over time, she became enslaved to her drug addiction.
          At twenty-six she found her way into Alcoholics Anonymous and, and at the time of that meeting was nine years sober. Before she finished sharing her story, she added the following thought:
          "I am a rabid New York Jets fan. I'll never miss watching a Jets game. One weekend I had to be away, so I asked a friend to record the game on her VCR. When I returned, she handed me the tape and said, 'By the way, the Jets won.'
          "I started watching the tape, and it was just horrible! The Jets were being mauled. At half-time they were behind by twenty points. Under other circumstances, I would have been a nervous wreck. I would have been pacing the floor and hitting the refrigerator. But I was perfectly calm, because I knew they were going to win.
          She then continued, “Ever since I turned my life over to G-d, I no longer get uptight when things don't go my way. I may be twenty points behind at half-time, but I always know it's going to turn out okay in the end. I often don’t know how it will all happen, and it may not happen the way I want, but I am confident that it will all work out. I have just have to sit back and resolve myself to G-d’s Will.”

          Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that when Moshe instructed the spies to find out “are they strong or weak?”, the point wasn’t to ascertain whether they could be victorious. The fact that they would be victorious should have already been a foregone conclusion in their minds. The question of weak or strong was to be viewed as two equally viable possibilities: Would the enemy be weak and the victory less miraculous, or would they be strong and achieving victory would occur in more supernatural ways. But there should never have been a doubt that victory was imminent and guaranteed.
          The tragedy was that once the spies viewed themselves as messengers of the nation and not of Moshe, they no longer had the security of knowing there would be a positive outcome. That guarantee was only for the messengers of G-d.
          In life generally, our task is to always view ourselves as messengers of G-d who have a divine mission to fulfill.
          To serve as a constant reminder of that mission, G-d granted us the mitzvah of tzitzis: “And they shall be for you for tzitzis, and you shall see them and you will remember all of the mitzvos of Hashem, and you will perform them, and you won’t stray after your heart and after your eyes...”[7]
          Tzitzis tassels are tied to the four corners, to symbolize that wherever a Jew goes, throughout the four corners of the earth, his mission never diminishes or changes.
The Nesivas Shalom related that a Jew must always reinforce to his evil inclination the timeless words that Yosef hatzaddik told his brothers: “And now, it is not you that sent me here, but rather G-d.”[8]
          We must always feel that in whatever situation we find ourselves in we have a role to fulfill. As long as we maintain that sense of mission, we can be confident that there is a plan and a trajectory that G-d has set for our lives.

          “And Moshe sent them forth”
          “And you will remember all of the mitzvos of Hashem”
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The Following is the lecture I was privileged to give in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach 5778.
[2] Bamidbar 13:3
[3] Devorim 1:22-23
[4] Bamidar 13:18-20
[5] Chasam Sofer explains that G-d didn’t originally instruct them to send anyone, since the whole conquering of the land would be miraculous anyway. Therefore, scouts were unnecessary. However, there is a concept of minimizing miracles, and so when Moshe requested that they send messengers to scout out the land, G-d acquiesced.
[6] Bamidbar 13:26
          [7] Bamidbar 15:39
[8] Bereishis 44:8

Friday, June 21, 2019



          It was late afternoon in the office. The employees had the glazed “4:30 pm look” in their eyes that waited longingly for the clock to strike 5 so they could go home. Suddenly, the CEO burst into the room and began screaming: “SAVE YOURSELF! SAVE YOURSELF! IT’S EVERYWHERE AND THERE’S NO ESCAPING IT!” Everyone looked up in terror as the CEO jumped up on a desk and continued screaming: “IT’S COMING UP THROUGH THE FLOORS! PROTECT YOURSELF NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN!” By now everyone was shouting nervously, “What’s going on? What is it?” The CEO stopped and stared sharply at all of them, “MEDIOCRITY!”
          In recent years, there has been great emphasis in the business world for companies to develop a meaningful mantra that adds focus and meaning to the workplace. Studies show that companies that have a mantra that includes promoting the betterment of people’s quality of life have better employee satisfaction, worker morale, and increase in overall production. It seems that having meaning is a greater motivation than monetary compensation.

          Chumash Bamidbar seems to begin with positive momentum. The nation is lovingly counted, each tribe is instructed about their flag and formation in the desert, various laws of the elite Levites are enumerated followed by the listing of the unique Korbanos the Nesiim brought during the consecratory days of the Mishkan, and the details the offering of the only Korbon Pesach brought in the desert.
          The Torah then relates about those who were ritually impure via contact with a dead body and were therefore exempt from offering the Korbon Pesach on the fourteenth of Nissan. They protested their exemption, complaining that they had lost out on bringing the Korbon Pesach. Their opening words were “למה נגרע - why should we be diminished?” Because they desired to perform the special mitzvah, Hashem instructed that there be a second opportunity to offer the Korbon Pesach a month later, on the fourteenth of Iyar, Pesach Sheni.
          But shortly after, it seems like everything begins to unravel. For much of the remainder of Sefer Bamidbar the Torah lists one tragedy after the next - the complainers, Miriam contracting tzara’as, the spies, the rebellion of Korach, Miriam’s death, Moshe striking the rock and being denied entry into Eretz Yisroel, Aharon’s death, the complaints about the Manna and being attacked by snakes, and the tragedy of the daughters of Midyan which Pinchos avenged.
          The whole series of tragedies begins with two seemingly innocuous events. First, Moshe asked his father-in-law Yisro to remain with the nation, “And you have been as eyes for us”[2], a guide for them during their travels in the desert.[3]
          Second, after almost a year of being camped at Sinai following receiving the Torah, the pasuk states, “And they traveled from the mountain of G-d for three days...”[4]
          From the Torah itself it seems as if the nation traveled exactly as they were instructed. Ramban quotes a Medrash however, that reveals that “they fled the mountain of G-d like a child running away from school.” The nation was afarid that G-d would impose more restrictions and commandments upon them, so they were relieved and gratified that it was time to leave the place where they received the Torah and all its laws.
          It was imperceptible to anyone who viewed the perfect precision of the nation’s first major travel in the desert. But beneath the veneer, there was a subtle negative attitude which set the tone for all the tragedies that followed.   

          The parsha contains two polar opposite attitudes and approaches. That of those who rebuffed their exemption and requested an opportunity to participate, and those who wanted to avoid further laws and commandments. Although it may be completely unapparent at the beginning, the difference between the person who embraces Judaism and loves it versus the one who fulfills his duties begrudgingly just going through the motions, may all be based in the initial attitude: Does he maintain a “למה נגרע” attitude or a [5]"כתינוק הבורח מבית הספר" attitude?
          When Eliezer was searching for a worthy wife for Yitzchak, his litmus test was if the girl would respond to his request for water by providing his men and his donkeys with water. When Rivka did so, he was immediately sure that she was the future wife of Yitzchak.[6]
          How could Eliezer have been so confident that Rivka’s offer was altruistic and genuine? Perhaps, she was trying to show off or thought Eliezer would pay her?
          The Alter of Norvadok[7] explained that the level of a person can be determined by how he fulfills a request made of him. When an ‘incomplete person’ is asked for something, he does only what is strictly necessary to fulfill his obligation. A ‘complete person’ however, will not be satisfied to merely fulfill the request, but will strive to do as much as he is able.
          Therefore, when Rivka offered to do far more than what was asked, Eliezer recognized that she was a person of genuinely noble character worthy to marry Yitzchak.

          When Moshe requested that Yisro remain with the nation, he used an expression of “you have been as eyes for us.” Ginas Chemed[8] explains that Moshe was telling Yisro that his mere presence served as an example and inspiration for the nation. When the nation would want to complain about how they nostalgically remembered how much better things were in Egypt despite the fact that they were cruelly enslaved, they only had to look towards Yisro. He had been part of the aristocracy of Egypt, enjoying all its prosperity and wealth, and yet had left it all behind to pursue the path of truth, which eventually led him to their camp in the desert wasteland.
          His presence would remind the nation how fortunate they were, the challenges of desert life notwithstanding. How could they complain about some measly conveniences they once had, when Yisro had cast away the lap of luxury to join them?![9]   
          Rav Mendel Weinbach zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim, would quip that he personally received tremendous chizuk from the ba’alei teshuva he worked with. Their emotional excitement to put on tefillin, observe Shabbos, and recite berachos inspired him to remember how fortunate he was to have been born into such an enriched and elevating lifestyle. That example infuses us with appreciation for what we have and gives us a feeling of not wanting exemptions and valuing every opportunity to serve Hashem.
          The parsha begins with the commandment to Aharon to kindle the lights of the Menorah every morning. On the words “And Aharon did so; towards the face of the menorah he kindled its lamps”[10], Rashi, quotes the Sifrei, “to relate to us the praise of Aharon that he did not deviate.”
          What didn’t Aharon deviate from? It would seem superfluous to state that Aharon fulfilled the commandment instructed to him?
          Aharon never deviated from performing the mitzvah in the same manner and with the same enthusiasm that he had the day he began. Such an attitude can only occur when one reminds himself constantly of the greatness of what he is doing and how fortunate he is to have been chosen to perform it. After forty years of daily lighting, Aharon still performed his task with alacrity, enthusiasm, and excitement. He never deviated from that passion and emotion.

          “Like a child running away from school” or “Why should we be diminished?” - the attitude we adopt is our choice, and all our Avodas Hashem will be affected by that decision.

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

[1] The Following is the lecture I was privileged to give in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbas Kodesh parshas Beha’aloscha 5778.
[2] Bamidbar 10:31
[3] According to Ramban Yisro acceded to the request. However, Seforno writes that Yisro refused and returns to his homeland.
[4] Bamidbar 10:33
[5] “Like a child running away from school”
[6] See Bereishis chapter 24
[7] Madreigos Ha’adam
[8] Published in 1914 by Rav Tanchum Gershon Biltzki zt’l, Derush 15
[9] According to Seforno that Yisro refused to honor Moshe’s request, the loss of his example was severe, especially as the nation resorted to such complaints shortly after his departure.  
[10] Bamidbar 8:3