Friday, October 25, 2019

Dear Stam Torah Faithful עמו״ש

Dear Stam Torah Faithful עמו״ש,

I began writing Stam Torah when I was still a bochur (before I was married). During the years when I was in Fordham graduate school pursuing my master’s in social work, I took a hiatus from sending the weekly divrei Torah but began again soon afterwards.
In recent years, I edited and enhanced the divrei Torah sent years ago and those were the ones I emailed. Last year however, I wrote new Stam Torahs each week, based on derashos I was privileged to deliver during my years as rabbi at Kehillat New Hempstead.
I don’t know what the future will hold, but for 5780 I will no longer be writing and disseminating Stam Torah on the parsha each week. The reason is so that I can more fully devote myself to a beautiful and exciting project that I embarked upon last year: The Gemara relates that tefilla requires constant Chizuk. If that’s true for seasoned scholars, how more more true is it for the younger generation who aren’t too familiar with the words in the siddur and have a hard time relating to tefillah generally. This is an issue we need to address constantly because tefillah is such a central component in the life of a Jew, and we spend so much time each day devoted to it. It is the basis of our hopes during challenging times and a vital part of our daily routine.
Last year I suggested to Rabbi Aryeh Stechler, Rosh Yeshiva of our yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, that we undertake the arduous challenge of producing a siddur, specifically written for a yeshiva student growing up in contemporary American society. Doing so would entail composing a new translation in a vernacular familiar to adolescents, as well as comments and insights that can inspire and help the reader connect to the ancient and yet ever applicable and eternal words of the siddur. The siddur would also include a section of insights from the talmidim and rabbeim of the yeshiva. Rabbi Stechler excitedly embraced and strongly encouraged the project.
The first edition of the siddur was produced and printed in time for the Yeshiva’s annual dinner last June. It was an exciting milestone and a beautiful accomplishment.
This year I have undertaken to enhance, edit, and revise the siddur to produce a finished product iy”H later this year. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done so that it can be published professionally and serve the purpose we hope it will.
Therefore, this year as I invest time into the Heichal siddur (“The Walden Edition: Siddur Moshe Aaron”), I hope iy”H to send out weekly insights on our daily tefillos - perhaps some weeks it will consist of some short thoughts and other weeks it may contain one longer essay.
It is my fervent hope that it will be a chizuk for all of us in our davening, and ultimate quest to deepen our connection with Hashem.

Please note that the archives from the many years of Stam Torah on each parsha are posted at
I also plan to iyh continue sending out the Rabbi’s Musings column each week.
Thank you for your ongoing chizuk and feedback, which I truly value and appreciate.

Dani Staum

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


          Rabbi Fishel Schachter relates:
          I have a friend who struggled with his weight for years. He was constantly trying different diets to manage his weight issues, but he hadn’t been successful for any extended period with any of them.
          Then, at one point, I noticed that he had lost some significant weight. I was close enough to ask him what changed. He explained that he was meeting with a new nutritionist who was helping him. He recounted a conversation they had during their initial meeting. The nutritionist asked him if he was aware that he was three hundred pounds. He nodded. The nutritionist continued, “Do you know that you’re a very handsome person? It’s true - at a hundred and eighty pounds you’re a very handsome person. All you have to do is trim down the excess one hundred twenty pounds.”
          Those words really motivated him. It was the first time that he wasn’t made to feel like a schlub or a glutton. He was told that he was essentially a good-looking person, he just had to rid himself of what was covering it.
          That is the perspective and attitude one must have when he approaches teshuva. The Mishna[2] says, “Do not be a wicked person in your own eyes.” If a person views himself as a lowly person, he will become deflated and not feel like he can be better.
          The truth is that even when one sins, his soul remains untainted and pure. His task is to remove the excess impurities which have become attached to him, so that his inner beauty can once again shine through.

          One of the most well-known components of the Service of Yom Kippur that the Kohain Gadol performed in the Bais Hamikdash involved the two goats. “The two goats of Yom Kippur, they were to be equal in appearance, height, and value, and were to be purchased together.”[3] The Kohain Gadol performed a lottery that decided which of the goats was offered in the Sanctuary, its blood sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, and which was dispatched to the Azazel mountain, and pushed off to its death.
          Why was it necessary for the two goats to be so similar?
          Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch[4] explains that the two goats represent two lives, originally completely identical, which proceed on two entirely contrasting paths. Both are placed together before God at the entrance of the Sanctuary. The decision whether to go “toward G-d” or to go to “Azazel” hovers over both of them in exactly the same way. The one designated “toward G-d” is admitted to the Holy of Holies, where the ideal of a Jewish Torah life perfects itself as the bearer of G-dliness on earth. The other, designated for Azazel, remains untouched, at the entrance of the Sanctuary, and is sent out of its precincts, away from the sphere of human habitation into the desert. Having turned its back on the Sanctuary, it ends the uncultivated living it had preserved for itself.
          Each one of us is a “seir” (goat). Each of us has the power to resist the demands made on our will power. It is in the way we use this power that our worthiness or worthlessness depends. We can use it in attachment to G-d in resisting all internal and external temptation and considerations to become a seir to G-d. Or we can use it in obstinate refusal of G-d and His holy laws of morality. This latter recourse is reflected in the etymology of the term לעזאזל – using one’s strength for obstinacy (עז) for no meaningful future (אזל).
          In a similar vein, Maharal[5] explains that goat blood is most similar to human blood[6]. The goat offered “to Hashem” was brought into the Holy of holies, symbolizing the ability of a Jew to achieve the greatest levels of connection with his Creator. Blood is our lifeforce, and the blood of the goat, which symbolizes every one of us, was offered in the holiest place on earth.[7]
          The other goat, sent to Azazel, which was so similar, whose blood also resembles our blood, is representative of our sins and shortcomings. The sins we commit seem to be an inextricable part of our identity. However, we take those components and symbolically cart them off for destruction in the desert. The Azazel service reminds us that our misdeeds, though our responsibility, do not comprise our essence. Rather they are an external cancer that we must exorcise and distance ourselves from through proper teshuva.
          Throughout Yom Kippur, whenever we recite Viduy, we state: “behold I am before You like a vessel of shame and humiliation.” The Belzer Rebbe zt’l explained that we feel tremendous embarrassment and shame over what we have done. But it is like a vessel we are grasping, not a core component of who we are. We are ashamed of what we have done; we are not ashamed of who we are. We know we are better and can overcome the negative and foolish things we have committed.  
          The wisest of men states[8] “The righteous fall seven times, and get up, but the wicked stumble in evil.” Rabbi Chaim Friedlander zt’l noted[9] that regarding the righteous it says he falls, whereas regarding the wicked it stays he stumbles. This reflects an integral difference between the perspective of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous person views his sins as mishaps; a failing and a falling from which he must arise; the wicked views his sins as indicative of being a complete failure!
           When one sees himself as worthy and capable, he will be able to be resilient when he errs. However, one who sees himself as a complete failure will lack the willpower necessary to bounce back from his inevitable failings.

          Rabbi Yisrael Reisman relates that on occasion a yeshiva student cries to him about struggles he has viewing inappropriate things on the internet whenever he comes home for yeshiva for bain hazmanim[10]. Rabbi Reisman notes that the first thing he discusses with the young man is the perspective he must have. If he sees himself as a wicked sinner, he doesn’t have much chance overcoming such a formidable challenge. He needs to realize the truth – that he is a worthy and aspiring ben Torah, albeit who has a serious problem which must be addressed. The negative behaviors he has committed, although spiritually damaging, do not negate all the good he has accomplished and is accomplishing. Only when that perspective is clear, can they proceed by formulating a plan of action and rectification.
          Psychologists note that a person acts in accordance with how he views himself. If I see myself as a good person, I’ll act accordingly, and vice versa. If someone asks a person to perform an act of kindness when its inconvenient for him to do so, his decision to do so or not is very much connected with whether he views myself as “that type of guy” or not. In fact, we act differently in the same situation when different people are involved, because being with certain people may elicit different senses of identity than others.
          The prerequisite for Yom Kippur is the perspective that, despite our sins and mishaps, we are inherently pure and pristine. That in no way exonerates us from rectifying the sins we have committed. However, it does remind us that we are not repenting because we are lowly sinners, but rather because we maintain our sense of greatness and ability to reconnect with our internal greatness.
          “The two goats of Yom Kippur were to be equal”
          “The righteous fall seven times, and get up”

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

[1] Adapted from the derasha delivered in Kehillat New Hempstead, Yom Kippur eve 5773, after Kol Nidrei.
[2] Avos 2:13
[3] Mishna Yoma 6:1
[4] Vayikra 16:10
[5] Derasha l’Shabbos Shuva
[6] That was why the brothers dipped the tunic of Yosef in goat’s blood when they wanted to make Yaakov think Yosef was killed.
[7] "הרי כשהכהן מכניס את דמו לבית קה"ק הרי הוא מכניס בזה את עצם חיותינו לשם והוא מצרף את חיינו לפני ולפנים"
[8] Mishlei 24:16
[9] Sifsei Chaim – Moadim volume 3, page 9
[10] Yeshiva vacation