Thursday, January 30, 2020



           A couple gets married amidst tremendous joy and excitement. A few weeks later they have their first argument. The young husband leaves home to learn in his Kollel very upset. He thought married life would be blissful, and now just a few weeks after getting married they already had a major spat.
          The Mashgiach notices immediately that something is wrong. He approaches the young man and asks if he could help. When told him about the argument, the Mashgiach smiled knowingly and replied that on his way home, he should stop at the local florist, and buy his a bouquet of flowers, which he should present to his wife when he arrives home.
          The man did as he was told. When he walked into his house holding the bouquet, his wife’s eyes lit up and filled with tears. He handed her the bouquet and said, “the Mashgiach told me to give these to you!”

          Nine plagues ravaged Egypt, yet Pharaoh remained obdurate in his refusal to recognize G-d and admit to his folly and error.
          G-d informed Moshe, “One more plague I shall bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall send you forth from here... Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels.”[2] Rashi comments, “‘Please speak’ is an expression of request. G-d said to Moshe, ‘I request of you Moshe to direct Klal Yisroel carefully regarding this (to ask the Egyptians for their wealth) so that that righteous man Avrohom should not say, "He (G-d) fulfilled the decree: “They will enslave them and they will afflict them”[3] but He did not fulfill the second part of the decree, “And afterwards they will depart with great possessions”.”
          Why would Avrohom particularly have a complaint if G-d had not fulfilled the promise about wealth? If G-d had promised it, every Jew should justifiably have the same complaint? In addition, why would G-d only fulfill His word so that Avrohom shouldn’t have a complaint; wouldn’t be expect no less from any honest person?
          Hashem had promised wealth to the children of Avrohom after four hundred years of slavery. The nation was now gearing up for the exodus one hundred and ninety years early. Therefore, G-d was justified in not granting the nation wealth at that time. If they had not yet completely fulfilled the prediction about slavery which was for four hundred years, they were not yet entitled to the fulfillment of the promises of redemption, which included leaving with great wealth.
          However, there was someone who would have a complaint. Avrohom Avinu dedicated his life to performing altruistic and selfless chesed. On the third day after his circumcision when he was a hundred years old and in excruciating pain, Avrohom sat outside in the unbearable heat searching for an opportunity to perform chesed. Such behavior was surely not mandated or expected. But Avrohom lived beyond expectations, always seeking to help others in any way he could.
          Therefore, Avrohom would reason that even if the nation may technically not have deserved the wealth at that point, since this was the time of redemption, G-d should grant it to them anyway. Since Avrohom lived his life beyond obligation, G-d should do no less for his progeny.[4]
          Perhaps this can also explain the words we recite each morning[5]: “You fulfilled Your word, for You are righteous. You observed the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt and their outcry You heard at the Sea of Reeds.” These words seem troubling - does G-d only fulfill His word because He is righteous?
          The truth is that at the time of the redemption, because the predicted years of servitude were technically not fulfilled G-d was not bound to take Klal Yisroel out of Egypt. But in His righteousness and love for His nation, He hearkened to their cries and did so anyway.
          Our mandate as the descendants of Avrohom is to perform chesed beyond the call of duty, even when inconvenient. Dovid Hamelech states, “Olam chesed yiboneh- A world of kindness you shall build.”[6] Similarly, the Mishna[7] quotes Rabbi Shimon, who described chesed as one of the three pillars that upholds the world. During the generation of Noach when the masses did not consider the feelings of others and did not respect their rights, the world could not endure, and had to be destroyed. Avrohom Avinu taught the world by example to be selfless and caring; he built a world of chesed.

          In the early years of the Lakewood Yeshiva a grandson of the Chofetz Chaim joined the Yeshiva. Some time passed and the Mashgiach, Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel, noticed that the grandson often came late to davening or missed davening in Yeshiva completely.
          The Mashgiach called the bochur into his office and reprimanded him. "What would your saintly grandfather have said about this?" The young man replied, "Rebbe, I would love to come on time. But there is a woman with several children and every morning as I am about to leave, I hear her children crying. One needs a bottle, another needs help getting to school, and a third can’t tie his shoes. There is no one else to help her and I feel it is my obligation to assist. At times I can still make it to Yeshiva but other times it’s so late that I have to daven somewhere else completely."
          The Mashgiach was touched by his sensitivity. “Who is this woman? Is she a widow? Maybe I can help her too." "Chas V’sholom," replied the grandson, "the woman is my wife!"

          The Aizer Mekudash (55) explains that a Chupah is open on all sides is to symbolize the tent of Avrohom and Sarah which had openings on all four sides, as a sign to travelers that they were always welcome. The goal of marriage is to construct and foster a home built on the foundation of Avrohom and Sarah, with love and selfless devotion.
          The reality is that it is easier to perform chesed outside one’s home where people admire and compliment his kindness. In the privacy of one’s own home, no one is aware of what he does except for his own immediate family. No one is honoring us at a dinner or extolling our praises for making supper, bathing children, doing homework with children, driving carpools, shuttling children to appointments and various other never-ending events, patiently giving time to speak with a child (or spouse) despite having so much to do, striving to be a better parent, waking up for a crying child at 2 a.m. despite having a full schedule the following day, attending parent-teach conferences (that can be unpleasant or uncomfortable), or for shedding copious tears davening for our children. That’s exactly why the ultimate chesed is what we do in our own home. We need to remind ourselves that we are living lives of chesed, especially when it doesn’t seem or feel that way.

          Please speak in the ears of the people”
          “A world of kindness you shall build”

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

[1] This essay was from the second year that I sent out Stam Torah in 2001/5761
[2] Shemos 11:1-2
[3] Bereishis 15:14
[4] I heard this idea from my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz
[5] In the paragraph of וכרות עמו הברית  at the end of פסוקי דזמרה, from Nechemia 9:8
[6] Tehillim 89:3
[7] Avos 1:2

Thursday, January 23, 2020



           In November 1974, Yassir Arafat, placed a pistol on the lectern of the UN podium and declared: "We have entered the world through its widest gate. Now Zionism will get out of this world- and from Palestine in particular- under the blow of the people’s struggle. We shall never stop until we can go back home, and Israel is destroyed. The goal of our struggle is the end of Israel, and there can be no compromise or meditations. We don’t want peace, we want victory. Peace for us means Israel’s destruction, and nothing else." 

          On the wall of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, there is a quote from Jakob Wasserman, a noted author. In 1921 he wrote: “I am both - and equally - a German and a Jew and one must not separate one from the other."
          History would prove him wrong - very wrong!

      After 210 years of unbearable oppression and slavery, Hashem instructed Moshe that redemption was imminent. Hashem utilized four different expressions when describing the stages of redemption: "Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a G-d to you."[2]
      Seforno explains that the four expressions of redemption represent different levels of redemption. "I shall take you out" was accomplished when the plagues began, and the nation was ‘taken out’ of physical servitude. “I shall rescue you" was accomplished when Klal Yisroel physically left the confines of Egypt at the time of the exodus. "I shall redeem you" was achieved at Kerias Yam Suf when the army of Egypt was eradicated. The climactic point of, "I shall take you" was accomplished at Har Sinai when Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah and became the Chosen Nation.  
          At the Pesach Seder, we drink four cups of wine, to commemorate those four expressions of redemption.
          The question is why we specifically drink four cups of wine to commentate the four expressions? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have four matzahs on the Seder table?              Meshech Chochma explains that more than any other food or drink, wine symbolizes the uniqueness of a Jew. A bottle of wine may not be touched by a Non-Jew, otherwise it is forbidden for a Jew to drink that wine. For that reason, wine must be supervised from the time its produced until its consumption. In addition, the Gemara[3] states when Haman maligned the Jewish people to Achashveirosh he said that the Jews, "eat, drink, and mock the throne. If a fly would fall into one of their glasses, they would spill out the fly and drink the wine. But if my master, the king, would touch their glass of wine, they would spill it on the ground and not drink it." 
          G-d redeemed our ancestors from Egypt solely so that they would serve Him. When G-d appeared to Moshe in the burning bush during their first encounter, G-d told him, "This is the sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain (i.e. Har Sinai)."[4]
          The purpose of the redemption from Egypt was so that the nation could come to Sinai and accept the Torah, and thereby become “a rose among thorns"[5], and "a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation"[6].
          Being that the purpose of the exodus was to elevate them into a holy and unique nation, it is appropriate to commemorate the redemption which culminated with “I will take you to Me as a nation” at Har Sinai, on wine which symbolizes that uniqueness and separateness.
          During the Seder, we recite the beloved paragraph, ‘והיא שעמדה’ - in which we note that despite the fact that in every generation we have encountered enemies who seek to destroy us, we have always prevailed because Hashem has saved us from their hands.
          While reciting this paragraph, it is customary to raise the cup of wine. Generally, we only lift the cup of wine when we recite a blessing on it. Why should we lift the cup now in the middle of recounting the exodus?  
          The paragraph begins: “It is this that has stood by our fathers and us”. Simply, “this” refers to G-d’s promise and assurance that He would preserve us. That promise has stood by us in all generations. But it can also refer to the cup of wine in our hands. We lift the cup and declare “it is this” - this cup of wine, which symbolizes our uniqueness - “that has stood by our fathers and for us.” We have survived and thrived because we never forgot the lesson of wine which symbolizes that we are unique from the rest of the nations.[7]
          Tragically, it is when we have forgotten who we are that our enemies have reminded us. There is an adage that “when the Jews try to make kiddush with the goyim, the goyim make havdalah”[8]. When we try to be just like them, they remind us that we aren’t just like them.
          Rabbi Berel Wein relates that the last 2500 people gassed in Auschwitz were people whose great grandparents converted to Christianity. We may try to forget who we are, but G-d will always remind us.         
          In 1897, Mark Twain wrote in Harpers’ magazine: "If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought never be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contribution to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor; then faded to dream stuff and passed away; the Greeks and the Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"
          The answer to Mark Twain’s question is symbolized by the cup of wine. The secret of our immortality lies in the eternal covenant G-d made with our ancestors that we are, and will always be, His Chosen nation.    

          I shall take you to me for a people”
          “It is this that has stood by our fathers and us”

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

[1] This essay was from the second year that I sent out Stam Torah in 2001/5761
[2] Shemos 6:6-7
[3] Megillah 13b
[4] Shemos 3:12
[5] Shir Hashirim 2:1
[6] Shemos 19:6
[7] I heard this thought from my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz
[8] In this adage kiddush is used to symbolize mingling, such as what occurs at a kiddush. Havdala means separation, as in the prayer we recite after Shabbos and Yomim Tovim declaring the separation between the holy day which just ended and the upcoming weekdays.

Thursday, January 16, 2020



          One day Josh, a young successful executive, was driving hastily down a neighborhood street in his new sleek, black, 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE.
          Suddenly, something smashed into his car. Josh immediately slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car. A brick had clearly been thrown at his car. He turned to find a young boy standing nearby. He grabbed the boy, pushed him up against a parked car, and with his eyes bulging with rage Josh began screaming, “Just what did you think you were doing? That's my new Jag you threw the brick at. You know this is going to cost your parents a lot of money!”
          The boy’s voice quivered as he meekly replied, "Please mister, I'm sorry!  I didn't know what else to do!  I threw the brick because no one would stop to help when I waved my hands at their cars."
          Tears were streaming down the boy's face as he pointed around the parked car.  "It's my brother, sir." he said, "He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can't lift him up."  Sobbing the little boy asked Josh, "Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair?  He's too heavy for me."
          Josh tried desperately to swallow rapidly the lump building in his throat. He bent down and lifted the young man back into the wheelchair and took out his hanker-chief to wipe not only the brother’s tears, but his scrapes and cuts as well. Then he watched the grateful younger brother push him down the sidewalk toward their home.
          It was a long walk back to the dented Jaguar.  Josh never fixed the side door.  He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick to get his attention.

          Chumash Shemos introduces Moshe Rabbeinu, the quintessential leader.
          After escaping death in Egypt, Moshe became a shepherd for his father-in-law, Yisro. One day while shepherding in the desert, Moshe encountered a wondrous sight. A thorn-bush was aflame, yet it was not becoming consumed. Moshe declared, (3:3) "I will turn now and see this wondrous sight; why is the bush not becoming consumed?" When he approached, G-d called to Moshe from within the burning bush, and thus began his unwitting rise to leadership.
          My Rebbi, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that Moshe’s reaction symbolizes one of the qualities of Moshe that made him worthy of leadership.
          Life and world events are often unusual and intriguing. Most people take note of things that occur and then move on. We are too busy to invest any extra time or energy to contemplate the events. Life is fast paced, as well try to juggle seemingly endless responsibilities and expectations. We don’t have time to "stop and smell the flowers".[2]
     The Kotzker Rebbe noted that others may have seen the burning bush. But no one else stopped to ponder and analyze it. They may have snapped a picture and posted it on their social media page, but then had to rush back to work or pick up carpool. Moshe was the only one who declared “asurah nah – Let me turn now” to ponder the unusual occurrence. That was the first indication that Moshe had the qualifications of leadership. A leader must always be attuned to his people and his surroundings. He can never be so busy that he doesn’t recognize things happening around him.

     After World War Two ended, along with many other high-ranking Nazis, the infamous Nazi Adolph Eichmann escaped to South America after the war. The Israeli Mossad tracked him down and in May 1960, in a daring raid, they abducted Eichmann and brought him to Israel to stand trial for his innumerable war crimes. In 1961 after a fourteen-week trial, Eichmann was indicted and hung.
          During the trial, agents guarded Eichmann around the clock. The sadistic villain who nonchalantly watched adults and children being gassed, had become a reserved, even somewhat intellectual, person. The evil was all hidden beneath the veneer of German etiquette.
          Eichmann once declared to one of his guards “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad". He explained to the shocked guard that if you want to beat your enemy you have to know your enemy. During the war he wanted to understand the religion he was destroying and so he learned what those words – the words he heard cried out so many times as Jews were going to their death - meant.
     Pharaoh also understood the Jewish spirit. He knew that there was one guaranteed method to keep the Jews under his jurisdiction. Mesillas Yeshorim[3] explains that when Moshe began declaring the imminence of redemption to the nation, Pharaoh responded by commanding "tichbad ha’avodah – Let the work be heavier upon the men and let them engage in it and let them not pay attention to false words."[4] Pharaoh did not grant the Jews any respite so that we would not be able to even fathom or entertain any notion of liberation or revolution.  
     In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a 200,000-man march on Washington to protest segregation and racial inequality. He is most remembered for his now famous words, "I have a dream".
     Pharaoh ensured that the servitude was so complete and restricting that his Jewish slaves could not even entertain a dream of better times and redemption. If there is no dream, there is no hope!

     The first curse of the tochacha (‘rebuke’) of Parshas Bechukosai, is that of ‘behala’.[5] Simply translated, behala means panic. It includes the curse of lack of equanimity, of constantly running and never feeling calm and settled. Our daily lives are often filled with a modicum of behala[6]. The antidote for "tichbad ha’ovodah" is "asura nah v’ereh", to pay attention and to contemplate life as it happens, and not allow everything to pass by aimlessly.
     This week I had the privilege to participate in a Hachnosas Sefer Torah.[7] It was quite chilly as the procession made its way up the local street that was blockaded by the police. As we danced in front of the Torah, singing and dancing I couldn’t help but think about the contrast of the events of the previous night. One night earlier in Manhattan a far greater gathering had taken place. Tens of thousands of people braved the winter cold to watch the ball fall in Times Square as the secular New Year was heralded in.
     There are always things in life for which one is willing to sacrifice time, money, comfort, and sometimes even health and well-being. The question is what those things are. It’s up to us to decide, not only based on what we say we value, but based upon our actions.

          “Let the work be heavier”
          “I will turn and I will see this wondrous sight”

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

[1] This essay was from the second year that I sent out Stam Torah in 2001/5761
[2] Rabbi Wein quipped that one should talk to himself periodically. He adds that when he personally does so, those conversations are sometimes the only meaningful ones he has all day.
[3] chapter 2
[4] Shemos 5:9
[5] Vayikra 26:16; “…I will assign upon you behala….”
[6] Part of the greatness of the priceless gift of Shabbos is that it affords us a reprieve from the endless running of the week, so that we can rejuvenate body and spirit and reconnect with what really matters.
[7] This was in January 2001. It was a Hachnosas Sefer Torah in Edison, NJ in memory of Mrs. Dina Eisner a”h, mother of my friend, Moshe.