Instructions for Barry and Harriet Ray Child Safety Awareness Campaign

Hey Kids!
You all want to be safe,
But you’ve got to know how,
Join our summer safety program –
You can start coloring right now!

When you’ve learned the safety rules,
And your coloring is all done,
You can win a “Let’s Stay Safe!” Teddy
And be so safe, while you have fun!

Dear Parents,
In response to neighborhood challenges, last summer the Barry and Harriet Ray Child Safety Awareness Campaign of The Center for Jewish Family Life sponsored a 5-week safety coloring contest for children ages 3 – 8 in conjunction with the YATED. Matzav and The Lakewood Scoop to teach children 5 important summer safety rules from our groundbreaking children’s safety book, “Let’s Stay Safe! If they successfully completed coloring in all the five safety messages, they were sent a free “Let’s Stay Safe!” safety Teddy Bear.

We’ll be happy to send a teddy to any child in the USA who colors in and learns all 5 safety messages. Just send us contact information to

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz,
Director, The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES


Revised Week 1 Safety Coloring Center Spread – Copy
Safety Coloring Week 2
Safety Coloring Spread 3 – Copy
Safety Coloring Contest Week 4 – Copy
Safety Coloring Spread 5 (003)

In the petri dish of polarization that we currently live in, apparently nothing is safe. Allow me to explain.  The black-and-white all-or-nothing lens through which the world is viewed by an ever increasing amount of people breeds in the social media world, primarily when political or sensational social issues are the topic du jour.  Under the premise of ‘dialog’ a predetermined conclusion is then reinforced by argument after argument and attack after attack until the day job beckons (hopefully).


Unfortunately, this all-in or all-out approach has been extended to play out with virtuous causes as well.  What starts as a meaningful mission to address a need within a community, small or large, can sometimes become a blind mission, losing the ability to see any weakness or faults in how the mission is run or the platform it was built on.  Over time it can develop a leaning to extremism to one side of the sand line. For comparison sake, any business that is unable to self reflect on what is working and what is not, instead digging their heels in to stay with their initial conceptualization without hearing otherwise, will ultimately fail.  Businesses and social movements led like this can be observed avoiding acknowledgment of any weakness or faults by doubling down via heated exchange, mudslinging, more cash investment, etc. etc. In poker there is a phenomenon referred to as the sinking ship, or Titanic syndrome, where a player who has already bet X amount on a hand will continue to add to that bet even though their hand is weak.  Since money was already invested they are holding on to the ‘sinking ship’ instead of bailing and cutting their losses. Down they go with the ship. It is unfortunate that this happens to businesses, organizations, and social movements that would otherwise be the catalyst for much good.


A recent exchange with a client highlighted a recurring theme I have seen over the years.  It is related to the stigma often associated with mental health struggles. The issue of stigma is a topic that has been widely discussed and written about.  For demonstrative purposes just imagine the expectations and reactions people have to an amputee struggling as they inch their way through a half marathon vs the expectations and reactions to someone struggling to make it to work and through the day without a panic attack or depressive episode.  Historically, they have never been looked at the same. Medical and physical challenges and limitations elicit a response that is more understanding and compassionate.


For that very reason, countless individuals and organizations have taken the torch of reducing the stigma and normalizing the struggle one faces with mental illness.  Tremendous progress has been made. We are a long, long way from shackling those with mental illness to beds in out of sight institutions hoping they are forgotten. The discussion has been brought closer and closer to the dinner table.  Even slightly above hushed tones. This is amazing. Based on what clients have shared, I wonder if on some level our progress has brought with it a cost.


The following sequence is not that unusual.  A client comes in for treatment and engages in therapy.  The therapeutic relationship builds and they become more comfortable and vulnerable each session.  They are able to share their struggles and gain insight into the mental health disorder they are struggling with. The next step in treatment is to practice skills, moving them from where they were to where they want to be.  It is at this point they come in and express a sense of guilt. “For what?”, I ask. “I don’t think I am depressed enough to be allowed to say I have depression.” or “Is my anxiety really thaaat bad? I mean there are people I know who barely work or have no friends at all!  I have 1 friend, online at least. Who am I to make myself into a victim of mental illness when others have it much worse off.” I even had a client tell me a peer had asked in a huff, “Well, when was the last time you cut yourself? I was sooo suicidal last week. My mom wanted to take me to the ER!”


On the one hand we hope these individuals do not stigmatize themselves or identify themselves by their disorder.  On the other hand this ‘comparison of mental illness’ is a huge obstacle to further engagement in treatment and impedes their own progress.  So not only do they feel terrible about themselves from the outset, now they have to feel bad about feeling bad?! Seriously?! They already believe they are not good enough and now their mental illness is not good enough either? Rock. Meet hard place.  It is almost as if we transitioned from it being a stigma to being all the rage. “So have you picked up some of the latest Depression? What meds are you on? I take 3 different meds!” “ I have been in therapy for over 4 years! My therapist is awesome.  How good is your shrink?”


Obviously I am dramatizing this to bring out a point and this is more the exception than the rule.  We can likely analyze all day as to why certain individuals would behave this way. That is for another time.  Still, it is important to stay mindful of this. The objective of the professional is to create a space where the client can acknowledge and accept their challenges. Then work to move beyond that.  It is a stop on their journey, not a destination. Not to embrace mental illness as their new identity and feel stuck there. Not feeling the need to be more ill to merit engaging in this work.  They are not their mental illness. They are human beings who are facing challenges like everyone else who hope to move forward and see a better self tomorrow. Let us hope we can be the messenger that can facilitate such a journey.

“So what are you hoping to get out of therapy?”  Invariably, that question triggers a look of puzzlement on many clients faces.  “Umm.. I guess to stop- drinking, fighting, worrying, missing school, crying, cutting, (fill in the blank)?” Or perhaps panic “I have no idea! How am I supposed to know! Aren’t you supposed to tell me?  Stop pressuring me! Oh, the pressure!”

While we still have a way to go, it is obvious when looking into the rear-view mirror that quite a distance has been covered on the road to de-stigmatizing mental illness.  Be it how we view those who struggle with mental illness or the easing up on the resistance to seek help, as a society and a community we have made encouraging progress. We made it into the room.  Time to roll our sleeves up.

Hold up.

Winston Churchill once said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  On one hand, I agree with the sentiment of perseverance and never giving up.  On the other hand, I believe there is a perquisite to following through on the ‘keep going’ attitude; a why.  Even in midst of the most gruesome, tragic, and unfathomable tragedies throughout history, individuals have been able to tap into that strain of survival buried somewhere in their DNA.  I recommend picking up ‘Man Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankel which takes a fascinating observers perspective on why certain individuals somehow connect to that quality while others wilt and fade away.  Well worth the time. Back to Sir Winston. The only way someone will be willing to continue going through hell is if they have a reason to. Whether it be like Frankel posits, to find meaning within the journey, or like the chicken, to get to the other side, there has to be something.

What I have noticed from the other side of the couch, is that most people who make it into a therapist’s office have a form of one of the following 3 responses to this question; a) No idea why I’m here. There are at least 6 other places I can think of where I would rather be right now, one of them being the dentist. Someone else (parent, spouse, court is forcing me to be here. B) I know what brought me in.  This problem has disrupted my life enough to force me to take time out of my day and spend money to be here right now.  C) I am fully aware of what has brought me into this room, why I am here, and what I would like to get out of this process.  I have learned that the ones most likely to maximize the benefits of treatment fall in the latter category.

So what do I mean by a why and what does it look like?

A why is the true reason for taking the brave step of entering therapy and only that person can identify it.  There is no correct or incorrect answer. It can be anything from being a more present parent, to feeling good enough to pursue career advancement, or connecting with a spouse in more fulfilling manner.  It may take some hard, honest reflection to find it, but it’s there. I would argue that this is the most significant predictor of success in treatment. If there is no why, then time, money, and energy wears one down quite efficiently.  

Let’s play this out.

Dave comes in and shares his presenting concern is intrusive thoughts about the safety of his children.  Unable to sit with these thoughts, he submits himself to them by calling their school several times daily “just to check in on them”.  He also doesn’t let his children play at friends’ houses, go into the sandbox at the park, or ride the Ferris wheel. “You can never be too careful”, he posits.  “So what do you want to get out therapy?” I ask.

Pause.  The response to this is telling.

“What do you mean, what do I want?  I don’t want these thoughts!”


(Irritation beginning to fester) “Because its driving me nuts, that’s why!  I don’t get why you’re asking me this.”

“Let me clarify Dave.  What I mean to ask is, beyond the immediate relief of these thoughts controlling your life.  What will you gain when they’re gone, or in check?”

“Ohhhh.  That’s easy. Freedom.”

“Great.  Go on. What does freedom mean to you? What else will you gain?”

“I’ll be able to enjoy my family, be there for my kids instead of annoying them with so many rules, and just appreciate each day.”

Freedom.  Family. Present parenting.  Daily life. All fantastic whys.


“I can’t tell you it’s going to be easy- I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

  • Art Williams

If you have a why that is.  

Find it. Name it. Pursue it.


A few tips on finding your why.  Ask yourself the following questions;

  1. What have a lost or missed out on because of this so called ‘problem’?
  2. Why would my loved ones want me here?
  3. How have they lost out because of this behavior?
  4. How would my daily life look compared to yesterday if this change magically occurred overnight?
  5. What new (and old) opportunities/feelings/thoughts/dreams/ relationships/goals would now be on the radar?

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz discusses if learning Gemara is the only path to a spiritual life. He answers the question, “What would the Baal Shem Tov say?”



Click here for video of Rabbi Labish Becker’s Shiur on Parshios Tazria Metzora 5778

Click here to view Rabbi Becker’s Dvar Torah on Purim and Parshas Tetzaveh 5778.

Shiur on Parshas Beshalach 5778 by Rabbi Labish Becker.  View video here.





While visiting Eretz Yisroel with our son Shalom two years ago, in honor of his bar mitzvah, our trip coincided with Tu B’Shvat. On the night of Tu B’Shvat we attended the Belzer tisch[2], where thousands of chassidim packed into the room surrounding the Belzer Rebbe. Based on the connections of a friend[3], I was able to get a coveted seat at the head table.

At one point, after some songs were beautifully sung together, boxes upon boxes of different fruits were hurried in, and placed it in front of the rebbe. In matter of minutes the entire massive head table was covered with more fruits than I had ever seen together in my life. Within another few minutes, the fruits were disseminated to the throngs of eager chassidim throughout the room, until the boxes were completely empty.

The entire resurgence of Belzer Chassidus is itself a complete miracle.

Rav Aharon Rokeach zt’l[4], was the fourth rebbe of Belz. During his reign the Holocaust occurred, and most his chassidim were murdered by the Nazis, including his wife, children, and grandchildren. As a leading rabbinical figure, he was high on the Nazis ‘most wanted’ list. He himself miraculously survived, and escaped to Eretz Yisroel, and remarried, but had no children from his second wife. Most thought Belz did not have a future.

The rebbe’s half-brother, Rav Mordechai, escaped with him, remarried, had a son, and died a few months later. Rav Aharon raised that son – Yissochor Dov, and groomed him to become his successor.

Today, Belz has had an incredible resurgence under the leadership of Rav Yissochor Ber, with more than fifty-thousand chassidim, and numerous yeshivos, and institutions throughout the world. 

Sitting at a Belzer Tisch is itself a symbolism of the miraculous resurgence of the Jewish people, and a testament to the unfaltering eternity of our people.


The first Shabbos after the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon, arrived in Eretz Yisroel during the winter of 1944, was the week of Parshas Beshalach. That Shabbos, the Rebbe held a tisch. Most of the small assemblage were survivors who had just recently, barely escaped with their lives, having lost most of their families and communities. It was quickly apparent that they were in no mood of singing.

In an effort to rouse their spirits, the rebbe related the following thought:

The Torah says that the Jewish Nation left Egypt “Chamushim”. Simply translated as ‘armed’, Chazal note that it also means ‘a fifth’. Only a fifth of the nation emerged from Egypt; 80% had died in Egypt[5].

This means that when the nation sang the Song of the Sea, most of the nation was not present, because they had died shortly before the exodus. It seems likely that every family had lost numerous close relatives and friends.

When Moshe arose to sing, many of them must have been overwhelmed by the anguish of their raw losses, and did not want to sing. That is why the Torah introduces the shirah by saying “Az Yashir” which literally means “Then Moshe and B’nei Yisroel will sing,” in future tense.

Moshe explained to the nation that their story is far from over. While history is generally defined as the story of the past, for the Jewish people history is defined also by the future.

The Jews in Egypt had died, but their souls were alive, and would return with the resurrection of the dead. Moshe urged them to sing, not because there is no pain, but because despite the pain, their story is far from over.

This is the uniqueness of Jewish history. Since Jews are certain that redemption will come, they go back and redefine exile as the catalyst for redemption and healing.

For us, the future defines, and gives meaning to the past too.


Just prior to their departure from Egypt at the time of the exodus, the Torah relates, “B’nei Yisroel did according to the word of Moshe; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing. Hashem granted the nation favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they asked.”[6]

However, there were a few individuals who were busy collecting other important ‘materials’, and put aside the amassing of personal fortunes:

“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, because he had made the Bn’ei Yisroel swear saying ‘when Hashem will surely remember you, and you will bring up my bones from this land with you’.”[7]

The Medrash contrasts what Moshe brought up with that of the rest of the nation: “All of Yisroel busied themselves with silver and gold, but Moshe was preoccupied with Yosef’s bones, to which the Holy One, blessed is He, applied the verse ‘He who is wise of heart takes mitzvos’[8].”

After the nation sang shirah, after witnessing the final decimation of their final captors at the sea, the pasuk relates that the women also sang shirah: “Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”[9]

Yalkut Shimoni[10] notes that Miriam, and many other righteous women, were confident that there would be cause for celebration in the desert that would warrant their having instruments. So, while the nation was preparing to leave, they made sure to take instruments with them.

In Parshas Terumah, when the Torah describes the different materials that were donated for the construction of the Mishkan, one of the materials listed is acacia wood (atzei shittim).

The Medrash[11] asks how they were able to procure acacia wood in the desert? The Medrash answers that prior to his descent to Egypt, Yaakov Avinu carried acacia trees down to Egypt, prophesizing that the nation would one day need them for a Mishkan. He replanted them there. When the nation was about to leave Egypt, there were those who chopped down those trees, and carried the acacia wood with them into the desert.

Moshe took the bones of Yosef, Miriam and righteous women took instruments for celebration, and some individuals took the replanted acacia wood.[12]

In a sense, these three important ‘materials’ represent one of the most important components of a people – connection to its past, purpose in the present, and goals for the future.

Moshe took the bones of Yosef, representing the nation’s connection to its illustrious past, and holy ancestors. Miriam took instruments with confidence and faith in the glory that was to come. The wood that was used for the construction of the structure of the Mishkan symbolized the ongoing need for the nation to have a centralized place for the Divine Presence to rest among them constantly.

There are people who get stuck in the past. They may have suffered trauma and abuse, mental anguish, and suffering, and cannot get past it. They are stuck in the morass of their past, and may suffer from insurmountable depression.

There are others who become paralyzed by fear of the unknown in the future. Anxiety of what tomorrow will bring overwhelms them, and they are filled with dread about how they will deal with the challenges that will confront them.

The goal is for a person to be able to build on his past, even the traumas and pain of the past, and utilize them, taking advantage of the present, to create a hopeful future, helping others and serving Hashem.

The three objects taken out along with the wealth of the Egyptians, represents this vital need in the formulation and growth of a burgeoning nation.


The Shabbos when Parshas Beshalach is read, is titled “Shabbos Shirah – Shabbos of Song”. It generally also coincides with the week when the holiday of Tu[13] B’Shvat is observed.

Tu B’Shvat is the “New Year for trees” in regard to certain areas of halacha[14]. Therefore, it is a time when we reflect upon the wonders of the trees, particularly regarding the analogous connections between trees and humankind[15].

Every tree grew from the seeds of previous trees. At the same time, every fruit contains within it the seeds for future trees and fruits.

The song of our lives is built upon the foundations upon which were built by our ancestors. With a sense of mission and responsibility for our progeny, we prepare the next generation, serving as the continuing link on our never-ending chain of eternal tradition.


“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him”

“Miriam took a timbrel in her hand”


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

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[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beshalach 5777.

[2] A tisch is a formal Chassidic gathering, in which chassidim sing together, and listen to inspiring words of Torah from the rebbe.

[3] Fred Brinn, then Mayor of New Hempstead

[4] 1880-1957

[5] During the plague of darkness, all of those Jews who did not want to leave Egypt, died.

[6] Shemos 12:35-36

[7] Shemos 13:19

[8] Mishlei 10:7

[9] Shemos 15:20

[10] Shemos 253

[11] Bereishis Rabbah 94:4

[12] I saw the idea about taking these three ‘materials’ in an article by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

[13] The Hebrew letters ט”ו (Tu) numerically correspond to the number 15, since it is on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat

[14] Particularly about taking ma’aser, the mandatory annual tithes

[15] Based on the pasuk in Devorim 20:19




Rav Shabsi Yudelevitz zt”l, one of the great maggidim of Yerushalayim of the last generation, recounted an experience he had during one of his visits to America.

He was invited to speak at a bar mitzvah celebration of an American boy, whose family’s religious commitment was somewhat wanting. In his speech, Rav Shabsi noted that ultimately there are no secrets. He quoted the Gemara[2] which says that the walls of a person’s home testify about him on the Day of Judgment. The objects we own, the chairs we sit on, the walls of our homes, and even the food we eat, testify about our mitzva observance before the celestial courts.

Rav Shabsi continued that it’s vital for a Jewish male to put on tefillin every weekday of his life. He then lifted a golden ladle off the table in front of them, and announced to the bar mitzvah boy that if he wouldn’t put on tefillin, the ladle itself would testify against him! With that, in front of the entire assemblage, he placed the ladle in his pocket.

The next morning, Rav Shabsi helped the boy put on tefillin for the first time.

After davening, the boy’s father told Rav Shabsi that the ladle he had taken was not only very expensive, it was also a family heirloom, and was part of a set.

Rav Shabsi replied that he had no intention of keeping the ladle, and it would be returned imminently. He asked permission to hold onto it a bit longer. He explained that since he had announced to everyone that the ladle would testify about whether the boy put on tefillin or not, he wanted to wait until after shachris so he could ask the ladle if the boy put on his tefillin that morning.

The father thought the Rav was mocking him, but he didn’t say anything.

The next day, the father asked Rav Shabsi what the ladle said. Rav Shabsi replied that the ladle began crying that the first day after his bar mitzvah, the boy already neglected to don his tefillin. The father asked Rav Shabsi why he was falsely accusing his son. Rav Shabsi said he would ask the ladle again. He walked out of the shul, and came back a few moments later shaking his head. He insisted that the ladle was still crying that his son hadn’t put on tefillin.

At that point, the father became annoyed, and demanded that the ladle be returned. Rav Shabsi replied that he he wanted the boy to put on the tefillin in front of everyone, so they could see the ladle testify. They agreed that the next morning, the boy would put on tefillin before shachris at the bimah, in view of everyone.

The next morning the shul was packed. Everyone wanted to see how the ladle would testify. The bar mitzvah boy nervously began taking out his tefillin, as everyone tensely watched. Suddenly, there was a loud thud. Everyone looked down to find the ladle lying on the floor at the bar mitzvah boy’s feet.

People were stunned; the Rav had performed a miracle. The ladle had truly testified!

Before Rav Shabsi left, the Rabbi of the shul asked him what forces of kabbala he had employed to make the ladle appear. Rav Shabsi replied that the day before, when he had helped the boy put on tefillin, he had snuck the ladle into his tefillin bag before closing it.

When the father demanded that he return the ladle, it became clear that his son hadn’t put on tefillin, otherwise he would have discovered it in his bag. The following morning, when he began to don the tefillin, the ladle fell out!


During my youth, we had a book at home called “If a Siddur Could Talk”[3]. The book opened by asking the reader, “Of course a siddur can’t talk. But if it could… what do you think it would say?” The book then related the purported experiences of various children with davening, and what their siddurim mighty say about how they daven.

Its an intriguing concept, especially because the gemara[4] seems to say that the question isn’t merely what our siddur would say, but also what would our tefillin say, what would our action say, and what would our Shabbos table say.

The Mesillas Yesharim[5] writes that regarding self-improvement, there is a concept of יפשפש במעשיו and another concept of ימשמש במעשיו. יפשפש implies that one should search his actions, to discern whether they are positive or negative. One then must strive to increase his good deeds and decrease his negative behaviors. ימשמש literally means ‘to feel out’, or probe his actions. One should analyze his positive and laudable actions, so that he can improve them constantly, never settling for ‘good enough’, at the sacrifice of ‘even better’.

Any person who is serious about accomplishing greatness in whatever endeavor he wishes to achieve mastery, understands this concept. He must first recognize his deficiencies, so he can circumvent them and work on improving his performance despite them. However, he also realizes that his greatest achievements will come from building upon his successes, and striving to improve what he already excels at.

At the Seder on Pesach night, we state “Blessed is the One who has guarded his promise to Yisroel, blessed is He.” Hashem did not merely fulfill His pledge to Avrohom Avinu that he would take his progeny out. He guarded that pledge, and anticipated the opportunity to redeem it. Then He did so, in a most magnanimous and loving manner.

When it became evident that the nation could not endure another 190 years of servitude and affliction, Hashem “calculated the end” and used a tactic of counting the promised four-hundred years from the time of the birth of Yitzchak[6]. When the physical exodus occurred, the nation left with tremendous wealth and a feeling of dignity and glory. They did not rush out like fugitives escaping in the night. Their former captors and persecutors waved them on meekly and reverently.

The Torah describes the fateful night of the exodus as “Leil Shimurim”. That terminology is mentioned twice in the same verse: “It was a night of שמרים for Hashem, to bring them out of Egypt; that same night is Hashem’s one of שמרים for all of the B’nei Yisroel for all generations.[7]

Rashi explains that the second time the word שמרים is used it refers to divine protection. The anniversary of the night of the exodus is a night of divine protection for Jews throughout the world. However, the first time the word שמרים is used it refers to anticipation and excitement. That night was a night of anticipation for Hashem, as it were, as He excitedly waited for the opportunity to redeem His nation.

One guards something he feels is precious and valuable, and wants to protect. In the Haggadah we bless Hashem who, not only fulfilled His promise, but guarded it with anticipatory love.

When we recognize that Hashem loves us and treasures our every action, it becomes evident that we should seek to at least reciprocate, by trying to perform mitzvos and serve Hashem with that same feeling of love and yearning.

On Shabbos morning we sing about the one who is “השומר שבת הבן עם הבת”. We aren’t singing about one who merely fulfils the laws of Shabbos, but one who safeguards the Shabbos with excitement and love. It’s a feeling that he passionately shares with his children – his son and his daughter.

Part of what we remember when we recount the experience of the exodus, is how Hashem clearly acted out of love. He didn’t just fulfill His promise to ‘be done with it’. He demonstrated that there is a relationship and a partnership.

Our goal must be to serve Hashem with those same feelings.


“Blessed is the One who has guarded his promise“

“A night of anticipation for Hashem, to bring them out of Egypt”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor 
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[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bo 5772.

[2] Chagiga 16a

[3] Published in 1987 by Yocheved Yosef; the book was more recently reprinted in 2005

[4] ibid

[5] Chapter 3 (based on Gemara Eiruvin 13b)

[6] The promise was that “the descendants of Avrohom would be strangers in a land not theirs” for four hundred years. As soon as Yitzchak was born, and at that time Eretz Yisroel was not the property of Avrohom, the four hundred years could technically begin, even though that wasn’t the original interpretation of the decree.

[7] Shemos 12:42

Shiur by Rabbi Labish Becker on Parshas Va’eira 5778. Video file.








It’s My Funeral and I’ll Serve Ice Cream if I Want To

By JOHN LELAND,  July 20, 2006

ROBERT TISCH, who ran the Loews Corporation, had a marching band at his memorial service and a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall, all orchestrated by one of New York’s most prominent party planners. Estée Lauder’s had waiters passing out chocolate-covered marshmallows on silver trays. At Nan Kempner’s memorial, at Christie’s auction house, guests received a CD of Mozart’s Requiem. Ms. Kempner had wanted a live performance of the Requiem, but the logistics — full orchestra, chorus and soloists — were too much.

At a time when Americans hire coaches to guide their careers and retirements, tutors for their children, personal shoppers for their wardrobes, trainers for their abs, whisperers for their pets and — oh, yes — wedding planners for their nuptials, it makes sense that some funerals are also starting to benefit from the personal touch. As members of the baby boom generation plan final services for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer attachments to churches, traditions or organ music — forcing funeral directors to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the farewell waters…

 “Baby boomers are all about being in control,” said Mr. Duffey… What they want, he said, are services that reflect their lives and tastes. One family asked for a memorial service on the 18th green of their father’s favorite golf course, “because that’s where dad was instead of church on Sunday mornings, so why are we going to church,” Mr. Duffey said. “Line up his buddies, and hit balls.” Another wanted his friends to ride Harleys down his favorite road, scattering his ashes…

Mr. Biggins said funeral homes can do anything that party planners can do. At his own funeral home in Rockland, Mass., Mr. Biggins arranged a service for Harry Ewell, a man who had been an ice cream vendor. Mr. Ewell’s old ice cream truck led the funeral procession and dispensed Popsicles at the end. “If you call that over the top, then I guess I’m guilty,” Mr. Biggins said. “But our business reflects society as a whole. Today’s consumer wants things personal, specific to their lifestyle, whether it’s highlighting a person’s passion for golf or celebrating someone’s deep devotion to knitting or needlepoint” …

After the Torah records the passing of Yaakov Avinu, the pasuk states: “Yosef commanded his servants, the healers, to embalm his father.”[2] Rav Moshe Sternbuch[3] explains that Yosef made to sure that only those who he felt were trustworthy to deal with his father’s body in a manner permitted by Torah law, were permitted to touch the body. The embalming process performed with Yaakov’s body only utilized methods that weren’t at all invasive, or made any marks on the body. Only external mummifying was performed. The usual practices performed by the ancient Egyptians however, are prohibited by Torah law, and are a terrible disgrace of the body. It is impossible to entertain the notion that Yosef would have allowed any such thing to happen to the body of his saintly father.

Part of the richness of our traditions includes the rituals and laws we adhere to with regards to the final dignity accorded to a body after death.

When Haman decreed mass genocide of the Jewish People, it included incinerating the dead bodies.[4] That nefarious objective reflects a true idea – that even the body of a Jew retains a degree of holiness, after the living soul had departed from it.

The Torah relates that the funeral procession for Yaakov Avinu was “a great and very imposing eulogy”[5]. In explaining the purpose of eulogies, Shulchan Aruch[6] states: “The mitzvah is that he (the eulogizer) will raise his voice to recount about him (the deceased) words that break the heart, to increase crying.”

Our world doesn’t like to cry or shed tears. We view it as weak and we do our utmost to hide all traces of vulnerability, so we can maintain a false veneer of perfection and blissfulness. We distract ourselves from pain and suffering, out of fear that we cannot handle facing reality. Halacha however, demands that we confront the truth and come to terms with the painful reality and magnanimity of our loss.

In fact, this is part of the great merit we can give the deceased – to be inspired by his good deeds, and by the legacy he is leaving behind.

The purpose of a funeral and the eulogies are not to mark what the deceased did, as much as it is to recount who/what the deceased was. In his eulogy, the eulogizer is challenged to convey what kind of person the deceased was, how he lived his life, and what were the things that made him special.

It’s a somewhat unnerving thought that most people are not defined by what they spend much of their time doing. If a person spent most of his life selling and trading stocks, that doesn’t define what made him unique as a person.

As we usher in Shabbos Kodesh each week, we sing in Lecha Dodi that Shabbos was “last in deed, first in thought”. In other words, although Shabbos was only brought into the world after the entirety of creation was complete, Hashem’s original motive in creating the world was to create Shabbos – a day of connection and sanctity.

Productive people live their lives in a manner of “last in deed, first in thought”. They have goals and spiritual dreams which they look to accomplish. They try to live their life based on those original goals.

It’s not a coincidence that the parsha which contains the death of Yaakov is called “Vayechi” – Yaakov lived. One of our traditions is that one’s soul transcends death through the legacy they leave behind. Chazal say that Yaakov Avinu never died.[7] One of the many explanations offered is that he lives on in all of us, his descendants, the bearers of his legacy.


“A great and very imposing eulogy”

“Last in deed, first in thought”

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

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayechi 5777

[2] Bereishis 50:2

[3] Ta’am V’da’as

[4] That is how the Vilna Gaon explains the vernacular of the decree, “להשמיד להרג ולאבד”   ולאבד refers to the destruction of the dead bodies.

[5] Bereishis 50:10

[6] Yoreh Deah 344:1

[7] Gemara Ta’anis





The Chofetz Chaim related a story about “chossid echad”[2] who set out to influence the world. He arrived in a city and offered to speak, but was surprised to find the people to be disinterested. “How much are you charging?” “Why should we listen to you?”

He left that city and arrived in a second city and made the same offer. He was disheartened when he was met with the same pessimistic resistance. The same occurred in the third city he went, and even in some smaller villages.

Instead, he decided to sit down in a Bais Medrash and study Torah. He hoped to influence the masses in that manner. He indeed had a profound influence upon his surroundings, not through his speeches, but through his example.

The Brisker Rav related that he has a tradition that whenever the Chofetz Chaim spoke about “chossid echad”, it referred to the Chofetz Chaim himself![3]

After Yaakov struggled with the Angel, and then emerged unscathed from his encounter with Eisav, the Torah states: “Yaakov arrived complete in the city of Shechem… and he camped at the entrance of the city.”[4]

Ramban explains that the day Yaakov arrived at the entrance of the city was Erev Shabbos, so he immediately set up techum Shabbos.

The Gemara[5] relates that Avrohom fulfilled the mitzvah of eiruv tavshilin, whereas Yaakov created techumin.

Meshech Chochmah explains that these two mitzvos contrast the different approaches in avodas Hashem of Avrohom and Yaakov. Each was a conduit for spreading and teaching about the Glory of Hashem in this world, but each did so in his own unique manner.

The mitzvah of eiruv tavshilin allows a person to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos, thereby enabling him to invite guests to join him.

Rambam[6] explains that Avraham would gather masses of people to publicly prove to them about the existence of the one true Creator.

Avraham performed eiruv tavshilin, an allusion to his inviting guests to partake of his food so he could teach them about Hashem. He would indulge them with delectable food and then convince them to thank Hashem for the enjoyment they experienced.

Yaakov Avinu utilized a vastly different approach. The Torah describes him as a yoshev ohalim – one who dwelled in tents and studied Torah. Yaakov didn’t go out to influence the rest of the world per se. He foresaw that he was to father the twelve tribes, which would comprise the Jewish People. Therefore, he understood that his ultimate role was to prepare his progeny for the integral role they would fulfill. He could only do so, by setting parameters and boundaries to protect them from the negative influences surrounding them.

Yaakov had to engage in enacting techumin – boundaries, to prevent outside influences from penetrating the home he was building. Instead of bringing the Shechinah to others, he made his home a place for the Shechinah.

We see this same pattern in other examples throughout their lives. Avraham Avinu went down to Mitzrayim to influence people. Yaakov, on the other hand, was resistant to allowing his children to descend to such an immoral country. Yaakov was upset when he was accused of stealing his father-in-law’s idols, because unlike Avrohom who engaged and persuaded idolaters, Yaakov kept completely distant. When he met Eisav, Yaakov hid Dinah, because he did not want to risk him seeing her and wanting to marry her.

Yaakov sought to separate himself from the outside world, and to build from within.

Ramban[7] explains that each of the Avos sanctified the Name of Hashem. The Torah states numerous times that Avraham called in the Name of Hashem, and it says it once about Yitzchak. Regarding Yaakov, however, the Torah never says that he called in the Name of Hashem, because he sanctified Hashem in a different manner.

Yaakov spread emunah by devoting himself to instilling that faith in his own family.[8] There can be no greater publicizing of emunah than that. Building his own family bred continuity, creating a nation that would follow the ways of Hashem for all generations.

Yaakov didn’t have to go out and actively influence people, because people were influenced by the example that his family demonstrated wherever they were.


Often, when people begin to improve in a certain area, whether in areas of health, such as a diet, or in religiosity, such as when they assume greater levels of stringency or punctiliousness in their observance, they feel inclined to preach about it to others.

Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman[9] relates that, when he was an elementary school Rebbe, each year he was able to influence a few talmidim to give up watching television. He would always emphasize to them that they should not go home and preach to their parents and siblings about the negative effects and spiritual damage that television causes. Rather, they should merely walk by the room and not say anything. The greatest message is conveyed by one’s quiet and pleasant example.

In Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech states: “Ahalelah Hashem b’chayei azamrah leilokai b’odi – I will praise Hashem with my life, I will sing to Hashem with my existence.” Rabbi Finkelman explained that Dovid was saying that, not only would he constantly praise Hashem while he was alive, but on a deeper level, his very life and his very existence would praise Hashem. By living correctly and observing Torah and mitzvos, that in and of itself would serve as a living praise of Hashem.

One of the hallmarks of Chanukah is the mitzvah of perusmei nisa – spreading and publicizing the miracles that transpired. The gemara states that the basic mitzvah is “ner ish ubayso – a candle for each man and his home”. The mitzvah of reflecting divinity outwards begins from the sanctity within our own homes.

Like Yaakov Avinu we seek to ignite the spiritual light from within, and then that light can radiate and resonate outwards.

Our society expends tremendous effort and resources to publicize and advertise. Most of what they are advertising in antithetical to what we seek to advertise and publicize with our Chanukah candles. But we are strengthened by the fact that our little candles have withstood the test of time, and continued to burn in the face of the greatest and most ominous darkness.

We have no doubt that they will continue to burn, and their message will ultimately outshine all the other messages we encounter constantly.


“Yaakov camped at the entrance of the city”

“A candle for each man and his home”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor
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[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayishlach 5777

[2] “one chassid”; chasid not in the sense of one who is a proponent of the Chassidic movement, but one who is extremely pious and meticulous in his mitzvah obersvance

[3] Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman

[4] The following ideas are based on a schmooze from Rav Meir Wahrsager of Mir Yerushalayim

[5] Yoma 28b

[6] beginning of Hilchos Avodah Zarah,

[7] Bereishis 12:8

[8] שהוליד בנים רבים כלם עובדי ה’, והיתה לו קהלה גדולה נקראת עדת ישראל ונתפרסמה האמונה בהם, ונודעה לכל עם.

[9] Mashgiach in Ohr Hachaim in Queens, NY, and a personal rebbe

A Torah Thought for Teens – Parshas Tazria 2007

Of Insects and Men

Rashi begins his commentary to this week’s parsha by noting that the halachos related to the tumah and taharah of humans begin in Parshas Tazria – after those of the animal kingdom were listed previously in Parshas Shmini. This order would seem to defy logic, as one would think that the halachos related to humans ought to have been placed before those of the other living beings.

Rashi quotes a Midrash, where Rav Simlai explains the reasoning behind this sequence. He maintains that in listing halachos, Hashem followed the order of creation – beginning with all the members of the animal kingdom (who were created first) and concluding with man (who was created last). The Midrash quoted by Rashi finishes with an additional thought. If we fulfill the ratzon of Hashem, says the Midrash, it is as if the world was created on our behalf, and we were therefore created last so that we would arrive to a ‘finished’ world. If we ignore the laws of the Torah, we are informed that even the lowly ‘yitush’ – a form of insect – was created before us.

This Midrash and the commentary of Rashi, however, seem to leave us with more questions than answers. First of all, what is the meaning of the Midrash regarding the insects preceding man in creation – and why was the ‘yitush’ singled out among all other insects? Finally, why should the Torah follow the order of creation when listing the halachos of tumah and taharah?

The primacy – and responsibility – of man

Many meforshim note that the cryptic words of the Midrash are commenting on the role of man in the creation of the world. Humans are essentially offered a choice. If we follow the laws of the Torah, then we become the central focus of creation. After all, Hashem created this world so that we can serve Him and elevate our neshamos (souls). When one lives a spiritual life, and fulfills Hashem’s master plan, he or she brings meaning to the world and all facets of creation. This would be analogous to a customer who walks into a restaurant and sits down to a delicious meal – with all the cooking and preparing done on his behalf. In this scenario, this elevated form of man, whose neshamah rules over his body, arrived last on the scene during b’rias ha’olam to signify that the world was created with his service of Hashem in mind.

The Midrash continues with the logical corollary of this reasoning. It states that if one does not fulfill the master plan of Hashem, he is no better than any of the other living creatures that populate the Earth. The moser ha’Adam min ha’behemah, the superiority of man over animal (Koheles 3:19, tefilah of Yom Kippur), lies in our ability to control our impulses and harness our energies to a greater purpose. Delaying gratification and harnessing desires are qualities of the human race to the exclusion of nearly all other living beings. Failure to exercise these abilities blurs the distinction between man and the members of the animal kingdom.

I would like to suggest that there is great significance in the fact that the Midrash selected the ‘yitush’ as the example of animal life. While telling the story of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh and the demise of the wicked Titus, the gemorah (Gittin 56b) relates an interesting detail about the yitush. It is a peculiar form of insect, which consumes its food, but does not pass its waste. It therefore has a short life span, as it grows bloated and dies.

Upon reflection, our mission in life is strikingly similar to our digestive system. Healthy living in the physical realm requires us to carefully select our food and plan our meals. Then, after we partake in a meal, our digestive system filters our food, stores the nutrients in the appropriate sections of our bodies, and passes the waste products.

In the spiritual plane, as well, we need to carefully screen our ‘inboxes’ – what we look at and listen to. We need to extract the good and meaningful things of this world and ‘delete the files’ that hinder our growth. Failure to do so results in the spiritual equivalent of the ‘yitush’ – the demise of one’s neshomah that becomes choked by overindulgence in worldly matters.

The Midrash is reminding us to live meaningful lives. We are not angels – nor were we created to live like them. We need to eat, drink and sleep properly. The Torah mandates that we nurture our bodies; that we exercise and refrain from activities that harm them. During our lifetime, it is our sacred mission to have a healthy spiritual digestive system as well – to extract the sparks of ruchniyus that are inherent in all areas of our lives, and remove the harmful elements. Doing so will result in an elevated living that places us in our proper position as the final element of creation – and the raison d’être for Hashem’s beautiful world.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved


Rav Matisyahu Salomon shlita notes that every year, as we read the parshios in Bereishis, we enjoy discussing the profundity and extent of Avrohom Avinu’s chesed. There always seem to be new explanations and perspectives which expound upon how selfless and extreme the chesed of Avrohom was.

Rav Matisyahu explains that we need to have the same discussions and analyzation about the exemplary integrity and work ethic of Yaakov Avinu, while he was working for Lavan. The Torah demands the highest levels of ethics and responsibility regarding the workplace. It’s a value we don’t sufficiently emphasize. A Torah Jew is obligated to be wary of his financial responsibilities, and he must be honest to a fault.

In America, standard currency is the dollar, in Britain it is the pound, and in Japan the yen. Gold, diamonds, and pearls have universal value, as does real estate. These are commodities that ‘make the world go around’. In the words of Shlomo Hamelech, “Money answers everything.”

In the celestial World of Truth, undoubtedly Torah and mitzvos are the ultimate currency. But might there be another commodity that ‘opens doors’ in that world? Is there something which causes the angels to bow deferentially before it, as it were, in a similar vein to how people ‘bow’ deferentially before wealth in this world?

After Leah Imeinu gave birth to four sons, and Rochel saw that she was not being blessed with a child, she took an extreme measure. She offered her maid Bilhah, as a wife to Yaakov. Rashi explains that Rochel learned the concept from Sarah Imeinu, who gave her maid Hagar to Avrohom to marry.

What merit was there in giving a maid as a wife?

Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l explained that spiritual growth requires mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. In the physical world, success is often achieved through unyielding ambition and uncompassionate drive to reach the top. The world of finance is one of extreme competition, where there is no room for compassion or consideration for the feelings of others. A sign above a major highway reads: “If you don’t purchase this space to advertise your company, your competitor will first.”

The spiritual world is the polar opposite. One climbs the ladder of greatness by putting his own needs and desires aside, to help and build others. The more one places others before himself and sublimates his own ego, the greater he becomes.
For a woman to allow her husband to marry another woman is an extreme act of mesiras nefesh. For a woman to offer her maid to be her husband’s second wife is the ultimate act of mesiras nefesh.

The ultimate currency in heaven is mesiras nefesh! Torah and mitzvos performed with self-sacrifice and complete dedication is the ultimate currency in the World of Truth.

Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner of London, England, is a well-known Rav and lecturer throughout the Torah world. As a Dayan, he is accustomed to receiving unusual halachic questions. But every now and then he receives questions that surprise even him.
A man related to Rav Dunner that his grandfather was a holocaust survivor. Somehow, he had smuggled his tallis with him wherever he was sent, including into Buchenwald. Amazingly, he never missed a day of wearing that tallis. After liberation, he continued wearing that tallis every day of his life. In his tzava’ah (will) he asked to be buried in the tallis. But when the grandfather died, they forgot!

It was almost his first yahrtzeit, and the family was regretful that they had not fulfilled his instruction. At that time, his grandmother was dying, and the inevitable was imminent. The question was could they bury the tallis with the grandmother, who was to be buried alongside her late husband? Would that count as fulfilling his will?

Dayan Dunner decided to send the question to be asked of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. The answer he received stunned him. Rav Chaim replied that the tallis should not be buried with the grandmother. Rather, they should open the kever of the grandfather, and place the tallis in there, as he had requested.

Dayan Dunner called a few local chevra kadishas but all of them were squeamish and uncomfortable about doing it. The man himself did not want to give his grandfather a second burial. Couldn’t they just bury it with the grandmother?

Dayan Dunner asked the question to be presented to Rav Chaim again. His response remained the same. But he added, that if they didn’t want to open the kever, they should dig a hole as close to the kever as possible, and place the tallis there.

The family was still uncomfortable, but they agreed to do it. However, they still wanted to know why it was so important to bury it as close as possible to their grandfather.

When Rav Chaim was asked about it a third time, he replied “In the upper courts, the most valuable commodity is mesiras nefesh. The man’s tallis is his greatest testimony about his incredible mesiras nefesh. His family must therefore, make every effort to place at as close as possible to him, so he has it by his side in the Next World.”

When negotiating with the B’nei Ches, Avrohom Avinu stated, “If it is your desire to allow me to bury my dead from before me, listen to me, and allow me to meet with Ephron ben Tzochar.” The word Avrohom uses for desire is “nafshechem”, which literally means ‘your soul’. What we desire is part of our essence. To place those desires aside for the sake of others, is mesiras nefesh. The ultimate mesiras nefesh is for one to give up his life to sanctify the name of G-d. But, it is often more challenging to live with mesiras nefesh in the mundane day-to-day of our lives.

When we are busy doing something we need to finish and put it aside to daven mincha, when our child asks us to help with her homework and we are tired and muster up patience to help, when a neighbor or friend asks for a favor and we are not in the mood of helping and we agree to help anyway, when we drag ourselves to a shiur or to learn with a chavrusa at the end of a long day, when we listen to a griping friend who needs chizuk though we have ten other things to do – these are all examples of mesiras nefesh.

Our yetzer hara likes to minimize such feats by convincing us that real mesiras nefesh entails doing something profound. But that is untrue. Every time we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, it is an act of mesiras nefesh.

The holiday of Chanukah, which is rapidly approaching, is a celebration of mesiras nefesh! The Maccabees went to war to ensure our ability to serve Hashem and guard the Torah in the most holy and pristine manner. They reasoned that a life devoid of Torah is not worth living, so they set out for battle with little hope for victory.

Their incredible mesiras nefesh, first on the battlefield, and later to perform the mitzvah of lighting the menorah with pure oil, served as the catalyst for the miracles that transpired.

They went well beyond the natural norm, and Hashem granted them miracles, well beyond the natural norm. It’s a holiday that celebrates, not only supernatural occurrences, but our ability to be supernatural, which is the secret of our national eternity.

“And she said, behold my maid, Bilhah… I will build from her.”
“If it is your desire”


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor
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Note: This essay was written with input from and the encouragement of esteemed Rabbonim, Dayanim (rabbinic judges), community leaders and mental health professionals who all have extensive experience with these issues.

My dear friends, we need to have a long overdue conversation about establishing protocols and “best practices” to be implemented by communal leaders who betray their public trust by engaging in inappropriate or illicit relationships and/or have abused people who entrusted their lives and souls to them.

As we are painfully removing our rose-colored glasses and coming to terms with the bitter reality that observant Jews and even revered community leaders are not immune from the human failings of the general population, this conversation is becoming more and more necessary as “situations” are uncovered and publicized by courageous Rabbis and Batei Din (rabbinic courts).

As many of these cases are not actionable in the criminal justice system due to the understandable reluctance of victims to testify in open court, statute of limitation issues, or when inappropriate relationships occurred with adults, the involvement of Rabbonim and Batei Din in this process is critical and valuable. It is our strong feeling that abuse that is actionable be reported to the authorities as this presents a Clear and Present Danger to the public.

We would like to propose that when these conditions occur, a specific set of steps be taken to provide restitution to the victims, closure to members of the public, restore public faith in the institutions where these individuals served and to prevent these injustices from happening in the future.

Our Torah codifies five categories of compensation to victims of physical damage, with the victim being paid for:

  1. (Regular) Damages
  2. Pain suffered
  3. Medical bills
  4. Unemployment
  5. Shame incurred

Being that our Torah clearly factored in many components of the damage caused and placed the burden of restitution squarely on the shoulders of the “mazik” (one who caused the damage), it would stand to reason that perpetrators be responsible for the often lifelong damages caused by their actions. Similarly, the institutions where they served have a moral responsibility to remove the perpetrators from any vestige of involvement/ownership, and undertake transparent and good faith efforts to address the structural shortcomings that allowed their inappropriate behaviors to go unnoticed or unreported.

Therapists and agencies that provide services and support to victims of abuse regularly see the physical, emotional and spiritual devastation caused when restorative measures are not taken. As such, we at Project YES feel compelled to share with our readers the steps that we feel should be taken in instances like those described above:

1) A public confession in writing or via recorded statement shall be made available to the constituents of the institution where the individual served. The public acknowledgment need not include specific details, but the perpetrator needs to clearly state that he/she committed severe misdeeds and takes full, personal responsibility for them.

2) The confession should include a public apology to his/her victims (without mentioning the names of any victims), along with requesting that they be supported by community members and never be c’v subjected to isolation and disdain as a result of their coming forward.

3) The individual and/or institution take full responsibility to make financial restitution to the victims – including paying for their ongoing therapy when required.

4) The individual expresses sincere commitment to undergo professional counseling to address his/her self-destructive behavior.

5) The institution he/she served in shall be transferred to responsible parties in a transparent, irrevocable and arms-distant manner. Additionally, the individual shall make a firm pledge never to serve again in an educational/rabbinic/counseling setting.

6) The institution’s new leadership shall commit to engage outside professional consultants who will help them implement the changes necessary to prevent the conditions that allowed these inappropriate behaviors to go unchecked.

In future columns, we will explain why each of the six steps listed above are absolutely critical to the process of healing the victims – including those who were indirectly affected, ensuring that the perpetrator never harms others, and restoring confidence to the institution.

We strongly believe that the above-mentioned steps are also the best advice for the perpetrator, for reasons we will point out in future columns on this matter.

These steps above are only a first draft and we certainly don’t believe that they are binding or the final word on this painful topic. Rather, we view these as the beginning of a public dialogue that will help bring healing to the victims and keep our children and grandchildren safe. We welcome your constructive comments – including those that are critical of the positions we have taken – and kindly email them to admin@ 

Nearly eighteen months ago at an Agudath Israel National Convention, I was chairing a Project YES session where the featured speaker was my dear friend, Rabbi Noach Orlowek. Fresh off a plane from Eretz Yisrael, Reb Noach spoke brilliantly about chinuch, teens, and parenting matters. After his presentation, there was an extended Q&A segment with questions posed to any of the five people on the panel. At one point, Rabbi Orlowek and I were sharing the podium responding to a series of hard-hitting questions when someone got up and asked us to share with the assembled delegates our thoughts regarding how parents ought to respond to the challenges posed by the Internet. At that time, there was a great deal of discussion in the broader Orthodox community about this subject and an immediate hush passed through the audience as three hundred sets of eyes focused on Rabbi Orlowek and myself. I boldly stepped forward, firmly grabbed the microphone … and passed it to Rabbi Orlowek.

Well, Reb Noach and I are very close friends and we often kid each other about the fact that we seem to always finish each other’s sentences. So, I was very curious to hear how he would reply to that loaded question.

Rabbi Orlowek was quiet for a few very long moments. He then responded by posing a question. What if a diabetic is invited to a fancy wedding where he will be surrounded with food that is terribly harmful to him? Reb Noach responded by noting that the only chance this person has to resist the temptations he will inevitably be faced with at the wedding was to see to it that he had a full and satisfying meal before he left home. Rabbi Orlowek said that we must accept the fact that each generation throughout our glorious history had its challenges and that the explosion of technology-driven temptations that our children — and we — face nowadays may very well be ours. More importantly, he pointed out that we must make peace with the fact that as much as we would like to, we simply cannot shelter our children beyond a certain age. Therefore, the only solution that we have as parents and educators is to see to it that our kids are “full” when they reach their teen years. And “full,” he explained, means having an appreciation and genuine love for Torah and mitzvos; nurturing, safe, and loving home environments; schools that are welcoming and inspire children; and rebbeim/teachers who develop deep and meaningful relationships with their students, in addition to teaching the timeless lessons of our Torah.

Rabbi Orlowek emphatically stated that parents must be very vigilant in protecting their vulnerable children from the immoral content of the Internet and other media venues. However, this defensive strategy only represents one component in our quest to raise observant, Torah-committed children in these challenging times. Moreover, the shelf life of this defensive shield is limited to the time when our children are young and primarily in the confines of our homes. Once they leave the shelter of our Torah homes, they will be extremely vulnerable to the temptations they will face if we have not successfully ‘filled’ them with a deep love of Torah and mitzvos.

I think that in the broadest sense, we ought to be thinking about fundamentally altering our mindset as it relates to the chinuch of our precious children. Those involved in kiruv (outreach) work fully understand that they need to spend a great deal of energy and time marketing their great ‘product’ or their prospective ‘customer’ may not be engaged enough to ‘buy in.’ With our own children, it often seems like we are mistakenly taking for granted they are lifelong customers — and therefore not spending enough time in the critical arena of ‘customer relations.’ We invest an enormous amount of time filling their minds and not nearly enough energy inspiring them and engaging their hearts.

When you think of it, what we really need are kiruv schools for our own children and a kiruv mindset in our own homes. As a wise mother once told me regarding the school experience of her children, “Rabbi Horowitz, my children need salesmen, not policemen.” In today’s climate, however, with so much pressure on schools to “cover ground” and with the exponentially increasing acceptance standards in our high schools, it is nearly impossible for our dedicated educators to find the time to market our Torah effectively to our children.

Rabbi Orlowek was expressing a profound thought in his analogy with the diabetic individual. For when our beloved children enter our schools in their formative years, we are in complete control of their environment. We monitor the spiritual intake of their neshamos — as we well ought to. However, we must always keep in mind that these dynamics will rapidly change, as our children grow older. Like it or not, ready or not, they will be thrust into a very challenging environment where their palates will be tempted by all sorts of appealing — and harmful — products. All we can do is hope and pray that we prepared them well with filling and nourishing meals when that time comes.

This was a direct quote from Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky Shlit’a who took precious time from his busy schedule and shared his da’as Torah with our listeners on Thursday night during the Project YES conference call titled, “Purim Parenting: Keeping Our Children Safe and Sober.”

I asked the Rosh Yeshiva to address this matter because many people who heard about our Purim program had asked me to clarify the words of our chazal (sages) “Chayav einish l’besumei be’puria ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” which loosely translated says, that one is obligated to drink [on Purim] until he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai.

“Chas v’shalom (Heaven forbid) that our Torah would consider getting drunk to be a mitzvah!” said Reb Shmuel. He explained that the word l’besumei is derived from the root word which means to sniff something – and said that this means that one should have only “a whiff” of drinking (wine only; he was clear to state).

The Rosh Yeshiva also shed light on the words “ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” and said that when one sings verses of a song when he is in a heightened state of simcha (joy) he occasionally will sing the verses in incorrect order – meaning that he will sing the verse of Arur Haman in the place of the verse of Baruch Mordechai. It is inconceivable, he stated, that this is to be taken to condone drunkenness – which is in direct contrast to the teachings of our Torah.

There were many other important take-away messages gleaned from the words of Reb Shmuel and from those of our two other guests, Dr. Benzion Twerski and Professor Lazer Rosman, and I plan on writing them in detail next week. But I feel an obligation to disseminate the words of Reb Shmuel Shlit’a today so parents and educators can discuss them with their children over Shabbos.

This is an important discussion, one that will help us enjoy Purim in a safe and enjoyable manner.

Blending Families
In Loving Memory of our Father, Reb Shlomo Nutovic a”h

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

These lines are written in loving memory of my dear father, Reb Shlomo Zev ben Reb Baruch Yehudah Nutovic a”h, whose first yahrtzeit is 7 Menachem Av. May the positive lessons learned from this essay be a zechus for his neshama. 

Nearly fifty years ago, our mother’s life was turned upside down with the sudden passing of our father one spring evening in 1963. Suddenly she was transformed from a happily-married young woman to the single parent of three children under the age of five. With the active support of both extended families, our amazing mother made it through those difficult years with incredible dignity and grace.

In the summer of 1965, she married Abba, as we called him, and for the next 46 years, built a beautiful home together in an environment of mutual respect, tranquility and joy. Abba had a son from a previous marriage, and in 1966 Hashem graced them with a daughter together – so our blended family had the quintessential “Yours, mine and ours.”

To their enormous and eternal credit, they raised three sets of children as one seamless family – so much so that people often could not tell which children “belonged” to whom. Over the years that Hashem granted them together, they were a source of strength to us during our challenging times, walked each of us to our respective chuppas, and celebrated the lifecycle events of our children and grandchildren.

When Abba passed away last summer, the three of us individually and collectively decided to honor him for his dedication to and involvement in our lives by tearing kriah at his funeral and observing shiva alongside our mother and our two siblings who were his biological children. We felt that since he never distinguished between the five of us, it was only fitting that we all honor him the same way: together.

Word of our decision spread and we each got positive feedback from friends and family – especially from members of blended families. With that backdrop, we thought it appropriate to record and share with the public our recollections of how our parents made their blended family a seamless nuclear unit in the hope that it will help others in similar circumstances. While some of these qualities are critical in any marriage, the fact that our parents achieved them despite the challenges of raising three sets of children is all the more remarkable and noteworthy.

As we collected and distilled our thoughts , the bedrock principles of their marriage (and indeed their lives) emerged clearly through our minds’ eyes – respect, tolerance, selflessness, emunahyashrusehrlichkeit and yishuv hada’as (faith, integrity, honesty and an overall sense of reflection/strategic planning in their decision making).

Abba and tlc”t our mother were so different in nature that one might have wondered how they ever met, let alone married and raised their families together. Abba was cerebral, reserved and proper; while tlc”t our mother is upbeat, funny, and spunky. Nonetheless, they navigated life’s ups and downs together in the most harmonious way. They genuinely respected each other and never disagreed in front of us. They modeled derech eretzin their reverential treatment of their parents during their golden years and in their interactions with all three extended families where we all attended each other’s lifecycle events, biologically connected or otherwise. They “kept” the Horowitz surname for the three of us, (which was not common practice at that time), and always encouraged us to maintain our close relationship with our father’s siblings and their families.

The term “step” child/parent/sibling was never used in our home and they both did their utmost to be even-handed, never distinguishing among their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren based upon which part of the family they came from. In fact, when Abba’s first biological grandchild was born, our mother remarked how happy she was for him now that he too reached this wonderful milestone in life, he remarked in all sincerity, “Dovid (born twelve years earlier) is my oldest grandchild!”

As we all reflect back with adult eyes, it is clear that everything our parents did was selfless and well thought out. Abba realized that kids never forget their birth parents and he very wisely never tried to “replace” our father. In fact, he encouraged us to respect and nurture the place our father held in our hearts and lives. Abba attended every one of the yahrtzeit gatherings held in memory of our father a”h, while our mother did not – out of respect for Abba. He drove us to our father’s grave on his yahrtzeit and even occasionally took us to the shul where our father davened to say kaddish so we would benefit from the affection our father’s friends showered on us.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the many bumps they each had in their lives, they were grateful, optimistic and full of thanks to Hashem who brought them together and gave them the fortitude to rebuild their lives. Abba’s material success later in life only magnified his humility and sense of responsibility to help others achieve self-sufficiency, which he valued so deeply. Abba was like the cars he drove; simple, rock-solid and reliable. In his low-key manner, he was extraordinarily generous to his children, extended family members and people in need. Though Abba very much appreciated his creature comforts, he and tlc”t our mother lived far below their means and nothing was ever done to impress others.

Our parents were not exempt from the shortcomings all humans experience, and of course, there are things we all wish we had done differently during our formative years. Nonetheless, our parents had both the wisdom and love to raise us as the unique individuals we are and to provide us with the stable and nurturing upbringing upon which we were able to build our own lives and families. Children could ask for no more.

Abba; Dvora, Reb Yehuda and I are forever grateful to you for providing our mother with the bedrock of support she so badly needed in her most vulnerable hour, for treating her with such extraordinary respect over the years, and for raising us as your own children.

I have no knowledge of the workings in Heaven and am always deeply suspicious of people who claim to, but I am quite confident that our father was the first to greet you in Gan Eden to thank you for taking such wonderful care of his three prized possessions.

May your memory forever be for a blessing. Yehi Zichrecha Baruch.

This essay was written with the active participation of my family; my mother Beile Ganz Nutovic; my siblings Isaac/Shifra Nutovic; Dvora/Chaim Ostreicher; Rabbi Yehuda/Etti Horowitz; Chantzie/ Volvie Rosenberg; and my wife Udi