Thursday, September 21, 2023

Parshas Haazinu 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Rosh Hashanah

29 Elul 5783/September 15, 2023


On the late afternoon of Erev Rosh Hashanah, I was in my kitchen busily taking care of last-minute things before Yom Tov. It was then that I glanced out the kitchen window and saw something that filled me with anxiety. I saw on the patio of the neighbor who lives behind us that the walls of his Succah were completely assembled.

I wanted to sue him for emotional damage. There I was trying to get ready for the imminent holiday, and he was already prepared for the holiday two weeks later.


I’ve noticed, mostly from personal experience, that umbrellas and raincoats are most likely to be forgotten when it stops raining after a person arrives at a temporary destination. Since it is no longer raining, he forgets that he brought the rain gear earlier, and leaves without it. It’s usually not until the next rainstorm that he realizes where he left it. At that point he’ll need to use spare rain gear to go out in the rain to retrieve his original rain gear. Hopefully it won’t stop raining while he’s at the place where he left the rain gear the first time.


There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon depicting Calvin declaring, “G-d put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die!”

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein notes that our lives are more like a basketball game than a baseball game. We don’t get three strikes before being called out. Our life clocks are constantly running. No one knows how much time is left, but everyone knows that there is a time limit.


On September 13, 2023, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Rosh Hashanah can change your life (even if you’re not Jewish).” The article references the unnerving words of Unesaneh Tokef in which we recount the tense awe of the day as we stand in judgement. We state unequivocally that on this day no one knows whether he will be slated to live or die in the coming year, or circumstances surrounding his life or death.

“You might think this morbid prospect would further decrease contentment, but it ends up having the opposite effect. Why? Because it forces us to focus on the things in life that actually bring us more happiness. Research by the Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen has shown that as we age, we move from caring most about our careers, status and material possessions to caring most about connecting with those we love, finding meaning in life and performing service to others.

“… But the particular brilliance of Rosh Hashana is that it combines thoughts of death with a new year’s focus on a fresh start. As work by the behavioral scientist Katy Milkman and her colleagues has shown, temporal landmarks like New Year’s Day offer an effective opportunity for a psychological reset. They allow us to separate ourselves from past failures and imperfections — a break that not only prods us to consider new directions in life but also helps us make any changes more effectively.”


Perhaps that’s part of the reason why it’s customary to daven at the graves of ancestors and righteous individuals before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Not only are we trying to invoke the merits of the departed, but we are also reminding ourselves of the finitude of life and the need to live up to our mission.


In hilchos Teshuvah (2:7) Rambam writes: “Yom Kippur is the time of teshuvah for all, both individuals and the community at large. It is the end of forgiveness and pardon for Yisroel. Accordingly, everyone is obligated to repent and confess on Yom Kippur.”

Rambam himself writes that a person can always do teshuva. What does he mean that Yom Kippur is the end of forgiveness and pardon?

On a simple level, Rambam is referring to the conclusion of the particularly auspicious time when all of Klal Yisroel is focused and engaged in teshuvah. It is the conclusion of “the season of teshuvah” when heaven grants added assistance to those who seek to rectify their past misdeeds.

Perhaps the Rambam is also helping us recognize the urgency of doing teshuvah. Often when something can be done tomorrow it keeps getting delayed. There is nothing that galvanizes people to act more than impending deadlines and imminent need.

Rambam wants us to feel that there is no time like the present to engage in personal teshuvah. Yom Kippur is a deadline of sorts, and we would be wise to take advantage of it.

We may not have to have our Succah up before Rosh Hashanah and we may not need an umbrella when the storm passes. But we can and should always live with a sense of mission, knowing how valuable every day is.

We don’t have to master all our shortcomings before the “Yom Kippur deadline”. We only have to make an earnest effort to begin the process.



Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Gut Yom Tov & G’mar Vachasima Tova,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Rosh Hashana 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Rosh Hashanah

29 Elul 5783/September 15, 2023



A couple of weeks ago, shortly before our son Shalom left to return to learn in Yerushalayim, he and I learned an essay from Alei Shur (Vol 2, p 415) together.

In that essay, Rav Wolbe discusses the punctilious individual judgement of Rosh Hashanah, when the fate of every being in creation for the coming year is decided.

Rav Wolbe notes that if a person would be asked why he does what he does he may answer that it’s what everyone else was doing or he just did what he was taught without giving it much thought. He observed Shabbos, put on tefillin each morning, and learned Torah each day because that’s what he always did and that’s what everyone around him does.

Rav Wolbe poignantly notes that a person must recognize his individuality, by pondering and recognizing his uniqueness. He needs to realize that Hashem judges him based on who he is, not based on what everyone else is doing.

Rav Wolbe then writes that it is vital for a person to spend time alone with his thoughts in order to “meet himself”. He adds that this is the greatest deficiency of Yeshiva students. They may have spent years learning at high levels, yet never had a moment alone with their own thoughts. The result is that they unwittingly forfeit their uniqueness and never realize personal development. “How shameful it is to see precious b’nei Torah who have no individuality, literally people without a history, where others dictate the trajectory of their entire lives. Hashem should protect us from such a path of life.”

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski is reunion for having made invaluable contributions to the Jewish community regarding mental health. Aside from being a popular lecturer, he authored 90 books.

He would note that he didn’t write 90 books but wrote one overarching message in 90 different ways. That message was about the importance of developing healthy self-esteem.

He relates that he first realized he was deficient in self-esteem when he was 38 years old.

“For three years, I had been director of a huge, 300 bed psychiatric facility with a very busy emergency room. If a nurse could not reach an attending doctor, I was called. Every other night I was on call to the emergency room. On a good night, I was awoken only five times; on a bad night, ten or more times.

“I had a vacation coming, and was desirous of getting away from an impossibly hectic situation. I sought a vacation spot that would allow me to do nothing other than vegetate. I wanted no sightseeing or activities. I finally decided on Hot Springs, Arkansas, which promised to allow me total rest.

“Having had low-back pain for years, I thought I would take advantage of the mineral-water baths, which were touted as producing miraculous results. I was taken into a tiny cubicle, and an attendant gave me two glasses of hot mineral water which was naturally heated deep in the earth. Then I was put into a tub of these magic waters, and the whirlpool was turned on.

“I felt I was in Paradise! No one could reach me - no patient, no nurse, no doctor, no family member, no social worker, no probation officer. And in this paradisical situation, I was bathing in nature's own hot-water. Who could ask for more?

“After about five minutes, I got up and said to the attendant, "That was wonderful! Just what I'd been hoping for."

“The attendant said, "Where are you going, sir?" I said, "Wherever the next part of the treatment is." The attendant said, "First you must stay in the whirlpool for 25 minutes."

“I returned to the bath, and after five minutes I said, "Look, I have to get out of here." The attendant said, "As you wish, but you cannot go on with the rest of the treatment."

“I did not wish to forego the treatment, so I returned to the tub for 15 minutes of purgatory. The hands on the clock on the wall did not seem to be moving.

“Later that day, I realized that I had a rude awakening. I had taken three years of constant stress without difficulty, but I could not take ten minutes of Paradise! Something was wrong.

“On return home I consulted a psychologist. He pointed out that if you asked people how they relaxed, one would say, "I read a good book," or "I listen to music," or "I do needlework," or "I play golf." Everyone tells you what they do to relax. However, relaxation is an absence of effort. One does not do anything to relax. What most people describe as relaxation is actually diversion. You divert you attention to the book, needlework or golf ball.

“Diversions are perfectly OK, but they are actually escapist techniques. Work and diversion are fairly healthy techniques. Unfortunately, some people escape into alcohol, drugs, food or gambling.

“In the cubicle at Hot Springs, I had no diversions: nothing to read, nothing to look at, nothing to listen to, no one to talk to, nothing to do. In absence of all diversions, I was left in immediate contact with myself. I could not remain there long because I didn't like the person I was with!”


My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quips, “I make sure to talk to myself every day. Often, it’s the only intelligent conversation I have all day.”

We often think teshuva requires taking on new resolutions and doing things we’ve never done before. But there’s a vital component of teshuva that requires one to search inward and take stock of how he has been conducting his life.

During the early 2000s during the second Arab intifada there was a spate of suicide bombings in Eretz Yisroel. Many Jewish communities in America, wanting to help in any way possible, began reciting a few chapters of Tehillim after davening each morning.

One American Rabbi recounted that his initial facetious thought was that we often daven three times a day without proper concentration. Now they began saying added chapters of Tehillim also without concentration. Perhaps it would be more ideal to work on improving something we already do - such as having more concentration when saying berachos, or working on our interpersonal relationships by making a more concerted effort to not speak loshon hora.

Parshas Netzovim is always read the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah. Most years it is coupled with Parshas Vayelech. Netzovim means to stand; Vayelech means to go. Both are integral components of teshuva. Improvement requires moving forward from where we have been. But it also entails “standing still”, pausing from the bustle of life to think about where one stands regarding his own aspirations, morals and responsibilities.

On Rosh Hashanah we are judged as individuals. It behooves us to get to know ourselves better so that we can appreciate our individuality and continue growing from within.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Shana Tova & Kesiva Vachasima Tova,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Parshas Nitzavim Vayeilech 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech

22 Elul 5783/September 8, 2023



I have been blessed to learn from many wonderful rebbeim in my life, each of whom has left an indelible impression upon me.

One of those rebbeim was my eleventh grade rebbe, Rabbi N. Aryeh Feuer. I loved his shiur. Aside from being engaging and challenging, Rabbi Feuer was somewhat unpredictable in shiur, saying funny or unexpected comments at any time. He once explained that he did that to keep our attention by keeping us on edge. I recently told Rabbi Feuer that I try to emulate that component of his teaching style with my own students.

But far more significantly, Rabbi Feuer is a quintessential student of Mesivta Chaim Berlin, a deep thinker who expresses lofty ideas with clarity.

The late Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Yitzchak Hunter, instilled in his students a sense of regality and pride in being one who studies Torah. For that reason, students of Rav Hutner are recognizably distinguished.

Rav Hutner was also known for his unparalleled ability to plumb the depths of any topic in Torah, and to mentally transport the listeners of his lectures into a different world. Particularly during or before Yomim Tovim, Rav Hunter shared deep ma’amarim (as the lectures were called) about the essence and depth of the Yom Tov and its endemic mitzvos.

His successor, who passed away last week, Rav Aharon Schechter, conducted the yeshiva in the same vein. The ma’amarim that Rav Aharon said before each Yom Tov were built upon the foundational concepts Rav Hutner taught.

Rabbi Feuer is a full-fledged student of Rav Aharon Schechter and Mesivta Chaim Berlin. His Gemara shiurim were methodically structured and detailed. But it was his Friday morning Chumash shiurim that really opened me up to the world of machshava. When Rabbi Feuer would frequently quote “the Rosh Yeshiva” he was referring to Rav Hutner, while “my rebbe”referred to Rav Aharon Schechter.

Rabbi Feuer introduced me to the writings of the Maharal, the seminal Torah thinker upon whom Rav Hutner’s approach is based. He also demonstrated how to view the lives of each of the Avos and Imahos, particularly the “worlds” of Rochel and Leah, as different but necessary components containing the building blocks of the Jewish People.


I only met Rav Aharon Schechter on a few occasions. But whenever I did, I was able to see the similarity between Rabbi Feuer’s presentation of Torah thoughts and that of his rebbe.

However, I did have one encounter with Rav Aharon Schechter a few years before I was a student of Rabbi Feuer.

When I was in eighth grade, I and a few classmates decided to publish a yearbook for our graduating class. I looked at some old yearbooks to view their content and get some ideas. I noticed that some yearbooks contained letters from Gedolim to the graduates. So, I wrote letters to a few of the Gedolim requesting written berachos for our class and mailed them to the addresses printed on top of their stationery.

A letter with writing on it

Description automatically generatedA few months later, I received a letter in the mail from Rav Aharon Schechter. It was written in Hebrew, and I had no idea what it said until my father translated it for me. I must admit that at the time I was disappointed with the letter because Rav Schechter addressed it to me personally, and therefore I couldn’t include it in our yearbook.

Over the years, however, it has become a treasured possession. In fact, I can recount the entire letter from memory, not because I tried to memorize it, but because I’ve read it so many times. With the rav Shechter’s passing last week, the letter is now invaluable.

In typical style, the letter contains an innovative idea, befitting a person of depth.

The following is my loose translation:

“26 Shevat 5754

To the precious young man, Doniel Alexander Staum,

From in between the lines of the letter that you wrote to me at the beginning of the winter, has risen the reiach (smell) of love for Torah that is absorbed in the soul of a precious young man.

The law is that on a beautiful smell that has a root one is obligated to recite a beracha. Therefore, it was hidden in my heart from then to send you alone my blessing that you continue in your ways, to proceed from loving Torah to toiling in it, so that it will be fulfilled in you (the words of the Gemara): “you have toiled and you have found (succeeded)”, to bring joy to your parents and the souls of all your friends. And along with you all your classmates will be blessed as well.

Aharon Moshe Schechter”

It is superfluous to write about how busy Rav Schechter was and how valuable his time was. The fact that he took the time to write a beautifully thought-out letter in his impeccable handwriting, to some kid from Monsey that he never met, who wanted a written blessing for his class for his yearbook, says a great deal about his greatness.

Whenever a tzaddik passes away it is a national loss and tragedy. Through Rabbi Feuer, Rav Aharon Schechter was also my “grand-rebbe”, my Rebbe’s Rebbe, and therefore the loss is more personal.

One of the many lifelong messages he personified was that understanding Torah requires depth and thought. We shouldn’t be satisfied with superficial knowledge or cursory understanding.

If only our society would heed that message.

May Hashem comfort all of Rav Schechter’s students and all of Klal Yisroel.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     



Thursday, August 31, 2023

Parshas Ki Savo 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Savo

15 Elul 5783/September 1, 2023



Last Sunday, our family went to Newark airport to see off our oldest child, our son Shalom, as he returns to learn in Yerushalayim. It’s the third year in a row that we have done so. Two days later, on Tuesday afternoon, we went back to Newark Airport to accompany our oldest daughter Aviva as she headed off to seminary.

This is the first time that we have sent two children to Eretz Yisroel for the year at the same time. A friend quipped that it must be so quiet in our home. That’s definitely not the case. We b”H have other children to compensate and then some.

The experience of accompanying a child to the airport before he/she leave for the year, evokes strong emotions. It also helped frame my role as a parent generally.

Throughout the last year, we discussed, contemplated, and explored options regarding which seminary would be best for Aviva. Over the course of the summer, we (“we” means my wife. I basically just tried to stay out of the way….) worked hard to ensure that Aviva had all she needs and feels prepared for the trip and the year abroad.

On the day of her flight, we loaded her luggage into the car and set off. When we arrived at the airport, we helped her bring her luggage inside. We waited on line with her until her luggage was checked in and then walked her to the beginning of the line for security check. Standing at the entrance of the security line was a TSA agent who only allowed the travelers to proceed. It was time to say goodbye.

As can be imagined, it was an emotional farewell. We watched Aviva proceed with anxious confidence, until she was out of view.

As I reflected on that experience afterwards, it dawned on me that it is a microcosmic analogy for parenting generally. During our children’s formative years, we invest incredible amounts of time, thought and energy into trying to direct our children along the proper path of life. There is a great deal of frustration along the way as we juggle available resources while trying to properly steer each child upon the path best suited for his growth.

Education is not merely about compliance. It’s more about helping our children develop their inner strengths and learn to deal with their deficiencies and challenges. The goal is that our children should one day be equipped to “go out into the world” with confidence. We want them to overcome the inevitable hurdles and vicissitudes that life presents along the way.

There’s comes a point, or different points in different ways, in which we parents are no longer able to proceed with our children. We can only stand back and watch them proceed on their own. At that point we can only hope we have helped them pack their luggage well and ensure that they have all the necessary documentation and paperwork to be successful.


On Friday night it is customary to recite the pesukim beginning with the words “v’shamru B’nei Yisroel” just prior to Shemoneh Esrei. The final word of those pesukim is “vayinafash - and He rested”.

The Gemara (Beitzah 16a) states that the word ‘vayinafash’ is a conglomerate of the words “vai avdah nefesh – woe, the soul has been lost.” It is a reference to the loss of the neshamah yesairah - the “added soul” that we are blessed with on Shabbos.

The Ba'al Shem Tov asks why we allude to the loss of the neshamah yesirah on Friday evening, moments after we merited its arrival with the advent of Shabbos?

 He answers that if we are aware when Shabbos arrives that the neshamah yesirah, is only a temporary gift, we will make a special effort to embrace it and take advantage of it throughout the holy day. We declare from the outset that the gift is temporary so we can utilize it properly.  

In a similar vein, wise parents recognize that the mandate, challenge and opportunity to be mechanech their children don’t last forever. Surely the role of a parent is always invaluable, but the role changes with time. If we are aware from the outset that there is a time limit to our mission, it helps us maintain the sense of vision and direction that we so easily became distracted from.

Our prayer, and the prayer of every parent, is that our children be able to eventually leave the secure confines of our home, knowing that we helped them pack their proverbial bags for the journey ahead.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum