Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh/Zachor

12 Adar 5770/February 26, 2010

Do you know what our problem is? We talk too much! We do too much yakking and gossiping, and not enough listening. This leads to a pervasive feeling that we hear too many lectures and speeches.

Rabbi Leibel Reznick shlita, a beloved Rebbe from my days in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, conveyed all his lessons in a unique and witty manner. He began one particular address to the yeshiva’s student-body, by stressing that it was important for each student to recite a brief Torah thought to his family at his Shabbos table each week. In his words, “A yeshiva student arrives home for Shabbos after a week in yeshiva and his parents ask him what he learned that week. The invariable response is “nothing”. He comes home in ninth grade, tenth grade, eleventh grade, and twelfth grade and the response never changes. “What did you learn?” “Nothing”. It costs a lot of money for a parent to send their child to yeshiva to learn ‘nothing’. [At that point Rabbi Reznick turned to the Rosh Yeshiva and asked him how much tuition cost in the yeshiva.] So therefore you have to say over a short Torah thought at the Shabbos table so your parents don’t feel like they are wasting their money completely. It can’t be too short because then you sound ignorant. But it shouldn’t be too long either because then it becomes a speech, and nobody likes speeches. I’m only giving a speech now because the yeshiva hired me to do so.”

The gemara (Shabbos 152a) says that Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai was the ‘lead speaker at every occasion.’ My Rebbi, Rabbi Chaim Schabes shlita, once told me that there is an old humorous explanation as to why it was specifically Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai who was granted the distinction of being the lead speaker. In the haggadah shel Pesach, after we recite the ten plagues, we state that Rabbi Yehuda (bar Ilai) devised an acronym for the plagues – D’tzach Adash B’achav. When the people saw that Rabbi Yehuda was an ‘abbreviator’ they decided that he should be the lead speaker.

I recently heard another similar thought: If G-d wanted to destroy the resolve and moral of Egypt during the Ten Plagues, why wasn’t ‘speeches’ one of the plagues? After all, there’s nothing like a long boring monotonous speech to wear down the resistance of even the fiercest despot?

The answer is that our Sages relate that we had to have been redeemed when we did, for if we had lingered in Egypt for even one more moment we would have sunk into the abyss of the fiftieth level of impurity, from which there could be no return. If one of the plagues would have been a long-winded speech, there is always the danger that the speaker would have spoken beyond the allotted time of the plague and the redemption would have been delayed, causing an irrevocable catastrophe!

At one of the Sheva Berachos meals after our wedding, our family friend, R’ Avi Weinberg, noted that Sheva Berachos speeches are an encouragement and chizuk to the eventuality of Moshiach’s arrival. He explained that very often a speaker will drone on and on, causing people to think that he will never finish. But at some point, he eventually does conclude his speech, and dessert is served. That helps strengthen our belief that even though at times we feel like the long-winded exile will never end, eventually Moshiach will indeed arrive.

The holiday of Purim itself does not leave much time for speeches and lectures. The fleeting day contains so many mitzvos that must be performed, so much love and friendship to exude, and so many smiles to share that there is hardly any time for speeches. Perhaps that too is part of the reason why the day is so joyous.

But lest we celebrate too much, the holiday of Pesach is right around the corner, and if you’re not ready to listen to lectures about how to proceed, well then you’re going to feel like you never left Egypt.

But hey look at the bright side, if the speaker goes overtime, it’ll be a chizuk that we too will one day be redeemed.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,


R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parshas Terumah 5770

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah

5 Adar 5770/February 19, 2010

One night a few weeks ago, one of our children had a cold and was coughing. Before they went to sleep I picked up the humidifier in order to fill it up with water. As soon as I lifted it I heard the unmistakable sound of clinking coins. When I tried to get them out I realized that they had been inserted into the compartment which housed the motor and the humidifier was more or less useless. When I asked my two older children how the coins had gotten in there, they both replied curtly, “Avi!” Apparently, two-year old Avi decided that the little horizontal spaces from which the humidifier’s vapor blows looked like a pushka. Avi concluded that the humidifier was a wonderful cause worthy of charity and so he promptly contributed to it all the coins he found. How ironic that we couldn’t even use those coins to buy a new humidifier.

The Shulchan Aruch teaches that there is a hierarchy of priorities that one should consider when giving charity. Of course any charity that one gives is a great mitzvah, but there are certain organizations and needs that should take precedence over others.

A few weeks ago, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch, where I have the privilege to serve as the yeshiva’s Social Worker had the distinct pleasure and merit of being graced with a brief visit by Harav Yaakov Hillel shlita.

As he was preparing to leave, Rabbi Hillel related a profound anecdote from the Chofetz Chaim. A collector for a reputable Torah institution once came to the Chofetz Chaim very downtrodden. “Rebbe, I spend my days knocking on doors trying to explain the great merit of assisting a yeshiva and the extreme importance of the yeshiva. Often doors slammed in my face, I am cursed at, spit at, and humiliated. Last week, a secular fellow came to town collecting for an organization completely antithetical to Torah values. Within one day he collected more money than I receive in three months and he moved on to the next town. Why does he make his money so easily while I have to suffer so much?”

The Chofetz Chaim replied, “You see G-d doesn’t want that person circulating the town promulgating his negative ideas and organization, so He ensures that he receive his money and get out as quickly as possible. But you are promoting a yeshiva. Even when doors are slammed in your face and people scorn you, the bottom line is they are still being exposed to the concept of supporting a yeshiva. That is a message that G-d wants others to hear, and so He arranges that you are around for much longer.”

Rabbi Hillel concluded, “At times people ask me why I have to come to America and leave my yeshiva in Yerushalayim to raise a million dollars a month. I tell them that it is because G-d wants others to hear about the yeshiva and to have the opportunity to take part in its holy work.”

This morning a friend of mine related the following classic anecdote: One morning, a collector met the great philanthropist Baron Mayer Anschel de Rothschild, as the Baron was rushing out of his home. When the collector stretched out his hand, the Baron replied that he was busy and the collector should return later. The collector replied, “Would you allow me to at least say one word to you?” The Baron stopped, “yes you can say one word.” The collector bowed slightly and said, “Gemara!”

“What is the meaning of that?” “It’s an acronym, for “Git Morgen Reb Anschel (Good Morning Reb Anschel).”

The Baron smiled and nodded. “Now that I see you appreciated the word, can I tell you one more word?”

Curiosity overcame him and the Baron motioned for him to continue, whereupon the collector repeated the same word, “Gemara!”

When the Baron looked at him quizzically he explained that it too was an acronym for, “Gebb ma’os Reb Anschel (Give money Reb Anschel)”

Impressed with the man’s wit, Reb Anschel reached into his pocket and handed the collector a few coins. The collector thanked him and then asked to say one more word, again repeating “Gemara!”

“What is it this time?” “Geb merr Reb Anschel (Give more Reb Anschel).”

Someone once said, “Don’t give until it hurts; give until it feels good!” I would add that we must also be careful of who we are giving to. We have to make sure we are prioritizing our charity so that we can get the best bang for our buck!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim 5770

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim

28 Shevat 5770/February 12, 2010

Did you ever try to look for your glasses without your glasses on?

This past Shabbos afternoon as I was walking to shul, a cold wind was blowing. I pulled my scarf over my nose and mouth, which caused my glasses to fog up. So - as I have done numerous times in the past – taking advantage of the eiruv, I took off my glasses and placed them in my coat pocket, at least that’s what I thought I did. To my chagrin when I arrived in shul and stuck my hand into my coat pocket to retrieve my glasses, I realized that my glasses were not there. After Mincha I hurriedly retraced my steps in the hope that I would find my glasses where I had taken them off my face. Unfortunately my efforts proved futile.

[For those who remember their days in school when you would forget something, such as your glasses, homework, or a pen, the teacher invariably replied, “Did you forget your pants?” I should mention for all you scoffers that on Sunday morning when I sat down in my car to head off to shul, I realized that I had accidentally put on my Shabbos suit pants, so in a sense I did forget my pants…]

Is there a lesson to be gleaned from my experience (aside from the obvious lesson that I shouldn’t be such a klutz)?

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita, would relate that when Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l was elderly he once informed his family that he planned to travel from Frankfurt (where he lived) to Switzerland to see the Swiss Alps. He explained that he wanted to make sure that after he leaves this world and G-d asks him, “Shimshi did you see my Alps?” he would be able to answer affirmatively.

The point of the anecdote is to remind us that when we view G-d’s world it should fill us with love and awe for its Creator, and we should never take its beauty for granted. But there are those who draw the wrong idea from such a story. The man who hears the story, comes home and tells his wife that they have to go on an exotic vacation, has missed the point.

Rabbi Hirsch was a Torah leader of unparalleled acumen and insight. When he left this world the only ‘complaint’ that the celestial courts would have against him was that he didn’t see the Alps when he had the opportunity. However, for most of us, the questions we will be asked will be far different. “Did you see my Tractate Arachin or Niddah? (Did you even know there is a tractate Arachin?)”

There are those who feel that there should be a greater emphasis devoted to studying the esoteric works of kabbala. “After all”, they argue, “we have an obligation to study every facet of Torah, and kabbala is an integral part of Torah!”

This is analogous to a tenth grader who gets a job helping out in the office of a prominent and renowned biochemist. One day the biochemist walks into his office to find the youngster tinkering with powerful compounds and formulas. “What in the world do you think you’re doing?” he screams as he rushes in to grab away the tubes from the adolescent. “What’s the big deal? I took chemistry this year and got an A.” The biochemist looks at him angrily, “You must be joking! You hardly know the most rudimentary basics. Perhaps after ten years of intense study, when you have mastered the most advanced levels of biology and chemistry, you can begin to watch others mix these powerful compounds.”

The holy kabbalists themselves warn that one who has not mastered all facets of Torah should not be meddling in the study of Kaballah. All of Kaballah is written in a code-like language of its own, and one who reads kaballah at face value can find many concepts blasphemous.

It is true that we have an obligation to strive to master the entire Torah, but we must follow the protocol of our sages. For the majority of us, the revealed Torah is vast enough to keep us busy for a couple of lifetimes. One who studies kaballah before he is ready, is trying to understand the intricacies and mysteries of the inner workings of the cosmos, without the proper glasses to help him see what he is looking for!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos/ Good Chodesh,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Parshas Yisro 5770

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro

21 Shevat 5770/February 5, 2010

Before proceeding to read this week’s musings, the reader must be familiar with some rudimentary Yiddish: “Shvigger” means mother-in-law (it is important to realize that the word ‘shvigger’ has many overtones and symbolisms, not the least of which are the myriad ‘shvigger jokes’); “Shver” means father-in-law. It also means difficult or complicated (not that there’s any connection between the two meanings…)

Last week, our friends, Rabbi Yisroel and Rivka Bodkins, married off their oldest daughter. The morning after the wedding I texted R’ Yisroel, “So what’s it like to be married to a shvigger?” His witty one word response was great, “Shver!”

Parshas Yisro is often referred to as a ‘shverer parsha’. Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe joins Klal Yisroel and is overjoyed by the salvations and accomplishments that the nation has merited under his son-in-law’s leadership. [A friend of mine often wondered why we are never introduced to Moshe’s mother-in-law….]

Although many commentators struggle to understand why the Torah’s account about Yisro giving advice to Moshe is written just prior to the Torahs’ description of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, my father-in-law does not think it’s strange at all. In fact, he feels it’s extremely apropos.

At my afruf the Shabbos before our wedding, Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer shlita (the then Rabbi of Kehillas Bais Avrohom) noted to my (future) father-in-law that a choson (groom) and kallah (bride) officially are only granted that title from their wedding until the conclusion of the week of Sheva Berachos. [Although people refer to an engaged couple as choson and kallah, as far as halacha is concerned their exalted status is limited to that week.] However, there is one exception. In regards to one’s in laws one always remains a choson and kallah, for in Biblical vernacular a son-in-law is called a choson, and a daughter-in-law a kallah.

Perhaps this can be best understood in light of the following beautiful thought from Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch (Bereishis 19:12): “The Jewish bridegroom loves his bride, the kallah so dearly because in her he is bringing to his parental home a worthy beloved daughter, the “crown” of the parental home. The Jewish bride loves her bridegroom, the choson, so dearly because she finds in him the spirit of her parental home, and knows her parents’ satisfaction with his outlook on life and his aims. Thus, the harmonious agreement between the two families is dependent on the parents. They are the rocklike foundation on which their children rest, their guarantee that the parents will find their own loving life repeated in that of their children.”

The noted badchan, Rabbi Yankel Miller, quips that he was always taught that one must always show more respect to his wife than to himself. He cited the following example to demonstrate how he is careful to adhere to this cardinal obligation: “I make sure to show more respect to my wife’s shver and shvigger than to my own shver and shvigger.”

When writing about such a topic I must share a personal sentiment. From the day I entered his family, my father-in-law always told me that he wanted to be a father to me, not a father-in-law. Although no one can ever reach the level of love and closeness that a child has for his parents (except parents themselves), I have been blessed with in-laws that have come as close as possible.

And no that line is not from a Hallmark card!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum