Thursday, December 28, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi
11 Teves 5778/December 29, 2017

During one of my visits to Eretz Yisroel a few years ago, I was getting ready to shave before Shabbos. Although my shaver was wired for American outlets, I had purchased a bunch of converters that would enable my devices to work in Israeli outlets as well. I plugged the shaver into the converter, which I then plugged into the outlet. As soon as I turned it on, I heard a pop and saw a bit of smoke. I had clearly blown the fuse.
It reminded me of a more dramatic story about “outlet woes” that I once read. Shortly after their marriage, Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, and his wife, Rebbitzin Pessie, moved from New York to the village of Mir in Europe, so Rav Scheinberg could attend the famed Yeshiva there. (This was before World War II when traveling from New York to Europe to learn Torah was virtually unheard of.)
During her first week there, Rebbitzin Scheinberg plugged the hairdryer she had brought from home, and blew the power... in the entire village!
(As an aside, it’s worth taking a moment to marvel at the self-sacrifice of Rebbitzin Scheinberg a”h for the sake of her husband’s Torah learning. She gave up the standard comforts of New York, to move to prewar Europe, where they didn’t even have indoor plumbing.)
I’m far from being an electrician, in fact, I can hardly do more than change a lightbulb. However, I understand that if a plug’s wattage is not matched up to the wattage in the outlet, it won’t work.
In his book “The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 secrets to turning on the tuned-out child”, Rick Lavoie explains why some children (and adults) seem to be unmotivated. The core issue may be a lack of understanding of “what makes the child tick”, particularly if his motivation differs from that of his parents and/or teachers.
There are eight forces of motivation: gregariousness, autonomy, status, inquisitiveness, aggression, power, recognition, and affiliation. Lavoie explains in detail the character traits and personality associated with each type of motivator. This this is surely not an exact science, because no one fits perfectly into any one category. However, understanding patterns helps us understand inner workings, and grant much insight into how we can best motivate a child (and ourselves).
Why is this concept so important? Very often a parent, teacher, (or employer), may struggle to understand why there is a seeming disconnect between him/her and a specific child (or employee). At times, it may be a matter of undertaking how the child’s motivation differs from the educators.
A plug can only draw energy if it is compatible with the outlet. If not, an electrician may be able to adjust the wattage by altering wires (or whatever they do when they play with the wires behind the wall, as it appears to this ignorant writer).
As educators, we often need to adjust our own perspective and understanding about what motivates our children. Sometimes it’s a matter of recognizing that the child is not unmotivated, as much as he is motivated in a different way than we are.
Changing the wiring isn’t easy, but it can be done with patience and expertise. The alternative of just letting things remain as they are, can result in blowing the fuse.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
4 Teves 5778/December 22, 2017

As I was preparing the wicks and oil for the menorah during one of the mornings of Chanukah, our four-year-old son, Dovid, commented that he would like to light with oil too. I replied that when he becomes an Abba, he’ll light with oil. He replied emphatically, “I don’t want to be an Abba; I want to be a superhero!” I asked him why he was so sure that I wasn’t a superhero besides being an Abba. He looked at me quizzically, and then wisely decided not to reply.
That conversation led me to think about what makes someone a superhero. Is it about wearing clothing that’s three sizes too small and seems to be glued onto the superhero’s body? After eight days of consuming latkes and donuts, my pants are definitely starting to feel that way.
If a superhero is defined by having superhuman and unnatural abilities, then I would venture to say that not only am I not a superhero, but that genre of superheroes is about as real as the tooth-fairy. (If you still believe in the tooth-fairy, then don’t discard your delusions of Superman being able to fly and having x-ray vision either).
But perhaps a superhero isn’t about having unnatural abilities, as much as it is about pushing oneself beyond normal limits. Maybe it’s not about being born gifted, as much as it is about living one’s life as if he’s a gift for others!
If that’s the case, then, although there aren’t many, we do have some superheroes around, who we can emulate and aspire to be like.
Last week, the Jewish people lost a superhero. Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman zt’l lived a physically meager, yet highly spiritually enriched life. He sought no honor or accolades, in fact he disparaged them, and requested in his will that none be accorded him after his passing. He had no desire for money or physical comfort, yet found immense joy in Torah study and serving Hashem. His door was open to the hundreds and thousands who sought his advice and blessing, and he never took a penny for that selfless service.
He may not have flown over the city fighting crime by beating up bad guys, but he sure soared above the world, spreading light and love, by building thousands of good guys.
The truth is that we don’t have to be Rav Shteinman to be heroes. The more selflessly we act for the betterment of others, the more we became a greater superhero.
The Torah relates that performing the mitzvah of caring for the dead (ritually purifying the body, and ensuring proper burial according to Halacha) is called “kindness of truth”. This is because it is an absolutely thankless job. When it’s completed, the recipients of this arduous mitzvah are unable to express their immense gratitude for the kindness performed for them. The members of this holy group (aptly called the “Chevra Kadisha”) are on call at all times, and perform their holy work modestly and completely out of the limelight.
Are they not true superheroes?!
Those who build others selflessly are the ones who keep our world going. This includes our educators and, in fact, every parent who is there for his/her children at all hours of the day or night, for anything they might need. The fact that parents are partially responsible for their children coming into the world does not minimize the heroics they display in caring and loving them constantly.
So, Dovid, aside for the fact that at the present moment I am wearing clothing that may be too tight (let the post-Chanukah diet begin!), I strive to be your superhero (second only to your super-mommy), and you are one of my super Chanukah gifts!
I daven, and am confident, that when the time comes that you are an Abba and lighting Chanukah candles with oil, you too will be the superhero for your children.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz
3rd day of Chanukah
Mevorchim Chodesh Teves  
27 Kislev 5778/December 15, 2017

This week, one of the non-Jewish teachers in Yeshiva related that he is surprised that there were regular general studies classes during Chanukah. He noted that generally during Jewish holidays, there is no school at all, and all Jewish businesses are closed. So why would Chanukah be different?
The truth is, that it’s not only a non-Jewish teacher who had this question. Many of my students in both schools that I am privileged to be a part of, have voiced, many rather vociferously, how bothered they are by the fact that we have classes on Chanukah. Some complain that it dampers the holiday spirit, while others use the religious complaint - how can we have general studies classes on Chanukah? When I ask those students what they would be doing if we didn’t have classes, most smile and admit that they would be ‘chilling’, but reassure me that it’s only because they need to do so to put themselves in the proper mindset, so they can fulfill the mitzvah of lighting properly.
I know of one Yeshiva which gave off from general studies classes during Chanukah. It was at the request of the students who fulfilled their pledge to utilize that time to learn Torah! That actually makes some sense!
I must admit that I do understand my students, because I had the same complaint when I was a student. I couldn’t stand having a regular day of school during Chanukah.
However, understanding why we go about our regular lives during Chanukah, is fundamental to understanding the essence of this most unique and elevating holiday.
The Bais Yosef asks why Chanukah is an eight-day holiday, and not seven days? If they had enough oil to light the menorah for one day, then the miracle was only for seven days?
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l proposed that we have an extra day on Chanukah to celebrate nature itself. After celebrating for seven days that an insufficient amount of oil could remain burning for seven days beyond its natural capacity, we celebrate the fact that oil burns ever. On Chanukah we remind ourselves that nature is a pseudonym for Hashem, that what we call natural is really supernatural, only we get used to it and fail to appreciate the miracles of nature.
Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman made the following observation: “Imagine if we woke up one morning and all the chickens were laying oranges, and eggs were growing on trees. Wouldn’t we all be in wonder and shock at the incredible phenomenon taking place?
So just because it’s the other way around, should we not be in absolute wonder and shock over the incredible miracle that eggs emerge from chickens, and oranges grow on trees?”
During Shabbos, and all of the major holidays of the year, we are transported into a different reality. We don’t do melacha, spend the day in the company of family and friends, and bask in the embrace of Hashem with special tefillos and mitzvos. It’s not a life that we could uphold in our current reality. It is in fact a portentous glimpse into the utopian world of the future. During those holy days we live an unnatural, superior existence.
On Chanukah however, life goes on as normal. We head off to work and to school and go about our regular mundane lives. It’s a regular day, but it’s not!
The days of Chanukah elevate our normal routines, and create a sense of holiness in our natural lives. We recite hallel in the morning, recite al hanisim in davening and bentching, and, of course, light the menorah. We focus on the things we should be grateful for, the miracles we take for granted every day, which include our natural abilities, our beating heart, our communities, and the freedom to be Torah observant. For eight days and nights we live our regular lives, but on a higher and more spiritually minded plane. And when it’s over, we are hopefully inspired enough to take those emotions and gratitudes with us to light and warm the cold and dark winter.
Chanukah is a weekday holiday in the sense that it elevates the weak-days, strengthening them and us.
Well, maybe not completely natural - my sister complained that at work this week, all day long her shaitel smelled like latkes. I’m not sure why she was complaining - sounds (or smells) good to me!

Lichtig & Freilichen Chanukah/Orot Sameiach
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev  
20 Kislev 5778/December 8, 2017

On November 9, in Heichal HaTorah, a group of students made a small model graffitied wall, symbolic of the Berlin Wall, which divided West and East Germany for decades. Then, in commemoration of “Berlin Wall Day”, the anniversary of the day when the Berlin War was dismantled on that day in 1989, they broke down their makeshift wall.
The dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 came shortly after President Ronald Reagan’s famous quip to the Russian president: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The wall’s destruction was symbolic of the imminent downfall of what was dubbed the ‘evil empire’ and the Iron Curtain. Berliners used crowbars and chisels to tear down the wall built by the communist hammer and sickle. Families were reunified after decades of forced separation, and it was a great victory for democracy, with implications the world over.
Not all walls are detrimental however, and dismantling of walls is not always cause for celebration. Nebuchadnezzar also proclaimed, “Tear down this wall” before his legions destroyed the walls surrounding Yerushalayim and the first Bais Hamikdash in 422 B.C.E. That same call was made by the wicked Titus when his Roman forces arrived to destroy the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 C.E.
When I was in Eretz Yisroel with my son Shalom a couple of years ago, we had the opportunity to head up north for a day. We drove from Yerushalayim toward the Galil alongside the Jordanian border. Along the entire length of the shared border there is a fence, and alongside the fence is sand, so that footprints can be easily detected. The entire perimeter of the fence is under 24-hour surveillance, to protect against enemy infiltration. It’s incredible how much security and vigilance is necessary along the border of a (relatively) peaceful neighbor.
On a metaphysical level, the Jewish people erect spiritual boundaries between ourselves and the rest of the world. As we transition from the holiness of Shabbos to the weekdays each Motzei Shabbos, we bless Hashem “who separates between holy and unholy, between light and darkness, between Yisroel and the nations…” As the wicked Bila’am admiringly declared, “Behold! They are a nation that dwells in solitude!”
Those divisional boundaries do not convey a lack of respect for everyone else. It’s no different than the walls and doors of our homes which preserve and ensure privacy, but are in no way an affront to our neighbors.
One of the most important protective barriers we erect are those of morality. The Shulchan Aruch mandates that we maintain certain boundaries between genders, such as the laws of yichud and negiah, aside for the laws of family purity within the privacy of our own homes. Any thinking person realizes that those laws do not denigrate women, but in fact accomplish the reverse. They are there to prevent the objectification of women, and to ensure that women are respected for who they are, not merely for how they look.   
During the time of Syrian-Greek oppression, prior to the Maccabean revolt and the Chanukah miracles, Antiochus IV, created an all-out assault against Jewish morality and family purity. Doors were forcibly removed from homes, violating the very concept of family privacy and modesty, circumcision, the symbol of self-control, was banned, and brides were forced to be violated by the local governor prior to their wedding. It was an egregious breach of the very foundation of our national holiness.
In Maoz Tzur we state that the Greeks “breached the walls of my towers”, a reference to the breaches they inflicted in the walls of modesty we try so hard to erect around ourselves. The celebration of Chanukah therefore, is also a celebration and rededication to the laws which ensure morality and family purity.
In recent weeks, the American public has been stunned by the numerous accusations leveled by women against powerful and well-known moguls and famous personalities. The careers of the accused have been destroyed by the publicizing of the shameful and denigrating acts they committed against those women.
As we celebrate the beautiful Yom Tov of Chanukah, it’s an opportunity to emphasize to our children, and remind ourselves, that the laws of the Torah are there for our growth and greatness. Perhaps the Western World isn’t going to adhere to the laws of yichud and prohibition of negiah, but with all that’s going on, at least we should have an appreciation for the spiritual fences we invest so much in to maintain.  

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Lichtig & Freilichen Chanukah/Orot Sameiach,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum