Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Sisa
15 Adar 5778/March 2, 2018

Last Friday, as President Trump took the podium at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he noticed his own reflection on television, and remarked that he would love to hear that guy speak. He then turned around began fixing his hair, and announced: “I try… to hide that bald spot, folks, I work hard at it. We’re hanging in there folks – together we are hanging in.”
With that, he began his talk about more trivial matters, like politics and what he was really invited for.
In other news this week, Union College in Schenectady, NY, claims to have found a lock of George Washington’s hair inside a “long-forgotten book.” The book – a leather bound almanac - is believed to have been owned by Philip J. Schuyler, son of General Philip Schuyler, who was a close friend of George Washington, and served under him during the Revolutionary War.
The school says it is unsure how the almanac with the lock of hair inside ended up in their archives.
Hearing the two stories this week gave me an epiphany. I think President Trump should purchase the lock of Washington’s hair, and use it to cover his bald spot. Not only would it cover his scalp, but he would be able to brag about the symbolism of his wearing the hair of the first president and leader of the United States. He would just have to dye the hair blond from its famous (natural) white color. 
A Jewish comedian opined that the Jewish custom of men wearing yarmulkas came about because of paternal baldness. Some Jews were embarrassed by their bald spots, so they covered it with a cloth. It caught on, and before long, all the Jewish men were wearing these hip ‘baldness covers’. It was the first Jewish innovation, even before the Shabbos Lamp, and the Shayne Coat.  
Chazal maintain a negative view towards one spending time fixing his hair. When the Torah refers to Yosef Hatzaddik as a ‘na’ar - youth’, Rashi explains that it is in a negative connotation because he was too interested in his hair. Although he did so with noble intentions, reasoning that as a son of the great Yaakov Avinu he had to look presentable and dignified, it was too much, unbecoming of someone of Yosef’s stature.
The truth is that the word yarmulka is a contraction of two Aramaic words – “Yarei Malka – Fear of the King.” A Jew lives with the realization that he is always in the presence of the King of kings, and lives his life based on certain expectations. The yarmulke is a constant reminder of his mission and higher calling in life.
When the evil Haman presented his plan to Achashverosh to solve the Jewish Problem through mass genocide, he preempted every possible rational argument about why it couldn’t be done. The gemara says that Haman reasoned to Achashverosh that killing all the Jews wouldn’t cause “a bald spot” within the kingdom, because the Jews are scattered and spread out throughout the one-hundred-and-twenty-seven countries that comprised his kingdom.
Part of Haman’s intention was to so frighten the Jews, that they would be completely paralyzed by fear and unable to respond. His intentions were foiled when the nation rallied under the call of Esther to Mordechai to, “go and gather all of the Jews”. Not only were they not paralyzed, but Haman was unwittingly responsible for the greatest mobilization of Jewish prayer and unity in history.
Ironically, the one who was destroyed by panic was Haman. When he approached Achashverosh in the middle of the night to garner permission to hang Mordechai, at that moment he was at the top of the world. From there onwards, the events completely unraveled for him at such a dizzying pace that he was never able to catch his breath. A few hours later he was leading his archenemy through the streets. By the time it was over, his daughter was dead, and he smelled putrid. He was rushed off to the party, where Esther pointed out his culpability. Achashverosh’s anger kept rising, until he lost his temper, and Haman was carted off to the gallows, literally without having a moment to think about what happened.
Haman claimed that killing the Jews would not create a bald spot because they are so scattered and diverse. The truth was that there was no bald spot because they bound together, internalizing the message of the yarmulkas perched upon their heads – symbolizing that there is a power stronger than Haman and Achashverosh.
The love and connection which they felt at the time of the miracle, returns to us every Purim. It is a holiday which unifies every Jew in love and friendship. At least for one day, we remove the masks of enmity and divisiveness which we often wear. We drown our emphatic opinions and hard-held beliefs, intoxicating ourselves with love and emotions that overcome all barriers.
Shoshanas Yaakov – the Rose of Yaakov, with its multihued resplendent colors, comes together, with the joy of seeing the techelies, the tzitzis of Mordechai, as they peeked out from beneath the royal robes as he was being led through the streets of Shushan by Haman.
On Purim we recapture our pride in our tzitzis and yarmulkas, and the modest dress of Jewish women. The world will never be “bald of Jews”, for we will always wear our yarmulkas perched proudly upon our heads.
That powerful message resonates long after the physical holiday of Purim has reached its happy conclusion.

Purim Sameiach & Freilichen Purim
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
              R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, February 22, 2018



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh
8 Adar 5778/February 23, 2018
Parshas Zachor

In case, you are afraid that the honor and respect conferred upon rabbis goes to their heads, rest assured that rabbis have a built-in ‘humility promoter’. They are called sermon snoozers. Most of them seem to sit in the front row.
I should add that many rabbis have other humility builders as well, which include, but are not limited to, the shul president, a bored board of directors, and salary discussions. I personally am blessed not to know of such humility-builders in our shul.
A rabbinical colleague related that he feels there is great purpose served in the five-minute speech he delivers on Friday evenings, following Kabbolas Shabbos. In his words, “either my congregants hear a nice Torah thought based on the parsha, which they can repeat at their Shabbos table, or they get a brief power nap, which gives them energy so that they not fall asleep on their family during their Shabbos meal”.
It’s fascinating that everyone seems to feel tired on Friday night during the short speech, no matter if it’s 5 p.m. during the winter, or 8 p.m. during the summer.
I remember one particular Friday night when I was speaking in a certain shul to a relatively small crowd, and I was pretty sure that the entire audience had dozed off. I was tempted to test it out by interjecting some gibberish, to see if the assemblage would continue their subconscious head-bobbing and nodding. But I wasn’t sue if one particular person was listening, despite the fact that his eyes were closed, so I desisted.
Rabbi Zev Leff recounts that on one occasion, a congregant approached him on Sunday morning to tell him that the rabbis’s Shabbos sermon had kept him up all night on Motzei Shabbos.
Rabbi Leff continued that before he had a chance to start feeling impressed with the poignancy of his own words, the man explained that he always has a hard time falling asleep at night when he slept during the day. The sermon had provided him with just that opportunity.
My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that he once had a congregant who consistently slept through his derashos. As soon as Rabbi Wein mounted the podium the man closed his eyes and slept until the derasha ended. [I find it encouraging to know that even a noted and talented speaker like Rabbi Wein has snoozers.]
Then, one Shabbos Rabbi Wein walked up at the pulpit to make a brief announcement, and then went back to his seat. That week the man slept through mussaf. Rabbi Wein added that the man was angry at him afterwards, because he was convinced that he did it on purpose.
A rabbi once told me that in his experience it seems that women seem to behave in the opposite manner during shul speeches. Through the Mechitza, he coul tell that the women are locked in, listening to every word.
He added that he always wanted to have the women sit up front during the derasha, while the men more comfortably dozed off behind the mechitza.
Over time I have come to learn that not everyone who appears to be sleeping truly is. There are individuals who listen with their eyes closed. The majority of sleepers really want and try to listen at the beginning, even as fatigue gets the better of them.
When they get home, if anyone at their Shabbos table asks what the rabbi spoke about, they’ll answer “about twenty minutes” or “about the parsha”, and then quickly change the topic.
Before the miracles of Purim occurred, the Jewish people seemed to have slipped into a national spiritual fatigue. It wasn’t that they weren’t serving G-d or performing the mitzvos, it was more that they were doing so on autopilot, as a matter of obligation and emotionless rote.
The Purim miracle served to jumpstart the nation emotionally. It reignited their collective inner spark and brought back a feeling of pride to be the bearers of the Torah.
Shlomo Hamelech states in Shur Hashirim “I am asleep, but my heart is awake. The voice of my beloved is knocking. Open for me my sister, my friend, my dove, my perfect one...”
Inspiration knocks periodically, but we must be willing to open the door to allow it in. That is accomplished by rousing ourselves from our stupor, so that we can emotionally internalize the inspiration.
Such is what occurred at the time of Purim. It’s a holiday that celebrates our spiritual rejuvenation and infuses every Jew with a sense of joy and pride in being part of the Chosen Nation.
Purim doesn’t call out to us to wake up, it sweeps us off our feet in a frenzy of joy and unity.
It’s a holiday that brings with it a spiritual awakening. Therein lies the source of its intense joy and celebration.
May we all attain it.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Purim Sameiach & Feilichen Purim,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah
1 Adar 5778/February 16, 2018
2 Rosh Chodesh Adar

I don’t know if there’s anything worse than being a sock. Socks are put on hastily in the morning and have the inauspicious task of wrapping around a person’s smelly foot. They quickly become smelly, and often get wet. Then, at night, they are pulled off, and in the best situations cast into a hamper, if not just left on the floor. 
Of all articles of clothing, socks have the highest mortality rate, and the shortest life span. They can easily develop fatal holes which no longer enables them to protect the big toe, or they can become stretched out. For those who are sensory, socks take even more abuse, constantly getting pulled up and stretched out.
Another thing about socks, is that they are only worth anything if you have two of them. Their value lies in their being a pair. I think everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of socks never returning from the wash. The washing machine becomes like a black hole and Bermuda Triangle for socks. You put them in with the rest of the clothing, but then when you take out the clothing, somehow a few socks seem to escape, and are never seen again. The greatest tragedy is for its fellow sock who now remains widowed and alone. If you’re like my family, then you have a drawer full of widowed socks, that will continue to remain there dormant forever, or at least until something impels us to clean the drawer.
In the Mishkan, and subsequently in the Bais Hamikdash, the holiest of all the vessels was the Aron which was placed in the Kodesh Kodashim (Holy of Holies). Atop the Aron was affixed the golden Keruvim, and from within them emanated the voice of G-d, as it were. The Torah relates about the Keruvim, the two angelic faces of children, “their faces was each to his brother.”
The Mishkan was covered by a few layers of yerios – curtains/tapestries. The Torah relates that the yerios were not constructed as one long cloth. Rather, it was made into two parts, and then they were connected to each other. In the words of the pasuk, “Five curtains shall be attached – a woman to her sister – and the (other) five curtains shall be attached – a woman to her sister.”
What incredible imagery. The holiest place on earth was created by keruvim facing each other, and the Mishkan was covered by curtains connected – each woman to her sister!
Last week, Mevorchim Chodesh Adar, we read Parshas Shekalim, which details the mandatory half-shekel tax that every Jew contributed annually.
The commentators explain that the half-shekel represents that although every individual is valuable (or invaluable), our ultimate worth is when we bond together. That, in fact, is the introduction to the subsequent special reading of Parshas Zachor, read the Shabbos before Purim. Parshas Zachor recounts our defeat over our nemesis, Amalek, and our obligation to remember his virulent hatred, his mission to destroy us, and his ultimate desire to obliterate all G-dliness from the world. Such evil can only be overcome with the synergistic power of our unity.
Sadly, there is a beautiful demonstration of this concept, in an article in Times-of-Israel, February 6, 2018, by Jacob Magid:

HAR BRACHA, West Bank — Less than a month after her husband Raziel was gunned down in a terror attack outside the Havat Gilad outpost, Yael Shevach arrived in the neighboring Har Bracha settlement Tuesday to console Miriam Ben-Gal, whose husband Itamar was murdered in a stabbing terror attack on Monday.
In a statement on the widows’ meeting outside the Ben-Gal home, Yael Shevach said the two traced the eerie similarities in their respective tragedies:
“Both Raziel and Itamar loved life; they both loved to dress and eat well. Raziel was killed on his way home from a circumcision, and Itamar was on his way to a circumcision. Raziel’s sister will be getting married in less than a month, and Miriam’s sister will be getting married in less than a month,” Yael Shevach added. “We are both educators, both Raziel and Itamar were Torah scholars, and both of us feel that we were chosen for this role,” Yael Shevach said, explaining that “role” as one responsible for strengthening the settlement movement in their husbands’ honor.
Raziel Shevach was shot dead by Palestinian terrorist on January 9. The father of six had known Ben-Gal, a father of four, through mutual friends.
Hours after 29-year-old Itamar Ben-Gal was stabbed to death while hitchhiking at the Ariel Junction in the central West Bank on Monday, Yael Shevach posted on Facebook that she felt “as if she gained a new sister.”
“We will get through this together. Alone,” she wrote.

The only way to adequately achieve “Zachor” - remembering and overcoming the heinousness of Amalek from time immemorial until contemporary times, is through the message of “Shekalim” – through unity and with chizuk from each other.
The miracle of Purim occurred when the Jews gathered together, adhering to Esther’s clarion call to Mordechai: “Go, gather all of the Jews…” That unification was the beginning of the end for Haman.
Purim is a national celebration of sanguinity and faith. It is that spirit which Amalek can never destroy!

Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, February 8, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim
24 Shevat 5778/February 9, 2018
Mevorchim Chodesh Adar

Someone once noted that it’s not easy being the child of a therapist. Everything that happens in the child’s life is psychoanalyzed - why did you do that? How did that make you feel? For my children that’s compounded by the fact that I’m also a rabbi, so the psychoanalysis is followed by a derasha. The only exception is that my lectures to my children are followed by them asking me for money, and not vice versa.
Last Shabbos, when we read Parshas Beshalach, on Friday evening, one of our children, who shall remain nameless for the sake of future shidduchim, came to the Shabbos table reading a book. The rule in our home is that no books may be brought to the Shabbos table, so that, at least once a week, we can try to promote actual face to face conversation (which includes arguing over seats and everything else that comes up). When I asked the child to please remove the book, he proceeded to place it under his chair.
We proceeded singing Shalom Aleichem, until two minutes later when I noticed him peering down at the open book, now somewhat inconspicuously placed on his chair. When I reminded him that the book is not supposed to be at the table, he looked up and said “I know, I know! I’m putting it away and listening right now!”
Not surprisingly, within a short time he was again reading the book, which was now opened under his chair. When I looked at him he again reassured me that he was listening and putting it away
I replied that I believed he really did want to listen to my directions as he claimed. The reason he was having such a hard time doing so was because he didn’t know an important lesson to be gleaned from the parsha.
The opening pasuk states that when Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim, Hashem did not lead them through the land of the Pelishtim, despite the fact that it was closer, “for Hashem said, lest the nation become frightened when they see war, and they will return to Egypt.” Rashi explains that the concern was that upon confronting adversity, the nation would immediately seek to return to what was familiar, i.e. Egypt.
Rashi’s explanation contains an integral strategy necessary for changing habits. One of the reasons it’s so difficult to effect real change, is because we naturally gravitate towards what is familiar and comfortable. If a person wants to genuinely change habits, he needs to make his old habits inconvenient, and his new habits more convenient.
For example, for one who wants to lose weight and is beginning a new diet, before he begins he should have the new foods that he is permitted on his new diet available and in front of his cabinet. Otherwise, as soon as the first rumblings of hunger set in, he’s going to go right back to the old foods he was used to.
Hashem led the young nation on a circuitous route, so that they wouldn’t be able to run back to Egypt as soon as they were confronted by challenge.
I told my son that he really did want to listen to my instruction not to read at the table. But by leaving the book in close proximity, as soon as curiosity set in he causally looked back at the book. The proper response would be to remove the book from the room, to remove the temptation.
I’m not sure if my point was well taken, or if it was just to make sure I was finished my lecture, but my son removed the book from the room.
The following day in shiur in Yeshiva, a boy came into class eating. I told him to put it away, so we could begin learning. When he placed it in his bag next to him open, I told him I had a thought on the previous day’s parsha to share with him.
That’s a lot of mileage from a truly great insight into human psychology, that Rashi indirectly mentions in passing.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro
17 Shevat 5778/February 2, 2018

I am always amazed by airports. It’s incredible that from every gate throughout the terminals, planes depart for different places all over Earth. One gate off, and you can end up in Frankfurt, instead of Honolulu, Istanbul instead of Tel Aviv.
Airports are designed to be a microcosm of its country. As soon as arrivals walk into the terminal they are greeted with signs and sights that clearly display where they are.
Last week, I and my daughter Aviva, had the opportunity to visit our friends, Rabbi Menachem and Shifra Moskovitz, in their home in Las Vegas, Nevada. As soon as we walked off the plane, we were greeted by slot machines, and the endemic bright lights. That was even before we encountered the trademark “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.
We very much enjoyed the warmth and vibrancy of the burgeoning Jewish community. I had the opportunity to speak at the Mesivta of Las Vegas on Friday, and in the Las Vegas Kollel on Shabbos morning. I noted in my speech that the only thing in Vegas that is definitely not a gamble, is the warmth of the community. 
On Sunday morning, Aviva, Ahuva Moskovitz, and I visited the Hoover Dam, which is fairly close to Las Vegas. It’s quite an imposing and breathtaking structure, built in the 1930s. From there we headed to the Western Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Standing before the Grand Canyon is a humbling experience. The sheer majesty of the incredible canyon is breathtaking. It is hard to fathom how gargantuan it is, and it is surely impossible to describe. They are so vast, that it is quite noticeable from the window of a plane flying overhead. All of the beautiful panoramic sceneries and beautiful views that I have seen during my life, are dwarfed by the ‘opulent depth’ of the Grand Canyon. 
The next day I saw a picture of a beautiful scenery. My immediate reaction was to think that the picture was nothing in comparison with the Grand Canyon! “If you think that’s anything, you should go to the Grand Canyon!” But the truth is that such an attitude is a mistaken perspective about that experience.  
There is a fundamental passage in the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo, in which he details important ideas about faith and service of Hashem. He writes there that “from the great and widespread miracles, man will come to admit/thank (G-d) for all of the hidden miracles, which is the foundation of the entire Torah, for no one has a portion in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu until he believes that all of our happenings are miracles, and that there is no nature…”
Seeing the Grand Canyon, or any other incredible sight, should not make its viewer feel unimpressed by anything less. Au contraire! It should fill him with a sense of wonder at the beauty of G-d’s creation, and bring him to feel love and appreciation for every facet of His incredible creation. My experience at the Grand Canyon should lead me to feel a greater appreciation for the mundane of nature, not the other way around.
I type these words in the waning moments of Tu B’Shvat. It is a minor holiday when we do not recite tachanun, try to eat some fruits, and perhaps daven for our esrog on Succos. On a practical level, it is a day to contemplate the miracle of fruits, and nature generally. The fact that we are able to partake of numerous fruits with various textures, colors, and tastes, during the dead of the winter is itself incredible.
Tu B’shvat is a celebration of the miracle of nature. It is also thirty days before Purim when we celebrate the uncanny miracles which were also cloaked in natural events. From there we set out for Pesach, the holiday of redemption, when G-d displayed His power of nature and bent all its rules, to demonstrate His unmitigated love for us.
Tu B’Shvat is celebrated after the reading of the parshios which detail the exodus and all of its miracles. As Ramban states, the open miracles help us appreciate the hidden miracles. Reading the Torah’s account of those miracles serves as an appropriate introduction to Tu B’shvat. Then, we continue the progression, until we actually celebrate those open miracles on Pesach. In that sense, it is a beautiful elevating circle – from the miraculous to the natural, back to the supernatural – all a combination of G-d’s Hand.
I should conclude by saying that when we arrived back in Newark Airport, I knew we were home when I found my shoes sticking to the sticky and dirty floor. Like I said, every airport wants to make you feel what its city is like. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum