Friday, November 27, 2020




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayetzei 5781

11 Kislev 5781/November 27, 2020


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            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, is fond of relating the following personal story:

            “In 1974, after the Yom Kippur war, I was the rabbinic administrator of the OU’s kashrus division. The recently concluded Yom Kippur War had a traumatic effect upon the country. אין בית אשר אין שם מת - almost three thousand soldiers had been killed, and twelve thousand more were wounded. The notion of Israeli invincibility that had developed after the Six Day War was punctured. You could literally feel the depression on the street.

            “At that time I was in Eretz Yisroel and went to see Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l to discuss different issues with him. Afterwards, I asked him his opinion about the current situation.

Rav Shlomo Zalman replied that at the time Klal Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel were one big hospital - כולנו בבית חולים. Some were in the cardiac ward, some were in the psychiatric ward, some were in intensive care, and some were only outpatients, but everyone was in the hospital.

            “What’s the first rule visitors are told in a hospital? Keep quiet. Does a doctor walk into a patient’s room in the morning and scream at him “why aren’t you better? Why don’t you get out of bed?”

            “What is everyone hollering about? Everyone is sick and everyone is scarred. We didn’t patch up the trauma of the Second World War yet. The constant struggle of the last hundred years still weighs upon the Jewish people. So why are we shouting at each other? Instead, we should focus on trying to help and heal each other. איש את רעהו יעזרו ולאחיו יאמר חזק.”

            It’s a powerful idea and one worth bearing in mind constantly. At times we get upset at people and become frustrated with their views or behaviors. We need to remember that people are generally doing their best. There is so much about their lives that we have no idea about. There is so much pain and confusion raging within others that we cannot see or know. We need to stop shouting and judging. What Rav Shlomo Zalman said decades ago is perhaps even more true today - everyone is in the hospital, everyone is struggling, and everyone needs patience and understanding.

            I must add a personal reflection: A few weeks ago, I was sidelined by Corona. Almost everyone who heard that I was sick was sympathetic and concerned. But there were individuals whom I felt were judging me for contracting the virus. Or they were more concerned with how my contracting the illness affected them than they were about how I was feeling.

            Besides the insensitivity of it, such an attitude is very concerning. In fact, in some ways it symbolizes part of the decline of our society. When people become so concerned with themselves that they cannot see or think about others they tend to become increasingly more narcissistic and self-absorbed.

            Beyond that, when people feel justified in being critical of those who are sick, suffering, and less fortunate, it demonstrates a much more serious level of apathy and being unable to see beyond one’s own perspective.

            There was a city legendary for such behaviors. It was known as Sodom and it was ultimately destroyed.

            The Jewish people are by nature merciful and strive to perform chesed. That is the light we spread in the darkness.

            Rav Shlomo Zalman taught us that we need to stop shouting at each other, and in the world of Covid, we need to stop judging each other. No one has all the answers. But together we can transcend and forge ahead.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Parshas Chayei Sarah 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chayei Sarah 5781

26 MarCheshvan 5781/November 13, 2020

Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev


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            You won’t find “Lower East Sider” in a dictionary. If you google those words, you’ll get some entries about prices of apartments and other various news about the Lower East Side. But for the tens of thousands of Jews who grew up and lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan there is significant meaning. In fact, those old timers take it as a great compliment to be a “Lower East Sider”.

            Lower East Siders possess a combination of simplicity, exuding warmth, extreme friendliness, being non-judgmental, and unpretentious. There was, and is, nothing fancy about the Lower East Side, and everyone seemed to know everyone else. It was the land of Gus’s pickles, China Town noodles, H and M skullcap, and the Williamsburg bridge. There were also countless shuls, but none were in competition with the other.

            I was born and spent my formative years on the Lower East Side. Both sets of my grandparents lived on the Lower East Side and it was exciting to be able to walk over on Shabbos to see them or eat a seudah at their apartment. Our family moved from the Lower East Side to Monsey in 1988.

            My Zaydei, whose yahrtzeit is this Shabbos, 27 MarCheshvan, was the Rabbi of the well-known Anshei Slonim shul on Norfolk street until it closed in 1974.

            My Zaydei had a warm relationship with Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. The last gift my Zaydei left me is a set of Igros Moshe inscribed with a brief beracha from Rav Moshe. The inscription is dated 12 Kislev 5745 (December 1985). At the time I was five years old. Rav Moshe was niftar a little over a year later; my Zaydei was niftar less than three years later. It’s one of my most treasured seforim.

            Even after Rav Moshe was niftar, his sons, Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven, would attend our family simchos, primarily in honor of my Bubby a”h. I had the zechus that they attended my bar mitzvah and wedding.

            The Lower East Side was the perfect place for Rav Moshe and his family. Rav Moshe was the posek hador, and the gadol hador. His greatness in Torah was matched only by his incredible humility.

Those traits were personified by his son, Rav Dovid who was niftar this week.

            My aunt would often note that it was known that if you wanted to find Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven on a given day, you first checked the pizza shop on the Lower East Side, where they often ate breakfast together.

            If you didn’t know who Rav Dovid was and you passed him on the street, you would have no idea that one of the leading halachic authorities in the world, a man who was fluent in the entire Torah, and the Rosh Yeshiva who had succeeded his illustrious father, had just passed you.

            A few years ago, my father went went back to the Lower East Side for Shabbos to attend a simcha. During the kiddush, Rav Dovid walked over to him to say Good Shabbos.

            On one of our dates, my wife and I went to a restaurant in Boro Park. When our food arrived, I went to wash. (She probably ordered a salad and didn’t need to wash). When I returned to the table, she noticed a look on my face that she couldn’t decipher. When she asked me what happened, I pointed beyond her. She couldn’t figure out what in the world I wanted. After I said a beracha and took a bite, I told her not to back up too quickly. At the table behind us were seated Rav Dovid and his Rebbitzin, along with another couple.

            Rav Dovid was so great and yet he was so simple. He went shopping, he humbly walked the streets of the Lower East Side, and he was accessible to anyone who wanted. I look at the picture of him and his Rebbitzin from our wedding and marvel at the fact that he not only schlepped to Lakewood to attend, but also was willing to be in the picture with us. (The same is true about Rav Reuven and his Rebbitzin.) It was, and remains, very meaningful to us.

            In a world so focused on glamour and publicity, it’s rare to find people who are perfectly happy keeping to themselves and living a simple life. But I don’t know how one can do so when he is a leader of his people with earth-shattering questions and pressing matters coming to his door constantly.

            This week we celebrate the bar mitzvah of our son, Avi. Somehow, I hope we can convey to him some of the lessons we learned and gleaned from Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l.

            The nostalgic streets of the Lower East Side have lost some of their greatness, and Klal Yisroel has lost a quiet Gadol and leader. May his memory be for a blessing.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, November 5, 2020




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayera 5781

19 MarCheshvan 5781/November 6, 2020


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            By now, the beautiful holiday of Succos feels like a somewhat distant memory. The leaves have changed into their splendor and august colors, and are beginning to rapidly fall from the trees. Our clocks have been adjusted to Eastern Standard Time, and the weather has become markedly colder.

            But for me, Succos is very much at the fore of my mind. That’s not because I am so holy as to be able to hold onto the holiness of the holiday. Rather, it’s because my succah is still standing on my porch.

            We have a silver tray upon which we placed our esrogim after Succos. From week to week we watch sadly as they shrivel and shrink. And yet, our succah, sans the schach, is still up.

            I am aware that there are people who procrastinate and don’t get around to taking down their succah for a long time. I heard that one woman wanted to serve her family’s Purim seudah in the succah as a subtle reminder to her husband that he still didn’t take it down. But I actually have a valid excuse. I contracted Corona at the end of Succos and since then have physically been unable to take my succah down. When I was sick, I b’H, I didn’t have any breathing issues, except for a minor cough. But I felt terribly achy, with severe flu-like symptoms, including chills and fever.

            The worst part of all was that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Sitting was painful, and I couldn’t concentrate. I can’t say that I was climbing the walls because I lacked the energy to do so. But I did fantasize about climbing the walls.

            Then, when the main symptoms cleared up, terrible nausea set in such that I have never experienced before in my life. I didn’t lose my sense of smell or taste. In fact, I had the opposite experience. Many things had an awful smell.

            Even when that finally went away, and even now a few weeks later, I am still drained and fatigued, a common after-effect of Covid-19.

            In addition, my poor family was quarantined with me, though thankfully and incredibly no one else contacted it b”H.

            So, here we are a month after Succos and my succah still stands. Although I really would like to know that the boards are securely put away for next year, there is a little comfort in seeing the succah up, connecting me to the beautiful Yom Tov we celebrated a few weeks ago.

            The truth is that moving on and transitioning is always challenging. “The comfort zone is a wonderful place, but nothing grows there.”

            We tenaciously cling to our comfort zones because the unknown and unfamiliar are intimidating and scary. But moving on requires energy, commitment, and effort. Often, we need a proverbial (or literal) kick in the pants to get us moving.

            One of my favorite stories is about a rich fellow who was showing a group of people around his massive estate. He proudly showed off his huge mansion, his tennis courts, pools, sports complex, perfectly manicured fields, and stunning gardens. When he showed them his lake, they noticed a full-length alligator lying in the sun across the lake. When the wealthy host noticed them staring at the alligator, he told them that if anyone was daring enough to swim across the lake, he’d give them a million dollars.

            He waited thirty seconds, and no one budged. He was about to walk away when everyone heard a splash. Everyone turned around to see Mike desperately swimming across the lake. The alligator heard the splash, its eyes popped open, and it dove into the water. The assemblage watched in fear as Mike swam with all his might as the alligator inches closer and closer. As the alligator lunged towards Mike with its jaws open, Mike jumped out safely on the other side. Everyone rushed over to congratulate him. The rich host shook his head, “I think you’re out of your mind, but a word is a word.” He pulled out his check book and began writing out the check.

            Mike stood up, still panting, and trying to catch his breath, and said “I just want to know who the jerk was who pushed me in!”

            We celebrate times of accomplishment and milestones, not only to mark the achievements of the past but also to give encouragement to deal with the encounters of the future. In fact, perhaps more important than celebrating the past is giving that boost of encouragement for the future. The unknown and unfamiliar is daunting and intimidating. Transitions are nerve-wracking. Better than getting pushed in, is to be danced in. That chizuk helps us feel that we are capable of plunging on and struggling upwards to the next rung of our journey.

            We celebrate graduation when a child prepares to move on from the familiarity of the school they just completed and are moving on to the next level. We celebrate marriage when two single individuals pledge to synergize their lives together and build a home on Torah values. We also celebrate a bar mitzvah when a child begins his ascent to maturity and responsibility within the esteemed ranks of Klal Yisroel.

            Next Shabbos, parshas Chayei Sarah, our family will iy”H be celebrating the bar mitzvah of our dear son, Avi. Avi carries the name of my dear Sabbah, Avrohom Yosef Staum. My Sabbah was beloved for his sterling character and pleasantness. He performed great chesed for people, most of which we will probably never know about. He was honest to a fault and a person that could be counted on. Throughout the vicissitudes of living as a Jew in America from before the War and onwards, he remained Shabbos observant and loyal to Torah.

            Our Avi is blessed with a vivacious personality, a quick mind, and is always fun to be around.

We hope that Avi will follow the path of his illustrious namesake. We hope that as he forges ahead on the roads of life that he always has the inner fortitude and confidence to remain loyal to Hashem and Torah. We hope he will be able to confront the challenges of life with faith and conviction. We hope he will have the wisdom and energy to erect walls when necessary and to tear them down when necessary. Finally, we hope Hashem will grant us the patience and wisdom to guide him properly towards a life of kavod shomayim.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum