Thursday, January 28, 2021

Parshas Beshalach 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Besalach – Shabbos Shirah

16 Shevat 5781/January 29, 2021


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            During our children’s midwinter break this week, we enjoyed an overnight trip at a hotel in the Pocono Mountains.

            While the rest of the family was enjoying some of the hotel attractions, I went with our son Avi to transport our luggage from our car to our room. When Avi arrived at our room holding some luggage, he asked me where the key was. I told him that the key was on his wrist. When we checked in, we were all given plastic wristbands which would allow us to use the hotel attractions. Inside the wristband was a thin computerized thingamajig (that’s the scientific term) which was preprogrammed to digitally unlock the door to our room.

            I informed Avi that my bracelet would only open the door of the second room we had reserved. Only he could get us into the room we were standing in front of. He was skeptical until he held his hand next to the door, which immediately activated a green light, unlocking the door.

            The Chovas HaTalmidim (The Student’s Obligation) was written by the Piaseczena Rebbe and published in 1932. The Rebbe wrote the masterful ethical work directly addressing the youthful student reader, guiding him on the path to greatness. The sefer contains poignant insights that resonate with any aspiring and seeking individual. Many of the ideas that the Rebbe recorded were very progressive in his day but are now accepted fundamental ideas regarding contemporary chinuch.

            I have had the pleasure of studying the Sefer with my students in Heichal HaTorah each morning, before we start learning gemara. I’m not sure who enjoys it more – them or me.

            One of the most powerful ideas that the Rebbe writes is that the most important and significant educator in a person’s life is himself (or herself)! One’s parents, rebbeim, and mentors can only serve as guides and motivators from the side to steer him in the right direction. But ultimately it is only he himself who can foster the greatness within and capitalize on the potential he innately possesses. Essentially, the key to unlocking his inner greatness lies within him alone.

            Similarly, regarding marriage people will sometimes note how much someone changed after they get married, adding that their spouse really changed them. The reality is that there is no such thing as changing anyone else. What really occurred was the spouse really wanted to change/improve, and the marriage provided with the added fuel or encouragement needed to achieve what was really desired.

            The truth is that it even goes beyond one’s personal growth. We all influence our surroundings for good or for better. When we discover the key within ourselves it helps activate the openings of the heretofore locked doors of others as well.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Parshas Bo 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bo

9 Shevat 5781/January 22, 2021


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            Last week, the article I sent entitled, “The constitution of children at the Shabbos table” seems to have really resonated. I was gratified that it was read and forwarded many times. I also received numerous comments in response, the most common of which was, “Do you have a video camera in our house on Shabbos? How do you know about all the stuff that happens in our house on Shabbos?”

            Although I technically can only speak for myself, that never stopped me from speaking for others as well. My sense is that many parents suffer from a parenting inferiority complex. That coupled with our natural Jewish guilt makes for an uncomfortable combination.

            We know the struggles we face in our own homes trying - sometimes more successfully than others - to educate, discipline, guide, and not lose patience with our children. For some silly reason we live under the false and silly notion that all our neighbors have it down to a science and that their Shabbos table is the epitome of holiness and chinuch.

            If nothing else, it’s incredibly validating to know that one is definitely not alone in these struggles. Most likely, the neighbor’s kids also fight over who sits where, and they too struggle to get their kids to help serve and clear.

            But wait, we think to ourselves! What about all those depictions of the beauty and pristine holiness of the Shabbos table? What about the fact that ba’alei teshuva have often recounted that they became Torah observant because they were so enamored by experiencing a Shabbos meal? A friend of mine once jokingly, but dolefully, quipped that if an irreligious person saw his family’s Shabbos table - forget about becoming religious - he would probably want to leave Judaism altogether.

            Firstly, we don’t appreciate the greatness of our Shabbos meals - struggles, frustrations and all. In our society, most families hardly ever sit down to a meal together, and when they do it’s with electronic distractions. The very fact that our families sit together for two meals each week, without any electronic distractions, discussing and sharing Torah thoughts and ideas, and hopefully singing and laughing together makes it an invaluable gift, even with all of the challenges that are par for the course.

            A large part of the guilt is the result of living under the delusions of the social media effect. Everyone’s life is perfect on social media. On Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook everyone is smiling, daily life seems dreamy, and marriages and relationships are perfect. But it’s basically a big lie. No one posts what their life is really like. Rather, they post what they want others to think and what they wish their life was like.

            In addition, it has been noted that the biographies of our Torah leaders, despite containing many factual inspiring and beautiful stories, are also guilty of giving a faulty perception. The books are a snapshot of the glorious moments of the lives of great people. However, they fail to depict and describe their struggles and “bad days”. Those struggles are what makes them relatable and makes them more inspiring, not less. But at times those depictions leave us feeling like absolute failures.

            When we have impossible ideals such as perfection, we set ourselves up for inevitable frustration.

            Life is challenging and child-rearing is an ongoing struggle. But engaging in that struggle is the most noble and important task we have in life. Our Shabbos tables are incredible places, even if they aren’t as perfect as we would like them to be.

            Tu B’Shvat reminds us that the real fruit of our efforts is beyond what the eye can see. During this minor holiday, we celebrate and express our gratitude to Hashem for the beautiful variety of fruits that He created, despite the fact that it is still winter. The trees are barren and there is no trace of the bounty that we know is to come in a few short weeks.

            Chinuch too is a long-term endeavor. In the short-term there are numerous frustrations and annoyances. So, we have to remind ourselves to look beyond what we see in front of us. When the fruit is not yet ripe, one must remember that it’s a process.

            Not that I would know yet, but I have been told that the day will come iy”H when I will miss the squabbles and annoyances of our Shabbos table. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quips that G-d pays back children by making them parents. That’s when the former children get to deal with their own children’s constitution of the Shabbos table. That’s the price we pay to produce beautiful fruits.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, January 14, 2021

Parshas Vaera 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera

2 Shevat 5781/January 15, 2021


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            We, the “United Children At the Shabbos Table” (U-CAST), in Order to form a more perfect Shabbos table, establish our rights, ensure (what we consider to be) domestic tranquility, provide for our common defense from parental demands, promote our general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our siblings, do ordain and hereby establish this Constitution of the Shabbos Table:

  1. The custom is not to come to the Shabbos table when your father calls. You can explain that the gemara relates that two angels accompany a person home from shul on Friday night - one good angel and one bad. You don’t want to join at the table until the bad angel leaves.
  2. There is a mitzvah to make kiddush on whine. We fulfill that by whining and arguing about which seat we were assigned at the Shabbos table. If your parents aren’t listening to your complaints, you can cry out “Give me liberty or give me no dessert!” (You probably won’t be getting dessert.)
  3. It is an obligation to complain about the amount of grape juice you received from kiddush. Like on Seder night, each child aims to have four cups.
  4. The challah is covered at the table to prevent it from being shamed. Therefore, we don’t need to worry about shaming or taunting siblings during the remainder of the Shabbos meal.  
  5. It is praiseworthy when one spreads mitzvos around. To fulfill that, when washing for challah the custom is to flick some of the water left on your hands at another sibling.  If the other sibling doesn’t scream or retaliate, it’s questionable whether the flicker has fulfilled this custom.
  6. “They can lead you to the water cooler or refrigerator, but they can’t force you to serve.” If they do, you can assert your constitutional right to say, “it’s not my job.”
  7. If your parents insist you sing one of the shabbos zemiros before leaving the table, sing “Let it Go” at the top of your lungs and tell your parents it’s a reference to letting go of the yetzer hara.
  8. Shabbos is a day of outpouring of blessings, so one should take too many croutons/noodles to put in the soup, so that he/she has soup with croutons, and not the other way around.
  9. The custom is to take more soda than you can finish. If your parent ever tries to guilt you into finishing your food or drinks because there are children starving in Africa, offer to pack it up so your parent can send it to them.
  10. All desserts must be equal. Federal law prohibits discrimination of any persons by having any pieces of dessert even slightly bigger than others. Although measuring on Shabbos is generally prohibited, this falls under the rubric of pikuach nefesh and therefore is permitted. It should also be noted that if one feels his/her piece is smaller than another’s, he/she can demand a recount.
  11. It is customary to sneak away from the Shabbos seudah to read The Circle/Mishpacha Junior/Zman/Ami Jr/Kid Speak (or Sports Illustrated). or whatever other book is available.  It is proper to fight with your siblings about who had it first, and whether leaving it on the couch is considered “still having it”.
  12. When asked to share a d’var Torah, there are two approaches: Some children look at their parents as if they are from Mars, so that the parents wonder why they are paying so much in tuition. Others proceed to say over every d’var Torah they ever heard from all their teachers until their parents fall asleep at the table. Either approach is appropriate.
  13. After the seudah is over, it is customary to forget about clearing the table. Some conveniently go to the bathroom just prior to bentching with a stomachache and have a miraculous recovery as soon as the table is cleared. Others have the custom to bentch with tremendous kavnah, saying every word with intense concentration, until the table has been cleared. As soon as that happens, they skip the remainder of bentching. Others go to a friend’s house before the meal is over, so they don’t have to clear.



We hold these truths to be self-evident and affirm to maintain these articles of law as can be witnessed in homes throughout the world each Friday Night!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       




Thursday, January 7, 2021




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemos

24 Teves 5781/January 8, 2021

Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat


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            This past Shabbos our family was discussing that famous Shakespearean bonnet (that’s what Shakespeare wore in the rain when composing his deepest poetry): “Chazak Chazak v’nischasek, my mother baked a chocolate cake and in the cake there was rake and in the rake there was a snake.”

            We were debating the great wisdom invested in this deep rhyme. How did a rake end up in a cake and how did a snake end up in a rake? More importantly, why does it have to be a chocolate cake? And what if my wife made it and not my mother- does that fulfill the obligation? We also wondered why the cake didn’t fall in a lake owned by Jake who just ate a steak?

            In the end, we admitted that the deeper meaning eludes us and we’ll have to add it to the list of “tayku”s which will have to wait for Eliyahu Hanavi.

            The more worthy point that emerges from the silly poem is to have a cake to celebrate the completion of learning an entire Chumash.

            New Years is a time of resolutions, when people commit to accomplish things they may have always wanted to do but haven’t done in the past. Everyone is always looking for the key to help them maintain their resolutions and meet their goals.

            One important tip is to celebrate small accomplishments. One’s ultimate goals are often a long journey away. Celebrating smaller milestones along the way infuses a person with momentum to stay the course until the larger goal is met.

            The same holds true regarding spiritual matters. When we celebrate easier and smaller accomplishments along the way, it gives us added confidence to work towards bigger goals.

            A year ago, Klal Yisroel celebrated the incredible siyum hashas. But every few months there is a siyum on another masechta that also warrants celebration. It’s often a good idea to celebrate completing every chapter along the way, at least in a small manner.

            On Simchas Torah we have a passionate celebration of our completion of the entire Torah. But four other times during the year we mark the Shabbos when we complete a Chumash by rising together and encouraging ourselves to forge onward.

            I recently reread the autobiography of my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, “Teach Them Diligently”. It struck me afterwards that, like many autobiographies, each chapter was formulated based on a period of his life. Each major change in his life warranted the beginning of a new chapter. It didn’t matter whether he was in a certain location/job for 5 years or 20 years. It all fit it into one chapter.

            Most of us dread change. But it seems that it’s those very changes that color the stories of our lives. As long as things remain the same, it’s all part of the same chapter. There can be great accomplishments and growth but all within one basic stage of life. As soon as the situation changes however, it becomes a new stage of life with its own narrative, direction and perspective.

            In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you celebrate with chocolate or vanilla, a cake or a knish, or if the cake is made by your mother or your wife. The main thing is to recognize and celebrate accomplishment. But for goodness sake - keep the snake out of the cake!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum