Thursday, March 25, 2021

Parshas Tzav - Pesach 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tzav-Erev Pesach

13 Nissan 5781/March 27, 2021


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            This week the New York Times published an article by David Leonhardt entitled, “Is bad news the only kind?” In it Leonhardt notes that almost all the news throughout the pandemic was negative.

            “When Covid cases were rising in the U.S., the news coverage emphasized the increase. When cases were falling, the coverage instead focused on those places where cases were rising. And when vaccine research began showing positive results, the coverage downplayed it.”

            He continues that US media are outliers in their overwhelming bias towards negative news. Still, he defends the media claiming that they aren’t distorting the news as much as choosing to emphasize the negative over the positive. He adds that the American consumer seems to prefer reading negative news over positive news, so the news outlets are only providing what the consumer is seeking.

            In a lecture given on September 19, 2003, the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey recounted that he’s often asked why newsmen don’t report more good news instead of all of the tragedy, destruction, discord, disaster and dissent they always report about? He explained, “My own network, ABC, once tried broadcasting a program of just good news. You know how long that lasted? Thirteen weeks. Not enough listeners wanted just good news.

            In Sacramento, California, a little tabloid called itself The Good newspaper, printed just good news, lasted 36 months before it went bankrupt. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there's only one newspaper in the USA today printing just good news. It's a little tabloid, comes out once a week in Indiana and they have to give it away, because that good news that you all keep saying you want just won't buy. And that's why you can listen to any broadcast, and records are crashing and it's the worst wind and the worst flood or fire or earthquake or whatever, because noise news makes news, and... sin make news, and one gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers. It doesn't mean it's more important, just that it sells more newspapers.”

            By nature, we are more inclined towards negativity than positivity. Dennis Prager noted that we all suffer from “missing tile syndrome”. If someone is sitting in a room, looking up at a tiled ceiling, and there is one tile missing, that’s where he focuses his vision. He doesn’t notice all the other perfect tiles.

            Prager notes that doing so undermines our happiness, because we are always focusing on the missing tiles in our lives. Our choice is whether we focus on the tiles we do have, or on the ones we’re missing? The answer to that question largely determines how happy we feel.

            The night of the Seder is devoted to praising Hashem and expressing gratitude for the myriad miracles He performed throughout the process of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

            The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 6:4) writes that the four cups of wine correspond to four decrees that the nation were subjected to during the exile and were redeemed from.

            The Matnos Kehuna explains that the four decrees were their being forced to perform backbreaking labor, all male babies being cast in the Nile, slaughtering the children so Pharaoh could bathe in their blood, and when the Egyptians stopped providing straw for the bricks.

            Rav Matisyahu Salomon points out that all of those decrees were enacted and stopped well before the nation actually left Egypt. This symbolizes to us that we must not only celebrate and express gratitude when a challenging situation is completely remedied. Rather, we must be thankful for every step and modicum of salvation along the way.

            How poignant is that message for us at the current time! During the last year we have all lived through a traumatic and challenging ordeal. Yet, within the darkness there was noticeable chesed from Hashem.

            It wouldn’t be too difficult to write a dayeinu like paragraph including all the glimmers of light we have experienced during this period of darkness.

            The fact that vaccinations are being disseminated at a dizzying pace with hopes of a return to normalcy sooner than later is itself astounding. That for some reason the virus relatively didn’t affect the youth was also an incredible chesed from Hashem. That we were able to at least communicate remotely via zoom and the like, mitigated somewhat the emotional pain of isolation.

            And the fact that we were able to return to our yeshivos and continue to teach our children in person to the extent possible is something not to be taken lightly.

            After over a year of not having in person classes, public school teachers are still vying to remain remote. Only now are they getting ready to allow 25% capacity in the classroom. Yet, throughout this time, we have done all in our power to ensure the continued education of our children.

            Prior to makkas arov, Moshe warned that Hashem would “place a separation between my nation and your nation.” During the past months those words have come to life. Our children have grown tremendously despite the painful predicament. They saw how much we prioritize their chinuch, even while public schools remained shut. That’s an invaluable lesson.

            The night before the exodus, our ancestors held the first seder with the Korbon Pesach, matzah and marror.

            If marror is eaten as a reminder of the pain of the servitude, why did the Jews have to eat marror at their seder the night before Yetzias Mitzrayim? Did they need a reminder of the painful slavery and body breaking work they had endured for decades?

            Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal explains that the Jewish servitude ended six months before the actual exodus (see Rosh Hashanah 11a). Six months is more than enough time for people to forget how things were. Just look at how quickly the Egyptians “forgot about Yosef” and began to persecute the Jews.  

            Although the pandemic is not over, we have reason to be hopeful for the immediate future. We dare not just return to the way things were before. Unfortunately, human nature is that we quickly forget and move on. But when significant events occur – for good or for better, we must take note of it, learn from it and grow from it.

            The Jewish people not only seek to remember the matzah and the korbon Pesach, but we also seek to remember the marror, and we thank G-d for all of it. But the first step is to recognize the Hand of G-d in every step of the way.          


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            Good Yom Tov & Chag Kasher V’someiach

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Parshas Vayikra 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayikra

6 Nissan 5781/March 19, 2021


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

לז״ן אברהם יוסף בן נפתלי הערץ


            My high school students are helping to learn me English. To clarify, I’m actually teaching them English, but they are trying to teach me how to communicate in their world.

            These days the boyz use their own lingo. They tell me that I need to learn it so I don’t get wreckt and be tripping, and so I can get woke. Legit, I don’t wanna spill the tea, but the lingo is usually based on vibez or whatever they are down for. When I don’t say it right they’ll bug out and ask me whachumean? Bro, I’m not capping about this. I try to pull up but I’m not always full send about using these strange terminologies.

            The other day I got a haircut and then went to the butcher to buy meat for Shabbos. When the butcher asked me “fresh cut?” I smiled and said, “yeah dawg!” I don’t want to flex but it was a phat chill. Whatever! I’m out!

            One of those phraseologies that has majorly caught on is “that guy”. These days there’s nothing worse than being labeled “that guy” and everyone tries to distance themself from “that guy”. People may note being in a quandary because they want to do or not do something but are afraid of being classified as “that guy” because of it. Similarly, someone may try to convince another not to do something because “you just don’t want to be that guy!”

            On the other hand, of the biggest compliments one can receive is to be told, “you’re the man!” Being “the man” connotes leadership, charisma and good will.

            That led me to wonder - what’s the difference between being “that guy” and being “the man”? In Hebrew both can be referred to as ״איש״. So, what distinguishes the ultimate compliment from the ultimate insult?

            Perhaps the difference is that being “that guy” sounds more passive and therefore derogatory. “That guy” lives in his own bubble and doesn’t notice how his behavior effects others. “The man” on the other hand, is more direct and therefore complimentary. He leads by example and enhances the lives of others.

            In Megillas Esther, it states that the party of Achashveirosh was designed לעשות כרצון איש ואיש - to fulfill the will of every man. The Gemara explains that the double expression refers to Haman and Mordechai, both of whom were wine butlers at the party.

            According to contemporary lingo, Haman was “that guy”, while Mordechai was “the man”! Haman was so narcissistic that when Achashveirosh asked him what he should do for one to whom he wants to honor, Haman was absolutely convinced that Achashveirosh was referring to himself. Mordechai, on the other hand, was selfless in his focus on the welfare of his people. This was true despite the fact that they violated his directive that they not attend the party.

            The Torah states about Noach after the flood, “And Noach, איש of the earth, profaned himself.” At that point, the righteous Noach who had selflessly maintained the entire world during the flood, shifted his focus and engaged in a selfish pursuit. In a sense, all at once, “the man Noach” became “that guy Noach” with disastrous consequences.

            In parshas Yisro (Shemos 18:7), when Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law, Yisro, the Torah states וישאלו איש לרעהו לשלום - the man inquired about his friend’s welfare. Rashi notes that “the man” refers to Moshe. This is based on the pasuk (Bamidbar 12:3) which states “and the man Moshe was exceedingly humble.” Moshe was “the man” because he put the needs of others before himself and he cared for his people with unparalleled love and devotion.

            The ultimate personification of this idea is regarding the divine Himself. Each day we repeat the words form the Shiras Hayam (song at the sea) ״ה׳ איש מלחמה״ - G-d is the איש of war (Shemos 15:3). Rashi explains that איש is an expression of mastery and dominion; G-d is the ultimate arbiter and adjudicator of war. Rav Hirsch explains that G-d fights every force of humanity that stands in the way of His Master Plan for a better future. G-d concerns Himself with the needs of every being.

            This week (4 Nissan) marks the yahrtzeit of my Sabba, Abe Staum z”l. My Sabba was the epitome of selflessness and warmth. He was a man of chesed, most of which we will probably never know about. He was the co-owner of a toy company and treated all of his employees with dignity and respect. In fact, his employees admiringly hung up a picture of him in their work section. Whoever heard of such a thing? They truly felt that their boss was “the man”. And that is how I remember him as well!

            In life, we are all in the category of איש (at least the men among us). The question is whether we live only for ourselves and indulge in our own selfish desires, or we prioritize others and think how we can enhance the lives of those we interact with.

            Basically, it’s the choice between being “that guy” or being “the man”.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei

Parshas Hachodesh/Mevorchim Chodesh Nissan

28 Adar 5781/March 12, 2021


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            Last week I noticed a placard advertising that Uncle Moishy would be coming to one of the local seforim stores here in Monsey to promote his new book and CD. When I came home, I mentioned to my wife that our four-year-old twins would enjoy meeting Uncle Moishy. My intention was that they would really enjoy it if she took them, but being that I was the one who had the bright idea, I was granted the privilege of taking them. I don’t know if that automatically qualifies me to win Dad of the year, but it should definitely be taken into consideration.

            I have no doubt that when Uncle Moishy got stuck in traffic causing him to come twenty minutes late, he sang his gam zu l’tovah song. But I had a harder time singing it myself while waiting on line with our twins in a packed seforim store. Thankfully, we were stationed in front of the store’s CD section and the twins kept themselves busy rearranging them.

            Uncle Moishy finally did arrive, and his mitzvah men - local Chaverim volunteers - helped move the line along. At last, it was our turn. We had our two minutes with Uncle Moishy, got our book signed, took a picture, and were whisked on.

            I don’t even know if the twins realized what had happened. But they enjoyed seeing the picture afterwards and the knowledge that they had been in Uncle Moishy’s vicinity for a few moments.

            I recently heard the Meaningful People podcast in which Uncle Moishy was interviewed. It’s clear that he genuinely loves what he does and takes great pleasure in the fact that he has had such a wonderful impact on so many Jewish children for so many years. His songs engender a great deal of excitement for mitzvos, and pride in being a Jew and having a Jewish name. It’s because of that genuine excitement that he continues to sing and perform over thirty years after he began. Even during the tense moment when we met him, he gave us a warm smile and a pleasant thank you for coming.

            All that being said, it’s important to note that there is a counterbalance to the positive impact that Uncle Moishy continues to have on our youth. That is because mitzvos are not always fun. It’s not always exciting to overcome one’s yetzer hara and restrain oneself from engaging in behavior that seems enticing but is prohibited by the Torah.

            I want to reiterate that my purpose here is not to undermine in any way the wonderful work and service Uncle Moishy, and those of his ilk, have done for our families and our community. It is well known that Rav Moshe Feinstein noted that those who verbally lamented about how challenging and difficult it was to be a Jew, had children who cast off that yoke and left the fold. It is so vital that we give over a sense of positivity and excitement to our children and tremendous pride in being members of the Chosen Nation. However, we must also balance that excitement with a sense of duty and responsibility. At times, it can be cumbersome or challenging to remain faithful to Torah and mitzvos, but we continue to uphold it because we view it as our indomitable mission.

            The foundation must indeed be laid with excitement and song. But beyond that, there must be a sense of duty and mission even when it’s not fun.

            The Seder night is a time of unparalleled regality when we celebrate our august heritage. Throughout the Seder there are conflicting symbolisms of freedom and servitude, sometimes within the same food. This is most apparent in matzah which is the food of poor people and the food we ate at the time of the redemption. We celebrate our joy and yet seek to retain and recall the feeling of subjugation so that we can channel it toward our service to Hashem.

            It is our privilege to be part of the eternal nation. We celebrate and embrace it intensely so that we will not waver from it even when the road is long and difficult.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            Good Chodesh,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Parshas Ki Sisa 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Sisa/Parah

21 Adar 5781/March 5, 2021


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            The Wednesday morning before Purim, when I woke up, I told my wife that I had a most fascinating dream. I should preface by saying that I hardly remember my dreams and when I do, I am always annoyed with them because they are scary and nonsensical. That made this dream all the better.

            I dreamed that I had gotten the Covid vaccine. The intriguing part was that I knew I was dreaming. In my dream I thought to myself that if I got the Covid vaccine in my sleep, what can I tell people? And in my dream, I thought to myself that I could tell people that I can now go to sleep without a mask!

            When I woke up, aside for my arm hurting a bit, I was impressed with my subconscious humor. Even in my dream I was in a Purim mindset.

            There is a dream many are unfamiliar with that was significant in the unfolding of the Purim story.

            The Medrash relates that in the second year of the reign of King Achashveirosh, before the events of the Megillah even began, Mordechai hatzaddik had a dream. In his dream, there was a tremendous upheaval, and screams. Then two massive sea monsters began to skirmish, as the whole world looked on in terror. In between the two sea monsters was a small nation, which all the other nations wanted to swallow up. The nations would act towards that small nation with great cruelty, and the members of that small nation cried out and davened to Hashem with all their heart and soul.

Meanwhile the two sea monsters continued to fight, and no one could intervene. Suddenly, a small stream appeared, trickling in between the two sea monsters, separating them from each other. Within a short time, the trickle became a raging river that kept widening until it swept away the entire land. The sun then shone in the sky and the small nation became glorified and elevated, as peace reigned upon the land.

            Mordechai recounted the dream to Esther, but not to anyone else. When Haman was promoted to prime minister a decade later, and passed his evil decree against the Jews, Mordechai sent a message to Esther that this must be the fulfillment of his dream. It was then that he instructed her to go before Achashveirosh unlawfully and she instructed the Jewish people to fast for three days.

            The commentaries explain that the sea monsters symbolized Mordechai and Haman and the small, persecuted nation were the Jews. The little steam that became a raging river symbolizes Torah or teshuva. It was that spiritual resurgence which began with a small step in the right direction that swept Haman away and obliterated all our enemies.

            All great accomplishments begin with a dream which is followed with the first small step in the right direction. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It takes tremendous effort to initiate, but once one gets the ball rolling, the small trickle can become a raging river.

            All great people, projects organizations and institutions start with humble beginnings.

            This week, I went to pick up our Chasdei Lev order. For those unaware, Chasdei Lev is an organization founded to show appreciation to Rebbes, Morahs and those involved in the education of our children. On the organization’s website it explains: “We achieve this goal by partnering with yeshivos, manufacturers, and distributors to provide rabbeim with food and household necessities for yom tov in a dignified and respectful manner.

            We strive to ensure that the Rebbeim of our communities are able to go into Yom Tov with peace of mind. Yom Tov on any budget is expensive, for Rebbeim with large families and on a typical Rebbe’s salary – it can be daunting. Chasdei Lev’s goal is to help alleviate that strain.”

            The most beautiful part of all is the next line which states: “35k family members assisted, 1k volunteers, 0 paid members.” Zero paid members! Whoever heard of such a thing?

            I should add that when I went to pick up my order it was raining. Yet, the volunteers, which included many local young men, were working diligently and excitedly to load each car up as quickly as possible.

            My dear friend, Yossi Weimer, who volunteers for Chasdei Lev, informed me that he was up the entire previous night and through the day helping set up. He was not the only one.

            At each station, after loading the car, the volunteers thanked us! When the entire order was loaded, before pulling out each educator received a free gift, another thank you, and wishes for a beautiful Yom Tov.

            Having received Chasdei Lev for the last few years, I have to step back and remind myself just how incredible the organization is and what the volumes it speaks about our community.

            When the pandemic hit, there was much discussion about essential workers. In our communities one of our primary focuses was to ensure our children’s education would continue as quickly and efficiently as possible. Tremendous effort was expended to train teachers and set up Zoom, Google Classroom, and phone meetings. We made sure to get our yeshivos back open as soon as it was safe to do so. That tells you about what we value and prioritize.

            When the larger community rallies to be part of an organization which shows appreciation and hails educators as true heroes, it strengthens our resolve to dedicate ourselves to our children’s chinuch above all else.

            In an inane society which prioritizes making Mr. Potato Head gender neutral and is banning classic Dr. Seuss books because they are now deemed offensive, we continue to prioritize building the future.

            Our dream is to strengthen the next generation of those who bear our immutable Torah values. We do so by seeking to inoculate our children from the heretical ideas around us.

            We celebrate the fruition of the dream of Mordechai each year on Purim. The dream which began as a trickle but is now an unstoppable force.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum