Thursday, April 29, 2021

Parshas Emor / Lag Baomer 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Emor

33rd day of the Omer – Avos perek 4

Lag baOmer

[1]13 Iyar 5781/April 30, 2021


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל




            Ever hear anyone as “what’s the big deal?” If you’re a parent or a teacher, chances are one (or more) of your children have asked you that when you were annoyed about something they did or didn’t do. Truthfully, you may have asked the same question to someone else who was annoyed at you for something you did or didn’t do. (Word of advice: It’s probably not a good idea to ask your spouse what the big deal is when he/she is upset about something.)

            As a rebbe, I’ve heard the question asked when learning certain areas of halacha, particularly specific laws of Shabbos. Sometimes a student has a hard time understanding that there may be a borer issue when sorting books, sports cards, or cutlery on Shabbos.

            Another example is when students learn that making a salad can involve some halachic issues, such as cutting vegetables too small can be an issue of tochen[2]. It also can only be done shortly before the meal in which it will be eaten.[3]

            Sometimes these concepts sound foreign to one who has been observing Shabbos his whole life yet wasn’t aware of these issues. It can lead the person to wonder, “What’s the big deal? It’s not like I’m driving a car or turning on a light. I just want to dice a pepper or put my cutlery back in the drawer!”

            A few months ago, I was reviewing our bank statement and I discovered some charges from a computer game. They weren’t significant charges, but I didn’t recall purchasing them. My wife immediately realized that one of our children (who shall remain anonymous) had clicked on a couple of options from something open on the computer, not realizing that he was purchasing it and that it was incurring charges.

            It reminded me that a few years ago, a similar thing happened with one of our children who was a toddler at the time. After his Mommy got up from making some purchases on the computer, he decided to click, just like Mommy did. When he was done, we had to cancel charges.

            These days it’s not hard to understand how a few nonchalant and effortless clicks can have tremendous consequences. Clicking on one part of the computer screen may be completely innocuous, while clicking an inch over in a little box on the screen can cost you big time, in more ways than one.

            As Torah observant Jews, we believe that halacha is a real commodity. It’s not just something we observe because it’s a matter of custom or tradition. Rather, we observe it because we believe it is G-d’s Will and we are bound to it.

            Does it really matter on Shabbos whether I diced a tomato into a little piece or whether I cut it into bigger slices? And does it really matter if I did it five minutes before the Shabbos seudah or if I did it that morning?

            Well, does it really matter if I unwittingly clicked on something that costs $10,000 or if I clicked on the line underneath that merely takes me to the next page?

            The answer is obviously a resounding yes!

            What we do matters and what we say matters. Our words and actions have value! I guess that means we are much more important than we realize or give ourselves credit for.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

[1] selecting - one of the 39 forbidden melachos on Shabbos

[2] grinding is another one of the 39 forbidden melachos on Shabbos

[3] As this is not a halachic forum, I only mention these concepts to bring out a point. There are permitted manners to do the above actions, which are important to become familiarized with.  

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Acharei-Kedoshim

26h day of the Omer – Avos perek 3

11 Iyar 5781/April 23, 2021


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            For children it’s unquestionably one of the highlights of the Seder – hiding the afikomen. Some call it stealing the afikomen, some opine that doing so is inappropriate. But whatever it’s called, children love the little midnight game of hide and seek during the Seder.

            This year, at the beginning of the first Seder, our four-and-a-half-year-old twins hid the afikomen with their older brothers. But they were long asleep before it was time to eat the afikomen. So, on the first day during the seudah, we made a mock afikomen, giving them a chance to hide a piece of matzah.

            Towards the end of the seudah, Gavriel, one of the twins, told me I had to look for the afikomen. When I asked him where it was he replied that I had to look and he wouldn’t tell me. I asked him how I can look for it if he didn’t tell me where it was. He thought for a second and then replied that it was hidden inside a fold up bed upstairs. His older brothers were not happy when I came downstairs holding the coveted afikomen.

            That night, the twins stayed up for the entire second Seder. (In fact, at 1:30 am after we were done, they still weren’t going to sleep...) This time after they hid the afikomen, Gavriel’s older brothers warned him that he was not allowed to reveal the hiding place to me, even if I asked.

I was tired and wanted to proceed but my wife gave me those eyes which told me that I was going to go look for it.

            This time Gavriel wouldn’t fall for my efforts to convince him to tell me where the afikomen was hidden. So I went into one of the bedrooms, smiled, and announced that I had found it. Gavriel had a confused look on his face, and immediately ran to his bed to check under the pillow where the afikomen was stashed. I followed him from a distance. A moment later, to the chagrin of my children, I again emerged with the afikomen.

            The concept of our children hiding the afikomen and we, their parents, looking for it, contains a beautiful symbolism of one of our most important tasks as parents. Every child has unique qualities that make him special. As one educator once said, “every child has gifts. Some discover them later than others.” Very often those qualities and talents remain latent and need to be recognized. Our task as parents is to search for the hidden afikomen within our children and to reveal it, particularly for our children.

            The truth is that this idea is not limited to our children. We also have the responsibility to search for and reveal our own greatness and to recognize our own vital contribution.

            Lag Baomer is a celebration of the revelation of the hidden inner light. The days of Sefira mourn the fact that the students of Rabbi Akiva did not treat each other within adequate respect. They failed to recognize and respect the opinions and contributions of their colleagues. But Rav Shimon bar Yochai was able to elevate even the most mundane individuals.

            The fires of Lag Baomer which light up the dark night, are symbolic of the light of Rav Shimon, which lit up the darkest of places and ignited the souls of the most distant and forlorn individuals.

            In a sense, Rav Shimon bar Yochai revealed the afikomen of every person he encountered with genuine love. Even greater was the fact that he did not need to employ psychological tricks to do it.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Parshas Tazria-Metzora 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tazria-Metzora

19th day of the Omer – Avos perek 2

4 Iyar 5781/April 16, 2021


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            I wrote and sent out the questions on Pesach. I am now resending together with my response:   


Dad, I have a few questions that have been bothering me recently. I hope you won’t take them personally:


Why is our family different from other families in our neighborhood?

1.       Other families make beautiful extensions on their homes, buy new luxury cars every few years, and have careers and portfolios that are constantly expanding. Why are they growing and expanding while we seem to be stuck, flat like a matzah?

2.       Other families seem to have really exciting lives. I see the Instagram and Facebook feeds of my friends and classmates, and they always seem to be having fun and happy. Even when we do the same things it always seems like they are doing it better. Why are their lives so varied and exciting while our lives seem bland and even bitter like marror?

3.       Why do so many other families seem to get whatever they want so easily? Their kids get in to the best yeshivos and seminaries and then find the best shidduchim, while our family has to settle for whatever we get and even that is only after pulling strings and using connections. Why do they seem to be able to submerge themselves in everything they want while we can barely dip into what we want?

4.       So many other families went to exotic places for Pesach, midwinter and other vacations, including Miami, Cancun and Dubai. It was practically obligatory that we at least go to Orlando this year, and yet we didn’t. Why do those families get to recline in the sun while we have to sit here at home?

I don’t mean any disrespect Dad, but if you and Mom can please answer these questions which really gnaw at me, I would be very appreciative.


A Possible Response[1]


            Since the question was asked using the format utilized in the Haggadah, I will try to reply in the same vein.[2]

            I have to begin with an uncomfortable confession: I’m not coming to answer these questions only for you, my child. I need to answer them for myself as well, (and maybe even more so). Even if I’m not bothered by the things you asked me about, there are invariably other things people have or do that I feel frustrated, jealous or resentful that I don’t have.[3]

            So, my child, the question is legitimate, and the struggle means you are human and have normal emotions. The Torah demands that we not be jealous. However, we have no chance of living up to that standard unless we are honest about our feelings. We need to struggle within ourselves to overcome the natural jealousy we often feel. But we must realize that it’s a process. Our task is to be willing to undergo the arduous process in order to overcome our natural faults.[4]

            In their great wisdom and insight, our Sages teach us that desire and jealousy have no limit.[5] We delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll be happy and satisfied with the next million or the next gadget or vacation. But that’s only until we get what we wanted and realize that we then want the next amenity or luxury and are convinced that then we will really be happy and satisfied - this time for real.

            It’s been said that everyone is trying to find the city of happiness but failing to realize that happiness is actually a state of mind! When we are taught that true wealth belongs to the one who is happy with his portion[6], we think it’s cute, but trite. We fail to realize that those timeless words contain the key to what we are constantly searching for. The more important question then is how we can train ourselves to be happy with what we have.

            A wise mentor taught me that jealousy is the result of being self-focused and focusing on our wants and desires. The way to counter that is by focusing outwards by thinking positively about others. He noted that whenever a feeling of jealousy sets in, he immediately prays that the object of his jealousy should be happy and enjoy what he has, and that G-d help him be happy with what he has.

            He added that even though it feels fake and disingenuous it doesn’t discourage him. Since he truly aspires to feel and think that way, trying to develop that mindset is an integral part of the process.  

            This idea may not ‘cure’ us. But it slowly helps us challenge our automatic emotions so that we can be better and happier people.[7]

            Here’s another important idea: Count your blessings! Write down three things your grateful for today. You’ve likely heard that idea before but may be skeptical. But the reality is that doing so is transformational. Within a few weeks your mood and attitude will begin to change. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back![8]

            Finally, like with every other worthy endeavor in life, we need to daven that G-d help us be happy with what we have and that we be able to overcome our jealousy.


            It’s often been said that it’s far easier to take a Jew out of exile than it is to take exile out of a Jew.

            Each one of us was taken out of Mitzrayim with personal love and a personal mission and direction. If we spend our lives looking at whatever everyone else has, we will have never really left the Egypt within us. Part of faith demands that we believe that G-d provides each of us with what is best for us to have.[9]

            With that in mind, the answer to your contemporary Mah Nishtana really is the same as the answer given to the Mah Nishtana of the Haggadah: “We were slaves (to Pharaoh in Egypt) and G-d took us out.” He took each of us out and each of us has our own direction and purpose.

            We are all locked in our own person Egypts but the door is open for us to leave proudly if we are willing to invest the effort and have the confidence to achieve personal redemption.

            Redemption is a process, especially the redemption from our own constrictions and character flaws. Let’s embark upon and endure the journey together!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

[1] Keeping in mind our limited attention spans (especially of our youth), in order to keep the response at a minimum, I have relegated many important points to footnotes.

[2] The haggadah teaches us that all answers must be tailored to the questioner based on the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional capacity of the questioner, and the manner in which the question is asked. There are four sons at the Seder and four different approaches utilized. Therefore, the approach to answering these difficult questions must be individualized as well. The following ideas should only be understood as possible points for discussion.

[3] I want to normalize and validate the question and laud my child for having the courage to ask it. The reality is that most of us struggle with jealousy. However, we often mask feelings of jealousy with religious zeal or other rationalizations. For example, when attending a posh wedding people may angrily announce to their fellow tablemates, “Why are they wasting so much money on making this fancy wedding? Do you know how many poor people they could support instead of having carving stations and a whole orchestra tonight?”

Who wants to admit the truth about feeling jealous? It’s far easier to make myself feel better by pretending that I am holier than thou - thou being the one who could afford luxuries I can only dream of.

Validating the question also has the important benefit of allowing my child to feel comfortable discussing uncomfortable topics with me.

[4] I should add that there’s an approach I do NOT want to take with my child: “You think it’s all glamorous. But really those people aren’t so happy. You don’t know the struggles they face. Their life might look perfect on the outside but really they have major problems.”

I don’t think that is the optimal response. It’s undoubtedly true that we don’t know what is going on behind closed doors, and everyone has their share of challenges.  It’s also important to convey to our children (and ourselves) that the images portrayed on social media don’t reflect the real truth of what’s happening in other people’s lives. Social media doesn’t display reality, but rather the reality that the host wants the viewers to see.

However, to teach my child that the way to deal with jealously is to assume anyone who has more than you has their own issues, is just another unhealthy way of trying to assuage my own feelings of jealousy. It’s essentially mentally putting the other person down in order to make me feel better about my underprivileged situation. There’s gotta be a better way!

[5] Koheles Rabbah 3:12 - “No one dies having ascertained (even) half of his desires”; and the more one has the more one wants (“One who has one maneh wants two”).

[6] Avos 4:1 “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.”

[7] Contemplate the following: Two different people inherit a box containing fifty million dollars. They both go to their backyards and walk twenty paces from their house and dig ten feet down and place the box containing their riches in the ground. The first person has no idea that his neighbor saw him, and a half hour later dug up the box and stole everything. Meanwhile, the second person was a nervous wreck that someone was going to steal it and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. The next night he mistakenly walked ten paces and dug twenty feet down. Obviously, the box wasn’t there. For the rest of his life he never stopped mourning and bemoaning his fate that he had lost his wealth, all the while not realizing that it was right where he put it. Meanwhile, the first fellow was content with the knowledge that his wealth was safe and secure, and he never bothered to check if it was still there.

Who would you rather be – the millionaire who was miserable because he thought he was a pauper, or the pauper who lived his life in blissful happiness thinking he was a millionaire? Who is truly the wealthier and more satisfied person?

[8] Dennis Prager notes 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 that we see others have. The answer to that question largely determines how happy we feel.


[9] The Chofetz Chaim once asked someone who he was doing, the fellow replied that he was doing well but a little more money couldn’t hurt. The Chofetz Chaim replied “how do you know?”

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Parshas Shemini 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemini

Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar  

12th day of the Omer – Avos perek 1

20 Nissan 5781/April 9, 2021


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            As we take leave of Pesach an proceed full-steam ahead towards Kabbolas HaTorah, I would like to take a moment to reflect back on one part of the Seder.

            The third question is: On all other nights we don’t even dip once, but tonight we dip twice - the karpas in salt water and marror in charoses.

            Wait! What??

            On all other nights we don’t dip? Seriously? In America it’s practically an obligation to dip French fries in ketchup! In fact, one who doesn’t squeeze half a bottle of ketchup onto his plate, douse his French fries in them, and then throw out most of the ketchup, hasn’t fulfilled his societal obligation and likely has to eat the fries again! In addition, these days, in restaurants and fast-food joints, after choosing your meal, you then choose from an assortment of dips and sauces to coat your sandwich.

            In 2021, eating challah without a minimum of three or four dips is practically unheard of. (Some would argue that it may be more important than lechem mishna.) In Monsey, Yannai’s dips on Route 59 has become legendary even outside of Monsey. When we go somewhere for Shabbos, we’re often asked to bring Yannai dips. The store primarily sells an assortment and wide variety of dips. The incredible selection includes garlic, onion, babaganush, falafel, pizza, pickle, chummus, techina, tomato, broccoli, pepper, to name just a few.

            In the Staum family, charoses was a big hit throughout Pesach. In contemporary lingo the Staums would ‘pound’ charoses. I should add that I was, and am, the one who makes the charoses. Before I was married, on Erev Pesach, my mother would provide me with quite a few apples which I would hand grind before adding the nuts and wine. I have maintained that practice until today.

            This year I made charoses, not only for the Seder in our home, which included my in-laws, but also for my parents, who were hosting my brother and his family and my sister and her family.

            Being that I was making charoses for so many people I knew I would need a lot of apples and a couple of bags of crushed walnuts. It wasn’t easy hand grating all those apples (No, I wouldn’t use a food processor. Did my great-grandmother use a food processor in the shtetl?) but I made two big containers of charoses.

            I was quite surprised that this year most of the charoses wasn’t eaten. I realized that every year we have more and more dips on our table throughout Pesach. The charoses now has major competition with numerous other kosher-for-Pesach dips. It therefore no longer takes center stage.

            So, if anything the question the child should be asking on Seder night is why are we only dipping twice and why aren’t we dipping the marror into chummus or babaganush?

            The early commentators explain that although we often dip our food throughout the year, we do so during our meal. At the Seder however, we dip twice before the meal even begins. That is what the child is asking - why are we dipping twice before the meal even begins, which we never do at any other time of the year?

            But perhaps there is another dimension to the dipping.

            The reason we dip our food generally is that we want the food to have the taste of the dip we are submerging it into. There’s particular enjoyment eating something with the added taste of the dip. However, when we dip the karpas and marror, we don’t want to overshadow the taste of the marror/karpas, only that it should be mitigated somewhat. In fact, the halacha is that after dipping the marror into charoses, we shake off the excess charoses.

            Marror symbolizes the challenges and pain of exile, and of life. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often notes that we are the only people who recite a beracha on marror. We don’t whitewash our bitter past and we don’t whistle past the graveyard. We confront the reality of difficult times and recognize that they are invariable. At the same time, we also seek to find the silver lining in all our struggles. We remind ourselves that everything G-d does is for the best and with a divine purpose. That may not take away the pain, but it certainly adds a certain dimension of sweetness to it.

            That is the deeper symbolism of dipping on Seder night. The child - and the child within myself - asks why throughout the year we douse our foods with delicious dips to add taste. But at the Seder we seek to maintain the original taste of these bland/butter foods even while dipping it and slightly mitigating its bitterness and blandness without eliminating it. What a strange dipping! Where’s the kosher-for-Pesach caesar dressing?

            We answer by teaching our child that the Jewish people possess a rare combination of realism and optimism. We don’t negate or pretend that our situation is often bitter. Yet, at the same time, we have never stopped dipping that bitterness in the proverbial charoses of G-d’s sweetening of the bitterness. That faith has carried us through the darkest of times. That rare combination is part of the secret to our eternity.

            By the way, if anyone would like some charoses or a few boxes of machine matzah, let me know. Hurry, this offer is only valid while supplies last.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum