Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Parshas Vayeishev 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayeshev

22 Kislev 5782/November 26, 2021

Mevorchim Chodesh Teves


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל



            In 1988, Nike released its now famous slogan, “Just do it”, with the iconic whoosh beneath it. It was originally introduced in a television commercial featuring an 80-year-old man named Walt Stack, as he jogged across the Golden Gate Bridge in California.

            What’s not very well known is the true source of the famous tagline. It was actually inspired by the final words uttered by a convicted murderer. Gary Gilmore was convicted of killing two people in Utah in 1976 and was sentenced to death. Just before he was executed, he was asked if he had any last words. Facing down a five-man firing squad, Gilmore called out, “Let's do it.”

            The “Let’s do it” slogan catapulted sales of Nike sneakers.

            What’s fascinating is that neither the iconic swoosh nor the ubiquitous slogan, “just do it” mention the name of the sports brand or the fact that they offer sports clothing. So how has the advertising helped Nike become one of the world’s highest profile athletic brands?

            It turns out that the magic lies in arousing feelings of positive emotions within customers that resonate with their values and desires. The “Just Do It” campaign featured professional and amateur athletes talking about their accomplishments and the emotions they feel as they exercise. In the original video of Walt Stack, he explains to viewers how he runs 17 miles every morning. Stories like Walt’s evoke an immediate emotional response in viewers and lead them to ask, “if these athletes can do it, why can’t I?”

            The “Just Do It” campaign was so powerful that people began to contact Nike with personal stories about how they “just did it,” including leaving a job they hated or beginning to exercise or make other improvements in their lives.

            The slogan also made its way into many a mussar shmooze in the hallowed halls of yeshivos.

            Rabbeim are always looking to throw in a contemporary quip, slogan, or name of a famous sports player to pique the attention of their students. “Let’s do it” was the perfect line to accomplish just that.

            What I found fascinating, was how the line could be used in different lectures to make the exact opposite point.

            One rebbe could talk about the need to “just do it” by pushing yourself to serve Hashem even when you’re not in the mood. Then another rebbe would say that we shouldn’t be like the “sneaker company” which says to “just do it”, because we shouldn’t do things mindlessly without contemplating the significance and consequences of our actions.

            The reality is that both sides are true. It’s reminiscent of the famous line of Reb Simcha Bunim of Pershischa that every person should have a piece of paper in each of his pockets - one that says, “I am but dust and ashes”, the other which says, “the world was created for me.” The balance of humility with a sense of mission keeps a person grounded.

            The secret to success in life is all about finding the right balance.

            On the one hand, Reb Tzadok Hakohain (Tzidkas Hatzaddik 1) writes that when starting anything new in Avodas Hashem a person has to jump in. If he thinks too much and plans too much, he may never get there. He has to be willing to take the plunge and “just do it”.

            On the other hand, we are cautioned that our evil inclination tries to convince us to just do the deed without forethought. “It’s not so bad!” “It’s not such a big deal!” “Everyone else is doing it!” So… “just do it”! (The Ohr Yahel famously explains that when Yaakov asked the Malach he had just defeated what his name was the Malach replied “why do you ask me my name?” That wasn’t an evasion of the question but actually the answer. That Malach was the yetzer hara. His essence and greatest technique to get people to sin is to convince them not to ask questions. “Just do it” now and ask questions later.)

            Our task is not to fall for the seductions of our evil inclination, but to remain resolute in our convictions.

            The bottom line is that there’s a time and place when we should just do it, and there’s a time and place when we have to be strong and not just do it. Regarding selfish matters we should think twice, but things involving spiritual matters and benefiting others we should be ready to just do it.

            The holiday of Chanukah is very much connected with this theme. The greatest tragedy of that dark time wasn’t the Syrian-Greek enemy, as much as it was the Hellenists, the assimilated Jews who wanted to prove their loyalty to the enemy. It was they who encouraged Antiochus and his armies to continue the persecution of the faithful.

            The heroes of the story, the Maccabees, felt they were embarking on a suicide mission. But their attitude was to just do it - for the sake of the Torah, for the sake of their heritage, and for the sake of the future of our people. They didn’t allow themselves to contemplate their mortality or calculate their chances. They knew they had to act!

            Chanukah is a celebration of the courageous actions of the faithful few.

            The moral of the story is, that we should be like Nike and just do it, except for those times when we shouldn’t just do it. Then we should consider Under Armor or Adidas.

            Truthfully, after eating all those latkes and donuts during Chanukah, any type of sneaker is worthwhile, so long as you put them on and just do it!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            Freilichen Chanukah & Orot Sameiach

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Parshas Vayishlach 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayishlach

14 Kislev 5782/November 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



            Recently, Rav Shaul Alter, the Gerrer Rosh Yeshiva of Yerushalayim, visited the New York area. When it was announced that he was coming to Monsey and speaking at Sheiner’s shul at 4 pm one afternoon, I decided to attend. Aside from the fact that my family roots are in Ger, it was an opportunity to see a renown talmid chochom.

            The tent that he spoke in was packed. At exactly 4 o’clock he entered and briskly walked to the podium and immediately began without any fanfare.

            Although I hoped he would be speaking in Hebrew, he spoke in Yiddish. I have always wished I was more fluent in Yiddish. But I was confident that I would be able to understand much of his shiur because in recent months I have been practicing Yiddish, thanks to Duolingo.

            Duolingo is a popular free language-learning app, with lessons that require a mere 5-10 minutes a day. The makers of the app recently announced that users can now learn Yiddish.

            Developing the Yiddish course wasn’t easy. There are three basic dialects of Yiddish - Galician, Lithuanian and Romanian/Ukrainian Yiddish. Then each dialect has sub-dialects. Most contemporary Yiddish speakers are Chassidim, so the team of developers included Jews who grew up speaking Chassidish Yiddish.

            The developers decided to provide different synonyms to include different dialects. For pronunciation they decided to base it on the accent of the Satmar community.

            Fortified with a few Duolingo Yiddish lessons, I thought I was ready for a Yiddish shiur. But I’ve come to realize that language isn’t only about words, it’s also about knowing the correct vernacular. For example, although dank means thank you, most Yiddish speakers say yasher koach (or Shkoiach). From the app I learned that bileten means ticket, guitarin means guitar, garten is garden, and royz is rose. But, surprisingly, Rav Shaul Alter didn’t use any of those words in his shiur about hilchos tzedakah.

            For the app to be more effective, they should use words like geshmak, gefilte fish, heimishe, and gezunt.

            I am fortunate to spend my mornings as a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck. I try to teach my talmidim Torah and they try to teach me contemporary lingo, so I could be a hip Rabbi (though some of them assert that I legit have no shot). Twice a week during the afternoon I teach a class in Government and Law in more yeshivish yeshivos. Aside from the fact that it keeps me balanced, I get a kick out of the contrast between the contemporary lingo the boyz in Heichal use and the yeshivishe shprach of the more yeshivish bochurim.

            The morning after someone gets a haircut, I might hear someone quip that he has a “fresh cut,” while in the afternoon someone would say “shayne haircut!” Someone who makes an outlandish comment in the morning may be told “you’re trippin bro”, while in the afternoon he would be told that he has “no shaychus”. Say something untrue and you might be told that you’re “capping” versus “that’s shekker v’chazav”. The opposite of capping/shekker is fax/emes! If someone says a sharp line, someone may say “Oh snap! Shots fired!” as opposed to “you just got shtuched out!” If a kid is good on the basketball court, he is a “baller” or a “shtark player”. A fun night can be litty or a geshmake matzav.

            Maybe one day I’ll be able to blend the two worlds. People will learn that being salty is the same as being kvetchy, and that a T4 is the same as a subtle flex. Whether you are vibing and feeling shtultzy, or even on days when you’re just not down, if you don’t want to be a grubbah am ha’aretz, you gotta push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

            It’ll be obvious how you identify yourself depending on if your reaction to this article is “Pshhhh!” or “Sheeesh!” (Or “shtusim!” versus “very sus!”)

            One of the rules in public speaking is the need for the speaker to know how to speak to his crowd. It’s not only about the language, but also about the dialect and vernacular. If a speaker presents using words that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar to his listeners, he will lose the crowd. In our world, there are crowds in which it is necessary to translate every quoted pasuk or statement from a gemara/Medrash. There are other crowds in which doing so can come across as boring or even demeaning.

            The truth is that the lingo is constantly changing and by the time you read this some of these phrases might not even be a thing anymore. Still, everyone has their own way of speaking. Whether your listener is a Karen or a Yoeli, make sure you know whether to speak the lingo for the boyz or the shprach for the chevra.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Parshas Vayeitzei 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayetzei

8 Kislev 5782/November 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


            The other day I was sitting at my desk and wanted to grab a book that was just out of my reach. I stood up quickly without realizing that my jacket pocket was caught on the arm of the chair. In sports vernacular they would say that it was a career-ending injury for my suit jacket.

            It forced me to do something I hardly do - go deep into the bowels of my closet to see what was in there. Lo and behold, I found a nice suit I had forgotten about. To be honest, it was a little snug (they don’t make them like they used to…) but it still was a good fit.

            The only issue was that I noticed a faded stain on the shoulder of the jacket. I realized it must have been from a few years earlier when our twins were still infants. I must have been holding one of them over my shoulder, without a cloth diaper. You can always tell parents of infant children from the spit up stains on their shoulders.

            We don’t think much about our shoulders. Shoulders have the widest range of motion of any joint in the body. They allow us to be flexible and to extend ourselves. For the same reason, shoulders are very prone to injury.

            In sports shoulders play a vital role, such as swinging a tennis racket, pitching a baseball, or shooting a basketball.

            Football players notoriously wear huge shoulder pads to protect themselves. During the 1980s NFL players would wear extra shoulder padding to make themselves appear even more intimidating. That stopped when players realized that the added padding impeded their ability to play their best.

            In hockey, a player can check an opposing team’s player into the boards by lowering his shoulder and skating into his opponent’s chest.

            A friend related that his basketball coach always reminded him to use his shoulders when driving down the lane, shooting, or playing defense.

            After I began working on this brilliant article, my students informed me that during a recent NBA game, last year’s MVP, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, lowered his shoulder and charged into another player from behind, violently knocking him to the ground. It was an act of retaliation for the other player fouling him first. Both players were immediately rejected.

            There are two Hebrew words for shoulder - kasef and shechem. Shechem is also the name of a city in Eretz Yisroel with a storied history. On the one hand, great tragedies occurred there, including the abduction of Dinah and the sale of Yosef. On the other hand, there were positive events that occurred there as well.

            The first place Avrohom went to when he arrived in Eretz Yisroel was Shechem (Bereishis 12:6). When Yaakov returned to Eretz Yisroel he came to Shechem. After miraculously leading the nation across the Jordan River, Yehoshua brought the nation to Shechem, for the epic event upon Har Grizim and Har Eval.

            Another place where shoulders are significant in the Torah is after being reunited, Yosef and Binyamin cried upon each other’s shoulders, each weeping for future losses of the other, not for their own pain.[1]

            The Navi (Zefaniah 3:9) prophesizes that in the future “I will change the nations to speak a pure language, so that they will all proclaim the Name of Hashem, l’avdo shechem echad - to serve Him as one group.”

            One of the commentators notes that shechem also refers to a shoulder. The prophet is saying that in the future all nations will turn their shoulders together to bear the yoke of serving Hashem.

            Like the city of Shechem, the shechem (shoulder) in the body can be embracing or distancing, it all depends on one’s attitude and approach.

            How one “uses” his shoulder dictates his approach and relationship with others. One can lower use his shoulder to push others away, or check them into the boards, physically, spiritually, mentally, and psychologically creating distance or friction. On the other hand, one can offer his shoulder for another to cry on or “spit-up” on. He can lower his shoulder to embrace others and allow others into his inner circle.

            In the city of Shechem great tragedies occurred when individuals selfishly turned their shoulders away, to ostracize or failing to recognize how their own selfish gratification would affect others. But in the same place, there was potential for unity and holiness, when there was selflessness and a desire to unite.

            We all have broad shoulders. It’s up to us to decide how to use them.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] The pasuk there actually says they fell on each other’s neck(s). It’s understood that it refers to their shoulders. It is worthy of contemplation as to why the Torah says they fell upon each other’s necks and not shoulders.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Parshas Toldos 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Toldos

1 Kislev 5782/November 5, 2021

Rosh Chodesh Kislev


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


            When we moved into our home fourteen years ago, there was a beautiful path comprised of slabs of bluestone, from our front door to the driveway. Over time, some stones became loose, and the cement started to crack. It made us nervous every time guests walked up the path, especially elderly guests.

            After much discussion and weighing of options, we finally had a new path installed a few weeks ago. The old path was ripped up and replaced with good old concrete.

            In addition, we added a path from the road to our front door. Until now, during the winter and after rain storms the ground would become slippery and muddy. The new path is not as aesthetically appealing as the old one, but it looks quaint and neat. Most importantly, it is safer and more convenient.

            There is a lot of worthy discussion about the painful phenomena of kids who are OTD - Off The Derech. There is debate about why it happens, what our reaction should be, and how we can prevent it.

            It’s important to note that it’s referred to as the ‘derech’, the road. Although roads are very important, providing us with a route to our destination, it is only the means, not the destination. In addition, not everyone needs to follow the same derech to get to the ultimate destination.

            During an address delivered at the recent Torah Umesorah convention, Rabbi Gershon Miller poignantly noted that if we made our derech wider, less children would go off the derech.

            We are at times guilty of having a very rigid definition of success. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, dolefully notes that we must be very careful that our chinuch system never resemble a Sodom bed. It is well known (Sanhedrin 109b) that in Sodom every visitor to the city was forced to lie down in the Sodom bed. If the person was too tall the Sodomites would cut off his legs, and if he was too short, they would stretch his body. The objective of the cruel procedure was to ensure that everyone be exactly the same.

            If we try to force our children (and adults) to follow a narrow and rigid one-size-fits-all derech, then we are guilty of creating a metaphorical Sodom bed as well.

            It is often those who are off the beaten path and drum to their own beat that have the most creativity and ambition. But their uniqueness and free-spiritedness can be unnerving to us because we don’t know how to react to or foster those talents. We may unwittingly (or wittingly) squelch that uniqueness in trying to make such children conform to a narrower derech. Aside for the emotional damage to the child, it will cause the loss of his potential contribution, squelched in the name of theocratic uniformity.

            The pasuk (Mishlei 3:6) states “In all your ways know Him, and He will straighten your paths.”         Rav Tzadok Hakohain (Tzidkas Hatzaddik 179) explains that derech refers to the smoothly paved road, while orach (paths) refer to the side paths that aren’t paved and have more difficult terrain. The pasuk states that if we seek to be close to Hashem, not only will He help us find the direct road, but even paths we trotted in the past that led us in the wrong direction, will be transformed into straight roads.

            There is no one derech to becoming close to Hashem. In fact, sometimes the path to success isn’t a road at all. Everyone has to chart their own derech based on their own strengths and ambitions. The Jewish people and the world generally vitally need all types of talents and ideas, even, or especially, of the less conventional.

            When a child struggles in school, whether academically, socially or behaviorally, it is vital to try to build the child in other ways. Rick Lavoie, a seasoned educator, notes that school is a child’s job, in the sense that he/she spend every day for years going there. How would an adult going to work every morning feeling like a failure handle it?! Developing other hobbies and maintaining a positive relationship with the child outside of school and school issues is integral.

            Rabbi Gershon Miller also noted that even when we employ other ideas and modalities to address the unique needs of our out-of-the-box children, we feel it is “bidieved”, a plan B. No one can feel truly positive about himself when he feels he is living a plan B. When Shlomo Hamelech wrote that education must be al up darko, based on the child’s way, he didn’t mean that such an approach is bidieved.

            At the end of the day, what matters most is the yiud - the destination, not the derech. Sometimes the derech must be widened, but other times it may be necessary to forge a new derech. Either way the derech must be safe and embracing, a way to help the traveler get to the destination, without sinking in the muddy mire of self-doubt, unworthiness, or being unwanted.

            I remember seeing a slogan, perhaps from ElAl, “imcha b’chol haderech - with you the entire way”. That’s a beautiful mantra for parents and educators to have. If somehow, we can convey to our youths that we are completely with them along the way, whatever that way entails, they will have the confidence to remain on the derech or to create a healthy new derech.

            Happy trudging!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum