Thursday, December 29, 2022

Parshas Vayigash 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayigash

6 Teves 5783/December 30, 2022


Rabbi Shlomo Carelbach a’h related that when he was still living in his parent’s home, he had a nephew who stayed in his parent’s home on Chanukah. The night after Chanukah ended, they told his nephew that Chanukah was over, and they wouldn’t be lighting menorah again. His nephew asked him to dial his mother’s number so he could speak to her. When his mother got on the phone, his nephew began crying, “Please come bring me home! Bubby and Zaydei don’t want to have Chanukah anymore. But I want to have it again!”

The celebration of Chanukah is the result of those who rose to the occasion and were ready to die for their faith and values. At that point the Maccabes heroically assumed the leadership of our people and saved our ancestors from spiritual destruction. For that they are eternal national heroes.

The stranger part of the Chanukah story is that the gemara (Kiddushin 70b) states that there are no living descendants of the Maccabean family. Tragically, the descendants of the original Maccabees largely undid the legacy of their holy ancestors. The later Hasmonean kings brought about civil war, an all-out assault on Torah values, and even murder of Torah leaders. When one of the later Hasmonean kings sent a pig to be offered upon the Mizbeiach it was the ultimate betrayal of the legacy of their ancestors. The Maccabean revolt had begun decades earlier because the Syrian-Greeks offered a pig on the altar.

The family that had saved the Jewish people by assuming the reins of power during a desperate time, failed to relinquish that power when desperate measures were no longer necessary.


The gemara (Pesachim 22b) relates that Shimon Ha’amsuni invested great effort expounding the hidden message to be derived from every time the word “es” appears in the Torah. But then, he came to one particular instance where he could not decipher its message. At that point he stated, “just as I have received reward for expounding, so will I receive reward for rescinding”. Despite his previous investment, when he felt his premise was mistaken, he had the fortitude to reject all his previous work.

It’s been noted that although in his humility Shimon Ha’amsuni stated that he would receive reward for rescinding just as for expounding, the truth is that rescinding is an exponentially more formidable challenge, and therefore garners far greater reward.

A friend of mine who arranges trips for a summer camp noted that his goal is that the trip end when the campers wish it was a little longer. If they feel the trip should have been longer, they remember it positively. But if they feel it was too long, even if the trip was great until then, they will generally remember it negatively.

Mark Twain quipped that he was once listening to a preacher soliciting money. As he listened to the preacher’s passionate plea, Twain decided to give more than he originally planned. After another minute of heartfelt oratory, he decided to double his original donation. But then the preacher continued speaking, droning on and on. By the time the collection cup came around, Twain took a few dollars out of the cup and pocketed them as compensation for his aggravation.

As parents, one of the most challenging tasks we have is to step aside. As our children transition into adolescence and then adulthood, it is vital for parents to grant their children space to make their own decisions (and often mistakes) in order to chart for them to forge their own path in life.

Rabbi Shay Schachter relates that every year before Rosh Hashanah his father, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva of Rebbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, asks him if he (Rabbi Hershel Schachter) is passed his prime and whether he can still give shiurim and properly fulfill the roles cast upon him.

Rabbi Shay Schachter notes that it is very painful for him when his father asks him the question. However, his father feels it is important for him to be candid with him. Rabbi Hershel Shachter has mentioned that there were great Torah leaders who were taken advantage of in their advanced years, because they were no longer able to maintain their level of leadership but did not step back and were taken advantage of.

When I first began my career in rabbanus, my predecessor, Rabbi Yehoshua Kohl, gave me a valuable piece of advice. He quoted the first line of the chorus of Kenny Roger’s old hit song - “You gotta know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em.”

It’s true regrading speeches, knowing when to take a stand on issues, and about career decisions generally. There’s a time to jump in and there’s a time to back down. The wise person constantly ponders and weighs the right time for each.

Chanukah celebrates those who assumed leadership when it was necessary for national survival. The tragic aftermath of Chanukah is the result of the inability to relinquish power and control.

You gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, December 22, 2022

Parshas Mikeitz Shabbos Chanuka 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Miketz – Shabbos Chanukah

Erev Rosh Chodesh Teves

29 Kislev 5783/December 23, 2022


In the introduction to his book, The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel wrote that “G-d created the world because He loves stories.”

The Jewish world gives a great deal of credence and value to stories. In chassidic lore, stories are a means of education, information and connection. Stories allow the common Jew to connect with the saintly and to be transported into different times and places.

The Kotzker Rebbe wittily noted that one who believes all the stories he hears is a fool. But one who believes they cannot happen is a heretic.

The challenge of stories is that they must be understood properly. Stories are memorable and resonates, so it’s vital that their message not be misunderstood.

In recent columns I have included some powerful stories. An insightful reader wrote that the issue with these amazing stories is that “the number of failures exceeds the lucky ones.” Many people read such stories and wonder why these types of things never happen to them and why when they were in a difficult situation there was no story-like intervention.

The reality is that most people do not experience such outlandish and borderline miraculous displays of divine manifestation. What’s more, even to those who have had such wondrous experiences, it was an anomaly. The majority of their lives is more mundane as well.

So, is there no point of reading and relating all those wondrous stories? Should we not be promoting the unusual events and instead focus on the far more common natural and expected events of life?

If the answer is yes, then we have to question our celebration of Chanukah. Why celebrate a one-time miraculous event, that no one alive today witnessed?


The gemara in Shabbos (21b-22a) juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated statements:

“Rav Kahana said that Rav Nasan bar Minyomi explained in the name of Rav Tanchum: A Chanukah light placed higher than twenty amos is disqualified because one doesn’t see it.

“Rav Kahana said that Rav Nasan bar Minyomi explained in the name of Rav Tanchum: Why does it say, “the pit (that the brothers threw Yosef into) was empty, there was no water in it” (Bereishis 37:24)? This teaches us that there was no water, but there were snakes and scorpions in it”.

What is the connection between the pit Yosef was cast into and the height limit of Chanukah candles? Is it just that both statements were made by the same author?

The gemara (Yevamos 121a) says that if a person falls into a pit of lions, we can’t be certain he was killed. However, if he fell into a pit of snakes and scorpions, we can be sure he was killed. Snakes and scorpions are aggressive and will attack even if unprovoked.

The fact that Yosef fell into a pit filled with such venomous animals and yet emerged unscathed was an open miracle.

When he was pulled up from the pit, he had to endure a long and painful road which included many difficult vicissitudes and tribulations. Aside from being abandoned by his family he was imprisoned based on trumped up charges, where he languished for years. The open miracle he had witnessed undoubtedly served as a source of encouragement for him. He never forgot that G-d had shown him a personal act of love and that carried him through the most lonely and painful times.

At the time of the Chanukah miracle, there was a similar occurrence. Many people mistakenly think that after the miracle of Chanukah the war with the Greeks was over. Far from it.

The Chanukah miracle occurred during the third year of the war. After the faithful reconquered Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash and experienced the miracle of the oil burning for eight days, the war dragged on for more than five years. Successive Greek emperors could not make peace with the fact that they had lost the Land of Israel. Some tried to reconquer it by force of arms, others by orchestrating internal strife and a coup among the Jews themselves.

At the time of the miracle, Matisyahu, the father of the Maccabees, and Yochanan, the oldest of the brothers, were dead. The year after the miracle Yehuda HaMaccabee was killed in battle. Three years after the miracle, during a major battle in which the Greeks tried to reconquer Eretz Yisroel, Eleazar was killed when an elephant he attacked and wounded fell and crushed him.

That being the case, the Chanukah miracle wasn’t the end of the story at all. In fact, it was more towards the beginning of the story. The miracle of the oil then served as an inspiration and encouragement to the battle-bound Maccabees to stay the course. The miracle gave them the assurance that Hashem recognized their heroic efforts and was proud of their heroic efforts.

That is the poignant connection between Yosef being thrown into the pit and the miracle of the Chanukah candles. Both occurrences included a miracle which inspired their subjects to maintain their faith during subsequent dark and difficult days.

Ramban (end of Parshas Bo) famously writes that the purpose of open miracles is to help us recognize the hidden miracles that happen all the time, and that whatever happens to a person is not just a result of nature.

This then is the purpose and value of the many incredible stories out there. It is NOT to convey to us that whenever we are in a challenging situation, we can be assured that our challenge will be reconciled in an incredible manner that will land our story in the next popular Jewish storybook. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the time we have to struggle unremarkably. But those stories remind us that G-d is the ultimate storyteller and can easily manipulate events and people to produce any outcome, no matter how impossible it seems.

If such occurrences happen in our lives, we surely need to treasure them and remind ourselves that just as in that situation G-d’s Hand was clearly orchestrating events, so does He do so in more hidden ways in every facet of our lives. But even when those events happen to others, we can be inspired to remember that same lesson of faith.

In 1967 the Jewish world experienced open miracles during the 6-day war. During the months before the war there was palpable fear and dread, less than 20 years after the end of the Holocaust. No one could have dreamed the supernatural victories that would be achieved in less than a week. The recapturing of Har Habayis and the Old City of Yerushalayim, Kever Rochel and Mearas Hamachpeilah, and the routing of hostile surrounding enemy armies was previously unimaginable. Aside for generating a feeling of euphoria, there was a feeling of Jewish pride for the first time since before the Holocaust. There was a feeling that we truly belonged in Eretz Yisroel, and G-d was guiding our course.

The miracles of that war, and other incredible events, such as the Entebbe raid, need to continue to encourage us and embolden us even now, decades later. Through all the pain and anguish in our seemingly endless struggle to maintain our homeland, the open miracles we witnessed then demonstrate to us that we are under the direction of G-d.

All too soon, the beautiful lights of Chanukah flicker out.  But their message can and must remain with us long after the holiday is over, and long after the last donuts and latkes have been consumed. It is the message that G-d is with us, even, or perhaps most profoundly, in the darkness.  

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Freilichen & Lichtig Chanukah

Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Parshas Vayeishev 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayeshev

Mevorchim Chodesh Teves

22 Kislev 5783/December 16, 2022


At the beginning of Shmoneh Esrei we praise Hashem, as “gomel chasadim tovim - grants good kindness.”

It seems like strange vernacular. Is there kindness that isn’t good?

Mr. Yossi Grunwald, a friend of my father, related to me a powerful personal story.

In the summer of 1999, he was working in a bank, and felt like it was time to move on. He began looking into other options for employment. He heard about a job opening at Cantor-Fitzgerald, an American financial services firm, and applied for the position.

On a Thursday afternoon in late August, after the markets closed, he had a meeting with the Senior Vice President (SVP) in charge of commercial bond training.

The meeting was held on the top floor of the building in a stunning office that had a breathtaking view of the entire Manhattan skyline.

The meeting lasted for three hours and went very well. When it was over, the SVP warmly shook Yossi’s hand, and proclaimed that he was excited to have met the company’s new vice president of bond trading and stocks. He then told Yossi that he should call their office the following morning and they would set him up with Human Resources to begin the hiring process.

Yossi related that as he entered the elevator and began descending, he felt like he was riding on a cloud. He was about to join a world-famous company with an enviable position and an office with a spectacular view. It felt too good to be true.

The following morning at 9 am, Yossi called the office of the SVP who had interviewed him. The secretary informed him that the SVP was in a meeting but would be sure to call him back afterwards. Later that afternoon, when he didn’t hear back, Yossi called again. He was again reassured that his call would be returned. But it wasn’t. He called again the following day - morning and afternoon, and again the following day, and the day after. Each time there were excuses and reassurances, but nothing came of them. It was incredibly frustrating, but his calls were never returned. After 30 days he exasperatedly gave up and moved on.

It was a deeply upsetting experience for Yossi. The aggravation of that letdown gnawed at him for a long time afterwards.

That all changed on September 11, 2001.

Cantor-Fitzgerald’s corporate headquarters were on the 101st to 105th floor of One World Trade Center. When the first plane crashed into the Twin Towers at 8:46 am, the Cantor-Fitzgerald employees in the building were trapped in the floors above where the impact of the plane occurred.

None of their employees survived.

The Gemara (Moed Katan 18b) states that there was a man who prayed that a certain woman agree to marry him. Rava told the man that his prayer was not proper. If she was meant for him, she would remain available for him. But if she wasn’t meant for him, “you will renounce the power of G-d (to answer your prayer)”.

By definition, as mortals we have limited understanding and foresight. Therefore, we can never know what is truly good for us. We may think that the key to our happiness and fulfilment is bound up in marrying a certain person, purchasing a specific home in a certain neighborhood, or landing a job that we envision as being our dream job. But we have no way of knowing if the very thing we imagine will be our greatest blessing, will end up being our greatest curse and liability.

It’s painful when our plans and dreams fall through. It’s even more aggravating when we are mistreated and there is a lack of common decency in how we are dealt with. But as people of faith, we remember that there is a bigger plan that supersedes our own plans.

The Chanukah story does not conclude with everyone living “happily ever after.” Within a few years of the Chanukah miracle, 4 of the 5 sons of Matisyahu, the original Maccabees, were killed in battle. The fifth, Shimon, was poisoned to death sometime later.

More tragically, there are no surviving descendants of the Maccabees.

Even on the calendar, a week after Chanukah, we fast on the tenth of Teves, in commemoration of three tragedies.

The message of Chanukah is to see light even in midst of darkness. Even when it seems like we are surrounded by gloom and doom, the light of faith can illuminate and give fortitude.

One of the poignant messages of Chanukah is the power of faith. Chanukah reminds us that Hashem controls our lives, and nothing is beyond Him. We have no way of knowing what is best for us. But He does.

We daven that the kindness we merit indeed be in our best interest, and not end up backfiring our causing us pain and aggravation. We hope that the kindness we merit always be good kindness from which we can prosper and grow on all levels.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Freilichen & Lichtig Chanukah,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, December 8, 2022

Parshas Vayishlach 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayishlach

15 Kislev 5783/December 9, 2022



          I have had the zechus to be a rebbe and guidance counselor in a few wonderful yeshivos during my career in chinuch. One of my talmidim, Yossi Glanz, was a student in my shiur when I was a 7th grade rebbe in Ashar and then again when I was one of his tenth grade rebbeim in Heichal HaTorah. I had, and have, a close connection with Yossi.[1]

I was also always impressed with Yossi’s parents, R’ Yoeli and Mrs. Sima Glanz. It was clear to me that there was something special about them – a certain spark for growth in Avodas Hashem and to be mechanech their children properly. Yossi once told me that his parents have an incredible story to tell. I knew it had something to do with his younger brother, Chaimy and the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh, but that was all I knew

A few weeks ago, Yossi sent me the link to a video of his father, Yoeli, emotionally recounting their story in front of the kever of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh on Har Hazeisim, on Chol Hamoed Succos 5783[2]. I subsequently clarified some details and, with their permission, present their incredible story:

11 and a half years ago, my wife died in childbirth.

The story begins a few weeks before she gave birth, eleven and a half years ago right after Pesach. That year Pesach ended on a Wednesday. I had a big job that I was starting with my workers the following Sunday. Then on Friday after Pesach That day my workers banded together and threatened to quit unless I agreed to certain outlandish demands. I wasn’t sure how I should proceed. If I gave in, then they would undoubtedly demand more concessions from me afterwards because they saw they could get what they want. But if I didn’t give in, I would have no workers.

I told the workers that I was willing to speak to them individually, but not all of them together. They weren’t happy with that, and they quit together.

I called up my wife and told her that I didn’t know what to do. Hashem was testing me to see who I thought really provided parnassah. I knew I had to have faith but even so I couldn’t rely on a miracle.

I asked my wife if I had a mussar sefer about bitachon at home. At that time, I wasn’t very connected to Hashem. I davened every day but beyond that I was somewhat disconnected and for seven years I hadn’t opened a sefer. My wife replied that I didn’t have any such seforim at home. I didn’t own any mussar seforim so I ran to the local Judaica stores to buy one. The problem was that it was Friday afternoon, and they were all closed for Shabbos.

There was an organization called Mifal Ohr HaChaim, started by my friend Shlomo Brody to encourage people to learn Ohr Hachaim[3]. Every Friday he published and disseminated a one-page publication that contained stories of great blessings and miracles that transpired to people who learned Ohr HaChaim.

During a recent Friday night during Kabbolas Shabbos I had read the paper. It didn’t make much of an impression at the time. But at that moment, while I was on the phone with my wife, I asked her if she thought I should start learning Ohr HaChaim. She encouraged the idea. When I told her that knowing myself, I wouldn’t keep to it, she replied that I should accept upon myself to do it for just 40 days. After 40 days I could decide if I wanted to keep going.

I listened and made a kabballah to learn Ohr HaChaim every day for 40 days. Some days I ended up learning just a paragraph or even one line. But I did it every day.

At the time my wife was pregnant, and her due date was the day after Shavuos. On Erev Shavuos we called the doctor because my wife was having some issues, and he told us that she should come to the hospital so she could be monitored. We doled out our other children to friends and family. I grabbed food, a machzor and my Ohr HaChaim and went with my wife to the hospital. I didn’t realize at the time that the following day was day 40.

The following morning, the first day of Shavuos around 5 am, right around sunrise, I was sleeping next to my wife on a chair when my wife suddenly passed out. The monitors began beeping and doctors and nurses began flurrying in and out. Then she vomited. I asked her if she was okay, and she waved her hand indicating that she wasn’t okay. Thirty seconds later she vomited again. About ten doctors rushed in and were surrounding her bed. At that point her monitors were beeping rapidly, and she was unresponsive. The doctor pulled the monitor plugs and wheeled her into the operating room. Incredibly, the operating room was next door to the room we had been in, and they were able to start working on her and the baby immediately.

I couldn’t stay in the room we had been in, so I was wandering around the hallway with my machzor and Ohr HaChaim. At the time I had no idea if my wife and baby were going to survive.

I then realized it was day 40 and I read the entire Ohr HaChaim on parshas Beha’aloscha. I didn’t understand one word I was saying, but I read it all. I said to the Ohr HaChaim, “My wife is in the next room fighting for her life. It was she who encouraged me to learn your sefer for 40 days. Today is day 40. If you’ll intervene in heaven and they survive, I will name my son after you. Please daven for them.”

At that point she wasn’t breathing and was clinically dead. The doctor quickly removed the baby in a feverish attempt to at least save its life. There was a team of doctors working on him and another team working on her.

They kept losing her and then getting her back. It wasn’t until after 1 pm, after more than six hours had passed, that they were able to miraculously stabilize her and the baby. At first the ICU didn’t want to admit her because she was beyond critical. But eventually as she started to stabilize, they did admit her, and at that point the doctor told me that she would be okay.

Ten days later, I was walking in the hospital, when a burly African-American man approached me and pointed to me. “Are you Mr. Glanz?” When I said yes, he embraced me and kissed me while laughing and crying. He then told me, “My name is Dr. Green, and I was the doctor who delivered your baby. I don’t think you realize what happened in the operating room. I have never had such a thing happen to me in my thirty years practice. It was clearly obvious that there was a divine power there. Three things saved your wife. Firstly, that I was able to see right away that she turned blue. Every second counted and if I wouldn’t have been able to see that, she likely wouldn’t have gotten the help she needed until it was too late. In addition, because your son was on a monitor when his heart rate dropped, we were able to know immediately that something was wrong. Finally, she was saved by a small cloth.” I looked at the doctor in surprise. “A cloth?” The doctor nodded and continued, “Once the baby was out, my team closed her up and the medical team began working to try to bring her back. I always check my tools afterwards and I noticed that a small towel was missing. I told my team to open her back up to see if it was left inside her. My team argued with me that it was crazy to reopen her to look for a towel. I admit that I thought it was crazy too. But I insisted that they proceed anyway.

“When they reopened her, we found everything but a towel. There was blood everywhere and we realized that she had Amniotic fluid embolism (AFE)[4]. Because they opened her back up, we discovered what had gone wrong. I immediately called for a blood transfusion. But she kept losing blood quicker than we were able to give to her. She had seven transfusions in seven hours until she finally started retaining some blood.

Dr. Green concluded, “It was a big operating room and in the end the towel was under the table on the other side of the room. You tell me, Mr. Glanz, how did that towel get there? It was clear to all of us that there were angels in that room. There was no question about it.”

As mentioned, I promised I would learn Ohr HaChaim every day and I have been doing so ever since. Next week, on Simchas Torah, I am going to finish the entire Ohr HaChaim for the eleventh time.

Today is the first time since our son Chaim was born that we have had the opportunity to come to the kever of the Ohr HaChaim. We came today to say thank you to Hashem and to Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, author of the Ohr HaChaim, for intervening on our behalf.


There are many messages that can be gleaned from this story. I want to share three personal messages that I took from it:

The first message is that because I listened to my wife, not only did it bring me salvation, but it also saved her life as well.

In addition, when my workers walked out on me, it felt like the worst thing in the world that could have happened to me. But the reality was that Hashem was nudging me to develop a deeper connection with Him and at the same time paving the way for an incredible miracle that took place a few weeks later.

It’s a poignant reminder that whenever Hashem knocks, we should be listening!

Finally, there’s another part to the story. When I began learning Ohr HaChaim after the ordeal, I would do so in the early morning in my shul in Pomona. At that time, there was a daf yomi shiur being given by Rabbi Fishman. I was often entranced by Rabbi Fishman’s shiur because he taught with such clarity and sweetness, and I couldn’t help but listen to what he was saying. I ended up having to learn the Ohr HaChaim again later on because I couldn’t properly concentrate while the daf yomi shiur was being given.

A few years later our family joined a Pesach program near Niagara Falls. One afternoon I walked in a few minutes early to daven mincha in the hotel, and there was a daf yomi shiur taking place. I looked around the room at the Jews of different backgrounds and was very moved by the sight. Here were Jews who lived in different places, were of different levels of observance and had little to do with each other. Yet here they were learning together the same page of gemara. I decided then that I wanted to be part of it.

The morning after our family returned home, I sat down next to Rabbi Fishman as he was beginning the daf yomi shiur. At first, he looked at me quizzically because I always sat on the other side of the room. But he smiled politely and began the shiur. That morning day yomi was learning Beitzah daf 26. I have continued learning the daf since then.

A year ago, on 19 Tishrei, Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos, I made a siyum on Shas in my succah. I noted to the assemblage that it must seem strange that I was making a siyum yet not saying a hadran. I recounted how inspired I was on that Chol Hamoed afternoon at Niagara Falls, and that I didn’t want to lose the inspiration and so I began immediately after Pesach when I arrived home. I knew that if I waited to start when daf yomi began the next masechta, the inspiration would have faded, and I likely would never have begun learning daf yomi.

 Therefore, hopefully for the rest of my life, I will be making a siyum hashas without saying a hadran when daf yomi learns Beitzah daf 25.

It is an important reminder that we need to take advantage of inspiration, otherwise it will quickly fade and become a lost opportunity.

It was one year later to the day that I was zocheh to stand at the kever of the Ohr HaChaim hakadosh with my son Chaim and my wife and family. For me it felt as if I had come first circle. I had only begun learning the daf because I began learning Ohr HaChaim. It was a fulfillment of the words of Chazal (Avos 4:2) that mitzvah goreres mitzvah – doing one mitzvah leads to other mitzvos.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] Yossi has a couple of beautiful songs that can be found at:, and


[3] Written by Rabbi Chaim ben Attar (1696-1743), Ohr HaChaim is a beloved commentary on the Torah. It has been included in standard prints of the Mikraos Gedolos Chumash.

[4] Amniotic fluid embolism (AFE), a sudden and unexpected life-threatening birth complication that can affect both mother and baby. It is the result of an allergic-like reaction to the baby’s amniotic fluid that enters the mother’s bloodstream, a normal part of the birth process. It most often occurs during labor or shortly after delivery.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Parshas Vayeitzei 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayetzei

8 Kislev 5783/December 2, 2022


In celebration of her Bas Mitzvah last week, my daughter Chayala and I went on a father-daughter outing. No, we didn’t go to Eretz Yisroel, LA or Miami. Far more exciting than that, we went to visit the land of my youth, Manhattan’s Lower East Side. For me it was a walk down memory lane, for Chayala it was a glimpse into a strange and unfamiliar world.

We walked up Grand Street and East Broadway, and I pointed out to her the apartment buildings where both sets of my grandparents had lived. We then went to 550G Grand Street, the building where I had grown up until our family moved to Monsey. We spent a few minutes meeting with Mrs. Pauline Hagler, our beloved neighbor from those years, who still lives next door to the apartment I grew up in.

I noticed that on the front door of our old apartment there was a Puerto Rican flag and a mezuzah. Mrs. Hagler explained that the family currently living there isn’t Jewish but wanted to hang a mezuzah on their door like everyone else on the floor. Unfortunately, no one was home when we knocked so we didn’t have the chance to see my old apartment.

We stopped by a bakery where the cashier told me she remembered my parents and grandparents well. We visited Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, the yeshiva of Rabbi Moshe and then Rabbi Dovid Feinstein zt”l and where I attended through first grade. We drove by the impressive building where my Zaydei had once been the Rabbi but, painfully, has since become a museum.

We were also able to visit the Polisher Shteeble, where not only my family had davened, but my Sabba and Savta davened as well. Walking into the Shteeble was like walking into a time warp. Everything looks exactly as it did thirty years ago.

The highlight of our trip was visiting Rebbitzin Malka Feinstein, wife of the late Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, in her apartment. When I asked the Rebbitzin for a beracha for Chayala she warmly replied that she gives orders, not berachos. She then “ordered” Chayala to keep giving her parents nachas.

It was very nostalgic for me. But there was still one last place we had to visit, because no visit to the Lower East Side is complete without a pickle.

If you’re asking what pickle, you obviously don’t know much about the Lower East Side. Guss’ Pickles was a fixture on the Lower East Side for decades. It began with Izzy Guss, an immigrant who arrived in New York from Russia as a youngster about 1910, sold pickles from a pushcart before he opened a shop on Hester Street in 1920. The shop with its iconic barrels of pickles, outlived dozens of rivals, and eventually became one of the neighborhood’s last pickle stores and a Lower East Side legend. It’s been said if you haven’t eaten a Guss pickle, you haven’t eaten a real pickle in your life.

These days, because of legalities the pickle store is called “The Pickle Guys”. But they pride themselves on having the same quality and taste as Guss’ beloved pickles. When Chayala took a bite into one of their pickles, she confirmed that she had never had such a tasty and crunchy pickle in her life. It’s the type of pickle that inspired Joey Newcomb to sing his song about the “krach” of the pickle. Chayala was surprised to find out that pickles start out as cucumbers. It was a fascinating discovery for her.


After we arrived home that evening, I emailed the Pickle Guys to ask them their secret for getting such a good pickle crunch. They responded that the key was to find a quality cucumber. Smaller ones like Kirby cucumbers are best. Then let them pickle slowly and naturally in the fridge, and not to heat or cook the brine. They allow the pickles to remain bathing in their specially prepared juice and spices for days until they produce their distinctive taste.

There is ongoing discussion in the world of psychology called the nature-nurture debate. Nature refers to one’s innate genetics, while nurture refers to one’s upbringing and life experience. Contemporary experts acknowledge that both nature and nurture play a role in psychological development, but they debate which is more significant.

The Torah outlook is clear that one is influenced and molded by both nature and nurture. The Rambam (hilchos de’os 6:1) famously writes that throughout life a person is heavily impacted and influenced by his social environment.

Munching on a crunchy Lower East Side pickle on Sunday, I reflected on the fact that, on some level, we are all “pickled” by our neighbors, friends, and community. No one lives in a vacuum. Our surroundings mold us and have a profound effect on how we think and behave. If we hang out with people who aren’t scrupulous in their morals it is bound to affect us negatively. On the other hand, when our social circle takes Torah observance seriously, our personal observance will inevitably be enhanced as well.

The Jewish people have always placed a strong emphasis on community life. We celebrate together and mourn together and are there for each other. We influence each other and encourage each other to maintain our faith even in challenging times.

More important than the delicious crunchy taste of a pickle, I hope Chayala will remember the profound truism that the pickle symbolizes: Where we hang out and who we surround ourselves with will have important ramifications on our lives.

Just as the best pickles are created in barrels spiced just right, the best people surround themselves with positive role models, neighbors and friends.

That’s an invaluable lesson for a Bas Mitzvah, and all from a Lower East Side pickle.

Thanks Guss!


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum