Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Parshas Mishpatim 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Mishpatim

26 Shevat 5782/January 28, 2022

Mevorchim Adar I


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            When our twins were born over five years ago, I was informed that my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, happened to be in Monsey. It was a great zechus that he was willing to serve as sandek for Gavriel Yehuda, the older twin.

            A few days later, we made an upsherin for our son Dovid. I called Rabbi Wein and asked if I could bring Dovid over so Rabbi Wein could cut some of his hair and give him a beracha. Rabbi Wein graciously agreed.

            After cutting a few strands of his hair, Rabbi Wein told Dovid, “You should be a good, good boy.” Then he added, “And don’t let the gremlins get you!”

            It was a classic Rabbi Wein beracha. While I don’t know exactly what he meant about the gremlins, I can share how I understood it.

            The concept of gremlins originated in the 1920s among members of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. When a military plane malfunctioned without apparent reason, the airmen would blame "gremlins", imagined small creatures in the engine of the plane that were wreaking havoc by unhooking and pulling out wires.

            Since then, gremlins have been featured in books, radio programs, television shows, and movies. The popular idea is that a gremlin is a mythical, nasty, elf-like creature that causes mishaps. People blame gremlins when they don’t have anyone else to blame.

            More damaging than any external gremlin, however, are the gremlins within us. These are the voices of negativity and doubt that discourage and deflate our confidence and drive.

            In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown suggests that gremlins are synonymous with shame, the ultimate corroder of self-esteem.

            Brown writes that she was once struggling to finish an article and was suffering from writer’s block. When she called a friend to ask for advice, her friend asked her “what are the gremlins saying?”

            She replied that there were a few different gremlins. One was telling her that her writing isn’t that good, and no one really cares about her opinion. Another was saying that she was going to get criticized for whatever she wrote, and she deserved every word of it. The biggest gremlin was saying that real writers don’t struggle with writer’s block.

            It’s been said that pain is what happens to us, while suffering is what we do with that pain. Pain is inevitable in life, and there’s not much we can do to avoid it. But suffering is a product of our own thoughts and perceptions about the pain we suffer. When we doubt our ability to handle pain, question why we aren’t able to better deal with our pain, think that we deserve pain because we aren’t worthy, and other similarly self-demeaning thoughts, we enter the realm of suffering. That suffering is the result of our internalizing and accepting the messages that the gremlins are telling us.

The good news is that we can minimize our suffering by shifting our perspective and being nicer and more patient with ourselves.

            When the newly freed Jewish nation arrived at the Sea of Reeds and saw the Egyptian army approaching, they panicked. Rashi adds that they saw the guardian angel of Egypt coming from heaven to assist the Egyptians.

            Shem MiShmuel (5681) explains that the nation felt the ‘voice of Egypt’ inside themselves, and they realized that they were not yet truly free. They continued to hear the familiar abusive taunts of the Egyptians that they were worthless, useless failures, in their own minds. That caused them to wonder if they could ever be anything more than enslaved pagans.

            It was only when they witnessed the splitting of the sea, that they recognized Hashem’s personal love for them, and they began to see themselves as a free nation, not only physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well. 

            In my daily learning of Tanach, I have just completed learning Sefer Yirmiyahu, and therefore have been thinking about it in this light. Yirmiyahu was given with one of the most challenging tasks in the world – to rebuke and admonish the Jewish people. He suffered greatly in his efforts to fulfill his mission faithfully. He was scorned, ignored, beaten and imprisoned.

            It is incredible that a person can be so piously committed that he does not allow the many gremlins surrounding him to defeat him. Sefer Yirmiyahu is a living reminder that one cannot be in tremendous pain, yet not succumb to suffering.

            But there is another important idea that emerges from Sefer Yirmiyahu. How many Jews viewed Yirmiyahu and his message as a gremlin to be ignored? The Jewish people as a nation did not recognize Yirmiyahu’s ceaseless love for his people, and that he was only fulfilling the mission conferred upon him. Instead of recognizing his message as the path o return to greatness, they saw it as a nuisance that had to be silenced. In the end, silencing his message resulted in their exile and terrible tragedy.  

            There may be times in life when we think a voice is that of a gremlin when it really contains a message we should hearken to for our own growth and development, painful as it may be. At times it can be challenging to differentiate between the two. One can recognize the difference by contemplating if the voice is squelching his aspirations or goading him back on track.  

            When Rabbi Wein blessed Dovid that he shouldn’t let the gremlins get him, I understood that to mean that he shouldn’t allow naysayers and pessimists to stifle his dreams and aspirations. He wasn’t only referring to other people, but, more profoundly, to the inner gremlins that seek to discourage and convince him that he isn’t capable enough to accomplish his goals and hopes.

            The only way to silence those gremlins is by recognizing one’s worthiness and greatness. Often that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to people, even talented and highly capable people. The gremlins are stubborn and persistent, and one must counter them with stubborn and persistent positivity and reminders of one’s own worthiness.

            Rabbi Wein’s beracha was truly valuable and worthwhile for it holds the key to all success. We can be impactful and effective, but only if we recognize the gremlins and not allow them to wear us down!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Parshas Yisro 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Yisro

19 Shevat 5782/January 21, 2022


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            One night just before Tu b’Shvat, our five year old son Gavriel asked for an apple. My wife cut up the apple into pieces for him to eat, but he insisted that she cut out the seeds. When my wife did so, Gavriel excitedly filled a plastic bowl with water and placed the seeds in the bowl.

            Gavriel informed us that his teacher had taught them about the seeds in the fruit that can be planted to grow new fruit trees. He was intrigued and excited by the idea and decided to plant an apple tree in a plastic bowl in our kitchen. Best of luck!

            This year, Tu b’Shvat happened to coincide with the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. day. Someone posed a challenge to explain a possible connection between the two days.

            I suggested that planting a tree requires foresight, a sense of vision and tremendous patience. Digging a hole and taking a few seeds and burying them in the hole seems to be an exercise in futility. In fact, those seeds will begin to rot in the ground before any growth occurs. But the planter has a dream of the tree that will one day grow. He envisions the luscious fruits that will one day emerge and the many people who will enjoy them. Martin Luther King had a dream of the future, at a time when the fulfillment of that dream seemed unrealistic. Planting trees and producing fruits similarly requires a dream and a vision.

            Subsequently, the connection deepened further: The night of “Tu b’MLK” day there was snow forecasted. Our children were excitedly anticipating a school cancellation, or at least a two-hour delay. To their chagrin, the temperature had risen overnight, and the snow had turned to rain. Martin Luther King famously said, “I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

            That morning our children felt like they had been to the mountaintop and yet were barred entry from the Promised Land. Their hopes for snow were fulfilled, but it wasn’t enough to accomplish what they were hoping for.

            Although regarding my children’s snow day situation and their dashed dreams, I’m being slightly facetious, the truth is that one cannot give up on their dreams when they aren’t fulfilled immediately.

            A friend who was going through a challenging time remarked, “I know they say that whenever one door closes, another door opens. But these hallways are impossible!”

            While it’s important to have dreams and a vision of what could be, one must also have a great deal of patience for his dreams to be fulfilled. They may very well be fulfilled but not immediately and not even in the manner in which he first planned and hoped.

            When Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim, they had one destination in mind - to enter Eretz Yisroel and settle their familial land. However, they wouldn’t arrive there until they had spent four decades in the wilderness, dealing with challenges, vicissitudes, and daunting odds. They had to contend with thirst, hunger, fatigue, and doubt. There were many points where they were ready to give up and head back to Mitzrayim. The men who left Egypt largely never saw the fulfillment of that hope. But despite it all the nation plunged ahead, following the clouds before them. Eventually they arrived and fulfilled their national dream. But it wasn’t in the manner or based on the route that they had planned.

            We all have Promised Lands that we strive to reach, though we aren’t promised that we will get there. But the road to fulfillment of our dreams is often through the deserts of life. The road isn’t paved and straight, and there are many sharp turns and unforeseen bends. One who expects smooth and easy sailing will likely become despondent by the arduous journey. But one who maintains that sense of vision and knows that the difficult and serpentine terrain is the route home, will be able to stay the course, and enjoy the fruits of his labor along the journey home.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Parshas Beshalach 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beshalach/Shabbas Shirah  

12 Shevat 5782/January 14, 2022


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            Our family enjoys eating cherry tomatoes, particularly “Nature-Sweet cherub heavenly salad tomatoes”. Ironically, I have other close family members that I grew up with who harbor a severe dislike for tomatoes and won’t eat salad that has any tomatoes in it. But the Staums who live on Landau Lane, go through a few packages of the little red guys each week.

            One week, my wife showed me that on the inside of the cover label of the Nature-Sweet tomatoes, there is a picture of one of their employees with the employee’s job description underneath. In fact, each container of Nature-Sweet tomatoes had its own picture of a featured employee with their job at Nature-Sweet featured below the picture. It also says that you can find out more about your featured tomato employee on the Nature-Sweet website. I decided that it was a great conversation piece and began collecting the Nature-Sweet labels and placing them on a shelf next to our Dining Room table.

            When I posted on my status that I was collecting the labels, I received quizzical replies from people who were very confused about what I was talking about. But I am grateful to one friend who actually sent me three labels.

            On the website it says there are 36 featured employees. So far, our family has collected 11 of the employee labels. Although we’ve gone through far more packages, recently we keep getting doubles. Each week when my wife returns home from shopping, we excitedly open the new tomato packages to see which ‘tomato employee’ we got. I haven’t had so much excitement collecting anything since I collected sports cards in high school, and no, I don’t need a new day job. (By the way, speaking of old sports card collections, I have Shaq’s Fleer Ultra rookie card. I should add that unlike my father’s generation who had Mickey Mantle’s rookie card until their mothers threw out all their cards, I actually still have the card. Just saying.)

            Beyond my new hobby of collecting tomato employee labels, it was fascinating to realize how many different employees are involved in the production of those little tomatoes. There are workers in pre-harvest, manufacturing, packing, packaging, maintenance, sales, as well as tractor drivers, grafting associates, backhoe operators, and irrigation leaders.

            It’s reminiscent of a story with Rav Yisroel Salanter. He once traveled to a posh hotel in Paris in an effort to inspire and influence secular Jews. As he was preparing to deliver a speech in the restaurant of the hotel, the waiter came by to take his order. Rav Yisroel replied that he only wanted a glass of water.

            After he finished his address and was preparing to leave, the waiter handed Rav Yisroel a bill for an exorbitant fee. Rav Yisroel asked the waiter if perhaps there was a mistake, as he had only ordered a glass of water. The waiter replied that it was not a mistake at all. He explained that while enjoying the water, Rav Yisroel was also benefitting from the elegant ambiance of the restaurant, the exquisite furniture, the stunning draperies, and the quartet that was playing pleasant music in the background. In addition, the restaurant afforded a magnificent view and the service of a dignified waiter wearing a tuxedo and a towel draped over his arm. The waiter explained that, from that vantage point, Rav Yisroel had actually gotten quite a bargain.

            After Rav Yisroel paid the bill, he wrote a letter to his students recounting his experience at the restaurant. He explained that it had given him a new understanding of a beracha we recite constantly, and often nonchalantly.

            Generally, we recite berachos whose text relates to the specific food we are eating - “Blessed are You Hashem…Who creates fruits of the tree”, “Who creates the fruits of the ground”, “Who creates different types of grains”. The beracha of shehakol - “That everything was created with His Word” - is an exception. Why do we recite such a beautiful and encompassing beracha, noting that all of creation is the result of G-d’s word, on a mere glass of water?

            Rav Yisroel noted that he learned from that waiter that we are not merely thanking G-d for the water. Aside for the miraculous natural process that created the water, we are grateful for having access to the fresh water, as well as the incredible process wherein the water refreshes and rejuvenates us.

            Beyond that, we are expressing appreciation for the magnificent surroundings in which G-d serves the water to us - the fresh air we breathe as we drink that water and the sun that gives us light and the tree that shades us. That one glass of water symbolizes the elaborate miraculous process involving many different facets of our magnificent world.

            The Kotzker Rebbe once quipped that he does not understand why people don't become more G-d fearing when reciting the words of bentching, after eating a bread meal.

            It was through bentching that Avrohom Avinu was able to draw so many people close to Hashem. When they would thank Avrohom for the delicious food he served them, Avrohom would reply “was it from me that you ate?” He would then redirect their gratitude towards Hashem, after which guest and host would sing praises to G-d for the food they had eaten and for all His goodness (Sotah 10b).

            When the Kotzker’s quip was repeated to the Chiddushei Harim, he replied that he could not comprehend how people do not become more G-d fearing from food itself. In the opening words of bentching we thank Hashem “Who sustains the whole world with favor/charm, kindness, and with compassion.” We have an incredible variety of foods. Foods can taste spicy, sweet, tangy, sharp, or sour. Its texture can be crunchy, mushy, hard or soft, and each has a different color and shape. Just look at any salad and you will see beauty and charm, if you spend a moment contemplating it. One can become a believer by appreciating the wonder of the food he eats. But one must dedicate time and attention to think about such profound things.

            It should be added the studies show that eating mindfully promotes better digestion and helps a person feel satisfied eating less. Unfortunately, scrolling or checking messages while eating isn’t considered eating mindfully.

            Whether anyone decides to start collecting Nature-Sweet tomatoes labels or not, we should appreciate just how much is necessary for us to enjoy those tomatoes, and all other vegetables in our salad, as well as fruits we enjoy. Think about how much was involved in its production, cultivation and transportation just to end up on your plate for you to enjoy! It’s particularly appropriate to focus on this profound idea as we mark and celebrate Tu b’Shvat.

            And if anyone does decide to collect the Nature-Sweet labels, we have triples of Genaro Barcelo from the packing department, and would be happy to trade.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Parshas Bo 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bo  

5 Shevat 5782/January 7, 2022


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


            I can’t say I know much about Yeshiva University’s sports teams. I also don’t really understand what it means to be part of division 3. I never really liked math in school and division was always a particular weakness. Truth is, until the last few weeks, I don’t even know if I would have realized the difference between the YU basketball team, the Maccabees, and the noted music group which began in YU, the Maccabeats.

            Recently however, the Maccabees became the Macca-beats, beating their opponents in fifty straight games. In fact, their fifty-game winning streak made national news. But all good things must come to an end, and the impressive streak was stopped by Illinois Wesleyan (whatever that is).

            Streaks are very exciting in professional sports. When a player or a team plays well consistently for a stretch of time, it is a mark of athletic greatness.

            It is reminiscent of a noted event in the world of sports that took place on July 17, 1941. On that day in Major League Baseball, a player’s failure to get a hit made national news. In a night game played in Cleveland in front of 67,468 fans, New York Yankees center fielder, Joe DiMaggio, failed to get a hit against the Cleveland Indians. That brought his historic game hitting streak to an end at 56.

            DiMaggio confided to a teammate after the game that by failing to get a hit that night, he had also lost $10,000 promised to him by Heinz ketchup for matching the number “57” featured on their labels.

            Still, the hitting streak made him a legend, and it was the biggest story in sports. Newspapers and magazines were filled with tales about DiMaggio and the streak. In the era before television, when radio was the source of all news, radio shows were interrupted with bulletins about the latest DiMaggio hit.

            A hitting streak is not easy. The player can’t have even one bad day and the pressure mounts with every game. Several times DiMaggio had to get a hit in his last at-bat to keep the streak alive.

            Notably, DiMaggio struck out only five times during the 223 at-bats he had during the streak.

            What was even more remarkable was that DiMaggio started a 16-game hitting streak the game after the 56-game one ended. In all, he hit in 72 of 73 games. In those 73 games, he had 120 hits and 20 home runs.

            But while we are all enamored by streaks, in the real world the mark of greatness isn’t uninterrupted streaks, but rather general consistency, especially in the face of setbacks.

            A few years ago, a group of Yeshiva students were on their way to the wedding of a close friend. They realized that they weren’t going to make it to the wedding before shekiah (sunset) and they would have to daven Mincha beforehand. If they would look for a minyan, they would miss the chupah. But if they would pull over to the side of the road and daven themselves, they would still make it on time for the chupah.

            Unsure what to do, they called their Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Epstein. Rabbi Epstein replied that because they were close friends of the chosson, it was more important that they make it on time for the chuppah then to daven with a minyan. The caller replied that one of the boys in the car had not missed davening with a minyan since his bar mitzvah, and he was hesitant to do so now for the first time.

            Rabbi Epstein poignantly replied that Judaism and Avodas Hashem are not about streaks. Rather they are about trying to fulfill the Will of Hashem to the best of our ability in every situation. If in this situation the proper thing was to daven without a minyan, that’s what was incumbent upon him to do!

            Rabbi Epstein’s message is extremely important for us to know and to convey to our children. Our goal is not to be better than anyone else or to be perfect in anyway. It’s about challenging ourselves to do our best and to constantly try to be a little better than we were yesterday. The barometer of success is constant yet methodical growth.

            Perhaps the most important idea to know about spiritual growth is that it’s never all or nothing. Even after a rough patch, we can get back up and start again, every single day!

            The greatest success is when someone is able to push himself through on the hardest of days. Even when he’s not feeling it, he remind himself that it’s about doing your best even when you might not be feeling your best. Even on days when he might be feeling blue (or Brown) he will never pull off his jersey and march off the field.

            The path to greatness is not paved with streaks or perfection, but with consistency and resilience.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum