Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Parshas Vayakhel 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayakhel

24 Adar I 5782/February 25, 2022

Parshas Shekalim

Mevorchim Chodesh Adar II


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לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


            It’s the month(s) of Adar, a time of increased joy. As Purim continues to approach the excitement continues to mount, especially after a longer winter than usual. But I ask you to please indulge me briefly, as I share our family’s sadness with the passing of my beloved father-in-law, Nathan Mermelstein, on the morning of Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Sisa, 18 Adar I.

            I assure you that at the end of the article I will connect our tragedy to the joy of Purim in a way that will also serve as a comfort for our family.

            Dr. Seuss writes about “A most useless place, the waiting place.”

            My father-in-law had been sick for some time. In fact, this column has been dedicated to his refuah since he was diagnosed in November 2020.

            But last week my father-in-law took a sudden turn for the worst. Thankfully, the Covid rules have been easing and, because of the gravity of his situation, the family was granted special permission to be together in his hospital room. For almost a week his closest family were at his bedside.

            As I sat at my father-in-law’s bedside, I realized that it was the seventh time in my life that I sat at the hospital bedside of someone very near and dear to me for many hours on end. But the first six times had a very different outcome. Each time we came home after those hospital stays with a new member of the family. In fact, one time we were blessed to come home with two new members when our twins were born.

            I was reflecting on the contrast of those previous six times with this time:

            As we waited for the baby to be born, we felt nervous excitement. We knew it was imminent but had no way of knowing how imminent. We impatiently watched beeping and maddening monitors and lines dance across the screen.

            After many anxious hours late into the night, we fell into a fitful sleep, only to be woken by nurses monitoring, changing fluids, and checking vitals.

            Our anxiety that all should go well was tempered with mounting excitement that we would be going home with a new bundle of life and joy.

            There were many details and so much anticipation. But all we could do was wait impatiently for what was coming.

            Last week the experience was somewhat similar and yet drastically different. The last few months have been a terrible roller coaster. When my father-in-law had a slight improvement in one area, it was soon followed by a major setback in another area. Then suddenly, my father-in-law’s system began shutting down. We held onto the slightest bit of hope even as we were faced with the terrible and merciless reality.

            As we waited for what we were told was inevitable, we felt incredibly sad. We knew it was imminent but had no way of knowing how imminent. We anxiously watched the beeping and maddening monitors and lines dance across the screen.

            After many anxious hours late into the night, we fell into a fitful sleep, only to be woken by nurses monitoring, changing fluids, and checking vitals.

            It is devastating to know that someone you love and who has been part of your life won’t ever be leaving the hospital. A life lived was now coming to its end.

            At the same time, we were apprehensive that it should go as smoothly as possible. We hoped that we would be able to handle our raw overwhelming emotions and take care of all the details and arrangements necessary.

            The gemara (Megillah 13b) relates that when Haman chose the month of Adar as the time to carry out his nefarious plan of genocide, he was happy because Moshe Rabbeinu died in Adar (7 Adar). The gemara adds that Haman failed to realize that Moshe was also born on the same day.

            The obvious question is why Haman cared if it was Moshe’s yahrtzeit? Also, why didn’t he realize that Moshe was also born then? (He should’ve gotten a better Jewish calendar.)

            There’s obviously a deeper meaning to Haman’s joy. Haman viewed death as an absolute end. The Jewish people had grown distant in their connection with G-d, viewing themselves as citizens of Shushan and Achashveirosh, like every other nation.

            The uniqueness of the Jewish people has always been based upon our connection and devotion to the Torah that Moshe taught. But Haman saw that Moshe was dead in the sense that the Jewish connection to Moshe had faded. Therefore, he was confident that the Jews were vulnerable, and he could destroy them.

            Haman failed to realize the Jewish perspective of death. Death is not finality at all, but the birth of a new reality. The day one dies is the day his children and progeny commit themselves to maintaining his legacy and follow in the path he forged.

            In a certain way our commitment to upholding the teachings of Moshe became more entrenched after his passing. While he was alive the nation was able to rely on Moshe to teach them and remind them of the Torah he taught them. But when he was no longer there, they recognized that it was incumbent upon them to maintain the mandate of זכרו תורת משה עבדי - Remember the Torah of My servant, Moshe.

            Losing a loved one is very painful. There is a gaping hole within the hearts of the remaining relatives that cannot be filled. But there is a comfort in knowing that the legacy of the niftar can live on within us, if we dedicate ourselves to that task.

            Haman thought death was the end. He failed to realize that in a certain way it’s a new beginning.

            In that sense, there is more commonality between the beginning of life and the end of life. Both are new beginnings that require tremendous dedication and efforts by loved ones. Birth requires care for life; death requires care to uphold what was lived for.

            Purim is a celebration of renewed life and death. “A nation born will praise Hashem.” Our family awaits the day when we will once again be able to see my father-in-law in person. But until then we will keep him alive in our hearts and souls, by preserving the wonderful legacy he left behind.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Parshas Ki Sisa 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Sisa

17 Adar I 5782/February 18, 2022



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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל



            When I was in Eretz Yisroel a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see my wonderful cousin, R’ Izak Cohn. As we both share a love of seforim, whenever we meet our discussion invariably turns to the newest seforim we purchased.

            When we spoke, Izak informed me that a Sefer called Me’chayei Abba - From the life of my Father, containing recollections of the Chofetz Chaim’s son about his father, has recently been reprinted.

            Over the next few days however, I couldn’t find the sefer in any of the seforim stores I visited (I had been to quite a few around Yerushalayim). Then, during the afternoon of one of my final days there, I was walking with my son in Yerushalayim when we met Izak. When I told Izak I couldn’t find the sefer, he smiled and said there was a famous seforim store right up the block from where we were standing, and that store had the sefer.

            A few minutes later I walked out of the seforim store holding the sefer Me’chayei Abba.

            During the flight home I was perusing a few pages and came across the following:

            “It was not his (the Chofetz Chaim) practice to say Tehillim every day, because he was very busy analyzing halachic matters…

            However, often just before dawn, he would pour out his heart to his Creator. Particularly during his old age, young men who slept in his home related that they would often awaken to the voice of the Chofetz Chaim conversing with Hashem in Yiddish, his first language.

            Someone close to the Mashgaich, Rav Don Segal, related to me that Rav Don noted that of all the many special places where one can daven in Eretz Yisroel, there is no more propitious place for prayer than Kever Rochel. I assume it is because the very reason Hashem caused Rochel to be buried there was to enable her descendants to daven at her kever.

            During my trip I went to daven at Kever Rochel. While reciting Tehillim there, a blind man was led in and positioned right next to me. Though I tried not to listen, because the blind man was standing so close to me, it was impossible for me not to overhear what he was saying. He didn’t have a Tehillim with braille. He faced the kever and simply began to speak. At some points he spoke in English, at other points he switched to Hebrew. Certain times he spoke to Hashem and at other times he addressed Rochel Imeinu asking her to intercede on his behalf. He mentioned names of people that were looking for shidduchim, hatzlocho, and health.

            I found it very inspiring. Rav Shimshon Pincus notes that the prayers of the Siddur and Tehillim are nuclear weapons. They have the power to accomplish incredible things, even if we don’t really know what we are saying. At the same time, a vital component of prayer is davening in our own words, expressing our innermost hopes, emotions, and yearnings.

            The halacha is that we do not recite tachanun on Tisha b’Av because it’s referred to as a “mo’ed - set time of meeting”. The holidays of the year are called mo’adim because each holiday is a special time to “meet” and draw close to Hashem in a unique manner. Tisha b’Av is indeed a set time, but for tears, mourning and recalling tragedy and destruction. In fact, the verse that describes Tisha b’Av as a mo’ed states “he called a set time upon me to break my chosen ones” (Eicha 1:15). That hardly seems like something worth marking with any modicum of joy, such as not reciting tachanun.

            Rav Shlomo Wolbe (Alei Shur I p. 115) writes that this law contains a powerful and encouraging insight about prayer.

            We generally think that the righteous are close to Hashem, but those more sinful are distant from Hashem. But the pasuk tells us otherwise. “Hashem is close to all those who are close to Him, to all those who call out to Him with sincerity.”

            It is conceivable that a sinner will be as close to G-d as a righteous person because he calls out to G-d wholeheartedly and with sincerity.

            A Jew understands that even when he feels distant, even when he cannot see the Hand of G-d in his life, and even when the Bais Hamikdash - including the Bais Hamikdash within himself - is destroyed, still, “He called a set time upon me”. A Jew always has the ability to daven and discover that it can be “a set time for meeting” with Hashem if he wills it to be.

            That is why we don’t say tachanun on Tisha b’Av. Even when feeling distant, during the mist painful day of the year, we recognize that we never forfeit our ability to call out to Hashem with sincerity.

            The message gleaned from our omission of tachanun on Tisha b’Av is a tremendous chizuk for us. We all have Tisha b’Av moments in our lives when we feel unworthy of davening or seeking Hashem’s guidance and assistance. Yet, even during those times we can daven and create a “meeting” with Hashem.

            One of the lesser recognized components of Purim is the incredible added poignancy of prayers recited during the holiday. At the time of the Purim miracle Hashem hearkened to our ancestor’s prayers, in an absolutely hopeless and grim situation. Each year on Purim the added power of prayer is reawakened.

            Still, we must realize that to pray effectively, we don’t need to be at Kever Rochel, it doesn’t have to be Purim or Yom Kippur, and we don’t even need a Tehillim or a Siddur.

            We need to simply open our mouths and sincerely speak from our hearts to the One who always loves us and is always listening.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Parshas Tetzaveh 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tetzvaeh

10 Adar I 5782/February 11, 2022

Week of Purim Katan


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל



            These days you can order almost anything and have it delivered to your door, in a relatively short amount of time.

            Unfortunately, emotions don’t work that way. A person can’t just snap his fingers and feel differently. If anyone could, and knew how to teach that to others, he would become rich very quickly.

            What then is the meaning behind the beloved words of the Gemara that when Adar enters, we increase joy? What is the source and objective of the added joy?

            Zev meets his friend Ari after not seeing him in some time. After catching up a bit, Zev tells Ari that he is on his way to an upscale wedding, and he invites Ari to come with him so they could continue schmoozing. Ari is hesitant because he doesn’t know anyone there. But Zevi convinces him that it will be a wedding worth attending.

            Indeed, the wedding was an affair to remember. The decor, food, band, and energetic dancing were simply incredible. As they are leaving Zevi asks Ari if he’s happy that he came. Ari replies that although it was a beautiful event, he would rather have not come. He explains that aside from the fact that he wasn’t invited to the wedding, aside for Zevi, he didn’t know anyone else who was there. Although everything was magnificent, he felt out of place all night long. When one knows he doesn’t belong he can’t truly enjoy being there.

            Throughout the year, many people feel they don’t measure up and, therefore, don’t deserve to be counted among certain other Jews. They feel like they’re not holy enough to sit in the succah, don’t deserve to be redeemed from their personal exiles, and their acceptance of the Torah leaves something to be desired.

            On Purim however, no Jew can feel that he/she doesn’t belong or doesn’t have a right to celebrate.

            I’ll prove it:

            Imagine Haman (Hitler) is walking down a dark alleyway and sees a Jewish teenager hanging out there engaging in negative behaviors. Haman immediately draws his sword to kill the young Jew. The Jew looks at Haman and says, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy. You see Haman, I’m not a very good Jew. I don’t daven or learn much and I haven’t put on tefillin in months. But I have some friends who learn a lot of Torah and daven with a lot of concentration. Those are the guys you really want!”

            What would Haman reply?

            Undoubtedly, he would laugh and say that he doesn’t have the wrong person at all. “If you’re a Jew, then you are vermin of the earth and are to blame for all the world’s problems, and, therefore, must be destroyed.”

            Purim celebrates v’nahapoch hu, the uncanny turnabout of events. When Haman’s decree was overturned, whoever was slated to be killed by the decree, had the right to celebrate. If we would’ve been killed solely because we are Jews, then we have the right to celebrate solely because we are Jews!

            Haman taught us that there is something unique about every Jew simply because we are privileged to be part of the eternal people. Haman viewed every one of us as vile and evil. But we understand that our uniqueness makes us special.

            When Adar enters and the holiday of Purim appears on the horizon, we feel a sense of joy because we recognize that this holiday and celebration is personal. No matter what negative things we have done or how derelict we have been in our observance, Purim speaks to us on a personal level.

            True, we cannot be happy on demand. But if we contemplate and reflect upon the essence of the holiday, it’s impossible that we won’t be uplifted. Thus does the Gemara state that when Adar enters - enters into our hearts and minds - we feel a surge of joy.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Parshas Terumah 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Terumah

3 Adar I 5782/February 4, 2022


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            It’s always a special zechus to travel to Eretz Yisroel. The last time I had been there was five years ago, when I went with our oldest son, Shalom, in honor of his bar mitzvah.

            This year, Shalom is learning in Merkaz HaTorah in Yerushalayim, so I had an added incentive to visit. Although I booked my flight to visit Eretz Yisroel at the end of January a few months ago, with constantly changing Covid regulations and recent re-closing of the borders, I didn’t think the trip would end up happening. But thankfully it did, and I savored every minute of it.

            One of the things I didn’t anticipate was encountering sheleg (snow) in Yerushalayim! The night before I was scheduled to fly home, a rare snowstorm blanketed the city with a few inches of snow.

            Snow is rare in the holy city, and when it does occur, children squeal with delight, as I heard from the window of where I was staying as soon as the snow began. But it also creates a very messy situation. As roads are plowed slowly in the center of the street, melting snow immediately fills the cleared area, creating a sloshy mess.

            I didn’t bring boots with me for my week-long trip. In addition, my sneakers are not only not water-resistant, but they also seem to be water-attracting. Walking to shul through the snow covered roads the morning after the storm, felt like walking through the snow in sandals. It was quite an unpleasant and cold experience.

            Aside from the unexpected snow, whenever it rains in Yerushalayim, the roads become slick and slippery.

            One of the nights during my stay when it wasn’t raining Shalom was showing me the roof of one of the yeshiva buildings in Yerushalayim. I wanted to get a better view of the stunning Yerushalayim skyline and stepped onto what I thought was a step to bolster myself up. It turns out that it was a concrete plant holder that was full of water. Thankfully I didn’t fall too hard, but for the rest of the night my socks and sneakers were completely drenched.

            When we left that yeshiva, we enjoyed a shawarma supper with some of Shalom’s friends. Then we took the light rail to Yaffa gate, from where we walked to the Kosel. With every step throughout the evening, I was reminded of that one misstep into the empty plant pot. Throughout the evening I had to bear the discomfort of soaked socks and sneakers.

            No doubt everyone has had the uncomfortable experience of having wet socks. When it rains everyone is in the same boat (pun intended). But when you happen to have stepped into a puddle on an otherwise dry day and are the only one walking around with drenched socks, the silent discomfort is particularly unpleasant.

            On another occasion during my visit, I was eating lunch in a Jerusalem eatery. The sign above the sink said נא לפתוח הברז בעדינות - please open the faucet gently. When I tried to turn the faucet on however, it didn’t work, so I pulled a little harder. The result was a rush of water all over my shirt and pants.

            When you’re pants and shirt are wet everyone can see it and will probably ask what happened and give you some sympathy. But when your socks are wet, no one has any inkling of your discomfort.

            We encounter so many people in our daily lives - friends, neighbors, acquaintances, business associates, gas station attendants, cashiers, and everyone we pass on the street. We nod, smile, make small talk and sometimes even have longer conversations or more regular interactions. Yet we may have no idea of the other person’s metaphorical wet socks. We have no way of knowing that despite their external smile every step may be uncomfortable and challenging for them.

            The truth is that every one of us walks around with wet socks. Some of us deal with it better but most of us hide it from everyone else.

            Wet socks can invite fungus and other issues if the wearer walks around with them for prolonged period of time. The discomfort can lead to every step becoming painful.

            At the end of the day, we have no idea about the journey’s others are on. We see them take a few steps and assume we understand where they are coming from and where they are going.

            The Mishna (Avos 2:5) states that one shouldn’t judge his friend until he “reaches his place”. In our vernacular we say one shouldn’t judge someone until he’s walked a mile in his shoes.

            Sfas Emes quips that the reality is that no one can ever truly walk in someone else’s shoes. Even if I find myself in the exact same situation as another, I have different life experiences, proclivities, particularities, traumas, challenges and thought processes. Therefore, I can never truly understand what it’s like for my friend. In other words, we can never truly pass judgement on other people’s behaviors and decisions. The reality is that we can never know what the experience is like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

            Be reassured that my week-long visit also had much sunny weather when my socks were perfectly dry.

            When I arrived home on Friday morning, I was greeted with a Shabbos snowstorm in New York. Although for this storm I had boots, I would be happy to have wet socks to walk through snow in Yerushalayim than to have dry socks and boots during a snowstorm in New York!          


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum