Thursday, March 31, 2022

Parshas Tazria 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tazria/Rosh Chodesh Nissan

29 Adar II 5782/April 1, 2022

Parshas HaChodesh


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


          Mark Twain once quipped, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. However, when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in just seven years.”

            In a similar vein, at my older brother’s graduation from Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, our Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein, told the graduates, “When you entered the yeshiva four years ago you were shorter and smarter than me. Now you’re a little taller and I’m a little smarter.”

            One of the vital messages that Rabbi Wein sought to convey to us - his teenage yeshiva students - was that one isn’t as all-knowing as he thinks he is during his adolescent years.

            Rabbi Wein would caution us to remember every word we tell our parents as sixteen years olds, because we will hear it repeated verbatim, twenty-five years down the pike. Rabbi Wein would also warn us that, “G-d pays back all children by making them parents.”

            One of the challenges of parenting adolescents - aside for raging hormones and extreme moodiness - is that it’s hard to parent people who are confident that they know everything and feel they have surpassed their parents and teachers in life experience and wisdom.

            The period of adolescence is by definition one of confusion. No longer a child, not yet an adult, the teen lingers in a world of in-between. He struggles to forge his own identity which entails breaking out of the mold of his nuclear family. Yet, secretly, he still desperately needs the support of his family and the knowledges that he is still accepted as part of the family.

            Interestingly, the Torah does not speak about a period called adolescence. One day a twelve-year-old child is a katan - a minor, and a day later he turns thirteen and becomes a bar mitzvah, a halachic adult. The bar mitzvah can complete a minyan and is obligated in all mitzvos, no less than a ninety-year-old rabbi.

            (It should be noted that the Gemara Shabbos 89b states that one is not held accountable in the celestial courts until he is 20 years old. However, regarding matters of responsibility pertaining to physical life, one is accountable when becoming bar mitzvah.)

            In Alei Shur I (p. 40) Rav Shlomo Wolbe offers a Torah perspective regarding teenage years that should be required reading for every child coming of age. He notes that around the beginning of adolescence, a child begins to show signs of physical maturity. Those noticeable physical changes demonstrate that he/she is no longer a child, physically or emotionally. As the child’s body begins to change into that of an adult, he/she now has the physical ability to become a parent.

            “It is incumbent upon a person to realize that from the moment he has the ability to bear children he is no longer living only for himself. The changes in his body are preparing him to be a father of children and to bring forth the next generation..”

            Rav Wolbe stressed that the physical changes occurring are to demonstrate to the adolescent that he must prepare for the most noble and important task he will have in life - that of raising the next generation.

            Mishna Berura (47:10) writes that one should constantly daven that his children study Torah, be righteous and have noble character. He adds that one should particularly concentrate on this at three junctures of shachris each morning: when reciting Birchas HaTorah, when saying Ahava Rabbah (before Shema), and in Uva L’Zion when reciting the words, “in order that we not toil for nothing or bring forth (lit. give birth to) confusion.”

            Based on Rav Wolbe’s message that from the time one reaches adolescence, he should be thinking about his future role as a parent, it seems proper to teach teenagers that they should begin davening that they one day merit having children and that those children be spiritually and physically healthy. Though it may sound outlandish it’s quite appropriate.

            The added benefit is that it will remind the teen that the decisions he makes today will effect him tomorrow. It will help him think twice before engaging in certain behaviors that he would not want his future children’s parent to do. In addition, there is never a limit to how much one can or should pray. It’s never too early to start praying for any future need one anticipates will arise.

            We all want the best for our children and there is no greater tool we have to help that occur than prayer.

            It’s been said that in his later years the Steipler Gaon treated that a day didn’t go by when he didn’t daven for his son Chaim. Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l was already a known and respected scholar by that time. Yet is father never stopped davening for him. Why should we not begin davening for our progeny as early as possible as well?

            May Hashem bless all our children that they merit healthy children and their children after them, forever.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            Chodesh Tov,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, March 24, 2022

Parshas Shemini 5782


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Purim / Parshas Tzav 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tzav

15 Adar II 5782/March 18, 2022

Shushan Purim


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לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


            At first, I couldn’t understand what my student was talking about. Why would he ask me if I think there are more doors or wheels in the world? Of what importance is the answer and how can anyone correctly assess it?

            Then a fellow student explained that the question came from social media. A few days ago, someone in New Zealand posed the aforementioned question on his Twitter page. Within a short time, he received well over 200,000 responses to his poll. 46% claimed there are more doors, while 53% claimed there are more wheels.

            This is not the first time meaningless debates have erupted on social media. In 2015 thousands passionately debated whether a certain dress was blue and black or white and gold. In 2018 there was another major debate about whether a voice on an audio clip said Yanay or Laurel.

            These trivial disagreements have become an essential component of social media culture. The fact that there can never be a definitive answer to the questions doesn’t seem to make any difference to the debaters.

            I leave it to others to postulate why these types of imponderables garner such excitement. But it got me thinking about the importance and value of wheels and doors.

            In order to travel we need wheels. The faster wheels spin the quicker we move. But in order to spin, something needs to fuel the wheels.

            We are currently undergoing a crisis which has resulted in a substantial rise in gas prices. If we want to continue ‘spinning our wheels’ as much as we have been used to, we must be willing to pay the increased prices or find alternative means to fuel our wheels.

            When a person undergoes any challenge or crises, it becomes that much harder for him to maintain his daily routines. His internal fuel is more quickly depleted and becomes “more expensive”. Another r option is for him to find external fuel - such as the support of friends and family to keep him going. But without any fuel, the wheels of his growth and production will be very limited.

            The wheels of life are also used as a metaphor to convey the idea that the world is always moving ahead. During the covid lockdown, while we were stuck at home, the world continued its natural processes. The seasons changed, birds chirped, and animals ran in the wild.

            Part of the cruelty of life is that even when we go through periods of challenge and tragedy, the world apathetically continues to function as it always has. We may feel like our world is coming apart, but the wheels of life continue to spin unabatedly.

            Doors have a very different symbolism. At times we long for privacy behind closed doors, where we can have rare moments of reflection. Because the wheels of life never stop spinning, it becomes that much more important to be able to close our doors on the outside world to focus inwards.

            At times, we also seek new doors and new vistas to broaden our horizons and explore beyond what we have done and where we have been until then.

            Alexander Graham Bell famously noted that whenever one door closes, another door opens. While that may be true, the hallways in between the closed and not-yet-opened doors can be very daunting. Although there will indeed be new doors, we have to be ready for them to appear not where and when we expected them. They may lead to different corridors than we expected.

            I have no idea if there are more wheels or doors in the world, and, truthfully, it’s irrelevant. In fact, by the time you read this, it’s likely that the whole debate will have already become passé, and social media will move on to other novel nonsenses.

            What is undoubtedly true however, is that we need both wheels and doors, literally and metaphorically. We need to be able to navigate our rapidly moving world and to balance the need to close doors, and sometimes find new ones.

            Every new period of life, warrants closing doors on the past and fueling our wheels to move ahead.

            The night before our ancestors left the Egyptian exile, they smeared the blood of the Korbon Pesach on the doorways of their homes. Perhaps part of the symbolism was that by placing the symbolic slaughtering of the Egyptian god, upon their doors, they were demonstrating that they were leaving that world behind. When they passed through those doorways the following day on their march towards freedom they left behind the lifestyle of Egypt as they revved their wheels while forging ahead into the wilderness with faith.

            I conclude by saying that perhaps, at times, we should consider that while the wheels of social media move, we can close our doors to it to use our time more wisely. Just saying.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Parshas Vayikra 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayikra

8 Adar II 5782/March 11, 2022

Parshas Zachor


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לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


            It’s often said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

            Why is that true?

            My ninth grade Heichal students (bekius) and I are currently learning Maseches Tamid. The shortest masechta in Shas, Tamid details the daily procedures of the avodah performed in the Bais Hamikdash. Most particularly it discusses the offering of the Korbon Tamid - the daily “consistency offering”. There were actually two Korbanos Tamid brought each day. One served as the first offering brought in the Bais Hamikdash each morning and a second one served as the final offering brought every afternoon.

            When we began to learn about the slaughtering of the sheep and the subsequent procedures of the Tamid, some of my students commented that it was disgusting or gross.

            I replied that while it is understandable for one to feel squeamish about these unfamiliar procedures, one should never refer to any part of the divine service as being gross. In fact, it behooves us to recognize the beauty of the process in which one had the ability to draw closer to his creator and attain atonement for his sins.

            My students were understandably skeptical and questioned how they could see the process of slaughtering an animal and ritually sprinkling it’s blood as, not only unappealing, but beautiful.

I asked them if, as avid sports fans, they would be excited if they were somehow able to procure the sports jersey that their favorite player had worn during a championship game. They all nodded enthusiastically, adding that they would hang it up on their wall, show it to all their friends, and send pictures of it to all their contacts.

            When I asked them if they would wash the jersey first, most replied that they definitely would not. The same would be true if they had the chance to get that player’s sneakers. They would be enthralled to have the player’s smelly and sweaty sneakers that had actually adorned his feet while he was playing.

            I noted that any non-sports fan would think they were insane. Why would any rational person want the sweaty and smelly jersey or sneakers of someone else, never mind hang it up on their wall?!

            Non-sports fans fail to see the sentimental value of such a jersey. They cannot comprehend how having that article of clothing helps the diehard fan feel deeply connected to his idol. Yet the fan is enamored and proud of the used, malodorous jersey hanging on his wall.

The reason beauty is in the eyes of the beholder is that beauty is subjective. For one, our definition of beauty is heavily impacted by societal standards and definitions. What was considered beautiful decades ago is not necessarily considered beautiful today. That’s surely true of what was considered beautiful in generations past. The mishnah discusses the permissibility of women wearing chokers around their neck on Shabbos to produce a double chin. At that time, food was scarce and having more weight was considered more upscale and attractive (ah, the good old days…).

            In addition, some of our ideas of beauty are heavily influenced by our values. An architect can look at a building and remark how beautiful it is, while another person doesn’t understand what’s so special about a structure of bricks and windows.

            In the same vein, we may look at a pair of tefillin and admire how beautiful they are, while a non-Jew will try to figure out what’s so beautiful about leather straps connected to black leather boxes. The same holds true for a shofar, a piece of matzah, an esrog, or a mezuzah.

            When something fits with our definition of value or importance, we see that commodity as beautiful.

In that sense, the sprinkled blood of a Korban and the other details of its offering are magnificently beautiful, even if it makes us feel queasy.

            Rabbi Ezriel Tauber was once traveling and schmoozing with Rabbi Shimshon Pincus. During their conversation, Rabbi Tauber mentioned that he had recently heard about a yeshiva student who found out that his mother’s mother wasn’t born Jewish and, therefore, he wasn’t Jewish. The young man told his rebbe that he wanted to adhere to the Noachide laws, and not convert to Judaism.

            Rabbi Tauber then asked Rabbi Pincus what he would do if he found out he wasn’t Jewish.

            One might have expected that Rabbi Pincus would reply that he would want to convert immediately. However, Rabbi Pincus excitedly replied that if he wasn’t Jewish, he would run to offer a korbon to Hashem (which is permitted for non-Jews). Only afterwards, would he hurry to a Bais Din to convert and become a Jew.  

            (It should be noted that Rabbi Tauber replied that he personally wouldn’t waste a minute, even to offer a korban. He would run straight to Bais Din so that they could convert him immediately. As a Holocaust survivor who couldn’t perform mitzvos for a number of years, he wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to do as many mitzvos as he could.)

            To Rabbi Pincus a Korban was the most beautiful expression of his greatest desire in the world - to serve Hashem on the highest level.

            Perhaps we don’t feel that level of emotional excitement. But we can at least remind ourselves of the unparalleled beauty that Korbanos afforded, the ability to express and feel the highest level of connection with G-d.

            Could there be anything more beautiful?

            May we have the opportunity to perform them again soon.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Parshas Pekudei



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Pekudei

1 Adar II 5782/March 4, 2022

Rosh Chodesh Adar II


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לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


            When I was a child, hanging in our home was a needlepoint my mother made that had a picture of a house, and underneath the words, “Home is where your ❤️ is 🐞”.

            I had seen it a million times but never realized what it was really saying. Until one day I asked my parents what it means that “home is where your is”. After they laughed, they explained that the heart symbol was supposed to be read as if it said “home is where your heart is.” I replied by asking what does it mean “hope is where your heart is buggy”? They laughed again and explained that the little buggy was just there for design and wasn’t meant to be read, unlike the heart which was meant to be read.

            After that, “home is where your is” became a family joke, and a story my parents love to tell over.

            We all have moments in life when we fail to recognize the deeper meanings of things around us. Sometimes it can be a seemingly nonchalant comment or gesture that has much deeper significance and meaning than realized.

            As a therapist, we are trained to try to be in tune and to recognize such nuances. We to try to interpret and externalize the hidden subtle, often subconscious, meanings.

            I would venture to say that regarding many religious matters we fail to recognize the deeper subtleties and meanings behind our rituals and customs. Perhaps there is no greater time of year when we miss the nuances and depth than during the holiday of Purim.

            I often ask my students who they think wears the best costume on Purim. After they excitedly suggest their nominations, I tell them that in my opinion - which incidentally is always correct - no one wears a better costume than the holiday of Purim itself!

            Purim masquerades as a simple day of fun and gaiety. While it’s unquestionably a day to enjoy on all levels, we shouldn’t miss out on the deeper meanings and lessons of the day.

            It’s worth taking a few moments to contemplate some of the less recognized, yet vital, messages of this beloved and joyous holiday. Although each idea requires its own individual focus, we will briefly list some of those timeless ideas:

o   Purim is a celebration of Kabbolas HaTorah. The gemara relates that although there was a modicum of coercion at the time of Kabbolas HaTorah at Sinai, at the time of the Purim miracle, the nation joyously and unequivocally reaccepted and rededicated themselves to Torah.

o   Purim marks the victory of good middos (character traits) over bad middos. Achashveirosh was driven by paranoia, lust, greed, and power. Haman was consumed with hate, hubris, and pursuit of glory and power. Their evil plans were thwarted by Mordechai and Esther who personified love, devotion, selflessness, faith and humility. It’s truly a story of good guys beating the bad guys.


o   The focus of Purim is horizontal as well as vertical. The story of the Megillah reminds us that Hashem runs every facet of our lives. We give shalach manos to build our connection and friendship with our peers, neighbors and friends. We also give matanos laevyonim to those lacking and underprivileged. Finally, at the seudah we reach a state of inner and outer joy, rejoicing in who we are and accepting that we are beloved and special.

o   It’s not always realized that the immediate consequence of the Purim miracle was the rebuilding of the second Bais Hamikdash. When Achashveirosh came to power, he immediately stopped the recently begun reconstruction of the Bais Hamikdash. After his death, his son and successor, Darius II, commissioned the recommencement and completion of the rebuilding.

Purim serves as a chizuk for us that we too will soon merit geulah and the ultimate rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash, even if now it’s impossible to see how.

o   Purim is an incredible day of tefillah. Purim begins with Ta’anis Esther to remind us that the miracle was the result of our prayers during that desperate time. Seforim reveal that on Purim the gates of prayer are wide open, and prayers can accomplish incredible things.

o   Appreciate the blessings of life, health and family while we have them. Haman’s evil decree instantly turned over the world for the Jews. His undoing and destruction were equally quick and unexpected.

In life, things can change so quickly. Don’t take anyone or anything for granted.

o   Perhaps most poignantly: Never ever give up! At the time of the Megillah, the Jewish situation was worse than bleak. They had no one to turn to and nowhere to run. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, they maintained a sense of hope and persevered.


            Purim reminds us to peel back layers and see beyond the surface. In a superficial society that message is invaluable. On Purim we recognize that there are many masks hiding the truth, most prominently the truth of the divine Hand orchestrating every facet of the world and our lives.

            Home is unquestionably where your is. It’s up to us to decide what symbolism we insert there.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum