Thursday, April 28, 2022

Parshas Achrei 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Achrei Mos

28 Nissan 5782/April 29, 2022

Mevorchim Chodesh Nissan – Avos perek 1- 13th day of Omer


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר



It’s ingrained in our psyche - fallback and spring forward. (Or is it fall forward and spring back?) Whatever it is, we have become accustomed to changing the time on our clocks twice a year. Though each time we change we can’t seem to figure out if we’re gaining or losing sleep, but somehow, we figure it out. But all that may soon be a thing of the past.

Daylight saving time has been in place in most of the United States since the 1960s. Year-round daylight savings time was actually adopted during World War Two and again in 1973 to reduce energy use because of an oil embargo. Currently there is a major push to change to daylight savings time permanently.

Supporters say the change could prevent a slight uptick in car crashes that typically occurs around the time changes as well as the small increase in the rate of heart attacks and strokes soon after the time changes.

The U.S. Senate has already unanimously voted to pass legislation, called the Sunshine Protection Act, to make daylight saving time permanent starting in 2023.

It remains to be seen if the bill will pass a vote in the House.

Dissenters of the bill note that, if passed, during the dead of winter children will go to school each morning in utter darkness. For frum Jews there is a much more significant concern because the earliest time for shachris may be well after 8 am. Having to daven so late will complicate things for the masses who need to be at work by 9 am or earlier, as well as for our yeshivos.

Despite that, in recent weeks I was personally hoping that the bill to make daylight savings time a permanent fixture passes. My hope was based on the fact that the dial on my watch to change the time has fallen out, and I cannot adjust the time. Instead of having it fixed it would be much easier if time always remained as it is now.

But then I was informed that even if the bill is passed it won’t go into effect for another two years anyhow, to give time for airlines and other such businesses to adjust their schedules. Being that I will anyway have to get my watch fixed within the next 6 months I’m back on board with prioritizing the needs of the Jewish people trying to adhere to halacha and hoping the bill does not pass.

The reality is that times changes and we must be ready to adapt to them. In Ma’ariv each night we note that “with understanding He changes the times and alternates the seasons.” Life isn’t smooth and predictable, and we have to live with some measure of unknown. But despite any changes or adaptations that are necessary, we seek ways to ensure that they fit within halacha, and never vice versa.

The Torah states that sefiras haOmer, our annual 49-day count from Pesach until Shavuos, begins “from the day after Shabbos”. Chazal explain that in this pasuk Shabbos does not refer to the seventh day of the week but the first day of Pesach. Why is the first day of pesach called Shabbos?

Meshech Chochma explains that the Torah obligation to actively destroy chometz in one’s possession before Pesach is called “tashbisu”, the same root as the word shabbos (literally meaning to stop/desist).

The first day of Pesach is Shabbos in the sense that we stop our yearlong habit of enjoying chometz and completely alter our diet for a week. Challenging and arduous as it is, we fulfill the Torah mandate of not eating chometz during Pesach.

After we demonstrate our ability to make a significant change in our lives in adherence to the Torah’s directive, we begin our spiritual trek towards Kabbolas HaTorah.

The seasons don’t change. Based on the position of the sun they have faithfully followed natural law since creation. There will always be the same number of limited hours of daylight in the winter and added hours of daylight in the summer. The only thing that changes is how we count the hours and what time the hours of daylight begin and end.

Our adherence to Torah is also immutable and eternal. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring and the only surety we have is of the unpredictability of what lies ahead. But we can be sure that no matter what is going on, the daily daf, halacha, mishna, and other Torah study will be learned. Candles will be lit by women the world over on Friday afternoon, mitzvos will be observed and chesed will be performed. Those commodities, though based on time, are timeless. As history has shown us, of that we can be sure.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, April 14, 2022

Pesach 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh - Pesach

14 Nissan 5782/April 15, 2022


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


            Like every Yom Tov, Pesach is beautiful and unique. But the road to Pesach must pass through Erev Pesach.

            Erev Pesach isn’t just a day. In fact, it’s not even limited to a specific time. It becomes a mindset and an encompassing way of life.

            For some, Erev Pesach begins Chanukah, for others on Shushan Purim, and for some nervous nellies Pesach begins the day after Succos. But for everyone the week before Pesach is unquestionably Erev Pesach.

            It is common for many Jews to suffer from EPS (Erev Pesach Syndrome) which may include feeling hungry, irritable, fatigued, anxious and overwhelmed.

            The most significant challenge of Erev Pesach is that our routines are interrupted. There is a great investment of time necessary for cleaning, checking, and kashering. In addition, cooking, baking and food preparations for Pesach need to begin a few days prior in a chometz-free environment. Therefore, during the days before Pesach chometz needs to be eaten outside the kitchen.

            In our family, our basement becomes our makeshift kitchen during the days before Pesach. We open a folding table upon which the coffee maker, toaster, and all remaining food is placed. Lunch may consist of whatever can be found when rummaging through what is left in the shalach manos boxes. Taffy, crackers, an apple, and animal crackers may constitute a full meal (if my kids don’t catch me taking stuff from their shalach manos boxes).

            During these trying times making a cup of coffee can become an ordeal, trying to locate the coffee, milk, hot water, spoon, and sugar all in different and unusual places. In the early morning hours before having had a coffee, having to search for coffee materials is a sure recipe for grumpiness.

            In shuls, announcements are made for everyone to clear out their shtenders and all personal belongings because the shul will be cleaned for Pesach. Signs are posted saying that no chometz should be brought into the shul.

            During our last days of classes in Heichal HaTorah before Pesach, the yeshiva generously donates its Bais Medrash to be used for packing boxes for Teaneck Tomchei Shabbos. Every table, chair and shtender is removed from the room, and replaced with hundreds of boxes and Pesach food supplies. Then, our final day before Pesach, the yeshiva students and rabbeim join the massive, chessed operation to help pack boxes.

            Despite it being an inconvenience to move, especially just before vacation, the chesed opportunity is well worth February hassle.

            The process of Erev Pesach is surely enriching and memorable, but it is also inconvenient and somewhat challenging.

            It is well known that the Chasam Sofer began one of his responsa by writing, “Since I am outside my study because I have been chased out by the righteous women who are cleaning for the Yom Tov of Pesach, therefore (my response) cannot be as lengthy as necessary”[1]. The Nodeh B’Yehuda similarly wrote about how busy he was dealing with communal issues before Pesach, “and, in addition, I have no space and am constantly going from room to room and corner to corner because they are cleaning the walls and sweeping the floors in honor of the holiday. Therefore, I am writing my opinion concisely”[2].

            It seems that being inconvenienced and out of place during the days before Pesach is not a new practice.

            Perhaps there is an integral idea symbolized by our Pre-Pesach wandering that connects to one of the main messages of the Seder and Pesach.

            In our prayers, we refer to G-d by various names in order for us to somewhat grasp how He relates to us. Each divine Name has different significance and meaning based on His divine manifestation in the world.

            One of the more unusual names of G-d is “Makom - Place”. When we comfort a mourner we say to them that, “Hamakom yenachem eschem - the Omnipresent should comfort you”. Similarly, after laining on Monday and Thursday we daven for our suffering brethren and say, “Hamakom yerachem aleihem - the Omnipresent should have mercy upon them.”

            During the Seder we refer to Hashem as “HaMakom” four times. At the time of the exodus, the Jewish people learned that our Avodas Hashem isn’t limited to a time or place. Torah observance isn’t only for when one is in shul during davening times. A Jew must serve Hashem wherever he is and always.

            Just prior to their leaving Egypt, the men received a b’ris milah and the nation performed the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. They demonstrated complete subservience to Hashem, symbolizing that their redemption was solely for that purpose. Forevermore the new nation would be defined as G-d’s people. That subservience would transcend time and place.

            On the night when we celebrate the genesis of our nationhood, we refer to G-d as “the Place” to emphasize that we are His people wherever we are.


            The Medrash[3] states, “Rav Yudan said in the name of Rav Bun: One who learns Torah out of his place takes one thousand (portions of) reward; one who learns Torah in his place takes two hundred (portions of) reward.”

            Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l notes[4] that the message of the medrash applies equally to tefillah. He gives the example of one who is traveling and has no choice but to daven mincha on the side of the road, just prior to sunset. He may think to himself that he’ll daven mindlessly to fulfill his obligation, and the next day, when he’s back in his usual place for davening, he’ll daven properly again.

            Rav Pincus counters that such an attitude is incorrect. Before mincha on Yom Kippur would anyone think, “Today I’m weak and hungry from the fast so I’ll just daven nonchalantly. Then tomorrow when I’m feeling better, I’ll daven with more enthusiasm and concentration”? That would be absurd. Everyone knows that mincha on Yom Kippur is an irreplaceable opportunity, so even if one doesn’t feel well, he’ll push himself to take advantage of it. The same is true with mincha, and every other tefillah or mitzvah on any given day. Even if one is harried, tired, disoriented, and not in the mood, if he realizes that this davening/mitzvah is an irreplaceable opportunity, he’ll take advantage of it despite the hardship.[5]

            The days leading up to Pesach are indeed inconvenient and out of routine. But that itself is an important component of the spiritual message of Pesach. We left Mitzrayim in order to serve Hashem - wherever and whenever. We became avdei Hashem in Mitzrayim, in the desert, in our homeland, on land, in the sea, in exile and in redemption, in the kitchen, in the basement, outside in the backyard, in Cancun or in Alaska. No matter when or where, we proudly remain the servants of Hashem. After spending some time reminding us of that truth, we sit down at the Seder to celebrate the merit we have to be the proud nation chosen to serve Him always.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Kasher v’samaeiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] או"ח ח"א סי' קלו'

[2]  מהדו"ת או"ח סי' נז'

[3] Shir Hashirim Rabbah 8:14

[4] This was written on 12 Nissan, Rav Pincus’ yahrtzeit. The previous part of the essay was written prior. It was amazing to me that on the morning of his yahrtzeit I saw this idea in his Haggadah, directly relating to the topic I was writing about. May his holy neshama have an aliyah.

[5] This thought is נאה למי שאמרו - fitting for the one who said it. Rav Pincus lived his every day as full of opportunities to serve Hashem, in all situations and circumstances. His passion for avodas Hashem, tefillah, Shabbos and Torah were unparalleled, and continues to inspire Klal Yisroel.


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Parshas Metzora Shabbos Hagadol 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Metzora

6 Nissan 5782/April 8, 2022

Shabbos HaGadol


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


            This week our son Shalom had his wisdom teeth removed. It wasn’t easy to get an appointment with a doctor that would do the procedure during the few weeks between when he arrived home from Eretz Yisroel and Pesach. We were gratified that it was able to work out.

            Wisdom teeth are highly mislabeled. They are so called because they generally emerge during the late teen years. I am not sure what those years have to do with wisdom (see last week’s Musings). It is believed that they were named by the Greek physician Hippocrates, who is famous for writing the Hippocratic oath.  

            The Japanese call those back molars teeth “unknown to the parents,” and in Turkish they are referred to, simply, as “20-year teeth.” But in Hebrew, wisdom teeth are called shinei bina - teeth of understanding.

            Maybe calling them wisdom teeth is actually more of a euphemism…

            At any rate, we were advised that when people awake from the extraction procedure, the after-effects of the anesthesia often cause the patient to act and say funny things. Indeed, when he awoke Shalom laughingly complained that the doctor not only took out his teeth but also his (numbed) chin. He also told the doctor that he wanted the teeth back. In case he needed them he could always glue them back in.

            As this happened two weeks before Pesach, I was trying to think about what possible connection teeth extraction may have with the Yom Tov of Pesach. But I was unable to think of any.

            For those who will say that there is mention of the teeth of the wicked son in the Haggadah, I will counter that our Shalom is b”H a wise son. What’s more, the Haggadah doesn’t say that the wicked son’s teeth are knocked out. Rather, it says that his teeth are to be blunted. In other words, to remove the bitter sharpness of his invective.

            While I am on the topic however, I would like to share a novel perspective about the meaning of blunting the teeth of the wicked.

            In Megillas Esther, there is a fateful moment when Achashveirosh tells Haman to parade Mordechai through the streets of Shushan and repeatedly proclaim, “This is what is done to the man whom the king wishes to honor”. Achashveirosh adds to his instructions, “Al tapel davar mikol asher dibarta”. Loosely translated the words mean that Haman shouldn’t leave anything out from what he had suggested to Achashveirosh. However, the literal translation of those words is “do not let a word fall from all that you have spoken.”

            The Ben Ish Chai notes that at that time Haman was an old man. (Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l writes that Haman and Mordechai were both 95 at the time of the Purim story.) By that age, Haman was undoubtedly missing many of his teeth, which would make it difficult for him to enunciate certain letters (zayin, samech, shin, raysh, tzadik).

            Achashveirosh was concerned that in an effort to mitigate his shame, Haman would mumble the words he was instructed to repeat. In this way, Haman’s proclamation would just sound like ranting gibberish. Therefore, Achashveirosh warned him, “Speak slowly and clearly and don’t let the words fall out of your mouth in a manner that they won’t be understood.”


            The Bendiner Rav, Rav Chanoch Tzvi Levin, was once in agony because of a severely impacted tooth. A dentist was summoned to the Rav’s house, and he immediately extracted the tooth. Afterwards, the Rav thanked him and asked him how much he owed him for his services. The dentist replied that it was common practice for the members of that town to present the Rav with a monetary gift on Chanukah. He suggested that in lieu of payment, the dentist would simply not to give the Rav a Chanukah gift that year.

            The Bendiner Rav replied that he would not allow such an arrangement. “If the members of the community find out that they can pull a tooth instead of giving me a Chanukah gift, I will have no teeth left by the end of the week.”

            One of the underappreciated benefits of teeth is that they help us express our thoughts, ideas and messages clearly.

            Torah and Judaism do not fear questions. In fact, all of Gemara is rooted in sharp challenges and pointed questions. My rebbi, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that the gemara asks the questions we would never ask.

            The question is only how the question is asked. If one asks in order to probe, ponder and understand, there is nothing that cannot be asked. But if one has already made up his mind and isn’t interested in hearing another viewpoint or perspective, trying to answer his questions is futile.

            Throughout my school years whenever a classmate would raise his hand and announce, “I’m going to the bathroom”, the teacher response was always, “Are you asking me or telling me?” The student would then rephrase it as a question.

            The question of the wicked son is valid - why do we perform the Pesach service? The problem is that the wicked son isn’t actually asking. Rather, he is mockingly declaring, “why are you doing this!” He has already made up his mind that it is meaningless, and he doesn’t want to be bothered with the facts.

            Perhaps that is part of the response to the wicked son in the Haggadah. Dulling the teeth of the wicked son means to try to change the way he poses his challenge. Our response to him is that he is welcome to ask away but do so with respect. Don’t allow the words to “fall out” of your mouth with disdain or mockery.

            If we get to the teeth of the matter, we realize that the deficiency of the wicked son is that he doesn’t want to sink his teeth into it. The root of it is that he wants to remain an outsider looking in. He needs to learn to bite his tongue and restrain his biting criticism. Otherwise, he is lying through his teeth… to himself!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum