Thursday, May 26, 2022

Parshas Bechukosai 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bechukosai – Chazak!

27 Iyar 5782/May 27, 2022

Erev Yom Yerushalayim

Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan

Avos perek 5- 41st day of Omer


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


I am happy to report that my Striving Higher Haggadah is currently being edited and will be published by Mosaica Press before Pesach 5783 iy”H.

Although much of the book has already been sponsored, I am looking for more sponsors to help offset publishing costs.

Sponsors can be in memory, in honor or as a zechus.

Please contact me if you are interested in partnering with me in the production of this unique Haggadah (


To be a father entails fulfilling many roles. One of the most important of those unstated tasks is to be the family “opener”. During the summer months it means opening your children’s ice pops. As any parent knows that’s no easy feat. Some parents try to use a knife to cut off the top, which sometimes works but often doesn’t. Eventually, most fathers get frustrated and just bite off the top. If he’s not careful he ends up with some splotches of the ices on his shirt. This is especially annoying on Shabbos when he is wearing a white shirt and for the rest of the day everyone will know what kind of ices he had. Then there’s always that gnawing question of whether he should say a beracha before biting off the top. He doesn’t really want to eat it, but he did taste it….

Dads also have the unenviable task of opening jars and bottles. After a few unsuccessful tries, a child (or wife) hands a stubborn jar or bottle to the father to open. In that moment his position as man of the house is unwittingly being called into question.

With a silent prayer he grabs the bottle and aggressively tries to turn the cap. If he’s not successful, he turns the bottle over and gives it a potch on its bottom for its disobedience. If that still doesn’t help, he’ll stick a knife under the cap, even though that probably doesn’t do anything.

If that doesn’t work, he may run to the cabinet and try to switch the bottle (hoping he can find one) without anyone realizing it.

A few years ago, a young woman named Elisa Fernandes was competing in a timed round in the final of 'Masterchef' Brazil. As the clock ticked, she couldn’t open a jar she needed which itself could’ve ended her hopes of winning. After trying twice unsuccessfully, she ran over to her father who was watching on the side and handed him the jar. With one mighty twist he opened the jar and handed it back to Elisa who went on to win the competition. The clip is still viewed and circulated.

As I am sitting in my kitchen typing this brilliant literary masterpiece, my daughter just handed me a pickle jar to open. I kid you not. I am happy to report that, for the moment, I have defended my title as man-of-the-house.

Creating new openings is no small feat. Every speaker knows how key his opening words are in trying to reel in his audience.

On Shabbos there is much halachic discussion regarding the permissibility of opening cans and bottles. The question is essentially whether opening them is considered creating a new vessel or not. Without creating an opening, the vessel is essentially useless. If you can’t access its contents, it will do you no good.

The Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2) relates that Hashem tells us, as it were, “Create an opening for Me like the opening of a needle and I will open for you like the entranceway to a banquet hall.” If we make the initial effort, Hashem will help us continue along the spiritual road we have begun to trudge.

The caveat is that it’s not so easy to create that minute opening. I picture it as trying to open a door in a massive gale with sixty mph winds blowing against it. It will require tremendous exertion to push the door open at all against such strong opposing force. But as soon as there is a crack of an opening, those winds will slam the door open until it’s barely hanging onto its hinges.

Ben Azzai advises, “One should run to perform a “light” mitzvah and flee from sin because one mitzvah drags along (i.e., leads to) another mitzvah and one sin drags along with it another sin. The reward for performing a mitzvah is another mitzvah and the reward for a sin is committing another sin.” (Avos 4:2).

In the natural world the law of inertia states that anything at rest will remain at rest unless it encounters an opposing force. In the spiritual world the same is largely true. Our actions create a momentum that continue to carry us along that trajectory. To change course all we need is an “opposite act”. However, doing so entails countering the momentum and fighting against the tide we have created. That is the challenge of creating a new opening.

Perhaps there is nowhere that this principle holds true than regarding education. The first requirement of education is to win over and open the hearts of one’s students. If the child’s heart is closed for whatever reason, regardless of who the educator is, the child will not be influenced much.

Creating an opening can sometimes take significant time, patience, insight and tenacity. This is especially true with children who have erected a thick coat of armor to protect their fragile sense of self. But once even a crack of an opening has been made, the sky is the limit with how much can be accomplished.

It’s far easier to open a jar or a can than it is to open a heart and soul. But creating such openings helps us along the proper path and is the true test of great parenting and education.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Parshas Behar 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Behar

19 Iyar 5782/May 20, 2022

Avos perek 4- 34th day of Omer


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


Years ago, I heard about a man named Rabbi Meir Shuster, a fixture at the Kosel, who would scan the plaza looking for unaffiliated Jews visiting the wall. He would approach them and politely ask them if they had the time. When they would reply, he would use that opening to gently engage them and convince them to attend classes about Judaism. It was said that he was the catalyst for bringing countless Jews back to their faith.

I assumed Meir Shuster was a “cool guy”, suave and charismatic, with a wonderful sense of humor. He was probably extremely worldly and well versed in politics so that he could maintain a conversation with those he met and sought to reel in.

Over two decades ago, before I was married, I spent a Shabbos in the home of Rabbi Label Karmel, to help assist with a JEP shabbaton that Rabbi Karmel was running. Rabbi Shuster happened to be in Lakewood for Shabbos that week and we ate the meal together at the Karmel home.

At first, I was unsure who the sagacious looking individual was. When my friend approached him to ask him if he had the time and he smiled, I realized that he was the legendary Rabbi Meir Shuster. I was quite surprised. Here was perhaps the most uncool person I had ever met. He looked like the righteous scholar that he was. He definitely did not appear to be someone who could be one of the most successful people in Jewish outreach in the world.

Seared in my memory is Rabbi Shuster singing the zemer Yom Zeh Mechubad, his eyes closed in blissful concentration and one hand lifted in the air.

So, if it wasn’t his charisma, what about him touched the souls of so many thousands of Jews? What was the secret of his kiruv ability?

It seems clear that he attracted people with his sincerity. He was humble and unassuming, yet real and authentic. When he spoke about Torah, his love for it touched those he was speaking with.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky noted that the Hebrew word for influence, hashpa’ah, comes from the same root as the word shipuah, slant or incline. There are two ways to water a garden. One can irrigate the vegetation directly, which requires effort and constant wetting. A more practical way is to build a slated roof from which the steady flow of rain will automatically irrigate the vegetation.

mashpia, one who influences others, does not do so as much with speeches and moral diatribes, as much as with the force of his personality, through his living emotional example of how a Torah Jew conducts himself in all his affairs. His emotional attachment to Torah and mitzvos spills over and oozes out of his being and is felt by those in his orbit.

            The gemara (Ta’anis 22a) relates that Rabbi Beroka met Eliyahu Hanavi in the marketplace and asked Eliyahu if there were any b’nei Olam Habah in that marketplace? Eliyahu pointed to two individuals. Rabbi Beroka approached them and asked them what their profession was? They replied that they were badchanim who cheered people up. Rashi elaborates on their response, commenting: “We are happy, and we make others happy.”

Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l noted that Rashi makes it a point to say that, not only did they make others happy, but they were happy themselves. The rule is that one cannot give something that he doesn’t have. In order to make others happy, one must be a person who himself feels inner happiness. If you don’t feel it, you can’t convey it to others, no matter how good of an orator or actor you are.

The recent passing of Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein has created a profound void in our broader community. The truth is that in certain ways Rabbi Wallerstein was “cool”. He knew the lingo and the stories and examples he related in his lectures were very contemporary. At the same time, he was very sincere and real. Through that combination he was able to connect with and inspire countless others.

I can’t say that I was personally close with Rabbi Wallerstein. Though I heard many of his lectures and was inspired by him, I only met him on a few occasions. One of those times was when he spoke in my shul when I was the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead. We were schmoozing after the speech and Rabbi Wallerstein related that on his decade birthdays (30, 40, 50, etc.) he accepted upon himself something new in his Avodas Hashem, as gratitude to Hashem for allowing him to reach that milestone.

If my memory serves me correctly, he told me he began wearing Rabbeinu Tam tefillin when he turned 50.

Rabbi Wallerstein would often quote lessons he learned from great people like Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l, and personal anecdotes from conversations and meetings with Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l, Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz shlit”a and many other tzaddikim. He spoke lovingly about Shabbos, Emunah, Hashem, and constantly doing things on behalf of Klal Yisroel

There is no doubt that a large part of his influence was the result of the fact that he was personally growing. He was always looking for ways to further his own Avodas Hashem and that ceaseless inner drive spilled over.

If we want to create changes, we can do so by seeking our own personal growth. Our influence upon those around us will be inevitable.

Gandhi purportedly quipped, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” How we act inevitably influences others most significantly through our example.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Parshas Emor 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Emor

12 Iyar 5782/May 13, 2022

Avos perek 3- 27th day of Omer


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


Before I went to Eretz Yisroel a few months ago, I was reminded a few times to make sure to take a long a few outlet adapters. The shape of the outlets in Eretz Yisroel are different than the shape of our outlets and an American plug will not fit into an Israeli outlet.

There are two global standard voltage networks, 110V and 220V. The United States runs on 110V, while most of the world runs on a standard 220V system. (I hope you’re following this because I have no idea what I’m talking about.)

While I was there, the adapter i used for my phone charger worked perfectly.

But no one explained to me that there is a difference between adapters and converters. While an adapter will ensure that the plug will fit into the wall, it doesn’t alter the voltage. A converter, however, will take care of the difference between the voltage of the outlet and the voltage of the device.

Electrical products that have heating devices or mechanical motors, like dryers, shavers, irons and fans require a converter, not just an adapter. But I didn’t know that at the time, and when I turned on my plug-in shaver, it sprang to life for a brief moment. Then, I heard a pop, and the shaver instantly went dead. Thinking I had tripped the outlet I decided not to try it again for the rest of my trip.

When I returned to America and plugged it in however, it didn’t turn on. It was clear that the mechanism inside had been destroyed by the voltage change and my shaver was kaput! May it rest in pieces.

Every one of us has an internal flame but we get “fired up” differently.

The oft-quoted mantra of chinuch is the pasuk from Mishlei (22:6) “Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko - educate a child according to his way.”

It’s fascinating that the word chanoch is spelled חנך without a vov. That would seem to be analogous to spelling “edukation” wrong.

When used as a prefix, the letter vov means “and”. In Hebrew conjunctions are expressed with the letter vov.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn suggests that the wisest of men is reminding us that it’s not so hard to educate the child who is insightful, disciplined and motivated. It’s those students that lack the conjunctions, that don’t see or make connections, or challenge the connections that are already in place, that is the real challenge of education. More than others it’s those children who need us to figure out their unique voltage to help them plug them in to a vibrant power source. If we can’t figure out how to tap into the current running through them, they may tragically remain unplugged.

In Parshas Toldos when the Torah relates about the upbringing of Eisav and Yaakov, the pasuk states, “Yitzchak loved Eisav, because tzayid befiv – the hunt was in his mouth.”

The literal translation of these words, “he entrapped him with his mouth” is simply understood to mean that Eisav tricked Yitzchak, by causing Yitzchak to think he was righteous when, in reality, he was living a sinful life.

The Sifsei Cohen however suggests that “he entrapped him with his mouth” actually refers to Yitzchak entrapping Eisav with his words. Yitzchak was well aware of Eisav’s evil tendencies, and that was precisely why he showed Eisav increased love and affection.

In other words, Yitzchak was fully aware of Eisav’s ‘red’ fiery nature and was doing his utmost to channel that nature positively. Yitzchak felt that Yaakov didn’t need to receive the berachos because he was already living a blessed life. Yitzchak hoped that by demonstrating to Eisav his love and esteem for him, and that he wanted to give the berachos to him, it would cause Eisav to repent.

In a similar vein, the late Rabbi Mordechai Berg explained that when the Torah states that Yitzchak told Eisav to bring him “tasty foods like I love”, it doesn’t mean that the holy Yitzchak really cared about a good steak. It’s not the meat that Yitzchak loved but rather his son that he loved. By showing an interest in hunted meat Yitzchak hoped he could forge a connection with Eisav and thereby reel him back with love. (In her intuitive wisdom Rivka recognized that, despite Yitzchak’s noble intentions, Eisav would not be able to be brought back and giving him the berachos would prove disastrous.)

Dr. David Pelcovitz notes that all families have a “family bumper sticker”, an unwritten and often unverbalized charter, goal, or mantra that every family member is expected to live up to.

Some examples include “Lakewood or Bust”, “Ivy League only”, “Chesed or Else”"Be What You Want to Be - as long as it includes medical or law school!”, “Israel advocacy”, etc.

The challenge is when our children don’t fit into our familial vision. In such instances we have to love and respect them for who they are and figure out ways to respect and connect with them, even if those ways entail engaging in things we would otherwise have felt were trivial or foolish. It’s vital that we see them as they are and not who we would like them to be.

If we try to stuff them into a power source that doesn’t have the correct voltage suited for them, the results can prove disastrous.

In the beracha of r’tzay in Shemoneh Esrei we daven “the fires of Yisroel and their prayers accept with love and favor.” Perhaps these words also refer to the fires of our souls burning within us. Each of us ignite differently and have different electric currents and voltage that keep us charged. We daven that every one of our fires, wherever we are along our personal journeys, find favor before Hashem.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Parshas Kedoshim 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Kedoshim

5 Iyar 5782/May 6, 2022

Avos perek 2- 20th day of Omer


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


One morning recently, I was standing in shul davening when I noticed the open siddur of the fellow sitting in front of me. It was open to the prayer of Ahava Rabba recited prior to Shema. It caught my eye because some of the words were highlighted: “Place in our hearts to understand and to discern, to hear, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, to perform and to fulfil all the words of Your Torah with love.”

I realized that I say those beautiful words every morning, sadly, often mindlessly. But when I saw it highlighted it helped me rethink about the beauty of those words.

As a result, a few days later I picked one sentence from every paragraph in my siddur and highlighted it. It was surely not to imply that that one sentence is any more important than the others. But when I focused on one sentence that particularly resonated with me, it helped me stay more focused generally on the words I was saying.

In the world of academia, highlighters are an essential component of learning. In their texts, students highlight main points to outline them in order to make it easier for them to study later.

Highlighting however, is not just something we do with a fluorescent marker. We mentally highlight things throughout our day wherever we go and in whatever we do. In fact, the things we highlight have a tremendous impact on how we relate to and remember things.

There are countless examples of this:

Someone goes on vacation for a few days with his family. When they arrive at the airport one piece of luggage is missing and it takes a few hours before it’s located. Then, when they arrive at the hotel, their reservation doesn’t come up on the computer and it ends up costing more time and money. On the way to one of their outings one of the kids throws up all over the backseat of the rental car. Aside for that the trip was fun and enjoyable.

How he remembers that trip depends on what parts of it he highlights in his mind. He can perceive it as a great trip with a few hiccups along the way. Or he can see it as a mostly wasted vacation, with a few salvageable moments.

Reciting the annual beracha on budding fruit trees at the beginning of spring helps highlight for us the natural miracle of the world’s rebirth all around us. It helps us realize that there is an incredible phenomenon taking place that we should notice and appreciate.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller related that one can gift his friend an entire house without spending a penny. He walks into his neighbor’s house and comments about how beautiful it is and mentions specific things he likes about the house. The neighbor may not have appreciated his entire house. But when he hears an outsider highlight the virtues of his house, he may suddenly have a newfound appreciation for his house. With a few complimentary words he gifted his neighbor with the house he has already been living in.

What’s unnerving is that the opposite is true as well. With one sharp thoughtless comment we can cause another to become disenfranchised with something they enjoyed or had been proud of. It’s true with stuff and, more profoundly, with relationships as well.

When dealing with difficult people, especially difficult children, we must train ourselves to mentally highlight their positive character traits and to find those ways in which they shine. That will help us feel less impatient with them.

In the great prayer composed by Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk we pray that we see the attributes of our friends and not their deficiencies. Love and hate are rooted in what we highlight in others. How vital is this idea in marriages!

This concept holds true regarding movements and revolutions as well. Beginning in the 1760s, American colonists highlighted their protestation against taxation without representation, and used it as basis for their right to cede from British authority.

During the 1700s the Ba’al Shem Tov saw that the common Jew felt disconnected from G-d. He created the revolutionary movement of chassidus to spiritually engage the common Jew.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that the Ba’al Shem Tov didn’t create anything that didn’t already exist. Rather, he shifted the emphasis of key concepts.

Chassidus made the common Jew feel he had a relationship with G-d and that his every action is significant to G-d. Prayer was always a fundamental part of a Jew’s Avodas Hashem. The Ba’al Shem Tov also gave tefillah an added primacy and emphasized connection with the tzaddik who could raise the common Jew and help connect him with G-d. As a result of being connected to G-d, chassidus emphasized joy and a positive frame of mind.

By highlighting certain components, even at the expense of other components, it created a revolutionary approach that shook the Jewish world.

We cannot choose the events of life or the people in our lives. But we can choose what we highlight and focus on. Those highlights make all the difference in our perception and attitude.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum